Sunday, January 14, 2018

Trying Moychay black teas from Georgia (teas bought in Russia)

These two teas I bought in Russia, in Moscow, in a Moychay shop there.  They're from Georgia instead of Russia, which is still trying something new to me, so just what I was looking for.  I'll post some pictures of tea shops but this post is really about reviewing the teas.

I just did post a long travel-blog theme review of visiting Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Murmansk (seeing Northern Lights) but I'll steer clear of most of that scope too.

one of the Moychay shops in Moscow, where I bought these

Yesterday (at time of making notes, at least) I met Sasha Abramovich (FB contact here), a local guy who I've talked to online about tea and we first tried this version.  He's local in the same sense I'm local in Bangkok, not from here but living here.  He just toured the tea producing areas of Darjeeling and Assam so that made for plenty related to tea to talk about.  He translated the package description, which is in Russian, and compared his impression to other Georgian teas he's tried.  I won't really be doing justice to talking about Sasha or the teas' background, since this a review runs long enough as it is.

I might at least mention that we tried two other very nice teas yesterday, a Castleton Moonlight white, and a Thurbo Darjeeling.  Both tasted like good first flush Darjeeling, bright and fresh, sweet and fruity, complex and not overly astringent.  I just had a similar experience trying a Makaibari first flush version I had left over from samples shared by the Lochans (a good source of various Darjeelings, and a producer of their own Doke location products).  It seems odd circling back to focus on Darjeeling first flush well into winter (in a post about Georgian black tea) but I think I might say more about that last tea later in another post.

So many tangents, so little patience to write pages about them.  I was planning on cutting short tasting notes and reviews this year.  All the comparisons and long tasting sessions last year started to extend into two page tea write-ups, going a bit far.  In the past I've researched new locations or tea types when writing about them, and there would be plenty to say about teas from Georgia, but I won't, at least not in this.  I talked to a half dozen people about those Georgian teas and everyone said different things, all quite interesting and worth hearing but difficult to summarize.  Most of those people read the Russian descriptions (I've been talking to a good number of Russians about tea lately), and a few others had substantial background with Georgian tea sources, one essentially a tea producer there.  For now I'll leave off at mentioning a Georgia-local Facebook tea group, which is more accessible using English than one would expect.

Related to the two specific teas, this initial label content was completely in Cyrillic, not an easy starting point.

The pricing I can decode on my own; around 60 rubles equates to one US dollar, so those two versions are around $8 per 100 grams and more like $20 for the other.  For Thais it works to divide rubles by two to estimate baht, so 245 baht (give or take) per 100 grams and then also 630.  With one tea costing 2 1/2 times the other one might expect it to be much better (or at least I would), but things aren't always that simple, the supply and demand factors, and personal preference can muddle what is "best."

The full description is on an English language Moychay website, with the container lid on the right in the image as this tea (I think):

friendly Moychay shop staff

"Organic Red Tea" is made of spring shoots of wild tea bushes (harvest May 2017) grown in Guria County.  In appearance: tiny, lengthwise twisted leaves of dark purple-brown color. The liquor is transparent, chestnut color.  The brewed tea has warm, refined, fruity-biscuit bouquet with berry, herbal and citrus hints. The taste is refined, silky, sweetish, with berry acidity, transforming into refreshing finish.

That's pretty much what Sasha said, and the price matches up, give or take some conversion fluctuation.  I didn't see a listing for the second.

I'll refer to them here as "the first and second," not much of a place-holder for specifics, but that's how I wrote the initial draft, and going with "wild and not-wild" instead isn't handier.

More back-story, in pictures

Even though I'm not really saying more about Sasha, Moychay, or Georgian tea in this post I can pass on some pictures.

visiting with Sasha Abramovich (contact and photo credit here)

a nice Gongfu brewing area in that shop

looking ahead; something different from that shop

Moychay staff in St. Petersburg (a different subject)

I'd mentioned in the last post that I found two shops at the same time in Moscow, also the Perlov tea shop (quite near this Moychay branch), which I'll get around to saying more about along with a tea review.  The exterior and interior of that shop was beautiful, but I was slightly disappointed to find the selection as commercial boxed teas or one regional version per type jar tea, without much for local or regional products.  Both presentations can still be fantastic tea but based on prior expectations it's not exactly what I was looking for.  I bought a Russian green tea there, one of only two Russian teas I found, and an "Ivan chai," or willow herb tisane, which I'll review later.

