Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Tea Mania 2018 Lucky Bee

There's a novel back-story to this review post, something that never came up in this blog before.  I already reviewed this tea, or thought I did, but had the labels wrong, so I really hadn't.  That related to there being alternate labels on some of the types of teas, with the one I received being the second version, one that doesn't appear on the website at all.  Almost all of the Chinese characters were the same between the expected label (the website version) and the other actual version for a Jing Mai tea, made more difficult to interpret for me not being able to read them (there was no English script, or picture image).

So I reviewed a 2016 Jing Mai Arbor "as a" 2018 Yiwu Lucky Bee, what I'm really reviewing here.  

I can use a website or program to scan Chinese lettering to a recognized form, then a second translation program to transliterate or translate that; I've done it.  It seems likely that wouldn't go as well for vertically written text.  At any rate it takes awhile, and I didn't do it in that previous case.

the other two cakes; the one in the back looks like the 2018 Lucky Bee website photo

2018 Lucky Bee other label, on the website; seemingly one character off the 2016 Jing Mai Arbor version

Reading back through that earlier post it didn't sound exactly like the earlier 2016 Yiwu version character.  It included a bit of pine flavor, and some extra wood tones, with floral, but in a different type and proportion.  

I considered retaining that review to use the wrong-attribution description to be informative, but it was just way too complex to sort out and present in such a way, even as citations.  I was comparing it to another 2019 Jing Mai version in that post (but autumn origin instead of spring, already reviewed alone here), so then to compare it to how this 2018 Yiwu Lucky Bee really is makes for way too much to cover.

Both of these teas are great (the 2018 Yiwu and the 2016 Jing Mai Arbor).  Both express floral tone, rich feel, and enough structure to be suitable to age a bit, with potential to improve further.  With one 2 years further along that might be different, but the starting point character defines how that arc will go, along with storage conditions.

With all that for context I'll keep this just a simple description of the tea, without much for aging potential speculation, tying back to what seems type-typical, or comparison to the 2016 version, which I've reviewed and re-reviewed.

Note that I tried it expecting it to be something it wasn't, Jing Mai instead of Yiwu, and didn't change the description in the notes to compensate for that.  This just points out where those comments relate, for it not matching expectations, or seeming similar to the 2016 Yiwu Lucky Bee, adding clarification in later editing as highlighted text.


First infusion:  a bit light; normally how that goes, how I set up the process.  This shows a lot of promise, even for being on the faint side.  Feel has some thickness to it; the intensity is good, even for it being very light in infusion strength.  It's bright, and a bit floral; that shines through.  The rest would be faint impressions or guesses; I'll take description further next round.  

Second infusion:  that's so good.  Warm honey sweetness stands out, even though it's really an underlying tone.  The floral range is complex; some is bright, some is warm.  Bitterness is quite moderate, at a good level to just lend some balance.  Astringency is on the light side too but it definitely has some structure and body.  The feel is rich, not so much creamy, but towards that thick kind of depth.  There could be some underlying mineral tone or even pine to this, but floral range definitely dominates.  It's complex and well-balanced, and intense; the way those impressions come together is very pleasant.

Related to where this is for aging, and for character related to needing age, it's in a good place.  It may have softened quite a bit in the four years it has been around, assuming that it is the 2016 Jing Mai version; the label is a little confusing, for not matching the website version [note that it wasn't, as already discussed].  It didn't lose its fresh edge.  That earlier Yiwu Lucky Bee version (I think also 2016) had felt like it needed time to age, initially, but the character seemed to imply great potential for positive change, then over a couple of years it happened, and it went from pleasant to very nice, one of my favorite teas I have yet to try.

These teas must be stored in a relatively dry place compared to here [but it does make more sense for this to have been a 2018 tea version].  Almost everywhere fits that description though.  Malaysia doesn't, and Taiwan is probably only slightly less humid, and less hot, but beyond that we are being steamed here in Bangkok, along with the teas we store.  

It's too long a story to go into here, involving too much speculation, but I don't think that wetter storage and faster aging are clearly a uniformly good thing.  For getting the process to "move along," sure, it's just better, but to me that's only definitely positive in cases when teas need a lot of transition (Xiaguan tuos, 7542, etc.).  For pushing a Dayi Jia Ji tuocha through some changes fast relatively humid storage is good; to me that type of tea isn't so subtle and refined that you lose a lot for rushing the process.  For teas like this I'm not so sure; maybe taking fermentation a little slower is better.

