Saturday, June 15, 2019

Yunnan Sourcing Early Spring "Bao Hong" Dragon Well




I'm not the best person to review Longjing, but it is my favorite type of green tea.  Every spring I usually buy a version of it, I just didn't get around to that yet this year.  It's really not "spring" here; I live in Bangok, and we just started the rainy season last month, but it's something else; it ends in October.

I've tried some decent versions so I'm not the least qualified judge of this type either.  One sent by Peter of Trident Bookstore in Boulder stood out as the best I've had; it was competition grade, exactly as those should be (although it seems I didn't actually review it related to a search not turning it up; odd).  You could tell from just the dry tea scent that it was exceptional.  I think I had one last year from a local Chinatown shop (Jip Eu), and one the year before from Teasenz

About a year before this blog started, so maybe around 7 years ago now, Longjing was one of the first better teas I bought in the local Bangkok Chinatown, based on a shop recommendation from a Chinese work contact.  I just don't drink much green tea now though; that Longjing once a year, and some Japanese greens that turn up as samples.


I'm not optimizing this related to brewing either.  I have measured water temperatures before but more often just mix a little cooler water with that from a filtration system heating function outlet to get it to an approximate range.  Brewing precision in general isn't one of my things.  I'm not measuring weights of tea, and I change how I prepare it in terms of timing from round to round, based on immediate preference and what I experienced the last round.  On to it then.

Often I've included the vendor description prior to reviews lately, but it seems to work to hold off on that until the end, matching my own experience, since I've not checked before trying it.

Review


I normally wouldn't review appearance or dry tea scent but in this case those sort of matter, or at least work as better indicators than often applies to other versions.  This is a darker green than a lot of Longjing tends to be (which I actually can't place as meaningful, just being thorough).  The scent is in the Longjing range but doesn't cover that bright, intense, vegetal, toasted rice / nutty range to the extent that Trident version did.  That's madness, comparing dry tea scents across about three years of time, isn't it?  Take that part with a grain of salt; brewed tea character is always the main thing.

that touch of cloudiness comes up in discussion here later


This is actually pretty good tea, and a fair version of what it's supposed to be [which later turned out to be different than I thought, but I think this does work to compare it with a standard and location-specific version].  It's missing some of the characteristic intensity, that punch of a narrow but complex set of flavors and other attributes, but the character that is there is in the right ballpark and very positive.  I don't say that unless I mean it; this tea is interesting and positive.  It's not exactly the set I expect from this tea type but what is present works really well.

One might wonder, does the tea always need to be made in exactly the same style to be a valid example of the type?  Processing choices alone vary how a tea turns out, and year to year changes in the weather do as well.  Maybe not, but for some of the most conventional types it seems to work out more that way.  The effect they tend to be shooting for is narrow, exactly the known style people seek out year to year.


Sweetness is good, vegetal tone isn't grassy, instead more in a toasted rice / other grain range, with a pleasant but subdued floral highlight that works.  It's clean and balanced, with reasonably thick feel (which should develop; this seems thinner for being an initial lighter infusion).  The floral range isn't so typical, and the toasted rice should be a little more pronounced.  General vegetal tone is in the right range but it's ramped up from this effect in some versions.  It's good, just not great, and not exactly that specific type I would expect.  Onto checking that next round then.


On the next round a specific version of vegetal range picks up.  It's still not the grassiness I like to avoid in green teas, the reason I prefer Longjing, for typically lacking that, but also not exactly that sweet toasted rice / slightly nutty effect.  This is in the right general range though, for sure.  It has a decent amount of umami effect, which in this balance works well, lending it flavor complexity and fullness, and a good overall balance.

Leave aside expecting this tea to be something in particular and it's a well above average green tea, a version so good it might not be easy to randomly run across.  Focusing on that expectation it would be possible for someone to conclude that it falls short, and judge it negatively.  Mind you all this is based on my own preconceptions and frame of reference, and others who have focused more on this type over a longer time may well come to a different conclusion.  The trace of floral tone is nice in this, it's just not typical, per what I've experienced elsewhere.  But what if the gap was in all those other versions, or my interpretation and memory of them, and a trace of floral tone should be there?  It seems as well to not overthink it all.


The third infusion is holding up well, continuing to develop.  The rich savory aspect is moving a little towards that nut / toasted rice range, closest to typical of the narrow profile type that it has been yet.  It's still clean, well balanced, with good sweetness, and entirely positive character.

