Monday, July 15, 2019

2006 Kokang Myanmar Mei Hua sheng pu'er

I think the texture looks odd because it had to be ripped apart

I'm reviewing an aged Myanmar sheng; very interesting.

I looked up details of what this is on the order image capture; it's the third one down, from a list of the latest teas I bought from Chawang Shop two or three months ago:

As chance has it I just heard about this same Myanmar tea producer visiting for an expo here (sales convention), but it's the last day, and I already have plans.  We'll see how that goes, if I can change them [I did; it's brutal how far out there that event hall is but it was great meeting them].

That 2012 Daxueshan version stands out as one of the more interesting teas on that list, which I didn't try yet, and the 2008 Yiwu brick.  I'm not necessarily trying them in any order, just what seems natural next, or comes to mind.

This tea may well need a bit more age, in spite of being 13 years old now.  Myanmay sheng tends to be on the bitter side and that's the one comment that stands out related to Kokang produced teas (but the next parts of that story become clearer after meeting that producer and trying a 2018 version, which I just made review notes for).  This is a very compressed cake; that probably slowed the fermentation process, it experiencing limited air contact.

I'll start with a vendor description first:

This little cake come from border area with Myanmar from Kokang (果敢; pinyin: Guǒgǎn), area about 20km outside from China. Kokang county was part of China for long time and is famous for ancient tea gardens. Nowadays the is tea from this area sell to Chinese market as most border teas,

Stored since 2006 in Kokang and this year (2015) sold to Kunming tea seller. This cake will surprise you with the quality and taste. Nice floral aroma, full body and thick,floral sweet with fast huigan. 

This tea is powerful and give many nice infusions !

That's promising that it didn't spend all those years in Kunming; that has to be a good bit drier, and would've caused it to age slower.

It's odd not developing meeting the producer further here, at that expo.  They were really nice.  I probably should split out talking about that to more of a vendor profile post since these reviews run so long as it is.  They discussed their teas and their history for a half an hour, so it really could add up to a good bit of information.

the guy beside me is a 5th generation tea maker, or something along that line

Since the aging and compression issues come up throughout this tasting I'll add a picture from the vendor (Chawang Shop) from 2015 here for comparison:

It was actually still a bit green then, as a 9 year old stored sheng.  That color has darkened in the 4 years since but it was still aging slowly.


The first infusion is more pleasant than I expected; a bit smoky, with some bitterness still evident.  It's not really fully saturated, so it will take a couple more rounds for a more informed early take.  It has some warmth and sweetness, along with a good bit of mineral, so complex and distinctive that it's covering normal light rock range along with some metal.

The next infusion I went a bit long on, maybe just over 15 seconds, trying to strike a balance between overbrewing what is already wet and getting the rest to open.  I used two rinses with this to remove more of the tea dust, and I've broken form and am filtering the tea, but some dust still gets through.  It's hard separating out really compressed tea.  That could potentially throw off the brewing a little; being more careful to not include it initially might've helped.  Someone once mentioned their practice of setting aside finer dust and ground bits into a separate jar when sorting sheng, mixing the inputs, then drinking that prepared differently; an interesting idea.

This does seem like it's still in the middle of aging.  It's ok as it is, with some warmth and sweetness, somewhat approachable, with what must have been really intense original bitterness leveled off.

On this second round the first flavors list still stands, quite a bit of mineral, that warmth and sweetness, moderate bitterness.  Some extra thoughts on interpreting those:  warmth and earthiness might be towards tobacco (cigar or pipe; I'll refine that further), mineral has backed off metal a little already but the light rock is still strong, and smoke level is moderate.  It's definitely complex; there are surely other layers I'm not getting to yet.  The only issue seems to be that it hasn't made it to a fully aged character yet, that it seems to have some years to go for that.

Tobacco ramped way up on the next infusion; that's closer to cigar for sure.  The sweetness and complexity along those lines probably also relates to dried fruit, but the earthiness is blocking picking it up as clearly.  Switching over to shorter, lighter infusions should help with that.  Smoke might be fading a bit.  This bitterness level is moderate enough that it works, so seeing this as not quite ready doesn't relate to seeing that as overpowering.  It just seems like that sweetness could develop a bit, and the softer flavor range.  Describing it at a more optimum infusion strength (when now finally fully saturated) will help place that.

