In a recent post about Liu Bao and a tea exchange with a friend in Malaysia I'd mentioned that he passed on most of a sheng cake with that hei cha (from the Langhe factory producer). It's too kind, really, especially given how much Liu Bao he sent.
That Langhe sheng pu'er will work perfectly with my previously described project of trying more sheng and seeing how those change with age. In a sense it doesn't matter what it's like, since regardless of character and how much I like it the one purpose of noticing aging changes in one more type of sheng pu'er will still be fulfilled. I did try it yesterday, and it's not bad, but today I'm comparison tasting it along with another standard version I just picked up.
Langhe left, Dayi 7542 right; definitely variation in tea material compression
I visited Chinatown yesterday (as of initial draft; just last week during editing), mostly to pick up a replacement white tea cake (shou mei). It was the one from the Sen Xing Fa store mentioned in this comparison review, described as the oldest version from 2008. I've been giving away enough tea for people to try that I've almost went through that cake, more by distributing it than actually drinking it. I liked a different version slightly better in that compressed white comparison tea tasting post, and the two teas are relatively comparable in cost (this was a bit less, the same cost for 357 grams instead of 200, both around $20).
Both white tea cakes I've already tried were available locally, but it was hard to pass up an outing to Chinatown and go in the other direction to that Teeta Talk shop instead. I swung by the Jip Eu shop to drop off some tea samples--including sharing a little of that Liu Bao--but I'll save how that went for another post.
Yaowarat facing East, see description below
The tea I bought--the Dayi / Tae Tea 7542--is from the Sen Xing Fa shop. They sell a lot of commercial Thai teas (the typical oolongs), and teas sold out of open bins on the sidewalk (crazy!), and teas in large jars inside, per typical Chinatown shop non-optimum storage. But there is more interesting tea around in there, you just have to ask and look for it. The staff member there last time spoke English, a younger guy, part of the family that owned it, and this time the other family member didn't, at all, so I had that to work around. I speak some Thai but it takes a lot of fluency to run through tea descriptions, and I can't.
Sen Xing Fa staff, with tea cakes and teaware
typical Chinatown side-street, beside that shop
I visited another official Dayi outlet here in the last month (not Teeta Talk, the one in IT Square) and crazy as it sounds I didn't buy any tea there. One concern: I checked on the price of a "2016 Menghai Golden Fruit shou pu'er" I bought a few months ago and they were charging double what I paid for it through Yunnan Sourcing. That wasn't really the main issue, though, that I expected I could probably find those same teas elsewhere for less. I was in a hurry--kind of always in a hurry; my life works out like that--and my wife was with me, and that certainly doesn't help. I explained the sheng stockpiling project to my wife, that you don't you just drink it as you buy it, that the tea more or less needs to age, and I think she kind of got it.
Another main issue was that the sales woman spoke almost no English. To her credit she was pointing out origin locations of the cakes, but couldn't really say any more than that about them. Later it occurred to me that I really should have just bought a standard-type cake to keep for reference, like this one I just bought, but being in a hurry I didn't process it all fast enough. My daughter was napping in the car at the time, with my son and mother-in-law waiting there, and all that really does set the clock ticking. I'll mention links for those Tae Tea shops but they would be more helpful to people who read Thai (website and FB page version).
Tae Tea shop in IT Square building, near the Don Muang airport
I'm wondering if there is any chance this tea isn't "real" (the 7542). I've read a half-dozen articles on the subject, so I could easily enough go back through those and looks for indications, but I'll probably just assume that it is (unless it's really bad tea, then I'll check further on all that). I'd guess that more costly versions of tea would be more likely to be faked but then if a demand is there along with a cost difference from lower grades of tea of course fake versions would turn up.
In visiting China five years ago our local Huawei employee guide said that people produce and sell fake eggs there (inside the shell; they make that part too). The idea was that if anything can be made for less than a real version it will be. We questioned him how that would be possible, and his answers were plausible, with the right amount of real explanation and the level of information you'd expect, but I still wonder if he wasn't just putting us on.
