The idea of which teas transition positively when aging came up in a Yunnan Sourcing group post (right, there are vendor-specific FB groups now, not just pages). This subject overlaps a good bit with the theme of which teas are sold as compressed versions, which I recently wrote about, it just wasn't the main point of that post.
No surprises in what is mentioned there for types: compressed tea versions include sheng and shu pu'er, various hei cha, white teas (shou mei being most familiar), and in some cases pressed black teas and oolongs. For the last I've seen the most of Wuyi Yancha pressed, like this one, but even types as uncommon as gaba oolong. And tisanes (herb teas, to some); that's a little different, since usually that just extends to adding chrysanthemum to sheng in a blend or making cakes from tea-plant flowers.
The Yunnan Sourcing product description about that aging factor explains background well:
This is a blend of black tea from both the Mengku and Feng Qing area of Lincang. Both Autumn harvested black teas processed with sun-drying technique (晒红) . The tea is picked, wilted, fried, bruised by rolling, wet withered, and then finally sun-dried in it's final stage (much like raw pu-erh mao cha).
When sun-drying is applied in the final stage as opposed to heat-drying, the result is a black tea that is more subtle when young, but ages very well over the coming years. Younger sun-dried black teas also tend to steep longer and display more character in the middle to later steeps.
This is a strong black tea with plenty of depth and complexity that will age wonderfully, developing honey sweetness and earthy spice character after just a few years.
I like that projection; it would be interesting to give it a couple of years to rest and check back in on that "earthy spice character." This and what I've said doesn't mention "shai hong" yet, which per my understanding just refers sun-dried black tea from Yunnan, what this is. This video contains lots more interesting details on processing, from Farmerleaf, a Yunnan based tea vendor and producer.
As I expressed in that post discussion sometimes the level of tartness isn't appealing to me in this type of tea. I don't know that tartness is any sort of quality marker (a negative version of one), and I'm not implying that it is, it's just not a flavor aspect I prefer in Yunnan black teas. It's not notable in most loose versions but it comes up in some.
It's a little tart. I think this will still be quite pleasant for me since that's moderate, but it's already not in my favorite range for Yunnan blacks in the first sip. It has other aspect range I do like, other type-typical flavors and character, so I'll back up and just describe it as that set.
Tartness stands out as much as any other single flavor component, but beyond that there's a rich complexity. Part would be described as a fruitier version of hardwood, like cherry wood, or per an alternate description like a warm and sweet version of leather (but I'd go with the wood). Sweetness makes it work. The feel is reasonable, not thin, and a little mouth-watering, with just a hint of dryness to it. Since the character will probably shift a little on the second infusion it's as well to pick things back up there, and to not pass judgment on that tartness too quickly.
It isn't much different, but it picks up some depth. Tartness probably does fade slightly, swapped out for a bit more warm tone. The cherry hardwood aspect now contains a hint of tree bark, which actually works well, it's still very clean in effect.
One might wonder why I feel ok with mentioning so many wood-type and forest scent references, which is easy to explain; I grew up in rural Western Pennsylvania, splitting firewood as a child, like Abraham Lincoln did. Good times! Oddly none of us was ever injured doing that, but we did experience a near-miss once doing some logging work, which is kind of a different theme. A large log rolled over the leg of my sister, who was probably about 6 to 8 at the time. She was fine, and it worked as a prompt to reconsider workplace safety concerns.
this could be at my parents' or sister's house, or maybe it was
On the next round the warmth starts to lean towards a spice tone but doesn't really remind me of one. The sweetness and complexity might be interpreted as including cocoa; that works a little better. It's hard to clearly define what's included in the complex flavor but I'd also accept rose (warm, rich floral tone) as a reasonable interpretation.
Even though this is complex across a decent amount of flavor range, which would sound like it spans quite a bit of scope, the moderate degree of potential aging transition relates to this possibly picking up more flavor depth later. It could gain more warm, sweet tone like molasses, or just take on a slightly richer character that's hard to define. It's not thin in flavor or feel experience but there's room for additional depth, if that makes sense. Oven-dried versions tend to be slightly more intense when young, then to fade instead.
I went with the same relatively fast infusion time the next round, around 10 seconds, but this would work brewed even faster for the proportion I'm using, which really could be lower. This is typically how I prefer this type of black tea, so I don't mean it's a mistake to use this approach, just that different ones tend to give comparable results. In some rare cases using a more Western (hybrid) or completely Western approach works better (much lower proportion and 3 to 4 minute infusion time instead), but as often it just doesn't change things that much for using Gongfu brewing instead. The character can change slightly but not necessarily for the better or worse. Of course in the final evaluation better or worse maps to preference (as I see things), not to some objectively best approach.
