I have finally had a chance to sit down and compare the Silk Road Teas High Grade Yunnan Gold (B-YG-2) with the In Pursuit of Tea's Royal Yunnan. For the past year, the IPOT Yunnan is the one I've been favoring--it changed slightly over time, but I was still not finding one I liked better. When I got the SRT High Grade Yunnan Gold, I found one that at least seemed in the ballpark of the IPOT Royal Yunnan that I am finishing up, and which I dated as a 7/05 purchase...at the time, I got 3/4 pound which came in three different quarter pound bags.
The SRT and IPOT Yunnan do have a similar range in aroma with that maple sap sweet note. Just a bit more of a sweet-woody note to the IPOT one compared to a hint of floral in the SRT one, the latter of which comes across with the floral-sap-earth combination. There is just something I define as 'sweet-woody' (which sometimes shapeshifts into being a bit fruity) in the IPOT one that isn't quite replicated in the SRT one, though I find the latter very drinkable with just a slightly different emphasis.
The SRT has, I think, slightly more earth in the cup itself, although at an acceptable balance for me. The IPOT tea one backs away a bit more from the earth. I am not quite sure if the earth is just less dominant or if the sweet-woody taste provides a contrast that takes the emphasis away from the earth. And I further ponder if that characteristic, which seems unique to the IPOT Yunnan. is inherent in the leaf or the result of processing?
Certainly this one from SRT is closer to the IPOT one than any I've tried. But I am not entirely convinced that's not because the lot from IPOT has gradually changed over time though.
There was a certain grand period with this particular IPOT Royal Yunnan. And I had posted some notes that described the difference between this tea and a subsequent purchase from this source. Both were good, but in spite of the fact the vendor said they were 'the same,' I did not experience them as the 'same,' by any means.
March 24, 2005 The Verdict: IPOT Yunnan Old Lot (purchased pre-March 2005) versus New Lot (March 05 purchase)
In the dry leaf, new lot (nl) has less of what I experience as that deep sweet-woody note. It fills out a similar chord but just with one of the bass notes not quite there. Just smells a touch 'lighter' to me. After brewing (and in the cup), that's what I notice, too. Quite similar profile but nl doesn't have that really 'ripe' scent that is connected to the woody note in the old lot (ol). Or, if the nl has it, it's considerably muted.
On to tasting:
Tasting now. Falls out just as the nose told me. The nl is overall a slightly lighter interpretation of the ol with different emphasis. The ol tastes quite a bit more rustic in a cup-to-cup comparison, a dark sort of into-the-deep-forest woody note against earth, which is rather what made it so seductively aromatic to me. The nl has this aspect much more muted, which allows it to be a touch more refined in comparison, less rustic, less elemental. The nl, sipped in comparison, has less of the dark wood character, which allows a bit more of the floral and honey-maple sweet to come through against the earth. It doesn't have what I interpreted to myself as a sort of overly-ripe-fruity note the ol had, which is what I found very unique about the ol-- that and the ol's 'woody' character I don't usually associate with Yunnan. The sweetness of the ol was connected to this--it's why I once said it reminded me of how a bear must experience honey, direct from the tree, with bits of bark still clinging to it. And it reminded me most of the Forest Honey I once had, that had a deep dark taste I associated with molasses more than honey and just a hint of bitter against the sweet.
I think some folks might well think the nl is better in the way it comes across a bit less elemental/rustic. It might actually have a better balance without the deep rustic edge of the ol. The nl lets the floral-maple sap note take more center stage. I like that very much, and it's probably more in keeping with the Yunnan experience. The lack of the odd elemental edge makes the nl a touch smoother. I shall, however, find myself missing the elemental/rustic note that was so unique to the ol, that odd mix of sweet-woody-overly-ripe-fruity character it had. You can easily tell which cup is which on these, blind tasting/smelling, just by sniffing. Tasting is even more obvious. Empty cups tell the same story. Empty cup of ol exudes that sweet-woody note. Empty cup of nl has a maple sap or honeyed sweet scent.
Think of the old lot as a woodwose (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodwose). He was visible for a while, but has gone back to the deepest/darkest part of the forest where he will not be seen again for some time. He was gruff in speaking and manner and his garments were stained with earth. Rather than tending bees, he took his honey direct from the tree. And he carried the deep forest secrets back with him from whence he came. The new folks (new lot) dwelling at the forest's edge are more well-mannered in behavior and speech. They excel at tending flowers in the good earth and sunshine and bee-keeping. But they do not know the deeper secrets of the forest or venture further in.
And then, a later comparison (without knowing which was which until I had contemplated both and made up my mind) of the In Pursuit of Tea Yunnan ordered 7/05 and then again just recently 9/05:
Very comparable range of flavor and aroma in these two cups. Where I found the main difference was back in 3/05 when I reordered this tea. The lot prior to *that* order was the one I referred to as the woodwose Yunnan, the one that had a more elemental and rustic quality to it, an "odd mix of sweet-woody-overly-ripe-fruity character." Since then, I have continued to enjoy the IPOT Royal Yunnan, but it's never exhibited exactly the same spectrum of flavor/aroma as the "woodwose" one.
But it hasn't changed much, it would seem, between 7/05 and now. Neither of these teas duplicated that odd sweet-woody/fruity note that was in the "woodwose Yunnan" (just my own definitive term here) of times now past.
I might venture to say that the teas from 7/05 and 9/05 even seem a tad less maple-y and more honeyed than the one I ordered in 3/05. But my notes from 3/05 don't exactly uphold that memory as I wrote: "sipped in comparison, the 3/05 has less of the dark wood character [of the previous "woodwose" one], which allows a bit more of the floral and honey-maple sweet to come through against the earth."And so, we may have three variations or perhaps only two. Or none, if 'tis all in my imagination. But I still remember the distinct character of the "woodwose" which I've not found duplicated in subsequent orders.
And of course, yes, does any of it matter?
Only if you remember that pre-3/05 "woodwose" character I suppose. :-)
The Yunnan quest continues.
"High hopes--high deeds--we hope but while we may." Oscar Fay Adams "The Return from the Quest"
And in December 2005, the stellar lot is beginning to fade a bit from my mind, making subsequent lots more acceptable. But it is--to me--an interesting study in the subtle variations in a tea over time. I suspect that the SRT Yunnan Gold High Grade is comparing more favorably to the current IPOT Royal Yunnan partly because that latter tea is no longer comparable to what I thought of as the "woodwose" lot. But certainly the IPOT Yunnan hints at this particular characteristic more than the current SRT one does.