I haven't written about gaba teas for years, even though I did drink a number of them last year, from Moychay and at least one a friend passed on. It's not a favorite type. I tend to only write about teas I like here, unless there is a story to tell, and I kept considering what that story would be related to gaba but didn't get to it. I'll fill in a bit of background on my history and take on gaba, with this earlier post covering what it even is.
It's odd in editing this that I've said essentially nothing about these being Russian teas, from Kraznodar. I guess I just don't have much to add about that. I visited Russia some years back and put some effort into turning up Russian teas and only found one green version, one like a hei cha but different, and some others from Georgia.
I have reviewed gaba oolong versions here, but it's been awhile. They tended to be a bit one dimensional, and typically a bit sour in a distinctive way. There was always the idea that people were feeling a calming effect from the gaba compounds, and maybe I just wasn't sensitive enough to it, or maybe not even experiencing the same physiological effect at all. Gaba black teas I tried last year were better, and one version prior to then, maybe with a hint of sourness but nothing remotely the same. But the one-dimensional theme remained; they lacked complexity, and some of the appeal of even moderate quality black teas in a range that I liked.
The Moychay versions that I tried last year, part of that set I said a lot about, were equivalent to the best gaba black tea versions I ever tried (the only one?). In visiting a local friend's place once, Sasha's, he had a pretty good gaba black tea, maybe 3 years ago. I still would have preferred a good Dian Hong, or good orthodox Assam, or second or third flush Darjeeling, a nice unsmoked Lapsang Souchong, and so on.
Sasha! But this meetup didn't include that tea.
I'll wrap this up at saying all that. I don't expect to love these teas but the novelty should be something to experience. I won't be able to really compare this 2020 gaba black--from that earlier set, I think, not from some new teas they sent to review--against the earlier versions, from 6 months or more back. I might get back to doing more review of the last of one of the others, or comparison with a new version. I don't remember what else Moychay sent just now (these were provided for review; many thanks to them!), but I have tried gaba sheng before, so maybe one of those.
To be clear I don't think gaba teas are generally objectively not very good, I just think many versions seem to be missing some complexity (which probably does hold up as an objective take), most include sourness, and are a bit strange (now that part is subjective). They just don't work well for me, versus the teas not being good.
It's been awhile since I've said this part: in general reviewing two dis-similar teas together isn't helpful, but if you have tried that approach a few dozen times it probably doesn't take that much away from the analysis. Adding any more dimensions to experience, even background noise, will drop back the level of detail you pick up, and that includes comparison tasting. But I still expect that my impression will be roughly the same, just slightly less detailed. Which could be good, since these reviews tend to run long. I wouldn't have tried these together if the other gaba black tea versions hadn't already been familiar; it would be too much new ground to cover at the same time.
Moychay 2021 Krasnodar organic gaba white: a bit faint and light, but then the first infusion is often like that. I filled the white version fuller than the black, used more volume of dry leaves, to account for it being a lot less dense, but it's already clear that I undercompensated, and it should've been that much fuller. I can work around that. Splitting infusion times doesn't change that much in doing tastings like these; there is no reason for different tea types to be brewed under identical parameters.
I don't get much at all from this tea just yet. I suppose it could be regarded as slightly sour, but it tastes a lot like balsa wood smells, neutral, but with something there. For those with less model or toy building background that's the pithy wood that such things are often made out of, which is solid enough to build things out of but soft enough to cut easily with a box cutter or craft knife version of that. There's a hint of floral tone in this, and a touch of creaminess, so it will probably evolve in a positive way. Sweetness is all but missing just yet; that might stay moderate.
Krasnodar black / red (their site only lists a 2021 version now): there is some positive range to this, and it's different than the other version or two that I've tried (although it is easy to lose track). At least one of those had a dried fruit range that was nice, beyond being a touch sour and one-dimensional. This is more towards warm spice. Not like Oriental Beauty, I don't mean, nothing like that straight-cinnamon Thai version that I just reviewed. Hopefully that sourness will fade in proportion and make it easier to pick out the rest.
