Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Xiaguan and Dayi Jia Ji partially aged tuocha review (7 and 10 years old)

 



I talked to a couple of vendors about thoughts on a rapid increase in pu'er pricing, the average levels doubling over 5 or 6 years, related to this post, about Context and concerns related to high quality level sheng pu'er.  A few clarifications are required, ideas I thought generally covered in that content, but which may not have stood out or have been explicit enough.  The general theme was that consumer demand for better tea versions, coupled with overall demand volume shift and increased costs, have caused pricing to increase.  Then vendors or producers are probably making more profit too; that's how it would go when demand level (as volume, and also demand for higher quality range) and pricing both rise.

Vendor costs are rising too.  Not just for the tea material, which increases year to year, but nothing stays at the same price level, for processing costs, transportation, marketing related, etc.  Consumers would expect more sophisticated packaging and presentation, because that evolves too.  It's not possible to guess if, related to costs and demand volume increases, a general mark-up level remains the same, so that profits would rise as fast or faster than any other input.  In a sense it doesn't matter; market demand supports better quality cakes selling for $80 to 100 now, so that's what they cost, without any supply side correction pushing that pricing downward. 

Geoff of Hatvala mentioned a special case of changing pricing, which I had known about but hadn't considered as factoring in.  He adjusted shipping cost so that it's free past a certain volume level, a common practice now, which of course bumps the initial listed product pricing a little to compensate, just moving it from one place to another.  It's funny how that psychology works, that most people would much rather pay for a $150 order that has free shipping included than a $120 order without an extra $30 of shipping cost already included, resulting in the exact same total cost.  At some point in the volume purchasing range someone's order pricing went up a little and someone else's down, so that people buying $200 or more worth of tea at a time now probably are paying slightly more, and someone right over that volume threshold--whatever it is--a bit less, but it's all not so different.

I'm thinking of how all this works out in relation to what I was trying to describe as options, as ways to work around this rise in demand and pricing.  In that post I suggested that South East Asian tea (sheng) might provide a temporary lower cost alternative, with rising demand for that likely to offset that as being much of an alternative better value later.  So what else is there?  Factory tea comes to mind, buying what is considered to be a lower quality range instead, and a generally different type and style.  There would be other alternatives, like exploring more direct purchasing through Chinese and Taiwanese markets, or looking for other small-vendor exceptions, the first of which I've never really explored much myself.  I suppose King Tea Mall could be seen as a reseller option version of that; they buy from within normal Chinese market sources and resell teas, per my understanding (not retail buying to retail purchasing, necessarily, but closer to that form).

To back up to clarify the problem, it's partly like someone complaining that the cost of cars is sky-rocketing, because they bought standard sedans for much lower prices in the past, and now their SUV costs $50 or 60k (or hybrid, electric car, whatever it is, with those costing even more).  You can still buy a Honda Civic for $22k (of course I had to look that up), but it's not what they want.  The car companies aren't "taking advantage," they are selling at supply and demand rates, just in a broad range of options.  Tea is a small enough niche industry that temporary market rate positions can happen, so it's a little different.  I guess it is possible that in both industries there could be a higher profit potential to playing up bells and whistles, to adding marketing spin to make catchy, attractive features seem all the more so.  Maybe almost no tea sold as gushu really is gushu, and "wild arbor" doesn't actually mean much in some cases; who knows.

So I wanted to review what an option might be like, where factory tea offerings would get you if you try to drink those as "middle aged" versions, here also in relation to a modest quality starting point.  Obviously buying 15-20 year old, ideally aged sheng pu'er puts you right back in a supply and demand crunch, back in the $150-200 cake range, even for teas that were selling for $20 back at time of manufacture in the early 2000s (see future post correction comment about that being wrong, right?).

So I'll re-review a couple of moderately transitioned, inexpensive, large producer teas and see what they're like 7 to 10 years after production.  It's hard to find these teas at 7 to 10 years old, compared to buying them new, but someone very concerned about costs could buy a bunch that are a year or two old or so, and still around, and hunt for other exceptions closer to this range, maybe just not from Xiaguan and Dayi (what these are).  Within a half dozen or so years they could be having this kind of experience, which may or may not be a good thing.  I'll try to comment here to compare that to what different styles of tea better when drank young are like, and to what the aged versions I've been trying are like (without so much focus on the latter; that's too complicated for a complete mapping).

Let's get one last detail out of the way:  do I think these are higher risk teas related to pesticide, chemical fertilizer, or heavy metal contaminant risk, one selling point for more "natural origin" versions?  No, not really.  I think if you buy random $10-20 Ebay cakes you run the risk of that contact, since you would be intentionally buying the lowest cost and quality versions you could find, but I don't expect there is much greater risk from these versions than for the foods we all eat.  For sure many more chemicals were used in producing these teas than some real forest grown version, so I'm also guessing that limited exposure to traces of that would come up, but per my guess it's largely a non-issue, or at least not a greater risk than for foods.  But then that risk is hard to place; it might be common for people to suffer from the cumulative effect over decades.

One last, last detail:  this Xiaguan has been here in Bangkok, held by the vendor, for a long time, and this Dayi tuocha spent part of its life in Kunming and more than the second half here, so storage conditions aren't identical, but they overlap a lot.  I've reviewed both before, years ago, but comparison with those earlier impressions wouldn't be so helpful.  The "Jia Ji" branding term is more or a less a version tied to a somewhat consistent style, in theory, and Xiaguan makes a lot of tuocha versions, so really there is a lot more to be unpacked about what that version was like initially, and where it stands in relation to others, it's just not included here.


Review:






This Xiaguan version (right in all photos) is a lot more compressed, so it looks smaller for being left as chunks (and maybe it is less tea material; I didn't weigh these).  It'll be interesting to see how that factors into fermentation level, once both have a few rounds to open up, and the related slower start for it works out.  I'll compensate with slightly longer infusions for the Xiaguan for the first two rounds but transition pattern still won't be completely identical.


2015 Dayi Jia Ji tuocha:  the pleasant effects and limitations of drinking this tea only this fermented stand out right away; it would be normal to give it another decade.  At the same time warm tones are developing, and the earlier astringency edge and harsh level of bitterness have subsided.  Pronounced taste is a bit like pine resin smells, with a sappy feel to the tea matching that.  I like it, and I drink this version from time to time, just not very often.  I picked up a sleeve of these some years back and per usual I'll probably finish them right about when they're ready to drink, in 10 more years.  I have a small chunk of a 2014 version stashed somewhere but it seemed as well to emphasize the age difference for this.

It's hard to compare this experience to younger, different style tea, or older versions.  I'll hold of on making any start on that.


2012 Xiaguan tuocha:  it's more age transitioned, that's for sure.  Much more; warmer, softer tones stand out.  The sappy, harder edge feel to the Dayi, which included limited vegetal range, just isn't expressed in this.  10 years stored in Bangkok is probably more like 25 stored in a dry place in Kunming, beyond the type of transition never being identical, with that not working out as one equal, linear level.  

