Monday, July 16, 2018

Teamania produced 2016 Lucky Bee Yiwu sheng pu'er










I've tried just one Fukamushi Sencha sample sent by my vendor friend from Switzerland, Peter Pocajt, from Teamania, now onto a sheng as well.  I think I mentioned that I've actually met him in real life on a visit through Bangkok; always nice to move beyond just exchanging messages like that.  A lot of vendors are true tea enthusiasts too and that really comes across better when you meet someone.


This is a 2016 sheng from Yiwu (2016 Yiwu Lucky Bee); not really a sample, he hooked me up with a cake of it, with the rest of the teas samples instead.


One distinction that has come up in sheng is that some are produced to be drinkable when young, and others made in a traditional way that allows for aging, and also include more bitterness and astringency.  That also varies by production region, and other factors, by plant type, and so on.  That first statement implied reference to processing step choices that I've not really went into; there's more on that subject in this post about "oolong pu'er."  That's a bit of a misleading category nickname that references sheng style differences, as a pu'er that may have been produced allowing slightly more oxidation to occur, or else just based on processing that enables it being a bit smoother and more drinkable.


Since Yiwu tends to be approachable when young (which varies, of course) I'm not as worried about limiting this tasting to talking about aging potential, to how this tea is a bit rough going now but might really be good in another decade.  I would expect the processing to be on the traditional side (just a guess), so even for being two years old I'd expect it to not be a soft, smooth, sweet, bright-floral version of tea, to be on the intense side.  But we'll see.  It works to check on the vendor's description and even pricing to get some idea of what to expect but I tasted this without looking into that, since it's as well to keep the process more blind.

Review


The first short infusion after a fast rinse is a little light so this round will just be first impressions.  The tea is good; that stands out already, already obvious from the first sip.  There's an intensity to it that stands out beyond it being light.  Floral tone is there, and some underlying mineral.  That mineral tone is a little unusual, similar to that bright, sweet, distinctive version found in Taiwanese high mountain oolongs.  I'm not saying this tea reminds me of an oolong; I'm saying the mineral aspect is common to that.  Or it really might be the pairing of a certain range of floral tone with a particular mineral aspect, a bright, sweet note that somehow connects with an underlying flinty, light mineral.  It's really catchy.  There is a bit of bitterness and astringency but this is in a balance that's going to work well, at least per initial impression.


just getting started


I gave this over 15 seconds to get going in the next round, since it will take more than two infusions to have it unfurled and brewing.  For once I'm not using a packed-gaiwan for proportion, in part to keep the amount I drink reasonable since I'm going out to meet someone for tea right after this tea.  I'm living out a one-track-mind theme, or two really, counting my kids.

The style is unusual; it's very pleasant, but not similar to a lot of what I tend to try.  It has floral aspect to it, so it's not completely off what I've tried for other Yiwu, but even that comes across just a little differently.  I'm already getting the impression that this is better than what I usually drink.  The balance is really nice, the way it's even across that floral range, with sweetness that's pronounced but also moderate, not intense.  The mineral range is also prominent but in normal proportion.  The tea is a bit light on bitterness and astringency but both are present, to a degree that works.  I may not do justice to what I mean, about which part or which balance of typical aspects works out better.

On the atypical side there's a catchy aspect that goes beyond normal Yiwu floral tone, but related to that, that's hard to place.  It might just be a lighter, sweeter, more subtle, and brighter version of a floral tone, or it could even extend slightly towards fruit.  It's a short step towards lemon citrus or pandan leaf, the herb that tastes like Fruity Pebbles cereal to me, but it doesn't quite get to those.

This is kind of a strange place to add the idea but I'm just starting to get a cold, probably working with about 90% of my normal taste sensitivity, at a guess.  I don't mean that I'm congested; I couldn't taste tea if that were the case.  I just feel different, and that will adjust my palate, dialing down sensitivity a little.  It's not an ideal tea to be drinking related to that; I could be reviewing a sweet, rich, basic and straightforward Chinese black or Assam instead, and that factor might not matter much then.  I have to go with intuition on what to try when though; what I feel like getting to.


after opening up


Another substantial length infusion later (around 15 seconds) the intensity of this tea really dials up.  It's still quite approachable, but the main impression is of it being balanced.  One of Bach's cello suites came on just now (the cable classic music program is on); that's an old favorite.  I'd see it as a good sign if I were into such things, but I'm just spacey and a bit random, not really superstitious.

Back to this tea.  There might be something in that set of aspects that supports why it works so well for me, why it seems so different, beyond the "balance" idea.  That underling mineral range is definitely a little different, not completely typical in form, and more pronounced.  The floral range isn't intense but slightly off the most standard aspect form for Yiwu (not that those are all one thing, of course), and it works well.  This was probably some really intense tea two years ago when first produced, or even more last year, with the aspects falling into a balance that really works now.

On that paradigm of a split between sweet, smooth, and approachable versus bitter, astringent, and structured with potential for aging it sort of doesn't seem to fit.  At a guess I'd like this tea better now than in another decade but I also get the sense it has enough complexity across a broad range of aspects to stand up to aging transition.  I'd expect it to improve instead of just fading.  It's not the kind of tea you'd want to forget you have for a half dozen years and check back in with later but I'm guessing it also wouldn't be wasted by hanging around.  Those are just guesses, though.  It's not really at full-blast intensity as some sheng comes across, sometimes across a lot of aspect range; it's well balanced.



A number of infusions in it's not really transitioning too much.  That one catchy brighter, sweeter note pulls back a little with a bit more warmth and depth picking up.  The taste is still really clean.  The feel is nice, not thin, with aftertaste trailing nicely.  I bet I'm losing the most read on that part, related to my normal sense of taste being slightly off.  As far as what I'm not describing well--a lot about this tea, it seems--that mineral range is also different; it has more depth to it.  One part is a bit light and dry, a little flinty, and another warmer and deeper, more like the scent of a well or spring, and it trails over towards spice range just a little, but doesn't get there.  I suppose the part that's catchy is really all of it together, the complexity along with the balance.

