Monday, September 9, 2019

Wild Tea Qi Wuyi Yancha and Kokang Myanmar oolong

This runs long.  I tried the Wild Tea Qi Wuyi Yancha oolong, and made review notes, but there just didn't seem to be enough story there.  It's ok, maybe quite good but not great, or that final judgement on my part could relate most to preference for style.  I really liked their Yunnan black tea version (Dian Hong), and a Moonlight White, and to me it wasn't as interesting, positive, and distinctive as those.  I went back and forth on whether to even publish that, since I typically won't mention a tea I don't like, but in some cases versions being closer to ordinary isn't much to talk about either.

Then I also had a Myanmar Kokang oolong I've been meaning to try, so I did a second tasting adding that, and adding a Wuyi Origin Rou Gui for comparison, making that a three-way tasting session.  It's not fair tasting together with that particular Rou Gui version, any oolong of similar type, because it's my overall favorite Wuyi Yancha example.  It still does work as a baseline, just more as a potential end-point than standard type metric.  Altogether it's not a story about a single, exceptional, distinctive tea version, but it covers a lot of what different related oolongs are all about, even spanning versions from two countries.

This starts with the first tasting, only the Wild Tea Qi version, cut down a bit so it doesn't run too long.  The page for that tea version is here:  

Handpicked at over 4,500 feet high in the rich volcanic soils of the Wuyi Mountains, this tea is COFCC Certified Organic. It's a pure wild tea with tender and thick long-shaped smooth brown and green tea leaves, with dark red edges. This is a rare, special Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe), with a unique rock aroma unlike any other. You feel it mellow, smooth, round and somewhat complicated with various tastes blended. You'll be further overwhelmed by its fragrance! Rich, lingering fully around your nose and mouth, a special "rock aroma"!

Wuyi Mountain Farmers Collective This is an incredible farmer’s collective deep in the mountains of Wuyi Shan(Wuyi Mountain). The farmer’s livelihood comes from Wuyi Oolong and Wuyi Black teas. This is a rare village wherein the profits are divided equally amongst the group, which is truly “fair trade.”

their website says more about those traditional Chinese themes (qi, fire / earth / air types)

It gets a little strange explaining to what extent that really is versus isn't Da Hong Pao, but I'll go there (with a whole post on that theme here).  The two modern cultivars closest to those original plants are Bei Dou and Rou Gui.  If a tea version really is one of those it typically gets described as such, versus being called Da Hong Pao, which is now more frequently used as a name for blends.  Marketing content tends to never say that though; funny how that works out.  Wuyi Origin's site is an exception; here they list a "blended Da Hong Pao" version which is exactly that, a mix of types.  

I'll say more about strengths and weaknesses related to both themes in the review comments, but it's what you'd expect; you give up distinctiveness in moving away from a narrow source type, and can achieve a much better character balance even from less balanced tea inputs.  Or cover up significant quality flaws in source inputs, which is where the theme shifts a bit, since mixing can offset gaps, but can only go so far in covering over negative aspects.

These groups of plant types can vary in genetic background, so it's possible that a farmer may not have a clear category name to assign to one, and they really could understand a tea plant type to be quite similar to earlier Da Hong Pao (perhaps when no one really knows what it is).  As I tend to often comment about sheng pu'er source-plant age claims at some point it's as well to evaluate a tea based on how it is, and take the stories and background with a grain of salt. 

Review (Wild Tea Qi version):

It's what one would expect for an above average version of Da Hong Pao.  Maybe not specifically a Bei Dou or Qi Dan, but I can't really claim to have those cultivar types completely down, since I've only tried a few examples of each.  If I'm remembering right--and if extrapolating from a limited sample set makes sense, which it really doesn't--both are relatively aromatic, lighter and inclined towards a light floral or liqueur like aspect, with plenty of mineral base.  But take all that with a grain of salt too; after someone tries a lot of versions only then they can accurately discuss generalities.  I'll just stick to describing this version anyway.

This has a lot of that dark caramel flavor medium roasted versions have.  It might even be from last year, since per my understanding that allows a producer to use a higher roast level to get a lot of complexity then settle the char effect back out.  It probably is, not based on judging the character, but just related to the roasting process taking time after an initial Spring harvest, and related to getting these samples awhile ago.  

This doesn't taste like char, a slight carbon flavor that comes along with upper-medium or heavy roast level.  Sweetness is good, and it's relatively complex and clean.  There's just a hint of the cardboard box flavor range that marks more average versions, but this is really better than that level.  It's probably better to let it develop a few rounds before making an final conclusions though.

There isn't really any one narrow set of markers or quality indicators for this type.  Flavor matters, feel should be thick, and aftertaste is less of a concern than for lighter oolongs and sheng, but vanishing after you drink it isn't a good sign.  Level of roast is an issue; that goes along with flavor.  Some better versions have a cool liqueur-like quality, almost like perfume, which can be towards floral range or else tipped a little towards brandy instead (just more about how an impression comes across, not matching the taste).  It's not a bad thing if versions include some fruit flavor, and floral variation is normal.  For Rui Gui a "dark" or slightly earthy version of cinnamon is normal, and Shui Xian covers broad range, with other types falling across a broad scale.  

