Sunday, December 22, 2019

Laos old-tree green, compared with Thai and Japanese green teas


Laos tea lower left, Thai version upper center, Japanese sencha right





Another tea comparison tasting that may or may not end up make sense.  I thought this was the last sample to try from Phongsaly Laos Tea but it turned out that a second black tea version was coupled with this sample, which I hadn't noticed.  This is getting to the end of what I planned to try this year, and there aren't any other sets of samples I've tried none of, so down the scale of what's left to try.  It made for a brutal year keeping up pace but around 100 review posts later I've done it.

On this tasting theme, the Tea Side Thai green tea version (reviewed not so long ago) was one of the best green tea versions I have ever tried, or at least it matched my taste preferences well.  Since green tea is a least favorite category it's hard to be clear on what that means; maybe it's just not so grassy or heavy on seaweed.  Which is odd, because it's a steamed tea version, so you'd expect that.  It's also from old, natural growth plant sources, per my understanding, just one country over, from the North of Thailand instead of the North of Laos.

The Japanese green is a completely different thing; that comparison does make no sense.  I had a couple of green tea samples from one of my favorite vendor sources, Peter Pocjit of Tea Mania, out of Switzerland, that I'd never got around to trying.  It makes even less sense letting green teas sit for half a year or longer after harvest, especially when you live in the tropics, and it's hot.  We'll see how that held up, and how the other two teas compare to that type.  I won't be trying to place that sencha version on a scale of how others go, in relation to quality, regional character, and such; that's not the point here.

As to methodology I plan to split the difference between a Gongfu approach and Western brewing, to drop proportion a bit (4 grams or so, not measured; nothing ever is here), and let the time run a bit long, out towards 30 seconds, adjusting per round as I go.  Lots could not work related to that (unbalanced brewing results, less optimum outcome from parameters, complete contrast in styles throwing off combined evaluation, etc.), but some story should emerge.  I'll do a short intro of these teas from vendor descriptions, but I don't have one from Phongsaly Laos Tea, so I'll skip that.

Tea Side steamed green tea:

For this tea, we used Japanese traditional technology for steamed green tea but adapted it to the specifics of the material from old trees. It took several experiments to figure out the optimum steaming depth in order to remove the astringency of a powerful pu-erh leaf but to preserve the freshness and aroma of light and delicate green tea...

The aroma is sweet, appleish and floral. On the palate is a beautiful, whole and full-bodied mix of fruity-floral tropical notes. In the foreground are apples, plumeria and a bouquet of garden flowers. The finish is sweet and oily. The infusion is light, transparent, with a light green tint.

We recommend brewing this tea by short steepings for 3-5 seconds, using soft water. The temperature is about 80 degrees. 


That last part is interesting, recommending Gongfu brewing that fast.  I did back off that 30 second intended brewing time, not because of that, because I'm adding this citation during editing, just because it worked better.


Shoju (Tea Mania Sencha)

Tea from Tanegashima is the earliest tea that is harvested in Japan. This is possible due to the mild, marine climate on Tanegashima Island which allows the cultivation of particularly early-budding tea cultivars. The cultivar "Shoju" used for this tea even thrives exclusively on Tanegashima. The exceptional aroma and the fact that this is the first Shincha of the year makes "Shoju" one of the most popular teas in Japan.

Harvest: 23. March 2019 
Taste: Sweet and fruity aroma.
Origin: Tanegashima, Kagoshima prefecture, Japan.
Varietal: Shoju
Steaming: Fukamushi
Preparation: Appx. 5g per serving, temperature 70 - 80°C,  time 1 min.
Tip: Use rather a higher leaf to water ratio and infuse repetetly for short time. First infusion max. 60s and all futher infusions only 30s as the leaves are already soaked. Use a Kyusu tea pot.


Interesting variation in brewing conditions, with more on that harvest season background here.  This tea turned out a bit unique; I speculate about how storage may have played a role in that in the review.

Review:


Laos left, Thai middle, Japanese right, in all photos


These probably only brewed about 20 seconds; I tend to like to try a light infusion first, to get a first impression based on a lower intensity infusion.

Laos green (big tree 400 year; or however old the plants are, as covered last time):  interesting.  It's definitely green tea.  Sweetness is good, and flavors are clean, overall balance seems ok, but the flavor is typical of green tea.  Pleasant complex floral tones are a primary note and vegetables fill in after that, grassiness, probably green bean and bell pepper, although those will probably be a little clearer once this infuses a little more.  Feel is ok; there's a little edge to it but it's fine, and the thickness present works.  Mineral undertone seems pleasant.  The make or break for this version--only so far; it's too early to call--relates to how one relates to that grass and vegetable.  I'm fine with it but don't love it.


Thai ancient tree steamed green tea:  this always was going to be stiff competition, if one looked at the comparison that way; I've already said that it's as good a match to my preference as any green tea I've ever tried.  The experience hits you on a few levels at the same time, sort of leading to a double-take.  Sweetness stands out, and a warm, sweet flavor range (maybe spice-oriented as much as anything), along with mineral base.

Floral tone is notable, but there's a rich flavor aspect that's almost like brandy, subtle, but playing a significant role in the overall experience.  There's not really much grass or other vegetable to speak of; floral covers all of that related flavor range.  Even brewed light the tea has a depth to it.  Feel works well, and aftertaste, neither so notable as in teas where those are stronger that it plays the same kind of role, but both support overall effect in positive ways.  It'll be interesting to see how these two compare in the next two rounds once they "get going."


Souju Sencha (all of these are spring teas, I think, which goes without saying):  absolutely no point in comparing this tea to the other two; not a complete surprise.  It's thicker, brothier, not with an umami pop like seaweed but instead like roasted seaweed (those sheets my kids eat).  I've never had a sencha in this range before.

This actually reminds me of a dried river weed sheet I bought in Laos an awful long time ago, more than a decade now for sure, which I was really uncertain of at first but came to absolutely love.  I still think about that river weed from time to time; it really made an impression on me.  This tastes a good bit like pumpkin, a mix of roasted pumpkin, along with roasted pumpkin skin and the seeds.  I tend to cook either a Thai version of pumpkin or less often Japanese pumpkin here, which are slightly less sweet, closer to a squash of some sort (which they may be?), and this is closer to the Thai version.  Roasting those skins is nice; I eat them with a warm yellow curry mix, roasted along with butter, sometimes cooked so much that they darken, if I don't watch them.  They taste great "roasted out" like that too.

I'm glad that I tried this just to see how it is; never mind the comparison.  It's odd that a tea could be so far off what I've experienced before like that.  I wonder if the hot climate storage and aging didn't shift its character?  It had to be really intense originally, with very pronounced umami, but it seems conceivable that the brighter tones might have shifted quite a bit.  If so I probably like it better like this, but the taste-perspective of someone who doesn't love green teas is a strange reference to work from.

I should ask Peter to describe this and include a quote; difference in interpretation would shift things a lot but some of that might come across.  Vendor sales-page descriptions are usually a few terms long, once you look past origin info and the rest.  Probably with good reason; including interpretation that everyone would differ on might not be helpful anyway. [The sales page description is cited here now; it is a little non-specific].


Second infusion:


Sencha (right) brewing faster, apparent from the color


I'll keep this around 20 seconds and see how that works; too much more intense wouldn't be positive.

Laos:  much better, and much different.  A faint hint of smoke joined in; that's different.  Richness and flavor intensity really ramped up.  Brewing this any longer would've been problematic.  Floral tones picked up more than anything.  This probably tastes like three different flowers combined, all of which I don't recognize with certainty. That rich, heavy, sweet range lavendar covers is represented, along with brighter tone in orchid or lotus flower, probably with some mild, earthier version filling in tone making it seem so complex.  Part of the astringency edge, and floral taste, could relate to dandelion.  It still covers some vegetal range but it's really muted related due to that stepping back while the floral tone increased.  It comes across more as green wood now, a familiar range in different types of teas.


