Sunday, November 11, 2018

More Liquid Proust set sheng (Jing Mai, Jinggu, and Xigui)






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)

2018 Jinggu

2018 Xigui

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.


Review




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.

Second infusion



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.

Third infusion



not the same day; that's flavored "Thai" tea

Two infusions in I'm really feeling these teas.  I never did get my caffeine tolerance back to the earlier level after being sick the week before last and doing a detox (or break from caffeine, if you rather).  I've been drinking a tisane in the afternoons half the time, not even doing two regular sessions of tea a day for half the week.  It's only caffeine (mostly); I'll be fine.


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.

Fourth infusion


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.

Fifth infusion


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.


Temple outing


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







Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Gushu Yin Ya "white pu'er" buds






I really tasted two unrelated teas together, one a tea bud cake version (the "Yin Ya white pu'er") and one a standard sheng, both from Moychay.

The reasoning for the pairing was to finish trying some tea versions from a set of samples (with cakes as samples, this buds version a mini-cake; not how samples for review usually works out).  To repeat a common theme here, comparison of unrelated teas isn't helpful for review purposes.  I suppose I noticed how feel aspects related, for example, but didn't make a lot of that in the notes.  I'll present the summary of the two teas separately, with the typical sheng version second, as a sort of bonus review, since it seems to read more clearly split up.

Both of these teas are not currently listed for sale on the site (shown as "not available").  If someone is reading this only for research of purchase alternatives all of this might be completely irrelevant.  I don't see discussing teas here as limited to marketing support so to me the descriptions are still meaningful.  That saves me from even considering value since I don't know how these were priced.

The vendor mentioned that this tea is similar, if that's of interest.

It is nice having more of these teas than I typically receive for reviews (they were provided by Moychay), for more than one reason.  Of course I can drink more tea then, and can share it with others, as I did in those tasting sessions I wrote about over the last few months.  Also these types of teas are more or less designed to age, and a 10 or 20 gram sample is only going to go so far related to trying the teas for review and then again later on.  I probably won't say a lot in following years about teas I've reviewed this year but eventually some of that will come up, and beyond that at least the experience will recur.

It's my impression that this vendor shared more of the teas related to taking my overall experience into account, more than to influence reviews to be positive.  People can interpret that as they want though, or make nothing of it.  Anyone opposed to blog reviewing as a potentially biased form of input might be less likely to read this anyway.  I can't say for sure that my impressions aren't biased, it just doesn't seem to work out that way to me.  I just describe the teas.


What the two teas are:

Gu Shu Yin Ya (MoyChay.ru), 2016, 100 g.

Qian Jia Zhai Sheng Cha (Moychay.ru, raw material 2016, compressed 2017), 357 g.


I'm curious if the Yin Ya is similar to Ya Bao tea buds, but it looks nothing like those.  The connection is both being referred to as "white pu'er," and both obviously being made of buds, but beyond that the similarities stop.  Let's start with a label description:




A photo of that "Yin Ya" loose:




And that previous Ya Bao version reviewed here:




It's just not the same thing.  Per my understanding (which is never a last word) the difference isn't that Ya Bao is from a different tree plant type, although it is said to typically be from a specific version of Assamica.  Instead the Ya Bao buds are picked much earlier, before the type of bud familiar in silver needle or tips white tea versions has a chance to form (which seems to be what this is, only perhaps processed differently than white teas).

The other tea is just sheng.  That area / origin name relates to a place in Yunnan, described in a general reference here:


Qianjia Zhai Scenic Area, located in the northeast of Zhenyuan County of Pu’er City in Yunnan Province, is the provincial-level scenery area. It consists of 49 scenic spots with the total area of 44 square kilometers. Qianjia Zhai Scenic Area features beautiful water, majestic mountains, quiet forest and extraordinary scenery.

Wild tea trees: According to the experts, the top tea tree, which is 18.5 meters high and 2700 years old, is the oldest and biggest wild tree that ever been found so far. It’s situated on Ailao Mountain which rises more than 2600 meters above sea level... 


