Sunday, June 17, 2018

Trying a 1998 Hong Kong stored sheng




This is the last tea sample passed on by Olivier Schneider, that pu'er authority who founded his own reference page (puerh.fr).



If the tea was from anyone else there would be less reference value in one sample that's not really well identified.  It's described as sheng puerh 1998 Hong Kong Storage.  The second description reference reads more like "1948;" that can't be right. 


Any tea, tasted even completely blindly, is fine for experiencing what you get from that, but it wouldn't work to assign any degree of confidence that the version might be good, or typical of a certain style or background in any way.  Based on trying those other samples this will be an interesting tea, and a positive experience, that provides insight about aging transitions within a broad but typical range.



One more qualification about that, which extends into a bit of a tangent here before the actual review:  aged sheng pu'er reviews in general tend to draw on forms of prior exposure and expectations more than other types.  Or few people write reviews of aged sheng, probably a sort of "those who know don't talk; those who talk don't know" running theme (a Tao Te Ching reference). 


To the extent discussion takes place in particular qi effect is described in detail, not just a typical range of how a tea makes you feel, but also specifics about energy patterns experienced within the body.  Also mouthfeel effects come up, learned preferences for certain types of experiences related to tightening and sweetness effects in different parts of the mouth or throat.


It doesn't necessarily diminish the importance or validity of those experiences that such preferences have to be learned, that they wouldn't be experienced as inherently positive by an untrained individual.  Full-bodied French red wines or Scotch drinking aren't less valid because those things would taste awful to someone without a lot of the right prior exposure.  It would be possible for an inexperienced tea drinker to dismiss most of that as subjective preference that's not well grounded but something would seem to be missed in that.  At times limited groups of people do learn to value experiences that aren't necessarily meaningful or positive to everyone else, as in the case of these forms of appreciation, but most typically within the context of those groups there are real, valid, meaningful grounds for those preferences. 

I drank red wine for a few years, and without a lot of specific training in the form of group indoctrination I moved from liking milder, sweeter versions into more subtle, complex styles, and I may well have been headed towards becoming a burly Cabernet drinker eventually, I just stopped before that happened.  As with tea drinkers experiencing oolongs or aged sheng as natural end points people with different inclinations in red wines might well be headed towards appreciating subtle, complex Pinot instead, or fruit-forward Bordeaux style blends, or maybe those rough-edged French reds that taste like a nail was stored in the bottle to a newer wine drinker.

In the case of art it relates to forms of meaning being carried in styles that one really needs to be familiar with to appreciate, to completely human-developed patterns of forms.  Tea styles and aspects appreciation might not be so far from that but even if so that wouldn't make them less valuable for only be valued through learned association.  It also seems possible that unlike in how art forms can match current trends and meaningful patterns, based on earlier trends, an individual would learn to appreciate some of the same aspects in tea without training, just maybe in a different form.  I was never really into art, just to be clear, but a grad-level class in aesthetics philosophy made for a confusing but interesting investigation of what it was all about.


To simplify:  I can appreciate teas having a more complex feel, and can recognize obvious physiological effects from some teas, but I don't value those to the extent many others do.  I haven't been trained to appreciate some versions over others, whether those goals are tied to conventions or to an organic natural preference curve, or both.  Sheng drinkers tend to drink sheng less for flavor than for most other types, but to some extent that's still the main page that I'm on, the main range I appreciate.  That's not to say that a pronounced aspect in another range can't stand out and make for a very interesting experience.  That occurred in trying a Lao Man E huang pian shou recently; that tea was unusually thick in feel, unique in a way not mostly based on flavor.  On to it then.



Review


First infusion:  I did taste the rinse, just to get an idea where this tea is going, and it was heavy on slate with some mustiness and char (probably as well to not even sip a few drops of that; it'll be there next round too).  This tea might not be so positive for the first couple of infusions.  The first infusion is just a little musty but it's nice how fast that is clearing up.  There's lots of depth to this tea, apparent very clearly beyond any more challenging aspects, which seem like they'll largely be faded by the next round and perhaps even more so on the next.

It reminds me a little of Liu Bao, that intense slate-mineral effect.  It's a little different in this expression because there's more depth behind it.  But then I've probably not tried higher level, fully aged Liu Bao yet, so I would be comparing apples and oranges.  The smoothness is nice.  Even for expressing a range that earthy and still being a little musty it's quite smooth.  The depth is nice too; it covers a lot of that old-furniture range of flavor, and the sweet nutty range that gets hard to describe, not so far off roasted chestnut but not exactly that.


the leaves did take awhile to unfurl, even though not compressed so much



The next infusion is what I expected; it picks up a good bit of depth, and cleans up quite a bit.  It might sound like I'm saying that the tea is "off" more than I intend.  That one range of slate-mineral flavor can easily bridge into different levels of mustiness and it's hard to pin that down on a relative scale without any mention making it sound more significant than it is.  The feel is interesting.  The tea comes across as really rich and really smooth, which will spare me talking about which parts of the mouth it impacts.  The overall experience lingers quite a bit but that relates to there being a depth to it, not one particular feel in the mouth or one distinct, limited trailing flavor.  Breaking any of those parts of the experience further would definitely be possible but somehow wouldn't seem more informative.

