tasting in progress
It was an interesting experience, a vertical (multiple years) tasting of teas from Yiwu, more specifically from the Ding Jia Zhai area. I wasn't making tasting notes so I'll keep this general, just some random impressions, after a quite detailed event summary that outlines the teas:
Puerh Tea Tasting Event - Yiwu "Ding Jia Zhai" vertical tasting - 8th October - 14.00 BKK time
งานชิมชาผูเอ่อร์ "ยี่หวู่ ติงเจียจ้าย" แบบ vertical tasting ข้ามปี วันที่ 8 ตุลาคม เวลา 14.00
Yiwu Dingjiazhai 2013 ร้านชาทีดี (Teadezhang)
Yiwu Dingjiazhai 2011 Chen yuan hao
Yiwu Dingjiazhai 2008 Xi Zhi hao
Yiwu Zhengshan 2005 Chang Yu Hao
และชาเก่าพิเศษ หนึ่งตัว (and a special old "secret" tea)
Address: The Hive Sukhumvit 69, 200m from BTS Prakanong
ค่าเข้าร่วมงาน 700 บาทต่อท่าน รวมค่าชาและสถานที่จัดงาน ขออนุญาต "งดขนมขบเคี้ยว" เพราะจะทำลายจุดประสงค์ในการชิมชา
Attendance fee 700 Baht per person inclusive of tea and the space. No snacks between the session for the best tea tasting experience.
comfortable tasting space, prior to the event (credit Ty Pip, FB group post)
I've left some Thai text versions in the notice to give a feel for what listening to a language you really don't comprehend is like; sort of a blank space. I can catch bits, but not so much. In case you wonder how much 700 baht is I'll save the Google search; just over $20. I've bought a pot of tea here for about the same, in a cafe I won't name where I'm definitely not a regular, so trying five teas instead is a good value in comparison.
The event started with a glitch on my end when I went to the wrong shared work-space called "the Hive" two elevated train stops down (BTS), due to blindly following a suggestion by typing that name into Google Maps. It's always about the little details.
Since I won't be going into what Yiwu region teas are like versus others (or certainly not Ding Jia Zhai locale teas within that) I'll cite an interview with a pu'er producer and vendor, William Osmont of Farmerleaf, giving his take on what the different main areas are like (a few of them; it's just a start):
Pu-erh tea features a wide range of tasting profiles. That diversity is due to differences in aging, processing and producing area. Just like the terroirs of wine, tea tastes different according to the genetics, location and management techniques of the tea gardens. It would take a whole book to detail the subtle variations between each mountain and their underlying factors.
Jingmai is famous in the world of tea for its orchid and honey fragrance. Some bitterness is present; astringency is more present than average. In young teas, the mouth feel is generally light and sweet. The Jingmai profile is accessible to the beginners and makes a great introduction to the world of Pu-erh tea because it has a bit of everything. In comparison, Bulang tea is generally more aggressive, featuring more bitterness; Yiwu tea is soft and mellow, with a thick mouth feel. Menkgu is renowned for its complex fragrance and sharp sweetness.
However, there are many exceptions in each terroirs, and the result in the cup can be very different depending on the processing.
He's based out of Jing Mai, so a bit biased towards that origin, but all of that should still be reasonable. These teas should be relatively "soft and mellow, with a thick mouth feel," with plenty of room for variation by version based on all sorts of inputs.
(credit Ty Pip, FB group post)
How it worked out
Of course a lot of the younger versus aged sheng character one would expect to experience was a part of the experience. Even the younger teas were relatively approachable though, not so astringent or bitter. I had more problems initially getting into pu'er because there is a tendency for those aspects (tasting too much like taking an aspirin), but not so much across any of those we tried there.
Yiwu Dingjiazhai 2013 ร้านชาทีดี (Teadezhang), I think this was, some intense tea
The first two teas were a lot stronger in terms of feel, aftertaste, and effect. People refer to that last part as "qi," a drug-like effect, but I'm never completely sure what the experience is supposed to relate to. Those two teas hit hard, definitely imparting some type of buzz. If that continued to escalate it really would've been too much, but it worked out the other way, and later teas seemed to contribute a mellowing effect.
