I really should get to more of a set of tea samples that Moychay sent for review, aged sheng this time. To be clear I helped do a final read of Sergey's recent English language version tea book and this seems like a thanks for that. It wasn't really editing, more of a final read. So I suppose a warning about potential bias is in order, although it seems to me that I can still be objective. Still, people often like what they want to or expect to like, so who knows.
I might have added more about that potential bias in the recent post about vendor bias and group identification. It didn't seem relevant, since I was passing on thoughts about Moychay contributed by someone else, a relatively mixed input comment about some Russian tea enthusiasts liking Moychay and others not. Then I moved on to how I saw patterns in bias and association play out, in tea groups and related to vendor preference. It wasn't positive or negative in relationship to Moychay, or even mainly about them.
I don't know anything about this tea, beyond what is in the title. I'll add a Moychay reference, in as much detail as I can find one, but it may not include satisfyingly detailed background [just a short description of aspects, which I don't include here]. It will be kind of impossible to break down a lot of input and outcome themes in trying 15 year old sheng versions without more to go on, just randomly picking samples, so I may organize that better moving forward. In general I prefer to try the teas without prior input, so I'm experiencing what I happen to pick up, instead of confirming or adjusting external opinion. I was just talking to someone about evaluation systems for sheng, and how to break down experienced aspects in different ways, but I won't be developing that here either, and maybe not in the future either.
Since I wrote these notes I've retried a couple of aged sheng from around the same range of time I have at home, one of which works better as a benchmark version, and recently tried a 2005 Menghai sheng at a shop, where a vendor said that version was well-regarded. It doesn't change my placement of this experience much, but I can write a little about that in a conclusions section.
First infusion: I backed off normal proportion just a little for this, not going with a level that maxes out the gaiwan when leaves are wet, in order to make dialing in timing a little easier. Per usual I went with a really light first infusion, to kind of get introduced without experiencing a lot, to let the tea get started. It's interesting. Fermentation effect comes across first, but I expect how that shows through will change over the first two or three infusions, so it's as well to not make too much of it.
It's not musty, or seemingly too much so, tied to some sort of damp storage theme. It also doesn't seem "well preserved," as if dry storage suspended changes. So it seems in a promising range. Early on earthiness might come across towards a dry mushroom range but I think that's the kind of early aspect that will shift and possibly completely drop out. There's a nice depth and sweetness beyond that, with rich spice and aromatic wood range showing through already. It seems like it will be nice.
Second infusion: good intensity. Heavy flavors or rough edges can be a bit much, even for teas in this age range, but this is fine for expressing heavy range and intense flavors and also some degree of refinement. It hits though. A nice range (nice to me) of heavy dark wood, spice, and dried fruit flavors combines, with hints of what I take people to interpret as camphor or menthol, which I often have trouble placing.
Really in two more infusions this will show more of what it's all about, for the early roughness transitioning off further and main infusion sequence complexity setting in. I can still notice mushroom but the rest picks up in intensity while that fades in relation. To me it's moderately clean for sheng that is fermented this far, with this much intensity as a starting point. This starts in on interpretation and guesswork, but I think it couldn't have been a mild, sweet, floral range tea 15 years ago or intensity wouldn't still be at this level.
Third infusion: the mushroom aspect is gone but it has been replaced by a wet slate / basement sort of range, which I take to be a main identifying flavor of aged Liu Bao. The rest is pleasant (and I guess that part could be too, but opinions would vary on that). It's clean in effect, and it balances well enough. It's not subtle, not the kind of aged sheng where depth has remained and a lot of the rest has faded, and flavor intensity in this range some would probably like and some wouldn't. I like it.
Related to dried fruit input it strikes me as jujube, dried Chinese date. It will be interesting to see how the warmer aromatic range shifts further, dark wood and spice range. Aftertaste intensity is a nice part of the experience, the way that positive, warm, intense range carries over. Again the one negative, which seemingly wouldn't be overly negative for everyone, is the way part of that earthy range is exhibited. This is cleaner than a 2007 8891 CNNP version I've reviewed, I think, with less rough edge, if that helps place it [one of the teas I've retried since making these notes].
lighter, but part of that is probably lighting variation
Fourth infusion: not so different; I should wait a round to say more so these notes don't stretch too long. Again I think someone's take on a heavy slate mineral aspect would define how they see this tea, probably tied to if they can appreciate aged Liu Bao or not. I'm not saying that it's like Liu Bao but that one aspect seems to match up. I've never tried a Liu Bao with this much complexity, range, and dried fruit input, not that saying that means much, since I've only dabbled in trying versions of that hei cha.
