2004, fairly young. I ordered this sample from Hou De and got what seems to be the final chunk of the cake. The leaf appears typical of a young sheng, smallish leaf, and slightly darkened past the new-green stage.
I chipped off a few good chunks, used 2 10 second rinses to break them up. I snuck a sniff during the first rinsing, and it smelled of sweet caramel.
1st Steep: The lid of the gaiwan carries the sweet caramel aroma, while the wet leaf has the characteristic tough leather smell. The tea smells of the light caramel mixed with a healthy fresh wood. The taste is characterized by caramelized sugar. Mostly caramel, with a dark toffee. - A clean bark smell is also present, which also is in the taste of the tea. Tastes of roasted sugar, caramel, and a clean woody-bark compose the tea. Also notices is a bit of cloudiness in the tea.
The lid of the gaiwan again smells like caramel, which is also present in the smell of the wet leaf. The wet leaf is also accompanied by a dry grass smell, and faint leather. I think I might be feeling a dose of qi from the first steeping.
2nd Steep (20s): Smell hasn't changed much, but the taste has changed from the dominant caramel, to blend with a stronger light leather, and some deep notes of wood. Cloudiness also present. - At a temperature that is more warm than hot, the caramel flavor is more present, with a hit of wood, and a sweet aftertaste of roasted sugar (huigan).
At this point, I feel a definite high on qi, perhaps some teadrunkness. 3rd Steep (~20s): A rounding of the flavors leaves it harder to differentiate, but with a bit of percolation, the wood is the most dominant flavor acting. Still, the aftertaste is of sweet caramel (huihan). Leaves an odd coarse, sweet, and airy throat feel.
4th Steep (~30s): A lighter sweetness with the woodiness being fresh, light, and slightly floral. Lighter altogether. - Still sweet, and again, more percolation is giving more woodsy flavor and aftertaste.
The leaves are looking slightly light brown. 5th Steep (40s): The liquor has turned slightly lighter. The leatherness is now identifiable, complimented by slight woodsiness. The sweetness is light, but still present. - The leather and the wood go well together, and compose the character of this 5th infusion.
I'll go for one more infusion with this. The leaf has an almost animalian smell.
6th Steep (~65s): A long steep gives the liquor back a little color. This is a good last steep, light, yet still sweet. Carrying more leather this steep, I would say the leathery taste is the main characteristic here.
Retrospect This 2004 sheng gave me something I've never gotten from a tea before, that is a sweet and strong caramel character. That is what makes this one so interesting. It starts with a dominant flavor of roasted sugar and caramel, but into the 3rd steep it rounds out into a balances tea, then afterwards it turns to a more characteristic sheng, with a hint of leather, and a fresh, dry woodsiness. I really like this one, perhaps mostly because of it's sweet beginnings, but it still delivers complexity, especially with more percolation. The sweet aftertaste (huigan) is a definite plus. Hou De doesn't have the cake up for sale, and only one sample left... but I heard that the price for the whole beeng was around $135, more than I'd like to spend.