Thursday, June 21, 2018

Jing Mai, Nan Nuo, and Ban Pen gushu sheng tasting





Jing Mai left, Nan Nuo upper, Ban Pen right


I'm comparison tasting three versions of sheng from Moychay, more of teas they sent (there are more; I'll keep coming back to this).


Jing Mai 2017 gushu

Nan Nuo (check spelling) 2013 gushu

Ban Pen 2016 gushu


That's a bit of variation for direct comparison tasting, but as covered in past posts prior training/ practice in accounting for variation can help make sense of a limited degree of matching, and should allow for this to work.  In particular tasting teas of different ages will throw off comparison, more than by region.  Mixing those two factors is probably more of an issue than either taken alone.

As far as just tasting a tea to enjoy it one at a time is probably better.  For tasting for review there are pros and cons.  Comparison adds more complexity, more to notice and deal with, which is negative.  It also allows for comparison and contrast across a broad range of aspects, which can be helpful.  It could be difficult to duplicate isolation of finer points of feel, or evaluating length of finish, all of which become much more obvious in direct comparison (although practice would enable that judgment too).  Of course "qi" effect of any one tea as an input becomes indistinguishable in combined tasting; another negative.

No need to repeat it in too many reviews but to really fully experience a tea trying it several times over a longer period helps a lot.  These reviews are to pass on a limited impression, not to map out a complete objective final take.  Even with subjectivity as a factor someone could make some headway towards that kind of a goal, but it should be based on multiple tastings along with varying some inputs (parameters, water used, taste at different times, etc.).

A friend recently asked if a vendor sending so many samples of tea is a conflict, or if receiving more quantity is, a cake versus a sample, for example.  These were just samples, provided by the vendor, but enough to try a number of times.  The idea was that if a vendor sends a few small samples I'm doing the review out of interest for trying and communicating about a tea, but if I get more tea I might be inclined to be more positive; in effect, biased.  My impression about vendor intentions in this case was that the company owner, Sergey, is a tea enthusiast himself, and sharing tea with someone who appreciates it and can pass on feedback is of interest even beyond the marketing angle, which also works out. 

I get all that; I give people tea all the time myself, earlier today last.  It's really hard to pass on the last I have of favorites but I try to let people try teas I think they'd like, more than I keep track of what it's costing me.  I recently gave the work support staff good Longjing to serve at a meeting I wasn't involved with so they could try better tea; "tea people" can be like that.

People being people that kind of bias could come up, even if the reviewer intention is the opposite.  But in my own case I don't think I'm varying these review descriptions based on how much tea vendors send, or even related to when I buy the tea versus receiving free samples.  Really anyone else's impression about teas should be taken with a grain of salt anyway.  If a reader can compare a review opinion with a tea version they've tried the match or disparity in communicated impression should be clearer, and if not it would be hard to judge that.  The same would apply to potential bias across vendors.  Preference for a certain style, or against specific aspects, or lack of knowledge or exposure to varying quality levels of teas, or just bad judgement, could all be factors in a reviewer's take on a tea. 

Readers are encouraged to provide feedback about some of that; how am I doing?


Jing Mai 2017 gushu


Nan Nuo 2013 gushu


Ban Pen 2016 gushu


Review


I'll start with the initial infusion (after a rinse); it'll be a little early to judge the teas but this will point towards where tasting these will go.  I'm not going to get too far with mapping out my impression of these teas versus other supposed "gushu" versions, or get into what that means.  Some of the aspects tend to relate more to that difference, and I'll just comment a little as it comes up.

The Jing Mai version is sweet and floral, typical of other versions I've tried related to that range.  It is a bit astringent, on the strong side, with that characteristic edge older plant teas tend to have, the intensity.  In terms of flavor that's expressed as a mineral base, as much as anything, but really just that intensity more so.  It's definitely a young sheng; approachable as those can go, but still a little edgy.  At least it's not really bitter or astringent, or smoky, but then I'd not have expected any of that for a Jing Mai version, based on the limited number I've tried.  Yiwu would be just a hint mellower and more floral, with a slightly different flavor range, but not so far off, just different.

