Thursday, March 22, 2018

Experimenting with microwaving water for tea

I posted a possible explanation for why microwaving water for tea might not work well, and this follows up on that.

I've microwaved water in the past and experienced that fizzing effect mentioned there.  There's nothing as solid for evidence as experiencing something for yourself.  But since I never heat water in a microwave now I don't have any recent experience of any kind to draw on.  And I've never comparison tasted tea made with water heated in two different ways, so I try that for this.

not how my tea infusion process typically goes

Backing up a bit; why else not to use a microwave for heating water for tea

I never did flesh out the hearsay account of why to not use a microwave in the first place.  That earlier post centered on the one guess for why it might be a bad idea, only related to dissolved air content throwing off texture.  The one World of Tea article I had cited was more about debunking a claim that it's healthier, which could only work so well since that original claim was supposedly coming from research findings, from testing.  It would take counter-example testing with varying conclusions to conclusively reject that, and they didn't do that.

Here are some typical reasons cited in a popular tea blog post, in the Tea For Me Please blog:

Lack of Control
...Although you could certainly use a thermometer to check the water afterwards I would would much rather use a variable temperature electric kettle.

Superheated Water
...I've seen some websites claim that this is not true however I've seen it happen myself. Snopes also agrees with me. Placing something non-metallic like a wooden chopstick into the cup can help avoid this happening but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

It Just Doesn't Taste the Same
It could very well all be in my head but I just don't enjoy tea that was made with microwaved water as much as stove-top or kettle heated water... Some theories suggest that the amount of dissolved oxygen is reduced, creating a flatter tasting cup.

It Makes That Weird Froth On Top
Since microwaved water lacks a nucleation point for air bubbles, it tends to make a weird froth on the surface of your cup once a tea bag or sugar is added to the cup. You all know what I'm talking about. I just can't bring myself to enjoy a frothy cuppa unless the tea in question is matcha.

Temperature control, the first point, is a main factor in making tea, one that comes up a good bit in this post related to testing results.

Lately I've been running across more people claiming they like almost all tea brewed at boiling point or near boiling point, and moderate aspect results by adjusting infusion time instead of temperature.  One person even claimed that can work for green tea.  Personal preference would seem to be a factor in this, that extraction of different compounds would vary by these factors.  It wouldn't seem to work to cite one approach and outcome as objectively best for everyone.  It would seem that any conclusion drawn would relate to a case of a process being best per a preference instead, although some degree of informed consensus agreement about that would also be possible.

On the second point, superheating is possible.  Snopes wouldn't lie about confirming that.  But in general it doesn't seem a high risk, or a big problem.  I guess that's up until you get burned.

That third point about taste is a little non-specific, in the more general first part.  Related to the theory mentioned--"hypothesis," per terminology correction input on my own post, but in standard loose English use "theory" works there--according to the solubility curves of oxygen and nitrogen in water at different temperatures there is next to no dissolved gas in water near boiling point; it just won't hold it.  The real problem seems to be that the air could be leaving the water less effectively based on heating method, even though less really is soluble at that temperature, which seems to be the cause of the fourth and last point.  

I'm not sure what else could cause a tea to be frothy.  I'll move on to trying to recreate that experience myself.

The first experiment

The initial idea was to compare tea made with microwaved water with water heated in the typical Thai version of a kettle, a larger device designed to heat water and keep a store of it hot throughout the day.  It's definitely not the same thing as the better variable-temperature versions more serious enthusiasts might use, but it is what I make tea with while I'm at work.  The water source for both will be the same, bottled water, the type that comes in a dispenser.  This version is from Chang, a beer company that also sells water.  It's a bit off the subject but "chang" means elephant in Thai.

I wanted to use tea bags, which I don't typically use, or actually own any of, since that seems to be the standard set-up discussed in related articles.  My wife did some interpreter work recently and snagged some from a local hotel hosting it, made by Dilmah (Ceylon; Sri Lankan CTC black tea).

Some of their loose teas actually aren't that bad but I don't have high hopes for this version.  Tea-bag tea does tend to be bad, due to using dust or finely ground leaves in order to maximize flavor per quantity and reduce cost, and to brew faster.

Simple enough, right?  I should clarify that I'm not trying to "do science" here, just trying something out, checking on a general range of results.  I'm not tasting it in a double-blind process, and there are lots variables I'm not exploring, and levels of potential test controls I'm not applying.  The idea was that I could just run it again if things seemed inconclusive, and that's how it worked out, as a series of three comparisons.

