I'm covering more teas from Moychay, from a set they sent for review (many thanks!). It's shu pu'er. Versions of shu that I've tried in the past from them have been very consistent, of good quality, pleasant character, and great value. I suppose all that's a judgment call, tied to preference for aspect range in shu. The description-list account here may or may not clarify what I like most about this, or where it stands in terms of quality or aspect character for the type, but I'll try to place it.
To clarify what is already clear to a lot of people, lighting background changes the way cameras process images, and see color and other details. This image and the other were taken in different places in my house, but it's the same tea chunks in the same gaiwan. Some vendors adjust black tea images so that the material looks really red, and to some extent the tea probably kind of did appear that way in person, and in another sense it's an idealized image versus how it actually looks. These two "chunks in a gaiwan" images I've left exactly as the phone camera saw them (a Huawei P10, nothing too special), in order to help make the point. Of course the camera settings version isn't some sort of raw image, it makes choices about saturation level and such.
I usually always try a first round brewed light
First infusion: nice; it's shu. It's earthy, has some sweetness, of course plenty of warm tones, maybe a bit of dried fruit. A creamy edge is nice. For people into shu saying something tastes like peat, dried fruit, and cream all together would make perfect sense, but for others that might sound odd, as if those don't naturally pair together. They do. I like sheng better, and all shu seems as much the same thing as for any other tea type, but still shu does vary. I've not looked at a description yet but per my past experience this creaminess would've evolved from an earlier aspect range present, maybe like petroleum, or maybe something else, back more towards peat.
Next, for as I interpret shu, I would try a couple more rounds and evaluate intensity, complexity, balance, feel aspect and aftertaste / length / finish, and see if any novel flavor or other range makes this version stand out.
I already know it's pretty good shu, it's just about narrowing that down, placing it more clearly. If I was just drinking tea for my own enjoyment I definitely wouldn't analyze it down into such a distilled set of concepts, but for a review things are different. That process I converted to a starting point tasting evaluation template awhile back, which I don't use myself, but I do still use those categories in forming an impression (the ones mentioned, and trueness to type, related to any flaws, tied to subjective preference, related to what I see as quality markers, etc.).
What is a quality marker for shu? It doesn't work like that as much for that tea type as others, as I see it. For sheng bitterness balancing sweetness is important, and aging potential is a factor, with feel and aftertaste important parts of the experience. A strong underlying mineral tone can help indicate an older plant source input, which tends to relate to a tea aging well, as well as overall intensity, and specific types of astringency and flavor. "Balance" is the opposite of a tea quality marker, as I'm using these terms, related to how well all of the experienced aspects work together.
For Wuyi Yancha a different underlying mineral marks the tea being type-typical, with a sophisticated complexity, and in some cases a liqueur-like aromatic quality, "marking" a tea as better quality. Then that varies by how aspects tend to group; for a certain floral or towards-liqueur flavor range (aroma) that one distinctive aspect often seems to join, but for Rou Gui that tastes like a version of cinnamon (or maybe really cassia), or even fruit, that particular adjoining aspect tends to not be present. Dan Cong tend to have depth, and flavor intensity, but to come across as very refined, with a type of astringency people see as type-typical seemingly often related to more medium quality versions.
For shu it's either good across a standard range of aspects or not; I don't see one or more of those as marking it as better. Intensity, full feel, or distinctive flavor range could be valued, but those aren't markers in the same sense I'm using that term.
looks a bit inky; I might've backed off that timing a little
Second infusion: flavor is ok, maybe a bit more towards cocoa. The part I identified as dried fruit isn't really developing. The earthiness isn't so much along the line of peat but more a dark wood, or a very moderate version of roasted coffee. Creaminess is distinctive in this; it would make sense if this had a lot more edge to start and was aged for at least 3 to 4 years. Of course that could be completely wrong, and aging here and aging in Kunming (drier areas) are two completely different things, and I've not mapped out how that works out in relation to shu "burning off" rough edges. This doesn't have any, and for the most part "young shu" that is really full in feel would also tend to express less subtle and refined flavor, for at least part of that range, it would have some touch of edge to it.
Without that creaminess I'd guess this was fairly modest quality range shu, even for lacking any flaws, that just happened to be pleasant across a broad range, but with it this may be presented as higher quality shu (relatively speaking; I never will conclude just how good this is on some sort of scale). Rightfully so, I mean; that type of feel isn't atypical but it's not that universal either. Shu very often has thick feel to it but not in a way that seems creamy. Maybe the best example to place that aspect is how Guiness Stout comes across (although I'm not claiming that this is that creamy; I don't think that it is).
