Thursday, November 16, 2017

Halmari Orthodox Assam and Earl Grey tasting

orthodox Assam; full name HALMARI Gold GTGFOP1 Clonal

Halmari Earl Grey

I didn't get to the last two of the Halmari Assam tea samples, one their highest quality orthodox Assam black tea, and I'll try an Earl Grey along with it.  As I've often repeated combined tasting makes more sense with similar teas, and these aren't that.  The main point is wrapping up trying them, since I'd like to clean the slate of what I mean to get to, but comparison could turn up something interesting.

I'll try to prepare these in a hybrid style in a gaiwan, more or less in between Western and Gongfu, or probably as a light version of Gongfu style, which isn't traditional.  The idea is to make small quantity infusions, adjusting for the unusual proportion as I go.  It's not ideal for tasting to use an unconventional brewing approach but it's not that atypical for me.  Related to informing background I've got a touch of a cold.  I'll probably re-try this orthodox tea version later this week to double check how a standard Western brewing approach works out, and hopefully I can shake this cold instead of it getting worse [editing note:  I'm adjusting the draft while I have a throat infection; that didn't work out].

I'll mention a little about what the orthodox tea is first.  It's listed as HALMARI GOLD GTGFOP1 CLONAL.  I don't keep up with those letter terms but I could swear that first "G" should be an F (which I won't explore, but the Wikipedia article on all that is a natural starting point).  I looked to their description to shed light on the "clonal" part:

Leaf : Long, selectively plucked and delicately rolled leaves with a generous sprinkling of chunky golden pubescent buds. Very exclusively made only during the 2 months of second flush season... 

One of our most iconic teas, the GTGFOP1 Clonal has won the North American Tea Championship is 2012,2013 and 2015.

Not much for detailed description, but winning awards is a good start.  Clonal is a reference to propagating the tea by cuttings to preserve consistent genetics, versus using seeds, but I'd expect that's related to a hybrid or other selected tea plant type with characteristics they want to preserve.


I went too long on the first infusion, even though it was only for around one minute.  This really is a hybrid style of brewing, in the middle between Western and Gongfu, but some people would see it as a light proportion variation of Gongfu brewing instead.  Not that a brewing approach label really matters.  Part of that error--preparing it a bit strong--might relate to using slightly higher water temperature than I usually tend to for black tea, close to boiling point versus down between 85-90 C instead.

These teas would be fine across any temperature range, I'd expect, still making ok brewed tea at lower temperature more typical for green tea brewing, but hot water would probably be more standard, and variation would shift aspects balance slightly.  I'm often using slightly cooler water to accentuate sweeter flavors and de-emphasize astringency / feel elements, but for some that wouldn't be preferable at all, and different teas would work out differently.

first go, brewed a little strong (Earl Grey left, orthodox right)

Brewed a little strong I can only get the general range for the orthodox version; it's nice.  It is normal to brew on the slightly strong side for comparison tasting, using the standard "ISO" approach, for two reasons:  to set one level of parameters to use across many examples, and to help with identifying flaws in the stronger brewed version, which is said to highlight those (along with practice in trying tea made that way).  Nothing negative stands out.  The feel is a bit strong, and the taste is a little intense, leading towards dryness, but I'd guess this is exactly how a very good Assam brewed a little too strong should be, the right attributes in the right balance.  The malt is intense but I don't think it's going to take over the tea, back in the normal balance, and even brewed strong the flavors are still quite clean.

Brewed strong the Earl Grey is also a little intense, of course.  The balance of the bergamot (a type of orange essential oil) is the main thing, then after that the input from the tea itself.  I'd expect it will level off nicely, related to the proportion and how they're coming across a bit strong.  This won't be a bergamot-intensive version where you just can't tell what black tea is under that, although brewed strong the black tea isn't contributing lots to this flavor.

It won't be as distinctive and pronounced as the orthodox version, the black tea input, likely quite a bit more subdued.  It doesn't include bud material as the orthodox version does, which would change the effect a lot.  I'm not tasting anything "off" about it, but at a guess it will be a mild version of a black tea, as Assam goes, with no off flavors.  That mildness might be as well, since intense malt might not pair as well with bergamot.

Next infusion

Prepared more typically--in one sense, at least--the orthodox version is great.  There is plenty of malt but it doesn't take over the tea.  A lot of nice sweetness balances that out, and there's more going on than malt.  Mind you if someone didn't like malty black tea they still wouldn't like this version but if typical Assam seemed one-dimensional, a bit rough, or unsophisticated and not well-balanced this version resolves all that.  The flavors-list style description is going to sound a lot like for any better Assam, I'd think, but how those elements come across, the exact expression of them, and more so how they balance is what defines this tea as being on a higher level.

Beyond malt a cedar or redwood like wood aspect fills in flavor depth.  The taste extends into a nice citrus element at the finish, nothing like the bergamot in a flavored tea but not completely dis-similar either, maybe in the orange zest range.  I'll work on pinning down another flavor aspect or two as I try a few more infusions.

lighter, a better infusion strength (Earl Grey left, orthodox right)

The Earl Grey is nice, of course with bergamot as a central flavor theme.  It's hard to separate out what the black tea is like aside from that, but I guess describing the mix is more valid.  Malt isn't intense, but it's there.  Some degree of wood-tone also comes across.  It might have sweetness and some citrus without the actual citrus added but combined it certainly does.  Mineral isn't as strong as I'd expect it would be if this were above average Ceylon instead, but there is some acting as a base for the other flavors.

It works; to me it's better than typical commercial Earl Grey versions.  Earl Grey isn't a page I've been on much in the past year, more so in the first half of last year, as I recall, but I can relate to it.  My favorite Earl Grey version so far was from Vietnam, from Hatvala, but then it was based on a plain black tea I liked alone, and I've not tried that recently enough to compare it to this from memory.

To me this type of tea works great as something you don't need to focus on, as a breakfast tea, more than one that would excel in a comparison tasting session.  The flavors balance is nice, just lacking subtlety of a better plain tea.  It would go with all sorts of foods very well, with enough sweetness and fruit to offset savory foods, and enough earthiness and body to offset sweet pastry.  Per my preference this tea works better drank with food than alone, even if it's something neutral like a butter cookie or biscuit, to help offset that bergamot orange tone, to reset from it while drinking.  A chocolate digestive is more or less exactly what I'm talking about, on the sweeter side, like a graham cracker with chocolate.  If you've never tried them life has at least one more re-affirming surprise in store for you.

the other British contribution to food, besides fish and chips (credit)

Third infusion

Brewed just a little stronger the orthodox version shows just a little pine-resin character, which is nice, even if it may not sound it.  The actual flavor range is a bit complex; it wouldn't be wrong to describe it as relating a little to cocoa, and with minimal imagination related to some sort of fruit (tamarind?).  The citrus is strong enough that would be more natural to flag.  The feel is cool too; a bit on the dry side, seemingly related to that pine flavor.  And as black teas go the aftertaste is quite pronounced.  Surely all of this relates in part to the very high proportion of buds in the tea.