It's even better the third round; it may well improve again for one more and then level off (somehow guessing about the next steps has become a habit, even though that sort of makes no sense; I'll know soon enough). Tartness has faded to a slight background element; I don't dislike it so much that I have any problem with that. To help place that it's similar to how I relate to smoky sheng, or grassy green teas; those aren't aspects I tend to like. A hint of smoke in the right context in a sheng can improve it, and grassiness in a green tea paired with other range can work really well too. I tend to like green teas the least because of that and other factors, and prefer Longjing for being more towards toasted rice or nuts, maybe with mild vegetal character beyond that.
There's a set of typical flavors that comes up in Yunnan black teas that varies a good bit in range but still seems familiar in different forms, and this expresses that. A different type includes a lot of molasses sweetness and is more towards a warm spice or cocoa, and another is more like a roasted yam or sweet potato. This version sticks to what seems like cherry hardwood to me, coupled with warm floral aspect, and rich earthy range that's clean and subdued but integrates well. Probably not many people would taste this and think "tree bark," but regardless of interpretation it's hard to completely place. Luckily the experience is the thing, not the degree of accuracy in describing it.
This is just as good the next round, maybe slightly more subtle but the effect and balance lose nothing. As one might imagine using half this much tea and ten times as much water, and a three minute infusion time versus multiple 10 or so seconds of several, all of these infusions would have been combined. In some cases that works better. With this softening and deepening a little in tone this really does seem more like cocoa to me, and the tartness is now gone, transitioned away. It's a little odd that I like it much better than the first infusion but that can happen.
To me Gongfu brewing is nice not just for optimizing the experience, which in some cases holds true, but for extending it, for giving you a look at different layers of aspects within the same tea. And a longer, more complex experience; brewing two large mugs of this would work well for with a work-day breakfast but it's also nice tasting it over a half an hour instead (or much longer, if one is also writing).
More of the same the next round; this tea will keep going like this. The character will shift a good bit related to using longer infusion times to draw out intensity but now (at around 6 or so?) using a 15 second infusion still resulted in a less intense but still flavorful result. For as mild as this tea is it would work well to brew it "grandpa-style," to add a little to a tea bottle and just let it sit, and then refill it and brew it again that way. Green teas tend to last a little longer that way, to brew more rounds, but I don't like them as well made that way. Light oolongs tend to last well too, and work ok made that way, but to really optimize those teas I prefer using a Gongfu approach. For inexpensive, moderate quality versions (like a cheap Tie Guan Yin I picked up in China, but haven't tried yet) it tends to matter less, and preferred brewing form might matter more than minor outcome variation.
Nice tea; I won't say much more about that part, since the notes covered that. The value is exceptional since this sells for $7 for 100 grams; adding one to an order would hardly change the total, and giving it away if you don't like it doesn't add much cost. I did want to ramble about the aging factor a little, if it really makes a difference.
The one way someone would know if aging improves shai hong versions, sun-dried Yunnan black teas, is by actually trying it. It doesn't help to just try an older version since then you wouldn't know the starting point. "Older" here is relative anyway; per common discussion input people claim they pick up depth over a few years, not necessarily that 10 year old versions are much different and better. Maybe that's possible, it just tends to not get discussed much. I'm skeptical that would make much sense, but if someone really loved the idea they would also find a reason to love the tea.
I have sat aside versions of shai hong for over a year and checked back, and tried to compare character from review description, and they really did seem to improve. Not so often that I've mapped out typical change patterns, of course, maybe only a couple of times when it happened to work out that way.
I've tried a compressed version that was a few years old that I really liked, which sort of started me on this interest (this one, reviewed two years ago). I still have the last half of that brick; it would be interesting to check back in on it. Looking back it was 2 years old then, so 4 now (and obviously long since sold out; that's how such things go).
Tsenz shai hong, reviewed in that post, photo credit here
I've since tried a couple of versions of this same thing from Moychay, which weren't necessarily different than this Drunk on Red version. Looking back at that main review the cost was identical and review description matched; funny it worked out that way. It would be interesting to me to know if that tartness (in both) would transition to fade over time, and I guess I could store this tea for a year and a half or so and then I'd know. Given the low cost and limited size buying a version to drink and one to stash would seem to make sense.