Thai:  not to be outdone this tea shifted a lot too.  Something along the lines of spice is predominant, a complex taste that's hard to unpack.  Citrus joined in too, and underlying mineral and plenty of floral is layering in as well.  Floral tone is strongest, but in this version it's balanced with the rest.  It comes across more as one narrow high-note range, bright like a daisy (versus bright like lotus flower, which is lot richer, even though it's still light in tone and sweet).  The spice part, or what I'm interpreting as such, I can't sort out.  It may be two distinct and subtle flavors that I'm interpreting as one; that could be the problem.  It definitely seems somehow related to the citrus (like sweet tangerine peel).  That range I'm not pinning down could just be well-roasted sweet potato, which is warm in effect, so in between a fruit range and spice.


Sencha:  here we go.  The roasted pumpkin and river weed is still present but this also shifted and picked up a good bit of complexity.  If green teas were as good as these three I would stop saying that I like that range least, and would seek more out.  It's quite normal for those (green teas in general) to be vegetal, just grassy or like a mix of cooked vegetables, with an astringency edge that isn't positive, and floral tone that works but is also just sweet and non-distinct.  Nothing like these.  Even Longjing, which I love, can often just emphasize a much narrower range, a toasted rice / nuttiness with a bit of other pleasant range joining in to support that, with unusually thick feel for green tea adding to the appeal.

Floral tone ramped up, but I won't be able to split out what it's like with all the rest going on.  Vegetal scope still includes that river weed and complex pumpkin range but one particular cooked vegetable flavor joins that.  I can think of a Thai vegetable equivalent but I don't know the name of it, not that it would help everyone else.  Just to put a rough range on it it's more or less in between cooked kale and roasted zucchini, closer to the rich flavor of the roasted zucchini.  I never did explain how this really pronounced umami sort of comes across as salty, like actual salt.  To some limited extent that's just how umami always is but not like this.

This is the most unique of all three of these teas, at this point.  I like the Thai version best, but the Laos tea holds its own well, for how exceptional that Thai green tea is.  It's odd how much I like this sencha, given how far out there it is for unique character.  If it were any more novel it wouldn't seem like actual "real" tea to me.  Then again tisanes are almost always at the other end of the scale related to complexity and intensity, and no blend could be this distinctive.


Third infusion:




Laos:  really hitting it's stride now, the aspects set balances much better.  Complex floral is still dominant but richness in feel really picked up.  The one Laos black tea from them went through an odd transition like that, "burning off" some aspect range that wasn't really negative but not as positive through the first two infusions, only shining after that.  Background vegetal--sort of like biting a tree bud--is fine; it works in this.  A bit of astringency comes along with that but richness in feel is more pronounced.  It's still definitely a green tea but a much more positive version than the first round, with more limited improvement in relation to the second.  Given how this is going I don't doubt that both the other teas will have their own answer to that transition.


Thai:  not changed so much, but aspect balance did shift slightly.  Citrus is really pronounced in this, bumped a little after being quite notable in the last round.  The effect I can't pin down, which seemed vaguely like spice to me, might just be an odd interpretation of how underlying mineral, pronounced floral and citrus, and some degree of background fruit comes across together.  This is fruitier than it had been, beyond the citrus, more in the range of dried mango in this round.  I could see that being interpreted as peach instead; the two aren't so far off each other.  This is slightly less rich in feel than the Laos tea at this point but the flavor complexity and type-range is better, and lacking a bit of astringency edge that goes along with it.  It has some structure but no bite.  A dry underlying mineral range is playing more of a role in this, versus one tone that comes across closer to slight bitterness in the first tea.


Sencha:  this shifted to fruit range; interesting.  A little towards cantaloupe, seemingly just not exactly that, which is good, since I don't like cantaloupe.  Tasting it a couple more times it is that.  The sweet mellowness also reminds me of very ripe peach.  It's amazing it could change so much, although that pumpkin and roasted rive weed in the first round had shifted a lot in the second.  You wouldn't think this is the same tea it was in the first round.  Some of that could relate to parameter shift, timing or even temperature difference; I'm not careful about such things.  It had to transition a lot beyond that though, to get this far.

It's odd how it's losing intensity while the other two pick that up.  It's a much finer ground leaf preparation, and had been brewing stronger, even though I've probably used the least leaf for this type.  To some extent that was to be expected, perhaps also related to brewing this slightly over temperature optimum for this type (around 80 C), just maybe not around one minute into total infusion time.  I hadn't thought this through before but it should not just fade faster, it should also transition faster as a result; different compounds should extract earlier on than in a mid-point, for the leaf being chopped, not just broken.


Fourth infusion:



I think I'll let the notes go after this round.  I don't doubt these will produce three more interesting and positive infusions after, and keep transitioning, but having someone read two full pages of text / 2000 words in a review is too much.  I stuck with around a 20 second infusion time; these may be just a little lighter for losing some intensity but that timing was working out.


Laos:  savory range bumped up.  It's not exactly the hint of smoke I thought I'd noticed early on but not dis-similar.  It tastes a little like bacon, or at least as close to that, or as a more conventional read like dried seaweed.  Floral is still the main flavor aspect, with the other vegetal range transitioned to be very light.  Maybe I will try a round of these brewed for 35-40 seconds and see what that's like.


Thai:  floral, but different.  Shifting parameters along with these transitioning seems to be causing these to change character a lot.  This is quite light, with a lot of complexity but very subtle, with one bright, high note standing out.  It seems to be that daisy-like floral tone combined with the dried mango range.  This isn't as complex and balanced as it had been, much lighter now.  Feel retains a dryness edge that gives it some depth even though it feels really light.


Sencha:  fruit again, now more a mix of watermelon and cantaloupe, with some floral tone filling that in.  Not much for that savory range; odd.  I'll try these brewed a little hotter and slightly longer and see if they have one more surprise left in them.  Then go do something active, loaded up with 15 small cups of tea worth of caffeine in me.  Luckily I ate a pretty solid breakfast before these; all of this on an empty stomach would go really badly.


Fifth infusion: (brewed slightly warmer and longer)


Laos:  the intensity is back, but pushing the teas came at a cost, with a vegetal note and astringency increased.  Floral is dominant again; that was stripped out too.  It's not quite as positive as it was 2 or 3 rounds ago but still pleasant.  The vegetal taste is like plant stem, if that's familiar, not the harsh bitterness of biting a dandelion stem but related to a softer, only slightly bitter effect from other types.


Thai:  the same story for this version, but interesting experiencing that same effect across such a different range.  Fruit stepped up in this, along with mineral and light vegetal undertone, closer to well cured (aged) hardwood in this version. 


Sencha:  lighter than the other two, this also transitioned the least.  It's still in that cantaloupe and watermelon range, more centered on watermelon now.  You can almost taste the watermelon rind, pushed like this, but it's still soft and subtle.  This tea is essentially finished.  I ended up using slightly less of the leaf related to judging how the coiled Laos version would unfurl, originally erring on that side since I knew the sencha was going to be more intense.  It also would've worked to use much different brewing parameters, to go with half the brewing time for a more equivalent amount of material.  I don't overthink these things, working off instinct instead, which usually works out but often isn't ideal.


Conclusions:


To quote Thanos, these teas have my respect.  I really didn't expect both of the other teas to hang in there with how my preference matches that Thai version.  It was pleasant really liking all three versions.  In that first round it looked like the Laos version was going to be just another floral intensive, cooked-vegetable green tea, but it added complexity and shifted way off that nicely, with positive transitions keeping it interesting.  The sencha version was definitely something different.  I should ask Somnuc to keep an eye out for that river weed for me, that it reminded me of in the first two rounds.

One of the more interesting parts was the role really bad storage conditions (Bangkok heat) probably played in changing that sencha character, in a way that I probably liked (just a guess since I never tried it earlier, when more fresh).  The other two teas spent time in Northern Laos and Thailand but at any elevation up there conditions would be much cooler than here.

