Monday, November 20, 2017

Vietnamese black tea from an online friend tea exchange

Partly related to co-founding and being an admin for an international themed tea group (this one) I tend to talk to lots of people about tea.  After discussing teas with a contact in Vietnam (Huyen Dinh, her profile here), with her showing pictures of some amazing looking and sounding teas, she and I decided to swap some teas.  If you meet the right tea enthusiast, someone really into tea for the love of the experience, then it's not that unusual for them to just share some with you, to want to spread the awareness.  But a trade sounds nicer, to maintain balance, and I have some tea around that will work well for that.

I was already planning to send tea back to that friend in Kuala Lumpur (and still haven't; related to a glitch over someone being around to receive it).  I bought that Dian Hong--black tea from Farmerleaf, from Yunnan--partly related to the idea, and also related to just liking it.

I'll try a tea labeled as "black tea #1" first.  That friend works in a tea related business (in Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon, Vietnam) but my impression is that this is a personal exchange, so I'll only cite original sources to the extent that's relevant and available.  I'll go with calling her a friend from here on out since she did just send me a bunch of tea, but she was on the borderline before anyway.   As it turns out that's all the detail I'm going to have for this version, that it's a black tea from Vietnam, so the potential goals of supporting vendor marketing or others being able to track down this tea drop out.  If it wasn't an exceptional tea there would be no point in even talking about it, but it is.


The tea has a rich dry leaf scent, sweet and complex, malty with a good bit of raisin (or along those lines; that could be a different dried fruit).  The look is nice, with long, twisted leaves, with a good bit of bud material.  I don't know what it is but the appearance reminds me of other sun-dried versions of black teas, with the look not so far off one of those Dian Hong.  It seems possible the color variations could relate to also using yellowed leaves but I really don't know; I guess variations in oxidation in the leaves could be causing that.

The initial taste is intense, in a range that's familiar, but in a complex presentation that's still a bit unique.  This tastes like a Chinese black tea, it's just a matter of which one.  It's going back a bit but as I'm remembering it tastes more like Golden Monkey than that Dian Hong (but don't hold me to that; I've not been drinking Golden Monkey for quite awhile).  At any rate it's whatever Vietnamese version of a black tea it is, and aspects description would seem more informative than a type-mapping attempt.

It is a bit malty, but nothing like an Assam, not even related to Ceylon.  I usually contrast malt that's more like ovaltine, like a slightly fermented grain, close to cocoa, with versions that are sort of towards a mineral effect from there, "dryer" and more intense.  This isn't really either one.  It would be typical to describe the main flavor component as cocoa, I think, and that wouldn't be wrong.  I'm seeing it as a complex range, as cocoa, and an unusual expression of malt, one that is richer and sweeter, combined with a roasted sweet potato aspect.  There is next to no astringency.

It's hard to say if the body (feel) is actually light or if that's just because I'm only on the first infusion.  I'm preparing this Gongfu style, so the count will probably get to well over half a dozen.  It definitely expresses lots of fullness in terms of aftertaste; it doesn't just vanish from your mouth.  I'm tempted to start passing on subject impression; I like it, but more about in what sense, which parts work better versus my preferences.  But this is still just the first infusion, so first things first, I'll try the tea for a few rounds.

I went pretty light on the next infusion to see how it works made that way, since flavor intensity was already pretty good without upping infusion strength.  I brewed it for around 15 seconds; not long, given that the tea is probably still opening up.  It's a bit counter-intuitive but sometimes a light infusion can make sorting out flavors a little easier, although a stronger than average infusion might tell more of a story about the aspects as a whole, inform about what's going on with body / feel and aftertaste better.  It still works quite light, and the sweetness is still very pronounced at this infusion strength.  That set of aspects didn't change:  cocoa, roasted sweet potato, and range I'm interpreting as malt.  Really that could be better described as an aromatic version of a root spice instead, now that I think of it, earthy and sweet, but more subtle.  Or it's not that far from sandalwood, as in the incense versions, it's just subdued, layered in with other flavor complexity, and one might tend to think of that as overpowering and dominant in that form, as an incense scent.