There is an equivalent to the pine-tree sap range in this too, but a lot of warmer, smoother, towards-spice range stands out instead.  I suppose it could be interpreted as similar to aromatic wood or leather, with some dried fruit input, closer to Chinese date than dried tamarind, but not exactly either.  Going back and retasting the Dayi after this makes that seem all the edgier, with bitterness and a lean towards vegetal range a bit harsh (with floral tone included; it's not just like eating a dandelion leaf).

After repeated tastings of expressing how using a maxed out proportion is problematic for getting through caffeine contact and other feel range you'd think I would've learned.  I'm feeling these teas after one round.  It just doesn't make sense to brew 8 or 9 grams (10?) of two versions of tea and see how far you get through that.  Live and not learn, it seems.




2015 Dayi, second infusion:  pleasantly intense.  Bitterness is at a higher level than I prefer but it's a lot lower than in a new maocha (2021) Myanmar version I just reviewed (although I may post these out of order).  It's transitioning, but to keep this readable it will work to do a next flavor list next round, once it has opened up and loosened up a little.


2012 Xiaguan:  intensity is at the other end of the scale for this; interesting it worked out that way, but compression level is reducing infusion strength too, in spite of going a little longer.  Bitterness and astringency largely transitioning is a lot of that, but tea quality may have factored in to, or other initial character at time of production must have.  This is pleasant too but some of that warm tone is towards wood and cardboard instead of spice and dried fruit (with the flavor list for both next round).  It seems like I might've used less tea for this version but chunks are still unfolding, so it might even up for intensity level over the next couple of rounds.  




2015 Dayi, third infusion:  it's in a nice place now, with vegetal range, and even floral tones, swapped out for deeper and heavier range.  Lots of warm mineral joins in, and sappiness similar to pine sap informs both flavor and feel.  The feel and aftertaste effect are cool, the way this really coats your mouth, and continues on as a taste experience that seems to happen all throughout it.  One part is a little like that edge in Ceylon tea bags, a black tea warmth and bite, not unlike Lipton, just framed in a completely different experience context.  It's crazy thinking that a Lipton tea-bag tea drinker might relate to this, but maybe, if they could tolerate the bitterness.  Intensity fading and feel softening will bring this to a nicer place, over the next few infusions and also years, if both work out like that.


2012 Xiaguan:  this finally opened up to it's normal range character, I think.  Feel did pick up a lot of intensity, in part probably related to letting the infusion run longer, out at 15 seconds or so ("long" is relative when proportion is this high).  These flavor tones are a lot warmer than people accustomed to drinking dry stored teas might expect for this aging time-frame; I tried 2005 or 6 versions from that Chawang Shop set that were much less progressed in fermentation level.  I'm not as opposed to dry storage as is conventional among pu'er drinkers, seeing it as a slowing of transition more than a clearly inferior form, but then again I'll know more about optimum transition patterns after another 10 years of trying teas, and I'll be able to place claimed negative outcomes better.  I just tried a half dozen dry stored sheng versions I've kept posting about, but it doesn't help not having tried the exact same tea versions a dozen or more years ago.

There's an unusual aromatic wood tone / spice aspect in this that works to tie the rest together, as I see it.  On the other side, I can also interpret this as showing potential for a full aging transition that's just not there yet.


2015 Dayi, fourth infusion:  positive transition continues, but for sure I'm tapping out early in this cycle.  A couple more rounds will tell two thirds of this story, and that'll be enough.  Sappy, towards pine-resin character is nice, but warm tones will be better in a few more years, more developed and dominant.


2012 Xiaguan:  better in relation to aging transition placement, but there's a funkiness to this the other doesn't have.  It's not musty, but vaguely towards that.  It seems like part of the range is missing, since the brighter and more vegetal range, and bitterness, in the other has largely dropped out, but it's only at the threshold of starting to express deeper tones and different character.

It doesn't sound like I'm describing these as a good, inexpensive replacement for what to drink right now, does it?  They're drinkable, and I think keeping one of these in the rotation could make sense, if you like that range, and can keep picking up $10 or $15 versions at a Chinatown outlet.  It probably makes more sense to buy them faster than you drink them, or grab a large set and hold that for a half dozen to ten years.  I don't love the "locking it down" idea, someone thinking that if $10-15 is a good value and these should age well why not buy 100 and sell them for $20-25 later on, or maybe more.  That would be possible, not exactly a get rich quick scheme, but probably a workable business model.  And a way to keep other tea drinkers from having the same access, unfortunately.


2015 Dayi, fifth infusion:  I'm brewing these out towards 20 seconds, to give an idea of how slowly I increase timing, although the point this time is to try them stronger than usual.  They would match my preference better, and probably most others' preferences, brewed for around half that long.  After this round and a faster infusion I'll leave off.  I've been drinking these teas for an hour, since I don't rush while also making notes, and my kids and my cat keep interrupting.  It's 98 F out now, the one temperature I can easily convert to C, 37, which is also human body temperature.  I've gotta be the only person drinking hot tea outside in Bangkok right now.

I like that sappy, piney character, although it is a little much tried out brewed strong.  This longer infusion approach probably works better for the other version.


2012 Xiaguan:  it's hard to really describe this flavor impression, either by breaking it into a set or as a general impression.  As a set it includes warm wood range, towards spice, with some dried fruit undertones, and some mineral base.  As a general impression it's like drinking the essence of that smell of really old books in a tea version.  It wouldn't be for everyone.  Again it will seem to soften, deepen, and sweeten over the next few years, becoming more subtle and pleasant (I think, as I would interpret changes).  It's definitely not fading away, but it's much milder in intensity than the other tea.


2015 Dayi, sixth infusion, brewed around 10 seconds:  to me this is a more standard brewed intensity.  Character balances as well as it's ever going to for this, with bitterness and feel edge strong but moderate compared to earlier, with warm tones a much more pronounced effect.  This needs another 7 years to really move into aged range though, as long as it has had already.


2012 Xiaguan:  that one odd edge becomes more pronounced as rounds go by; strange how that works out.  Quite often odd character, that might be seen as a flaw, comes and goes in early rounds, but this is the opposite.  It's towards a mineral effect, or that taste that I often describe as of aged furniture, or maybe less positively summarized like old books or cardboard.  I think it could potentially decrease and soften over time, as character keeps shifting, but I also think it's probably a side-effect of relatively wet and hot storage, so that it won't fully drop out, it'll stay like that.  It's not so separate from what I've experienced from heavy and wet Malaysian storage input, which I suppose I don't love, compared to other area forms I've tried different examples of (all a work in progress to map out).  It is what it is.


Conclusion:


I definitely don't see 7 and 12 year old tuocha-form factory teas as a good alternative for daily drinkers, but both of these are drinkable.  Higher quality, whole leaf, more natural growing conditions origin teas (or at least those typically presented as such) tend to be better brand new, as newly made maocha, or even more so after 2 or 3 years of moderate aging transition.