Related back to those three Dian Hong (Yunnan black teas) that I compared awhile back this is definitely closest to the buds only version (golden tips).  I suppose personal preference would dictate how good a thing that is but I can at least definitely relate to this tea.  I suppose my absolute favorite for an aspects set might be more like a Chinese black tea, shifted more towards cocoa, a subdued dried cherry range, with just a touch of roasted yam, and a molasses sweetness background, but this tea works well for me.

The Earl Grey is still mostly bergamot; that's really as it should be.  The flavors are really clean, and the earthy complexity beyond that makes it work well.  It's in the malt, cedar / redwood, touch of pine range too, but it seems a quite different black tea, the balance is completely different.  It has a lot less pine going on, and probably less natural citrus, but of course that's just a guess.

I'm in a hurry today--always in a hurry; kind of how life goes these days--so I won't get through more infusions, although brewing these twice more I'd probably tease out another aspect or two, and notice how they work out for being stretched for infusion count.  These might express slightly more complexity brewed Western style for more of that coming out in a three to four minute soak, it just wouldn't work to experience flavors evolving layer by layer, as a Gongfu approach allows.  I'll try these teas again Western style and check in related to what turns up.

Second try, conclusion

I did try the orthodox version again brewed Western style; the results weren't so different.  I brewed the tea twice using a standard light proportion and 3 1/2 minute then around five minute second steep, brewed to a typical infusion strength.  The flavors range was the same:  malt, cedar, pine, and citrus, with good sweetness and a bit of fruit aspect that was harder to pin down for being more subtle, per my take close to dried tamarind.

I was curious how this would seem in comparison to their other orthodox version that I reviewed and to be honest it seemed similar.  Both are complex, clean flavored, and full in feel but not really astringent, both well balanced, a bit intense but moderate on malt.  I would expect those similar aspects are balancing a little better in this orthodox version, that it's a little cleaner in effect (likely related to very slightly different feel and overall flavor effect), with a bit more fruit, but a difference would be clearer trying them side by side.

I actually posted a version of this before considering mentioning value, a subject bloggers tend to avoid but one I've been drifting into more lately.  As in other cases of direct sourcing buying this tea from Halmari would be an incredible value related to buying anything remotely like it from a resale vendor.  Don't take my word for it though; check the prices on their website and Google search similar alternatives. 

I didn't do as much with describing subjective preference in this post as I sometimes do, but related to what I prefer in teas of theirs I really liked their oolong version.  As I mentioned in that review post it shared some space with Darjeeling second flush teas and Oriental Beauty Taiwanese oolongs, which cover two nice and related ranges for tea aspects.

recharging to cause more trouble later

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Silver needle compressed white tea cake from Jip Eu

fuzzy silver needles, loose (separated from the cake)

compressed silver needle cake (it is as black and white as this)

I mentioned dropping by my favorite Bangkok Chinatown shop (Jip Eu) to pass on a few samples, to try to draw even related to them sharing tea samples, but they gave me even more in return.  I didn't say what it was in that earlier mention:  one tea was good sized sample of compressed white tea cake, a silver needle by the looks of it.  The other was a Da Hong Pao, but that means a range of different things.  I'll need to check back in on details, but based on what they said that sample is probably a more interesting version than most people even know exists, something along the line of the Bei Dou story, if that rings a bell.

The one I'm reviewing here is a white tea from Fuding, China, where such white teas typically originate; they did mention that.  I also didn't catch an age.  I didn't get the impression this is supposed to be aged tea but from the looks of it it's not brand new tea either (from some darkening occurring).  I bought a fresh silver needle once and after about a year the "needles" (buds) had darkened to around this much, or maybe even slightly darker (I misplaced the bag in that case; that wasn't intentional aging).

Time is tight so I'll just do some quick rough notes for this review.  That's how I'm living now; some errand is always pressing, or we go to a vet or the hospital a lot.  Related to brewing approach, I'm going with a high proportion of tea--it seemed that would work well--and relatively hot water, what comes out of a filtering and heating / cooling unit as boiling point water, but probably slightly lower than that.  That reminds me of talking about tea mineral content in water recently, and water sources (with a cool reference on measuring mineral content in different bottled and municipal water here).  Multiple-stage filtered Bangkok city water probably isn't ideal, but that's what I'm using.

I let the first infusion go a little long (30 seconds-ish) so I don't run through an infusion saying that I'd actually taste the tea the next round (as I said time is tight; I've got a doctor's appointment pretty soon this time).   This tea is sweet, full in feel, and creamy.  That extra creaminess I sort of didn't expect.  I've been drinking shou mei and aged shou mei (and other compressed whites, something random and gong mei, with a comparison review of four here), and none seem exactly like this, or really even all that close.  Those are nice for having a broad, full range of subtle flavors.  All those teas were based on a mix of leaves and buds, and aging changes things, gives the tea a richness, "darkens" it a little, and per those descriptions adds potential for evolution of flavors.  Mineral is nice as an underlying context in this one, and the sweetness-related flavor range is hard to pin down.  That could be spice, or might relate to a mild form of fruit, something like dried apricot.  I'll check again as infusions go on.

On the next infusion it deepens quite a bit, picking up lots more strength and complexity.  That infusion was more like 20+ seconds, which is actually a bit long for as packed as this gaiwan is and as intense as this tea is.  It helps draw out a lot of the feel and tons of flavor, but a ten second infusion would work as well or better to preserve the effect in a lighter form.  Being a little strong as this emphasizes that mineral undertone, a bit towards flint, like a good bit lighter version of the slate range that keeps coming up, with different minerals.  A part of the flavor that's hard to catch does remind me of a spice, a little towards nutmeg, but the fruit is easier to sort out, more on the surface.  It seems like dried apricot combined with fresh pear, just a light, dry version of a pear.  It's definitely not Asian pear (which are really sweet and bright), closer to those in the US, the normal version (bosch?).

Brewed lighter the next time this does work a little better, the balance.  It may be transitioning; hard to separate those factors.  Mineral is a good bit lighter, which one would expect from a lighter infusion. and that dried apricot / pear range seems to shift towards a mix of dried fruits, similar to how a fruitcake comes across, minus a cake-like range.  Or maybe with a hint of underlying spice tone not all that far from that, but it's definitely still missing the cake / pastry part.  This tea seems better than all the other compressed white teas I've been drinking.  I usually like buds and leaves versions of white teas better, because even good silver needle style teas give up some complexity for being made of the one material type, but this is on the next level.  It could relate to quality of the tea as well as style difference.