Langhe pu'er; a bit tightly compressed
looser, with a different look and a much different smell
I have pu'er pick somewhere, but used this since I've misplaced it
I've tried the Langhe pu'er yesterday so that's not exactly an unknown. It was ok. It's a bit mineral intensive, really towards the metallic side, but it has some warmth and complexity balancing those things, and metal and mineral aren't necessarily bad anyway. I bet three years ago this tea would've been challenging to drink a round of.
And that's how the first infusion for it goes; decent, some complexity, mostly mineral and a trace of metal. Some background: years ago a tea friend recommended I try drinking a lot of one cake of a sheng to adjust to the general type (Bank, the guy who ran that tasting), and a second contact (a Japanese guy living in India who bought tea here sometimes; kind of strange all that) recommended one not unlike this one, a cake that I did buy and have since finished. I bought that tea before I started this blog (in a Bangkok shop that since closed, JRT), and thought of mentioning it in a review here, but it just wasn't interesting enough to tell much of a story about. It did change some over a few years of regularly drinking it but it just softened and deepened in range a bit, nothing too dramatic. This tea I'm drinking now might be slightly better, or it could just be that I'm more used to that general profile, so it comes across more positively.
The 7542 is completely different. It's a little more bitter, with a bit more of that "taking an aspirin" aspect that initially had put me off sheng, but still approachable, even in early rounds. Per my understanding that will keep on fading as the tea ages, and some degree of that taste range and related astringency is actually a good thing, a good starting point for transitioning into completely different types of aroma aspects later. Of course I'm passing that on as hearsay; part of trying out aging teas is about experiencing that sort of transition myself, it's just going to take another half dozen years for that to play out for this version. The tea also has nice complexity, nice other range. There is a warmth to it as well, a wood-tannin sort of range versus that pairing with mineral tones in the other.
Fourth and fifth infusions, I think
When we were tasting those Yiwu sheng (the "vertical" age-sequence tasting) Bank mentioned that Malaysian stored teas have a characteristic flavor, and that may be some of why these teas seems so different, and a lot of what I'm picking up as interesting about the Langhe tea. The base of the flavor is just mineral, as I keep saying, but it extends into a nice warm range, giving it a fullness. It's not warm like cinnamon, I suppose it's sort of out towards wood or tobacco, but not those either, really. It's not completely unrelated to root beer, just not that, with a little of the bite of a softer wood, and a little towards molasses for sweetness. I'll keep working on describing that. It's interesting that the Langhe is a little darker than the other tea; I suppose it is conceivable that the it aged more, even though Bangkok should have a similar environment; it tends to stay plenty humid.
The 7542 is also becoming more pleasant, still a little edgy related to that tannin, feel, and related flavor, but there's a nice depth to the rest of the experience. I wouldn't want to only drink this particular tea but there's range there to appreciate, and it does seem like it softening and picking up warmth and complexity over time could turn it into a really nice tea. It's quite decent now, just a little bitter. People tend to say "bitter" when they really mean astringent but this tea has some of that feel aspect but it really is more bitter; it has that flavor. I would imagine for an experienced sheng drinker this isn't particularly far down the scale of being bitter as younger teas go. I'll have to keep trying the other versions of sheng I've got around to get it all mapped out in taste memory.
Per usual I'm focusing on taste / flavor aspects here, not so much feel or aftertaste. I'll try to consider those further in the next round and see how that varies. I went a little longer on the last infusion time to see how that affected results so it would've been perfect for that, but I'll try a normal, somewhat light infusion again this time.
Brewed lightly the Langhe pu'er is easy to drink; it does offset any aspects that might seem challenging. It also comes across as a little thin; the flavor is lighter, and the feel isn't as substantial. That warmth and depth is still nice but it works much better in a stronger version. There isn't a lot going on with mouthfeel to talk about; you can feel the tannins along the middle of your tongue and rear edges of your mouth, but it's all a little soft. It doesn't just disappear after drinking it but the aftertaste isn't significant either. Someone really into appreciating those types of aspects might be disappointed by this tea, or maybe it would just go better infusing for longer to draw that range out more.
