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

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