To some extent people seeking out a "competition grade" higher level experience or a very narrow type in a version doesn't make sense to me, because teas just naturally vary, as agricultural products in general would tend to.  I can kind of relate to the pursuit though, even if it doesn't match how I approach tea.  In some cases you really can sort out a narrow ideal for some tea versions, not just a limited set of attributes but how those "should" come across, in what intensity, arriving at what overall balance.  I'll cite examples, in case that helps.

Rou Gui that tastes exactly like an earthy version of cinnamon is out there (a Wuyi Yancha type), in some better versions balanced perfectly with a medium level of roast that doesn't taste like char, but fills in complexity and range.  One might go further and expect other levels of aspects to match an ideal, a certain feel, a degree of aftertaste, and so on.  But then one of my favorite tea producers makes an great fruitier style of Rou Gui that's one of my favorite teas (this Wuyi Origin version).

The same approach seems to work well with narrow-region sourced high mountain Taiwanese oolongs; narrow character types can emerge, certain flavors, an unusual intensity, strong mineral base, thick and structured feel, long aftertaste, etc.  It seems to work for Longjing as well, expecting and seeking out a narrow character.




I'm trying it the next round brewed a little faster; that can let aspects show through in a different way.  The floral tone really picks up.  I should be able to describe what it is, which flower, but that's long since been a limitation in these reviews.  It's light and sweet; there's that.  I could say "orchid" but for all I know the broad range of those flowers comes across differently in different versions, and I don't remember smelling one for a long time.  I often dislike quite floral green teas because that range often pairs with a straight-grass flavor aspect and in this it doesn't.  This isn't "quite floral" anyway; it's just one aspect, a bit stronger in this round but relatively subdued compared to the rest earlier.

I'm going to skip the rest for review; I have things to do, and the point here was getting a take on this version and comparing it to my expectations and prior experience, which is covered.  I liked the tea.   As someone who likes Longjing a lot more than every other green tea version for being distinctive and not expressing range typical of other green teas (grass or seaweed) this works for me.  It will be interesting to read the product description and see if any of what I've been noticing turns up there, a type description that accounts for it being distinctive related to standard type expectations.

I did brew it a lot more rounds (that works using a Gongfu approach, better for better quality teas in general).  It kept transitioning a little but was more positive and consistent than I would have expected.  Ten rounds in the character was still somewhat similar, just dropping off in intensity, and usually green teas don't work out like that.



On quality markers and type background


I've talked here about markers, or particular aspects, that tend to work well to identify quality level in different kinds of teas, and that type of perspective seems to apply here.  So far I've only made the claim that a certain range of flavor identifies the ideal for this tea type, which is somewhat consistent and and narrowly defined.  Framed in that summary form it goes a little further than what I meant to claim but that still sort of works.  Typically one would want to consider the feel of a tea and aftertaste effect as crucial points of reference, across most types, although aftertaste does apply more directly to sheng and oolongs.  I've got one more point of reference in mind for this type, which I'll get to after one other point.

I also claimed that the color was a bit dark as some versions go.  That's hard to completely sort out, since leaf appearance can vary for different reasons.  One might think a green tea is darker because it has been allowed to oxidize more, or did so after processing, and there could be something to that, but I can't be certain that other variations come into play.

For this tea type, early harvest Longjing, the amount of fine hair content on the leaves is often a marker for it matching the standard range.  I've not mentioned that here, because I really didn't notice anything resembling that in this version.  Often a brightness in character and creamy feel seem to go along with that aspect, probably not necessarily directly tied to it, but perhaps not unrelated, in that tea harvested at such a time would have that character and that type of "fuzz."  I'll look up a reference to go further with what I'm talking about.

A Tea Vivre vendor's post comes up first in a search on this:


Pekoe is the fuzz on the tea bud, also named as tea hair and often present on the young shoots of tea tree, which is rich in nutrients such as theanine and tea polyphenols. In general, it plays as an important indicator of tea tenderness in many cases...

Pekoe will also affect the taste of tea. It carries less tea polyphenols and caffeine itself, let alone pairing with young leaves, which are relatively fresh but without bitterness, so as to directly affect the taste of tea. For consumers, pekoe can be used as one of the important criterion for the assessment of tea’s quality...


