Thursday, July 6, 2017

Wuyi Yancha comparison, two Bei Dou and a Huang Mei Gui


I'm reviewing two of the Teasenz Wuyi Yancha samples they sent with the last tea I ordered.  I don't remember trying a Huang Mei Gui version before (also called Yellow Rose), although that doesn't rule out that I have.  Bei Dou I've tried a little of (with another review of one of these versions here); basically it's a cultivar type derived from cuttings of original Da Hong Pao plants, or something along those lines.  The version I'm comparing these other two teas with is from Jip Eu, a Bangkok Chinatown shop.

I'll reverse the typical sequence and add a little more about what Huang Mei Gui is first, then get into tasting review.  Let's start with Wikipedia's take:


Huang Meigui (Chinese: 黃玫瑰; pinyin: huáng méiguī; pronounced [xwǎŋ měi.kwéi]) is a very new Wuyi oolong tea, developed c. 2002. It has a highly aromatic fragrance and a lighter floral taste than most other Wuyi oolongs.  The colour of the steeped leaves is a very light green, much greener than other Wuyi teas.


That last part would tend to relate mainly to processing variances, one might think, not to plant type factors, but there could be something to it related to a more conventional preparation.


A random vendor, Verdant, adds this about their own version:

The Li Family's careful roasting brings out the wonderful balance of floral and savory that this varietal exemplifies. The earthy notes of taro and sweet corn meld with rose and jasmine in a way reminiscent of Turkish Delight candies.


I've already tasted this version and it wasn't like that.  It's interesting that these two type descriptions vary, not completely contradicting but not so similar.  Another one of my favorite blogs just reviewed this tea, My Thoughts are Like Butterflies:

So, if you were ever curious what eating raisin bread covered in honey while sitting next to a bowl of blooming orchids and plumeria tasted like, then good news, you can find out with this tea! It is impressively floral for a Yancha, not quite at Dancong levels, but certainly close, with an intense nectar like sweetness... Yanchas as a whole can be pretty intense, even when brewed lightly, but this one was almost delicate.


The review part will get to comparing my impression with hers, since this is the same tea.  Our takes never completely match, and she seems to have a more colorful and detail-oriented take on description, but the few times I've compared my reviews against hers for the same teas the general impression matches up, even if some details don't.  Let's also check with the vendor, Teasenz:

Huang Mei Gui (Yellow Rose): light roast. this oolong has a very unique floral aroma that evolves after every brew. It becomes sweeter, steep after steep.


This tea was part of a sampler set they offer, designed to let people try different Wuyi Yancha versions.  I won't be able to judge how true to type this one is but I can definitely pass on an impression.


The review notes are finished, in a relatively complete draft form, so none of this was going to change my impression.  Reading any description before trying a tea tends to shift things a little but I went into this only with the expectations related to being familiar with one of the teas, and it didn't taste much like I remembered it, which is covered in the following.


Jip Eu Bei Dou left, Tesenz Bei Dou top, Huang Mei Gui right

Review:


The Jip Eu Bei Dou tastes a bit coffee-like.  It's not the most fair version of it for comparison since I'm tasting the last of this bag, which included some quite broken tea, and that will probably pull the flavor range in a less positive direction, or at least change it.  That aspect might ease up a bit after this first infusion, which is more a rinse, but it's not really negative as it stands, just not how I remember it.  That coffee taste isn't as pronounced as actually drinking coffee, of course, more off to the side of cocoa and some bark spice, a bit interesting.  This tea isn't like I remember it, possibly also related to aging effect, since I last reviewed well over a year ago (the same leaves, not a different version).  Aging could dissipate the flavors or it could conceivably change, or even improve.  I won't comparison review it against that earlier impression, though, just describe the tea.


The Teasenz Bei Dou is also roasted a good bit, still medium though; the first aspects that comes across are in between a light char and dark caramel.  It's still probably going to be fine but that range could make picking out other subtle flavor aspects harder.  It seems lighter than the Jip Eu version, with an interesting undertone going on, maybe towards roasted almonds or chestnut, or perhaps just along that line.  Using a medium to darker roast is sometimes an intentional style preparation, per my understanding, that some people prefer heavier roasts, and some tea types lend themselves more to that than others.  But others see it as a flaw in a tea, either a processing mistake, a technique used to cover other flaws, or just a style they don't prefer.  Let's check a short Teasenz (vendor description) take on it:


Bei Dou Yi Hao (North Star): a light roast yancha characterised by a fruity aroma.


Per my understanding particular aspects like fruit tones versus other types can vary for the exact same tea prepared in the exact same way year to year, shifting based on what the tea plants experience as they grow.



