Wednesday, June 5, 2019

2016 Chawang Shop Bada, and on pu'er pricing trends

More exploring sheng range, a theme I'm more or less stuck on.  I do have review notes made up for a white tea and a black tea comparison; not only on that.  Due to ordering a number of Chawang Shop sheng pu'er versions I'll be going back to that more specific source range too, last in terms of tasting notes related to trying two 2019 Spring maocha versions.  Those were nice, fresh, bright, intense, and good quality tea, in two different styles.

This is different for being 2016, nearly 3 years old now, with more details as follows:

This year our "Bada" cake come from high mountain Manmai area. Early spring harvest from Manmai village and wild growing trees in age 30-40 years. Hand processed in Manmai village. 

Sweet and soft, with some slightly bitterness taste typical for Bada mountain, full in mouth, huigan is fast. 

This tea is in very good price/quality range and we recommend buy this tea for long term storage. 

For one main intention being exploring aging related transitions this isn't ideal, since I'll have missed the starting point.  It does cut the process back by that time though, to start in the beginning of the middle in some version cases to see the whole age range in a given year, versus buying a lot of 2018 teas and then waiting out the dozen or so years to experience it.  That 2011 Xiaguan FT cake was on the other side of that, getting closer to ready coming out the other side of middle age, but a few years away from that.

This might be a rare case where relatively dry storage helps, to slow aging transition so that this tea is closer to how it would've been originally compared to if stored in a more humid climate (here in Bangkok, for example).

I'll see.  None of this is "doing science" anyway, just checking out some teas, from different source areas, vendor sources, of different ages, etc.

A part at the end adds more background in comparing this with others' impressions, something I usually don't get around to, but in this case it ties to them passing on what they thought of it two years ago.


a couple of rounds in, almost opened up

The first infusion is already very nice, very pleasant and intense.  The flavor range is complex enough that describing it will take some unpacking but it's mostly floral, with a good bit of "warmer" depth, and complex sweetness that seems to relate to both honey and a taste like dried fruit.  A good amount of mineral range gives it balance, along with moderate bitterness.

Balance is really the first thing you notice, which is odd, the way it comes across as full across a broad range.  I'll say more about it next round but the way that warm, rich mineral relates to a dried fruit tone is interesting.  It's close to a rock character as mineral goes, leaning a little towards copper, with fruit like dried persimmon.  The feel is nice too; full and rich, coating the mouth well, not dry or structured but still stimulating, remaining on as a pronounced aftertaste.  All in all a very nice first impression.

I let the second infusion go for about 10 seconds to finish off wetting the leaves and the result is a bit more intense than would be optimum, to me.  It'll work to help evaluate the tea character, then I'll go back to a bit shorter round next time.  People really could prefer drinking sheng or any tea at different infusion strengths, and if someone liked the feel and aftertaste aspects most then maybe this strong would be ideal, to maximize those.  I tend to like the overall impression best, the way the different aspects come together as a complex experience.

The dense character and flavor experience is cool.  A bit lighter would emphasize balance, but this ramps up intensity.  As for flavors a similar list still works:  floral range, heavy mineral, dried fruit, vegetal range, even a trace of metal.  Bitterness comes into play more with this stronger, but still in a level that balances well, light as young sheng that would typically be this intense goes.  With mouthfeel this extreme it goes beyond coating the mouth into standing out as feel on the sides and rear more, and coating the tongue.  Aftertaste is really pronounced too.

The effect is much more pleasant as a relatively fast infusion, although it did still work brewed stronger.  The flavors fall into a catchy balance, coming across as sweeter and brighter.  The moderate warmth floral and richer dried persimmon extends to a brighter citrus-like aspect.  Some of that could be transition across infusions; the two changes would both factor in.  Again the balance, the way the levels tie together, make this seem like clearly a very nice tea and pleasant tea to experience.  There's a richness to it that talking about flavor, feel, and aftertaste doesn't really bring across.  I'm really feeling the effect too; I probably mention that as infrequently as any blog going on about sheng, since I tend to not notice it, and eat prior to tastings to offset the effect, but it's coming up with this version.  The effect is calming, but also heady and stony, and odd mix.

I'm assuming that the "bright" range only was preserved because it didn't experience the heat and humidity common between places like here in Bangkok,  or in Hong Kong or Malaysia.  Hong Kong is quite cool in comparison; there was no missing that on a recent visit there, or the two times I've been there previously.  Those aging experiments I mentioned in an article on pu'er storage (cited from this blog, Late Steeps) goes into all that from a unique perspective, that of testing results.

On the next infusion a touch more earthiness picks up, a trace of autumn forest floor, an interesting addition given the other range.  It's an extension of the warm mineral range, or seemingly tied to that, which had already extended from "rock" mineral to include a trace of metal.  This is really more what I would've expected, versus how bright those earlier rounds came across.  Of course the shift is gradual, since I'm only using light infusions, but it's changing a significant amount related to that as a factor. 

To some extent very limited changes in infusion strength seem to be changing the experienced character of this tea, more than is typical.  It's as well to vary infusion time to gain that extra dimension of variation and then dial results to a personal optimum.  I'm not talking about "brewing around" bitterness and astringency, which also comes up, but not so much as concerns for this version, instead about the tea seeming to change character across a few dimensions.