Of course it did cost a good bit more than the white tea cakes I've been buying, but then those were in a value-oriented range, so that's not saying much.  I just bought another from Sen Xing Fa shop on this Chinatown visit, a 357 gram cake (supposedly 8 years old, and it probably is), for on the order of $20, kind of on the low side.  That would seem odd in some places, but since there probably aren't very many people in Bangkok for whom "shou mei cake" means anything at all the demand side of the equation is probably a little out of whack.  I also don't think they're trying to match the ramping up of pricing for aging teas that would be typical in most places, or they might not even be aware of an online market range for that aging factor.  Vendors really don't need to earn 15-20% for holding a tea cake per year anyway, even though in some sense that might be fair, in most sales contexts.  They do bear the cost incurred if something going wrong in storage, in addition to getting paid more for intentionally holding inventory, and setting up and maintaining a good storage environment.

that Gong Mei cake; a different look (reviewed here)

Sticking with that pricing discussion, the cake from Teeta Talk cost about the same, $20, but for 200 grams instead, so approaching double.  That gong mei cake was in the range of double that again, maybe costing just a little less than the two others for a small 100 gram cake.  This was on the same order, as a per-weight price, something like $40, maybe just over (I've lost track, but they did say).  I guess to work back to a clear price it makes a big difference if this was a 200 or 357 gram cake.  White tea cakes vary, but being that smaller size seems more common than for pu'er, if my vague impression is right.  $10 for 50 grams of this tea wouldn't be outrageous (how $40 for 200 grams works out), but $6 would also make sense, given the price break that tends to come with buying tea cakes versus better loose tea. 

I did ask by message; it's 300 grams (and they passed on a description:  it is Bai Hao Yin Zhen, silver needle, produced in FU-DING, Tai Laoshan 800 meters above sea level).  That price puts this around $7 for 50 grams; quite one the low side as loose teas go, still low for a compressed version, a good deal.

On the next infusion mineral seems to pick up again; that's probably related to not paying close attention to timing, and letting it run slightly longer.  Even though the aspects are very positive in this tea and the complexity is good there is just a limited set of aspects going on (to give a fair assessment, to weigh out limitations as well as strengths).  Feel has some thickness to it but nothing like the pu'er I've been on, even shou, which tend to just be full versus more complicated and interesting.  But then I never drink "good shou," which would be out of my budget range, since for me part of the appeal of that type is value.  That initial creaminess has faded some but it's still full, it just lost some of the effect of being a lot like cream, in both texture and taste.

On the next infusion the tea isn't fading, more than a half dozen infusions in, and the flavor isn't really going "off" in any sense, it has just lost a little of the initial brightness and complexity.  Without tasting that first 3 or 4 infusions this might seem a lot better, probably still better than those other compressed white teas I've been trying, although it does give up some richness and earthiness to those, some of which inclined a little towards a light version of coffee.  It's just within a different range, and again the aspects scope might be slightly "narrower."  I don't want to say the tea has moved to a woody aspect range, but it's something along that line.  It's a bit towards bamboo shoot instead, versus the dried and fresh fruit and spice range it had been on.  There are hints of spice, fruit, maybe even a trace of citrus beyond that, so it's still complex, just not in the same sense of other tea types being complex..

On the next infusion that citrus reminds me of a dried peel, or maybe a zest range, or possibly in between the two.  The tea is still evolving, not fading away (up towards 10 infusions, but it's not finished yet).  Rushing the tasting probably didn't help; I might go back through tasting this for two hours instead of one and pick up another set of details I'd missed.  It's a nice tea; a bit different than others that I've tried before.

It occurred to me during editing this tea would probably shift in aspects quite a bit depending on making it in different ways, at a minimum related to the relative proportion of the same aspects.  Of course trying Western approach versus Gongfu would come to mind, but this would brew nice tea "grandpa style" (with leaves remaining in the water while you drink it), and would work for cold brewing.  Some people have mentioned simmering white tea instead of infusing it in hot water recently, and without any negative aspects to work around no matter how much or little that changes the effect it would be fine.  I'd expect there would be ways to emphasize the fruit and spice, not that there wasn't enough of that prepared this way.

they grow up so fast (both are November babies)

Monday, November 6, 2017

Farmerleaf 2012 Nanzuo Shengtai (Jing Mai sheng)

Farmerleaf sent a sheng pu'er sample with that last order of Dan Cong, so I'm onto trying another semi-aged version (with more on that categorization to follow).  This will work well with a longer term project of exploring sheng pu'er, helping keep me calibrated.

There is another "vertical" tasting coming up that I should attend, LBZ this time, and some interesting samples are on the way, so it won't have to wait until I see how much tea I run across on a trip to Russia next month.  I was thinking about doing a post about that, even before I go, about asking around about tea and shops there, and what has turned up initially.

I'll let part of Farmerleaf's description introduce this tea:

This tea comes from Nanzuo village, a remote village on Jingmai Mountain. It was made by Chen Xiao Hua, our friend from Nanzuo...

...When it arrived in Puer in late Spring 2017, it had a bit of that mountain wetness, this trait has toned down and now is left a sweet and mineral tea, aged in moderately dry conditions. It features a decent huigan that comes after a couple of brews. It was processed on the redder side and this trait can still be found in the tea nowadays, the fragrance is on  the fruity side.

A very brewable and inexpensive tea that makes a great daily drinker if you like semi-aged Pu-erh teas.

separated leaves


It does look quite darkened, and the dry smell is rich and earthy, along the lines of old leather with a bit of spice.  I can't really judge if it seems more aged than would be typical in 5 1/2 years, or guess at storage effect from the scent, and I won't have lots of baseline for estimating that from brewed tea either.  I'll just describe what it's like to drink it, starting with the first infusion after the rinse step.

It's definitely not young sheng (in the sense of a new tea' "young" is a bit relative), although it still has some of the characteristic bitterness, which is just subdued.  I'd expect the tea to loosen up over more infusions but it's already approachable.  It's mostly a bit woody in effect, more complex compared to the woody effect of a brewed-out light oolong late into an infusion count.  A soft richness extends out from there into an autumn leaf depth, and that trace of edge might be more like biting a live tree branch tip, but a mellow version of that.  Spice and other leather, tobacco, or fruit range isn't coming out, but it is still the first infusion.  The feel and aftertaste of the tea are both nice supporting elements, for the early going of tea offered as a modest version, adding depth to the experience.

