Monday, June 4, 2018

Comparing Moychay shou pu'er from Yongde, Menghai, and Lao Man E

I'm reviewing three additional ripe pu'er sent by Sergey Shevelev of Moychay.  I'll be going through a number of their teas since he sent quite a few to try.  I'd say more about that, the range of those, and how that works out with accepting and reviewing a lot of teas from one source (right, those are cakes), but this already runs a little long, so I'll keep that part short. 

I don't see a conflict with receiving tea for review, even in quantity greater than the 10 or 20 gram samples usually sent for review.  I think personal bias affects tea experience more than we could ever completely notice, that expecting or wanting to like a tea--or the opposite--might factor in.  Even though I just describe what I experience expectations could shift that a little.  I don't avoid adding subjective impression to reviews, mentioning if I like teas, as some tea bloggers do.  If I didn't like a tea I wouldn't review it, since it wouldn't make for a very interesting story (maybe unless a tea was bad in an interesting way, which rarely comes up).  If I just didn't like an aspect I'd mention that.

Did I ever mention a video introduction of their company in English?  I have covered visiting their shops in Moscow and St. Petersburg on a trip not long ago, but some of that was in travel themed posts on here (like this trip summary version, which barely mentions tea).

Teas list, reviewed in this post:

Yongde big tea tree 2016

Menghai Qiaomu (wild arbor) 2015

Lao Man E Huang Jin Ye big tree 2017

Descriptions like "wild arbor" and "big trees" can mean different things, but as with vendors who won't discuss tea tree ages (lots of them) it's as well to just describe teas to a limited extent and then evaluate them related to that experience.  Per my understanding usually qiaomu is used to indicate a growing area that's in a more natural state, or located around older growth areas, but not necessarily wild jungle species mixed-plant growing areas.  Links in a later section covering their tea descriptions lead to more background information.

I tasted these teas blind, beyond reading the front label, so I didn't know that the Lao Man E version was a huang pian or yellow leaf produced shou version, or atypical in any way.  Related to what I was saying about expectations it was probably as well to go through that without knowing.  The tea was clearly different than the other two, in more than one way, which these tasting notes cover.  I've reviewed a sheng version of that not so long ago, with more description of what that is in this post.

I'll add clearer photos of these cake labels and the teas and move onto tasting review.

Yongde big tree shou

Menghai Qiaomu (wild arbor)

Lao Man E Huang Jin Ye (huang pian / yellow leaf based shou)


I'll say a little about these teas on the initial infusion but it really makes sense for the main review to start on the second round instead, and these could still transition a good bit into the third.

Yongde left, Menghai upper middle, Lao Man E lower right

The Yongde version is nice, full, rich, and smooth.  It could pick up a bit more aspect complexity, not showing as much in way of different forms of distinctive character as it might, but it may well develop further through another infusion.  It still sticks to within a relatively narrow range of "tastes like shou," that standard earthy and mineral-supported range, but the sweetness and clean flavor range is promising.

The Menghai is a bit deeper in flavor, more towards the earthy range one might describe as towards petroleum or tar, but in a generally good sense, if that makes sense.  I've experienced shou in that flavor range transition to a much sweeter, creamier effect later, so even if that range persists and is seen as negative it may well show this tea to have more potential than the first.

The Lao Man E Huang Jin Ye is more distinctive, but perhaps a bit thinner than the other two.  It's still complex, rich, and clean, and full-flavored (it is shou), but the aspect range is a little narrower and intensity a bit less.  It may still evolve into a more interesting range than the other two since this is only getting started. 

As the youngest it should still suffer the most from the effects of fermentation flavors remaining.  I would have expected that to take the form of rough edges, extra aspects instead of being more subtle, but I suppose it's possible that this tea was intentionally fermented to a lesser degree.  Or a more simple explanation:  this is by far the most whole-leaf of the three, relatively intact instead of chopped, so it may not be a fair comparison using the same infusion times.  Related to how all other teas work out using whole leaves instead of chopped should work out better, since the flavor produced is less over the same brewing time but better, with more infusions possible unless a longer time is used.

We'll see how all that plays out in the next few rounds.  It's a good sign that there was nothing for "off" flavors to get past, no fishiness, sourness, etc., unless someone was really opposed to a bit of petroleum effect in the second tea.