Then I just said that shu doesn't have quality markers in the same way, but I've experienced something quite similar in some quite moderate range quality shu. That had started out quite fully fermented, with a lot of petroleum edge, then within a year or two was completely different. It would help if I connected with what others conventionally see as "better" tied to my own subjective preference, but to some extent I just don't. Shu is shu; a highly demanded aged version and something just ok that's a year or two old isn't so different to me. The range of what varies seems narrow, compared to how lower, medium, and higher quality sheng works out, which can vary a lot across lots of dimensions. Shu is fishy or not, intense or subtle, somewhat distinctive or else more ordinary; just not as varied.
Moychay's Russian small-batch versions that I've tried were interesting for at least being different. To some those differences could almost entirely relate to flaws, to a slight sourness and slate-mineral edge, but it was my impression in trying it (3 experimental batches?) that it just needed another year to rest for that to clean up on its own. I tried to not drink straight through it, even though I did like it, to check on that in another half year or so. Evaluated related to what I experienced it seemed a bit so-so but what stood out, to me, was that the versions probably had loads of potential to settle nicely over time. Glancing back at that post I wasn't clear at all on that interpretation. That related to notes from first trying it, and my opinion of it and a second version (or that and a third?) changed some over time, as re-trying any tea version will cause. That business about me projecting ahead and guessing potential is just a guess anyway; I can check back in another year and mention how that worked out.
Third infusion: creaminess really ramped up, perhaps related to brewing this a bit longer (maybe just over 15 seconds, which is "pushing it" for this proportion), and flavor range improved. This is quite nice. The level of mineral base in this works really well. It's in a slate range, but not musty at all, so like a clean chalkboard, not a damp one. Flavors are more complex than they come across without focusing in on them; it's a tight set of related range. Part is root spice, hinting towards a different aromatic spice, with a bit of dark wood as an input, along with including a mild coffee range depth. The coffee part kind of folds into the rest but that's what seems to be tying it all together.
The creaminess is hard to place in relation to how that comes across in another food. Cream is creamy, of course, but this doesn't really taste that much like cream. Like coffee with a bit of cream, sure. Natural vanilla bean has a really creamy feel; the effect isn't completely unlike that. It's hard to say if it's an illusion, the product of an association versus really there, but it seems to taste a bit creamy along with feeling creamy.
Fourth infusion: more of the same, which is pleasant. I'd expect that minor aspects will keep shifting over the next 3 to 4 rounds, then some limited natural transition will be joined by the effect of extending brewing times a little later on. Root spice is probably picking up in relation to the coffee input. The fruit never really developed but I get the impression that a hint of that is adding complexity. Given how interpretations of teas vary some people might see it as a primary input. It's like a touch of dark cherry, but it's masked by the clean range earthier flavors that are more dominant.
Fifth infusion: I'm trying a round brewed quickly. I really like the intensity of drinking this a little strong, and how that bumps up feel, but flavors might break down slightly differently brewed light (for under 10 seconds). This is so far from losing intensity that's not an issue, that it might not taste like much. The mild coffee range comes across a lot more like dark wood made this way, and of course creaminess does drop off. Fruit doesn't pick up, the main reason I tried it that way. Aftertaste experience is still reasonable, still positive. This is pretty nice shu, quite pleasant.
Sixth infusion: more of the same. I could probably break out a minor transition shift over the next few rounds but I'll skip the attempt. It wouldn't mean a lot to me one way or the other if this stayed quite consistent over 4 or 5 more rounds, versus varying slightly.
In reading back through these notes (in editing) I might have clarified more that it lacks any sort of mustiness or off mineral flavor. It's easy to not include mention of what isn't present, and to some extent it doesn't work to review even shu, kind of a more consistent type, against some universal typical aspects set. As I try this a couple of more times I would place that better.
Pretty good shu. It's hard for me to judge in relation to being above average, well above average, or truly exceptional because I just don't see that much distinction in shu across those ranges. Of course others who are more into shu probably would. It'll be interesting to hear Moychay's take.
Per my understanding this material being a bit chopped isn't overly meaningful, since the final results are the main concern instead. Most likely what they used to make it wasn't of the same quality as higher grade sheng, or they would've left it as that, and not fermented it. Better sheng tends to not be chopped, and I'm not so sure what to judge of that in relation to this. It wasn't hand picked? That alone should limit origin area, since tea from one of the higher prestige mountain areas isn't going to be machine harvested, and this should be some sort of plantation tea. Let's hear their description.