In a questionable choice of references I'll also mention a vendor page describing growing conditions and the area from Verdant.  That supplier started a trend for tea vendors taking heat for allegedly making obviously false claims about tea tree source ages (obviously false to many), with discussion of that on Reddit, Steepster, and in a personal blog account.  The photos in that reference are still actual local images, it would just be as well to take the written content plant-age claims with a grain of salt.

If accuracy of vendor background information is seen a main concern then evaluating that debate would be relevant to judging Verdant as a potential source.  The tea is the same if paired with carefully reviewed and accurate claims versus references that are almost certainly untrue, but it's still probably not a good sign.  It would make evaluating the other information presented more difficult.

Even including "gushu" in this post title related to the buds version goes a bit far for making a claim.  I've seen people use that term as a reference to different source-plant age claims, but it's as well to just take it for what it's worth, as an attempt to describe something about the source, versus having a specific meaning or making an implied quality level or character claim.

Review of the buds version


sheng on the left, these buds on the right


This Yin Ya (a version of buds-only sheng, described as white bud pu'er) does remind me a little of the only version of Ya Bao I've ever tried, but the aspects profile isn't so similar.  It's sweet and rich, not exactly like pu'er or any white tea I've tried, but probably closer to a Moonlight version.  No surprise in that.

There was one distinctive flavor in that Ya Bao version that defined it, said to be typical of the type in other versions, which I had to look up in my review to remember it:  pine.  There isn't really any pine in this the first infusion, it's on the mild side and sweet side, and a bit subtle.  If you taste a pine tree bud--which is kind of a strange thing to do, but I did, plenty of times--they sort of do taste like this, mild and sweet, with a distinctive flavor.  I think it turns out those are even edible, which makes me wonder how many random things I tasted as a child weren't.  I was probably a strange kid.

Second infusion




The sweetness picked up a lot.  It is odd tasting two teas that are so dissimilar together (a point I'll not say much more about throughout this).  The contrast isn't informative; they're just opposites.  This one is smooth and round, sweet and relatively full in feel and flavor profile.  As I remember the opposite of that is what I didn't like about the only Ya Bao I'd tried, it being so one-dimensional, with just a limited but pleasant flavor standing out, and feel and complexity seeming limited.  It seemed more like a tisane than a tea for lacking flavor complexity and other range, the full feel and aftertaste that "real" teas express much better than any other dried leaves or other herbs.

Flavors are definitely in a fruit range; a little towards juicyfruit gum.  Someone else might interpret that as similar to dried apricot, or something else altogether.

Third infusion



More of the same; not transitioning too much.  It's novel, with positive aspects to appreciate.  Moonlight whites can push that intensity and depth of fruit aspects just a little further, so I tend to like those better, but that's a familiar personal preference issue from silver tips style whites in general.  I tend to like Bai Mu Dan versions more than silver needle / silver tips teas for the fine leaves included adding more flavor range, but lots of others express the opposite preference.

This tea would work well for a tea to drink when you feel like something different or an experiment to set aside for a decade.  It might be hard to put a clear market value on this tea since versions like this don't come up that often.  To carry that a little further this isn't exactly like any other version of any tea I've ever tried.  When I said the feel was full it also includes a creaminess that's not all that common for lots of tea types, maybe closer to how some oolongs come across than to sheng versions or white teas.

I'd probably be evaluating this tea more positively if I was really attached to that particular type of fullness.  It's interesting and positive, to me, but other people seem to make more of how nice an experience it makes for than I tend to.

Fourth infusion


A cool root-spice aspect joins in with the fruit (still no pine though, in terms of pine needle character).

Fifth infusion


It's odd this has worked out so well brewed fast, matching the sheng times.  Doubling the time would bump intensity but it's nice as it is, sweet, complex, full in feel, and so on.  I would've expected it to not be as intense given how brief those brewing times have been.

