15 Tasting Notes
Again, sampling a sample as part of a birth year tea selection. Being a young parent is such a strain!
The smell from opening the vacuum foil is a light (as in, not heavy / heady) raisins and cognac. After the second brew the leaves hint of nitrate, which is funny for wild trees. Maybe it is just me expecting the smell. Preceding and subsequent wafts distinctly and consistently yield endives. Endives and green tea — might make a good alternative Christmas menu recipe.
If I do very short and light steeps I can leave most of the bitter in the pot and yield a vegetal, warming green tea. Cha qi is a solid, calming buzz. Very present!
I can definitely see this one develop with time. There is still a lot of bitterness to be transformed, but it is not as coarse as some that I know. Overall, I think of it like a prodigy in puberty: certainly promising, already more refined than its peers but not yet fully formed.
Recommend? Yes, for aging. Is this the birth year tea to stock? Undecided, because I need an excuse to order more samples soon :)
The rating is about present drinking pleasure only.
I’m sampling this tea because I’m considering to stock it as a birth year tea. The fact that it took me 2 years to start sampling is telling.
Never had such a young Sheng before. Also never had this kind of quality, unless maybe from wet storage (not my favourite).
At first smell it seemed to be no different from a middle aged factory Pu. From its age I would have expected to encounter quite a bit of bitter, maybe similar to a green tea.
Instead, I am getting a pretty mild brew, with less bitter tones than many an aged factory sheng. The main flavour is mushroom, which I would normally consider not enough to go by, but it sits on a wider palette here. The initial steeping, as well as the leaves after early brews, have a dark green association to them, like extra vergine olive oil, which manages to give some plant context to all the more familiar ‘adult’ flavours of a sheng. (Which I would simply summarize as tobacco and musty bitterness.)
Later steepings and leaves are less subtle, and more musty bitter. And then milder again. This is a contrast with the factory shengs I’ve known — they seem to have no end to the musty bitterness.
(Initially I thought this wasn’t much of a quality, and recently I’ve learned that indeed it is not: the younger plantation teas used for these cakes tend to be unsubtly bitter. But now I’m thinking,:will that still transform into something else with very old age?)
Next time around I put it in clay to have it tell me more of its story. (It seems to compensate well for my local tap water.)
The other birth year sample I have yet to taste is the Big Snow Mountain. In hindsight I could have had more different samples: more expensive ones (as the hobby has stuck now) but also cheaper ones that came out later in the year. The downside is that then there suddenly is way too much to choose from. But yeah, maybe time for a next order :)
Recommending because it’s pretty OK. But not stocking up on it yet because it doesn’t enchant me yet. On to the Big Snow Mountain!
Flavors: Mushrooms, Olive Oil
I’m enthousiastic for discovering a whole new flavour on the spectrum. It is ‘nag champa incense’. And yes, that review on yunnansourcing using the same peculiar description is also mine, but that doesn’t make it less true :)
As for splitting the bamboo, there are some YouTube videos on that topic (then again, there are probably YouTube video’s on how to become a brain surgeon as well). I remember having decent results with a butcher style / chinese style kitchen knife, a spare hand to bang on the knife, and a relatively clean dustpan to collect the contents from all over the floor. YMMV.
I used a very small amount for a small evening session. Turns out you don’t need very much anyway, one brew after the other.
Flavors: Camphor, Eucalyptus
My first tea in this specific category. Surprisingly oolong-like. Same roast flavours, but much softer and in the background, even using porcelain. Same sweetness without bitterness that (in oolong at least) arises from partial oxidation. Same deep, warm expression of the flowery notes which show to me this tea (too) is made from quality material.
But it’s certainly not ‘just’ an oolong. There is the winter warmth and nose lingering of a shou. So basically the good part only, no forest floors here at all. There is something mild but distinctly herbal, like chamomile combined with st john’s wort. There is something warm-soft-nutty, like chestnuts.