The Nan Nuo comes across much differently; no wonder comparing a 2013 tea to a 2017 version.  The warmth, softness, and depth of slightly aged tea is as expected, and giving up some brightness and "top end" intensity.  I like that flavor range.  It reminds me of the other Nan Nuo sheng version I bought from Moychay over New Years; there's a bit of white grape to it, with the plum in this version a bit more subdued, but also present.  It's a softer tea but it still has plenty of edge related to not seeming too subtle.  Of course it comes down to a matter of preference for character but many of those somewhat aged Yiwu versions I've been trying had softened up a lot after just a few years.  If drinking softer, approachable tea was desired those could've been better; if someone saw that balance of aspects including more structure as better then this tea might be (aside from it being way too early to call; this tea is still opening up).  The flavor range is different too, and comparing teas overall is something else.

The Ban Pen has an earthier flavor range that's familiar, still not necessarily easy to describe.  Mineral is part of it, and it traces over into mushroom range, and also a bit of white cardboard.  It is lower in intensity than the other two, but the flavor is just as pronounced; the range it gives up relates to feel, and that one characteristic mineral undertone and astringency edge.

I'm feeling this three-way sheng tasting after one round; that's going to be an issue.  I can make it through a number of rounds but it won't even be close to these teas "playing out."  I could discard the tea instead of drinking it but I'm not really into that.


Jing Mai left, Nan Nuo center, Ban Pen right (Nan Nuo was a touch darker, but similar)


Second round / infusion



The Jing Mai tea is nicer; it opened up more, with a slightly better balance and good intensity.  It seems like it will really only in the normal range next round but it's coming on well.  The sweetness is nice, and that flavor range, a distinctive floral flavor I'll not be able to narrow with flower names.  The brightness and cleanness is nice, and the way that intensity trails off to a nice long finish, a sweet flavor that remains in your mouth and coats your tongue and rear of the throat.  This tea definitely doesn't need age to make it drinkable; it's great as it is now.  It would just be a trade-off over the next couple of years to soften and deepen parts of that range but the overall effect and intensity are good as they are now.  The astringency trails into a bit of actual bitterness but it's moderate; it balances well.

That age difference stands out a lot with the next tea, the Nan Nuo; the effect is completely different.  It's interesting experiencing that; contrast instead of commonality.  It doesn't help to isolate minor aspects or clarify any through comparison but it is interesting encountering both experiences one after the other.  It would've made sense to taste these in age order; that sequencing is partly random and partly intuition.  The first two origins are familiar, and the third isn't, so the order related to best known to least.

Drinking a bit of water after these teas makes for an interesting experience, the way that sweetness really escalates while you do that.  Thaneadpol mentioned that in that Yiwu age sequence tasting last year, how it only works with certain teas, and how he interprets that as another way to experience hui gan.  I sometimes use water to clear my palate during tasting, but with these teas it takes a few sips to clear past that sweetness.  It's kind of a shame to rush tasting these, or to try to describe them during tasting; they deserve closer attention.  I'll try them again later without either distraction.

The sweetness, aftertaste, and hui gan might be even more pronounced in this Nan Nuo sheng.  It transitioned a lot related to that, as intense as I've ever experienced those aspects.  The other actual flavor isn't stronger than typical, and the astringency is quite moderate, with the tone of the flavors a bit dialed to warmer and more subtle by that age transition (5 years).  But the sweetness and aftertaste aspects are as intense as they could be; quite powerful related to the normal range of the others.  Going back and tasting the Jing Mai again just after it (with water in between to clear the aftertaste) that touch of bitterness almost comes across as sour, since the Nan Nuo is so far removed from that.

The Ban Pen flavor range transitioned, warming a little, moving towards earthier, into a bit of smoke.  It has sweetness that helps balance that but seems oddly earthy after drinking those other two teas.  The Nan Nuo has an earthiness to the character related to the flavor softening, to tasting the age, but the base range is more fruit (or so I interpret it), with the Jing Mai more floral.  I think all three will be closer to where they're going to go across the sequence in the next round though.

I can't pin down which of these teas has the strongest qi effect or how the three vary in that nature but at least one of these teas is on the powerful side related to that.  Maybe I'll think to check back later on thoughts on that based on individual tastings.


