A tea friend just sent a bunch of samples, Peter Pocajt, the owner of Tea Mania, with two of those tying in nicely with a theme I started on yesterday (that timing as tasting notes go, not finished drafts, about a 2008 Yiwu brick). I'll start explaining that source and some background then get to that review.
I've tried a good bit of varied tea from Tea Mania, and the sheng is good. Not just good in the sense of being typical for the type and positive in character, but for comparing favorably with other mid-range offerings, and for being priced as was more typical for sheng 4 to 5 years ago. Take all that together and the versions are an unusual value; any better and I couldn't bring myself to mention it.
That transition period of small vendors selling tea at incredible value while they ramp up following and demand isn't unheard of. I've went on about Farmerleaf and Hatvala being two of my favorite vendor sources for quite good Yunnan and Vietnam teas for years, and both started out like that, quite underpriced for what they were selling. I think in all three cases the theme of buying tea more directly from producer sources came into play too, not just shifting stances on selling on value onto maximizing revenue. Those other two sources have corrected for that a bit, and are closer to a standard pricing range now, although Vietnamese teas in general and Hatvala specifically still represent about as good a value as there is for well above average quality tea.
On this tasting theme I finally tried a 2008 Yiwu brick I bought from Chawang Shop yesterday (another great-value tea source, especially for product range like aged Xiaguan or young maocha versions). I was underwhelmed. I've had mixed results experiences with trying aged Yiwu in general, with some versions really fading away rather than picking up interesting character. Some of that might tie to my own expectations and preference, expecting teas to be intense, bold, or even earthy, as is the case with Xiaguan versions, or varying in style but still intense as Dayi (Taetea) versions go. To mix some judgment orientation in I may not be acclimated to teas that are more subtle when aged, so I just can't appreciate them yet.
In trying that tea a second time I liked it a lot better (mentioned in that review); to some extent just appreciating range beyond flavor intensity was part of that experience. I like thickness in feel and aftertaste to the extent these round out a tea experience, but I'm still slightly more focused on flavor than the rest. As for "drinking with your body," appreciating how teas make you feel, I'm just not that sensitive or tuned in. And I intentionally eat foods prior to drinking tea; it maximizes that effect if you don't do that, but it's just not a range I appreciate anyway. I've done enough with drug use in the past; it's not a page I'm going to return to. To round out a summary of that impression, I think that tea will fall into a much better balance--per my preference--once it turns a corner in aging transition, and may even pick up some intensity in the next stage, which I expect to happen over the next 2 to 3 years (just a guess, of course).
An aging speed / fermentation level issue comes into play too, and a transition curve often referred to as teas going through awkward "teen years." This refers to losing the positive character in young versions (intensity, floral nature, forms of bitterness that can be desirable) but not swapping that out for aged-version positive range yet, warmer tones, dried fruit, old leather, whatever comes up. I had the impression that 2008 version wasn't very far along at all in fermentation, that these might be "older" in a sense of having progressed further in three years less. Of course that would relate to it being a bit dry and cool in Kunming.
It's really not that dry, but that temperature would be refreshing, compared to all three seasons here in Bangkok (hot, rainy, and cool; their hottest time of the year is a lot cooler than our coolest week, or the annual low, for that matter). Relative humidity looks high, not much lower than in Hong Kong or far off here and Malaysia, but bear in mind that the air holds a lot less moisture at those low temperatures, so the micro-biome is probably a lot less active due to both factors taken together. Let's consider that Hong Kong environment:
Hong Kong climate summary
It's a bit more humid in Hong Kong but I suspect that temperatures not being so cool might make as big a difference. It's very cool in Hong Kong compared to Bangkok (25 C is more or less an annual low temperature here; it gets that cool a few days in December at night), with storage environment here perhaps closest to that in Malaysia.