A five second infusion is better, more than intense enough; this would work doing flash infusions.  A flavor aspect similar to those Tulin tuochas I'd been drinking is present (reviewed here, along with a nice Xiaguan FT iron cake), a musty old wooden furniture range, which isn't as bad as it sounds.  Sweetness and bitterness levels are ok, and the feel isn't bad.  It has a good thickness to it, and overall intensity, and the aftertaste definitely packs a punch; it's quite intense along with the initial taste flavors coming across as such.  Astringency isn't problematic but the feel could still smooth out a bit more.  Tobacco range still takes over the main flavor, with that old furniture filling in, but beyond all that I think the sweetness does tie to a dried fruit, maybe date.

There's a lot going on with this experience, flavor-wise; it would be open to varying interpretations.  Seeing that tobacco as a wood tone might make sense, and others might not see the smoke as essentially completely faded at this point as I do, since a trace is still present.  It's relatively clean in effect; that musty old furniture edge is quite limited, and to an extent I like that, in proper proportion with the rest.  Feel and aftertaste are interesting in addition to the complex flavor.

Sweetness bumps again in the next round; the balance is even nicer.  I'm experiencing smoke as slightly heavier again; I'm not sure why that would keep varying.  With this tasting mostly like tobacco with a little smoke I guess this could work for smokers, or for people who always like the idea of cigars but could never get the experience to work out.  Of course I've smoked cigars before but I missed the part where it seemed like such a pleasant experience that I wanted to keep trying it.  On the subject of alternate flavor interpretations a bit of peat seems to come across too, filling in the part a Scotch-drinking cigar smoker might look for.  I like it, but I could relate to this not clicking for lots of people, including some aged sheng drinkers.

One nice aspect is that it keeps shifting a little each round, the balance of all those flavors.  The feel stays pretty thick and substantial, and the aftertaste hits hard, with the latter changing to some extent with the taste as experienced during drinking it.  The dried fruit part doesn't stand out more than the tobacco / smoke / peat but that sweetness and flavor seems to lend the rest a nice balance.  The aged furniture effect (think old mahogany with a touch of aromatic furniture polish oil) is nice for adding another trace of depth; also better for being so secondary.

I get the sense that this could brew relatively endless infusions using these fast rounds, at this relatively high tea proportion (normal for me, but still high).  It might make sense to brew this in one of those comically small clay pots, a 50-60 ml version that might produce half that or less in brewed liquid; 15 rounds of that would probably be enough tea, with a couple extra after for good measure.

It still changes a little round to round, now something like 8 infusions in, but this seems to tell the story of this tea already.  It's fine to drink right now; it doesn't need more aging in the sense that it's not ready.  I just get the sense that further transition could be positive, that some of that early bitterness and smoke throughout rounds could swap out for more complexity in other forms.  Buying two of these tiny cakes related to that expectation, that it might be interesting later on, and one wouldn't allow for trying it across long periods of time, that I could sample it once a year until it's much improved later on but then wouldn't have much left.

For people who know they are on this page already (from Xiaguan tuocha experience or the like) buying a 5 cake tong would make lots more sense; 5 of these times the $8 cost is still less than aged cakes of any kind.  A half a kilo is a good amount for moving past just trying it now and then, into actually drinking some.  For the right person, centered on that page for preference, buying only a half a kilo might have them kicking themselves a half dozen years later once this tea really hits its form.

so green for a 13 year old sheng version

Comparing different takes on the same tea version

A little more on alternative interpretations might be of interest, a subject I've been venturing into related to reading Steepster reviews.  That vendor description mostly described it as floral, and a vendor-site review comment said this:

The taste is powerful, still bitter and a little bit tart. Smoked prunes, raisins, dried fruits. Aroma is very sweet and pleasant.

Floral I kind of didn't get, but this tea might have changed character a good bit over the past 4 years (or I could've just missed it).  That attribution could work to fill in a lot of the sweeter-range complexity I was having trouble placing only as a fruit input, it just seemed non-distinct to me beyond all the rest.  Floral could even span some range; it could relate to warm, rich floral tone like rose and then also lighter, sweeter, brighter range like plumeria or lotus flower.  I routinely say I'm not familiar with flower smells but I do pick up a plumeria flower walking home once in awhile and smell it while I walk, to give to Kalani at home, and she and I checked the smell of lotus flowers about a week ago in a temple visit.  They're sweet, not completely unlike plumeria, just in a different range.

I like the description of this tea as powerful in the one take; some version of expressing that is necessary to describe it.  It may include some tartness (it does more when you think of it), and smoke and dried fruit works, but it's more centered on tobacco across a lot of infusion range, to me.

