Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Gopaldhara Red Thunder, autumn flush black Darjeeling

Following up on reviewing some nice first and second flush teas from Gopaldhara earlier, they passed on a few more samples of their Darjeeling autumn flush.

I read a mainstream article on that general type not so long ago that peaked my interest, NPR's Autumn Flush: The Best Darjeeling Tea You'll (Likely Never) Taste.  The idea was that less of this harvest category is produced, so it's harder to find.  For readers outside the US, that's National Public Radio, a resource for news and talk radio, perhaps better known for making airwave broadcast classical music available throughout the US.  Here's what they said:

Autumn flush — the last of the year — begins by the end of October, once the monsoon has withdrawn from the misty hills, the rains tapered off, and the temperatures begun to drop. The tea bushes reduce their output as they move toward hibernation. It is the shortest of the harvests, and lasts just 30 or so days.

"The liquor has a delicate yet sparkling character with a delightful flavor, distinct from both first flush and second flush with a round cup," says B.N. Mudgal, who managed for last few decades Jungpana, one of Darjeeling's most storied gardens...

Less floral and delicate than the opening flushes, autumn flavors tend to be more deeply fruity, with notes of ripe grapes and berries...   Or, as Rishi Saria, of the high-elevation Gopaldhara Tea Estate, says, "a robust cup and solid cup."

Sounds great.  Of course I've tried versions but it's easy to lose track over time, and a really good example of a tea type can make for a much different experience than one that's just roughly typical.  The Gopaldhara site describes this version as follows:

The tea is made from clonal bushes and looks blackish-red with abundant tips. It brews into a bright orange cup with excellent muscatel flavour with rich dense notes of ripe fruits. The tea gives a sweet flavour but without any astringency. The aftertaste is well-defined and long lasting and exquisite.

it smells as nice as it looks

Review section:

The dry tea scent reminds me of first discovering nicer Darjeelings some years ago, that initial amazement that a tea could have such a fruity and rich smell and taste.

The flavor profile includes plenty of fruit, in warm, soft, earthy and mineral context, very approachable and well balanced.  I'm at the tail end of having a cold and I can notice that I'm not picking up the same level of all of the aspects even as I'm tasting them.

It will be nice to give this a second tasting with follow-up notes and see how much I missed.  At least I can appreciate all the more that this tea is pleasantness and comfort distilled into a hot beverage.  It's great that the astringency is so limited there isn't that factor to brew around.  I prepared it a little stronger than I may have without a cold to help it "get through" to my muted palate, and it would still work well across a range different infusion strengths.

Flavors are interesting, difficult to completely unpack; there's a lot of complexity integrated into a continuous, balanced range.  Muscatel is one aspect, just not as pronounced as it would typically be for a second flush tea (the harvest prior to this one).  Earthiness is the next most prominent flavor range, at this stage in the brewing, a very interesting presentation of it.  It really seems to be in between a mineral-oriented earthiness and mineral, between dark wood, red sandstone, and a mild and sweet form of mineral tone.  The empty cup smells of a rich, dark honey sweetness.

On the next infusion the mineral and fruit pick up just a little, still so nice.  The mineral tone seems related to an aspect of the feel of the tea, as a mild astringency centered on your tongue that moves to the back and sides as an aftertaste.  It's not a roughness or bite, instead a pleasant level of body or structure, a fullness.

The sweetness and general feel are great, well balanced, soft as many black teas go but with a nice texture to it.  There is enough flavor complexity that someone with a good imagination could describe a long list of what is really there, expressing more about fruit, and pinning down that mineral and earth further.  The fruit aspect is warm and rich, in the range of roasted sweet potatoes.

Thai pumpkin on the left (no Japanese shown; this is in rural Thailand)

A word on pairing for this tasting, which I typically don't address:  I'm having the tea with breakfast, with a nice pumpkin pie I cooked from scratch.  Thai pumpkin is more like varieties of squash sold in the US (although pumpkin technically is a squash, per my understanding).  Japanese pumpkin--what this pie is made from--is sweeter and more orange, with a softer, smoother skin that works well for cooking.  The skin is very nice broiled in a toaster oven seasoned with a yellow curry.

her verdict:  yummy!

