Monday, September 28, 2020

Gopaldhara Indian Oriental Oolong and Honey Oolong

Oriental oolong left, Honey oolong right

I'm trying more of the teas sent by Gopaldhara for review, moving on from some more standard versions to two branded as types of oolongs.  This last post had covered two exceptional second flush examples, and this earlier one both a first and a second.  It was all great, but these should be a little less standard in type.

Per what I've tried in the past Indian oolongs aren't so close to Chinese versions in character, but I tend to not get hung up on categories or labels, or expectations in general.  The experience of the tea is the thing; that part works or it doesn't.  Keeping this simple, onto vendor descriptions and review notes:

Rohini Oriental Summer Oolong – Second Flush 2020 

This is a rare and finest Summer Tea or Second Flush oolong tea prepared from high-quality 144 clones at Rohini Tea Estate. The month of May is very interesting for low to mid-elevations in Darjeeling. Growth is very slow and the weather is quite dry, not too much rain. Good temperature and low humidity. It is a period of slow growth and also coincides with greenfly attack. It leads to stunted growth. You can say this the perfect condition for making Oolongs. Oolongs are very light delicate teas with complex flavours. They have a very high aroma and superb tastes. The teas are sweet and have a rosy honey-like flavour.

Rohini Summer Honey Oolong – Second Flush 2020

This is one of the finest Summer Tea Second Flush Muscatel Tea prepared from high-quality AV2 bushes at Rohini Tea Estate. This summer oolong consists of brownish-black leaves and few silver tips. It brews into an aromatic bright amber cup with a very smooth flavor without any astringency. The tea has a mouthful sweet and fruity muscatel character with a finish of honey and mango flavor. It has no astringency and is a very compelling make.


Oriental oolong left, Honey oolong right (in all photos)

Oriental Oolong:  a little light, how a first infusion often goes, related to my own preference for brewing process.  I let this brew a bit over 10 seconds but knew that wouldn't be enough to draw out a conventional infusion strength.  To me that serves as an introduction to the tea, with the second where the real tasting starts.  It's sweet, complex, and pleasant.  It's really not so different than a very mellow second flush version, so far.  Citrus and muscatel stand out, with a lot of that a brighter citrus range than is typical for second flush Darjeeling, but then those can vary a lot.  Oxidation level seems to be in between typical first and second flush ranges; medium.  The feel may well be smoother and "rounder" than is typical for either first of second flush.

Honey Oolong:  that's especially interesting for including a lot of what is very typical Darjeeling range, just a different form of it.  There is citrus along with a vegetal range, like plant stem, but without anywhere near a conventional level of astringency.  Usually that particular flavor range and the strong bite of astringency go together.  This will be more astringent than the other, not surprising given that leaves are a bit more broken and it's a lot greener.  It is nice the way a notable honey aspect joins in with the rest.  This is probably a good bit more floral than the other, with that heavy on citrus fruit.  I'll hold off on a more complete list since it'll be easier to sort out next round.

Second infusion:

Oriental Oolong:  really nice.  Again this could pass for a mild version of a second flush tea, or really maybe as a strong-flavored version of an autumn flush.  The character is mellow in terms of astringency, but the flavor hit is there.  Range isn't so different from better second flush range, citrus and muscatel.  A good bit of floral range adds significant complexity to that.  It's interesting experiencing that intensity with feel being full but soft.  There's just a hint of dryness beyond that fullness, but astringency level is almost lower than would be conceivable for a standard second flush version.  

The dryness indicates that it is closer to a black tea than to a Chinese oolong, as the oxidation level does.  Putting percentages on that doesn't really work well, even though it's standard for some people to do it, but I'd guess this is something like 50-60% oxidized, so not far off Oriental Beauty, but really even lower in level than most versions of that.

Honey Oolong:  the same story as for the other, but related to a shift related to a lower oxidation level.   Oxidation level is not that far off a normal first flush range, it seems (which is comparable to Chinese oolong range; 30% or so, if one must guess at a level).  Again a dryness pairs with the soft feel, but that other's is closer to the dryness in a black tea, and this is the dryness paired with a different feel that seems to associate with a different flavor profile, that vegetal bite.  There's tons of floral complexity to this, a strong hit across a broad range.

Third infusion:

I'll give these less than 10 seconds infusion time; I think I went too light the first round, and too heavy the second, and that should do it, for this proportion.

Oriental Oolong:  much better balance.  That flavor complexity is really nice; reciting a list won't do it justice.  It is just citrus, muscatel, and floral, now evolving to be more floral, with the flower type spanning a broad range.  Doesn't add much, does it?  The warm tone is great, along with the effect of that complexity.  This tastes like a warm version of honey, with the other more like a lighter and citrusy version instead.  Sweetness is great, feel is soft but full, and it really all comes together.

This is definitely not like second flush Darjeeling, in one sense, and in another it's just that.  The feel is in a different place.  That bit of dryness doesn't come across at all this round; it's just smooth and full.  I think that's from dialing in infusion strength and also part of a natural tendency for the first two rounds brewed Gongfu style to have a different kind of astringency.  It's quite good.

Honey Oolong:  same for this; it really hit its stride for being brewed properly and for evolving through some early roughness.  These are far from finished too; they'll be fine for another half dozen rounds.  I won't get far with notes because I've got something else to do though, always the way.

The nice thing about this tea, and to a lesser extent the other, is that if someone really loved that brighter, sweet, floral and honey range relating to less oxidized forms of Darjeeling, but could never completely get past the astringency edge, this has all the positive range covered but none of the latter.  It's strange, drinking it like that.  You can taste that flower-stem flavor range, a hint of it, along with a solid blast of complex floral range, but the normally-associated astringency edge just isn't there.  Even that edge of dryness dropped out, as for the other.

The full effect of roundness and fullness of feel present in Chinese oolongs doesn't come through.  These are soft and a bit full but it's just not the same.  The flavor intensity does carry over to some degree of aftertaste, a continuation of the positive range you taste while drinking them.

Fourth infusion:

Oriental Oolong:  some positive flavor transition is working out; this trails a bit towards spice range.  It's cool that it breaks past being standard second flush aspect range, just without the same astringency concern.  That spice flavor is hard to break down.  It's almost like it borrows a little from a few different versions, a hint of a root spice and bark spice, maybe with just a trace of some seed included.  It's nice that the complexity picked up that much, and the novelty.  It's still covering a decent amount of citrus and floral complexity.  

Honey Oolong:  this version didn't change as much as it all just integrated much better.  That heavy and complex floral range now combines in a much tighter and different way with the "plant stem" effect, which is mellow, as far as both related feel and taste goes.  I didn't "see" it as not-integrated before, but with it all combining in a way that supports an overall experience so much better now I do.  An interpretation of this as fruity instead of floral would make sense this round. 

These are great.  The descriptions won't do the experience justice.  Before this round I was ready to leave off at saying both are like conventional Darjeeling aspect scope, just with a much smoother, fuller astringency effect, and very positive and complex flavor range.  At this stage it's more than that; they integrate better, evolving to be slightly different.  I bet two more rounds would tell more of that story but I've got to run; I never have two full hours to do a full tasting on the weekend mornings.  I can comment further thoughts later, but I'll let the round-by-round note taking drop here.


These did produce additional very positive infusions but didn't seem to evolve related to aspects changing much.  Within two to three more rounds the intensity and range dropped off, but they were still far from finished.  Stretching out the cycle, using longer times to go through additional rounds, worked out well; character stayed very positive, just more limited.

