cool looking, nice color, a bit tight as compression goes
same photo with a light turned on; funny how background lighting shifts color
This is the last in a hectic series of review posts I started while I had a few days off with my kids visiting family back in the US, without my wife and I. I'll go quiet again here for another week or two due to being out of town this weekend, but a TChing post I wrote on tea evangelism should post in that time, so I may add that in this blog too.
This is another interesting tea from a Yunnan Sourcing order. I never did list what I bought or post a purchase photo anywhere. I'll let a partial citation of their description serve as an intro (with the rest really worth a read; there's a bit more of an origin story there):
...this tea is incredibly good tasting and has a very unique flavor profile. It's been stored in Guangdong since 2007 in a dry-wet storage condition (wet stored but on the dry side of the wet storage spectrum). The raw material is from Nan Jian area of Yunnan which is technically part of Dali prefecture...
The tea brews up an orange-red tea soup with a pungent aroma of flowers, mushrooms and earth. The taste is clean with no musty wet storage notes, but does have some some earthy notes. There is a kind of pronounced spice and cloves taste and aroma with a strong viscous sweetness throughout...
No rambling from me this time. I've tried teas of this age but I won't go through comparing them since starting point character and storage differences would cause that to not be meaningful.
The first impression won't tell a lot of the story but it is interesting. There's a pronounced dry wood tone to the flavor, which could be described as mushroom and earth. It strikes me more as the scent of an old barn. Oddly my impression is positive though; that earthiness isn't where it will be in another infusion or two but it's paired well with general warmth and sweetness. The aftertaste is pleasant, mineral intensive, even a bit towards natural spring scent or long-rusted metal, with a hint of the clove showing through already. That's why I don't read descriptions before tasting though; that last part really could be suggestion.
Earth picked up a good bit in this second round; I'll have to keep these infusions fast since the flavor intensity won't balance well unless this tea is light, given how it's a bit intense. I was reading some really interesting pu'er storage experiments in a blog by "M Gault" (Late Steeps) in which he describes flavors as geosmin. I had to look that up; it's basically dirt. It's not dirt, although some descriptions of the term tie it back to that, but here is Wikipedia's description (partial):
Geosmin is an organic compound with a distinct earthy flavor and aroma produced by certain bacteria, and is responsible for the earthy taste of beets and a contributor to the strong scent (petrichor) that occurs in the air when rain falls after a dry spell of weather or when soil is disturbed. In chemical terms, it is a bicyclic alcohol with formula C12H22O, a derivative of decalin...
Seems likely this tea tastes like that. Luckily I like that strange flavor aspect in beets.
The tea isn't musty but it is earthy; what could've been mushrooms but reminded me of well-aged wood has shifted a little towards well-aged hay, beyond fully cured into an old version of it. Again though, it works. I'm picking up a lot more mineral input than floral, although a little seems to be present, and the spice range isn't as pronounced as it might be, but it's a cool mix. It wouldn't be for everyone. It's funny I've taken to saying that lately; it sort of goes without saying, doesn't it?
Either it's the Bangkok-hot season heat getting to me or else I'm really already feeling this tea on the second infusion, which is not how that usually goes. I'm not all that sensitive to "cha qi" effects but at their strongest I can notice it, but I'm at a pretty low dosage this far in for the head buzz I'm feeling. Might be both acting together, the heat and the tea.
I lost focus and let this infuse for over 5 seconds, my typical timing range, a bit long. It'll be nice seeing where that puts it and noticing the contrast with a flash infusion the next time. The earthiness tie-in to mushroom makes a lot more sense on this infusion; that's what's going on. The mineral has shifted to taste a good bit like potato skin, although still also a little like beet.
It's funny how when I consider these terms (dirt, beet, potato skin, mushroom, well-aged hay, rock mineral leaning towards metal) it doesn't sound like a pleasant thing to experience, but it is. It's still on the soft and approachable side, nothing is too jarring as flavors or other experience range, and a good bit of sweetness helps all that work. It comes across as "cleaner" than all that would sound; aging-related flavors can be musty, and this isn't. If anything the feel is pleasant; it intuitively should be edgier and a bit dry given all that flavor range but it's not.
Brewed faster, a quick in and out, the tea doesn't give up nearly as much intensity as you would expect. It's not even all that different. Sweetness plays a slightly larger role in the flavor balance, and heavier mineral drops back. The aftertaste is still intense, and the feel is still an odd mix of hinting towards dryness and tightening across a lot of my mouth with feeling a bit juicy. It will be really interesting to see how this changes after just a couple of years here, in a nice and hot, consistently humid place. I'd bet all of Bangkok is firmly in the wet-wet storage condition per that description spectrum postulated.
It's 97 F here right not, around one of those temperatures I can convert back and forth from C to F easily, close to the 37 C of human body temperature. Relative humidity is 57% right now, much lower than the typical 70% here, but I think that's because the amount of water in the air has probably gone up just a little but the carrying capacity at this hotter temperature is a good bit higher, hence the lower relative percentage. I went through all that in this post, which cites this related graph:
Since I'm mentioning it I went a lot further with pu'er storage themes in this article I wrote for a vendor, for Moychay, mentioning a reference on how to make do-it-yourself humidity control packs and one on temperature related aging experiments.
