Thursday, August 16, 2018

Blind tasting Huang Tan, an oolong sample from the Jip Eu shop

unusual to see mixed colors

that's what it is, right there

In a variation on blind tasting I'm trying a tea sample Jip Eu passed on that I don't remember the type of.  I asked them based on sending a picture of the Chinese characters, so I will know within an hour or two, most likely in the middle of this tasting.

It looks vaguely like a Wuyi Yancha, but not that close though, since this leaf presentation isn't familiar, not really twisted (that style), or rolled or flattened for that matter.  Since that's the type they sell most of I'm automatically inclined towards guessing that range, so I'm thinking maybe it's a Shui Xian, even though it shouldn't be that green, or mixed in color.  It wouldn't be that hard to check that; I could just look up what those characters are.  Or it is possible to use a text character reader online based on using the image.  But both would cancel out the intrigue of a blind tasting.

Trying it initially you mostly just taste roast; more indication it might be Wuyi Yancha.  The tea character under that doesn't stand out much compared to the roast effect at this point.

The tea isn't bad, it's just not exceptional (much as I can judge it at all; it'll take another couple of infusions to).  It's not in the fruity style I like, as Cindy's teas tend to be, and I'm not noticing pronounced cinnamon either (that earthy version of it from Rou Gui).  It doesn't express the subtle, perfume or liquor like aspect that relates to a number of different Wuyi Yancha types.  I suppose people might say those teas exhibit aroma more than flavor, but I don't tend to rely on or even refer to that divide much in reviewing, unless it comes up in a tea comparison contrast.

That leaves this tasting a bit woody.  There is a bit to the aroma part, a hint towards that cognac / liqueur effect.  The flavor is ok, and the body and the rest of the balance is fine.  The roast level doesn't overwhelm the tea, in one sense, but in this initial infusion it's not balanced, a bit too strong.  It has a vegetal edge to it that implies the oxidation level is low.  It's far from green range but seemingly not in the standard level for oolongs, especially Wuyi Yancha / Fujian rock oolong.  The optimum is "balanced" of course, so that you don't even notice the parts of how the final effect occurred.

still opening up; still different colors

I wouldn't be surprised if this was more than one tea, blended versus being a single type.  Beyond the different colors making sense that would account for a couple types of character ranges seeming to come across, the more pronounced roast, the lower oxidation level "green wood" effect, and the liqueur like flavor / aroma range.  All that integrates better than it might sound it does but it makes for a broad set.

Second infusion:  it pulls together a little more.  That earlier speculation was too much to extract for interpretation from one light infusion; we'll see what I change my mind on.

The leaves are different colors, easier to sort out when a bit wet; it looks more like a blend now, or it could just be that they used different types of leaves, including the older yellow / huang pian ones.  The flavor gains complexity in this round, and the roast integrates better.  The roast effect is picking up, in one sense, and dropping out in another.  It changes and deepens but other flavor range increases.  I think this is better tea than I judged it to be in the first round.  An old-furniture effect kicks in, not my favorite range for roasted oolongs but it can be nice in the right balance and combination.  The wood aspect comes across as fresher, picking up even more vegetal character, that's still overwhelmed a bit by all the rest.  One aspect trailing into a liqueur effect gives it an extra dimension.  All this could be horrible if it didn't balance, but it does.

those Ong Yong Choon shop owners were really nice

Since it's moving away from typical Wuyi Yancha character as it develops--much as it ever expressed that--I really don't know what it is.  It's too green and too vegetal to be that, at least in forms I'm familiar with.  I've had Tie Kuan Yin that wasn't so far off this before (from the local Ong Yong Choon shop, reviewed here, the one beside Wat Pho and the flower market).  TKY can be vegetal, and they're often floral, often roasted to different levels (just more often not roasted much at all), but they're not typically like this.  They tend to be smooth and sweet, and this vegetal green wood edge isn't standard.

The "blind" part of this tasting just went by the wayside; the owners of the Jip Eu shop told me what it is by message:

it's one kind of oolong tea , some thing like tie-kwan-yin>>>Huang Tan

That explains some things, why I'm having trouble making sense of those aspects.  That green wood tone leans a little towards vegetal not so far from corn, it's just not that.  The roast level makes sense with the one other style of Tie Kuan Yin, not the bright green version, the roasted kind.  That often gets prepared as tea burned to a cinder but really it doesn't have to be like that.  This was lightly oxidized (I got that part right), with a medium level roast.  I guess that could be seen as upper-medium or lower-medium, depending on an interpretation bias in expecting really charred tea or not thinking that's normal.  I think the teas one runs across that are blackened probably don't represent any traditional style; they're just overcooked (over-roasted), maybe by accident or maybe to cover something else wrong with the tea.

If this tea had been rolled I would've been interpreting it quite differently.  Maybe not the aspects, so much, but how to make sense of them.

That's the last piece to this puzzle, that different quality levels of tea express aspects differently and come across differently.  Inexpensive Shui Xian isn't the same thing as much better versions of Shui Xian.  That's true too of Tie Kuan Yin, a bit closer to this version, but in a different sense.  Inexpensive Shui Xian are often a blend of different versions, and a higher level of roast can be used to mask limitations in the tea, or to bring an old version back to life.

This tea would be very good for an inexpensive tea, and quite limited for an expensive version.  It's in the middle.  It doesn't have enough flaws or limitations to come across as "cheap tea," and it has too much going for it.  It's not standard; that preparation style and mix of colors seems a bit unusual, as does the set of aspects.  It also doesn't express the strong positive aspect range, unified character type, and really nice overall balance of a more expensive, higher quality tea.  To associate local pricing with that, based on this Jip Eu shop, they sell really nice Wuyi Yancha for 1000 baht for 100 grams, or $15 per 50 grams, and the Shui Xian types extend across a range that runs really low in price at the lower end, maybe a quarter of that or less.