These are two of the more interesting and positive Darjeeling examples I've experienced.  That second version, the Honey Oolong, is less familiar to me for being oxidized to that lower level, but I vaguely recall trying other versions like that in the past, a long time ago when I was exploring Darjeelings more.  I'm not completely keeping up with Chinese oolongs now for focusing so much on sheng pu'er, never mind Darjeeling, or Assam and Nepal teas, and so on.

These don't seem much like Chinese oolongs to me, but that doesn't detract from how positive they are.  Flavor intensity, complexity, and positive range are really unique for both, and feel and aftertaste work out well.  They're not full and round in feel in the same way Chinese oolongs tend to be, or fruity and floral covering the same scope as Dan Cong, or similar to Wuyi Yancha for integrating roast-related complexity, or cognac or perfume-like character.  But they are both great in their own way.  

If anyone had experienced Darjeeling as very positive in flavor range but had trouble getting past forms of astringency these represent a natural resolution for that.  Even the flavor range, taken alone, is more positive than all but the most exceptional other forms I've ever tried, and the exceptional feel doubles up that positive effect.

On a different subject, I've not been sharing family photos that much lately, not that I get feedback about the omission.

happy 14th anniversary to my loving wife  

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Moychay 2020 Jing Mai sheng pu'er (Wengji village)


I'm reviewing the first of a large set of Moychay teas, provided by the producer and vendor, a 2020 Jing Mai sheng pu'er from Wengji village.  I might say more about the set and the context for them sending teas to review later but for this post I just want to focus on tasting results.

That's a bit more complicated in form because I'm starting it as a comparison tasting, using a tea from what I consider to be one of the best sources for sheng as a benchmark, a Tea Mania version.  Even that praise is probably an understatement; I think Tea Mania stands out as the best sheng source for both quality and value that I'm familiar with.  There's always better teas out there, so that statement is weighted towards the second part, that it's the only source I'm familiar with that sells sheng versions of that quality level for the $40 to $60-some range.

What about Moychay, one might wonder?  I've tried and reviewed some really good versions of sheng from them.  Some were incredible values, even those towards the bottom side of that cost range.  But Tea Mania teas have always been on a slightly higher level, the kind that drink well when you get them and have amazing aging potential.  More than that it's about price-range; for what they are they sell at below market value rates.  That will change at some point, for sure.

Related to Moychay one of my favorite overall sheng versions was from them, a Nannuo sheng version I reviewed some time back (first here).  As chance had it that was one of the the first teas I bought from them, walking into a St. Petersburg shop.  As I remember it had cost around $70, so not really outside that range, so it really does work as a counter-example, but just barely, as the value claim goes.  Since that was 2 1/2 years ago and I'm talking today's pricing maybe just outside the threshold instead.  

Then supply and demand factor in; Nannuo origin teas are in demand, as lots of Yiwu versions are, and holding the price to a lower range wouldn't work as well, when keeping quality level up.  The character of that tea made it a personal favorite, so to me that value was great.

I was concerned going in that maybe I'd like the Tea Mania version a lot more, or that maybe it would sell for considerably less, and then this wouldn't be a great way to start a review of a large set.  But the benchmark function was important to me; it's a lot easier to place character when tasting one tea against another, and how these stack up in relation to each other really does help me determine relative value, the cost per quality issue.  Also aging transition and potential to age well is an important factor in assessing sheng pu'er; how good a version is right now is only part of a longer story.  Since the Tea Mania version is four years older (2016) comparing transition effect should tell part of that story, even for the Moychay version, even though it hasn't happened yet.  The contrast will make it easier to "talk around" that factor. 

Value really is something that consumers should be aware of.  Even if someone's tea budget is loose, and they really don't mind parting with $1 / gram for a good tea version, then they should still be considering value, getting what they are paying for related to that expense.  Paying extra for a nice looking wrapper, a moving story, or smooth sales pitch makes no sense to me.  Moychay does produce great looking wrappers; that's not to say that I don't appreciate that.

It's a huge challenge for this Moychay tea, because as I say Tea Mania has more or less stood alone to me related to those factors.  Farmerleaf had been selling versions based on great value, but the last Jing Mai cake I bought from them was around $90 instead, quite good tea, but no better than the $65 or so Tea Mania version I bought this year was.  I'm guessing that Farmerleaf's material costs went up significantly, as they moved into slightly higher quality product range.  Yunnan Sourcing sells good tea, but they've moved to place their "wild arbor" themed better versions at $80-100 instead.  They're probably worth that; it's fair market value, for as good as the tea is.  Chawang Shop focuses on selling pretty solid teas at a great value, but I'd need to buy more of their young versions to really see how they stack up.  That source is definitely a contender.  

Obviously this one example isn't intended to represent how quality and value go across Moychay's line.  In the past I've been pleased to see that higher costs did seem to relate to better quality versions, and that the lowest price teas were still great values, for not giving up much for solid quality level.  "Gushu" versions tipped towards being pricey, but that's just how that goes.  That's how high original material cost translates to retail sale, and the character for what I tried seemed in line with expectations.

Let's consider these details, then go straight on to tasting (per usual I'm adding this during later editing):

Sheng puer from the trees of Wengji village, Jingmai mountains, 2020, selling for $62.43

Raw Puer "Tea trees of Wengji village" was made in a small tea farm in Jingmai Mountains (Puer County) in the spring of 2020.

The teacake of 357 grams composed of brown, flagellum twisted leaves with thin cuttings and silvery tips. The fragrance is restrained, herbaceous. The infusion is transparent with a yellowish-green hue.

The bouquet of the brewed tea is fresh, herbaceous, with nutty and woody notes. The fragrance is tender, herbaceous. The taste is full-bodied and pure, oily, a bit tart, with a fine fruity sourness and lingering finish.

It's a little odd that I don't have a recent review of this Jing Mai version, even though I bought a cake of it this year.  I did review an autumn harvest variation that I also bought, from 2018, but I only have a review of this 2016 spring version as a sample, that I tried a couple of years ago.  No need to make this more complicated than it has to be anyway, cross-referencing multiple old reviews.

the Tea Mania version cost $3 more, so essentially the same, for slightly aged tea (2016)

I won't be sticking with this cross-vendor comparison theme in later posts; I'll probably do comparison reviews between Moychay samples and that's it.  To me it's an interesting place to start though, and it could help clarify the overall context.


Moychay version left, in all photos

Moychay:  that's great.  It's a little unusual, but in ways that really work for me.  I never really read vendor reviews before tasting but I just scanned this one, more curious about the selling price, and it mentioned tartness.  This is slightly tart.  I don't like tartness in black teas, and it's rare enough in sheng that I don't give it much thought.  But tartness isn't the main story to this, so far.

Flavor complexity and intensity stands out a lot, overall.  Some flavor is in floral range, with that tartness tied more to fruit.  One part reminds me of pine, and a good bit of mineral comes across.  Sweetness is good; pronounced.  There's more to the flavor range than I'm getting too; a pleasant more subdued part seems closer to butter cookie.  It will be interesting to see how that set evolves.

Feel is nice, with aftertaste effect standing out a lot more than the feel, at this stage.  It really lingers on.  That mineral range ties with a bit of dryness to the structure (feel), but it's not really overly astringent, even though it does have some structure.  Bitterness is present but a moderate level of that.  A very high level compared to how oolongs come across; I mean moderate related to very young sheng range.

This isn't what some people might refer to as "oolong pu'er" though; it has plenty of bitterness and astringency structure to indicate that the changes that would occur in this over the next few years would be positive.  Or it's nice right now.  As far as long-term potential, what this would be like after 15 more years, stored with medium level humidity, it's hard to say.  It might be better suited for that if it were more challenging now.  At a guess this will continue to improve for a number of years but would drink as well as it ever will within the next 5, varying most in relation to humidity level of storage.  That's just a guess though.  