This might well be the last post before Christmas, or maybe even New Year, so I'll sign off by wishing everyone a happy holiday season and exceptional New Year.  Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment on the posts, or in a related FB page mention or group discussion there.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Wuyi Origin Shui Jin Gui (golden water turtle oolong)







Cindy of Wuyi Origin sent some teas to try awhile back and I'm just getting to the last, a Shui Jin Gui (Golden Water Turtle).  It's not really familiar, so I'm not sure what to expect, but I will cite her description before posting this (here):

Location: Zhong gu yan (钟鼓岩)
Harvest time: 2019.05.3th
Roasting level: 3 Times Roasted, Medium baking
Feature: Growing naturally and never been clipped for several years, the age of the tea bushes are about 40 years. Roasting three times gives this tea quite a fruity taste.


Fruity, that reduces to.  I didn't notice all that much fruit in this, more almond, toffee, and butter cookie, with a touch of ginseng range spice transitioning to include cinnamon too later on (with all that in more detail to follow).  The type isn't all that familiar, so I looked up the general background, starting with Wikipedia's take:


Shui Jin Gui is a Wuyi oolong tea from Mount Wuyi, Fujian, China. Its name literally means 'golden water turtle'.[1] The tea produces a bright green color when steeped and is much greener than most other Wuyi oolong teas. It is one of the Si Da Ming Cong, the four famous teas of Wuyi.[2]


Since that doesn't add much about a typical flavor profile ("green" seems to relate to oxidation level, even though brewed oolongs are between yellow, pale gold, gold, and darker or towards copper and gold).  Looking through other vendor descriptions of their versions it's odd how they all say completely different things.  Read a couple and it does sound like this version is supposed to be fruity, but then others oppose that, with some clearly oxidized more to shift the profile.  Here's an example, a Yunnan Sourcing sold version (right, wrong province, sort of):


The taste of Shui Jin Gui is complex, sweet potato, caramel, grass and spice all mixed into one delicious feeling! 


That actually isn't too far off my take on this other version I'm reviewing.  Since I was paging around I noticed that Steepster interpretations of what looks to be the same Yunnan Sourcing version included a lot of range:


Apricot, Black Pepper, Caramel, Char, Coffee, Dark Wood, Earth, Floral, Hops, Licorice, Maple, Medicinal, Metallic, Mineral, Peat, petrichor, Sage, Sap, Smoke, Spicy, Stonefruits, Sweet, Toffee, Wet Rocks, Fruity, Peach, Roasted, Almond, Butter, Butterscotch, Camphor, Cinnamon, Clove, Dark Chocolate, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Grass, Hay, Leather, Nutmeg, Plums, Popcorn, Sugar, Tobacco, Vanilla, Wood, Peanut


So it's complex.

I glanced back through old posts here and found a review of a version from the main local Chinatown cafe, Double Dogs, from 4 1/2 years ago.  I did cite general descriptions of the tea type in that post but my own take on it probably wasn't all that informative even in relation to what I had experienced.  This blog was a year and a half old then and it took about two more years for review descriptions to become more reliable, and they'll probably be even more so a couple more years after now.

Review:




First infusion:  very nice.  This seems closer to almond range than the floral or fruit that tends to come up.  It could be interpreted in different ways but straight roasted almond makes sense to me.  Roast level is really well balanced, normal for their teas.  This level might be slightly higher than for some others but it works well to balance that particular flavor range.  It's quite far from the char effect that comes up in others, nothing like that.  That almond trails over into a medicinal / old furniture range that's quite pleasant, a bit towards root spice like ginseng.




Second infusion:  more of the same, just picking up even more depth.  It's reaching back a bit for a clear recollection but as I remember this reminds me of a Ban Tian Yao from the one local shop I always visit and talk about, Jip Eu (also from 4 years ago; I seemed to be struggling to place the effect of the level of roast in that, not that I name that as a factor). 

I'm off to meet someone visiting from Belgium there at that local shop in two hours; I'll have to keep this moving.  Almond is still present but the rest of the range ramps up more.  Ginseng-like root spice might be the strongest flavor aspect, with the almond shifting towards roasted chestnut. 

A mineral base input increases, in a form that's not as familiar as some other similar range.  It's like that dry vegetal-mineral range in old driftwood, but with plenty of rock too.  Sweetness is moderate, enough to give this balance, but it's not an especially sweet version in comparison with the fruit and cinnamon in their Rou Gui versions.  It's intense; I'm brewing this fast just to get it in a normal range, just a few seconds.

Their fruitier tea versions are my personal favorite, or floral intensive Dan Congs, but this works.  It's nice experiencing something different, and the good balance and quality level are apparent.


Third infusion:  the roast effect seemed to change the most.  That one rich, sweet, complex roast related range again reminds me of roasted almonds.  Some of that root spice aspect, which is still primary, is giving way to that almond, and it leans a little towards cinnamon.  It's interesting how so much mineral integrates with the rest, landing on a consistent, balanced, complementary broad flavor range.

Thickness of feel is notable, although it could be a little richer or more intense.  Aftertaste effect is nice, the way that roasted almond and trace of other roast effect trails over.  Sweetness may have picked up a bit.  It's in the range of light toffee, which works well with the rest.


Fourth infusion:  if anything this is still improving, and it was very pleasant before.  Richness of feel is developing, still ramping up.  It picked up a butteriness that covers flavor as well as feel.  Interpreted one way that nut and toffee flavor moved into more of an almond butter cookie range.  This probably tastes about as much like an almond butter cookie as any tea ever would.  It's interesting how it's like that without sweetness level being quite as high as fruit or floral range oolongs.  That could be interpreted as a slight savory quality but it just seems like that underlying mineral, richness of roasted almond and butter, with a now lighter root spice combined and well-integrated, with none of that range actually "savory."

This tea has good intensity, but with the feel this clean and flavors this moderate and balanced it should be prepared using hot water and short infusion times.  That kind of goes without saying for oolongs of this type and quality level; making the point here relates to talking to a mixed audience.  Those recommendations to brew oolongs at 85 C in brewing tables may be fine for lower quality oolongs brewed Western style, but even for those I'd use a Gongfu approach and higher temperature, moderating infusion strength and character aspects by adjusting timing.


Fifth infusion:  not transitioned so much; a touch of wood vegetal range might be joining the rest.  I'm noticing cinnamon slightly more than I had last round too.  Shifting infusion time by a few seconds or water temperature by a few degrees (C) might change this tea character, more than for most; it lands on a fine balance of a lot going on.


Sixth infusion:  this tea won't be finished but I'll probably leave off notes here; my wife added a couple of chores to help out with before getting ready and going to that shop.  I went slightly longer on this round, out towards 10 seconds, and depending on preference someone might elect to use 15 instead.

Going that little bit longer, not so many seconds, drew out more of the roast effect.  It still comes across more how roasted almonds do than as a "char" effect that can be present in roasted oolongs.  This tea definitely doesn't need any aging but it would be interesting to see how it changes with a year of rest.  Probably not for the better, per my preference, but it might be just as good but slightly different.  I say that because char effect diminishes over a year or so of time (again not that this is over-roasted).

Even for being six infusions in the thickness and richness of feel is more notable than for the first 2 or 3 infusions.  All the prior flavor descriptions still apply, it's just not worth the trouble describing how that balance of those keeps shifting slightly round to round.  The flavor profile is balanced and complex; none of it really stands out a lot more than the rest, it comes across as a uniform, well-integrated range.  It even seems simple, as a general impression goes, but there's a lot going on once you try to notice what is involved.




Seventh infusion:  why not see this through that little bit more.  What I said in the last round still applies though; roast comes across as incrementally more intense, but it's still well-balanced with the rest.  That effect seems to draw the nutty flavor from roasted almond a little towards roasted chestnut.  For this style of oolong this is as good as this could seem to be; I end up saying that a lot related to their teas.  It's very complex, in a sense, and refined, but it still ends up coming across as quite simple.  It's good tea.





This seems to have been made using a slightly lighter oxidation level, with a bit higher roast, not unlike how one style of Tie Guan Yin comes across.  I've never had any Tie Guan Yin that expressed this complexity or refinement though. 

To be clear it's not heavily roasted compared to what turns up here in Chinatown; those are completely scorched in comparison.  It's on the higher end Wuyi Origin teas tend to go, which means it stops way short of tasting like char.  Per my understanding they will roast some oolong versions just a little longer, if that processing suits the tea character, but in such cases those teas are "designed" to be sold after a year or two of rest, which causes the main flavor from that input to settle.

