Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wuyi Origin wild Lapsang Souchong


I'll try to keep this simple and short, and just describe this tea (this year's Wuyi Origin wild Lapsang Souchong).  I've had it before so it should be familiar, just a matter of revisiting it and comparing it to past years, to the extent that my memory can do that.




The taste is rich and sweet; that is familiar.  It's less citrus oriented than I remember, but more complex.  There is a bit of what could be interpreted as citrus but plenty more to try to separate through description.  Of course it comes across as a unified, complex range of integrated flavor, not as tasting like a lot of separate things as a review list-style description would imply.  It just tastes like very good Lapsang Souchong.  Of course it's not smoked, so not like that.


There's a catchy, positive distinctive part of the flavor that I'm not pinning down, close to fruitiness.  To me it seems in between a mild sweet malt (not like in Assam, like in a slightly fermented sweet grain) and leather, possibly with some integrated floral input.  There is no astringency to speak of; it doesn't come across as thin but there's no trace of any harshness.  This tea has about as pronounced an aftertaste as any black tea ever would.  That catchy main complex flavor element (or set of flavors) lingers on, tapering off for a minute or two, not completely gone after that.


The citrus effect is in the range of orange zest, but not in the sense of a tea like second flush Darjeeling or Oriental Beauty can be, not as pronounced and intense.  All the flavor components are so well integrated it really does come across as one flavor, but it's very complex, an interesting effect.  There's a brightness to the flavor and overall effect, and a depth too.  I checked how they described it on the website:


Ripe Peach aroma, with very obvious milk flavors. Last more than 10 infusions. No any kind of bitter even you steep the tea for a long time. Quite bright in the tea soup, orange color 


Of course when you think "peach" it seems to be that.  They're right that it's that subset flavor of ripe peach, nothing like the tangier, different range of a typical grocery store peach, fruit that hasn't been naturally ripened and never will completely get there.


That reminds me; I've probably had no peaches at all in the past 10 years, or in the two years prior in Hawaii.  Or the pears that are common to North America too, only the Asian kind.  For all I remember this might taste a bit like a fresh, ripe nectarine too; maybe even a little more like that (a close relative of the peach, as a hybrid from those).


The tea is creamy, but it's odd describing that as milk flavors.  That's closest to the part I was matching up with malt.  It tastes like milk powder does more than fresh milk, that sweet flavor towards malt.  Fresh, whole unprocessed milk probably matches much better than what we drink from grocery stores, the way that much higher fresh cream content would come across.  Or I guess it works to just compare that flavor aspect to cream instead of milk.


About mentioning the trace of leather awhile back, it's possible to emphasize the softness, fruit, and sweetness of this tea simply by using water a bit off boiling point, or also possible to get to a relatively different effect by using boiling point water, or closer to that.  By the first I mean in the range of 90 C; 85 would still work but much below that and flavors just wouldn't extract well.  Brewed hot a trace more edge comes out, a touch of leather, and a bit more toffee effect, with the citrus shifting from a bright near-peach range to a dried orange zest effect.  An Assam drinker might like it brewed hotter, shifting the profile to that, and a lighter oolong drinker might prefer to maximize the fruit and softer effect by going a little cooler.

I remember citrus being a bit heavier in earlier years' versions of this tea but this one seems better related to overall intensity, complexity, and a well balanced range of positive aspects.  Of course it really does produce a lot of infusions, as they mentioned in that product description.  This tea would still work well brewed Western style but for a version this exceptional it seems well worth the extra messing around to use a Gongfu approach, to experience more rounds and track how minor variations play out.  I get it that lots of people would want to optimize every infusion instead, to draw on past experience and prepare each exactly as they like the tea best, and not experiment with variations so much, and of course that's not wrong.

This reminds me of the first time I tried better unsmoked Lapsang Souchong, just a bit before I even started this blog, so something like 5 years ago.  The main taste range was pretty close to this tea but the fruit range and overall intensity weren't even close, with nothing matching up with that cream-like aspect.  A touch of cardboard filled in for that instead.  It's funny how really good versions of types of tea enable the style to make lots of sense, how the overall effect is so different if the tea just isn't quite as refined.

messing around with infusion strengths; it works well across a broad range.



Lots of infusions in (it just never stopped, not even transitioning much in lots of later rounds) it occurred to me what the distinctive, familiar taste was, which I hadn't really been placing:  butterscotch.  I'd mentioned the tea was sweet, a bit like malt or toffee, sort of like fruit or floral aspect range, probably closest to peach but not exactly that, and very creamy.  It was butterscotch.  I'd have to try another round of infusions to see if it was almost exactly like butterscotch the whole time or more fruit-oriented range that had transitioned to very close to just that later on.  That's my guess, based on memory, that it leaned towards fruit more earlier, and then shifted to quite close to butterscotch.



To me this is how flavors interpretation tends to work out.  I think butterscotch probably is the best single description of this tea, but describing it as peach, citrus, and cream isn't necessarily getting it wrong.  Those are all just different interpretations of parts of the flavor range, and the balance of different tastes probably did change over the whole cycle of infusions.  I was talking to Cindy about the flavors and she thought the fruit was mostly peach or maybe also included strawberry; more of the same about different interpretations being possible.


Per my preferences and judgment it would be an understatement to only say that this is a good black tea.  I see it as on par with any really good black tea I've ever tried, distinctive and unique, complex and balanced, a refined, high quality well-made tea.  I really love the way some sets of Dian Hong aspects work out too, maybe even slightly more than this aspects range, but I really like this one. 

Teas like this are why I feel confident in telling people every single tea they will ever find in a grocery store isn't very good, relatively speaking.  Of course there is a whole level of above average teas between commercial versions and this one, but teas like it solidify that conclusion.  It's hard to express that sort of thing and not come across as a tea snob, but then only someone with a bit of similar exposure would make any sense of that claim anyway. 

To help place that, I drank a lower-medium quality level Chinese Tie Kuan Yin with lunch today (something I bought as loose tea on impulse in a Chinese restaurant), and an inexpensive Earl Grey with lunch yesterday (I bought that one in Russia to give to the staff here).  I'm not averse to much lower quality forms of tea.  Both probably represent the high end a grocery store might conceivably carry.  But if the idea is discussing better tea those aren't that, and this Lapsang Souchong is.


more photo editing with my favorite subjects


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Moychay Menghai Lao Shu and Lao Teji shou pu'er (2008 and 2009)


Onto more samples from Moychay, the Russian vendor who was so kind as to send a good number, first reviewed in this compressed sun-dried Yunnan black tea post.

I'll add a little more detail about what they are at the end, but for now I'm comparing these teas:

Menghai Lao Shou Cha 2008 loose leaf ripe pu'er (shou)

Lao Teji 2009 loose leaf ripe pu'er (shou)

Menghai Lao Shou left, Lao Teji right


labels (I've copied these descriptions below)


These might well raise the bar a little for what I've tried of shou pu'er in the past.  That does lead to an interesting concern about the difference between good shou pu'er and shou that's better than you tend to run across.

