label is white, except for this sticker
I just wrote a post with lots of rambling on about tea settling after shipping, and later transitions, so I want to keep this short. I'll drink it a bit soon too but won't say much about that. This won't cover anything about relative value either; as well to just talk about the tea experience.
It's a "2016 Myanmar Jingdong Xiao Bing Cha 200g." I was really ordering black tea from Chawang Shop to pass on to my niece at a wedding (which of course I'm now not attending, and may be delayed), and I only picked up two sheng cakes from them (or 3 really; two of this version). I bought her sheng, but from another vendor, Tea Mania.
Straight to their description then, Chawang Shop's:
The raw materials of this cake came from Jingdong, Myanmar, just west of the Xishuangbanna. The tea is not expensive but does not come by easily. Nowadays border tea is very popular on the market, Myanmar tea is very good to be used for blending. There is a particular recipe for "Lao Ban Zhang" is blend Myanmar tea with Naka and Lao Man E.
It tastes a little bitter with rich aroma of mountain flowers. Mellowness with a pleasant finish, no astringent.
This tea is made by Mingshan tea house.
Back to that "border tea" subject. I'm still not going there though, I won't be drawn into repeating that discussion here, since I just went through all that in a recent post.
First infusion: a bit light, more about getting the tea to open up. Very promising! The tea is sweet and floral, bright, with good intensity, thickness, complexity, and depth. And all that from a lightly brewed version, barely started. Bitterness is present but moderate; this is a 4 year old tea, even if relatively dry storage will have slowed the transition pace. Next round will work better for a flavor list and the rest.
Second infusion: Bitterness did crank up a bit; this is more what I would have expected. The overall balance is still really nice, and I'd expect after two more rounds and settling of initial transitions this will be even better. Floral stands out, a nice, bright version of that (wildflower?; it seems a bit light in tone for orchid). Mineral depth balances that well at the "other" side, a light mineral character, limestone or lighter granite. Sweetness is good; that seems to link with the floral character, or maybe that's added in interpretation. The degree of fullness and roundness fills in the experience; it's not at all thin.
All the same this doesn't cover the same kind of scope of aspects that blends tend to; it hits a nice range of some positive notes fairly hard and there isn't other range beyond that. I could see why this would work well in a blend, to support other teas missing some of those aspects.
It's interesting how different this is than the other sheng I just bought from them. That was made from a mix of inputs, from two different years, from 2006 and 2007 (so much more aged), a standard factory tea, a Jinggu Bailong. It wass subtle, more so for me not letting it rest long enough after shipping yet (which I'll get to). The same is true for this; it will pick up a little depth and intensity over the next two weeks. It has probably been in Bangkok for over a week but time spend in local processing and sitting at a desk in my office doesn't count (I'm working from home, so a rare trip in let me pick it up).
Third infusion: not so different, but mineral seems to still be increasing. It's expanding to link up with other range, or maybe it's just really complex mineral. The level of bitterness is pronounced but balanced. Without that sweetness and floral flavor intensity it wouldn't be as nice, but with them it works. The mineral isn't directly related, as I interpret the experience, but it adds depth, along with pleasant length aftertaste reasonable thickness of feel (which is structured in an unusual way, to be fair, full and rich but also with a touch of dryness).
It's as well that I bought two cakes of this. I think this is at a great place now to drink straight through it, after another 2-4 weeks to settle more. Then it will be interesting trying it once or twice a year, and drinking it later as an aged tea. I'd expect this would be fine in another dozen years, and it would be interesting to see if that guess is right. This tea is ten times more drinkable than the 2006 Kokang version from them, to be clear. That tea has great intensity for being very pleasant in another decade but it seems between the relatively dry storage and very high compression it's taking a long time to age transition, to ferment. I retasted that since making these notes, and cover at the end how it changed in the last year.
I don't tend to talk about color much but it's pale yellow-gold. It's what I'd expect from dry-stored, 4 year old sheng. This would probably be darker if it had spent 2 years here instead of 4 years where it did, and flavor range would shift to deeper, warmer, heavier tones, less bright and fresh. If it had range that needed to transition to be more positive, as slightly harsher teas tend to, that speeded up fermentation would make more difference than it does for this. To me it's fine. For some bitterness would be a bit much still, but this is moderate as younger sheng goes (teas in the general range of 1 to 2 years old, stored in a more humid environment; this isn't really showing the typical amount of transition in character for a 4 year old tea yet).
Fourth infusion: that mineral gaining depth has shifted to come across as including a spice tone now. As I expected the balance is much nicer, really evened out, with flavor picking up more range, and feel settling to be broader and smoother as well. It's still only hitting a limited set of aspect notes across a broad range, as flavor goes, but I like that effect.
Fifth infusion: not so different than last round, but a gradual, continuing transition cycle is nice. To me there is nothing negative about this tea; all the aspects balance well. For anyone who doesn't like sheng the bitterness would still be too much but for younger range sheng versions it's quite moderate, and well-integrated. That feel is nice, smooth and full with some structure, and aftertaste duration keeps increasing round by round. It's still only noticeable a few minutes later, not the kind of experience where the taste is stronger after you swallow it, and not diminished that much minutes later. Floral tone is probably just a little deeper, warmer, and richer, shifted a little towards lavender from the original wildflower.