Second infusion

Infusion time was between 15 and 20 seconds (not timed; people into that type of carefully controlled process approach are reading the wrong blog).  I'll probably go with around 10 next round to see if that isn't more appropriate for this proportion, but regular readers will be familiar with the theme of messing around with variation for different reasons.

judging by color that brew intensity is a bit much, but shou can be ok like that

The Yongde tea is nice, not transitioned that much.  I'm reminded of a shou I bought from Yunnan Sourcing awhile back, a "Golden fruit" Taetea version.  It was sweet, clean, and decently complex but not unusual in any particular way, and not quite as complex or novel as it might be.  I wouldn't guess that aging would deepen flavor range in such a tea, but who knows.  I only bought that last year so it's too early to tell.  Both teas are good, and both very approachable, with no negative aspects to speak of, perhaps exactly what some are looking for in shou.  That other particular tea was well-regarded in online reviews and comments, and I did like it, but it came across to me as a bit plain.

The Menghai version is moving from petroleum range to dark wood and spice already, much improved.  It wasn't awful to begin with, really pleasant for my preferences, just unusual.  The feel is a bit thicker, and range of aspects all around a little deeper.  The aftertaste lasts longer than the first and the feel is a bit thicker, in addition to flavor range being more complex.  That complexity extends beyond a touch of fresh crude or tar (no longer the primary flavor range), into dark wood towards spice (the main flavor), with an underlying mineral and trace of char near French roast coffee.  This may be an exceptional tea for coffee lovers; we'll see how it plays out.

I think the Lao Man E is just lower in intensity due to brewing slower, due to not being a chopped tea.  It picks up a good bit of depth in this round but is still more subtle, almost surely brewing slower due to that effect.  If that guess is right the next round will correspond to where these other two are on the infusion cycle now, even though they've been exposed to the exact same infusion times.  And it will take a slightly longer infusion time to match brewed strength, with the tea holding up for a much longer infusion time overall than the other two.

It's clear why, isn't it?  CTC black teas brew out really fast due to being ground, with broken leaves brewing faster than whole versions.  That's why tea bags can get away with using a gram of tea dust to brew a cup, which is ready in 3 to 4 minutes, with the tea essentially spent after that time.  You can stretch a tea bag to get a second infusion but it's not so different than getting a better whole-leaf black tea to last into a third infusion using a standard Western approach and proportion.  It requires a longer brew time and the results aren't typically good.  For someone making tea from low-grade tea bags maybe a second cup being possible and the tea just tasting like something is already "good" results, but I mean the aspects quality drops instead.

Third infusion

I'll go short on the first two teas, around 10 seconds instead, and stick with 15 for the Lao Man E, per the last discussion.

Yongde left, Menghai upper middle, Lao Man E right (in all the photos)

The Yongde tea isn't transitioning much.  It is the lightest and sweetest of the three, clean flavored, and bit light and bright as shou goes (although it still does taste like shou), so some would prefer this over the others.  I'd think most shou drinkers would crave more intensity, more depth, and whatever positive complexity they could get, so maybe would appreciate the other two more.  The earthiness resembles a typical shou profile, dark woods and slate.  That brightness could be interpreted as a trace of fruit but I'm not completely getting that.  The depth of the complexity that is there might come across a little like cocoa, which works well for my preferences.

The Menghai packs a good bit more punch related to intensity and depth of aspects.  I think a fair comparison of these two teas would include letting both sit for another three years and trying them then, since I'd expect a lot of what is going on will give this tea a good starting point for aging transitions.  It's not that problematic fermentation tastes need to drop out, rather in this case that aspects complexity could potentially transition in an interesting and positive direction.  Again someone seeing parts of the dark wood, spice, roasted coffee range char, and petroleum-like aspect as problematic might like those transitioning to sweeter, creamier flavors, which I would expect, to some degree.  Or someone could really be into the tea like this.  It's as close to coffee as any tea ever gets, including matching some of the intensity and complexity in good coffee.  It has some sweetness to it too, and is clean in effect, so the overall balance isn't "off," just quite different than the first.