Jing Mai left, Nan Nuo center, Ban Pen right


same order


Third infusion


The Jing Mai version keeps getting better; the balance keeps improving, depth fills in, and intensity ramps up.  It was nice before, but at this rate it'll be fantastic in another couple of rounds (although I think it's in the range of where it's going to be now).  It's on the soft and approachable side for a newer sheng, but really intense in some aspect range, with some balanced astringency and bitterness.  Given how I relate to astringency in sheng and how some are not drinkable this young across the whole range I'd expect that's quite moderate in comparison to many.  The bright sweetness is nice, and that characteristic flavor range, but really how it all fits together is the best part, for this version.  Hui gan is pronounced but I think that really stands out more in the next one.

I've mentioned before how sometimes you just need to try a better version of a tea and an aspects set makes more sense, even for lower quality versions, even in retrospect, when they hadn't in the past.  This Nan Nuo version lets that earthiness in lots of other teas make more sense (as is present in the Ban Pen, but within a different aspect set).  Shift it a little and the warm earthiness could be murky, or mushroom-like, or could resemble cardboard, or a struck match, but as a related aspect range appears here it balances really well with deeper fruit tones, underlying warm mineral, and very pronounced sweetness and aftertaste.

It's funny how different this tea is from the first, a testament to how much range sheng covers in general.  Sweetness sort of overlaps, and some type of general intensity, but individually the aspects are different, and the set and overall effect vary a lot.  If someone just wanted to experience hui gan this tea would work for that.  It's not really bitter, so that part is odd, how normally a conventional bitterness has to pair with a remaining sweetness, but there is enough layered in with the other range that it then connects with a much stronger after-effect than is typical.  I wouldn't be surprised if this tea was the main one giving me a solid buzz right now (what people refer to as "qi" effect).  It's almost too much; I'll eat something after one more round to help counter that effect.

The Ban Pen is drifting more into warm spice; that's nice, an improvement.  It's quite soft and not notable for sweetness or overall intensity related to the other two but part of that relates to comparison.  That Jing Mai is quite intense related to a bright, sweet, powerful balance and the Nan Nuo has a depth of warmer, subtle flavors, sweetness, and aftertaste that's unusually pronounced.  The balance of this tea is fine, and probably will improve further if it keeps going in this direction.  The sweetness isn't bad, and it isn't thin, it just gives up a lot compared to the other two, perhaps related as much to my preference for an aspect set as this tea being not as good.




Fourth infusion


I need to go do something else, and this has been plenty of tea; this round will be it for these for now.  They're only halfway through their main cycle, before longer infusions will shift character for infusions out around 10 and on, but this will tell enough of the story, and I'll factor the impression from later rounds into the conclusion.

The Jing Mai is picking up some warm spice to go with the lighter floral; that's nice.  There's a balance to the feel and flavor I've not been able to communicate yet.  It's substantial, a bit thick, but in an unusual sense, almost a little syrupy.  Or maybe it's more like how brandy has that one deeper tone that fills in around the sweetness, whatever flavor it has, and the alcohol effect.  I'm not into brandy but that one part of feel overlapping with flavor works well in this; it's interesting.  Flavor is positive, and intense too, with good sweetness and bright intensity, but really the strength of this tea is how it balances.  Adding some bitterness would diminish the effect, per my preference, and taking the bit that there is away might also lessen the tea.

The Nan Nuo is completely different; a richer, deeper experience.  If that tea I bought a cake of in St. Petersburg is headed to this range I shouldn't be so quick to drink through it to enjoy it while the brighter intensity stands out.  That wasn't sold as gushu material; it will be different.  It probably didn't start in the same place, but I'm not experienced enough to guess about specifics, to project back from trying a five year old tea.  I've probably said enough about flavors and other aspects for this one, even though I'd struggle to mention a short list that works for that now.  That mild plum and white grape is layered in there, but warmer tones fill in beyond that, maybe like an aged hardwood, or redrock mineral base.  The flavor is fine but the overall depth of the experience and pronounced aftertaste steal the show.  You experience this tea with your body, not just your sense of taste.

The flavor of the Ban Pen does keep improving, that light spice shifting in level and balance, with a different version of wood filling in some complexity that matches it well enough.  It's just not as deep and intense as the other two, in two different ways.  It's not thin; the feel is fine, the sweetness is ok, and the tea doesn't just vanish after you drink it.  The feel is even picking up a catchy sort of light dryness.