On the next infusion the tea is really coming into it's own.  I went longer, around 30 seconds, and the aspects set didn't change but the proportion and effect really did.  It will just be hard to explain how.  Cocoa seems more pronounced, and that spice tone I wasn't exactly pinning down shifted a little towards cinnamon.  There is still roasted sweet potato, and still plenty of sweetness, but that trace more complexity is nice and the balance really works out.  Related to body it's not exactly a full-feeling tea, not rough in any way, more flavor intensive, with a hint of dryness giving it a little bit of an extra dimension.  The very long and pronounced aftertaste is nice.  It tastes sweet after you drink it; those spice tones and the cooked sweet potato remain.

I went longer on the next infusion to give that a try, around a minute.  The tea wasn't really fading yet, it was about trying it at different infusion strengths, although it may be leveling off a bit.  It's plenty intense still, shifting again just a little in terms of flavors proportion.  It's still plenty sweet but a darker form of cinnamon joins in with the roasted sweet potato and other range.  It's a bit like that one taste aspect in Rou Gui, the Wuyi Yancha (Fujian roasted oolong, or rock oolong, as the translation goes).  But there it tends to be a main flavor, and pair with a medium or even medium high roasted effect context, but here it's joining into a range of other flavor aspects instead.

That mix of a darker form of cinnamon and other spice range starts to invoke a dry, earthier version of autumn leaf scent.  The incense part, I had called it sandalwood, but it could as easily be frankincense or myrrh; my hippie days are getting pretty far back there.  I don't mean the rich, complex, slightly vegetal smell when the leaves are still falling, I mean the late fall / early winter smell when the piles of well dried leaves are all over the place.  Again that aftertaste just trails off; after a minute it's half gone, after another minute half of the rest lets up, but it never really completely ends.

It might have made sense to cite these infusions by count; I really didn't expect the flavors to evolve in this way.

On the next infusion the tea is fading a little.  The complexity is still there, scaled back a little, and the range is still nice, but it will take over a minute to draw out the same flavor range.  Where I was using water down around 90 C / 195 F now I'm going with full boiling point.  Not that being precise about it matters, or that using boiling point water wouldn't have been pretty the same all along, since there is no astringency to brew around.

Related to parameters, I'm using a small gaiwan relatively full of tea (sorry about the lack of measurements on that, which is not really how I approach tea; maybe 6-8 grams in a 100 ml gaiwan).  Using a reduced proportion doubling all those times would make more sense.  To me that's the beauty of Gongfu style brewing; you don't need the tea producer or a table from somewhere to tell you how to make the tea; each last infusion tells you what to adjust to match your own preference.  This tea would be ok brewed Western style (putting two grams of tea in a cup of hot water and letting it sit for 4 or 5 minutes instead, more or less), but it would seem a shame to miss the transitions, to narrow it back to drinking two infusions of it.  I'd at least double that proportion and go with three shorter, stronger versions myself.

Even using a two minute infusion this tea is still faded, but I hate to let it go.  I'm tempted to go boil it and see what comes of that, but I'll give it one more long soak to see how that works first.  This next one will have to be more than a half dozen infusions anyway, and that's sort of how it goes with better black teas that don't brew out very quickly, prepared using a higher proportion and shorter brewing times.

Conclusions, the rambling on part

With this tea being so good this set of samples--some aren't really samples, substantial amounts of tea instead--is going to shift what I've experienced of Vietnamese teas.  I've tried some really good versions, from my favorite supplier Hatvala, and other sources (one black tea I found in a Hanoi shop I really should have bought a pound of), but a set this good covering this much range changes things.  I knew better Vietnamese teas were out there, and I've tried Vietnamese teas that were this good before, but trying so many at the same time is something else.