I don't want to go to far with these generalities or speculations; I'll experience what I do of the teas and try to guess out an association for causes, but it's more about relaying the experience. At a guess, based on leaf appearance, these teas will seem older than that 2008 version just did.
One last speculation: related to that "teen years" idea I'm not implying that an 8 year old tea, or tea at any particular age or level of fermentation, couldn't be very positive, and relatively ideal for that tea related to some personal preference. I've had a lot less exposure to sheng at around that age so this will be interesting to check out. Phillip of Yiwu Mountain Pu'er passed on some samples of Yiwu of varying ages awhile back; that made up most of it for that location. This review covers 2013 and 2014 versions (last year), and this one back to 2012, filling in some of how middle years aging goes. One of their things was selling themed sample packs, a good way for people new to exploration to gain ground without buying cakes or piecing together related style samples on their own.
I liked those teas but at that time a summary take seemed to be that I either prefer young versions that happen to be approachable, or else other styles of teas further along a transition curve. Which again is a work in progress for exposure and preference development. It will be interesting to see how these versions inform that further. I'll add the vendor product descriptions here first, which I didn't read prior to the tasting.
Tea Mania's descriptions:
We call this tea exceptional because it reflects the character of Yiwu like no other. Sweet, mineral, multi-faceted and the typical Cha Qi, which even intensifies with storage. This tea was stored in Yiwu itself until 2018 and has already reached an advanced maturity...
Jinggu Cloud Mountain Gushu 2011
This pu-erh tea is from a remote and abandoned tea mountain in Jinggu county. This tea mountain is called Cloud Mountain and is located in the west of Jinggu county...
This tea mountain was once cultivated by Wai minority around 400 hundred years ago but due to the unconvenience living condition this place was abandoned a hundred years ago. Only three years ago this mountain with its wild-growing tea was re-discovered...
Like many of Jinggu's old tree, the new harvest tastes quite common compared to Menghai's tea - until you mature it... as the tea matures, the Chaqi becomes stronger and stronger, its taste is thicker and thicker.
Sounds good; listing for around $70 for 250 grams that sounds like a very fairly priced tea. The Yiwu version listed for $150 for 357 grams (CHF, Swiss Francs, but the currencies seem tied together in value), so still under typical gushu range but closer to it.
A comment on a tea review tied to that 2008 Yiwu stood out to me, related to value. The person said that tea selling for that rate couldn't be good (essentially). That's odd, isn't it, that a vendor can't sell tea at a below-expectations rate without turning off some potential customers?
I think in part that's from conditioning by the main Western-facing vendors, the understanding that if gushu doesn't cost $1 a gram it couldn't be good, "real" gushu. Extend that a little and $1.50 per gram versions must be even better, right? The "sweet spot" from the vendor side moves from maximizing value to customers to working around expectations instead, increasing demand by charging more.
Some people would push all that even further, and claim that they might be able to read through these claims and guess the quality or age of the tea plants. I take all vendor claims with a grain of salt, even the "trusted" ones, but extending skepticism too far leads to those kinds of absurdities, relying on prior experience extrapolated into the scope of clairvoyance. Normal vendor patterns typically hold up but it's as well to not let the story-line themes get in the way.
Yiwu left; even just getting started the fermentation level is evident
These teas definitely look darker in leaf appearance and in brewed tea appearance than that 2008 Yiwu I tried yesterday. I backed off proportion a little to stretch the samples to allow for a second tasting session, which will also let me get further with a combined tasting review, not throwing in the towel after 5 or 6 rounds because it's too much tea to consume.
2011 Yiwu gushu: this version is brewed light (not fully wetted yet), and is a bit subtle, but there's already an interesting aspect coming out, a sweet dried fruit tone. I could say more but it will describe better brewed a little longer.
2011 Jinggu Cloud Mountain gushu: again my initial impression is that this tea is very tasty. It's a bit more intense, with warm mineral standing out more, and a flavor in between dried sticks and spice. I can get further with describing feel and aftertaste range in this but again it will also be clearer next round.