The lower level divide between shou that tastes like tar and oil, or fish, and more positive versions is easy to experience.  It's also not that hard to work through shou that is decent and positive but on the thinner side, into versions that are more complex and interesting, that have more layers.  The latter takes a little seeking out but they're not expensive as sheng pu'er goes.  Finding a next level could take more doing.  We'll see if that's how this works out per my impression in a tasting.  It goes without saying that one person trying teas one time isn't much to go on, definitely not a complete, objective read on the tea.

It goes against my normal process (except the part about varying approach a lot as habit) but I'll mention the description on the label for these as a starting point.


Menghai Lao Shou Cha:  The bouquet of brewed tea is mature, spicy-woody, with earthy, auturnal, nutty and spicey notes.  The aroma is warm and deep, nutty.  The taste is rich, slightly tart, velvety, with light bitterness and nuances of spices.


Lao Teji:  The bouquet of brewed tea is rich and mature, with nutty, woody pastry and spicy notes.  The aroma is warm and deep , nutty.  The taste is full-bodied and soft, velvety, sweetish, with delicate fruit sourness, spicy nuances and a lingering finish.


So similar but different, I guess.  Some of that could influence tasting a bit since I wrote that just before trying them but those two sets of ideas will mix in my head almost immediately.  The idea behind tasting blindly is not to just let preconceptions lead to echoing a lot of the description, to arriving at observations and conclusions for myself.  But it's nice to mix things up too.


Review


Menghai left, Lao Teji right



Menghai Lao Shou Cha:  it's like that description.  Describing more specifically how that earthiness plays out and balances the rest is probably as much a key to description as anything.  The complexity is really something.  It's earthy, towards damp autumn forest floor and peat, but still that comes across as clean in effect.  Nuts and spice probably do fill in supporting elements but I'd expect the other earthiness will be stronger in the first couple of infusions, and then it will transition to a range it will stay in throughout most of the tasting, with balance of aspects shifting less then.

Lao Teji:  this seems like a more conventional shou profile to me, more what I'm used to, but it's clearly one of the best shou I've ever tried (also true of the first, but in a completely different sense).  It might actually help comparing and contrasting these to describe them further, a nice switch from me saying that it makes no sense to taste the two teas I'm reviewing together since they're so different.  This is earthy, nutty, and a little spicy, with just a touch of tar or oil filling in that beyond that range.  For the other tea only forest floor and peat filled a similar space.  Both are probably more positive than they sound, or rather I'd expect people who have had a similar experience to relate to how overall complexity can be positively supported by those ranges of flavors, and how they can be quite pleasant and contribute a lot, and people without such experiences couldn't place that very well.

The tart and sour parts aren't necessarily wrong but that could be misleading.  The one tea wasn't at all tart as in how a black tea can come across (like that Dian Hong cake I reviewed, an aspect that faded out after the initial couple of infusions), or a "Dan Cong black" I tried awhile back (descriptive, but perhaps a bit of a contradiction).  Those ranges may be contributing a little to complexity but they're not primary aspects, at all, at least at this stage.  I'll go through more of untangling aspects in the next round, placing the earthiness, nuttiness, and spice better.




Second infusion


It's a little early in for the messing around but I'll give this round a 15 to 20 second infusion, brewed strong, and move to a 5 to 10 second infusion next time, the more standard range.  I already know there aren't flaws in the body of these teas (the feel aspects), or issues with astringency, so it's just about seeing what changes, not pushing them to get a stronger read on those aspect ranges.


not ideal brewed inky dark but the teas do still work that way


Something like spice really does pick up in the Menghai version this round, and it does clean up quite a bit, even though it wasn't murky at all in the first infusion.  A lot of the autumn forest floor / peat range moves into something in between spice and nut.  The closest nut is probably chestnut, with that fresh roasted effect coming across too, the way that nut flavor warms and transitions, becoming sweeter and "darker."  This is a really nice shou; pleasant, clean, complex, and interesting.  There's always range for more complexity or for some other aspects to make for a potential positive input but it really works.  Of course it would seem odd, if someone isn't into shou, but it would seem that most people who are would love it.


Again the Lao Teji profile is more what I'm used to in shou; again it's earthy, but in a completely different sense.  Nutty and spicy sort of work again but I'm also noticing an aspect range base that reminds me of petroleum.  Tea tasting like oil is going to sound negative, surely, but there's a sweet, mineral intensive earthiness to fresh crude and aged wood-soaked oil barrels (two different scent ranges, related but quite different), with both potentially very positive.  New or used engine oil or road tar are completely different things.  It's more of a sweet mineral range than what typical petroleum range includes (both those comparison aspects I was on and the shared space with this tea).  The tea flavor is very clean though, rich and deep, with a pleasant pronounced aftertaste.  Both of these are full in experience range, really, across how intense they come across at first, then the feel while tasting, and the aftertaste.

Aging has probably rounded off a lot of what might have been negative in these teas, with both around a decade old now.  They have a depth to them that works really well paired with how clean they are in effect.  It's odd saying teas that taste like peat and oil are clean in flavor effect but they most certainly are.  I can only guide a reader so far through making sense of that apparent contradiction; if there is no prior experience to draw on to help with that it surely wouldn't work.  I think someone who has been through some exposure to shou might appreciate these experiences more, not for forgiving or making peace with aspects that are negative but for appreciating aspects that really are positive.

Third infusion


The Menghai Lao Shou Cha shifted character again; cool it can transition that much being a shou.  It's not different, in one sense, it's just that the balance of aspects that had been there is completely different.  This tea does taste like something someone else could pin down better, I'd expect.  The description of betel nut comes up a lot and I always wonder what those taste like, and never thought to buy that the few times I've seen it in Chinatown.

It would work to break the taste down to comparisons to other things but given how many vague references that would entail and the deconstruction and reconstruction process required it might not be informative or worth the trouble.  One trace of that would be "old furniture;" that probably helps indicate why it's not going to help.  I do really like the complexity and depth of the flavor and the rest though; it works well.

Both of these teas have a lot to offer brewed very fast, and they're better brewed lightly.

The Lao Teji is transitioning less; this is perhaps where it's mostly going to be across more infusions.  Again it's clean and complex.  Nutty works as a description, but that's not as pronounced as the roasted chestnut effect in the other tea.  Part of the "deeper" context flavor range does remind me of those forms of petroleum.  It is complex, but I'm not noticing that much in the way of sourness.  This fits the description "tastes like shou" better, which I guess could be very positive or slightly negative, depending on who meant what by that.  To me it's less distinctive and original than the other version.


interesting the Lao Teji (right) looks lighter and brews darker


Fourth infusion:


My wife finally started in about other things I'm supposed to help her with--she's going to China soon, kind of a long story--so this may be the last round I write notes for, or else I'll just add something short about the next round.  These have both leveled off in terms of initial transition anyway, I think, and the next transitions to discuss would be how later rounds play out, how they react to longer steeps around the 8 or 9 infusions level.

