I'm trying three more sheng from a Liquid Proust introductory set. I've pre-ordered more from his main group-buy offering already, the Sheng Olympiad. If someone wants to participate in they probably should click on that link and hit order right away; the number of slots is limited. As for more background I wrote an interview post about Andrew and that group buy theme awhile back here, and first and second review posts covering five separate sheng from this set at those links. It's always nice getting to experience new range in sheng and teas in general.
These tea types follow:
2016 Jingmai Love (which turns out to be from Crimson Lotus)
There are no Liquid Proust web pages for these teas; at a glance he doesn't sell any of them. It's not ideal tasting teas of different ages together--and a judgment call to do combined tasting of sheng at all--but the point is just to cover ground and compare tea styles, so lack of full parallel structure doesn't matter so much.
Jing Mai is a familiar region and the other two sort of ring a bell. Pinning down area names related to where they are in relation to each other, and sorting out village names versus broader area designations, comes up when exploring sheng in more detail. I won't get far with background on that but citing a standard research summary blog will frame the background a little. The following citations and images are from Tea DB; maybe better known for video reviews, but at one point they did more with research and text.
This post's image covers some local Yunnan areas, with discussion of local character that gets around to filling in one of the three of these sources, about the Xigui village in Lincang prefecture:
...Single-origin Lincang cakes are generally thought of as being green and bitter in their youth. Critics of Lincang regard Lincang raw pu’erh as cold and harsh some arguing that it is also slower to age.
Xiaguan is also known for their house taste that deviates from the single-origin taste...
Bangdong: A county and village in eastern Lincang north of the Mengku area. Most famously, Bangdong is home to Xigui village, one of the most-hyped & expensive areas for new school pu’erh....
So far so good. I'm filling in this research after writing the review notes, and of course these teas may or may not match some standard typical character anyway. Onto another Tea DB post that frames where the other two source areas are located, along with this image (noting that Pu'er / Simao is in the broader map image above showing multiple prefectures):
Jingmai is a mountain located in Lancang County in the southwest corner of Pu’er Prefecture. This area is one of the subregions that fetches higher prices on par with Xishuangbanna. Similar to Yibang and Xikong, the small leaf varietal is common here...
...Jinggu is a county, village and area in central Pu’er Prefecture that neighbors Lincang and the Shuangjiang Mengku areas... Jinggu is one of the larger growing regions in Pu’er Prefecture and includes a few famous growing areas in Jinggu including Kuzhu, Puzhen, Lao Wushan, Yangta.
The rest of those two posts are worth a close read for anyone interested in placing local sheng production areas. There is some mention of conventional aspects profiles but of course those vary by individual tea, and mean more once you experience them even when teas do seem characteristic of a general narrow area type. Onto review then.
The Jing Mai is earthy, a bit smoky, not overwhelmingly bitter but some bitterness stands out. Being two years old would have tempered the initial intensity and bitterness, flattened the flavors a little. Depending on the starting point that could have improved or else greatly diminished the appeal of the tea.
Two years old seems about the normal limit for drinking young sheng with a little age on it (although practices would vary, along with preferences and the way the changes play out with different initial character). Different people cite a lot of different ranges as "awkward middle-years," and it seems like they're talking about preferring a narrow range of tea types that really would be nicer in other age ranges, but with different people saying different things, talking about different teas.
The Jinggu is a lot more bitter; no surprise there. Someone would need to like bitterness as a main aspect in tea to like this. I'm ok with it being a main aspect, just not with it being the main flavor that comes across. Some of the rest is earthy in an unusual way. I take this to be the taste of kerosene that people tend to complain about. Alternatively it could be seen as mineral intensive, which sounds better. To me it really seems like a mix of mineral (actual rocks, extending quite a bit into metal) combined with a vegetal aspect in the range of tree fungus, those half-circle partial disks, or smaller versions that grow as groups. It's not bad, it just might be better once it loosens up a little.