The effect of the roast changes over the second infusion, as does the flavor profile.  That touch of cardboard transitioned towards dark wood and cinnamon; it's better.  Char still isn't noticeable, although there's just a trace of it, but this flavor profile is heavy enough that it's not remotely close to a light roast.  That balance is good, to draw this much heavier flavor out of it without drifting into a char effect.  The cinnamon is similar to the version in Rou Gui; this could be Rou Gui.  Sometimes that can completely dominate the flavor of a Rou Gui version, or it can integrate, or in some cases those are fruity.  The balance of this is nice, the way the aspects all fall together.  It could be a little thicker but Wuyi Yancha aren't usually as viscous as some other oolong types.

I'm going with around 5 second infusion times, related to using a relatively high proportion of tea.  This would be fine using 3 or 4 second infusion times; the proportion is that high, and the tea is intense.  To me this is close enough to an optimum.  I'll probably add more time after another 2 infusions or so, depending on how those work out.

(Third infusion):  It's not so far off where it was the last round, shifted just a little in proportion.  It still has a mild earthiness standing out, with a dark cinnamon like flavor and dark wood.  Related to the "rock" part in rock oolong warm mineral tones are filling in as a base for this.  It could stand out more since the hint of char and other flavor complexity is more dominant.  

This is definitely an above average quality version of this general type of oolong, but it could be more distinctive in flavor scope.  Blending balances out character in teas at the cost of giving up specific aspect range, a distinctiveness related to expressing less scope, and this does cover a bit of range.  A single type of tea can still cover a lot of range, be complex, and balance on their own but individual aspects still stand out more.  [To be clear these notes were made prior to checking what it is, with the original source description not making mention of any blending].

(Fourth infusion):  Roast effect bumps up along with that; using longer times may draw more of that out.  In this case that pairs really well with the dark cinnamon effect, so to me it works.  At some level heavy roast is used to cover flaws in Wuyi Yancha versions, and to get mixed types to balance together better, but this is made a bit more carefully than that, more along the lines of optimized, but still at an upper medium roast level.  

The limitation isn't in the aspects, it's in what isn't expressed, if someone would have a preference for a different style instead.  Per my preference the roast level could be lower (or higher, per someone else's, but to me any higher I'd see as a limitation, or even flaw).

(Fifth infusion):  this is holding up well, a good sign.  If anything the balance may be improving; it may be gaining more subtlety and range, with earthiness dropping off, warmer mineral tones picking up, and a pleasant thick feel also increasing.  Brewing a lot of positive infusions or transitioning positively aren't necessarily clear quality markers, in the sense that these would really closely tie to how good a tea of this type is, but they are positive enough to support that.  Since it's not all that different I'll try one more round and leave off taking notes, now up to letting this brew around 15 seconds.

(Sixth infusion):  this has turned a corner for fading, with char picking back up for the longer time drawing it out.  Since cinnamon diminished a bit prior that leaves only less subtle flavors balancing against it, or not really balancing as well.  Char will define the taste experience from here on out.  

Second tasting, comparing Wild Tea Qi oolong, Wuyi Origin, and Myanmar Kokang oolong

Wuyi Origin lower left, Wild Tea Qi top, Kokang Myanmar oolong right

The color difference alone is interesting in these; the Wuyi Origin Rou Gui is much lighter, certainly not as roasted, with the Wild Tea Qi a good bit darker than the other two.

Wuyi Origin left, Wild Tea Qi middle, Kokang right (in all pictures)

Wuyi Origin (fruit style Rou Gui):  as I said it really isn't fair comparing any other Wuyi Yancha version to this one.  It's my personal favorite, and a very highly regarded tea version (local Wuyishan competition award winning, or at least a similar version was).  It's refined, complex, and incredibly well balanced, with positive aspects that just keep going on.  It tastes like peach; somehow some versions taste a lot like the characteristic earthy cinnamon and some don't.  

That pronounced fruit balances really nicely with a medium level toffee sweetness, on a base of mild but complex mineral tones.  Roast is what I'd consider to be lower medium level.  I'd consider the Wild Tea Qi version to be upper-medium roast level, but that's only because so many oolongs in that category are just plain burnt, setting up tea leaf cinders as their own roast level.  

Wuyi Origin makes both, cinnamon heavy Rou Gui and this fruitier version.  I think the difference is in plant types, with growing conditions also factoring in, and of course processing, but I've not had those sorts of discussions with Cindy for awhile.  There's that part to consider too; I'm not impartial when it comes to their teas.  When we talk online it's not mostly about tea, more about how our kids are doing, and life in general.  This tea version is from 2018, one Cindy sent just to share some.  Even though I'm not claiming to be impartial you go to any tea group and search "Wuyi Origin" and other takes will echo mine though.

one of my favorite tea pictures; Cindy out among some bushes

I suppose I should mention that I helped Shana Zhang, an owner of Wild Qi Tea, start the International Tea Talk Facebook group years ago, still one of places I'm most active online related to tea.  I really like her; she's kind of trippy and idealistic in interesting and positive ways, all about ancient Chinese traditions and being one with nature.  

credit Shana's FB page (which mentions another book coming out soon)

Wild Tea Qi:  this wasn't nearly as pleasant during the first infusion trying it the first time and that comes up again; it tastes a bit like cardboard, with woody range beyond that.  It's as well to say more on the next infusion, once the first round rinses that flavor into a more promising range, if the last brewing pattern holds, and it really should.

Kokang Myanmar Oolong:  it's not fair trying this oolong along with one of the best versions of a comparable style I've ever tried and one that's good but just not on that level.  It's woody; wood spans a range of aspect character in this, cured hardwood, with a touch of greener wood, and a heavier note of fermented tree bark.  At least it's complex.  It will probably show better character on the next round too, or there won't be much point in comparison tasting it.  Brewing this quite lightly (these brewed for approaching 10 seconds, adding a few seconds to wet them initially) it might do better.  The sweetness level isn't bad, and it's not as muddled / earthy / "off" as it might sound in that description, it's just not expressing as much positive range either.

