Tuesday, January 15, 2019

2018 LBZ sample from a Liquid Proust introductory set






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.


Review



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.


The next infusion is similar, maybe picking up just a little depth.  Beyond the floral tone, moderate bitterness (hard to explain what I mean by that, really, so I just won't), underlying mineral layer, and integrated vegetal tone there's a hint of what someone might interpret as smoke.  Really I think it's just that the mineral range is quite complex, spanning different aspects or flavors that all would naturally be considered mineral, and one part of that is unfamiliar.  Part of the range is light, like limestone, and part richer and deeper, like red clay, and another part light in level but pronounced in distinct character, more like volcanic stone. 


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.


Conclusions


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.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Kinnari Tea sheng comparison (Nyot Ou district in Phongsaly, Laos)



I'm reviewing two sheng versions from Anna of Kinnari Tea; these should be really interesting.

They're Laos sheng, from the far North.  One lists it's from the "bai hao" cultivar, a tea plant type more typically used to make white tea.

William of Farmerleaf was also involved with an NGO project to conduct local training workshops in producing more standard and consistent sheng pu'er versions there, along with Anna and a supporting agency, with details about that in this video.

William mentions a link to more details about that project here, from the Comité de coopération avec le Laos (with an alternate Facebook page reference here).  Part of the introduction goes into that background:


In Nyot Ou, the northernmost district of Laos, tea trees grow in the wilds of the tropical forest covering the slopes of the mountains bordering the Chinese province of Yunnan. The wild tea stems from the variety Assamica, one of the two main varieties of tea. In China, this variety is called “the high tree with larges leaves”.

Growing tea has a long history in the Yunnan region: large tea leaves were used as medicine for at least three millenniums and seem to have already been a popular drink around the second century B.C.

Wild tea trees in Nyot Ou can grow as high as fifteen meters. Old pruning marks observed on some of them suggest that they could have be planted hundreds of years ago. In this case, they can be considered as “Ancient tea”, namely a tea tree resulting from a selection of wild tea varieties.


The rest of the background story is compelling.  I would highly recommend reviewing William's summary video explanation and at least scanning that NGO web page.

This really is the "wild, forest friendly" tea that comes up in discussion and sometimes in marketing claims.  The tea is something else; how it turned out depends on lots of factors, the plant type, growing conditions, processing, etc.  So I'll review it without adding more about all that, but I will pass on a few photos taken from that reference page to visually add more about it.

this photo set copyright of CCL, Comité de coopération avec le Laos.  see related link for content description.







Nammanoy village, Nyot Ou

more remote than where I've visited in Laos, which was already rough travel in spots


Review background


Something unusual came up related to this review; I was discussing my impression with Anna and it didn't match hers.  In particular that related to describing the level of bitterness in the Bai Hao version (sheng version made from a cultivar usually used for white tea production).  I decided to re-taste the teas, without referencing the notes, in order to see if my take was the same.  It was but it wasn't; related to that level of bitterness my impression was different.  

Instead of including the typical round-by-round description (which I now have two sets of notes on) I'll summarize findings for both from both notes.  I can't completely explain the discrepancy, the difference in interpretation or assessment of the aspects, especially that one, but I'll mention some possible factors in a section after the review summary.  It was interesting how even though the rest of the reviews seemed relatively consistent, beyond that one point about level of bitterness in one, interpretation of the flavor aspects did vary some.

Review


First tasting round, Bai Hao Left, Workshop version right






Workshop tea (I'll go tea by tea across rounds in this format).  This tea was on the subtle side but the character it did have was pleasant.  It was a little more intense than the other version related to flavor input, but the "Bai Hao" tea had a creamy fullness to the feel that filled in that experience more.  A warm tone stood out; described in different parts of both reviews as possibly related to autumn leaf or a warm version of mineral, like South-Western US sandstone.  Bitterness was very light; part of what might have been occurring related to seeing the "Bai Hao" version as bitter was noticing a relative difference (with more on that in the other review and explanation).

Some amount of floral tone was present in this version, which trailed into a light version of dried fruit in later rounds.  The tea was noticeably darker than the other version, related to the leaves, and the brewed liquid, which might indicate that it had oxidized a bit during processing (hard to imagine what else that could relate to).  That could also help explain the character.  It wasn't really like a black tea but the normal degree of bitterness dropping out and the flavors extending from light and bright into a warmer, softer, earthier range would all be explained by that.  It even had a mild savory quality to it (only picked up in one of the two review notes versions), a bit like sun-dried tomato.