That works for a start, but I was thinking of a differently type of explanation, and I thought the fuzz was called trichomes.  Maybe something more scientific, and research oriented:


Scanning electron microscopy was used to investigate the ultrastructure of trichomes on Maofeng, a special Chinese green tea. The trichomes were cylindrical in appearance with a length of 0.6–1 mm, wall thickness of 0.2–0.3 μm and a mid‐point diameter of 9–10 μm. The angles between the trichomes and the leaf under‐surface were below 30° in Maofeng tea though they were 45–75° in fresh green leaf. The trichome wall consisted mainly of fibre and its outer‐surface was unevenly covered with waxy substances and striped. The trichome joint, by which the trichome was attached to the leaf tower epidermis, was expanded and filled with essential oil droplets...


Maybe in the middle for tone would be better.  It's strange none of the blogs that tend to cover this sort of background seemed to ever write about it (Tea Geek, and World of Tea, both of which stopped posting years ago, or Tea DB, which focuses on pu'er, so they wouldn't have).  Other vendors mention it in marketing content but I've already referenced that type of source.  Another blogger friend mentioned her take, in My Thoughts are Like Butterflies:


This specific Long Jing was harvested pre-April 5th, making it a Pre Qing Ming tea, one of the more coveted of harvests [prior to typical Spring rain season, if I remember that part right]. When looking at the leaves I noticed some had wonderful trichome fuzzballs, a sign that yep, these are picked super early and have their young leaf fuzziness, most of the fuzz gets rubbed off during pan firing, but some gets left behind as little fuzzballs... 

Take bell peppers, green beans and Lima beans and saute them with some sesame seed oil and a touch of sweet honey and you have the aroma for these leaves. Just at the start of the saute process too since the bell pepper note still has its crispness...


No mention there of all that vegetal range not matching some standard expectation; I guess the character can vary.  If this YS version had tasted like green peppers, green beans, and lima beans to me I suppose my comments would have come across as complaining about that.


Yunnan Sourcing description


What is this version, after all that?  A sales page description follows, which usually I'd edit down, but the content is interesting, even the parts that aren't required for character description:


"Bao Hong" tea is from Yi Liang county of Yunnan.  It's leaf is quite small and it carries a high level of aroma.  The leaves are always picked when very small and fresh during a two hour window of time in the early morning of mid-February.    The aroma is intense and fresh.  It was first grown in the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) at the same time a Buddhist Monastery was built on Bao Hong Mountain.  The original tea plant was brought by a visiting monk from Fujian.  This tea has been growing on Bao Hong Mountain since that time (over 1200 years ago).  

Yi Liang county has a very moderate  climate with a mean daily temperature of 16.3 degrees celsius, and an average yearly rainfall of about 950 centimeters.  The Bao Hong Mountain tea garden is an average of 1550-1630 meters above sea level, where it is often shrouded in mist diffusing the sunlight just enough to create a perfect light balance.  Bao Hong mountain is remote area of Yunnan where the tea plants enjoy a natural un-adulterated environment.  

The tea itself is full and plump but small.  It has a high level of fragrance and the tea soup is thick and awash with the little hairs that grow on the tea leaves.

Comparable in many aspects to a Dragon Well, but unique in its own right.


It didn't seem that thick to me, but then I've been accustomed to drinking a lot of sheng, which varies a lot, but can express different types of thickness in texture.  I didn't notice those hairs but otherwise all this works.

Even on that subject of fuzz / trichomes though, the initial rounds looked slightly cloudy, which is usually a bad sign for teas, but in reading around about this type it's said to tie in with the effect of trichomes, so that it's a good sign in this case.  I was drinking the tea in a shady spot outside so maybe I just didn't have the right lighting to pick up on the fuzz in the brewed versions.  A little is evident on the leaves in the photo and it tends to show up as very fine hair-like particles on the surface of the brewed tea.

For this version being a variation of Longjing / Dragonwell, rather than being presented as the most type-typical and standard region sourced version, it's exactly as one would expect.  Even that touch of extra floral tone is very positive in that light, exactly the kind of variation one might expect and would value.  Overall the quality of the tea is very positive.  Splitting out and pinning down "quality" as some abstract attribute, separated from preference for aspects or expected character for a type, doesn't necessarily work.  But it's the kind of thing that you know when you experience, indicated by other aspects, like having a bright, clean, complex, pleasant nature, matching expectations or varying in a positive way, expressing good thickness or aftertaste effect, brewing lots of positive infusions, and so on.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

King Tea Mall Nan Nuo and Zi Qi comparison


Nan Nuo left, Zi Qi right




Both of these are sold as 2018 Spring gushu versions; should be nice.  They're part of a set provided by John of King Tea Mall for review purposes, and to provide me with some exposure to different tea versions (many thanks for that).

