Monday, September 3, 2018

Teamania 2016 Jing Mai arbor sheng

I'm reviewing another sheng sample sent by the Teamania vendor, this time from Jing Mai.  That seems promising, after how nice their Yiwu Lucky Bee sheng, Japanese Fukamushi sencha, and South Korean Jeju green teas were.  I don't even love green teas compared to most other types but those last two covered new ground for me.  Sencha is familiar but that version was a bit different than what I had tried.


just getting started

The first infusion is a bit light, as I often prepare the first round, but already quite pleasant.  The sweetness is nice, and there is some astringency and bitterness but the tea is approachable.  The typical Jing Mai range aspects come across, mostly floral, but complex beyond that.  An earthiness in this version reminds me a bit of spice, an aspect that seems to be connected with a pronounced mineral layer.  Since these reviews can tend to just repeat round to round it's probably as well to say more about the next one instead.  The flavor is clean and intense, and the range is pleasant, all good signs.

It's a bit early to call it but it seems some of the feel-structure and long aftertaste that marks older tree source versions isn't present; maybe to be expected for a tea described as a 70 year old plant version.  I never did learn to attach to that as much as pu'er drinkers tend to express.  Those layers can add an interesting effect to drinking a tea but it's not as if there is limited complexity in typical above average sheng without very pronounced versions of those.  I'll see how it changes as it opens up.

The next infusion went a good bit longer related to taking a picture, maybe around 15 seconds.  I'd expect this tea to be better brewed faster, especially initially.  That relates to proportion too; it would be normal for someone to use two thirds as much tea and extend brewing times to compensate; really just a matter of preference.

It's interesting; showing more of the real character now.  Feel and aftertaste are ramping up a lot related to the tea opening up and being brewed slightly longer.  For level of flavor lighter would be better; this tea is intense, not so unusual for younger-range sheng.  The bitterness has increased, in a way that's interesting related to other flavors and feel that seem tied to that. There's not much more to say about the astringency, generally located around the entire mouth in this version at this point.  The aftertaste occurs more along the tongue.

The mineral layer relates to that bitterness that is present, and to how that hint of spice seems to be transitioning to a fruitiness.  There is also just a trace of sourness--that's different.  It wouldn't take much of that to really throw off the experience of this tea but this mild level, a bit hard to notice, isn't negative.  This tea will balance better and come across differently brewed fast (at this relatively high proportion), so I'll say more about all that next round prepared lighter.

Even for a relatively fast the third infusion the intensity is fine.  It tastes and feels light compared to the last round but it's about where it should be, for me, maybe better given another 2 or 3 seconds but this is close.  The bitterness might be backing off a little but that's probably just the infusion strength difference.  That light trace of fruitiness is interesting.  It's a bit hard to place, maybe not so far from juicyfruit gum:  sweet, mild, bright in tone, and complex.  Really floral tones stand out a lot more but I've fallen out of the habit of guessing about flower type range.  It's lighter and brighter, as those go, and intense (so like a daisy?).

The fourth infusion is more of the same; it's nice.  This has a bit more fruitiness and a different expression of mineral than I'd expect, that slight trailing into spice, which hasn't developed further, but otherwise the character is what I expected.  Yiwu teas aren't that different from this; a touch more floral, a little sweeter and brighter, less of that complexity in the other range, except the mineral is just different, not less.

leaves completely opened up

Not all that much transition on the fifth infusion; it might be softening a little, developing a little related to that fruity note picking up slightly.  Bitterness and astringency aren't diminishing much, if any.  It's still quite approachable, if someone is accustomed to the young sheng range.  For someone without a good bit of prior exposure this would have to taste a lot like tasting an aspirin along with a light oolong instead of water.  With the right expectations and range of appreciation it's complex, clean in expression, pleasantly intense, and well balanced, as described.

It might be interesting to record the next four or five infusion impressions, to see how long it lasts, and how that later transition goes.  Today I'm not skipping that because I've drank too much tea, instead because I have other things to do, and the background chaos in this house is a good bit higher than average.  That drama is about the range of normal things, what we will do today, finishing up homework, use of electronics--tablet and phone--or lack of that.  When all that peaks there's secondary friction over the noise level.  Parenting is an interesting job, and only the quieter versions of fulfilling that role match really well with tea tasting.