There must be another range of "factory" (high volume production) versions that would work better for this purpose, to drink within the first 7 years of being made.  Origin area and other factors enter in, plant types, processing styles, and all the rest.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Context and concerns related to high quality level sheng pu'er

 

Two online discussions have approached this general subject, of sheng pu'er quality levels, from two completely different perspectives. Both map back to what I see as one concern in relation to tea enthusiasts naturally pursuing higher quality level tea experience over time, which also relates to other tea types.  

There is already a problem related to assumptions that are included, right?  How can we really define a higher quality level, or a general quality continuum?  Onto the end point instead, the main issue I'll map out isn't a serious problem that I'm concerned about, related to one outcome consideration, just the way a shift in trends in sheng pu'er demand and vendor offerings works out, which might become more extreme if current trends continue to shift in the present direction.  

Of course those starting point references will clarify how they are using that "quality" context, but this subject just came up in relation to a statement about oolongs in a comment on a post I made, so I'll start with that.  As background I was talking about the pleasant nature of a limited quality inexpensive tea, which does naturally lead towards questioning what the distinction is then, between pleasantness and quality level:


I use it [quality] as a broad blanket term with no clear meaning, not really even a clearly defined range of meaning. If I taste that shui xian beside a high quality wuyi yancha version a lot of specific meaning would come to mind. Such a tea would be more intense, complex, refined, and balanced, and it would brew cleaner from early rounds into a longer cycle of infusions than this one. One hard to grasp aromatic quality tends to stand out, a liqueur or perfume like aspect in better versions. But it's ok tea still, it's nice.


I see that as a discussion of "quality markers," aspects that naturally link to perceived higher quality for an individual tea type, even though it doesn't actually make that explicit.  It would vary by tea type, and different people might naturally see it as differing aspect sets per that tea type.  For sheng pu'er flavor range comes into play, with mouthfeel and aftertaste effect varying more than for other types.

A friend tried that tea that I was discussing, an oolong, and agreed that it was a lack of flaws that made it really stand out from what one would expect from that category, low cost wuyi yancha from a Chinatown shop. The character present was positive too, especially a nice inky mineral base and a tree bark sort of woody taste, with sweetness in a good level to balance the rest, and decent feel in relation to thickness.  But beyond that the experience was a bit general, not defined by significant inclusion of these kinds of "quality level" marker aspects.


Let's start with a discussion of pu'er types, quality levels, and cost, in this Reddit post, which is titled "So this is what straight edge rich people do," asking if pu'er interest replaces wine or drug consumption (more or less).  A comment there, cited in more complete form than is typical, defines quality context better, from an individual perspective on a mapping of levels: 


...here's my tier system (prices per gram):

0-5 cents: Aside from huge bulk buys I have yet to see anything aside from mass marketed tea that is low quality in every sense. I do not buy directly from Taobao or whatever. It is probably still very possible to find drinkable teas here if you know how to look.

5-15 cents: A gamble but you can find drinkable tea.

Up to 25 cents: You can get enjoyable tea from reputable vendors. The "daily drinker" marketing concept is probably right here for most people.

Up to 35 cents: Not very hard to find decent aged or otherwise "notable" teas in this range, but requires some connections or searching.

Up to 50 cents: Unless you are getting scammed, you should definitely be able to get some notable and exciting teas.

Up to a dollar per gram: There's still some overhyped tea here (as in all categories), but you can get most of whatever you might want in this range, aside from extremely hyped regions or very aged tea.


That "tier system" concept alone is problematic; there is just no way that typical experienced "objective quality level" teas would map over to clear cost-identified ranges like that.  If we shift that to a "good value" intended context instead, to what one might ordinarily be able to find, that represents good quality for that cost, then it becomes more consistent, and works better, it's just still problematic.  There would be a lot of less promising value range that isn't as good as it should be to fit into those defined ranges, related to those selling prices, and there would be another tail to the distribution, teas that are too good a value to fit in the normal category, really fairly competing with the next level up.

Does the rest seem to work, based on my own experience?  It's not so bad.  You have to correct the interpretation so much for "what is typical," versus actual sales offering range, that it almost relates to assuming that this works, and then squeezing experienced outcomes back to mapping to this division.  You have to do the same for preference, rounding off what you experience in relation to your own preference, and demand spikes affecting costs or limitations for individual types or versions, to get back to fitting this, so that only in the end do you find what you set out to look for by making a few adjustments.

Let's consider two examples, one in relation to some of the last teas I've been reviewing:




That's a recent Chawang Shop order (teas I actually bought), almost all sheng pu'er (one is shu), the type being discussed.  Right away a lot of people might see this example as invalid, because that vendor stores teas in Kunming, under relatively dry conditions, so to many people versions that are more than a year or two old are already compromised in relation to transition form.  Not just lack of appropriate degree of transition, but that is one potential interpretation, that it just preserves the teas, with another interpretation relating to the form of change being negative, not just slower.  I don't have a developed opinion to offer on this, just a guess, which I'll mostly leave out here.

I reviewed the Tulin Wuliangshan brick here, which works as a decent example.  I cited other reviews of the tea on Steepster (not necessarily a reliable reference, random input from tea drinkers with varying perspectives, with the same tea version but sold by another vendor), and none of them really liked it.  I did though; back to subjectivity being problematic.  It seemed like it had aged further after most of them had been trying it, and was entering an interesting character range, even though that aging process was unusually slow (it was nothing like a typical 12 year old tea).  That was selling for $10 / 100 grams, so on that person's tier system it should only be "drinkable," the second tier, but not yet "enjoyable," what he is explicitly framing as a daily drinker in that detailed comment.


Let's consider another range, before moving on, checking out Farmerleaf page offerings in relation to this matrix of cost to quality level, switched back to the topic of unaged / new / young sheng.  They are a reasonably well regarded sheng pu'er vendor, specializing in Jing Mai origin versions, that shifted focus on lower cost products to (presumably higher quality) higher cost versions around 5 years ago or so:




The range there is from $62 to $300 per 357 gram cake, 17 cents per gram to 84 cents per gram.  So that's back to the lower priced version--per that tier system comment--probably being enjoyable, if all went well, but not notable.  The more costly tea should be unusually "notable and exciting," beyond that of a 35 to 50 cent per gram range that's already at the minimum threshold of notable and exciting.

I'm not going to guess if those teas actually are like that; really so much subjective interpretation comes into play that it probably wouldn't be meaningful, especially for tea versions I've not tried.  I last ordered Farmerleaf teas maybe 3 or 4 years ago and one $90 cake example seemed pleasant, maybe not so much notable and exciting.  That actually works on this scale, putting it in between pleasant and unusually good or interesting in character, but not significantly related to the second.  

