Sunday, December 8, 2019

2019 Taiwan "Oriental Beauty" Dong Fang Mei Ren

It's cold here, out of the 60s now (around 24 C / 75 F) at 10 AM, since I helped Keoni make breakfast and started a chicken roasting this morning.  Ordinarily we would go to a swimming class now but 75 F is too cold here to swim; funny how things work out in the tropics.

it doesn't look cold, or different

It's so cold the local pets even need to bundle up a bit:

I picked a tea that sort of matches cool weather, to me, and one I don't want to compare to anything since I'm not feeling like doing all that.  I have an interesting looking Oriental Beauty from King Tea Mall (a sample, provided by them) I've not tried yet.  It's interesting related to that type being a personal favorite; I have no idea how good it is, or how type-typical.  I hope it's above average so I can use this post, since I tend to just not write about teas that I don't like.  There's less of a story to those, although in some cases flaws in teas can be interesting.

This ties to a theme I mentioned in the last post, about why personal preference shifts over time as it does.  For example, why so many people experience sheng pu'er as close to the taste of taking an aspirin (or tasting like kerosene, I've heard), then still go on to keep trying versions until they like it.  I've been through that.  One read is that people try better versions later, so they're liking different things.  I think it's more that sheng is an acquired taste, like coffee, or beer, or lots of things.  My grandfather would eat smoked fish or cheese, and raw green onions, and all sorts of crazy foods and he had probably went through similar transitions.

In contrast a tea version like this would tend to appeal to everyone when they first try it; these are mild, sweet, complex in flavor, and lack significant astringency and any bitterness at all.  I can't place why so many people seem to like Oriental Beauty (per the comments that are made), and why it rarely ever comes up in discussion, and isn't really a main tea type.  There's the parts about bugs biting the leaves, and there only being so much of it, and good versions being expensive.  Somehow the general hype just never focused on it. 

Dan Cong gets good buzz, even though it's expensive, but sheng is a bit "hotter" as a tea type to like now.  Wuyi Yancha seemed more in that role in the past, between 5 and 10 years ago.  I'm not clear on how any of those levels work out, about preference transition, or public awareness and shared interest landing in different places.  Probably none of this will factor in much in a review description, so I'll just move on to that, starting with considering the King Tea Mall description:

Tea Name: Oriental Beauty (Dong Fang Mei Ren )
Harvesting Season: 2019 Year Summer
Production Area: Taiwan.
Level: Special Quality

The tea liquid has clear and clean amber like color.
Natural and elegant tea flavor which lasts long in whole mouth. After taste is honey like sweetness.

That's not very specific.  This tea type tends to be flavorful and pleasant and then vary across limited dimensions (flavor range, feel, level of sweetness, etc.), so detailed background matters less, as I see it.  There would be a more standard plant type and narrower source area but it's the final aspects that matter most.  As to pricing this costs $9 per 50 grams when purchased in the 100 gram amount; definitely on the low side for versions presented as above average in quality.


First infusion:  just awesome, perfectly type-typical, in the best sense.  Versions of this tea span a bit of range, covering different flavors, and this is well within the norm.  Those include heavy citrus, towards muscatel, or warm spice range, along the lines of cinnamon.  This particular version covers both:  there is pleasant orange zest citrus, and warm spice tones, not missing cinnamon but extending well beyond that.  Sweetness is great, mouthfeel is rich and full, soft and round (although that is all relative; there is probably a lot room for increase in that range).  Even a child would love this tea.

The heavy fruit tones aren't limited to citrus.  One part tastes a lot like apple cider, that warm, rich sweetness.  There's none of the sourness that cider can express (which balances well in the sweetness and flavor range, in even decent versions of that), but that warm, sweet, slightly fermented apple flavor is one of the main parts of the experience.  It leans a little towards raisin, I just don't think that would be the most natural interpretation.  After a minor shift in flavors across infusions, or caused by using slightly different brewing parameters, and it could be mainly raisin.

Why wouldn't people drink this?  Why don't I, related to seeking it out and buying it?  I've been exploring sheng for about 2 years now, and where for this type of tea you can appreciate it the very first time you drink it, in much the same way you might years later, that takes some doing.  It's not just about tolerating bitterness, or learning to like that; either that one part comes naturally or the whole venture would be a non-starter.  There's a lot of other range to consider, and lots of variations to explore.  Maybe it's as simple as that; after trying a dozen good versions of Oriental Beauty you'd be repeating the same experience, to some limited extent.  That wouldn't get you far for exploring the basic range of sheng, never mind sorting out aging and storage environment concerns.

Second infusion:  kind of similar, not shifting a lot.  The balance of those earlier aspects probably changed a little, but not in a significant enough form to make it worth the trouble describing that (spice gained a little ground on fruit, for example).  It's great; just what this should be.

Tied back to the idea of preference, one might wonder, why not just buy apple cider and throw a cinnamon stick, and a bit of orange zest in that, then simmer it?  That would be pleasant too, and that should happen.  The flavors would be in a similar range, but the overall balance and effect would be completely different.  This also "tastes like tea;" there's underlying mineral and a warm malt range that marks this as good tea (for lack of a better concept; it's not what most people associate with malt as found in Assam, which is dryer and as close to forms of mineral as fermented grain).  It's subtle, and well balanced. 

It's a similar answer for why this tea version is nothing like a Christmas blend featuring black tea, cinnamon spice, citrus, and some apple flavor.  You simply can't mix natural and artificial flavor inputs to get to this end point.  It would be nice if you could; then flavored tea blends found on grocery store shelves would be completely worth drinking.