People tend to ask how aged sheng compares to shou, and I definitely won't have a clear and final answer to that based on trying this one tea, and little to go on based on trying more in the 10-15 year old range.  But it could work as good input; I can see how shou, this aged tea version, and Liu Bao map together better related to trying it.  I probably won't get far with explaining it though. 

In one sense this tea shares some common ground with those cheap, char-intensive droplet / tablet mini-tuo version of shou.  In a couple of others it's relatively not like those at all.  Some flavor range is common but the overall effect of dropping some charcoal into a cup of hot water is closely tied to the mini-tuo experience, and not this.  Slate mineral and subdued charcoal are main flavor aspects though, but there are layers below that.  It seems possible this tea will transition more over the next couple of rounds to move to a balance further away from that, and if it doesn't that'll make it easy to keep these notes short.


even short infusions were a bit dark


It does take another very pleasant step the next round; good.  That slate / mineral / char falls back into a nice balance, and an aspect I think of as "something I'm not familiar with" moves forward and develops.  It's not completely unrelated to "old furniture," but sweeter, better balanced, and cleaner.  This tea has already moved way past whatever any Liu Bao or shou I've ever tried can express, in terms of depth and complexity, just in a sense that's hard to describe.  Thickness escalates quickly.  It's so full in feel that it's a bit oily, in an interesting and nice way.  I get the sense it'll evolve to a place easier to describe in the next infusion, so I'll say more about that in the next round.

Next round:  maybe not; I was wrong about this getting easier to describe.  There's a depth to the experience that I can't put words, or maybe even completely grasp.  Breaking out any description of part of it doesn't cover the rest at all.  Flavors could be like roasted chestnut, or anything else I've already expressed, but the flavors-list approach drops more out than it catches.  It works to say it balances, that subtle, complex range of feel combines with flavor range that has an unusual depth and complexity, but that altogether it amounts to a sum greater than the parts.  I'd be writing poetry to describe it further than that.  You kind of just have to experience it.  I'm not saying this is some sort of heavenly transcendent experience but it is definitely one of the most interesting and positive teas I've yet to try.

It's like shou but nothing like shou, depending on which level one would mean.  In terms of flavor it's not that far off, just more complex.  Some shou I've tried were complex and smooth but not to this degree.  I'm not even sure this tea is completely where it's going to transition to, that it has went through its own version of "opening up" yet.


More of the same on the next round.  It is still transitioning, but I can't describe how.  It keeps getting cleaner and sweeter, with the slate-mineral receded to a mild supporting element very different in form.  That "old furniture" aspect also cleaned up and transitioned, not gone, but different.  A richness like roasted chestnuts remains, but the effect closest to char also smoothed out and fell into a different supporting layer.  There's an effect you get in some better Wuyi Yancha that matches how certain types of liqueur come across, sort of a perfume-like aspect, but nothing like a chemical, the nail polish remover type ranges that would make up a base for those.  All this range is subtle and well integrated.


Flavor isn't the most interesting part of the experience.  The smooth fullness also isn't.  I don't even mean the same thing by "smooth" and "full" as I typically would; kind of an extension of those instead.  The experience after tasting the tea isn't like an aftertaste, although there is some part that corresponds to that.  I don't mean a "buzz" as I've experienced with some teas either, the form I connect with some "qi" effect.  Levels of experience continue on after you swallow the tea, a mix of taste and how it feels.  Back to the poetry, it seems.


I might just leave off there and drink another half dozen infusions without the note taking.  The aspects will change, for sure, but for being so hard to describe it'll be a similar form of rambling on anyway.  I will say this:  two infusions later the balance is even nicer; the tea just keeps improving.  I can see why people might get hooked on this sort of thing.  The depth of the experience is much different than for other tea types that just taste nice, have a nice full feel, and some aftertaste effect.


maybe 15 infusions in, still a bit thick and oily


Around 10 to 12 infusions in the tea suddenly required longer infusions to produce the same intensity, and a couple more rounds later it dropped off that much more.  It was still far from finished though, but longer infusions shifted the range of aspects quite a bit.  The char came back, extracted more from the longer times.  The tea was still positive around the 15th or so infusion (where I'm tasting it now), interesting, pleasant, and oddly still quite complex, but not as nice as that range had been from rounds 5 through 12.  It definitely made for a unique experience.

I won't have much for additional conclusions, so I'll mention some closing thoughts here.  I can't place this tea related to other relatively fully aged versions, related to other teas that had spent 20 years aging under similar conditions.  I'm sure different starting points and slightly different storage conditions would change results.  As with any new range of teas it is possible to try just one "good, typical version" and get some sense of where things are headed, but it almost never works out that the variations are something that you'd expect.


