Monday, March 5, 2018

Sheng pu'er on the next level; Wang Bing and Nan Mei versions

Wang Bing Yiwu gushu 2017

Nan Mei wild tree tea 2017

Online contacts sometimes share tea with me to try or review but this is something new.  Based on discussing pu'er with one of those people whose names tend to come up related to sheng (if you've looked around more than an average amount) an online contact shared some tea that will certainly change the extent to which I've experienced sheng.

Plenty of build-up, right?  That contact is Olivier Schneider, founder and site author of  He's not actually a vendor in the typical sense; there is no website to reference to look at a product line.  Although he doesn't sell tea directly he is involved with assisting others with sourcing, so more on a wholesale level, but he's not a wholesale vendor either.  His tea research I've reviewed for years past, a French site with great original background content on pu'er. 

Check these out:

that site is more like a tea encylopedia than a reference blog (

The main kinds of pu'er tea

The first leaves from Wi Yu Shan, three maocha, three famous villages

Which tea to store

Where to buy good puerh in Hong Kong

It would be easy to go a bit far in pursuing the research related to trying these teas, since I'm not as familiar with all the background as I should be.  I'll read up some as I go, but in general I try to maintain focus on trying and experiencing teas and letting the supporting ideas stay in the background, as sort of a separate parallel interest.

The obvious beginner investigation of sheng would involve a summary review of some basic themes, in study and tasting:  broader locations (areas), related to more specific locations, tea age and storage related.  Then one might review back to processing and source material variations, and so on.  A recent review of multiple years of Yiwu Mountain Pu'er versions of similar teas from different years (last in this post) is a good way to explore aging effect, but the approach only covers that one tea type, from that area, ideally processed in a similar way, from a similar plant source, stored in the same place.  In other words that approach was nice for narrowing review down to that one factor, for the samples I tried, with exploring diverse teas something else altogether.

Let's cover what Olivier sent to try, to get a feel for where this is going:

Wang Bing Yiwu gushu cha 2017

Nan Mei wild tree 2017

Ban Komuen 2017 (old tree tea from the Phongsally, Laos area)

Nan Mei gushu 2015 (small production tea)

Kokang shu cha 2010 (that's Myanmar, isn't it?)

Sheng pu'er 1998 (region not mentioned, but Hong Kong storage is cited)

Hong Tai Chang 2006 Thai sheng (I might own a cake of this tea, first reviewed here, then here)

Fengqing Yesheng Hong 2017 (black tea from Lincang)

I'll get back to plenty of background disscussion and rambling on but here I'll focus more on comparison review of those first two teas.  Trying two together is partly to help place both, and also to keep this moving.  It would work better, in a different sense, to try the teas one at a time, but that would take two months at one per week, and by the end recollection of the first could have faded.  I'll probably try them younger to older, in general, and divert to trying the one black tea and shou when that seems to make sense.

I'm excited to see teas from Myanmar and Laos included, and a black tea version, and even trying a sample of a tea I might already own could be interesting.  Storage changes things, and even if that tea started out as identical it might be somewhat different now.

these teas came with notes; that never happens

Backround on teas tasted, Wang Bing gushu cha (2017) and Nan Mei wild tree (2017)

I won't really get far with background for these teas but I will mention a few places to read further.  This article from the site goes into background on the Wang Bing Yiwu area, with more detail on the area and more description of specific versions.

I didn't get as far reading clear background on Nan Mei area, which is in Lincang.  According to this TeaDB article on the Lincang area it's located in the Mengku / Shuangjiang subregion, but this reference in a page already mentioned to a tea from the Oyang producer doesn't seem to match that:   Terroir:  Yunnan, Lincang, Linxiang, Nan mei.

The TeaDB site also included an interesting post listing short impressions of lots of Lincang sheng, but that doesn't seem to reference this specific area.  It's a bit much scanning through a few dozen tea descriptions in one go in that post but interesting for being a different sort of cross-reference.  As that post indicates it doesn't work at all to try and identify two teas that should be similar based on comparable source area and description, related to them actually being nearly identical when trying them; tasting really is the thing.

