Thursday, December 6, 2018

Moychay Menghai Gongting and Bada shou pu'er comparison

Menghai Gongting 2015 shou

Bada (Pu'er County / Simao) 2017 shou

Moychay Menghai Gongting 2015 shou

Moychay 2017 Bada

Menghai left, Bada right

Along the running theme of going back and trying the more interesting teas I've had around I'm reviewing two shou from Moychay (not a new theme; this topic search pulls up 3 more reviews of 8 more shou versions from Moychay).  They're a good source for shou, with more on that to follow related to what these are.

These posts are slightly out of order because it seemed to make sense to keep sheng posts closer together, even though I've tasted and made notes for two more sheng from Vietnam since that I haven't posted yet.

I'll skip ahead to the conclusion part:  these shou are really good, with one standing out for exceptional quality and intensity and the other for one particular character aspect (creaminess) and value.  This is what they are:

Bada Shan Shu Cha (2017), 357 g.

Menghai Gongting Cha (2015 picking, pressed 2017), 100 g.

Since I'm going with a detailed intro and conclusions first approach I'll also list their (Moychay's) take on both, starting with the Menghai Gongting tea:

Ripe puer "Royal" was made in 2015 by Menghai County (Xishuangbanna).

Yellow-reddish buds. The aroma is mature, with nutty touch. The infusion is dark, reddish-chestnut.  

Spicy herbs and leaves are ready to be made and ready to go. The aroma is warm and deep, multifaceted. The taste is full-bodied and rich, velvety, a bit tart, sweet, with light berry sourness and lingering finish.

It did turn out to be quite complex, with more of an interpretation to follow.  About the other "Bada" version:

"Shu Puer from Bada Mountain" (Mount Wuliangshan, Puer County)

In the appearance of 357 grams, small fragments and small cuttings. The aroma is mature, nutty. Reddish-chestnut hue.  

Nutty with woody, corny, herbaceous and autumn notes. The aroma is warm and deep, nutty. The taste is full-bodied and sappy, sweetish, with light bitterness, transforming into lingering finish.

It was like that, maybe with leaf size larger than this seems to describe.

This version also had strengths that stood out and overall positive character.  The Bada had a full and creamy feel, and in spite of being a bit mild and subtle as shou goes the overall effect really worked out.

A review-notes impression spells that out in detail.  Note that these are just an impression, and an extra "cocoa" or "roasted chestnut" would swap in here or there based on trying these a few more times and sorting out the overall flavor complexity, for both.  Both had an overall positive character, and a lack of notable flaws, which doesn't necessarily come across as well in a positive description.  Something like "good balance," "complex," or "clean" starts in on that, with both a little better than a simple flavor, feel, and aftertaste description lets on.

A Yunnan Sourcing in-house produced similar region Gongting product description explains what that reference means:

This tea was grown in the area of Simao and was harvested in April 2016, and wet piled in the summer of 2016.  Gong Ting grade ripe pu-erh tea is the smallest leaf grade, has a very potent cha qi, with a thick tea soup, dark chocolate like bitterness and fruity sweetness.

It's interesting comparing the cost of these three cakes too; the Bada (Pu'er county) version lists for $16.60 for a 357 gram cake (that was a bit of a surprise; this tea is really good for that price range), the Moychay Menghai county 100 gram cake for $13.83, and the Yunnan Sourcing Simao / Pu'er county (two names for the same place) 100 gram Gongting shou version for $13.80.

If value is a main concern the Bada comes out ahead, but really character of the teas just varies.  Not the YS version; I didn't try that, but I'm sure it's interesting and positive too.


After a fast rinse I gave both around a 15 second infusion, long enough to give them time to get started.  The next couple of rinses will still complete fully soaking the leaves but there will be plenty of flavor to get started since I'm in a hurry today, off to see "Wreck It Ralph 2; Ralph Breaks the Internet" before too long (which I really did like, added later in the editing phase).

I'm into outdoor tastings lately, with a very light breakfast

a bit light the first round (Menghai left, Bada right)

Menghai Gongting:  Some of the fermentation flavor seems to remain, not in any overly "off" way, but I'm guessing this is still a bit young.  [later edit:  not so much; it's a 2015 tea.  It just still had some fermentation taste to clear through in the first infusion or two].

That fermentation related taste can come across in lots of different ways, as tar or petroleum, or even as fishy.  In this it's bit heavy on a certain range of peat.  The tea is still fine, I'm sure, it just might be a little more rough-edged in this tasting than it would be in another year.  That can be a good thing; the shou I've tried that was smooth, sweet, light, and approachable within a year or so of being made seemed to not have the same depth of complexity or potential as those that needed time to mellow out a bit.  This shows a lot of promise at this early infusion round stage; some range that seems like it could be spice shows through, and it's quite clean, it just has a peat edge.

Bada:  This is smoother, with a different kind of depth, a rich creaminess that doesn't always show up in shou but that's nice when it does.  It wouldn't be a fair comparison if these are different years; I should've checked that.  [later edit:  it turned out the Bada is much younger, 2017 versus 2015, so just a milder tea].

I'll break down flavors next round to avoid repeating, and they'll be more typical of where they're going already then.  This tea is really complex, showing the range that really redeems shou (to me), the character that some people complain about not turning up. 

Per appearance the Menghai Gongting version seems to be made of much younger leaf material, including some tip content, a bit more broken than in the Bada material, which is whole leaves.  That's going to affect how both brew, and the final character of the teas.  The Bada will brew slower and will come across as less intense, requiring longer times to infuse as much flavor, but the Gongting won't be quite as smooth and mellow, more of what would be astringency in a black tea or sheng will extract.  In shou it won't have the same bite but it will still be a different proportion of compounds coming out.