In the first attempt I initially microwaved the water for two minutes, and it didn't seem at full-boil temperature, so I gave it 30 more seconds--not tightly controlled methodology.  I let both samples brew around three minutes, but didn't time it.

First round results

The microwaved water boiled after the extra 30 seconds; it was boiling when I took it out.  It occurred to me that this might throw off the experience of fizzing water, since it wouldn't take many seconds of agitation from the water being at a full rolling boil to help dissolved air outgass.  That's assuming that my prior interpretation of that potential problem was even accurate.

The cups were really small--just what they had on hand in the office, since I don't have two identical versions of the cup I usually use there--and in the end it was on the strong side, not at all ideally brewed.  I'm really out of practice making tea using tea bags.

The microwaved water version brewed slightly darker.  Upon tasting both I realized there was a temperature difference, that the kettle hadn't been maintaining a full boiling point temperature.  It would've been easy to hit a "reboil" button to adjust for that.  Most likely that alone would throw off any results, using two different temperatures, but I'll still run through my impressions.

That microwaved water didn't seem fizzy, and didn't feel different at all.  The main differences seemed to relate to using slightly hotter water.  That tea version was brewed slightly stronger, which didn't work quite as well.  It's possible that beyond the infusion strength difference the proportion of extracted compounds varying accounted for the cooler kettle-heated water tea being a bit softer.  Altogether the kettle-water version was better, softer, with less harsh astringency and earthy edge, but I'd expect that related most to temperature difference.

not recommended, even for testing purposes

The tea did seem ok as tea bag teas go.  I don't drink lots of those, maybe not quite once a year it comes up.  But I did try a Lipton version recently when traveling, their "international" variation.  It was flat-out awful.  I wouldn't want to drink much of this Dilmah tea-bag tea either but it was at least drinkable plain, without sugar and milk.  It tasted like CTC Ceylon typically does, with a bit of malt, just not as much as in CTC Assam, and a pronounced mineral undertone.  From there somewhat earthy flavor range could be described in lots of different ways (woody, like leather, "tastes like tea").

It wasn't really a success as experiments go.  Giving it that extra 30 seconds probably threw off a chance to experience any fizzing and made for a water temperature parameter split.  I guess at a minimum it confirmed that under those conditions the water heating method results really didn't seem to have been a factor, positive or negative, beyond what I interpreted as temperature difference related.

A second try

I tried it again at work another day, trying to recreate the "fizzy" tea effect and see the difference.  That was based on using the exact same tea (a Dilmah tea-bag Ceylon) and the same conditions.  Results weren't so different.

It didn't work to try and back off the microwave time to achieve the super-saturated air condition.  For whatever reason that water was at full rolling boil at two minutes this time (in the same 900 watt microwave), versus not being that hot in the first trial after that length of time.  Maybe that's somehow related to using a slightly larger cup with slightly more liquid in it (?), made of glass instead of ceramic.  It's hard to guess how those factors would relate to the water heating faster the second time.

The tea kettle had just went through a re-boil cycle so it should have been at full boiling point but it was still very slightly cooler--strange.  There seemed to be a correspondence to cooler water working better, again, for the astringency in the tea-bag CTC tea being moderated by backing off full boiling point temperature.  Using a larger cup and more water made for less concentrated tea, which was better.  Again I was disappointed to not get the "fizzing" to occur, and again didn't notice any texture difference in the water.

It was interesting noting how large a difference that slightly different water temperatures made in the tea aspects, which was more minimal in this test version.  Just a little below boiling point--that water in the kettle had just boiled; I saw the indicator and heard it--was nicer, less harsh and astringent.  Of course I'm not accustomed to drinking much CTC tea, and people who do might often add either milk or sugar to offset that, or both.  It seemed like a better test was going to relate to using a tea I actually like, an orthodox version versus a CTC tea-bag tea, so I tried that the third time.

