I'm on the last tea I'll review from a Liquid Proust introductory set. The last version reviewed (a Liu Bao) included more background on what that was all about, with a little about the Sheng Olympiad set version; this will just be a review. That Sheng Olympiad set is sitting unopened at home; I won't rush to review it given other back-log but it'll be interesting checking it out too.
I've only tried one example of a tea sold as Lao Ban Zhang (beyond one that was at best an obvious fake, but a nice enough tea for selling at a low price level), an autumn harvest single-serving coin example from King Tea Mall. I won't be able to evaluate this as having a characteristic taste or other aspects profile from that region. Comparing this tea's character and that sample might not be informative, even if both are from that area, given differences that an input like a varied harvest season can bring about, or processing variation.
In part people value the "cha qi" or drug-like experience of teas from that region, and of course I can describe if I'm noticing that. That other LBZ (or alleged LBZ, for skeptics) was one of the two strongest teas I've yet to try related to that general type of effect.
that other version (credit the King Tea Mall site)
It works better to pick up an aspect like feel-effect (cha qi) in a very neutral setting, free of all sorts of distractions. Sometimes where I live is like that and sometimes it isn't. Today it's in the middle; some people are around to make some noise but my son is at a Chinese (Mandarin) lesson. My wife will probably start in about a list of things I'm supposed to do within a half an hour so I will have to keep this tasting moving. Even the expectation of interruption should be avoided, ideally. I'm tasting the tea outside, which I'll say more about as a variable in another post, which may go up before or after this depending.
An idea comes up right away that I won't address much here. Is this "real," is it actually from the Lao Ban Zhang area? It's hard to be sure, even hard to guess out a probability. If it is this cake should have been very expensive. I saw one mentioned recently for around $1200; I can't say if that's above or below the normal price range but that sets a general range for expectation. Unless I've botched the math at that rate for a 357 gram cake a 10 gram sample of this would cost over $33, more in the normal price range for an inexpensive entire cake. On that discussion post someone commented they bought the same cake for a bit over $700 new, for what that's worth, and Yunnan Sourcing lists versions for less.
In general Andrew, that business owner, seems to have been through a good bit of learning curve already, which is a positive factor. And he seems quite genuine. But really who knows; tracking down history for a tea source is a tricky thing. Most vendors are called into question about something at some point, and it can be a difficult thing to evaluate, unless they've made claims so outrageous that they're obviously false. Sometimes price-point gets cited related to that, but since this was more or less a free--an almost entirely cost-supplemented set--that doesn't necessarily work. I won't go further into how to establish judgement about that. As a general rule if something sounds too good to be true it usually isn't, but that may or may not apply this case.
Starting with the appearance, the tea is mostly in a large chunk of a cake, with mixed green and lighter content.
The first infusion flavor, brewed a bit light, is very positive. It's floral in a sense that is hard to describe, with a moderate amount of bitterness, but a light enough input that it balances well. It makes no sense to try to break down a full description before the leaves are even fully saturated so I'll hold off on that a round.
With or without being LBZ this tea will be a pleasant experience. Bitterness ramps up in the second infusion, along with other flavor inputs, but the overall character of the tea is great. And hard to describe. The flavor range is mostly floral but there's a good bit of mineral below that, with another main aspect that's along the lines of green wood. Usually I'd mean that as relating to a slightly negative aspect in a tea, tasting like wood in general, or green wood, but it's more important how a tea comes across than if a long flavor list or individual aspect sounds good. The tea is very nice related to how that set works out, and an aspect list doesn't convey that. I'll try to describe it better, using a different approach than simple listing.
Bitterness is pronounced but moderate enough to not take over the experience, in a form well-integrated with the rest. Floral tones are non-distinct for the tea character being complex over-all; it makes it harder specifying a flower type or other description. Mineral is at a nice level, again well-balanced with the rest and coming across as integrated. The feel of the tea is nice. It's quite full in your mouth but not aggressive in any way. Aftertaste lingers well; the bitterness trails into an experience of sweetness. Some people value that more than I tend to, tasting the tea long after they swallow it, and to me it just adds another dimension to experience.
It's always a little odd referencing types of stone; you smell those out in nature but isolating a version in a tea flavor is probably quite unreliable. Beyond all that a bright, sweet component reminds me a little of fruit, not one that I can actually describe, but maybe towards dried mango (or dried peach isn't that far off, to try to place it in a Western fruit).