Oolongs from non-oolong producing areas often tend to miss the general range for style.  Sometimes they can strike a really positive balance even for doing that, if a producer can adjust inputs to get to non-standard but interesting and positive results.  Again I'll withhold judgment and see if a fast-brewed round works better for this.

Second infusion:

Wuyi Origin:  as tends to happen flavor intensity has dropped off a little (aroma, if you like to use that concept as a description), with "taste" or depth of the experience picking up since this was made (a year and a half ago).  If the roast level was higher giving it that rest time would be ideal; roasted this lightly it probably would have been slightly better one year ago.  Or maybe that would be a matter of preference, and the tea would have just changed character slightly instead of getting better or worse.  Either way it's still great.

Wild Tea Qi:  this is much improved.  Brewing it faster and letting the initial rough edges transition changed a lot.  It still tastes woody, but cardboard has almost entirely faded, and cinnamon spice is picking up.  This needs to be brewed lightly; that level of roast and overall intensity requires it.  There's an inky quality to the flavor, as actual pen ink smells, a tie-in to a form of mineral.  In the Wuyi Origin version mineral was present as a smooth, light base but in this case it's a main taste instead.  There's char too; not a lot of it, but enough that someone opposed to that taste would hate it (or on the other side moderate enough that someone with preference for a lot of that could be disappointed).  

The balance is fine; it works.  It still seems likely to be a blended tea, that it probably used mixing of types to get to this balance, or variation in more wild-grown plant material would accomplish essentially the same thing in a different way.  It's much more straightforward than the Wuyi Origin version, not "sophisticated" and subtle, but for being in a different style that's fine.

Kokang Myanmar oolong:  it's working better.  It's also still mainly woody; not the most promising range or aspects balance outcome.  Fermented tree bark has pulled back; this is a cleaner mix of aged wood, normal cured wood, and some green wood input.  Beyond the flavor the character isn't bad; it can be hard to appreciate that.  The astringency / feel is in the right range, as the level of sweetness is, and the thickness of feel and aftertaste is positive.  

This just may not be suitable leaf type to make oolong; it might be that continuing on with oxidation and making it into black tea could lead into sweeter, different flavor range.  I'm not the right person to even guess about that, just throwing it out there.  If someone had never drank above average Wuyi Yancha, if the cardboard and woody aspects still seemed normal to them, this might seem fine, a decent example.

Third infusion:

Wuyi Origin:  the flavor range might be deepening a bit, trading out some fruit for more toffee and light, balanced mineral range.  There is a liqueur like quality to this feel and aroma character, a thickness that seems to pair with an unusual type of complexity in the flavor range.  Overall effect is clean; there isn't a single trace of aspect out of place, no hint of muddled earthiness or char.  The aftertaste is wonderful, the way those flavors taper off as layers.  Again it's just not fair comparing other oolongs to this.

Wild Tea Qi:  this version compares better than it has in any other round.  If someone strongly preferred this flavor range (a bit inky, as mineral go, with some cinnamon, and dark-wood range) I suppose they could like it even better than the first version.  They're just quite different things.  It covers a lot more aspect range, and heavier roasting shifts the final effect.  Char isn't problematic in this round; it's softened, and you can pick it up, but cinnamon is just as heavy.  It's probably an above average Wuyi Yancha version, related to trying random types, or definitely better than you'd find in a local shop that doesn't have sourcing down to the same level.  To me it's not quite on the same level as the Wuyi Origin tea, but to some extent they're just different things.

Kokang Oolong:  this is the best it has been too; nice to see.  Wood is giving way a little to other complexity.  It's still so woody that it's hard to say what, necessarily, but that range has cleaned up and narrowed down to be much more positive.  I guess it's drawing closer to spice, or at a minimum shifting over to include forest floor (right, not a dramatic shift).  

If this were a bit more muddled in effect it would be really bad, adding just a touch of sourness or mushroom, for example.  As mentioned in the last round it being clean and balanced across all the range beyond flavor saves it.  It's not a tea that I'd want to drink regularly but it's not bad tea.  It's probably as close to black tea character as to oolong, to be honest.  It doesn't have the astringency edge but the earthiness and other flavor range is closer to black teas than to almost any oolongs.

Wuyi Origin left, Wild Tea Qi top, Kokang Myanmar oolong right

There's at least a chance this wasn't roasted at all.  The other two versions are much darker in color, even though the Wuyi Origin Rou Gui is relatively light in terms of roast effect (probably lower-medium as they see that scale though; Wuyi Yancha oolongs can be quite light in style).  If this is well above average for standard oolong oxidation level and not roasted at all then of course the results would be atypical, related to Fujian Wuyishan oolongs.  I can't imagine that any heating step is going to remove the woody flavor range, and swap that out for something else, but then me saying anything at all about processing is already going a bit far.


It's hard to be clear on how well I'm factoring back out personal preference for style.  I can appreciate blended Wuyi Yancha versions (not that this Wild Qi Tea version is one, the style just overlaps with that normal outcome), but they're not a personal favorite.  It might well be an acquired bias.  It's normal enough to see ever-narrower input and type selection as better in modern tea circles.  Blending has a place too though, and there are strengths to that approach, and output character.  Not just covering up flaws in inputs, I mean.  You can get a broader range of aspects that way, and arrive at a more carefully controlled balance of them.