The Menghai version is similar to the last round, which is very nice.  Sweetness is picking up a little, and the roasted chestnut effect is moving a little towards a dried fruit I'm not familiar with.  A dried version of yam probably gets the impression across, even if that's not completely it.  Almost all of that old-furniture depth dropped out, replaced by mild dried fruit.  That other aspect had been positive, but I like the fruit better. 

I'm really impressed with this tea.  It could be my favorite of every shou I've ever tried.  It's complex enough that lots of people would probably free-associate the flavors in lots of ways.  As a more regular reader might know that's probably as much about it matching a specific fruit and spice inclined range--my preference--as some objective quality level or whatever trueness to type means for decent shou. 

The Lao Teji is also still transitioning a little and becoming very slightly more positive but is much more consistent.  If the desired premise is sticking to a range that seems more type-typical and reasonably high in quality this shou might well be better.  It's odd it can be that that earthy across that flavor range and still be clean, sweet, and complex, with nothing negative going on at all. 

Fifth infusion:


More of the same.  There is more to go on about, especially related to later transitions since the teas aren't fading yet, but I will let the note taking drop.


Conclusions


Both were really nice versions of shou.  The Lao Teji seemed more familiar from past versions' aspect sets, more typical of the type, but to some extent I liked the Menghai Lao shou better for that reason, for being a bit more novel.  Both were as good as any shou I've tried before, but then it's not as if I've put a lot of effort or expense into trying great shou.  The range of how they come across seems a good bit narrower than for sheng to me, based only on what I've tried, and it was nice these push that range just a little further.

I reviewed a 2010 Myanmar shou not so long ago that was nice, but I didn't care for a bit of char-like effect in that tea compared to these two versions not really including anything like that.  If that aspect did match preference that tea might have been equivalent to these, for being complex and interesting, but as that stood I liked both of these more.


It's nice that the vendor descriptions seem to match the teas; that's helpful.  Shou is the kind of range of style that can be interpreted in different ways but they're descriptive and accurate enough to give you a great idea of what the tea will be like.  Often enough vendors either don't say much or seem to just add a couple of extra adjectives to make a tea sound nice, given that with enough interpretation an extra dried fruit or spice tone might be in there, but if anything these descriptions may have undersold the teas by just a little.  They mentioned tartness and sourness for these, for example (not positive descriptions, as I take those, although different combinations of flavors can work out if they balance), and I didn't really notice them.  Those aspect ranges could've dropped largely out with aging.

I'm curious about pricing, if one was sold as better than the other, or if the cost escalated as sheng tends to related to the age / storage time.  Of course it is fair to charge substantially more for pu'er that someone has stored properly; the vendor has experienced the cost of holding that tea, and accepted the risk of potential problems if there were problems with storage.  Just by hanging around for around a decade a tea product becomes a lot rarer a find.  I'm guessing the tea I liked better (the "Menghai" version) would cost more but that's just a guess, and really what matches what I like and objective quality level are two completely different things.  I'll check their site listings to see.


Menghai Lao Shu Cha 2008

Detail:  Shu Puer «Menghai» was made of the Menghai County plantation tea harvest 2008.  

This tea lists on their site for $16.48 for 100 grams, which would equate to a 357 gram cake costing $55.  That sounds pretty good, really, on the higher side for shou but for better shou than I've ran across, with price increase relating to aging hard to factor in.  I've definitely tried shou that's not nearly as good that cost more.


Lao Teji 2009

More detail:  Aged ripe Puer «Special Grade» was made in Menghai county from spring tea shoots of plantation tea grown in Bulangshan mountains (harvest 2009).

This one sells for $15.93 per 100 grams, so essentially for a similar priced product.  The description sounds a little higher end but really the experience is the thing.  This seemed more typical of other shou versions I've tried, and to the extent I could judge quality versus aspect variation they didn't seem so far off each other.  Neither was flawed in any way, and both were complex and interesting.



In checking their Moychay shou website page they list a number of pressed shou versions as well.  They range from just under $20 to up around $45, but that highest price version is from Lao Man E.  One smaller 100 gram cake described as made of higher grade material from 1999 is under $40.  Spending $20 on 50 grams of shou might not come up too often for many people but there seems a good chance that's exceptional tea. 

I also browsed through Yunnan Sourcing options for shou of comparable ages but there's really no matching up equivalent quality products.  CNNP bricks (250 grams) seem to run from $80-100 for 1999/2000 options there, so it just depends on how tea quality plays out if that one I'd mentioned is a steal or just more of the same at a standard price.  For whatever reason YS seems to sell older shou or newer shou but not as much in the 10 year old range.



I'm even more excited to try all these tea samples after this pair; they were quite a nice experience.  It seems like Moychay is probably a really good source for shou, for people on that page.  I like shou myself, and keep buying it and trying it, but in the past my experiences were more that the moderate priced versions I would buy were not really interesting or novel--kind of what one might expect.  There have been some exceptions.

One brick of shou I bought, a typical, lower cost mass produced version, was a lot better when I tried the last of it around a year later after first tasting it.  That may be some of what was going on, that those other teas just needed a bit more time to develop, for processing related flavors to soften and deepen.  I never really noticed much from shou I bought tasting fishy, as people describe, but that one did evolve from tasting a bit heavily of tar and petroleum to richer, sweeter, and creamier.  I just saw a comment from one of the main pu'er vendors online suggesting that it can take around 5 years for the initial processing tastes to completely settle out, for what that's worth.


messing around with photo editing with her (#picsart)


one of Keo's editing trials


Friday, May 18, 2018

Tea and the concept of experience economy




I recently attended an Adobe software conference tied to the theme of experience business or experience economy.  The general idea behind that concept is this:  as economies evolve people go from demanding basic goods (agrarian and then industrial based economies) to demanding services and specific forms of experiences (service and then experience based economies).  The higher the level of value the more that can be charged; “experiences” can command higher pricing than typical services.

It’s not necessarily simple to tie this back to tea.  A bestseller “The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary” outlines how that company built an empire by shifting themes and adding more value. 

Of course we’ve now seen that approach not work related to being duplicated for tea sales.  This World Tea News article from January 2016 explained how all the Teavana cafes were closing, but the retail stores were doing fine, and then in July of 2017 Starbucks announced they were closing all those shops.  I won’t try to interpret that, since related factors were surely complicated, but it probably works to say that sorting out the best approach to selling tea isn’t simple.

Former NYC Teavana café (photo credit)


I’m noticing a divide in experiences related to this theme and tea.  By far the most popular teas sold in Bangkok are bubble tea, or other flavored, sweetened, milk-based take-away versions that might as well have tapioca pearls at the bottom, even when they don’t.  It’s a beverage item and that’s it.  Tea enthusiasts are at the other end of the spectrum.  There can be secondary emphasis on ceremony or collecting gear but it’s mostly about the overall experience.

Of course it’s still about the tea, right?  Discussion arises about teaware, preparation methodology, and even subjects like health concerns, in places like online groups or at events, but in the end it comes back to liking aspects of the brewed teas.  That’s where the experience is, there is just plenty of room left for framing that.