It's odd letting sheng brew for around 15 seconds, backing off the really high proportion I tend to always use. It should work out well, it's just strange.
Yiwu: there's definitely one aspect in this that stands out as unique, but not one that's easy to place. That might not be so far off dried jujube, a Chinese version of date. Framing that as more familiar Western flavors isn't simple; one part relates to sassafras root (a root beer flavor), but the original root is sweeter and lighter than root beer, and this contains as much of a fruit tone as well. Maybe saying it's somewhere in between date, raisin, and dried apple works. The rest is subtle; the flavor isn't multi-layered and feel and aftertaste ranges are both still quite light. For being mild and a bit one-dimensional it's still quite pleasant, since that flavor aspect is so unique.
Jinggu: the character of this seems to be closer to what I'd expect in an older version of sheng. It's a little subtle too, just less so than the Yiwu. The range it covers is all familiar from much older sheng versions: warm mineral, good sweetness, and flavor complexity that's a bit non-distinct but that covers a lot of ground (warm wood tone, towards spice, hinting towards all sorts of other scope). The feel has some thickness to it and a dry, warm, complex pleasant flavor remains after you drink it, as a coated mouth-feel also does. It has a lot going on and it's seemingly just getting started, all of which makes for an interesting contradiction, since it's also quite subtle and mild in effect.
These brewed for around 15 seconds again; the intensity level should be fine, but they'll run through transitions faster than when I'm preparing young sheng at a higher proportion, using half that infusion time instead.
Yiwu: intensity ramped up; that helps. That one flavor aspect is really catchy. The feel isn't thin and aftertaste missing but these aspects are light in comparison with some general average range and the other version. It's hard to describe how positive this comes across for being as simple an experience as it is. That initial flavor is light and sweet but also a little warm, and the aftertaste trails off as more of the root-spice range I'd mentioned, as sassafras root. It's all really clean; not a trace of any aspect goes beyond that tightly integrated set, making for an unusual experience.
One would have to be able to appreciate a simple, limited-intensity experience for this to really work but given that as context it's quite pleasant. Of course I'm wondering if it wouldn't transition onto even more interesting range later, or if it would fade to being so subtle it would be harder to relate to. I'm guessing that it would evolve, and pushing it a bit would still bring out enough intensity to support the experience.
Jinggu: this probably seems more intense for being tasted alongside the milder Yiwu. It has a good bit going on but it's still a little subtle. As for the other version all the experience is very clean and positive, which lends to overall effect in a way that's hard to describe. Aspects aren't evolving enough in this to make describing them again make sense, although alternative interpretations of the experience is possible. Warm earth tones could be tied more to aromatic wood than I'd described previously, a bit towards cedar. Usually when I describe a sheng that way it tastes woody, and this is really complex instead, so that only works to describe part of what comes across as an integrated but complex set of flavors. "Dark range" but light mineral adds a nice complexity. Alternatively this could be interpreted as expressing aged leather, and leaning a little towards spice.
Again I'm curious where this tea will be in another few years, but with less concern about whether it will be intense enough to support a positive experience at that point.
I'm really feeling these teas; when doing combined tasting you give up the ability to pin down which one is contributing what related to that. I feel just a little stoned, with the effect split between a head buzz and mild sedative. Or maybe that's just how I was going to feel if I had drank water at this point, in some strange kind of space for experiencing this house being quiet. I honestly can't remember the last tasting session I did without kids banging things in the background.
the 2008 Yiwu; lighter gold color, but at lower lighting level
Seems odd this is only the fourth round; I guess for a single tasting that would be after 6 rounds for the same volume drank. These don't seem to be transitioning so much that there's a lot of story there but I'll press on.