On the next infusion the tea does soften a little, and pick up even more depth.  The woodiness extends a little into tobacco.  For pipe smokers or cigar smokers that still wouldn't be a very specific reference, but I'd have to leave off at guessing some variation of cigar tobacco.  It's hard to describe why but the aspects work well together; the balance is nice.  If the feel was thin, or the aftertaste limited it wouldn't work as well.  More sweetness and some version of dried fruit would be nice, but I'm assuming that would tend to pick up in a more aged version of tea, that 5 1/2 years isn't supposed to be there yet.  

The next infusion isn't far off the last, perhaps a little sweeter.  The hui gan might be picking up too but that effect was already noticeable in earlier rounds, not as intense as in some other sheng versions, but significant.  The tea doesn't need extra intensity to show a lot of aspect complexity but I'll let the infusion time go a little longer next time just to check out the effect of the variation.

On the next infusion the feel is a little much, prepared that way, out of balance with the flavors.  The flavor range doesn't pick up intensity as much as that astringency edge, which is pronounced throughout the mouth.  It's not so noticeable on the front of the tongue but along the rear, sides, and even the top of the mouth, transitioning to a feeling in the throat at the end.  I tried that trick with tasting water after, to see if it tastes sweet, and it works, just not nearly as well as with the one Yiwu sheng we tried it with during that vertical tasting.

not really darkening much yet, compared to the dry leaf look

Flavor-wise the tea still mostly in a wood range, extending that to autumn leaf and tobacco; I'm still not noticing a move beyond that, to dried fruit or spice.  On the next infusion, brewed back in the normal infusion strength range--light for any other kind of tea, normal for sheng--the feel and flavor balance a lot better, and it might be transitioning towards a different kind of sweetness, not too far from fresh sugar cane juice, but the flavor part as much as the sucrose part.  That's related to molasses, since if you boil the sugar cane juice down that's what you'd get, but the cooking darkens the flavors into a richer range.  Or it might hint a little towards date, or both could just be alternate interpretations of the same thing.  The other wood / light tobacco, autumn leaf range is still more pronounced, but how those balance has shifted.  A lot of the bitterness has faded, although there is still some countering that other range, it's just not as pronounced.

On the next infusion it's not really transitioning further but it's definitely hanging in there, not really losing intensity, even though the infusion count is getting on.  I stopped making notes at this point but it went further, it's just that nothing more novel occurred with transitions.

leaves after finishing brewing

Sheng aging perspective from other references

I'm not sure how I feel about this tea.  The general type and this aspect range is not unfamiliar ground at this point but not exactly well-known, or a personal preference.  I'd probably be most interested in having more to see how it changes further, which is something I can't predict, based on limited prior exposure to that transition process.

I talked a little about looking forward to exploring pu'er, related to aging, and related to ongoing online discussion in this post (which is really about a Dian Hong comparison tasting; not great organization).  One starting point there was a TeaDB blog post discussion of vendors selling mostly "young" sheng, versus mid-aged or aged sheng.  One might reasonably ask, where is the cut-off?  They list semi-aged raw pu'er as greater than 7 years old, so this tea is still young (although in the data a shou from 2011 is listed as semi-aged; that's either a mistake or they see aging of shou as a different thing, on a different time-frame).

It doesn't really work to put the pressure on one reference source to set a definitive guideline, and given preferences for aging vary and fermentation itself depends on storage factors blocking out years as clearly young, semi-aged, and aged on a fixed time-frame might not work.  But to go a step further into their definition (TeaDB's) in a more recent post on Strong, Burly, and not too Expensive. Semi-Aged Xiaguan, MX-Tea Report [Feat. Garrett] the teas listed spanned 2003-2006, so 14 year old teas were not yet considered aged.  Then again tuochas probably would age more slowly due to tighter compression, and that rating could well be a commentary about preference for aging them versus other tea types.  Paging around their blog I found an answer to this specific question in a "Pu'er for Beginners" post, about the category division:

What qualifies as aged pu’erh? This really depends on who you ask and the storage. A tea can develop much quicker and differently depending on the conditions it’s stored in. Things around this range 7-20 years should show their age and generally fall into the semi-aged category.

So this sample was "young sheng," not semi-aged, as they define it, but they've built some openness into that description.  Again the categories seem not to matter as much as the actual attributes of the tea.  This reminds me of another favorite blogger weighing in on that time-frame, Cwyn of Death by Tea:

A ten year old or younger tea is not aged, nowhere near done with its cycle of fermentation...  Quite honestly the fun I have with sheng puerh lately is more about the process of fermentation and aging than with drinking...  

How can anyone know what a tea will be in twenty years when it is younger than ten? I am here to take the pressure off you. Everyone is so anxious about a process that will take two or three decades. If your tea is less than ten years old, you have no idea what will happen and yet the tea itself is far more resilient than you think. A little mold here, a little dry air there, a bit of everything will happen to each tea, even those in so-called ”ideal” conditions. Most of us will not see the final result of our teas, but then most of us will not get to see our great-grandchildren either, unless we started early with both endeavors. 

I read a half dozen blog posts from A Tea Addict's Journal on aged pu'er but none of it condenses down to a simple guideline about time-frames.  And really, why would it?  Storage conditions vary, preferences vary, and the starting point of the actual teas, and so on.  I only mention it here since some readers may not be familiar with that blog (although most would be), and they probably should be.  To mention just one post from there this is a favorite, on how pu'er tends to change with age, and when to give up on potential improvements due to aging, as cited:

It’s true that sometimes teas do go through an awkward phase. They have lost that initial sweetness/floral fragrance that are characteristic of new teas, but have not yet developed old tea taste. It’s that weird in between state where it’s really a pretty bad thing to drink. However, I also think that there are many teas out there that simply cannot and will not age. This is mostly because of bad processing to start off with. If your tea was processed like a green tea, bad news, it’s not going to get better. Aged green tea will never develop that complex and rich flavour of puerh that you should be striving for (and if you are one of those people storing tea to preserve its flavours and fragrance, you’re in the wrong business). A telltale sign of a tea that is processed like a green tea is a beany taste – think a fresh biluochun, a classic beany tea. If your tea smells like a longjing or a biluochun, it’s time to drink it fast because it’s not going to get better.

This reminds me of a good bit of reading up on pu'er processing not so long ago, about the difference between sheng pu'er and green tea, but all that back-story gets to be a bit much.  A short version--of my understanding--is that sheng pu'er is heated during a fixing step but the processing temperature is lower, retaining some of the enzymes (flavonols?) that allows for fermentation to continue.  This Tea Geek article does a good job covering those basics, but that main difference only comes up in the comments discussion, and the basic processing steps for sheng aren't treated in detail, never mind enough to mention a temperature range as being critical.  This part of that is about something else, process naming, but it's still particularly interesting:

Just like the term “oxidation” in chemistry, “fermentation” has a slightly different meaning in microbiology compared to everyday English. Fermentation isn’t just any process that microbes carry out—it specifically describes the way microbes get energy from their food when no oxygen is around...