Picture references related to that:

Perlov tea shop

these could be good, just not what I was looking for


the previously referenced wild organic tea from Guria County

It can be tricky keeping track of labeling when you can't read it, but these prior two pictures do match, that's the Russian description of that tea I tried with Sasha, matching the website description.

the other tea, as of yet not really well defined (by me at least)

I'm writing these initial notes related to a first round, and I think brewing it a little stronger the next time and being a second infusion will tell more of the story.

The first tea that I'd already tried yesterday is nice, more or less matching the description for it.  When I first tried it the tea seemed a little disappointing, I think related to build-up, carrying around teas for awhile like that, and trying tea from a new country.  The parameters were probably just a little off too, since it was much better today.

The package description said it tastes like bread or pastry, with some fruit aspect, and a bit of citrus.  We had tasted it using relatively standard parameters for Western style brewing and I'm shifting that towards a hybrid of Gongfu instead, which to some people might just be considered a low proportion and longer time frame version of Gongfu brewing.  Or others would see it as tea brewing practice abomination, I guess, to adjust parameters to whatever you like versus following some convention.  I've brewed a lot of black teas a lot of different ways so how variations shift results is familiar, it just varies for different teas.

The tea is like that description, which works as a starting point.  The bread or pastry like element gives it a rich body and nice flavor base, not unlike that found in some Taiwanese black teas.  That fruit and citrus comes across as a tartness that reminds me of a Dan Cong black tea I've reviewed.  Tart black tea isn't unheard of but it's not really typical of most types.  The complexity is ok, and it's not really off or flawed in any way.  I suppose it might trace over into balsa wood or cardboard flavor a little, not exactly off or flawed, but not ideal related to that aspect range either.

Up until that cardboard part it sounded pretty good, didn't it?  Tartness isn't a favorite aspect for me in black teas, and I don't love it when it's dominant in oolong oxidation level Dan Cong, the more normal version for teas from there, but I could imagine others relating to it differently.  I do love orange citrus in black teas, in wild Lapsang Souchong I've tried, or variations in Oriental Beauty, but I'm picking up more cranberry than "warmer" citrus in this.

The second tea--I think sold as an inferior grade of tea, or at least at a lower cost--looks the part of a superior tea, whole leaf instead of broken.  At first I was considering if I mightn't have that switched.  After thinking it through the tartness in that "first" version (listed as berry and citrus in their description) seems to more or less guarantee that the shop staff didn't accidentally switch those labels.  The "second version" leaves are long, twisted, and whole versus being quite broken for the other tea.  They're medium brown in appearance versus a darker black too.

The taste of the second version is fine, maybe just a little thinner.  It comes across as warmer, with less fruit, and not tart.  Toffee or caramel is more pronounced, extending a little towards a spice aspect, not cinnamon but towards that.  Again there is a woodiness that starts to remind me a little of cardboard.  That's really not that uncommon in Taiwanese black teas, per my past experience (which this aspects set reminds me of).  Shifting brewing aspects can minimize it, and bring out the flavors more beyond that trace of mustiness, but it's part of some teas that is more or less something to work around.

first version ("wild") left, other right

Second infusion:

The first tea version (the "wild" leaf tea) is similar to how the first infusion had been when brewed a bit stronger in this second round, but now fully "opened up," as much as that relates to black teas at all.  I am liking this tea quite a bit more than when I had it with Sasha that first day.  He and I both enjoyed it but it seems to do better with a bit more infusion strength, or maybe the higher proportion and shorter time somehow works better.