Related to this split there might be a normal experience or preference curve of sorts, as people shift from floral blends, Tazo tea bags, and matcha lattes onto Gongfu--style brewing something like Dan Cong oolong or aged sheng pu’er.  True to the theory, as the demand transitions to a different focus it’s much less about price. 

Focus on minimizing level of cost can even invert.  Someone recently claimed in an online comment to have only spent under $200 on a sheng pu’er cake once this year, quickly qualified as a smaller 200 gram cake.  Bulk order photos are a different form of demonstrating status in consumption level.  $200 orders can look impressive, but then a single cake can cost more, and name-dropping decades old version references trumps any quantity.  A foreign tea enthusiast recently upped even that ante, describing commitment level as best expressed by a percentage of overall income spent on tea.

Wuyi Origin Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong; better teas don’t need to cost a lot


It seems all this really isn’t describing a general trend into expanding tea as a service-based experience versus a commodity.  The priciest local café here in Bangkok charges over $20 for a pot of tea, for a scant few grams; that’s at least back to purchasing an on-site experience. 
How to build that into the next version of a Starbucks, or did that prove to be a flawed goal?  Are these people focused as much on experience or on displaying status instead, or can the two really not be split?  It’s a bit of a tangent, but I’m reminded of a far more absurd topic coming up in an article about a golden taco:

The world's most expensive taco is specially prepared at Grand Velas Los Cabos resort…  Ordering it will set you back $25,000 — almost the price of a new car.

The taco's foundation is a gold-infused corn tortilla, which is then layered with Kobe beef and lobster. Toppings include black truffle Brie ($100 per ounce) and a dollop of Beluga caviar ($700 an ounce). Then, more layers of gold are added on top to finish… 


I'd take a cheap Tex-Mex version over this any day


Complaining about a $30 pot of tea and people spending enough to buy a car for a taco seem worlds apart.

These diverse threads make it hard to stick to the train of thought of what experiences people might want next related to tea, or what will become popular, and how expenses would factor in.  Seeking out traditional, quiet, feng shui designed cafes doesn’t seem likely to catch on.  Even the committed tea bloggers I read sometimes speak of setting aside the better teaware and complex brewing processes due to just getting busy, maybe taking up a grandpa style approach instead.



I drank Tazo ages ago; I have no hate for tea-bag based blends


All the while in beginner oriented tea groups I keep finding myself arguing the merits of basic, plain, inexpensive loose teas.  In one recent discussion someone asked if mixing peanut butter powder into tea might work (and it might, I guess), and I wondered if that person ever tried a Tie Kuan Yin of any quality level before, or a single example of Chinese black tea.  It turned out they were really looking for Thai iced tea (which can be nice). 

Plain, simple teas can be amazing experiences, but it’s only easy to package and sell the leaf.  It’s not as simple to bring the rest of the experience to everyone.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Wuyi Origin old bush Mi Lan Xiang (Dan Cong oolong)


2018 harvest, I'm not sure which tea type (credit the Wuyi Origin FB page)



Cindy!  this was last year though.


Cindy of Wuyi Origin sent some teas for review, including this one, an old bush Mi Lan Xiang.  Their season's Wuyishan oolongs, the Wuyi Yancha, aren't finished processing quite yet but Fujian black teas and Dan Cong oolongs are.

For regular readers there's no need to add background about this producer.  For others I'll just say they're the unrealistically rare case of a tea producer trying to sell directly to "the West."  If 100 random contacts on Facebook tell you that they are Chinese tea farmers maybe all 100 of them really aren't.  Farmers in China don't tend to speak English, use Facebook (it's blocked there, but people can use a VPN), or develop websites.  Eventually there was going to be an exception, though. 

I wrote a post showing pictures and video of Cindy and her family harvesting and processing teas last year.  That could all be staged, and those could just be separate vendors they source tea from, not her family making it, but I'm pretty sure they're the real deal.  That's also supported by accounts from a number of people who have visited there.

I should get back to ordering more instead of just trying a little but I can get to that after this set of samples, once the other oolongs come out.  Their fruit intensive Rou Gui (typically with pronounced citrus) is probably my overall favorite, a tea that's won them first place in local competitions before.  Of course it depends on a lot of factors coming together year to year; nature has to cooperate.  And on preference; I tend to love fruit intensive teas with a bit of natural citrus (or cocoa, so some Dian Hong--Yunnan black teas--work really well for me too).  While I'm mentioning it their wild Lapsang Souchong is another favorite (unsmoked, obviously), and their Jin Jun Mei versions are really nice, just a bit outside that range I tend to like most.

At the risk of adding too many tangents I was just recommending their teas in an online discussion and mentioned that checking different people's inputs is probably a good idea.  I could be biased and judge this vendor's teas more positively, even if that's unintentional, or might have unusual preferences.  I just looked up the closest reviews to this version on Steepster, reviewing last year's, and beyond one saying they thought it was a black tea they seemed to match up and were positive.  That reviewer also reviewed their most closely related black tea so I'm not sure what was up with that; maybe just a slip.


I'd expect this is about as good a Mi Lan Xiang as I've ever tried; so much for not burdening the experience with expectations.  Level of roast changes character quite a bit so there's that for variability.   Going lighter on roast brighter fruit character can emerge, and roasting a bit more adds depth, transitioning bright fruit and floral tones to deeper versions, maybe mixing a bit of caramel aspect in.  Producers would probably favor a certain style or else try to optimize what each season's harvest brings as a starting point each year.

For other kinds of tea (not really how it works out with Dan Cong) upper medium roast levels and beyond can be used to mask flaws in the tea.  Producers tend to keep level of roast light to medium with this general category of oolong, both per standard convention and related to what works out best.

it's nice looking tea


Review


Even on the first light infusion the tea is amazing.  It's bright, smooth, intense, creamy, sweet, and complex.  I'll need to add more specifics about aspects to that.  It's definitely not light or heavy roasted, it seems to me (on the relative scale for the type; this would be quite lightly roasted as Wuyi Yancha goes), so it doesn't give up anything for brightness but it does pick up some warmth.  The aspect flavors transition just a little into lightly cooked sugars versus just fruit and floral range flavors.

Is all that clear?  I'm mixing some different ideas about how typical flavor aspects tend to pair up.  I'll do more with flavor description aspect by aspect next round, and say more about what "full feel" means.  As for basics this isn't just floral and not mostly fruit; that peach flavor that tends to come across in some versions mixes with floral tones in this version.


not quite fully opened yet


The tea seems similar the next round but also exponentially more intense, even for being very lightly brewed.  I'd expect it to take one more leap in intensity on the next round and then level off, transitioning less over later infusions, and to last for an awful lot of them brewed so lightly. 

This is definitely the kind of tea that I'm trying to let people know exists.  It's so good that someone might try it and then not tell a soul in order to keep the supply availability intact.  I can break the experience down as a set of individual aspects but it would be like describing a sunset as a range of specific colors.  You really have to be there.




