Saturday, July 4, 2020

Sheng Olympiad 2016 Huang Chen Hao Lao Man E

I'm reviewing the third of a Liquid Proust (vendor) "Sheng Olympiad" set sample, with two more to go.

I'll look up his description (Andrew Richardson's, that vendor) during the final edit, but will go into this with only expectations related to the source area and age.  Lao Man E region versions are known for characteristic bitterness.  Both bitterness and astringency can fade and transition over time, with the pace depending on storage conditions, so I'd expect character to have mellowed some over 4 years.  At this point it almost goes without saying that different sheng versions are most positive after different storage time periods, or interesting in different ways, so this being 4 years old doesn't necessarily mean any one thing.

The leaf looks pretty good, on the whole side.  It's browner than some typically are; no further observation related to that.

~16 2016 LaoManE from Huang Chen Hao: this has been in my top five for some time. Between the slight Malaysian storage, taste, and visual leaf I was quite please... but the real kicker about this is the qi. I consistently feel come alive within me when I drink it. Truly a special treat.

I don't really "get" cha qi so that part won't work, but I could still appreciate it on other levels.

It's interesting hearing about "slight Malaysian" storage, especially since I already wrote the notes.  I'd assume that means Malaysian stored, but interpreted as not as wet-stored as can be a common theme from there.  The character seemed to match up with that.


First infusion:  I let this go a little long (about 15 seconds) to avoid the round where I say "I'll know better next round."  That is a nice way to experience a sheng, to let the first round be just an initial glimpse, but time is a bit short due to us travelling later this morning.  And the chaos level in the house is at upper-medium, even less ideal.

This is nice.  Bitterness does stand out as a main part of the experience but not a blast that overtakes the rest.  Some pleasant warm flavor aspects join that, towards spice, with the feel standing out just as much, a rich fullness.  There's one characteristic feel that this matches that I won't be able to do justice to describing.  "Structured" is completely wrong, but saying "full and rich" sounds more like oolong thickness to me.  It's like the way a butterscotch candy has a feel to it, a thickness, along with that characteristic flavor.

I could do with this bitterness being a little more subdued and balanced but for this being a Lao Man E it's quite moderate and integrated; younger versions tend to express a real blast of bitterness.  The rest of this post will probably keep going on about other supporting aspects, since the complexity of this is good, and the sweetness and other flavor range isn't really caught by saying "towards spice."

Second infusion:  This round I brewed for around 10 seconds, versus a more conventional 6 to 8, that I use along with a typical high proportion (typical for me), due to messing around instead of that being intentional.  Next round I'll keep it moderate and describe how that changes things.

The complexity of this is really positive.  Feel has a lot going on, and flavor extends to lots of layers beyond the bitterness, which is a bit softer and warmer in tone than it would be in any younger version.  This tea is in a decent place.  It would be interesting to try it in another 10 years since it seems to have great potential to go to a really interesting and pleasant place later. 

That spice range seems to cover both a relatively neutral root spice effect and a hint towards a more warm aromatic bark spice.  Bitterness is right in between throwing off the balance of that other effect and complementing it.  Feel stands out a lot.  Brewing this light should make it easier to sort out flavor, and to experience this at more of an optimum.

Third infusion:  slightly more pleasant, but then it was nice brewed a little stronger than I like too.  Bitterness doesn't fade in proportion drinking it this way; if anything it might stand out a little more.  I like bitter sheng, to some degree, where 4 years ago this would just taste like taking an aspirin to me.  It sort of still does, but I guess I would enjoy the taste of aspirin more now too.  Especially if it had a nice body and some spice tones to go along with that.  I'll get around to a more complete aspect-list description version next round.

Fourth infusion:  this is leveling off a bit, falling into a more uniform balance.  That thick smoothness stays as pronounced as ever but bitterness fades a little.  Then again the warm spice tone seems a little more muted too, so that might just relate to using fast infusions the last two rounds.  I like the balance, where this is.  I've got another sheng version that's pretty close to this, I just forget which one, I think one of those 2015 or 2016 sheng versions that I bought from Chawang Shop.