On the next round it occurs to me that part of what I like might be a lingering sweetness, that gives the experience an overall extra intensity.  It's not the form that seems to be what is usually referred to as hui gan; not so much tied to bitterness, extending into a taste that occurs on the back of your mouth and throat, a sensation that pairs directly with a taste.  It occurs throughout your whole mouth instead, a bit lighter, more bright-taste associated versus heavier and sweet.  One "test" a friend passed on for hui gan is to taste cool but not cold water after the round, and that sensation will become even sweeter.  The effect is different for this; it's still noticeable along with the water, but not ramped up in sweetness as for that other different aspect.  Anyway.

It would seem normal for someone to interpret this sweetness as some type of bright, sweet, but mild fruit instead of a floral tone.  It's not completely dis-similar to dried mango but not quite that.  I'll have to go so I'll give this one more round of trying it and that'll do, even though it's probably something like half-way through it's cycle.

Since it's tea-specific I might mention what I'm off to do; a practice run for an outdoor, in-the-park tea tasting to be held next weekend.  I'm meeting a friend, Sasha, to test out how heating water and other details go.  I bet one finding will be that it's too hot in Bangkok to drink tea outdoors from 11 AM to 1, even during the slightly cooler rainy season.  It's probably only around 28 or 29 C in here right now (82-84 F), which is cool for us, but we're tucked down in a miniature jungle grove in this house.  Since I'm editing this a few days later I could say how that small scale tasting trial went but I'll hold off until the next post to add that instead.

that local park (Benjasiri), the entrance of it


a giant bo tree there; the Buddha sat under one when he was enlightened 



The tea is the same; not shifting, quite nice still.  That sweetness might have shifted just a little towards a light sweet citrus, really just as much a fruit tone as a floral aspect at this point.  It had reminded me of lemon zest earlier but now it seems closer to mandarin orange; warmed up a little, less bright but richer.

Maybe this tea surprises me for being a bit unconventional as much as for being good and well balanced.  The plant type source might be part of that, but I'm guessing that it's everything together, using slightly older and more natural growth plant leaf input, and processing it slightly differently.  It might even work to say "better," related to that processing.


Vendor description


Since this tea has something of a story I'll mention that product description here:


This bingcha is made of tea leaves from teamaster Yans Ming own tea plantation in Yiwu. We are especially proud about this tea because it is one the first Bingcha we made by ourselves.

Together with our friends, the tea masters Yang and Panda we went on the search for the ideal pu-erh tea leaves. However, far we did not need search as Yang's tea plantation offered this kind of tea leaves. And because Yang Ming doesn't use pesticides nor artificial fertilizers are especially the bees are very happy.

Harvest: Spring 2016, Pressed: 2016
Type: Sheng
Taste: Honey sweet and a bit mineral.
Origin: Yiwu, Xishuangbanna, prefecture, Yunnan province, China.
Preparation: Appx. 3g per tea pot, temperature 100°C. Rinse the tea leaves before infusing with boiling water.
Tip: This tea is ideal to mature a few years.


I would have met Peter right around then, maybe just after that visit there two years ago.  All of that description works.  The aging recommendation in particular does; the tea is nice now but I get the impression it won't fade, it will gain complexity and depth over some number of years.  As far as long term aging prospect, where this would be in 10 to 15 years, I really don't know; that goes beyond what I should be taking a guess at.

The price was another surprise.  I ordinarily don't cover that in reviews but if there's something unusual to say I will; this lists for around $45 now.  Based on other teas I've tried of different quality levels that's probably on the low side, and double that might still work for a fair market price, or somewhere in the middle with good value still remaining a selling point.  All sheng tends to jump up fairly quickly in price as years of aging occur, which is kind of fair, since proper storage and aging provides an added value, and this is probably a good version to pick up while it's still listing for this.  It's no experimental version of sheng, not one of those cases where a new vendor / producer is sorting out processing details; whoever made this is quite familiar with how to produce sheng.

For someone new to better tea sheng might not be the most natural starting point, so there's that as a factor, but this has ran too long to cover another tangent about all that, and in general it works to assume that only people a bit down the path are reading this.

Yunnan sheng processing, from Peter's blog


Or at least all that is my take.  Beyond processing variations changing all pu'er aspects at a guess it might also be slightly atypical in character--mostly in quite positive ways--partly because the plant source isn't what I'm used to.  It doesn't seem to be plantation grown factory tea, or "wild tea," an older source naturally grown version.  Per my limited experience those are quite subtle in overall character and different in flavor aspect range, but this is instead somewhere in the middle, not exactly like a conventional grown plant or a "wild" source (forest grown; harvested when mixed with other plants).  Peter's Teamania linked blog post doesn't really go into that but he does mention some details about traveling in Yunnan a couple of years ago here, of course with photos of tea plants and processing.


the cat had mixed feelings about this pose


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Hawaiian tisane blend: Mamaki and Wapine herbs



















A family friend (or extended adopted family, really) sent me some tisanes from Hawaii awhile back ("herb teas," to some, or some others don't like to share that word).  They're from the Rocky Farms HI producer.  One I had tried, when I was sick, since that makes for a nice time to drink a tisane / herb tea.  I'll take this in an unusual order, and cover what I thought of it in a review, then get back to what it is.


"Uncle" Al, on the left, with the Koolau Serenaders

with my son, awhile back.  we should visit more


Review


With a tisane it can be described as tasting exactly like the ingredients, those herbs, but I'll compare it to others.  I could probably just quote Wikipedia articles about these herbs and it would do as well.

One part tastes a little like licorice, another not completely removed from mint.  It's probably closest overall to lemongrass.  Maybe I should check what it is again; it could just be that (yep; the part that looks like lemongrass and tastes like lemongrass is actually that--solid reviewing skills).