A third trial, orthodox Assam, brewed at home

I tried the same type of experiment at home using an orthodox Assam I reviewed not too long ago (that Assam Teahaus version).  Again the problem was going to be using water at exactly the same temperature.  I do have a thermometer around the house somewhere, just for that purpose, but I'm out of the habit of testing water temperatures, and didn't turn it up for the test.  I typically use a hot water dispenser that's part of the filtration system for brewing at home, which doesn't provide full boiling point temperature water, but it's not so far off it.  I don't remember results from measuring it from back when I was into checking on that, with that final brewing temperature version varying a lot if based on whether you preheat teaware or not.

The idea was to get the water to that point of supersaturation of dissolved air, just below boiling point, but in three tries microwaving water it didn't really work.

maybe just a little froth, but I was really looking for fizz

That water source I used at home is filtered Bangkok tap water.  It's safe to drink unfiltered, or so they say (and I just happened to read a research paper on that here).  There's also an online water quality monitoring system of remote sensor results seeming to support that claim, but we drink it after it has passed through a three-stage filtration system.

It's probably not an ideal water source for brewing tea, but then people vary on what is.  The best approach is probably to test different waters with different teas to find an optimum.  Per online discussion that might relate to a matrix mapping of bests-per-type versus one best bottled water solution across all types (with a bit on that in this experiment).  I've tried out different forms of water in the past but nothing even as rigidly controlled as this loose microwave-heating testing methodology.  I'm an engineer, not a scientist.  Engineers tend to build as limited models as needed to get things to work and then use functional output testing to make adjustments, versus tightly controlled experimental trials.

Related to the one concern I was curious if this water source (filtered tap water) would contain the same degree of dissolved air as water-cooler large-jar stored water.  I'm not sure; I'm really raising it as a question versus speculating about that.

In the first test the microwaved water was slightly too cool, due to backing off temperature to stop it from going to a full rolling boil, and it wasn't a fair comparison.  I was using a hybrid approach between Western and Gong Fu preparations so getting another two or more comparable infusions wouldn't be a problem, but results could vary slightly based on having the tea more or less "brewed out."

There might have been a little bit of minor bubbling initially but it didn't seem to affect the texture of the tea.  It happened with both heat-source varied water versions during the initial infusion (to both samples), and seemed to relate to the tea getting wet initially, maybe not due to that "outgassing saturated air" effect.  At any rate the texture in tasting the teas didn't seem to vary, or seem off.

On the second try the water temperature seemed more comparable, both slightly off full boiling point by a nearly identical amount (per noticing it, not measurement).  The texture was essentially the same and the taste didn't vary either.  Without pronounced astringency in that tea type to begin with that aspect wasn't a factor, as it had been for the CTC tea.

I tried it again for a third infusion, since producing multiple infusions was the theme, based on using those parameters.  Still no fizzing, and still not really much in the way of difference for results, in any aspect range, for flavor or feel.  It's not really what I expected.


I couldn't reconstruct that fizzing effect in microwaving the water for brewing.  I didn't notice any difference in outcome that probably wasn't tied to slight variation in temperature, and later when that was better sorted out there was no apparent difference.  I'm not saying that microwaved water is as suitable as kettle-heated water, just that in trying direct comparison three times over six different infusions I couldn't get any significant limitation or difference to show up, besides variations related to a lack of temperature control in the trials.

It's not easy to microwave water to get it just short of boiling point.  That stands out more in comparison with a kettle that can perform a temperature control function, since jar-style kettles that sort of maintain a heated water supply do vary in temperature output.  In retrospect I could've just heated the water over and over, to try a half dozen or more cycles instead of just using the water however it turned out.  External factors came into play related to that: sometimes my weekend mornings are well structured for spending two or three hours on a tea tasting process and sometimes they're not.

Maybe microwaving water isn't so bad.  Maybe it is much worse, and I missed noticing that in these experiments.  I suppose that the one time you eventually experience your tea fizzing with that "weird froth on top" could be a deal-breaker.

my three kids at the vet; easy to spot which was adopted

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Quora 2018 Top Writer recognition

Last week I was notified that I was named as a 2018 Quora Top Writer.  So cool!  I've been writing lots of answers there for the last half year or so, mostly about tea to begin with, but more recently about travel and life in Asia, and onto other subjects.  It was nice communicating some ideas about Russia based on visiting there over the Christmas and New Years holidays.

I wasn't completely sure what it means, what the criteria were.  I did look that up (in Quora answers), and cover that here.  In one answer "thread"--which those sort of aren't, in the same sense in groups and forums--it seemed like there are hundreds of Top Writers now.  If there are millions of people answering questions on Quora and hundreds of "top writers" that's still something.

