Tuesday, October 29, 2019

On roasting sheng pu'er, and tea culture confirmation bias

A friend who has been visiting from Germany recently, Ralph, author of the new Daily Tealegraph blog, discussed the theme of roasting teas with me.  It came up in relation to him trying some moderate quality oolong.

this actually looks pretty cool (details and photo credit)

Ordinarily rolled oolong would be ideal for messing around with roasting, to see how that changes aspects, or to improve it related to a flaw.  It would work with any oolong (or other tea types, I guess) but I've barely considered it since I don't tend to buy teas that require adjustment in any way.  Oddly I'm partly through an exception now, a very inexpensive light Tie Guan Yin I bought in Shenzhen on that visit there, which is so-so, and I have considered that step.  I've only tried roasting an oolong once before, that I remember, and results were relatively positive.  I just don't usually keep inexpensive oolong around to mess with.

meeting at Jip Eu; I did like the higher grade of those basic oolongs

those less expensive packs convert to around $3

All of this is headed somewhere, so I'll get on with it.  We also talked about roasting green teas, or even pu'er.  I've heard of re-frying Longjing to freshen up the character, I've just not tried that myself.  Roasting pu'er is something else; that leads onto the theme I wanted to get to.

I first saw mention of it related to Don Mei of Mei Leaf selling a version.  It's unconventional.  After some discussion it came up that the practice is not unheard of in China, just not common practice (per a single claim that wasn't completely verified, to be clear).  I didn't turn up that discussion I'm remembering, but this one works as an example of people questioning if that's a good idea, and what would become of the micro-fauna (bacteria and fungus) that allows sheng pu'er to age transition / ferment.

That Mei Leaf version will work as a starting point for that starting point, with a video reference here, and their website description including this:

Psychic Stream Seeker:  Lao Man E 500 Year Old Gushu Raw Spring 2017

This is made from Gushu Lao Man E tea trees aged between 400-500 years old and house roasted by Mei Leaf in London.

Lao Man E is well known amongst PuErh lovers as an area producing potent tea with nuanced fruits and sweetness fighting their way through layers of bitterness... 

Many people find Lao Man E PuErh to be crude and overwhelmingly bitter to begin with but Love and Hate are two sides of the same coin and there is something about Lao Man E that keeps you tasting until it captures your enthusiasm. Lao Man E has shifting flavours and complex subtleties that you often have to discover through later infusions - after the bitterness is manageable...

For many, the best way to temper Lao Man E is to age it for several years or longer. This will calm some of the bitterness but the tea will lose some of its youthful fragrances...  After all it works for Oolongs...

...This PuErh has all the punch and strength of the original, raw Lao Man E, but the bitters are rounded and shortened to allow a crescendo of woodsy fruits and starchy sweetness to fill the mouth. The roasting has added a depth of colour and caramel warmth similar to a roasted Oolong. It has tempered the rushiness of young PuErh to leave you feeling high without any jitteriness...

I'll be frank:  I might have seemed a little hard on Mei Leaf in some online comments because their teas seem overpriced to me.  Quite decent, based on what I've tried, but probably exaggerated in description framing, and just not sold at standard internet outlet prices.

Physical shops tend to charge more for teas, often in the range of 30-50% more, which to me is reasonable, since they need to cover location rent and staffing costs.  I'm happy to pay a little more in a shop, to support them, especially since that adds extra valuable services for customers.  Mei Leaf seems to primarily be an online shop outlet that retains physical shop pricing, which isn't completely fair. 

It's up to them to decide what to charge, so "fair" isn't part of it, but at some point it moves from an arbitrary marketing decision to mis-representing the quality level, which is a main input related to a likely market rate for a tea.  If you sell an oolong at 50 cents a gram that amounts to an implied claim that it's relatively high quality, unless it's Dan Cong, and then that might just be normal for decent versions.  If a vendor sells the same kind of Tie Guan Yin that routinely sells for $12-15 per 50 grams for $25 instead it would be a bit misleading, especially with marketing content filled with superlatives describing the tea (even if that reads about the same as the conventional priced version descriptions--there's another odd part).

Mei Leaf provides great online video content for people new to tea; it would be fair to interpret that as a value addition.  This isn't going to be about all that, so I'll move on, after mentioning how price stacks up in this case.

That tea had been selling for $76 / 100 grams.  Gushu pu'er from an in-demand area, what it was sold as, often sells for the range of $1 / gram, so if anything it's a lower than average selling point.  Is it from 400-500 year old trees, or even from Lao Man E area?  Who knows.  Tea plant age claims are the main point of contention in discussion circles, and there is a conventional understanding that it's impossible to accurately date tree ages over 100 years old, and that most claims about such things wouldn't be accurate.  Personally I doubt it's even gushu, 100+ year old plant sourced tea, or from anywhere near Lao Man E village, but who knows.

I wanted to move on here to the idea that when word of this came out the discussion consensus was that it made no sense at all, to roast sheng pu'er.  Of course the degree to which it does really relates to the results.  Is it pleasant?  Is it anywhere near the level of appeal in relation to other options of a similar type and expense level?  Novelty can be nice in tea, and this type and preparation just doesn't come up.

In the one discussion it later emerged that it's not unheard of in China, just not all that conventional there either, and that changes things a little.  If a Western vendor decides to apply a processing step or advocate a brewing approach that seems to make no sense that's looked at negatively.  If they instead adopt an uncommon Chinese practice reserving judgment is a more natural initial starting point.

If you Google "roasted pu'er" (looking for a discussion of the topic, or other reference) the first entry that comes up on my results relates to the exception for a main pu'er-related type from Yunnan that is roasted, a Yunnan Sourcing bamboo pu'er.  I just tried falap for the first time, what I take to be a relatively identical Assam (Indian) variation of this same tea.  That was great, kind of in between conventional hei cha range and how sheng normally is, not bitter or astringent, or even smoky, which I expected.

This is Scott's description of the version I just mentioned a link for:

First flush of spring Dehong area tea is gradually steam softened and tamped down into bamboo sections in fire pits.  This aromatic bamboo is unique to Mangshi area of Dehong and must be harvested in August.  Small fire pits are dug in the village ground and are stoked with bamboo charcoal.  The bamboo sections are placed closed end down into the fire pits, as the bamboo heats up the aromatic water vapor in the bamboo sections is released as steam.  The sun-dried mao cha is gradually pushed into the hot steaming section of bamboo, and tamped down as it becomes softened by the steam.  

Once the bamboo sections are filled with tea the sections are allow to roast in the fire a while longer before being removed to a kind of oven room where they are allowed to dry for 2 or 3 days.  The charred bamboo sections are then removed and will be processed into bamboo charcoal for further use.The tea itself is subtly aromatic with floral tones.  The tea brews easily and isn't too fussy.  The tea liquor is golden yellow and transparent.  With aging this tea will develop orchid aromas with a hint of sugarcane.

falap cross section, the one that I tried

Of course applying a typical roasting process to a Lao Man E conventional sheng is something else altogether.  It's still interesting to consider, to what extent there might possibly be any overlap.

Acceptance related to a separate case

Moving on a little, maybe it's only my own way of organizing ideas, but I connect the acceptance of what goes by the name "Grandpa style" brewing with the original Chinese origin too.  The results for that can be fine; it works.  But it's my impression that if the approach didn't have the same credentials it would be completely rejected in Western circles, but as things stand it's not.

To back up and explain, that's the practice of just putting some leaves in a tumbler or jar with hot water, drinking it while still mixed, then re-adding hot water, maybe a few times.  It's a counter-intuitive approach because it doesn't control infusion time at all, so it's the exact opposite of both the standard Western and Gong Fu approaches in that one regard.