It is on Steepster; two reviews there were interesting, one for including comments from two people I've talked to about teas a reasonable amount.  The first review is also interesting for citing a blog review that relies mostly on a flavor-profile chart, the type the Gastrograph app outputs, also related to the work Teapasar was doing on profile charting, both described in this post.

That German-blog linked reference text is simple enough:  Strong astringent and floral.

The second review is by Jay in Hong Kong (JayinHK there, also listing his vending business):

This tea needs a lot more time to get to where it needs to go—lots of smoke. The material is promising. Lots of chopped leaf, but good flavor and aroma and strength, which I like. This is the kind of tea I like to age, but the extremely high compression mean I probably won’t want to drink this for another ten years, even with Hong Kong storage. When it IS ready, though, I expect it to be incredible!

It's been three years now since that post, so things might have changed a little, but I'd expect he would say the same type of things at this point.  It's probably more drinkable, and it seems smoke has probably faded quite a bit, but not there yet.  It's interesting how green this leaf is; you don't even need to taste it to get some impression that it's aging slowly, surely related to that tight compression.

I'll be back in touch about the much newer versions of sheng and shu I have from the expo meeting, and with more vendor background related to what the Kokang staff said there.  I just finished writing review notes for the 2018 sheng (the short version:  it's very nice!), so it's odd not including that, but this ran long enough already.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Wild Tea Qi Ancient Artisianal Yunnan Black

Onto something of particular interest to me in this review, teas shared by an online friend, Shana Zhang of Wild Qi Tea.  She is the primary founder of the International Tea Talk group that I've been an admin for and active in since the group origin.  Shana doesn't advertise her tea business there, in strict keeping with the group theme and rules, even though the training branch of her business overlaps with tea background and education themes.

Her take on tea themes is original.  She's concerned about sustainability issues, and focuses on an experiential approach to tea, related to meditational aspects and ties back to nature.  That all makes perfect sense for someone connected with the production side.  The website sections break down teas by type related to Chinese character aspects (wood, metal, yin / yang); that's interesting to check out.  I'll leave it at that intro and get on with trying the tea.

I see these more as teas shared by an online friend than teas sent by a vendor for review, but it works out as both, especially since I've been curious just how good the teas are.  They're probably pretty good; we've not talked much about her past history with tea (covered more here) but she has a lot of history with the subject.

She sent a Yunnan black tea (Dian Hong), Moonlight White, Longjing, and Wuyi Yancha (I think it was that), with that diversity in keeping with the theme of seeking out good examples of a broad range of types.


Dian Hong can express a lot of sweet, rich, and savory flavors, and this shows off some of the last on first sip.  That's promising; sweetness and other rich flavors will join that, developing across rounds.  It stands out even more since teas are less often savory.  The last one I tried along that line was a novel Laos Moonlight White version from Kinnari Tea, from a Laos producer.

Pleasant rich flavors are also present, along with that one savory note.  The savory range reminds me most of sun-dried tomato (how that tends to go), with richness tied to how that comes across and beyond, a little towards warm bark spice but not exactly cinnamon.  It's complex; wood tones fill in a bit beyond that.  The oxidation level seems moderate, so those seem to relate to cured hardwood range, not to darker or warmer flavor range like tree bark or variations of forest floor.  The feel is rich, which I'll say more about that in a later round.

Given this context I'll eventually summarize just how good this tea seems (more a concern here given the context theme), but this is already pretty good.  It's distinctive enough in style that personal preference tied to that part would define how much someone liked it more than finer quality level determination.

Second infusion:

A little on brewing approach, since I've repeated that over and over in past posts related to every type, but I certainly don't expect anyone to have read these hundreds of reviews.  I'm brewing this Gong Fu style, at a relatively high proportion (which I never measure as a weight), infused for around 15 seconds.  That is a long time compared to how I prepare sheng (brewed fast) or even roasted oolongs, which would be in the middle; often in the narrow range between that and the 5-10 seconds common for a high proportion ratio of sheng, varied with the character of the tea and across infusions.  I brew each round related to how the last worked out; that approach seems to work across types.

This tea would be fine prepared lightly, and probably even easier to review in terms of aspects present (which is a bit counter-intuitive, but how that seems to work out).  I like Dian Hong brewed a bit stronger because there are no negative aspects to work around, and due to general preference that it isn't possible to describe; I just do.  I could try a fast round to say how that changes things though.  I noticed in the page information they recommend brewing it quite fast, starting around 3 seconds and adding time as you go; that would work.  I could brew this for 5 seconds a round for 4 or 5 infusions and would be writing a relatively different review description, and would probably like it about as much made that way.