Shu Puer "Cha Dao Shi" ("A Tea Master") was made in 2019 by the order of Moychay.ru company from the raw materials of Menghai tea region harvested in 2013.
357-g teacake of medium density, broken effortlessly with fingers into brown and reddish flagella of twisted tips. The aroma is restrained, woody and nutty. The infusion is transparent, dark reddish-chestnut.
The bouquet of the ready-made tea is mature, nutty-and-woody, with spicy, chocolate, milky and berry notes. The aroma is deep and warm, nutty-and-woody. The taste is rich and smooth, sweetish, with a pleasant woody tartness, the slight bitterness of cocoa beans, a sourness of dry berries and nuances of spices.
So related to region it's Menghai, related to pricing as an indicator of how they see quality moderate. Their inexpensive shu has been pretty good in the past though; they seem to be able to source decent material and get fermentation to go well within a very reasonable cost range, and must be intentionally pricing shu below what they could probably get for it. Being pressed in 2019 from material from 2013 means this is well-aged; essentially all the fermentation related funkiness should be gone, as it is. That's plenty of time for any rough edges to convert to that clean flavor range and creamy feel.
Broken / ground leaf shu doesn't have the aggressive astringency most other tea types will have, but there still are compounds present that will extract in a different way related to that form. Whole-leaf shu tends to be a lot more subtle and milder in character. This is comparable to that experience range, because aging transition has provided time for any of what I'm calling rough edges to transition, to mellow. Intensity can drop off just a bit with that 8 years of aging time but depth picks up, and range of experienced aspects can be more pleasant.
The difference in their description (interpretation) and mine isn't as pronounced as it might seem, and every description but berry and nuts they included is mentioned in these notes. In reading what they used as a description for color, reddish chestnut, reminds me that would also work as a flavor description (the "nutty" part they mentioned just prior). I was describing something else as like mild coffee, a bit towards dark wood, but that same range is present in a roasted chestnut, a nuttiness, slight char, and woody aspect. This review description--what I wrote--framing it as cocoa, root spice, dark wood, and mild coffee versus roasted chestnut drops out mentioning there is a nuttiness present, but that works to me. The creamy feel, which extends to flavor, and general richness is a part of how a roasted nut comes across. I'm not really changing my interpretation, just mentioning the same flavors can reasonably be broken down in different ways. About the berry, which I seemed to have flagged as a touch of dark cherry instead, I don't know; I can try it again and see.
If they had first tasted this in 2019, when it was pressed, I'm not sure how it probably would have been different then. 6 years is a awhile to transition, the initial age then. For being stored in a really dry place at first that shift could go quite slowly, in which case there could've been more change yet to come over these last two years. People tend to be more negative about drier range storage than I personally think is warranted. The pattern of changes varies, and as much as that the speed, so that dry-stored sheng that's 8 or 9 years old can still seem kind of fresh, and not as transitioned. Who knows how that relates to shu versus sheng.
It's hard to place just how good a value this is (impossible to place really, since that relates to making an objective call about relative quality level, and to some extent tea experience is subjective). But I keep coming back to thinking of how a Yunnan Sourcing in-house range wouldn't have this priced anywhere near $36, because it's pretty good significantly aged shu. I can reference that more directly by citing their current sales page:
Their lowest cost 2021 version does sell for $36, but among the 2021 in-house versions the average is about $55. Who knows, maybe all of those cakes are better shu than this (which I kind of doubt), but for sure almost none of it would drink as well right now, the year many of those were produced. Clicking through detailed descriptions some were harvested in 2020 and pressed later, with some brand new now, and one year is enough time for shu to settle some. It would take a year of waiting for many to settle to really see what you have, although people who have been through that process a dozen times could project ahead / guess really well.
It led me to start considering theories about why this tea is even selling for that price, or why the others did, when they clear back out of stock really fast (you might buy this fast if you want it, since at a guess it won't still be listed in another year). Maybe moving a lot of shu bumps Moychay's cash flow, and encourages people to add some other products when they place the orders. Yunnan Sourcing is probably just playing a longer game at this point; they know that $60-70 per cake is a good bit for shu, but it's going to sell, and demand keeps increasing.
I don't even love shu, compared to sheng, I just drink it when I feel like experiencing a simpler tea, but in reading those Yunnan Sourcing descriptions it all does sound intriguing. Moychay sent a second to try, something even more novel, a "yesheng" or wild tree material version; maybe that will be even more unique, even though it's selling as a value oriented version too.