So what do microbiologists call a food that is made by microbes but not by true fermenting microbes? Ripened foods. Salami, brie cheese, and katsuobushi (AKA bonito flakes) are all examples of microbially ripened foods where exposure to oxygen is necessary in production.¹ On the other hand, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha are all fermented under limited oxygen exposure... 

If we want to be really specific and geeky, we can call this process microbial ripening which naturally lends support to calling shu puer “ripe” or “ripened” puer in English.


Per my current impression ("understanding" would seem too strong a description) the bitterness remaining in this tea I described is a good sign, a potential indicator the tea can continue to age and transition in positive ways instead of just fading away onward from here.  But it's not false modesty for me to claim that I have no idea what this tea would be like in another five to ten years; I really don't.  I also can't really evaluate the level of bitterness as meaning anything in particular, or the rest of the aspect (thickness in feel, type and level of flavors, etc.).  Maybe it's not even possible to look around the corner in that sense.  Exploring how that works out takes a lot of time and exposure, and I'm barely getting started on it.

I would drink this tea aged to this level if I had more of it but I'd probably save more than I'd drink, checking it a couple of times a year to see if it was improving versus just fading.  According to the TeaDB perspective I'd need to wait another 15 years to experience it as aged sheng, a time-frame Cwyn also seems to endorse.

I'm not so sure about that level of patience.  It does match up with my thinking that I should get the process started by stacking up some cakes now.  I don't really have $1000 set aside to do justice to even beginning that kind of project, to buying a good bit of tea I don't plan to drink much of within the next decade.  But I'll see what kind of balance I can strike related to that over the next year.  I have most of three sheng cakes set aside from what I've bought this year, I just need to not drink too much, and go easy on sharing samples from them, and pick up the pace or acquisition.

Loy Krathong, 2017; the little "boats" carry away your sins

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tea culture; a blog anniversary retrospective

Originally contributed to the TChing site for publication.

My blog will be four years old in the next week, which is a good excuse for looking back.  I don't really want to talk about me so much, or this blog, more about tea culture, and perhaps a little about how perspective towards the subject changes.

one version of tea culture and community (credit Global Tea Hut organization blog)

How much did tea culture seem to change over those four years?  Given that the subject of tea is thousands of years old not that much, relatively speaking.  Matcha is bigger now, and trends come and go, like people putting different types of cheese on tea, or mixed in with it.  Hybrids styles develop, people trying out new things in existing areas but traditional teas wouldn't change much decade to decade.  I'm in the middle of reviewing an Assam oolong now, and covered a Japanese smoked black tea this year (it was ok, a good bit like a Lapsang Souchong, but different).

Beyond tea itself I am interested in shifts in online tea culture, for example in older style forums moving towards Facebook group activity.  I suppose there wasn't much for Facebook tea groups four years ago compared to now, so things do transition, but the function isn't so different.

It's not as much about evolution but interesting how tea culture means different things to different people, how it fragments.  One meaning is embracing old traditions, ceremonial practices, collecting traditional gear, etc.  One running theme is that given that the experience of tea is either generally positive or somewhat value-neutral the shared interest should help people come together, to share experiences without conflict.  Then divisions and conflict come up, related to commercial interests as much as anything else, but also just to people taking the ideas and practices in different ways.

I had written out a bit about those splits, and transition in how people perceive tea differently over time, about a typical personal experience / learning curve, and how those go in general.  But I'd really like to keep the focus here on how I think tea culture is changing, more than about how it fragments into sections, or about personal experience transitions.

a tea group at my alma-mater, the Penn State Tea Institute (photo credit)

In talking to people in tea groups one main theme is that tea awareness is just now ramping up where the person commenting lives.  I guess in the US in the Northwest or parts of California it may seem like a lot of that really started a decade ago, but in a different sense it's probably true in those places as well, just in a different sense.  Bangkok has went from only having local Chinatown shops and two others in malls, beyond booths and smaller stores, or Tae Tea outlets, to there now being a modest number of other cafes and loose tea outlets.  But beyond matcha and bubble tea, really not the same thing, it's only now getting started.

A friend bought Nepal tea through a source that was hard to access roughly four years ago, and had luck selling or trading some of that, because it was far less accessible then.  I've talked to a good number of people starting tea businesses related to Nepalese tea in the past year or so, enough that it's hard to keep track of how many.  Two used Kickstarter approaches, and one of those talked of opening a physical shop, a couple visited Nepal from the US, and two based their businesses out of Nepal.

Nepal white tea, in a unique style (reference link)

There are less and less unexplored corners of the industry.  I first visited Laos almost 10 years ago now--the time just flies--and later returned and bought tea from a local farmer.  It occurred to me that someone could do a great business by helping those farmers process teas better, and now Kinnari Teas is more or less selling doing exactly that, working with Laos producers to raise standards.

A recent post on more direct tea sourcing options covers a trend that all but didn't exist four years ago.  Others might rattle off counter-examples, of a plantation with a website, or related to one-step-removed sourcing going on a decade or more ago (in some cases a small vendor going on a sourcing trip, buying from a farm there), but now actual producers are setting up sales websites.  It's rare, and in some cases what's being sold is still really being re-sold, but it's starting.

 a small family tea producer's sales page (reference)

New types of tea interest groups are evolving, a subject I've not had space to develop here.  At the level of the individual tea drinker culture change really does reflect one person after another moving through an experience curve.  Every week lots of discussion forums see posts about people just now moving from tea bags into loose tea, asking how they might get started on brewing and sourcing, about types, and all the rest.  It's a slower process but every year people who were only first introduced to loose tea the year before push further towards the middle of the learning curve, switching types and preferences.

The online associations tend to be a bit loose, but those are an expression of tea culture.  It has been nice for me to be a part of that, conversing here and there, researching different themes, and rambling on in posts in TChing and Tea in the Ancient World.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Halmari Hand-rolled Assam Oolong

a bit tippy as oolongs tend to go

Halmari, one main producer of Assam teas, sent an oolong version along with two orthodox versions of Assam black tea, one of which I've already reviewed.  And an Earl Grey; that should be interesting.  Indian oolong isn't a brand new concept but I've not tried many examples, and no specific versions come to mind (not a great sign).  As I only vaguely recall the versions I tried seemed a lot like a black tea, just backed off in oxidation level a little, not all that different than how that works out for Darjeeling first flush teas.  That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing given how nice those can be.