I like lighter roasts too; that would factor in.  The general ideal is that whatever level of roast suits that initial attribute set is best, not that lower or medium is objectively better, but preferences for type and character are what they are.  It might seem like I just spent two review sessions worth of comments explaining how I saw this Wild Tea Qi oolong as good but not great, then walked back my reason for concluding that.  The point here is that "not as good as it could be" related in part to preference for style.  

I'm not sure that it makes any sense to remove preference entirely and try to place a tea on some sort of an objective scale.  For narrowing down a type to a specific form that could work better (eg. as a light-medium roasted, fruity versus cinnamon style Rou Gui).  I kind of kept concluding that "it's a blend," but I hope that framing for that take was clear enough too.  It covered more aspect range than very narrow Wuyi Yancha source-input types tend to; how or why that occurred I don't really know.  Normally that happens because input plant types were mixed.  Using plants growing under slightly different conditions (eg. on a hillside, or a flat section near it), or of different ages, or from slightly different genetic material (naturally inter-bred) could seemingly lead to a similar outcome. 

The Myanmar oolong it's hard to be as positive about.  If they keep adjusting production process variables maybe they'll get there, or else maybe this should just be made into black tea instead.  Their sheng pu'er is definitely from further along that type of learning curve; it's pretty good by Yunnan standards (of course with "pretty good" too vague to be meaningful).  I still have a black tea from them to get to but since I've tried it in that expo tasting session I know what it's like; good but not great.  It might make for a rare case of trying something unusual and somewhat positive that still doesn't lead to a story worth telling. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

Vietnamese and Assam green teas comparison

in the same order, with more details following

I'm getting behind on trying samples.  Vendors and friends passing them on is much appreciated, but two reviews a week doesn't keep up, even for doing combined tasting.  I'll try a green tea version that a friend visiting from Assam passed on, Jaba Borgohain, and green tea versions from Somnuc Anousinh, that Laos friend who gets out to lots of local SE Asian countries to try remote-produced teas.  One of these he even made, on a visit to a farm in Vietnam, if I've got that part right.

Oddly neither of those friends is actually a tea vendor.  Jaba more or less helps represent the Assam tea industry in the form of researching and discussing issues.  That's a really informal and undefined role, as I understand it, as much an unusual expression of interest as an actual role.  Somnuc owns a small coffee and tea shop (partly owns, at least) but the travel and tea buying is mostly a hobby interest.  He probably sells some of what he turns up; it would be easy to grab an extra few kilos here and there and have resale income offset that travel expense.  But for both it's a labor of love, not a business or significant revenue stream.  That's interesting commonality to share, since I'm not getting paid to write this either, beyond the tea samples coming my way for review.

I just met Somnuc here to pass on some teas in exchange

I keep saying that green tea is my least favorite broad type; that's interesting background.  These will be unconventional, I'd expect, so it won't be a matter of checking a known type against an expected profile, or quality level markers and expectation.  I've only heard about the Assam version, from another mutual friend, who said that he liked the Assam black teas Jaba passed on better.  Those were really good; it can be hard placing them.  They were probably as good or slightly better than any Assam I've yet to try.  Then again I'd expect the other Assam sources I've reviewed have moved on from producing teas at the same level I tried more of a couple of years ago when I was more on that page.

Onto review then.  As to methodology I'll Gongfu brew these, even though they would turn out as well or maybe even better brewed Western style.  It's just more familiar at this point.  For most better teas, of any types, Gongfu brewing lets you experience more of the transition, it just separates out distinct flavors and other aspect character that emerges across more rounds.  I say "maybe better" because in some cases mixing those together--in Western brewing form--is more positive.  I'll use relatively cooler water temperature, standard for green tea brewing process.

I'll back off the proportion a little (closer to the 1 gram / 15 ml range than towards 10, but I don't weigh tea), and lengthen time to compensate.  I get it why people do control prepared weight versus volume better, and why some would see an approach that's slightly less controlled as invalid.  I see this as relating to a difference between engineering and science research perspectives (I'm an industrial engineer, not that it really matters).

Scientists conduct careful research; they control factors as much as possible, analyzing one variable at a time, documenting everything.  Engineers make things work.  Eventually that has to pair with a clear description of what worked, and why (unless you work in a IT scope, as I sort of do now, and then it just depends), but messing around and trying things out is valid.  Per my past experience with defense systems manufacturing the people who actually build things want to hear as little as possible from design and "assembly methods" engineers, and get on with the work, with QC review making sure they did follow the right parameters to get to exactly the right outcome.


In order described, L to R; the first a good bit redder

Vi Xuyen Green (from Somnuc):  I actually found three different samples of green tea from Somnuc; there's a chance this tea is from an earlier set, which would make it a year and a half old.  Another labeled as "Xin Green" may be an early version of the unlabeled tea Somnuc described as making himself (the next one).  This is from the far north, as Wikipedia describes:

Vị Xuyên is a rural district of Hà Giang Province in the Northeast region of Vietnam. As of 2003 the district had a population of 87,164.[1] The district covers an area of 1,452 km². The district capital lies at Vị Xuyên.

I say it might be an old sample in part from noticing that this tea is oxidized; the color indicates that.  Green tea can darken after being produced, it just oxidizes quickly via a slightly different process when leaves are fresh.  In processing related oxidation enzymes in fresh leaves contact air, although without a bruising step the teas can still oxidize.  These enzymes are deactivated by a heating step, or can be partially deactivated by drying, as occurs for white tea processing.  It'll be interesting even if it is slightly aged green tea, which is a subject that doesn't come up much.  Green, white, and sheng styles can mix a bit in rural Vietnam processing; teas can vary (which I'll stop short of saying more about, since this is already a tangent within a tangent).