Presumably those teas are what well-informed tea drinkers expect in relation to that pricing, and compare reasonably well to what other vendors are offering.  Or again maybe specific styles come into play quite a bit, and demand per style, with a somewhat variable mark-up rate factoring in, so it's just not that simple.


Let's move on to the other citation to place this better, since what we are looking for in relation to quality levels hasn't clearly emerged yet in these references, limited to subjective impression only, relative pleasantness.

Peter Jones, manager of the Trident Bookseller and Cafe, recently posted these thoughts:


Most people seem to think they should only buy aged sheng puer, but that is a mistake. It limits their knowledge and understanding of the tea and the market. Buying sheng every year from the same farmer relationships allows one to gain a deeper understanding of why some sheng puers are priced the way they are and how the market sets the price. This year was a hit or miss harvest for many of the smaller villages and tea mountains in the Yiwu area, and in 5-10 years some of the smaller lots will command an incredible price due to specific factors from this spring. 

One example is Guoyoulin Gushu, which is located within a nature preserve. The harvest is only allowed to take place for 10 days, and rain and Covid impacted that time period. Here we are sampling the 2020 spring material, which is already outstanding. Young sheng can teach us many things that go beyond simply "flavor."


A few factors mentioned shed some light on this quality levels divide that haven't become explicit in the earlier content just yet:


-annual supply and demand shifts affect tea pricing, varying by type and local origin range.

-aged sheng and new sheng are two completely different subject ranges (already clear enough to anyone vaguely familiar with sheng pu'er, but the way the two pricing ranges relate to each other isn't as clear).  

-flavor isn't the only baseline for evaluating sheng pu'er.  Again anyone drinking sheng pu'er would already know this, but filling in what you personally value over time is a long process, probably a never-ending one, that varies by person.

-it takes a lot of exposure to sort out any patterns in pricing, related to what inputs cause what outcomes.  Fully identifying pricing inputs at any one level (eg. local wholesale maocha pricing) is probably all but impossible, and then it would be all the more complex to map out how varying mark-ups and pricing themes work out across end-customer outlets.  Just the local origin supply and demand part (input) would be hard to get any feel for, even in higher profile and more discussed cases, eg. in-demand village area cases.

-ideally aging potential is part of what people might value, or should value, another very complex factor to unpack. Two year old sheng is something else, not new or old, which under some conditions may be much better than brand new sheng, depending on the starting point.


Back to the broader analysis topic and breakdown, next one might consider other examples of what falls out related to better and worse value, which vendor sources are in the far tails for higher than standard range quality per price, or else lower.  For this discussion it works better to just set that aside, and arbitrarily accept that there is a normal range of vendors selling somewhat equivalent products and value versions.  

Quality level, origin, age, storage conditions input, and style really do affect what a standard market rate pricing should be, so it's complicated citing examples, since tasting the tea is necessary to identify some of what matters most related to that.  Considering a Trident sheng pu'er offering might help clarify that, a tea somewhat related to what Peter was discussing, just a different version also sold by them:




Is this slightly aged 200 gram cake a fantastic value, selling for $50, or is it only in a normal market range, or maybe a somewhat flawed tea that's not a great value at that rate?  Probably the first, per my guess, informed by trying other teas from them, but only through tasting that tea would one know, and even then developing good judgment to place sheng pu'er takes awhile to develop, and preferences vary by individual.

 

Going back to the first considerations, maybe it's all not as clear as that comment about tiers and standard character results described, and maybe preference throws off setting up such a structure, and value variations, but still there's something to that.  Higher demand teas do tend to sell for more, and there has to be some limited correspondence between preferences, quality level, and final consumer demand, with marketing branding another kind of related input.  But then vendors also definitely sell for better and worse value, over-hyping and overpricing mediocre tea in some cases, or selling at below market rates for high quality versions in others (but for sure the first paradigm is more common).


Where to go with all this, related to an ordinary exploration of sheng experience, and normal preference transitions?  Ordinarily people might pick a vendor like Yunnan Sourcing and first explore sheng pu'er by buying a good number of samples, whatever others happen to recommend, mixing cost levels, origin areas, ages of versions, and so on.  Then an organic exploration process would extend from there, related to whatever that person liked best, confined or relatively unconfined by budget concerns.  Only after that introduction phase could someone really interpret how good a version actually is, versus those other factors, style, local area typical character, etc.

The teas I mentioned buying were on the low price side, because of a self-imposed budget constraint (which my wife helps reinforce motivation for).  That introduces value issues as a priority.  People also tend to discuss sheng pu'er preference in relation to aged or relatively new versions, then origin areas, with a lot of reference to factors like tea plant age and natural arbor growth, and finally tied to experienced aspects they like or try to avoid, which to some extent should map to the rest.  Aging potential can be something of a guess and an afterthought but it could also factor in, or else it could be a primary concern, for many.

We might expect people to fall into a preference range related to their budget, and then stay there.  For people with an open budget they might experience a natural drift to higher and higher quality teas (or higher demand versions, which should correspond some).  Others could stick to a certain pricing level with the drift occurring in better and better sourcing approaches, getting better value for what they spend.  Here's that one point I wanted to add:


One overall concern is that social media influence pushes people to experience what others experience, and to value what they value, causing a general grouping based shift over time.  


If someone had very free budget to spend on tea they might buy the $300 and $268 cakes listed in that Farmerleaf page sample, to see what is so special about those, and looking for positive distinctions they might be more inclined to find them, than if tasting the teas without that bias entering in.  Then a status could adjoin that experience; they could post online about drinking teas that others couldn't afford to experience, back to the "what straight edge rich people do" context.  A 7 gram session of an 80-some cent per gram tea is still costing "only" $6 or so, back at Starbucks takeaway coffee range, but owning a half dozen $300 cakes adds up to an $1800 buy-in, which is where anyone on a more typical limited budget gets filtered out.

A different and moderate version could, and surely would, happen in relation to people wanting to experience what is valued by others in a more moderate price range, which could shift demand and available options as a broad shared preference, and then also standard pricing levels.

Getting into aged cakes brings up the same issues, and the same potential resulting divide between haves and have-nots.  Teas We Like stands out as a currently popular, well regarded curator source for aged Taiwan stored sheng pu'er, let's check a sample of their offerings:




To be clear their site is down for maintenance right now (when I wrote this first draft); that's from an April 2022 internet archive capture, which is what we would've seen clicking on the site a month ago.

The range seems to span from $165 up to $480, or just below 50 cents a gram up to well over $1 / gram.  Still, not bad for carefully selected and well transitioned (fermented) versions, given that lower level pricing is really more in the average price range for brand new Farmerleaf offerings (the $60 to $300 range sampled averages to $180, slightly higher).

Again, what's the point, the general takeaway?  With preference naturally shifting from moderate to higher quality sheng versions, which would apply across tea types, or from people experiencing limited aged versions (old Xiaguan tuos and such) onto more carefully selected, better versions sheng pu'er interest seems destined to guide normal interest towards a tea preference of 50 cents per gram or higher.  That would also map to style and type range preferences.  If broad demand patterns shift enough that pricing level would also shift, upward.  