The tea is very nice.  It's hard to place how nice though, what the limit of that is, and how different quality levels of comparable teas relate to each other.  The next section tries to address that.

Comparison review

I want to add more on placing this related to other Jing Mai sheng I've tried.  One problem comes in related to how clear memory is going back weeks or months.  I've probably tried other younger Jing Mai sheng in the last few months but I'd need to go back through posts to check when.  I found some looking through what to try with breakfast though (a couple days after this initial session tasting), a Jing Mai 2017 gushu sheng from Moychay, which I initially reviewed in comparison with two other sheng here.

taking breakfast outside instead works at home; tea, fruit, and Wheatbix

Here's the idea:  I'll try this tea and try to evaluate both as being type-typical for the region, and compare both in quality level.  This is based on trying them a few days apart, not that long a gap for remembering details.  More than the time delay it seems to me that I evaluate teas differently based on my own current mood and circumstances, tied to noise level in the house (getting up there for those initial notes; it seemed like someone might've been knocking a wall down at one point), how tired I am, if I have a cold or not (a touch of one, now, actually), and who knows what else.  Eating any strong flavored foods would impact palate for some time but I tend to eat mild foods with breakfast around when I taste teas for review anyway, typically fruit and a pastry or cereal.  Trying teas side by side bypasses all that.

Moychay 2017 Jing Mai gushu review (one year younger; that will change things a little): 

brewing this other sheng version for this review

In the first few sips the quality level of this Moychay version stands out.  The tea hasn't even opened up yet, not at all where it's going to be, but it's obviously really nice tea.  It was apparent the Tea Mania version was pretty good, and here it's clear this is on a slightly higher level.  It's more intense, smoother, with a touch more mouthfeel and aftertaste.  It's also going to cost a lot more; they're probably not sold as the same kind of thing.  I'll get back to that idea after a brief description, since it is relevant.

As infusions go on the flavors deepen.  Brewed a little strong the limited astringency helps the balance.  It works best brewed very lightly, because the aspects intensity is so pronounced at that level anyway.  This tea is also floral with a good bit of complexity beyond that, a pronounced mineral layer, and with secondary aspect range that could be interpreted in lots of different ways. 

It's not overly fruity but interpretation as that would work, and other complexity comes across a touch of spice.  Really the most positive and interesting part isn't the flavor range though, it's the overall intensity, and the way the moderate astringency and bitterness balance the rest really well.

an image of the Moychay Jing Mai leaves from the first try

I looked up the pricing difference in the two teas I'm comparing (trying over different days, not the typical side-by-side tasting).

The Moychay version costs $48 for 100 grams; around 50 cents a gram.  That would place a 357 gram cake at $175 or so, but usually most vendors will scale the pricing, so the more you buy the rate drops, with pricing higher for buying less.  The tea is really good.  I tend to not buy a lot of 50 cent a gram tea but I try decent versions now and again and per that limited exposure this tea version is worth it.

This Tea Mania version I reviewed earlier (in terms of days and post sections here), is around $56 for a 357 gram cake; it costs about a third as much.  It's not as clean in effect, the flavors aren't quite as complex, sweetness is off a little, astringency is up, and overall intensity isn't on the same level.  But it's quite good; it doesn't fall that far short on any given aspect.  It's a good tea and a great value at that price.  The point of comparison here isn't to see which I like better, or which seems objectively better, but to compare the two, to flag the differences.

It would probably make more sense to compare this Tea Mania version to Farmerleaf teas.  They produce good versions of middle range quality teas that sell at a good value too, focusing on Jing Mai as the main origin.  But I haven't tried one in awhile; I'll get back to that.