(credit Ty Pip, FB group post)
From there it was interesting noting the way the different storage conditions and ages changed the teas. Different versions were stored in Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Malaysia, as I remember. It's tough doing this without notes, but it was nice to be off the clock related to that level of reviewing. Of course the starting point product also varied, so it wasn't just those factors. One of the teas in the middle of the cycle had an interesting feel, more in the rear and center of the tongue, extending into the throat. After that--in later year versions--the flavors kept shifting but the feel aspects seemed to diminish. I was wondering if I wasn't also burning out a little from all the rounds, if that wasn't coloring perceptions.
It wasn't so much that the later, older teas seemed inferior as that intensity shifted to a softer feel and deeper flavors, and again the teas seemed more relaxing.
The special tea, and conclusions
In the end we tried a Liu Bao from the 60s. That was especially interesting for being on that page lately, for reviewing a number of Liu Bao this year, three of them recently. It was a bit mellower than the much younger versions I've been trying, and better, really. Somehow I expected more variation yet though; the character was still similar. A slate - like mineral aspect grounded the flavor and maybe the taste was like betel nut, a flavor element related to the type in some references. I don't know what that tastes like, so I couldn't say.
I guess I expected something more unusual out of a very old tea, the oldest I've ever tasted, older than myself, given the description was accurate (as I would expect that it was). It was mellow, and complex, and the experience had some depth, without much in the way of mustiness. I'm not sure what I expected to be different; nothing specific.
cool when I'm in the pictures (credit Ty Pip, FB group post)
Was it all what I would have expected, all of the tasting? The idea of an experience and the experience itself are two different things, and I wouldn't have known what to expect, but I guess beyond that maybe. It was cool experiencing that much tea, and covering that much related ground in one go, especially related to picking out aging and storage input differences. I missed lots of the discussion for not being fluent in Thai but they would translate parts, and ask what I thought of teas, or transitions in infusions.
It was hard to frame the experience as liking some better than others. The most interesting part was experiencing the differences, the whole experience together. It reminded me of an idea from the movie "Pi," about the name of God being a series of numbers, the knowledge of which drove the main character crazy. That character said it wasn't about the numbers or the sequence, but there was something more compelling about the spaces in between them. I liked the experience of variation more than any one of the actual teas.
There's something deeper to that point, it seems, something I was just discussing with someone. I've liked the pu'er that I've tried (only a few dozen versions, and quite a bit less counting only teas I've owned a good bit of; barely getting started). But the general context and novelty of the type is more interesting than any one of the teas has been enjoyable in terms of aspects. Strange as it is to quote myself conversing I'll go there, since it's directly to that point:
That may end up being what is so interesting about it to me [pu'er], why trying more types and experiencing teas aging has so much appeal. At the same time there is the opposing point that the pu'er teas I've tried were fine, easy to appreciate, but not where I am for liking teas, at least not as favorites. It feels a bit like leading the process to try what I think I will like more in the future, but then I drink lots of types, and the experience of variety is part of it too.
It's funny to hear people say the same so often about pu'er, about trying to like it, or thinking they should, or taking time to "get it." For any other tea type they'd tend to just not express that range of ideas, they would just move on. But variation is an interesting part, not to be discounted.
It's hard to really clarify the sense I meant that in. I'm not really trying to like pu'er more than I already do, but I naturally do like experiencing different tea types. The addition of aging and fermentation as a factor makes the type more interesting, beyond that of other tea types in that one sense, because any one tea is no longer just one thing. Wait a few years and it changes.
Heavily roasted Wuyi Yancha improves with a year or two of mellowing, but of course that isn't an equivalent. I compared related 21 year old and 30 year old oolongs but they seem to mostly just get a bit more plumy, or pick up a bit of raisin aspect. People make claims about white teas improving with aging, and I've been on that page quite a bit this year with compressed versions. Maybe it's a limiting factor that I've only tried four versions, or that the oldest is only nine years old now, but while those white teas were interesting and pleasant they sort of didn't seem to change so much. Or so it seems to me, compared to those pu'er.
Beyond all that it was nice finally meeting an online tea friend. All of those guys were friendly, pleasant to spend some time with, but Bank has been something of a reference to me over some years, passing on advice about types or sources, lots of things. It was a lot to take in, a great experience on a few different levels.