Going with a very fast infusion on the next round, just a few seconds, still provides a good level of intensity. The balance works better brewed lightly, although it doesn't necessarily come across as light. It's still as intense across the entire aspect range as other sheng versions I've tried brewed for 10 seconds or more, or more intense than some across parts. Real LBZ or not it's nice tea.
I went back to more like a 10 second infusion to experience the contrast, and will probably switch back to quite fast from there on. As infusions go by there will be more to say about transitions but the overall effect is of the same character, well-balanced, complex, and intense. The sweetness and good balance for bitterness along with heavier mineral tones works well. Old-plant sourced teas (often hard to clearly identify, since that tends to be used so much as a marketing term) have a certain intensity to them, and pronounced mineral range, but to me this just seems like a conventional tea version that happens to be expressed a bit towards that instead. It's flavor intensive, but with depth beyond that; not all sheng are like that.
I'm not noticing that much "cha qi" effect. In trying the only other LBZ version I tried (or one seemingly more reliably reported to be that) about this far in I had to take a break and was feeling somewhat stoned. I'm just not getting that.
That reminds me of an observation from my younger, drug experimentation days (drug-use, to be fair; I experimented and then kept going), related to weed (marijuana). It was possible to get good and stoned (really stoned, not like feeling an effect from tea) and somehow not notice it, to not be in the right context where it stood out. Then visiting a 7-11, or any convenience store, would really provide that baseline, and everything could feel really odd and out of place. Much later on being stoned just seemed normal, so that not being under the influence could be perceived as an experience lacking something.
It's better to never take a drug habit that far, and ideally skipping even experimentation might be best. One nice part is that you can work back to really appreciating unadulterated reality, and place drug and alcohol use for what it is, as an input that one can learn to accept embracing to unhealthy extremes, indulge in moderately, or just set aside.
The tea is good; more of the same in the next infusion (up to 6 or so now?). The balance of those earlier described aspects shifts a little but the basic character stays the same. I would have expected bitterness to be more pronounced in this tea but I'm really not familiar with any sort of regional-type baseline, and I've noticed that aspect varying by so many factors that it's hard to place it as an expectation and generality even when that is the case. I suppose the brewed tea and leaf color is slightly darker than I expected too. That could be the result of oxidizing slightly during processing, or even due to aging over the relatively short span of time since last spring. Sheng does change color over the course of the first year; that shorter term aging effect is easy to notice.
Within a half hour of writing the last notes (paragraph) the effect of the tea does seem to be kicking in. My wife took our daughter out to pick up our son and the environment went quiet; that changes things. I still don't think this is one of the stronger teas I've experienced related to "cha qi" effect but it is notable. It's more noticeable in a quieter and more pleasant environment; kids banging around and your wife going on about whatever it is just then comes across more the same.
The tea isn't transitioning that much, more shifting the balance of what was there, but an interesting lemony citrus note replaced the earlier hint of fruit, a good number of infusions in. There's a reasonable chance that it was present earlier but the balance or form has shifted a little, so that if expecting that as an aspect I'd have flagged it some rounds earlier. Mineral is still pronounced but a bit lighter too, both in the sense of dropping back in proportion a little and to being expressed in a lighter limestone / flint range.
Evaluated aside from that, and beyond the LBZ mystique, the tea is very nice. It has a complex character that is well balanced, with an interesting set of aspects going into that. The feel structure could be a bit fuller; that particular marker for tea quality doesn't stand out in this version. Aftertaste isn't as intense and lengthy as it could be but it's not thin in that regard. General intensity across flavor and other aspects was in the normal range but not really above average for a young sheng version, but that worked well for me in drinking it on the young side like this.
Lacking a stronger feel-related effect was a bit negative, given that expectation, but since I'm not really so into that I didn't mind it so much. I don't have much of a guess on the likelihood this actually is LBZ; someone familiar with a normal range of aspects for tea from that area would have more to go on.
It's conceivable that a processing choice or initial tea quality issue pulled the end effect slightly off the normal regional range, which would account for why the tea wasn't selling for anywhere near $1000 (if it wasn't), but I also have no guess about that. Andrew seems a bit busy these days, and we don't talk that much by message, so it seemed as well to leave out his input about all of this. I really liked the tea; at the least that part worked out.