Sunday, December 15, 2019

Japanese goishi cha and shu pu'er tea bag review

Kind of an odd theme, comparing two versions of tea bag teas, which aren't quite as similar as they might be at first glance.  This Japanese tea probably is goishi cha, but it was only represented as a version of Japanese tea closest to sheng pu'er, but not sheng pu'er, from the source. 

Kittichai of Jip Eu (a local Bangkok shop) gave me some in a visit a month or so ago.  He didn't seem to love it, and it is on the strange side.  It tastes a little like seaweed, and it's slightly sour (they were brewing some that day, so I've already tried it).

there again with a nice visitor from Belgium yesterday, Dennis

Related to that identification this recent group thread discussing Japanese teas in relation to sheng pu'er might help place things.  To be clear I'm not claiming this is definitely goishi cha; it may well be an attempt at replicating sheng, a hybrid style, that didn't land too close.  It is whatever it is.  It finding it's way into a tea bag isn't a great sign; it may not be the best version of whatever it is.

This citation from the My Japanese Green Tea blog fills in more of what goishi cha is, which it seems likely this is:

Goishicha (碁石茶, go stone tea) is a rare Japanese dark (post-fermented) tea made in Ōtoyo Town, Kochi prefecture.

It’s classified as a type of bancha, although it’s not a green tea...

...This tea goes through two fermentation steps, one by mold and the other one by lactic acid bacteria.  In the second fermentation process, the tea is pickled. That’s why it has its distinctive sour taste.

Although it was mostly used as an ingredient in chagayu (a Japanese rice porridge with tea), nowadays people have begun to drink it as any other tea.

That last idea about it not being a good sign that the Japanese tea is even in a tea bag leads into the next tea, the one I'll compare it to, a tea-bag version of shu pu'er.  I've passed those in two different grocery stores here (in Bangkok), Dayi / Taetea versions (maybe only sheng?), and it never really crossed my mind to buy the tea.  For the sake of reporting on it I might someday, I just wouldn't have high expectations related to that.  It's odd thinking of what tea material that didn't make the cut to be pressed into the cheapest Dayi cakes would be like.

between $8 and $10, but pricing isn't the issue

A vendor sent this along with an order, as a free sample (Chawang Shop).  That's crazy, isn't it, sending a tea enthusiast tea bags?  Or a tea blogger; that's a strange way to seek attention. There seems to be two ways of taking that, as a way to provide access to something unusual that's more interesting and pleasant than it might sound, or as an insult, a critique of someone's taste in tea.  Being as generous as I am I just suspend judgment about that part.  It could be good aged, low grade tea dust.  It lists the raw material production date as April 2010.  That changes things a little, doesn't it?  If highly compressed cakes or tuochas age slower tea bag tea would have to age fastest.  It's too bad it's not sheng; aging transitions shu less.

Comparing the two probably won't turn up much for relevant overlap or one informing the experience of the other.  It's as much about getting two tea-bag versions of teas out of the way in one review.  They both sound interesting, if unconventional and probably limited in degree of promise (one I've tried--that's all the more true for that).

As to methodology I'll preheat two tea cups and brew both using two tea bags, in about 6 ounces / 200 ml of water (not measured, if that matters).  My intention is to brew the first round between 2 and 2 1/2 minutes and the second for about 3 minutes, depending on results the first time.  I suppose it would be possible to "Gong Fu" brew these, using 3 or 4 tea bags and short dips in the water.  It all feels a bit off the map.


shu:  it's shu.  That kind of works as a two-word review, not only in this case but often enough for shu.  I like shu but it's on the more basic side compared to sheng.  Subleties, complexity, and variations occur across a narrower scope.

It's not bad though.  Cocoa stands out most; that's a good start.  This would already resolve a lot of people new to shu having a problem with the off flavors; it has none.  The warm, rich, earthy flavor that identifies shu as shu is present, in the range of dark wood, shifted a little towards peat.  From there it's a bit non-distinct.  It would be a stretch but someone with the right type of imagination could just keep on going, listing out dried fruit, root spices, specific mineral undertones, and so on.  It's not as if it only tastes like cocoa and that dark wood / peat range, there's more complexity to it, but the rest is mixed and unidentifiable.

Feel is ok; it has some thickness, and the feel range is pleasant.  Aftertaste isn't typically that pronounced in shu, compared to other tea types, but it's intense enough and doesn't vanish immediately.  To me this seems like decent shu, just nothing to noteworthy or exceptional.  It may have had more for distinct character and rough edges earlier in it's existence, with those evening out to add more depth instead over that 9 1/2 years.  The depth is fine.

Japanese tea (possibly goishi, potentially a sheng hybrid style):  it's not bad.  That's an odd way to start a review, affirming a tea isn't bad, and there are positives and negatives, with novelty making a read on that relate to a mismatch to any expectations as much as an objective, neutral assessment.  It's only slightly sour, and I'm not "getting" as much seaweed as seemed to have emerged in a later round trying it at that shop.  Spice is a main flavor aspect, not so far off clove, but it's not that.  It might be a mix of spice range flavors, so including a touch of clove but also cardamom, and probably a more neutral root spice too. 