I brewed it for a number of additional infusions.  The flavor became a good bit less sweet and creamy, extending more towards wood or a trace of bitterness, but it was still positive.  It was definitely a unique tea version.  I'd expect it to pick up additional complexity and depth after years of aging, but I'm not certain about that, since I haven't tried so many aged whites that typical transition patterns are clear to me.


Review of the sheng,  2016 Qian Jia Zhai








Initial flavor is pleasant; some bitterness, perhaps a hint of smoke, but with good depth of a range of different aspects, and a nice overall balance.  I'd expect the bitterness to fall into a more pleasant balance after a couple of infusions  I'd also guess that this tea is intense enough that it's well suited for waiting another decade to drink it.  I'll say more about a flavors list, and other aspects, but the rest of the taste seems to settle into aged wood or towards spice from that.


Second infusion: bitterness is pronounced enough in this that it would be too much for people unaccustomed to young sheng range.  For people on that general page it would probably still seem moderate, not strong, but the bitterness is a good bit more pronounced than Yiwu or Nan Nuo origin versions tend to be, probably just a touch heavier than Jing Mai teas I've tried tend to express.  For some that would still be fine, since the overall balance works; it would depend on aspect preferences.

It's intense; a bit of smoke stands out just because it's novel, and from that there's a woodiness with some degree of spice.  The spice is hard to place; in that aromatic range of spices used for incense, frankincense or myhrr or such.


Third infusion:  it's not transitioning enough to add much, maybe softening slightly.  I get a sense it may shift off this range more in a couple more infusions.  Really this seems a good candidate for trying twice a year to check in and leaving sit otherwise.  It's not that it's not good tea, or not drinkable, but it's true potential probably lies in the future, and this is probably a good starting point for picking up more complexity in a different range later.

Even after 5 years stored here (in Bangkok, in a very humid and warm environment) teas can change a lot.  It has nice body and aftertaste beyond the flavor, but per how I experience teas it's hard to really move past that bitterness, the flavor level.  Or I guess if this level of bitterness is seen as desirable it could be perfect now.


Fourth infusion:  it is softening up a little more; using a really fast infusion helped with that (up towards 10 seconds, but this would drink ok at flash infusions at this proportion).  The sweetness is nice; that effect of bitter and sweet together works.  You get some nice sweetness after-effect after drinking it but not as much of the feeling trailing down the throat as I usually associate with hui gan ("returning sweetness," described here, per a translation that doesn't mean much beyond already knowing what it means).  This effect occurs all throughout your mouth instead, with a pronounced effect along your tongue with some tightness on the sides of your mouth.

None of that means so much to me; people really far along the sheng path tend to associate and mouth-location variations in range of feel and aftertaste more than I do.  Flavors include woodiness (aged, but with some tree-sap bite too), a bit of spice, and lots of mineral depth, the last across a broad range, from rocks to metal.


Fifth infusion:  the character is the nicest it's been, softened, gaining complexity instead of loosing it.  Aspects description would shift a little but it's not so different that it's worth running through it.


I drank a good number of infusions more of both teas, and while the buds trailed off in terms of initial sweetness and creamy feel this one just thinned a bit instead.  I could imagine some people interpreting the character and aspects of infusions 6 through 10 as more positive for this sheng compared to the earlier infusions range.  Intensity dropped off and the balance of aspects shifted as longer brew times drew out the same level of infusion strength, with this sheng more consistent than the other buds-based tea.

recent ice skating outing (they can do it)


Halloween and birthday theme; his 10th that day


it worked out that we had ice cream cake later and sang twice

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Honyama Japanese Black Tea




I've only ever tried one Japanese black tea so this will be interesting.  That version (reviewed here) was so-so, not really good, purchased in a mall shop in Tokyo on a trip there (with more about that trip here).  But then tea purchased in a mall shop of any type could be on the ordinary side, and it would seem normal for one to stock a moderate quality level version of an unconventional type.