It's my understanding that the author of The Tea Addict's Journal popularized this in Western tea enthusiast circles, but it really is how many people in China make tea, maybe most of them.  That term "popularizer" can be a bit of an insult, in some uses, but it's way too long a story to get into what I mean, about bringing down ideas or theory from academic sources to the masses, in simpler form.  He didn't do that, he just mentioned a normal way to brew tea in China.

grandpa style brewing in a tea bottle, and child eating ice cream

Versus a standard meaning of confirmation bias

This isn't exactly an example of confirmation bias, of selecting what information you accept based on a predisposed understanding.  It's a source-type bias that accepts things much more from within a foreign culture instead.  Applied the right way that actually makes sense; Chinese people have been brewing tea for a long time, and it's worth at least considering their preferences.  If they fry their green tea, re-roast an oolong, or even roast a sheng pu'er then why not try it and see if they're onto something. 

The part about automatically rejecting Mei Leaf doing it works better as a match for the acceptance / rejection basis.  Their standard customers might think it sounds great because they've embraced other novel products and story lines from them with positive results.  Rejecting them roasting sheng falls under this scope too; it confirms what some other people already "know," that they are an opportunistic vendor who seeks to promote and sell any number of products or make any claims to turn a profit, if possible playing on customer ignorance, regardless of how positive final results are.  Even though they contradict to some extent both perspectives about Mei Leaf might be accurate.

Of course the main drawback related to sheng roasting is that the tea version probably should never age the same again.  That's not to say it couldn't still age-transition / ferment positively, it just seems less likely.  Good-case fermentation results occur based on carefully prepared versions exhibiting a standard range of initial compounds that are favorable to this transition, along with exposure to bacteria and fungus responsible for fermentation, and storage within an environment conducive to that biome thriving.

Anyone could roast some sheng and wait a decade to find out how that goes, testing out only roasting some and leaving the rest as it was, but short of trying that the most likely outcome would be anyone's guess.  If someone bought one 100 gram cake (as this was sold) it seems unlikely they would plan to set that aside for a few years to see how it changes; that's a good amount to drink over a relatively short period of time.  Nothing would stop someone from buying two cakes, one to save, that would just be a relatively expensive experiment, given the indeterminate nature of any expectations.

I haven't yet mentioned if I think this would work, that you could adjust the bitterness in a version of sheng by roasting with the same effectiveness and positive results of using aging for the same purpose.  I really don't know.  I'm familiar with how oolongs transition when roasted, but there wouldn't necessarily be a close parallel.  Oolongs aren't bitter and astringent in the same way young sheng are; partial oxidation changes the character, with the raw tea leaves starting out different anyway, made from different types of plants.

Ralph should check on all this for the good of the tea community.  I could toss some sheng in the oven myself but it seems disrespectful to the tea, even for inexpensive, moderate quality versions.  I rarely even write opinion posts here lately, never mind experimenting with something like that, or a water type tasting, something I've been meaning to get to for a couple of years.  Once I get through the next dozen or so reviews I'll be caught up, and maybe then I'll get to it.  But then I always think that, and then I come by more tea.

A separate non tea related case, beyond confirmation bias

That tendency to embrace all practices related to tea from China, but not so much from other sources, wasn't exactly confirmation bias, more another form of carrying over expectations.  I've ran across an interesting example of this recently I'll only touch on here.  One might think it's odd that people could embrace Trump as a wacky, abrasive, off-the-cuff reality TV show star, then also as a US President, but I don't mean that.

Online discussion brought up an odd sub-culture case of Roosh V, a celebrity of sorts, and advocate sex tourism / hook-up culture.  It's a little like the incel or mens-rights themes; shocking that it even exists in the forms those do, when first exposed to them.  That part was interesting, but a twist all the more so:  at one point that founder (Roosh) dropped those practices and converted to a conservative form of Christianity.  And he didn't lose all of his following for doing so.  It was interesting for me to check out his perspective in national speaking tour related travel videos, and I wrote about his take that America is in decline in a post on a work-space blog, which is supposed to be about Buddhism.  The short version:  I think the US is just in a time of transition, and the social-perspective issues will moderate, although I am concerned about the long term health of the economy.

Roosh V; maybe the beard ties to a monk-themed appearance?

Back to the point, how could that be, that promoting opposing views could draw following from the same people?  How could there be overlap in treating women like objects in that way, developing strategies and practices related to having sex with strangers, without forming any relationship, and the moral values of conservative, traditional Christianity?  I'd be guessing to speculate about that, but it seems there isn't as much of a contradiction in these perspectives as there first seems.  Gauging online following is difficult, relating to judging level of acceptance.  His videos level off at around 11,000 views.  Is that a lot?  By tea blogging standards, sure, but compared to podcasts or travel blogs not at all.

One might wonder, how does this relate to tea?  It doesn't, but the underlying theme seems to connect.

It seems like people start with conclusions a lot more often than they probably think they do, and then work back to why they arrived at them in the first place.  They already liked and followed Roosh, so any change he proposed, including completely rejecting the basis for the community he founded, could somehow be acceptable, even appealing.  No pu'er enthusiast is going to be quick to embrace roasted versions that tea type, but if someone followed and related to Mei Leaf teas they may well be open to trying something they would never consider otherwise, even at the commitment level of paying $76 per 100 grams.

Other examples would keep coming up.  Tea enthusiast purists uniformly reject flavored teas (not all of them, but it's as universal a running theme as any other), but due to them being part of a Chinese tradition shu pu'er stuffed tangerines / oranges are well accepted as an interesting novelty.  Outside of that context, if a Western vendor decided they wanted to stuff a dried fruit peel and store tea in it, that appeal would be much more limited.  Not to say it couldn't "fly;" using whisky or rum barrels to store and flavor tea seemed to have its moment not so long ago, and I'm not familiar with there having been a traditional basis for that.

sometimes they look strange, sometimes really strange

Bug-poop tea and civet coffee seem like related examples.  Drinking a brewed beverage made from animal feces sounds about as unappealing as anything one might dream up, but these being traditional practices at least opens people up to trying them out.  Just not me; once an animal or human digests something I've lost interest in repeating that process.

Sometimes starting point issues could go either way; people might be open to accepting or rejecting sources, practices, or products in relation to how appealing the theme is to them, to prior bias.  I wrote about possible tea cults not so long ago, citing Global Tea Hut as the most likely example of one.  In a case that like it would either elevate or reduce the appeal of their teas, even though the tea itself would have to be relatively separate from the religious-practices themes.  It's either good tea or it's not. 

to me sub-cultures varying is a good thing; how could it not be?

Reading a discussion of them as a source recently in a Tea Forum thread reminded me of this connection.  There is no consensus there, not even enough input to frame competing views, just one relatively positive and one negative take.  I wouldn't be surprised if judgment of the tea often corresponded to acceptance of their sub-cultural / religious theme, even though comments there explicitly made that separation.  The right person could completely ignore the context a tea was presented in (related to source, not consumed in; I don't mean atmosphere as a real factor), but it would seem more common for that to play a significant role.

All of this isn't headed for a tidy conclusion; that last idea is about as close as it comes to that.  It was interesting to me the way the ideas seemed to link, to some extent, beyond roasting sheng pu'er seeming interesting and a little strange.  Preconceptions are a funny thing.

Monday, October 28, 2019

2006 Li Ming "Zao Chun Yin Hao" and Xiaguan "Ba Jiao He Qi Zi"

Really interesting looking teas this time, samples provided by John of King Tea Mall, in a set of three oriented towards exploring storage conditions (so one still to go).  Interpreting that input together along with origin and other type differences could be a challenge. 

Rather than saying much about these I'll include some relatively long product descriptions (from John) that focus quite a bit on the storage background.  Tasting completely identical teas would make it possible to isolate that factor, or even teas that are very similar, but I'll just do what I can with that part, since these aren't supposed to be that.

2006 Li Ming "Zao Chun Yin Hao" (Earl Spring Silver Hairs) 200g Raw / Sheng Pu'er 

Guangzhou natural storage.  This tea hasn't been stored in a professional warehouse where the humidity and temperature were well controlled but affected by natural weather conditions.  In Guangzhou, on average the humidity is around 77% and temperature is around 20-28 C.  Under these conditions the tea ages fast but is affected by seasonal weather.  During natural storage the ea conditions are near a medium level.