It's still quite savory; other range is developing beyond that but the intensity of that aspect didn't drop.  It's a fairly intense tea; lighter might work better related to that, but it's not exactly overbrewed, just stronger than it needs to be, or perhaps an optimum.  That warm spice related tone is slightly more evident, again not far off the same proportion though.  With other range picking up it's easier to try to tease out if other flavor range is floral or fruit related, probably mostly related to a rose-petal range, but complex enough that it's definitely not just one other thing.  Most likely a bit of warmer mineral tone is supporting this coming across as complex as it does, but the warm, clean earthy range is stronger.

That cured hardwood tone could come across as somewhat related to tree bark instead, with a slight mustiness, like just a hint of balsa wood.  The overall character is very clean though, and the mineral that is difficult to describe is almost as strong, with the other main elements much more pronounced (sun-dried tomato, warm spice, etc.). 

As for potential negatives or limitations what's not present stands out the most.  It's rich in feel but it could be a little sweeter.  Dian Hong spans lots of range for flavors, just not quite as much for feel character, and this could include different versions of fruit tone, more cinnamon (actual cinnamon; this spice tone is just related), roasted sweet potato or yam (that is common), or cocoa. The warm tone that is present could naturally be described as cocoa; experienced flavors would vary based on interpretation.  Sometimes Dian Hong flavor can come across as straight, intense cocoa though. 

It helps drinking teas a few times to settle on a more natural interpretation, versus whatever happens to occur in free association, but I very much dislike combining multiple tasting notes into a review in an editing step.  This is already plenty of work using one set of notes, passing on a first impression instead.

Third infusion:

I brewed this round quickly, to see how it would come across light.  It occurs to me that I should mention that it's obviously a lighter oxidized version of Dian Hong, evident from the leaf appearance, from the color.  It often doesn't work that way, that you can tell as easily, but some of the leaves being slightly greener stands out. 

Lightly oxidized black tea is different but not necessarily better or worse; the character just changes.  Oxidizing them more draws out warmer tones, more of the cinnamon, cocoa, and other warm sweet range, and oxidizing them less enables a lighter, complex, different character range.  The wood tone and milder spice effect seem like what one would expect, and maybe even that sun-dried savory tone, which could develop to just be sweeter and simpler with more oxidation.

Obviously I'm guessing a bit related to all that.  I've tried a lot of different black teas but it only goes so far.  I might clarify that black tea oxidized less than the standard range isn't what I'm talking about here; that can work as a valid style choice, leading to potentially pleasant but atypical character, but within the range of typical oxidation levels that level can still vary.

It still works as well brewed very lightly.  Character didn't change enough that it makes sense to go through a list like that last one again; it's just lighter.  To be clear this aspects balance and sweetness level works.  It's good, just different from more typical more oxidized versions.  I'm sure that was a very intentional style choice, that the producer likes teas made this way, and is well aware of options related to changes.

Proportion would shift a little for what one experiences (relative levels of individual aspects), but even that's not worth the trouble of noting it.  Especially since I'm off to roller blading class again soon, and we're almost into the shouting phase of getting ready (ok, well into that part).

Fourth infusion:

Spice seems to be ramping up a bit, with the savory aspect dropping back, and complexity more tied to rich floral or dried fruit picking up as well.  That is as close as this has been to roasted sweet potato, so close it could be potentially judged to be that, but to me it's as close to roasted butternut squash with just a hint of dried mango filling in a trace of higher end.  Sweetness seemed to pick up a little, not in the same way or at the same level as more oxidized versions, but in a good balance.  It's good.  Rushing this tasting isn't helping; it's nice that I have enough to try it again.

This tea has enough complexity that minor shifts in preparation style probably would draw out different aspects range (adjusting timing and proportion, using different water, etc.).  The feel is rich and full; I never did try to pin that down further.

On the next round (skipping the header) straight cinnamon did seem to pick up, transitioning from what had been closer to cocoa; the tea is still transitioning positively.  This won't brew for the same infusion count young shengs get to, to a dozen rounds or beyond, but it's not fading or changing negatively, far from finished.  These notes are finished though; in raising kids that has to be the priority, and tea experience fits in the space available for it beyond that.  I'm off to that class.