Bai Hao plant-type sheng:  this tea was much milder in overall character, light in flavor intensity, with a degree of bitterness identified as very low in one tasting and only moderate in another, but the dominant aspect in the experience.  In the review where bitterness seemed stronger a flavor along the lines of green wood paired with that; in the other review the tea was described more as mild, light in flavor, and floral.  A flavor along the line of hay or mild version of wood was identified in the other set of notes; that would probably correspond, but seems interpreted as different in regards to level of bitterness and related flavor.  Feel seemed full in both review impressions, a bit creamy even, and the character pleasant, with enough sweetness to give the tea good balance, but a mild overall flavor.  A mild floral tone filled in background complexity, just light in tone, and subdued in character, how chrysanthemum or even chamomile can come across.

That cuts out a lot of the specific observations but covers the main themes and impression.  To be clear (and probably to repeat myself) the Bai Hao version didn't seem relatively bitter, as young sheng goes, but it did seem more bitter in the first tasting, and very mild in the second.  The rest of the aspect description generally matched.

All of this might be implying some judgement of bitterness as a bad thing, which doesn't necessarily work.  I made this observation in the first round, related to that:

The bitterness is at a great level; for some people less would always be more, but to me this balances well.  

That aspect seemed more pronounced than in the other tea, and stronger in one tasting than the other (the one this comment came from), but to me bitterness can work really well in sheng if the balance of the rest compliments it well. 

Second tasting session; Bai Hao left, Workshop tea right





Possible reasons for variation


This provides a good background for talking through why reviews might be inconsistent; these two in particular, but also in general.  I'll list individual potential reasons for variation and talk through background more within that format.


I'm not a consistent input:  teas can seem different depending on changes related to the person tasting them; energy level, mood, background conditions changing perspective, etc.  Even though I've tried a lot of teas over a long time and feel I probably have a decent taste-memory I suspect that trying a lot of teas of a certain range shifts an interpretive baseline.  For example, I'd guess that if I'm trying a lot of very mild versions of sheng for weeks that my impression of what is a bitter version would change to including a lot less of that aspect as an input.  Quality level probably also shifts as an expectation; if I'm trying a lot of exceptional tea of any type it would be harder for a version to stand out related to being well above average.  Background noise in particular is a very significant input; finer details related to tea aspects drop out with any degree of distraction as a factor.


Parameter variations:  this could make a big difference.  Shifting proportion or water temperature would change outcome, even if proportion difference was offset by infusion timing change.  Using even slightly cooler water would brew a milder version of tea, related to infusion strength and intensity of both flavor aspects and astringency.  Drinking a tea a good bit slower would actually change water temperature, giving the drained leaves a chance to shed more heat in between infusions.  The water used itself would vary results quite a bit, and using filtered tap water might introduce another potential variable, since mineral levels and proportion really could vary some day to day.


Guesses about this specific case:  I hadn't given it much thought at the time but I brewed the tea inside the first time and drank it outside the second, at a concrete table beside our driveway.  It's nice out there; lots of plants make for a pleasant background.  It was a bit cool both days, for us, but maybe as cool as Bangkok ever gets for the second tasting, around 25 C (77 F, or so).  Right, it's warm here.  I was using a slightly lower proportion the second time, not for any particular reason, but that parameter judgment is usually just based on immediate inclination.  Infusion times would have ran a little longer as a result, to even out brewed tea strength, but it's easy to not really compensate for that difference with the right degree of timing change, and to drink the tea lighter.

I think temperature may have been a factor.  I was drinking the tea in a cooler space, on a concrete table versus wood, which may have drawn more heat out of the teaware, perhaps a bit slower due to having more time.  Proportion probably also came into play.  I suspect I always vary at least a little as an input, in every review.  Sometimes I have a long block of free time for a review, setting up a good baseline for background, but I don't always.  I definitely sleep different amounts every night, more or less interrupted, and review teas on Saturday or Sunday mornings, but at different times in the morning.  That kind of input change should be minor, but minor changes could add up.  If kids are around (and half the time they are) the background noise changes things a lot.  Even expectation of finishing more quickly would be an input; working around having a set length of time.

