Monday, July 15, 2019

2006 Kokang Myanmar Mei Hua sheng pu'er

I think the texture looks odd because it had to be ripped apart

I'm reviewing an aged Myanmar sheng; very interesting.

I looked up details of what this is on the order image capture; it's the third one down, from a list of the latest teas I bought from Chawang Shop two or three months ago:

As chance has it I just heard about this same Myanmar tea producer visiting for an expo here (sales convention), but it's the last day, and I already have plans.  We'll see how that goes, if I can change them [I did; it's brutal how far out there that event hall is but it was great meeting them].

That 2012 Daxueshan version stands out as one of the more interesting teas on that list, which I didn't try yet, and the 2008 Yiwu brick.  I'm not necessarily trying them in any order, just what seems natural next, or comes to mind.

This tea may well need a bit more age, in spite of being 13 years old now.  Myanmay sheng tends to be on the bitter side and that's the one comment that stands out related to Kokang produced teas (but the next parts of that story become clearer after meeting that producer and trying a 2018 version, which I just made review notes for).  This is a very compressed cake; that probably slowed the fermentation process, it experiencing limited air contact.

I'll start with a vendor description first:

This little cake come from border area with Myanmar from Kokang (果敢; pinyin: Guǒgǎn), area about 20km outside from China. Kokang county was part of China for long time and is famous for ancient tea gardens. Nowadays the is tea from this area sell to Chinese market as most border teas,

Stored since 2006 in Kokang and this year (2015) sold to Kunming tea seller. This cake will surprise you with the quality and taste. Nice floral aroma, full body and thick,floral sweet with fast huigan. 

This tea is powerful and give many nice infusions !

That's promising that it didn't spend all those years in Kunming; that has to be a good bit drier, and would've caused it to age slower.

It's odd not developing meeting the producer further here, at that expo.  They were really nice.  I probably should split out talking about that to more of a vendor profile post since these reviews run so long as it is.  They discussed their teas and their history for a half an hour, so it really could add up to a good bit of information.

the guy beside me is a 5th generation tea maker, or something along that line

Since the aging and compression issues come up throughout this tasting I'll add a picture from the vendor (Chawang Shop) from 2015 here for comparison:

It was actually still a bit green then, as a 9 year old stored sheng.  That color has darkened in the 4 years since but it was still aging slowly.


The first infusion is more pleasant than I expected; a bit smoky, with some bitterness still evident.  It's not really fully saturated, so it will take a couple more rounds for a more informed early take.  It has some warmth and sweetness, along with a good bit of mineral, so complex and distinctive that it's covering normal light rock range along with some metal.

The next infusion I went a bit long on, maybe just over 15 seconds, trying to strike a balance between overbrewing what is already wet and getting the rest to open.  I used two rinses with this to remove more of the tea dust, and I've broken form and am filtering the tea, but some dust still gets through.  It's hard separating out really compressed tea.  That could potentially throw off the brewing a little; being more careful to not include it initially might've helped.  Someone once mentioned their practice of setting aside finer dust and ground bits into a separate jar when sorting sheng, mixing the inputs, then drinking that prepared differently; an interesting idea.

This does seem like it's still in the middle of aging.  It's ok as it is, with some warmth and sweetness, somewhat approachable, with what must have been really intense original bitterness leveled off.

On this second round the first flavors list still stands, quite a bit of mineral, that warmth and sweetness, moderate bitterness.  Some extra thoughts on interpreting those:  warmth and earthiness might be towards tobacco (cigar or pipe; I'll refine that further), mineral has backed off metal a little already but the light rock is still strong, and smoke level is moderate.  It's definitely complex; there are surely other layers I'm not getting to yet.  The only issue seems to be that it hasn't made it to a fully aged character yet, that it seems to have some years to go for that.

Tobacco ramped way up on the next infusion; that's closer to cigar for sure.  The sweetness and complexity along those lines probably also relates to dried fruit, but the earthiness is blocking picking it up as clearly.  Switching over to shorter, lighter infusions should help with that.  Smoke might be fading a bit.  This bitterness level is moderate enough that it works, so seeing this as not quite ready doesn't relate to seeing that as overpowering.  It just seems like that sweetness could develop a bit, and the softer flavor range.  Describing it at a more optimum infusion strength (when now finally fully saturated) will help place that.

A five second infusion is better, more than intense enough; this would work doing flash infusions.  A flavor aspect similar to those Tulin tuochas I'd been drinking is present (reviewed here, along with a nice Xiaguan FT iron cake), a musty old wooden furniture range, which isn't as bad as it sounds.  Sweetness and bitterness levels are ok, and the feel isn't bad.  It has a good thickness to it, and overall intensity, and the aftertaste definitely packs a punch; it's quite intense along with the initial taste flavors coming across as such.  Astringency isn't problematic but the feel could still smooth out a bit more.  Tobacco range still takes over the main flavor, with that old furniture filling in, but beyond all that I think the sweetness does tie to a dried fruit, maybe date.