Related to the "qi" aspect I think I am feeling this.  I'm not sure it's as calming and body-centered or as head-buzz oriented as feeling teas often is, but hurrying is no way to embrace that side of tea experience.  Usually I only notice feel effect from sheng, potentially present in different forms in young or old versions, but there's no reason some of the same couldn't apply to a black tea, it's just not typical.  In looking up the listing page the teas are separated by feel effect; why not?

a little light

Later notes and conclusions  

I drank a few more rounds of this after the class and it was just as good, maybe balancing even better than it had in the earliest rounds.  It's nice when flavors transition to be quite positive in extended rounds, especially for a black tea, since those more often just fade out.  It's also typical for flavors to get woody instead, to be less positive, but this stayed complex and well balanced for longer than black tea would typically extend.

It felt thick in feel, even in those later rounds.  I mentioned mouth-feel as a positive aspect in these notes but surely understated that due to rushing the review.  So it goes trying to evaluate a tea quickly, on a set time-line; I tend to focus on flavor as a main experience and miss a lot related to describing the rest.

It's a perfectly reasonable trade-off related to raising kids, the difficulty in setting aside two hour-and-a-half blocks of time on the weekend to do two long review sessions.  That might sound like longer than it actually takes to focus on a tea, especially without mixing in a comparison theme, but the writing notes adds demand too.  To me there is no point in even trying to review a tea in less than an hour since it takes at least that long.

Related to personal preference and less oxidized black teas, it seems to me that for someone completely new to better tea more oxidized versions (the most typical styles) would be easier to relate to at first.  That's probably just my judgment, not some sort of universal truth.  Someone in the sales page comments mentioned finally getting black teas based on trying this, which indirectly runs counter to that idea.  I see light oolongs like Tie Guan Yin and the most drinkable and simple Dian Hong as two natural starting points for exploring teas, and then teas like Wuyi Yancha better for someone further along the experience curve, with this version maybe more typical of that range tied to this factor. 

It's not hard to relate to, for me, and there's not less to appreciate, but the style has a subtle complexity that probably isn't as universal in appeal as a straight-cocoa or simpler roasted-sweet potato flavor version.  Sheng in general I see as an example of that idea extended further; it really takes some getting used to, there's an acclimation curve.  For someone already into Dian Hong this is a great version, novel and pleasant, clearly a well-made and complex tea.

Usually in reviewing Dian Hong I end up discussing that if the tea is oven dried (maybe the most common processing form) it will be more intense initially, and not suitable for aging more than a year, and if it's sun-dried (sometimes also referred to as Shai Hong in that case) the flavors may start out more subtle and gain intensity over a year or two of aging.  Of course that depends on other processing factors too; it's just a rough generality.  I didn't notice that distinction in the description but this tea may actually increase in sweetness and flavor intensity over time.

skating class, with that friend from China again

Friday, July 12, 2019

Song Yi tea (Taiwan vendor) 2018 brown mountain sheng

A chance online vendor contact sent sheng versions being sold out of Taiwan to try.  These are Yunnan teas, of course, which they've visited China to source relatively directly.  This is typically where a wild-arbor or tea tree age claim goes, and I'll cite their sales description to include that part.  For these notes I had just tried the tea without looking up what it is, as is typical for me.

From their Etsy sales page listing (although they do also have an independent website, but I think this is a newer product listing):

2018 Spring "Brown Mountain" Old Arbor Sheng Puerh 357g Raw Tea Menghai Yunnan Pu'er

Name: Brown Mountain Old Arbor Sheng Puerh 
Year: 2018 Spring Harvest
Country of Origin: Yunnan Province, China
Altitude: 1300m above sea level
Flavor: Sweet Wild floral aroma 

These tea leaves are picked from old arbor which are above 100 years old. 
The brown mountain area is also one of the oldest tea area, located in the south east of menghai.

Dry tea leaves are tight and dark. The infusion is lightly golden with typical honey sweet aroma, excellent depth of flavor and a soft velvety mouth-feel, full, round and harmonious.

All that is a little generic; "brown mountain" doesn't mean much to me, although it seems like a translated version would ring a bell.  Non-specific tea reference can be a bit of a red flag, since Amazon or Ebay tea listings tend to be like that, but in this case they'd mentioned they were directly involved with the local sourcing in China.