The Teasenz Huang Mei Gui is also on the medium roasted side, not exactly light, but not heavy; all three of these will be in a similar range at least.  I tried a sample of another Wuyi Yancha version recently that seemed both light on roast and even a bit light on oxidation, so in a completely different range, and maybe that's shifted my expectations a little.  Maybe all of these don't seem as "green" and light roasted as if I'd been drinking some charred teas instead.

Maybe eventually I'll get around to saying more about that other tea I just mentioned; I have another sample of it.  It works well to not try completely different teas in a comparison tasting anyway; the contrast can be interesting but it really doesn't help with tasting.  Anyway, this version is a bit earthier, with more of a bark spice component to it, along the lines of dark wood.


Editing note:  so this is not so close to the other descriptions of this tea type so far, even though two of those were of the exact same tea version.  That can happen.


Jip Eu Bei Dou left, Teasenz Bei Dou middle, Teasenz Huang Mei Gui right


Second infusion


This is really the first real infusion, since I tend to use the first one as a long rinse.

The Jip Eu Bei Dou has cleaned up a little in profile, but using more broken leaves seems to be affecting it.  The coffee aspect has dropped back a bit but the general earthiness remains.  It still has spice tones to it making it interesting.  I remember this tea as being unique for balancing aromatic and flavor range aspects well (close to the same thing, but different), and it still does have a nice balance to it.  It comes across as more roasted than I remember it, maybe from using broken leaves, which would change the aspects present.  It's still a very nice version of a Wuyi Yancha, just not quite as exceptional as I remember, since it was one of the best I'd ever tried, per that earlier impression.


The Teasenz Bei Dou is picking up an unusual flavor aspect, a bit towards cardboard (but it sounds nicer to say wood, and that really would work instead).  In general that's a negative thing, a part of a less clean flavor experience, but it's not terrible in this, just not necessarily positive, and taking up flavor space where something more positive might be.  The level of roast has settled a little and it has good richness and fullness in flavor range, and beyond that one aspect is pleasant and positive.  It is a bit more aromatic than some versions of Wuyi Yancha, which I understand to be characteristic of the type.  That range comes across as more a liquor-like experience to me, in this case maybe in the range of cognac more than perfume.  It's still a relatively clean tasting experience, just not ideal due to that one trace aspect, which may well essentially drop out in transitioning.  It has some sweetness that helps it strike a nice balance.


The Teasenz Huang Mei Gui is moving off in a different direction, a good bit earthier, but more along the lines of roasted chestnut still (more like chestnut than almond, as it progresses).  It's a cool effect, and pleasant, although I suppose I would like it just a little more if I liked chestnuts better.  I absolutely love the idea of roasted chestnuts, and the scent, the flavor is just a bit so-so for me.  In addition to the earthiness being a bit like a bark spice or dark wood this has a bit of root spice depth to give it more complexity.  It's all much cleaner in effect than that flavors list would sound, more subtle, lighter and sweeter, but still complex.


3rd infusion


These should all level off roughly to where they'll be in this round, and then maybe just decline from here.  I'm using a relatively high proportion of tea to water, even for Gongfu brewing, because they were small samples so it wouldn't work well to split them up.  It's more than necessary for one infusion but a little light for two, so I just went heavy on all three, which matched how much of the one Bei Dou I had left anyway.


Jip Eu Bei Dou:  this is a really nice tea, with a good balance of aspects.  The coffee aspect has leveled off but it's still driving an earthy side of range that balances with other aromatic elements, all clean in effect, working well together.  It's not as mind blowing as I remember it but it's quite good.


Teasenz Bei Dou:  this tea is probably suffering from being compared directly to that other Bei Dou, which is one of the nicer Wuyi Yancha examples I've ran across, even if it has lost a little for being tasted as the roughed up end of the bag.  It's nice, balanced, complex, and clean in effect, with some nuttiness and plenty of aromatic range.  It's just that the one hint of cognac traces over into either wood or cardboard, not as clean in effect as the other tea.

On it's own it would probably seem a lot more exceptional for the strengths.  It's probably a touch more aromatic than the other Bei Dou, so "how good" in comparison might relate on preference for that too.  I tend to like either less aromatic or more balanced teas, not more aromatic, but others could easily go the other way on that.  It's why I was never really taken by Cindy's Qi Lan versions even though for some others they would be the best of what she makes and sells, and potentially absolutely amazing teas, if that's what someone liked best in Wuyi Yancha character.  This tea is the lightest of the three teas, which I can appreciate in how the style worked out, it just traces into one aspect range that isn't as pleasant along with carrying a lot of other range that works really well.