The main flavor aspect, it seems to me, is very lightly roasted peach, or maybe just fresh, ripe peach with a trace of browned sugar.  Not commercial browned sugar, the effect of actually lightly browning white sugar, like a very light caramel.  There is more floral range to it than that aspect, but it's a trace that pulls how the peach comes across; the impact of the two interacts.  The peach seems like a front end effect; that hits you first, then the depth and fullness of that floral range sweeps in and stays with you.  It's amazing the way the tea can be so intense but also bright, clean, and balanced; it seems it would have to give up one to some extent to include the others.

I can't imagine that there would be a much better version than this, that there's any room left for improvement.  Of course there's always something a bit more exceptional out there.

that one infusion brewed stronger


I let the next infusion go a little longer, now on 15 or 20 seconds being a long infusion versus letting sheng go over 30 to check how that changes things.  I'd mentioned more about the reasoning behind that practice in the last post, just to see what changes, and to identify feel aspects better, or notice flaws.


I'd hesitate to call the tea astringent but that structure and edge does pick up a little.  The tea will be much better brewed fast, between 5 and 10 seconds, with plenty of flavor and full feel in that range, but it's still interesting looking at it from different perspectives.  That feel is so subdued compared to lower quality level versions that it's probably misleading to say anything at all about it.  The trace of astringency gives better Dan Cong a full range of aspect character, and in lower quality examples it's something to brew around, more negative, something to compensate for.


It's not even astringent at all, in the same sense as in an Assam or more challenging sheng.  It's more a fullness in feel that comes across in a certain way, and a component that lingers in a long aftertaste, along with that sweetness and flavor range (peach and floral).  It's a very pleasant experience, all the parts of it, but how it comes together is indescribable.  It would be a shame to drink this tea without plenty of time and space to just absorb it.  There's one part about the feel and the flavor sensation moving across your tongue, settling in a different place than it lands in while tasting, ending up as a sensation in the rear of your throat.  That's different.  The aftertaste never ends, it just keeps trailing off.  Minutes later it's just less, not gone.


leaves unfurled


I went with a faster infusion the next round, more standard, around 10 seconds, and it's nicer, but then it was amazing on that last round too.  I can see why someone would prefer it at that strength to get the most out of the feel and aftertaste effect.  The flavor was still great but in drinking the tea for taste faster works better, and it's not at all thin.  I guess it would come down to preference.


There's not more transition to go on about; it's still expressing a lot of peach and floral, with a slight trace of light caramel or toffee.  "Peach and floral" really could be developed a bit.  That hint of astringency tapers into flavor just a little but it's more a light structure to the tea, which comes across as soft and full. More of the same on the next too.   The warmth might be picking up a little, the aspects shifting balance some, but the character stays similar.


I did keep drinking it for lots of infusions, but I'll spare the detailed notes since as can occur the aspects shifted balance more than changed.  I don't feel like I got as far as I typically do with separating aspects into a description; I kind of lost focus a bit in just enjoying the tea.  But I'll include more details in a conclusion section.

Celebrity guest review video






She loved it.  I didn't get any real description out of her though, just her joking around in that part.

Vendor description


After the actual tasting I checked the producer's notes for their description:


2018 old bushes Mi Lan xiang 蜜兰香老枞
Location:Li zhai ping village in Phoenix Moutian about 1200m 
Harvest date :2018.4.5th 
Cultivar: Mi lan xiang  (Magnolia )
Roasting level:  one time roasting by traditional charcoal fire by 90'c fire degree, 15 hours, Medium roasting style 

Feature : this tea just finished processing on 5th, and than we did the hands -sorting and Roasting by Litchi Charcoal. The age of the tea bushes is about 100 years old, we used the ladder to do the picking. 4 trees together.  This year is 15 kg in all.  More than 2017 Quantity. Because of  small quantity, we get ready them  more quicker than other big quantity tea.  The tasting  feature is  similar to 2017, because from same garden ,same bushes, and same makers processing, Peach or Nectarine, Lychee, Juicy Fruity cocktail and very milky aroma. 


I was going to edit that but somehow it makes sense to include it nearly character for character.  Note that this tea isn't being re-sold by someone with a Western background; the person or persons writing those words helped make the tea.  Cindy probably wrote that.  She wears a few different hats so she's not out picking tea or processing it all day but she is involved.

Lychee stands out; I wouldn't be surprised if I re-tasted that tea I'd notice that it is a good description, and it matches up from recent memory.  I just had fresh lychee over the last few days, and tried that tea too, but didn't make the connection.


lychee in the upper right (that other is rambutan)


Lychee varies a good bit, by variety of that fruit plant type (there are several), and by how ripe it is, and how good versions are.  The one I just had was so-so, only sort of sweet and just a little sour.  A really good version is very sweet and complex, with bright citrus-like tones that span almost into light spice range.  I haven't have had a really good lychee in a year since the season is just starting now and I've only had fresh versions twice so far.  I think expecting the tea to taste like peach and flowers and it also tasting like those things threw off making that connection.  And the effect of the feel and aftertaste were really interesting to me this time, so I was doing a bit less free-associating about flavor components.

As for the milky aroma I'm not sure.  It can be hard to pin down feel aspects as a description, and per my understanding she uses "aroma" in a specific different sense, not in a way I'd be likely to shed light on by describing it.

Unless I'm remembering wrong this version is just a little better than last year's.  The character seemed similar but there was something about the way it all came together that worked better, just that extra bit more exceptional.  Some of that could be a match of aspects with preference, or bias can come into play, expectations leading interpretation and memory.

Conclusion


This is probably the best example of a Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong I've yet to try.  I did quite a bit more with the category last year so I'm basing that on memory, but I don't think I've ever experienced positive aspects coming together to this extent or one balancing as well.  Even theirs; it seems similar to prior versions but slightly better.  I might qualify that by saying that in general Mi Lan Xiang versions have typically come across as a bit more straightforward to me, more flavor intensive, with types like Ya Shi (duck shit) more interesting for being complex in different ways.


It's not as if it's completely different than other years', except for that overall effect, and related to the way the taste and feel seemed to really impact my mouth differently.  I suppose it's possible that also relates to trying a lot of sheng, to focusing more on those aspect ranges, and experiencing lots of different complex teas over the past half a year.


cartoon addicts watching Peppa Pig



Sunday, May 13, 2018

Moychay sun dried compressed Dian Hong (Yunnan black)






Only partly connected to visiting two Moychay shops in Moscow and St. Petersburg over New years that vendor sent quite a number of samples to try, including this 100 gram compressed Yunnan black tea.  I really love a Nan Nuo sheng cake I picked up in St. Petersburg so I'm excited to try more of their sheng, but this tea goes along with an earlier connection to another similar version so I tried it first.

It turns out that the owner of the chain I had talked to is not just a tea merchant but also a tea enthusiast (Sergey; maybe I'll do more of a profile on him at some point since I've been considering tea culture in Russia quite a bit).  About more background on that, most of the Moychay and tea background content is in Russian but there is one blog video in English on their site with updates in Facebook and Instagram about tea themes and sourcing trip images.