All of that is telling stories anyway, which I tend to not make too much of, one way or the other; the tea itself is the thing.  A really convincing, detailed story can pair with pictures of a real local farmer pointing at older looking plants, and processing tea in a wok, and then the tea can still be bad, or potentially not even from those plants or that area.  Or a vendor could skip all that and still sell good tea.

One of those Ebay-level vendors (with a name that would ring a bell, since they advertise) recently talked to me about reviewing their tea but it didn't work out.  I was curious about how truly generic, low-cost tea might be, even though my somewhat pessimistic guess probably would've matched the actual experience.  I think this case is something else, which trying the tea seemed to clearly indicate.

Can I really judge sheng yet though; has it been informative enough to try a couple of hundred versions (or whatever it amounts to), including ordering teas this year from Yunnan Sourcing, Chawang Shop, Farmerleaf, and a local Vietnamese source, beyond visiting China and shopping locally here, and Moychay and many others helping out with providing lots of samples?  Hard to say.  My impressions seem to be clearer and better grounded now.  Sorting out typical aging-related transitions is something else; I've got a long way to go on that part.

It has always been odd that in a couple more years an impression would be even better grounded, which makes for a moving target.  It's hard to imagine keeping up the tasting pace I've been on for the past two years though; eventually it would seem natural to cycle off sheng a bit more, or just not review as much.

another sheng to try, and a couple oolongs (it's really a 2018 version, right)


The initial flavor and character seem very pleasant.  It's sweet and towards the fruity side; it reminds me of versions I've tried from Nan Nuo, that particular flavor range.  Bitterness is quite subdued but it often takes an initial infusion for that aspect to develop more to where it will be.  The taste is clean and the overall balance works.

That fruit-like flavor that I said reminds me of a Nan Nuo version is towards white grape, maybe a little closer to plum from there in this case.  That connects with a light mineral tone, even though the link seems more a personal observation than a necessary association.  The mineral is relatively pronounced in this; it seems that could develop in different ways.

Second infusion:

Mineral did really shift, in this case linked with an unusual version of bitterness.  It's a little dry in effect, like limestone.  Fruit (or potentially floral range; interpretations could vary) is diminished, but that probably relates to letting this infuse for a bit over 10 seconds versus just under, so to me it's on the strong brewed side.  This character still works; it seems like a reasonably good version, but that much mineral with a feel leaning towards dryness isn't completely conventional.  In terms of bitterness the level is completely normal, just in the standard range, but the way those aspects come across together is unique.  It would be better to judge those parts, how well I like it, or what quality level it seems to imply, on a slightly faster infusion.

That brings up a subject of brewing teas longer to determine character and flaws better.  It's a standard technique, so standard that typical tasting process used in India or Sri Lanka relates to overbrewing teas, per what a tea enthusiast would typically judge as optimum.

The Tea Side vendor--probably the best online source for well above average Thai teas--brought this up as a tool for evaluation in a recent translation of a Russian reference on tasting approach (this aspect of it).  The idea is simple:  if you overbrew a tea it shows the character in a different way, better in some senses, if you are accustomed to that form of evaluation.  I tend to brew a single round stronger than the others to "check" on how that goes, but I'm not sure that I'm using it appropriately, or that I typically tend to learn much from that.  The main concern in appreciating tea relates to brewing it how you would like it best, so it's really something else, breaking down character in a different way.

Third infusion:

It is better brewed lightly.  Often I'd be commenting about how using a proportion that is pushing it for being at the "stuffed gaiwan" level is potentially throwing off results, but I was more careful to avoid that this time.  I kind of prefer a lot of versions at a high proportion, unless intensity is an issue, but for more neutral evaluation backing off to a more normal level makes sense.

Fruit does stand out better, or really a complex range of flavor.  It still resembles plum, to some extent, still with a lighter, dryer mineral as fairly pronounced.  It could be a little sweeter; the level that is there works, but more pronounced sweetness, as in Nan Nuo or Yiwu versions, tends to allow a broad range of other aspects to seem to balance well.  Those tend to not include challenging forms of bitterness, mineral, or astringency common in what I've tried from those two relatively narrow and quite broad areas, respectively.

I don't want to imply this tastes like green tea, because it doesn't, but that form of mineral, edging slightly into a vegetal range like kale, is common in Thai Nguyen green teas from Vietnam.  Some of those are a lot like Japanese teas instead, quite savory, vegetal more towards seaweed even, but a lot are close to kale in flavor range, often with this distinctive mineral range as quite pronounced.