Of course I'm going to shift this to shameless self-promotion, to mention how many views and likes I've had, and link to some favorite posts.  First I'd like to say a bit more about Quora, and before that to give credit to who introduced me to it (based on memory, which isn't reliable).

Robert Godden is another tea blogger, familiar to most in "tea circles," who has been answering Quora questions for some time, and as I recall seeing notices about that started me on answering questions about tea too.  His own tea blog is here, and his Quora profile is here.

This guy Kegon on Quora really seems to know tea too.

What is Quora

I'll go with some Wikipedia background on this part (it's usually close enough to accurate, with further source citation references omitted here):

Quora is a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited, and organized by its community of users...  The company was founded in June 2009, and the website was made available to the public on June 21, 2010. Users can collaborate by editing questions and suggesting edits to answers that have been submitted by other users.

That's what it is alright.  A little more on user count and function from there:

Quora's user base has grown quickly since 2010. As of April 2017, Quora has claimed to have 190 million monthly unique visitors, up from 100 million a year earlier...

...Quora launched a full-text search of questions and answers on its website on March 20, 2013, and extended the feature to mobile devices in late May 2013. It also announced in May 2013, that all its usage metrics had tripled relative to the same time in the prior year. In November 2013, Quora introduced a feature called Stats to allow all Quora users to see summary and detailed statistics regarding how many people had viewed, upvoted, and shared their questions and answers.

Those aren't Facebook user numbers but pretty good for an expanded version of Yahoo Answers.  And finally mention of the Top Writer's program:

In November 2012, Quora introduced the Top Writers Program as a way to recognize individuals who had made especially valuable content contributions to the site and encourage them to continue...  Top writers are invited to occasional events and receive gifts such as branded clothing items and books. The company believes that, by cultivating a group of core users who are particularly invested in the site, the program creates a feedback loop of user engagement.

It seems like they've scaled back the gifts--now a New York Times subscription instead--but that general point is the same.  I'm not sure about that "feedback loop of user engagement" just yet.  I'm definitely chatty online as it is; it might be as well if they didn't ask me for feedback.  That "loop" part seems to relate to them saying "good job" with the designation itself instead.

What does "Top Writer" even mean

Oddly this isn't really clearly defined on the site, but since the initial posting of this I ran across a better, more official explanation posted by Jonathon Brill, one of the Quora staff related to selection and announcements:

 The Top Writers program recognizes some of Quora's most consistent, insightful, and valuable contributors. Top Writers are writers who make consistent, high quality contributions. Selection criteria include: the number, quality, and popularity of contributions, and moderation history. Top Writers often have significant domain expertise and are Most Viewed Writers in one or multiple topics.

That matches the hearsay accounts I had already turned up, which go further in speculation about how that gets interpreted.  This post, more or less in criticism of the designation in an answer about not being named a Top Writer, provides one person's take:

#2 | The Quora Top Writer program awards writers who write highly technical answers to canonical questions in niche topics.

While Quora doesn’t explicitly say that, anyone who has been on Quora long enough can plainly see that they don’t care about writers who write in more general and lighter subjects like humour, hypothetical scenarios, life experiences, storytelling, or survey-type questions—even if those writers write exceptional content.

That's framed a bit negatively, but it's an interesting start.  Another answer goes further (which is similar but more positively expressed, perhaps in part because that person was selected as a Top Writer):

In any ad-supported, content-based web business you have two choices: go for audience, or go for traffic.

The engaging, popular Quorans thrive without awards. They’re awarded by their popularity. Those writers build audience, bringing back thousands of followers everyday.

The ‘Knowledge Writers’ drive traffic – people that are looking for answers that are deeper and more experience-driven than a wiki article, technical reference or tutorial. They’re vital in giving this site authority, and all important in-bound links. My answer to a question like ‘how to fill a box with color in CSS’ is never going to get many upvotes but it gets views, most of them coming from outside this site.

So according to both takes authors writing a certain kind of content would be more likely to be selected, answers that add depth of insight related to specific, perhaps more technical subjects, versus telling stories.

Some of those "engaging, popular Quorans" are great.  It's easy to underestimate what goes into telling a a simple short story or anecdote.  The way some writers use language, and build up a narrow set of ideas into an effective and moving image in just a few sentences is really impressive.