Brewing it quite fast bears that out; I may have let the last round go a few extra seconds, with this one back to being brighter, even with a little flavor in the lemon-citrus range.  The overall character isn't light though; it's intense, with a lot of warm mineral range, and other complexity, again with an unusually thick feel.  This is probably better tea than I generally run across, although other markers tend to indicate different attributes that people seek out (eg. even more pronounced aftertaste).

not darkening too much yet

I could see how this tea should have plenty of intensity to not just fade away over a much longer storage time.  It's not high in bitterness at this level (a consideration I've still not really placed well related to aging), but there is a moderate degree of that.  I'd expect that "slight bitterness" was more intense back in 2016.  I didn't mention sweetness in this post; that effect was a bit moderate, since it usually comes up.

That'll probably do it for main transitions, even though the tea is still plenty intense at this count (7 or 8 in?), and showing no signs of fading or losing positive range.


I tried this tea a second time with a lengthy breakfast, in part to compare a second impression to this review, and also just to drink the tea.  My impression for how the tea comes across didn't change but the main flavor aspect range seemed in between green wood and cured wood, which definitely doesn't stand out in that prior description, which only acknowledges that there is some vegetal range present. 

Depending on how one interprets all that it could've been seen as a base or context with some of the rest higher notes, but all the same to me it tasted quite a bit like that, so it really should've been covered in more depth.  I think part of it is that I tend to brew tea more carefully when I review it, and just let the timing run instead when I'm not making notes, often brewing it for longer infusions for not focusing as much, especially if rushed.  Using lighter infusions probably seems more optimum to me because it draws out a different flavor range; lighter and more subtle aspects can come across, where if you just let it sit for 20-25 seconds due to messing around more intense vegetal range, mineral, and bitterness can build up.

All the same it's clearly really nice tea.  I tend to mean different things by that, but in this case I mean that it seems better than a lot of versions I say that about, more on par with tea sold (priced) as really nice tea, much more expensive versions.

It would've been interesting to experience it when younger to see how it changed to where it stands now, but it's as likely that I'd like this version as much or more than when younger.  It's quite intense, and bitterness balances well, and ramping up both when younger (along with gaining some high notes and fresher character) might have been a bit much.  It's easy to dial intensity up or down with proportion and timing but the final balance that's possible changes year to year, and not all sheng is approachable or optimum right away.

Looking back at older Steepster reviews, and about sheng pricing

I checked on Steepster reviews that relate to this, although really those would vary at least as much by reviewer as per yearly aging transition.  That did also turn up reviews of a different 2016 Laoyu Bada version, (listed here), which costs a good bit less for being a 400 gram cake listed at $32 versus a 200 gram version for $24 (what I bought and am reviewing, but it was only $20 back then).  It probably was the listing mention of smoke that put me off that, since that's not a favorite flavor aspect range, and that didn't exactly click for most in those Steepster reviews, which of course are all from a couple of years ago. 

I'll cite a couple of Steepster reviews related to this version, mostly to "look back" to see how it changed (sort of):

Liquid Proust (Andrew), 2 years ago:  

Pretty deep taste to it that comes with a little dryness on the back. The leaf when wet has a great aroma that is strong and the liquid comes out with a small amount of viscosity that would be above normal... The huigan does come through quite nice on this tea as well with the slightest hint of lingering smoke.

...I really think it has great potential to be humid stored for 3 plus years before it gains some ‘legs’ and I really think that it’ll improve as the slight smoke goes away but the boldness of this tea sticks. For the price, it’s a good throw in the back of some area type of buy.

That smoke is definitely all but completely gone, since I didn't notice it at all.

Rich (2 years ago): was very good. Possibly the best of the [Chawang Shop] bunch I’ve tried so far. It’s got some good huigan, a slight bite of bitterness, a bit of fruit, and energizing qi. So after I tried this, I looked it up on the website, and despite it being one of my favorites so far, it is only $20 for a 200g cake. That’s a steal!

I probably would have more reservations about mentioning how good a value this tea is if more people read this blog.

It ties into something I've been considering a lot lately, pu'er pricing changes.  It really deserves its own post given how complex that theme is, but it's something that the Tea DB just spent a lot of time reviewing (summarized here, in a video post).  Mattcha's blog has also been exploring this theme (most recently here, along with mentioning this Bada version while reviewing another Chawang Shop sheng). 

Citing a comment by Scott of Yunnan Sourcing on that Tea DB post works as a summary of the theme:

...2019 prices are up 20% or more compared to last year's mao cha (only 10% if adjusting for stronger USD this year vs last year).  I increased prices on past year's spring teas between 15-17.5% on March 15th 2019 and apparently that was not enough...

It could be clearer if that meant that the 2018 Impression should have cost 15-17.5% more than the 2017 Impression version, or if the 2017 version pricing increase for sale this year was that (except that it's sold out, so not a great example).  At any rate the trends and the concern are clear enough; maocha (tea source) pricing is increasing, cake prices are increasing, and stored past-year cake prices are being marked up, perhaps all around the range of 15% per year, rising much faster than the rate of inflation.  The Tea DB text post (versus that cited video) lists more on the trend.

General tea quality level is probably also improving too, through Yunnan Sourcing and some other main Western facing vendors (they keep adding to higher end range more than lower), so it's not as simple as just relating to inflation, rising tea prices, storage costs, and the like.  I'm definitely not claiming that profit-taking due to higher demand is out of hand, or anything like that.  But then I'm not claiming anything specific at all here, or ruling that out, just citing what came up in discussion in two other blogs.  This directly relates to this tea costing $24 instead of $20 after two years (so a moderate increase, just shy of 10% / year). 

At some point I'll probably add more thoughts on all that.

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