2006 Xiaguan "Ba Jiao He Qi Zi Bing" 357 g sheng pu'er

Guangzhou wet storage.  On this individual tea conditions are near traditional Hong Kong storage.  It is welcomed by certain old tea lovers who appreciate this aged and some earthy like taste.  More mellowness and much less irritation than young puer raw tea.  But to younger and new generations, this tea is not appreciated.  During wet storage, this tea condition is near medium level but a little better.

I've tried teas stored under different conditions, so that input isn't completely unfamiliar.  An interesting tasting of teas from one village area in Yiwu two years ago brought up some of those variations, and experiences since have built on that exposure.  "Separated at birth" cases would make it all a lot clearer, comparison of only factor, but to some extent this should work. 

Some readers might really want to question further what traditional Hong Kong storage is, pinning down control aspects and range stats, and isolate if the uniformity of that as a set of conditions holds, or if that linkage to conditions in this case is accurate.  I'll just move on here instead.


Li Ming left; Xiaguan brews darker

2006 Li Ming "Zao Chun Yin Hao:"  I am picking up a lot of fermentation related transition in this tea; it's pretty far along.  This level, based on 13 years, seemingly isn't completely transitioned, it will keep aging, but it's getting into the fully aged range.  Aging related flavor like slate and dry basement smell come across, but I expect some of that will change a good bit over the first two rounds, and it's not negative in this.  It's not musty.  Earthy flavor range stands out in the rest, forest floor, dark wood, leaning a little towards aromatic spice (frankincense and myrrh, not that I can separate those).  Interpreting that as cigar tobacco instead would seem natural, even with a faint trace of dried mushroom.

It'll be interesting to see what the character is really like after another infusion.  It's hard to be clear on how all that tastes relatively clean, given the flavor description I just passed on, but it does.  Mustiness often pairs with aged range, in varying forms and levels, and there isn't much of that in this, even though the flavors have shifted to a warm, earthy place.

 2006 Xiaguan "Ba Jiao He Qi Zi Bing:"  this seems like the next level of increased fermentation and wetter storage effect, a continuation in the same direction.  A good bit of beet or potato skin flavor comes across, geosmin, in the range of that mineral smell in potting soil.  It's complex:  there's an interesting sweetness that goes along with that, and it's not really musty either, although closer to what people might interpret as that.

Again I expect this to be a good bit different on the second of two more fast infusions.  Intensity in these is pretty notable, even based on using a moderate infusion strength (towards 10 seconds, not exactly short); it will work to use fast steeps.

It's interesting the way that geosmin hits your palate pretty hard initially in the flavor experience and then sweeter, other complex flavor lingers on as an aftertaste.  It still relates to how raw potato skin tastes but there's more to it, and again it's not really musty.  Some of this range does relate to a damp basement effect but the mustier part of that doesn't come across.  So dry basement, I guess.

The contrast in these teas is interesting, not just the storage effect, of course, but also in the way it all comes together.  The first seems a lot lighter and milder, surely partly related to both starting point and conditions inputs.  It would be easy to miss that intensity or misinterpret the differences in character beyond transition degree and type, if tasting these over a couple weeks apart, to remember them as more similar than they actually are, since there is some character overlap.

Second infusion:

Color difference really stands out again, even though both were only brewed for around 5 seconds.  It would be possible to rush that, to drop it to closer to 3, but it takes time to add and remove the water.

Li Ming "Zao Chun Yin Hao:"  to me the overall effect of this is quite pleasant, the way it balances.  It might have one more infusion to get into the main range it will transition across but it's nice like this.  It's interesting how it's really intense, but also subtle in a different sense, earthy but also clean and on the sweet and mild side.

The same general character and flavor list really applies:  very moderate earthiness at the level of geosmin, closer to old tree bark than potato skin, beet, or dirt, other flavor range towards cigar tobacco, extending into aromatic spice range.  It's not so far off dried fruit, but not a typical, familiar, light form of that, not like dried mango or apple, more towards Chinese date (jujube).  I suppose it works to think of that as near Middle Eastern date but shifted towards a medicinal range just a little, or towards the smell of ginseng root.

Xiaguan "Ba Jiao He Qi Zi:"  that geosmin packs a punch; not everyone would love this.  Oddly it's not nearly as musty as one would expect, with that being as dominant a flavor aspect as it is.  It's hard to describe how it's really also clean in an unusual sense, how it really could be quite musty in a way that would match that range, but it's not.  A touch of dried wild mushroom does join the more primary flavors, and in different types and levels I really don't care for that in aged sheng versions, but it works as minor input in this.

Beyond that there is lots of other range, it's just also warm, rich, and deep (just clean).  There's an aged furniture quality to it, the way that old versions of dark wood combined with very old aromatic oils used to preserve such things comes across.  Another part is a little medicinal in a way that's hard to describe.  It seems a little sweeter than the other tea, and definitely more intense.  It doesn't really work to try this tea and then switch to the other, because it seems muted.  Tasting it the other way, with the other first, both seem intense and complex, just with this version more so.

Third infusion:

Li Ming:  this is nice, even cleaner.  It definitely wouldn't come across as a subtle version but it is dialed down related to the other.  A specific warm mineral aspect is increasing, or maybe a complex set of related or seemingly associated flavors is picking up.  It includes the mineral one can smell from a natural well, a mix of whatever had been in the rocks below extracted and concentrated at the surface at an outflow.  Cigar tobacco is still present but aged tree bark is picking up more intensity, covering more of a proportion.

It goes without saying but there is absolutely no working back to what these might have been like very early on in their production and aging; they're quite age-transitioned now.  I do wonder about that.  Given how intense both are they may not have been sweet, mellow, and positive to drink, perhaps on the bitter and challenging side instead.  I'll get to doing more with that mapping later, after another decade of trying lots of teas.

Xiaguan:  essentially not different than last round, although the proportion is shifting just a little.  It might work for that geosmin to fade a little, and that might be losing a little ground in this.  It's interesting how that hits you first in the tasting, then the other complexity washes across you, and the aftertaste is something else again, so that the flavors and experience comes in three distinct waves.  The second part, what you taste before swallowing it, includes geosmin but plenty of other complexity.  After you swallow mineral stands out, lots of it, including a good bit of sweetness.

Flavor range is so intense that it's easy to lose focus on feel.  It's soft but has some fullness to it, just in a different sense than the younger teas I've been drinking.  Aftertaste is even more notable and interesting, especially in the way a subset of this Xiaguan version remains, but parts you taste with it in your mouth drop out.  For as intense as it is it's almost better that the aftertaste is slightly less strong in flavor than the actual tea.

Both of these are quite different than the other three China Tea / Zhong Cha, or supposed China Tea versions I've been drinking, two from 2006, and an 8891 version from Yunnan Sourcing from 2007 (quite likely the only "real" version).  They include a lot more aged earthiness, and intensity.  There's no comparison at all to be made with the range of Kunming stored teas I was on for awhile, a round of lots of different sheng versions from different source areas, producers, and of different ages from Chawang Shop.  Even the two older Xiaguan versions from there weren't even close to the same thing, but then those were years younger, from 2010 and 2011.

Fourth infusion:

To keep this from getting too repetitive (maybe already too late now) I'll limit comments to main transitions, and not run through lists and proportions of flavors and other aspect range.

Li Ming:  the balance works well, that aged character scope, warm earthy range, cleanness, sweetness, moderate but considerable intensity.  Of those Chawang Shop versions I bought a Yiwu brick that had great feel and depth, just lacking a typical flavor intensity to balance those.  That was a 2008 version, reviewed here.  In the end it was a very positive tea, but distinctive for missing that range.  This includes that richness of feel, depth, and clean effect, but adds flavor intensity and complexity back in.  A touch more sweetness would change things for this, and improve the balance, but even for that it's fine.

It doesn't really have rough edges to wear back off but I'd expect the flavor intensity to taper a little and it to gain smoothness and depth over longer storage time, to keep improving.  The other version has so much flavor intensity to spare that in another decade it will still be intense, but this may be within a near enough optimum range over the next half dozen years.  The transition and trade off is in a good place now.  I'm only guessing, of course; I've tried few enough sheng versions between 15 and 25 years old.