Where the other had a mild sourness like balsa wood this is a bit towards musty, like cedar or redwood lawn furniture that had stayed damp or wet for a couple of months. "Wet cedar chest" is probably about as good a singular description as I could use. In a sense that's a good thing; if anyone ever craved a tea that tastes a lot like a cedar box smells this is it. It would just be nice if that were a drier cedar box version, one fresh out of attic storage instead of basement storage.
It's odd re-trying the first white tea after this black version (red, to them; they are on that page for naming convention). It being so much lighter stands out at first, and then that contrast in form of sourness comes next, with the rest of the finer distinctions triggering as a third round of what you notice.
Second infusion, white: I didn't offset these times much, brewing the black version for about 10 seconds and the white for a few more. I can add to that divide over other rounds if it makes sense to. This is developing nicely, and not necessarily in a direction that I expected. Cinnamon picks up. This isn't all that far off the Thai Oriental Beauty derivative version I just reviewed, although it probably never will match it for sweetness level of pronounced but narrow flavor range. The flaws in that tea match the flaws I would expect in this: narrow range, limited complexity, lack of full feel or aftertaste experience.
Sweetness doesn't bump much in this, just a little, but more positive wood tones join along with that cinnamon spice increase. It tastes like a light, sweet wood tone, like fresh sassafras wood, or something along that line. Fresh tree barks of that type, the kind that peel off as a pliable layer, have an odd sticky feel to the inside and an odd scent, and this isn't far off that. In a good way; that's a cool range for something to be "woody" in.
black: sourness ramped up most; that's not exactly ideal. This is a bit like brewing a chen pi (aged tangerine peel, more or less), just a little lighter on citrus, and not as sweet. Beyond that it is kind of towards that aromatic wood range I mentioned, or maybe onto tree bark instead, with a hint of spice supporting that. But so sour. I've been doing acclimation training to be able to appreciate sourness, maybe mostly in the form of regularly drinking one Thai wild tree material cake, but whenever I drink that tea it takes me a few rounds to get back in that mode, to not see that sourness as a very negative component. Then as the sourness fades and I readjust expectation by the end of that infusion cycle I like it. Maybe both will happen for this tea too.
Again it's strange drinking the white version after the black; with the sourness so much less pronounced you don't "get" any of that, and it comes across as mostly a strange neutral tone, more like fresh light tree bark than balsa wood, at this stage. It's more novel than pleasant, for both, but I suspect the best of these will be drawn out over the next 2 or 3 infusions, versus them being as positive early on.
third infusion, white tea: the last round's description still works. This is positive, but just barely. Sourness is such a limited component that the other woody part and cinnamon range work, as a flavor experience. Sweetness being so limited really doesn't help how it comes across, and there is really nothing to say about feel or aftertaste aspect range, beyond that there isn't much. This might work well as a tea blending base for being so neutral, with just a bit of warm wood tone and spice. Add some rose petals and cacao nibs to this and it would probably be great.
I don't remember ever saying that a tea would be good for a blending base in a review; I must have, but that tends to not come up. Quite often plain teas stand on their own for novel experienced aspects, and when they don't I don't publish a review of them. A mediocre quality Tie Guan Yin might be sort of what I'm talking about here, versions where the sweetness, intensity, and floral range really don't pop. Those can be fine as something to have with food, just not the kind of tea you would focus on as an experience.
black tea: sourness is "letting up" a bit but it still defines this experience. It seems likely that I could describe a more positive balance and do more justice to describing the rest in the next round. So I'll skip ahead and say more then instead.
fourth infusion, white: I should be getting absolutely dosed with those gaba compounds, since I am actually drinking all this, so maybe I can report on feeling calm or centered or whatever else soon.
