Thursday, May 30, 2019

2018 YS Drunk on Red, Yunnan sun-dried black (shai hong)

The idea of which teas transition positively when aging came up in a Yunnan Sourcing group post (right, there are vendor-specific FB groups now, not just pages).  This subject overlaps a good bit with the theme of which teas are sold as compressed versions, which I recently wrote about, it just wasn't the main point of that post.

No surprises in what is mentioned there for types:  compressed tea versions include sheng and shu pu'er, various hei cha, white teas (shou mei being most familiar), and in some cases pressed black teas and oolongs.  For the last I've seen the most of Wuyi Yancha pressed, like this one, but even types as uncommon as gaba oolong.  And tisanes (herb teas, to some); that's a little different, since usually that just extends to adding chrysanthemum to sheng in a blend or making cakes from tea-plant flowers.

The Yunnan Sourcing product description about that aging factor explains background well:

This is a blend of black tea from both the Mengku and Feng Qing area of Lincang.  Both Autumn harvested black teas processed with sun-drying technique (晒红) .  The tea is picked, wilted, fried, bruised by rolling, wet withered, and then finally sun-dried in it's final stage (much like raw pu-erh mao cha).  

When sun-drying is applied in the final stage as opposed to heat-drying, the result is a black tea that is more subtle when young, but ages very well over the coming years.  Younger sun-dried black teas also tend to steep longer and display more character in the middle to later steeps. 

This is a strong black tea with plenty of depth and complexity that will age wonderfully, developing honey sweetness and earthy spice character after just a few years.

I like that projection; it would be interesting to give it a couple of years to rest and check back in on that "earthy spice character."  This and what I've said doesn't mention "shai hong" yet, which per my understanding just refers sun-dried black tea from Yunnan, what this is.  This video contains lots more interesting details on processing, from Farmerleaf, a Yunnan based tea vendor and producer.

As I expressed in that post discussion sometimes the level of tartness isn't appealing to me in this type of tea.  I don't know that tartness is any sort of quality marker (a negative version of one), and I'm not implying that it is, it's just not a flavor aspect I prefer in Yunnan black teas.  It's not notable in most loose versions but it comes up in some.


It's a little tart.  I think this will still be quite pleasant for me since that's moderate, but it's already not in my favorite range for Yunnan blacks in the first sip.  It has other aspect range I do like, other type-typical flavors and character, so I'll back up and just describe it as that set.

Tartness stands out as much as any other single flavor component, but beyond that there's a rich complexity.  Part would be described as a fruitier version of hardwood, like cherry wood, or per an alternate description like a warm and sweet version of leather (but I'd go with the wood).  Sweetness makes it work.  The feel is reasonable, not thin, and a little mouth-watering, with just a hint of dryness to it.  Since the character will probably shift a little on the second infusion it's as well to pick things back up there, and to not pass judgment on that tartness too quickly.

It isn't much different, but it picks up some depth.  Tartness probably does fade slightly, swapped out for a bit more warm tone.  The cherry hardwood aspect now contains a hint of tree bark, which actually works well, it's still very clean in effect.

One might wonder why I feel ok with mentioning so many wood-type and forest scent references, which is easy to explain; I grew up in rural Western Pennsylvania, splitting firewood as a child, like Abraham Lincoln did.  Good times!  Oddly none of us was ever injured doing that, but we did experience a near-miss once doing some logging work, which is kind of a different theme.  A large log rolled over the leg of my sister, who was probably about 6 to 8 at the time.  She was fine, and it worked as a prompt to reconsider workplace safety concerns.

this could be at my parents' or sister's house, or maybe it was

On the next round the warmth starts to lean towards a spice tone but doesn't really remind me of one.  The sweetness and complexity might be interpreted as including cocoa; that works a little better.  It's hard to clearly define what's included in the complex flavor but I'd also accept rose (warm, rich floral tone) as a reasonable interpretation.

Even though this is complex across a decent amount of flavor range, which would sound like it spans quite a bit of scope, the moderate degree of potential aging transition relates to this possibly picking up more flavor depth later.  It could gain more warm, sweet tone like molasses, or just take on a slightly richer character that's hard to define.  It's not thin in flavor or feel experience but there's room for additional depth, if that makes sense.  Oven-dried versions tend to be slightly more intense when young, then to fade instead.

I went with the same relatively fast infusion time the next round, around 10 seconds, but this would work brewed even faster for the proportion I'm using, which really could be lower.  This is typically how I prefer this type of black tea, so I don't mean it's a mistake to use this approach, just that different ones tend to give comparable results.  In some rare cases using a more Western (hybrid) or completely Western approach works better (much lower proportion and 3 to 4 minute infusion time instead), but as often it just doesn't change things that much for using Gongfu brewing instead.  The character can change slightly but not necessarily for the better or worse.  Of course in the final evaluation better or worse maps to preference (as I see things), not to some objectively best approach.

It's even better the third round; it may well improve again for one more and then level off (somehow guessing about the next steps has become a habit, even though that sort of makes no sense; I'll know soon enough).  Tartness has faded to a slight background element; I don't dislike it so much that I have any problem with that.  To help place that it's similar to how I relate to smoky sheng, or grassy green teas; those aren't aspects I tend to like.  A hint of smoke in the right context in a sheng can improve it, and grassiness in a green tea paired with other range can work really well too.  I tend to like green teas the least because of that and other factors, and prefer Longjing for being more towards toasted rice or nuts, maybe with mild vegetal character beyond that.

There's a set of typical flavors that comes up in Yunnan black teas that varies a good bit in range but still seems familiar in different forms, and this expresses that.  A different type includes a lot of molasses sweetness and is more towards a warm spice or cocoa, and another is more like a roasted yam or sweet potato.  This version sticks to what seems like cherry hardwood to me, coupled with warm floral aspect, and rich earthy range that's clean and subdued but integrates well.  Probably not many people would taste this and think "tree bark," but regardless of interpretation it's hard to completely place.  Luckily the experience is the thing, not the degree of accuracy in describing it.

This is just as good the next round, maybe slightly more subtle but the effect and balance lose nothing.  As one might imagine using half this much tea and ten times as much water, and a three minute infusion time versus multiple 10 or so seconds of several, all of these infusions would have been combined.  In some cases that works better.  With this softening and deepening a little in tone this really does seem more like cocoa to me, and the tartness is now gone, transitioned away.  It's a little odd that I like it much better than the first infusion but that can happen. 

To me Gongfu brewing is nice not just for optimizing the experience, which in some cases holds true, but for extending it, for giving you a look at different layers of aspects within the same tea.  And a longer, more complex experience; brewing two large mugs of this would work well for with a work-day breakfast but it's also nice tasting it over a half an hour instead (or much longer, if one is also writing).