This tea is perfect for pairing with warm, complex fall and winter foods.  It would work well served only with bit of gingerbread, but it would stand alongside an American holiday meal just fine.  It's light and bright enough to wash your palate clean between one rich or sweet side dish and another, and it contributes it's own complexity and a different kind of flavors depth.

On the next infusion I'm noticing a nice drift into spice aspects, picking up both cinnamon and nutmeg, really a broad range.  The flavors are still clean, the general effect still bright, the feel mostly unchanged.  I might mention I'm not really brewing the tea Gongfu style, more adjusting Western brewing back a bit towards a higher proportion with slightly shorter times.  That's kind of a general preference of mine for teas that works well with, best for black teas.  It can still work well for white and green types, with some oolongs typically turning out better using a traditional Gongfu approach (Dan Cong in particular is touchy about that).

Even on the next infusion, brewing the tea out a bit, it's still nice, a good sign.  The tea thins a little, and the background astringency and feel changes due to longer brewing times.  The flavor moves from fruit and spice to more mineral, a normal transition, but it's still great as it brews through all the transitions, a nice characteristic of better teas.


I think that review did capture the essence of this tea, but I have more of the sample left to compare it to another version when I get to those.  Comparing closely related teas makes it easier to sort out minor variations in aspects, and I'll probably add a description or two to the flavors list of this one trying it once completely over that cold.  I suspect I failed to note an underlying layer, perhaps cocoa or the like, and probably at least one trace of fruit.

this smelled like snow, that day, but different in summer

It reminded me of a subject I'd recently mentioned, about growing up in rural Pennsylvania (a US state), and being exposed to a range of fascinating smells in those woods.  Oil well equipment in particular has a nice scent.  An old, broken oil barrel may still retain a rich, earthy scent, combining oil and slowly fermenting wood.  Old pipelines smell of iron-based metals, aging over decades to return to the earth that they were once a part of.

This tea isn't a close match for either of those but it definitely shares some range.  The mineral nature does remind me of an old open water well, drawing up an interesting range of minerals from deep in the ground, slowly flowing due to natural pressure.  Those minerals serve as natural multi-vitamins for deer, who stop by for sips.

This was definitely a well balanced, complex, pleasant tea.  The first and second flush teas are nice in their own way but this version really did work well according to my preferences, one of the nicest Darjeelings I've tried.  That article was right; it would be a shame to miss the experience.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Effects of long term caffeine consumption, and withdrawal

This is a tough topic to get good input on.  For most subjects an ordinary Google search turns up lots of information, most just isn't as well-grounded as it might be.  For most topics digging deeper through search resources like Research Gate and Google Scholar identifies a few great references, usually too specific to paint out the broad picture but enough for a good start on some details.  Not so much for the long term effects of caffeine consumption.

I'll be able to go into dependency and withdrawal--that's well documented--but there just isn't much about long term use issues.  One potential problem is identified here, but my intuition tells me that this post might miss a lot of real concerns.

Research does try to identify patterns in heart disease or cancer correspondence with caffeine use, with some interesting results.  I'm more concerned about psychological effects, or changes in how I might feel, so I won't do anything with all that here.  I drink a lot of tea, and take in a good bit of caffeine, and I'd like to know what the effect might be.  Hopefully I'm not increasing my chances of getting a serious illness but I would expect the best guess about that to vary over time as different studies come out.