Overall three interesting, very different teas.  I'd bet there would be a lot to experience of further transitions over the next four rounds, that these teas would show other sides of themselves.  It's just a lot to cover in one go, and telling all of the story isn't part of the goal anyway, passing on a limited but clear impression is instead.


after lots and lots of infusions



The review within a review theme


As I edit those notes on a later day I just tried two other younger Yiwu versions with breakfast, teas I've already reviewed before.  Given these are from different areas there's no point in trying to compare them directly, but some running themes for comparison did come to mind.  They were closest in nature to the Jing Mai version, being younger, relatively approachable teas, although this Jing Mai version probably did have a touch more bitterness than either.

There's just a cleanness, depth, and intensity that comes across in better sheng versions, which all of these expressed to some extent.  It might have been more pronounced in the first two reviewed here, and also in those two Yiwu teas and the Ban Pen version.  The Jing Mai tea had a nice floral towards fruity, almost lemony aspect given the brightness, and the Nan Nuo was more fruity and a bit earthier and more subdued, due to the age difference,with the Ban Pen showing more earthier range and then spice.  Preference for aspects sets was a main factor in how I experienced them.  I really liked the profile of the first, and the second worked well for me too but was just different, and the third not as well as the other two.

I also like experiencing something new as much as experiencing the same tea that I already know I like most, favorites.  Those two kinds of experiences are just different.  That's what made that Lao Man E huang pian shou so interesting; it was way off the page of anything I've experienced before.


Conclusions


These were all three really nice teas.  I think I'd probably get even better results out of the Jing Mai version for dropping the proportion a bit; I tend to go heavy on that and use very short infusions to counter it, and the character varies based on that difference.  I don't think it would change drastically, or be that much better, but I think perhaps slightly better.  All three were interesting, with their own unique strengths.  All three transitioned across long cycles of infusions, staying positive for many rounds.

About the "gushu" theme, there's an intensity to older plant teas, and a shift in aspect range, and these fit with what I've experienced of better versions.  I'm not sure the Nan Nuo really needed that much age, or that it might not have even been slightly better--per my preference--a couple years younger.  But it was very good as it was, and as I keep saying experiencing variation is part of the appeal too.  For me if a tea is soft, sweet, and complex to begin with it seems I like them a bit on the young side, when that balance works well, and then only teas that are more challenging initially I might like better some years later.  Others would have different preferences and experiences.


I looked up pricing for these, not something I always get around to mentioning.  The first two were in the $50 per 100 gram range, which is probably fair for what the teas are; you don't find lower cost versions of teas like these.  The third was around $90 instead, a good bit more.  That seems odd given that I liked it the least of the three, but then preference for aspects sets can go like that.  Drinking a good bit of Yiwu lately has me dialed into that soft, sweet, floral nature, and I always do like fruit range in teas.

One other thing I've noticed about how they sell these loose teas:  they don't adjust the rate much at all for volume, not dropping it much at higher quantity.  That works really well for someone wanting to buy 50 grams of lots of versions, or even 25, which is getting down to more like a large sample, just not as well for someone tying to get a better buy on 100 to 200 grams instead.  That would seem to make for a mismatch, getting hooked on gushu sheng and then valuing lower cost range in tea as a primary concern.  I remember a friend once commenting that the worst luck you could ever have is to try a good version of sheng that you like.  It definitely could put you on a different kind of path.

If I had to narrow that difference in good sheng (relatively speaking--there's always a broad range) and decent versions down to one thing I'd say complexity.  Oolongs or even black teas can express great flavor range, and have decent body, and might even transition some across infusions, but whole levels of experience just aren't the same as with better sheng.  There's that unique "qi" themed physiological effect, but even aside from that the mouthfeel, transition cycle, and aftertaste / "hui gan" effects don't occur in other types of teas, or in lower quality sheng versions.  It'll be nice to go back and try the three individually, to go a bit deeper into those experiences without the distraction of writing about it while doing so.  That ties to this positive complexity; subtle differences in approach or even just varying perspective can bring out more to experience in such complex teas.


the munchkins eating fried chicken (not related)


Monday, June 18, 2018

Top 100 tea blogs list critique, and about tea review


Originally posted as:  tching.com/2018/06/top-100-tea-blog-list-critique/


I recently saw an online group post about a top 100 tea blogs list, which I'm critiquing here.  According to the listing part of the criteria is as follows:

"The Best Tea blogs from thousands of top Tea blogs in our index using search and social metrics."