I can't really guess at what storage input was for this, given I don't know the starting point character, and it's only four years old [although the description did say "slight Malaysian"].  It probably wasn't really dry; this seems to have had time to change some, and Kunming storage (where Chawang Shop is based) is good for preserving the original nature of teas, of stopping them from changing much.  Then again it could be that; what do I know. 

I'd have expected Bangkok storage, the hot and really humid range, to have caused even more change, even without knowing the starting point.  It's great for moving things along a bit for fermentation level but perhaps not ideal for some teas for storage over 10 years, leading to less than ideal character.  Of course that would depend on the tea; for something that needs a lot of transition, like a Xiaguan tuocha, hot and humid conditions may be great, but for more subtle sheng that need to evolve and transition less dramatically maybe not so much.

Fifth infusion:  maybe the best round so far, but then maybe I've just let screwing up infusion times drop for a round.  The bitterness is balanced, integrated.  That warm spice tone range seems to merge with a warm underlying mineral range now, something I've described as towards iron bar or natural artesian spring in the past (two different things, but they overlap).  The part that works best is how well the different components balance each other; it will be hard for that to come across in a list-style description.  Even that feel is part of that, and the aftertaste experience adds to it, an extra dimension coming after. 

Complexity is hard to describe too, how bitterness, warm tones, some cured wood, even pleasant and rich floral range all merge in this.  It's better tea than I often drink, probably not on a quality level I've never experienced, but it doesn't suffer from the limitations I usually experience due to buying relatively inexpensive tea versions.

Sixth infusion:  this house has went quiet due to my wife and son running one last errand before our trip but I'll still need to wrap this up.  It must have another half dozen very positive infusions to go, with all of those telling a transition cycle story, but it's not a story I'll get around to telling.

It's interesting how this is a bit neutral in flavor tone in one sense and very complex in another.  More aged tea versions tend to land on that type of character sometimes, more so than a four year old tea version.  Really bitterness is still present, just very moderate compared to the first three or four infusions, and there's a lot going on still, but intensity seemed to have dropped way off in comparison with how this was.  It's interesting how benchmarks or expectations can slide like that, how a really good tea isn't that great if you drank an even better one just before, or it could seem amazing if you'd been on plain teas for awhile.  The same applies for novelty, and so on.

Aromatic wood tone along the line of cedar is picking up in proportion.  Maybe this would be better if the bark spice range had increased instead of the root spice (which is much closer to that wood tone, an overlapping effect), but to me it's still quite pleasant.  A mild floral range and good balancing sweetness gives it a full effect related to flavor, and feel range more than carries its weight, a very positive aspect range in this tea.

Seventh infusion:  more of the same.  I'll let this drop and try to enjoy rushing through another half dozen rounds, versus rambling on or trying to pick apart minor changes.

This tea was very pleasant, quite well balanced, complex, interesting in style, and obviously positive for quality level.  Over the next two years or so this would retain a similar positive nature, but it may well really shine with another decade of transition letting those changes run their course.  I suppose I'll never know.  It was really nice to experience as it is now, the general idea behind sheng tasting sets.

I don't have much for conclusions so I'll skip even adding a section for that.  It seemed relatively far along for fermentation for being four years old, but not so extreme that it was necessarily wet-stored, so pretty much as described.

That trip I mentioned delayed for a day, for a strange reason.  I was cleaning the cat litter boxes before the trip and accidentally set one of them loose while doing it, outside running around, probably not to return until later in the day.  At least I'm doing some extra down-time as a result, while my wife takes the kids to clear some errands.  I could use the day for recovery from re-starting running a few weeks ago, and yoga in the past week. 

I've been considering breaking form and writing here about yoga.  It's interesting trying a sports-oriented activity (maybe yoga isn't really a sport) that you aren't good at, not normally how such things tend to go.  Then again restarting running after a very long time off was a bit rough too (not this recent time; I just took a couple months off to let my knee heal up).  And people look silly when they first start lifting weights, and so on.  I guess it's just normal.

first day of school this past week

showing off a new hair length

Monday, June 29, 2020

Aran Tea Thai "Assam," compared to an Assam version

Assam Teehaus version left, Aran Thai "Assam" right

both used nice multi-layer packaging, and graphic stickers (not that such branding helps the tea)

I'm comparison tasting a Thai version of Assam along with an Assam version; that seemed a good way to establish a baseline.  I really liked the Thai sheng version from Aran (reviewed here); it just seemed a bit like green tea to me, in between type categories in style.  This struck me as quite close to an orthodox Assam, when trying it a week before doing a review, with this comparison filling in just how similar.  The outcome:  quite similar.