More of the same the next round; this tea will keep going like this.  The character will shift a good bit related to using longer infusion times to draw out intensity but now (at around 6 or so?) using a 15 second infusion still resulted in a less intense but still flavorful result.  For as mild as this tea is it would work well to brew it "grandpa-style," to add a little to a tea bottle and just let it sit, and then refill it and brew it again that way.  Green teas tend to last a little longer that way, to brew more rounds, but I don't like them as well made that way.  Light oolongs tend to last well too, and work ok made that way, but to really optimize those teas I prefer using a Gongfu approach.  For inexpensive, moderate quality versions (like a cheap Tie Guan Yin I picked up in China, but haven't tried yet) it tends to matter less, and preferred brewing form might matter more than minor outcome variation.


Nice tea; I won't say much more about that part, since the notes covered that.  The value is exceptional since this sells for $7 for 100 grams; adding one to an order would hardly change the total, and giving it away if you don't like it doesn't add much cost.  I did want to ramble about the aging factor a little, if it really makes a difference.

The one way someone would know if aging improves shai hong versions, sun-dried Yunnan black teas, is by actually trying it.  It doesn't help to just try an older version since then you wouldn't know the starting point.  "Older" here is relative anyway; per common discussion input people claim they pick up depth over a few years, not necessarily that 10 year old versions are much different and better.  Maybe that's possible, it just tends to not get discussed much.  I'm skeptical that would make much sense, but if someone really loved the idea they would also find a reason to love the tea.

I have sat aside versions of shai hong for over a year and checked back, and tried to compare character from review description, and they really did seem to improve.  Not so often that I've mapped out typical change patterns, of course, maybe only a couple of times when it happened to work out that way.

I've tried a compressed version that was a few years old that I really liked, which sort of started me on this interest (this one, reviewed two years ago).  I still have the last half of that brick; it would be interesting to check back in on it.  Looking back it was 2 years old then, so 4 now (and obviously long since sold out; that's how such things go).

Tsenz shai hong, reviewed in that post, photo credit here

I've since tried a couple of versions of this same thing from Moychay, which weren't necessarily different than this Drunk on Red version.  Looking back at that main review the cost was identical and review description matched; funny it worked out that way.  It would be interesting to me to know if that tartness (in both) would transition to fade over time, and I guess I could store this tea for a year and a half or so and then I'd know.  Given the low cost and limited size buying a version to drink and one to stash would seem to make sense.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Guangbie and Hekai 2019 maocha from Chawang Shop

Guangbie left, Hekai right

On to two really fresh this-year sheng from Chawang Shop, described as from Guangbie and Hekai. Both of these teas were a last minute addition to this order, not the main theme I was looking for (young, old, and middle range versions to check on aging process).  Given that I only bought a little I won't see how they age, and may or may not get around to sharing any.

Per usual I reviewed the teas without checking a detailed vendor description first, but based on later copy and paste from their sales pages that follows.


Guangbie belongs to Hekai tea mountain. The price of ancient tree tea here is also very high because it is close to the Lao Ban Zhang. We chose this small trees tea with good quality and reasonable price. The tea made from tea trees of different sizes grown in ancient tea gardens. Compared with pure ancient tree tea, this tea is more bitter, but it's very comfortable after drinking.

This tea lists for $9 for 50 grams, so equivalent to a $63 357 gram cake (although this might more naturally be pressed as a 200 gram version; that's just for comparison).  As far as trying tea goes a $9 good-sized sample is perfect.  In these posts I'm often thanking vendors for giving me tea for review purposes but since I've purchased these that doesn't apply.  It's nice that they make interesting teas available though; I'm still grateful.


The origin of this maocha is the same as the cakes we made a few years ago. It comes from the same ancient tea garden in Man Nan Lao Zhai, Hekai.

The palate is fresh and fruity, with notes of wild flowers. Sweet and round, slight bitter and long lasting pleasant aftertaste.

That sounds odd, given what I remember of the tasting notes, since I've just added this days later in an editing process.  This tea was $12 for 50 grams.

Xishuangbanna prefecture, copied from the King Tea Mall site, original image credited to this site

Sure enough He Kai is in the mid-lower left, not far from Lao Ban Zhang and some other familiar place names.  I just did draft notes of a Bada version, and reviewed a Ban Pen tea recently, and some of those other names keep coming up.


Guangbie: really bright and sweet, fresh tasting. Bitterness isn't an issue, in the first light infusion at least. There's a butteriness to the flavor profile, which may extend to a soft and rich feel, that's more common range in oolong. Even the rest of the floral and mineral range reminds me a little of Taiwanese high mountain oolong, that bright, intense pairing of both that's characteristic. It's interesting.

Hekai: totally different; warm mineral range along with deeper, richer flavors. I often say tasting only very similar tea versions together makes sense but the contrast in these might be interesting and pleasant, it just won't help in placing either. I keep going on about teas reminding me of cedar; this is back to that. In the right balance I really like that and it works well here. Sweetness and warm floral tones support the cedar flavor range but that part really stands out.

It's too early for a judgment call, but since I'm adding this comment during the editing I can point out that the Guangbie seems closer to the review description for the Hekai, but there was no aspect description in the Guangbie to match up or else not.  I liked both teas, and it's interesting how much they vary for having a similar local origin, so that part doesn't really matter. 

Guangbie left (as also shown in the following photos)

Second infusion

Guangbie: the butteriness, sweetness, freshness, and floral nature is still present but mineral and bitterness pick up. The level of bitterness is still moderate since I'm going with a 10 second infusion time, but intensity level is more than enough. For some this might've been brewed for too long. Given the mineral range warms a little (towards copper, I guess, but still clean in effect) it's closer to the second, but still closer to where it started.

It's good. The feel works well, wet but with a little fullness, with good after taste. The brighter range and overall balance define the experience, along with that complexity.

Hekai: this is even more intense; 10 seconds was pushing it. It's not bitterness that comes across as strong but instead the entire aspect range. Character shifted more than for the other tea. It still includes warm notes, and floral range, but cedar transitioned to include more green wood tone, again as with the other balanced by sweetness, moderate bitterness, and plenty of mineral. That green wood range tips a little towards dill pickle, not so much the vinegar sourness part but the other flavor. The feel might be less catchy in form than for the other tea but both have lots going on, across that and other range.

Third infusion

Guangbie: more of the same, but this already had been a really unique and positive experience. The floral character may have deepened a little into fruit range, a white grape / pear flavor range close to what was dominant in one of my favorite sheng versions, a Moychay tea from Nannuo. I just tried that again two days ago to see how it was transitioning and I think I did like it the best brand new (to me), less than a year old then. At some point I should buy the next year's version.

Again the flavor is positive in this, and the complexity, and feel, but it's the overall balance that clicks.

Hekai: more warm mineral and cedar for flavor (now less dominant). This covers less range than the other, with less unique character, but on it's own it's a very nice tea, positive and well balanced. I can't really say for sure this tea isn't as good as the other version because there's a type-typical concern for regional origin I can't place, and it's hard to divorce the other Guangbie tea character matching my preference from being good in general.  That tea seems a little atypical per the broader range of other sheng, which makes that kind of call even harder, although it's not all that far off another presented as LBZ (which may or may not have been; I always take that kind of seemingly unlikely claim with a grain of salt, but that tea was nice).