The Lao Man E really is just starting to open up now, as I suspected.  There's something unusual in the flavor aspects range I won't be doing justice too; always awkward putting that limitation out there.  It's along the lines of aged hardwood, mixed with a much more subtle version of spice than what I'm referring to in the second, with none of the petroleum or coffee char at all.  I'll take a guess:  that spice might be something like sandalwood.  Again I have a suspicion this tea isn't even in the normal full profile range it'll get to in the next infusion.  Brewing more whole leaf shou is a funny thing; it's almost always at least quite broken, if not actually chopped.  It's about as subtle as the first tea but has more going on; it's more unique.  But then I get the impression it hasn't really transitioned to its main range yet.  As with the second an aftertaste effect lingers with this tea, but in a different form.

Editing note:  it is odd leaving these notes in the original form, without describing why that flavor range and intensity is so different, because it's huang pian, or yellow leaf tea.  One would expect it to be milder and sweeter, with flavors in a different range, based on that.

Fourth infusion

trying the teas nice and light; shou works well across a broad range

The Yongde version might be picking up a bit more spice, but otherwise it's unchanged.  It is complex enough that if someone tried to interpret different types of fruit there would be something there to base that on, or the cocoa I'd mentioned, but it comes across as a less broad or distinct flavor set than it might, just as slightly complex.  Again it works well for being a light, clean shou version.

Creaminess picks up a bit in the Menghai version, with that coffee char effect moving more into a Guiness stout effect.  The flavors "clean up" a bit too, with some of the earthiness one might interpret as petroleum related dropping out.  The spice range doesn't really develop but that sweeter, creamier effect is nice, and it all balances the best of any infusion.  It's an interesting version of shou, to me a very positive one, but it might take a shou drinker to relate to it, where the first isn't hard to relate to at all, just slightly less complex and interesting.

The Lao Man E changed the most this round; not really surprising.  The feel of this tea is really something; about as thick as teas tend to get.  And the aftertaste has an unusual character, maybe just related to being intense, or maybe there's more to it, something else adding to that effect.  Related to flavors range the tea is a bit woody, with an unusual spice range persisting.  It moved from aged hardwood into autumn leaf, with the spice range muting just a little.  Maybe that's sandalwood or maybe that's not; it's been a long time since I've burned incense. 

More than gets communicated about any one of these aspects this tea really comes together as an overall experience.  With that flavor being a little more subtle than the other two I wouldn't be surprised if it ages in terms of developing, of aging and fermenting a bit more in a more conventional sense, instead of already-present fermentation related aspects settling out or transitioning.  Of course that's just a guess; I suppose it could just fade.

Fifth infusion

Yongde lower left, Menghai upper middle, Lao Man E lower right

My patience for making tasting notes is fading faster than these teas are so this might be it.  It will be interesting seeing how these three continue on and transition in later rounds, or which fades faster, but even though I'm using small tasting gaiwans for this I don't think I'm going to make it through nearly 30 cups of tea to get there.  Of course I'm really feeling these teas already; I don't talk about "qi" all that much in reviews but one or more of these contributes more of that than is typical.  That's one thing you give up in combined tasting; I don't know which tea version is causing that effect.  Having cakes to work from versus small samples I'll experience each on its own later but probably will never check back in about that; there's just too much to say about too many things.

The Yongde might be fading a bit already.  It would be possible to bump up infusion time a little (I only let these go around 15 seconds, still on relatively short times), but it may be on the downhill side.  It's not as if it only has a couple more infusions left in it, but character will change based on the effect of using longer times.  It might be as positive as it's been, with sweetness and cocoa coming out just a little more, but the overall range might thin a little too.

The Menghai is thinning just a little too; these teas probably are ready for over 20 second infusion times.  They work well a little thinner too; it's not as if there's not still a lot going on.  I probably like shou brewed a bit stronger than some, not thin at all, since to me that effect is part of the appeal of the type.  Someone else might push it further and drink tea made more like coffee, so the point here is that I tend to drink it prepared as more intense than other tea types.  I like sheng on the very thin side, plenty intense prepared that way.  Aspects aren't transitioning enough to say more about that.

I don't think the Lao Man E is lightening, although it was more subtle in the earlier rounds too.  It's more that the three evened up for intensity and infusion strength in this round.  I should probably let the three go for a bit over 20 seconds for one more round to say where transition seems to be headed before leaving off.  I've essentially already expressed it but this Lao Man E isn't as exceptional in terms of flavor (that's smooth and a bit light, with limited compensating complexity, just a little different for what's there), but the overall effect related to all the other aspects is really unique.  I've never experienced a shou with a feel this full and the aftertaste experience is quite persistent, and somehow unusual beyond that.