I don't measure how much tea I drink or how much caffeine I take in but I'm guessing it's typically right around the 400 mg that might be considered a normal upper threshold.  A related Mayo Clinic reference talks about what happens if someone goes beyond that, perhaps even from taking in 500-600 mg:

Heavy daily caffeine use — more than 500 to 600 mg a day — may cause side effects such as:

Insomnia, Nervousness, Restlessness, Irritability, Stomach upset, Fast heartbeat, Muscle tremors

That doesn't sound good.  According to that reference below that level there is typically no problem, unless someone is especially sensitive to caffeine, or has a related medical condition:

Up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. That's roughly the amount of caffeine in four cups of brewed coffee, 10 cans of cola or two "energy shot" drinks.

photo credit

I might also mention that both my mother and brother have such a pre-existing medical condition as I'd mentioned.  If they ingest even moderate amounts of caffeine they experience heart valve related problems, which isn't as dangerous as it sounds (I think it's this condition, mitral valve prolapse).

This journal reference fills in more details of caffeine effects, essentially matching that other WebMD reference, and citing an interesting extreme case where over 1000 mg can lead to psychological problems.  It also covers one other case related to pre-existing anxiety disorders (from Neuropsychiatric Effects of Caffeine):

The resemblance between the symptoms of excessive caffeine ingestion and those of anxiety is obvious and they may both have a basis in overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system. It has been argued that the symptoms of caffeinism are indistinguishable from those of anxiety (Greden, 1974). However, caffeinism is normally associated with a daily intake of 1000–1500 mg...  

Clinically, caffeine may be involved in the precipitation, exacerbation or maintenance of anxiety disorders (Kruger, 1996).

Interesting!  From what I've covered so far it seems unlikely that many people would exceed 1000 mg. of caffeine intake anyway, the threshold for triggering what they identify as disruptive caffeine intake described as "caffeinism."  It does seem possible to drink four energy drinks in a day, though; that might come up.

This relates to roughly 10 cups of coffee or 25 cups of tea (only roughly; actual amounts vary based on lots of variables).  It's worth considering that larger, stronger beverages can vary in contents, related to these Starbucks quantities from the "Caffeine Informer" site:

one coffee might be plenty for the day, or several, depending

Those drink volumes vary from 8 ounces to 20 (with some values seeming to indicate not all beverages are available in every size option).

energy drink caffeine amounts (credit Consumer Reports)

Drinking three drinks or 60 ounces of the highest caffeine content beverages would put one at high risk for those more extreme side-effects, the "caffeinism" case, or less for some higher content specialty drink versions.  Some of those--not included on this list citation--register over 400 mg. for the largest size.  But for most standard Starbucks coffee beverages that seems like a lot of coffee, roughly two quarts.  Espresso shots--75 mg., listed further down that chart than cited--would also add up, but not quickly, since a dozen would only approach that 1000 mg limit.

Before going further with a deeper dive into possible side-effects lets go back to what started me considering this, a blog post about that author quitting caffeine.

A starting point for this concern

I read a blog post once--Bear's blog, a tea blog--in which the author linked problems with energy level and focus to extended caffeine dependency, which I'll cite here:

...during my post-hospital five-day recovery I drank some coffee. But once I started feeling physically better, my head was still cloudy, and I was tired all day long... No amount of coffee or tea helped. I brewed my tea stronger and stronger...

I couldn't determine the problem. I had rested, and I felt better otherwise. No symptoms of any other sickness. I kept hydrated, I ate healthy. I ran down the list of potential issues until I settled on a likely culprit: caffeine dependency. So I quit.

Quitting gave me a 24/7 headache for three consecutive days, a horrible headache... But I didn't get better, my fatigue became worse and my head more densely clouded.

After another four days of sporadic headaches, my fatigue lifted. ...I slept more easily and deeply than I had in many months...   I don't blame tea for my dependency; in fact, I suspect a period of using workout supplements very high in caffeine played a big role...