Related to the "gushu" theme, I don't worry too much about how old the tea plants might really be compared to that description, but to some extent some typical aspects tend to show up along with more reliable claims of tea plants being older (pronounced mineral, longer aftertaste, general intensity, etc.).  The extent to which a tea matches that character seems more relevant than a plant-age average that no one could possibly know for sure.

If I were more into the "cha qi" or drug-like effect there's that; it could correlate to plant age, to some limited degree.  I'm already high on life though.


Per what is becoming a standard approach I'll cite the vendor descriptions here first, which I didn't read prior to doing the tasting and review notes:


2018 SPRING “NAN NUO BA MA” GUSHU 200G CAKE PUERH SHENG CHA RAW TEA


BaMa(拔玛) which means “Old Arbor Tree” in local AiNi dialect. On the elevation of above 1600m in NanNuo tea mountain(南糯山), here has national original forest called GuoYouLin(国有林) . When I went there first time in spring of 2018 year, I was totally astonished by the well preserved natural environment and forests there...

Dry tea leaf is fragrant, long and strong... The sweet taste near sugar cane not just come from HuiGan(one kind of aftertaste when bitterness retreats) but also can be felt when sip tea liquid... 

...Richness, Fruity, Wild flavor, Strength in ChaQi


This is selling for $69 for a 200 gram cake (equivalent to around $125 per 357 gram version).  Given the character (after the review tasting) that seems quite good for value.  I tend to almost never buy any teas approaching 50 cents per gram ($.35, really), which ties to a budget themed issue, but the positive character of this tea really stood out.


2018 SPRING “ZI QI ” CAKE 100G PUERH GUSHU SHENG CHA RAW TEA

This tea was made from spring tea materials of GuShu(old tree) from YiWu(易武) as main and sub-materials of BanPen(班盆 where belongs to BanZhang tea area, also called one of five BanZhang villages).  YiWu tea is famous for it’s softness and floral tea flavor... 

Tea liquid is rich and soft.  Bitterness is stronger than general pure YiWu tea because of mixed BanPen tea from BuLang tea mountains.

Astringency is on medium level.

HuiGan is on high level with unique sweetness from YiWu tea, soft and lingering in mouth even deep into throat.


This version is listed for $30 for 100 gram cake.  It's on the low side for tea material claimed to be from older plants but it is a mix of two types, which isn't usually how that goes, even if it somehow makes perfect sense related to a complimentary character of the materials.

Review


Nan Nuo left (in all of these pictures)


Nan Nuo: the characteristic flavor in one of my favorite sheng versions shows up in this, a white grape / pear fruitiness. It would be possible to interpret that as floral range but to me it's clearly not mainly that, although some additional floral range gives it a nice complexity.  It all comes across well: great balance and intensity, nice clean flavors, good sweetness, a mild but well integrated bitterness, supporting light mineral, good feel and aftertaste.

Mineral stands out a little more than in the version I keep citing as a past favorite (this one, from Moychay, reviewed here), which works.  Looking back on that (and the next-year 2018 description, and another gushu Nan Nuo version from them, the fruit theme keeps repeating, even in this same general range).


Zi Qi (Yiwu and Ban Pen blend):  the character overlaps a little but it's also quite different. It's warmer toned, with a richer, heavier mineral range, and more floral than fruity. The mineral is so pronounced it comes across as spanning a range of warm rock mineral with a hint of metal (maybe nickle?).  These were brewed relatively fast but this is still too strong.

I think outside of that I'd still prefer the Nan Nuo version related to the character range clicking but this is also clearly good tea. I usually follow that with noting that "good" is relative, but quality level is evident in both, the range of markers for sheng is there.  The other is brighter and sweeter, with flavors in a different range, all of which matches my own type preference, but I'm sort of trying to communicate something else. Back on the preference side how the metal edge in mineral tone plays out will define how much I end up liking this version.


