Tuesday, July 30, 2019

2008 Yong Pin Hao Yiwu Zhen Shan sheng brick

a bit lazy to try to sort that text out, automatic translation or asking around

I think I have two interesting looking teas left from a Chawang Shop order to get to, this one and a 2012 Da Xue Shan cake.  And a Yunnan black tea I keep forgetting about; I often enough love those.

As a 2008 tea, 11 years old, it should be relatively far through an aging transition cycle.  I wouldn't be surprised if it seems a good bit younger for being in cooler and dryer Kunming storage, compared to spending time here in Bangkok.  We'll see.

I'll skip adding more intro, and the combined tasting themes that come up, but after this tasting and prior to final editing a second tasting came up that makes this something of a two-part review set.  I tried two 2011 sheng versions, one from Yiwu, the next day, and it was interesting comparing results.  I'll get to that in the next post though.

The Chawang Shop description will work for a more detailed description of what it is:

Yong Pin Hao adhere to the traditional process since its foundation in 1999. Each batch of manufactured according to traditional way - pure sun-dried materials, manual stone press, bamboo packaging, bamboo split strapping, classic design. 

Very good example of soft and never bitter Yiwu taste! Sun-dried materials come from surroundings of Luo Shui Dong village Yiwu area. Age of tea trees about 50 years. Clean and good storage in Kunming. 

Brewed tea have deep yellow color and sweetly floral aroma. Mellow, sweet and pleasant round in mouth.  

This goes a little beyond an intro but curious about storage background and aging I looked up their picture of that brick, and checked the date it was taken:  February 2012

credit the Chawang Shop product page

It kind of looks exactly the same, with that color preserved for the last 7 years.  The review covers why that was of interest.  Here's a version broken up in a gaiwan, from two days ago:

It's not easy to tell fermentation level from dry tea, since two month old versions can look grey or dark.  Onto how it brewed, with wet leaves more informative as appearance goes.


this first round, I think, dark for just getting started

The rinse ran a little longer than usual due to just not focusing, not beyond 20 seconds, but usually I keep those shorter.  The first infusion ended up a little dark looking for being on the standard timing side, just under 10 seconds.  Not necessarily in the same color range as well-aged sheng, not transitioning to even darker shades that are more towards reddish, but it is more gold than light yellow-gold.

The flavor is subtle.  Put another way, it's not intense; or yet another way, it doesn't taste like much.  I've ran into this issue with teas presented as higher quality aged Yiwu before.  Some have seemed faded away to me, versus flavorful and interesting.  I think part of this might relate to adjusting to a different range, that it's perhaps not as much a flaw in the tea character as it seems, instead just a type I'm not adjusted to.

In part it could relate to doing more with aged teas like those Xiaguan versions I've already tried from this order, teas that started out in a very different place.  I guess that could be like learning to appreciate mild flavored white teas.  That kind of went ok, after a number of versions, but then I still tend to shy away from intentionally drinking much silver needle.

There is no astringency, no bitterness, not a lot of sweetness, not all that much flavor in general.  It tastes a little like dry wood, or alternatively like fully cured hay.  Some very subtle floral range could fill that in, along the line of chrysanthemum.  This tea will probably evolve through transitions some but at this point I almost may as well be drinking chrysanthemum.

On the next round I let it go a bit over 10 seconds; for other versions of sheng this would be brewed on the intense side.  For shu I'd often let it run even longer but then I like those thick.

It's still woody, with mild floral backing that.  At least feel did pick up but it's a bit on the dry side.  Aftertaste ramped up just a little but the tea is subtle enough that a light taste of dry wood and light chrysanthemum carries over, which doesn't taste like much.  At least in comparison the older Yiwu I'd tried were slightly more intense, but this is typical of that more general problem, that to me they'd seemed to just fade away versus transitioning in positive and interesting ways.  If this doesn't change over the next few rounds it will be hard to appreciate.