Pretty much all tea vendors are tea enthusiasts, you might say, but it does seem to come in degrees.  Maybe it's as well to say that he's also a student of tea, although that brings up the same implications. There seems to be a divide--which I won't say more about--between tea vendors who are true tea lovers, and those who are certainly very interested in the subject but don't seem to know much about it, and others who seemingly would as soon be selling rat poison if the profit potential was there.


For whatever reasons I really loved a compressed Yunnan black tea I bought a brick of, from Teasenz.  Because I will say more about that tea version too, and sundried black tea aging potential, this post fails to stay simple; oh well.  I was just mentioning that tea and subject theme in an online discussion so I'll cite that vendor description here (with my own review here):


that other compressed Dian Hong; photo credit Teasenz vendor page

The colour of the brew looked like something between a black tea and a ripe pu erh tea. Pretty intense dark red, though we brewed it for only 10 seconds. Not strange, because our gaiwan was fully filled with leaves once they expanded.


The taste was really interesting and was 'confusing' because we couldn't really place it. The first sip told me it was the aroma of a Yunnan black tea, but then the after taste was kind of like a ripe sheng pu erh. The texture was indeed thicker as the grower told us, something that also reminded us of a shou pu erh. The smoothness is amazing and probably due to the 2 years of aging. We also noted that the aging allowed us to brew the leaves up to 9 brews, which is pretty amazing for a black tea. The aging seems to result in more yield. If the brick was made of full leaves and buds, the yield could even be higher.


It wasn't the texture that stood out so much to me as the flavor complexity but it was a thick feeling tea; that layer of rich mineral acting as a base for other dried fruit range seemed unique.  It did seem in between a Yunnan black tea and some sort of hei cha, all the more interesting for trying it blind, for not looking up what it really was before the tasting for that review.


The subjects of pressing teas and aging them tend to overlap.  I'm not sure how many kinds of teas beyond pu'ers, other hei cha, white teas (mostly shou mei, but also others) it makes sense to compress into bricks, cakes, or other shapes.  Doing the same with oolong isn't unheard of.  Traditional forms include Korean dokk-cha, which I can't draw a parallel to related to other types, and haven't tried any version of yet.  Falap (phalap) is a Northern Indian compressed tea that seems to just be a version of bamboo sheng pu'er.  I'm not sure where I'm going with this; just rambling a little there.  Teasenz no longer sells that other version as a pressed tea, but I'm not sure if that makes much difference in aging anyway.  Pressed tea cakes might seem cool; there's that.

I've mentioned before that sun-dried black teas are said to improve with age, as pu'er, hei cha, and white teas do, so with that as a common theme compressing Yunnan black tea makes perfect sense.  As chance has it there was a recent discussion of the subject of black tea aging in a Reddit tea subforum.

Review:


The look is dark with some bud material, and the smell is sweet and rich.  I tend to not review teas by dry tea scent much, so I'll move onto describing how that worked out infused.

The initial infusion I went a little light on; the next one will open up more.  I'm brewing it using a Gongfu style approach, in a gaiwan, with proportion just a little lower than I tend to use for sheng, and I'll see how timing works out best related to that.



It's nice and rich, sweet and earthy, with a touch of tartness.  I've mentioned in other reviews that I don't particularly seek out tartness in black tea but in the right balance a little could be nice.


I'll let the next infusion brew to a more typical black tea strength, more intense than a typical sheng or even oolong, the way I most prefer black teas of this type.  They work well very light too; the flavor range doesn't change much, and there is no astringency to be problematic.


In discussing brewing with someone they mentioned the practice of trying one infusion at higher strength could be seen as related to the Indian cupping practice of brewing teas uniformly and on the strong side, versus drinking tea for enjoyment, to "push" the tea and become more aware of flaws.  I sort of see it that way and sort of don't.  It's just a different look at the same tea, loosely based on that theme.


The tartness stands out more brewed stronger; I wouldn't be surprised if this falls into a more positive balance brewed lighter, in a more standard infusion strength.  A hint of dryness joins in with the fullness of the feel of the tea, in a way and a level that's positive, it complements the rest.


There is a bit of that same unusual character I noticed in that other compressed Yunnan black tea, an earthiness that's not necessarily easy to describe.  I'd go with richer versions of dried fruit as a main description for the most pronounced taste elements, but I'm talking about an underlying mineral layer instead.  It's nice.

I was going to look up how I described that mineral in the other tea version (not typical practice for me), which I'll cite more completely here:


One part reminds me of toasted pastry, another fruit, but so heavy and complex it would  have to be a mixed fruit jam.  The way minerals layer in is interesting; maybe that part is like volcanic soil.  Some of the interesting earthiness is out towards leather or even crude oil, just nothing like shou pu'er where those might be primary elements.  It has a nice thick feel too, thick in an interesting sense.  That fruit aspect may have been similar to dried persimmon instead of raisin, with some of the other complexity hinting towards spice range, just not cinnamon or something familiar. 


This tea is a little like that, maybe just a bit more tart, and not quite as earthy.


I definitely love the tea.  I'd probably like it even better if that slight tartness was swapped out for more of a richer, sweeter tone, but it's nice as it is and still early in the tasting; it could transition.  This tea will also probably develop a bit over the next couple of years, although I'm not sure how much I'll have around then; maybe I'll get another mini-cake at some point to hide from myself.  That other tea I keep referring to was two years old (or maybe even three between delay for them posting that reference and me trying it), and this may well evolve in a similar direction.


The feel is nice, and the overall fullness of the aspects together.  That one underlying mineral tone makes for a really nice drawn out aftertaste experience.  No flaws really come across, to the extent that was possibly one point to the brewing choice of doing a longer infusion.


I will guess at that mineral type:  it's somewhere in between artesian well (iron compounds) and Southwestern US slickrock, with just a hint of struck match.  It works better than it might sound because of how it pairs with the other flavor range aspects.  The dried fruit range is hard to specify but there's a rich, sweetness to it similar to a pipe tobacco.  When I'm describing older sheng as tasting like tobacco usually that reminds me more of cigar, but this is different, sweeter and more aromatic.  Then again there are surely much better and more interesting cigars out there than I've ever tried; that was never my thing.


I went lighter on this next infusion, only for around 10 to 15 seconds.  It all does balance much better brewed lighter, and doesn't give up much for intensity.  It's an intense tea for not having much time to infuse for that round.  I'm sure this wouldn't be that different brewed in a more straight Western style but I'd definitely recommend messing around with parameters the other way.



It could be just the infusion strength difference or maybe some transition but the tartness drops way back, and the sweetness and other complexity doesn't diminish much at all.



While I'm doing tangents in mid-review I'll mention the vendor's description (added mixed in with the tasting notes later):


The bouquet of brewed tea is warm and bright, woody-herbal, with biscuit, fruity and honey notes. The aroma is deep and warm, viscous, fruity-spicy. The taste is juicy, saturated, sweetish, a bit tart, with a light citrus acidity and spicy nuances, transforming into lingering finish.

Brew tea with hot water (95°C) in a gaiwan or a teapot made of porous clay. The proportion is 5 g per 100 ml. The first infusion should last for 6-8 seconds. After that do short steeps (just for 1-2 seconds), increasing steeping time for each subsequent step, if necessary. You can steep the tea up to 9 times..


