Wednesday, June 12, 2019

King Tea Mall Nan Nuo and Zi Qi comparison

Nan Nuo left, Zi Qi right

Both of these are sold as 2018 Spring gushu versions; should be nice.  They're part of a set provided by John of King Tea Mall for review purposes, and to provide me with some exposure to different tea versions (many thanks for that).

Related to the "gushu" theme, I don't worry too much about how old the tea plants might really be compared to that description, but to some extent some typical aspects tend to show up along with more reliable claims of tea plants being older (pronounced mineral, longer aftertaste, general intensity, etc.).  The extent to which a tea matches that character seems more relevant than a plant-age average that no one could possibly know for sure.

If I were more into the "cha qi" or drug-like effect there's that; it could correlate to plant age, to some limited degree.  I'm already high on life though.

Per what is becoming a standard approach I'll cite the vendor descriptions here first, which I didn't read prior to doing the tasting and review notes:


BaMa(拔玛) which means “Old Arbor Tree” in local AiNi dialect. On the elevation of above 1600m in NanNuo tea mountain(南糯山), here has national original forest called GuoYouLin(国有林) . When I went there first time in spring of 2018 year, I was totally astonished by the well preserved natural environment and forests there...

Dry tea leaf is fragrant, long and strong... The sweet taste near sugar cane not just come from HuiGan(one kind of aftertaste when bitterness retreats) but also can be felt when sip tea liquid... 

...Richness, Fruity, Wild flavor, Strength in ChaQi

This is selling for $69 for a 200 gram cake (equivalent to around $125 per 357 gram version).  Given the character (after the review tasting) that seems quite good for value.  I tend to almost never buy any teas approaching 50 cents per gram ($.35, really), which ties to a budget themed issue, but the positive character of this tea really stood out.


This tea was made from spring tea materials of GuShu(old tree) from YiWu(易武) as main and sub-materials of BanPen(班盆 where belongs to BanZhang tea area, also called one of five BanZhang villages).  YiWu tea is famous for it’s softness and floral tea flavor... 

Tea liquid is rich and soft.  Bitterness is stronger than general pure YiWu tea because of mixed BanPen tea from BuLang tea mountains.

Astringency is on medium level.

HuiGan is on high level with unique sweetness from YiWu tea, soft and lingering in mouth even deep into throat.

This version is listed for $30 for 100 gram cake.  It's on the low side for tea material claimed to be from older plants but it is a mix of two types, which isn't usually how that goes, even if it somehow makes perfect sense related to a complimentary character of the materials.


Nan Nuo left (in all of these pictures)

Nan Nuo: the characteristic flavor in one of my favorite sheng versions shows up in this, a white grape / pear fruitiness. It would be possible to interpret that as floral range but to me it's clearly not mainly that, although some additional floral range gives it a nice complexity.  It all comes across well: great balance and intensity, nice clean flavors, good sweetness, a mild but well integrated bitterness, supporting light mineral, good feel and aftertaste.

Mineral stands out a little more than in the version I keep citing as a past favorite (this one, from Moychay, reviewed here), which works.  Looking back on that (and the next-year 2018 description, and another gushu Nan Nuo version from them, the fruit theme keeps repeating, even in this same general range).

Zi Qi (Yiwu and Ban Pen blend):  the character overlaps a little but it's also quite different. It's warmer toned, with a richer, heavier mineral range, and more floral than fruity. The mineral is so pronounced it comes across as spanning a range of warm rock mineral with a hint of metal (maybe nickle?).  These were brewed relatively fast but this is still too strong.

I think outside of that I'd still prefer the Nan Nuo version related to the character range clicking but this is also clearly good tea. I usually follow that with noting that "good" is relative, but quality level is evident in both, the range of markers for sheng is there.  The other is brighter and sweeter, with flavors in a different range, all of which matches my own type preference, but I'm sort of trying to communicate something else. Back on the preference side how the metal edge in mineral tone plays out will define how much I end up liking this version.

Second infusion

Nan Nuo: intensity comes across clearly even in a relatively fast infusion; at a normal proportion (normal for me, at least) flash brewing would be strong enough. Mineral warms and intensifies in this round; in a limited sense it approaches the other version. The sweeter fruit range flavor is still present though, still primary. It seems to be clearly "better" tea than that personal-favorite Moychay version as markers go, tied to the intensity, pronounced mineral, balanced bitterness, and aftertaste, but I'm not so sure that I like it better. That version had a rich feel as well, a creamy edge, and being softer and less complex across some range didn't necessarily seem like a drawback. It was just different in style.

The split in opinion on more drinkable sheng versus more intense versions would dictate preference, in reference to the range I just mentioned, with that implying more perspective orientation than is necessary or easily sorted out or justified. I'd expect this would hold up to aging better but I'd probably not prefer it much different than it is anyway. Maybe it would outshine that version as a 2 to 3 year old version, not as an aged tea but with some transition.

Zi Qi: this is still intense; flash infusions it is. It's pleasant though; that warmer tone and really pronounced mineral works.  The effect isn't so different but it has shifted a little towards aromatic wood range, like cedar or redwood. Calling that spice sounds better, I'm just not familiar with which spices are similar. The other version expressed a pronounced aftertaste but this version's is really strong. The feel isn't really dry but there's a structure to it that comes across as towards dryness. It's definitely not a straight-cedar version of sheng but splitting that and warm mineral isn't completely dissimilar.

The effect of these teas is kicking in, the "cha qi" buzz. Of course comparing them gives up distinguishing which is the more pronounced source of that, and probably throws off a purer experience of it for that mixing. My ordinary brain state suits me well enough, so although it's heresy to express it those types of changes are just different, not necessarily better, or even of interest. I could feel a little clearer all the time but tea can only help so much with that; more consistent sleep and exercise would help more.