Their description of this tea doesn't add that much to that but I'll cite it, since Assam oolong does seem atypical:

Halmari’s handcrafted tea follows the five basic steps of tea-making, however, it is carefully hand-rolled and oxidized repeatedly over the course of days. This unique method enables us to create beautiful complex layers of aromas and flavours from this tea. 

one minimum-requirement version of a processing chart (credit World of Tea)

Per World of Tea's processing chart the only minimum-requirement difference in types between oolong and black tea is that oolong is fixed at one step (heated to stop oxidation at one level).  Of course a lot of oolong is actually roasted too, and processing steps can vary, but I'm not going to develop all of that in this post.


The dry tea smells a little like a Darjeeling,  with orange citrus or maybe even bergamot scent. But it's slightly earthier, an interesting combination.

I brewed the tea Gongfu style (odd mentioning what that is, but just in case:  using a high proportion of tea to water, and multiple infusions versus only two or three).  These instructions recommend Western style brewing, and I did also try that method later, which I'll describe at the end.  The first infusion was more a rinse, but not discarded, a normal approach for me. 

The taste is sweet with a good bit of fruit and complexity, but prepared light enough that I'll start the detailed review on the second infusion.  It's already clear that this really will be a type of tea that's new to me, not just black tea eased off a little on oxidation level, a bit different in character.

The tea is interesting.  The tie to Assam black tea related to the aspects is clear enough but that only seems to represent half of what is going on, and it's not based on a dominant malt aspect as Assam black tea tends to be.  It also shares a lot in common with Darjeeling, more so than any Assam I've ever tried.  I'd say second flush style since the astringency level isn't as light as in first flush, and since citrus / bergamot is so pronounced in this.  It's not exactly that, with a lot of the flavor in this tea expressed in a different citrus range.  It's still related to a type of orange, I'm just not going to venture which orange (blood orange, juice orange?; definitely not navel orange).

There is malt too, it just shares the space, only one part of what is going on.  From there the citrus range is next, then a black - tea related effect of oxidation, a specific kind of earthiness.  It's something I've been referring to as a resinous feel, which seems to relate to taste range that's a little towards pine.  There's a good but of mineral complexity under all that.

It's definitely novel, and doesn't remind me much of any other oolongs.  I'm guessing that this wasn't roasted at all, although not all oolongs are, and I'm not sure it would improve it anyway.  The oxidation level must be backed off that of their black teas but it's hard to notice that as a single cause input.  Oriental Beauty style oolongs are typically prepared at a relatively high oxidation level, up near the border of what would be considered black tea, and I guess this does share some commonality with that type, it's just not exactly the same.  It contains more bud material than oolongs typically tend to, or at least it seems to, so it ends up looking a little like some Oriental Beauty teas.  The fruitiness isn't far off some OB versions range (pronounced citrus is typical for those), and like those this tea has great sweetness, it just has a black tea-type earthiness underlying that which isn't common to those, maybe except in more oxidized versions nearer to the boundary for black tea.

My description so far hasn't done it justice but there is a sweetness and lightness to the tea, offset by the complexity and bolder flavor range.  It's true that I'm expressing a contradiction, but there is a complexity to the experience beyond individual aspect input that is hard to pin down.  It's definitely not as light as lighter / "greener" oolongs always are, or even as roasted oolongs go, but it's not as heavy, earthy, or astringent as black teas.

For the last infusion I went over 30 seconds and it was just a little intense;  I'll back off that.  Prepared on the light side this tea really shines, bright with lots of fruit, lots going on.  The feel isn't even thin, and brewed strong--what would be normal strength for other teas, at least related to brewing time--that feel might be too much, along with the flavor not being as positive.  Using the same parameters as this for the Dian Hong (Yunnan / Chinese black teas I tasted yesterday, at least related to when I made these notes) those black teas wouldn't taste like much, especially the two leaf-type versions (versus the one bud / gold tips version).

Part of the taste range is back at cedar / redwood, matching the orthodox black version I tried earlier, but it's layered along with the rest in this.  There isn't that much common ground with light rolled oolongs to talk about,  or with Wuyi Yancha or Dan Cong styles.  It's closest to Oriental Beauty, as I'd mentioned, but it seems just as close to Darjeeling second flush tea as well, sort of in between the two.

The malt aspect is different than in Assam black teas.  It's still in a malt range but beyond being only one flavor contribution among others instead of dominant the effect is lighter, and the aspect itself different.  I tend to describe malt as spanning a range of earthier and heavier flavor,  like aged rusty iron pipe, to being much softer, lighter, and sweeter, more like ovaltine, closer to cocoa, or more like the original sense of a fermented grain.  This might be closer to the middle now, still a bit towards the heavier side, but less so than as expressed in Assam black teas.

The fruit effect transitions some along later infusions, but still in a similar range.  It's becoming lighter in character and perhaps more complex rather than less.  It's at a place where interpretation of individual elements could vary quite a bit, but then to some extent that would have been true of the fruit and earthier aspects in earlier infusions too.  It's slightly wood-like, but it's also picking up a touch of root spice complexity.

On the next infusion I went a good bit longer, over a minute.  The tea is brewing out, fading after a good number of infusions, but the aspects range is staying consistent, and it's still possible to brew with that more intense,  heavy-earth, thick feel.  It comes across as slightly dry made that way.  I'll stretch the tea to brew another infusion or two, or it would work to try and get the last out of it by trying cold-brewing (putting it in the refrigerator with slightly warm--but not hot--water, overnight or for at least 8 hours).

A second try, Western brewed

Whenever I'm brewing teas Gongfu style (using that tea proportion and timing) for types that would either typically be prepared Western style, or I think might do better that way, I try to check results making them using both processes.  And I did that for this tea.

The results did seem similar.  Again this tea reminded me a lot of a second flush Darjeeling, not that far off a black tea style related to oxidation level, but a good bit fruitier than most tea types tend to be.  The muscatel was swapped out for other orange citrus range to some extent, and the oxidation level and subsequent malt / earthiness / astringency was subdued, but it was definitely still along the same line.  It did well related to using that approach; it was easy to make, and provided plenty of flavor, even though I really did use a light infusion proportion compared to how I generally make teas. 

This tea is soft enough that it would work well across a range of infusion strengths.  There is no notable astringency to brew around, and just enough earthiness and structure to give it a bit of feel, perhaps a bit softer than it might seem it would be given the flavor range balance.  Related to overall balance and the "clean" nature of this tea, there is a subtle way that teas come across that shows them to fit somewhere on a range.  Let's express that as ranging from flawed, to decent tea, to instead really good, and at the highest end of that spectrum something exceptional.  This tea is pretty far towards the more positive end of that scale.  Some teas can come across as very subtle and sophisticated, and also intense at the same time, as better Dan Cong can, and this tea is a bit more along the lines of a conventional tea tied to that scope of effect, similar to how better than average Oriental Beauty oolongs tend to come across.  The flavors aspects set is nice and unique though; all in all a very nice tea.