The flavor is nice, reasonably complex and balanced, but tisanes tend to give up complexity to real tea.  It's smooth in feel, decently full, but the overall flavor range is narrow, and tisanes tend not to transition, to change during brewing.  It's not that far off a version of basil.  That would be in between the Thai basil, which is close to mint, and the western sweet basil, but probably not quite as sweet as either, with the lemongrass supplying that part.  That's about all I'm getting.

This is as much about health benefits as flavor, it seems.  I can investigate those but a conclusion won't emerge, just some ideas about potential positive effects.

Health claims


Normally I don't do much with this subject, or I'd always be going on about traditional claims made related to "real tea."  But somehow it makes sense to me to mention this part for a tisane.  Or maybe it really doesn't, but I'll look up some hearsay anyway.


From the Maui Medicinal Herbs site:

Mamaki is a native Hawaiian nettle species known as an ancient miracle herb. Mamaki tea is best known for its refreshing, smooth taste and medicinal uses. It is known to act as an antioxidant that promotes healthy cardiovascular functions, lowers stress and fatigue levels and acts as a mild laxative. It is also commonly used to reduce allergy symptoms and promote liver Health.



From the Rocky Farms FB page

That overlaps a lot with the other description from the producer of the version I tried, Rocky Farms HI.  Two people saying it doesn't make it true but it sounds good.  I'm not sure what to make of the set of claims overlapping a lot but not matching perfectly.


It was possible to turn up a better source with more information, both a lot of botanical background on the plant (what it is in terms of category, where it can grow, etc.), and also a more neutral source of hearsay for health benefits, from a University of Hawaii based source:


Pipturus albidus, or locally named as māmaki or waimea

Dried or fresh māmaki leaves are used to make a mild but invigorating and healthy tea and one of few commercially available native herbs for consumption. The tea helps with listlessness. Māmaki leaves generally have a more pleasant aroma and taste than koʻokoʻolau. [2] The fresh or dried leaves for mamaki tea have been used to help with many internal disorders such as for the stomach, colon, bladder, liver, and bowels. [3]

Fruit is eaten as a laxative or for stomach, colon and digestive problems. [9]

Infused leaves can be used in treatment for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver problems, depression, bladder problems, bladder infections, and PMS. However, with some people māmaki can cause mild agitation or insomnia. [9]

Practioner David Bruce Leonard adds: "A remarkable friend, māmaki has a soothing effect on the nervous system in a similar way to jasmine tea. It works well for iritability or just to decompress after a day in Babylon." [9]



Mind you that's not an officially sanctioned university study source making those claims, it's a UH related information page citing another local reference source (two of them; those citation numbers).  It's conventional wisdom, like those Chinese traditional health claims, about oolong helping with weight loss and whatever else.

At least it's probably as well-grounded as WebMD.  Oddly in looking for a reference to the health benefits of Lemongrass I turned up this hearsay account of "real tea" health benefits from WebMD, just after typing that.  Let's hope that some of that is accurate.


I was really looking for their input on what health benefits lemongrass supposedly provides, from WebMD, about what it helps resolve:

High cholesterol. 
Yeast infection in the mouth (thrush). 
Stomach and intestinal spasms.
Stomach ache.
High blood pressure.
Convulsions.
Pain.
Vomiting.
Cough.
Achy joints (rheumatism).
Fever.
Common cold.
Exhaustion.
Headache.
Use as an antiseptic and astringent.

More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of lemongrass for these uses.

That's a lot.  From when I drank a lot of tisanes one site passed on their standard account of what herbs or other infusions were supposedly good for, from Alvita:


Native to India and tropical Asia, lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus ) has a wonderfully sweet, lemony aroma and zesty flavor that has made this herb a staple in Asian cuisine. Herbalists have also traditionally used tea brewed from lemongrass to soothe the digestive tract.*


Odd that a medical themed site that's ok with passing on hearsay lists out 15 benefits and a site actually selling the product lists only one, in this case.  It's definitely tasty; there's that.


I'm not endorsing any of these claims, just looking them up and passing them on.  The tisane was pleasant to drink, and I wouldn't fault someone for hoping the herbs do pass on those benefits, or taking the next step and accepting that they do.  Drinking that over soda has to be a huge trade up in health impact, and I wouldn't be surprised if this herb infusion does pass on more health benefits than plain water.  It's just hard to guess out which parts are more accurate than the others.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Comparison tasting three Moychay shou pu'er (1999 to 2017)


I've done this theme before, right, here, or trying more aged version shou samples here?  There's more.

I've got a good number of teas around from different countries and wanted to review one of these three shou versions from Moychay for an unusual reason:  the label of a cake.  In reviewing others I ran across a translation description, and it reads "peace. hard work. tea."  And there's a picture of a Soviet-era communist looking guy on the front (unless that's just my interpretation).


2017 Menghai shou / ripe pu'er



I like shou anyway, and it will be interesting to check out more of their products range sooner rather than later, while I still have some memory of the others. 

Shou works really well as a breakfast tea, as something good enough to be quite interesting and pleasant but usually not such a subtle and high quality tea that you would want to set aside an hour and a half just to drink a long round of a tea.  They're really complex, and easy to brew, and work relatively well with food, if that's how you want to take one.  The best versions have a bit more going on, a different level of aspects to appreciate.

Low to medium quality and price shou work out much better than sheng on the same range, even if the character is also quite different, and at the higher end sheng variations and aged versions can be much more diverse, refined, and interesting.  Of course I don't just mean $200+ cakes; moderately priced sheng can still be nice, but you tend to pay quite a bit more for aged versions (and fairly so), and choosing good quality but moderate cost versions takes some doing.


On this review theme, it does seem like the comparison reviews are getting to be a bit much, that eventually I should let that go a bit and just describe a few single teas in posts.  I'll get to that.


Menghai 1999 big tree sourced shou


2008 Menghai shou cake


All of these are sold as different types of teas, varying most in description by age, since all are only listed for source as being from Menghai county.  I won't really get into their product descriptions here, even after the review description, since the comparison review sections tend to run a little long.  One might naturally expect that the oldest cake would be best (beyond the input of one having been better quality tea or processed differently to begin with), but we'll see.  The 1999 version is the only one cited as coming from older plant ("tree") sources, and it's made from the most whole-leaf material used, based on cake appearance.