I was just talking to Huyen about teas evolving and changing character across infusions (who sent the tea), related to discussing tea in a tea group oriented towards beginners.  Obviously I have nothing against people new to tea, and I'm not putting myself on a level above them.  The point of this blog is to help share what I experience, to help others move through their own tea exploration, which of course would take a different form than mine (everyone is different).  If someone only ever drank Twinings they wouldn't experience a lot of the things I'm talking about in this post.  I mean a tea transitioning aspects range across infusions, or a pronounced aftertaste, tasting cinnamon and other spice, and roasted sweet potato in a black tea.  Not that I'm picking on Twinings; they are the producer of some of the best commercial mass-produced tea I've tried.  And lower-medium level quality commercial tea is not a bad thing, even if drinking it never leads someone past it to better teas.

I've been talking about karma lately--this is going to connect, just stick with me--about how it doesn't have to be a mystical force that keeps a score.  I suppose I never mentioned that I was into Buddhism for a long time, although I did mention that I was a monk once, but probably passed over a decade of self-study.  I don't think I've brought up getting two degrees in religion and philosophy after that part (I'm also an industrial engineer, my current day-job).  Anyway, my point was that we live out our experience as who we are, and to some extent the fruits of being a decent person are expressed as good things happening, and positive connections, and just experiencing being decent, versus living a life of manipulating and deceiving others.  It might seem like being a corrupt, dishonest, despicable business-man or politician--or both--really does reward one for cutting those corners, but such a person lives out those lies; that's who they are.  Would it be worth it to be one of the most powerful people in America to also be the most hated person in America?  To some, yes, but in terms of the context of immediate experience I would expect there to be unusual levels of draw-backs.

the whole family is devout (not me, so much, I'm more pragmatic)

Moving on, it's nice that my karma, or at least random chance, has allowed me to have such a kind and generous online friend who shares amazing teas with me.  I'm not going to get any more mystical or sappy about it; that's the whole point.  Of course I appreciate other things even more than tea, especially my family, but I am really into tea.  I want to pass that on, to help others experience versions like this one, but even when online Facebook group discussions provide an opening for that it can often come across as me saying "my tea is better than your tea."  I suppose to some extent that's true, at least today, related to comparison with people drinking grocery store tea, but I intend to frame that as pointing out options, not putting myself above others. 

A chance online contact shared this tea; I can take no credit for how nice it is.  Someone visiting Bangkok might be able to look me up through my FB blog page--named after this--and maybe I can even out that karma a bit, and pass on a sample.  Not of this tea; whatever else is around.  No guarantees, but it couldn't hurt to check.

Kalani as Tinkerbell

the daughter I never talk about; probably a case of speciesism

while I'm sharing pictures, with the other one

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Halmari Orthodox Assam and Earl Grey tasting

orthodox Assam; full name HALMARI Gold GTGFOP1 Clonal

Halmari Earl Grey

I didn't get to the last two of the Halmari Assam tea samples, one their highest quality orthodox Assam black tea, and I'll try an Earl Grey along with it.  As I've often repeated combined tasting makes more sense with similar teas, and these aren't that.  The main point is wrapping up trying them, since I'd like to clean the slate of what I mean to get to, but comparison could turn up something interesting.

I'll try to prepare these in a hybrid style in a gaiwan, more or less in between Western and Gongfu, or probably as a light version of Gongfu style, which isn't traditional.  The idea is to make small quantity infusions, adjusting for the unusual proportion as I go.  It's not ideal for tasting to use an unconventional brewing approach but it's not that atypical for me.  Related to informing background I've got a touch of a cold.  I'll probably re-try this orthodox tea version later this week to double check how a standard Western brewing approach works out, and hopefully I can shake this cold instead of it getting worse [editing note:  I'm adjusting the draft while I have a throat infection; that didn't work out].

I'll mention a little about what the orthodox tea is first.  It's listed as HALMARI GOLD GTGFOP1 CLONAL.  I don't keep up with those letter terms but I could swear that first "G" should be an F (which I won't explore, but the Wikipedia article on all that is a natural starting point).  I looked to their description to shed light on the "clonal" part:

Leaf : Long, selectively plucked and delicately rolled leaves with a generous sprinkling of chunky golden pubescent buds. Very exclusively made only during the 2 months of second flush season... 