A lighter infusion works well for the 7542 for the flavor to balance, with that predominant wood and leather tone almost extending into an apple cider range. The feel hits my mouth a bit differently but the main difference relates to aftertaste. The effect of the tea is still there two minutes later; it's strong initially and then keeps slowly fading.
Later infusions and conclusions
Over the next couple of infusions the teas just seem to be transitioning to softer with a bit deeper flavor range from there. Based on trying that Langhe yesterday it's going to keep brewing for awhile, and I'd expect the same of the Dayi tea. It is funny how much darker the Langhe tea leaves are, and how much darker the brewed tea is. Maybe it really did age faster there, and maybe I really am picking up characteristic flavor from Malaysia storage. It has been all kinds of humid here in Bangkok for the past six months, for the Thai rainy season, and it's never cool and dry, so it would seem odd that conditions would age a tea faster anywhere else. If that shop was air conditioned that would change things but I don't remember that it was.
I accidentally gave both a long soak due to not paying attention, and I guess that can help related to summing up where they are after lots of rounds. The Langhe has faded more, with the feel softer and even the flavor thinning. That might have to do with the tea being a bit more ground up, causing the flavor to come out faster, or maybe it's just not made from as good tea material. The flavor has moved to more of an autumn leaf range, with plenty of what I'm interpreting as the storage related taste still present. The 7542 is still on the strong side, brewed longer at this stage, with the flavor, feel, and aftertaste intensifying from being prepared that way. The bitterness isn't what it was but it hasn't completely faded. It works relatively well with the rest of the aspects profile; it fits.
I'd planned to go through a research section, as I used to for posts more in the past, but this is already kind of long. I'll cite what William of Farmerleaf said about teas from that factory and turn up a summary of 7542. His comment first:
It's from langhe tea factory, a big one in Menghai that makes relatively cheap teas. If it was stored in Malaysia, it could be very good.
Of course he would probably mean relatively speaking, and it did seem that the storage contribution was a likely most interesting characteristic. He made an interesting observation about the 7542, which almost contradicted other things he was saying about people's preferences varying related to aspects and aging, but it all makes plenty of sense taken in the right way:
2014 is still very young for this kind of tea, they are usually made to be drunk in five or ten years.
In looking for a summary of 7542, and comparing prices for different versions, I found this description of the number (from the Teasenz vendor):
The first two digits ’75’ stands for the year the recipe was created. The 3rd digit refers to the size of the leaves used. In this case it’s the number ‘4’ meaning that this Dayi cake consists of smaller leaves (and more buds). At last, the last digit ‘2’ refers to the factory, which is the famous Menghai tea factory. Today, 7542 recipe is so popular that it’s often seen as a benchmark to compare other recipes.
It's a violation of a blogging convention but since I have these references looked up I'll review how pricing variations go in them, against what I just bought.
Teasenz is selling this year's version for $19.95, which seems on the low side, but then vendors do tend to charge significantly more for holding onto a cake for a few years, and batches within a numbered type vary. The closest Yunnan Sourcing version to the one I tasted is from 2015, listed at $47. King Tea Mall (a name that comes up, but not a shop I've bought through, or that I can personally endorse) lists a 2014 version for $49. I paid 1200 baht for the one I bought, which works out to $36. It seems likely that they don't try to match the pace of marking up cakes for initial years of aging against market rates in that Sen Xing Fa shop, which could work out to a good reason to buy them there.
That one potential complication I won't get far with here, that might relate to the labels of the 2017 versions not matching from the two vendors selling one: there are different batches per numbered tea from each year. A Tea DB blog article talks about that, with the main theme there about how pricing for pu'er varies by age. The range of differences within a year is highlighted by a table showing version differences in price:
The main point for this review was just comparing two versions of sheng pu'er, to set out a starting point for referring back to how they change later with more aging, so I won't dig deeper into those types of tangents.
in memory of King Rama 9, beloved King and a father to the nation of Thailand