Smoke stands out in the Xigui. I reviewed a tea that I said was almost certainly smoked not long ago (Chen's Fire, also from this Liquid Proust set), and although this flavor isn't so far off that I think this could be naturally occurring instead. Some sheng tastes like smoke. I tend to not like it, the way smoke pairs with the rest, preferring how smoke compliments black tea character, but reaction to it would just be a matter of preference.
Under that the range isn't so different from the Jinggu but I'd describe it more as green wood over pronounced mineral versus those other aspects. That's odd, saying it's similar, and then putting a completely different label on what it tastes like, but the general effect is similar even though the actual taste is shifted. Both share a lot of mineral range. Since these will keep evolving, especially early on, it seems as well to go with a quick initial take for now.
The Jing Mai improved a bit, gaining some complexity. It'll probably shift quite a bit one more time to really open up. A spice aspect kicked in. It's hard to place, not so far from cinnamon but that's not it. I guess saying it's between that and nutmeg kind of works. The mineral evolved too, moving from more rock tone into rusted iron, which is actually nice, the way that stays with you as an aftertaste, something you both taste and feel running down your tongue. It'll be interesting to see how the next round changes.
The Jinggu transitioned quite a bit too; it's cool experiencing teas like these, even when the flavors or other aspects aren't a perfect match for personal preference. The bitterness eased up to give the other range some space and warm earthiness picked up. It seems like a warm version of damp forest floor replaced what I was interpreting as tree fungus (over mineral). Again I think the main transition balance will occur next round. I would've expected this tea to be more challenging than it is; mouthfeel is substantial but not rough, and bitterness isn't in a bad balance even for being so early on, before it tends to ease up. It's still a little like kerosene but that effect stands out a lot less.
The Xigui is still mostly showing off the smoke. These all softened a little because I used a really short infusion, letting it run out towards 10 seconds the first round to get things started faster. For younger sheng brewed at a high proportion very short infusion times are just a given. At half the proportion letting it go for 10 seconds or even 15 would work. Given I'm tasting three teas that probably would've made more sense; I for sure can't finish 30 small cups of these teas, and they won't be finished after 10 rounds. Brewed twice as long they would have been. For now I'll just describe this infusion as "smoke" for this tea and add to that next time.
not the same day; that's flavored "Thai" tea
Drinking these particular teas on an empty stomach would be a bigger issue; I just couldn't. I'm having sticky rice and mango (with coconut sauce) with them for breakfast, more common as a Thai desert than a breakfast but definitely heavy food.
The Jing Mai seems to express more woodiness than spice this round, moving into an aged hardwood range instead of green wood; that's different. Bitterness is still relatively moderate, in a nice balance. All of this wouldn't be a personal favorite for character but it works for me.
The Jinggu is much nicer, transitioned quite a bit. It's more on green wood now, well off the "kerosene" range, with mineral undertone moderated. It seems sweeter. The feel has some structure to it and the aftertaste remains as a bitterness and tightening across your mouth. It comes across as decent tea; some of all that serves as a quality marker. Next one might question if it's pleasant enough to be desirable, since quality should tie to what it liked, but what I mean gets complicated. The tea is also clean flavored, well balanced, reasonably intense, a little sweet, etc., and the marker is just a clear and simple sign that ties in with some of the rest of that. Or at least that's how I see it, but what do I know. I'm self-taught related to my tea understanding so my teacher was radically uninformed.
The Xigui smoke effect is transitioning; funny that's going to be the review theme, what's going on with the smoke, versus the rest of the tea. It's a bit heavier in tone, darker, less like the effect of stepping near a camp-fire or eating smoked bacon and more towards mineral range, like licking rusted iron pipe. Maybe enough other range will show forward to actually review that next round. It has more going on for balance, it's just hard to identify it beyond such a pronounced aspect that takes over. Mineral is there. Earthiness might be not so far from damp forest floor, or towards peat. It's cleaner in effect than all that would sound; mustiness or sourness really kills the positive nature of experience in teas and although these aspects don't sound it they're clean.