It's too early to conclude that any sheng that starts out as sweet, soft, and floral that lacks significant bitterness and astringency doesn't have good aging potential, but what I've experienced seems to bear that out.  I didn't try this tea younger, of course; I'm extrapolating from a general theme I've experienced in other Yiwu versions.  Yiwu is a large area; of course there would be plenty of counterexamples with different character.  And I'm not even really claiming that generality is so simple, clear, and universal, just pointing out an obvious broad trend that seems to hold in some cases.

More of the same on the next infusion (subdued wood tone, light hay, subtle floral tones).  It's positive in the sense that there are no negative characteristics.  Someone could like very mild forms of sheng and might love this, but I would have trouble relating to that preference.  It's not mild exactly like a slightly roasted light oolong but closest to that.  It probably is closest to a slightly aged silver needle that went a bit subtle.

Will it age further, and swing back to tasting like more, the "awkward teen years" theme?  I'm a little skeptical, even though that does match up with a standard story-line in pu'er thinking.  If these tones warm though it could be more positive, even if it ends up tasting like less, being an incredibly subtle tea.

For a lot of types I see as not matching my main preference range they still work well as a breakfast tea, as something prepared quickly that supports being drank along with food.

It warms in character a little over the next infusion; that helps.  It's not yet into aged tea range but a light underlying mineral transitioned to a warmer version of mineral, and sweetness increased very slightly.  This is confirming my impression that even if this fades further over another 5 years or so age transition could help it reach a more positive balance for aspects that remain.  For drinking a relatively neutral form of sheng it's ok at this infusion's character; this is slightly positive.  Switch over some of that wood and neutral floral for light dried fruit in a number of years and I could appreciate this for being pleasant, if a bit extra subtle.

Feel is relatively light too (but not thin), and aftertaste experience; it's not just that it doesn't taste like much.  I'll let a round brew just over 20 seconds and see how that works out.  This reminds me of reading a review on the Chawang Shop page about this tea:

I'm, very contented with this YIwu Raw Puer Tea. The description is trustworthy. I enjoy its aroma and taste each time. By the way, I tried to brew the leaves up to ten minutes in boiling water. Its character remained, it didn't turn to be astringent.

And to think going past 20 seconds in an early round seemed kind of extreme to me.

On that next infusion the taste is still limited but it is interesting the way that background mineral and trace of very mild light vegetal tone (the wood) comes across differently.  It's tea blasphemy to even have thought it but this might work well as a blending tea, as a "mixer" to use as a base for another version.  I think it will redeem itself short of that extreme measure just by transitioning some in character over longer aging.  It might also work well in a tasting sequence, showing variations of how sheng can age.

The next round is slightly better too; maybe this will continue with marginal but positive changes in character over a few more rounds, before fading.  Those are good signs, teas producing many positive infusions that vary and even improve over rounds.  These are still minor differences (eg. wood-tone deepening to slightly more positive wood-tone), and it's not so different than it had been.

Since this always was intended as an aging transition investigation this still kind of works for that.  On that subject both the brewed leaf color and character implies it could've transitioned more for being an 11 year old tea.  This being as subtle as it is makes it harder to judge but the flavor profile hasn't seem to have converted over to warmer tones, with some of that wood related aspect common to typical versions that are 3-4 years old (or so; it all depends on lots of factors).

A friend who own Tea Mania, Peter Pocajt, just sent some samples to try and two sheng from 2011 helped pin down where this stands in relation to others (again only samples of one version--this doesn't tie back to broad claims or generalities).  I'll hold off on going into that here but it was interesting.

Second tasting notes:

I'll keep this short, but I tried the tea not so long after with a breakfast, just to get a second take.  I think I understated how pronounced the thickness in feel was, and expecting the flavor range to be subtle it came across a lot more positively.  The flavor range (towards hay and dry wood, with only a touch of floral tone and limited sweetness) didn't seems as much a gap as I first described.

I liked it, and I think I'll like it more aged further.