That really covered two issues, an anecdotal case of someone associating caffeine use with fatigue related side effects, and the withdrawal symptoms and process.  I'll go into the latter more related to a study findings, but it's really off the central point here.  There is a reference in that journal article already cited about caffeine effects that may tie to this:

It is well-known that caffeine produces insomnia.  It reduces slow-wave sleep in the early part of the sleep cycle and can reduce rapid eye movement (REM) sleep later in the cycle (Nicholson & Stone, 1980). Caffeine increases episodes of wakefulness (Brezinova et al, 1975), and high doses in the late evening can increase the time taken to fall asleep (Smith, 2002).

If this really is the link caffeine isn't directly causing fatigue; it's disrupting sleep cycle patterns and that is.  This doesn't carry the same weight as well-researched journal article, but a response to a Quora question about how caffeine affects dreams seems directly related:

Any stimulant or depressant, like caffine, will disrupt your sleep architecture from its normal patterns, even if you feel you have a pretty solid tollerance for caffine. Over time, the caffeine causes your mind to linger much longer in Stage 2 sleep (or even Stage 1, very light sleep) rather than deeper sleep because the stimulant effects have not completely worn off from the day. This causes a reduction of time you spend in REM, because the mind needs Delta/Stage 3 (deep) sleep before moving on to a REM sleep session.

So, when you stop using caffeine, your mind will then not have a stimulant blocking it from the natural sleep architecture that allows REM to occur.

I didn't turn up research related to this, nothing to confirm or reject this, although the journal article citation mentioned just prior in this post does support a similar point, and cites two other studies backing up two related claims.  A Forbes article covers the same ground, also tying in how caffeine removal by your body relates to this issue:

For you to wake up feeling rested, your brain needs to move through an elaborate series of cycles. You can help this process along and improve the quality of your sleep by reducing your caffeine intake.

Here’s why you’ll want to: caffeine has a six-hour half-life, which means it takes a full twenty-four hours to work its way out of your system. Have a cup of joe at eight a.m., and you’ll still have 25% of the caffeine in your body at eight p.m. Anything you drink after noon will still be at 50% strength at bedtime. Any caffeine in your bloodstream—with the negative effects increasing with the dose—makes it harder to fall asleep.

When you do finally fall asleep, the worst is yet to come. Caffeine disrupts the quality of your sleep by reducing rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the deep sleep when your body recuperates and processes emotions. 

Another interesting and largely unrelated tangent in that same article covers why some of the measured positive aspects of caffeine use may not be valid:

Many studies suggest that caffeine actually improves cognitive task performance (memory, attention span, etc.) in the short-term. Unfortunately, these studies fail to consider the participants’ caffeine habits. New research from Johns Hopkins Medical School shows that performance increases due to caffeine intake are the result of caffeine drinkers experiencing a short-term reversal of caffeine withdrawal. 

By controlling for caffeine use in study participants, John Hopkins researchers found that caffeine-related performance improvement is nonexistent without caffeine withdrawal. In essence, coming off caffeine reduces your cognitive performance and has a negative impact on your mood. The only way to get back to normal is to drink caffeine, and when you do drink it, you feel like it’s taking you to new heights. In reality, the caffeine is just taking your performance back to normal for a short period.

Crazy!  It's possible to measure a performance boost in study participants from taking caffeine because they normally are "on it," and the withdrawal causes a drop in performance in the first place in the studies.  The performance-inhibiting lack of caffeine, which they are dependent on to begin with as a matter of daily habit, is removed by restoring the normal level of caffeine in the participants' systems.

A Time article cites an interesting related celebrity sports star case, when Serena Williams missed her morning coffee and later performed better in a match after having an espresso between rounds.

Man Not Himself Until He Has So Much Coffee He Feels Like He’s Going To Die (the Onion)

Withdrawal case:  a research study

My main concern is identifying what the long term impact is in my own case, not necessarily related to stopping caffeine use but to continuing it.  All the same considering the case of caffeine withdrawal is informative, since a lot of the content sets a baseline for the effect of different levels of caffeine use.

