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 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.
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.
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