The owner of Tea Mania, Peter, sent this.  We met when he was visiting here (Bangkok) awhile back and as it often goes stay in touch only now and again, but he was nice enough to share a number of different teas to try this year.  The sheng stood out to me; a few really nice commissioned versions.  Atypical for those types they were selling for around the same pricing as factory versions, even though the teas were much better.  I'm not so into Japanese green teas but that set also worked out as a chance to explore some.  I always thought eventually I'd circle back to that range (I drank mostly that at one point, back when getting into tea), and I'm not converted yet but I can see what people see in them.

I'll cite the Tea Mania introduction, including background and brewing recommendation (edited down just a little; there's more on that page):


Honyama (also known as Tamakawa) is considered by connoisseurs of Japanese teas as one of the top growing areas. In Honyama, where the Abe River springs, are ideal conditions for top quality tea. The nights are clear and cool and the morning misty. The narrow valleys also ensure natural shading of the tea fields. So it is not surprising that the tea leaves in this area are about one month later ready for harvest compared to tea from the low-lying areas near Shizuoka city.

...For more hand processed tea there just isn't enough time because Mr. Sato and his wife run the entire tea production by themselves and harvesters can't be used in the steep slopes of Honyama mountains .

Mr. Sato produces only single-variety teas... Blends are not per se considered as bad in Japan... but we think teas based on single cultivars are much more interesting. They allow to experience the differences of the individual cultivars. Blends, however, are in return more balanced.

Harvest: May 2018 
Taste: Sweet and refreshing aroma.
Origin: Honyama, Shizuoka prefecture, Japan.
Varietal: Zairai
Steaming: none
Preparation: Appx. 5g per serving, temperature 90 - 100°C,  time 1 min.
Tip: Use rather a higher leaf to water ratio and infuse repeatedly for short time. First infusion max. 60s and all further infusions only 30s as the leaves are already soaked. Use a Kyusu tea pot.


Honyama plantation, not necessarily this producer (credit Tea Mania blog)


I was actually going to use this advice for how to brew the tea, given the general category isn't familiar. I'll use a modified version of Western brewing, as described.

made in a standard infuser device; I don't have any kyusu pots


As far as price goes this tea costs less than one might expect, 12 CHF / 50 grams (about $12).  I think this is a rare case where buying more directly is resulting in end-customer savings, that equivalent tea would cost more.  Based on my own experience of walking around cities in Japan checking out shops as of 4 years ago it would be very difficult to find, especially if this version is as nice as it sounds.

Of course there isn't really an explicit quality level or even aspects range claim in that description, it's more that the source description implies that it's probably really good tea.  Tasting informs more about that; I'll see what I make of it.

Review


This is a lot more like what I was looking for all those years ago.  It's clearly black tea, and definitely different than Chinese, Indian, or SE Asian versions.  The Japanese origin and relation to the green tea range from there definitely comes across.  Putting aspect description to that will be tricky, but that's part of the fun.



A more forward mineral-intensive layer is a bit malty.  It's a soft, distinctive, different form of malt, so not the range I'd use as a description for Assam (a lot edgier version), or for sweeter, milder complex teas, malt more like in malted milk balls or the milkshakes, which might stand out in a more-oxidized winter harvest oolong.  That malt range connects with a deeper underlying layer of minerals, in between sharp rusted metals and warm rich dark clay.  It's probably not clear but I mean all that as a good thing.

A fruit range reminds me of apple cider; not so much that it's tart (maybe a trace, but not so much), more because of that distinctive, warm earthy flavor found in a soft, fresh version of cider.  It's sad that a lot of people probably can't even relate to what I'm describing.  Not like something from a grocery store, unless the store is selling local, fresh versions.  Fresh-pressed real cider is worlds different, not like apple juice at all, and nothing like cider vinegar.  Every sip is sweet, warm, complex, and incredibly rich, so much so that you crave the next drink even before swallowing the last.

