Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Chinese black teas (Zi Juan and Da Jin Zhen) from Moychay

Da Jin Zhen left (big bud), Zi Juan right

I'll mention some of their description at the end too

I'm back to trying relatively completely different teas in a combined tea tasting, again from Moychay.  That's appropriately timed, given that I just mentioned tasting one of these at an event where the theme was trying pairs of similar teas.  It's nice to get back to black teas more; those and oolongs work out to be the two main natural favorites for me.  I can enjoy and appreciate white teas, pu'er, and other hei cha, but those two broad types are still most familiar.  I'll try to cover a lot of posts this week, to get caught up on a few parallel themes, so I'll try to keep this short, with less rambling on than average.

Sergey, that Moychay owner, just posted a picture of a new tea club that just opened in Moscow.  Of course that represents a business interest along with a general tea theme interest but the point I keep trying to make about them is that both seem common to their company and to how Russians embrace tea culture.  Better tea is appreciated, with awareness somewhat developed, and of course a business side goes along with that.

a new tea club in Moscow, credit this FB post


I brewed these in between a normal Western style and Gongfu brewing, or as a moderate proportion and longer infusion time variation of Gongfu, brewed for around 45 seconds.  I'll go with something similar for the next round, although it would work to brew these teas 20 seconds and drink them a good bit lighter.  They are a little strong for my preference as I've made them in the first infusion.  I'm in the habit of drinking black teas prepared a little stronger than some other types, but that's just a personal preference as I see it, not related to an objective optimization.  I went long on this first infusion to skip the part about trying them on the light side first, as I usually do, but I tend to vary infusion strength anyway, to see how teas are prepared in slightly different ways.

Zi Juan left, Da Jin Zhen right

The Zi Juan is really nice, and a bit unique.  I have just seen these descriptions, since I added the sample cover picture to the post, and it's just as complex as that list of aspects claims.  It says "warm and fruity, with chokeberry, spice, and honey notes, tart, sweet, with citrus and spice."  It really does have a lot going on.  I'm not familiar with chokeberry so I won't be able to confirm that part.  If that means the same thing as "chokecherry" that does ring a bell, but I couldn't place that for a taste from memory either.

The main flavor is like some sort of slightly sour apple, with a bit of spice, and other layers beyond that.  Usually sourness is a flaw in a tea but in this case it does match up with that unusual flavors set; it seems to be just how the tastes work out.  It balances well for all those parts working together; the sweetness offsets that touch of sourness (which could be interpreted as tartness; they're not far off, and it's probably really a little of both), and the warmth and spice compliments both.  It sounds like some sort of pastry, doesn't it?  The bread or pastry layer could be a bit more pronounced, but there is a little there that one might map back to that.  The spice part is faint so hard to pick out, but that does seem to be clearly where that "warm" part is situated.

The description of the Da Jin Zhen overlaps a little:  woody, sweet, with spice, honey, and citrus, and again with a bit of tartness.  Again the experience is that of a good tea, of being unique and distinct, completely different from the other, but overlapping in aspects to some extent.  There's a warm, sweet part that stands out that reminds me of bee's wax.  The honey is a bit more pronounced in this version, a good match for that part.  I'm not noticing much for tartness or sourness in this; it's warm, sweet, complex, and smooth.

I'm usually more a fan of leaf based black teas than buds-only black teas but when these work well they can be really complex and pleasant too, and this is a better than average version.  It's quite refined, maybe simple in the sense of the flavors covering a limited range or for structure not relating to what people call tannins (which I think are polyphenols as a group, and then something else at the next level of description).  But what is occurring in this tea for aspect range works really well.  "Honey sweetness" gets thrown around a lot in tea descriptions but almost no other versions end up actually tasting as much like honey as this does.

I just visited the Jip Eu shop and they passed on a Jin Jun Mei (not a sample so much; some tea, while I was visiting to pick up some tasting cups to support that interest).  Those can overlap a little with this range, that warmth, sweetness, and the way those aspects come across.  I described it to a friend as between honey and roasted corn, not so much the way that tastes though, but the way that sweet part smells when the corn is roasting at high heat, like an interesting and complex variation on caramel.

Second infusion

The Zi Juan has improved; that limited sourness / tartness dropped back, probably more a slight tartness now than sourness, and the intensity of the other range increased.  It would be possible to brew this a good bit stronger since there isn't anything negative setting a limit (no astringency, off flavor, or particular balance to "get right" or work around) but for my preference this is right.  It's nice the way that fruit and spice comes together.  It's picked up some depth, not just in the range of an unfamiliar type of apple, shifted a bit towards cherry or berry from that.  Describing that one aspect as in between a slightly sour cherry and a reasonably complex form of apple works.