Views, favorite answer links, general self-promotion:

As promised, here is a mention of that Top Writer status in a profile screen capture:

Those "views" stats may or may not sound impressive, and as better-read Quora writers go they're not very high.  Lots of people have over a million answer views, and lots more followers than I do (60-some; I'm not killing the "social-networking" aspect).

I mentioned current views back in an earlier post:

January 31, 2018 version

This was the March 18th version, not long after learning about the Top Writer status change:

You can see why the "keeping score" aspect might be even more addictive than counting Facebook or Instagram likes; viewership stats and their version of "likes" combine.

The one other stat is "followers." The typical social-media interaction approaches would increase those:  follow other people, engage others in comment discussions, and so on.  Including pictures of attractive women in answers probably doesn't hurt.  Writing better answers, and more of them, is a bit less direct but that might work too.

It's all more educational than looking at pictures, or news media sources that all too often describe what Donald Trump is doing.  Love him or hate him that subject gets to be a bit much, along with politics and tragedy in general.

Some favorite Quora posts

I could just skip that part, couldn't I?  I already mentioned what I'd been covering in answers back in February, with a bit about how cultures vary in different countries in that post.  A post two weeks ago about how to find local tea shops went further, even including some favorite tea-themed post links at the end.  Even more recently a post on why microwaving water for tea might not be suitable stemmed directly from answering a question.  I tested that suggested explanation in three rounds of comparison testing, by the way; more will follow on that subject that's still a draft now.

Before getting into my own, I'll mention making one a real life friend through Quora, with a former CA police officer (Gene Lee).  He offered some interesting input on that gun issue that keeps coming up, a rare take that's not really pro or con related to ownership or restrictions:

If some people are so against guns, how would they feel if their life were threatened during a home invasion?

And then close with mentioning some of my answers that go beyond tea and foreign culture.  To me that's one cool part about Quora; it just keeps going related to subject scope.  I just started checking out a random sub-forum button on the Reddit page and that really keeps going further into random topics, almost too far, but Quora covers some ground.

Is there a difference between English Breakfast tea and regular black tea?  (obvious stuff)

Which is the proper way to explain death to a child?  (pretty far off the subject of tea)

Why would anyone like America?  (there are pros and cons)

I am starting blogging. What are some tips on how to start it?  (writing about writing)

Why isn't there ferry service between the islands in Hawaii?  (did I ever mention living there?)

Is Red Bull unhealthy?  (the jury is out, but teens should moderate intake)

Plenty for a short list.  That other post already did a lot with tea theme mentions, but then this blog already goes on about that subject as it is.

Monday, March 19, 2018

2010 Kokang Myanmar shou pu'er-like tea

Dayi left, Kokang Myanmar shou right

I'll take a short break from sheng, leaning into that subject a bit much lately.  But I am continuing with trying samples from Olivier Schneider, just mixing types up.  That exploration started with reviewing this pair of sheng samples earlier.  This should be just as nice, trying what looks to be a very interesting tea from Myanmar. 

There's a little history of that area in the related Wikipedia article.  It sounds like it might be interesting to visit, as long as nothing came up for local conflict.  That article's area description:

It is located in the northern part of Shan State, with the Salween River to its west, and sharing a border with China's Yunnan Province to the east. Its total land area is around 10,000 square kilometres (3,900 sq mi).[1] The capital is Laukkai. Kokang is mostly populated by Kokang people, a Han Chinese group living in Myanmar.

Kokang had been historically part of China for several centuries, but was largely left alone by successive governments due to its remote location. The region formed a de facto buffer zone between Yunnan province and the Shan States.[2] The Yang clan, originally Ming loyalists from Nanjing, consolidated the area into a single polity. In 1840, the Yunnan governor granted the Yang clan the hereditary rights as a vassal of the Qing dynasty.  [2] After the British conquest of Upper Burma in 1885, Kokang was initially placed in China under the 1894 Sino-British boundary convention. It was ceded to British Burma in a supplementary agreement signed in February 1897.[3]

Vietnam is the right (the Son La tea producing area), and Phongsaly province in Laos in the North

But for some local politics and a line on the map this could be part of Yunnan, and the tea could be go by the name "pu'er."

