Friday, February 9, 2018

Comparing identical sheng pu'er of different ages (Yiwu)

I'm back to comparing different year version samples of Yiwu Mountain Pu'er, as began in this earlier post.  I compared 2017 and 2016 versions then, which varied a lot more than I would have expected, 2016 seemingly a lot more age-transitioned than I thought it could be in that time.  As I mentioned in that earlier post this vendor sells samples as a set similar to this, with a bit more type variation in the standard tasting set.  These samples are designed to be relatively identical beyond spanning a number of years, provided by that vendor as much for my own exploration as review here, with thanks to them for that.  There would be more description of them in that site material, referenced as the Qiaomu or wild arbor sourced products (which can mean different things).

To check on pronounced differences in fermentation (aging effect) this time I'll compare a 2012 sample with a 2015 version, the two extremes of samples ages I have left to try.  That'll leave only 2013 and 2014, with not much variation in age for that last pair, but that might work to help identify if annual variations in starting point--the tea batches differing, versus aging--had been shifting results.

2012 version (Yiwu Mountain Pu'er Yiwu sheng sample)

2015 version (both from a cake, but separated)

a bit similar (I think 2012 on the right here)


This is going to be interesting, judging from tasting the rinse alone.  Of course these teas are quite different after one going through those extra years of transition.  I'll start with notes on the first infusion after a rinse, and then go round by round after, trying not to repeat the same comments over and over.  To the extent tasting notes do repeat I could edit it back out but after an hour or two of editing that gets boring and the review versions tend to stay long.

2012 on the left; brews just slightly darker

2012:   the flavor is rich, much different than the earlier, younger versions.  I was just interrupted a half dozen times during the tasting, issues I'll need to sort out if this is going to work, so I'll mostly skip the flavor by flavor review until next round.  The tastes extend into more of that root-spice direction, or further along in much warmer mineral tones (descriptions from the earlier versions tasting).  It heads a little towards tobacco but nothing like versions of aged sheng that taste just like a cigar smells.  Toffee sweetness rounds out the earthiness nicely.

2015:  this version is completely different in one sense and overlaps a lot with the other in another.  Everything I just said about the 2012 more or less also applies, just in a different sense, but the taste includes a bit more of a hardwood sort of edge to it.  Strange as it is to invoke non-food items in tasting I guess that summarizes my take on the main differences for now, a hardwood-like slight edge transitions to a tobacco-like softer aspect range.

Second infusion:

2012:  the intensity of this tea is really ramping up, but I still get the sense it will only really hit it's stride on the next round.  Unlike with a younger and more challenging sheng version--not that the 2017 sample was hard to relate to--that's not about edgy astringency or bitterness easing up, instead about intensity increasing.  I infused the tea for around 15 seconds at a standard proportion, so it's not that, it's just generally coming on.  The feel of this tea is interesting, not just in terms of perceived texture thickness, but the way that overlaps with flavor intensity and the range.

The flavor list doesn't change much, although I suppose the proportion does.  It's earthy, a bit mellow, towards a root or bark spice, but also including fallen-leaf tones and a trace of tobacco.  If someone really wanted to brew a tea that tastes as close as possible to how autumn leaves smell this would be a good option.  It wouldn't so much be like the piles of freshly fallen leaves, which have a really bright, almost tangy smell, but after they laid around for a couple of weeks, when the earthiness picks up.  Feel and aftertaste are ok but could be more notable; they're not really strengths of this tea at this point.

2015:  somehow this version is even more intense.  That wasn't a long infusion but these would be fine using quite short infusions; 5 or 10 seconds would work.  In one limited sense the flavors are a bit richer and darker in this version, not what one might expect, but the overall effect and feel is lighter and less smooth, with more structure.  There's more of that intense zap of integrated astringency, mineral, and bitterness younger sheng possesses, with a lot of transition in the presented form in an actual younger sheng.