One of our most iconic teas, the GTGFOP1 Clonal has won the North American Tea Championship is 2012,2013 and 2015.

Not much for detailed description, but winning awards is a good start.  Clonal is a reference to propagating the tea by cuttings to preserve consistent genetics, versus using seeds, but I'd expect that's related to a hybrid or other selected tea plant type with characteristics they want to preserve.


I went too long on the first infusion, even though it was only for around one minute.  This really is a hybrid style of brewing, in the middle between Western and Gongfu, but some people would see it as a light proportion variation of Gongfu brewing instead.  Not that a brewing approach label really matters.  Part of that error--preparing it a bit strong--might relate to using slightly higher water temperature than I usually tend to for black tea, close to boiling point versus down between 85-90 C instead.

These teas would be fine across any temperature range, I'd expect, still making ok brewed tea at lower temperature more typical for green tea brewing, but hot water would probably be more standard, and variation would shift aspects balance slightly.  I'm often using slightly cooler water to accentuate sweeter flavors and de-emphasize astringency / feel elements, but for some that wouldn't be preferable at all, and different teas would work out differently.

first go, brewed a little strong (Earl Grey left, orthodox right)

Brewed a little strong I can only get the general range for the orthodox version; it's nice.  It is normal to brew on the slightly strong side for comparison tasting, using the standard "ISO" approach, for two reasons:  to set one level of parameters to use across many examples, and to help with identifying flaws in the stronger brewed version, which is said to highlight those (along with practice in trying tea made that way).  Nothing negative stands out.  The feel is a bit strong, and the taste is a little intense, leading towards dryness, but I'd guess this is exactly how a very good Assam brewed a little too strong should be, the right attributes in the right balance.  The malt is intense but I don't think it's going to take over the tea, back in the normal balance, and even brewed strong the flavors are still quite clean.

Brewed strong the Earl Grey is also a little intense, of course.  The balance of the bergamot (a type of orange essential oil) is the main thing, then after that the input from the tea itself.  I'd expect it will level off nicely, related to the proportion and how they're coming across a bit strong.  This won't be a bergamot-intensive version where you just can't tell what black tea is under that, although brewed strong the black tea isn't contributing lots to this flavor.

It won't be as distinctive and pronounced as the orthodox version, the black tea input, likely quite a bit more subdued.  It doesn't include bud material as the orthodox version does, which would change the effect a lot.  I'm not tasting anything "off" about it, but at a guess it will be a mild version of a black tea, as Assam goes, with no off flavors.  That mildness might be as well, since intense malt might not pair as well with bergamot.

Next infusion

Prepared more typically--in one sense, at least--the orthodox version is great.  There is plenty of malt but it doesn't take over the tea.  A lot of nice sweetness balances that out, and there's more going on than malt.  Mind you if someone didn't like malty black tea they still wouldn't like this version but if typical Assam seemed one-dimensional, a bit rough, or unsophisticated and not well-balanced this version resolves all that.  The flavors-list style description is going to sound a lot like for any better Assam, I'd think, but how those elements come across, the exact expression of them, and more so how they balance is what defines this tea as being on a higher level.

Beyond malt a cedar or redwood like wood aspect fills in flavor depth.  The taste extends into a nice citrus element at the finish, nothing like the bergamot in a flavored tea but not completely dis-similar either, maybe in the orange zest range.  I'll work on pinning down another flavor aspect or two as I try a few more infusions.

lighter, a better infusion strength (Earl Grey left, orthodox right)

The Earl Grey is nice, of course with bergamot as a central flavor theme.  It's hard to separate out what the black tea is like aside from that, but I guess describing the mix is more valid.  Malt isn't intense, but it's there.  Some degree of wood-tone also comes across.  It might have sweetness and some citrus without the actual citrus added but combined it certainly does.  Mineral isn't as strong as I'd expect it would be if this were above average Ceylon instead, but there is some acting as a base for the other flavors.

It works; to me it's better than typical commercial Earl Grey versions.  Earl Grey isn't a page I've been on much in the past year, more so in the first half of last year, as I recall, but I can relate to it.  My favorite Earl Grey version so far was from Vietnam, from Hatvala, but then it was based on a plain black tea I liked alone, and I've not tried that recently enough to compare it to this from memory.