More input, and an event notice (in Europe)


I talked a little to Olivier Schneider about this tea, the person who passed it on.  It doesn't shed that much light on the storage environment but it is interesting hearing him say a little about that:


This tea is a sheng (raw) puerh from 1998, mean that it was raw when he left Yunnan, with a very good Hong-Kong traditional storage, aka. wet storage. HK traditional storage is a traditional way to age puerh, made in Hong Kong and guangzhou area for long time. Because we speak about Hong-Kong "storage" many beginers think it's just a question of storing tea in the humid atmosphere of HK, but in fact it's not. HK traditional storage is like shu cha (shu cha was inspired by HK trad storage), an artificial method to age tea, but when shu cha is an industrial process which take around 6 weeks, HK trad storage is an slow and hand made process which usually take at least 15 years for a high quality product. It's really an art, like whiskey aging or cheese aging, and when it's badly done it's really terrible (with typical moldy taste), but when it's made by good house, like this one, it makese really amazingly great teas!


Surely a few details beyond that about related factors are familiar to many, even those without broad experience, but in the end trying a tea that has been through a positive version of this sort of transition is the thing. 

One thing I didn't mention in that review:  I would've believed that the tea had been stored a lot longer than 20 years.  Versions of sheng not that much younger than it that I'd tried in the past had seemed very young in comparison, not all that affected by age at all, beyond more limited related transitions occurring.  I've had limited exposure to teas being ruined by poor storage.  A Liu Bao was way off due to being stored too wet, really musty, but it sort of came back from that after sitting around for a year.

The slate-mineral and char effects that were stronger in the beginning and end of the cycle seemed to be outcomes related to that transition.  On the more positive side the smoothness and level of depth in those infusions in the middle were new to me.  Even in those earlier and later infusions when those aspects weren't necessarily positive they were still more neutral than they might sound, and the overall effect and complexity was positive in ways that was hard to describe.


To move onto another idea kind of related to this tea, but not directly related, Olivier is doing a series of tea tastings and ceramics displays in Europe over the next month or so.  My Vietnamese tea-friend Huyen might even make it to one in Paris, but I think she's still working out paperwork and travel planning.  Either way, I'll mention that schedule here, by citing a FB post, and the related link:


Before to leave Asia, choosing the teaware I will bring with me for Europe! This year there will-have two special guests I would be happy to show the thesis work during tea events: The great tea ceramics artist Emilio Jose del Pozo from Taiwan, and Xunhuan Wǎngfù , amazing cloth and Chabu designer from Norway!


credit his FB page (probably as well to just link to the contact pages here though)


Happy to see you in Europe in some days:  (full program here)

June 28 in Paris: Blang Vibration, immersive sound and tea experience
June 29 in Paris: Vietnam mountains tasting tea
June 30 in Paris: Free puerh tasting tea
June 30 in Brussels: Workshop on green puerh
July 1 in Paris: Tea and gong fu cha time
July 2-8 in Paris: Complete puerh tea education
July 11 in Waterloo: Free puerh tea tasting
July 12 in Namur: Free puerh tea tasting
June 12 in Namur: Blang Vibration, immersive sound and tea experience
July 13 in Brussels: Free puerh tea tasting
July 13 in Brussels: Puerh tea bar and surprises
July 14-15 in Brussels: Two days puerh tea education
July 21 in London: One day puerh tea education


I'm sure with that many events going on a detail or two could change, so it would be as well to check that page and check in about the planning, of course also related to seeing where an event is, and how to check in about plans to attend.

I've been very grateful to him for sharing these teas.  He's said a little more about them in discussion but not all that much, and it wasn't really framed for making up extra sections in the review posts, which are more about passing on an impression. 

It's nicer to discuss tea in person though, since you can also try some, and I hope that some of you get that chance over the next month or so.  If Huyen does make it to one in Paris that would be a nice added bonus, to get a chance to discuss a tea tradition that doesn't come up much (Vietnam's) with someone from there who has been looking into it.  Even beyond that information her enthusiasm is a bit contagious.  I've not done much with passing on contact information for her--the tea trades were never about marketing anything--but her family's gift business site may be of interest, since it does include some teas.  I think they're more standard types though, not like those local-style sheng I just reviewed, but glancing through to snag a picture I did see tuochas, so it's definitely not just Thai Nguyen green teas.

Huyen at work (credit their site)




Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Vietnamese white and sheng teas, samples from Huyen


Huyen Dinh and family; well prepared for drinking tea at home in Saigon


As of the initial tasting I didn't know what these teas were.  I'd talked a little about them with Huyen when we met in the Bangkok Chinatown, when she passed them on, but I didn't catch specifics, and only the one of three I'm not describing here was labeled (as an ancient tree green tea).  My impression was that they are Vietnamese versions of sheng pu'er, but not necessarily made in exactly the same style as Yunnan pu'er.

I did talk to Huyen in mid-tasting (online, via Facebook message), and she clarified that part, as one is more or less white and the other essentially the same as sheng.  More on that along with tasting results follows.




The tea on the left turned out to be more or less a white tea, and on the right a variation of sheng.  They're not exactly the same as Chinese versions of either; locally produced Vietnamese teas made by traditional processing methods that evolved there.