And then maybe there’s still something left that you can’t quite lay your finger on, but which appears neither unfriendly nor unfamiliar, even though it’s probably the, er, fungus. Oh well.
As the ‘process flavours’ wane, the leaves still continue to give up their deep and warm flowery notes, which helps in convincing me that this is a good quality representative of an interesting tea category.
As an after-note, a late steep with freshly hot water surprisingly coaxed some medicinal / candy-like sweetness out of the otherwise almost exhausted leaves. Maybe in the future try to keep this one as hot as possible during the later brews.
Flavors: Candy, Chestnut, Flowers, Herbs, Medicinal, Roasted
EDIT 20181030 : I’m re-visiting this tea a year later to test a new (second hand, apparently unused) yixing acquisition. Loved it. There was a distinctly warm fragrance in the pot that I didn’t associate with wet storage until after I re-read my notes from below. Time and clay balanced this one out perfectly. Wouldn’t dare to call this tea shou-like to its face now. Although without the clay I think I would. Right there on the balance.
Folks at YS are getting good at eyeballing 25g chunks. I got a big chunk and only a little bit of extra for a sample. Today I brewed the extra bits.
The semi-wet storage produces a darker and more instant brew, certainly with some shou flavours, but indeed, as YS advertises, little to no storage mustiness to rinse off.
At the start mainly mushroomy shou-ey, later strikingly black tea-like astringency — but this may also be due to reverting to porcelain brewing for a change (and getting some dust in). There’s also something in that (pleasant) astringency that still makes this a sheng. Apart from that it is mainly a mushroomy shou (or wet-storage sheng).
It does get cleaner as time passes, and at one point the leaves even smell clearly floral for a while. Maybe if I switch this one back to clay I can get a warmer, deeper brew out of it after all.
For now, I’ve got this one down as a typical shou-like, wet storage, in spite of the ‘semi wet’ label. I’ve seen wicked prices on similar-tasting wet-storage shengs, so that would make this one a good deal. But it always leaves me wondering why not simply get a cheap-but-decent shou instead.
Since the category is not exactly my cuppa and I can’t figure out the economics, I will neither recommend or disrecommend this tea. Those of us leaning towards wet storage can make up their own mind from the description.
Flavors: Mushrooms, Tannin
I have to agree with Yunnan Sourcing’s description for this one: at $33/400g, this is absolutely a decent price for any aged sheng, but this one is pretty decent for that, too. I have a 25g sample but wouldn’t object to curating a full two-pounder of this one.
Beautiful large leaves, dark before brewing but quite green after. Very nice cha qi. Unfortunately the nose is still out on hay fever, so all I can say is the aroma is not tobacco-ish, clearly aged (but not wet) and intriguing enough to hope for a revision on a better nose day. Age is in the flavour as well. Basically not bitter unless over-brewed. A balanced mix of hay, mushroom and flowery notes. I, too, concur on the ‘melon’ description, but mainly for its quenching qualities, not the sweetness.
Overall, I think, a gentlemen’s sheng, combining some old-family character with a well studied, agreeable behaviour. I’m still wondering whether I’m more of a dock worker when it comes to sheng myself, but it’s hard to take your own character flaws out on a gentleman like that.
Flavors: Floral, Hay, Melon, Mushrooms
Though I have yet to review the more highbrow samples from my last (and first) YS order, this tea reaffirms that I might have a preference for the more mundane shengs, which is good news for my wallet.
There’s a well-balanced sheng bitter, some shou-like (fermented) flavour (but definitely dry storage) and strong tobacco notes. Like the 2006 Xiaguan Te Ji, instead of just petering out, it bends towards the sour and smokey. I wish I knew how to improve on that (other than by steeping fewer times). I also wonder whether this one, like the Te Ji, will quickly lose its green bitters over the next few months. I think both are more interesting with than without, so I don’t need it aged much longer than this as well.