The Assam Teehaus product was a version that Maddhurjya Gogoi sent me last year.  His teas are pretty far up the scale for as good as orthodox Assam gets.  I think maybe versions from Oiirabot and Lautimi, sold by Tea Leaf Theory, might have matched my preferences just a little better, but that may have just related to being that much closer to Chinese tea versions in style, not to actually being better.  Dian Hong, Yunnan black tea, is a personal favorite, and tea really close to that in character might seem better to me, versus that actually relating to some objective improvement in quality.

meeting Maddhurjya (second from right) along with Sasha and Kittichai two years ago

I reviewed those Assam Teehaus versions here.   Comparing the label that version he had described as a "blended Assam orthodox."  From that review it sounded like I liked the other version slightly better, that a citrus aspect worked better for me than a more pronounced aromatic spice aspect.

For anyone into reviewing other range further this review from last year covered that Oiirabot version I mentioned,  and the Tea Leaf Theory Latumoni producer version.  Really good Assam is out there, there just can't be that many producers' versions on the level of all these.


Assam Teehaus version left, Aran Thai version right (in all photos)

I'll describe the Assam version--the one from Assam, India--first, since I'm using it as a baseline.

Maddhurjya's Assam (Assam Teehaus):  I didn't let this brew for long so it's a bit light.  The flavor is nice, complex and balanced, earthy with good sweetness.  Distilling that to a list will go better next round.  Some fruit and a hint of spice indicate it will show even better complexity as it evolves.

Aran Thai Assam version:  hard to evaluate in comparison for both being so light this early but this holds its own.  It's clean and full flavored, with some decent feel kicking in already, even though it's not fully wetted yet.  It's not so far off the other in character; more on that as a listing next infusion.

I tried to back off the proportion just a little from what I usually use to brew teas Gongfu style but in the end this was essentially that; the amount that would all but fill a gaiwan once the leaves saturated.  Too much tea to drink in one go too, especially since I just had some fruit with breakfast (fresh mango and banana with yogurt, a personal favorite), and drinking loads of Assam along with that doesn't work well.  Pastry stands up to lots of tea input better, or breakfast cereal.

Second infusion:

Assam Teehaus:  that is nice.  Warm sweetness kicks in, with lots of flavor complexity.  There is malt but it's relatively subdued compared to the level in a lot of Assam versions, that main-aspect, dry-feel related form.  Beyond the malt some molasses sweetness adds a dimension, and warm tones like aromatic wood or even mild spice contribute.

It would be possible to interpret some flavor as dried fruit, towards dried tamarind, but it's not pronounced, so it would be just as natural to leave that off a list.  I don't see it as floral but that also wouldn't be an unreasonable interpretation, along the line of rose petal.

Aran tea Thai version:  this experience overlaps a good bit with the other tea, more than I expected.  That malt is so subdued in this, and slightly different in form, that it stands out as a difference, but it is still common space, to a limited extent.  Complexity is on a similar level but the flavor range is different.  This leans more towards aromatic wood, or even cured leather.  That could easily be musty, but in this version expression it's quite clean.  It also hints towards a good bit of other range, the floral, towards warm and sweet dried fruit.  A little more dark wood tone seems to show through in this.

In tasting each back and forth the first (Assam Teehaus version) tastes more like dried cherry than it had without that direct comparison, a deep, rich flavor, more into fruit range than the other extends.  The feel for both is nice, and the way there is some pleasant depth of structure to them, but they're just soft and full, not astringent at all.  Even aftertaste range adds just a little depth to both, just not so much compared to how that often goes for oolongs and sheng.

Third infusion:

Assam Teehaus:  a warm aspect seems to bump up a bit, towards spice, but it's a little non-distinct.  The rest is similar, maybe just shifted a bit in aspect range.