To keep guessing, way past the range I have enough experience to justify saying anything, I would guess that with dry storage, in the range of 50% RH, or slightly below, this would be really interesting and positive after another decade, still fresh, but mellowed.  There is a dryness level below which teas are said to turn sour but I've not been exposed to examples to say more about that.  Living in Bangkok I would have to de-humidify storage quite a bit to get to that.

Tea Mania:  warmer, richer.  That's to be expected; this is four years older.  It's funny how these really share a lot of common ground.  A lot of that floral / fruit / mineral range matches up.  This tea is still aging towards where it would be best, I think, still evolving out some bitterness and astringency edge.  The brighter tones are already warming, with that fruit moving towards dried fruit.  Or floral moving towards a warmer floral tone; the way it all combines makes it harder to pick out distinct descriptions for those.  There's something unusual in the flavor profile of this, something generally positive, along the lines of Juicyfruit gum.  Again a pine aspect seems to tie to the mineral and astringency.

One might wonder which is better.  It's hard to get a sense of that; they're similar more than they are different, except for having a slightly different flavor profile.  The Tea Mania version probably started with more astringency edge, to be roughly even with the Moychay version at this point.  It wouldn't be wrong to say that this would bode well for it being better after a dozen years of aging, versus the Moychay tea, and that it wouldn't drink as pleasantly within the first 2 or 3 as a trade-off.

I'd expect this tea to be further along in terms of fermentation transition for being 4 years old but it probably spent that time in a much cooler and drier place than Bangkok.  Which is fine; a slower shift through that cycle could possibly work out better.

Second infusion:  

Moychay:  even better; I sort of saw that coming.  Bitterness did pick up a good bit, now in the range of biting a flower stem, but that other flavor range is really cool.  Warmth picked up, and depth.  This tea is going to be a lot better in another two years once it settles and evolves, so it would be a shame to drink a lot of it now, but it is nice like this, especially if people value bitterness in sheng.  It's not like the bitter version of a Lao Man E type; way less than that.  

I didn't give this a long infusion time but around 10 seconds was too long; I'll need to keep it moving.  Bright and intense floral with some fruit is nice.  The intensity and aftertaste adds a lot to that experience.  To be where I'd enjoy it most I'd need to cut that infusion time back to 5 or 6 seconds; the balance of bitterness and astringency isn't right for me.  The richness that I was interpreting as butter cookie makes the divide between the bright, sweet, intense flavors and the bitterness work better; it bridges those.  There is still some tartness but it kind of integrates with the rest.

Tea Mania:  That aging effect seems to be making a world of difference.  I can guess about to what extent the changes will also occur in the same form in the Moychay tea, just keep in mind that would only be guessing.  And I'm biased towards experience with how a hot, humid environment changes teas, which shifts them fast, and in a different way than drier conditions.  It was interesting trying a good sized set of different in-house versions from the Chawang Shop awhile back, aged in Kunming, to "see" more of the opposite effect, teas that were 4 years old or so but not all that transitioned.  

I'm not in the "more humid is better camp" at all; it depends on the sheng, what will suit it.  You read about those "hot box" experiments, that Marco of Late Steeps seems to have came up with, and they tend to imply that warmer and more humid is better, at a quick read.  But I think what is happening is that warmer and more humid is shifting teas a lot more, so if you "run" that process for a year for a test you end up getting one twice as aged as the other (progressed further in fermentation; of course the time is the same, and it's not a linear scale, the effect differs).  

For teas that absolutely need to get where they are going, like a really challenging Xiaguan tuo, or a Dayi Jia Ji tuocha, then more kind of is better, as fermentation level goes.  That's not where we are with these two teas.  They're not the type that you should be drinking straight through, best when brand new, but they don't absolutely need a decade to get in the drinkable range, since they're in it now.

Anyway, a bit more description before moving onto the next round.  Both teas are catchy in different ways.  The Moychay version retains that bright intensity that makes fresh sheng versions special, when the style makes them drinkable like that.  This other is picking up warmer fruit tones that are really cool, with the entire flavor profile warming.  Bitterness isn't an issue with this tea, although some is present, but the astringency level is still on the high side, coming across as both feel-structure and a little dryness.  I think this will mellow into something really special over the next two years or so.  It's taking time to get to a relative "peak," but my sense is that it's not at its complete best yet.

Third infusion:

Moychay:  one flavor aspect in this is really catchy.  The immediate impression is that there is one thing behind that, one note, but it's probably really how a set of flavors comes together.  Tartness has evolved away, for the most part, and warmth is picking up.  Floral and fruit range combine, with mineral and a trace of pine playing a supporting role.  It all integrates, coming across as just one flavor, but really it's a set.  It's like when a symphony plays, with a lot of inputs merging completely (in a selection where that's the intention).  It all heads a little towards a ripe banana flavor, a sweet, rich, warm and complex flavor that I only tend to experience in my favorite banana type here (which isn't what Americans are eating; per my recollection those tend to be a bit flavorless).  

Tea Mania:  warmth and a different fruit tone stands out in this.  It's still like the "Juicyfruit gum" flavor, which isn't that far off dried mango.  There are lots of types of mangos though, so only the one that I happen to mean.  It's interesting how the astringency and dryness stays pronounced in this, even using a faster infusion time.  If anything the balance of that may have increased, with flavor intensity dropping a little but the astringency level not.  The Moychay version might be slightly more drinkable at this stage (strange, right?), although both really would shine with another year or two of mellowing.  I think for the longer term the Tea Mania style is more suitable, but of course that's mostly a guess.

To be clear, for some people's preference this Moychay is probably as good as it will ever get.  It's a trade-off, letting some of that freshness and high end flavor go to evolve towards softer, richer, deeper tones, with astringency and bitterness fading.  If someone sees significant bitterness and astringency as a critical part of the experience, as complementary, then this is where it should be.  

Personal preference defines what the ideal balance is for different people.  Having started out as an oolong and Chinese black tea drinker I can really appreciate teas that are quite soft, rich, flavorful, and approachable, not challenging at all.  I can also relate to some bitterness and appreciate some astringency structure, but I suppose my own preference isn't for teas as edgy as some would prefer.  I don't "get" the bitter form of Lao Man E, for example.  Someone just mentioned buying a 2017 Dayi Jia Ji tuocha in a group and I passed on that I would probably like that tea better in a few years, based on the 2015 versions I have not seeming quite ready yet, to me.

Fourth infusion:  for doing a combined tasting I won't run through 10 infusions worth of notes; maybe only a couple more rounds.

Moychay:  it's funny how bright sweetness drops back this round, and a plant-stem range bitterness picks up.  It's still good, just different, shifted quite a bit in balance of aspect inputs.  I suppose that will keep happening, transitions.  Pine seems a little stronger for associating more with that range, but I think it's an effect from interpretation, not an actual change of what is present.  It still has good complexity, that just thins a little.  There's a good chance this will just be different within a couple more infusions, so it's not "playing out" at this stage, just changing instead.

Tea Mania:  this is nice with a lighter intensity balance (I probably went that bit faster on infusion time, or maybe the initial intensity of the first rounds is letting up).  As both of these drink right now, tied to personal preference, I might like the Moychay a little better.  That brighter intensity is quite pleasant, and the more challenging astringency edge is about at the same level for both.  Per my experience with the 2016 "Lucky Bee" Yiwu version that particular form of astringency represents a transition potential that won't take long to change to a creamy fullness, nothing like a decade, these will both soften and deepen relatively fast.  

