2006 sheng pu-erh tea from Northern Thailand, BASECAMP is the ground zero for pu-erh exploration. Rustic, bold, harvested from wild trees, made by hand in family homes… this is where things began, where they long ago started to get real.
(Warning, the description’s a bit long – tasting notes are the end)
To give a little more background on this tea, BASECAMP was grown and made by the Akha hill tribes living in Northern Thailand near the Burmese border. The Akha people originally came from southern Yunnan 100-125 years ago due to some political strife. They brought with them tea plants which were planted and propagated in Thailand. Due to lack of interest from future generations of the Akha, most of these tea plants, now trees, were abandoned and thus are left to grow “wild”. When David Lee Hoffman from The Phoenix Collection became aware of them in 2005, he had to arrange having villagers harvest and turn the leaves into maocha. He said: “There was one old man who was still familiar with tea making and oversaw the “kill green” and rolling for everybody. I imported this tea over several years. I tried as best I could to have each old tree kept into separate lots. You’ll notice they differ quite a bit from lot to lot”. Sadly, this type of production doesn’t exist anymore (or is extremely rare). Old trees like this even in the most remote areas of the golden triangle are now boon to some Yunnanese factories.
For us in 2021, drinking such an old style tea is like looking back and realizing how much things have changed in the pu-erh world over the last decades. To be honest, we weren’t initially sure about buying this tea has it does have some degree of smokiness, a trait which isn’t exactly hyped amongst amateurs at the moment. While some people like it (like they would enjoy peated scotch whisky perhaps), others see it as defect. When balanced in the cup by a smooth structure and bold aromatics, it can be absolutely amazing. But when smoke overpowers both structure and aromas, things turn out ugly. Most amateurs tend to shy away from it and that’s why the tendency is dying off in modern productions. But, all in all, this tea is excellent and provides a great tasting experience, a blast from the past, which was more than enough for it to earn a spot on our list.
Wild mushroom, incense, charred wood, forest floor… The light smokiness brings the remote mountain village to your cup, a full-bodied dream of adventure and wild discoveries. Structure is stunning, with a loud detonation in the foremouth followed by a warming sensation trailing in both throat and chest. Soft tannins settle the aromatics on your tastebuds, stretching the experience between each brew. The more you steep it, the softer and sweeter it gets. There’s really a whole lot to discover here.
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