Versions made this way retain a lot of the greener vegetal nature (as oolongs of these sorts go), warming, deeping, and adding complexity through a roast process.  It's completely different than when oxidation or a balanced mix of oxidation and roast achieves a related result; that adds sweetness and a good bit more warmth, pulling flavor towards cinnamon, cocoa or something such, more commonly as toffee or leather / rich wood tone in oolongs from this area, while these slightly-more-roasted and less-oxidized oolong stay more vegetal but pick up an effect like roasted chestnut instead. 

It's possible for similar Tie Guan Yin versions to be closer to this balanced but more common for those to be a bit too green and then a bit too roasted.   Kittichai, the owner of that shop I keep mentioning, Jip Eu, passed on a TGY version that he said either won or placed well in an Anxi (Fujian) competition this year that works as an example.  That tea was nice but there's a level of refinement to these Wuyi Origin teas that's hard to find.  They know what they're doing, and they seem to start with really good leaf material to work with.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Japanese goishi cha and shu pu'er tea bag review




Kind of an odd theme, comparing two versions of tea bag teas, which aren't quite as similar as they might be at first glance.  This Japanese tea probably is goishi cha, but it was only represented as a version of Japanese tea closest to sheng pu'er, but not sheng pu'er, from the source. 

Kittichai of Jip Eu (a local Bangkok shop) gave me some in a visit a month or so ago.  He didn't seem to love it, and it is on the strange side.  It tastes a little like seaweed, and it's slightly sour (they were brewing some that day, so I've already tried it).


there again with a nice visitor from Belgium yesterday, Dennis


Related to that identification this recent group thread discussing Japanese teas in relation to sheng pu'er might help place things.  To be clear I'm not claiming this is definitely goishi cha; it may well be an attempt at replicating sheng, a hybrid style, that didn't land too close.  It is whatever it is.  It finding it's way into a tea bag isn't a great sign; it may not be the best version of whatever it is.

This citation from the My Japanese Green Tea blog fills in more of what goishi cha is, which it seems likely this is:

Goishicha (碁石茶, go stone tea) is a rare Japanese dark (post-fermented) tea made in Ōtoyo Town, Kochi prefecture.

It’s classified as a type of bancha, although it’s not a green tea...

...This tea goes through two fermentation steps, one by mold and the other one by lactic acid bacteria.  In the second fermentation process, the tea is pickled. That’s why it has its distinctive sour taste.

Although it was mostly used as an ingredient in chagayu (a Japanese rice porridge with tea), nowadays people have begun to drink it as any other tea.


That last idea about it not being a good sign that the Japanese tea is even in a tea bag leads into the next tea, the one I'll compare it to, a tea-bag version of shu pu'er.  I've passed those in two different grocery stores here (in Bangkok), Dayi / Taetea versions (maybe only sheng?), and it never really crossed my mind to buy the tea.  For the sake of reporting on it I might someday, I just wouldn't have high expectations related to that.  It's odd thinking of what tea material that didn't make the cut to be pressed into the cheapest Dayi cakes would be like.

between $8 and $10, but pricing isn't the issue


A vendor sent this along with an order, as a free sample (Chawang Shop).  That's crazy, isn't it, sending a tea enthusiast tea bags?  Or a tea blogger; that's a strange way to seek attention. There seems to be two ways of taking that, as a way to provide access to something unusual that's more interesting and pleasant than it might sound, or as an insult, a critique of someone's taste in tea.  Being as generous as I am I just suspend judgment about that part.  It could be good aged, low grade tea dust.  It lists the raw material production date as April 2010.  That changes things a little, doesn't it?  If highly compressed cakes or tuochas age slower tea bag tea would have to age fastest.  It's too bad it's not sheng; aging transitions shu less.

Comparing the two probably won't turn up much for relevant overlap or one informing the experience of the other.  It's as much about getting two tea-bag versions of teas out of the way in one review.  They both sound interesting, if unconventional and probably limited in degree of promise (one I've tried--that's all the more true for that).

As to methodology I'll preheat two tea cups and brew both using two tea bags, in about 6 ounces / 200 ml of water (not measured, if that matters).  My intention is to brew the first round between 2 and 2 1/2 minutes and the second for about 3 minutes, depending on results the first time.  I suppose it would be possible to "Gong Fu" brew these, using 3 or 4 tea bags and short dips in the water.  It all feels a bit off the map.






Review:




shu:  it's shu.  That kind of works as a two-word review, not only in this case but often enough for shu.  I like shu but it's on the more basic side compared to sheng.  Subleties, complexity, and variations occur across a narrower scope.

It's not bad though.  Cocoa stands out most; that's a good start.  This would already resolve a lot of people new to shu having a problem with the off flavors; it has none.  The warm, rich, earthy flavor that identifies shu as shu is present, in the range of dark wood, shifted a little towards peat.  From there it's a bit non-distinct.  It would be a stretch but someone with the right type of imagination could just keep on going, listing out dried fruit, root spices, specific mineral undertones, and so on.  It's not as if it only tastes like cocoa and that dark wood / peat range, there's more complexity to it, but the rest is mixed and unidentifiable.

Feel is ok; it has some thickness, and the feel range is pleasant.  Aftertaste isn't typically that pronounced in shu, compared to other tea types, but it's intense enough and doesn't vanish immediately.  To me this seems like decent shu, just nothing to noteworthy or exceptional.  It may have had more for distinct character and rough edges earlier in it's existence, with those evening out to add more depth instead over that 9 1/2 years.  The depth is fine.


Japanese tea (possibly goishi, potentially a sheng hybrid style):  it's not bad.  That's an odd way to start a review, affirming a tea isn't bad, and there are positives and negatives, with novelty making a read on that relate to a mismatch to any expectations as much as an objective, neutral assessment.  It's only slightly sour, and I'm not "getting" as much seaweed as seemed to have emerged in a later round trying it at that shop.  Spice is a main flavor aspect, not so far off clove, but it's not that.  It might be a mix of spice range flavors, so including a touch of clove but also cardamom, and probably a more neutral root spice too. 

It's hard to place.  This is nothing like sheng, nothing like any tea type that comes to mind.  A flavor list might help explain that.  A trace of sourness isn't primary but it stands out for being odd, and that spice might be the strongest, most "forward" flavor aspect.  A warm base flavor around the range of cured hay grounds that, but that leans a little towards vegetal range, so maybe cured hay with just a touch of roasted bitter melon.  It's not as bitter as sour, but both are there in a very light form.  The warmth of the tone makes it hard to place in relation to other teas; it's in between conventional somewhat aged sheng (how those often are after 4 or 5 years) and a mild black tea.  That also relates to a mineral base addition, not nearly as strong as is very common in sheng, and in a different form.

The feel is a little odd; no surprise given that flavor list part, right?  It has a limited fullness to it, and a hint of dryness, but no structure that is similar to other tea types, nothing conventional.

I think I'll use a faster infusion time to see how that works out, around a minute instead, and then give these a long soak and see what's left of them.  I can't imagine that the shu is "going anywhere," but we'll see.  Back on brewing methodology I didn't mention that I'd been dunking them a little.  It's funny reviewing tea bag teas.

Second infusion:




shu:  being prepared quite light didn't help this tea, and it didn't seem to develop at all.  It's just a lighter brewed version this time.  It's decent, drinkable tea, just not exceptional in any way.  It's much better than I expected; this is average range shu.  Well above average, if someone has been drinking cheap shu, but I tend to run across good versions instead. 

A faint hint of citrus might be emerging; that is different.  I like shu brewed a bit stronger than most other tea types so I might be judging this unfairly based on brewing it in opposition to my own type preferences on this round.


goishi cha (if it is that):  I think this improved a lot related to me being more familiar with the range from drinking that first cup, more than related to any actual transition.  It might be better prepared lighter, and the initial sourness might have faded some.  To be clear that had been quite moderate, and if someone had any tolerance at all for sourness in tea it could be seen as well-balanced.  I could also relate to not having any tolerance for it; that flavor range is unusual, in other tea types.  An unconventional sheng version I've been drinking a little of (tried twice, but I own a cake of it) is a little sour, and I've ran through the exact same concern and cycle with that.