Xiaguan:  continually swapping out geosmin for the rest is improving this tea, round by round.  It might just keep getting better, even more positive after a dozen infusions.  It has a lot of depth and intensity.  Listing out a half dozen flavors that it seems to resemble doesn't really do that experience justice.  Pronounced sweetness makes it all work well.  Part of that, and a related flavor, resembles well-roasted sweet potato.  Some Dian Hong, Yunnan black teas, also express that aspect, but it's in a different form, and more than that situated within a completely different context of other aspects.  No black tea covers this potato skin and other mineral range, or has anywhere near this much going on, but the relatively extreme earthiness is a trade-off, not completely positive.

A trace more mustiness would completely ruin the overall effect, but even that touch of dried mushroom faded and dropped out earlier on.

Fifth infusion:

Li Ming:  wood tone is picking up, a complex range of it that includes well-cured hardwood and also tree bark.  Parts of all the rest I've kept describing join that, so it's relatively complex.  I doubt this is transition a that marks the end point, that it will keep changing over further infusions.

Xiaguan:  it is interesting how this tea is better every round.  That geosmin is only part of a complex range of flavors now, not dominant at all.  The other tea has complexity and depth but not on the scale of this one (but then again it also doesn't taste like dirt).  This doesn't resemble brandy in flavor but there is a way that kind of flavor experience goes, an intensity and range to it, that this reminds me of.  It's the opposite of subtle, but it's not as if heavy earthy range is out of balance.  There are layers to this, all presenting as one continuous range:  that geosmin, a warm mineral at the bottom, towards dried fruit (jujube), a medicinal edge, aged furniture as more a context, etc.

I keep coming back to considering John's input, the idea that "to young and new generations this [aged effect] tea is not appreciated."  It's not a natural starting point for preference in this form, that's for sure, and not everyone would pick up a liking for this later on, or retain it as their preferences kept changing if they did.

I've had less exposure than many to a range of Xiaguan products, but some are really easy to appreciate, simpler, towards less challenging flavors.  At the same time this is just earthy, clean, complex, and intense at this point in transitioning; it's not as challenging as the stronger geosmin aspect might've made it in earlier rounds.  Brewing it wrong would make it undrinkable; there's that.  As far as standard preference transitions go probably starting on mild, sweet, and complex shu would make more sense, moving onto teas like this after experiencing some other range, and surely a lot of people would never get far into preferring this range.

Sixth infusion:

I'll probably let the notes go after this round and pass on final thoughts including more on later transitions.  It's all way too much to read.

Li Ming:  intensity is dropping off a bit; it works well like this but extending timing would renew that, if it was of interest.  I like it slightly lighter.  It's funny how it's more subtle in one sense but still really complex in another, related to covering a lot of range.

Xiaguan:  this version is just hitting it's stride.  Geosmin is relatively limited now, compared to earlier levels.  The mineral and earthiness reminds me of the smell of an old horse's saddle.  I mean that in the positive way possible, although I'd imagine few would get the reference as it's intended.  There's an earthy, deep, sweet, complex smell to those that other forms of leather just doesn't have.  It includes the smell of the barn, of age, dried hay, the sweet and complex scent of other feeds.  Who knows, maybe that of the horse too, a little.  To me it's very nice, that aspect set.


I tried these for more rounds but the teas were fading later on, without much for novel or interesting transitions coming up.  When extending brewing time to retain intensity both picked up even more of an earthy range again, just slightly different in form than in the earlier cycle.  For both it sort of reminded me of the high-roast effect of Wuyi Yancha oolongs, that touch of char.  It wasn't identical to that, but not so far off it either.

Placing how much I like these is difficult.  It seems to work well to reduce the main theme, reviewing storage input, to a few central themes, and consider that along with those:

-to what extent could I seem to isolate storage conditions input and fermentation level as a distinct cause for experienced aspects?

-was one such input preferable over the other (to the extent it worked to isolate it), per my preference?

-how would this compare to other aging transition effects I'm familiar with, related to other examples?

It's only a guess for me to specify answers to the first question, since the individual starting points and the difference between them wasn't familiar.  It's a bit vague to answer "to some extent," but that's about it.  The unique flavor I've encountered in trying wetter Malaysian stored sheng in the past did sort of link to the extreme fermentation transition in the Xiaguan version, it just went further than I've experienced, way into geosmin range and the rest.  It was interesting noting related but quite different aspect range in the other tea, just missing that one particular flavor element, at least at a comparable level.

The second question, about preference, seems to tie to both starting points (suitability for aging, and initial aspect range and quality) versus just the storage and fermentation factor.  It would work much better tied to trying very similar teas with that input as a difference.  As far as only considering end effect I could appreciate both teas but the fermentation transition effects were a bit strong in the Xiaguan version.  It was interesting trying that as a relatively fully aged version, seeing what worked and what didn't come across as well in that character.  I've been trying a lot of teas that are around this age but not fully age-transitioned, which leads more into answers tied to third question, about mapping to other experiences.

I just retried the 2007 CNNP version today, to compare it.  The Yunnan Sourcing description adds some thoughts on storage and fermentation transition input:

...Most importantly this tea is incredibly good tasting and has a very unique flavor profile. It's been stored in Guangdong since 2007 in a dry-wet storage condition (wet stored but on the dry side of the wet storage spectrum). The raw material is from Nan Jian area of Yunnan which is technically part of Dali prefecture... 

...The tea brews up an orange-red tea soup with a pungent aroma of flowers, mushrooms and earth. The taste is clean with no musty wet storage notes, but does have some some earthy notes. There is a kind of pronounced spice and cloves taste and aroma with a strong viscous sweetness throughout...

That one sentence on what it actually is I left in as a reminder that it's just as much (or more) a factor than how the tea has changed, which really goes without saying.  I wasn't trying to pin down tasting-notes aspects in that re-trying it, more to review general character and level of fermentation transition.  It seems like a much younger tea than the other two did, seemingly stored in much dryer conditions.  The leaves haven't darkened to the same level either, but you don't need to see that to notice the obvious difference.  It's clean, and it is pleasant, as described here, but a completely different thing, at least related to fermentation effect, and perhaps not at all similar in starting point character too.

high level of compression may have slowed the CNNP cake aging

It was closer to the Li Ming, in terms of apparent fermentation input.  The difference comes across in reconsidering the wet leaf and brewed tea appearance, in those two versions and in that 2007 CNNP version following:

brewed tea color is completely different as well

Price really doesn't work as a direct input related to tea quality, because vendors adjust pricing as they see fit.  Demand shifts a lot related to individual producers, production areas, and other inputs that might relate to image or awareness much more than quality level or positive character.  All the same it's worth considering:  this King Tea Mall version lists for $30 for a 200 gram cake and the Yunnan Sourcing 2007 CNNP for $67 for a 500 gram cake.  Oddly that's nearly identical; it works out to 15 cents a gram for the Li Ming version and 13.4 for the CNNP.  I don't think that really tells us anything, it's just interesting to also consider.

I should mention that based on trying that CNNP, and two other cakes like it, buying this version for $55 (per standard size 357 gram cake amount, when really it's a 200 gram cake instead) seems more than fair, a good value for the tea.  I spent $60 each on the other two I bought locally, which seemed in the right range, maybe not best-value related to all possible online sources.  This Li Ming version is at least as positive as those, maybe just a little better.  None seemed like the kinds of tea that really should be selling for much more, for much higher value and quality versions that somehow were a "steal," but they seem like decent aged teas for the modest selling price.

It's my impression that more dry-stored teas tend to cost less, that the demand is low enough for those that you would get a price break on just that factor alone.  I'm not sure how storage perceived as wetter than optimum would factor in; a consumer would need more specific input about the tea version to make any call related to that, since just judging broad storage-area region wouldn't work.  It's odd that all of these (the two reviewed, and that CNNP version) were stored in Guangdong, with these two stored under different conditions in Guangzhou, its capital.