There's a lot going on with this experience, flavor-wise; it would be open to varying interpretations.  Seeing that tobacco as a wood tone might make sense, and others might not see the smoke as essentially completely faded at this point as I do, since a trace is still present.  It's relatively clean in effect; that musty old furniture edge is quite limited, and to an extent I like that, in proper proportion with the rest.  Feel and aftertaste are interesting in addition to the complex flavor.

Sweetness bumps again in the next round; the balance is even nicer.  I'm experiencing smoke as slightly heavier again; I'm not sure why that would keep varying.  With this tasting mostly like tobacco with a little smoke I guess this could work for smokers, or for people who always like the idea of cigars but could never get the experience to work out.  Of course I've smoked cigars before but I missed the part where it seemed like such a pleasant experience that I wanted to keep trying it.  On the subject of alternate flavor interpretations a bit of peat seems to come across too, filling in the part a Scotch-drinking cigar smoker might look for.  I like it, but I could relate to this not clicking for lots of people, including some aged sheng drinkers.

One nice aspect is that it keeps shifting a little each round, the balance of all those flavors.  The feel stays pretty thick and substantial, and the aftertaste hits hard, with the latter changing to some extent with the taste as experienced during drinking it.  The dried fruit part doesn't stand out more than the tobacco / smoke / peat but that sweetness and flavor seems to lend the rest a nice balance.  The aged furniture effect (think old mahogany with a touch of aromatic furniture polish oil) is nice for adding another trace of depth; also better for being so secondary.

I get the sense that this could brew relatively endless infusions using these fast rounds, at this relatively high tea proportion (normal for me, but still high).  It might make sense to brew this in one of those comically small clay pots, a 50-60 ml version that might produce half that or less in brewed liquid; 15 rounds of that would probably be enough tea, with a couple extra after for good measure.

It still changes a little round to round, now something like 8 infusions in, but this seems to tell the story of this tea already.  It's fine to drink right now; it doesn't need more aging in the sense that it's not ready.  I just get the sense that further transition could be positive, that some of that early bitterness and smoke throughout rounds could swap out for more complexity in other forms.  Buying two of these tiny cakes related to that expectation, that it might be interesting later on, and one wouldn't allow for trying it across long periods of time, that I could sample it once a year until it's much improved later on but then wouldn't have much left.

For people who know they are on this page already (from Xiaguan tuocha experience or the like) buying a 5 cake tong would make lots more sense; 5 of these times the $8 cost is still less than aged cakes of any kind.  A half a kilo is a good amount for moving past just trying it now and then, into actually drinking some.  For the right person, centered on that page for preference, buying only a half a kilo might have them kicking themselves a half dozen years later once this tea really hits its form.

so green for a 13 year old sheng version

Comparing different takes on the same tea version

A little more on alternative interpretations might be of interest, a subject I've been venturing into related to reading Steepster reviews.  That vendor description mostly described it as floral, and a vendor-site review comment said this:

The taste is powerful, still bitter and a little bit tart. Smoked prunes, raisins, dried fruits. Aroma is very sweet and pleasant.

Floral I kind of didn't get, but this tea might have changed character a good bit over the past 4 years (or I could've just missed it).  That attribution could work to fill in a lot of the sweeter-range complexity I was having trouble placing only as a fruit input, it just seemed non-distinct to me beyond all the rest.  Floral could even span some range; it could relate to warm, rich floral tone like rose and then also lighter, sweeter, brighter range like plumeria or lotus flower.  I routinely say I'm not familiar with flower smells but I do pick up a plumeria flower walking home once in awhile and smell it while I walk, to give to Kalani at home, and she and I checked the smell of lotus flowers about a week ago in a temple visit.  They're sweet, not completely unlike plumeria, just in a different range.

I like the description of this tea as powerful in the one take; some version of expressing that is necessary to describe it.  It may include some tartness (it does more when you think of it), and smoke and dried fruit works, but it's more centered on tobacco across a lot of infusion range, to me.

It is on Steepster; two reviews there were interesting, one for including comments from two people I've talked to about teas a reasonable amount.  The first review is also interesting for citing a blog review that relies mostly on a flavor-profile chart, the type the Gastrograph app outputs, also related to the work Teapasar was doing on profile charting, both described in this post.

That German-blog linked reference text is simple enough:  Strong astringent and floral.

The second review is by Jay in Hong Kong (JayinHK there, also listing his vending business):

This tea needs a lot more time to get to where it needs to go—lots of smoke. The material is promising. Lots of chopped leaf, but good flavor and aroma and strength, which I like. This is the kind of tea I like to age, but the extremely high compression mean I probably won’t want to drink this for another ten years, even with Hong Kong storage. When it IS ready, though, I expect it to be incredible!

It's been three years now since that post, so things might have changed a little, but I'd expect he would say the same type of things at this point.  It's probably more drinkable, and it seems smoke has probably faded quite a bit, but not there yet.  It's interesting how green this leaf is; you don't even need to taste it to get some impression that it's aging slowly, surely related to that tight compression.

I'll be back in touch about the much newer versions of sheng and shu I have from the expo meeting, and with more vendor background related to what the Kokang staff said there.  I just finished writing review notes for the 2018 sheng (the short version:  it's very nice!), so it's odd not including that, but this ran long enough already.

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