Some of the positive range seemed to bump a bit, I think.  The spice ramped up, and the warmth of a cured hay range plays a slightly larger role.  The feel is fine, not so unusual, just not exactly typical either.  The dryness faded and a slight fullness added in.  Other than being a very unusual tea it's pleasant.  Or strange instead, if a negative bias pairs with that particular form of novelty.

Third infusion:




It's not looking so promising; both are brewing a bit light already.

shu:  this really could've used another 4 minutes.  It's still pleasant though, and at least the flavor and character isn't going off in any way, beyond thinning.  For 4 grams of tea-bag tea it performed much better than I expected.  Shu is inexpensive enough that it makes sense to me to find slightly better versions than this if you are going to drink it, but this is reasonable.


goishi:  sourness is picking up; this is probably closer to where I drank it that time in that shop.  I've not really noticed seaweed so far, as I did then, but it would apply a lot more as a description in this round than in the past two.  Savory character seems to have bumped up a lot.  It had some of that range in the earlier rounds but it wasn't that notable, and the other unconventional flavors stood out even more. 

It's not the really notable umami in sheng and gyokuro but it's not completely unrelated either.  Going back again and trying this tasting over while more familiar with the tea (flavors, overall effect) I'd probably list that as a main component for those first two rounds, only leaving it out for being absorbed by the novelty of the rest. 

I like it.  I don't love it, and I'd not go out of my way to explore this range further, to see how even better versions come across, but it's pleasant and interesting.  I've had the experience many times of trying new tea versions and them just not clicking, and then once I try a better version it all just makes sense, and even those lower quality versions seem better after that.  An epiphany, I guess one might call that experience, a sudden grasp of insight.  That might well happen in this case too.  Shu is probably like that, to some extent, and sheng definitely would be.  For me Wuyi Yancha worked out that way; even though I always liked the moderate quality, dark toffee with cardboard-aspect versions once I tried a better one it all made that much more sense.


these leaves don't look so bad, freed from that tea bag, just an unusual color


An interesting thing came up trying to brew a couple more rounds out of these later:  the shu had kind of had it but the goishi (or whatever it was) brewed with plenty of intensity and was even more pleasant.  The sourness had faded and a good bit of citrus picked up, as a notable part of the experience.  I stretched it for two more rounds and it probably could've went one or two more, even though it was tapering off a bit. 

I bet with the tea bag cut open, brewed Gongfu style in a gaiwan, this tea wouldn't be bad at all.  The sourness could seem odd, or off, but related to working through that expectation with an unusual version of sheng any hint of that doesn't have to be clearly awful.

Very interesting experiences!  Many thanks to those two vendors for passing these on to try.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Hong Tai Chang 1988 Thai sheng






This tea version was shared by the owner of Tea Side, which is much appreciated.  I've tried very little relatively old sheng like this, so I'll keep this intro short and move onto a description.  It will be a good opportunity to let the vendor offer his opinion in more complete citation:


1988 Yuen Neun Hong Tai Chang Aged Raw Pu-erh Tea Cake


The original old sheng from the famous brand Hong Tai Chang. Delivered directly from the warehouse of the factory, where it was produced and stored since 1988. It’s already more than 30-year-old pu-erh tea.

This sheng is made from old Thai trees of Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand. The pu-erh was made exactly at the factory from which the brand Hong Tai Chang had started to walk around the world.

We are well aware of the Thai Pu-erh "kitchen" from the inside and are convinced that the traditions of Hong Tai Chang (and of course the original material from old trees) are owned by different pu-erh factories in Thailand...


There's more there related to the issue of diversity of sources and authenticity, including the remark "Hong Tai Chang is one of the most frequently forged tea brands." 

I'm reminded of writing about the Xiaguan "Love Forever" cake recently, created in 2013 from older material, so very recently in comparison, about how there were two relatively identical versions produced (differing greatly in character, reportedly) that were only wrapped in a different tong wrapper, one paper and one bamboo.  In that case varying storage condition issues seemed to diversify experienced outcomes a lot as well. 

On to that Tea Side description of this tea character:

The taste is distinct and clear with the richest palette of hues of the wood-nut spectrum and the noble aroma of old age Chen Xiang (陈 香, Chén Xiāng). Infusion is smooth and easy to drink. Cha Qi is dense but delicate. The power of the material, amazing stamina, softness and density of the liquor gain endless respect for these samples of the classic puer tradition of Hong Tai Chang...


That listing includes a link to a video review by the guys at TeaDB (which I've not seen yet), and a positive comment by Emmett Guzman, a name that might be familiar to some.  Good signs, but personal experience is a better yardstick, even for someone with more limited related prior exposure. 

It's interesting how the two product reviews there that include flavor-aspect evaluation vary so much, and don't necessarily match my own.  The general character described is very common between the three; that's how it goes with such interpretations.

Review:


I tasted the rinse to see where this is coming from and a bit of char or related milder carbon was present; the tea has seemingly aged to quite well fermented.  I'll probably go a little longer on the first two infusions than I normally would to clear past that, not so much over 5 seconds, but stopping short of using very fast infusion times.




First infusion:  hard to say if this is clearer, but it's pleasant as it is.  A very "dark" range aged tree bark is closest to that carbon-like range, which again I expect to clear off relatively quickly.  Beyond that aged furniture flavor and other range typical to aged sheng joins that, well roasted chestnut leaning towards dried fruit.


Second infusion:  it's transitioning well, and quickly.  The roasted chestnut range is much clearer.  Next the obvious difference in people drinking and describing teas comes up, that there is a standard expected pattern of drinking tea for taste, then for mouth-feel and aftertaste aspects, then later for effect of the tea more, the cha qi theme.  Feel of this is soft; all of the compounds giving young sheng that aggressive feel have transitioned.  It has a rich fullness to it, and that flavor trails over, but that effect will change a lot as this opens up.

Maybe it's just my imagination but I think that I can feel this already, not even finished with the second cup.  The dry leaf amount was in between what I would normally drink and not quite to double that so I used all of it, a judgement that usually goes the other way (and maybe should have in this case).  I would hate to be stretching the infusions and preparing this in atypical form, but in short timeframe retrospect drinking a dozen rounds is probably going to be way too much, and I'll probably really be feeling it halfway to that point.  I have some time off, since it's a Thai holiday, but my wife will be starting in about going to a shop somewhere for some errand, always.  We'll see how it goes.




Third infusion:  part of the sweetness resembles marshmallow; that's cool.  Flavor may not be the main thing a lot of "advanced" sheng drinkers would be focused on but that part is pleasant, complex and unique.  I probably over-use "unique" as a description; this really is different.  The way this is so clean already, and combines that marshmallow with roasted chestnut and hints toward dark dried fruit is very nice.


Fourth infusion:    I think next round it might be more where it's going to, which is probably going to be a long transition path.  I am using relatively fast infusion times for this, around 5 seconds.  For using a relatively high proportion of tea even that's a bit long, a bit on the intense side.  This would be great as flash infusions; maybe I'll try one after the next round.

Not so different; again that marshmallow touch is nice, a great addition to the rest.  The roasted chestnut is picking up sweetness, adding more in the toffee range.  One aspect I can't really identify is how I'd imagine betel nut to be, an odd mix two different Chinese herbs people chew together that results in a dark spit that you don't swallow, if I'm remembering that right.  It's something unfamiliar, at any rate.


Fifth infusion:  with the pour this might have brewed five seconds; still not on the light side.  I'm definitely feeling this.  It's a heady buzz but also with a lot of body feel.  It's probably a good thing I had breakfast before this, or I might be tapping out right about now.