I liked the teas, and even more so the experience shedding light on that one input.  It didn't necessarily end with tidy conclusions but it was really informative and interesting.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Latumoni Summer Tippy Assam

tippier "Royal Tippy" version left

I'm comparing two of the better looking Assam versions I've ran across, supplied by the Tea Leaf Theory for review.  Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating; we'll see how they are brewed.  I wrote about a couple of other teas from them in this post; those were great, one Darjeeling and one from Arunachal Pradesh, not far from Assam but not Assam, as I remember.  I'd meant to include more pictures Upamanyu sent of tea plants growing or processing, and didn't get to that, but there are plenty in their Instagram profile.

I tried the best Assam I've probably ever had not so many months ago, two versions from Oiirabot.  In a way that judgement is odd because I liked them for seeming more like Chinese black tea than any Assam I've ever tried, and there's nothing wrong with more conventional Assam style, I like that too.  Some versions I've tried that fall within that range have been really nice.  I just prefer Chinese black teas, as a personal favorite.  To some extent I'd have to reconsider that if these were that good but back towards more conventional style forms.

There is no pricing on the Tea Leaf Theory site, or specific product descriptions, so I won't be addressing any of that, but this seems to be a description of this source:

Latumoni, Assam

It was during the early 90s when the tea plantation rule became liberal and small private farmers were allowed to grow tea plants to sell green leaves to the large factories, Late Mr Ramesh along with his son Mr Sailen took to tea plantation in a small patch of land measuring around 2 acres. Today Mr Sailen adopts natural & sustainable cultivation methods passed on through generations and have been able to set up a micro tea processing unit which as also serves as our experimental station to research on different tea productions. Some of the finest crafts from Assam comes from this farm.

Sounds good.

I'll brew these Gongfu style, even though that's definitely a judgement call.  It's what I'm most used to, and I'm familiar with how the range of difference between the approaches tends to go, even though results vary for that.  It's not completely different.  I'll keep the proportion somewhat moderate and use longer infusion times than I do for sheng pu'er, for which I pack out the gaiwan and tend to go with 5 to 8 second brew times.


Royal Tippy left, Golden Tippy right, in all following photos

Lautomi Summer Royal Tippy Gold Assam, batch number TTLT 19:  this has some of the longest twisted leaves of any Assam version I've tried, as does the other version.  It's definitely orthodox tea.

The flavor is nice, malty, complex, and sweet.  It tastes like good Assam.  The astringency gives it some structure and feel but it's not astringent.  Beyond malt it includes cocoa and other range that might be interpreted in a range of different ways.  To me it tastes like warm, rich floral tone and a bit of dried fruit, towards dried persimmon.  I'll describe feel difference and work on that flavor breakdown over the following infusions. 

Lautomi Summer Golden Tippy Assam, batch number TTLT 19:  this looks similar, maybe just less tippy.

This is less dry, a bit deeper in tone and sweeter.  Preference for style and aspects is something of a judgement call but I think I like it better.  Cocoa stands out more, and flavors are even deeper and richer.  There is warm mineral supporting what would probably be interpreted as fruit and floral, or maybe just one of those, depending on interpretation. 

Level of malt is a bit lower, the balance of that input.  It's not the harsh form of malt that occurs in CTC teas, to be clear, not paired with a sharp astringency, not overwhelming related to the rest of the flavor profile.  Relation to that flavor and more typical feel would probably determine which of these two versions is better, per this early take. 

The first version is still soft, not dry and astringent, but a higher level of structure and more malt make it more typical for Assam, per my own past experiences.  It doesn't really work to say the second is like Chinese black teas but the style overlaps in some range; it's more like them.  It may well be that the other Assam versions I'd mentioned that seemed that much closer to Chinese tea style may have been made from different plant types; that would make sense, related to the results.

Second infusion:

Royal Tippy Gold:  this round is brewed a lot lighter, for around 10 seconds instead of longer, checking out how that changes things.  The feel softens in this, and warmth picks up.  It tastes even more like cocoa this round.  Maybe that was coming anyway, just how it was going to transition, separate from a difference in infusion strength.  A lot of complexity supports that, as described in the first round, but beyond that relative aspect level shift and feel softening it's unchanged.

Golden Tippy:  this is a bit light made this way, perhaps just under optimum related to that.  The feel still has a lot of thickness, and even a more subtle flavor is pleasant and full.  The first tea is like cocoa related to the scent of dried cocoa powder, this is more like dark chocolate. 

The first version doesn't seem dry at all when you taste it alone but in comparison with this second version that stands out more, both a feel aspect and a mineral undertone (flavor) that seems related. Supporting flavor range for both isn't completely separate but the effect and balance is quite different.  Again warm, rich floral and dried fruit describe both, but a clearer, more complete breakdown would vary.  To me malt is a minor supporting aspect in the second but more on par with the cocoa in the first.

Third infusion:

Royal Tippy Gold:  this tea is really nice; that might be getting lost in this description.  For a tippier version of Assam it really couldn't get much better than this.  That bit of dryness is just how the style of the type goes, along with malt as a main flavor.  Complexity based around cocoa and other range in this case isn't atypical but this is well above average for complexity.  Take that input for what it's worth; I've tried some Assam over the past year, and more over the last 3 or 4, but I've been focusing on other tea types a lot more.

Golden Tippy:  aspects transition, which in part would relate to brewing this stronger, well over 10 seconds (more like 15), versus that shorter time frame last round.  It's not just feel or intensity that changes when you brew a tea to a different intensity, the aspects that stand out most and how you interpret them also shifts.  It surely must be possible to identify character and flaws in teas overbrewed (per a normal preference optimum) using the standard ISO / typical tasting approach, brewing tea for 5 minutes at significant proportion.  But surely some of what I was just talking about must get missed, the range of what is possible to "get out of" a tea, how it comes across within a narrow but varied range of more optimum preparations.

Malt picks up slightly, cocoa (dark chocolate) fades, and background aspects transition towards a wood tone, away from rich floral and dried fruit.  I suppose all of that is more negative than positive, but to some extent it's also just different.  It's still quite pleasant.

Fourth infusion:

This will have to wrap up soon due to the typical deadline of heading out to a standard Sunday morning swim class.

Royal Tippy Gold:  not really changed, so I'll skip repeating the last description.

Golden Tippy:  it's interesting the way that the slightly dry structure in the first contrasts the softer, richer, more subtle feel in this version.  Per some acclimation and preference the first version might already be too soft, it might lack enough astringency structure.  I like the feel of the second better, but it's my impression that it's only a matter of preference, not an objective call.  I like the flavor depth of the second better, versus emphasis on just malt with some cocoa in the first, even though it is more subtle. 

That fruit and floral background I mentioned in the early rounds never did completely fade or develop enough to be easy to describe better.  The general effect was that flavors were complex, that there was more going on, but what that was never became easy to isolate, beyond the malt and cocoa / chocolate.  Wood tones stand out a bit in the second most now, in the cured hardwood range as that goes (versus greener wood, tree bark, autumn leaf, etc.). 

On the next round (fifth) the flavor of the first (Royal Tippy Gold) reminded me a bit of tobacco, a rich, sweet, aromatic version of it.  The malt, cocoa, and feel, that touch of dryness, are all in an even better balance than in earlier rounds; nice when it works out like that.  The Golden Tippy version is still quite pleasant, although picking up wood tone wouldn't be positive for everyone.  I liked the earlier background touch of fruit and floral range better but it's still nice, to me.

These teas aren't finished; made like this they'll produce another 3 or 4 positive infusions.  How they transition in late rounds is an interesting part of the experience, but it's usually a case of either that staying very positive or trailing more into wood tones, and diminishing in complexity.  A positive flavor transition in late rounds can occur, something new showing up that wasn't present, but that's not usually how it goes.


I don't have much to add to all that, I can just try to place these in relation to what else I've tried.  I did like the Oiirabot versions better, but as mentioned that was because they didn't seem like standard Assam to me, closer to typical of Chinese black tea style.  For being typical Assam style tea (good orthodox versions of it) these are surely as good as anything I've ever tried, quite possibly the best versions.  It was interesting trying two closely related but different versions as I did, and really that general description and quality judgement applies to both.