I'm getting heat from my wife about getting on with errands before an outing with the kids; I might squeeze in two more rounds, hardly enough to tell the story of these teas, but enough to tell a lot of it. I'll let these run for just over 10 seconds to try them out a little heavier, even though I'll probably end up talking about it being a bit much. To me that's about seeing the tea from a slightly different angle. It also ramps up the feel aspect, but it's not as if I wasn't able to notice that in these. At least one of these teas is pretty strong related to drug-like effect (all relative; "notable" might work better, it's not that strong), or maybe it's just the overall combined effect.
The Jing Mai version is balancing green wood tone and spice, with good sweetness; it's nice. The bitterness is a little strong brewed slightly longer, not optimum, for me. The intensity is nice. It's up there; the flavor and other balance hangs together well with a mouth-tightening feel after and plenty of lingering aftertaste. I think the location and overall effect of the feel would shift in tea versions regarded as very high quality tea but I'm not trained enough to appreciate that anyway.
The Jinggu shares some aspect range with the Jing Mai tea since it's also a bit woody with spice range, the mix and overall effect is just different. It's warmer, a little softer, with more towards an autumn leaf effect, with the first tea settled more into green wood. The mineral range is quite different too, with the Jing Mai more on flinty or limestone underlying range, and this is much warmer, like an earthy version of clay. I'm not saying the dirt was different in those ways for the plants to grow in but it does make you wonder what it was like. The feel is a little softer in this version and the aftertaste takes on a different form and effect. It's odd that Jing Mai version is on par for intensity and brightness, or even slightly brighter, being two years old versus brand new. It's odd this tea is as soft as it is too; I'd expect a higher degree of edginess.
The smoke is finally not just transitioning but even giving way in the Xigui version. Woodiness with a bright, edgy nature, like cured redwood, as the lawn furniture made of it would smell, is evenly mixed with the smoke. Sweetness picked up; the balance is nicer. The aftertaste is really pronounced at this slightly stronger brewed strength; it hangs around all of your mouth, with the taste just trailing off. I think I'll do one more fast round to pass on final impressions; I really do have to do a few things before the standard afternoon outing with the kids. I'm feeling a bit blasted anyway; it was enough.
The Jing Mai version is about the same, just different in experience brewed lightly, as I'd prefer it. The Jinggu too; it's interesting how much the two overlap in spite of being quite different in other ways. The Xigui is nice for now balancing smoke, a spicy range of woodiness, and elevated sweetness. All three are nice, interesting, very different, in spite of the first two sharing some common ground. Of course the teas weren't finished; I just stopped drinking them at that point and the notes leave off there.
This is exactly what one would hope to experience from a sample set: a good bit of variation, some interesting overlap, and transitions across infusions that are interesting. It's more typical to drink teas in a series, trying multiple infusions of each version in a row, stretching out the tasting process to lots of rounds covering a long period of time, not paired as infusions of several types round by round. That allows for experiencing the drug-like effect better and removes the complication of sorting through multiple tea versions' aspects in single rounds.
For review the approach used here makes sense, except that few tea reviewers seem to agree with that assessment. It's a lot to give up to not experience the "cha qi" drug-like effect of versions individually, for many, defeating a lot of the point of drinking better sheng. It would feel less "busy" the other way too. I don't really see myself as any sort of authority or role model, related to evaluating teas or communicating process issues; I just share what I experience in the forms that seem most natural. For the most part others probably should and would try the teas one by one.
This temple outing, the one I mentioned we needed to get to, did actually contain a tea theme aspect, even though it wasn't about that. I'll share a bit about what we did. It was at Wat Pho, the local temple where we join the most events, where I was married in a Thai ceremony, where I ordained quite awhile back, and where Keoni became a novice monk this year (covered in posts here and here).
some sort of special event at Wat Pho
a monk preparing very good Tie Kuan Yin and Tie Luo Han; not how that usually goes
Kalani posing with a monk we know
offering coins at many stations for luck