To me those three aspects summarize what's going on as well as a longer written description could.  Warm, smooth, sweet malt hits you first, with a lot of slightly oxidized apple tone filling in beyond that, supported by an earthier and "deeper" mineral layer.  It's all a lot cleaner and more pleasant than it might sound, put that way.  It's bright, distinctive, clean in effect, lively, and subtle in a way that's complex and refined.  It's definitely unfamiliar territory; I drink a good bit of black tea but nothing like this.  For matching my preferences it works.  It's easy for something so novel to not click, since it can't be what you expect, but I can relate to it.

It's hard to really specify how this overlaps with Japanese green teas, and this review never does make much of that, but somehow there is still a connection.  It would be easy to guess that maybe something like the mineral tones match but I'm not sure that's it.  I'm not noticing umami; I suppose it's conceivable that a limited amount of it is present but I'm just missing flagging that.

In the Japanese black tea version I had tried earlier a similar balance of flavors extended to be just a bit sour and musty instead, and it didn't work for me.  I can see how this could have went in that direction, with just bit of shift in some of what is there.  That faint trace of tartness does border on an expression of sourness.  For people very averse to tartness it would be way too much as it is, but I do like black teas with a touch of that aspect range, if it balances.  It gets to be way too much very quickly but as a mild supporting element that makes sense with more pronounced aspects this works for me.  It balances.  And it's very clean in effect; I think that's what threw off that other tea, that it wasn't.  Mustiness doesn't tend to match up with any tea style.  I guess if one had to pick a best-case for a musty tea to work some unusual hei cha version might pull it off.

second infusion



I went a little light on this round, using an infusion time of around 30 seconds, as recommended, but the proportion made that turn out light.  It's probably as well, and it was the intention, to try the tea on the lighter side.  For some more subtle teas you can miss a lot of the effect and how aspects should balance just by going with a normal infusion strength (with "normal" meaning different things to different people, and that optimum varying by type).  Brewing a tea on the slightly lighter side makes it easier to pick up aspects, even though that's counter-intuitive.  For a warm, rich, soft Chinese black tea sometimes I might like it better on the strong side anyway, but even in that case for reviewing the tea and getting the clearest impression a little lighter is better.

The flavor shifted a good bit towards cinnamon; that's different.  The aspect I was interpreting as malt seemed to.  The tartness (which was limited) essentially dropped out, leaving the warm effect to come across as stronger.  That one apple-cider tone is a bit more into cooked apple range in this round.  Even the underlying mineral isn't the same; that seems to still be present, but it's bridging more into that bark-spice range as well, now earthier, deeper, more mineral-inclined.  I like it better this round, but it already had been pleasant in the first.

I really should get some training in root and bark spices to put more specifics to those descriptions, but I'd only be clear to a really narrow audience who was familiar with that then anyway.  Or maybe no one; who explores unconventional spices, besides fusion-oriented trained professional chefs?

Some of the shifts I was describing could relate to dropping the infusion strength to slightly lighter, versus transition across infusions.  I'd guess mostly not, since those types of changes are typical.  This kind of level of detail of experiencing specific trace aspects seems to be exactly what Peter was talking about in that tea description, about experiencing single cultivar and narrow-source range tea versions differently than blends.  Mixing a few kinds of black tea (not national-origin differences, just local varied cultivars) can result in a nice balanced aspect profile, but it would also muddle those finer traces of subtle flavors, and make the experience of transitions across infusions less interesting.

I'll go slightly heavier on the next infusion (up around 45 seconds, or just above) to check how the tea works at a different infusion strength, and if being lighter seemed to cause the change.

third infusion





Earthier tones are drawing out again, maybe a little towards dark wood, with more underlying mineral.  Some of the bright, sweet, fruit range is fading.  This will go one more infusion in the same range, for sure, and probably another stretched a bit beyond that.  It really didn't increase the infusion strength by that much, really accounting for fading intensity instead.  It's at a good level anyway; drinking the tea stronger than average would only inform how that affects the balance, and it probably wouldn't be positive.