This version isn't far off a Vietnamese sheng version I've been drinking and reviewed. That other tea might be slightly simpler yet but I like it. Right about now brewing a round stronger to check for feel and flaws might make sense but I think I'll skip doing that.

Fourth infusion

Guangbie: it's an insult to a sheng to compare it to an oolong, in general, typically meaning the style is a newer sort not intended for aging, with softer feel, low in bitterness, etc. In a limited sense that really works though, with the flavor profile matching most, but with the type and level of mineral and bitterness clearly placing this as sheng. On the subject of flavor maybe even oolongs never tend to express this white grape / rich pear aspect that I like. Beyond that the brightness, freshness, intensity, and feel all really balance well; even the mild bitterness helps with that.

This probably wouldn't be for everyone, but I mean that in a relatively opposite sense of describing earthy aged versions that literally taste like dirt as positive (or beet, or geosmin; different ways to put that).  A good bit of sheng shows intense floral, a slightly different kind of mineral tone (lighter and dryer, as I use concepts for that), a certain kind of feel structure, and really long aftertaste, and this is just something else.

Hekai: pretty much an opposite range, and not transitioning much. Warm mineral, copper, and cedar come across as more balanced and pleasant than that might sound. This would probably seem even more pleasant if I didn't like this other version as much.  I think that mostly relates to it clicking with personal preference, and linking with one of my favorite prior tea experiences. Even for that Nan Nuo version the first time I tried it (using Moscow filtered tap water from a hotel lobby; far from ideal) it was clear that random selection cake buy had been blessed by the tea gods.  That tea balanced nicely but the intensity really stood out, in the flavor range, with a soft and rich feel for a younger sheng version.

Fifth infusion

Guangbie: bitterness is picking up a little, at a level of balance that still works well. It's a little off the fruit range more into green wood.

Hekai: wood is picking up in this too, but an aged wood tone instead. That cedar had faded back but never really dropped out so it links with that, or at least seems to. Both are onto taste range shifting to be stronger than aroma, not that it would always have to work out like that around this point.


Both are really nice. It's interesting how both really reminded me of other individual teas I'd recently been drinking. It's hard to guess how both would age (that recurring theme), but both are really positive now, one just matching my preference better.  Since I've not posted (or edited) the review for the Vietnamese sheng I'm remembering as similar in character to this Hekai maybe I'll try them together before completing that.  It's easier to catch more in a direct tasting than relying on memory.

I've been saying about different teas that they seem good examples of a medium quality range that could fairly justify selling for more than a moderate standard $40 per 357 gram cake and these seem like that to me, at a rough guess worth double that.  Of course the final version of this post included a price, cited earlier, with both equivalent to a $63 and $84 "standard" size cake.  As I read back through this part I'm reminded of teas I've recently bought priced in that general range, and really these two compare favorably to them; they might well be better.

Of course that also depends on the demand side, tied to an area and typical type preferences, all subject scope that I'm far from sorting out.  A match to personal preference seems more relevant anyway.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Shenzhen tea market witch's broom style Da Hong Pao

sheng bundle top, Da Hong Pao lower two

includes a few sticks, otherwise looks fine

We visited Hong Kong and China something like 6 weeks ago (a trip summarized in this post), and I've only reviewed a couple of the lower cost sheng picked up from there so far (here).  I've made notes on a couple other sheng tastings I've not posted yet but it seemed about time to mix it up and write about something else, since I've been relentlessly posting about that tea type for a long time.

This is definitely something different; what I expect to be moderate quality Da Hong Pao (Wuyi Yancha, rock oolong), presented as a bundle instead of loose, twisted leaves.  There was a bundle of sheng pu'er we bought at the same shop; eventually I might mention that here, although maybe I won't too.  It would probably be more going on about the scope moderate quality sheng can cover, as in the only bundled sheng review I've written, about a local version from Vietnam, which they call trà chít or trà bó.

anyone know what I bought?  a 2005 sheng version?


The flavor is ok, nice. It gives up the subtlety some versions possess for mostly covering that one characteristic sweet caramel or toffee range some versions express. Beyond that there's the typical warm leather earthiness. It's not "good Da Hong Pao" in the same sense unusually high quality or well balanced versions are, like this one would be, but this is the characteristic simple profile that gets people hooked on exploring the type. It would almost be a shame to lose appreciation for it due to discovering other range, what better versions are like.

For going with a lower proportion (and not brewing sheng) this will work better at a longer infusion time. The initial round I brewed for over 20 seconds but I'll go a bit short of a minute on the second round, in order to try it in a different form.

Second infusion

Cardboard picked up a little; that doesn't help. I'm still not ready to say that I don't like this. I've been off of mediocre quality Da Hong Pao for so long, or even the better versions range, that it's a nice break. There's still plenty of toffee sweetness and rich leather flavor, so it works, still pleasant. It's simple and basic in effect but that can be a good thing. The feel isn't thin, just not particularly structured, and the aftertaste isn't extended but also not non-existent. It's better than I would have guessed it would be.

The bundled presentation is just a novelty, and not one that adds more function than it eliminates by making you tease apart a bundle to brew part of it. It could work like a tea bag, to brew the whole thing, but that's a good bit for a single serving. Throwing it in a ceramic teapot for a few people to drink a few rounds from would work.  These would be cool for gifts just because it's not how people usually see tea presented, and it's a very reasonable quality version, which I wasn't able to judge with any confidence by sniffing the dry bin of tea.

Third infusion

Still nice, but already fading a little. The next round brewed significantly longer might do it. It's funny how this tea could be so many different things for different people with varying prior exposure. For someone new to Wuyi Yancha it could be great, a positive start of a new chapter. Unless their natural preference didn't go that way, then it would probably just seem like a strange tea. Someone further down the path still might like it, or look down on it for being too basic a version. For a breakfast tea this sort of aspect range and quality level is perfect; something you don't need to brew carefully to get exactly right, but still pleasant enough to compliment lots of foods well.

I really like it; to me it's the tea equivalent of comfort food. It's like a steak lover eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes; it's not that other thing but still pleasant in its own way.  Eat enough meatloaf and you'd want to set it aside, but take a few years off and a good version is an experience of nostalgia beyond taste and the rest.  And sometimes you'd feel like having meatloaf instead of steak.

It makes me wonder why some of these versions can be this sweet, since that really stood out, especially in the first round. Without any trace of char or roast effect that input of roasting the tea to ramp up cooked-sugar flavor and sweetness would seem to not be it, but then that char range does fade over time. This version might be a fortunate case of a tea hanging around awhile and improving, which is not always how that goes.  The leaves being that tightly twisted probably enabled it to endure more air contact than really good tea should ever be exposed to, again seeming to work out to somehow balance overall character in this case.

typically a high roast level blackens leaves this much; char must have faded

The fourth infusion is also pleasant; that bodes well for extending to a fifth. The dark wood tone (which gets described in different ways in reviews, I think) still has a touch of cardboard edge to it but the sweetness, toffee flavor, and overall complexity make it work. It all extends a little to malt range, not like Assam black tea, but how malted milk balls or the shakes are, that mild, rich, almost creamy flavor.