To me this type of tea works great as something you don't need to focus on, as a breakfast tea, more than one that would excel in a comparison tasting session.  The flavors balance is nice, just lacking subtlety of a better plain tea.  It would go with all sorts of foods very well, with enough sweetness and fruit to offset savory foods, and enough earthiness and body to offset sweet pastry.  Per my preference this tea works better drank with food than alone, even if it's something neutral like a butter cookie or biscuit, to help offset that bergamot orange tone, to reset from it while drinking.  A chocolate digestive is more or less exactly what I'm talking about, on the sweeter side, like a graham cracker with chocolate.  If you've never tried them life has at least one more re-affirming surprise in store for you.

the other British contribution to food, besides fish and chips (credit)

Third infusion

Brewed just a little stronger the orthodox version shows just a little pine-resin character, which is nice, even if it may not sound it.  The actual flavor range is a bit complex; it wouldn't be wrong to describe it as relating a little to cocoa, and with minimal imagination related to some sort of fruit (tamarind?).  The citrus is strong enough that would be more natural to flag.  The feel is cool too; a bit on the dry side, seemingly related to that pine flavor.  And as black teas go the aftertaste is quite pronounced.  Surely all of this relates in part to the very high proportion of buds in the tea.

Related back to those three Dian Hong (Yunnan black teas) that I compared awhile back this is definitely closest to the buds only version (golden tips).  I suppose personal preference would dictate how good a thing that is but I can at least definitely relate to this tea.  I suppose my absolute favorite for an aspects set might be more like a Chinese black tea, shifted more towards cocoa, a subdued dried cherry range, with just a touch of roasted yam, and a molasses sweetness background, but this tea works well for me.

The Earl Grey is still mostly bergamot; that's really as it should be.  The flavors are really clean, and the earthy complexity beyond that makes it work well.  It's in the malt, cedar / redwood, touch of pine range too, but it seems a quite different black tea, the balance is completely different.  It has a lot less pine going on, and probably less natural citrus, but of course that's just a guess.

I'm in a hurry today--always in a hurry; kind of how life goes these days--so I won't get through more infusions, although brewing these twice more I'd probably tease out another aspect or two, and notice how they work out for being stretched for infusion count.  These might express slightly more complexity brewed Western style for more of that coming out in a three to four minute soak, it just wouldn't work to experience flavors evolving layer by layer, as a Gongfu approach allows.  I'll try these teas again Western style and check in related to what turns up.

Second try, conclusion

I did try the orthodox version again brewed Western style; the results weren't so different.  I brewed the tea twice using a standard light proportion and 3 1/2 minute then around five minute second steep, brewed to a typical infusion strength.  The flavors range was the same:  malt, cedar, pine, and citrus, with good sweetness and a bit of fruit aspect that was harder to pin down for being more subtle, per my take close to dried tamarind.

I was curious how this would seem in comparison to their other orthodox version that I reviewed and to be honest it seemed similar.  Both are complex, clean flavored, and full in feel but not really astringent, both well balanced, a bit intense but moderate on malt.  I would expect those similar aspects are balancing a little better in this orthodox version, that it's a little cleaner in effect (likely related to very slightly different feel and overall flavor effect), with a bit more fruit, but a difference would be clearer trying them side by side.

I actually posted a version of this before considering mentioning value, a subject bloggers tend to avoid but one I've been drifting into more lately.  As in other cases of direct sourcing buying this tea from Halmari would be an incredible value related to buying anything remotely like it from a resale vendor.  Don't take my word for it though; check the prices on their website and Google search similar alternatives. 