I doubt the leaves varied, but it's worth at least mentioning.  Plantation tea would be made of very consistent plant material input, and probably processed very consistently.  I doubt the tea itself really did vary though, but it is conceivable.  In cases when it's known that multiple types of plants were used in making the tea it would be more a factor, or when evident processing variation would be a cause (slightly scorched leaves, a case of a processing flaw).  I'm guessing that the tea was probably relatively uniform in this case, not a main cause.


It was an interesting experiment.  I won't be running that too often because it takes a long time to do two tastings and to edit notes for that kind of thing.  It seems a good time to point out that I see these reviews as an impression.  It might be more of an objective take than someone with very limited tea exposure and review practice would pass on but I never intended them as amounting to a final analysis.  To really get to that, a balanced, final opinion, it would help to try a tea at least three times, and compare notes on impression from those three tastings.  Four or five would be even better, perhaps using the last round as an evaluation in comparison to the earlier findings.  

Interpretation of basic aspect levels (eg. bitterness, sweetness, level of astringency) really should be relatively more consistent, but interpretation of flavor aspects would naturally tend to vary.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Comparing Liu Bao, one a 2013 version from Liquid Proust


2017 comparison version left, Liquid Proust 2013 sample right


I only have one more sample of tea I plan to review from that earlier Liquid Proust introductory set after this one (an LBZ sample; that could be interesting).  I've ran through the background before on that but I'll include a short version here.

That set / group buy was really designed to introduce people to sheng who aren't familiar with it.  So not intended for me, basically.  I was taking part in the role of a journalist, to help get the word out, and of course I was curious to try the teas.  I've since ordered and received a "Sheng Olympiad" version of a set, which I'll get to next (with background on what that is here).  It didn't sell out right away, that group buy, but I put in an order for it immediately when I saw a notice given how this other set worked out.

Andrew does all these group-buy or introductory sets more in the role of a tea evangelist than as a vendor making a profit.  They're funded by the limited profits from his other sales, per my understanding, and on the whole he's only roughly coming out even.  You have to admire that degree of dedication and idealism, or at least I certainly do.

The point for including Liu Bao along with that is obvious enough; it's not sheng but it fills in another fascinating and closely related look into the world of tea, bridged over from sheng into hei cha scope (so a closer relative to shu or ripe pu'er). 

Given that this is essentially a free sample--I had to talk him up in price to be sure to cover what the shipping would run--all of these teas have been good, and type-typical enough to serve the role, definitely within the range of different conventional styles.  Most were good aside from that concern; just plain good tea. 

"Good" means different things, and the sense I'm using it here relates to being a decent example of a style of tea that shows what that type is about.  I don't mean it as a reference to them being above-average examples that would seem a good value at a higher than average price point; what an experienced pu'er drinker would seek out after developing preferences.  Related to that more specific scale of expectations they're not above average.  Some additional context might help here.

When people ask how others are able to drink sheng when all they try is awful that seems to be a reference to two different causes.  One is that they're not adjusted to the range; even light or moderate bitterness can be hard to appreciate at first, just as people don't always love coffee or beer at first, but later they can come to like it.  The other factor is that below average quality sheng pu'er can be very hard to appreciate or like.  Some aspects really do taste like kerosene, cardboard, or mushrooms, or some are musty from improper storage.  The teas in this set haven't suffered from those degrees of flaws, although unfamiliar taste range can come up with sheng.

A search function post list references other related tea reviews from that sample set.  We'll see where this one stands here.

I'm comparison reviewing it along with a Liu Bao version I've had around for awhile for a few reasons, but mainly because comparisons are what I'm into, and I had a related version I'm familiar with on hand.  Liu Bao character is clear from memory but tasting a second version along with it highlights minor differences and underlying attributes.

Review


Liquid Proust version right; leaf color difference is evident already


2017; a version from a friend in Kuala Lumpur:  this tastes like Liu Bao (or Luk Bok, per the Cantonese name, as my friend refers to it).  It's mineral intensive; it tastes a lot like a slate chalkboard smells.  That actually works; it's smooth and sweet, with decent balance for including so much of one flavor range.  From there one might identify different types of earthiness, like peat, or autumn forest floor, or aged tree bark, or maybe even a touch of charcoal.  It's a lot cleaner in effect than that would sound, and will probably come across even cleaner after a couple of rounds.  I don't expect this will transition a lot but the effect is pleasant for being on the simple side, and earthy in that one way.