The teas have a pleasant sweet, mildly earthy smell to them, floral with a light mineral scent beyond that.  And they look cool, like a cross between loose sheng pu'er and moonlight white.  Each is a bit closer to one of those styles, but maybe not exactly like those either, more like a variation of them.

Initial rinse:


I'll taste the first light infusion as well.  What's the worst that could come of skipping a rinse?  Of course I get it why rinsing and throwing that away makes sense, the two different reasons, to wash the tea, and to wake it up or start the infusion process, but I only consistently use a rinse for shou or aged sheng.  A flash rinse of most other types doesn't strip that much flavor, or make all that much difference related to starting an infusion process (the next round of water isn't any wetter), and it probably doesn't really remove that much for dust or whatever else, so it probably doesn't matter much either way.  It seems odd to me when people rinse teas like Dan Cong, when they really are throwing away some flavor, but even then I can see the justification.

The first lighter version is nicely sweet, fresh, and light.  Based on using a 10 second or so infusion time, not long for a tea that wasn't wet, it's still light but very promising.  This does taste more like a variation of a white tea than a sheng, with a good bit of bright floral range, maybe even light fruit.

The next "darker" tea is completely different (I didn't know what types were--I tasted them blind--but I'll edit in calling them white and sheng through later notes, even though that's more an approximation).  It's also sweet but not as light, with an interesting warmer spice range earthiness, nothing remotely like any black tea or shou, or even sheng, really.  It tastes as close to cardamom as any tea is going to.  Ordinarily I like the other spices better than cardamom, which just seems a bit neutral to me compared to a spice like nutmeg, but the way this comes across really works.  Both seem like very catchy teas, not challenging at all, and both are perhaps slightly different than anything I've ever tried.

It's easy to get Vietnamese tea completely wrong, to just try a few fishook style Thai Nguyen area greens of varying quality, rolled oolongs, and a snow tea and think you've got it all pegged.  Or one might even run across a number of exceptions, someone roasting that rolled oolong more, or black tea versions, a producer mimicking Japanese green tea, Oriental Beauty copies, versions of sheng, silver needle, jasmine and lotus flavored teas, etc., and think "now I've got it."  But you don't have it.  As with China or Taiwan you're never going to try the last traditional variation, never mind all of what people are experimenting with or importing for styles.


just getting started; white left, sheng right


Second infusion (first real one)


These teas are probably going to be two more infusions just opening up, getting unfolded and soaked and hitting the normal range of aspects they'll express.  The first (lighter, white tea) version is much improved, and it was already really nice.  At least one more layer of depth joins in.  It's still sweet, and mainly floral or fruity, along the lines of dried apricot.  But a subtle depth joins that, something I'll have better luck describing next round when it really comes out.  That interesting sweetness does remind me of some versions of moonlight white; it's odd that with the other tea's leaves more a mix of dark and light it looked more that part.  The tea thickened quite a bit too, and aftertaste picked up, but it's not even really "going" yet.

The complexity in the second version escalates that much more.  There's something really familiar about that set of flavors or range that I'm not placing.  A main flavor element is now close to dried hay, but with a lot of sweetness and a lot going on beyond that.  It's that fresh, warm, sweet effect of drying hay when you just bale it.  Or I guess instead the complexity might include that vegetal sweetness and also some of the warmer, richer sweet tones the bales of hay will pick up after they've been sitting and drying--curing, really--for some months. 

You might think that you don't want to drink a tea that tastes like hay but unless your preferences are far removed from mine you definitely do.  I dislike grassy green teas and this couldn't be much further from that.  Below that there is warm spice range, or maybe subdued mineral, what seems to be a couple of subtle layers of things going on.

If there's one main lesson in tasting these teas so far it's that people should try to swap teas with Huyen.  I bet very few Vietnamese people know these teas exist, probably a relatively limited subset within the set of people who like tea, maybe even a small proportion of "tea enthusiasts" there.  These are no experimental teas; I'm pretty sure that someone didn't mess around with processing variables to make these.  Over a very long period of time people did, for sure; these have to represent the better output of traditional processing, good versions of interesting traditional versions.  "Good" is always relative to expectations and preferences but these teas are good.


Third infusion


after "opening up."  this was probably one infusion later though.


The first lighter tea stays similar, very sweet and bright, just picking up more depth in terms of a bit of astringency and more feel.  It's not like a young sheng related to that, unless it's an unusually soft young sheng [and of course later it turned out it's not that].  That added feel and trace of what I'd not call bitterness but is towards that makes it seem a lot more like a sheng than it had at first.  I'd imagine that messing around with water temperature would let you adjust the character of this tea to preference, to use straight hot to bring out more of that edge, which a lot of experienced sheng drinkers would strongly prefer.  Or white tea drinkers could go a little cooler, down at 90 C or so, and they'd experience a lighter, sweeter, thinner bodied and astringency oriented version with very little compensating bitterness (or something like that).  I'd like it both ways, at this point, or maybe dialed in the middle.