It's quite nice; so much for not liking green tea.  It's soft, rich, sweet, and floral.  Really floral; at a guess that's close to lotus flower character, quite sweet, but not intensely sweet like jasmine (but towards that, just a bit richer).  It's the grassiness that I dislike in green teas, or tasting like green beans and bell pepper, or spinach, and this is nothing like that.  The feel is even a bit rich; this really works.  At a guess they did let this oxidize a little, and that part added in during processing, not after.  It could relate to just not heating it fast, or it being hot out when they harvested it, or to pickers bruising some of the leaves as the pluck them; producers say different things about how all that goes, how it's complicated.

Vietnamese tea Somnuc produced, from Yen Bai province:  Somnuc did pass on the origin for this tea, but it's not as if you could go out and find this tea version again, even if you happened to live there.  For all I know this could be a very standard local type, and it would be as easy to find as visiting the local market, or maybe this version range varies by individual location, plant type, growing conditions, and processing steps so much that you just couldn't.

That's really vegetal, with a pronounced astringency edge.  It looks a lot lighter for being yellow instead of slightly reddish but it's stronger.  The liquid isn't completely clear; not cloudy enough that I'm worried about it but that's not a great sign.  For someone who loves green tea character this would be ok.  It tastes like a mix of vegetables, with more green bell pepper than anything, but a bit of mix beyond that.  Some floral range and warm mineral range give it a decent balance (odd how that's not an obvious match for the rest; lighter mineral would typically pair with that).  This feel is a bit thick as green teas go too, and sweetness level works.

It's not as if I hate green tea tasting like vegetables, I'd just prefer the floral range, or whatever else.  It's actually pretty good though, for being in that type and style.  It could be slightly cleaner in effect--related to a plant-stem type of astringency--but it's much better than inexpensive, random commercial green teas tend to ever be.

Oiirabot Assam Green Orthodox Tea with Silver Tips:  cool this tea has a producer, type, and brand name.  Ralph, that other friend who met Jaba, who has recently started his own tea blog (here), agreed that the dried tea smell is amazing (so much rich fruit, covering grape, raisin, and citrus), but just couldn't get brewed version results out of it on that level.  This is slightly cloudy too; what's up with these teas not being clearer?  It's the least intense of the three, especially after trying the last one, which packed a punch.

meeting Jaba and Ralph at that same Bangkok Chinatown shop, Jip Eu

It's not bad; that fruit does come across.  It's not great either; the promise in the dry scent doesn't translate over.  It's nice that there is some light grape, raisin, and citrus, that some of it does, but typical vegetal range joins that, and it's all on the subtle side, mixed together.  A bit of astringency joins that, closer to tree branch bud than flower stem, but it's at a level that works.  It's not bad, just not as exceptional as the first version.  All of these might change a little over the next two rounds though; it's a little early for final verdicts.

Second infusion:

still a little light, still a touch cloudy for 2 and 3

Vi Xuyen Ha Giang Vietnamese green:  dang this is good green tea.  It surely wouldn't work for everyone to let green tea oxidize a little to improve it, but whatever led to this character worked.  It's sweet and creamy, with really pronounced floral tone shifting a little towards fruit.  Given that softness and creaminess it's a bit towards creamsicle, even the flavor.  The texture is great, the balance is good, even an aftertaste experience adds depth.  There's no astringency edge, no green wood, plant stem, tree bud tip, none of all that.  I suppose if someone liked that sort of edge in a green tea that could potentially be seen as a flaw, but to me this is great.  A touch of warm mineral gives it more depth, complexity, and balance.  This is one of the best green teas I've ever tried, per my preference (probably not an ideal reference context, since I'd like unconventional green teas better).

Yen Bai version (Vietnamese tea Somnuc made):  still a little cloudy, :( .  The flavor and other character isn't as bad as the appearance would indicate.  It's vegetal, with some astringency, and the mineral undertone is a little rough, a heavy limestone / granite theme.  It's not bad, in a relatively typical range for more local (or rustic) forms of green tea.  Even as commercial forms go this isn't below average, or maybe slightly better than that.  Floral tone probably picked up a little; it's probably better than it was in the first round.

Oiirabot Assam green:  it's better; the flavor is picking up depth.  That fruit from the scent is present; that's nice.  It's just the most subtle of the three; this could've brewed a little longer.  I've been brewing these around 20 seconds, a long time for most types I brew Gongfu style, but then backing off proportion just a little makes that appropriate.

For being about as fruity as any green tea I've ever tried it's quite pleasant.  It also includes a bit of green wood character, or that along with a faint trace of bell pepper.  Floral range is also notable, and sweetness is positive, so it all works.  It doesn't have quite the thickness, richness, and positive balance of the first version (the Ha Giang / Vi Xuyen Vietnamese version) but it's pleasant in similar ways, just less pleasant.  Without trying this alongside one of the best green teas I've yet to try it would seem a lot better.  The subtlety part could be offset by shifting parameters just a little.

Third infusion:

probably a little lighter than optimum, but varying that is interesting

Vi Xuyen:  this is a little lighter; I've probably backed off infusion time a little.  It still works this way, but there isn't much to describe.  I might do a longer round next for contrast.