The Caffeine Informer website includes a detailed summary of withdrawal symptoms, along with other guidance on how to best quit caffeine use, along with this chilling insight:

Even after the withdrawal period is over, many still never feel quite as good as they do when they’re drinking caffeine all of the time. Some believe that caffeine permanently alters one’s brain chemistry.  This is most likely due to the changes that occur with dopamine levels in the brain because of the daily caffeine.

Doesn't sound good.

A research study paper identifies just how easy it is to develop a caffeine dependency, in Caffeine Withdrawal: A Parametric Analysis of Caffeine Dosing Conditions.   The results are easiest to summarize as a series of findings.  

The methodology, controls and related background is described extensively in this paper, but none will be cited here.  The basic findings described familiar withdrawal symptoms:

The present study confirms and extends previous findings regarding the symptoms associated with the cessation of caffeine consumption. The major symptom clusters that were affected significantly in each of the four experiments (cf. Table 2) were increases in Headache, Headache/Poor Mood... Tiredness... Fatigue.. and Total Mood Disturbance (POMS) and decreases in Activity/Alertness... and Vigor (POMS). 

one related study graphic (more details in the paper)

Again there is a lot more detail related to those findings in that reference, but it's what one would expect, withdrawal symptoms include headache and fatigue, with much greater detail of those outlined in the study.  Two initial findings are of interest:

The magnitude of withdrawal effect was greater at 600 mg/day caffeine than 100 mg/day caffeine on several measures...  

Experiment 2 also documented that significant caffeine withdrawal symptoms can occur after maintenance on as little as 100 mg/day caffeine.... individuals who consume as little as a single 6-oz. cup of brewed coffee (which is known to deliver about 100 mg of caffeine; Barone and Roberts, 1996) each morning are at risk for experiencing headache and other withdrawal symptoms should they omit their daily single cup of coffee.

A third experiment findings related to levels of symptoms related to lowering dosages, not eliminating intake:

The results of experiment 3 (suppression of caffeine withdrawal) indicate that when individuals are maintained on 300 mg/day caffeine, a substantial reduction in caffeine consumption, or complete elimination, is necessary for the manifestation of the full, classic withdrawal syndrome. Only when the dose was reduced to 100 mg/day (one-third the maintenance dose) was there any evidence of caffeine withdrawal. In fact, the withdrawal observed tended to be relatively mild and variable even when a mere 25 mg of caffeine was substituted

One last experiment related to how long it took to develop this caffeine dependence:

Experiment 4 (duration of caffeine exposure) showed that relatively short-term exposure (as few as 3 consecutive days) to intermediate doses of caffeine (300 mg/day) is sufficient to produce withdrawal symptoms when caffeine dosing is terminated. As shown in Table 2 and Fig. 4, the withdrawal tended to be somewhat greater after 7 days of caffeine exposure, with no further increases after 14 days of caffeine exposure.

The short version:  someone can become addicted to caffeine in a week, and as dependent as they're going to be--related to withdrawal experienced--after just 14 days.

Of course that doesn't reject that the negative impact of dependency and use couldn't vary over longer time periods, only that the withdrawal process itself seems to not change, per these findings.  Based only on intuition I suspect that the other negative aspects of caffeine use would vary over a period of weeks or months.  Of course the earlier section references indicated that most people wouldn't experience negative reactions, as long as they remained under the "normal" limit level of 400 mg. use per day.

caffeine, the chemical compound (photo credit)


The withdrawal study findings were quite interesting, just not closely tied to the other ideas.  They seemed to imply that reactions to use of caffeine wouldn't vary much after two weeks, based on the scope and content of those findings, related to withdrawal concerns.

If caffeine really is disrupting sleep patterns that would seem a completely separate concern, much more likely to exhibit a cumulative effect over time.  It was particularly interesting that trouble falling asleep was just one factor mentioned, and not the main one, with two reliable sources and a Quora answer responder all citing REM sleep cycle disruption as a more significant factor.  The effects cited in that blog post, sleepiness, haziness, lack of vigor, would all be exactly what one might expect related to sleep pattern disruption.  Again it's not about insomnia, which could possibly be related, but instead to dream-state cycles.

these guys help with my insomnia

It's a bit late to be introducing it but I've been experiencing similar symptoms myself, a general haziness and lack of energy, for a period of weeks to months (or maybe years, in a lesser form).  I'd always written that off to my kids waking me up at night.  They do so at random times roughly every other night, sometimes twice in a night.