Again the contrast with that second tea is amazing.  It's also a soft, light, sweet tea, not in that far a range for general character, but the flavors are so different that it almost comes as a shock.  That slightly cured hay warmth, sweetness, and vegetal character is shifting a bit to mineral, more into a desert slickrock sandstone range.  It's still light and subtle but has the kind of depth that lots of people would describe in completely different ways.  It could be seen as what I've described so far (also as spice range, etc.), or as mostly floral (just a warmer floral), or as light wood (in between balsa wood and fresh cut sweet maple).  To me it's really catchy, both that flavor range and the way a soft, sweet, complex tea pairs a hint of fullness and dryness with that.

lighter, more white tea left, darker sheng right


Huyen's input about what the teas are


I just did talk to Huyen by message (in mid tasting) and she said both are sheng.  Of course when we talked she said they didn't call tea sheng in the North of Vietnam in traditional areas, since they typically aren't familiar with what's made in Yunnan, they called it dried tea.  That does lead back to a guess they're using a style that's in between, which they've evolved on their own.  She admitted one is probably just as close to white as sheng, and that processing might not completely match Yunnan sheng pu'er traditional or modified processing steps, since they're not really shooting for that.  They make tea as they know how to make tea, and don't describe it related to a type made in the next country over.

It does make you wonder.  Both were sun dried, but how much were either heated?  I'll probably never know.

World of Tea processing chart (credit; odd their site converted into something else)


Fourth infusion


I dropped the temperature a little to shift the effect.  The lighter version just dropped back to sweeter, giving up that trace of bitterness, as I expected.  I'll probably use hotter water again, close to full boiling point, to try it that way again.  It's not normal to experiment with brewing temperature that way during an infusion cycle, of course.  But what does "normal" mean to me?  I've already offended any readers who prefer not to hear about loose process, narrowing the audience down to only who I should be talking to, or random clicks.

This lighter, closer to white version is going to express less complexity than the other; it's a simpler tea, narrower in profile and transitioning less.  But the range that's there is quite positive.  I'm going to stay with dried apricot as a main aspect description, with some depth beyond that, but it's on the sweet, light, and simple side.  That simplicity might seem like more of a flaw if it wasn't so good.

The darker tea is actually moving into a light smoky range.  It's crazy how it's a different tea each infusion.  This aspect range really does make sense for being sheng now.  I'll try both using hotter water next and the greater body and compensating bitterness will return, but I like the tea this way too.  That rich sweetness really coats your mouth after you drink it, giving that effect that it might taste a little stronger after you swallow it.  In this infusion's style that's just sweet, rich, and a bit full, but on the next round bitterness and the different feel will pair as a effect that either balances and improves the experience or throws it off a little, depending on preference.  For me it'll just be different.


sheng / white left, closer to sheng right


Fifth infusion


I did go back to hot water and used a 15 second or so infusion for these so the character should vary, slightly stronger but also just different.

This first tea probably is perfect just like this; that extra taste range and ramped up feel and aftertaste is how it should be.  It's interesting messing around with it but I'd understand someone wanting to drink their tea at an optimum every single infusion.  A touch of bitterness, very faint, remains across your tongue to offset the sweetness and light feel.  This tea is simple but great.

The pace of transition slows down for the second but it did return to the prior character, definitely better balanced.  One part of this tea reminds me of that slightly musty, smoky, mineral range earthiness in cheap tightly compressed sheng, but expressed as a mirror opposite, as that working out amazingly well and balancing.  More than that an entire other range balances that trace, sweet and earthy like a fresh cut hardwood, deep and flavorful like a sun-dried tomato, complex and balanced, as expressed by a mineral layer that reminds me of Southwestern US sandstone.  I wouldn't be surprised if others listed out any number of other interpretations.


Later infusions


I kept brewing both teas for another half dozen infusions, I just stopped taking notes.  Both transitioned to a bit more bitterness (the actual flavor; I don't mean astringency), probably related to adding infusion time to compensate for intensity falling off with that longer steep drawing out different compounds.  Both teas seemed better in the first half dozen infusions but quite nice later too, the most interesting and positive range just narrowed back a little.

As with sheng pu'er they just wouldn't stop making tea.  I would've expected that first version that was closer to a white in style to fade faster but it just became more faint; it didn't drop out.

They didn't seem exactly like sheng to me, although one was closer.  I suppose both would probably be much more approachable and positive than most versions of sheng to people who aren't on that page (who don't love sheng), and disappointing for not being a closer match to others who are.  As far as comparison with white teas go that one is just a bit different than the other range of white teas I've encountered, but then all of those span a broad continuum of styles and aspect sets anyway.  It's tempting to say it was closer to moonlight white, since that is a Yunnan version based on roughly the same plant types (I think), and I suppose that does work.  It's not exactly the same as others I've tried but then that range can vary some too.

I don't have much for conclusions; they were both nice, interesting, and quite positive.  These are the kinds of teas you'd probably want to own a few hundred grams of since they are approachable, interesting, and not something you'd probably get tired of right away, or would only want to try for the sake of novelty.  Both would vary with different preparation methods and both would probably improve over time instead of just fading.