It's odd how clearly that ties to what is portrayed as upper medium quality level tea, how the standard levels layering kind of does work.  This part is just hearsay that you can research for yourself, but upper medium quality level in-house Yunnan Sourcing new (young) sheng has settled to around a $100 per standard 357 gram cake range now, a pricing level that would've been unthinkable 5 years ago, when around half that was a standard norm.  30 cents a gram sheng is just normal now, somewhat notable per that one comment's scale, but still moderate in cost.

Is value dropping (quality level in relation to price), or are quality levels really escalating?  Maybe some of each.  Since I do accept that it's a mix of both, with higher demand pushing both, it's not accurate to simply say that it's unfair or opportunistic on vendor's sides, that markups or a spike in producer or reseller pricing are causing this.  You can still buy plenty of 20 cent per gram sheng that's still being sold ($30-some cakes), or $15 low quality Chinatown or Ebay cakes (at around 5 cents a gram).  Maybe it's more a concern that many of the $30 / standard cake offerings from 5 or 6 years ago are now replaced with a $50 and up range, that pricing for equivalent teas also goes up.  

I don't think the general increase is mostly about the same exact teas costing more though, it's that people group together in what they prefer, so higher demand for a narrow range can quickly increase pricing in that range.  It's probably more evident across a half dozen main Western facing vendors than across the broader range of what is out there.  More legitimate "gushu" is and has been selling for $1 / gram; a higher end isn't shifting as fast (or teas presented as such).  Then it's complicated how much more legitimate gushu is sold in relation to what is offered as such; maybe it's not so much.

It seems like I'm heading somewhere with all this, doesn't it, maybe to speculate that a consistent middle ground for good but not high-demand, trendy origin area and style teas might be a more natural end point for people to explore, than for sheng drinkers to accept that cakes just cost $80 to 100 now, or $150 and up for aged versions.  It seems like I might be narrowing a broad set of information towards a conclusion I already wanted to arrive at, if so.  Very little that appeared here suggested that there is a range of $50-60 more moderate sheng cakes out there to be experienced.  Even the Chawang Shop example required accepting relatively dry storage as a main input, a lower demand category, and the teas they sell priced at or under $50 per cake are on the way out of their stock, selling out and being replaced by others.  Their sales page, showing newer offerings:




The least costly of those cakes sells for $78 per 400 gram version, the next "cheapest" for $95 for that amount, and next a 200 gram cake at an equivalent cost of $116 (for the same amount, for two).

Again I don't doubt that Chawang Shop is sourcing better tea than they were 6 or 8 years ago, catering to a shift in preference and demand, and general acceptance of cakes costing $90 instead of $40, for better tea versions.  Why wouldn't vendors move to catering to a higher quality demanding customer base, since surely profit per cake must be higher, with overhead costs staying similar to before?

I'm not cherry-picking the costliest range or most extreme examples of pricing shifts to serve some sort of narrative, although maybe the Farmerleaf and Chawang Shop examples work better as the second than the first.




Another popular Western vendor, Bitterleaf, who I've never tried teas from, with sheng offerings shown (arranged by order added to their catalog, so recent) listing from $49 per cake to $445.  I've tried a good bit of tea selling for $1 / gram, so its not as if that range is completely unfamiliar, but still I tended to notice what others might be seeing in it more than appreciating it myself, in comparison to teas presented as good but not that high in demand.  If it's largely aging potential, one possibility that gets discussed, that I couldn't necessarily experience that directly, without a 15 year wait.  In aged samples maybe, but these are relatively new teas.


It helps to place this in perspective in relation to wine.  People are buying $200 new cakes of sheng now, or 3-400, but that relates to about 50 7-gram sessions, while it's not unusual for people to buy $100 bottles of wine to drink 4 glasses in one sitting.  Once related awareness and demand broadens there's no reason why that price range couldn't shift a lot higher.  More and more people actually buying $200-400 cakes drives that shift, demand leading to supply, and then scarcity of the supply.

As with wine interest tea drinkers without over $1000 per year to spend on their sheng habit will eventually be priced out of the above average range of products.  That already happened, related to this more expensive offerings, but if it keeps shifting it could slide more towards the most expensive third, or half.

On a personal level I'm not concerned about it.  I can drink what others see as moderate quality, less appealing, low status level teas.  Nothing in experiencing teas presented as better and more costly, which I've only been able to experience in relation to samples, most passed on by vendors for review, led me to see that as a particularly problematic outcome.  I can see why a range of types is regarded as better, and in general I agree there is real justification for those quality assessments, but I just don't need to experience that minor character difference.  To me different is interesting, and it also works well to shift to broader experience, not towards accepted and established "higher quality" range.


Let's make that clearer:  am I rejecting the importance of aspects Peter described as desirable, here:  Young sheng can teach us many things that go beyond simply "flavor?" Not exactly.  As I take it he is referring to moving past interesting flavor and a lack of flaws as identifying better tea, on to the well-known ranges of mouth-feel, aftertaste experience, and "cha qi," body feel.  Emergent properties like balance, refinement, intensity, and complexity relate to how individual aspects (eg. certain flavors) are perceived as a set of interrelated individual aspects; he probably means that as well.  Aging potential is something else, another broad and complex subject, which he also indirectly touched on.

Am I saying that people could just as easily make their peace with accepting a reduced set of these identified aspect-range goals, or selling points, to reject pushing on to experience the highest possible quality level in teas, or at least to not blindly demand what others also demand most, like rare and in-demand experiences tied to origin areas?  More so that.  Or at least it could work to explore and appreciate some of what others tend to appreciate most, and keep some $200 cakes around, but then also lean into other range, and see what else is out there, with emphasis on trying more types that involve moderate spending.  

It gets trickier to highlight how that might work with links and screenshots as examples.  That Trident tea probably worked as that, although to be clear that was probably a case of direct purchasing leading to lower markup, not an off-demand type costing less.  I've long since claimed that I've appreciated value and character in Tea Mania teas, a Swiss vendor, but it's a stretch to say that they represent an alternative that is completely different than all of these other vendors.  I think it works to say that staying in touch with "modest quality" range like Xiaguan or Dayi Jia Ji tuocha teas, or anything from Taetea that's not 7542, is also what I mean, just not "growing out of" that preference range through an exploration process, retaining it as one of many things you appreciate.

I'll keep saying more about South East Asian sheng, a topic that already made it into this post in relation to one CS example being from Laos.  It seems as well to stop short of claiming that other country origin versions are going to help partly resolve escalating sheng pu'er costs, but there is always that hope.  Let's take that one step further; there is one standard SE Asian tea outlet I mention more often than the rest, in relation to selling good teas at good value, Hatvala from Vietnam:



The second price listed is for a 100 gram quantity (it is sheng; calling it "dark tea" or hei cha is one possible work-around for avoiding the area-restricted term "pu'er"), making it easy to identify per-gram cost, at 33 cents, 28.5, and 18.5.  That would relate to 357 gram tea cakes costing over $100, or around $70 at the lower end, for the other example.  Is that a good value?  I've tried versions of those teas a few years ago, and in my judgement sure, it's fine.  Of course that's not an objective assessment; it's a statement about personal preference.  