Second infusion


Nan Nuo: intensity comes across clearly even in a relatively fast infusion; at a normal proportion (normal for me, at least) flash brewing would be strong enough. Mineral warms and intensifies in this round; in a limited sense it approaches the other version. The sweeter fruit range flavor is still present though, still primary. It seems to be clearly "better" tea than that personal-favorite Moychay version as markers go, tied to the intensity, pronounced mineral, balanced bitterness, and aftertaste, but I'm not so sure that I like it better. That version had a rich feel as well, a creamy edge, and being softer and less complex across some range didn't necessarily seem like a drawback. It was just different in style.

The split in opinion on more drinkable sheng versus more intense versions would dictate preference, in reference to the range I just mentioned, with that implying more perspective orientation than is necessary or easily sorted out or justified. I'd expect this would hold up to aging better but I'd probably not prefer it much different than it is anyway. Maybe it would outshine that version as a 2 to 3 year old version, not as an aged tea but with some transition.


Zi Qi: this is still intense; flash infusions it is. It's pleasant though; that warmer tone and really pronounced mineral works.  The effect isn't so different but it has shifted a little towards aromatic wood range, like cedar or redwood. Calling that spice sounds better, I'm just not familiar with which spices are similar. The other version expressed a pronounced aftertaste but this version's is really strong. The feel isn't really dry but there's a structure to it that comes across as towards dryness. It's definitely not a straight-cedar version of sheng but splitting that and warm mineral isn't completely dissimilar.

The effect of these teas is kicking in, the "cha qi" buzz. Of course comparing them gives up distinguishing which is the more pronounced source of that, and probably throws off a purer experience of it for that mixing. My ordinary brain state suits me well enough, so although it's heresy to express it those types of changes are just different, not necessarily better, or even of interest. I could feel a little clearer all the time but tea can only help so much with that; more consistent sleep and exercise would help more.


Third infusion




Nan Nuo: that light fruit is transitioning to a richer, deeper toned dried fruit range, at this point a little towards dried persimmon. If those aren't familiar it's something to keep an eye out for on your next Chinatown outing. Warmth picking up could be compared to a wood tone, or autumn forest floor scent. Both together, bridging across from light fruit, with pronounced mineral, all works well.

This is already one of my favorite teas to have tried this year. That last Bada version from Chawang Shop stood out for an unusually rich feel and character effect but this adds a couple of dimensions, those marker aspects (mineral, feel structure, long aftertaste), and matching my preference in flavor range. The Zi Qi version would end up being described more positively (or at least seeming so) tasted along with lots of other teas instead.


Zi Qi: this could easily be a tea that clicks with someone more than the character does for me; the complexity is good, positive aspects span a broad range, intensity is really something, and aromatic wood towards spice with warm mineral tones works. It doesn't necessarily come across as sweeter than average and I think I'm biased towards that, seeing it as not just positive taken alone but helping lots of other range seem to balance. The metal trace never did intensify, and to most that would probably just seem like very pronounced and complex mineral.

Fourth infusion


These are intense; this may have to be it before getting a break.

Nan Nuo: more or less in a similar range, but a bit more green wood tone that had only been a vegetal background picked up to be primary. It's still very nice, quite complex and well balanced, just no longer as fruity in character.


Zi Qi: this evolves to express that same wood tone; different. There's more warmer and aromatic wood tone backing it, the cedar, so it's different, but the two are by far the most similar they've been. I should go mess around online until this buzz subsides a little and try one more round, or maybe walking around outside would be better, even though I've got a sprained ankle now. That's annoying, taking 6 weeks off walking normally. It helps with appreciating the little things though.

Fifth infusion




A half hour break settled out some of the stoned effect so I'll try one more round to get a better feel for mid-cycle transitions.


Nan Nuo: at this point this could be a version of lots of better than average teas; that particular main wood tone flavor aspect is common enough. The rest marks it as a good version, balanced bitterness, mineral, extended aftertaste, etc. It will probably taper off to lose range over a few more rounds, and then become less pleasant after a few more, but who knows.


Zi Qi: it is odd how these approached each other in character. Some layers still don't match but they're relatively similar across primary flavor and most others.




[Notes prior to reading the vendor description]:  I'm curious about pricing for these. I've been accustomed to seeing $1 / gram on versions sold as gushu, so that a match to what is implied about typical character becomes the main issue, overlapping with general quality level issues but also tying to a specific form. They generally match the form, but one matches my own likes much better across flavor range, maybe even for general character.  At a guess demand per local area is as much a factor as anything else, which of course I'm not keeping track of.