As far as I know you can't find or buy these teas anywhere, unless you know where she got them in Northern Vietnam (Ha Giang).  It's funny mentioning those two conflicting ideas one after another, how good the teas are and that they just don't exist on the foreign market.  If the curiosity was absolutely killing you looking up Huyen and bugging her for leads might work out, but she's not a tea vendor; her family works in a corporate gift business.


Hatvala's tea areas map (credit)


More on Huyen Dinh


Speaking of bugging Huyen, I asked her for some photos to share, since she'd showed me a Vietnamese tea brewing practice and some teaware collection at home by video call.  Before I get on with showing those pictures I might mention that it's still in the planning stage but she might be attending an event held by Olivier Schneider in Paris on June 29th (with more of a mention than actual details here).  If you like pu'er and his name doesn't ring a bell you probably should click around this reference site.  Learning about tea can be seen as a separate interest from enjoying the tea itself, but at the same time you can't make informed decisions about what to try if you know very little about the types you like.

Onto some pictures from Huyen then.  She and her family really love tea; it's obvious in talking to her and from the pictures.  She describes their preparation approach as just basic, functional but not really ceremonial, but they've put some thought into how to make tea and effort into collecting gear to support that goal.











That last one is a local version of Ya Bao, the tea bud tea version that sometimes is sometimes sold as white pu'er (which I reviewed a version of here).  I don't think it's all that close to pu'er, a bit closer to a white, but what's in a name.  Huyen mentioned she thought the inconsistent level of oxidation in that version is a processing flaw, but I guess depending on how the tea tastes it may or may not be a problem.

Vietnamese teas in general are part of the reason why I write this blog.  Even I'm not in on most of what's being produced and sold for Vietnamese teas, and I've been to Vietnam and bought tea there twice, and Huyen has passed on a good number of interesting versions (a dozen or more), and I've tried most of what Hatvala sells.  It's not just that these teas are interesting and good, although they are, but also that there is a relatively complete disconnect between the local producers of these teas and the potential consumer market in "the West."  Hatvala alone bridges some of that gap, but they don't sell versions of what I just reviewed, or that Ya Bao, or most of what Huyen passed on at the end of last year.  There's just too much variety.



Huyen at one of the Chinatown shops

It goes without saying, but I don't see this as a zero-sum game.  It's not that local shops or online vendors in the States or Europe need to lose a sale every time a new person there discovers a new option.  The idea is to get people off tea bags, or even branching out from coffee, I guess. 


The nice part about exploring Vietnamese teas, as opposed to Chinese, Taiwanese, or Japanese versions, is that foreign awareness of types is nill and internal demand doesn't match up with production.  The teas are cheap, if you can get them.  And probably a bit inconsistent, I suppose.  I'm raving about them because I'm trying exceptional versions turned up and screened by a local tea enthusiast, Huyen.  I found a good, interesting, novel black tea in visiting Hanoi awhile back and I was hooked then, and I keep having that sort of experience, of new discovery of Vietnamese teas, over and over.


Even though this already went one tangent long I'll close with a couple pictures of local fruit, the kind of thing I have for breakfast, often along with some pastry or a piece of toast.

papaya, mangosteen, rambutan, longkong, and mango


lychee is my favorite though


Monday, June 11, 2018

Wuyi Origin honey Jin Jun Mei, Fujian black tea


Maybe for once this review can stay short and basic since this is a tea I've probably tried versions of for the past two years.  It's the last of a set of Wuyi Origin samples they sent.  I really like their Jin Jun Mei, and it's definitely exceptional, even though per my preferences in aspects and style I like their Lapsang Souchong and Rou Gui more.  Their teas are quite good in general; the two Dan Cong I just tried were also exceptional, a Mi Lan Xiang (honey orchid) version and Xing Ren Xiang (almond aroma).


I'll specify no background here, and looking back I never did do a research style post about this tea type.  I reviewed multiple versions from Wuyi Origin two years ago but that doesn't include more about that.  It's a Fujian black tea closely associated with Lapsang Souchong, a variation of that, but those are really broad strokes.  This is one of those tea types where there's a lot of conflicting input about most of what's sold not being "the real jin jun mei," but I don't have more to say about that.


cool looking, but more intense to smell


Review


The smell is deep and rich, very sweet and complex.  The tea is golden with darker fine buds as well.  But the brewed leaf experience is the thing; onto that.

The taste is sweet and rich as well, again very complex.  Roasted corn comes across stronger than I remember in past versions, maybe including the way that roasted corn smell includes more complexity when you roast a version that still includes some of the silk over a fire.

I brewed this initial infusion for around 5 seconds, using water a bit off boiling point in a less packed-gaiwan proportion than usual for Gongfu preparation.  The tea doesn't need time to open up.  It has decent complexity now but I'll add more about the layers and aspect list on the next couple of infusions since it will probably develop a little more.  Smelling the wet leaves is nice; there is a lot going on for aroma aspect range, it's very sweet and rich.