Was I really basing a value judgment in the past on a lower priced rate?  This is a real possibility.  Let's check that with the Internet Archive, from the earliest backup page there from Oct. of 2019:



It's interesting looking back to realize I last reviewed a Hatvala sheng (dark tea) in 2019 as well, this one.  Those 2022 prices increased 40-some percent in less than 3 years, in relation to that 2019 page, well over 10% per year, not far off that doubling of general sheng pricing in 5 or 6 years that I've been describing.  My friend Huyen has said that Vietnamese sheng pricing has been increasing a lot at the producer / wholesale level over the past couple of years, so that's probably a main cause, not just final consumer sales pricing shifting.  If vendors and bloggers keep talking about SE Asian sheng demand will keep increasing, and pricing.  

It's another long story but I think there is room for greatly expanded production of higher quality sheng from Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar, so that could lead to a correction on the supply side.  Per my understanding Chinese purchasing is already restricting what does or could possibly make it to the Western market, with some of that tea now being sold as Yunnan sheng, probably often after being mixed with Chinese material.

Now I'm just heading off on tangents.  To me it all connects; demand shift, style changes, quality level, potential new area sources and types, and pricing changes all link together.  A well-informed tea consumer can maximize their experience at whatever budget is available to them to do so, by considering and factoring in these inputs.  Following the latest, hottest trends is probably bad strategy related to that, going mostly by whatever draws out the most buzz on social media, or using catchy vendor marketing content as a primary information source.  It's too much work to read long text blog posts, for sure, but bearing this described context in mind could help with sorting out ideas from lots of other sources.


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

2006 purple wild arbor Mengmao sheng pu'er

 



This is the last of a Chawang Shop order, the kind of purchase form I don't employ as often as many others seem to, often just picking up a tea here or there instead.  It's been so long since I ordered these teas I had no recollection of what this version is, and had to read every item on the order to place which I hadn't tried yet.  It's the third listed, a 2006 Ye Sheng Qiao Mu Zhuan Cha (which I think just means wild plant type wild arbor brick tea):




To be clear these are not at all typical of what the Chawang Shop sells at this point, more a look back at their sheng product theme from a half dozen years ago.  This is a random page of what they sell now (however "page 1" on the site is sorted):





That change over in theme got me started thinking about patterns in sheng pu'er demand and vendor offerings, which I'll post some long form thoughts on soon enough.  Something about that tea version had to sound interesting (beyond it not costing much, making it easy to try a few different things); let's check the listing and see what it might've been:


The Menglong TF made this 250g tea brick from ancient wild tea tree material in 2006. Purple large leaves varietal tea is from Mengmao village, Baoshan region. This place is famous for wild arbor tea (Qiao Mu). It is the optimum ecological environment for the growth of grandifoliate planted tea trees. Four years proper store in Kunming makes the tea soup golden yellow, fruity aroma and a smooth flavour. The taste resembles some sorts of laocha (old oolong tea)! The packing paper is not original packaging. Xiaguan TF also took material from Baoshan for ancient wild tea products. 

Manufacturer : Menglong Tea factory

Harvest Area : Baoshan

Production date : 2006

Weight : 250g


That does sound interesting, wild arbor, purple leaf tea.  The look is unusual, larger leaf material (so maybe an autumn harvest version?), with a mix of leaf colors showing.


Review:






First infusion:  interesting, unusual.  Some earthiness and sourness in this leans a little towards a hei cha style.  Still it has pleasant moderate bitterness, and it's relatively clean, for this being the first round, brewed a little longer than I often go to avoid saying "it's too light to tell this round."  It seems like some nice dried fruit is going to evolve in this, once some early bitterness and earthy edge wears off.  It's not challenging or edgy, or off, I just get a sense it will go from somewhat clean in effect to much cleaner over the next couple of infusions.  So I'll add more on that next round.  

I think finally this will be a tea version that I think will improve by softening some in wet and warm Bangkok conditions over the next couple of years, versus thinking most from this set would do well to experience another 4 or 5.  I thought the Laos tea was in a nice place, and the Wuliangshan brick version had a nice character for a medium level fermentation sheng.




Second infusion:  again, interesting.  There's an unusual character to this tea that I think listing out flavors and other aspects isn't really going to capture.  It partly relates to a trace of sourness; that is shifting overall effect quite a bit.  The rest is just moderately aged sheng, definitely not fully aged yet, not where 16 years stored in a more humid place would have it.  

I keep mentioning it but there's a common perception that dry storage results in sheng picking up some degree or type of sourness, which I don't find to be completely false, perhaps just a little misleading.  A moderate aspect along that line does seem to evolve into some examples I've tried, and a woody flavor, but stronger and different versions of sourness and wood flavor would come from other types of problematic storage inputs, or unfavorable starting points in tea character.

This tea is complex; there's really a lot going into the experience to unpack.  There are some warm tones, out towards wood or limited spice, and along with a hint towards dried fruit a vegetal part is more like blackberry or strawberry leaf (right, things people tend not to prepare as tisanes or ever experience).

A touch of lack of clarity (slight cloudiness) in the brewed liquid makes me reconsider what that means.  It relates to some kind of flaw, per my understanding, but I'm not sure how that gets described beyond that.  The next round brews much clearer; maybe it connects to the sourness, which will fade over the next two rounds.


unusual wet leaf color starting to become apparent


Third infusion:  it's cleaning up a little, in relation to the sourness fading,and the liquid is clear.  Bitterness and other flavor aspects are more pronounced; I think I see sourness as a particularly negative inclusion, so even a little being present stands out.  Bitterness trails a lot more in the aftertaste experience too.  

Flavors are interesting, and complex.  The dried fruit range reminds me of dried blueberry, a bit unusual.  Warm woody tone stands out a lot more, connecting with light warmer tone, and other understated vegetal range.  This might be really nice in another 4 or 5 years; I might've been wrong about that part.  It has intensity, depth, and complexity to spare but again it seems to be in an odd place for shifting over from lighter range to heavier, from bitterness, floral tones, and some limited vegetal range to dried fruit, warm earthy tones, with subtle spice tones adding depth.  I say "again" in relation to that being one main running theme in trying these other teas, in this set.  For some that would be very disappointing, but for me it's more or less what I'd hoped to experience, teas that aren't quite there for achieving aging potential yet, that I can keep trying over some years to still have some around when then do.  If it turns out dry storage robbed these teas of a lot of final potential in part I wouldn't know that, and in a sense they're interesting and pleasant now, and probably should keep improving. 