Facebook and Twitter follower counts are cited, so there is some justification, although for some entries both are listed as "n/a."  I'll mention what they missed, and why the list doesn't work related to that.  Of course many of the entrants are good blogs and reference sites, with a lot of familiar names:  World of Tea (which changed names and theme), TChing, Tea DB, and Tea For Me Please.  It includes some of my favorites:  My Thoughts are Like Butterflies, Oolong Owl, Sororitea Sisters (good for basic reviews), and Lord Devotea's Tea Spouts, which is nice for opinion posts (rants).


A lot of entries are sales sites.  If a vendor creates reference content that's a different thing, and many do also put out a blog.  Evaluating if content transitioned from product marketing description to actual background information would be difficult (if a blog really is a blog).  The Hojo vendor articles seem like a good example of such an effort; they create nice articles, even though I'm not sure their content is 100% accurate.

What's missing might be a bigger problem than what's there.  I'll cite my FB group discussion comments about that:


It's missing Steep Stories, Tea Geek, Tea Addict's Journal, The Half Dipper, Death by Tea, Tea in the Ancient World (my own blog), and the Global Tea Hut's magazine.

Also Tea Master's Blog, probably the best reference about Taiwanese oolongs, and Tea Journeyman, a good basic review blog.  Tea Obsession is now inactive but the old posts are a great reference on Dan Cong.  Mattcha's Blog has moved onto other scope, after a period of inactivity, but old posts are still a great reference on Korean teas. 

Steep Stories is my favorite blog, and for overall reference Tea Addict's Journal is pretty far up the list, definitely top 10. Tea Geek is mostly inactive now but still a good reference blog. My Japanese Green Tea is the best Japeanese tea reference blog I know of, and Puerh.fr is a great classic pu'er reference site. 

This list is just not a well-informed effort.  



It is what it is, a blog ranking site that cuts and pastes search results material, a Top 100 Tea Blogs list that stops at number 86.  If a bot made that list then it's not a very thorough bot.  I checked the Top 60 Whiskey Blogs list there and that leaves off at # 53.


What goes into a good tea blog?  About tea review methodology. 


Whatever someone happens to like in a tea blog defines what is good, so any list would be subjective, unless it was only an attempt at ranking stats.  Stories can be nice, or a lifestyle theme, about everyday experiences, or research.  If the criteria used is Facebook and Twitter followers along with Google search metrics that actually sort of works; it's clear and objective.




I'm not implying that tea reviews are at the core of a good tea blog (although many are only that, for content), but I did comment on how those map out further in that online discussion.  It related to a criticism by someone else that many blogs aren't informative, that they really don't describe how good the teas being reviewed are.


It's natural for reviewers to not want to say negative things about teas, to communicate what is positive instead, probably at least partly related to being given free samples for review.  A reviewer skipping mention of teas they don't like only solves part of the problem.  No matter how that's cut off there would always be some boundary condition, or aspects that don't work as well in some teas, or typical attributes that could be there but aren't. Different bloggers deal with all that in different ways. 

Some reviews express so little description that this particular problem hardly comes up, but that's an exception. More often bloggers include no subjective content at all, to the degree that's even possible, mentioning aspect descriptions but not how much they like the aspects or tea in general. It works better than it sounds but that approach skips a lot. 

There are two other potential approaches that tend to never come up: placing the tea quality on a scale related to what else they've tried, or evaluating trueness to type, if it's what one would expect from that version. Bloggers almost never mention value either; teas are sold as better or worse with pricing indicating that level, implying it. If you buy one Longjing for $8 per 50 grams and a second for $25 you'd expect the second to be better, even if the descriptions were a close match. There's no way to really wrap all this up in the form of conclusions, just talking through the background a bit.


Of course actual vendor pages are something else; they're describing what they sell, and may or may not include any other content.  Lots of vendors do go further but more don't.

Even if a person did try to evaluate tea review or research theme content, versus condense a Google search ranking, they would need to be very familiar with tea to do so.  That listing site, Feedspot, seems to be more an automated rating system with a link forwarding function, like Bloglovin (a feed reader), designed to also include ranking along with subject type sorting.  At least it did work well as a starting point for talking about my own favorites and what goes into a tea review.


follow a really nice tea blog here



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).