I've been drinking more sheng lately, but I did last review a shou in January, a Laos Tea version, which actually might be similar to this.  I think both are made from older local trees, although I never really heard the related details for the Laos tea (that I recall, at least).  That shou was from Phongsaly, a province not marked on this map, but the border has a "1A" road marker that runs just North of that border (the lower East-West part of it, before the road turns North to the West side).

Someone recently asked in an online discussion if older sheng can overlap in aspects with shou, and that hasn't matched my experience.  It always just tastes like shou.  But then I've not drank any sheng that's 15 years old or older (maybe with the exception of in a shop somewhere along the way), quite a significant gap when it comes to experience with that type.  I'll get there, surely sooner since the oldest in that set of samples has now aged for 19 years.

I'll comparison taste this along with a 2014 Dayi "Golden Fruit" shou version I bought last year.  I don't expect that comparison to shed much light on either tea, it will just be interesting seeing the difference as a contrast, or noticing if there really is significant overlap in aspects.  Part is that I'm in the habit of comparing things.

The brokenness of leaves stands out between the two, in preparing them.  The Kokang shou seems to have been stored as a maocha, never compressed, and seemingly was made from more whole leaves than the Dayi version.  That factory tea version was compressed, with the leaf material somewhat chopped up, including stem content as well as leaves. 

The notes description along with this tea follows:


The Dayi tea is smooth and rich.  Per online descriptions of lots of other shou it would seem normal for it to be a bit "off" in some way for still being young, only a one year old tea now, but it didn't express negative earthy flavors, or fishiness, or anything like that last year.  It might lack a bit of complexity as a flaw, and I wouldn't really expect that to change a lot over time.  The aspects it does exhibit are nice, sweetness, fullness of flavor in the range it does show, a creaminess, mild earthiness, a bit of character similar to the Guiness Stout range. 

For an inexpensive "daily drinker" shou, something to have with breakfast or an afternoon snack that doesn't demand too much attention, it seems really nice.  I wouldn't be surprised if it transitioned to a better tea for having been slightly more challenging in it's first half year after being produced, but that would just be a guess on my part, but one based on experiencing changes in other shou versions.

The Kokang shou is completely different.  A bit of char stands out in the initial taste of the tea, actual charcoal flavor.  It's not necessarily negative but also not necessarily positive.  Beyond that it's also complex, with a lot of aspect layers to experience.  The flavor range unfolds as you drink it, and continues after you swallow it, all earthy and deeper-tone mineral fullness.  It's complex; earthiness extends into dark wood tones or maybe even tree bark, potentially interpreted as bark spice instead. Not cinnamon, other bark spices, although it's closest to the Vietnamese version of cinnamon that Rou Gui is closest to, as versions of cinnamon go.

Dayi left, Kokang Myanmar shou right

That one layer of charcoal is most pronounced in the initial flavor aspect hit, but it stays integrated with the rest of the flavor range after too.  For some it could ruin the experience, I guess.  I've tried inexpensive shou that were awful for that type of charcoal being most of the effective flavor range, but that's not what's going on in this.  It's also one of the last traces of flavor aftertaste to go, remaining as a whisper of flavor a minute or two after you actually swallow the tea.

This is only the first infusion; that flavor may fade as others ramp up across later infusions.  I just checked and the other tea, the Dayi, doesn't just leave your mouth immediately after you drink it, but its aftertaste is a lot less pronounced.

Second infusion

The Dayi does pick up a bit of richness.  I wouldn't expect it to develop a lot through infusions but it has improved from the first to the second.  It still has pleasant character, flavor fullness, and if very approachable, but it's a little thin related to complexity.  It was sold as supposedly being designed to pick up fruit flavors but I'm not really getting that.  Imagination helps you cover a lot of ground, and if someone really wanted to maybe they could interpret a dried apricot in some of the flavor, but peach is stretching it, or really even that dried apricot.  It has nice sweetness, I'm just not seeing that as relating to fruit.  This is sort of part of the limitation of the tea; it has plenty of flavor, it just doesn't come across as complex.  It's earthy, again like that rich flavor in a stout (beer), but it doesn't lend itself to listing out flavors.

The char did fade in that next infusion of the Kokang tea.  It's still the most pronounced aspect, for flavor, but has fallen more into balance with the rest, as contributing to a whole instead of being half of what you pick up.  Just a little more transition along the same line and this tea really will be exceptional.  The fullness is cool, the way the intensity somehow crosses into different levels, and how after you swallow the tea the experience is still just getting started.  That charcoal is fading into more of a richer (darker?) mineral dryness instead.  If someone doesn't see that as being "off" then there is nothing unpleasant about this tea.  And again if they did it could be hard to drink; it just depends on preference.  I really like it.