Those black boxes (or whatever shapes) in this graph are recommended environments for IT equipment operation; never mind all that. The other two colored versions were me messing around with where people say pu'er stores well. I'd probably draw them differently now since that was from 2017 but the idea is the same. The point here is that even a relatively small step up in temperature from 33 C to 38 (91 F to 100 F) changes how much moisture the air can hold at those levels. The air I'm sitting in contains about 22 grams water per kilogram of dry air right now, or way above any of those boxes.
Really it's my understanding now (based on input from M Gault's blog, Late Steeps) that tea can age just fine at whatever temperature, even up to 40, which is good since it is almost that now. That, and the sheng I have around (the limited amount of it) seems to transition well with age, maybe just a little faster than I'd expect. The character doesn't seem to have been impacted negatively for it being so hot. To qualify that, I don't have enough other baseline of experience to be a good judge of such a thing; it's more a vague and poorly grounded impression.
The tea is shifting a good bit over the next infusion, softening, with those different aspects integrating much better. Clove really does start to make sense as an interpretation of part of the flavor. The feel still has good complexity but it's different too.
Again on the infusion after it's still shifting; that's a cool experience, after a lot of young sheng I've been drinking lately staying more consistent. The warm mushroom / aged wood or hay aspect is now as much like a bark spice. The mineral is still on the deep and earthier side, still including a touch of "geosmin," but milder, different, and more integrated with the rest.
This lighter range is more familiar, not far off that in a couple of different 2006 Hong Tai Chang versions I compared at one point. A more recent 2006 find in Chinatown had a really heavy earthy flavor, more on the musty side, which I took to likely be storage condition related (but again, I'm guessing at this level of exposure). I never did report back that within a couple months of trying that tea I tried it again and it was much improved, probably benefiting from airing out a little.
It's odd that this local environment could count as "airing out" but who knows where that Chinatown tea was stored, or even exactly what it was, given the frequency of gaps in how teas are labeled and what they actually are. As with those other inexpensive teas I just reviewed if you buy a tea labeled as something not overly desirable that kind of helps (with limiting concern about it being "fake"), because a producer isn't going to fake a tea being a relatively generic, lowly regarded, lower-cost source product. At a minimum they would fake a tea being an in-demand but moderate cost known-vendor version. If a tea is sold as a $15 cake of Lao Ban Zhang in one sense it's fake but in another it's more or less what it's presented as; as mis-labeled tea.
This tea might be transitioning to thin in intensity just a little; far from brewed out but fading in intensity. It would have helped going with flash infusions from the start. I suspect it has just as long a cycle to go, just either drinking it as moderate strength (which is probably better) or extending infusion time. The leaves being more chopped than I'm accustomed to must have altered how it brews. I've drank factory teas since first getting into sheng a half dozen years ago, some so finely broken it's almost as much a ground leaf, but more often I'm drinking more whole-leaf versions.
On the next infusion the last description mentioned still works; the tea is still pleasant (where I'll leave off description, something like 8 to 9 rounds in). I'm happy with this tea. I'm guessing that it will benefit quite a bit from another 2 to 4 years of getting a little further through aging here but I could enjoy drinking it like this, and will probably try it a few more times over the next year.
Later observation, some online review
I did brew that tea at least another half dozen rounds later and the flavor held up fine, thinning and changing a little but staying positive. Even without any further aging or change I would really enjoy that tea, and that just getting used to the novel character a little more would already make it seem even more positive, when I already liked it to begin with.
To some extent it must be a relatively basic tea compared to refined and highly desirable aged versions that get discussed in tea groups. Since I'm still on the new side related to exposure to aged sheng it's still novel and probably more positive to me. The cost is moderate, listing at $67 there on YS now; maybe they just forgot to add the standard per year mark-up in this case. Then again I tried to look up alternative vendors selling it and saw a reference of the pricing from a couple of years ago; it just started really low.
No alternative sources turned up easily in a Google search but in looking that up I ran across a couple of interesting related references. Tea DB (James) did a review of it; he liked it, especially related to value, but I didn't watch that video yet to get to the details. The Steepster entry feedback was generally positive, which is probably as well taken with a grain of salt, listing these aspect in the main header description:
Sawdust, Tobacco, Vegetal, Musty, Raisins, Whiskey, Sweet, Chestnut, Dried Fruit, Floral, Mineral, Mushrooms, Nutmeg, Rose, Spinach, Wet Earth, Caramel, Sweet, warm grass, Earth, Hay, Spicy, Stonefruits, Straw
Maybe it was like that; I'll have to taste it again a few times and try to sort all that out. Odd that no one borrowed mentioning "clove" from the vendor description.
Just to be clear, in tasting a tea that's in a less than familiar style, and a complex tea at that, interpretations could vary quite a bit. I didn't notice that much fruit but about a third of that list appears by name in this review, and some of the rest overlaps a bit (saying it tastes a little like clove is close to saying it tastes a little like nutmeg, even though they're different, and so on). Tobacco and whiskey are something else; I'll consider that in re-tasting.
talking to Kalani on video call
those two love messing with the app features