Moychay 2017 Peace, Hard Work, Tea cake



Moychay 2008 "Tree" shou cake


Moychay 1999 old tree Menghai shou


Review


As usual the tasting order was chosen intuitively, instead of in a sequence that actually makes sense.  I was drinking them together anyway, round by round.  I hadn't checked the ages of the teas, and with the third (2017 version) I didn't know it during tasting, because it's not listed on the label front.  These notes kind of assume it's relatively new, as I'd written them on tasting, with that year added during editing.


Tree label image tea (2008 version):  interesting!  There's that one typical flavor in some shou that I can't place.  It's gotta be towards betel nut, or light camphor, but I really don't exactly what those taste like.  Camphor isn't right (I do have some idea of what that's like; Thais are really into healing balms); it's too sweet, aromatic, and too far towards dark wood or spice.  It's not that far from a old, aromatic, dark tropical hardwood smell, mahogany and such.  But it's clean, not musty at all, even though this is only the first round.  The feel is nice too, full and rich, with enough trailing aftertaste to make it a full experience during and after drinking it.

I wouldn't say the tea is as complex as it could be, beyond there being that flavor complexity and those different layers to the experience.  That range of flavor is full but integrated into a narrow set.  It trails out a little towards some aromatic spice or cocoa but basically it's just that one set of things I can't describe well.  The feel is soft and rich but full, quite velvety.  It's clearly better than average shou, to be this clean and full and show off that much complexity, especially right away.  In terms of flavors others can express more range, but this could pick up a little depth as it goes.


Old man label image (1999 version; that guy looks a little like Bodhidharma):  This experience overlaps, but at the same time it's interesting for how different it is.  The same:  it's also full and rich, on the velvety side, with a good bit of sweetness, and good residual aftertaste, not thin in any sense.  Different:  the taste range isn't far from the other as broad strokes go but it is quite different in a sense, related to finer level aspects.  There's an aromatic spice note that stands out, again something impossible to pin down.  It reminds me a little of sassafrass or licorice because those are the only root spices I'm familiar with but it's not either of those.  Saying it's in the middle between them sort of works, but it would be off a bit towards a dark, aromatic tree bark (not cinnamon; more dark and aromatic in a different sense).  It comes across as a brighter, higher note, more interesting for integrating into that richer, deeper range.

Both of these express that depth that's common to a lot of shou, a bit towards tar, but not close enough that comparison comes to mind, just earthy with a deep mineral base.  It'll be interesting to see where both go from here, the transition, and what layers add on.  They're both really complex and approachable, so there's nothing that stands to improve from any "off" aspects dropping out.  There's a conventional idea that young shou would tend to be like that (less than 5 years old), with a lot of fermentation taste yet to fade, but in my experience it just depends on the shou.  My take is that it's hard to get great complexity out of a shou that's sweet and clean tasting when young, not "off" at all, that they lose something for being really drinkable right away.  It would require pinning down variations in degree and types of fermentation better to predict what's going to work well at different ages.  I'm just noticing some of the most obvious results from such patterns, not even close to putting that together as clear cause and effects.


Soviet guy label (2017 version):  this tea moves a bit towards the petroleum side of the others, so that using that as a description does seem to work.  That must sound worse than it actually is.  It's my impression that this sort of aspect or effect is a sign of a younger shou version that will smooth out a lot over the next few years.  It may relate to that aging potential I was just talking about.  I've notice that as a pattern in this Kunming 7581 brick tea before.  I didn't re-review that tea after it spent another year aging, when it became creamy, rich, clean, and complex, with most of that aspect dropping out, or really swapping out, transitioning.  I could still drink this 2017 tea but the other two are in a more approachable range related to their earthiness.  Of course this being the initial round it's possible all three will be a bit different in another couple of infusions.

I could be clearer what I meant about aging potential.  There is an idea with sheng (raw pu'er) that if a tea is sweet, balanced in feel, floral or fruity versus a bit bitter, and easy to drink when it's young then it has been prepared in such a way that it's better right away but has very limited aging potential.  It's that "oolong pu'er" idea, although my sense was that ideas about processing approaches and other forms of inherent aspects were mixing in those discussion citations (local origin related and such). 

A 2014 Jia Ji Dayi tuocha I bought awhile back (which I mentioned re-trying in this other Moychay shou comparison post) served as a decent example:  initially it was hard to relate to, at two years old, but in such a way that it seemed to show potential, and just a couple years later very pleasant, but still showing a lot of potential for improvement.  Some other Yiwu sheng have seemed to go the other way; they're bright, sweet, floral, and pleasant earlier on, with just enough edge to balance well, and then some of the 5 to 10 year old versions I've tried were just flatter, faded out, as opposed to improved.  I'm not saying Yiwu sheng can't age well but I am saying that I've experienced cases where versions seemed to fade more than improve.


After the first round I liked the middle, oldest version best; that balance worked well.  But it's way too early to call this.


2008 left, 1999 top, 2017 right (also referred to by label image following)



Second infusion:


I gave these around a 10 second steep and that looked to be a bit long for the proportion.  I'm sure they'll be drinkable but it would be interesting to try a fast steep next to compare results.


2008 left, 1999 middle, 2017 right (same order throughout)


barely opened up yet



Tree (2008):  On the one hand this flavor profile is a bit basic and subtle, especially for a shou, but on the other it has really nice depth, and it's catchy.  That dark wood / old furniture taste really works well over the earthy mineral range base.  It hints a little towards spice, or maybe cocoa, and the sweetness could be interpreted as dried fruit, towards dried tamarind, but at the same time it comes across as a narrow, integrated flavor range.  It's funny how that's a contradiction.  The experience is that of a contradiction; this seems like a relatively simple flavor set, as shou goes, but it has a lot of depth to it.  That rich fullness, velvety feel, and aftertaste may be part of that; the experience happens on different levels.