Then there's the "a cake is a sample" theme, relating to how if you try a 250 gram brick of tea a few times a year within a half dozen years it's close to gone, right when it might be at its best.  If a tea seems especially promising buying one version for the tasting process and one to drink then works best, but these teas are surely all on the way out for stock availability, so ordering them in back to back years isn't likely to work out.  Chawang Shop's selection of 15 year or so old sheng has dwindled, nothing like the crazy level of stock Yunnan Sourcing holds.  I have some of my past favorites from them as untouched spares, just not two of everything I'm trying, and I'm not sure what I would reorder from this set.



Fourth infusion:  more of the same; there are aspects to appreciate in this tea, but it's at an odd place for aging transition.  Very mild spice tones are transitioning in, and remaining sourness slowly fades, but the feel actually picked up a touch of dryness, instead of getting richer and softer.  It might evolve to a feel I tend to call sappy within a few rounds, which I use in a positive sense.




Fifth infusion:  that just turned a corner for being more pleasant; it all somehow clicks much better.  More warm spice is a nice contribution, sourness has almost entirely dropped out, bitterness is at a good level, matched by sweetness, and dryness and wood tone are quite moderate.  Dried berry is really a secondary aspect, but it adds a lot for making the rest work better together.  

I suppose this tastes like someone might expect wild arbor purple tea to taste, unusual, in ways that are very positive but also a little odd, with some range surely not matching everyone's liking.  Or who knows, maybe the whole set of aspects and overall effect wouldn't appeal to some.  But it's not at the most likely optimum for aging transition level just now, as I see it, and the character should keep changing.


Sixth infusion:  it's really nice doing a single tea tasting, not a comparison, being that much less blasted by drug-like effect at this stage.  This picks up an interesting underlying tone, a little towards the inkiness I mostly describe in relation to Wuyi Yancha.  It's all integrating even more than it had in the last round, those same aspects I described over earlier rounds "cleaning up" and working in better proportion with each other.


Seventh infusion: it's fading in intensity a little; funny how it just got to where it balanced best and will need to be stretched to keep up intensity from here on.  Fruit taste is picking up a little in the overall balance, shifting a little from dried blueberry towards grape.  It did keep brewing positive rounds after this but not so much seemed to get lost from not describing them, since it stayed more consistent past this point.

As overall impression goes this is a little unusual.  Per some general hearsay and the very few examples of purple teas that I've tried that might be normal.


Placing that tea experience:


It's easier to say that some people would love this novel tea experience, and many others wouldn't at all, than it is to place it in relation to other experiences.  I just re-tried a local Thai, wild-origin, very strange tea version that is as close to this as anything I've ever experienced, this tea, made by the Jip Eu Bangkok Chinatown shop owner Kittichai.  It was sour in a novel way, so I couldn't tell with any certainty how it would age further, although now 2 1/2 years later I have added input on that.  It might be picking up sweetness and depth but apparently it's always going to be strange, and sour.

Next one would try to guess if that's from a novel plant type input (my guess), or from an error in processing, that in these two cases they just didn't dry the tea appropriately at one processing step (which is also possible).  I've tried too many examples of "wild origin" teas to look up and list out, and some common patterns emerge, but it's a set of inconsistent patterns, not just one or two.  This Moychay Yongde wild origin sheng was one of the cooler and more pleasant sheng versions I've tried, more indicative of another pattern, of teas being flavorful, novel in flavor aspects, relatively low in bitterness and astringency, and not sour.  This Xiaguan wild origin material version (a 2005 tea reviewed in 2020, so comparable in age, if not aging / fermentation input) was a little unusual in character, but closer to standard sheng range than these three other examples.

What about the purple leaf theme?  The unusual color of the brewed leaves of this cake isn't as clear in the pictures as I noticed looking through them later on, but it's definitely not any typical sheng wet leaf color, even for aging input causing that to be a broad range that transitions from light green to light brown, with odd coloration in the middle.  I've not tried much purple leaf material tea.  There might only be two black tea versions reviewed in this blog; not much at all, and nothing relevant to this experience.  

You can't try to extrapolate any category character from one sample, regardless of which, and comparing results from one tea type to another is a bit silly, but still let's see what I though of a Farmerleaf version awhile back.  First Farmerleaf's input on what purple leaf tea is (cited in this blog review of that tea, but you would need to look it up on the Internet Archive backup page now, since Farmerleaf would've sold out years ago):


This tea comes from the Zijuan varietal, also known as purple tea. It is a cultivar selected for the high amount of anthocyanins in the tea leaves, which give the leaves its purple color. Such mutation can appear naturally in the usual assamica varietal of Yunnan, and is also more prevalent in some wild tea species.

Apart from its unusual leaf aspect, the zijuan cultivar features a very special fruity aroma, which comes out very well when the leaves are allowed to oxidize. This black tea displays this cultivar's fragrance, and is therefore quite different from the typical Yunnan Dianhong made of seed-propagated Assamica...


Then onto what I thought of that processed black tea version:


Second infusion:  It's warmer in nature, leaning a little towards a spice aspect now as well, just not clearly cinnamon or anything else.  The hint of tartness (mostly dropped out, but still present) reminds me of dried cranberry, or maybe that along with other dried fruit.  A hint of savory range is closer to sun-dried tomato, an addition that works well with the rest, integrated, and lending it complexity.  Other flavor complexity probably relates to floral tone, but it's non-distinct.

Third infusion:  warmth might have picked up, adding a little more flavor towards cocoa or cinnamon than the other floral and prior dried fruit aspects, with those others fading.  It's complex in a limited sense but it could be more complex, and flavors could be more distinct. 


It sounded nice, maybe just a little strange, not excelling in relation to complexity or flavor intensity, with novel character standing out more.  Black tea processing, the oxidation, would change how any type of leaf material comes across a lot, so that green tea or sheng pu'er processing would lead to completely different results.

That "wild" Thai sheng might be better at identifying related patterns, in terms of character and age transition, even though it wasn't really purple leaf material (as far as I know).  It's only about 10 years old now, but surely a lot more age transitioned / fermented than this 16 year old dry stored Chawang Shop / Mengmao / Menglong produced version.  

There's a lot more I could say about one aspect changing to another in relation to trying that Thai version across 3 years, or leaf color, and so on, but it seems like adding guesses on top of guesses.  Both examples are in an atypical sheng character range, and people would either tend to value that or be put off by it.  Reaction to sourness as a primary flavor aspect would potentially inform which, with that Thai version a good bit more sour.

Related to a theme mentioned here I bought an extra cake of that Thai tea so I could finish the one I've been trying over however many years that takes, and then have another to experience as an aged version.  I like it, I just wouldn't want to drink it too often.  It's a nice novelty kind of tea to have to share with friends, since they may have never tried anything like it.