For some teas it doesn't really matter, and they work really well made lots of different ways, just coming across differently.  Two of my favorites work out like that:  Oriental Beauty (Taiwanese more-oxidized bug-bitten oolongs) and Dian Hong (Yunnan black teas, which actually vary quite a bit to be generalizing like that).  Sheng pu'er often really needs to be enjoyed brewed in a way that suits a particular version best, often better brewed very light, on the other side of the scale, although those vary a lot in character too.

elderberries (photo credit)

There is plenty of fruit, coupled nicely with a pastry-like complexity.  It reminds me of cranberry because of the tartness but really the fruit range goes beyond that, a bit into dark cherry instead, or maybe closer to elderberry.  Elderberry pie is fantastic, by the way, one of my best childhood memories.  They're tiny, sweet, distinctive flavored fruit that takes lots of work to pick, and we'd collect them up for my mother and get a pie in return for our trouble.

Elderberries taste like a blueberry but heavier on earthiness or mineral, probably as close to how ink smells as anything else, but they definitely don't taste like ink.  If I just loved tartness more in tea this would seem exceptional; as it is it's still interesting and positive.

The other tea is a contradiction for tasting rich and full, sweet and complex, clean-flavored and positive, and also slightly thin in a sense that's hard to pin down.  The style is enigmatic too.  It seems closest to Taiwanese black to me (honey black from a Jin Xuan cultivar, to be more specific).  There's an intriguing rich aspect layered in that is really interesting and positive (maybe like hazelnut?), and again a slight woody mustiness that's less so.  It's a little towards spice range as found in root beer or sasparilla.  For having that slight bit of wood tone the flavor is really clean.  With this being so inexpensive it's a great buy given the novelty and complexity, even if it has limits related to range and overall effect.  I really should have bought 100 grams of it, but I expected to pick up loads of tea in different places later, which really didn't work out.

a lot of color difference beyond the leaf wholeness differing

Third infusion / conclusions:

Both teas seem like decent teas related to overall impression, to flavor, and also thickness of the tea and complexity in terms of aftertaste.   They don't seem like really exceptional tea versions related to those last ranges of aspects, but then a lot of that scope applies more to other types; oolongs, pu'er, or even white teas can express more depth in those directions.

The first tea is thinning a bit faster than the second.  The leaves being more broken might have something to do with that, or maybe not.  I suppose it's conceivable that the results might have been better for a using less broken leaves related to other aspect range too.  While the first is just fading the second is just as complex and interesting as it had been, still subtle but with nice intensity.

I do like these teas.  I wouldn't mind having more of both to drink more of, to mess around with parameters and such, or just to enjoy experiencing.  Based on the tasting yesterday I was a bit on the fence of whether or not to even write about them, which would have been a shame, exploring a new country source and finding teas in Moscow, and then not going into details due to not really being into them.  Both teas have limitations or aspects that aren't personal favorites but both compare reasonably well to two very interesting and desirable ranges of teas I've tried, to black teas from Taiwan and in China where Dan Cong is from (outlying Chaozhou city in the North Eastern Guangdong province).  Related to value these compare well to other online sourced teas and for tea-shop versions (where overhead usually adds a bit to expense) the value is quite good, especially for the relatively inexpensive version.  It's hard to find black tea that good in that price range, of any type.

I've also tried that Moychay Nan Nuo in-house production sheng a couple of times and that will be a different kind of story; I liked these black teas but really loved that tea.  The brightness, freshness, and fruit flavor range was so intense it extended beyond what I normally experience in sheng.  Floral aspects are normal for lots of sheng, but bright plum / white grape fruit is something else. There's always room for more mouth-feel or aftertaste improvement, especially given that some people associate those a lot more with that tea type, or even value them more than flavors, but regardless of all that it was pretty good tea in a deeper sense, and quite novel.

Post-script; a few more images on the Russian travel theme

Kalani showing off a Russian doll souvenir haul

selfie with a cool mural in a St. Petersburg metro station (subway)

that full mural, with Kalani for scale

I would assume that image is Peter the Great

amazing decoration themes in the metros (this one in St. Petersburg)

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