Looking back at that Tea Mania site the Lucky Bee Yiwu sheng version is priced even lower.  Maybe I'm missing some details in looking back but as I recall that tea kind of wowed me.  I suppose it may have had the same kind of traces of rough edges that stand out in comparison with really expensive, old-tree, very high quality versions, but as I remember it was pretty exceptional.  I'd have to try these two Tea Mania versions together to see how they compare, instead of basing judgment on a review a month ago.  Instead of just going on memory I can cite my impression from that Teamania Yiwu review:

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 really at full-blast intensity as some sheng comes across, sometimes across a lot of aspect range; it's well balanced.

It sounds like style-wise that tea may have been produced more traditionally, in such a way that bitterness and astringency are more pronounced, enabling aging.  Really that's more passing on hearsay than speaking from personal knowledge:  I don't know why these teas' characters vary as they do related to the entire range of possible inputs.  I've discussed it, and written about it based on others' input, but when it comes down to it I don't really know.  I'm just starting to be able to guess about how future transitions will go based on present sheng character but not far along with that either.  There does seem to be a clear divide between two types of styles, teas made to drink when young, and those that are suitable for improvement through aging (not as nice right away), with that post I just cited going into more on how that might tie to inputs.

With that Yiwu Lucky Bee tea costing around the same as this Moychay version, for a 357 gram cake versus 100 grams of loose tea, for someone wanting the most tea for their money (emphasizing value in that sense) it might work better.  The same applies to this Teamania Jing Mai version; it's on the lower end of the cost scale too.  The thing with this Moychay Jing Mai version is that you never get exactly the same experience between drinking a good quality sheng and a relatively higher quality version.  For many people it might be roughly the same experience, but once someone adjusts preference across that range of difference it's probably not.  I'm not saying that I have expensive tastes in tea myself; I can appreciate a very broad range of types and quality levels.  But they are different; that's clear enough.

I just reviewed a good Yiwu version from Yiwu Mountain Pu'er and the same theme emerged.  Really two, but I liked one a lot more than the other.  That 200 gram cake now lists for $163, so it's getting on past one and a half times the pricing of this Moychay version, 80 cents / gram versus 50.  It might be worth that; at some point it's hard for me to track quality levels at the top of the scale, and to evaluate style differences separately from that.  Obviously enough for people spending that kind of money on tea value for quality is more a concern than getting the most tea they can for the least.  And for any quality level versions subjective preference still comes into play, a liking for certain character or aspects.

When I think of all this range in terms of someone drinking $7 Starbucks coffee drinks it makes me sad for them.  For the cost of 7 of those ($49) you could drink 100 grams worth of this very good Moychay Jing Mai sheng, not countless cups but an awful lot.  Or a whole cake's worth of these Teamania versions, which is still quite nice tea.  Brewing the tea adds more work to do, and you never get the same caffeine jolt as from knocking back a 24 ounce coffee, but to me it's a higher level experience, and also a much better value.


At the risk of going too far anyone in Switzerland drinking sheng should buy at least some of these teas.  I'm not sure how export and import issues go but that might apply to others in Europe as well.  They're really good versions for the pricing, and I've seen demand ramp up once awareness gets out, and earlier vendor pricing levels shift to adjust for that.  For a sheng drinker this Jing Mai and that other Yiwu Lucky Bee versions represent a great opportunity.

Sheng isn't for everyone though.  As I experienced preference transitions oolongs and mild but complex black teas make for a better starting point.  Bitterness is a part of the general sheng flavor profile, not something I notice in the same way as I would have two or three years ago, now an aspect that balances the others nicely.  Not everyone is on the same page for preference even within sheng, too.  I've come to really appreciate young or only slightly aged versions or Jing Mai, Yiwu, and Nan Nuo sheng, but that's not a universal preference.

One nice thing about these teas is that if someone bought a cake they could try it a few times a year and watch the changes.  The teas might be best in about 15 years, per what some people like best, maybe around the time someone finished the cake trying it only now and then.  All that relates to an assumption about storage conditions, that the humidity it was stored in isn't too low, which would cause the fermentation process to stop entirely.  Per my understanding if that happens the tea dries out, loses some flavor, and doesn't transition much, maybe even decreasing in appeal related to aspects present.

on a different subject, she got a haircut

more of that zoo I keep going on about

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