I've tried just one Fukamushi Sencha sample sent by my vendor friend from Switzerland, Peter Pocajt, from Teamania, now onto a sheng as well. I think I mentioned that I've actually met him in real life on a visit through Bangkok; always nice to move beyond just exchanging messages like that. A lot of vendors are true tea enthusiasts too and that really comes across better when you meet someone.
2016 Yiwu Lucky Bee); not really a sample, he hooked me up with a cake of it, with the rest of the teas samples instead.
One distinction that has come up in sheng is that some are produced to be drinkable when young, and others made in a traditional way that allows for aging, and also include more bitterness and astringency. That also varies by production region, and other factors, by plant type, and so on. That first statement implied reference to processing step choices that I've not really went into; there's more on that subject in this post about "oolong pu'er." That's a bit of a misleading category nickname that references sheng style differences, as a pu'er that may have been produced allowing slightly more oxidation to occur, or else just based on processing that enables it being a bit smoother and more drinkable.
Since Yiwu tends to be approachable when young (which varies, of course) I'm not as worried about limiting this tasting to talking about aging potential, to how this tea is a bit rough going now but might really be good in another decade. I would expect the processing to be on the traditional side (just a guess), so even for being two years old I'd expect it to not be a soft, smooth, sweet, bright-floral version of tea, to be on the intense side. But we'll see. It works to check on the vendor's description and even pricing to get some idea of what to expect but I tasted this without looking into that, since it's as well to keep the process more blind.
The first short infusion after a fast rinse is a little light so this round will just be first impressions. The tea is good; that stands out already, already obvious from the first sip. There's an intensity to it that stands out beyond it being light. Floral tone is there, and some underlying mineral. That mineral tone is a little unusual, similar to that bright, sweet, distinctive version found in Taiwanese high mountain oolongs. I'm not saying this tea reminds me of an oolong; I'm saying the mineral aspect is common to that. Or it really might be the pairing of a certain range of floral tone with a particular mineral aspect, a bright, sweet note that somehow connects with an underlying flinty, light mineral. It's really catchy. There is a bit of bitterness and astringency but this is in a balance that's going to work well, at least per initial impression.
just getting started
I gave this over 15 seconds to get going in the next round, since it will take more than two infusions to have it unfurled and brewing. For once I'm not using a packed-gaiwan for proportion, in part to keep the amount I drink reasonable since I'm going out to meet someone for tea right after this tea. I'm living out a one-track-mind theme, or two really, counting my kids.
The style is unusual; it's very pleasant, but not similar to a lot of what I tend to try. It has floral aspect to it, so it's not completely off what I've tried for other Yiwu, but even that comes across just a little differently. I'm already getting the impression that this is better than what I usually drink. The balance is really nice, the way it's even across that floral range, with sweetness that's pronounced but also moderate, not intense. The mineral range is also prominent but in normal proportion. The tea is a bit light on bitterness and astringency but both are present, to a degree that works. I may not do justice to what I mean, about which part or which balance of typical aspects works out better.
On the atypical side there's a catchy aspect that goes beyond normal Yiwu floral tone, but related to that, that's hard to place. It might just be a lighter, sweeter, more subtle, and brighter version of a floral tone, or it could even extend slightly towards fruit. It's a short step towards lemon citrus or pandan leaf, the herb that tastes like Fruity Pebbles cereal to me, but it doesn't quite get to those.
This is kind of a strange place to add the idea but I'm just starting to get a cold, probably working with about 90% of my normal taste sensitivity, at a guess. I don't mean that I'm congested; I couldn't taste tea if that were the case. I just feel different, and that will adjust my palate, dialing down sensitivity a little. It's not an ideal tea to be drinking related to that; I could be reviewing a sweet, rich, basic and straightforward Chinese black or Assam instead, and that factor might not matter much then. I have to go with intuition on what to try when though; what I feel like getting to.
after opening up
Another substantial length infusion later (around 15 seconds) the intensity of this tea really dials up. It's still quite approachable, but the main impression is of it being balanced. One of Bach's cello suites came on just now (the cable classic music program is on); that's an old favorite. I'd see it as a good sign if I were into such things, but I'm just spacey and a bit random, not really superstitious.
Back to this tea. There might be something in that set of aspects that supports why it works so well for me, why it seems so different, beyond the "balance" idea. That underling mineral range is definitely a little different, not completely typical in form, and more pronounced. The floral range isn't intense but slightly off the most standard aspect form for Yiwu (not that those are all one thing, of course), and it works well. This was probably some really intense tea two years ago when first produced, or even more last year, with the aspects falling into a balance that really works now.
On that paradigm of a split between sweet, smooth, and approachable versus bitter, astringent, and structured with potential for aging it sort of doesn't seem to fit. At a guess I'd like this tea better now than in another decade but I also get the sense it has enough complexity across a broad range of aspects to stand up to aging transition. I'd expect it to improve instead of just fading. It's not the kind of tea you'd want to forget you have for a half dozen years and check back in with later but I'm guessing it also wouldn't be wasted by hanging around. Those are just guesses, though. It's not really at full-blast intensity as some sheng comes across, sometimes across a lot of aspect range; it's well balanced.
