A friend in Malaysia passed on a set of teas awhile ago and I finally got around to mentioning another here. I reviewed pretty good Tie Guan Yin versions here, a lightly oxidized and more roasted version, and what I take to be the most traditional style, one balancing moderate oxidation level with some roasting. I'd meant to clear through trying the rest but was busy with sample sets or versions that I bought since then, over a year ago.
I'll be moving away from mentioning tea versions that aren't really novel in some way. This is on the borderline; it's definitely not a typical shu style, at least in the sense of flavor profile, and it's a good version, but all the same to me shu varies less than many other types. Mentioning it almost relates to having made notes, and it's a good chance to thank that friend again (thanks!).
no detail in the labeling
I think this was from a gift shop type outlet. The tea is quite decent given that.
First infusion: a bit of char comes across; this tastes a good bit like a Liu Bao. Even that slate-mineral range matches. It seems like those will clear up and more smooth sweetness will emerge after the initial round. Beyond that it's good, on the clean side. Dark wood tones fill in, and a bit of peat, but it's clean in effect, not murky or muddled.
Second infusion: flavors do evolve to clean up a bit, but otherwise not change. Dark wood stands out more, along the lines of aged wood. Not so much old furniture, an effect that crosses over from how old books smell, into a perfume-like range related to traces of aromatic polish. Roasted chestnut warmth and richness picks up. This seems a perfect tea to start the new year with (the Chinese version); an especially Chinese tea from a Chinese-Malaysian friend. It's not completely typical of a lot of shu range I've tried, which works well the better the tea character turns out. So far so good, but I think it will keep opening up and improving.
Third infusion: this style is a little unusual, that dominant roasted chestnut aspect. It's not as if that never comes up but other range seems to usually stand out more. The supporting aspects are good, level of sweetness, clean nature, moderately thick feel, and some aftertaste. As with shu in general the subtlety and depth only goes so far but the range really works.
Fourth infusion: I'll give this a bit longer soak to mix things up, moving past the 15 seconds or so I've been using. It should just intensify aspect results and thicken the feel. There's no limit to how strong an infusion would work for this tea; it could brew for minutes and it would just be inky and intense, but still pleasant.
It doesn't seem different; this might be losing a little intensity already. It's unusual for being what looks like a true loose leaf shu, which seemed to let it open up right away early on, not to take a couple of rounds to start. The leaves weren't even twisted or compressed in any way. Beyond pressed versions needing rounds to expand back out even loose versions often seem to get a bit twisted or pressed during the fermenting process.
That roasted chestnut range seems to be adding a bit of fall leaf character; cool that I was just thinking about craving that recently, from trying a really strange tea years back that reminded me of sweeping up leaves in the driveway.
Fifth infusion: this tea is wrapping up. I brewed this for a couple of minutes and the infusion strength didn't increase. Wood-tone picked up due to the infusion time difference; that kind of thing is normal. Usually it's astringency that increases, or roast effect in versions when that applies, but in this case an underlying wood tone did instead. It's still pleasant, just thinner, in spite of the long soak.
The tea isn't overly intense or complex but I like it; what is present works well. I'll stretch it for one more long infusion but basically its story has been told; it should just fade a little.
On the positive side the flavor range was quite nice, and pleasant for covering that much roasted chestnut and fall-leaf flavor. For limitations shu can be thicker and creamier than this was, and some is relatively intense, and brews a number of rounds consistently. I think this faded faster for me using slightly less of it and for it being more like loose leaves than shu somehow typically tends to be. I don't know what that means about how it started or processing steps, or if it's seen as positive or negative for any reason.
It's good tea, just a bit basic. Anyone could like it, but I suppose people leaning towards aged sheng preference wouldn't. Or maybe it would cross over well, for some, since it comes across as a bit simple but lacks any of really earthy range some shu possess (peat, etc.).
In looking at the dry leaf photo as I edit this I'm reminded of how it seems likely this wasn't as fermented as many versions are. Maybe this version would really develop over the next decade or so, if a less complete initial fermentation left compounds behind that could still transition. I'll never know; I'll drink the rest of this or share it for someone else to try. I need to clear out some extra samples I've kept around to keep the space tea is taking up reasonable.
Chinese New Year
No mention here of Chinese New Year yet, right? Happy New Year! I was in Chinatown that week for an outing but I didn't write about that, and avoided going closer to the eve or first day of the year. It would be crowded, and my wife is paranoid about the corona virus. I think only 5 cases have turned up here; risk seems pretty low at this point.
That outing related to checking out some bubble tea and odd pour-over tea set-ups in a mall shop. I don't have much to say about that; it is what it is, not the kind of thing I typically talk about here. It probably was and is generally better than typical bubble tea versions. This second was a Thai tea, the orange flavored kind:
By the time you add cream, ice cream, and sweetened condensed milk to a version, as in that second, the base could be coffee instead and it wouldn't turn out so differently. It would be good with coffee, or fine with different types of tea. I think it would've been better infused by soaking it versus "poured over," but then again it probably hardly matters. It's experiential; it was an experience to see it.
All that led me to think a lot about where specialty tea fits in related to commercial RTD / bottled teas and other types, bubble tea, Thai tea, and whatever else is in that range. So few people even know it exists in comparison. It has traditional roots, which could make it seem more valid, but in economic terms or related to being a social trend it's not on the same level as even flavored teas, never mind tea bags. I like "better," interesting teas, they meaning something to me. On that personal, subjective level there's that.