Friday, May 9, 2014

Menghai Dayi 7572: tasting multiple years, part 1


I recently purchased three Menghai Dayi 7572 shou pu’er cakes, also referred to as disks or bings.  They were sold as a special when purchasing multiple year versions of the same tea, in this case 2009, 2010, and 2011.  I'm still a bit new to pu'er, so some of these observations are likely to be a bit basic, or maybe some even relatively "wrong," but here goes.

Most notable about the tea is how someone could love or hate the same tea based on the same characteristics.  A tea like longjing (Chinese green tea) might or might not be a personal preference, based on liking green, grassy, teas, with a range of other flavors like toasted rice, but it might seem odd if someone that liked tea in general hated longjing.  Even though I personally liked the teas that would make sense with them, and related to shou pu’er in general (also referred to as "cooked" pu'er due to a fermentation process).

I’m reminded of a comment on a discussion thread about shou pu’er, about how it looked and tasted like horse manure.  A bad version could be pretty awful, but due to personal taste preferences better versions might not work for someone either.

The tea is earthy, somewhat typical of the type.  Flavors include sweetness (reminiscent of toffee, or maybe caramel), wood, and tar, maybe even other unconventional tastes that are hard to pin down, like leather.  Almost more notable than the flavors are the feel and finish of the tea; it has a thick, oily mouth feel and the flavors last long after finishing a sip.  I'm not one to get attached to how a tea "feels" in most cases but there really is something interesting to that.

I tried the 2011 tea first and liked it; an interesting complexity and mix of flavors.  My wife and her mother commented that it tasted like dried fish to them.  Funny how they both like dried fish but I don’t, and I like the tea but they don’t.  I could see why they might say that but it seemed the taste element might be closer to a separate earthy flavor instead, maybe leather, with a bit of cardboard.   Still, they were right that it wasn't within the normal range of tastes for a tea, maybe just not so unusual for a shou / cooked pu'er, and maybe it even did taste just a little like fish.

I’ve read  before of how a fish taste might be somewhat normal, of course just not preferable, and would likely tend to fade over subsequent infusions.  In this case the taste did improve in that way; that element subsided to some degree.

When I encourage my wife and her mother to try other teas they'll sometimes comment “it tastes like tea,” but these teas are different enough they try to go further, even if they don’t seem to conclude with complete and accurate descriptions.  I was happy to hear my mother-in-law comment the tea had a “thickness” to it, an oily body, even though she was saying she didn’t like that (even though it is really very nice).  Maybe next time it will be about some variation of a “long finish,” except they don’t want to keep trying these teas.

brewed tea

Comparing different years / disks:

The 2010 version was different, a bit smoother, less of the unusual earthy element my wife found offensive, probably a little better, but I liked both.  It seemed to also have a charred taste element, a bit like charcoal, evident mostly in the first infusion of the tea, that completely dropped out in later infusions.  It’s odd since the 2011 tea didn’t seem to have it, but I have ran across this in an even stronger form in other shou pu'er.

The other taste elements are similar, maybe with the 2010 version a bit “cleaner,” less earthy, but still with a pronounced tar element that I like.  The wood taste is hard to describe, like a very dark wood might “taste,” I suppose a teak or mahogany.  I liked the 2010 version just a little more even though it gave up a little in complexity.

The 2009 version was better than the others, quite smooth, without any char element or without earthy taste elements that might be a bit challenging.  All the complexity remained, perhaps with a bit more of the interesting “tar” component, but with a very clean and balanced flavor profile. 

tea after brewing
I suppose it could seem odd that I’m describing a tea as tasting like tar at the same time as saying I like it, especially since I’ve never actually eaten tar (or leather, wood, or stones, for that matter).  Of course the common ground is that scents comprise taste elements, and I suppose I like a tea that would taste strange to most people in this case.  Surely it sounds crazy but given the flavor profile I've considered brewing a cigarette just to compare it to them, although I wouldn't expect that to work. 

Experimenting with brewing differences

At the pu’er shop I frequent most (sometimes just to visit--I don't buy lots of pu'er) they tend to prepare pu’er teas as very fast infusions, in a very light style, which does lend to separating out and appreciating fine taste components and feel.  It seems to not be the main purpose but this would also allow for brewing a lot of infusions of the same tea, maybe even 15 or more.  The instructions in the different tea cakes (included with the different years of this same tea) tended to be a bit general, allowing for variation for personal taste, but they did differ. 

For some a more conventional Western brewing technique involving a bit more infusion time might give better results, although it is relatively standard to use some form of clay pot in a tea to water ration close that in a gaiwan, along with very short infusion times, versus a western brewing method.  My friend in the tea shop once showed me how the taste differs in using a gaiwan versus the clay jixing style pot but I really couldn’t pick up the difference, and probably still couldn’t.  I've read on-line references claiming the more standard short infusions are "correct" but it seems a given that personal preference could vary and take precedence over any convention.

By adjusting different ratios of water to tea and contact time I tried different resulting tea that was nice in different ways.  It seems possible I would adapt to preferring a much lighter brewed tea, as I’ve tried in that shop, but for now tea brewed closer to a conventional strength for tea seems better.  I’ve tried brewing stronger tea, at strength resulting in a color and flavor strengths closer to coffee, and the tea is still good, and not astringent, but I don’t prefer it that way.  One friend that loves different kinds of tea went as far as saying he’d rather have coffee than pu’er if the flavors are comparably strong anyway, but that seems to work better as a comparison for shou than sheng (“cooked” than green), and the end result isn't that similar.

One obvious drawback of using a gongfu style of brewing--many short infusions based on a higher ration of tea to water--is the time required; brewing a dozen or more small cups of tea would require at least a half hour of doing nothing but drinking tea.  For many that would be a good thing, but with two kids to take care of and long work hours to work around it’s not really for me as a regular habit.  Another tea friend says he re-brews the tea throughout the day, so he is spending a good bit of time drinking small amounts of tea, and that seems more practical.

Tea research (to be continued)

There are so many other related directions trying this tea lead to related to reference sites, brewing and aging background, other's impressions of the same tea, considerations about "fake" pu'er teas, etc. that I'll revisit some of all that in a different blog post.

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