Teasenz Hang Mei Gui:  fading just a little, although I'm still using quite short infusion times, so it would be easy to compensate by lengthening that to draw out another two or three infusions.  The range is similar, earthy, with roasted chestnut fading a little, more of just a balance of different things going on now.  It's more complex than I'm really going to be able to describe; it might be floral tones filling in that background, but it's hard to sort out.  To put a name to that spice that picked up in this infusion, it's like cinnamon, not as edgy as Rou Gui cinnamon can be or as smooth as cinnamon in apple pie comes across but still cinnamon.

Altogether it's good; clean in effect, the level of roast works, with that dark caramel / toffee sweetness present in all of them maybe a little more pronounced in this one.  I'll let these go a little longer on the next infusion to see what that changes and that will be it for reviewing.



she sings happy birthday (but I didn't do much with pictures of these teas)

Fourth infusion:


"Longer" in this infusion is still around a minute, just to be clear.  From here it would work to push that out to a minute and a half but woodiness would probably increase.  I suppose some people would just call it quits instead; that would depend on preference.


Jip Eu Bei Dou:  the toffee element picked up a lot from the longer time; it's nice.  There's a trace of the coffee and cocoa from earlier but it's softened up, and it never had been murky in any way.  This will probably make another really nice infusion since this flavors balance is working so well this way.  It's a little woody but with toffee, coffee and cocoa on top of that, hinting a little towards spice, with a bit of aromatic range off to the side--more like a coffee liqueur in this than cognac, where the other Bei Dou falls instead--it's still quite good.


Teasenz Bei Dou:  this tea is still one component aspect away from being a fantastic tea.  Drop out the cardboardy overtone to the congnac aromatic range, filled in by very mild earthiness and limited dark wood / spice range, with a bit of toffee, and this would be great.  As it is it still works well.  Even just not tasting it alongside a relatively similar tea without that would help; it makes it stand out.  All three of these are pretty good teas, really.

Lighter Wuyi Yancha can pick up a greener wood tone that's unusual for a background context, and this has a little of that, I suppose not unrelated to what I'm describing, or maybe I'm just reading that in this way.  It's a bit hard to describe what green wood is like.  If you went out and bit into a half dozen live twigs it probably would be a good bit like one of them.  I was never tasting twigs that much--but then I was a strange child, so maybe a little--but I cut and split a lot of firewood as a child, maybe more than Abraham Lincoln, and played in trees, and did some construction.  It was a strange childhood, with lots of wood around.  Now that I think back this slight funkiness in this tea might remind me a little of playing on an old sawdust pile, a remnant of a sawmill operation on our property from a distant past (probably only a few decades back, but who knows).  Aging, fermenting sawdust piled up to about half the size of a small house has a great smell, really, but it's a slight stretch of range for tea.


Teasenz Huang Mei Gui:  this tea is fading faster than the others, for whatever reason, with the earlier character unchanged otherwise.  Part of that could relate to just being more subtle.  It's still nice but it's thinning quite a bit.  It can make another infusion but it will just be thinner, and doubling infusion time will ramp up strength but it won't get the most positive character back.  Four infusions for this type of tea isn't bad, but the Jip Eu tea did hold up a lot better, odd given how broken those leaves were.


Conclusion


All of these were nice.  The Jip Eu was my favorite, even diminished for using the last broken leaves of it.  The Teasenz versions were not far behind, better than they probably sound in comparison.  Wuyi Yancha comes in a range of types of aspects and quality levels (most teas do, some less varied than others), and being in the upper-middle of that range is a good thing.  Per my understanding these aren't being sold as "teas that never make it out of China" quality level, so they're fine for what they're represented as, decent versions, interesting, positive and unique teas.  I'm not so familiar with the Huang Mei Gui but I suspect they're relatively true to the standard types, which is kind of important given the point is trying those related to being sold as a sampler set.

A couple of years ago when I was just getting into better versions of Wuyi Yancha they would have seemed more exciting, now kind of becoming more of the same.  I suppose Cindy's teas have been spoiling me.  Tea can be like that; preferences can shift, but even beyond all that you can sort of end up chasing the dragon related to trying better and better types and seeking out new experiences.  That can work out well if you keep trying better versions, since the teas can just keep improving.  All three of these are a step or two above anything mid-range that you randomly run across, a lot better than teas sold out of large jars.

That cycle of moving expectations I mentioned is probably one part of why people tend to naturally drift to pu'er as more of a preference end-point; with aging differences the same exact teas will keep evolving, and the range in those types is broad, and the experience can extend well out of taste / flavor range.  I'd want to keep drinking some Wuyi Yancha since it's still a favorite type.  But now it's a favorite among other favorites instead, and even interesting, good versions can seem a bit more ordinary, as if I just expect the teas to be that good.

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