About trying these two teas, I didn't expect them to necessarily be similar, but in talking to Olivier by message he clarified the opposite might be more true:

Yeah it's very interesting, two old tree young puerh, but pretty different... different region, different processing, different blend, style at the end...

Luckily the notes and already finished write-up concluded they're not identical, as follows.


The Wang Bing gushu cha sheng is pleasantly intense.  It's not bitter or unapproachable, with great sweetness and floral complexity, and with overall complexity really standing out.  That blast of feel and pronounced aftertaste effect stand out from the first infusion.  It's the kind of experience that doesn't end after tasting the tea, at all, it just keeps tapering off. 

I get a sense others have developed a deeper appreciation for that range of aspects than I've progressed to but it's definitely an extra layer to the experience.  Since I'm only trying the first infusion the tea will probably soften and deepen with a couple of further infusions, showing off it's true potential.

The character difference in the Nan Mei tea is shocking, how on a very coarse level the two teas are so similar but at the same time absolutely and completely different.  This tea is also complex, with plenty of floral range and sweetness, but much warmer in aspect range.  It's so complex that describing what's going on will relate to that challenge, getting around it.

In a sense breaking the experience down into component concepts does it an injustice; it is that whole range of experience, and converting it to fragmented concepts is like describing the impact a work of art, or music or dance performance has on you.  It's not just limited, but also traces over into absurdity. 

That said this Nan Mei tea's aspect range is further towards a spice tone, with light fall leaves, exotic root spice, and a trace of nutmeg blending to make up a complex impression those types of concept fragments won't capture.  It's a softer tea, intense in it's own right, but so much not in that other familiar sense.

Wang Bing left, Nan Mei right

Wang Bing left, Nan Mei right 

Second infusion

The Wan Bing tea brews slightly darker, maybe not so much what I'd expect based on flavor profiles, but then maybe color differences will make more sense to me later on.  I'll keep these infusions fast, with the intensity level limited, making it easier to fully experience the aspects range (a bit counter-intuitive, maybe, but to me that's how it works out).  I might try one round slightly stronger to experiment but that tends to work out as you'd expect; the extra intensity ramps up feel and aftertaste considerably, but tends to not match my preference for balance as well.

The Wan Bing tea is great.  Yiwu general aspect range is familiar (but I'll spare you the post links, this time), and better tea versions tend to be like this one, intense, bright, floral, fresh, with bitterness and mineral depth that balances well.  It's that intensity that stands out; even brewed lightly it's considerable.  It would work to spend time drinking this tea, to take a couple of sips every couple of minutes, and just stay in the experience.  That kind of effect seems relatively unique to sheng pu'er.  Lots of teas are intense and impressive in lots of different ways but this range of effects seems to extend almost beyond consciousness itself.

By that I don't mean that it's psychotropic, that the "cha qi" is drug-like, and combining two teas in one tasting offsets the ability to notice that as an input of one of them.  For some people I suppose it would be like mixing drugs, tasting two teas together.  In general I don't notice much of that effect at all from most teas anyway.

The Nan Mei is again a totally different tea experience.  It's a lot warmer, softer, and sweeter, giving up intensity and balance, but still quite pleasant in a different sense.  Usually tasting two teas together making any sense depends on them being quite similar but sometimes the contrast can be interesting too.  It's easier to "take in" two completely different tea experiences at the same time with a lot of practice in trying that.  I suppose it's also a little like watching television while you listen to music; it could work, if someone is on that page, but for many it just wouldn't make sense experiencing two related but different things at once.

The range of experience for the Nan Mei is more centered on taste.  It has a fullness to it too but with flavor complexity coming across as more primary, with the other range dialed down.  It's odd how much softer the tea is.  It has a richness to it but essentially it's like a layer or two of experience of the Wan Bing is just missing.  It would work to brew it twice as strong to let the flavor intensity build up, and the range and intensity of feel still probably wouldn't match the other tea.