I didn't do as much with describing subjective preference in this post as I sometimes do, but related to what I prefer in teas of theirs I really liked their oolong version.  As I mentioned in that review post it shared some space with Darjeeling second flush teas and Oriental Beauty Taiwanese oolongs, which cover two nice and related ranges for tea aspects.

recharging to cause more trouble later

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Silver needle compressed white tea cake from Jip Eu

fuzzy silver needles, loose (separated from the cake)

compressed silver needle cake (it is as black and white as this)

I mentioned dropping by my favorite Bangkok Chinatown shop (Jip Eu) to pass on a few samples, to try to draw even related to them sharing tea samples, but they gave me even more in return.  I didn't say what it was in that earlier mention:  one tea was good sized sample of compressed white tea cake, a silver needle by the looks of it.  The other was a Da Hong Pao, but that means a range of different things.  I'll need to check back in on details, but based on what they said that sample is probably a more interesting version than most people even know exists, something along the line of the Bei Dou story, if that rings a bell.

The one I'm reviewing here is a white tea from Fuding, China, where such white teas typically originate; they did mention that.  I also didn't catch an age.  I didn't get the impression this is supposed to be aged tea but from the looks of it it's not brand new tea either (from some darkening occurring).  I bought a fresh silver needle once and after about a year the "needles" (buds) had darkened to around this much, or maybe even slightly darker (I misplaced the bag in that case; that wasn't intentional aging).

Time is tight so I'll just do some quick rough notes for this review.  That's how I'm living now; some errand is always pressing, or we go to a vet or the hospital a lot.  Related to brewing approach, I'm going with a high proportion of tea--it seemed that would work well--and relatively hot water, what comes out of a filtering and heating / cooling unit as boiling point water, but probably slightly lower than that.  That reminds me of talking about tea mineral content in water recently, and water sources (with a cool reference on measuring mineral content in different bottled and municipal water here).  Multiple-stage filtered Bangkok city water probably isn't ideal, but that's what I'm using.

I let the first infusion go a little long (30 seconds-ish) so I don't run through an infusion saying that I'd actually taste the tea the next round (as I said time is tight; I've got a doctor's appointment pretty soon this time).   This tea is sweet, full in feel, and creamy.  That extra creaminess I sort of didn't expect.  I've been drinking shou mei and aged shou mei (and other compressed whites, something random and gong mei, with a comparison review of four here), and none seem exactly like this, or really even all that close.  Those are nice for having a broad, full range of subtle flavors.  All those teas were based on a mix of leaves and buds, and aging changes things, gives the tea a richness, "darkens" it a little, and per those descriptions adds potential for evolution of flavors.  Mineral is nice as an underlying context in this one, and the sweetness-related flavor range is hard to pin down.  That could be spice, or might relate to a mild form of fruit, something like dried apricot.  I'll check again as infusions go on.

On the next infusion it deepens quite a bit, picking up lots more strength and complexity.  That infusion was more like 20+ seconds, which is actually a bit long for as packed as this gaiwan is and as intense as this tea is.  It helps draw out a lot of the feel and tons of flavor, but a ten second infusion would work as well or better to preserve the effect in a lighter form.  Being a little strong as this emphasizes that mineral undertone, a bit towards flint, like a good bit lighter version of the slate range that keeps coming up, with different minerals.  A part of the flavor that's hard to catch does remind me of a spice, a little towards nutmeg, but the fruit is easier to sort out, more on the surface.  It seems like dried apricot combined with fresh pear, just a light, dry version of a pear.  It's definitely not Asian pear (which are really sweet and bright), closer to those in the US, the normal version (bosch?).

Brewed lighter the next time this does work a little better, the balance.  It may be transitioning; hard to separate those factors.  Mineral is a good bit lighter, which one would expect from a lighter infusion. and that dried apricot / pear range seems to shift towards a mix of dried fruits, similar to how a fruitcake comes across, minus a cake-like range.  Or maybe with a hint of underlying spice tone not all that far from that, but it's definitely still missing the cake / pastry part.  This tea seems better than all the other compressed white teas I've been drinking.  I usually like buds and leaves versions of white teas better, because even good silver needle style teas give up some complexity for being made of the one material type, but this is on the next level.  It could relate to quality of the tea as well as style difference.