Old man (1999):  With this tea it's more the case that a good bit of clean, multi-layered complexity pairs in an interesting way with a more pronounced narrow aspect range within that set.  That flavor is towards aromatic spice, but something odd, like frankincense or myrrh.  Who in the world could separate those out to a range of distinct scents?  I should drink this tea with an old hippie.  The sweetness and earthiness extends a little towards dark chocolate; that part is cool.  Interpreted differently that range might seem like dried dark cherry.  All of this range is really far from the more petroleum oriented aspects I'm expecting to taste in the next version.


Soviet guy (2017):  this tea is transitioning quite a bit; it's not what it had been.  It's moving towards a dark wood / spice range not so far off the first version's.  It just has an extra layer of depth to the range, and more intensity.  Mineral is much heavier, like that strange smell of a volcanic soil beach, or even that you might smell in the lava flow area, a very dark rock.  It works to interpret that as "peat" instead, but that shift from petroleum to peat seems to indicate it might clean up even more over the next couple of infusions, who knows into what range.  I like it but for someone new to shou this would be too much.  At the same time I suspect in another two or three years that story would change a lot, that this might just be a young version that has room to shift character and clean up a lot.  I haven't read the descriptions--even much for labels, since parts are in Russian--so the theme is sort of to taste these without that input first.

Again I liked the "middle" oldest version best, but that first sample drew closer, and for as fast as the third is shifting character I'd expect the comparison to be different in the next round.  I'll go with flash infusion (5 seconds; I'm not great with the speedy version of pouring tea in and out when tasting three), which should change how they come across a little.

Third infusion:


That was probably still closer to 10 seconds; messing with three versions slows things down.  Even smelling the wet leaves makes the different apparent in the tasting clear, the variance in the levels of different earthy and aromatic aspects.

Tree (2008):  These teas look almost as dark but the lighter intensity is apparent in the tasting experience.  I'm ok with shou brewed a bit heavy, with a dialed up flavor intensity and feel, but this is more standard for how I'd prefer any other kind of tea, and still on the heavy side for how I'd like many best.  It didn't transition that much, it's just lighter, so to keep this from stretching out I'll move on.  It works lighter, but then it had worked well a bit thick too.

Old man (1999):  This version works even better lighter.  It has more complexity to work with, and a more interesting flavor range than the first, so there's plenty to experience this way, and being brewed more intense than this lighter round probably takes away more than it adds.  I'm saying all of these feel thick and are velvety but really this one is on a slightly higher level related to that, and the aftertaste stretches on more.  It's probably because this tea has had time to transition all of the earlier, earthier range to a rich, sweet, complex smoothness.  It works as an example of an answer to that question:  can shou really age?  Beyond the 3 to 5 years to "clean up" fermentation range flavor not much, but in the right tea it can keep gaining depth and smoothing out.  Oddly this overlaps just a little with that Lao Man E huang pian version, which was thin in terms of flavor complexity (in one sense), and also just in a different range, but amazingly thick in terms of feel, aftertaste, and a subtle aromatic aspect.

Soviet guy (2017):  the petroleum and dark wood / mineral are still there in this but it's picking up a bit of that one marine element people tend to describe as "fishy."  It's funny how I like this tea but the description has to sound almost entirely negative.  I get the sense that if you move forward in time 4 years or so this is going to be a completely different tea, while those other two might just shift a little.  To me this is a tea someone would buy to experience and then hang onto, to taste a couple times a year to check in on, or a few, but really to experience as a later version.  This must be what gets described as a high level of fermentation.  It's probably a year old, although it could be two, and really needs a few more to shine.  The creaminess also picks up a bit, that one Guiness stout effect; I wouldn't be surprised if that comes through a lot more in later rounds.

That could be a problem for someone who doesn't have anywhere near a typical pu'er storage environment at home.  For almost anyone living anywhere "too humid" doesn't come up, since you'd have to be living in a swamp in Louisiana for this tea to mold if you sat it on a shelf.  It's 70 to 80 % relative humidity level here in Bangkok a lot of the year and it's fine, close enough to ideal.  I don't know how that transition would go if I were living back in Vail, Colorado where I spent most of my 20s (Avon, really).  It's bone dry there, so it would fade a bit, but would it transition, or just drop in intensity and stay where it is now?  I'll post this in a CO tea group and ask them.


I don't usually feel a "buzz" from shou, no matter what I'm drinking of it, but one or more of these teas is affecting me a bit.  As I keep saying you give up identifying that from a tea in these combined tea tastings.  In a sequential tasting you can tell; it sets in fast, but going by rounds like this not at all.  I might say I'll try them later and get back to you about which it probably was, most, but I won't.  I'm only "on the clock" for tastings on these weekend sessions and I'm not saying anything about other experiences.

leaves opened up more; plenty dark


nice rich tea; not for everyone's taste preference though


Fourth infusion:


Tree:  This tea isn't fading but it is more subtle.  This tea seems to be fine for a clean tasting, reasonably complex shou, a version that can be drank light and still work or inky black.  But the next one works on another other level or two, and as I'm interpreting it the third has more potential for aging transition to go well.  Bumping up the infusion strength would give this tea the effect of greater complexity since everything going on would be more pronounced, and with nothing negative for aspects it would be good that way.

Old man:  This tea isn't transitioning but the broader and very positive range of flavor aspects stands out in contrast with the first version.  It's just much better tea.  The first version is drinkable and positive but much less complex and not as interesting.

Soviet guy:  This tea isn't really transitioning either; it wouldn't much, between infusion 3 and 4.  At this point it's more a matter of how later rounds go, what broad themes follow and how it lasts in later rounds.


Conclusion


This seems like enough reviewing, even though there is a bit more to be described.  I liked all three teas.  The first seems like a nice drinkable moderate quality shou, the kind that would work well as a daily drinker, with great aspects, just a little limited in complexity.  The second has more going on across a couple of levels; to me it seemed like really good shou.  The third showed a lot of potential.  All of those fermentation related flavors should fade quite a bit and it should be a completely different tea in the next 3 to 4 years.