On the next infusion it was spent, and not as pleasant as the fourth, with char ramping up due to longer infusion time required to draw out intensity.

I'd have bought more of these if I knew it was this pleasant.  I was just focused on sheng, and it was hard enough snapping out of that tunnel vision to grab these samples. I stopped short of exploring chen pi, the shu stuffed tangerines / oranges, but those were around too, and a vendor gave a sample of a couple with some sheng.  My wife bought a good bit of chrysanthemum, which seemed odd at the time, since it's here too and we tend not to drink that much, but it's really come in handy since my kids have taken a recent interest in tea (or tisanes, in that case), and they can drink as much as they like.

dim sum restaurant a half block from the market, with fishtanks out front

I'd definitely recommend visiting that market to anyone visiting Shenzhen, and beyond that anyone visiting Hong Kong to set aside time to stop by that other nearby mainland city too.  We dropped in using an on-arrival visa, not exactly the ideal process since who knows how long the queue that day would add to travel time, or if worsening relations with China due to a senseless trade war would narrow back approval of those.

As to travel time Shenzhen is an extra hour by train up the local Hong Kong rail line, easy to access.  Just make sure to download a local version of a Shenzhen Google Map, if that's even possible, or to switch over to an app version that will actually work online inside of China (or set up a VPN; you get the idea).

a chrysanthemum "tea" party; they can both use a gaiwan

Friday, May 24, 2019

Moychay Wuliang 2018 Bai Hao silver bud sheng pu'er

I've been off reviewing Moychay tea versions for awhile, at least here, posting some to their own site instead.  Some of their pu'er cakes have tended to sell out so it seemed best to review this version while it's still available.  It seems to indicate on the label that it was harvested in 2016 and pressed in 2018, so it's really two years old, but since that part is in Russian I'd need to confirm that from their site.

To be completely transparent this tea was provided by them for review, and I did limited content writing for them as described in the last post.  I like to think that I'm still completely objective but you know that goes; life experience in general has a subjective character to it.

The label seems to reference two types of tea, since Bai Hao is often used as part of a reference to silver needle tea (Bai Hao Yin Zhen), but that could only be a reference to the material made into a white tea version, to the buds, with this a sheng pu'er instead, so processed differently with a completely different character.

I'll check their product description to see, which I didn't read prior to the tasting:

"Bai Hao Puer from Wuliang Mount" was compressed in the North-West tea region.

...twisted leaves and silvery tips. The aroma is intensive, spicy-herbaceous... with woody, nutty and floral notes... [similar to] a hot, juicy red apple.

Brew tea with hot water (80-95 ° C, the lower the temperature, the softer the taste) in a gaiwan or in a teapot made of porous clay. The proportion is 4-5 g per 100 ml. The time of the first steeping is about 5-7 seconds. For each second, increasing the amount of time for each subsequent step, if necessary. You can steep the tea up to 10 times.

I couldn't guess how much this tea would cost based on reviewing it, since I really liked it and quality seemed evident, but style was a little unusual and source area affects demand and price.  It lists for $36.50 for a 357 gram cake.  Of course how much anyone likes the tea determines if that's just about right, too much, or on the low side, and to me it seems the latter, quite low for this tea quality level and final character.  I've been trying teas that cost twice that amount that I don't like as much, or that don't seem any better (two different judgments, since personal likes and demand for types and styles are different subjects).

The catch is that the style is atypical, which could lead someone to really love it if it clicks for them (as I do), or else dislike it.  But either way the market demand isn't as clearly settled as for type-typical versions, for what people already expect and are looking to buy.  White teas tend to cost less than sheng (just not always), and although I see this as a sheng version with unusual character versus in between styles that could potentially just be a judgement call.


The first infusion is a bit light but the character is already evident; it has a hint of smoke, some bitterness, and good structured feel, pleasant and mouth-watering but full.  It's not overly sweet, not light and mild, and on the intense side, so the style seems ideal for some aging.  Bitterness could be more intense but it's on the high side for teas I tend to prefer young.  This will probably soften and transition a bit over the next few infusions but I expect this is roughly how it will be.  A hint of fruit comes across early; that may well evolve.

Those next-changes speculations are meaningless because in the next lines I'll say instead how it actually is, but somehow it seems to frame what I'm experiencing just then, to describe it in a different way.

On the next infusion it just develops in the same direction, with a bit more intensity across the same range.  It's relatively intense, and it all balances reasonably well, it's just that between that punch of intensity across a range of aspects including medium level bitterness this really may work better in a couple more years, or may evolve well over another decade.  The fruit tone is pleasant in this, complex enough that a single description wouldn't capture it.  It seems closest to dried apricot to me.  Fruit is a little heavier than the smoke already; that's dropping out fast.  To me the bitterness and mineral undertone stand out even more.

Later edit:  I didn't make it explicit this far in but this style just struck me as clearly sheng while reviewing it, and I don't keep mentioning that for context, but I do keep commenting about unusual style aspects that sort of map to other range.

To me, and this part is a judgment call, all of this represents a relatively higher quality tea version.  I didn't check what it's selling for [at time of making tasting notes], or how Moychay describes it; those parts will express their opinion about it.

A couple of factors throw off making that kind of general quality level judgment.  I've drank some pretty good sheng lately but I've also been onto some pretty rough versions, decent but moderate in quality level, and I'm not sure where that leaves my judgment and expectations, if I'm really keeping it all well sorted.  Also demand for source area factors in a lot along with some general, objective quality level:  a tea from a known, in-demand area can demand a higher price, and can be described positively just for matching a typical local character, while another tea that's also roughly as good from elsewhere could seem more modest just for differing in pedigree.  Demand is inconsistent.  And personal preference could shift what is most desirable; that's always a main part of the background context.

It softens a little over the next round, the third infusion.  A trace of smoke is still present but that has mostly completely faded, with fruit giving way more to dominant mineral now.  It's nice the way that the feel is wet but also structured, and the bitterness level balances well.  Intensity stands out, and pronounced aftertaste, and the way that bitterness transitions into sweetness.

More of the same on the next infusion, but the sweetness and fruit edge are changing.  It's odd that the fruit tone matches up with typical white tea aspect range better, but the rest of the character is definitely sheng.  The feel is full and rich enough, versus structured, that it leans a little towards how round and full oolongs come across.  They're just not typically paired with bitterness in flavor range, and the aftertaste typically takes a different form.  The dried apricot is lightening up and changing, moving into dried pear range.  It could be my imagination but a faint hint of spice seems to be evolving, along with some other vegetal range I'll try to describe further in following rounds.  It'll be interesting to see how Moychay describes this tea, both what it is and the aspects.

It's a gradual process but it's cool how this tea keeps changing a little every round; not all sheng does that.  Some of the standard markers for quality sheng definitely show up in this version:  overall intensity, mouth-watering feel that includes moderate astringency  / feel structure, well-balanced bitterness that transitions to sweetness in aftertaste, a pronounced aftertaste effect (although to be fair only moderate as those go), pronounced mineral flavor as a base, and a clean, complex, and pleasant flavor range.