It's odd not rambling on more.  For reviewing sheng so much lately I always go on and on about aging and storage concerns, value judgments, and style observations related to any number of factors.  This was just quite good tea, familiar in style range, type-typical, but better than those almost ever are. 

If someone wanted to try benchmark best-case versions of Assam style black tea styles these two would work well for that.  It's not unusual for astringency and that touch of dryness in the tippier version to be even more pronounced, or level of malt to be higher, or for versions to include a touch of citrus, which these kind of didn't.  Beyond all that this is just what really good Assam is like.

One might wonder how these would be different in a Spring version, about the "flush" or season issue related to these teas.  I could add a lot more about that but since it's a much less familiar concern in relation to how that tends to go in Darjeeling it's probably best not to.  It seems possible that Spring versions could be slightly different, perhaps even better, maybe slightly more intense, with a bit more light floral aspect standing out versus the slightly richer, heavier flavors in these.  That's really essentially a guess though, and not a very reliable one at that.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Gong Ting shu pu'er mini-bar from Jip Eu

On the last visit to my favorite local Chinatown shop Kittichai, the owner, passed on a few individually wrapped teas, little bars.  Of course I didn't keep track of what they were, and recently tried one that turned out to just be shu pu'er.  It was decent shu, not so unusual that a lot of story comes out of that, but novel related to one flavor aspect. 

It also works to describe what normal shu is like, and to talk about value in relation to the tea type, and to pass on notice of that as a great option for trying the type locally (in Bangkok).  It's a little atypical but unpacking all that works better by referencing a couple of similar options from two of the main Western pu'er vendors.

one of many meetings with visiting tea enthusiasts there

Here's what it was:

Gong Ting shu pu'er (a grade description, relating to being made of a higher proportion of buds)
Producer:  Mu zhi  Co., Ltd.  (Yunnan)
Weight is 7 grams, cost 20 baht (65 US cents or so)

At the end of trying the tea it occurred to me that how good it was really depended a lot on the value issue.  If it was modest cost shu pu'er then it was great, clean in character, with decent intensity, and interesting aspect flavor range.  Priced as an exceptional quality version then limitations would stand out instead:  the feel could've been a little fuller, it faded in late rounds, complexity was good but could've been better.  And it's just shu; that type only varies so much.

At 9 1/2 cents a gram (equivalent to $34 for a full 357 gram cake) it's quite good.  It is possible to buy plenty of shu that's just as good in that full cake price range but for trying random versions costing around that many would fall short, probably more than half.  And it's not a commitment to buy a full cake; in theory someone could only spend the 65 cents on trying just one mini-bar.

To put this in perspective it is much, much better than any of the shu mini-tuos I've ever tried, which are more like a tablet or pellet, and tend to taste a little like ash.  It's not off, muddled, or fishy, or overly subtle; it's above average shu.  I've been spoiled by having a chance to try some really good shu as well, and I'll describe at the end how even better versions might vary.


1st infusion:  this is brewed a bit strong, infused for 20 seconds or so versus a more typical 10, relating to rushing the initial wetting process.  It's not bad that way.

It's creamy, with an interesting warm, rich flavor range that reminds me of pumpernickle bread.  That's a darker, sweeter version of rye bread, with the difference explained by Google definition:

1. Regular rye breads are made from endosperm ground flour while pumpernickel is from whole berry ground flour. 2. The flour for making pumpernickel is coarsely ground while that for rye is not coarse.

Shu pu'er usually doesn't taste this grain-like; it can be earthy and sweet in a similar way, but typically not with this particular flavor.  The rest of the character is just standard for the type:  heavy, rich, sweet, earthy across a really mild range.  A touch of slate might describe the mineral range, but nowhere near as heavy or dry a version of that as is common in Liu Bao (a hei cha type).

I like this but it's different. 

Second infusion:  this round is much lighter, not brewed for much longer than it took to pour in the water and drain back out the tea.  That's going to be intense enough, since the liquid soaking in the tea was already brewing it, even when it was relatively "dry."

I think this solves a mystery as to why pre-wetting (rinsing) rolled oolongs makes them much more intense than just giving them an extra 5 seconds of infusion time.  Even the fastest rinse only exposes the tea to hot water for 5 seconds or so (it takes time to pour it in and then back off), but it's not as if the tea is bone dry for however long it takes to get the second infusion started.  It's not still infusing in the typical sense, but to some extent it sort of still is, and you rinse back off the already-brewing wash still in contact with the leaves on the second round.  Moving on.

It hasn't transitioned much, and isn't all that different for being more lightly infused.  I don't think it will transition much across rounds; shu tends to not.  It comes across as roughly the same for being brewed much lighter.  For many tea types that would usually shift experienced aspects quite a bit (eg. increase role astringency plays, ramp up warmer tones or mineral range), but not so much in this case.  Fullness and creaminess drop off a little, but it's still thick, even a little oily.  It has a pleasant aftertaste range; that sweet, dark rye bread aspect lingers on.

This reminds me of buying a good dark Russian bread in either Moscow, St. Petersburg, or Murmansk (I think maybe the last), something unfamiliar but quite pleasant.  It went really well with an unfamiliar cheese version, one of a couple that was slightly smoked.  It's funny how you can really appreciate different versions of bread a lot more when you live in Asia, where they're just not on that page.  There are foreign shops and bakeries around but I don't go out of my way to buy much decent bread; I eat rice, Asian dishes, fruit, and pastry like everyone else.

a little on the thick side, but it's nice like that

Third infusion:  proportions of those earlier aspects may be shifting a little but it probably never will transition much.  Mineral tones are picking up a little; that sweet, dark grain-like aspect is leveling off some.  I guess it's that much closer to a Liu Bao character then, but this would have to be similar to a very mellow, aged Liu Bao, since those tend to have a bit of edge to them earlier in their existence.  It's still creamy but that effect may be tapering off a little too.

Fourth infusion:  more of the same; creaminess drops off, and a dark wood tone picks up in place of the distinctive bread-like aspect.

I did brew it for a number of additional rounds but it was just fading from there, narrowing in complexity.  This would've lasted longer but I brewed it on the thick side for the initial rounds, except for trying out one on the light side.  I like shu like that, a bit thick.  It still did produce more than a half dozen rounds but the first four were the best.

Conclusion / assessment:

It's pretty good.  To get some background on the "Gong Ting" theme and help place the character let's check out a similarly described version from a standard vendor option, Yunnan Sourcing:

Meng Song Gong Ting Grade Loose Leaf Ripe Pu-erh Tea

This Gong Ting grade ripe tea is a from a wet pile batch done entirely from Meng Song area (Menghai County) tea leaves harvested in 2017 and wet piled in 2018!

Gong Ting grade ripe pu-erh tea is the smallest leaf grade, has a very potent cha qi, with a thick tea soup, dark chocolate like bitterness and fruity sweetness. 

Pure Meng Song ripe tea is relatively rare.  It has a unique bitter-sweet character with a fast hui gan and a black licorice sweet after-taste.

For those of you who purchase this tea during the year of 2018 expect that there will be a fairly strong wet pile taste throughout 2018, but one that will fade gradually as tea ages. 

That does sound good.  That version is selling for $4.50 for 50 grams (it's loose tea), which works out to the exact same cost, just under 10 cents a gram.

I didn't necessarily notice a "dark chocolate like bitterness and fruity sweetness" in the version I tried, but warm earthy tones including pumpernickle bread worked well.  Part of the character might've resembled cocoa more; that would've been a reasonable interpretation for what I had pegged as rich sweet grain, underlying mineral, and dark wood tones.

I didn't catch the origin area for this tea, only that it was produced out of Yunnan.  It does seem unusual for Mengsong to be converted to shu, as they mention in this other YS description.  They list a similar looking Jing Mai version, overlapping in description and identical in price, with this part varying:

This Jingmai mountain ripe gong ting is very sweet and thick with an almost fruity creaminess that will become increasingly pronounced with the passing of time.