There isn't a lot to the feel; it's a bit soft, not really "structured" or dry, although it doesn't come across as thin.  The aftertaste does linger nicely, with that very complex flavor range trailing on as a longer experience after you drink it.  It's hard to pin down the warm spice range; it's not exactly nutmeg or cinnamon but along those lines.  That part is really a minor supporting aspect in relation to the stronger fruit, but it adds a lot for giving the tea a nice balance.

The "warmth" of the Da Jin Zhen picked up; it gained complexity.  All the rest of the range hasn't changed but the way it all balances did.  The main flavor still reminds me of honey mixed with bee's wax, that warm, earthy, towards-spice tone.  Sweetness fills in beyond that, and a trace of citrus to give it more depth, maybe something like blood-orange zest, a citrus tone with some depth to it, a bit sweeter and richer and less edgy than a sweet red grapefruit. 

In one sense the overall experience is simple; the flavor range is limited, and the feel is not thin but not complex.  In another it has a lot of positive aspect range going on.  Anyone who loves the structure and edginess black teas like better Assam exhibit might not like these two teas (or second flush Darjeeling works in that example; those have a lot more body).  People who drink tea to experience complex flavor range filled in with lingering aftertaste probably would like it, given aspect preference matches up.  They're both definitely good teas, and unique, with some limitations but making up for those with their novelty.

Third infusion

Again I went around 45 seconds for these, long enough to draw out plenty of infusion strength, probably more related to some in-house drama than preference for that timing.  Typically on the weekends I get a nice quiet break during late mornings for a Chinese language class and swim class, on the two different days, but this being a long holiday weekend both aren't being held.  That timing would ruin some teas at this proportion but for these it should still work well.  Really the buds-only tea could work either light or stronger, with plenty of flavor coming across in that last light version, but more intense would be nice too.  As with white tea infusion strength it would just depend on preference.

The spice might be ramping up in proportion in this Zi Juan; it's just as good if not better.  The fruit range is tapering off a little but otherwise it's roughly the same, a nice balance between sweet fruit, slight tartness, and warm spice.  Usually I don't care for tartness in black teas but this works.  There's just a bit more finish to it, a trace of dry feel and lingering tart cherry and mineral tone that stays centered along the middle of your tongue after swallowing.

The Da Jin Zhen has picked up just a trace of intensity too; I did just give that a slightly longer soak than the prior round, and it still works at this infusion strength but a little less would be more optimum.  It shifts the flavor to come across as a bit more mineral intensive in tone, with a hint more structure and dryness.  That honey and bees wax flavor effect is quite catchy.

I'm getting the impression these teas might only be halfway through their infusion cycle, and beyond this I'd be talking about balance shifts in the same aspects.  Probably past three more rounds they would still produce flavor, but I'd have to check on how extending times and how the aspects staying positive worked out.  I often will brew black teas in a more typical Gongfu proportion and timing, and a little lighter, but I've been making these slightly stronger, in part for working around a lower proportion than I usually use. 

I'll leave off taking notes since I've gotta get on with this day (off to visit a local market and natural area today; maybe I'll mention that in a picture later).  Both teas did brew more rounds later but I won't go into that.

More vendor information

There isn't a lot more to cover, but I will pass on a couple of extra ideas from the vendor descriptions, the parts that don't appear on those labels.  The Zi Juan is described as follows:

"Purple charm" from Ailaoshan (Yunnan Province) spring harvest 2018...

The bouquet of ready-made tea is vivid and warm, fruity, with black chokeberry, spicy and honey notes. The fragrance is deep and warm, calming. The taste is full-bodied and sappy, velvety, a bit tart, sweetish, with light citrus sourness, spicy nuances and lingering finish...

Brew tea with hot water (95°С) in a gaiwan or in a teapot of porous clay. The proportion is 4-5 g per 100 ml. The time of the first steeping is about 6-8 seconds. After that do short steeps (just for 2-3 seconds), increasing steeping time for each subsequent step, if necessary. You can repeat this method up to 6-7 times.

Not exactly what I did, but close enough.  It's interesting they just mention a Gongfu approach for this tea.  It would still be ok prepared Western style but I think better like that.  This style of black tea would work prepared light, but then there was no astringency limiting how intense to make it, so it would be more of a matter of getting the aspects to balance best.

The other tea, the Da Jin Zhen, was described in this way:

Yunnan "Big golden pikes" from the Fengqing County (Linzang District) of the spring harvest of 2018.

In appearance: large pointed tips covered with silky red fluff. The fragrance is deep, fruity with spicy hints. The liquor is transparent, with meadow honey shade.

The bouquet of ready-made tea is refined and warm, multifaceted, fruity, with spicy, woody, honey and citrus notes. The fragrance is deep and warm, calming. The taste is rich and full-bodied, delicate, a bit tart, sweetish, with light citrus sourness and lingering finish.

at a fun-day sort of event last week

a view of the next office buildings from the 56th floor of where I work

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