It wouldn't always work out that the oldest tea is clearly the best; shou can be made from different quality source materials, or fermented to different levels, and can vary in other ways.  I think this wasn't a fair comparison in that the one year old version really does need a couple more years to settle.  Maybe a ten year old shou would tend to be better than five year old version, all other things being equal.  The hearsay on aging shou is that past 5 years old they tend to not change as much, but the older versions I have tried (10 years and older) were typically smoother, with more depth.  Some having more interesting character than others seemed to relate to those other factors, to source type, processing differences, and overall quality as it all worked out.


I don't always go there but I'll mention cost and value related to these teas.  Looking them up on the site now the "Soviet guy" 2017 version lists for $21.17 for a 357 gram cake (quite inexpensive), the 2008 version for $16.33 for a 100 gram cake (or around $58 for the equivalent larger cake version), and the 1999 version 100 gram cake for $35 (or a bit over $110 for full size cake, multiplied out).  That's quite a lot of cost spread, but that seems fair to me, how that age and quality range should work out.  The lowest cost tea works well for an example of one that might be great in another 5 years, or even a good bit better in 2 or 3, if kept under the right conditions, and the other two were on the next corresponding levels, one a pretty good shou that's ready to drink now, and then an older version that has those extra levels of positive aspects.

One part people newer to the subject might miss is that this aging process isn't simply a matter of throwing the tea in a conventional warehouse and letting it sit in whatever conditions happen to occur; temperature, humidity conditions make a lot of difference, and maybe even degree of air flow.  If something goes wrong the tea can lose quality and value or be ruined.   The cost should be higher for the additional value input, and it makes sense on the demand side too, that shou that aged well is a more attractive product.  It tastes better, and probably gains other complexity.  Vendors with a lot of experience would move well past guesswork on what type of initial aspect range is going to turn out in what way but some end consumers would only tend to relate to experiencing the final ready to drink version.

It'll be really interesting to keep trying these and the other shou, to become more familiar with them through repeated tastings.  I would probably shift judgment a little after a few more rounds of tastings but that's how it goes with reviewing; it's about passing on an impression.


I should update their pictures on here


this one got in a scrap at summer camp; not good


I don't usually include my picture; at a local water park a week ago


Monday, July 9, 2018

Thai sheng maocha and Vietnamese old-tree source green


Thai sheng left, Vietnamese ancient tree green right


I'm comparison tasting an ancient tree Vietnamese green tea with a Thai version of sheng pu'er from Lampang Tea (only similar to pu'er, really, since that's used as a Yunnan region-specific designation).  This green tea is another that Huyen Dinh passed on in that visit a month or so back, with a white tea version and Northern Vietnamese sheng version reviewed here.  It's nice having tea friends like that.


I love this family picture of Huyen (she's on the left)


A bit about the "ancient tree" source part for the green tea:  it's not the same type of claim as is made for gushu sheng, even though it's talking about roughly the same plants, and it certainly sounds like it.  The quality of sheng pu'er has come to be associated with the age of the tea plants, which evolved into related claims meaning a certain thing, and to some of those being exaggerated.  Related to green tea in Vietnam they're just describing the plant origin; it's not really used as a claim to a type, quality, or aspect range of the tea, as I understand it.

that Lampang Tea Moonlight version was cool looking



That tea style always reminded me of sheng, and this will be a good way to check on the overlap, even though the Thai version might not be typical of a style of Yunnan sheng, and those vary a good bit anyway.  I mentioned making that type association in this post three years ago, after a visit to Hanoi; funny how rough those reviews seemed back then.


In the last post on a Moonlight White tea by the same vendor I mentioned that they also compress this Thai tea into tuochas, which I'm nearly certain applies to this tea version.



Lampang Tea Thai sheng tuochas


Review


I often go a bit light on the first infusion, to see where things are going to go and get a feel for tweaking brewing approach, as I did this time.

The Vietnamese green tea is nice, sweet and complex, a bit earthy, and a little dry.  It has some vegetal range, with a mineral base that seems common with a lot more typical style green teas from Vietnam, in particular with those fish-hook style Thai Nguyen originated teas.  The astringency is moderated for using cooler temperature water (just over 70 C), but it has plenty of feel from what is present.  The sweetness stays present nicely as an aftertaste aspect.

The Thai sheng is quite different (or sheng-like tea, if you really don't use that term too for pu'er-like teas outside of Yunnan, but why wouldn't you).  It's fruity; not unheard of in Yunnan sheng but not how that usually works out.  It has some mineral structure that gives it a touch of dryness too but not as much astringency as the Vietnamese tea, even though I'm using hotter water to brew it (not full boiling point, around 90 C).  The character is quite positive; complex, intense, and bright.

The green tea is a lot more broken, almost chopped, really, and that one factor alone might account for a lot of the difference in astringency, possibly as much or more of the type difference.  Of course estimating the proportion of that input difference would just be a guess.  I can notice clear patterns in having tried a lot of different versions of teas but extending that to assigning cause and effect is difficult.

they look similar brewed; the sheng was slightly darker in some rounds


Second infusion


This was a fast infusion, around 10 seconds, but this green tea is bordering on brewed too strong.  It's still in an ok range, it works, but this tea is probably better suited for a light version of Western style brewing than for a Gongfu approach.  Just another guess, of course, but that one I can check during a breakfast this week.  Somehow the astringency is moderate for this, down to just a bit of edge and dryness, low considering the flavor intensity level.  The sweetness is really nice in this; any more intense and it would be too much.