Fifth infusion: to me the balance improves, with heavier input range fading and a nice aged furniture and aromatic wood tone picking up, towards spice. It's that effect of how very old dark wood furniture preserved through use of aromatic oils comes across. It always reminds me of spending time ordained in a Buddhist temple, since there were rooms full of old furniture and religious ceremonial items. I would almost feel high just from the smell, and then looking through whatever was there was fascinating, even though they kept the "really good stuff" in places I wouldn't run across it.
I tend to not really feel tea as people describe, but I get more than average effect from this, maybe due to being off aged sheng for awhile, or for it being quiet here now. My wife is picking up our son at Mandarin class, and the main thing I hear is birds outside, and now a plane flying over, a bit faint for that airport being nearly an hour's drive from here. I probably should experience quiet more often. Going to swim classes with my kids in the evening has been nice lately, where typically only three of them will be doing laps, so I just listen to a bit of splashing for two hours. I could review a tisane there.
Sixth infusion: I'll finally adjust this infusion timing a bit more, moving past 10 seconds. I had been keeping timing consistent and fast and letting the intensity drop a little round to round, suitable for the first two or three being a bit strong. The same kinds of aspects as earlier balance completely differently now. I did glance through the Moychay site listing and customer reviews for mentioning what this was to someone I'd been talking about aged sheng with online, and it's interesting how the mix of the two opinions that one might expect are there. Some say it's so-so, not particularly interesting, and more find it a good, complex, pleasant, and typical aged sheng.
Subthemes in aspects and experience range are more complex for aged sheng than any other type, so it only seems natural that variations in preference and opinions come up. Then stories could also factor in, or hearsay could play a larger role than would intuitively seem warranted, in relation to direct experience.
That heavy mineral in the aftertaste is interesting, much better for other milder input supporting and balancing it.
Seventh infusion: mineral eases up a little, or at least a root spice sort of tone picking up starts to replace some of that relative range. It's not so far off the aromatic dark wood tone earlier, but also clearly different, an evolution of that. It's catchier at this stage, I think. It's especially pleasant the way that range coats your tongue, combining with feel, and then carries over as aftertaste. For someone inclined to dislike it (the heavy mineral flavor, or other range) it could seem too much like a struck match (the extended wet slate part), and not that pleasant.
I can't imagine someone who likes good, complex aged Liu Bao not liking this though, for overlapping some and extending beyond that range, being more refined and complex, and having more to offer. For people who hate that type in general this may not work.
Eighth infusion: I'll probably stop taking notes here, even though four more infusions or so would tell more of this story. It's interesting being in a quiet enough place to notice tea effect, and to not be rushed. This contributes both a body feel and some degree of head buzz, as I interpret it, but it's also relaxing, so that I could probably nap after this.
Aged effect really stands out in this round. I'd already mentioned general experience reminding me of how aged furniture smells, but this also leans into a heavier, sweeter, warmer tone of ranges that reminds me of old barn smell, just cleaner. I don't mean horse manure or hay, or something like that, but if you live in a place where old buildings store things that are decades old, like an antique car, or old saddles, there's a general effect of age transition that comes across in smell. There's a sweetness to that smell, more than a mustiness, tied mostly to mineral range scents, or I suppose it would depend on the specific example and context.
I liked it! It made for an interesting experience. This general range isn't unfamiliar but a slightly rougher edge version of it is more familiar. That ties to me not spending much on teas, to be clear, not necessarily to this being an exceptional quality level tea, or an example of the true potential of aged sheng.
I relate more to the Moychay customer comments saying this is interesting and pleasant than limited. I can't place that as an objective judgement though, as tea reviewers often tend to do, to claim to put it on some sort of scale, or frame it in relation to other examples and range.
I retried that 2007 CNNP 8891 version and a second more generic older tea brick I bought in a market in Shenzhen since writing these notes. It doesn't help to place them all in relation to each other, I'm just getting more familiar with the range. I think this might be slightly cleaner with a little more depth than that 8891, but that tea was better than I remember it, probably benefitting from the couple of years of age it's added since I tried it regularly.
That tea brick seemed pleasant but thinner in character, maybe with slightly less rough flavor range, but also less intensity and structure to the feel. Then a strange part was that after about a dozen or so infusions a few in a row seemed much more pleasant than the rest had, picking up a really cool flavor and character, and great overall balance. I don't know what that was all about. It even seemed heavier on sweetness and range that might be interpreted as fruit. Often brewing other tea types longer in later rounds a mineral, heavy flavor tone, or astringency range will emerge much stronger, brought out by longer brewing time, but not usually a different and more positive overall effect.
Eight infusions was pretty early for stopping notes for this version but I didn't notice that effect, if I remember right, a pronounced positive transition in later rounds.