It's hard to place.  This is nothing like sheng, nothing like any tea type that comes to mind.  A flavor list might help explain that.  A trace of sourness isn't primary but it stands out for being odd, and that spice might be the strongest, most "forward" flavor aspect.  A warm base flavor around the range of cured hay grounds that, but that leans a little towards vegetal range, so maybe cured hay with just a touch of roasted bitter melon.  It's not as bitter as sour, but both are there in a very light form.  The warmth of the tone makes it hard to place in relation to other teas; it's in between conventional somewhat aged sheng (how those often are after 4 or 5 years) and a mild black tea.  That also relates to a mineral base addition, not nearly as strong as is very common in sheng, and in a different form.

The feel is a little odd; no surprise given that flavor list part, right?  It has a limited fullness to it, and a hint of dryness, but no structure that is similar to other tea types, nothing conventional.

I think I'll use a faster infusion time to see how that works out, around a minute instead, and then give these a long soak and see what's left of them.  I can't imagine that the shu is "going anywhere," but we'll see.  Back on brewing methodology I didn't mention that I'd been dunking them a little.  It's funny reviewing tea bag teas.

Second infusion:

shu:  being prepared quite light didn't help this tea, and it didn't seem to develop at all.  It's just a lighter brewed version this time.  It's decent, drinkable tea, just not exceptional in any way.  It's much better than I expected; this is average range shu.  Well above average, if someone has been drinking cheap shu, but I tend to run across good versions instead. 

A faint hint of citrus might be emerging; that is different.  I like shu brewed a bit stronger than most other tea types so I might be judging this unfairly based on brewing it in opposition to my own type preferences on this round.

goishi cha (if it is that):  I think this improved a lot related to me being more familiar with the range from drinking that first cup, more than related to any actual transition.  It might be better prepared lighter, and the initial sourness might have faded some.  To be clear that had been quite moderate, and if someone had any tolerance at all for sourness in tea it could be seen as well-balanced.  I could also relate to not having any tolerance for it; that flavor range is unusual, in other tea types.  An unconventional sheng version I've been drinking a little of (tried twice, but I own a cake of it) is a little sour, and I've ran through the exact same concern and cycle with that.

Some of the positive range seemed to bump a bit, I think.  The spice ramped up, and the warmth of a cured hay range plays a slightly larger role.  The feel is fine, not so unusual, just not exactly typical either.  The dryness faded and a slight fullness added in.  Other than being a very unusual tea it's pleasant.  Or strange instead, if a negative bias pairs with that particular form of novelty.

Third infusion:

It's not looking so promising; both are brewing a bit light already.

shu:  this really could've used another 4 minutes.  It's still pleasant though, and at least the flavor and character isn't going off in any way, beyond thinning.  For 4 grams of tea-bag tea it performed much better than I expected.  Shu is inexpensive enough that it makes sense to me to find slightly better versions than this if you are going to drink it, but this is reasonable.

goishi:  sourness is picking up; this is probably closer to where I drank it that time in that shop.  I've not really noticed seaweed so far, as I did then, but it would apply a lot more as a description in this round than in the past two.  Savory character seems to have bumped up a lot.  It had some of that range in the earlier rounds but it wasn't that notable, and the other unconventional flavors stood out even more. 

It's not the really notable umami in sheng and gyokuro but it's not completely unrelated either.  Going back again and trying this tasting over while more familiar with the tea (flavors, overall effect) I'd probably list that as a main component for those first two rounds, only leaving it out for being absorbed by the novelty of the rest. 

I like it.  I don't love it, and I'd not go out of my way to explore this range further, to see how even better versions come across, but it's pleasant and interesting.  I've had the experience many times of trying new tea versions and them just not clicking, and then once I try a better version it all just makes sense, and even those lower quality versions seem better after that.  An epiphany, I guess one might call that experience, a sudden grasp of insight.  That might well happen in this case too.  Shu is probably like that, to some extent, and sheng definitely would be.  For me Wuyi Yancha worked out that way; even though I always liked the moderate quality, dark toffee with cardboard-aspect versions once I tried a better one it all made that much more sense.

these leaves don't look so bad, freed from that tea bag, just an unusual color

An interesting thing came up trying to brew a couple more rounds out of these later:  the shu had kind of had it but the goishi (or whatever it was) brewed with plenty of intensity and was even more pleasant.  The sourness had faded and a good bit of citrus picked up, as a notable part of the experience.  I stretched it for two more rounds and it probably could've went one or two more, even though it was tapering off a bit. 

I bet with the tea bag cut open, brewed Gongfu style in a gaiwan, this tea wouldn't be bad at all.  The sourness could seem odd, or off, but related to working through that expectation with an unusual version of sheng any hint of that doesn't have to be clearly awful.

Very interesting experiences!  Many thanks to those two vendors for passing these on to try.

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