It's early for a judgment but this seems like an above average version, related to positive character and quality level, but maybe not much above it.  That relative expectation is hard to place.  For people who only ever drink a higher end range, gushu teas, or wild arbor versions, selected from growing areas that produce more positive versions (of course across a range of styles and character types), or sold through reliable vendor sources that select better quality teas, this is only in the normal range, and not at the top of it.  Compared to buying random versions of moderate cost teas it's quite good, far above average; it just depends on the yardstick.  I'll try to clarify that with more comparison at the end.

Match to my own personal preference is something else; I'll address that further in the next round or two.

Fourth infusion:

The balance is improving; richness of feel is picking up and the mineral / dryness edge is giving way.  Again I'm mixing flavor and feel aspects descriptions in that last note, which are completely different things, but we seem to tend to experience some natural links between those.

We were just drinking a sheng over the last weekend that seemed buttery; this works as an example.  As soon as you taste a flavor that relates to how fresh butter tastes you expect a richness of feel, and it wouldn't be atypical to experience that.  Some of that may just relate to the power of suggestion, of course; the typical flavor and feel association could lead one to look for it, and then to seem to experience it related to expecting it.

This tea isn't buttery but the balance of what I'd already listed works better; a touch of plum, pronounced mineral, light bitterness, vegetal character (with the kale moving more towards green wood tone at this stage, back to more typical for sheng).  In addition to the balance working out, and the feel, the aftertaste experience is fine, not unusually extended but sufficient to add some depth to the overall experience.

Fifth infusion:

Wood tone picks up; it's a touch towards aromatic wood, versus green wood at this stage.  That works.  Fruitiness has dropped off so that it's not really notable at this stage.  This is a range that's relatively common for sheng, one that I've been running across a good bit.  To me it's positive but it would just depend on preference.  Feel structure is nice in this; early on it had a more unusual character but now it's in a more standard, positive range.  Overall the balance is nice.

Sixth infusion:

the rounds look the same after awhile, aside from exposure differences

Including this round in the notes is just for completeness; usually the later rounds story is of less interest to me, since it's rare that tea versions transition in really interesting ways in later rounds.  And often I've just had enough tea, or am running short on time, with the second applying today, off to watch kids in a roller-blade skating class soon.

Intensity is still sufficient for shorter rounds to brew strong enough but before too many more lengthening that would come into play.  That would probably cause a character shift in proportion of what was extracted, or at least that's my guess.

It hasn't changed much.  If anything it's slightly sweeter than it had been in earlier rounds, not necessarily how that normally goes.  Again aromatic wood tone is now the primary flavor range, the main thing you experience, balanced nicely by very moderate bitterness, and a now-diminished mineral range that's still present.  It's a much more standard profile at this stage, one that works well enough for me.

I just tried one Yunnan Sourcing "He Bian Zai wild arbor" Mengku, Lincang version that's more in this flavor range across all infusions and transitions, which has been well received by others in discussion comments.  I like that tea, just not as much as the YS-fans consensus.  I'm not sure that means that this tastes like a wild arbor tea version though, or that the one sold as that I'm referring to necessarily does, or that the effect stands out so much related to other inputs it's easy to flag.  I guess it is that, so the aspects represent it, and that there are parallels related to growing conditions as an effect across other factors.  It's tempting to add if I liked this tea more than that one but even though I last re-tried it a week ago, and drink it regularly, it still seems like that would involve some guesswork.  I like them about the same, but they're different, just overlapping some in character.

I tried a seventh round (as well to skip that section header) and the tone seems to be warming slightly.  It's more that the wood tone has shifted to a darker wood version, along with some other prior aromatic wood input, versus the mineral tone changing form.  It's nice that the tea character stays positive and continues to go through relatively positive transitions this far in.  It probably would keep changing some; ending these reviews where I do doesn't imply the stories have been completely told, just all that I intend to get to.


I'd meant to compare this to some other mid-range tea versions to help place it, and I've already done that in the notes, mentioning a specific Yunnan Sourcing tea.

Prior to that, a couple of related concerns come into play.  One is that multiple inputs each shift different aspects in tea:  growing location, "wild arbor" growing conditions versus monoculture farming, plant / tree age, processing choices (a very significant factor), weather conditions during growth, storage conditions, etc.  I don't think it's possible to clearly extract out an objective, separate quality level aside from style differences and match to personal preference.  To a limited extent one could estimate some general quality level but I don't think that's as meaningful as a more comprehensive assessment of overall character.