Yen Bai, Somnuc's tea:  this is in the best balance it's been in.  Color cleared up and the flavors did too, and it's softer and well-balanced for being brewed lighter.  Floral tone is stronger than vegetal range, and it comes across as sweeter.  There's a bit more green bean than green bell pepper to it this round, but floral is stronger.  The feel works better.  I think mineral undertone is more pronounced in this than the other two.  Thai Nguyen green teas exhibit that, the region that produces the best known Vietnamese green teas.  To me it works well in those, and in this; it gives them a nice complexity and depth.

Assam green:  a cooked vegetable aspect picked up in this; odd.  It's not so far off a steamed zucchini, leaning a little towards seaweed.  That underlying fruit is still there, and floral tone, and very light astringency paired with green wood tone.  I really thought this would just be lighter since the other two were, but it shifted some instead, and it's as intense as it has been, in a decent, moderate range.  It's still pretty good, just not improved.  It would be nice if there was a way to concentrate that fruit aspect without ramping up all the rest.  I wouldn't necessarily expect this to be better brewed stronger, given the turn it has taken, but it's worth checking that out.

Fourth infusion:

all quite clear, still completely different colors

This will probably be enough; these will transition further over at least two more rounds but the main story will have been told.

Vi Xuyen:  even though this was brewed closer to 30 seconds it's fading just a little.  It's possible to crank up temperature to get more out of it, or just go longer, and for this tea being soft, sweet, and approachable any of those steps would still give positive results.  Flavor range is contracting a little; fruit is less pronounced, with floral a little heavier in the balance.  Warm tones don't necessarily pull back, so they make up a higher proportion now.

Somnuc's tea:  it's fine, a similar mix of floral tones, vegetal range, underlying mineral, and green wood related taste and astringency.  All pretty standard stuff for Vietnamese green tea.  It doesn't seem to be "brewing out" yet, shifting aspect proportion in a way that indicates that it's fading.  Even minimal oxidation would probably cause a tea version to give up some range related to brewing count and intensity in later rounds, in the case of the first.  A sweet aftertaste is pleasant in this, almost like the "hui gan" effect in sheng pu'er, but without the bitterness preceding it.  That was probably present in about the same form before, and only stands out more now in comparison with the first version, which is thinning.  The astringency is in a better balance than in the first two rounds, and the flavor proportion is better, backing off the vegetal range.

Oirabot Assam green:  more cooked vegetable in this, not unlike the last round.  It would seem likely this wouldn't be nearly as good brewed Western style since those earlier, more positive infusions would be getting combined with this range.  It's odd that it transitioned as much as it did, that the flavor completely changed.  There is still some fruit and floral range present but not much at all compared to vegetable range.  As with the last version sweetness is redeeming, and aftertaste is pleasant, a sweetness that lingers, just not as pronounced as in the second version.

The second tea is by far the best in this round; interesting how that worked out, given it was my least favorite the first two rounds.  I'm not sure which would be best if these brewed for 4 minutes, but I can't imagine that combining those aspect ranges would be better than experiencing them as I did, in stages.  Green tea usually doesn't transition that much, at least per my past experience.  At a guess the first version would've been best prepared that way since it was most consistent over rounds.  It was just odd chance that led the second version to improving as it did, and the third becoming less positive.

The Vi Xuyen noticeably darker, the one Somnuc made the lightest


Three very different green teas; that would be expected with them being from two different countries.  The first reminded me that green tea can be interesting, novel, a bit complex, and positive (perhaps cheating a little for not being a typical green style, a slightly oxidized green tea).  The second and third were both pleasant in the infusions / rounds they came across best in.  I'd still probably drink sheng pu'er (young or aged), black tea, oolong, or maybe even shu over any of these; personal preference for character, aspects, and types is like that.

They were good though.  And all of these could've potentially been slightly more positive if drinking them more fresh, back closer to their production time in the Spring.  I don't accept that green teas degrade as much as people let on but there's a fresh edge to them, a brightness and intensity, that really does help the character shine.  Some months after production that could fade, especially being stored in a hot environment like Bangkok.  It would be odd if the one I liked best ran completely counter to that rule, and I liked it the best for changing over a year and a half (if it was in fact a 2018 production, which I don't know).

That could lead back to the production process and style themes I didn't develop early on, that backing off the heating step just a little during the kill-green process would leave some enzymes active enough to change in a different way, related to how sheng pu'er is processed and does.  I'm not claiming that happened in this case though.  If anything that character was pulled a little towards black tea range instead, and oxidation and aging transition fermentation are completely different things (relatively completely; age-fermenting sheng do also oxidize, but per my understanding that's not identical in chemical form or aspects output).

It was interesting how much ground that comparison and the three types covered.  There's usually not that much fruit aspect present in green tea, and feel and aftertaste don't cover the range some did in different rounds.  Green tea versions usually don't transition as much as two of those did.  It all made for a pleasant tasting experience.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Comparing 2018 Pasha and Mannuo gushu sheng

Tea Mania Pasha left, Song Yi Mannuo right (in all photos)

I'm a little behind on getting to samples, and am only now returning to a second sheng version sent by Song Yi Tea (with contacts for them here and here), selling tea relatively directly sourced out of Taiwan.  Except for this, said to be relatively directly sourced in Yunnan, then sold from Taiwan, but the point is the same.  There is more of their story in this post.  The first Bulang sheng version wasn't bad, even better for seeming a good value, priced very fairly for how pleasant it was.