I'll try to be clearer; someone reviewed what is probably a 7542 (questions of authenticity come up) within 7 or so years of production, and they described it as "still brutal."  That's not what is going on with these.  Warm mineral is a lot stronger in the Tea Mania version, than the mineral range in the Moychay, but bitterness level is a lot lower.  They overlap less in character at this point than they did in the first round.

Fifth infusion:

Moychay:  flavors are warming a little; this hints towards spice range.  It's not just a slight trace either, both the warm rich flavor of cinnamon and the deeper, softer, "rounder" range of root spice seems to be evolving (sassafras or something such, or maybe ginseng, there is a dry mineral sort of theme going on too).  The brightness seems more lemony than floral at this point.  I suppose that was probably a decent interpretation last round, or maybe even initially, but a stronger floral theme stood out more to me then.  This overall balance is pleasant.

Tea Mania:  it's interesting tasting this and seeing how much common ground there is, since I've somehow found it more natural to notice differences over these last rounds, in these notes.  There is a base set of flavors and other character that is still common to both.  Feel for both has an interesting structure, and that form of astringency is a bit unique.  In the Moychay version it pairs with brighter flavors, and couples with more bitterness, shifting the overall effect.  It's strange that I'm claiming that flavor range affects feel, isn't it?  I mean that the overall effect seems to pull how you interpret the parts.  In both cases there is a common base of shared range but the rest stands out more, and shifts how that central theme and grounding context comes across.  This could be "lemony" too if you expect that, just less so for being less intense as more forward, brighter flavors go.

Sixth infusion:  this might be a good place to leave off; 12 of these cups of tea is plenty for me.

Moychay:  not changing that much since the last round; I've been waiting to say that.  If anything this is as positive as it's been yet; the aspects really integrate well together.  That bodes well for the next half dozen rounds.  I think bitterness will pick back up as infusion length extends, to compensate for fading, with that having faded from the original form in these middle rounds.  It's nice how clean and integrated this comes across.  It's clearly pretty good tea.  

This is what I would associate with a general Jing Mai character, just an interesting expression of it.  Bright flavor intensity stands out more than it sometimes does, and pine can be a stronger input than it has been in this.  I've not really tried to pull apart what I've meant by the floral or fruit descriptions here much, partly a casualty of doing a combined tasting, and partly in relation to these expressing a range of complex flavors that could be interpreted in different ways.  That and I'm not good with floral scent memory.  

Tea Mania:  this is as positive as it has been too, but for different reasons.  That astringency balance is as moderate as it has been, and the cool dried fruit / Juicyfruit gum flavor range still stands out.  I think I've adequately brought across that I think this would improve a lot more over a bit of aging transition, only 2 more years.  That's probably  also true of the Moychay version, but with it probably a more neutral trade-off.  This tea has already lost some of it's most pronounced, highest end youthful flavor intensity, but the challenge of the astringency is about even for both.


This is quite good tea.  I was concerned that the Tea Mania version might have been better, which is no way to start a series of reviews of Moychay versions.  They were just different.  Both are probably at least as good as the last Farmerleaf Jing Mai version that I bought two years ago, or maybe both slightly better, at lower cost ($60-some versus that around $90).  Both are very good value teas.

The part about considering aging differences and potential worked out.  I think both of these teas would be better in two more years, which I've already discussed at length.  It was a little odd to me that the Tea Mania version didn't transition more than it had, for being that age, but then I am accustomed to the "hot box" local climate effect of living in Bangkok.  It's 35 C / 95 F here right now, at 51% RH, and it doesn't feel hot to me, because that's just the normal temperature and humidity.  It's the rainy season but it hasn't rained for 24 hours; that level will bump a lot once it does again, which may occur later today.

People would probably feel differently about buying brand new tea versions versus those already aged a bit.  I like experiencing the whole transition, so to me it's positive trying them when new, even if I think the best effect would come from waiting another year or two.  At least you can make that decision if you own it new.  For this 2016 version I think it's still improving, so that matters less.  As for it being a few years old adding value, I guess, maybe.  This Moychay Jing Mai version is quite drinkable at this stage, so it would really depend on how someone likes the tea best, based on expressing what aspect set.

It's possible this Moychay version really is slightly better.  I think in terms of long-term storage potential the opposite is true, that the Tea Mania version started out with a character more suitable for long-term aging.  In terms of which drinks best after an optimum amount of transition time I'd really be guessing.  The Moychay version has lots going for it in terms of bright character, clean and positive flavors, intensity, and good balance.  The Tea Mania version had more astringency that wouldn't have been nearly as positive for a brand-new version, but it's headed into a very positive character range.

So far so good for tasting from this large set (many thanks to Moychay for contributing that).  The experience was very positive, and the tea holds its own in a tough test of value comparison.

Lots of what is to come is in much less familiar range; this should be really interesting.  Willow herb (Ivan chay / fireweed) is a part of that, and interesting looking black teas; even some blends.  

I skipped an interesting story about these getting stuck at Thai customs, but it was more novel to go through than it would be pleasant to hear about.  Imagine going to the DMV to get a driver's license, then filling out some extra forms, struggling with website process description, and then going back a few more times.  I think it was a reasonable karmic price to pay to get to this tea set.

not on the Trip Advisor list of places to go in Bangkok

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Aged oolong

 First published by TChing here:

I recently reviewed two aged Taiwanese rolled oolongs, a bit out of normal context for those being 6 years old (2014).  Aged oolong tends to typically relate to rolled oolong versions that are 15 years old or older.  It will be simpler to cover a few different paradigms here, since there is a notable exception related to that.

Ali Shan left, Dong Ding right (slightly more roasted)

slightly aged Wuyi Yancha:  heavily roasted Wuyi Yancha, Fujian "rock oolongs," are often sold after only a year or two of aging, to diminish the roast-flavor input.  Why not just roast them less?  One reason is because for some starting points going with an upper medium level roast and then resting the tea can be seen as an optimum preparation, getting the best results.  A second reason is less positive:  this category of oolongs is often over-roasted to cover up flaws (eg. off flavors resulting from incorrect processing).  

Usually these aren’t sold as decade+ aged teas, but further changes are seen as positive for in the range of 5 to 7 years, and older versions would be in demand related to novelty.  There is a parallel style of well-roasted Tie Guan Yin (Anxi, China rolled oolong), but I suspect that's also most often employed to cover flaws, for example to compensate for last year's tea flattening a bit in flavor profile.


medium level rolled oolong aging:  this isn't commonly encountered, but since I just reviewed teas in this range I can describe results.  Those teas lost their higher-end, "sharpest" flavor aspects, and picked up deeper, richer range, and a smoother character.  I'm not sure I wouldn't have like both better as new teas (Ali Shan and Dong Ding versions), because those are quite approachable to begin with.  It was interesting though.  I've tried seven year old Oriental Beauty before and it just seemed a little different than they tend to be initially, but preferences vary enough that maybe others would experience aspect difference that grounds a high level of appeal.

that Alishan and Dong Ding, with roast or oxidation both darkening leaves and brewed tea

well-aged rolled oolongs:  after 15 years or so of appropriate storage rolled oolongs pick up a plum-like flavor aspect, and again gain depth, with most pronounced "higher end" range having long since dropped out, for example light floral tones.  Such tea can be interesting to experience, related to just being different.  Some people claim to pick up a lot of "feel aspect" cha-qi effect from different teas, and maybe that would be a valid positive change for these teas.  I reviewed 21 and 30 year old versions in this post, and the mustiness in the older one--most likely due to storage condition problems--made it harder to appreciate.

I forgot about trying a 40 year old Tie Guan Yin awhile back, covered here

It's not only sheng pu'er and hei cha that are described as improving with age; black and white teas are also mentioned as changing and improving.  Even green tea could potentially change in a way regarded as positive.  