[Conclusions added later]:  They seemed like nice teas for that price range, $.35 / gram for the Nan Nuo and $.30 for the other (which turns out to be a mix of Yiwu and Ban Pen materials; Zi Qi is just a brand name from an old Chinese story).  There's an odd sort of sub-theme related to me liking Nan Nuo versions, or anyone else really:  they're often fruity, per my still-limited exposure to them.  I looked back through old posts and I tried a boutique version that was probably pretty good three years ago (this one) but in reading that review my impression is that I just didn't have enough sheng background to pull together what I was experiencing.  That applies now too, just in a different sense; it's all relative.

A point in that King Tea Mall covers what I'm getting at:

Also I think this is a kind of tea could be recommended to new comers.


I'm not actually new to sheng at this point but I don't get the impression that fruit taste is what a lot of sheng drinkers are looking for, or even certain flavor range in general, really.  I wouldn't say it's a soft, approachable "oolong pu'er" but it's rich in texture versus structured, with limited versus moderate bitterness, and on the sweet and flavorful side.

Then again Yiwu versions tend to not be challenging either, and those are well-regarded, with versions I've tried presented as better teas often soft and floral, as this Zi Qi version vendor description claims.

Related to that Moychay Nan Nuo version I keep saying is a favorite, I re-tasted that a couple of days ago, in part to get a feel for how it's aging, and also related to a project to try and evaluate quality level beyond individual aspect range (a work in progress).  Even in the first month I bought that I expected it might not be as good as it was then at any point in the future, that it shouldn't be aged at all, since any transitioning away from that initial character wouldn't be positive.  It's not as good as it was a year and a half ago, I don't think, but at least it's partly just different.  That ties into a part of the Nan Nuo King Tea Mall description I didn't cite:

A pity that the unique and floral like fragrance only appears on newly processed tea leaf has turned to weaker and weaker, though I try my best to preserve that in my warehouse. 


The most typical summary and divide of aging concerns one runs across insists that better sheng improves with age, and that a newer style range of smooth and initially drinkable style of versions only degrades instead, with those lacking some degree of complexity, bitterness, and feel structure (astringency character) versus more traditional styles.  All that was covered here.  It's not quite that simple, it doesn't seem.  A lot of that pattern may well be valid but to me distilling down a style opposition of two broad types of sheng drops out or glosses over a range of other character differences.  A lot of good Yiwu could potentially get caught up in being "new style" and inferior just for being naturally approachable, per typical regional character.

A response to that might be that Yiwu is a big area (and it is), and that examples of versions that are initially structured (astringent), somewhat bitter, with intense mineral input exist, and could be regarded as the best versions.  And to some extent I'm guilty of the same problem here that's creating that divide in the first place, framing things as clear oppositions in character, when a complex range of styles and aspect profiles can occur.

In any case these were both really nice to experience.  The Nan Nuo version clicked with me better, and I think it's great as it is right now, but I'd probably not buy a version to hold onto and see how it transitions later.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Farmerleaf summer 2018 Jing Mai Moonlight White








I picked this tea up awhile back, ordered along with a nice Tian Xiang Jing Mai sheng.  I've been busy lately with vacation outings and getting through some other teas.

Moonlight White is a personal favorite, but then lots of types sort of are.  As white teas go I like it as much or more as any other.  Some versions can be a bit savory, with sweetness balanced with rich flavors, but my favorites are bright and fruity instead, including flavors like pear or even berry. 

As with other whites the texture and overall impression can be pleasantly rich and full.  I'll add William's (Farmerleaf's) take in a citation before I post this, but reviewed without seeing those details first.  That citation:


For this moonlight white the fresh leaves of our natural [Jing Mai] tea gardens were spread on flat bamboo baskets and left to dry in the shade of our factory for three days...

Moonlight white will oxidize as it ages, just like Pu-erh tea, but quicker. The few months of storage and the pressing process have already given this tea a red character. It delivers incredibly good sweetness, considering it is summer material from relatively young gardens... 

You can brew it gongfu style, in a mug, or even boil it in a pot! White tea is very forgivable to the tea brewer, this tea will, never feature much bitterness. If you brew it strong, it will just be thicker. The fragrance is woody and reminds of autumn leaves and a walk in the forest after the rain. The mouthfeel has a light texture and the tea doesn't have a strong effect on the body... 


Sounds nice, without too much for spoilers in that.