It's interesting to also consider drawbacks, weaknesses.  It's not really that but some people could prefer a different style, for any given tea type or version.  This isn't really an "oolong pu'er," or very drinkable modern style version, so much so that the bitterness could pose a challenge for some, but if anything that aspect could be a bit moderate related to supporting a good 15 year transition to positive full-aged character.  What do I know about that though; working through those cause-and-effects is where I am now.  I typically see smoke flavor as an aspect as a flaw, probably mostly due to just not preferring it, but that did drop out after early rounds.

A half dozen infusions or so in this is the best this has been, falling into a really nice balance.  The intensity is definitely not diminishing but the bitterness has leveled off to balance well, and the smoke is gone, leaving behind mild fruit over a pronounced mineral flavor base.  Some of the supporting vegetal range people might interpret differently, maybe similar to green wood, but without the edgy level of astringency bite that might naturally pair with that type of flavor range.  To some extent that range has edged out some of the fruit.  I suppose a floral interpretation instead might work, better at this stage than in prior rounds, but maybe even then.

More of the same on the next round.  There's really something else about this that reminds me of white tea that I'm not communicating, even though a lot of the aspect range obviously doesn't.  That taste range does, the mild fruit, and the smooth "roundness" I described as being similar to oolong feel can overlap with how full and rich some versions of white teas come across.  Not most, but it can work out like that.  The brightness of this character is interesting; I could relate to someone interpreting a trace flavor aspect as being a bit lemony, at least in this round.

It's a good thing I'm not comparison tasting this with anything; it wouldn't be like anything else and it really does seem to take trying 10 or so rounds to tell the story of this tea, given how much it has transitioned.  All the same I'll just try one more and let it go; I have a limited attention span and things to do.

It seems the same as the last round anyway.  Intensity might finally be tapering off a little, the profile finally thinning.  This probably only has another half-dozen rounds to go, up towards 15 infusions for the cycle, but then I do tend to typically go heavy on proportion as a personal preference choice.


[Original notes version]:  All in all it seems a very pleasant, positive, novel tea.  Most of these character elements aren't that uncommon in any given sheng but as a set it is really different, and the way it all balances together is very positive.  I wouldn't be surprised if they're selling this as upper-mid-range cost tea, around $70-80 per standard cake size, given how positive a lot of the aspect range is, but then in some cases they seem to sell really good tea versions for moderate pricing.  It might well relate to demand for tea from this area, and tied to the style being a little atypical, as much as how good they see the tea as, only the quality level issue.

[Later thoughts]:  Related to pricing the last comment got it; this is a $36 cake, as priced right now.  Given that it's three year old tea (only pressed in 2018, but harvested in 2016) this must have started out as more bitter and really intense.  It's definitely not white tea; the "bai hao" would make sense as a reference to being high in bud content.  Kind of unrelated, I just bought a high bud content sheng version in China that's about as far from this in character as it could be, tasting a lot like mushroom.  I'm not sure what I expect from that, why that seemed like a good idea given my normal preferences in sheng character (for not tasting like mushroom), but at a minimum I can check on adjusting to different range, and see how it ages.

I don't know where this tea is going related to aging past this 3 years, and into the more fully aged range, given it's not what I'm used to at all.  At least it's really pleasant now.  It's not at all that one "drinkable when young" style, given that it's more intense and more bitter than those would tend to be after a few years of mellowing out.  This might be unusually good in another 8 or so years or it might fade; as I keep saying I'm still working that part out.  It could be like an aged white but better, since it didn't start with a character so inclined to fade, so flavorful and sweet but in a different sense mild.  It's probably a good candidate for drinking half of and forgetting about the rest, then either seeing that as a wise move for getting good value out of it before it faded later on, or kicking yourself for not buying a cake to stash if the transition turned out to be really positive.

nice to add random pics of her here again; a "fierce" look

the range of different smiles really gets me

with her brother and a cousin

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Pu'er storage background and research summary

First published by TChing in three parts, here here, and here.

I've relatively recently written a couple of articles on pu'er storage for Moychay, a Russian tea vendor, as part of helping them develop English language based content.  In general tea writing is just a hobby for me, not tied to any compensation, but this has been a limited exception, with the proceeds quickly converted into some extra sheng cakes.

Pu'er storage isn't the same kind of concern for me as for most others based on where I live, since the main concern in temperate climates is maintaining a window of relatively higher humidity in colder times of the year when it's drier indoors.  Bangkok stays quite warm and humid.  It's essentially similar to Malaysia's climate, which is regarded as very suitable for sheng aging.  Malaysian storage, and especially a consistently high level of humidity, can lead to teas picking up a slightly earthier flavor, in addition to transitioning relatively quickly, but with Bangkok experiencing some slightly drier seasons that particular characteristic flavor change may differ.

To keep this post short I'll only summarize the four prior posts I've written about pu'er storage.  The first two in my own blog were entirely research based, as part of initial investigation of the topic.  The third is a summary, posted to the Moychay site, an overview of what is conventionally expressed about storage conditions in online references and discussion.  The fourth cites blog sources covering that research input as citations.  It mentions two unique references, one on creating a home-made version of humidity control salt-packs, and a second about a series of controlled storage temperature experiments, isolating the same teas in two conditions over time to review outcome differences.

I've been drinking a considerable amount of both sheng and shu pu'er over the past two years, following four more or so of dabbling, but really that's a work-in-progress related to personal experience informing this subject.  That recent wave of purchases has included young sheng (not yet significantly aged), middle-aged versions (which would invoke some degree of varying results related to conditions and starting points), and more fully aged sheng versions, but not enough of those to separate out aging conditions and location as an input compared against other variables.

Onto summarizing those articles' scopes:

Pu'er storage and fermentation (posted September 2016):  a general topic review based on research, along with more focused consideration of an air contact / airflow related theme, the idea of sealing individual tea cakes in something like ziplock bags versus more conventionally not doing that.  This touched a little on optimum humidity range and managed conditions versus natural climate in better known storage areas (Hong Kong, Malaysia, etc.), but the next blog post goes further, with the last going more into opinions on setting controls.

Pu'er storage optimums, and relative versus absolute humidity (November 2017 post):  beyond exploring the same general themes a little more, and going further with citing natural climate condition summaries, this explores what relative humidity means, which helps explain why indoor levels are so low in cold seasons in temperate climates.  That part might be a bit academic for some.  Control conditions and charting related to my day-job background (data center operations and process auditing) help explain how the same concerns could apply to pu'er, and how much water the air can hold at different temperatures, defining relative humidity.  It's not difficult to look up climate stats for places like Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Kunming, and this covers that.

Hong Kong annual climate summaries

Pu'er storage environment basics (part 1 of 2 articles written for the Moychay vendor site):  the basics, informed by extensive background review for the second article, also grounded by the previous 2 + years of review and public discussion.  It's a complex subject, with some debate over finer points, but the basics aren't that complicated.  This article covers review of optimum humidity in controlled environments (the main concern), air contact / airflow issues, temperature, isolation from external scents (including separating sheng and shu), likely effect of too-dry storage over the short term, avoiding mold, and typical steps to control humidity.  Rather than accept my own summary of a good indoor storage solution control range it's better to hear what works from a number of people who have done their own long term experimentation, which the next article goes into.