Monday, May 9, 2022

Wild arbor white tea from the Maetang mountains in Thailand

 



A contact who is new to producing teas in the North of Thailand sent me some of their earliest test production, a white tea version.  His name is Leo Shevchenko, who I met through Sergey Shevelev of Moychay, as part of a Thai "wild" tea development project along with Moychay.  There's background on that project on a related website here.

Leo also sent a sheng sample from Myanmar, so I can place how the two relate, and context for what will come from them in the future, in a later post reviewing that.  Ordinarily I only write about teas that I like, because there is a more interesting story to tell then, but I don't have any doubt that Myanmar sheng is fine.  I've tried a good bit of sheng from Myanmar and it was all either ok or else really nice.

There's not much more to add to the tea review, beyond a story that will be told by pictures Leo sent of the growing area.  The region wasn't familiar to me, since I don't get to the North of Thailand very often, or travel around more remote areas when I do, but Maetang seems to be here:



Zooming out that far doesn't show what is around it very well; it's not that far from Chiang Rai.


Review:




First infusion:  quite light; that can happen.  It was clear enough that a gaiwan full of leaves this open wasn't going to amount to my normal proportion, so I brewed that over 20 seconds to compensate, but I'll probably need to stick with a half minute at this proportion.  There's not much to go on at this infusion strength, but what does show through is what I expected, sweet, creamy, complex in relation to fruit flavors, with a nice warmer edge.  It doesn't seem like there will be any flaws to talk about.  It'll be easier to fill in a clearer and longer aspect list next round.

This looks a little more like a Moonlight White in the picture than it did in real life, the black and silver color theme.  It's definitely black and silver but there are some shades of green included.




Second infusion:  a touch of citrus picks up; that's nice.  That creaminess is really pronounced too, both the thickness and some of the flavor from cream.  A little spice range relates to that trace of warmer tone, hard to distinguish further as one type of spice for being so light in this.  For there being nothing negative about this it would make sense to push up the intensity by brewing even more tea (a higher proportion), and preparing it stronger.  For listing out aspects that doesn't matter as much, since a lighter infusion can somehow work even better.  Next round I'll give it 45 seconds--or so; I never time or weigh anything--and see how that works out.

This would be a positive version of a Moonlight White, if presented as that.  That's just Yunnan Assamica made into white tea, per a normal use of the category and term, with a narrower definition limited to a plant type that turns silver and dark when it is dried, as some of these leaves did.  Versions end up being sold that are in the other color range, in varying shades of tan, brown, or dark green.



Third infusion:  as one would expect warmth stands out more for brewing this stronger, or that could just be normal infusion rounds transition; hard to be sure.  On the one hand this is very pleasant in what it expresses, complex and interesting, covering sweetness, light fruit range (a touch of citrus, and maybe a little berry beyond that, maybe in between blueberry and raspberry), cream, and light warm tones, a little towards cinnamon spice to identify the range, but not that.  On the other hand this is a bit subtle, definitely lacking intensity, which not everyone would love.  People who already drink a lot of white teas are quite familiar with that trade-off; this is on the complex and intense side as Silver Needle goes.  Not all that far off a standard aspect range for those either, pretty much the same.




Fourth infusion:  kind of the same as last round.  Brewing this strong (out around 45 seconds now) it has decent intensity, and a rich, full feel (all relative; not as structured or rich as sheng pu'er, or as full in feel as wuyi yancha).  It even includes some aftertaste carry-over, part of that sweet cream and warm tone.




Fifth infusion:  not really evolving or changing, so I'll probably leave off here.  This probably won't make it to 10 or 12 rounds due to stretching the timing so much, but these early rounds were pleasant.  It stayed pleasant for a good number of extra rounds, maybe another 5, but I didn't keep count of those. 

This experience reminds me of one of the best tea versions I've tried from Monsoon, a local Thai producer specializing in wild-grown teas.  A review of that is here, with another post covering a lot of local white tea version reviews here.  


pictures in this blog weren't very good 5 years ago, but the color theme comes across



an old photo of a Kinnari (Laos) version of Moonlight White, even more silver and dark


You don't run across these types of teas so often but the exceptions can add up over time.  I think this version compares well to the rest; those particular aspects are a pleasant set, and the rich feel and aftertaste range add depth to a tea that might otherwise come across as a bit too subtle and simple.

It's a good tea to brew in different ways, since you could push it as much as you like for Western brewing and it would be fine, or it would work well for "grandpa style" brewing, leaving it in a tea bottle and drinking it still mixed with leaves, then refilling that.  It's pretty good for an early trial of tea production, well-suited for that type, it would seem, and made without making any processing mistakes leading to noticeable flaws.


Pictures as background:


I don't have much for description to go with these, beyond the general context that this is relatively wild growing tea.  Since the plants were probably intentionally introduced to this area some time ago some consider this wild tea to be feral instead, but it doesn't change anything.  Leo mentioned that he thought the tea was more complex, aromatic, and fruity because there is a lot of wild flowering plants and fruits growing around it, and it does seem to work out that way, that complex biodiversity can lend character related to nearby plants to tea.  It sounds like a typical myth but related stories of that seeming to happen come up over and over.

Some pictures Leo sent then:








Nice enough!  It's cool that the harvesters represented the Moychay theme in that way, which also comes up in photos on that website.  A couple subjects themes one might expect are missing, pictures of tea drying in woven bamboo racks, and photos of really old trees.  Some plants would have to be older there, given my understanding of the context, these are just what they took pictures of to show a plucking process.  Here's an older Thai tea tree to show what I mean, from an earlier post about a different producer:




This subject is a little worn thin, but it's quite difficult to tell how old a tea plant (tree) is by size, because they grow at completely different rates depending on environmental factors, and I suppose also by plant type, to some extent.  The plant genetics would vary, and I don't see why that couldn't also influence growth rates or maximum final size, even though conditions would seem to be more of an input.  When people look at a tree, a photo or in real life, and give assurance that it's 100+ years old, or closer to 200, and so on, per some decent informed input that's really not meaningful.  The trees can get old, even well over 1000 years, but anyone looking at that last photo and passing on a specific age is either just guessing, most likely based on believing questionable hearsay, or else making an informed guess based on a lot of unusual prior exposure, and it would be hard to say which.

Those plants in the other pictures are kind of young, it looks to me (a guess that is uninformed).  I have no idea what to make of that, or if that points towards other lines of speculation about their likely history.  To me it's as well to go by final processed tea aspects and take the stories for what they are worth, interesting background, that's not quite as important as the final results, in terms of experiencing a brewed processed tea.  It seems unlikely to me that they sprayed pesticides on plants that were already naturally growing, from growth that is integrated with other plants, so there's that, an implied causation for the final processed tea to be safer than mono-culture grown plantation tea.  I don't even over-think that part; I try to drink a good bit of tea with a background that sounds favorable and promising, and let that chemical exposure issue work out however it does from there.

The tea was good, positive in character and unique, which is the main thing.  It should be really interesting trying the same material made into other style versions.