Second infusion

I went around 15 seconds this round, just not on the ball for pouring it back out, which will be on the stronger than typical side for going with relatively full gaiwans for this tasting.

clear difference in infusion rates for the two teas

Menghai:  The peat-like character in the first infusion is still present but it's transitioned to a slightly dry mineral tone, including dark minerals like slate (of course; it's shou), and also a bit of dryness more reminiscent of limestone.  It's better already, and this would come across better in an infusion half as long.  Not that strongly brewed shou is as difficult to relate to as sheng or black tea would be; it works well across a much broader range, to me.  The complexity in this is nice; one other flavor aspect is a bit like cocoa, hinting a little towards spice.  And it balances well, it's clean, and feels full and thick (moderately so; it could be a little thicker), with a pleasant lingering aftertaste.

It's good shou, considerably above average, if I may venture a judgement.  I think the character of the Bada might be just as good, just in a different sense, the way that creaminess comes across in a much milder version of tea.

Bada:  This tea is just as complex, maybe eased off slightly for intensity, in one sense, but very refined and positive.  This is a balance you don't run across that often in shou.  I loved the Moychay Lao Man E huang pian version for being really smooth and having an unusual feel and subtlety, and this matches that creaminess, with as much flavor depth.  For someone looking to get blasted by the most intense earthy aspects, lots of tar, coffee, dark mineral, or black licorice, this might be a bit too subtle, but for anyone else this would really work.

Layers of complex, subtle flavors integrate really well.  One part is like light roasted coffee, another a little like cocoa, with just a hint of black licorice.  Mineral is present, of course, and there's some relation to peat, but that's expressed more in the form of autumn forest floor.  Great sweetness and balance makes it work really well.  It's thick and full in feel, with decent aftertaste (not more than the Gongting), but flavor, balance and subtlety, and overall effect and feel stand out more than aftertaste.

Third infusion

The color is still quite different in these teas (brewed fast this round, in well under 10 seconds); the Menghai version is extracting much faster.  It'll throw off direct comparison a little, drinking one lighter, while brewed at the same time, but that'll work better for shou than for most other types,  It's easier to interpret around, beyond just working better for preference.

Menghai left, Bada right; color difference is clear even with the reflection

Menghai:  That cocoa note (tied to dark mineral) is moving more towards spice, still a bit non-distinct for placing it.  This is sweet enough that it works to interpret part as dried fruit, along the line of dried tamarind.  It's definitely plenty intense brewed for such a short time, to me right at optimum strength, which would be brewed a bit too strong for other tea types.  The hint of dryness from one mineral contribution softened; now that's just present as complexity.  It all balances well.

Bada:  This is brewed much lighter, infused for the same time, due to being larger whole leaves, versus bud content, finer leaves, and being more broken.  Without accounting for that as a factor it could seem thinner in comparison.  It's just as complex but a more subtle tea.  The flavors list hasn't changed enough to run back through that last set; it's still similar.  I had been liking the Bada more in the past rounds but that one cool spice-like aspect extracting into the Gongting evened that up during this round, after the flavors cleaning up in general across the first infusion or two.

Fourth infusion

I gave the Bada twice as long an infusion time to balance out the difference ininfusion rates, 20 seconds instead of 10.

Menghai: More of the same, which is really nice.  Dark mineral, some drier mineral, cocoa, a spice that's hard to describe, forest floor:  it's complex.  Both of these are so nice I'd like to try either of these teas with someone who doesn't like shou and see how that goes.

Bada:  More of the autumn forest floor in this tea, slightly sweeter, definitely more subtle, with a smooth, full feel that really stands out.  In terms of flavor intensity and flavor-list range this tea gives up a lot to the other but related to being well balanced, subtle, and sophisticated it's perhaps slightly better. 

only the opening credits; I left off snapping pictures during the movie


To me these two teas both work well in different ways, both about as good as any shou I've yet to try.  The Menghai is better for what people tend to look for in shou; overall complexity, intensity, balance of strong flavors, coupled with pronounced mouthfeel and aftertaste.  The flavors present are nice.  There's something catchy about the Bada creamy feel character though, and nice flavor aspect balance, and in this case this more subtle, slightly less complex shou worked well for me. 

I had been guessing that the Menghai was brewing faster for being more broken and finer leaves, which would lead one to expect that it would fade away faster in later rounds, but it might turn out that it was just more intense tea in general.  Using longer infusion times to draw out the same intensity from the Bada might even that factor up.

Shou only gets so good, only so intense, balanced, complex, or refined, and these are pushing at the limits of that in two different directions.  Shou being more straightforward and simple in character than aged sheng isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's just different.  The flavor range is different too, that earthiness that's common to both of these, the "tastes like shou" dark mineral / mild peat / autumn forest floor range, which bridges over into cocoa or roasted chestnut, or even dried fruit in some cases.

Given that I've seen a lot of turnover in Moychay pu'er stock over the course of this year this Bada version would be a good tea to buy right away while they still have it, related to both that character and value (teas this good don't cost that).  I really liked the development potential and value in this "Soviet guy" Peace / Hard Work / Tea (it smoothed out a bit over just a few months), but it didn't stick around long.  And I liked the label, but that's a strange reason to buy a specific tea.

This Menghai version might be even better in another year or two, versus the Bada not having any rough edge of fermentation effect to wear off.  But given how the Menghai version is now just drinking through that small cake straight away would seem reasonable.

random picture sharing; I saw a white peacock not long ago

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