Sunday, March 12, 2017

Farmerleaf Jingmai Miyun sheng (Spring 2016), compared to a Golding pu'er

Farmerleaf 2016 Jing Mai sheng pu'er

Golding (KL vendor) 2016 Jing Mai sheng pu'er

I never did get around to reviewing pu'er from Farmerleaf, that Yunnan tea source that really probably specializes in pu'er more than the other types I did review (mostly black teas, although a moonlight white was also really interesting).  I just noticed on their website they'll be on break from sales for a month, starting in a day, for what that's worth.  They do make tea; likely related to that.

Since I had some of a Golding shop privately pressed Jingmai pu'er to compare it to (two, really, so I just picked one) I went ahead and tasted this alongside a Jingmai 2016 gushu sheng from them (tea from old plant / tree sources).  To review, Golding is a Kuala Lumpur shop that sources and presses their own tea cakes.  Or has them pressed, most likely, but per my understanding the process is a lot more hands-on than someone ordering tea cakes to re-brand from a local producer (like Farmerleaf).

I'm finishing up a post about Yunnan tea growing and sourcing issues based on interview input from William of Farmerleaf, and he produced some Youtube videos on the subject (here).  It's a bottomless subject, with answers always leading to more questions, but if it's of interest his videos make for some good input.  He's French but he's been living in Yunnan, and working with his wife, who is from a tea farming and producing family, so what he's passing on is relatively first hand experience.  There is also more on processing in the description for this particular tea on their website.

Switching around between tea types--reviewing different teas every week--comes at a price, and I'm not so well-calibrated for pu'er these days.  I've tried one sheng since I checked in on that subject last, a tea I picked up in NYC from Sun's Organic Shop.  That tea was ok, I just don't get around to reviewing everything I try.

This subject of trying lots of teas versus sticking to a more narrow focus is something I've discussed before with a tea-type specialist who may be familiar, Imen of Tea Obsession.  She wrote about that a little in this post, about horizontal versus vertical experience, but it's all what you'd expect, and there's not much there.  To some extent you have to give up depth for range if you choose to focus on everything (or choose not to focus, really).  I also didn't study under a master, or take classes, so best to take anything I say for what it's worth, as some guy trying things and thinking out loud in writing.

Review part:

Based on the first tastes the Farmerleaf tea is nice.  It's just a little bitter, with plenty of floral character, and strikes a nice all-around balance.  Of course there's always the hurdle that pu'er drinkers might be more focused on the feel of the tea or the effect, and I might notice this or that about feel but apparently I'm not properly tuned to notice the cha qi input.  I'm not saying it's not real, I just can't notice it enough to describe it, I can just sort of tell there is caffeine in tea.  I've heard people say lots of conflicting things about that subject--who hasn't--but I'll just not go into it here.  It wouldn't work to guess about that factor in this case anyway, due to doing a comparison tasting.  Probably that's problematic, per some takes, mixing those cha qi inputs, but I think I'll be ok.

Related to cha qi--more tangent, that never gets old--there are so many active components in teas that it doesn't need to necessarily be some mystical force that acts via magic.  No one ever seems to get to the point of measuring different compounds, and describing their effect, beyond noting there is caffeine and theanine in teas.  Aging could change those, or tea plant age really could correlate.  Or maybe it's some of both, pharmacology and magic.  Lets check on some input on all that from a tea book source I've been mentioning a little lately, Tony Gebely's "Tea:  A User's Guide:"

Tea leaves contain many amino acids, the most abundant of which is theanine. Theanine, specifically L-Theanine, is responsible for promoting alpha brain wave activity and a feeling of relaxation. L-Theanine in concert with caffeine can induce a state of “mindful alertness” in the tea drinker... 

The main Methylxanthine in tea is the stimulant caffeine. Other methylxanthines found in tea are two chemically similar compounds, theobromine and theophylline. The tea plant creates these chemicals as a way to ward off insects and other animals... Methylxanthines also contribute to a bitter taste in the tea infusion. The level of methylxanthines in tea depends on the variety and cultivar of Camellia sinensis used, the climate, the age of the leaves, and the propagation method (seed vs. cutting) used on the plant. 

No claims about transcendent experiences there but given those two categories don't exhaust his description of tea plant components there is plenty of space for chemicals rather than mystical forces to cause unusual effects.  Then again, sometimes different perspectives and descriptions can be right in different ways.  So back to the tea.

The Golding tea might be a little more bitter.  It's odd that doesn't match my old review; I do wonder how often I'm completely wrong about teas.  Bitterness is a relative thing, and I'm a bit put off by teas that come across like taking an aspirin, which of course could also stem from using inappropriate brewing techniques.  Neither of these teas is anything like taking an aspirin, really towards the opposite end of that scale, not so bitter at all.  Relating to that earlier subject, drinking different types inconsistently could lead to making significant brewing mistakes, but over time it all sort of gets sorted out.  The subject might seem simple, since the main brewing factors--beyond sourcing, storage, and aging--are teaware related, and tied to aspects of the water itself, then related to water temperature and proportion, and timing.