Sixth infusion (this really will be it)

This tea's flavor (the Yongde) is starting to transition to slightly woodier, normal for later rounds.  It would've been possible to drink these teas quite a bit lighter and they'd be at this point a few infusions later, but that's just a matter of preference.  As I said I like shou on the stronger side compared to most other teas.  Aged shou mei can be comparable; those can be nice brewed so thick that the aspects would be just as nice lighter, to stress the feel effect, and just to experience the intensity.

The Menghai is where a thinner, less complex shou might have been the whole time.  Woodiness also picks up in this tea, and complexity thins.  It's still clean and positive, and it still balances well, but the overall range drops back.

The thickness of the Lao Man E stands out in comparison to the others, and the intensity on those other levels, the complexity and aftertaste.  It is holding up better, lasting longer, or put another way just brewing slower.  The three teas are the closest to each other that they've been in flavor range.  This still has that one woodiness related spice effect that gives it a bit of extra depth. 

a Loa Man E leaf, with a baht for scale (about the size of a penny)


I'll add the vendor descriptions here to see what they thought.  I've not read them; back to the blind tasting idea.  There's a chance they've flagged a couple of flavor range aspects I'd agree with that could change my taste-list description by that little bit, after trying them again and thinking it through.  Tasting a tea only once, and especially tasting three at once, tends to diminish overall resolution of what you pick up.  These teas have been around here for awhile, a month and a half or so, so they're not going through that transition related to shipping throwing them off, but I'd expect exposure to this hot, humid Bangkok air and another month or two of storage will get them all opened up a bit more.

the high is 33 C today, but it's 31 right now.  balmy!

I liked all three teas; they were all just quite different.  The Yongde might be preferable to people who like a lighter, sweeter shou, and the Menghai showed the most complexity at this point, at least in terms of flavor.  That flavor range (dark wood, spice, slight char, initial petroleum transitioning to Guiness stout creaminess) might not be for everyone but I'd think shou lovers would relate well to it, and I'd expect it to be even more developed and positive in another couple of years.

The Lao Man E is something else; not necessarily the best of the three related to flavors, at least at this point, but with the most aspects complexity by far counting all range.  People will sometimes convey how flavors that could be interpreted as a bit off are an expression of shou potential, of how that touch of petroleum in the Menghai could transition well to something else, and I have experienced that in other shou.  The Lao Man E is subtle, so something else would have to be going on for the tea to develop further. 

Of course I found out after the tasting session that it was huang pian (yellow leaf), made from a different type of leaf source.  I still wonder if it couldn't have been fermented less, but that factor seems likely to have caused that unique character, the subtlety, and enabled that unusual flavor range to emerge, the spice.  I'm really not sure what all that means for aging, or if the intensity of other aspects really means it has more potential for aging or not.  That kind of doesn't match conventional wisdom with sheng, where a tea being intense on the undrinkable side is often regarded as showing positive potential for aging.  I'll say more about that in the form of an example after I touch on the Moychay site descriptions.

Moychay site descriptions

These citations are limited mostly to descriptions of taste, including reference to current price, since it was also there.  All of these are in-house, commissioned productions, not resold or re-labeled teas.

Yongde Dashu Shu Cha (, 2016), 100 g., $9.04

Ripe puer «Yongde Big Tee Trees, grown in Yongde district (Lincang County)»:  The bouquet of brewed tea is mature, with notes of wood, prunes and baked chestnuts. The aroma is warm and deep, nutty with notes of prunes. The taste is full-bodied and sappy, velvety, sweetish, with light fruity sourness and lingering finish.

Menghai Qiaomu Shu Cha (, 2015), 357 g. $25.37

Ripe puer «Big Tee Trees, grown in Menghai County (Xishuangbanna) »The bouquet of brewed tea is mature, nutty, with notes of wood, prunes, rustic bread and baked chestnuts. The aroma is warm and deep, nutty with notes of nuts and prunes. The taste is full-bodied and sappy, velvety, sweetish, with light fruity sourness and lingering finish.

Lao Man E Huang Jian Ye (, 2017), 357 g. $45.93

Ripe puer «Golden Leaf, grown near Lao Man E village (Mount Bulangshan, Menghai county, Xishuangbanna)» The bouquet of brewed tea is mature, with notes of wood, prunes, pastry and baked chestnuts. The aroma is warm and deep, nutty with notes of smoked prunes. The taste is full-bodied and sappy, velvety, sweetish, with light fruity sourness and lingering finish.