Typically it's not a blogger's place to mention cost and value related to tea but per my take it would still make sense to buy this tea at twice the listed price, with some teas of comparable quality and overlapping aspects range selling for more than that.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Tasting 2014 7542 (Dayi sheng) and a Langhe factory pu'er

In a recent post about Liu Bao and a tea exchange with a friend in Malaysia I'd mentioned that he passed on most of a sheng cake with that hei cha (from the Langhe factory producer).  It's too kind, really, especially given how much Liu Bao he sent.

That Langhe sheng pu'er will work perfectly with my previously described project of trying more sheng and seeing how those change with age.  In a sense it doesn't matter what it's like, since regardless of character and how much I like it the one purpose of noticing aging changes in one more type of sheng pu'er will still be fulfilled.  I did try it yesterday, and it's not bad, but today I'm comparison tasting it along with another standard version I just picked up.

Langhe left, Dayi 7542 right; definitely variation in tea material compression

I visited Chinatown yesterday (as of initial draft; just last week during editing), mostly to pick up a replacement white tea cake (shou mei).  It was the one from the Sen Xing Fa store mentioned in this comparison review, described as the oldest version from 2008.  I've been giving away enough tea for people to try that I've almost went through that cake, more by distributing it than actually drinking it.  I liked a different version slightly better in that compressed white comparison tea tasting post, and the two teas are relatively comparable in cost (this was a bit less, the same cost for 357 grams instead of 200, both around $20). 

Both white tea cakes I've already tried were available locally, but it was hard to pass up an outing to Chinatown and go in the other direction to that Teeta Talk shop instead.  I swung by the Jip Eu shop to drop off some tea samples--including sharing a little of that Liu Bao--but I'll save how that went for another post.

Yaowarat facing East, see description below

It's hard to make out but I work in a building in the picture above, just several miles away from Chinatown (this is on Yaowarat, the main street, not the main section with all the signs, on the other side).  I work in Sathorn, not in the Mahanakhon building, which is easy to spot, the building with the odd profile, but in the Empire Tower building beside it.  It looks a lot smaller, mostly due to the angle even though it isn't as tall, buried at the bottom of the visible divide to the right of that temple chedi in this picture.  It's not that far from where I work but walking there would take a few hours.

The tea I bought--the Dayi / Tae Tea 7542--is from the Sen Xing Fa shop.  They sell a lot of commercial Thai teas (the typical oolongs), and teas sold out of open bins on the sidewalk (crazy!), and teas in large jars inside, per typical Chinatown shop non-optimum storage.  But there is more interesting tea around in there, you just have to ask and look for it.  The staff member there last time spoke English, a younger guy, part of the family that owned it, and this time the other family member didn't, at all, so I had that to work around.  I speak some Thai but it takes a lot of fluency to run through tea descriptions, and I can't.

Sen Xing Fa staff, with tea cakes and teaware

typical Chinatown side-street, beside that shop

I visited another official Dayi outlet here in the last month (not Teeta Talk, the one in IT Square) and crazy as it sounds I didn't buy any tea there.  One concern:  I checked on the price of a "2016 Menghai Golden Fruit shou pu'er" I bought a few months ago and they were charging double what I paid for it through Yunnan Sourcing.  That wasn't really the main issue, though, that I expected I could probably find those same teas elsewhere for less.  I was in a hurry--kind of always in a hurry; my life works out like that--and my wife was with me, and that certainly doesn't help.  I explained the sheng stockpiling project to my wife, that you don't you just drink it as you buy it, that the tea more or less needs to age, and I think she kind of got it.

Another main issue was that the sales woman spoke almost no English.  To her credit she was pointing out origin locations of the cakes, but couldn't really say any more than that about them.  Later it occurred to me that I really should have just bought a standard-type cake to keep for reference, like this one I just bought, but being in a hurry I didn't process it all fast enough.  My daughter was napping in the car at the time, with my son and mother-in-law waiting there, and all that really does set the clock ticking.  I'll mention links for those Tae Tea shops but they would be more helpful to people who read Thai (website and FB page version).

Tae Tea shop in IT Square building, near the Don Muang airport

I'm wondering if there is any chance this tea isn't "real" (the 7542).  I've read a half-dozen articles on the subject, so I could easily enough go back through those and looks for indications, but I'll probably just assume that it is (unless it's really bad tea, then I'll check further on all that).  I'd guess that more costly versions of tea would be more likely to be faked but then if a demand is there along with a cost difference from lower grades of tea of course fake versions would turn up. 

In visiting China five years ago our local Huawei employee guide said that people produce and sell fake eggs there (inside the shell; they make that part too).  The idea was that if anything can be made for less than a real version it will be.  We questioned him how that would be possible, and his answers were plausible, with the right amount of real explanation and the level of information you'd expect, but I still wonder if he wasn't just putting us on.


Langhe pu'er; a bit tightly compressed

looser, with a different look and a much different smell

I have pu'er pick somewhere, but used this since I've misplaced it

Both teas are labeled as from 2014; that's fortunate, for comparison.  The Langhe pu'er is really compressed, hard to break up, and the Dayi tea is not.  Both have picked up some color from three years of aging, and both have relatively interesting smells.  I suppose I could start a review based on variations in that, but in this case I didn't, and tasted the rinse and drank a light first infusion before making any notes.

I've tried the Langhe pu'er yesterday so that's not exactly an unknown.  It was ok.  It's a bit mineral intensive, really towards the metallic side, but it has some warmth and complexity balancing those things, and metal and mineral aren't necessarily bad anyway.  I bet three years ago this tea would've been challenging to drink a round of.

And that's how the first infusion for it goes; decent, some complexity, mostly mineral and a trace of metal.  Some background:  years ago a tea friend recommended I try drinking a lot of one cake of a sheng to adjust to the general type (Bank, the guy who ran that tasting), and a second contact (a Japanese guy living in India who bought tea here sometimes; kind of strange all that) recommended one not unlike this one, a cake that I did buy and have since finished.  I bought that tea before I started this blog (in a Bangkok shop that since closed, JRT), and thought of mentioning it in a review here, but it just wasn't interesting enough to tell much of a story about.  It did change some over a few years of regularly drinking it but it just softened and deepened in range a bit, nothing too dramatic.  This tea I'm drinking now might be slightly better, or it could just be that I'm more used to that general profile, so it comes across more positively.