The other tea is a Pasha version from Tea Mania, a really consistent, also relatively direct-source theme seller.  It's hard to identify exactly what those sourcing stories mean, or be clear on how old "gushu" plants might really be, but I tend to not make too much of the stories anyway, letting the teas speak for themselves.

Per a standard approach I'll try these with no input then paste vendor descriptions back here prior to posting.

The Song Yi Tea version, 2018 Mannuo gushu sheng pu'er:

Name: Mannuo Gushu Sheng Puerh
Year: 2018 Spring First Harvest
Country of Origin: Yunnan Province, China
Altitude: 1300m above sea level
Flavor: Sweet Flowery Scent, strong aftertaste 

The tea leaves come from Gushu which are hundreds years old trees at Mannuo Mountains, the north part of Menghai.  Most of them grow on the slopes, reach up to 2 or 3 meters high and more than 10 cm stem diameter. There are very few other trees in the garden. 

Dry tea leaves are tight and dark. The infusion is light gold, clear and shiny, wild flowers aroma. The most loved aspect of this tea is its aftertaste, which has a special mellow flavor in the throat when drinking.  The sweet dimension is gradually becoming stronger.

Normally I would've edited that but this "gushu" claim relates to considering context.  This is selling for a bit over $60 for a 357 gram cake (2183 baht as I see the listing), which for some would relate to a warning flag, since gushu tends to cost a good bit more.  Location factors into pricing too, local demand.  Although one would be wary of accepting "special case" explanations alternative sourcing variations could come up; vendors buying teas relatively directly could by-pass some cost and adjust mark-up differently.

Onto Tea Mania's Pasha sheng pu'er description, a 250 gram 2018 gushu cake:

For this bingcha tea leaves of up to 300 year old tea trees (Gushu) were used by the Pasha Shan and processed into a bingcha. The typical Pasha aroma is accompanied by the depth and clarity of Gushu tea leaves and a touch of camphor. This tea is particularly suitable for aging by storage. A tea that gets better with the years.

Harvest Date:  Fall 2018 

Camphor is one of those descriptions that tends to be used in different ways, as hui gan is, or to a lesser extent probably as any aspect descriptions are.  I don't want to go too far with tangents but let's check what that even is:

Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora) is a terpene (organic compound) that’s commonly used in creams, ointments, and lotions. Camphor oil is the oil extracted from the wood of camphor trees and processed by steam distillation. It can be used topically to relieve pain, irritation, and itching. Camphor is also used to relieve chest congestion and inflammatory conditions.

As far as actually ingesting it goes they also say this:

Camphor should never be ingested internally as this can cause serious side effects and even death. Signs of camphor toxicity appear within 5 to 90 minutes of ingestion. Symptoms include burning of the mouth and throat, nausea, and vomiting.

Ok then; pass on brewing that as a tisane.  Back to the description, this being a fall (autumn) harvest tea stands out.  That makes the moderate pricing seem more realistic, with a convention about what that means for expected character a bit less clear to me.  Those can be less intense, but there must be more for uniform generalities I could pass on.

This cake is selling for $60 for a 250 gram version, so a bit more, but not much at all as typical gushu pricing goes (which again varies a lot by individual region, and other factors).  That's 24 cents a gram, versus 18 cents / gram for the other, for people who are more familiar with that form.

Moving on, let's check out those locations:

this map (from here) doesn't list Mannuo, with Pasha lower center left

that's it at the top, cited in a TeaDB summary as being from here

I'm not going to mention location-typical character; I'm not up to that even related to origins I'm much more familiar with.


Tea Mania left; you can almost feel that texture from how they look

Tea Mania 2018 (fall) Pasha gushu sheng pu'er:  it's nice; definitely a bit intense.  Bitterness stands out but it's moderate enough that it works.  There's a distinctive flavor, or rather a set, with one part towards a spice range.  Sweetness might well extend to fruit, a bit like citrus, maybe (grapefruit or dried grapefruit peel, a little towards dried orange or orange peel, because not really sour, just the rest).  The intensity comes across as strong flavor and pronounced aftertaste now, with feel full enough but likely to ramp up more in the second infusion, even brewed fast.

I'm still missing describing that spice flavor, a little like a very faint version of anise.  Maybe there's a variation that's not as overpowering and sweet as the most common star anise?  This doesn't include that distinctive non-sugar sweetness that seems connected with that flavor.

My sense of taste seems ok but my brain feels a little fuzzy; one part of doing this review is going to be tricky.  We took the kids out to ice skate yesterday, and got back home late, so I'm feeling that, being busy for too long yesterday.  Fighting Bangkok traffic is not a relaxing experience and I went through a few hours of that yesterday.  I'm fine though; I'll probably just pick up slightly less, and not be as sharp with making aspect connections as I could be.

on a break to scrape together a snowball; you can imagine how that ended

2018 spring Mannuo gushu sheng pu'er:  This is interesting for bearing some relation to the other version but being completely different.  Bitterness is more moderate, but both are in a decent middle range.  Both have a spice or earthy aspect that stands out that's novel, giving the teas an unusual profile, with plenty of other flavor complexity, along with overall intensity of flavor and feel.  Aftertaste seems a little more moderate in this version; it really lingered in the other.  But then the first infusion is a little early for calling that.

The main flavor in this is interesting.  It seems to include root spice, and maybe a taste similar to a dried Chinese date (jujube).  There's just a touch of earthiness in a less distinct range beyond that, which could come across as light roast coffee.  Both are similar in general character then, for striking somewhat similar balances, but different in taste, feel, and aftertaste.  This also seems like good tea but the aftertaste being thinner isn't positive as markers go.