Yiwu: this is evolving more into that mild root spice versus that having been combined with a very light dried fruit range. It works, it's just really subtle. Tasting that 2008 Yiwu brick yesterday had me considering what tea types would be as close to that subtle, and silver needle came to mind. Those don't always taste like much, or offer much to experience beyond mild dried hay and light neutral floral range, with a little thickness in feel. This doesn't seem like a silver needle but it's almost that neutral in terms of flavor intensity.
A faint hint of structure and dryness gives it away as sheng instead, and it's not obvious but a light mineral effect also supports the rest. There's more going on than it first seems but the experience is a bit muted. All the same I think for the right person (preference) this would be a very pleasant experience.
Jinggu: range that I interpret as towards spice also picks up in this, it's just different. A more natural interpretation might be wood, along the lines of cedar or redwood, but this hints towards an aromatic spice range (frankincense or something such; some of the incense range that few might be able to split out as distinct). Again the mix of overall complexity with subtlety works; there's a good bit going on for this being as light as it is. Heavier warm mineral and a slightly more structured feel gives it a completely different effect than the other tea.
Yiwu left; both are coming along for changing color
2008 Yiwu in last post leaves; maybe a little greener
These will probably shift a little over a few more infusions but the story seems to have been told. I liked both, although they're not in the range of what I like most for aged sheng experience. I'm wondering how they will evolve over the next 4-5 years, if intensity will pick back up. Even if they don't give up much for that pushing them could still draw out plenty to experience, as long as character transitions stay positive.
Maybe they need some rest after the trip; people say a lot about those sorts of factors, and there's surely something to all that. Sheng versions do seem to liven up quite a bit due to exposure to the humid Bangkok air, but it can take time. These teas arrived about a week ago, but have stayed in their relatively sealed sample packaging.
Both seem much further along an aging transition cycle than the 2008 Yiwu I just tried, as the leaf appearance implied. That lack of aging seemed quite positive related to buying 3 year old sheng versions from the Chawang Shop (a few; going back through review posts covers which, and details about how that went). It seemed like their youthful character wasn't behind them yet, and having spent that time here instead it would've been. For that Yiwu it might have seemed like a 5-6 year old version instead of an 11 year old one. Of course fermentation isn't a simple, linear process; character varies by a lot more than just "how much."
It goes without saying, but although I don't seem to be able to relate to dry storage character and preference as well that doesn't necessarily mean that it's less desirable, objectively speaking.
It seems odd making it through a whole post without saying a word about these being gushu. Or referencing sweetness, as I tend to in younger and more aged sheng descriptions. I've went over what I see as the main aspect distinction that seems present in older-plant source teas before (generally greater intensity, a shift towards mineral tone, pronounced feel structure and aftertaste, in some cases a greater feel or "cha qi" effect), but these being subtle due to being at that middle point in aging seemed to offset a lot of all that. Mineral hardly showed up in the Yiwu, and sweetness was there but not pronounced.
I've not tried enough interim-aged sheng versions to have a clear feel for how that initial typical character tends to shift in that time-frame, or more precisely at that fermentation level. It's possible that character related to aging potential wouldn't map directly onto what would seem like the best quality younger versions. I don't mean "very drinkable when young," of course, since that might well oppose aging potential, but instead that it may not be as simple as expecting pronounced bitterness, astringency, feel-structure, and flavor intensity to hold up well and transition positively, that there could be more to it. Or as I concluded in that last post appreciation for much more subtle aged sheng forms of character may just not be a preference I've acquired yet. I could be mixing judging aspects by including too much of a general positive or negative interpretation, which glosses over aspects and types being just different.
At any rate these were pleasant and interesting. Both seemed to have turned a corner in aging transition related to that 2008 Yiwu, whether they will become even more positive over the next few years or not. I suspect that they will, that again as with that tea these are in a quieter stage for transition, and will come out the other side as more pleasant. Unlike with that tea I'm just trying samples of these so I won't necessarily know.
this friend visiting from China just went back; we'll miss her
a pleasant morning pretending to be the "monster" at the playground set