This is pretty good tea, quite far up the scale of how Assams go.  Tea blog reviews tend to be about making minor distinctions, and that's what's going on here.  There's a good chance that I like this tea better than I did in the original review for brewing it Gongfu style instead.  For a lot of black teas it kind of doesn't matter, but for better quality versions being able to adjust outcome a little round to round, and experiencing the minor transitions, really can be more positive.

Aran tea:  similar; this is picking up a bit of depth too.  Given that I'm infusing both without using a timer that could also be it, a shift in brewing time.  Or maybe that's just how it would go for a tea like these being infused for around 1 1/2 minutes previously, where they would tend to be in a cycle.

Tasting one after the other the first (Maddhurjya's) is slightly sweeter and brighter, and the second (Thai version) a little heavier on dark wood tone, but again they are a lot closer than I remembered from the first try.  I tend to not frame interpretation as a clear "how good" judgement since that's just subjective, tied to preference, versus trying to communicate details of the experience, but both are good.

Fourth infusion:

I'll let these go longer to check on that effect, and probably let this drop after.  These will brew a couple of additional rounds, for sure, maybe even another three or four, but the point here is comparison, not adding every last detail.

Assam Teehaus:  more of the same, if anything slightly better, smooth, sweet, rich, and complex.  This tea really is better than I remember it last year.  Maybe it improved with age, or maybe brewing it this way worked out better than trying it prepared Western style in the first review.  Or other subjective differences always come into play, how I feel on any given day.

This house is a little chaotic this morning, making it hard to generate long aspect lists.  It would seem odd if that translated to liking the teas better, a slightly higher degree of background noise, but I guess you never know.

those noise-makers with cousins on a recent trip (mine are in the center)

Aran Thai black tea:  side by side differences stand out but tasted a week apart these could seem relatively identical.  The Assam version is slightly sweeter, a little towards dried cherry fruit versus dark wood tone, but they overlap more than they are different.

Both are good.  For the Assam I'd expect that; Maddhurjya has been working at making better and better Assam versions for a few years.  It's odd that a Thai producer could get so close to that in outcome.  Again I think there may still be just a little room for improvement related to the absolute best Assam versions I've tried, but these are definitely very pleasant.

I think the posing is about looking fabulous


Really good tea!  The Aran Thai version, I mean; the Assam Teehaus I liked slightly better but both were quite good.  In terms of value this tea is more than worth the modest pricing that I paid for it.

It works on so many levels; this style of tea is forgiving related to how you prepare it, with relatively little astringency to brew around.  Brewed very light the intense flavor still comes across, and relatively strong still works, although some sort of medium is best.  I suppose you could even add milk to this, although it seems better to adjust your preference to appreciate how it doesn't need it, and wouldn't be improved by that.  Brewed at really high infusion strength it would probably be great with vanilla ice cream, at the risk of disrespecting the tea.

This mentioned that I like this style best prepared Gongfu style, but really using a Western approach is fine.  For lacking much astringency it would also work made "grandpa style," brewed in a tea bottle, and drank without separating the leaves back out, adding more water for a second or third round.  That's a great way to bring tea for car travel; carrying a half-liter thermos along even gets you that next round without running across hot water somewhere.

I just tried that with the Aran green tea version yesterday (at time of editing this post), and it worked well, it was just a little bitter.

on a road trip way back when

Saturday, June 27, 2020

2003 Dayi / Taetea 7542 sheng (Sheng Olympiad sample)

that white part doesn't seem ideal; it was less apparent just looking at it but noticeable 

I'm trying a second sample from the 2020 Sheng Olympiad sheng tasting set from Liquid Proust.  The first version I tried, a 2005 Xiaguan "wild" sheng, was really interesting and pleasant.  This is a classic tea version that I won't say much more about; I've reviewed versions of it before, and those posts would go through what the tea version is about.  It's used as a benchmark of sorts, as a consistent version others can be compared against.

Andrew Richardson's description (the tea enthusiast / vendor who runs this shop and set offering):

~15g of 2003 7542 from Dayi: I'll let you all go research about the 7542 blend and Dayi, but I'll say one thing about this... I'm incredibly thankful to even have the opportunity to offer this to everyone let alone do it at a price that you couldn't even tell was added to the whole set. Oh, and I need to mention these are Hong Kong stored.