This tea is transitioning but across such a narrow range that the old description still works well enough. It's mostly woody at this point, which is how I described the last round, just a different version of seeming woody. I kind of like it. With those relatively bad Tie Guan Yin versions I compared this to there is something slightly off-putting in their character, the way a vegetal component comes across. It's not as cooked vegetables, as can occur in some green teas, but a neutral, woody tone can be more negative than positive in those. Here it kind of works.
There is a faint creaminess filling in a little; that helps. The flavor is somehow clean, and that makes it work. Odd saying that about a gaba, which I equate with sourness, but the sourness has already dropped out of this, and I'm not as negative about sourness as an input as I would've been two years ago.
black: the best this has been, by a wide margin. It is odd how that sourness really dropped out of being the main thing that you experience to quite minor in this round, over two infusions. Cinnamon is as strong as any other component, and warm wood or spice tones support that. Even for being sour (some, still) it's clean in effect, not musty, not off in some other way. There's essentially none of the underlying mineral that gives a lot of teas a good base, and sweetness level isn't where it would be for an average black tea range, so there are missing parts that could be seen as gaps, but what is present kind of works. It's narrow in range; that's not necessarily good. A tea with strong, unique, and balancing limited inputs can enable narrowness of character to work really well, but for this it's just not as negative or limiting as it might be.
To put an example to that a third flush Darjeeling (a true black tea, as I'm describing this example) can be subtle, limited in flavor scope and intensity, and still have a limited range of experience that balances really well, and can even seem more positive for not being complex, or turning intensity up to 10. I can't compare this to a better third flush Darjeeling; it's just not on that level. It lacks positive flavor aspects, comparable intensity and complexity (even for that being an example of those being limited), and overall balance. Maybe it's not that far off a medium quality version of one of those in appeal, where it all pulls together but not quite as well. There is no shame in not matching up with one of the most distinctive and positive forms out there in tea experience range, so I don't see what I just said as insulting this tea. It's "as good" as it is, matched against my subjective preference, and just not that good. It seems a given that others would interpret it differently, since all this is a discussion of match to preference.
fifth infusion, white: I'll probably leave off taking notes to have something else to attend to, giving the cats their weekly bath before afternoon rain moves in. They live outside (the two older ones), and are exposed to "street cats" with fleas, and all sorts of fungus and other things that grow in tropical environments, so we counter that risk input by washing them every week or two. Which of course they hate.
It's essentially the same this round. It's nice enough, just a bit plain. For saying over and over that these lack complexity, intensity, thickness of feel, and aftertaste it's the complex base range, slightly full feel (relatively, at least medium), and limited aftertaste that's making this work as well as it does. Add just a bit of sweetness and any one extra flavor element and this would be really nice. As it is it's ok.
black: that last statement sort of works for this; tweak a couple of aspects just a little and this could be much better. It's actually ok, but not so far from being significantly better.
These both brewed more than another half dozen rounds, although the last few tasted like cardboard (I tend to stretch teas to check on that). Both are ok as basic, decent teas, but for me buying either to drink in relation to experienced characteristics wouldn't make much sense (but then that is tied to personal preference for aspect range, to be clear). For something basic to have with a meal they're ok.
I tried the white version a few days later and it comes across better when you aren't breaking it down for a detailed review of aspects. The black is probably like that too; I suspect that I'm overdoing it with comparing both to expectations in relation to regular-oxidation versions, so that when I don't think about the tea much at all it seems better. I bet if I could come to terms with them being a bit sour all this would shift a lot, as was the case with trying Thai wild origin teas.
I was trying to notice if I felt any more calm after drinking them. Not that I could tell, but then I'm fairly calm all the time anyway. Maybe they do affect some people that way. Or maybe a placebo effect could be effective, if someone only thinks that they do, that it can work to relax more if you think a drink is helping you with that, even if in terms of compounds present it's not.