I might add that I received and first reviewed this tea in October of 2017, so I'm assuming it may be from 2017, but that's not really a given.  It could easily be a 2016 version, or maybe even earlier.  It was from this KL shop, I think, and the original packaging probably made that clear.  The processing step takes considerable time, per my understanding, and Liu Bao probably isn't necessarily made from spring harvest tea, or maybe it typically isn't, so that timeline may mean this really has to be a 2016 version.  I don't know, and it's not really the point here, mapping out aging-related character difference.  That would only work if the teas were very similar in starting point, and the opposite seems true anyway, which I get around to saying more about along with the second infusion notes.


2013, the Liquid Proust sample:  this is completely different; interesting.  That other range is there, slate with some other earthy mineral, but this version also includes something like floral range, but an earthy version, that sweet character that old furniture can take on.  It's paired with an odd aspect that's not exactly mustiness but is along that line.  There seems a good chance this was stored in a relatively humid environment, based only on that as a factor.  But then it also seems a bit light in character; we'll see.

Aging seems to transition sheng pu'er even more because the starting point is different; it's easy to notice bright floral notes and intense bitterness and astringency shifting to other mellower, deeper toned range.  Liu Bao changes with age and it also mellows, but in a sense it starts out kind of mellow anyway.  I've not experienced the same type of relatively "off" fermentation effect shou pu'er can have, but I suppose that is still possible; the sample count of Liu Bao versions I've tried have been limited.  I've experienced it musty from being stored in too humid an environment and this isn't like that.  One other version took about a year to air out related to that.

This second tea is much better related to being more complex.  Since some of the aspect range isn't completely positive it's not clearly better as an overall experience this round, but I expect its flavor will "clean up" over the first few infusions.  This still seems characteristic of Liu Bao to me but it's unlike any I've tried so far.


Second infusion


again LP version right, comparison sample left (same in all photos)


2017 (comparison):  the flavors did clean up in this but there wasn't much shift to occur; they weren't really musty or muddled in any way initially.  This tea will just be what it is; earthy in a dark mineral tone intensive way.  It's nice though.  I'd expect that given another 5 years of so of age it would develop a mellow smoothness that it doesn't have now, although it's not edgy or difficult to relate to in any way.  It doesn't need age to shed any "off" pre-fermentation flavors.  It's a nice tea for this baseline comparison, to establish what that other style of version is like for direct comparison.

My friend offered it as a nice version of a basic daily drinking tea, and it works as that.  I find it very pleasant, and complex enough that it's not an overly simple experience, although it is a bit basic in character.  It would be great with foods of different types, a good compliment, which is usually how I drink tea.


2013 (LP):  this did transition more, although I expect that the next round will finish more of a move off that one odd set of initial flavors.  The earthy range (slate, dark mineral, touch of peat) and that floral / aromatic / sweet aged furniture range has been joined by a acetone-like aspect, a bit like a perfume base.  That somewhat floral aspect changed in character too, which I'll describe more next round, after a bit more transition, since it's still in the early stages of evolving.  That's all a good thing as transition direction goes.  It's a little cleaner and more positive in overall effect than it had been, still showing a nice complexity, a good range of aspects.

I hadn't mentioned that this older tea version is less fermented.  The aspects experienced would probably tell that story to someone familiar with this type but it seems obvious in the leaf color alone.  It's working backwards for me in this case, related to how tasting usually goes, with those aspects tying back to a known cause (apparent from the leaf color), not only indicating one.

It's interesting to consider that this second tea might have more aging potential going forward, even for being older.  The 2017 version represents aspects already transitioned by a pre-fermentation step that seems to have been carried further, which would be a positive or negative difference depending on how one takes the final effect.

All that works really well related to trying out how Liu Bao can vary.

Third infusion




2017:  this tea is nicer, cleaner and brighter.  The earthiness cleans up showing through a mild floral range, not exactly light in character but light in relation to the depth and intensity of the rest.  I think a lot of people might taste this tea and think I'm crazy to interpret that range as floral, since it still tastes a good bit like licking a slate chalkboard must, but there's a bright, sweet, complex higher note there to pick up too.