Sounds good.  It goes without saying that "Hong Kong stored" tends to be used as just one thing, as if every tea stored in Hong Kong is going to experience a similar environment, when in practice that would really vary.  Micro-climate in different places varies, humidity and temperature, and issues like airflow change things, along with those other two main parameters.  There's no reason a storage environment couldn't even control the humidity level, adjust that, but Hong Kong is said to offer pretty good natural conditions for sheng storage.

eating really delicious noodles in Hong Kong last April

it felt cold to me, being from Bangkok, but this rainy day speaks to how it can be humid

paying respect to a Guan Yin statue


First infusion:  plenty of wet slate / damp basement / cement block aspect range; I would imagine that's almost entirely storage related, and will fade, at least some.  This could pass for Liu Bao.  It's hard to get a read on what is going on beyond that.  It seems fine, not ruined by the relative mustiness, clean beyond that one dominant tone.  This will surely still be clearing out next round but I'll move onto trying it then.

Second infusion:  I went a little long on infusion time to get that initial transition moving, around 15 seconds, even though right between 5 and 10 would probably be enough.  It still tastes like Liu Bao but like a much cleaner, more aged, later-infusion round version of one.  The next round will really show where this is going better, but I'll describe this one too.  Old furniture flavor picks up; the wet slate / cement block range is giving way to that.  Sweetness bumps a little, a faint hint of molasses, maybe closer to Chinese date (jujube). 

Feel is decent; it's clean with a bit of fullness.  The lower quality older sheng I've tried tends to narrow down to a limited flavor range and lose feel fullness altogether.  Aftertaste length / duration is fine, but it will probably carry over a more pleasant range within a couple of rounds.

Third infusion:   this infused for a bit under 10 seconds, plenty of time for this proportion (backed off how I normally brew sheng, so just in a more conventional range for most of everyone else).  There is still some wet slate to this, but now it's balanced more evenly with the aged furniture, more complex for including the other less pronounced dried fruit range.  A deeper flavor edge resembles a bit of char, actual charcoal flavor. 

I get the sense that some part of all this could relate to what people tend to call camphor, but I don't.  Actual camphor is closer to what Vicks Vapo-rub smells like; this isn't that.  All of these other flavors do have an odd combined effect, and the feel is hard to describe.  I suppose it could be interpreted a bit towards aromatic, in the sense that furniture polish is that way, which would be related but different oil compounds.

This overlaps a little with the three aged CNNP cakes that I have (or whatever those really are; CNNP versions are said to be inconsistent in origin at best, and buying some of them from local Chinatown sources throws that consistency off even more).  It comes across as cleaner for having had a lot of that experience; those really can emphasize the damp basement range in different ways. 

Humid and hot Bangkok storage can be too much; it seems critical to allow the teas to have some limited air exposure, and if you just throw the in a sealed space for a decade they come out really musty.  Some of that can clear up after half a year of more air exposure but to some extent it's also a permanent change.

Fourth infusion:  the lower infusion levels people tend to describe using make sense related to how intense this tea is; it's brewing a bit strong at 7 to 8 seconds infusion time.  Cutting proportion back just a little would help with dialing lighter infusion strengths in.  At least there are no negative aspects to "brew around;" this would work at different infusion strengths.

It's nice, just at a slightly different balance of the same aspects.  It cleans up further, and the aged furniture and dried fruit range picks up a little.  It will probably just keep that up for another ten rounds or so, changing more at the end related to how extending infusion times to keep intensity up changes effect.  It's nice; standard enough range aged sheng, as it should be.  That balance of Chinese date / jujube flavor is nice, hinting just a little towards real black licorice.

I suppose the effect could be relatively different depending on the storage input, swapping out some of this depth and aspects that needed to clear off for a bit less fermentation-developed range if it had been stored dryer.  Given how musty older teas stored here in Bangkok could be, and how Malaysian storage examples have worked out, to me this tastes like a more moderate range natural storage version.  But then what do I know.