Of course it did cost a good bit more than the white tea cakes I've been buying, but then those were in a value-oriented range, so that's not saying much.  I just bought another from Sen Xing Fa shop on this Chinatown visit, a 357 gram cake (supposedly 8 years old, and it probably is), for on the order of $20, kind of on the low side.  That would seem odd in some places, but since there probably aren't very many people in Bangkok for whom "shou mei cake" means anything at all the demand side of the equation is probably a little out of whack.  I also don't think they're trying to match the ramping up of pricing for aging teas that would be typical in most places, or they might not even be aware of an online market range for that aging factor.  Vendors really don't need to earn 15-20% for holding a tea cake per year anyway, even though in some sense that might be fair, in most sales contexts.  They do bear the cost incurred if something going wrong in storage, in addition to getting paid more for intentionally holding inventory, and setting up and maintaining a good storage environment.

that Gong Mei cake; a different look (reviewed here)

Sticking with that pricing discussion, the cake from Teeta Talk cost about the same, $20, but for 200 grams instead, so approaching double.  That gong mei cake was in the range of double that again, maybe costing just a little less than the two others for a small 100 gram cake.  This was on the same order, as a per-weight price, something like $40, maybe just over (I've lost track, but they did say).  I guess to work back to a clear price it makes a big difference if this was a 200 or 357 gram cake.  White tea cakes vary, but being that smaller size seems more common than for pu'er, if my vague impression is right.  $10 for 50 grams of this tea wouldn't be outrageous (how $40 for 200 grams works out), but $6 would also make sense, given the price break that tends to come with buying tea cakes versus better loose tea. 

I did ask by message; it's 300 grams (and they passed on a description:  it is Bai Hao Yin Zhen, silver needle, produced in FU-DING, Tai Laoshan 800 meters above sea level).  That price puts this around $7 for 50 grams; quite one the low side as loose teas go, still low for a compressed version, a good deal.

On the next infusion mineral seems to pick up again; that's probably related to not paying close attention to timing, and letting it run slightly longer.  Even though the aspects are very positive in this tea and the complexity is good there is just a limited set of aspects going on (to give a fair assessment, to weigh out limitations as well as strengths).  Feel has some thickness to it but nothing like the pu'er I've been on, even shou, which tend to just be full versus more complicated and interesting.  But then I never drink "good shou," which would be out of my budget range, since for me part of the appeal of that type is value.  That initial creaminess has faded some but it's still full, it just lost some of the effect of being a lot like cream, in both texture and taste.

On the next infusion the tea isn't fading, more than a half dozen infusions in, and the flavor isn't really going "off" in any sense, it has just lost a little of the initial brightness and complexity.  Without tasting that first 3 or 4 infusions this might seem a lot better, probably still better than those other compressed white teas I've been trying, although it does give up some richness and earthiness to those, some of which inclined a little towards a light version of coffee.  It's just within a different range, and again the aspects scope might be slightly "narrower."  I don't want to say the tea has moved to a woody aspect range, but it's something along that line.  It's a bit towards bamboo shoot instead, versus the dried and fresh fruit and spice range it had been on.  There are hints of spice, fruit, maybe even a trace of citrus beyond that, so it's still complex, just not in the same sense of other tea types being complex..

On the next infusion that citrus reminds me of a dried peel, or maybe a zest range, or possibly in between the two.  The tea is still evolving, not fading away (up towards 10 infusions, but it's not finished yet).  Rushing the tasting probably didn't help; I might go back through tasting this for two hours instead of one and pick up another set of details I'd missed.  It's a nice tea; a bit different than others that I've tried before.

It occurred to me during editing this tea would probably shift in aspects quite a bit depending on making it in different ways, at a minimum related to the relative proportion of the same aspects.  Of course trying Western approach versus Gongfu would come to mind, but this would brew nice tea "grandpa style" (with leaves remaining in the water while you drink it), and would work for cold brewing.  Some people have mentioned simmering white tea instead of infusing it in hot water recently, and without any negative aspects to work around no matter how much or little that changes the effect it would be fine.  I'd expect there would be ways to emphasize the fruit and spice, not that there wasn't enough of that prepared this way.

they grow up so fast (both are November babies)