A lot of what that leaf aroma was getting at develops in this second infusion, and the tea probably isn't in it's main range of aspects yet.  That roasted corn drops way back, now just a complimentary aspect but no longer primary.  What you do experience comes across as a complex range bundled into an integrated set.  Sweetness along the lines of dried tamarind is included, which trails into savory range, towards sun-dried tomato. 


Earthiness picks up, both as an underlying base and a more forward component.  That part is like the sweet smell of some tobacco, which is probably provided by spices like clove in such tobacco as much as the main leaf itself.  This does taste like clove, but it also spills over a little into that tobacco.  I've probably not included enough about the rich sweetness yet; that's probably close to a light version of molasses, which is itself more or less reduced sugar cane (or of course maybe honey, how they've described the tea version).


It's odd how simple and integrated all that comes across.  It's clean, a bit bright in effect, and not hard to relate to at all.  From the sounds of that list it would be all over the map but it's not at all.


The balance of all that shifted in the next infusion but the set itself didn't.  I'll spare dropping down to finer level analysis of proportion of those.  There's an interesting savory part that's novel, tied to that sun-dried tomato range, and to the roasted corn, which is a bit faint but still evident.  That could be strange or unpleasant if it wasn't really well balanced by just the right other aspects but in this it is.





The next infusion shifts but it's hard to say in what way, again it's a proportion shift.  It seems like I'm missing a description that might bring across the flavors better, that there might be one main one.  The honey sweetness does stand out more at this level; it might just be that, all of that narrowing to the rich complexity of a dark version of honey.  Wild tropical versions of honey here vary a lot, and can be really complex; maybe like those.


The next few infusions are just as nice.  I went longer on the next one (near 30 seconds) and it brought out more of the fruit depth, still pleasant and balanced that way.  Then lighter on the next two, and the same general balance worked out, lots of rich dark honey sweetness with a catchy complexity beyond that.  It held up for a few longer infusions after that, a long count for a black tea, which is normal for bud material versions of blacks.  Cinnamon seemed to pick up a little as the general profile thinned.



Conclusions



Another great tea.  Original style or not it's exceptional.  Since I've mentioned their own descriptions in other recent reviews I'll go back to that, which includes some other background:

Location: huang gang shan (黄岗山)
Harvest :2018.4.5th
Cultivar: Fu yun No6  
Fermentation level : full -fermented tea 
Picking standard: using the early spring top buds to be processed this tea. 
Feature: Quite honey aroma, a sweet and smooth soup with good tea essence and body. 


Not much for a flavors list but then I'm skeptical of how much those really convey anyway.  Hopefully someone finds some value in all that but different people would write out different lists, and it's probably easier to enjoy the tea more fully without getting into all that during tasting.

One thing I've mentioned lately (at the risk of repeating myself):  if I were to try this tea brewed different ways, and try it another half dozen times I'd probably describe it differently.  Single tasting tea reviews are about passing on one immediate impression.  This tea would definitely vary based on slight changes in preparation approach, even though it's probably a difficult tea to ruin.  It's a much better tea than almost any other Chinese buds-only black tea version I've tried, but it's also just different in style than other types.

All that said I'll end on a completely unrelated note, sharing more pictures of my kids, this time in school uniforms (or maybe over-sharing, given how often they turn up here).







Thursday, June 7, 2018

Taking the Bangkok river ferry; local life in Thailand


I wanted to mention something that I've been through a couple times recently, taking the Bangkok Express river ferry here.  I love that; I always feel like I'm on vacation when I'm on it, even though it's also a lot like taking a bus.

Why bring any of it up here, one might wonder, since this isn't supposed to be a lifestyle blog.  I do tend to talk through a bit of local daily life here in posts, since some of it is unique for occurring in Bangkok, with things just slightly different everywhere.  But I've been letting the tea comparison posts run long and cutting that part back.  Things have seemed a little mundane lately but I'll share the exceptions.

We were on the way to visit that one "family monk" when I was on that river ferry, who just went on an interesting trip himself to meet another religious figure.




Right; just amazing.  Who meets the Pope?  Oddly there really isn't more to say about that.  He did.  The Pope seems very friendly and pleasant in those pictures.  Here's another picture, and one of ruins there.  Monks sightseeing seems an odd theme, but then when in Rome...







More pictures of that river ferry experience, and of Bangkok from the river.

it's like a bus, but without traffic jams


Wat Phra Kaew, the Grand Palace temple.  I was visiting Wat Pho nearby.


parts of the riverside have a strange look, with buildings right at the edge


passing another boat


a better look at the inside


not related, just a Ganesh statue I walked by


Thinking about the subject led me to consider where else I've lived that had local ferries.  Baltimore did, across the Inner Harbor, and out from Fells Point where I lived; it's been a long time since I've lived there.  We went on the Staton Island ferry in NYC on a visit early last year, but that was just a vacation.  And that's most of what comes to mind.  We end up on boats on vacations in different places, going out to Samui island in Thailand, or visiting Hanauma Bay in Vietnam, but using a boat for normal local travel is a different thing.