I asked and they sell this tea for 250 baht per 120 grams ($8 or so), priced on that low side.  For that it's quite good tea, I think, and maybe they should charge a little more than that.  It is unconventional though; that might make it harder to sell.  They added a little more detail in discussion:

Its not wuyi yancha, It's from unsi-fujian.  I think this tea that you just taste it , now is old one, may be about 2 years, so the taste and flavor are change much more.  It's better when new one, have flavor of flower, tea leaves look more green colour.  This kind of tea not good for keep.

Usually I edit English use to clean it up but I'll pass on how they expressed that since it's very clear.  So all that is the last of the puzzle; aging muted flavors that worked better when fresh, for this particular version.  A re-roast might have even brought the taste back to life (might have occurred, I mean, accounting for the roast level / initial char effect).  It's not ideal for the type due to aging, according to that input, but it probably started out as a pretty good tea, just maybe not great.

On the next infusion it doesn't transition much.  Those flavors are integrating better as infusions go on.  The roast level and the old-furniture effect are dropping back, with plenty of green wood towards other vegetal character remaining, taking over the balance.  It's interesting; different.  It's hard to imagine this being someone's favorite type of tea but it's well worth experiencing.  I said that about that recent Moychay Guangdong oolong too, a Bao Ing Huan Zhi, and probably about that Ong Yong Choon version too.  I think this is a little sweeter than that Moychay oolong, which does help those aspects come together.

It's not as if I'm just being nice, or biased, in describing an unusual tea that doesn't match my standard preferences so positively.  Trying different styles of tea is interesting.  It's also more pleasant when the aspects really click with you, and I can appreciate this version and range but I've loved almost all that I've tried from Jip Eu more.  I'm not so into TKY (or teas like that), and types along that line I do like best are softer, "rounder," sweeter, more floral versions, or the creamy Jin Xuan versions, or intense mineral and floral high mountain Taiwanese types.  Medium roasted lightly oxidized teas seem a bit odd, to me.  Add more initial oxidation level, more like a Dong Ding style, or other teas described as "red oolong," and that's back to working better per my preference, a step closer to a black tea.

The next infusion--4 or 5 maybe--is even better.  It's much more aromatic, picking up cleaner, brighter flavor range, with a bit more perfume-like character coming across.  The flavor extends slightly from the earlier liqueur range towards floral, it just doesn't really come across as mostly that.  Even sweetness picks up just a little.

I might share some of this at the tasting I have planned for this weekend (for tomorrow, now), although it's not a natural fit for that.  It's not a standard type, not necessarily beginner range for aspects, but it is interesting.

I might also mention that I tried this the next day as a cold-brewed version, setting it aside in a tea bottle in lukewarm water in the refrigerator, at around where these notes end in the brewing cycle session.  It is possible to just let the leaves sit and brew more later in the day too, or even the next day, but the hot, humid weather in Bangkok isn't as ideal for storing tea leaves for a day.  Cold brewing draws out more sweetness and moderates astringency in teas, if there is any.  This was really nice made that way.  It didn't have any astringency to work around but the intensity and sweetness dialed way up, which worked well with that floral range.  The roast "char" and old furniture flavor dropped out, maybe due to the difference in brewing approach, or as likely they were naturally only going to come out more in earlier infusions, just part of that brewing transition.

not long after that session, at the local zoo (where I'll hold that tasting)

A short tangent about other Chinese oolongs

It may or may not be familiar but if you walk around cities like Beijing and Shanghai there are two types of teas you see most often:  light rolled oolongs, either inexpensive TKY or teas made like that, and Longjing style green teas, probably various interpretations of the original region based version as often as actually being that.  I can relate to why.  Teas just a bit off those in style, like this one, can be quite nice, but there's something really catchy and easy to relate to in those two other forms, even in inexpensive versions.  Jip Eu does sell a range of different Tie Kuan Yin, but the real Anxi origin versions, since that owner has family in both the Wuyishan area and there.  I just don't say much about them since I've always been more into Wuyi Yancha (for a number of years now, anyway), so when I visit there I try those and end up buying mostly that.

at the Forbidden City; it's not easy to look more like tourists than this

It's not clear that the same impression wouldn't come across in Bangkok, about a limited set of standard, lower quality teas being much more common.  I may just be referring to what you see when you don't dig a little deeper, into varying range and better quality teas.  I'll add some photos of a last visit to the Bangkok Chinatown that I don't think I mentioned at the end to show what I mean by that.

Two versions of mid-range Dan Cong I've tried from Jip Eu point out another alternative I'd tend to go with from there (since this has bridged over into talking about different oolong types, rather than just being that review).  "Good mid-range commercial Dan Cong" really could be seen as a mix of terms that don't go together, an oxymoron, but if you go there and try some--assuming they have some open--you could experience it yourself.  Those versions I tried were fresh, lightly oxidized, lightly roasted, very fruity oolong, just not quite as subtle and intense as the higher quality level versions.

I bought a standard glass teapot here for use in tastings

I've been meaning to get around to trying some of the inexpensive, large-jar stored teas from the Chinatown Yaowarat Soi 6 shops as an experiment.  They wouldn't cost much, and I'd see what different moderate quality tea versions are like.

I bought some small cups at this shop a couple weeks ago too

these!  3 for 100 baht, or $1 each, not bad.

Wat Traimitr Withayaram Worawihan (on the other side)

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