A number of infusions in it's not really transitioning too much. That one catchy brighter, sweeter note pulls back a little with a bit more warmth and depth picking up. The taste is still really clean. The feel is nice, not thin, with aftertaste trailing nicely. I bet I'm losing the most read on that part, related to my normal sense of taste being slightly off. As far as what I'm not describing well--a lot about this tea, it seems--that mineral range is also different; it has more depth to it. One part is a bit light and dry, a little flinty, and another warmer and deeper, more like the scent of a well or spring, and it trails over towards spice range just a little, but doesn't get there. I suppose the part that's catchy is really all of it together, the complexity along with the balance.
On the next round it occurs to me that part of what I like might be a lingering sweetness, that gives the experience an overall extra intensity. It's not the form that seems to be what is usually referred to as hui gan; not so much tied to bitterness, extending into a taste that occurs on the back of your mouth and throat, a sensation that pairs directly with a taste. It occurs throughout your whole mouth instead, a bit lighter, more bright-taste associated versus heavier and sweet. One "test" a friend passed on for hui gan is to taste cool but not cold water after the round, and that sensation will become even sweeter. The effect is different for this; it's still noticeable along with the water, but not ramped up in sweetness as for that other different aspect. Anyway.
It would seem normal for someone to interpret this sweetness as some type of bright, sweet, but mild fruit instead of a floral tone. It's not completely dis-similar to dried mango but not quite that. I'll have to go so I'll give this one more round of trying it and that'll do, even though it's probably something like half-way through it's cycle.
Since it's tea-specific I might mention what I'm off to do; a practice run for an outdoor, in-the-park tea tasting to be held next weekend. I'm meeting a friend, Sasha, to test out how heating water and other details go. I bet one finding will be that it's too hot in Bangkok to drink tea outdoors from 11 AM to 1, even during the slightly cooler rainy season. It's probably only around 28 or 29 C in here right now (82-84 F), which is cool for us, but we're tucked down in a miniature jungle grove in this house. Since I'm editing this a few days later I could say how that small scale tasting trial went but I'll hold off until the next post to add that instead.
that local park (Benjasiri), the entrance of it
a giant bo tree there; the Buddha sat under one when he was enlightened
The tea is the same; not shifting, quite nice still. That sweetness might have shifted just a little towards a light sweet citrus, really just as much a fruit tone as a floral aspect at this point. It had reminded me of lemon zest earlier but now it seems closer to mandarin orange; warmed up a little, less bright but richer.
Maybe this tea surprises me for being a bit unconventional as much as for being good and well balanced. The plant type source might be part of that, but I'm guessing that it's everything together, using slightly older and more natural growth plant leaf input, and processing it slightly differently. It might even work to say "better," related to that processing.
Since this tea has something of a story I'll mention that product description here:
This bingcha is made of tea leaves from teamaster Yans Ming own tea plantation in Yiwu. We are especially proud about this tea because it is one the first Bingcha we made by ourselves.
Together with our friends, the tea masters Yang and Panda we went on the search for the ideal pu-erh tea leaves. However, far we did not need search as Yang's tea plantation offered this kind of tea leaves. And because Yang Ming doesn't use pesticides nor artificial fertilizers are especially the bees are very happy.
Harvest: Spring 2016, Pressed: 2016
Taste: Honey sweet and a bit mineral.
Origin: Yiwu, Xishuangbanna, prefecture, Yunnan province, China.
Preparation: Appx. 3g per tea pot, temperature 100°C. Rinse the tea leaves before infusing with boiling water.
Tip: This tea is ideal to mature a few years.
I would have met Peter right around then, maybe just after that visit there two years ago. All of that description works. The aging recommendation in particular does; the tea is nice now but I get the impression it won't fade, it will gain complexity and depth over some number of years. As far as long term aging prospect, where this would be in 10 to 15 years, I really don't know; that goes beyond what I should be taking a guess at.
The price was another surprise. I ordinarily don't cover that in reviews but if there's something unusual to say I will; this lists for around $45 now. Based on other teas I've tried of different quality levels that's probably on the low side, and double that might still work for a fair market price, or somewhere in the middle with good value still remaining a selling point. All sheng tends to jump up fairly quickly in price as years of aging occur, which is kind of fair, since proper storage and aging provides an added value, and this is probably a good version to pick up while it's still listing for this. It's no experimental version of sheng, not one of those cases where a new vendor / producer is sorting out processing details; whoever made this is quite familiar with how to produce sheng.
For someone new to better tea sheng might not be the most natural starting point, so there's that as a factor, but this has ran too long to cover another tangent about all that, and in general it works to assume that only people a bit down the path are reading this.
Yunnan sheng processing, from Peter's blog
Or at least all that is my take. Beyond processing variations changing all pu'er aspects at a guess it might also be slightly atypical in character--mostly in quite positive ways--partly because the plant source isn't what I'm used to. It doesn't seem to be plantation grown factory tea, or "wild tea," an older source naturally grown version. Per my limited experience those are quite subtle in overall character and different in flavor aspect range, but this is instead somewhere in the middle, not exactly like a conventional grown plant or a "wild" source (forest grown; harvested when mixed with other plants). Peter's Teamania linked blog post doesn't really go into that but he does mention some details about traveling in Yunnan a couple of years ago here, of course with photos of tea plants and processing.
the cat had mixed feelings about this pose