Sixth infusion: there isn't enough transition to say much more about; this might be a good place to only ramble for a round. It's interesting how the tea yesterday (an aged, more blended, small commercial factory sheng) was lots less intense, at the opposite side of the scale, related to that and character. I think that would work well for a daily drinker, as a tea to not pay as much attention to, but this might be a bit much for when you just want a tea with breakfast.
I re-tried a 2015 Dayi (Tae Tea) Jia Ji tuocha a few days ago that might help place that idea. It was good, softening and gaining depth to a pleasant and drinkable range. It's still just as intense as this tea (the Dayi), maybe with a touch more rough edge, but more complexity for being a blend, and one that started out a bit harsh and softened to where it is now. These share some scope (sweetness, mineral depth--but both are more pronounced in this) but this tea is more specific.
Seventh infusion: I could swear a bit of berry sweetness is picking up in this; just crazy. It's closest to dried blueberry. That original bright floral range had been shifting to deeper floral tone, and it just kept going. The warm and complex mineral had edged towards a spice tone but leveled back off as just being complex, and stayed more an underlying theme. To be clear this isn't covering a lot of flavor scope, these are still a limited set of pronounced notes, but they're across a broad range, and the taste does keep shifting. Feel and aftertaste range stopped transitioning as much; those are still where they were two rounds ago.
Eighth infusion: right about now my patience for reviewing usually wears thin. If there was a little less chaos in the house I'd be taking less breaks to settle a dispute over who plays with what matchbox car (not something I care about, but they seem to have strong opinions), or to see how many pull-ups the kids can do. Then it would be easier to focus and meditate and bang this review process out in an hour.
I think I went a little faster on that round; this is lighter. I'm brewing these for just under 10 seconds, not for long, and it makes a lot of difference if that's down towards 5 or just over 10. Intensity is still good lighter and the relative effect of bitterness drops. It already had dropped a lot from the level of the first 3 to 4 rounds, as tends to happen, but it's easy to shift the relative effect using a shorter brewing time. That trace of dried blueberry is still present; it's cool.
I'll "push" the tea for a 15 second infusion time next round to see how that changes things.
Ninth infusion: it changes a good bit; it's hard to summarize what though. Feel is thicker, the moderate bitterness plays a stronger role in what comes across, and aftertaste ramps up. I taste the mineral more than the now-diminished floral range, and the light dried blueberry gets lost in all that. It's not really "too strong" brewed for 15 seconds but for me right around 10 might still be an optimum. I'd expect that to change soon; it's nearing where slightly longer infusion times are necessary, not 30 seconds or anything like that, but bumped to 15 to get to the same intensity level.
10th infusion: I think that's enough caffeine. I tend to not talk about "cha qi" but of course I'm feeling this. It's a nice heady buzz, with a bit of body dimension to even it out. It's a clean and light feel, for the most part, but since I'm living feeling hazy that carries over. Working from home has somehow bumped my workload and level of restriction a little. At work if I'm there I'm doing the role, even over in the break-room, but at home somehow it seems I should be sitting right at that screen all the time.
11th: crazy how this isn't thinning a bit; if anything it's better than it was for the first 5 rounds, for that shift in character. An 11 year old, who isn't really supposed to be drinking tea, split this round with me, so the issue of too much tea exposure was cut in half. I'll still probably throw in the towel after the next round.
12th: it probably is losing just a touch of intensity; I'm now brewing it for around that 15 seconds to get the same infusion strength. Mineral that had evolved to touch on spice is just starting to stretch out to seem a bit more like cured hardwood tone. It's not finished but I'd expect that trend to become less positive over the next 4 rounds or so. After another hour or so I could drink more to check but that's enough for now.
I tried this for another 4 rounds during an online tasting with friends in India and Germany, Suzana and Ralph. For the first couple it was a good bit thinner than the first 12 but still fine, and for the last two it was getting stretched a bit too thin. The character never really became unpleasant in any way, it just faded away.
A high infusion count like that tends to relate to using a high proportion as much as anything else, and short infusion times along with it. Better tea will brew to be more intense, and will often stay more positive across late rounds, and hold up better for intensity (in addition to aspect range), but more than that just using more tea makes a difference.
It's interesting that the intensity issue that caused the last tea I reviewed to be subtle didn't repeat (maybe because it didn't rest long enough after storage, more likely more caused by where it is in fermentation transition, and relating to it fading with age). This tea might fill in a bit more depth within the next month, but it had a lot going on, good complexity and positive character.
I re-tasted the 2006 Kokang Myanmar sheng over the weekend too, based on talking to someone about that tea online recently. It's much more aged (transitioned, fermented) but it's not ready yet. It's a lot more compressed, intense in character, and still slightly harsher, probably in part due to using more chopped material. It's a bit like a Xiaguan version, as aspect range and intensity goes. 14 years old would typically be getting there for fermenting a good bit but again the dry storage slowed that, along with the really tight compression.
I didn't take a photo; a before and after from a year back would be interesting. It really needs a couple more years, where this version I just reviewed is fine now for drinking better as a younger version.
it's darker than this now, easier to see in broken off chunks and brewed leaves
that tea brewed one year ago; I'll have to do an update post at some point