Third infusion

The Wan Bing isn't changing that much but it does seem like it's softened and filled in just a little and the range of aspects has broadened.  It's odd thinking that someone might not like this tea, related to considering people saying they've not found sheng they can relate to yet.  I think it really is a developed preference, this balance of aspects, in particular seeing that slight bitterness as a positive part of an integrated whole (limited in this version).  Of course it's a much different experience than in lower quality teas, and to some extent it makes sense that someone could be into soft, sweet, and rich oolongs and black teas, or more subtle whites, and just not on this page.

It tastes just a little like taking an aspirin, sure, but in a way that really works well.  As for description I tend to leave off at saying such a tea is mostly floral but balanced, with sweetness and other flavor complexity in mineral range, with brightness and complex feel rounding out the experience.  That's as close as concepts seem to get, but it doesn't really get far in describing it.  The right person could develop "floral" quite a bit more, or the rest.

Again the Nan Mei is a completely different kind of tea.  The warmth and richness is centered much more on flavor experience, in spite of being thick and complex.  It's not bitter at all.  There's actually complexity to spice range alone, ranging from soft sassafras root type range, up through light, mild fresh wood tones (maybe even soft and sweet tree-bark), extending to complexity more like nutmeg.  It has a fullness to the feel as well, and a richness that plays off a hint of dryness, it just doesn't hit with the same overall intensity.

There are layers to both experiences that would require less direct, more poetic interpretation, which could easily just be nonsensical to a reader.  The Wan Bing is bright, intense, and fresh, and the Nan Mei is rich, full, and almost buttery in feel.  It's not exactly closely related but we just had a Thai dinner (I live in Thailand) served with a very light pandan leaf tisane, and there was something hard to capture about the aspect range of that tisane.  The flavor was nice, to the extent it had any brewed so lightly, but something was going on with richness of feel that I couldn't really pin down.  Or maybe that wasn't really feel, just a fullness in flavor range that was surprising because the tisane was brewed so lightly, so that processing the end effect seemed tricky.

These teas will keep going, for lots of infusions, and there would be transitions to talk about, but since this already passes on a lot of general impression I think I'll leave off and just experience them without taking more notes.

Wang Bing Yiwu, dry

Nan Mei, dry

Conclusions, placing the experience

But they were both really nice, and quite different.  They did have a lot to offer related to experiencing more from lots of additional infusions.

I've been stuck more on the idea of sheng aging most recently, and with these teas being from 2017 that's not central theme.  I've completed tasting notes on other teas that will get back to that, and of course related to others in this set too.

As far as liking a particular age of tea it's early to make a call but it seems that in teas that are approachable when young I do like them best right away, which is sort of not what I expected, but then that was partly based on trying teas that needed some age.  I reviewed a 7542 last year that was three years old that seemed it really needed that length of time to soften up a little in overall effect, and a two year old Tae Tea tuocha the year that seemed to needed more time.  I keep meaning to try that second one again sometime but never think to get to it.  I'll say more about which was a favorite in that Yiwu Mountain pu'er age series in another post, but I did like a relatively new Vietnamese loose sheng (or sheng-like tea, if you must).

Related to these other samples, it might be nice to just go down this list and try the next two, since Laos and other non-Yunnan sheng-like teas are a theme that keep coming up.  It would be interesting to compare the experience of a second Nan Mei version to notice terroir commonality versus other version difference. 

Again I wouldn't expect there to be enough aspects in common for paired tasting to make lots of sense.  Since I went through that theme so many times last year--it was kind of the page I was on--whether the combination of tasting two together makes sense or not (if they're similar enough for that to work well) I feel like I don't lose that much for focus in using that approach.  Tasting three teas gets to be a bit much, and even one is too much to focus on if there are distractions, but comparing two seems simple enough if that general approach is familiar.

one of the two blog mascots

I keep seeing selfies in my phone back-up photos

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