Fifth infusion:  even cleaner; this starts into more of an aromatic bark spice range, frankincense or something such.  I brewed this round slightly faster, maybe 6 seconds instead of 8, and to me that's plenty for this proportion.  Brewed this light it's also easier to pick up the now-faint trace of mustiness, since separating flavor range works better at a lighter infusion strength level, but it all works well.  I'll let the next round go just over 10 seconds to see how that shifts things.  The feel depth will increase a good bit, and experienced flavor range should shift.

Aftertaste experience is still nice, it's just moderate related to how that tends to go for other tea character range.  Feel fullness and creaminess is also fine but moderate in comparison with some other aged sheng range.  Since I appreciate flavor as much as the other aspects, and pleasant balance of all character range most, it's fine for me.

Sixth infusion:  brewed even slightly longer--ok, twice as long, but still a moderate timing--the touch of char comes out a lot more.  That effect tends to stand out even more after a dozen infusions or so.  It's pleasant how the aged furniture range comes across so strong in this.  Aftertaste experience does increase, of course, and feel fullness, which gains a trace of structure, along with the prior non-distinct fullness.  Complexity is pleasant, the way all the flavors and other aspects I keep mentioning combine.  There is room for improvement across a lot of the range but it's good.

Seventh infusion:  I'll let this go after this round, off to do the first yoga class I'll be back to after a 3 or 4 month break for the pandemic.  I don't love the experience of doing yoga but at my age it helps to stay a bit flexible.  There's more of a physical-health story to be told about a knee problem I've been dealing with, about how I took most of that time off running, and am only 5 runs or so back into it, but I'll close this with some more thoughts about this tea instead.

It's fine; not different than last round.  I drink teas a lot like this whenever I feel like that having experience, but CNNP versions instead.  The Tulin tuochas I have that are a couple years younger are not that far behind this fermentation level, well along related to that process, but the character is quite different.  I guess it's about what I expected.


I drank a few more infusions and it only seemed to be fading.  Some aged cardboard seemed to pick up as extending infusion times changed the flavor profile (where more often that's a touch of char that increases instead).  I liked the tea, it was an interesting experience, it just wasn't all that different or better than the aged versions I have on hand, which never seemed all that exceptional to me, but are pleasant.

I suspect that storage wasn't an ideal input for this tea version.  The touch of white in the photo, and evident from appearance, didn't make me too nervous, but then I wouldn't want to drink a cake worth of tea I was concerned about, versus not worrying as much about a sample.  The taste seemed to indicate that fermentation went a bit far, or was in a less than ideal form. 

All that can be a real balancing act, and what is ideal definitely could vary by preference.  If someone wanted to try a tea that's essentially completely finished fermenting, as this seemed to be, then either trying a 30 year old version or trying a tea that was stored on the more humid side would lead to that.  It's not as if that's a linear sort of scale; more or less humid conditions, and to some extent also temperature and air contact as inputs, would lead to different outcomes.

On a different subject, that of personal context related to trying aged sheng versions, I've ran into a roadblock in terms of trying better teas related to budget limitations.  Using a sampling strategy offsets that, but then instead of having moderate priced and quality cakes around to keep drinking as they age you've got 20 gram samples, which will be gone soon enough.  It really helps having a good bit of budget depth for exploring above average aged sheng.  Sample sets like this are nice; you might not love some of the versions for your own reasons, or some could really stand out related to what else is out there, or not match up well, but still you get to try different things.

For standard factory teas like this I could buy relatively inexpensive tongs of new versions and then wait a dozen years or so; that strategy is a gap in my current approach.  Having "only" 10 or so kilos of tea around already has my wife convinced that I own more tea than I'll ever drink, even though it's not that much.  Much better sourcing and networking is another alternative; two different online friends have mentioned buying through Taiwanese sources that sell for much lower pricing than standard Western outlets like Yunnan Sourcing.  That would involve some learning curve, and failures, probably ideally supported by basing it off what one of those friends are already doing.

For now I'm ok with drinking a good bit of younger sheng, and buying only slightly aged versions from outlets like the Chawang Shop, cutting the waiting time from a dozen years to more like half that.  Sample sets and running across versions in different ways fills in depth of experience.  I should be part of a local tea enthusiast network; that would help.  More will follow soon enough about a step towards that.

from the day after the last photo; he gave up his pandemic look