Third infusion:  I let this go longer, to see how that changes things, closer to 20 seconds than 10, which would be more standard for me for a high proportion.  It makes that astringency edge stand out quite a bit.  That could be hard to place; I'm definitely not saying that it's anything like a Dayi tuocha; more on the opposite side of that scale.  But it has enough structure that I think it will be even better in another year or two, as it softens and transitions that to creamy feel versus slight edge. [In retrospect this seeming on the young side makes more sense for it being 2 years old, and not 4; the 2016 Lucky Bee is in a great place for earlier structure shifting to full-feel depth].

I suppose bitterness stands out more too, but this is definitely not a bitter version of sheng, that just helps the rest balance, at this level.  Warm floral tone stands out more than bright range, but to me this combining both is what is giving it such positive character, for flavor.  The underlying mineral I would've just called mineral in the past, and now I've come to interpret that as close to pine needle in nature.  It's not woody, but kind of in between mineral and a more standard wood.  I'm not sure why this two phrase sentence format seems to fit right now.

I think I would like it better brewed lighter, more standard for me.  This approach helps "see" what that edge is really like, rather than softening it through dropping the infusion strength level, which shifts the experienced balance.  It comes across as really clean, in flavor and feel, even for being what I would consider slightly overbrewed.

Fourth infusion:  lighter, right back where it should be.  It's interesting how this shares some character aspects from the other Lucky Bee.  Local terroir and plant type inputs tying aspects and character to a local origin are only part of the story, and these may be grown under similar conditions, and were processed by the same people, the same tea producers.

That mineral aspect picks up a little; floral range is dropping into a slightly reduced balance.  Often more challenging sheng need a couple of infusions, or three or four, to "loosen up," but this is developing in a different way, just shifting overall balance.  It's a dry sort of mineral, like slate, definitely overlapping with pine.

Fifth infusion:  descriptions are going to start to repeat; it's not so different than last round.  The tone is warming a little, for some reason.  The mineral is less dry, light pine range is shifting, and the floral tone includes less bright range and more warm, rich range.  I'm not going to do the floral aspects justice but the bright range reminds me of plumeria (light and sweet, and intense), and the warmer part extends out towards orchid.  It seems like a hint of warm citrus is picking up, a dried orange peel, towards red grapefruit in flavor versus tangerine, so a deeper, warmer version of citrus.  

It's good.  The strength isn't any one aspect range, but how it balances.  Aftertaste experience is significant but that could be longer in duration.  That would matter more if I valued tasting the tea as intensely after a minute versus the experience carrying over for an extra half-minute, but I sort of don't.  If it disappears from your mouth then that drops the complexity of the experience, but I haven't learned to value tasting the tea minutes later.  

I think the feel will be better in another two or three years, once it continues further along with fermentation.  It's my impression that this is only as far along as it would be after a couple of years spent here, or maybe even less, so the process is unfolding half as fast.  But again slower might be better, related to retaining a balance of freshness and intensity.

Sixth infusion:  I'm not bored with the tea but taking notes gets old.  Work and weekend outings have me ran down; I'm working with less energy and internal capacity for attention, not to mention mental clarity.  I'll give this a couple more rounds and leave off, related to the description part.

Citrus seemed to shift a little; this is more lemony.  Odd; I wouldn't have expected that.  It's possible that a very slight change in timing, giving this 7 or 8 seconds to brew versus 10, lightened the tone, and changed the results.  Intensity is still great, even though I think I did brew this that much lighter.

Sweetness is good; I haven't been talking about that.  The mineral layer sort of offset that, and are distinct from that part of the experience, while the floral and fruit seems to connect with it.  Some sheng that is similar can seem slightly sweeter but this level works well.

Seventh infusion:  the character is picking up a bit of a butter cookie sort of tone; I didn't see that coming either.  It's strange this can transition so much.  Based on the first 4 or 5 rounds I really thought that was it, that the same aspects would keep shifting in balance, based on how that set normally works out.  Not this time.  It's not losing intensity--not much, anyway--but that feel is softening just a little, so if anything the balance might be slightly better.  That early floral complexity and intensity was really cool though; I'm not sure it works to say that it's improving.

Eighth infusion:  not so different than last round, which is pretty good.  I am dropping the note-taking here.


Reading back through this it does specifically reference it being odd that this resembles the 2016 Yiwu as much as it did, for me expecting it to be a different origin tea.  That's positive, I suppose, an odd form of success in blind tasting.  

The 2016 Jing Mai is closer to this in character than I would expect, just with higher level of wood tone and pine flavor range.  The amount of astringency / structure isn't all that different; this Yiwu must have started out as a more "approachable" tea for that to be relatively even with a two year age difference.  It has enough of that to enable some positive transition though, to convert it to creamy fullness, as occurred with the 2016 Yiwu Lucky Bee version.

On the subject of value, these teas are a lot better than the price range indicates.  I wrote a longer explanation of that point but it seems as well to just leave it at that.

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