I didn't catch the production year of that tea either, but it probably had at least a year or two of age on it.  Some versions can be clean flavored and pleasant when quite young, even within the first 6 months, but they usually give up a little complexity later for starting out there.  A bit of an edge and a little extra petroleum range depth, or peat, can serve as a base for transitioning to creaminess and complexity later on.

Much older shu can pick up a depth of character this version didn't seem to have (not that I'm certain of any age range; the starting point and storage conditions dictate where it will end up).  Flavors tend to become more subtle in older shu, from around 7 or 8 years old and then on, but feel improves, and there's something hard to describe about how it all balances differently.

Those other two version flavor descriptions imply how this could be better; shu flavor profiles can vary in lots of ways, and preference would dictate what works best.  It's all typically variation within a narrower range than for sheng, by quite a bit, and they give up some overall complexity, but shu versions can still be interesting and pleasant, as this was.

I wrote about doing comparison tastings not so long ago; a version sold like this is perfect for use in such comparisons.  Those loose teas work out about the same, since you can keep trying them from 100 gram package size (50 isn't enough--it's crazy to buy $4.50 worth of such a tea and then run out after trying it once in awhile for a month or two).  Comparing these, along with a cake version, would really help place those factors I've been describing:  flavor differences, difference in feel, sweetness, overall balance, aftertaste range, etc.

It's worth noting that varying single serving presentations have become popular, based on the form being reinvented by modern Western facing vendors.  This version is probably pretty close to what I just reviewed, a shu pu'er from White 2 Tea, 2018 FLAPJACKS RIPE PUER:

image credit that White 2 Tea page

Each flap jack is roughly 7 grams, with 7 flapjacks in each short stack.

This blend of ripe Puer is suitable for any style of brewing. It has a sweet flavor and inviting fragrance that make it a solid daily drinker for new and veteran Puer drinkers alike. Soothing and smooth, a lovely ripe blend. The easy to steep shape makes it an ideal tea to grab on the go.

Those cost 80 cents apiece versus the small bars 65; not so different.  There's a decent chance the tea grade and complexity is more moderate, but an equal chance they're on par for quality, or could conceivably be better.  Tasting both versions is the only way to know.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Kinnari Xayaboury black and white Laos teas

white tea left, black tea right

This reviews teas passed on by Anna of Kinnari Teas awhile back.  I did really like the sheng versions I tried then (reviewed here and here). 

It's impossible to keep up with trying everything I have on hand and this omission stood out, all the more so for these being two of the better teas I have yet to try.  Not everyone would love them as much as I did, or like the one of the two I liked best versus preferring the other; so it goes with subjective preference.

As far as I know neither is commercially available; so much for these posts mostly serving as thinly veiled marketing.  Since they were experimental versions (per my understanding) more of them may have been produced, or next year they might be developed further.  But Kinnari isn't selling teas via website or retail order in any form, as far as I know.  Maybe I'll edit all that after posting this and talking more to Anna about it.

It's questionable to pass on what I remember of her discussion of these, something along the lines of trying out different processing methods for a tea plant type she was unfamiliar with, that hadn't been made into white or black versions that she had tried.  It's an understatement to say that the experiment was a success.

I did this review without much for electronics support, initially tasting teas and making notes on a piece of paper (funny that system still works).  The photos will be quite limited, and the review format is more sparse.  That last part is probably an improvement; sometimes less is more.  It is kind of a shame the photos are limited; those teas were quite photogenic.


white left, black right; brewed a bit dark to compensate for being a late steep, after these review notes

Xayaboury white (Spring 2019), by infusion:

1.  Fruity, distinctive, unusual.   A primary flavor is essentially teaberry, berry and mint.  It's also towards a creamy version of peach, with a hint of spice.

2.  An unusual flavor shift occurred, with it much more subtle this round, similar to the first infusion in aspect range and character, but much less intense.  Aspects include fruit / berry / mint (as described), toasted pastry, and a light vegetal touch, maybe close to teaberry stem, or dried moss.

3.  Still unusually subtle, at least light in flavor range, but at the same time rich, full, and creamy.  Berry and mint is still present, and toasted pastry, but the profile has shifted towards caramel custard, like flan.

4.  A slightly longer infusion increased the intensity, with the pastry effect picking up a little.  It reminds me of Swedish tea ring pastry my mother used to make.  A very light savory aspect joins in, along the line of sun-dried tomato, but it's only a minor supporting aspect, not at all primary.

5.  (Infused towards 30 seconds, versus around 20 prior).  Still quite subtle in flavor, rich across other range.

Sun-dried Xayaboury black tea (listed as originating from 1200 meters in elevation):

1.  The flavor overlaps with the white tea range, but it's different, with a touch more menthol effect in the mint and berry (teaberry).  It's slightly closer to how #18 Red Jade / Ruby Taiwanese black teas come across, just a lot more mild in mint / menthol range compared to a typical range for those.

2.  Just as intense, similar to the initial round, maybe just slightly warmer.  This is already one of the best black teas I've ever tried, per my preference.  The overall balance is just amazing.  Sweetness, rich feel, positive mild structure with no significant astringency.

3.  Similar, exactly how one would want a Red Jade / Ruby black tea to balance, but they're just never quite this positive.  Combining mint or menthol with black tea character sounds interesting, and it can be pleasant, but it never integrates and balances as well as this, at least in the versions I've tried.  The level of warmth, flavor complexity, and sweetness is perfect.  I never use that word in this blog, perfect, because it implies a preference basis or type framework, but it's just ideal.

I visited a friend, Sasha Abramovich, a few months back, and tried what was probably the best balanced, most positive version of Red Jade / Ruby black tea I have yet to experience, per my preference.  That tea version wasn't even close to as pleasant as this one.

4.  Intensity tapers off--towards the white in character for that shift.  The teaberry effect drops off a little.  Rich warmth and toasted pastry picks up.

5.  Thinning a little; it could be stretched more, but it's quite pleasant as it is.  It's similar to the earlier infusions but narrowed in aspect range slightly.

Later rounds:

These brewed another half dozen very positive infusions; they just wouldn't quit.  Even then they could've probably stretched for a couple more.  Both teas were amazing, very pleasant in completely novel ways, with much different character for each that also overlapped quite a bit. 

I could imagine someone not loving the white version for it being subtle, in terms of flavor, but for me it wasn't hard to appreciate how the flavor that was there was great, so well balanced, and well-supported by a pleasant rich feel.  For some silver needle versions feel stands out as much as the flavor, and that can sometimes be a bit neutral, in addition to being light, but this white version's flavor range was great.

The black tea would easily stand in as the best version of Taiwanese black tea I've ever tried, and I've liked a number of those that have crossed my path.  Ruby / red jade versions tend to be too heavy on menthol to me, not well-balanced, and this more than covered that potential flaw.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Tea Side 2018 Thai "bitter leaf" sheng, 2019 steamed green

sheng left, green right (kind of similar though)

These two teas don't pair as closely in style as they might, following my own convention of trying very similar teas together, but it should work.  I just started dabbling in green tea again, and beyond adjustment for brewing temperature difference the character won't be completely separate.

It might be closer if this was a pan-fried green, versus being steamed, processed as sheng and Longjing green teas are instead of the main heating approach used for Japanese teas.  That difference should be interesting though, [as it turns out it was, since the green tea was nothing I would've expected].

Vendor descriptions:

2018 Bitter Leaf Raw Pu-erh Tea

Raw pu-erh tea made from Thai bitter leaf tea tree material.

This sheng does not resemble Bulang, nor Lao Man Er, nor other Chinese regions. But that is how I describe the organoleptic properties... The bitterness is so edible, soft. Without citrus notes - closer to the fragrant fresh wormwood. Now, if we add more sweet wildflowers and a drop of vanilla to this fragrant bitterness, then we get this sheng.

Many puerh producers seek to collect the harvest from sweet trees. And we, of course, understand them in this - everyone loves sweet tea, it is easy to sell, etc. But we are convinced that bitter-leaf pu-erh is seriously undervalued for two main reasons:

It has a powerful fragrant Huygan. That is not just a returning sweetness but a very fragrant sweet aftertaste.  It has a very potent relaxing and sedative Qi effect...