I could break that down to a finer level of detail, about what shifted to what, but it seems the general character of the tea wouldn't become clearer, and also wouldn't for describing the next infusion or two, filling in how it was altered by the tea fading.  It's still quite pleasant at this point.  Tea brewing a good number of positive infusions is generally a good sign for quality, but it would be easy to over-generalize related to that.  I did brew it again and it just seemed to be fading.  Some teas go off related to later transitions, and become much less pleasant, woodier in a negative sense, and some stay really pleasant (I end up stretching out Dian Hong a lot), but this stay similar, just thinning.



All in all a very nice tea, very interesting and pleasant, covering new ground for me.  The cost is a little high as black teas across a broad range of types and quality goes but to me value seems a selling point for this too; it seems it should cost more for what it is.  It wouldn't be an easy tea to find, maybe not even online, related to this specific type and quality level (it's clearly very good tea).  For overall aspect range matching preferences I'd probably still prefer a Yunnan black but related to the high degree of novelty this tea is much more desirable.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Tea Village Thai dark oolong


their tasting area isn't currently open but we chatted there anyway





I finally made it back to Pattaya for two weekend outings (with a travel-blog themed post about that here) and visited Vee, one of the owners of the Tea Village shop there.  We met twice; catching up was nice.  I bought this more-oxidized oolong and an old tree source Assam black (in a style not unrelated to Dian Hong, it seems) during the first weekend, and some lighter oolong the second.

I've been critical of Thai teas in the past for being lower quality versions of what is produced in other places, and have claimed that Vietnamese teas can be better.  To me those generalities are accurate but there's something to be said for upper medium level quality good-value teas.  Even for an experienced tea enthusiast they can work for a daily drinker, as a tea to have with breakfast when you don't have time to put into brewing or appreciation, and for people still on tea-bag teas they could be a revelation and a gateway.

It all depends on the tea version too.  An average version of an average quality level tea might not be worth drinking, for many, but a much better quality version in the same general range, just on the higher edge instead, could seem very pleasant.  This review will identify where this version stands, per my judgement.  Brewing approach makes a difference, so it will cover a good bit about that as a factor.

Let's start with the vendor description first (from a sales-site web page, paraphrased since text cut and paste is disabled):

A dark (high oxidation level) oolong based on Assamica variety leaves, with flavors that include some tartness and flavors including prune, bark, and dark chocolate, produced similarly to Tie Kuan Yin.


That Assamica part jumps out, doesn't it?  It reads like a likely mistake at first glance.  I can only think of one version of Chinese Assamica-based oolong that I've tried, beyond teas coming out of India, but those aren't even supposed to be close to Chinese oolongs, it doesn't seem.  Tartness in an oolong is atypical but then an oolong made from Assamica would be atypical.

The rest seems right for more oxidized oolong, but the reference to Tie Kuan Yin could do with a little unpacking.  Per my experience--which isn't so extensive that I'm clear on everything, especially related to TKY range and processing--those Chinese versions aren't more-oxidized teas, they're moderately oxidized, maybe even still on the light side, with the roast shifting the profile more than that other processing input.  To be clear I really could've tried only atypical versions, because you tend to mostly only see the light version (bright green ones), and I wouldn't be surprised if producers trying to copy an older style would very often get that part wrong.

The Taiwanese more-oxidized or more-roasted oolongs I've tried spanned more of a range; those do tend to be made with either oxidation or roasting level increased, or both together, it just depends.  I could go on to say that I've not tried much presented as a more roasted or oxidized TKY from there (from that cultivar or plant type, which is also used to mention a characteristic style in some cases), but I wouldn't make too much of that, and here that point was just a description tangent anyway.

They recommend using full boiling point water and a modified Western brewing approach, with a somewhat typical proportion (maybe a little high) but backing off the timing and using 3 to 5 infusions of 45 seconds to 2 minutes.  That is kind of how I tend to adjust Western style brewing; we'll see about the temperature part though.