Review


The first infusion is a bit light but this tea is already really pleasant.  I'll do more with a long flavor list and going into texture next round, but it's already sweet, warm, and rich, with a nice spice aspect emerging.  It is fruity versus savory or floral, but in a warm dried-fruit range, towards apricot or something such, or maybe dried persimmon.  That warmth may relate to autumn leaf but it's more in the sweet dried fruit range than earthy.



I went longer on the second round, over 15 seconds, but this is still subtle.  It would take longer infusions to get more intense flavor out of it, in terms of the high-note range, but this tea has a different kind of depth and intensity that's very evident prepared this way.  Aging these types of versions usually swaps out that forward intensity for deeper, sweeter tones, and this is along that line already, even though it's not even a year old.

Warmth picks up on this second round; autumn leaf is more evident, and a hint of spice develops.  The fruit tone might be traded out a little for that, or at least the brighter aspect range of it, so dried persimmon works much better as a description than dried apricot in this round.  Those are a type of plum hybrid, unless I'm mistaken, so if that's unfamiliar it works to say this tastes a little like a sweet version of a prune, or a fig.  I'll give the tea more like 30 seconds on this next round to see what range it can cover, but really just drinking it light and subtle and sticking with 15 or so might well be optimum.


The initial promise of lighter range fruit kind of faded, and it's sticking with richer and more subdued tones instead.  That's not necessarily bad, since the character is quite pleasant, maybe just a little disappointing given my own personal preference and how it seemed it was going to go.  The intense fruit versions of Moonlight whites can be really nice, in a different way.

Related to the idea of this type of tea being savory there is a richness to it, it just stops short of coming across as actually that, something more like soy sauce.  I keep sensing there is a mild spice tone but that's so subtle it's hard to place, towards cinnamon, but it doesn't quite stand out enough to be clearly that.  Autumn leaf is stronger, but even that is integrated into a mild, subtle, but rich combined mix.

This type of tea gives you options related to how to brew it, or for mixing things up with adding something to it.  That might sound like I'm saying that it needs something added to be better, since I wouldn't dream of mixing other ingredients in with most plain loose leaf teas, but I'm only saying that the character lends itself to that, to matching well with other range.  Dried orange peel (the outer part) or dried pear peel or fruit might lend it a little more intensity.  As to the first part, brewing variations, this would work well made Gongfu style (as I'm preparing it), or Western style, or even "grandpa style," added to a tea bottle and drank with the leaves continuing to brew in it, with water re-added until it looses flavor.  It would even work to cold brew this, or to simmer it, I'm just not into such things.


More of the same on the next infusion; it's warm, rich, and subtle.  I think the sweet and complex smell of the dry tea led me to expect it to be more intense.  From tasting this I'd expect it to be a shou mei, instead of a Moonlight White.  The prepared leaves aren't silver with a dark bottom, so it must not be made of the cultivar that turns out that way, which would account for the aspect range varying.  Shou mei really might be a leaf size / grading term, versus a style, or given how tea terms and types go it could be used as both.

There is a common misconception that any tea leaf can be made into any tea type, which is technically true but only in a limited sense.  Different initial inputs (leaf types, and compounds present in leaves) will only support making good versions of some types of teas.  You can't really make oolong out of Assamica, for example, or at least the experiments in attempting that I've tasted didn't work.


Per one conventional understanding a general range of white teas age very well, picking up depth and complexity over 7 years (a time frame lifted from one of those old Chinese sayings: "one year a white tea, 3 years a medicine, 7 years a treasure").  It's hard to link that to this tasting result, or pass on my own take on conventional aging patterns for white teas, since I've been through a bit with that but don't have it even close to sorted out yet.  I tasted four white teas together of somewhat related types across different ages (here), but really individual version character differences alone made it impossible to draw any other conclusions.  It was an interesting experience, beyond relating to a mild case of caffeine overdose.




It just keeps brewing; a half dozen rounds in it's still not transitioning.  This would make a decent breakfast tea, a relatively neutral background experience to go along with eating pastry and whatever else. 

Lots of people claim they need a strong or robust black tea to really get them going, in part probably related to the flavor experience expectation carried over from coffee, and probably also an expectation that tanins somehow relate to caffeine content.  Since caffeine levels vary by age of leaf material (bud are higher in level than older leaves) most white teas actually contain more, but this one wouldn't necessarily, as a larger-leaf derived summer tea version.  The limited flavor intensity probably relates to summer harvesting as well, and I don't know how often Moonlight versions tend to ever be made in the Spring.