This post on other compressed tea forms might shed light on some of that, even though the shape and form isn't necessarily a closely connected input, changing form mostly helps with making storage more convenient.  This post on shai hong (sun-dried Yunnan black tea) covers one main factor related to aging potential for black teas.  This shai hong version was 2 or 3 years old when I first tried it, and is at least 5 now, and it was different and better when I last tried it a few months ago.  This review of four different white teas of different ages is a bit all over the map but it may shed a little light on how character might change.  Or maybe not; you need to pin down variables better to get to that result.

nine year old shou mei, at least supposedly.  it can darken faster than that.

It complicates things that many versions might go through phases where the changes are less positive, emerging to a different character range later on.  Also tea drinkers tend to like what they expect to like, so just lacking that paradigm could throw off appreciation.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

2014 Ali Shan and Dong Ding oolongs

Getting to some samples that were included from back when I ordered teas from Tea Mania (provided by the vendor, Peter). To me their sheng pu'er are just amazing, and a great value.  That was covered in detail in this 2018 Jing Mai arbor review, and 2018 Yiwu "Lucky Bee," and many earlier posts, but this re-review of how the 2016 Lucky Bee Yiwu version is progressing really tells that story. 

I've come to expect that everything from them will be better than one would expect from even good sources. Then again there are levels to source types, and quality and pricing, so I just mean that the teas seem to be on the higher end for quality, while typically in the middle for pricing, a rare occurrence. 

Oolong being aged for 6 years is new to me. I've only tried a couple of examples of well-aged oolongs, over 20 years, and that aging effect wouldn't be the same over a shorter time period. I'll get around to guessing about expectations in comments about the experienced aspects, but without actual background experience to set up a baseline that's not worth much. 

Heavily roasted Wuyi Yancha are said to improve a lot over even a year or two, and would mellow and become more pleasant over this time-frame too, with the roast effect softening and diminishing. That's not how this will go; you can tell from appearance the Ali Shan was light to begin with, and the Dong Ding was never relatively fully oxidized or charred, as Taiwanese "red oolongs" and high-roast Anxi Tie Guan Yin can be, respectively. 

Vendor descriptions: 

This Qing Xin Oolong tea from Ali Shan is a classic Gao Shan Cha (highland tea). Ali Shan, along with Li Shan and Shan Lin Xi, is one of the three regions in Taiwan with highland tea plantations. 

The Ali Shan Qing Xin is warm, full-bodied and has a complex taste profile. The aroma is clearly floral but there are also notes of ripe fruits. The sweetness reminiscent of dark forest honey with a slight woody undertone. The tea is light and airy, but the sweet honey smell lingers in the empty cup for a long time. 

Harvest: Spring 2014 
Taste: Honey sweet with floral aroma and notes of ripe fruits. 
Oxidation: appx. 40% 
Roasting: light-medium Origin: Ali Shan, Nantou, Taiwan. 
Preparation: Per serving 5g, temperature 95°C, time 15s. Rinse leaves gently with hot water before infusing. 

That was selling for 20 CHF, or $20 US, for 50 grams. 

The next tea: Dong Ding  (selling for $25 /  50 grams instead)

Dong Ding is a classic and rightly famous Taiwanese Oolong tea. This Dong Ding is a good example of flavors that a highland tea (Gao Shan Cha) can develop. Delicate floral scents, honey notes and subtle roasted aromas delight the palate and linger in the mouth and cup long after the last sip. 

Like other famous teas, Dong Ding is often and often imitated. Dong Ding is a limited mountain area with limited tea production. Because of its special aroma, Dong Ding style tea is produced in many other tea growing areas. But, even if the cultivar, the style and sometimes even the tea master are the same as on the Dong Ding, its quality and aroma is never achieved. 

Harvest: Spring 2014 
Taste: Flowery, light toasted and delicate honey flavor. 
Oxidation: appx. 40% Roasting: medium Origin: Dong Ding, Lugu Xiang, Nantou, Taiwan. 
Preparation: Per serving 5g, temperature 95°C, time 15s. Rinse leaves gently with hot water before infusing. 

I should add a few thoughts about all that, without getting too far into covering review content, since I've already tried the teas and write this part during editing.  A lot of people would go with full boiling point water; that kind of goes without saying.  It's easier to recommend someone tries both and see what they think than running back through all that.  Given that these have smoothed out a lot with age and some of the more forward, "higher end" flavor has diminished it might be all the more true for them, that hotter water would work better.

It also goes without saying that the Qing Xin reference is to the main, older plant type used for oolongs in Taiwan.  Other posts have covered that; I'll skip going further with it here.

Qing Xin is a more updated transliteration of Chin Shin, table from here

It's not what I expected but not completely surprising that the Dong Ding is oxidized to the same level as the Ali Shan.  I'd have guessed that the Ali Shan wasn't oxidized that much, but this Dong Ding isn't pushing the envelop towards black / red tea range.  The roast input will change character in ways that isn't identical to more oxidation, but it can be tricky splitting back out the two inputs.

I think if I re-tried the Ali Shan I might be able to break down flavor range better, in relation to clarifying what fruit seems to be represented.  I agree that it's primarily floral, and that made it hard to get far with that secondary range, but I suspect that the flavors warming and deepening pull them more towards fruit than when this tea was on the young side.  That oolong version was complex enough that to some extent the broad range of flavor inputs seemed non-distinct, covering floral tone, some fruit, and a touch of supporting mineral, trailing into spice effect just a little.  The Dong Ding seemed to include more straight cinnamon, but it was complex too, with a lot going on in feel range.

I dropped out essentially all discussion of aftertaste range, probably mostly related to experiencing an unfamiliar tea type, and also due to rushing the tasting process.  My normal weekend morning routine is to wake up, eat something, mess around and become more fully awake, then to do a tea review with notes.  Yesterday I got a haircut instead after step 2, and went to a lunch, and then a play area with my kids at noon.  I am concerned about "doing the teas justice" when they are this good and this novel, but if I waited until I had a 3 or 4 hour block of free time I would stop review blogging.  This will be a bit quick and rough as reviews go, because I don't have that much time (so the standard process).


I let these brew for too long the first round, not because of some strategy of getting them to start faster, just due to looking at something on the internet for half a minute. Not an auspicious start.  This is a little later than I typically start the day for ingesting any caffeine, late morning instead of right away. 

If these had been sheng I'd be talking about how overbrewing teas lets you analyze flaws or limitations in different ways, but for these I'm not sure how it will work out. 

Alishan: very pleasant; floral and fragrant. I expected some of the high end to dissipate, with these evolving more depth to compensate, and it will be interesting to see how that goes. The most intense and forward high end is diminished, even though I let this soak a bit long (towards a minute). A warm spice-like character fills in other range; that's interesting. This is floral too, but it's a warm, muted floral range, shifted from brighter tones to a deeper, warmer floral type. There's no edge to this at all, even for being slightly over-brewed, but that's not really a surprise. 

Dong Ding: this is warmer yet, with cinnamon as the most intense flavor aspect. Again the sharpest, brightest high end flavors seem to have evolved out, with depth and smoothness filling in more character range. I must have mentioned it in the later intro but I have no experience with 6 year old Taiwanese oolong range, that I remember, so it's unfamiliar to me how these are "supposed to be." 

There's a perfume-like character to this that shows up in really good quality oolongs across a broad range. I've mentioned it so many times I don't want to go far with explanation, but it's a little like cognac, not just the floral tone a perfume brings across, but seemingly tied a little to the solvent range. 