One main theme in this post has seemed to be why I've not been reviewing any gaba versions for years. They're ok, but in terms of experienced aspects in relation to my preference generally just shy of a cut-off for what I usually find positive or interesting enough to review. The last black (/ red) gaba tea version I didn't write about from them was a slightly better match to my preference, as I recall. It swapped out that cedar wood and cinnamon range for dried fruit and cherry, leaning a little towards cocoa, and it wasn't all that sour. But it was one-dimensional too, not complex, a bit thin in feel, and not as sweet as is typical for Chinese black teas.
It's a judgement call whether or not it would be helpful to Moychay in terms of promotion to pass on this feedback. A post basically saying "I'm not that into gaba; it's so-so and not very complex" might only mean something to people who've never tried it themselves. It's worth trying, to check out something different. I would expect that some pressed tisane bars they sent will be more pleasant and interesting to me, and those aren't even tea, in the narrower sense. Black teas and oolongs are favorite types too, and sheng is mostly what I'm into now. They sent a number of teas that are more what I love, so I'll get back to doing more typical posts about those.
It's hard to place how someone else might interpret these same teas, related to continually referring to judging these against my own preference, and why a conclusion might be different, but I think I can address some of that by referencing two website reviews of the white version.
Moychay site customer reviews
In looking up the product listings (I skipped mentioning relative value here; they're unique enough there is no market price for these) two customer reviews mentioned completely different aspect interpretations and general impressions, cited in relation to the white version:
Alexey Makarov: ...This year, a refreshing menthol-mint bright note can be traced in all Krasnodar teas. It is wonderful. Then there is a delicious fruity sourness, a crust of white bread, softly toasted, and the crumb of the same white bread itself. There is soft candied fruit, but you can't call it pumpkin anymore. Strongly, but pleasantly knits...
Dmitry R.: A wonderful multifaceted white, combining the features of bych, luicha and yellow teas. Bright juicy berries, languor, dough, shortbread cookies, yellow fruits (both unripe and overripe) and almost sugary berry jam, and black bread, and sesame seeds, and garden flowers. The infusion plays with gold. The aroma of the infusion, the bottom of the bowl, dry leaf and wet leaf are of barberry and juicy berries, but the wet leaf gradually turns into a fresh rye bun...
It seems like the overall effect and flavor range could be interpreted more positively if you can tie the experience of sourness to a relatable and pleasant food experience, like that of fresh bread, mentioned by both. Of course fresh bread contains an edge of sourness that's a positive part of that experience, along with other very complex flavors, and texture related experience (the tea won't have that, a crust).
And that reminds me of the owner of Monsoon teas, the vendor who produced and sold the Thai wild forest origin teas I mentioned, that were sour, saying that while tea enthusiasts tend to not like their wild teas chefs typically do relate to them very positively. Tea enthusiasts probably tend to relate to sourness as either a processing or storage flaw, for example to a tea being stored too damp, so it's hard to see it as a positive and integral taste aspect. But in food sourness is definitely not "out of bounds" for any reason. I like sourness in sauerkraut and Thai sour curry.
There's a good chance that I'll like this white tea better as I try it more, as probably also occurred with the earlier gaba black teas. Most tea enthusiasts could probably relate this expectation and acclimation pattern to sheng pu'er, in relation to bitterness, which tea drinkers typically don't value at first. Later many come to love bitterness, in proper form and balance with other aspect range.
I'm not as sure how to place what I interpret as narrowness of aspect experience, beyond that atypical flavor range, for the set of flavors being narrow, or feel being thin, and aftertaste experience limited. These reviewers aren't seeing flavor range as narrow. One cites what they see as a distinctive mint flavor as central to the regional origin character, which I didn't even mention.
These aren't minty, in the sense that Ruby / Red Jade # 18 cultivar teas are, which are very heavy on mint, to the point of that coming across as eucalyptus, often too strong. The black gaba tea Sasha shared, that I mentioned, was based on the Ruby / #18 cultivar plant type, and that mint range was fine in that, pronounced but not overwhelming (as I remember; that was awhile back). It will be interesting re-trying these and considering these additional interpretations as further input.