Sunday, December 3, 2017

2017 Yiwu sheng and autumn Naka from Bokuryo (King Tea Mall)

2017 Yiwu (early spring high mountain) from King Tea (Bokuryo)

Naka 2017 gushu autum flavor sheng

Per talking about tea online a chance vendor contact sent some tea to try; normal enough stuff.  This business is slightly familiar by reputation, the King Tea Mall, an online business that moved from one of the main distribution sites / channels to become more independent.

That choice was externally influenced since Ebay--if I've got that part right--discontinued sales of foods there.  The hearsay about the vendor had been good, the little I'd heard of it, but then it works better to evaluate feedback directly related to knowing how a person evaluates different types of teas and sources.  Online marketplaces like Ebay, Amazon, and Taobao (the Chinese version) are best known for being a lottery of sorts, a place to buy inexpensive tea that could be anything.  Depending on the product and source there could be a likelihood of something being a much lower quality of tea than described.  Vendors who are more consistent and reliable tend to be mentioned in discussions, since that's one way to work around completely random sourcing choices.

I'll just describe a few teas as I review them, starting with two here.  He sent a Yiwu (2017; all but one of these are 2017), a 2017 Naka, 2017 Lao Bang Zang (that should be interesting), and a 2015 Bulang.  These teas are presented under a "Bokuryo" brand, but I'm not seeing exactly what that refers to, seemingly related to developing an in-house brand.  A blog section on the King Tea Mall site talks about sources a little but not that detail, about branding.   First I'll do a bit with framing where I stand on pu'er and young pu'er, a section that regular readers can probably just skip past, since it tends to repeat.

Framing; on exploring pu'er and drinking young sheng

I'll keep this short since I keep mentioning it: I'm just getting into pu'er.  I've reviewed over a dozen sheng (more than a half dozen this year, I'd guess), and have tried more than that I've not mentioned, but all that is barely getting started for this tea type.  Of course I'm not really able to judge trueness to type down to a sub-region, a specific village area, and not even well suited for judging past other variations and identifying the broader region character.  It's a work in progress. 

I can describe the aspects related experience of teas, so this will mostly be limited to that.  Of course I'd expect a good bit of astringency and some bitterness from the tea for being so young, even though per my limited understanding Yiwu region teas are said to be more approachable related to such aspects.  I just attended a Yiwu vertical tasting a month or so ago but I'm certainly not claiming that drinking a half dozen teas in one sitting is solid grounding for taste and aspect memory.  It's not; these teas become familiar over time.

It's odd how this concern is relatively unique to pu'er.  A dozen black teas or oolongs coming out of Indonesia is a pretty broad sample of all of it, I'd expect, and it would clear through most of the better tea type-range of one narrow category in Nepal.  Even for Wuyi Yancha, Dan Cong, or Taiwanese oolongs trying a half dozen good examples would go pretty far in exploring the type.  Maybe that's part of the problem; you could drink a lot of those teas without making it to a single good example too, if you were going about sourcing wrong, or were averse to paying market rates for upper-medium level quality teas.

As I tried these teas I kept coming back to how I relate to bitterness that is typical in young sheng, especially brand-new tea, as these are.  I don't love it.  It's much easier to review a tea type that matches natural preference, that you do love, because then personal taste works well as a yardstick.  The same keeps coming up for green teas, which I've eventually just moved away from reviewing (except for Longjing; funny how I do like that, but obvious enough why based on comparing it to most other green tea types).  I do like the brightness and freshness in young sheng, and can appreciate the complexity, so the range is more to my liking, but to some extent those mixed feelings will come across in the review notes.

2017 Bokuryo Yiwu sheng


I think that relates to category tagging, the hashtag idea.  The village name is Gao Shan Zhai, with tree source ages described as around 100 years old (so not gushu, as he defines it, at least 300 years old).  I'll get back to saying more about how it matches up with expectations in conclusions..

The scent is sweet and rich, and the dry leaf appearance is interesting, long and twisted, and colorful.  This tea was never compressed, it's maocha, but per my understanding that doesn't change so much.  Maybe it does, a little, since although it's not so unusual to press the teas later re-steaming them to enable that might shift aspects a little.  What I've heard about that it too limited tot work as any sort of guide.  The teas I've tried as sheng moacha did seem different as a category; it did seem to shift the range of aspects overall in common ways, but that could only be a coincidence since I've only tried a few (three others come to mind, and one loose pu'er with a different appearance, including a really interesting version from Laos and a from Myanmar).

that Laos sheng Maocha (from Kinnaritea)

The initial light infusion is nice, and of course there is some astringency and bitterness to it.  It's also fragrant and floral, sweet and complex, at least related to how a tea that's barely getting started on infusing might be.