As happens with every tea the flavor range shifts, the aspects balance, for going slightly faster, but it's not so different.  I've not been doing justice to the role dark wood plays in this.  It's like a mix of how mahogany and driftwood comes across, heavy in rich flavor (or aroma) and also mineral undertone.  Then the rest I keep repeating.  The higher end note that is in marshmallow range is picking up a hint of citrus as well; that's different.  I could relate to a description that's just a list of dried fruits instead; dried tamarind and dried dark cherry would make sense.  There's a lot going on for flavor layered in together, and expectations would naturally lead someone to identify the parts they were already expecting.


Sixth infusion:  more of the same really; maybe as well to take a round off describing this.


Seventh:  this really has settled into where it will be in these middle infusions, it seems.  It's pleasant, interesting in flavor and other character, clean and complex, definitely intense.  The hint of citrus is probably changing character and level a bit, more clearly an orange zest at this stage, more distinct.

This is not a tea to drink in a hurry.  I'm not supposed to be in a hurry, but of course my wife not only has something she wants to do, there's a driving need to get on with it.  The effect works much better for relaxing and appreciating the cool feel to the day (maybe 25 C / 75 F now, so room temperature, but cool for me), and the colors and sounds outdoors.  I'm doing that, I just don't have long to go in keeping it up.


Eighth:  I'll try the first longer brewed infusion for staring around at things outside so much, brewed much longer, well over 20 seconds.  That effect is cool too, the blast of mellow intensity.  All of those flavors I'd listed had taken turns to be dominant but none really dropped out, beyond the range cleaning up over the first 2 to 3 rounds.  It's complex.  I'd expect that hint of citrus to get pushed out of the way by the heavier, earthier range (when brewed for so long) but it ramps up in the same proportion.


Ninth:  maybe that citrus hung in there brewed strong because it was still ramping up.  This is definitely a dried version of orange zest; that drying process drops off the brightness but leaves behind plenty of related flavor.

It's interesting comparing this fermentation effect to that of shu.  I can see why it's not a completely different thing, for a version that is completely fermented like this.  It's just as unrelated as it is the same though.  Lighter, subtle versions of shu can be closer to this than most, which taste like peat and the like.  One part is earthy, for sure, but range in between earth and mineral is closer to root spices of some sort, not far off how ginseng comes across, that's just not exactly it.  This is really clean, even though the descriptions I keep using probably don't sound it (well roasted chestnut, dark wood, etc.).

The feel from the tea is changing, less of a head buzz but still well centered in both my head and body.  It's lightening a little, while still intensifying at the same time.  I'm not really into "cha qi" feels like that but it is notable.  As with thinking that bitter and sweet sheng is very pleasant it leads me to consider whether it would have to be interpreted as positive or not.  I'm mostly against any and all drug use, pulling my own bias in that direction, away from embracing anything related.  It's not exactly like being stoned (on weed), but also not completely dis-similar.  Of course there is weed for that, or tranquilizers, stimulants, etc.


Tenth:  it's nice how the root spice and citrus keep ramping up, with a hint of dried fruit around the range of dried tamarind, making this much less earthy at this stage.  It's not losing intensity, more changing in form.  In a sense the taste was stronger before, so that doubling timing to 20 seconds or so would maintain that level, if desired.  This works well light though, not really all that light for brewing for just over 5 seconds.



11:  I brewed this for around 10 seconds; that might be where I like it best at this stage.  I don't think I'll get to try another half dozen infusions to "see this through;" I'm a few warnings in that it's time to go.  Apparently we're off to see a "Lego museum," whatever that is.  This hasn't changed enough to warrant repeating the round 10 description anyway, and probably will brew a few more similar rounds prior to later cycle transition and extending timing changing things a little.

I think I'll drop the notes and just drink the tea.  What to add as a conclusion?  It's an interesting experience, pleasant and novel.  This is definitely not a breakfast tea; rushing through a dozen rounds would make no sense at all, and I've been at the edge for rushing things a little taking over an hour to drink part of it.

Conclusions:


Thinking back on that it seems likely that the extent to which you "feel" a tea might relate a lot to what you expect.  One could probably mindfully, with a lot of pre-conceptions, drink a strong mug of Lipton and seem to have a lot of whatever experience they expect as a result; calming, a real lift, whatever it is.  Maybe caffeine and theanine always really combine to support both.  Spending an hour just drinking tea and relaxing outside on a cool morning should feel energizing and relaxing, maybe even without the tea.

A second point, not so closely tied but not completely unrelated:  no matter what someone experiences related to tea, or prefers, or expects, it seems that someone else would comment that to them that experience isn't valid, or in line with what they understand related to that particular tea (or subject theme, etc.).  This was highlighted in a discussion about tea and cults in a Facebook group recently, a subject I wrote about not long ago

Half the people responding seemed completely against mixing tea experience and religion / formal ceremony, or wearing flowing, naturally dyed robes as a shared group aesthetic choice.  The other half (roughly speaking) were for all of that.  That's an oversimplification that people inclined towards either side (bias) could object to, with good reason, but still at the core that seems to be what was happening.  Specific types of liberal and conservative biases seemed to be the main perspective foundation, not the specific details being discussed.  A couple of comments made that explicit:  people said they didn't even need to hear the details, or click a link, to know where they stood, that a few short phrases of description already painted enough picture for them.

And what?, one might ask.  It's just an observation, and one that ties back to the "cha qi" theme clearly enough that it seems unnecessary to flesh that out.  Plenty of pu'er enthusiasts would be open to cha qi experience as valid without embracing ceremonial aspects of tea drinking.  But without actually trying this particular tea it seems impossible to critique what experience should have resulted, if any one description is well-grounded or based partly in imagination.  It gets a bit far into philosophy but I'd interpret all our life experience as based partly in preconceptions, which isn't far from a claim that our own ideas (/ framing) are a main experiential input along with external "raw data."

At any rate it was cool trying an older sheng version.  I haven't tried many 30 year old sheng versions at all (maybe only one?) so I'm really not the right person to place it, related to any of the experience aspect range.  I found it interesting and quite pleasant.


slightly creepy science museum display


on a green screen effect background (with Kalani representing Penn State that day)


Legos did come up


Monday, December 9, 2019

2019 Bao Shan Ye Sheng Hongcha (Dian Hong)






A bit atypical, I'll start with the vendor's take on a tea I bought with a recent order:  Chawang Shop description:


Baoshan is one of largest wild tree (ye sheng cha) area in Yunnan. Growing wild and naturally in the forest. 

This material come from April harvest, processed as red tea in small batches. 

The taste is rich, full, sweet, no astringency. Complex and rich aroma. 

This tea can be keep for long time in dry place and larger quantity (500g or more)

Harvest Area : Baoshan

Production date : April 2019


There really should be more rambling on about what the category or location relates to, or my feelings about this. 

Maybe as well to skip that once in awhile, especially since I get around to plenty of that in the review sections.

Review:




This tea has an amazing dry leaf smell, very warm, sweet, and fruity, heavy on peach.  It could pass for a Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong, although the tone is probably a bit warm for that.


First infusion:  a bit light; that can happen, not attempting to compensate for the tea needing to open up with use of a longer infusion time.  It's possible to rinse black teas to speed that up but I don't; that relates to throwing away part of the first infusion, seen one way.  This is rich and fruity, but I'll leave off writing out a list until the second round.  And I'll let this brew for 15 to 20 seconds, even though the proportion is higher than I'd usually go that long for, to let it really open up.




Second infusion:  this isn't what I expected, much more savory in range than seemed likely.  It's quite pleasant, just unusual in that regard.  It includes sweetness, and some fruit in that peach range, but also a lot of warm mineral depth, which extends towards a mineral effect close enough to table salt.  The fruit comes across as dried fruit.  I guess potentially as dried peach, matching the dry leaf scent, but warmer, more like dried tamarind (or both; it's complex).

A part of the profile seems to be missing, and I'm wondering if my own sense of taste isn't related to that.  I first got a cold 8 days ago, and was pretty much over it 4 or 5 days back, but this cold weather seems to be affecting me.  It's only around 25 C out now (77 F), which really isn't that cold, but getting down to a nightly low of 18 C (64 F) makes for an unusual experience.  We've finally stopped using air conditioning at night, because that's below where we typically set it, so I'm getting some feel for that as an inside temperature.  Anyway, my sinuses could be clearer.