That flavor range seems mostly floral.  It's complex; a catchy kind of floral that seems like a mix of flowers, maybe something like orchid and violet.  I keep smelling plumeria since they grow around our house and on the walk to school I do with my daughter; it's not too far from those.  They're really sweet and pleasant.  We just picked two from the yard and they smells different than the ones that grown along a local sidewalk, or at the pool where those two do lessons, a lot more lemony.


that plumeria in the yard (just blooming a little now)



with her in the other yard section



The Thai sheng is in such a different range comparison tasting won't help in terms of outlining common ground.  These are vaguely similar, in a sense, but not in enough of a sense listing out common ground for aspects would work.  The general character runs in a slightly similar direction but that's about it.  This tea is fruity, as the main aspect that hits you.  Beyond that there's an earthiness, a light mineral tone.  It's softer in feel than the green but has decent complexity.  I'll do more with teasing apart a flavor list next round.

Thai tea left; Huyen said the other was roughed up a bit in transit


Third infusion


The Vietnamese green is still really intense and pleasant; that sweetness and pronounced floral falls into a nice balance with the feel and faint trace of bitterness.  It's a bit sweeter and more floral than sheng tends to come across, without all that much vegetal background in this infusion, but some.  The taste of that relates to the bitterness, as if it's similar to dandelion green.  To me it all works together, but it would depend on preference how one takes it.

The Thai sheng is warmer, richer in flavor, also sweet and complex, but more towards fruit versus floral tone.  Mineral range seems to pick up, drawing that one part of the tea closer to the other Vietnamese green version.  The flavor is a bit complex, not so easy to unpack.  It's really in between floral and fruit (transitioning some, maybe), or spans a range that integrates as one related set.  The floral range is nondescript (to me), with the fruit a little towards juicyfruit gum, something bright and sweet, like dried mango.  It doesn't have the same degree of bitterness but other range fills in so that it doesn't come across as really simple.  At the same time it's not challenging, and it is on the light, sweet, and approachable side as sheng can go.

People familiar with a limited range of sheng might have trouble relating to placing that.  Wild tree versions tend to be softer, milder, and sweeter than commercial plantation source teas, at least in my experience.  To be clear it is hard to separate the effect of factory teas' leaves from tending to be quite broken and more wild-sourced versions from not.  That's mixing a few levels of input, isn't it, not just tree source and processing but also producer type?  Maybe it works better to just describe these teas.


Fourth infusion


The Vietnamese green is transitioning to being warmer, slightly earthier, and more complex, moving past a more simple expression of just sweet floral tone, with the mineral and slight bitterness "below" that.  It starts to trail into spice a bit.  The bitterness fades back even further; it's nice at this balance, with lots of floral still coming across.

Bitterness picks up for the Thai sheng version; these teas have essentially met related to that factor.  The sheng I'm brewing a good bit hotter though, which would tend to draw that out more.  The fruit range has shifted in balance to more floral overall.  They're still not really close as aspects sets go but much closer than in earlier rounds; they overlap a good bit now.  The feel of this tea is full but not as dry.  I'd expect brewing leaves versus a chopped tea would account for a lot of that, and at least some of the difference in bitterness.

It would be difficult to place them related to each other to the same degree based on drinking them separately, one day after the other.  Trying one then the other just after would help; the tea aspects could stand out in memory better.  But the the round by round direct comparison and matching up of individual aspects wouldn't be the same.


Thai tea left; only slightly different





Fifth infusion


These teas aren't even close to fading but not really transitioning much either.  In the Vietnamese green tea that balance of sweetness, floral tone, warmer flavor complexity, trace of bitterness, full feel and sweet aftertaste is nice.  It works.

It's interesting how similar the Thai tea is, how all those aspects are matched by slightly different versions in the Thai sheng, which balance a little differently.  It would be possible to tease it all out, describing how floral, sweetness, the trace of warmer earthier range, and overall balance are all different, but all related.  It would just be more trouble than it's worth for being informative.  That trace of more vegetal range in the green tea stands out as a difference, swapped out for fruit in the other, and the astringency (feel) is a little different, but these are closer than I expected.

The next round is more of the same; bitterness seems to be picking up a little in both.  I still really like both teas though.


Conclusions


It's interesting how they started so different and drew closer, and interesting they're that similar for being two different tea types.  Those "ancient tree" Vietnamese green teas always did remind me of sheng, and it's interesting to try them alongside each other to see just how close they are, or ways they don't match.  It helps that they're both nice versions of the different types.

It's hard to put this Thai tea on a scale for being typical of some version of Yunnan sheng.  Those vary a lot in character, by region, related to processing and source material, and quality, by lots of factors.  It works well as a young tea but it might have enough of the right aspect range to benefit from aging, but at this point that's more of a guess.  I really should buy a couple of tuochas and check on that, since the pricing seems fine for what the tea is.  They cover that in their FB vendor page, and the last post on a Moonlight White version includes a conversion from baht (which isn't that tricky; it's usually around 32 or 33 to 1 USD).

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Orange peel stuffed with black tea from Jip Eu


I should've added a coin for scale; it's on the small side






scale indicated by large gaiwan size




When visiting Jip Eu in the Bangkok Chinatown with Huyen Dinh a few weeks ago the owner passed on a few extra samples (always so nice of them to do that).  I reviewed the Longjing I bought, and some Shui Xian they gave me, but there are two more others.  One is an orange peel stuffed with tea, which I'm reviewing here.  Those seem about as popular now as they ever were, or maybe they peaked last year.  I thought those were usually made with shou pu'er but I'm not sure about that.


This is something different, a real mystery tea.  I didn't even remember which kind of tea this is prior to tasting, although it did turn out to be black tea, as it seemed.

Review


The look is cool; it's a dried orange peel, stuffed with tea, with some of a flower sticking out at the top (chrysanthemum, it seems).  The first infusion was just wetting the peel, after a rinse.  It tasted like dried orange peel.  I started digging some tea out after that first infusion or else I'd be brewing this all day to just get the tea wet.  A second infusion still tastes a lot more like dried orange peel than tea.  It's actually nice though; including a good bit of dried orange peel in a tisane blend might work.  I've used a fruit peeler to only strip off the outside thin layer for blends in the past since it's easy to dry and contains a lot of the citrusy, volatile aspects and not the bitterness of the white part but so far this is fine, just like orange.