On the next infusion I'll try to get a bit further into those descriptions, although again I don't expect to get too far with "feel" differences.

Farmerleaf version left (but they look about the same)

As a rough description floral with a bit of bitterness really does describe the Farmerleaf tea.  There's just a hint of smoke, so light that you could miss it, and of course substantial mineral tones underlie all the rest.  There is an interesting structure to the tea, the way it tightens your whole tongue as you taste it, but still feels a bit wet, then transitions to a feeling in the throat after you swallow.

plumeria, growing in our yard

The exact same description matches the Golding tea, but at the same time all of those aspects are a little different.  The floral comes across a bit heavier, more like perfume.  The range of flowers is a bit similar but I don't think I would make it clearer by guessing what flowers they are.  Lots of flowers come across in between lavender and wildflowers to me, or some are like orchids instead, or else light and sweet like a daisy, or a touch earthier like a chrysanthemom or sunflower.  The floral scent in these teas is in the first range in that list, a sweet and rich, I suppose not so different than plumeria.

I smell tropical flowers here in Bangkok, including lots of plumeria, which were also common in Hawaii, and orchids are around.  There are lots of flowers at our house that I'd only be able to find out the Thai names for.  But someone with a much better grasp of floral scents could do a lot better, could pin it down to types.

The next infusion I brewed a little longer (not so much due to experimenting, just not careful, but the effect is the same), providing a good input to both how the effects are transitioning, and what the tea is like brewed slightly stronger.

The bitterness is still the main element in the Farmerleaf tea, but it's subtle enough that it doesn't really detract, as long as one is ok with some bitterness.  For drinking young sheng it kind of goes with the territory.  The general effect is still quite approachable, with lots of floral range layered below that, and with complexity picking up.  The hint of smoke dropped out entirely and it seems there is a hint of cinnamon in place of that.  It all works.

The Golding tea has a little more bite to it, but to me it's still soft enough.  It is interesting the way the flavor and the feel remains after drinking the tea, even transitions a little, but to some extent that's true of both of these.  I walked away to do something else at one point and noticed it lasts something like 15 minutes, maybe longer, so that taste and feel just tapers off, seeming nearly permanent.  I'm not sure if that's a good thing.  It seems a bit pronounced, as if the general effect would be just as nice in a much lighter version.

These teas are brewing to a nice golden yellow.  I suppose that might mean more to someone else, slight differences in shades.

It's a good number of infusions in but it seems these two teas might still just be getting started.  The Farmerleaf version goes to a nice place, with the different attribute ranges falling into a good balance.  That initial bitterness tapered off, and some warmth and complexity picked up.  The hint of spice didn't increase, maybe shifting towards a bit of woodiness instead, still it's nice for filling out a range.  These teas are both clean flavored and lively.

The stronger floral still stands out in the Golding version, with the feel and aftertaste effect moderated by switching back to a relatively light infusion strength.  Compared to brewing other tea types all of these infusions are on the light side, but the teas are so intense they work well in that range.  The balance is still nice for the Golding tea, just quite different than for the other, even though aspects are similar.  Bitterness did moderate a lot; it's an input, but not so pronounced.  Maybe that's what I meant in that earlier review, that bitterness tapers off quite a bit once it loosens up, or maybe I was comparing it to sheng that really are like taking an aspirin.

Farmerleaf tea brewed leaf

I'm going to be feeling these teas.  I keep saying I don't notice cha qi, or even caffeine, but there are limits to that.  Maybe part of what I mean is that I don't drink tea for effect, even though to some extent I must, just not on a level I'm clearly noticing.  I do recognize when it's too much; hard to miss that.  I did a white tea comparison tasting not so long ago and it really was.  I'll go a couple more infusions and give these teas a rest.

People say some types of teas are a lot more relaxing than others and I've always been a little suspicious of those claims.  It seems like if you think you will be relaxed that's an easy enough state to get to through the power of suggestion, by just relaxing.  Then again I did take an early nap about two hours after drinking these teas in the late morning; maybe there is something to all that.

Golding tea brewed leaf

Next infusion:  that warmth keeps picking up in the Farmerleaf version, it keeps improving.  Now it's woody inclined towards spice, but even more complex, out towards aromatic and warm root or bark spices, or maybe both.  Floral gave way a bit to make space for that, with nice sweetness still present, and I like this balance even better.  The aftertaste stays pronounced but the feel has softened back into a more "normal" tea range.

The Golding version stays more floral, still quite strong, but warms a little more too.  If someone loved a really, really pronounced aftertaste this tea would be perfect for them.  Even for loosening up many infusions in it brings out a tightness all along the middle of your tongue, and you can feel it in the throat after drinking it.  You could drink it for a whole afternoon, a few sips every 15 or 20 minutes, and just stay in the experience.  I'm still on the fence as to whether that's a completely good thing or not.  It's interesting.

Both were nice teas, both interesting.  The Golding tea was nice for a really pronounced sweet floral range, with an interesting aftertaste effect, and the Farmerleaf tea was nice for developing into more flavors complexity.  In this case they were similar enough and different enough that comparison tasting made sense, and probably did help shed light on finer points of both.

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