EDIT: I revisited this tea and can happily report that it’s completely different from my previous experience. I think it’s probably more leaf (from deeper in the tuo?), using porcelain, with slightly longer brews and no hay fever this time. I happily got a decent bitter note out of it. It’s still no pipe tobacco but certainly has more character. At some point there was some definite rosemary withinin a kind of lapsang souchong (the well-balanced kind — remember I previously said it was not smoky at all?) Also, the leaves are much, much more flowery, and I’m sure this gets expressed in the brew to an extent as well.
This way, this tea is right up my alley.
— previous notes:
This tuo smells fruitier than the average sheng. I feel like if the ‘regular’ Te Ji has pipe tobacco notes, then this tea is a light cigarette. Also not smoky at all in comparison, but let’s say slightly ashy. Maybe it’s because it’s mostly surface leaves, but I miss a bitter note. It is slightly too kind and I can’t make it angry.
Letting go of expectations from comparison, there is something in both the colour (a light yellow) and flavour (mouthfeel) that reminds me of sunflower oil, in a light, friendly way. At some intermediate point the wet leaves made it clear to me why people describe certain teas as ‘mushroomy’.
Overall this is what I imagine when people describe a sheng as having not much aging potential due to being too agreeable to begin with (and then being aged after all).
My nose is mostly out due to hay fever, so unfortunately any potentially interesting subtleties are lost on me. Next time I’ll try porcelain instead of clay to see if I can make it a little bolder.
Neither recommend nor disrecommend. It is a friendly tea but nothing too particular for me — although I must admit it is also a new flavour profile to explore, so I’ll have to give it that.
Flavors: Flowers, Herbs, Mushrooms, Olive Oil, Red Fruits, Smoked
There were three entries for this same tea and the only other one with a review lists the manufacturer as “Menghai Tea Factory (from Dragon Tea House)”, while I’ve got mine through Teasenz. My OCD decided it was neatest to add my review to the more generic entry, even though it means the reviews get scattered. My OCD is arbitrary like that.
The other reviewer (stockman) admitted to being a newbie but disliked the tea for being too strong. I’ll happily admit to being a newbie as well, but I did expect this tea to be too young (or ‘middle aged’) for direct consumption. I just thought it would be nice to get better acquainted with the Menghai flavour profile (whatever that is) as well as with the whole of the aging process.
There is a local (eBay re)seller that sells a 2 years older and 2 euros cheaper version of this tuo, as well as other pu’s, but without any guarantee of authenticity, so tasting this tea might also help me to judge his wares.
I won’t go into young, awkward stage and mature at this point, other than complaining that the inventor of the term ‘awkward stage’ didn’t choose the term ‘pubertea’ instead. Now there’s a term that fits the bill for awkward!
I lack the required experience with young Pu to judge whether it is actually less awkward at a younger age, but this pubertea has certainly not lost its youthful spirit, as it has a raw, green, laxative (ahem) bitter that is constant throughout brews.
Nose-wise it already seems older and more intriguing. In the beginning there is a lighter, more cleanish (slightly minty?) smell of tobacco shop (compared to yesterdays Xiaguan tuo), which over multiple steeps slowly unveils the orchid quality of the leaves. Which means that halfway through the steeps you’re smelling some sort of orchid graveyard, which is as odd as it sounds.
Remaining on the tongue there is a presence of the tobacco-ish bitter.
My present understanding / belief is that the deep orchid quality, as opposed to more delicate fragrances, have staying power. What I’m unsure of is whether a present-day bowel-activating bitter will add any more socially acceptable qi-qualities when softened out.
So how will this tea age? Unsure. uit I’ll be there to find out. For present consumption I could better take some unsubtle cheap green tea instead and get the same effect.
I will neither rate nor (dis)recommend this tea because I think it is too early to judge.
P.S.: one day I will smell some real orchids somewhere and as a consequence have to rewrite all my tasting notes.
Flavors: Bitter, Green, Orchid, Spearmint, Tobacco