This tea is less than three years old but it seems to have transitioned a lot, just nowhere near as much as the 2012 version.  It doesn't really work as clear and complete description of the teas but sticking with the wood and leaf theme this tea is more like a slightly aged hardwood, how cut versions of that tend to smell after some months, than leaves that had fallen a couple of weeks ago, which works as a partial aspect description for the other.

2012 on the left; slightly darker leaves

Third infusion:

2012:  this was brewed faster, between 5 and 10 seconds, and backing off the intensity does change things.  There is still plenty of flavor and feel to be experienced, and to me it comes across slightly better lighter, although an optimum for my own preference might have been between 10 and 15 seconds instead.  The aspects don't really seem to transition, so nothing to add about that, and trying to break apart how the change affects the experience would be splitting hairs.  It's just different how you'd expect it to be different; the tea is more lightly infused and comes across differently.

2015:  really just more of what applied in the other version comments.  Again it's interesting in how the flavors are different brewed quite lightly but that difference is subtle, and has to do with how feel and overall impression changes more than anything else.  I'm not sure how it's going to work to say which tea I like best since experiencing the difference is the most interesting part.  I like these teas, and I'd drink either version, at either age.  They're not at all "going mute" in middle age, as one type of standard discussion point describes.  It's probably more typical to hear people express that they just prefer sheng at different ages, and some instead say that experiencing the transitions is their favorite part.

Of course I don't mean those general observations or my comments about these two teas as an observation about how sheng ages in general.  Based on different starting points I'd expect that to play out completely differently.  In that Yiwu vertical tasting some teas did seem to give up a lot of intensity to others, and to some extent did seem to go quieter (less intense) as older versions progressed.  But my impression was that variation in the teas was a factor, in the initial quality level and aspects starting point, and that adjusting brewing parameters to not use identical brewing would flatten some of that final difference in effect back out.

palate training on a screen door; "metallic"

Fourth and fifth infusions:

I went a bit longer the fourth infusion (15 seconds or so) but the teas might be fading a little already, sooner than I would have expected.  The character seems similar but even longer infusion times would bring it to a normal strength, probably 25 to 30 seconds based on my preference, for what seems like a medium level to me.  Since they don't really seem to be transitioning that much it seems as well to not keep going on about minor variations anyway.

Ramping time up to 30 seconds on the fifth infusion did increase strength to a normal level for both.  The flavors are holding consistency, just pulling taste range a little further towards earthy woodiness for needing more infusion time to draw them out.

Conclusion, about the teas

It's not as if it's just dawning on me but I can see why preferences tend to crowd towards liking younger (newer) sheng and then older, well-matured versions, with some people defining their own personal preference at typically either 10 or 15 years aging and up.  These teas are nice but I could imagine that not everyone would love these flavor profiles.

A next concern is what these particular teas would be like in another 5 to 10 years, if they really do have aging potential that a lot of people would define as matching their preference.  That I can't really guess at, although I am working on a separate post that talks through more of that background related to online discussion of some factors.

It seems possible they would pick up richer flavors and complexity, and also possible that sheng in this range at this time (based on roughly the same starting point) would fade instead of becoming more interesting.  Or to some extent both things could happen, but fading might outweigh positive transition.  I mean that as expressing a gap in my own knowledge and experience, not as a guess that the outcome could still vary.

I liked these teas, but the most interesting part was experiencing the transition aging variation had caused, more so than enjoying them as an individual experience.  I think I did like the youngest (newest) tea of the set best so far, which I didn't expect.  Of course that could and would vary related to individual teas, probably by standard sets of characteristics, and by preference.  It would surely work for people to express clear generalities about what they prefer in aged sheng but I'm not as sure if a narrow range of consensus takes would emerge.  Perhaps it could; why not?   An online comment about that recent review of a Moychay Nan Nuo sheng, if it would continue to improve or not, turned up some interesting discussion input on the matter, but looking into it proved substantial enough that further discussion will have to wait for that other post.

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