It would be nearly impossible to separate the two, sleep disruption related to caffeine disrupting REM cycle and sleep disruption related to being woke up at random times.  It all started about eight years ago, when my son was a newborn, and never really subsided since.  It varies a lot based on lots of factors, like thunderstorms, which I can sleep through but they can't.

So should I quit tea?  Taking a couple weeks off would seem in order.  I already intentionally limit how much tea I drink to likely stay under the standard caffeine level limit, and don't drink any tea past mid-afternoon.  I took a day off earlier in the week, related to having a cold, with that related withdrawal prompting me to revisit this subject (it really does give you a headache, something I've noticed before).

Based on this research stepping back caffeine use might be a lot more pleasant an experience, moving to a cup or two of tea a day first instead (60-80 mg of caffeine, maybe, although that really does depend on lots of factors).  I'll post an update if I try it.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Making chocolate covered cherry Christmas tea blend

Christmas blend tea ingredients (cacoa nibs, the unfamiliar one lower right)

I posted about making a version of Christmas tea blend last year, related to seeing Twinings versions and such around.  It seemed like a relatively standard version:  black tea, clove, cinnamon, and orange peel (the standard set), along with some dried dark cherry and dried tangerine peel and fruit.  The trick was getting the clove spice to balance.  The taste of clove is warm and a little spicy, great for adding a layer to some other flavors, but spicy tea can be a bit much.  As with masala chai--related more to ginger adding spiciness--adding milk and sugar were the obvious ways to offset that.

dried fruit for last year's version blend

So where to go next?  Christmas-theme flavors could include lots of different things, including candy-canes, a range of different hot drinks, and chocolates (see this blog reference covering lots of variations).  Chocolate; how to add that to a tea?  Blends mixing in real chocolate aren't unheard of (David's Tea sells a number of such blends), and I even dropped a Hershey's kiss into a tea once to see what that was all about, but it's not ideal.  The flavor range works but the texture is quite odd, I guess a little towards a hot cocoa.

Really adding anything to a tea or blend that's not completely water-soluble is unconventional.  Cacao or cocoa nibs are part of the actual cocoa beans used to make a tisane (herb tea, to some); that would seem an obvious way to go.  Related to that first naming split, my understanding is that the beans are cacao, and cocoa is a processed by-product used to make things like chocolate, or cakes, so the former might well be more appropriate.  But what's in a name.

Chasing down cacao nibs proved tricky; we don't have the same type of health food store options here in Bangkok.  Lots of things are quite equivalent here but that's not one; the selection tends to be a bit limited.  I was a vegetarian for the first five years we lived here--and a dozen years prior--and was surprised to find that protein powder, flax seed oil, and spirulina aren't easy to find, even in organic foods / health foods stores.  So strange!  I turned up a place outside Pattaya to buy the cocoa plants (I'll get back to that), and eventually sources for the cacao nibs (and one nice looking online source I didn't use), then bought some at Radiance Wholefoods here in Bangkok.  That vendor said people often use them with coffee; kind of makes sense, but I'd give them more of a grind if doing so myself, if I ever get back to drinking coffee.

But what theme / recipe?  Originally I was thinking black tea, clove, and chocolate might somehow balance.  Combining chocolate and mint seems obvious--like a peppermint pattie--but it doesn't sound good to me.  I thought back to my own experiences with Christmas and it hit me; we bought chocolate covered cherries for my parents every year as kids.

