0802 HTC version I bought left, tea Olivier sent right
Olivier's sample; a cool looking chunk
I'd mentioned that an online contact, Olivier Schneider of puerh.fr, had sent some versions of sheng to try (and a little shou and Dian Hong), and that a 2006 Thai material originated HTC sheng was one of them. I own what's left of a cake of 2006 Thai HTC sheng I bought from Tea Side awhile back, a tea I first reviewed as a sample in 2015. Of course I'm assuming here that it's ok to call a Thai version of sheng pu'er sheng, even though officially pu'er is a regional designation; that could as easily be read as "sheng pu'er-like tea."
I first reviewed that cake I bought in 2016, and compared it to another sheng version last year, and the tea seemed to have been improving. That really could have been that I was developing a preference towards it, in addition to actual changes.
the labeling for that Tea Side 0802 2006 HTC cake
HTC basically dont exist anymore, so recent production came from several factories who use this name (more or less legally according to the case)... Most of them have absolutely no connexion with original HTC, some get some knowledge from old master, workers, etc...
It's mostly impossible when you find a HTC cake on the market to know where it came from, except if you really found it in the factory. More or less like "CNNP" cake in China.
Interesting! I've been drifting away from researching what's what in this blog and just focusing on tea reviews, which I'll mostly stick to here, but something interesting does turn up.
This sample's description cites some background, including mentioning "dry storage," which should be interesting to consider.
Even in the first initial infusion "my" version (the Tea Side 0802 tea) is sweeter, a bit more aromatic, more like the complex scents in incense, frankincense or something such. Of course I never will get such descriptions right; I'm not familiar with aromatic woods and spices and it's been a long time since my hippie days.
Olivier's sample is a touch smokier, deeper and richer, "darker" in flavor, even though the tea itself is slightly lighter in color. I'll break both more into aspects on the second round, which will be a fairer comparison of where the aspects are going through later transitions.
good color, not so different
The Tea Side version opened up a lot in that first round. It tastes a lot like prune now, moving into that particular dried fruit range. I could swear it didn't taste nearly this much like dried fruit or prune the last time I tried it, but then I've not been drinking it very frequently, checking it a couple times a year. Beyond that there is an aromatic dark wood range, that spice I'd noticed in the first infusion. It's nice enough, different.
The smokiness picked up a good bit in the other version, the one from Olivier. Some of the underlying dark wood or aromatic spice aspect range does seem common but there isn't nearly as much dried fruit range. It might come across a bit more like date, where that other was close to matching prune. This has a slightly different body feel too, a bit dryer, with just a bit more structure. The other tea wasn't thin but the effect was different, and not pronounced. It really does remain in your mouth after the infusion, but in a different sense than in younger teas, not as intense and location specific, but significant in a different way.
Both of these teas are complex enough that lots of labels could pin down supporting aspect range, probably related to flavors and also feel and aftertaste. Sweetness, earthiness, and complexity are expressed in a lot of depth of flavor in both.
I went a little longer on the next infusion, not so much doing that varying times to experiment as I tend to but instead because there's lots going on here that's distracting. Doing reviews with kids in the house is problematic, but it's the life I'm living. These teas only infused for between 15 and 20 seconds, versus around 10, but the effect is going to be completely different.
Tea Side version left, Olivier's right (the "long" infusion)
The Tea Side / Bangkok stored tea is much different slightly stronger and more opened up. That dried fruit flavor shifted, no longer straight prune but more complex, more mixed. Part a bit more like date develops, and the aromatic spice / hardwood notes increase to match the fruit level in effect. The depth of the flavor is amazing; it just extends down to lots of "lower" level. Mineral grounding picks up, a bit along the line of wet sandstone. All those parts are quite clean though, and they integrate well together.
Tea Side version left, a bit darker; could be the storage difference
The smoke is diffusing in the other version, giving way to other range. I'm guessing these aren't the same tea; they're just too different. Some of the aromatic hardwood effect is common but the overlap between the two is limited. The feel is different too, even though the Bangkok version did pick up structure for being brewed a bit stronger and opening up a bit more. There is a bit more of a autumn forest floor effect in this version.
For both one might interpret a mild supporting aspect range as tobacco but it's nothing like an aged sheng that actually tastes like tobacco, when that's mostly what the tea tastes like. It's problematic to put a label on these different earthy ranges, and describing that as "some sort of darker wood, or maybe spice" doesn't work well, especially since that would be two different sets for both. This second tea does taste just a little more like tobacco though; that's how the greater autumn floor range comes across compared to the other dried fruit and mineral.
The Tea Side version falls into a nice balance on the next infusion, not different than before, but somehow evened out across aspects range. The sweetness and fruit is balanced by aromatic dark wood and underlying mineral, all clean and positive. Olivier's sample version is improved too, not different, but balancing well at this level. The touch of smoke is still present but warm autumn floor range aspect, with a touch of tobacco, round out a nice effect, with a nicely structured feel even brewed a bit light.
More of the same on the next infusion; I'll leave off note-taking for now, and see what chasing around these kids require.
at the zoo with the trouble-makers the next day
Both teas were really nice. They just don't seem all that similar; it seems unlikely they were closely related versions to begin with. Storage differences could cause variation but it wouldn't seem like this much, to cause them to seem like completely different teas across most aspect range.
About the smoke aspect, Olivier said that teas can develop that as a natural result of an aging change, and that it's possible to notice a difference from an input due to smoke flavoring the tea during processing. If you'd owned the tea and noticed it not there, and then later it was, unless there was some chance of real smoke contacting the tea that would have to be what occurred. I guess I'd tried enough young sheng that seemed smoky that I assumed it was usually either from smoke contact during processing or a natural and original aspect in the tea, not an aging related input.
Both versions were nice. I liked the one I'd owned better due to liking that dried fruit effect more than the earthiness, smoke, and additional tobacco / dark wood range. I didn't notice that much difference I could clearly attribute to a storage condition difference, to Olivier's being stored in a relatively drier place (per the description, at least), but given the range of differences that may just relate to not being familiar enough with transitions to guess better about that. The color was different, with that tea much lighter, and it could be that the transition to those sweeter flavors was the result of a faster, therefore more advanced aging process.
their 0803 numbered product. It's conceivable that's exactly what I'm trying.
Or not; it would seem a stretch to try to guess at the probability of that. It is interesting to consider his description of that tea:
Dry tea smells with bark, dried fruits, spices. In the taste there are various dried fruits: raisins, dried apricots, plums. Light smoky flavor reminds of some Chinese raw puers and makes dried fruits taste more like prunes. There are some savoury wood tones and spices.
Pretty close; maybe. That page passes on more of the story about the HTC producer but it sounds like there is still more to be told about it:
Old raw (sheng) pu-erh tea from the Thai factory that produces pu-erhs under the name Hong Tai Chang. The tea is made by a Chinese master, a native of Yunnan. He has been making Pu-erhs for more than 40 years. Then he’s been retired and passed on all his knowledge and experience in producing and storing pu-erhs to his disciple, whom we’re working now with.