Monday, July 25, 2016

Trying 40 year old Tie Kuan Yin at the Jip Eu Chinatown shop

a rare photo with the shop owner

I recently visited the Jip Eu tea shop in the Bangkok Chinatown.  I wasn't looking for anything in particular, the timing just worked out to visit.  As in previous visits the owners were kind and friendly, so it's nice to stop by even aside from trying unusual teas and learning from them, both of which also seem to happen there.

They had been drinking a Yiwu pu'er (the owner and another visitor), between 10 and 15 years old; I've lost track of that specific age they cited.  It was nice but out of the range of what I'm used to drinking, still a bit towards aspirin related to the flavor range of other teas.  But of course there was a lot going on with the tea, a depth and complexity, a feel and structure to the tea, it just lost me in terms of familiarity.  I'm about to start back into doing more with pu'er, for real this time, with a set of nice samples and a newly ordered aged cake waiting at home now.

Next they showed me some aged teas, a 40 year old Shui Xian and Tie Kuan Yin (Chinese oolongs, of course, from Wuyishan and Anxi in Fujian, respectively).  The second of which we tried, the TKY, which was interesting.  Presumably the dates were estimates, given that they were described as newly found old teas, sourced by them buying back long-stored teas from customers to support a demand for older teas.

The Tie Kuan Yin had a fullness to it, and an unusual form of astringency, with an earthy / mineral character, a mix of aspects in an unusual range.  The tea didn't have any mustiness or off flavors to contend with, it was just different.  It made me wonder what the tea had been like starting out, how oxidized it was, for example, but I have no idea.  To be honest it was closer to the taste of coffee than any tea I've ever tried.  Of course saying that is too simple; there was a layering of complex earth and mineral tastes that must have taken decades to evolve to where they were.  Based on having tried three old oolongs in the past few weeks (and only really liking one of them, per this post) there might be an acquired taste to pick up to really enjoy old oolongs, but then that is a very small sample size, and I hadn't tried that many previously.

I recently asked a fellow blogger about his experiences with aged oolongs and he said that in general they seemed to pick up plum and floral taste aspects.  This was nothing like that.  It also didn't resemble the two aged oolongs I'd recently wrote about.  One had sort of been in the plum and floral range, that was just not how I interpreted similar tastes, and the other was a good bit off that, once some initial mustiness wore off.  This tea was hard to compare to any others that I'd tried.   It tasted better across a few infusions, I think more from me being able to relate to it than related to changes, and did seem to be softening and transitioning a little.  I've recently read of aged teas that some might taste medicinal.  I'm not sure what to make of that, really, or how to place it in relation to this tea, since it didn't taste exactly like medicines I've taken but it was sort of in that general direction.  For all I know if you wrapped a cracker in a paper wrapper and waited 40 years to eat it that might taste like this tea.

40 year old Tie Kuan Yin

Next we tried a tea that I might actually buy, an early harvest Wuyi Yancha from this year, a Shi Li Xiang (10 mile (or league) fragrance?  I'll have to figure out what this tea even is, but in the meantime here is a cool old reference on naming).  This was nice, just a little different than any other Wuyi Yancha I'd tried.

The taste started out closer to roasted almonds, with a bit of astringency giving it some feel and structure, almost not just in the range of feel, overlapping with a slight bitterness.  But both of these aspects, an unusual flavor profile and a unique feel, I'd really need another tasting or two to sort out and describe better.  I did buy some so I can see what I can make of it.  It wasn't the exceptional kind of tea that changes how you look at a tea type but it was interesting and novel.

And the shop owner passed on two samples of teas, a Rou Gui and Tie Kuan Yin, both not normal mid-range versions, instead pedigreed teas.  The TKY is from Anxi, where they have family contacts, and the Rou Gui from the Horse Head rock area, a famous Wuyishan location that I'm not so familiar with.  I really should visit there; we all should.

Beyond all that we talked through lots of ideas related to teas, about travel, sourcing, and aging tea, about Thai teas, even a little about my kids.  A day's worth of ideas flew by in the space of an hour or so.  I'm looking forward to the follow up tasting of those three teas, one of which I have plenty to work with, and to visiting them again in a month when the rest of the spring harvest Wuyi Yancha have arrived.

40 year old Shui Xian

About the shop in general, they seem to specialize in selling Wuyi Yancha and Anxi Tie Kuan Yin.  The first are sold as commercial range versions and also more interesting and costlier examples, which still seem a great value to me compared to others I've tried.  I've also bought a decent commercial version of Dan Cong there, perhaps not great compared to the relatively expensive better versions one might see a newspaper article about, but a good example of the type for that price range.  That would work as a good way to try out the type or for use as a novel form of daily drinking tea.

One friend recently expressed that he doesn't prefer Wuyi Yancha oolongs that are heavily roasted, which may overlap with a similar concern about mid-roasting, and this shop's owners expressed that their customers typically prefer that range, so it is what they generally carry.  One comes across different accounts related to this preparation style issue.  An extreme take is that only relatively lighter roasted versions are ever better teas, with all more-roasted versions covering up flaws in tea by overcooking them (essentially).

Per this interview with a tea maker, Cindy Chen, it's not that simple, and different types of tea plants or teas grown in different conditions respond best to different preparations.  Of course personal preference is always a factor; maybe for some only lighter or darker styles would be objectively better (or only medium, I guess).  I have had some really nice experiences with lighter-roasted teas of this general type, and also with others at more medium levels, but I don't feel qualified to pull it all together through my own personal experience and knowledge.  I'll check back later after trying more of this season's teas in posts covering those.

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