So how to make that next...  The cocoa / cacao nibs had that part covered, the sugar and creaminess were easy, just add sugar and milk or cream.  I ran across a foods display in our office building selling a version of dark cherry preserves.  Done!  I watched a China Life tea video on making an iced tea using preserves a few months back, adding a touch of fruit for taste, one video from a nice instructional series.  It sounded a little odd, slightly off the norm, but it makes perfect sense once you think it through.

2015 version; some modest-scale decorations going on

Better to keep the rest short:  I made the tea.  I added a vanilla bean I had left over from a trip to Indonesia a year ago--a great place to pick up spices.  It seemed boiling the nibs and vanilla first made sense, to draw out more flavor, since those weren't going to give up their taste after a four or five minute steep as dried tea leaves tend to.  I kept tasting the "tea" all through the process, mimicking how I cook.  The nibs and the vanilla were tasting pretty good on their own after about three minutes on low boil.  Altogether I simmered it for a little over five minutes without the tea added about the same with it in.  As with masala chai I tend to make a second batch from the same tea and spices to see how much flavor was left in it, and it was only a bit thinner, not so different.

You might wonder what cacao nibs taste like as tea, and now I'm the right person to pass that on; they taste a lot like dark chocolate.  Baking cocoa sort of doesn't, really, it picks up a chalkiness, and sweetness doesn't carry through as well, and something aromatic gets pushed aside related to other compounds stepping forward.  This wasn't chalky, or dry, or even a touch bitter, it was just like dark chocolate.

As for black tea half that I used was Hatvala Wild Boar black tea, really way too good a tea for blending, but I bought a lot of it last year so I still have some around.  Another friend gave me some standard CTC ground-up Assam awhile back I also added.

The tea was nice.  It doesn't require a taste-by-taste review since I've just listed the ingredients; it tasted like those, really close to what a chocolate covered cherry tastes like.  The balance was good.  A bit more cherry would have made sense, and swapping out milk for a mix of milk and cream would've worked better, but otherwise that was dead on.  I couldn't help but notice the only taste that wasn't exactly like those chocolate covered cherries was the tea.  Which leads to another natural thought, doesn't it:  why not try it without a tea added?  It was so well balanced there wasn't much other room for dialing in, just the bit about cream.

A bit on background context on that experience:  if I'd been drinking it while looking out on a snowy landscape, with Christmas lights blinking in the background, it would've been one of those classic, perfect moments.  But it wasn't like that.  It has been in the 90s in Bangkok for a few weeks now (in F; around 30 C).  That's not really a hot spell, just how Bangkok is, with the cool season running late.  It feels slightly cooler and dryer in the past couple days, to me, but some of that could be wishful thinking.  The same day I made that tea (and these notes) was my birthday, and I'd just made a pumpkin pie that is my token experience of Thanksgiving.  That was three days late, but there is no Thanksgiving in other countries.

I still enjoyed the tea.  I'm not really a flavored tea lover; plain is fine for me, with lots going on in better versions to appreciate.  But it was a bit awesome.  I'll tweak the mix a bit, maybe see if chocolate and clove really can balance in a tea, and see if my kids like a version closer to a cherry-themed hot cocoa, without tea.  I think grinding those nibs might work better, might really extract a solid blast of chocolate taste, as opposed to the moderate layer in the version I made.  My daughter and I ate a few small chunks after brewing and they seemed kind of close to eating a fragment of dark chocolate, not at all brewed to flavorless yet.

This past weekend I had a nice experience to fill in for missing Black Friday, visiting a crowded mixed-goods sale.  They had some good deals, and we bought some Legos, but it was horribly crowded and so, so loud.  Thai sales promotion often involves someone yelling into a high power sound system, as if attempting to override your central nervous system and your judgement.

the Legos section was a bit empty; it seemed un-American

I'm getting into the holiday spirit.  It's all going to be ok, another holiday season in a foreign culture, and even that mess the US is working through.  Appreciating the basics really puts it in perspective:  family, holiday foods and customs, and a nice cup of tea.