This isn't a tea sample; I bought 100 grams of this along with re-ordering some favorites from that earlier order from Chawang Shop.  Those were all relatively inexpensive sheng versions that had a lot of promise related to aging potential, so not teas I'll get to anytime soon, with other cake or tuocha versions (in one case) already started from an earlier order that I'll try from time to time.  Given how Dian Hong usually goes this probably didn't cost a lot, but it was a good buy regardless of whether it did or not.  It's complex, interesting, and pleasant; no need to see how infusions continue to judge that.




Third infusion:   I went with a faster infusion, just going by instinct, brewing this for just short of 15 seconds.  The fruit has evolved to include a nice hint of citrus, in the form of orange zest.  The interesting thing about this tea is how complex and balanced it is while being unconventional and missing part of what I'd expect.  There's no cocoa in this, no roasted yam, no cinnamon, no mild malt.  It isn't that far off roasted sweet potato; I could relate to someone interpreting this as that, listing it as a primary flavor.  Maybe it's closer to those Japanese sweet potatoes, even lighter in flavor than the version I was familiar with back in the US.

There is a bit of spice that's not so far off cinnamon; it's interesting how per a differing read this could just be roasted sweet potato with cinnamon, while I'm saying it's something else altogether.  Dried tamarind stands out as closest to a main flavor aspect to me, along with warm mineral trailing slightly into salt range, and then some roasted root vegetable probably is next (sweet potato, or something else). 

Thickness is pleasant; feel is a nice supporting aspect.  It's smooth though, there is no astringency to it whatsoever, no dryness or roughness.  The flavors come across as clean, and intense, with enough intensity it carries over to an aftertaste effect as well.  I've not done justice to describing what is missing, and putting it that way doesn't completely work.  It's not so far off Dan Cong in character; this is light as black teas go, rich and complex, but just not in that "darker" warmer range, into mild malt and cocoa, etc.  To me that's not negative or positive, beyond being really interesting, which is positive.  It will be interesting to read what the vendor makes of this.  Probably next to nothing [that was it, not one taste description, other than "sweet"]; if teas aren't easy to describe vendors tend to just use less concepts, while I go the other way.

I'll let the next round run for 20 seconds and see what it's like a little stronger.  It doesn't need that, and it would work really well to drink every infusion on the light side instead for this tea.




Fourth infusion:  it's pleasant this way; both ways, really.  That warm mineral base really stands out more brewed a little stronger.  A limited range citrus note still really pops.  It's just a fragment of the overall experience but it carries more subjective weight for being novel and interesting, and for complementing the rest well.  It's funny how fruit in the range of peach does make up part of this experience but not to the extent the dry tea smell implied.  Dried tamarind still seems stronger.

To me it would be a waste to let this sit and drink it as an aged tea because those high notes really add a lot to the experience, and they would fade (I think; it's a long transition from passing on informed guesses to likelihoods, and I'm still in the middle).  It's already warm, rich, and complex, with plenty of depth, so there is no need to develop that further.  There is a chance this was a sun-dried tea version and the part I'm describing as missing (or not describing, really) is the way those come out just a little flat in terms of character, which they pick back up within 2 to 3 years of aging.  This might be even better in 2 years, more intense instead of less.  I had meant more that it doesn't need 5 to 7 years to change to be something else (slightly; it won't change much as sheng transition goes).

Per the theory if this is an oven dried black tea this is as intense as this will ever be, and if it's sun-dried it will gain depth and ramp up intensity over that 2 year time span.  It's odd that a Laos black tea I just tried is more in mainstream character and aspect range than this, for Dian Hong style, but then those naturally vary, and being more like more other versions isn't meaningful.  This seems a bit more refined, with more depth, probably slightly better tea.  Personal preference is sort of the main yardstick for that, so it remains a judgement call.




Fifth infusion:  the flavors list isn't conveying how pleasant this comes across.  An initial impression, even five rounds in, is "man, this is good."  It's hard to say why that is.  That flavor could be more intense, the range is really interesting but it could be more complex, thickness is quite pleasant but not overly remarkable.  It all just really works together. 

I'm sure it has a couple of additional rounds to go without losing any pleasantness, and I'll stretch it until it won't make any more.  Even in the next round the hint of citrus isn't fading, or losing ground to the rest.  If anything that trace of spice may be picking up.  Feel isn't thick or structured but the moderate feel range it does express is novel and positive, a bit velvety.  Whoever made this knew what they were doing.

More naturally grown teas typically do have interesting, complex flavors and are milder in character, just as this is.  That mineral depth can relate to a plant source being a bit older.


On the whole I love it.  It's basic in one sense and very distinctive and unique in another, and that balance of character and aspects works really well per my preference.

I bet if I went back through and tasted this a couple of more times I'd use different descriptions in the write-up.  I never did pin down that sweetness as much as I might have, and probably would list out toffee or something such as an aspect.  Shifting parameters a little would give different results; the actual aspects experienced could change, along with interpretation.  This version exemplifies why I love black teas in this style.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

2019 Taiwan "Oriental Beauty" Dong Fang Mei Ren




It's cold here, out of the 60s now (around 24 C / 75 F) at 10 AM, since I helped Keoni make breakfast and started a chicken roasting this morning.  Ordinarily we would go to a swimming class now but 75 F is too cold here to swim; funny how things work out in the tropics.



it doesn't look cold, or different


It's so cold the local pets even need to bundle up a bit:




I picked a tea that sort of matches cool weather, to me, and one I don't want to compare to anything since I'm not feeling like doing all that.  I have an interesting looking Oriental Beauty from King Tea Mall (a sample, provided by them) I've not tried yet.  It's interesting related to that type being a personal favorite; I have no idea how good it is, or how type-typical.  I hope it's above average so I can use this post, since I tend to just not write about teas that I don't like.  There's less of a story to those, although in some cases flaws in teas can be interesting.


This ties to a theme I mentioned in the last post, about why personal preference shifts over time as it does.  For example, why so many people experience sheng pu'er as close to the taste of taking an aspirin (or tasting like kerosene, I've heard), then still go on to keep trying versions until they like it.  I've been through that.  One read is that people try better versions later, so they're liking different things.  I think it's more that sheng is an acquired taste, like coffee, or beer, or lots of things.  My grandfather would eat smoked fish or cheese, and raw green onions, and all sorts of crazy foods and he had probably went through similar transitions.

In contrast a tea version like this would tend to appeal to everyone when they first try it; these are mild, sweet, complex in flavor, and lack significant astringency and any bitterness at all.  I can't place why so many people seem to like Oriental Beauty (per the comments that are made), and why it rarely ever comes up in discussion, and isn't really a main tea type.  There's the parts about bugs biting the leaves, and there only being so much of it, and good versions being expensive.  Somehow the general hype just never focused on it. 

Dan Cong gets good buzz, even though it's expensive, but sheng is a bit "hotter" as a tea type to like now.  Wuyi Yancha seemed more in that role in the past, between 5 and 10 years ago.  I'm not clear on how any of those levels work out, about preference transition, or public awareness and shared interest landing in different places.  Probably none of this will factor in much in a review description, so I'll just move on to that, starting with considering the King Tea Mall description:

Tea Name: Oriental Beauty (Dong Fang Mei Ren )
Harvesting Season: 2019 Year Summer
Production Area: Taiwan.
Level: Special Quality

The tea liquid has clear and clean amber like color.
Natural and elegant tea flavor which lasts long in whole mouth. After taste is honey like sweetness.


That's not very specific.  This tea type tends to be flavorful and pleasant and then vary across limited dimensions (flavor range, feel, level of sweetness, etc.), so detailed background matters less, as I see it.  There would be a more standard plant type and narrower source area but it's the final aspects that matter most.  As to pricing this costs $9 per 50 grams when purchased in the 100 gram amount; definitely on the low side for versions presented as above average in quality.