It's not easy to say why it can't be replicated.  I just cooked a pumpkin pie from scratch, roasting a Thai version of a pumpkin (closer to Japanese pumpkin, or a bit more like squash), adding spices, making a crust, all of that.  In theory a version from canned pumpkin or one from a grocery store could be identical, or close enough, but they're just not the same thing.  Subtle differences add up.

Third infusion:  a mild vegetal range is picking up and the spice and fruit are dropping back.  I wouldn't say this has lost a lot of it's charm but it's not quite as good.  It's still very pleasant, just not great on the same level. 

It's interesting seeing an unusual level and type of oxidation on this, with a good bit of green showing through, and with other leaves or edges very darkened at the edges.  That probably means more to well-informed others than to me.  Related to final results I can't say that they "did it wrong" related to making this tea version; this is how this should be, in a positive case. 

The effect of a high level of sweetness is hard to place, and a rich feel that's almost an oiliness that covers your tongue and mouth, versus other kinds of structure in other teas.  Even though it has dropped back a little combining that much cinnamon, citrus, and slightly fermented apple is what makes this a unique experience.  If only two thirds of that was present this would still be a really pleasant tea.

Fourth infusion:  only faded slightly from where it was on the last round.  Often black teas and more oxidized oolongs tend to expend their flavor faster, to transition away from the most exceptional character over a much shorter brewing cycle, and that's going on with this.  Not all do; depending on type some black teas last a really long time, for a high infusion count, and keep transitioning in interesting and positive ways.

It's quite pleasant this round but two more infusions fading at the same rate will cost it a lot of what makes it exceptional.  It seems the more oxidized parts really did get a fast start, so now the parts of the leaves not as well oxidized are providing more input.  It will draw out how much tea this will produce but it might seem more like an ordinary, good oolong by the half-dozen infusion mark.  Since I've ventured into guessing about rounds transitions I'll have to keep going with the notes through a couple more.

Some of noting all this probably relates to being so focused on sheng for so long.  Young sheng tends to only "open up" and move past an initial edginess over the first two infusions, and stay consistent for the next half a dozen, maybe with some character transition but definitely no tapering off.  Older, more aged sheng (15 years old or older, to put a rough range to that) loses some intensity but it doesn't brew a lower count of positive rounds.

Fifth infusion:  still exceptional.  Some of the issue here is that I'm comparing these rounds against the benchmark of the earlier rounds, which were much more intense.  Lower quality Oriental Beauty tend to come across just as this one is on this fifth infusion, in the same general range but a good bit flatter.  Citrus seems to be ramping up in the balance again for some reason.  Even moderate shifts in infusion strength would cause that effect, switching which part seems stronger.  Lower quality Oriental Beauty (or moderate quality, really; what you would tend to buy from standard resale vendors) could include a slight mustiness or woodiness, not related to the tea being off or flawed, just as a part of the standard character for that version.  This doesn't include that.

A bit on infusion strength and brewing time is relevant.  This tea type you can prepare in lots of different ways; there is no astringency limiting that choice, no negative aspects to "brew around" at all.  It would work well wispy thin, how I tend to like lots of other tea types.  A relatively intense version of sheng pu'er can't be "wispy thin" in the most typical sense, even flash-brewed at moderate proportions.  The point here is that lighter often works better for appreciating some of the aspect range for some teas.  That's completely a matter of preference.  If someone values an intense feel aspect they may like teas prepared towards the other extreme. 

To me this works really well brewed in the middle, definitely not light, but also not so strong that it ramps up aspect intensity to well over what I consider normal.  Put in terms of timing, brewed for 10-15 seconds, closer to 15, across all these rounds, at a proportion that has the gaiwan just over 3/4ths filled with wet leaves (so most of what would fit).

That changes the transition cycle too, of course.  This same tea brewed for in between 5 and 10 seconds would be that much slower to change across rounds as this has.  The only way to really optimize that experience is to brew the tea exactly as you like it best, and not be concerned about how it plays out for a count.  It would make more sense to me to drink this really light than to brew it so strong that astringency, or at least stronger feel, really does ramp up, parting ways with experiencing those flavors as well-balanced, but that's just a statement about preference.  As transitions go it seems that people newer to better tea tend to like it prepared stronger, then lighter as they adjust to experiencing aspects at a different intensity level.

Sixth infusion:  still great, but still fading.  It wouldn't be nearly as good if that bright citrus wasn't hanging in there, but it is.  A lot of the other complexity has dropped out, narrowing the range of the experience, but the sweetness and positive balance remains.  The feel still has a nice thickness to it.  Pronounced aftertaste never was one of the positives of this experience, in relation to how some other tea types go.  It did prepare a few more infusions but those were light in intensity even brewed longer.


Pretty good Oriental Beauty, very nice.  It's been awhile since I've even tried one so I'm probably not the best judge of those (although I did try an aged version earlier in the year; that's different).  Earlier in my tea exploration these seemed to just come up more frequently, probably with a half dozen versions reviewed in this blog, maybe not even counting hybrid theme versions from other countries.  It helped passing through Taiwan on a trip once to gain exposure, but in other contexts too, buying samples, or teas from shops locally, or related to vendors sending tea to try.

Per my judgement this version was quite pleasant.  Related to placing it on a scale of the highest quality types I'm just not on this page enough.  I suspect someone much more familiar with this range could spot limitations or flaws better than I have here.  I tend to not see brewing a limited number of infusions as a flaw, as much as seeing the opposite as a strength, but that could relate to room for improvement.  Overall this seemed a well above average example of this tea type, probably more so for emphasizing flavor as the primary consideration.

at skating class, with a new haircut

experiencing snow in a form closer to shaved ice, by making it

limited Christmas decor at the rink

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