Trip to China (not me, my wife)


My wife just went to Shenzhen, China, alone.  That was under the premise of getting her crashed phone's memory restored, but I think really just to get out.  She passed through Hong Kong so took the opportunity to go over to Macau for a day to pick up egg tarts (which of course one would do by boat; that's a relatively nearby island).  She's crazy; Hong Kong would have decent egg tarts around.  The ones she bought are good, at least.






Even though this is a tea blog and she was in Hong Kong and mainland China the subject of tea doesn't come up.  I told her to skip buying it, since she doesn't know tea well enough to judge what I like or if a version is good or not.  She bought me a tisane version that looks like the dried fruit in a granola cereal; typical.

I asked her to share photos and had to settle for sending them to myself from her phone.


I'm assuming this is Shenzhen


the same general place


My wife, in Guangzhou




This must be in Macau


She made it to Hong Kong, onto Shenzhen, then Guangzhou, and in the end back through Macau.  And didn't take many pictures for covering that much ground.  I've been to all those places except Guangzhou.  She met a friend there, my son's former best friend, who I can show in a picture from visiting back here two years ago after moving back to China:

that's her on the left, Frenly, near her son Joe


Joe is on the left, my son on the right, Andy in the middle


I feel like that trip theme never translated into a compelling story.  It wasn't one; she went to China to run an errand and stretched it out a bit to sight-see.

One might wonder why I'm not writing about me doing solo trips to China to tea areas, if it's as simple as that, but it just never works out that way.  We use up all the vacation time I get on outings to different places and I'm lucky when tea themes come up at all.


Rescuing a lizard


This was another odd event that came up recently, something minor, the kind of thing that wouldn't be familiar everywhere.  I noticed a small house lizard was stuck to a baggage tag sticker.  We call those geckos, after the Hawaiian name for them, even though they're not that, here called "jing joke."




I snapped his picture so I could get help finding him again, since I wasn't having luck pulling that off, and went to go find something to help with that.

We like those lizards; people here and in Hawaii do.  Insects thrive in the tropics and they eat them, so they're not considered a pest at all.  It's hard to say how many live in the house but based on how often we see them probably at least a half dozen (almost none compared to my college apartment in Hawaii, in Kaimuki), with a few in the kitchen too, which is built as a separate building.

Normally you can't get very close to them but he was impaired by the sticker so I could grab it, but my startle reflex wouldn't let me hold it while he pulled himself free.  He would wiggle, then I would jerk.  It wasn't working out and I was concerned about hurting him.  I posted my son to watch him in case he walked off to find something to help; maybe with pliers I would end up jerking it around less.

Instead of pliers I decided to let my wife have a try at it.  She doesn't seem to have much startle reflex, and bugs and the like don't freak her out at all.  Even though I like the lizards that abstract like and one squirming around on the other end of a small sticker are two different things.  Very slowly she grabbed the sticker, and much more calmly that lizard slowly pulled his arm off that sticker, then ran off.

It made for a nice symbolic victory, a chance to help someone out, if only a house lizard.

Singing and dancing


My daughter is into these subjects lately.  Any four year old girl is likely to be, but she's been taking ballet and hip-hop dance, so all the more so in her case.  I visited her hip-hop class to pick her up not long ago to pick her up, related to my wife being out of town and me being off work with an ear infection one day.



After that I was with her when she was playing and she did a version of the introductory lines of "Yellow Submarine" by the Beatles for me.  Hearing the chorus was one thing, but she started with those initial lines one wouldn't usually remember, something like "in the town, where I was born, lived a man, who sailed the seas..."  She was learning it for an assembly at school. I couldn't get her to do that part again but she would do some of the chorus for a video:




As my favorite psychologist says the little things aren't little at all.  I just saw that assembly too.




That's her, as a diver in a yellow submarine.  They're all so cute:






Eating ice cream, daily life


I kept going on about a Thai tea flavored Dairy Queen blizzard that I think I mentioned here:




It's a temporary promotion so I keep eating those (with almonds in it, in that picture), and I just picked up a take-out version for the second time in the last two weeks:




Is that image familiar?  It relates to the dry ice that came with the take-out version, which gives off "smoke" when you put it in water (really fog).  We tested if that really burns your hand when you touch it but apparently it's not that dangerous a substance, not that cold.  Testing unusual things out is normal for my kids; they're very curious.  A month or so ago they were wondering what soap tasted like so we did a round of tasting it during the nightly shower.  It's not delicious, not even a kids' version that smells like berries.





in school uniforms




Tasting the water that the dry ice bubbles in is not a good idea (that stuff is more an industrial product, not a food item), but apparently it had to be done.  I think it still just tasted like water but Keo said maybe a little like Sprite or 7 Up too.




That's pretty much how it goes here; mostly mundane stuff, piano and tae kwan do lessons, grocery store errands, and the rest.  Tea works as a hobby because it doesn't take up that much time, or at least blocks of free time when I'm at home.  In addition to keeping me busy those two kids keep things fun for me.