This is full in feel in a really novel way too. It's creamy, but not in the same range of senses I would usually mean that. Real cream actually feels quite heavy in your mouth, related to the way it coats your tongue and the rest, and this matches some of that, almost a coating type feel. Lots of oolongs feel thick, and sheng pu'er exhibits a broad range of types of feel and structure, but this is different. 

Second infusion: 

Ali Shan: this picked up "higher end" floral intensity, or maybe that's just from the brewing time difference shifting balance (brewed for 20 seconds or so, drawn out a little to account for not maxing out the proportion). The feel has a pleasant thickness, just nothing like the other version. The warmer range depth isn't different, just less intense. There is some light mineral tone to this, characteristic of Taiwanese high mountain oolongs, but that seems to have softened with the aging process, along with the bright, intense floral range that always reminds me a little of new car smell. Right, like plastic, but more pleasant in effect, and somehow similar, in a way that I'm sure most people wouldn't see as associated. 

It works well; it's clearly very good tea. I personally probably would've liked this better when new; trading out that front-end intensity and brighter range for depth just doesn't improve things, to me. It is interesting experiencing a slightly different version though. This is amazingly clean and smooth; the character is just different. It's not "plummy," the flavor range that more aged oolongs tend to pick up (per limited exposure to those and hearsay input). 

Dong Ding: more of the same; very pleasant. Again warmer tones and cinnamon stand out in this. It was definitely roasted more, and while I'm guessing a well-balanced higher level of oxidation also led to this positive outcome. It is just a guess but I'd expect both contributed to this character, with anything remotely like a "char" edge having dropped out years ago. 

Again I'd probably rather try this as a slightly rougher-edged new version, trading out this smoothness and unusual depth for front-end intensity, even if a bit more astringency and some slightly rougher flavor comes with that. "Rough" is within relative standard range, of course; this had to start out very drinkable as sheng, green, and black teas go. I'll go back to giving these a longer soak for the third round to ramp up intensity (30 seconds), since there are absolutely no negative aspects to "brew around" in these. 

Third infusion: 

Ali Shan: floral range shifted in character. That will be hard to describe, since I've not even grappled with breaking down distinct floral tones so far. This seems closest to lotus flower in nature to me. Before it was complex enough that it probably covered a range, and two or three flower-type descriptions would've been required. That's still true, but that one lotus flower range aspect bumped up. It's not so different than orchid, and given how there are many types of orchid that's already a range, that must cover some scope, but lotus flower has a sweet, rich depth to it, and a unique character. 

It's interesting how this bridges over to spice range as well, with some warm, more neutral floral tones filling in the space between those. A hint of dry mineral gives it depth, but that's adjoining slightly warmer tones that drift into aromatic wood, towards cedar, just not exactly like that. It's odd how this comes across as somewhat simple and approachable but really there is a lot going on, when you focus in on noticing it.  Versus this being interpreted as covering a broad floral range with some mineral and spice I think that fruit tone interpretations would make sense too, related to ripe fresh peach or dried apricot, but it all integrates well enough and covers so much flavor scope that it's hard to break apart.

Dong Ding: straight cinnamon might have picked up a little. Again at first "glance" (in the taste-sensation range) this isn't so different than soaking a cinnamon stick for a minute or two, but really a lot more goes into underlying that experience. There is floral tone supporting that, and a creamy feel that teas almost never exhibit, never mind spices. Vanilla is an exception; real vanilla bean gives an infusion so much texture that it's almost too creamy, like a custard in mouthfeel, and this overlaps a little with that experience, except for the "going too far" part. That liquer / cognac / perfume like aspect isn't pronounced but it also rounds out the rest. 

I'll give these one more longer soak, up towards a minute, and leave off, because I'm due at a lunch today. 

Fourth infusion: 

Ali Shan: not so different than last round, so I'll just say that it's not transitioning much. 

Dong Ding: this also seems to have leveled off, and may even be fading a bit, with those longer infusion times taking a toll on it. These teas are far from finished but they may be declining from here on out. Transitioning aspect range through longer infusion time and more roasting seems to come at a cost for the number of infusions a tea can produce, so it wouldn't be that unusual if this was a round ahead of the other in terms of progression through a cycle. 


Excellent teas, interesting in style. Aging seemed to have brought on the changes I would've expected, with the teas picking up some depth at the cost of higher end intensity. They were interesting, novel, and pleasant, clearly very good quality teas, as I would have expected. For someone interested in owning truly aged oolongs, versions aged to older than a decade, buying some like this in a mid-range and hanging on to them might be a great option. Time passes quickly, and any 10+ year old oolong version is going to be really expensive. I didn't check yet what these are selling for but at a guess it's on the moderate side, for what they are.

(Back later) ok, they're $20 and $25 per 50 grams; how to place that?  I'd expect that's about what these would typically cost when new, based on an informed guess about quality level, and you just can't find aged versions like this easily.  When tea types relating to any factor are all but impossible to turn up supply and demand concerns become strange; if there is significant demand the price is whatever the vendor wants it to be, and the type could no longer be available at some point even given high pricing.  I reviewed a comparably aged Oriental Beauty version once and said roughly the same thing, but that was selling for an order of magnitude higher cost than this, several dollars per gram.

To me aged oolong is a strange thing to begin with.  Letting well-roasted Wuyi Yancha settle makes perfect sense but I don't completely "get" aged light rolled oolong.  That said, why not consider an opposing viewpoint from people who do get it.  James of TeaDB writes to advocate the general type here.  He never really gets far with describing that appeal, limited to this statement:

I enjoy drinking pu’erh and happen to own enough that I’ll be aging it for a very long time. But I I also really do enjoy aged oolong… And for partly inexplicable reasons have hardly even a pu’erh cake worth of oolong put away for the long haul.

Liking it is the thing, I guess.  He mentions his own criteria for what he considers as aged in that post:  15 to 20 year old versions.  Buying these particular teas, that I just reviewed, and waiting another 9 years would be a long term project.

Looking back through their earlier posts there isn't much describing what is commercially available for aged oolongs.  Those would tend to come and go, and be found in one-off examples that later disappear, many of which wouldn't necessarily be that exceptional anyway.  James reviews a lot of versions in this post, most contributed by friends, with this conclusion:

Sorry guys. I can’t really wholeheartedly recommend any of the available teas from this report. The western landscape is barren, even more so than matured pu’erh. It’s littered with re-roasted oolongs which can be OK and overly tart/mis-stored teas but aren’t really the same thing as un-reroasted oolongs. There are some OK options (Everlasting Teas, Floating Leaves, Chawangshop, and Tea Urchin) but you’re guaranteed to pay more and expect less.

With that advice being offered in 2016 all of the versions he mentioned as commercially available, and less interesting than the others he tried, would probably no longer be available.  Then again I just pulled up one of those vendor pages and found Tea Urchin still does carry a 1985 Dong Ding, selling for $1 per gram; a steal, if it's a good version.  It's a commonly encountered theme that storing an average quality tea for a long time never tends to convert it into an exceptional aged version, and anything short of relatively optimum storage conditions can turn out a lot worse than that, regardless of the starting point.  That Tea Urchin version description sounds great, and also addresses this point:

After first infusion, the gaiwan lid wafts with sweet notes of honey, toffee apples, salted fluffy white butter popcorn, mixed with heavier aromas of sandalwood, camphor, leather, musty herbal medicines. The tea liquor is a dark amber with the aroma of dried orange peel. The tea floats on the tongue - light bodied but viscous, with a smooth clean mouthfeel. There is very little sourness often found in teas of this age. 

Right, I like teas that are not so sour.  A comment on the first TeaDB post mentioned by Shah (one of those few real tea experts who turn up) covers all this in a short space:

Speaking as that proverbial hard-bitten veteran, who isn’t a huge fan of aged oolongs in the first place, a few comments:

1) Anything that can be said for oolong, can be said for hongcha and baicha. In my experience, hongcha is a better age-performer as a whole. Ie, my home aged hongcha is much tastier than my home aged oolong, for me.