The tea is very inexpensive; the website lists 50 grams for around $2 (65 baht).  That is a standard price range for grocery store versions of Thai oolong here, or Royal project store versions, but tea quality levels vary a lot for both of those sources.  Among Western vendors tea just isn't sold in that price range, at least not decent oolong.

I've prepared it using an infuser cup, small glass pot, and gaiwan


Review


I first brewed this tea Western style, so that's where this review will start, based on a relatively standard process.  I tend to go a little heavy on proportion and brew three rounds versus two, which seems to work better for me for oolongs (which often turn out better brewed Gongfu style anyway, with more on that in a next section).  I most often use water a little off boiling point.

The tea tastes like cinnamon.  The overall character is closer to black tea than oolong, with the balance in the middle working well in this case.  A typical aspect-list description comes to mind: warm and sweet dried fruit, along the lines of tamarind, maybe even cherry (although that's a stretch), leather or dark wood, a trace of mineral similar to rusted iron.  This range often gets interpreted as similar to pastry, like toasted and buttery Danish, which works.

Really how someone sees aspects depends on interpretation, as much or more in this case as any.  It's a little creamy in effect but that could be stronger with this set of aspects.  It could be seen as tasting like cocoa instead of cinnamon, but per my read it's cinnamon.


Strengths:

-not off in any way, sour, or oddly roasted, overly thin.

-clean flavored with good sweetness and balance.

-cinnamon is nice.  Other aspect range is positive but it could have more depth and complexity.

-this kind of tea works well prepared strong, both a strength and related to weaknesses, since it can't be over-brewed but lacks intensity to pull off lighter infusion strengths.

-inexpensive (kind of a completely different subject, but it is a factor).


Weaknesses:

-a bit thin as oolongs go; nice flavor but thin in feel and after taste.  I'd said in the "strengths" it wasn't overly thin, but I meant two different things.  This lacks the depth and fullness of higher quality oolongs but doesn't come across as so light in body that I'd call it a notable flaw.  I see it as a limitation instead.

-not as subtle, refined, or complex as better Taiwanese versions.  It needs to be brewed strong to compensate for both of these limitations.


Initial conclusions (prior to trying a second brewing approach, Gongfu preparation)


I like this style of tea and this version works. For a good value tea it's pleasant and positive.  Thai producers more often get this slightly wrong, and similar versions often have one more flaw that makes it not work as well (sourness, or some other slightly off character).

I'm curious if light roasting played a role in end effect but I get the impression that oxidation did all the work of aspects transition in this, or at least almost all of it, which works but limits the complexity.

The part about the tea being Assamica is curious; how did that change things (or could that not be accurate?).  Of course it could be Assamica; if you process those leaves in the same way a tea variation of oolong will result, it just won't turn out the same.  The leaves seem smaller than I'd expect, but then Assamica is a broad category and newer leaves are still going to be small for that plant type (just maybe not the first three, but then I'm thin on the botany side of background).  Using that plant type could explain why it didn't achieve the depth and fullness that similar but less oxidized oolongs tend to.

I would have expected the taste profile to skew further off typical Thai oolong range with that as a factor.  I've described this as a mild black tea, for the most part (the descriptions would match that), but that pastry-like character I've never experienced in the same form in any Assamica or Yunnan black.  The cinnamon can be common, and of course a broad range of fruit and mineral, but that other aspect tends to not come up.


It's not typical but I'll compare this from memory with a personal favorite similar style tea from Vietnam, Hatvala's Red Buffalo.  In a sense that's not a fair comparison because that's a favorite, but the styles mostly match, at a rough general level, and there is a general point I'm heading towards.  I haven't tried that tea in about two years but I did buy a lot at one point so it sticks in memory better.