Pu'er Storage Environment Part 2: References, Environment Maintenanceuse of supporting references enables taking the concerns a little further.  I've not ran across research content on pu'er storage in the form of academic material, because it's just not that kind of subject, more an isolated practical concern among a very narrow interest group.  To compensate for that subject specialist blog input was used here.  Sources vary in relation to how much personal experience each author and source drew on, with two cases based on experimental results instead (in duplicating commercial salt-pack control devices, and experimenting on temperature as an input to storage effect).

The subject of optimum level of controlled humidity was reviewed from most if not all sources.  One recurring theme is that it's not possible to look at weather-climate graphs and try to duplicate that in indoor storage environments, for different reasons.  This Yunnan Sourcing vendor take by Scott Wilson covers a range of background issues well about that, a reference I don't think I cite in any of the articles.  One point he made stuck with me, one that doesn't tend to come up in discussion much:  rather than trying to seal and closely control humidity in a very small storage space it might work for some to keep their living-space humidity comfortable for people, which could also work out for sheng fermentation purposes as well.  There would be limits to that approach working out, depending on local factors and specific goals and preferences, but taking on related points of view from informed sources definitely helps.

amazingly that's it, a functional salt pack (Tea Forum source)

It's problematic to summarize those citations and opinions as reaching one uniform consensus related to one limited point, since they really don't.  But as a general rule opinions on humidity control typically cited around 60% RH as a reasonable control level to support faster sheng fermentation over time, with 70% RH and above more prone to risk of mold of off flavors developing, and 50% RH and under reducing speed of fermentation.  The additional points on how air contact and temperature also affect fermentation and mold risk are critical.

The salt-pack humidity control replacement solution is particularly novel.  Combining specific proportions of sugar and salt (ordinary versions) results in a mixture that will both absorb and release humidity at a designed control level, the same function typically achieved through use of commercial products.  The controlled temperature and humidity experiments cited from the Late Steeps blog really represent some amazing work.

It all can't really answer specific questions like "are my natural home environment conditions suitable for sheng storage and aging" but the last two articles could serve as some well-grounded input.  One might naturally be concerned about the value and reliability of the referenced sources, a point addressed in the summary article, which describes those author's prior writing history and my take on their degree of experience.

global relative humidity in real time; not helpful, but cool (site credit)

As in my own case when other bloggers are basing opinions and ideas on very limited personal experience, and also on forwarding the ideas of others, it's helpful to get a feel for the form and extent of that actual experience.  Being widely regarded as a long-term subject specialist, as one writer cited is, makes for a more promising start, but even then multi-sourcing can help compensate for potentially outlying opinions stemming from unique preferences or personal understanding.  A risk comes with that too; hearing ideas that are actually wrong from multiple sources can make them seem very likely to be true, and potentially bad input along with the good can make the rounds in narrow-field pu'er discussions.

I'm still putting it all together myself, and these writings represent an in-progress attempt at topic reference summary.  This approach tries to explicitly identify and draw on other sources, which are grounded in different ways.  Such an approach could be much more mature and developed if based on even more extensive subject-expert referencing, which is possible, but people in such positions typically utilize that knowledge as a commercial resource, and share it sparingly.  In another decade current consensus views (typical takes) will probably evolve further, even without reviewers taking such summary steps.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

2011 Xiaguan FT sheng cake and 2007 Tulin T868 tuocha

One of the first concerns in a combined tasting is whether or not it makes any sense to try the two teas together.  Ideally they'll be very similar, or else it won't shed light on both, and just adds to the tasting workload, trying to do two unrelated things at once.  The dates on these initially seem to indicate that will be at least partly not the case; one is older, beyond them being from two different producers, and pressed into two different shapes.  Beyond comparison it's also partly about me trying more tea and getting writing done in a longer combined form, but I expect these will be similar in some ways.

I'll back up.  I've been purchasing a bit more tea lately (a bit more than not much at all, typically), because I wrote some tea website content for Moychay for limited compensation.  It wasn't enough income to change my lifestyle but enough to cover a few decent tea orders (so in a limited sense that did change my favorite hobby interest experience, and lifestyle).  Two articles on pu'er storage were a lot more interesting than the other standard reviews, it seemed to me, because review posts tend to just repeat, and subjective interpretations of teas vary too much to be a clear guide anyway.  If a reviewer's opinions are similar to your own that can help, but otherwise it's best to hear impressions from a half dozen different people instead and try to average that out. 

I've just submitted a post to TChing summarizing four articles I've written on pu'er storage, which will go up soon, but in the meantime I can mention one was a "basics" general summary drawn from different sources, and a citation summary reference from some good online sources, including one about making home-made moisture control packs and another on storage conditions side-by-side experiments.  Had I mentioned all that before here?

Usually I don't show the typical "haul" photos of what I've bought, beyond for not buying much to have anything to talk about, because that theme gets repetitive in tea groups.  It has a strange feel to it, as if it could be more about bragging than discussion.  Still, it works for both, and someone could intend that one-upmanship version of tone as context or they could not.  For people with more substantial expendable income for tea buys it could seem silly for other people to announce $150 orders of lower medium level quality teas, per their own set of preferences.  Some people are drinking from single tea cakes that cost more all the time.

that Chawang Shop order; modest range versions across types and ages, with this tea third from the bottom

I don't think I ever will experience my own expectations changing to the extent that I usually drink $1 / gram and up teas.  Related to sheng pu'er an interesting twist comes up right away in making and working around such sweeping generalizations:  hold onto a lot of versions for a decade and you then have a completely different market-value product on your hands.

About these, I've already tried this Tulin "Dali Nan Jian Xian" T868 version, having bought tuochas of it locally before, at my favorite Chinatown shop here, Jip Eu.  I can't make a comparison to a range of Xiaguan versions due to limited prior cake exposure but I am now exploring that range further.  I bought a Xiaguan tuoucha of closer to the same production time frame as the 2007 version which might've made more sense to try (looking at that list a 2010 Xiaguan Teji Tuo).  I'll get to that; I was just curious about this cake.

A lot of this trial process, for me, is seeing what aspects tend to change in what ways, and where the patterns lead.  I guess that was the thinking in adding a 2006 Fengquing tuocha version in that same set, checking out range and seeing what else to explore further.

Products background:

Here's a citation of that reference on the Nan Jian Tu Lin brand, along with details about an interesting Yunnan Sourcing related offering, just closer to this Xiaguan version in presentation, as an "iron cake" style bing instead:

Nan Jian Tu Lin tea factory has a long history of more than 30 years producing Pu-erh teas.  Their productions are often similiar to Xiaguan productions in their choice of raw materials, blending and processing techniques... 

It's hard to turn up a clear product description of exactly what this version is, although a "Puerh Junky" blog post tried to clarify that:

’07 “T868” Tulin. I got this back when I was in my Tulin tuo stage... I’ve not run across any Tulin that have the smokiness or minerality of XG. Dunno. To my mind there is more similarity with 6GTM productions, expressing bold floral notes with astringency and bitterness.