Review:




First infusion:  just awesome, perfectly type-typical, in the best sense.  Versions of this tea span a bit of range, covering different flavors, and this is well within the norm.  Those include heavy citrus, towards muscatel, or warm spice range, along the lines of cinnamon.  This particular version covers both:  there is pleasant orange zest citrus, and warm spice tones, not missing cinnamon but extending well beyond that.  Sweetness is great, mouthfeel is rich and full, soft and round (although that is all relative; there is probably a lot room for increase in that range).  Even a child would love this tea.

The heavy fruit tones aren't limited to citrus.  One part tastes a lot like apple cider, that warm, rich sweetness.  There's none of the sourness that cider can express (which balances well in the sweetness and flavor range, in even decent versions of that), but that warm, sweet, slightly fermented apple flavor is one of the main parts of the experience.  It leans a little towards raisin, I just don't think that would be the most natural interpretation.  After a minor shift in flavors across infusions, or caused by using slightly different brewing parameters, and it could be mainly raisin.

Why wouldn't people drink this?  Why don't I, related to seeking it out and buying it?  I've been exploring sheng for about 2 years now, and where for this type of tea you can appreciate it the very first time you drink it, in much the same way you might years later, that takes some doing.  It's not just about tolerating bitterness, or learning to like that; either that one part comes naturally or the whole venture would be a non-starter.  There's a lot of other range to consider, and lots of variations to explore.  Maybe it's as simple as that; after trying a dozen good versions of Oriental Beauty you'd be repeating the same experience, to some limited extent.  That wouldn't get you far for exploring the basic range of sheng, never mind sorting out aging and storage environment concerns.




Second infusion:  kind of similar, not shifting a lot.  The balance of those earlier aspects probably changed a little, but not in a significant enough form to make it worth the trouble describing that (spice gained a little ground on fruit, for example).  It's great; just what this should be.

Tied back to the idea of preference, one might wonder, why not just buy apple cider and throw a cinnamon stick, and a bit of orange zest in that, then simmer it?  That would be pleasant too, and that should happen.  The flavors would be in a similar range, but the overall balance and effect would be completely different.  This also "tastes like tea;" there's underlying mineral and a warm malt range that marks this as good tea (for lack of a better concept; it's not what most people associate with malt as found in Assam, which is dryer and as close to forms of mineral as fermented grain).  It's subtle, and well balanced. 

It's a similar answer for why this tea version is nothing like a Christmas blend featuring black tea, cinnamon spice, citrus, and some apple flavor.  You simply can't mix natural and artificial flavor inputs to get to this end point.  It would be nice if you could; then flavored tea blends found on grocery store shelves would be completely worth drinking.

It's not easy to say why it can't be replicated.  I just cooked a pumpkin pie from scratch, roasting a Thai version of a pumpkin (closer to Japanese pumpkin, or a bit more like squash), adding spices, making a crust, all of that.  In theory a version from canned pumpkin or one from a grocery store could be identical, or close enough, but they're just not the same thing.  Subtle differences add up.




Third infusion:  a mild vegetal range is picking up and the spice and fruit are dropping back.  I wouldn't say this has lost a lot of it's charm but it's not quite as good.  It's still very pleasant, just not great on the same level. 

It's interesting seeing an unusual level and type of oxidation on this, with a good bit of green showing through, and with other leaves or edges very darkened at the edges.  That probably means more to well-informed others than to me.  Related to final results I can't say that they "did it wrong" related to making this tea version; this is how this should be, in a positive case. 

The effect of a high level of sweetness is hard to place, and a rich feel that's almost an oiliness that covers your tongue and mouth, versus other kinds of structure in other teas.  Even though it has dropped back a little combining that much cinnamon, citrus, and slightly fermented apple is what makes this a unique experience.  If only two thirds of that was present this would still be a really pleasant tea.




Fourth infusion:  only faded slightly from where it was on the last round.  Often black teas and more oxidized oolongs tend to expend their flavor faster, to transition away from the most exceptional character over a much shorter brewing cycle, and that's going on with this.  Not all do; depending on type some black teas last a really long time, for a high infusion count, and keep transitioning in interesting and positive ways.

It's quite pleasant this round but two more infusions fading at the same rate will cost it a lot of what makes it exceptional.  It seems the more oxidized parts really did get a fast start, so now the parts of the leaves not as well oxidized are providing more input.  It will draw out how much tea this will produce but it might seem more like an ordinary, good oolong by the half-dozen infusion mark.  Since I've ventured into guessing about rounds transitions I'll have to keep going with the notes through a couple more.

Some of noting all this probably relates to being so focused on sheng for so long.  Young sheng tends to only "open up" and move past an initial edginess over the first two infusions, and stay consistent for the next half a dozen, maybe with some character transition but definitely no tapering off.  Older, more aged sheng (15 years old or older, to put a rough range to that) loses some intensity but it doesn't brew a lower count of positive rounds.


Fifth infusion:  still exceptional.  Some of the issue here is that I'm comparing these rounds against the benchmark of the earlier rounds, which were much more intense.  Lower quality Oriental Beauty tend to come across just as this one is on this fifth infusion, in the same general range but a good bit flatter.  Citrus seems to be ramping up in the balance again for some reason.  Even moderate shifts in infusion strength would cause that effect, switching which part seems stronger.  Lower quality Oriental Beauty (or moderate quality, really; what you would tend to buy from standard resale vendors) could include a slight mustiness or woodiness, not related to the tea being off or flawed, just as a part of the standard character for that version.  This doesn't include that.

A bit on infusion strength and brewing time is relevant.  This tea type you can prepare in lots of different ways; there is no astringency limiting that choice, no negative aspects to "brew around" at all.  It would work well wispy thin, how I tend to like lots of other tea types.  A relatively intense version of sheng pu'er can't be "wispy thin" in the most typical sense, even flash-brewed at moderate proportions.  The point here is that lighter often works better for appreciating some of the aspect range for some teas.  That's completely a matter of preference.  If someone values an intense feel aspect they may like teas prepared towards the other extreme. 

To me this works really well brewed in the middle, definitely not light, but also not so strong that it ramps up aspect intensity to well over what I consider normal.  Put in terms of timing, brewed for 10-15 seconds, closer to 15, across all these rounds, at a proportion that has the gaiwan just over 3/4ths filled with wet leaves (so most of what would fit).

That changes the transition cycle too, of course.  This same tea brewed for in between 5 and 10 seconds would be that much slower to change across rounds as this has.  The only way to really optimize that experience is to brew the tea exactly as you like it best, and not be concerned about how it plays out for a count.  It would make more sense to me to drink this really light than to brew it so strong that astringency, or at least stronger feel, really does ramp up, parting ways with experiencing those flavors as well-balanced, but that's just a statement about preference.  As transitions go it seems that people newer to better tea tend to like it prepared stronger, then lighter as they adjust to experiencing aspects at a different intensity level.


Sixth infusion:  still great, but still fading.  It wouldn't be nearly as good if that bright citrus wasn't hanging in there, but it is.  A lot of the other complexity has dropped out, narrowing the range of the experience, but the sweetness and positive balance remains.  The feel still has a nice thickness to it.  Pronounced aftertaste never was one of the positives of this experience, in relation to how some other tea types go.  It did prepare a few more infusions but those were light in intensity even brewed longer.


Conclusion



Pretty good Oriental Beauty, very nice.  It's been awhile since I've even tried one so I'm probably not the best judge of those (although I did try an aged version earlier in the year; that's different).  Earlier in my tea exploration these seemed to just come up more frequently, probably with a half dozen versions reviewed in this blog, maybe not even counting hybrid theme versions from other countries.  It helped passing through Taiwan on a trip once to gain exposure, but in other contexts too, buying samples, or teas from shops locally, or related to vendors sending tea to try.

Per my judgement this version was quite pleasant.  Related to placing it on a scale of the highest quality types I'm just not on this page enough.  I suspect someone much more familiar with this range could spot limitations or flaws better than I have here.  I tend to not see brewing a limited number of infusions as a flaw, as much as seeing the opposite as a strength, but that could relate to room for improvement.  Overall this seemed a well above average example of this tea type, probably more so for emphasizing flavor as the primary consideration.


at skating class, with a new haircut


experiencing snow in a form closer to shaved ice, by making it


limited Christmas decor at the rink