Third infusion

Nan Nuo: that light fruit is transitioning to a richer, deeper toned dried fruit range, at this point a little towards dried persimmon. If those aren't familiar it's something to keep an eye out for on your next Chinatown outing. Warmth picking up could be compared to a wood tone, or autumn forest floor scent. Both together, bridging across from light fruit, with pronounced mineral, all works well.

This is already one of my favorite teas to have tried this year. That last Bada version from Chawang Shop stood out for an unusually rich feel and character effect but this adds a couple of dimensions, those marker aspects (mineral, feel structure, long aftertaste), and matching my preference in flavor range. The Zi Qi version would end up being described more positively (or at least seeming so) tasted along with lots of other teas instead.

Zi Qi: this could easily be a tea that clicks with someone more than the character does for me; the complexity is good, positive aspects span a broad range, intensity is really something, and aromatic wood towards spice with warm mineral tones works. It doesn't necessarily come across as sweeter than average and I think I'm biased towards that, seeing it as not just positive taken alone but helping lots of other range seem to balance. The metal trace never did intensify, and to most that would probably just seem like very pronounced and complex mineral.

Fourth infusion

These are intense; this may have to be it before getting a break.

Nan Nuo: more or less in a similar range, but a bit more green wood tone that had only been a vegetal background picked up to be primary. It's still very nice, quite complex and well balanced, just no longer as fruity in character.

Zi Qi: this evolves to express that same wood tone; different. There's more warmer and aromatic wood tone backing it, the cedar, so it's different, but the two are by far the most similar they've been. I should go mess around online until this buzz subsides a little and try one more round, or maybe walking around outside would be better, even though I've got a sprained ankle now. That's annoying, taking 6 weeks off walking normally. It helps with appreciating the little things though.

Fifth infusion

A half hour break settled out some of the stoned effect so I'll try one more round to get a better feel for mid-cycle transitions.

Nan Nuo: at this point this could be a version of lots of better than average teas; that particular main wood tone flavor aspect is common enough. The rest marks it as a good version, balanced bitterness, mineral, extended aftertaste, etc. It will probably taper off to lose range over a few more rounds, and then become less pleasant after a few more, but who knows.

Zi Qi: it is odd how these approached each other in character. Some layers still don't match but they're relatively similar across primary flavor and most others.

[Notes prior to reading the vendor description]:  I'm curious about pricing for these. I've been accustomed to seeing $1 / gram on versions sold as gushu, so that a match to what is implied about typical character becomes the main issue, overlapping with general quality level issues but also tying to a specific form. They generally match the form, but one matches my own likes much better across flavor range, maybe even for general character.  At a guess demand per local area is as much a factor as anything else, which of course I'm not keeping track of.

[Conclusions added later]:  They seemed like nice teas for that price range, $.35 / gram for the Nan Nuo and $.30 for the other (which turns out to be a mix of Yiwu and Ban Pen materials; Zi Qi is just a brand name from an old Chinese story).  There's an odd sort of sub-theme related to me liking Nan Nuo versions, or anyone else really:  they're often fruity, per my still-limited exposure to them.  I looked back through old posts and I tried a boutique version that was probably pretty good three years ago (this one) but in reading that review my impression is that I just didn't have enough sheng background to pull together what I was experiencing.  That applies now too, just in a different sense; it's all relative.

A point in that King Tea Mall covers what I'm getting at:

Also I think this is a kind of tea could be recommended to new comers.

I'm not actually new to sheng at this point but I don't get the impression that fruit taste is what a lot of sheng drinkers are looking for, or even certain flavor range in general, really.  I wouldn't say it's a soft, approachable "oolong pu'er" but it's rich in texture versus structured, with limited versus moderate bitterness, and on the sweet and flavorful side.

Then again Yiwu versions tend to not be challenging either, and those are well-regarded, with versions I've tried presented as better teas often soft and floral, as this Zi Qi version vendor description claims.

Related to that Moychay Nan Nuo version I keep saying is a favorite, I re-tasted that a couple of days ago, in part to get a feel for how it's aging, and also related to a project to try and evaluate quality level beyond individual aspect range (a work in progress).  Even in the first month I bought that I expected it might not be as good as it was then at any point in the future, that it shouldn't be aged at all, since any transitioning away from that initial character wouldn't be positive.  It's not as good as it was a year and a half ago, I don't think, but at least it's partly just different.  That ties into a part of the Nan Nuo King Tea Mall description I didn't cite:

A pity that the unique and floral like fragrance only appears on newly processed tea leaf has turned to weaker and weaker, though I try my best to preserve that in my warehouse. 

The most typical summary and divide of aging concerns one runs across insists that better sheng improves with age, and that a newer style range of smooth and initially drinkable style of versions only degrades instead, with those lacking some degree of complexity, bitterness, and feel structure (astringency character) versus more traditional styles.  All that was covered here.  It's not quite that simple, it doesn't seem.  A lot of that pattern may well be valid but to me distilling down a style opposition of two broad types of sheng drops out or glosses over a range of other character differences.  A lot of good Yiwu could potentially get caught up in being "new style" and inferior just for being naturally approachable, per typical regional character.

A response to that might be that Yiwu is a big area (and it is), and that examples of versions that are initially structured (astringent), somewhat bitter, with intense mineral input exist, and could be regarded as the best versions.  And to some extent I'm guilty of the same problem here that's creating that divide in the first place, framing things as clear oppositions in character, when a complex range of styles and aspect profiles can occur.

In any case these were both really nice to experience.  The Nan Nuo version clicked with me better, and I think it's great as it is right now, but I'd probably not buy a version to hold onto and see how it transitions later.

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