On the next infusion even more complexity and richness comes out, although the tea is still not really fully "opened up."  It's quite approachable.  I always did have this tension in young sheng between appreciating or even craving that aspect range (the freshness and intensity) and preferring other tea types' more, the richness, sweetness, other complexity, and lack of astringency and bitterness in better black teas or oolongs, for example.  It's nice for the type, and it tastes quite different than taking an aspirin.  Actually that recent Vietnamese snow tea did have some aspect overlap related to that general aspect range, but that's an exception, since it was an unusual version of a green tea made from similar plants not all that far from Yunnan.

With the experience only partly about flavor, and perhaps not mostly about flavor, it seems odd focusing on that.  Related to feel the tea expresses a fullness across your mouth, most pronounced in the sides and the rear, and some on the roof of the mouth, with that and a trailing flavor range and light sweetness continuing well after drinking it.  I don't love that range of experiences nearly as much as expressed by some pu'er drinkers but it is interesting.

On the next infusion the tea must be roughly where it will be for the middle of an infusion cycle, with some room for transition remaining.  Related to flavor I guess it's still mostly floral, but with some light warmer tones filling in some complexity, and of course with a mineral base.  

I get a sense it could be dialed up just a little more, the full feel and aftertaste ranges, that what I've experienced of some teas presented as "gushu" (older plants) were just that extra bit more intense.  To put that "hui gan" range in perspective, I am tasting this tea two or three minutes after drinking it; the sensation remains as a sweetness in the tongue, especially in the rear of the throat.  That comes in degrees though; for some teas it's almost stronger than when you actually drink the tea, and it takes time for it to level off to the intensity of while you were actually tasting it over a couple of minutes.

In that Yiwu tasting session one tea stood out as being different than the others in that respect (the second in the series, I think it was).  It wasn't a 2017 tea, but it was young, within 2 or 3 years of that, as I recall.  This tea seems quite reasonable related to that series, although the range of aging in those complicates comparison.  

For a tea intended to be drank on the younger side it seems fine, striking a good balance for that, and it all works well enough as it is.  As aging potential goes I'd be the wrong person to judge.  One general idea one encounters is that a tea that is very well suited for maximum potential at full aging (15 to 20 years in suitable environment) shouldn't be pleasant and drinkable initially, so I guess related to that it should be more astringent and bitter.  Surely as with lots of factors there would be some room in that for personal preference. 

I went a little longer to check on keeping intensity up (it's not fading, although a number of infusions in,  but the last infusion seemed a little more subtle, perhaps also related to not minding timing), and it's plenty intense at a 40 second-or-so infusion.  That actually ramps up the feel and aftertaste experience at the cost of the flavor; it comes across as more bitter.

To place all that related to my own impression the feel of the tea could be a bit fuller but the general range of flavor is nice, and the aftertaste effect is positive and interesting.  I suspect I'd like the tea better in about two years, once the aspects themselves had shifted slightly in type and balance, but before that freshness had a chance to fade, but it seems reasonably well-suited to being drank right now.  Maybe if I did try it later that pleasant brightness could fade, and I'd change my mind.  It's not as if it's hard to drink, as if it's unapproachable, but the concern is liking the mix of aspects with bitterness as a main element.

2017 Bokuryo Autumn Naka

This wasn't really a comparison review, tastings in two successive days, but I'll list them together.  This tea is a 2017 autumn Naka sheng, so on the quite young side.  It's listed as "gushu," so per his version of tea definition made from tea plants at least 300 years old.  I was originally thinking of tasting the LBZ second but I'll only have around an hour for tasting, with kids in the house adding to a considerable level of background noise, so as well to hold off on checking that out until I've got more time and space.

The dry leaves are darker than I would expect they'd be for brand-new sheng, with interesting coloring.  I'll start a review with tasting after the rinse though, since interesting scent range doesn't always carry over directly to brewed tea aspects.

It's young sheng alright, but as with the last version more approachable than I'd have expected.  Maybe I'm overdoing it with expecting these teas to be really bitter and undrinkable.  It's bitter, for sure, but I'll be able to talk about aspects beyond that, and it will loosen up after a couple of infusions.

Beyond that it tastes like sheng.  That's probably going to be most of the review, it has mineral undertones, some range may seem floral, but more detail about that range is hard to pin down.  Some warmer range could be still more like a different mineral, or more likely a fresh wood, but seems like it's possibly something else.  But I'll keep going; this tea is hardly even opened up.

On the next round it's even more like biting a slighlty bitter version of a tree bud.  The taste is fine, and complex, but it'll be hard to do it justice with clear description; closest to wood, really.  There is something to the feel, and aftertaste, but it's odd going on about those aspects too.  To me those can add complexity to an experience but individually they're hardly even positive.