The T868 sits somewhere between the ’06 Yinhao and the T861, where the former expresses an unmistakable Fengqing/black tea character and the latter is a perfected creation with a more deciduous forest character, imho. The aftertaste in the T868 is long lasting with more incense and wood notes coming through with later infusions...

The idea of working through a preference curve definitely rings a bell.  That goes on to discuss aging inputs and speculate about how that version has retained liveliness due to being aged in dry conditions in Kunming, which definitely doesn't apply to what I have, which has been hanging out here in Bangkok for quite awhile:

As most of us know KM storage is slow, though there are differences from one facility to the next. The advantage to these conditions is that for spring material like the T868 nothing gets lost. The production is still lively, springy. Nothing is muffled or mottled. Age has tampened the more brash aspects of a young production while the moderately cool conditions have preserved all of the florality.

Onto considering the Xiaguan description, this time from the Chawang Shop description, from the source.  At 8 years along I'd initially expected this Xiaguan cake would be better yet in 4 more years or so, or at least 2 to complete just a bit more mellowing out, with some evolving into different range, but I'd lost track that it had some head start on that per the description.

2011 Xiaguan FT "Yun Mei Chun" Raw mini iron cake 125g

"FT(For Taiwan)" means this small iron cake was a special order of "Fei Tai" Company. Fei Tai Company is the biggest Xiaguan TF and Menghai TF pu-erh tea distributor in Taiwan. It is claimed that the customized products of Fei Tai company reaches a higher quality in Xiaguan TF. The high-level "FT" tea chose better raw materials. Iron cake is tightly compressed, so its qualitative transformation is slow. Definitely tea for longer-term store. High quality early spring large-leafs material from 2009 and 2010, and was used Cang Shan mountain spring water for the steaming process. This cake is not too smokey, typical for Xiaguan teas. The taste is strong and powerful, floral and sweet huigan.

It sounds good, like plenty of background to establish a context, and as if the tea should be pleasant. 

"Long term" can mean different things related to storage but as I take it in this case material being 9-10 years old is getting there, but probably not quite where it will be later. 

That ties back to the Puerh Junky's earlier input that "Kunming storage is slow," just cited.  I'm not necessarily in a hurry, and it would be a lot worse if this ended up tasting musty related to too-damp storage versus just not being as far along as it might be.  I've experienced some degree of mustiness fading again later, but given the context of trying to sort out aging transitions having a bit more change yet to go would be good.


Xiaguan version in a gaiwan

Tulin sheng; odd seeing a tuocha version separating more easily

Xiaguan 2011 FT "Yun Mei Chun" iron cake:  this is brewing a little lighter, in part related to it separating more as chunks, compressed a little tighter than the other tuocha.  That's a switch, related to typical compression levels for both shapes.  The Tulin "Dali Nan Jian Xian" tuocha version is well-compressed tea, but it separated out to be finer loose leaves.  I'll probably have to go with a short round for the tuocha next time to even things out, and adjust more from there.  At any rate this never was intended as a direct similar-type identical-conditions brewing session; they're going to have similarities but already differ based on initial background.

Even partly saturated the Xiaguan is interesting.  There's a faint hint of smoke, a decent level of bitterness (especially for being a light infusion), and an unusual oily feel to the tea, along with dark mineral content that is somewhere between petroleum and well-corroded metal.  Oddly that's all pleasant. 

Xiaguan left; lighter leaves and liquid on the first round

Tulin T868 "Dali Nan Jian Xian" tuocha:  this is brewed too strong.  Right at the time I was going to pour it my son asked if he could try using the gaiwan, the first time he ever had asked, and going through that experience was worth a lot more to me than getting this infusion right.  Of course he poured half of it and the water touched his finger, and he put it down.  I showed him how to do it the right way (or a way that works, at least), by holding his fingers and hand at a different angle, but the tea was already quite strong. 

Brewed for identical times it would've been stronger since these smaller loose leaves were going to brew without the same form of "opening up" the other would go through.  We really might do more of a tutorial and brew something he would like, since tasting some sheng yesterday didn't exactly click for him.  His mother is paranoid about caffeine input (although he drank Coke twice yesterday; apparently the caffeine in that somehow poses less of a risk), but there are a few tisanes around to practice with.

cheeky little aspiring tea drinkers

I already knew that I like the tea but the aspects and balance I like isn't evident in this round; it's way too strong related to it's own version of earthy aspects and mineral a little towards corroded metal.  Brewed correctly all that balances out and the mineral and earthy range supports some sweet, mild character, more like leather or aromatic wood.  I'll describe that more next round, as a fast infusion.

Second infusion

Xiaguan:  loads of smoke picked up in this round; so that's how this is going to be.  There was a time that I really didn't care for smoke in sheng but it helps drinking tea in which that aspects makes more sense than in rough-edged low-quality really young versions.  I wouldn't say this works really well; this tea does seem to need a few more years, or 5.  It's interesting though, and it might be nice drinking a tea like this from time to time, just moderating infusion strength way back to tone down how all that comes across.  I mean the smoke, plus the intense mineral and earthiness, not different than I mentioned last round but a lot stronger, even though the infusion time was much faster. 

All this matches one theme I keep going on about, a concern that younger sheng versions may not have enough intensity to transition newer / younger version aspect range into pleasant and interesting forms after a decade or longer of fermentation.  After 9 to 10 years this is definitely not going through any muted "teen years" transition, or if it is it was way off the drinkable scale for those first years.  For those flavors being in that range the effect still comes across as pleasantly clean, to me.  It would seem normal enough for a bit of mushroom or more types of wood to have joined in, but as it stands smoke and those other narrow ranges seem more pleasant than any muddled mix of all that.

Tulin:  oddly there is a trace of mushroom in this tea, which comes across as a touch of mustiness, like aged barnwood; interesting it worked out that way.  For someone really opposed to an aged sheng version tasting like mushroom it might throw off all the rest, and might not seem so moderate.  I guess I'm ok with it.  I wouldn't call it "clean" in flavor profile but the supporting mineral and sweetness makes it work.  This does seem really aged-out compared to the other, a lot softer, with heavier mineral tones or bitterness shifted in form, assuming those had been present. 

It was my earlier impression that I really liked this tea for not having been through so many examples of sheng aged to this level.  I have cake of a Hong Tai Chang 2006 sheng version, and I've bought a couple others sold as around that time period, and have tried a reasonable number of samples (including another HTC version from 2006), but it doesn't add up to a lot.  I've tried a lot more of another dozen general types of teas, and nearly as much well-aged oolong and white teas as sheng, if combining those two types together.

keeping it simple

Third infusion

Xiaguan:  a nice fast infusion time helps moderate that intensity but five seconds comes quickly; this might work well brewed for on the shorter side of that, or at a lower infusion proportion.  I stopped myself short of filling the gaiwans enough to pack out with wetted leaves but might have anticipated that intensity would be an issue for both of these.  Smoke gives way to a bit more of the dark mineral / corroded metal in this round, but the bitterness falls into a decent moderate level brewed quickly, with pleasant sweetness.  I like it.  Again it probably will soften and transition positively over a few more years (or 5), but instead of that being a disappointment it's kind of what I expected in this case. 