Dayi left, Kokang shou right

Third infusion

These two teas are probably leveling off where they're going to stay, with some additional transition coming later.  The Dayi hasn't changed at all, as far as I can tell.  

That char effect did soften further in the Kokang version, and the balance is quite nice as it stands.  The fullness and aftertaste stand out as exceptional more than the actual flavor profile, to me.  It's a lot fuller in range for flavor than the Dayi too but it's not really as complex as it might be.  It's earthy, with warm mineral tone, dark wood, and tree bark or bark spice, but all that makes for a related set of flavors, or complexity within a narrow range.  I'll give it one more slightly longer infusion to check range and then leave off the note-taking.  It does tell the full story to write out transitions through 7 or 8 infusions but it's a story that tends to get repetitive for a lot of teas.

Having invoked the issue of timing I can explain how I've been preparing both:  using medium length infusion times, as I see it, in the 20 to 30 second range.  Sheng often works out well at light infusions, brewed fast at normal proportions, but for me shou works better a little stronger.  It's possible to drink this tea brewed much more lightly, but a slightly medium-ish infusion strength helps place what's going on, and there's nothing objectionable in either tea to brew around.  It's also possible to drink these types of teas brewed as strong as coffee tends to come across.  I don't prefer shou that way but it works much better than for most other tea types.

Fourth infusion

The Dayi is still nice, not changing all that much for being a bit stronger.  It was a little neutral and mellow in both preparations, with enough complexity to be agreeable but not enough to be really interesting either way.  It does "taste like shou" at least; it's got that going for it.

The dryness and mineral tone pick up in the Kokang version, brewed slightly stronger.  A mineral / rock tone mostly like slate picks up.  Again someone might absolutely love that, or not like it at all.  Now that I think of it this tea reminds me quite a bit of Liu Bao.  It could almost be a Liu Bao, it's just not.  It's softer than those tend to be but that char is normal for those, and the earthy mineral range.  Shou is usually different, sweeter, with a different sort of complexity, more towards leather, molasses, or toffee, or the Guiness stout effect in the other version, potentially extending into dried fruit range, but as often earthy instead.

NYC Chinatown shop shou tuocha; not bad

I should qualify that:  I've drank a bit of shou before but haven't explored that much in the way of better, more expensive versions.  That's true of Liu Bao as well, really, even though I reviewed 4 or 5 of them last year.  I've also not tried much for older shou, so I really can't say anything about how 10 to 15 years of aging tends to affect such teas.  I've tried a couple in that age range, but one or two versions doesn't really inform general patterns very well.

These teas will keep going; they're far from finished.  I've been getting in the habit of dropping note taking after the first half of the infusion cycle since the main point is communicating a general impression.  A tea continuing to evolve in positive ways in later rounds is meaningful, or lasting through a lot of infusions, but I don't expect anything unusual to occur with transitions as these continue.  An aspect description or two might change, and the balance of aspects would definitely shift.


This Kokang tea is interesting, one of the better shou I've ever tried.  I really didn't expect it to remind me of Liu Bao as much as it did, to express that char and dry sort of slate-like mineral range.  The overall complexity of aspects was very nice, better than any of the Liu Bao I've tried, a bit fuller and creamier.  Flavor depth could've had just a little more going on but the feel and aftertaste made for a really interesting experience.

The relation to that char effect in the Kokang tea would really make or break someone's impression of it.  Before drinking those Liu Bao last year I'd have been less open to it, but after those it's just one more aspect that can come up, not overly negative, just not positive.  It was a little intense in the early rounds, and would've thrown off the experience of the tea at that level, but it softened it integrated well with the other earthy flavors.

The Dayi version was ok.  It was nice having it for comparison, even though it seems a bit flat and neutral compared to the other tea.  For an inexpensive version it turned out well enough.  It would've been interesting to compare these to that Laos Tea shou the Russians passed on but I finished that sample.  That tea hadn't struck me as an amazing version of shou but it was nice.

she's always cheerful; at the pool in this

same location, the next week's shoot

family photo; two aunts leaving from a visit