It's odd considering that it could be seen as either a strength or a weakness of this tea that it's drinkable.  The Yiwu yesterday was probably slightly more bitter, maybe with a slightly longer aftertaste, although that's hard to keep track of.  Neither seems as full in feel as they might be, in a good range for what I like, definitely not thin, but I expected them to be more challenging related to both flavor and feel.

Comparing the two teas is tricky.  This has just a trace of smoke, so little that it would be easy to miss, and instead of mostly floral with a trace of wood this is mostly woody with a trace of floral.  The "warmer" range in both isn't pronounced, but to me it gives both a depth and complexity that really balances the rest.  The mineral tone in this tea also runs a bit to metal (which is not as negative as that might sound).  It's conceivable that it's a different metal range for both; I never thought about it much but as with floral I'm probably not great with separating individual range for that.  Food related tastes are a lot more familiar; fruits, vegetable, spice and such, and metals not so much.

On the next infusion it softens a bit more and picks up complexity; it's improving.  The bitterness and mineral / metal is easing up, and fresh wood tones dominate, with more warm tones trailing towards spice range.

The sweetness that remains after drinking this tea is different than the Yiwu version, at least in part due to the flavor being different.  I suppose that effect seems moderate to me, although it's all quite relative; it's also quite pronounced.  There is just another type of experience out there where that's really intense, where the tea tastes stronger after you drink it, and you taste more two minutes later than when it's in your mouth.  This just trails off, in a manner and level that seem moderate to me.

I brewed it a little longer, per usual due to not focusing rather than as an experiment (up around  a minute, a reasonably long soak, longer than I'd have intentionally let it go).  It does bring out that aftertaste quite a bit; even while you drink it that range impacts your mouth, and remains pronounced after.  The mouthfeel of this tea is light compared to the flavor range and the aftertaste experience; interesting how that goes.  It's not a bad thing for me, that it could be a lot more structured, and together with that flavor both remain as a lingering taste and feel on the back of the tongue and rear sides of your mouth, with some on the top of the mouth in the front, it's just not as present across all of it.  Brewed strong the light metal flavor really stands out; that is better balanced in a lighter version.

For contrast I went back to a light infusion next time, around 15 seconds.  The feel is much lighter brewed this way, of course, but to me it's a more natural experience.  There's plenty of flavor, and it doesn't feel thin, and the aftertaste still remains, it's just less intense.  It shifts flavor experience more towards that warmer range, still with some bitterness, mineral, and a bit of metal, but it balances with a warmer floral-like range, just a little towards a spice.

Even though I'm 7 or 8 infusions in (or maybe more) this tea isn't going anywhere; transition is moderate, and it's definitely not fading.  The warmth and complexity might be very slowly increasing, or really I think it could be that bitterness and mineral are slowly fading out, letting the other range stand out.

I'll have to leave off describing more though since I have to go.  I liked the tea.  It's hard to place related to how much I liked the one yesterday; they're just different, although they do share some common ground.


These both seemed like nice teas.  I'd need to drink both over time, to get used to them, or compare directly to each other or others, in order to really get a better feel for differences and which I liked best.

Per usual the main issues were related to drinking very young sheng in the first place.  Neither was as bitter or astringent as I expected but that range stands out for both.  In both cases brightness, freshness, and complexity beyond taste range was positive.  In the past I've not tried many versions of tea presented as "gushu," and few really stood out related to overall intensity, particularly in relation to aftertaste (hui gan), and also complex feel.  These two teas were positive related to that compared to other range of sheng, well above average but not as exceptional related to the most pronounced examples I've experienced (for example, one tea in that Yiwu tasting session, and a Golding KL boutique shop version of a Jing Mai sheng in this post, where it's compared to a similar Farmerleaf version).  I didn't notice much difference in the two versions related to one being "gushu"--from older tea plants--and the other not.

I suspect I'd like both better in another two years, but then I'd imagine that would relate to personal preference about how aspects tend to change as much as that being the case for everyone.

In a sense it doesn't work to judge teas completely separate from quality level claims, which also relates to tea pricing.  If one of these teas was selling for double the price of the other that would change how they were being presented (and in this case the lower cost version would seem a better value, since they were more just different than one being better).  That's not the case; both are sold for around $25 for 100 grams (one is loose tea, so varying quantity is easy, and the other is a small cake).  Since there is a broad range of commercial teas available in the $40-50 per 357 gram range this also places them as higher quality teas than those, related to that pricing working out to around double that.  They did seem like better tea than a 2014 7542 I tried not so long ago, but it's a different thing comparing chopped up tea to maocha or compressed tea made from whole leaves. 

Normally I don't get stuck on that theme, about value, moving beyond expressing an opinion about aspects and a general impression, into trying to place a tea, but somehow that personal project and vendor context seemed to lead towards that.  I checked Steepster for input, and a few are listed there, but neither of these.  I'll try a couple more samples and consider it further.  One is from Lao Ban Zhang; that should be interesting.  

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