Right, a bit off boiling point is good.  I'd agree with all of that description.  In agreement with this vendor description and the Teasenz directions related to that other compressed tea version a bit cooler yet might work well.  I messed around with it for this tea and the flavor profile just shifts.  I'll often use hotter water later in the cycle to draw out more flavor but it's easy to misjudge when this tea is fading; it just keeps going.  Really short infusions did work well.


Related to the rest of those details there is a good bit of fruit to it, in the dried fruit range, which is a little harder to sort out due to the rest of the overall complexity.  It would surely be interpreted differently by different people.


Conclusions


I stopped taking notes but I kept on brewing more infusions until I lost count, at least 10.  The tea works really well brewed lightly and even after fading and requiring longer steeps the character doesn't transition much.  It doesn't move towards tasting woody as most blacks tend to when more brewed out.  I lot of teas don't go "off" as you brew lots of infusions, if they even can keep producing flavor, but the results aren't necessarily positive, but this tea was pleasant even in very late steeps.


I love black teas, and Dian Hong in particular, and there's something unique about sun-dried versions I really like.  This tea could potentially be much better in a year or two, but per my understanding it's not typical to keep them around for more than a few years to draw out further transition.  I tend to not say much about value in posts but with this version costing just under $8 for 100 grams it's a great buy related to that.  Other Dian Hong do span a broad aspect range and judgment of how good any one version is depends on preference but I'd certainly recommend this one completely aside from that value consideration.


On the personal update side, my son has been pretty excited for about a week over seeing Infinity War.  My daughter started ballet lessons too; I'll have to add photos of that later.  For now I'll leave off with one image related to that movie instead.


the Infinity War happy ending that they didn't show



Thursday, May 10, 2018

Comparison tasting 2007 and 2010 Yiwu gushu sheng




This follows on something like 9 months of ramping up exploring sheng, with a lot of that related to Yiwu Mountain Tea samples of different types and ages (that links to other posts; the vendor site is here).

Now that I think of it trying a set of boutique producer versions from the Golding shop in Kuala Lumpur back in 2016 was probably a related start, or trying a series of Thai versions of sheng from Tea Side prior to that.  In a sense this is one form of culmination, of this later round at least, trying two moderately aged versions of considerably better than average, familiar style and region sheng.

These are both still youngish by some standards.  Decades old aged pu'er qualifies as truly aged versions by everyone's expectations, with 15 to 20 years as a more moderate consensus for the beginning of that threshold.

One point of this broader set of reviews was to see what's out there for different sheng pu'er, and to get some feel for the input of different production areas and aging / fermentation related changes.  I tend to not try to place any of the sheng I'm trying on a scale, either of how good it might be related to other similar teas, related to a range of all sheng or to some subset of what I've tried.  These teas I'm reviewing were good teas, and I did like them, but that's about as far as I usually go with expressing that, more focused on describing aspects instead.




An online tea friend mentioned that it's probably time to drop hedging opinions as relative to limited experience and just get on with expressing them, but there are a lot of factors related with this particular tea type.  It's not mostly about modesty related to judging based on only a few years of tasting experience (which isn't that much, to me).


Sheng is more complex than a lot of versions of tea, with a broader range of those inputs (origin, processing, age, storage, etc.), and with more related aspects to sort out.  Preferences would vary a lot, and there is less of a singular standard, true-to-type better quality range to compare to.  I'll say more about how that after the detailed review.



Review:


2007:  this tea is still loosening up but already shows interesting complexity and depth.  That taste range is familiar but it's going to be a challenge to break it down.  It's earthy, with all the former brighter mineral tone and bitterness converted into that earthier, "darker" range.  Mineral in a completely different sense than found in young sheng grounds the range.  The feel has a fullness to it but the overall intensity is dialed back compared to younger sheng versions, with aspects covering a depth of different range instead.  I'll add more specifics in the next infusion, I'm just laying out the general impression here.


both teas are a bit darkened by aging (2007 left)


2010:  this is similar, with even more of dark tree bark sort of range filling in where the other tea is grounded by warmer, deeper mineral.  The floral range in both (what presumably would've been much more pronounced in younger versions) has also given way to that transition.

This reminds me of tasting a number of Thai versions of sheng quite awhile back in an earlier round of exploration, maybe between 2 and 3 years ago.  I did buy a favorite of that set, a Hong Tai Chang cake from 2006, an apparently identical tea to a version that Olivier Schneider sent two months ago (which I reviewed here as a sample three years ago, and re-reviewed here two years back).  It raised the question, where does this tea stand related to other Chinese sheng?  Of course that kind of question comes in levels, about if the input of growing conditions varied character, or how processing was typical within a range of different choices and skill levels, and about aging.  Some of that will be resolved just a little more in comparison tasting the two versions together, but related to the basic theme I just needed significantly more experience for comparison.

Initially that tea tasted a bit like tobacco to me, until I tried another version that really did taste a lot more like tobacco, and I realized how far off that comparison was, at least related to the aspect describing an overall flavor range effect.  Mineral and dark wood worked as partial description, but never really captured it.  I'm not sure I'm prepared to get much further here.  It may be that in addition to lots of exposure tea drinkers who have went through more of a formal training and initiation process, a sort of ordination process, in traditional tea drinking circles, may acquire not just exposure to a broad range of teas but a conventional vocabulary for describing the experience.  I'm not exactly eating foods that remind me of deeper mineral tones, tobacco, obscure spices, and tree bark.


the 2007 tea (left) brews darker, but is more subdued


Second infusion:


2007:  the last infusion I let go for towards 20 seconds, to get the process moving, and the intensity was a bit much.  For this one I didn't use a flash infusion (in and out) but closer to that, around 10 seconds.  This tea is quite pleasant at this light infusion strength.  Flavor description is elusive; I might end up only describing these further in contrast, mentioning how one differs from the other.

2010:  again this tea has more of a darker wood / tree bark / spice intensity to it.  The other older version is well balanced and more subtle, but this has those edges to the character, intensity in different specific flavor ranges.  The aftertaste might draw out a bit more too.  In both cases the intense mouthfeel of a younger sheng has given way to a depth to the experience that's much less pronounced.  Those other elements remind me just a little of tobacco, all not that far off what I'm remembering of that older Hong Tai Chang Thai sheng version.

In a Yiwu tasting last year differences in storage transition input seemed notable, as an extra layer of flavor and feel that was expressed as both a distinct additional aspect and as a form of change in the rest.  Of course those teas were of varying ages, and they weren't the same to begin with, not from the same producers, although they were from the same narrow village area.  It made it hard putting it all together, to know what led to what for final results.  Clear patterns seemed to emerge, like Malaysian stored teas having a specific softness and deeper underlying funkiness, a touch of root-cellar character.  These teas are clearly transitioned but the overall tone and aspect range is clean and clear; no funkiness.

It is nice getting back to teas it makes sense to comparison taste, that are similar enough that it's not just about managing the challenge of trying two different teas at once.