The friend who passed this on mentioned a typical range of flavors and effect description for Liu Bao / Luk Bok, which I'd have to cite to draw on much given my memory, but one part was how the charred sweetness can seem comparable to that found in Chinese roast pork (char sui, I think it is).  Thais like that dish too, so it's familiar, and I agree with him about that interpretation.


2013:  lots of transition in this round, and not all what I expected.  A tree-fungus aspect joined in, the flavor that ties directly to the smell of those large white crescent shaped versions.  So it's not really "cleaner" now, as I expected, more just different.  It still has good complexity, with floral tone still mixed in with the rest.  There is an awful lot going on in the experience, in every infusion version, and also tied to changes.  I don't like it more this round though.  It's still pleasant but not exactly improved by that shift. 


Fourth infusion


2017:  I could swear that the "char" effect has picked up a little in this round.  Really this tea isn't about going through a dramatic transition though; it's not far off where it had been in earlier rounds.


2013:  sweetness and what I'm interpreting as a perfume-like floral tone is more pronounced, with that tree-fungus range dropping back.  At a guess even slight shifts in brewed strength would shift how the aspects seem to balance with each other, so some of what I'm interpreting as transitions may just be that.

The feel seems to have a nice creaminess to it; it reminds me of how Guiness Stout feels, and some of that earthiness in that beer type matches too.  The rest of the range is quite different; it's earthier (and like fermented tea instead of dark beer), with sweetness that's perfume-like, and not so far off aged antique furniture range, something different.  With that degree of overall complexity to sort through I'm not going to get anywhere related to isolating which flower the floral range relates to, since I'm not great at that when tea flavors are a lot simpler.


Fifth infusion




2017:  I went really light on the next round, just a few-second infusion, to see how that shifted things.  This tea version is about the same, just lighter.  It works well this way but maybe best just slightly stronger, better at somewhere between a 5 and 10 second infusion, and still ok just beyond that.

2013:  this version works well lighter; the mushroom / fungus integrates better.  I'll try around 10 seconds next round and that will tell all of the story except later round transitions, which I'll skip taking notes on.  Both these teas would go a little long, I'd expect, maybe around 10 rounds.


Sixth infusion


2017:  this version is the best it has been; it's nice when transitions keep a tea improving like that.  It's not so different than before though, more that the floral / perfume like range is balancing better now, standing out a little more.  Char has dropped back but the rest of the dark mineral range is still a clean-flavored base context for both of those.  It's worth pointing out that this tea might be completely different and just as good brewed using Western or "grandpa style" approaches (longer, lower proportion timed infusions, or just leaving it in with the hot water to brew for quite awhile).

2013:  this has improved too; the fungus note drops back, into a better balance with all the rest (which I won't keep repeating as a list).  People might either love or hate this tea depending on how they relate to that one aspect, more so than the rest, or how it balances.  I've been through a lot with tea types and character range, never mind strange foreign foods, so it's fine for me.  I suppose the fungus component has transitioned, off that intense and unusual tree-fungus character more to a milder and sweeter wood-ear mushroom version.  The texture is a little odd for those but the taste is nice enough.

Conclusions


Six relatively fast infusions isn't the end for teas like this; they both had a ways to go, and I could've mapped out later round transitions.  But I did stop taking notes there, and of course I'm not going to describe slight variations based on memory later.  I'm posting this a good bit later, as things turned out; I took a week off work to use up remaining vacation, and had holiday days off for New Years, so I'm still converting tasting notes from then to posts.  I don't have much to add about this experience.

I can say this, that the other Liu Bao I've tried all seemed a bit simple in character related to this Liquid Proust version.  Some with more age on them had an interesting smoothness and depth but that version seemed a good bit more complex than they had tended to be (per memory, which is not completely reliable in my own case).  It seemed like a relatively more limited application of a pre-fermentation stage might've related to that, that allowing that process to run a bit further would've resulted in a more typical slate / earthy / peat / slight char character.  Then the tea would probably be more like the other comparison version.

Both teas were nice, both pleasant to experience, with the differences between the two also very interesting.