This is being sold for $70 for a 200 gram cake, so presented as above average quality tea related to the pricing.

Steamed old tree source green tea:

For this tea, we used Japanese traditional technology for steamed green tea but adapted it to the specifics of the material from old trees. It took several experiments to figure out the optimum steaming depth in order to remove the astringency of a powerful pu-erh leaf but to preserve the freshness and aroma of light and delicate green tea...

The aroma is sweet, appleish and floral. On the palate is a beautiful, whole and full-bodied mix of fruity-floral tropical notes. In the foreground are apples, plumeria and a bouquet of garden flowers. The finish is sweet and oily. The infusion is light, transparent, with a light green tint.

Sounds good; we'll see.  I never do add or read these vendor descriptions until the editing step, and giving this a quick scan later that sounds about right, essentially how I described it.

This tea version sells for $10 for 50 grams; reasonable enough if it really is a novel and high quality version of green tea.


sheng left; interesting brewed color difference

2018 "bitterleaf" ancient tree Thai sheng:  this definitely does have some bitterness to it; it's just getting started and it could already pass for a good version of Myanmar sheng.  The tree / plant types there must vary, because although most I've tried were on the bitter side the last sheng that I tried from Kokang wasn't.  This tea is pleasant; bitterness stands out but sweetness balances that.  Flavors are clean and feel has some thickness to it.  That range might even include some dried fruit.  Waiting a round for a more complete break-down makes sense.

2019 Spring 2019 steamed green from ancient trees in Thailand:  I didn't expect that to be like Japanese green teas, and it's not, but I also didn't expect how it is.  The flavors are warm and floral, with a bit of dried fruit supporting that, along the line of dried persimmon or even peach.  So much for concern over this being overly vegetal.

Green teas are never rich and warm in flavor and tone like this.  From the color it doesn't look like they've let it oxidize to warm the tone and shift character; it turned out that way via other causes.  Feel is on the soft side but with pretty good fullness.  It gives up aftertaste range in comparison with the sheng, but then that's how that would go.

Second infusion

2018 bitterleaf Thai sheng:  flavor warms a little. The bitterness is really nice, paired with a lot of residual sweetness.  Astringency isn't part of that; the feel is full and rich but not rough in any way.  It's just bitter.  Mineral undertones support that, warm versions of them, and subtle floral range rounds out the experience, trailing over into mild dried fruit range.  At some point splitting out flavor range over different levels gets to be guesswork and imagination, but to go there the fruit covers hints of nectarine and tangerine.

2019 steamed Thai green:  I really didn't expect this to stand up to the other tea as well, to be anywhere near as pleasant, on a few different levels.  Of course bitterness, feel, and aftertaste aren't comparable but the flavor range is great, the feel isn't thin at all, and overall experience complexity is good.  It's not vegetal, not grassy, like vegetables, and so on.  A faint trace of bitterness and some degree of residual sweetness adds complexity; both are more typical of sheng range, and not as pronounced as in this other sheng version, but they match up well against more modest quality sheng version character.  Warm mineral plays more of a role in this infusion, and it does seem to be swapping out some floral and fruit range for wood tone or mild vegetable, more like tree branch bud at this point.

Third infusion

2018 sheng:  I've been giving this around a 10 second infusion, based on also brewing the other version at the same time.  At this proportion it would work well faster too, using 6 seconds or so, not quite a flash infusion but a quick one.  It's not bad like this but there's more than enough intensity, so it just depends on preference for that level.

Lighter probably would be better.  Bitterness is still pleasant but it is a little strong.  The warm supporting tones, covering underlying mineral range, floral tones, and dried fruit, are pleasant, but the overall balance would probably work better quite light.  This might be shifting from dried fruit to include more wood tone as well, cured hardwood or something such, or closer to tree bark, maybe even a little towards tobacco.  It will be easier to split that out using a lighter infusion.

2019 steamed Thai green:  the overall effect isn't coming across in describing flavor as a list.  It's a bit creamy, with an interesting rich, full character.  Warm floral along the line of rose petal stands out now, with warm fruit range still around dried persimmon.  There is still a touch of flavor edge and mild astringency along the lines of tree bud tip or flower petal or stem, but not much, so it works to give it balance.  Sweetness level is nice; it balances all that. 

Fourth infusion:

2018 "bitterleaf" Thai sheng:  this is still bitter and plenty intense but it does balance better brewed faster, using a 5-6 second infusion time.  It's still cool the way that sweetness kicks in while you still drink the tea, and gets a lot stronger after you swallow it.  This has about as much residual sweetness (hui gan) as sheng ever tends to.  Other supporting range is still transitioning a little but not too far off where it was in the last round, mixing earlier floral and fruit flavors in with developing warm wood tone, probably closest to tree bark.

2019 steamed Thai green:  this hasn't transitioned much.  Maybe that rose petal floral tone is really closer to lavender, which could relate to me getting it wrong earlier instead of that changing.  Lavender tends to have a strong, rich, sweet smell, even when the scent isn't strong, and this is like that.  Again including some bitterness and trailing aftertaste gives this nice complexity.  It has less feel structure than the sheng while you drink it; it feels a little full but not in the same way.

Fifth infusion:

2018 "bitterleaf" Thai sheng:  not too much transition to speak of; the balance of earlier aspects may be shifting a little, but not in any way that changes much.  Bitterness might be tapering off just a little, with other range filling in more, balancing against that more.  Again a wood tone is picking up, more even in level against floral and other flavor range.

2019 steamed Thai green:  it's nice how this is working out well being brewed using parameters pretty close to those for sheng.  I'm using slightly cooler water, nowhere near 70 C, probably closer to what the parameter tables list for oolong brewing, 85.  Given this feel is soft, with just a touch of astringency edge, it would probably still be fine brewed just off boiling point, or even at it.  I don't think it would be better, or probably as good, but it seems likely that would work.

This hasn't changed much either.  Creaminess is really nice, along with rich, sweet flavor complexity.  Floral tone stands out the most but it would work to interpret part of the brighter note as a hint of citrus, probably closest to tangerine.  Most of the flavor range is warmer and richer, but that brighter range contributes too, giving it nice complexity.  That may be what green teas tend to lack, beyond tasting vegetal, like grass or vegetables; they usually don't cover this range of complexity, for flavors or feel aspects, or including as much trailing sweetness aftertaste as this does.  A lot of sheng drinkers would like this better if some of the bitterness in the other sheng version added to all that, but that is subjective.

interesting color difference, for a year and a half of aging

The next infusion wasn't so different (the sixth); I'll skip the separate description.  Bitterness drops off in the sheng, and picks up in the green tea version, seemingly a function of going longer on the infusion time.  The green is finally picking up just a trace of vegetable tone, along the line of kale.  From here more of that will occur, as infusion times run longer to keep up intensity aspect proportions will shift as a result.  Both teas are still quite pleasant but not quite as nice as in the earlier cycle.


In trying a Longjing from Yunnan recently I was surprised that it included so much intensity, complexity, and sweetness, as this green tea version also did.  That tea started out with more of the characteristic nutty / toasted rice flavor aspect, then shifted more to floral, mineral undertone, and other flavor, much closer to this version.  Both were as good as any green teas I've yet to try, lacking the vegetable range flavors and astringency that I don't care for in green teas.  This version was probably a little more novel, not quite as intense in flavor but with more unusual character, with a lot going on.  This might be the fruitiest green tea I've tried, and possibly the creamiest in feel.

This sheng was nice.  Bitterness did stand out, matching the billing.  Astringency didn't, at all; interesting it could be that bitter without including much of that.  Feel structure was more complex than in the green tea version though, with good trailing sweetness in both, but a much stronger related effect in the sheng.  This sheng was a relatively high quality version, but the novel character stood out more than that.  Bitterness in young sheng is normal; that particular form of bitterness and the aspect range coupled with it is not.

It was interesting that the color showed as much aging as it did for the sheng, but then a year and a half enables more transition here in Thailand than in cooler, dryer climates.