2) Twenty years is not a realistic view of a hobbyist’ perspective of time. Not for puerh, not for wulong.

3) Initial quality matters. As a practical matter, given that aging rich and bitter/astringent puerh makes it more drinkable, you can start with somewhat lower quality and end up with better tea. Aging seems to erode an oolong’s harsh qualities much slower than it does for properly processed sheng. I have not enjoyed some 70’s yancha because of this. Which leads to the next point…

4) For me, age-worthy oolongs have only gotten in rough comparison to puerh within about the last four years. Cheaper yancha is much better processed than it used to be. And puerh is much more expensive than it used to be. I do not typically like aged oolongs much because they tend to be very one-dimensional, and if I want mellow, then I want high quality shu, usually. If one is going to age anything on purpose, it’s best to buy a kilo+ of the highest quality yancha/balled oolong you can afford...

Related to that last comment, then it's back to the same to waiting-game problem, that of setting something aside for 15 years.  I plan to still be alive in 15 years but I'm not setting aside anything but sheng to hang out for a long time and drink later.  Even for that type the quantity and range of what I have on hand is pathetic; I just don't have the tea budget to set aside some extra tongs.  I can buy a little more than I drink from year to year but that's about it.

Related to "setting aside a kilo+" it doesn't really make sense to buy a 100 grams of any tea to age it.  If you try it a few times to see how that's progressing only half would make it through the process, and then it would be gone soon once that extended time had passed.  Sinking $200 or $250 on an aging experiment to buy a kilo of these (or $225, to buy half of each) would be a reasonable expense to some, but for many it would make a lot more sense to set aside 4 or 5 $50 sheng cakes instead.  That would amount to a kilo and a half of tea that wouldn't just become a bit mellow and plummy, although depending on selection some versions might just fade over the long term.

Preference is a funny thing though, and I can definitely relate to the value of pursuing different experiences.  It was interesting trying these very moderately aged oolongs, and they were quite novel and pleasant.

that lunch; decent Thai food, great company

for some reason I don't remember seeing her in jeans.  she often wears dresses.

one part of that play area

I gave up the "second pandemic wave" look

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Gopaldhara Summer Beauty Muscatel and China Muscatel


Summer Beauty left, China Muscatel right, in all photos

I'm trying two more samples from Gopaldhara, after initially reviewing what seemed to be relatively close to classic first and second flush versions in this post.  

I would expect these to be standard second flush range as well, but I'll not check that prior to doing review notes, and will add their descriptions here during editing.  My thinking is that they have been developing some really novel oolong type (or influenced) variations, and one more round of more familiar range will help me reset a baseline before starting on those (from a number of samples provided for review).  I've been more on sheng pu'er for a couple of years, although I never really stop drinking Dian Hong (Yunnan black tea), and I've tried more Thai black tea than I usually get to this year.

The "beauty" part should refer to a link with Oriental Beauty.  Per my understanding there is a natural link between that and second flush Darjeeling anyway, since both pick up additional muscatel and citrus range flavors related to a similar, or potentially identical, insect biting the leaves.

The leaves of this Summer Beauty version look a little different than any Darjeeling I ever remember seeing.  It looks like Oriental Beauty; more whole leaves, a good proportion of bud content, and especially the same color variations, the light tan part, dark brown, and reddish brown colors, all mixed.  The scent is really sweet and fruity as well.  The other looks nice not so broken, more uniformly brown, and also sweet with pronounced muscatel, but the Beauty version seems to lean more towards including both muscatel and a berry range.  This should be interesting.

I'll brew them Gongfu style, letting the times run a little long to account for my most standard tea range, sheng, requiring a lighter touch, but except for planning to let these brew for around 15 seconds instead of 10 it will be the same approach.

Vendor descriptions of the teas (added after review):

I would imagine this is the "China muscatel" version, although I can't be certain:

Gopaldhara Muscatel – Special Darjeeling Black Tea

Gopaldhara Muscatel – Special Darjeeling Black Tea is a pure Darjeeling black tea made by frosted leaves at the highest elevation of Darjeeling tea plantation. This is from more than 150 years old high-quality bushes planted by the British. It is grown at the 7000 ft. of Gopaldhara Tea Estate and processed by the experts... It brews into a rich orange cup that gives abundant sweet, fruity and muscatel flavor. This special Darjeeling black tea gives mouthful and rounded taste to the pallet. 

The cultivar listing "Chinese bushes" would refer to this being a variety Sinensis plant type, versus the often used AV2 cultivar (the background of which I've written about, but it's been awhile).  I would imagine the other tea is this:

Rohini Summer Beauty Muscatel 2020

This is a Second Flush or finest Summer Tea prepared from high quality AV2 bushes. Summer Beauty Muscatel consists of brownish black leaves and few silver tips. It brews into an aromatic bright amber cup with a very smooth flavor without any astringency. The tea has a mouthful sweet and fruity muscatel character with a finish of honey and mango flavor. It has no astringency and is a very compelling make. It is definitely one of the best teas produced by Rohini Tea Estate.

It's interesting how close that marketing description is to my own notes.  If I had read "mango" prior to tasting it I probably would have even been seconding that.  Mango covers a lot of scope; I've been exploring those this year, and although there is a narrow set of flavors that matches the most distinctive mango taste they cover lots of types and range.


Summer Beauty Muscatel:  that is on the incredible side, even for being a little light, as first infusions almost always are based on how I usually brew teas.  Pleasant citrus range including muscatel extends a lot further than that.  The citrus is also light, to me tasting most like tangerine, but covering some range.  Berry notes do stand out, again a complex range of those, like very fresh blueberry, also towards raspberry.  

This is the probably the closest thing I've tasted to raspberry since I've lived in Thailand, for well over a decade.  Growing up my grandparents (on one side) had a giant raspberry bush; this takes me back.  The other set had a giant blueberry bush, which was more like a patch, as both were; visiting both worked out for eating fruit.  The first also had a pear tree and some unusually rich tasting grapes (a section of vines), and the second a golden apple tree, with strawberries and mint growing in their garden.  I miss that area.


China Muscatel:  much warmer; a lot of cinnamon joins the citrus in this.  It includes astringency as well; I almost forgot to notice that the first did not, at all.  The "Beauty" feel and range is exactly like an Oriental Beauty oolong, given the smoothness, depth, and flavor range, and lightness in tone.  The astringency in this is in a nice balance, definitely not harsh, or out of proportion.  Cinnamon stands out more than the muscatel (which is also a soft and complex citrus tone, but not bright like the other).  I wouldn't be surprised if that's just how it works out brewing this tea Gongfu style, the aspect that gets "stripped out" the fasted, but then I also wouldn't be surprised if it hung in there as a main flavor aspect.

Since both of these are brewed a little light there will be more to add in the next round.  Flavor intensity is really good in these infusions, in spite of them being brewed light, but feel and the rest will pick up as it brews while more saturated.  I don't get the sense that moderating astringency would be a factor for either but dialing in an optimum for experiencing them will still apply.

Second infusion:  

I didn't get the amounts exactly identical in these, I think related to not accounting for how long and twisted the Beauty version leaves were, and some of the China version being more broken.  The proportions are so close that it won't change much, and I can guess about what it did change in the notes, how that factors in.  Using two different infusion times would account for that, but that gets tricky.  I'll just pour out the second tea first to adjust process timing by those extra seconds.