They're so similar that only a side by side tasting would clarify exactly where they stand in relation to each other, and year to year that might vary.  I remember that tea as slightly creamier and fuller, lighter on cinnamon but fuller in complexity.  For a casual tea drinker it's still possible this flavor profile might work better (or more likely not; I really did like that tea), but at a guess that Vietnamese tea version depth in flavor complexity and feel would tip the balance for experienced tea drinkers, for people with more evolved preferences.

To me this is still nice tea as daily drinkers go.  Gongfu brewing might pull out an extra aspect or two (I'll cover that next) but in general western brewing is just as well for this tea type.  It's nice because it would be one of the best teas someone new to tea ever tried, a good gateway tea, even if it is probably too limited for a Taiwanese oolong enthusiast to appreciate it.

that tasting room area is really cool


two minutes in; impatient little people


Gongfu brewing


I really expected the tea to be almost the same but to perform better prepared Gongfu style.  Instead the tartness was a lot more pronounced, taking over the other range of flavor aspects, standing out as dominant.  In the earlier review section here I didn't even mention tartness.  I kept thinking it would fade, and it probably did some, in later rounds, but I noticed more of what seemed like cranberry for flavor than anything else throughout the cycle.  So what happened?

At a guess the teaware I was using to brew the tea Western style absorbed more heat, and allowed more to dissipate during the longer brewing process, resulting in an unintended parameter change.  That is just a guess, but it would account for that degree of aspect change.  Just using a different proportion and timing can change aspects some too but it normally doesn't to that degree.

Using a full gaiwan (once the leaves were wet) also made it harder to moderate infusion strength, although flash brewing would accomplish that.  While I usually go lighter on Gongfu style brewing infusion strength I might have accidentally inverted that, and had been brewing the tea stronger for most rounds instead.  That would be my first guess for causes of the difference (related to the tartness) if I'd only prepared this tea twice, but I've been drinking it brewed Western style a few times and that tartness doesn't come out to that degree, no matter how long I infuse it or at whatever proportion.  It seems likely using fast infusions with a thin porcelain gaiwan caused a significant temperature difference, even for using the same water temperature at the start.


A Steepster discussion of someone brewing what they described as moderate quality Tie Kuan Yin (mediocre, they put it, a little more judgmental but the same idea), and getting better results than they usually do relates to this.  It turned out that per their final conclusion they accidentally dropped brewing temperature and that worked better.  It's a standard idea that better oolongs can perform well (or best, as the typical take) at full boiling point, but that lower quality versions may not.  All that was covered in this blog post about best oolong brewing temperature.

It seems likely that I really do like this tea brewed just a bit off boiling point, brewed cooler, but that thinness and lack of body I mentioned in the first review is the trade-off for limiting that tartness.

It's still decent tea; it was never supposed to be a higher quality version than it is.  If someone didn't mind or even enjoyed tartness in tea (which I sort of don't) the opposite trade-off might be the way to go; brew it hot, and get that extra intensity and depth back, but give up some apparent sweetness and more flavor aspect range towards cinnamon or dried fruit. 

Related to value and appreciating a broad range of style of tea it's interesting to me how this can seem like nice tea and a good value at $2 / 50 grams, and the Hatvala Red Buffalo similar oolong can too while costing nearly three times as much (still not much for nice oolong), and my favorite Chinese oolong in a different style, Wuyi Origin's Rou Gui (reviewed here) can cost more than ten times as much and still be a great value tea.  It would work better for parallel structure to be referencing a better Taiwanese "red oolong" but I don't have a favorite among what I've tried of those.  In my own progression of tea appreciation in the past I was more at one particular place or level, liking the quality level I had learned to appreciate versus all of them, each for what it is.  I'm not convinced that's necessarily a higher form of perspective; it's just where I am now.

I bought some extra of this to share with my daughter's teacher since although it's not great tea it's quite good for the price.  She's British and doesn't have much exposure to teas beyond the breakfast blends and such; it'll be interesting to hear how that goes.  


on his 10th birthday; they grow up so fast


the other, with Yai


one of many cool moments; they help me appreciate the little things