Maybe I really should have picked up a second, since it's only a 125 gram cake, smaller than the larger size Xiaguan tuocha I bought by half.  Then again that's what re-ordering is all about, picking up what worked best, and trying something new.

It's hard to communicate how this is "clean" in effect, given that I've said it tastes a little like petroleum and rusted metal, but it is, in a limited sense.  The sweetness seems to tie to a nice flavor range too, in with molasses-like warm and rich tones.  The feel isn't bad, although smoothening out a little would help, and the aftertaste trails off pleasant warm mineral and that molasses sweetness.

Tulin:  I hadn't been put off by any aged-effect funk in trying this before but in comparison with the Xiaguan it has some, that old-barn range I'd mentioned.  The rest is really nice, sweet and smooth, rich in flavor range, with a sappy feel that coats your mouth, towards how other astringency comes across but quite different in form.  Again that warm mineral really hangs around as a flavor aspect after you swallow the tea, with the feel not completely dissipating, lending both teas a pleasant overall impression of complexity.  If bitterness or the moderate astringency edge in the other version was an issue for someone this tea would be much better; it's much smoother, of course likely related to the age and probably some to storage conditions. 

Value is a main selling point for this tea.  I don't think I'll even mention what I paid for it, but in the range of what the other cost.  I don't like the idea that someone might read this and consider it a good option for jumping into holding some aged sheng, and buy out whatever the shop has.  On the positive side it's interesting, pleasant, and a good-value, and it's rare to even have options of this type when walking into shops.  On the negative side if someone could find older Xiaguan versions around online, like this other one, they still don't cost all that much and could be slightly better.  They're not that uncommon, but demand is high enough that pricing wouldn't necessarily have to be low, and options would keep selling out.

All this reminds me of one of those folk-wisdom sayings:  the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the second best time is right now.  I included some younger tuochas in this round of purchases, both to experience their transition over a longer cycle and to try whatever is left after it's ready.  That matches an earlier theme of trying a Dayi (Taetea) Jia Ji version from 2014, which had been improving quite a bit over the last couple of years, although maybe now it's a year or so since I've last tried it.  I do plan to get onto doing some middle-age tastings check-ins at some point.

Fourth infusion

Xiaguan left; still a bit lighter

Xiaguan:  this is falling into a much nicer balance.  That one heavy mineral towards earth range is still a little strong but I actually like that.  It almost comes across like the char effect in roasted Wuyi Yancha, or the one in scorched versions of Tie Guan Yin.  It's not exactly like those, but odd how close it falls in range.  When I keep saying this tea will be better later on I don't mean that it's not pleasant now.

Tulin:  the too-aged wood tone is lightening up, taking a step towards ordinary range cedar instead.  It's odd that I really don't remember that trace of musty aspect from earlier.  It stands out a lot more for the other common ground (warm earthy range, mild molasses-like sweetness, wood tones) serving as a common context, with the differences highlighted.  Tasting it alone the whole aspects and flavors set wouldn't be framed within that indexing effect.  It seems unlikely that the other tuocha was actually different (which I gave away to a local monk; those guys could be a bit challenged when it comes to access to tea shopping).  Surely two tuochas from the same set from the same shop are the same, including storage factors.

Fifth infusion

These will go through a later round transition cycle of some sort but the main story might be told by this round.  The Xiaguan sheng hasn't transitioned much, but the overall intensity has leveled off a little, so that it's easier to balance using normal infusion times.  The feel isn't really astringent but it has an unusual dry edge to it; that may have picked up a little, at least in relation to flavor intensity.  It still works.

The "Dali Nan Jian Xian" is the cleanest it has been; I can see why I might not have regarded that trace of mustiness as so problematic since it more or less drops out.  The main flavor is still wood along the line of aromatic cedar, like the strong smell you experience in a sauna, but brewed into a tea.  The sweetness makes it work, and it's nice how underlying warm mineral gives it a decent balance.  The feel doesn't have the same dryness and structure (fullness) the other tea has but to me that's as well; it's pretty far from feeling thin. 

Sixth infusion, a bit later

Sometimes it can help to take a break and come back to the teas, to get a fresh approach towards interpretation.  That touch of smoke in the Xiaguan, now transitioned more to a light char effect over a heavy mineral range, reminds me a lot of French roast coffee.  I'd like it better than French roast coffee, because I'm just not on that page now, and because it has lots of depth beyond what an over-roasted coffee version would.  Someone with a good imagination could really riff out a lot of descriptions for what's going on beyond that main range; it's a bit complex, and oddly clean in effect given that primary taste.  The aftertaste is so pronounced that it stands up to attempts to clear it by drinking sips of water, to taste the other version without that input.

The Tulin version is where I remember it now; much cleaner in flavor range, plenty intense for a tea that's halfway through an infusion cycle.  This is why I've been sneaking those tuochas into the house, and why it felt really unnatural sharing one with that monk.  One of the monks I was ordained with (a long story) mentioned liking sheng, which is why I made that exception, but I couldn't hand it over until I had a couple more.

Aspects descriptions don't really cover why I like this as much as I do.  It tastes more like cedar than anything else, and lots of so-so tea versions taste a good bit like cedar (not so often, but it comes up).  I don't like the mustiness or touch of mushroom that's still really faint in the background.  If I were to say it also tastes a little like spice or dried fruit, or the feel is catchy in a unique way, that would explain it (as an aftertaste description tends not to, for me; that just adds some depth). 

This Xiaguan version seems like better tea but I like the Tulin version more.  It's aged to a level of subtlety that works for me; I think that's it.  There's only so much shifting intensity or balance you can do by messing around with infusion strength.  It's not fair to leave it at that since the Xiaguan is a couple years younger, aged slower, and that smoke / char / French roast / heavy mineral range might well soften and turn into something pleasant and interesting, even in just two more years, stored here.


More or less what I expected, but the Xiaguan is better at this stage and age than I expected.

It was odd the Tulin version wasn't exactly as I remembered it but I think that trace of mustiness (starting out as mushroom, moving through old barn smell) over the first 3 or 4 rounds might've stood out a lot more in comparison.  Based on drinking this a few times before I think it has another 5 or 6 quite pleasant infusions to go, that it retains positive flavor and just thins in overall effect in the late cycle, so that there's almost no natural place to leave off, and it works to just keep brewing it longer.  It would seem really strange to simmer an inexpensive tea version to draw out a really late round but even that might work. 

I didn't really explicitly cover it in this review but both these teas seemed quite a good value.  Market forces set what teas are worth, where demand meets supply.  I've become accustomed to seeing nice descriptions and story lines pushing young sheng offering pricing to $70-90 per 357 gram cake level (20 cents a gram or so), and it's nice seeing pleasant aged versions in a different context selling for around half that.  Of course all of this is already just familiar ground to many, since these are standard sheng types.