Second infusion:

checking out a relatively light infusion; intensity still works

Pasha:  brewing these relatively fast should work well; the balance should be good (for around 5 seconds, maybe 7 to 8 instead).  Sweetness and bitterness are fine; that balance works.  This isn't above average for level of bitterness, and the feel works, not rough or dry in any way.  Not necessarily thick, oily, or smooth either, but the range is fine.  Feel includes a hint of dryness, but not much, not so much that it's easy to describe further.  Related to flavor again a nice mix of spice tone and mild supporting fruitiness seems to work well.  It's a little unconventional, but in a good way.  A touch of wood fills in the rest, nothing pronounced enough to easily describe as one certain kind, picking up intensity while the citrus (or other fruit) seems to moderate.

I often wonder about that theme of a set of flavors, or one in particular, or other character being considered to be a distinctive, typical narrow-location related flavor.  Later, after trying a few more "Pasha" sheng I'd be able to guess about that.

Mannuo:  the coffee related range dropped back but a distinctive mix (narrow range) of other flavor ramped up.  Dried Chinese date still works as a description, but range added to that.  This also has a hint of dryness, but in a different form.  Aftertaste did ramp up; these are closer now related to that.  Again the balance is fine (moderate in bitterness, intense in flavor, full enough in feel), with flavors that seem a bit new to me standing out.  These aren't floral-intensive; I guess I mean that.  It's possible I'm missing that as a supporting aspect for one or both but it definitely doesn't stand out.

Third infusion:

Pasha:  Somehow this is much catchier this round; it all really fell together.  It's not as if the feel or flavors were rough or a little off but sweetness, smoothness, and clean effect really picked up.  That mix of spice and mild fruit tone works, with spice changing form just a little.  Fruit really is non-distinct in this; citrus kind of works, but it's not like how that comes across in a Darjeeling or Oriental Beauty (more oxidized oolong).  Spice seems more like root spice now, the mildness, "roundness," and catchy range.  I suppose it's not far off an aromatic bark incense spice too, just a little smoother, less sharp and distinct.

Mannuo:  if anything this drifted to earthiness picking up a little, kind of the opposite direction.  Spice with fruit is strong in this version too, just a different version of both.  This is more typical of a bark spice, just not cinnamon, and instead of mild citrus that dried Chinese date.  It doesn't seem to include mild coffee still but a heavier, towards-earth flavor is present. 

Intensity is good in both of these; balance, feel, and aftertaste are all fine.  I can't conclude that they're gushu but they're both pretty good tea.  Both seem more interesting and positive for flavors and other range balancing and being pleasant, and distinctive, than for markers typically tied back to gushu / old plant source causation (extended aftertaste, pronounced underlying mineral, general intensity).

Fourth infusion:

This might be a short review given a pressing time-frame; the usual.  Coming back later to try a couple of extra rounds only ever goes so well and the notes are never as detailed, if I even make any.

Pasha:  maybe slightly catchier yet; that mix of spice and fruit complement really works.  This is nice and clean, well balanced, with good sweetness and very moderate bitterness.  I suppose it's conceivable that this could be a fall harvest version, it just seems a little intense for it to be that [turns out that it was; but really what do I know about any generalities or causes, though].  Bitterness is moderate; that might tie to that.  The warmth of the flavors is novel for a tea so young.

Mannuo:  that spice and trace of earthiness seems a little back towards a mild coffee range again; probably small variation in infusion intensity would shift that.  It's still clean though, and well balanced, definitely complex.  Spice and fruit also come across, as in the other version, just a different range of both.  A touch of green wood seems to join all that; it's definitely complex, slightly less subtle than the other, which I wouldn't describe as subtle at all.  Tasting both again a trace of green wood seems to support both.

nice looking leaves (Tea Mania left, Song Yi right)


I tried these for a few more rounds later (many, really) but didn't make notes, so I'll limit adding more about that, beyond saying they were very pleasant.  It seemed the Pasha might be a little thicker in feel, which I'd mentioned, which may have carried over more into later rounds than it stood out earlier.  It's not as if the Mannuo was thin, but there's a thick, viscous feel that can be really catchy in sheng versions, and it's cool when that stands out in later rounds too.

I have no opinion on these really being gushu or not.  I'm more familiar with Peter Pocajt's accounts of sourcing teas, so I'd trust those more, but hearing more of stories doesn't make them true (and the opposite).  Both represent very good value for teas this good selling for what they do.  Given the pricing you'd expect less complex, balanced character instead, or maybe even notable flaws.

The difference in one being a Spring tea and the other Fall didn't stand out, but then it would fold together with source location as a difference and other causes, including the gushu source theme.  They ended up being more similar than I would have expected, just expressing different flavor profiles.  But then those even overlapped, with some difference in feel and aftertaste, as described. 

I'm tempted to guess about aging potential but it also seems as well to skip that part.  People able to make more informed guesses about that would be more informative.  I tend to split teas into rough groupings related to what needs more aging to be drinkable (the opposite of these), with a subset of what has been aging but isn't there yet, and then those younger versions that may not have reached their potential for being able to mellow and develop a little over a shorter term.  Both these teas are drinking very well now, and I'd expect them to be just as good but slightly different in a year or two, then to fade into middle-age after that, with no clear expectation of how they'd come out the other side when fully aged.  There; I did guess.

Tea Mania I expect better-than-you-would-expect teas from, but it was nice to experience that from this other source too.  Beyond being quite pleasant to experience there's no way these teas should be this good at those prices.