Around the third infusion I'm starting to taste tea.  This might just be black tea [I'll leave that guesswork in the review format after editing]; the flavor profile and look seems wrong for shou.  I somehow thought it might be oolong--not that I have much memory to work with at all, based on what someone told me a month ago--but that just doesn't seem possible based on the look and taste.  Between the citrus (orange peel) giving it a high end and a flower adding some smoothness and depth just that black tea earthiness and edge comes across.  Or something oddly like that, if contributed by another tea type.

It's interesting the way those flavors layer together on the fourth infusion.  They're not as unified as they might be once this brews a couple of more rounds but it makes for an interesting tea blend.  The individual contribution of the tea itself doesn't stand out much, given how pronounced the citrus is, and how drinking three things at once works out.  I'm so used to single-type teas this is unfamiliar ground.  That tea has a depth I wouldn't necessarily expect from a black tea, a mild earthy oiliness, not unlike the trace of tar that can come across in shou.  But it can't be shou, since it doesn't look like it, and that edgy malt isn't common to shou.  Funny being four rounds into a tea and not knowing what it is.  It really has to be black tea though.




A half dozen infusions in I tore the orange peel partly in half to expose the last of this tea.  This will probably brew for another dozen infusions at least, it seems.  It was too much for a large gaiwan but I couldn't bring myself to pass on the messing around and put it in an infuser or teapot instead.  If snapping it in half was easier this would work well for brewing tea grandpa style.  Leaving it whole like that you could probably brew tea with it more than a dozen times made that way, just lots of light infusions, over the course of a day.  You could be the first person in history to "brew out" a dried orange peel.

I kind of like it.  I've made it a point to stay open to blends, and I've drank a good bit of the Earl Grey and floral Ceylon blend I brought back for the staff at the office from Russia.  I never reviewed those here, due to a plain tea bias I guess, but they've been ok.  It can be nice drinking a tea that you don't feel any impulse to pay much attention to or get right for brewing parameters.




This tea isn't transitioning that much.  The "tea" part blends into the rest; other than seeming vaguely like black tea but a bit thick, oily, and earthy for being that it seems nice.  I don't feel compelled to try to expand description out into a flavors list beyond that.  It tastes like black tea, and there's orange citrus, and that flower gets buried a bit, just filling in and giving it depth.

"Stacking" the infusions seems an obvious thing to do, mixing subsequent rounds together.  In part that's to mix a cooler and hotter cup, to drink it in the middle, and to allow for keeping up a brewing pace.  In another context it's about combining the two thin "time-slices" of brewing aspects into one more even layer.  I guess that sort of works too, but in this case more about evening out the sloppy brewing time than getting two time-slices worth of transition into one cup versus one.

This tea itself is two distinct colors; surely it's not a mix of types?  It looks like they've combined black teas that came out differently, one lighter and one that could pass for something else.  Oolongs look a lot like that one version too, dark but oxidized less.  Could this really be oolong?  I suppose I could be interpreting edginess and malt as what's really coming from an orange peel.  It seems unlikely though.  This orange peel really does bury the flavor of the tea, to some extent.  I think I might like this better with shou since at least that blast of earthiness would stand out more, or fill in as a deeper underlying layer that expressed itself.  This works though, but the tea blends in under those other layers, or I guess between them.  I'd probably appreciate that more if I had tried a version where it didn't that didn't work well; this just integrates.

I could tell going in this would be way too much tea to brew at one go.  It fits in a large gaiwan but it's going to brew two liters of tea, two ounces at a time (or two quarts, 60-80 ml at a time, in the other set of units).

happy independence day!


Conclusions


I brewed around a dozen infusions, all nice enough, or maybe more.  It came across a bit like an Earl Grey, to be honest.  I guess that's a good thing for me; I like Earl Grey.  It was interesting that it wasn't exactly like an Earl Grey.  It wasn't bergamot orange theme flavor and for being a good bit of peel instead of an essential oil it came across much differently, just not different in a way I really had success in describing.  I wouldn't base my tea habit on drinking this very regularly but mixing in some or trying it a few times to vary the experience would be nice.  I'd think shou might work even better.  I guess the down-side is that no one is going to stuff above average shou into an orange peel so the tea itself would always be on the average side at best, and mediocre shou can get a bit rough.


drying mandarin orange peel for blend trials awhile back

It kind of goes without saying but it's easy enough to experiment with making something like this, without actually buying it.  Fresh orange peel wouldn't work at all, I don't think; it wouldn't absorb the water and wouldn't contribute flavor as a result.


Just drying an orange peel in a toaster oven would probably work, probably for 45 minutes at low heat, but still at around 120 C / 250 F, not that low.  Peeling off the outer layer of the skin, as I'd mentioned, is another approach, one that retains the positive flavor but that's much easier to dry.


It would work with lemon or grapefruit too, but I'm not so sure about lemon tea, maybe better for making an iced version.  Mandarin orange peel would be nice, and they do sell those all over here (which they refer to as Chinese oranges), but I don't remember seeing those back in the States.  Now that I think of it maybe this was a Mandarin or Chinese orange; that would explain how it could be so small.  The taste of both is similar but different enough they're easy to tell apart but fruit peel is something else; I didn't notice what kind of orange this was from.  I've used mandarin orange peel for blending awhile back (the last picture) but it's not the kind of thing I could keep a mental database of flavors for.

Of course just buying them from a Chinatown shop, like Jip Eu here, also works.  I didn't check on how much they sell this version for but it shouldn't be too much, and it was interesting to try.  One nice part about visiting Jip Eu is walking around Chinatown, with lots of cool shops all over the place, and a wholesale vending area on the other side, below the main street (Yaowarat).  Jip Eu might have had other versions and another shop very nearby had a couple related types (shown in a photo here).

meeting Huyen there a month or so ago


we saw these at a different shop that day; odd I didn't think to buy any


that other shop is a block or two away, towards the MRT from Jip Eu