Background, comparison to other related teas

I've been exploring reviews of the same teas for these Chawang Shop versions via Steepster review, and it had been interesting trying to piece together aging changes through that input.  It didn't work, since you can't factor subjective impression and interpretation back out, but it was still interesting.  I tried the same with this tea, just with less success, since there is no review of this version there.

Tea DB (blog) did an interesting summary post on trying a number of different Yiwu sheng versions in a focused exploration some years back (in May of 2014).  Just to be clear on background that blog seems to have started about one year prior to that, so their perspective on teas may be different now due to gaining more exposure since.  James (Schergen) would do in-depth tea type or sheng origin themed explorations that enabled a lot of exposure to a type over a short period of time, so the perspective on placing individual versions in relations to the others was already fairly well grounded, just perhaps not so much where that landed related to years of prior exposure.  Both blog authors probably both drank tea for awhile prior to starting a blog but ramping up exploration in the context of doing reviews or research changes things.

The post mentions a bit of background on Yong Pin Hao:

Yong Pin Hao is a pu’erh operation that’s been producing tea since the early 2000s that tends to sell alot of Yiwu tea (I believe they are based somewhere in Mengla County). Their teas are sold by both Yunnan Sourcing and Cha Wang Shop. Guan Zi Zai is an operation ran by one of the Yong Pin Hao brothers, sourcing from similar areas. I included five Yong Pin Hao teas and two Guan Zi Zai’s in my Yunnan Sourcing order.

The table of what he tried during that exploration tells a lot of the rest of the story:

That still cuts off two entries on the table.  Later on James switched over to metric units, which works better for me, since it's awkward dividing out 28 grams per ounce to get to how he expresses it later, how I think of relative pricing.  Some interesting points from this:

-he covers several Yong Pin Hao producer versions, which vary a lot in cost and in his assessment of them.  I couldn't find any other review of this particular tea but did turn up a second of the overall favorite of James' in Death by Tea, of the 2002 Yong Pin Hao Zheng Shan version listed (which sold for 50 cents a gram back then, so presented as a higher quality tea).  Her review does mention an aging concern (related to the context of that tea being 12 years old then):

Thick, dark orange soup on the first steep which contrasts a bit from the reviews on Steepster I've read from recent months, which noted a honey yellow soup instead.

-some versions are older / aged (as with this 11 year old tea I just reviewed), but not many, since that would equate to a 2003 tea then.  He doesn't mention flavor or character fading much in that review, related to any versions or ages.

-almost every tea is regarded as at least "good;" even the "ok" teas are described positively in the text review section.  That could mean different things:  he likes Yiwu, decent teas were selected to try (probably part of it), or that he wasn't selective in terms of judging a tea as good, or critical related to all but one of them being at or above average.

-placing cost of this version:  even now this Chawang Shop tea is selling for $4.50 per ounce (16 cents a gram), so on the low side of per-weight amounts listed back in 2014, and unusually low for an aged version back then, never mind now.  A review description in that post of a recommended low-cost version probably fills in that and other background:

2007 Taochaju Yiwu ($5.45 per ounce in 2014, rated as good)

A nice tea, with basic sweetness and fullness in the flavor. A well-rounded tea, with a lasting sweetness. This isn’t anything amazing (it’s plantation tea) and dies off after 5-7 steeps, but is very solid bang for the buck. This would probably make a decent benchmark tea to compare with other plantation tea from the Yiwu area.

It makes sense, that good could still mean basic, and that the described character would be seen as positive.  Not mentioning aging input as a factor seems to make comparing these versions directly a bit odd, but just because it's not mentioned doesn't mean it wasn't factored in.  A 7 year old Yiwu should have tapered off related to original flavor profile, and should be in a less desirable range related to aging transition.

Prior to trying this version a second time I was less positive about it.  I expect flavor intensity might still be an issue when it transitions to be a more truly aged tea in several years, but the pleasant thickness and limited-scope flavor complexity is promising.  Of course I can't place it related to these other teas that I didn't try but for providing an inexpensive and positive experience of aged Yiwu it seems a good value.

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