Third infusion:


2007:  it's interesting that the color of these leaves are darker, and the brewed liquid is darker, and the flavor range is slightly more subdued, or even the aftertaste.  The flavor range is really complex for me not getting very far with describing it.  It's towards that char one encounters in roasted teas, it's just not quite that.  To me it comes across as mostly mineral, like the deeper complex tones I've mentioned before in comparison with an artesian well, or very old rusting oil well equipment.  It has some sweetness to it but I'm not really reminded of dried fruit, at least not much.  There's a dark wood / tree bark range to it as well but the main range is more mineral.  It's complex in the sense of experiencing a lot going on, a depth, but not complex in the sense of that experience spanning a lot of range.

2010:  again this version is more focused on the dark wood tree bark and spice range.  That deeper mineral tone is there but less pronounced.  This version expresses feel across the middle of the tongue, versus the other tightening slightly across lots of your mouth, but as I've mentioned I'm not attached to specific feel aspects beyond those adding depth to a tasting experience.


Fourth infusion:


Let's skip the split tasting format this time.  I went with a really fast infusion again since the teas are pleasant that way, and the 2007 isn't really transitioning.  It's a bit subdued, although the experience is pleasant.  I guess this could easily represent tea aspects going a bit quiet as one hears of.  It goes without saying but these differences may not relate mainly to aging exposure differences; I really don't know.

The 2010 shifts aspects proportion, with darker wood tones and tobacco shifting more towards the spice, almost picking up a bit of rosemary.  The feel thins going really light but the 2010 tea retains a nice long aftertaste.  It doesn't remind me of what I think of as hui gan, a bitterness-related sweetness tied to feel experienced in the rear of your mouth and throat, but it does linger in a positive way.  I'll try a slightly longer infusion time next but I don't expect that to be more positive, it's just something to try out.

2007 left; a bit darker after brewing


Fifth infusion:


One 2007 tea aspect comes across more like char when infused for more like 20 seconds.  I'm not completely sure what to make of that, or if it implies anything, just pointing it out.  It's not like that roasty range in medium roasted Taiwanese oolongs, or the stout edginess in Wuyi Yancha, more like a slightly burned Tie Kuan Yin (a mild version of that), not so different than inexpensive shou pellets often express.  Of course it's a completely different effect as a minor supporting element along with deeper mineral range, where those cheap shou versions just taste a little like brewing cinders.  Woodiness joins the mineral and trace of char, like a well-aged hardwood, or maybe even a tropical hardwood.

The 2010 tea hasn't changed.  The balance is nice, pleasant in the early infusions too but nicer in the last couple.  It occurs to me that part of the depth of this is not just mineral tones but a bit of what I was calling an old furniture taste in reviewing a medium roasted oolong not long ago.  It's a little towards nail polish but it's not fair to say the tea tastes like a chemical; it doesn't.  I guess as standard pu'er descriptions goes maybe calling it a touch of camphor works, just a mild version of it.  After thinking of it that way that matches the 2007 version too; it probably would be natural to have been using that as a clearer description.

Sixth infusion:


The teas are losing strength, at the point where longer infusions are required to draw out the same intensity, which shifts how the balance of different aspects come across.  In general the same trends in aspect range and difference is occurring; the 2007 is more subdued, more in a mineral range, with the 2010 slightly more intense with a bit more tobacco / tree bark / spice.  What I've noticed of wetter aging effect seems more pronounced in the younger tea, a faint echo of root cellar dampness.

Of course these teas are far from finished, so from this point additional description would cover how aspects transitions continue, in part related from brewing longer.  In order to keep reviews moderate in length (or really long but not completely unreadable) I typically just leave off describing every infusion round, as I will here.


Initial Conclusions


These were interesting teas, good examples of this type and age, compared to what I've tried.  I'm still not far enough along to judge preference in aging effects or put decade old aged versions on a relative scale but they at least seem to be in a typical character for decent versions within that range.

In that Yiwu vertical tasting event last year it was interesting how the teas became less intense throughout the progression through tea ages, beyond the other aspect range change.  The brighter, more intense character in the younger teas transitioned to deeper, more complex, earthier range.  Thaneadpol, the guy hosting that session, mentioned that it may have made sense to vary proportion instead of keeping all the parameters completely identical to allow for a more balanced, even comparison by doing so.  The overall intensity of those older versions (a 2008 and 2005) was relatively muted.

I can't completely connect that to the idea that shengs tend to "go quiet" at some point in their aging process but to some extent it would seem to relate to that.  That might lead one to guess that this 2007 version could potentially improve further once it ages further, it might move through a less intense phase.  Based on more experience with aging progressions one might instead conclude that it would likely just fade from here.  Either way it was interesting to try at this stage.  I've not reviewed all the teas I have in this sample set, and I'll continue to use them as references in comparison with other versions that come up. 

One might go further with comparison against similar teas, to narrow down the location origin for further comparison, or to reach further into the tea age issue, to sort out how these match up with others of similar type (specific place and plant source).

I just ran across an interesting Farmerleaf video on determining tea tree ages, relating to that "gushu" designation, on "how to estimate the age of ancient tea trees."  The answer was a little anticlimactic:  William said you have to cut a core sample to obtain an older bit of wood material (or actually he just said to test the old wood sample; he didn't mention how to come by it), and that tree size isn't a very good indicator, because the trees can grow faster or slower depending on conditions.

That said Philip Lee included a lot of pictures of older trees in the Yiwu Mountain Tea blog article "How big are wild arbor Gushu trees in Gaoshan?"  There is probably scattered references of age estimations in their other site content but it seems as well to not do a tangent on tea tree ages anyway.

Placing vertical tasting, other related approaches



This still seems short on conclusions, given all that context, doesn't it?  I kind of leave off with "that's interesting."  I don't mean to undersell just how interesting it actually has been trying this Yiwu origin series.  Check out this aged sheng sample pack contents sold by Yiwu Mountain Pu'er for reference to that, described as 6 samples included, 20g each:

2015 Yiwu Gushu Huangpian (yellow tea or "farmer's tea")
2005 Yiwu Gushu Huangpian
2016 Yiwu Qiaomu ("wild arbor trees," about conditions, not a tea plant age claim)
2012 Yiwu Qiaomu 
2017 Yiwu Gushu 
2010 Yiwu Gushu


It would difficult to seek out similar teas spanning that connected range of types and ages, and nearly impossible to do so related to purchasing samples.  Some vendors do sell samples, of course, and as some have been following the "Liquid Proust" vendor (Andrew Richardson, interviewed in this post) has ventured into selling sample packs of pu'er, as much a variation on group buys as typical vending (covered in this interview post).  But I've not ran across an equivalent to this type of bundling as a standard offering (which is not to imply that what I've seen fairly represents all that's out there).


It has also been interesting experiencing some degree of preference transition.  As often noted sheng can be an acquired taste, partly related to appreciating a broader range of flavors, and in part related to appreciating aspects beyond flavor, feel and aftertaste effects, or even qi.  I'll say more about that part in other sheng reviews that will follow.


at International day, representing Japan (my daughter is on the left)