Comparison tasting second session


That initial tasting didn't really seem conclusive; it's odd doing a round of tasting and notes and then feeling like you might not have really captured what a tea is about.  So I comparison tasted it with a relatively similar white tea cake from Moychay, one that seemed to be in between white tea styles as well.


Farmerleaf left (but they look a bit similar)


This won't be a round-by-round detailed review, just a short general impression.  This Farmerleaf tea impression didn't change.  It still seemed positive, sweet and light in character, and pleasant, with a balancing mild earthiness, but lacking complexity and depth.  It still didn't necessarily seem like a standard Moonlight white, but being light and sweet with warmer range for balance is a good start.

The Moychay compressed 2018 Moonlight version was richer, with deeper flavors, slightly more complexity, and a bit of a savory edge along with more dried fruit range.  Looking back I had reviewed that tea in an article posted on the Moychay site, not here in this blog. 

This lacks specifics but for both I'd probably be retracing the usual ground of how in a lot of cases flavor aspects could be interpreted in different ways.  This Moychay tea could've been more intense in terms of pronounced flavor aspects but the Farmerleaf version was even more subtle.


I liked both.  It might seem like I mean something else, when I'm saying that tea seems kind of narrow in character range, not so complex, and lacking some degree of depth.  Some teas are simple, and that can work, if what they express is positive.  White teas in general took some getting used to, and I still find some buds-only versions (silver needle or silver tips) just a little too subtle and vague to really like as much as the rest.  Adding any warmer tones and more sweetness works better for me, even if a version doesn't make it as far as being complex or distinctive.


Farmerleaf left (but they look similar)


In a sense the Farmerleaf matches part of the Moonlight range better for being very light and sweet, since those are often like that, just in those cases often more fruity as well.  But then some versions are deeper in tone, more like dried fruit, with a savory edge, like the Moychay example. 

It's odd that I just read the early notes saying that I like the lighter and sweeter style better, and I may as be clear about what I've only implied up until now, I liked the Moychay version slightly more in this case.  It had more depth, and dried-fruit range can be really nice.  When I said that I tend to like the brighter, lighter, fruitier styles of Moonlight White better (in the intro here) that was a reference to some teas actually tasting like berry (which can be amazing), with other savory versions sometimes tasting like sun-dried tomato. 

Looking back I can cite examples spanning this range, that might help clarify what I mean.  I really liked this Thai version of Moonlight White, because that bright fruit was present, extending towards berry range (even if it was a little subtle in overall character, and tastes really settled at mandarin orange, plum, and teaberry, with some degree of savory range too).  Oddly that was complex in flavor range but even more subtle than these, for lacking that deeper mild earthiness, the autumn forest part; so things can go. 

A Laos version of Moonlight White from Kinnari tea (reviewed here) might be more what I'm talking about related to those sometimes being more savory and not as sweet and fruity.  That's crazy that I comparison tasted that Laos MLW along with two others, buds-only white teas from Laos and Nepal at that.  It kind of makes no sense, and is borderline disrespectful to that Moonlight version to not give it its own post.  Then again mentioning a half dozen other versions for comparison in this review post is definitely atypical.


Further into the range of reviewing taboos I'm curious about comparing value for the two versions, since they seemed so similar, and since I spent money on the Farmerleaf version.  Moychay contributed the other for review, to be clear; they've been great about helping me experience a broader range of teas to review. 

The Moychay version lists for $10 for 100 grams; pretty good for as nice as that tea is.  Farmerleaf's lists for $25 for a 200 gram version; a little more, but really in the same range.  With both teas that inexpensive it would seem wrong to blame either for offering questionable value; if anything both seem a little low in price.  Other vendors might charge considerably more and use more superlatives in their descriptions, and then could still end up selling tea that's not quite as good.


that (then) 5 year old shou mei version 


It would be interesting comparing one or both of these to a standard Fuding shou mei, like the one reviewed here, but two rounds of tasting and all this cross-reference is already a bit much.  I could check those against that same version of that tea but it might have changed since that review time-frame.  Or maybe not; it was a 2012 produced version I reviewed in 2017, so maybe two more years of storage didn't change much.  It's cool that version just made it to that "7 years a treasure" threshold; I should check on that.


lychee season; time to switch over to more of a fruit diet