An example might help explain what I mean.  I recently tried a Farmerleaf mid-range priced tea (or an expensive version, per their typically selling point costs a couple of years ago) that I did like, which works as a yardstick for how quality level and value might play out.  It was this one, a Jing Mai Tian Xiang, again a tea described as sourced from relatively "wild arbor" growing conditions.  The vendor description (cited in that post) fills in to what extent that descriptor applies:

This cake was made from natural tea gardens located close to the ancient tea gardens and another group of gardens remotely located halfway between Mangjing and Jingmai. Because of their history and the current agricultural practices, these gardens make a tea of superior qualilty, featuring a thicker soup and more complex fragrance.

This tea was processed in a wok, in the same way as the Miyun cakes, but the raw material differs. The tea features a complex floral fragrance, with hints of tropical fruits. The soup is thicker and Huigan deeper than in the Miyun cake.

In terms of quality, this tea is a good middle ground between the basic natural tea gardens tea and the more expensive teas grown in the ancient tea gardens.

That tea character is quite different from the one I just reviewed and the Yunnan Sourcing version I'd mentioned, which is closer to it.  They're likely all from relatively different locations; variance would be expected.  I liked that tea, which did seem mostly floral and fragrant, with some pleasant fruit, and a positive texture and overall character, as that describes.

Why I'm referring to cost--or value, really--as much as I have already might not be clear.  The idea is that vendors imply a range of quality level by tea pricing, even though it doesn't necessarily correspond with that.  Demand for tea from a local area surely factors in just as much--or more--as final results related to some abstract quality level or character.

That said, let's move on with specifically referencing pricing then; no reason not to.  The Yunnan Sourcing "He Bian Zhai" Mengku, Lincang 2017 (400 gram) wild arbor cake lists for $93, that Farmerleaf Spring 2018 Jingmai Tian Xiang 357 gram cake sells for $79, more or less the same given the difference in weight and a moderate pricing increase for one year older versions.  Or I guess since the two work out to 22 and 23 cents per gram maybe the Farmerleaf tea costs more, relatively, related to being younger, with a year of aging mark-up not applied yet.

One more tangent; bear with me.  It doesn't seem like vendors selling teas for 22 cents a gram was how typical in-house produced teas went just a few years ago.  TeaDB did a deeper review of identifying those trends in as neutral and ground a fashion as possible not so long ago, and I won't say more about it here, or pass on what I think is going on with it.  It is what it is; tea demand increases, and teas offered probably are getting better.  I think the Chawang Shop teas I've been reviewing represent slightly better value, teas that are just as good or better for the same range or slightly less, but those two versions came to mind related to setting up a related ball-park for standard vendors and teas I liked roughly as well.

This Song Yi tea lists for $43 for a 357 gram cake.  I think the vendor being new to sheng sales has a lot to do with that.  Farmerleaf sold teas for closer to half current rates a few years back (not adjusted for inflation, which accounts for some of that).  I think that relates to them producing better teas as time goes on, and also to increased market demand and brand awareness, and to using lower pricing to build up that demand, later leveled off to more of a standard market rate.  It's normal for this cycle to occur with new tea vendors.  Some other vendors over-price teas from day one instead too; it just depends.

I don't want to overdo it here with trying to make value a large part of the story.  To me that does imply what the vendor is saying a tea is, related to quality level and relative demand for that tea type, but that's about it.  Since I liked this tea about as well as those two from those other vendors (based on personal preference, not necessarily objective quality level) to me the value is very exceptional.

One more thing about comparing teas against each other:  I bought full cakes of those Yunnan Sourcing and Farmerleaf teas, and have tried each around a dozen or so times.  It really requires that extra level of becoming familiar with a tea version to place it better.  These reviews are almost always written related to trying a tea once, or sometimes adjusted related to a second tasting, but it's just not the same kind of experience.  That doesn't level off variations related to how I'm feeling when I try those teas, which makes a lot of difference.

To summarize, this is a really nice tea and a great value.  Some limited degree of atypical feel aspect in early rounds and limited aftertaste effect offset an even more positive impression of it, but positive transition throughout a brewing cycle and pleasant fruit-related flavor balancing positive feel and other aspect range worked well for me.  I'd definitely recommend buying a cake of this, maybe best sooner rather than later, before they get around to adjusting the pricing.

my munchkin representing one alma mater (right; UH), with a Chinese friend

all three doing early mat training (but Kalani can already skate)