The 7542 is completely different.  It's a little more bitter, with a bit more of that "taking an aspirin" aspect that initially had put me off sheng, but still approachable, even in early rounds.  Per my understanding that will keep on fading as the tea ages, and some degree of that taste range and related astringency is actually a good thing, a good starting point for transitioning into completely different types of aroma aspects later.  Of course I'm passing that on as hearsay; part of trying out aging teas is about experiencing that sort of transition myself, it's just going to take another half dozen years for that to play out for this version.  The tea also has nice complexity, nice other range.  There is a warmth to it as well, a wood-tannin sort of range versus that pairing with mineral tones in the other.

Fourth and fifth infusions, I think

When we were tasting those Yiwu sheng (the "vertical" age-sequence tasting) Bank mentioned that Malaysian stored teas have a characteristic flavor, and that may be some of why these teas seems so different, and a lot of what I'm picking up as interesting about the Langhe tea.  The base of the flavor is just mineral, as I keep saying, but it extends into a nice warm range, giving it a fullness.  It's not warm like cinnamon, I suppose it's sort of out towards wood or tobacco, but not those either, really.  It's not completely unrelated to root beer, just not that, with a little of the bite of a softer wood, and a little towards molasses for sweetness.  I'll keep working on describing that.  It's interesting that the Langhe is a little darker than the other tea; I suppose it is conceivable that the it aged more, even though Bangkok should have a similar environment; it tends to stay plenty humid.

The 7542 is also becoming more pleasant, still a little edgy related to that tannin, feel, and related flavor, but there's a nice depth to the rest of the experience.  I wouldn't want to only drink this particular tea but there's range there to appreciate, and it does seem like it softening and picking up warmth and complexity over time could turn it into a really nice tea.  It's quite decent now, just a little bitter.  People tend to say "bitter" when they really mean astringent but this tea has some of that feel aspect but it really is more bitter; it has that flavor.  I would imagine for an experienced sheng drinker this isn't particularly far down the scale of being bitter as younger teas go.  I'll have to keep trying the other versions of sheng I've got around to get it all mapped out in taste memory.

Per usual I'm focusing on taste / flavor aspects here, not so much feel or aftertaste.  I'll try to consider those further in the next round and see how that varies.  I went a little longer on the last infusion time to see how that affected results so it would've been perfect for that, but I'll try a normal, somewhat light infusion again this time.

Brewed lightly the Langhe pu'er is easy to drink; it does offset any aspects that might seem challenging.  It also comes across as a little thin; the flavor is lighter, and the feel isn't as substantial.  That warmth and depth is still nice but it works much better in a stronger version.  There isn't a lot going on with mouthfeel to talk about; you can feel the tannins along the middle of your tongue and rear edges of your mouth, but it's all a little soft.  It doesn't just disappear after drinking it but the aftertaste isn't significant either.  Someone really into appreciating those types of aspects might be disappointed by this tea, or maybe it would just go better infusing for longer to draw that range out more.

A lighter infusion works well for the 7542 for the flavor to balance, with that predominant wood and leather tone almost extending into an apple cider range.  The feel hits my mouth a bit differently but the main difference relates to aftertaste.  The effect of the tea is still there two minutes later; it's strong initially and then keeps slowly fading.

Later infusions and conclusions

Over the next couple of infusions the teas just seem to be transitioning to softer with a bit deeper flavor range from there.  Based on trying that Langhe yesterday it's going to keep brewing for awhile, and I'd expect the same of the Dayi tea.  It is funny how much darker the Langhe tea leaves are, and how much darker the brewed tea is.  Maybe it really did age faster there, and maybe I really am picking up characteristic flavor from Malaysia storage.  It has been all kinds of humid here in Bangkok for the past six months, for the Thai rainy season, and it's never cool and dry, so it would seem odd that conditions would age a tea faster anywhere else.  If that shop was air conditioned that would change things but I don't remember that it was.

I accidentally gave both a long soak due to not paying attention, and I guess that can help related to summing up where they are after lots of rounds.  The Langhe has faded more, with the feel softer and even the flavor thinning.  That might have to do with the tea being a bit more ground up, causing the flavor to come out faster, or maybe it's just not made from as good tea material.  The flavor has moved to more of an autumn leaf range, with plenty of what I'm interpreting as the storage related taste still present.  The 7542 is still on the strong side, brewed longer at this stage, with the flavor, feel, and aftertaste intensifying from being prepared that way.  The bitterness isn't what it was but it hasn't completely faded.  It works relatively well with the rest of the aspects profile; it fits.

I'd planned to go through a research section, as I used to for posts more in the past, but this is already kind of long.  I'll cite what William of Farmerleaf said about teas from that factory and turn up a summary of 7542.  His comment first:

It's from langhe tea factory, a big one in Menghai that makes relatively cheap teas.  If it was stored in Malaysia, it could be very good.

Of course he would probably mean relatively speaking, and it did seem that the storage contribution was a likely most interesting characteristic.  He made an interesting observation about the 7542, which almost contradicted other things he was saying about people's preferences varying related to aspects and aging, but it all makes plenty of sense taken in the right way:

2014 is still very young for this kind of tea, they are usually made to be drunk in five or ten years.

In looking for a summary of 7542, and comparing prices for different versions, I found this description of the number (from the Teasenz vendor):

The first two digits ’75’ stands for the year the recipe was created. The 3rd digit refers to the size of the leaves used. In this case it’s the number ‘4’ meaning that this Dayi cake consists of smaller leaves (and more buds). At last, the last digit ‘2’ refers to the factory, which is the famous Menghai tea factory. Today, 7542 recipe is so popular that it’s often seen as a benchmark to compare other recipes.

It's a violation of a blogging convention but since I have these references looked up I'll review how pricing variations go in them, against what I just bought.

Teasenz is selling this year's version for $19.95, which seems on the low side, but then vendors do tend to charge significantly more for holding onto a cake for a few years, and batches within a numbered type vary.  The closest Yunnan Sourcing version to the one I tasted is from 2015, listed at $47.  King Tea Mall (a name that comes up, but not a shop I've bought through, or that I can personally endorse) lists a 2014 version for $49.  I paid 1200 baht for the one I bought, which works out to $36.  It seems likely that they don't try to match the pace of marking up cakes for initial years of aging against market rates in that Sen Xing Fa shop, which could work out to a good reason to buy them there.

That one potential complication I won't get far with here, that might relate to the labels of the 2017 versions not matching from the two vendors selling one:  there are different batches per numbered tea from each year.  A Tea DB blog article talks about that, with the main theme there about how pricing for pu'er varies by age.  The range of differences within a year is highlighted by a table showing version differences in price:

The main point for this review was just comparing two versions of sheng pu'er, to set out a starting point for referring back to how they change later with more aging, so I won't dig deeper into those types of tangents.

in memory of King Rama 9, beloved King and a father to the nation of Thailand