A few things stand out.  The short version about huang pian, or yellow / golden leaf source tea:  it's the older or yellowed leaves harvested, also referred to as "farmer's tea."  In one sense it's a lower grade of material and in another it's just a different thing.  The taste is a bit sweeter, and milder, slightly earthy, and just different.  That explains why a cake of tea from a highly sought after region is priced within the normal range of medium quality level pu'er (higher than average for medium quality teas or factory teas, but lower than one would expect from that area).

Beyond that part all the descriptions sound a bit the same; they differ but they overlap.  They do vary, and I don't really disagree with them outlining common ground (they are all shou; the type runs along the same lines), or the specifics in those descriptions, although I described each relatively differently.  The wood I did mention, although it seems too vague to just leave that at wood, since that covers so much range.  Baked chestnuts could really apply to a lot of shou; lots of versions have a rich fullness that extends to sweetness that could be interpreted as that.  The prunes, pastry and the rest; why not.  As shou tends to go all three were quite complex and that's going to come across differently to lots of people.  Once you think prune or chestnut you're going to "get" that.  It seems as well to not dwell on the longish review section and these interpretations not overlapping on some finer points.

Those teas seem a good value, related to pricing versus what I'd expected.  Shou does often run a bit on the inexpensive side compared to sheng but all three had interesting and very uniformly positive character.  The first, the Yongde, seemed like a good light version of an "everyday drinker," giving up a little in uniqueness and complexity to the others, but probably exactly what some people would be looking for.  The second seemed like it has great potential to even out into a really complex and interesting tea in a couple more years, and it's quite nice now.  The third was the most novel, and suitable for people looking for something different.  I'm not sure if its relatively subtle nature means that it might not gain further complexity with more time or transition much but it has unique character already.  I've not had any shou with a thicker feel or more pronounced aftertaste, and that sandalwood spice range aspect (for lack of a more informed wood-spice guess) is pretty cool.

Those last two Moychay loose shou I tried may have been slightly more developed, with just a little more depth, but then having a good number of extra years to rest may have evened them out and allowed them to transition any slightly rough edges into interesting complexity.  These three versions were more than ready now, not off in any way, not expressing "processing tastes" that needed time to fade.  If anything per one strand of conventional wisdom they should be a little edgier or more strange in different ways to have the best character to age.  You definitely don't want your shou to taste like fish or charcoal in order for that to fade, though, and I'm not completely sure what odd character they should have.

One last tangent about aging sheng

While I'm on the subject of aging I'll mention something only vaguely related to make a comparable point; it's not as if this is already running long.  I just tried a 2014 Jia Ji Dayi tuocha I bought a couple of years ago that tasted a bit like aspirin back then.  I'll cite a description from that:

It's smokey, a little bitter, right in the middle between chewing on an aspirin and drinking a softer green tea version, something decent. 

from two years ago; it's the same but slightly darker

The tea is really nice now, based on trying it again a few days ago.  The bitterness is largely faded, the smoke moderated, and richer, smoother, sweeter tones have picked up.  Earlier rounds are nice, balanced and catchy, but later ones include a cool pine needle type of effect, not so different than one that shows up buds heavy black teas.  I'd guess this tea would have been much slower to transition in a less hot and humid environment, but at this rate in a couple more years it'll really be something.  I should buy another half dozen, if I can find them.  My understanding is that shou pu'er aging is completely different, as I've already described earlier in the post.

So the tie-in here was that after experiencing some transition patterns a tea drinker can sort of predict a pu'er's future, to a limited extent.  I've just described some transition from a sheng, in this case from less drinkable to quite pleasant, and I've been going on about that subject for nearly a year.  I don't have the same level of exposure with shou but I've been through a little with that.  Four years ago I bought three Dayi 7572 cakes in a yearly production sequence  as a step towards that.  I haven't been focusing on shou much but I've tried some in between, although maybe only a dozen or so. 

These last five Moychay shou versions have been a great experience in continuing on with exploration.  I can say if the guesses about aging these three works out as expected in a couple of years, but I do have other versions still to try, so more to go on related to experiencing different versions and aging effects.

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