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)


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