Beauty:  earthiness picks up, an underlying light malt range black tea tone.  Fruit still stands out the most, by a lot.  The brightest citrus and berry notes have tapered off just a little, towards warmer, richer tones and other range.  That warm maltiness also leans a little towards cinnamon spice; this is pretty close to Oriental Beauty for character.  There's a faint edge of astringency now that pairs with a light flavor like biting a tree bud (or flower stem, if that's easier to imagine, but it's really tree bud).  Altogether it makes this a complex and pleasant experience.  It covers a lot of range; I suppose it's conceivable that someone could see that as negative, but if so I couldn't relate to that opinion.

That astringency seems to show more towards then end, pairing with a trace of bitterness and mouthfeel tightening as you swallow it and just after.  It's still really soft and rich, as black teas go, still balanced towards being not very astringent at all, but the bit that is there does relate to a standard Darjeeling range, it's just the proportion that's unusual, being that light.

China:  astringency is stronger in this; I think that could also partly relate to being brewed slightly stronger, being based on a higher proportion.  The first Beauty version is at a more ideal infusion strength for these teas.  I'll try a fast infusion next time, more like what I would use for a lot of Chinese teas, and see how that goes.  

I do tend to stretch out timing a bit for Dian Hong, which I do usually also brew Gongfu style.  I last had one of those about two days ago; it's interesting having that close a baseline for another character.  This tea has slightly more of an edge, but that's not the case for the Beauty version, which is full and rich but very soft.  Dian Hong also tend to be really soft in character.  I think that's because they use the trees to make sheng in the spring harvest, then pick more for a much milder summer second harvest version that they use for black tea, then back to sheng in autumn.  Or maybe that's completely wrong; to be clear I'm passing on hearsay here, not well-developed knowledge.  And any given tea producer could do whatever they want.

The cinnamon is still pronounced in this.  I think scaling back time will drop out some astringency, without giving up much for flavor intensity, and this tea will work out better.  That's the nice part about brewing Gongfu style; you tend to get 10 or more chances to dial in the infusion time that works best for the tea at that stage, along with experiencing more transition that way.

Third infusion:

Beauty:  this works really well brewed on the moderate strength side; I'm not sure why I was thinking the teas would need longer at this proportion (more than 10 seconds).  All the flavor aspects tend to integrate more at this stage; it's still covering that laundry-list of flavor range, but it combines into a complex, unified experience.  Complex fruit tone stands out, which could be interpreted in different ways.  Mineral undertone changes, adding a touch of copper taste, but that integrates really well too.  There's a rich, round feel to it.  For astringency dropping back to being a faint balancing input this is just great.  

It's well-synchronized, all completely integrated.  It's very clean in effect, with sweetness level high but balanced.  It goes without saying after all that but this is one of the best Darjeeling versions I've ever tried.  That seems to almost extend past personal preference as a factor; the quality level and balance is undeniable.  I guess someone could miss more astringency edge?  The feel isn't thin, it just doesn't have a bite, and none of that near-bitter flavor that seems to tie to that edge.

China:  this is the best it has been too; this moderate infusion strength works perfectly.  To be clear I'm not "brewing these light;" when you use a very high proportion of tea to water using a very short infusion time is just standard process.  These wouldn't be so different in infusion strength if I had brewed 2 grams of tea for 4 minutes, or probably for rounds of 3 and 4 minutes, "cashed out" after those two rounds.  To some extent that just combines the experience of many transitions into two.

This has that touch of astringency I said that someone might miss in the last sample notes, but it's very moderate, very balanced.  Again it shows up more after you drink it, as an aftertaste effect, than you notice during the time the tea is in your mouth.  It if was stronger it would seem like a slight dryness, and it still is close to that, but that light it seems odd referring to it as that.  Cinnamon is hanging in there; this flavor range covers mostly that and non-distinct or mixed citrus range, muscatel and perhaps more like orange peel zest.  

It's interesting trying this then the other, seeing how bright that comes across in comparison.  That flavor is towards berry, really, but a flash of a first impression is almost towards banana instead.  I don't want to overextend this point since it's a tangent, but people in the US don't really know what a flavorful banana tastes like.  You're not missing that much but if you travel in South East Asia sometime you should try some other types of bananas (or in India, I'd imagine).

Referring back to the vendor description (in the editing part, after making tasting notes), mango would also work.   The banana note I was talking about is not the normal light, mild, somewhat neutral flavor common to those sold in the US, more of a sweet, rich, almost bubble-gum flavor, towards a warmer range, not unlike some mango.  It's hard to describe which mango since the names here don't mean a lot to me, and I keep trying different versions.

closest to an aspect in the sangkhya type, I think, in the upper middle

versions from home, growing in the yard, picked before the squirrel got them

Fourth infusion:  

the Beauty version is less oxidized, probably more in a normal oolong range

I'll make a few fast notes since I'm off to a yoga class, appropriate enough to be drinking Indian teas prior to that.

Beauty:  a verbal description does nothing to convey how this tea really is.  It's almost absurd even making these notes.  Sure, I can try to isolate the parts of what I experience as a flavor list, or draw a comparison, or say things like "balanced, integrated, refined," but it wouldn't help.  It's too integrated to be broken apart, too complex and refined to be captured in words.  Good Taiwanese Oriental Beauty is like that too.  In a limited sense it's on the basic side, refined in general character, rich in feel, and very complex in flavor, so in one sense a flavor list does it justice and in another not at all.

At some level Wuyi Yancha oolongs have an odd, very pleasant quality that I refer to as liquor like, or perfume like, meaning that those can be complex, across floral and other flavor range, similar to part of the experience of a cognac or perfume.  This is a little like that, but more fruity instead of floral.  I guess that's the way to describe it, to get all poetic.  Maybe Geoffrey Norman should be writing this review.

China:  More of the same.  Again the balance really works.  Again it's warmer, and across vaguely related range but into warmer citrus and more cinnamon.  Astringency is almost a non-issue, although some does round out the feel.  That dropping out may have related both to getting the infusion strength right and a natural transition across rounds.  It has more structure, and a very light dryness shows up in aftertaste, and that's about it.  It's odd how that experience seems to occur after you drink it, but then I've already said that.

Both of these have lots of rounds to go, and both may transition a good bit, but I may or may not make more notes.  It's hard to get back to the same level of focus, and a lot of the story has been told already.

Later infusions:  over the next couple of rounds I needed to stretch out the timing a bit to keep up infusion strength.  The Beauty version seemed to pick up a nice heavier grape flavor, not so far off muscatel, but a little towards Welch's grape juice.  The China version kept the hint of dryness but a lot of that earlier astringency edge dropped out.  Cinnamon hung in there but citrus range stood out more in the flavors.  

Both thinned a little in overall complexity, and feel range thinned, but stretching times picked up the underlying mineral tones in both.  Both are still really pleasant, and will keep going beyond that, but they're dropping off.

Those are both really exceptional tea.  The "Beauty" version is that little bit more exceptional, a real treat for anyone who loves the Taiwanese oolong Oriental Beauty.  Of course it wasn't exactly like that, maybe in between that and a second flush Darjeeling character.  For all of these teas being this good it should be very interesting and pleasant to see where the oolong processed versions ended up.

Calling this Summer Beauty version oolong would've been fair enough.  I looked back at the listing description and it does say that it's semi-oxidized, it just doesn't add that extra category label.  I think people take the type names too seriously anyway; as I interpret their use labels and groupings should help define the type and expectations.  Being based on an AV2 cultivar and grown in Darjeeling this couldn't be identical to the Taiwanese oolong Oriental Beauty version, but it's a lot closer than I expected it to be.  It doesn't make any sense to judge if a single tea version is as good as a different and separate category, but it is really good tea.