Friday, June 23, 2017

Rohini Enigma and Enigma Gold, Darjeeling second flush teas

Enigma Gold left, Enigma right

I'm comparison tasting Rohini Enigma and Enigma Gold.   These are good teas.  They're completely different than the lighter style of the first flush versions I've been reviewing, reminding me a little of the effect of Oriental Beauty, a nice range.  Both are a bit more oxidized than typical lighter Darjeeling first flush styles but not completely in the range of black tea, maybe not as oxidized as second flush teas tend to be, but then styles vary.

They really don't remind me of a second flush tea in terms of other aspect character either.  The citrus element could relate to muscatel, although it seemed different to me, a bit lighter and brighter, and there's quite a bit of bright fruit range.  The Gopaldhara site, that lists some versions produced by Rohini, a related plantation, doesn't list these.  I'll say at the end what it is, and what the producer mentioned about it, but for now I'll leave it as a riddle wrapped in a mystery.


The Enigma version is nice.  The base flavors are warm and sweet, with light, clean earthy aspects, with a bit of bright citrus balancing that.  One taste aspect is just a bit off cinnamon, maybe in between cinnamon and nutmeg.  Fruitiness is hard to summarize, complex, a bit like cooked mango, but with more range.  It all really works.


The Enigma Gold pushes all that to the next level (although of course that's partly my interpretation; they're similar but not the same).  There's one taste aspect that really takes me back:  teaberry.   Those grow wild where I'm from--in Pennsylvania--and nothing has ever tasted like that, until now.  That taste is bright and sweet, and distinctive.  It tastes a little like those sweeter tones in the old scratch and sniff kid's products, which I haven't seen for a long time.

There's a lot more going on than just teaberry.  The aspects set takes what the Enigma version was doing and extends it.  One part is a little like cinnamon, and another a brighter citrus tone.  A bit of mineral balances all that,  not presented as astringency, not even as feel or structure; it's in the range of taste.  It gives up a little of that cooked mango fruit range for adding those layers but has more going on, and is probably a little fruitier, just in a different range.

Enigma Gold left, Enigma right

On the next infusion the Enigma doesn't transition much, still well balanced, not different.  The feel is nice, with good lingering flavor after, even brewed lightly.  That mango aspect reminds me a little more of pineapple this time, a little brighter.  It definitely includes citrus too, just not as heavy as muscatel typically comes across, in a lighter range.  I could guess an orange type to attribute it to but that would just be making something up to get an idea across:  blood orange?

The warmth picks up in the Gold version.  How those aspects balance really can't be described, it has to be experienced, but of course I'll start in.  It shares some of the feel of a lighter black tea, more in a Chinese style range, but it's not exactly like that, with a brightness and complexity coupled with flavors depth and range that only compares to Oriental Beauty (Taiwanese oolong, Bai Hao, Dong Fang Mei Ren, you know).

Enigma brewed leaves, colorful

If this was sold as a Darjeeling attempt at OB it would seem like they had some success with matching that style, or at least in interpreting it.  It wasn't; I'm just using that to help explain it.  The set of flavors--citrus, spice, other fruit--is the same, and the mid-level oxidation isn't far off either.  This must be slightly less oxidized than a typical OB (70-80% oxidized for those, as I recall, as much as specifying that even makes sense).

Brewing these a little longer to keep the intensity up--on the fourth infusion--the mineral and earthiness of the Enigma extends to a light dryness, picking up a trace of wood, but it still works well.  The sweetness and citrus balances those aspects.  The citrus aspect still isn't completely different than muscatel, maybe drawing closer, but it doesn't seem identical to that, to me.

The intensity of the Gold version picks up, brewed a little longer, along with the mineral element and feel.  Brewed stronger these resemble black tea more, but per my preference their optimum is to be prepared a little lighter. It's not as if you need to work around astringency or bitterness, they would be fine prepared in different ways.  It is strange to prepare them Gongfu style in the first place but as I keep saying it's just the page I'm on now; it's interesting to keep messing with that.  With transitions a bit limited it wouldn't change much to use Western style brewing, although I'd expect the aspects range to shift just a little based on even a minor parameters change.  A tea like this one would probably change character quite a bit brewed at different temperatures, for example.

The Enigma tea was nice, unique, positive, well-balanced, with great characteristics, it just suffered a little in comparison since the Enigma Gold had just a little more going on.  The Gold was a little fruitier, slightly more complex, with a little more spice, a combination that was interesting and positive.  Both were great teas, not exactly like any others I've tried, but the Gold really stood out as something different.

wild turkeys (where that teaberry picture was taken, in PA, the same day)

It's a bit of a tangent, but I ran across this looking up teaberry background:

The fruits of G. procumbens, considered its actual "teaberries", are edible, with a taste of mildy sweet wintergreen. The leaves and branches make a fine herbal tea, through normal drying and infusion process. For the leaves to yield significant amounts of their essential oil, they need to be fermented for at least three days.

Those do taste a little like wintergreen!  Too bad no one living in that house in the picture is remotely as obsessed with tea as I am; those plants in the other picture are growing almost in the frame, a few steps from that one turkey, with lots more around.  This part was interesting too:

White-tailed deer browse wintergreen throughout its range, and in some localities it is an important winter food. Other animals that eat wintergreen are wild turkey, sharp-tailed grouse, northern bobwhite, ring-necked pheasant, black bear, white-footed mouse, and red fox. 

Those turkeys might have been snacking on it.  It is tasty; I ate a few of the berries that day too.

What the teas are

Per the Gopaldhara manager the harvest timing is really in between first and second flush.  These are made from AV2, the plant type I'm familiar with from other Gopaldhara types, capable of making some amazing, soft, fruity, complex teas.

The preparation style seemed in between what's typical of first and second flush to me as well, which was interesting.  According to him the oxidation level is unusual, more medium than is typical, low for second flush.  You just never see that much fruit and that much spice from the same tea, unless it is a Taiwanese Oriental Beauty, and then that would be typical.

Shiv Saria, tea man (credit FB profile)

I asked the manager of the Rohini plantation, Shiv Saria, about the teas,  (a really nice guy, and unusually knowledgeable, probably even as tea-makers go), and he mentioned some background:

Enigma is made in 2nd Flush from AV2 leaves.

Unlike other Darjeelings, it is lightly rolled in small batches in China rollers to avoid heat generation and prevent the cup from being opaque and coloury. 

I visited Taiwan and imported oolong machinery including a panner, from there.  Prof Kunzo Sakata, of Kyoto, Japan, was trying to get us to produce OB teas in Darjeeling.

The withered leaves are fixed before rolling and final drying is also done in a panner.

Enigma Gold, is slightly lighter withered, for a more coloury cup and is made from leaf from section no 5, AV2- higher elevation and weaker bushes due to poor soils.

We do not sun the plucked leaf, as is required in oolong manufacture

Fascinating stuff!  Some of that would mean more to me if I actually made tea but it's still interesting.

In further discussion he confirmed this production processing is still far removed from that of oolong, but per this input it draws on processing experimentation and equipment use from different sources, and lots of experience.

Based on drinking those teas it all seemed to work out nicely.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Dhara white wild Northern Thai white tea, from Monsoon

I met Kenneth of Monsoon teas not so long ago, visiting in my favorite Chinatown tea shop, Jip Eu.  I've known him online for awhile, and reviewed some of their teas, but it was our first time to meet.  He's nice.

Monsoon's thing is wild tea (beyond being a Chiang Mai cafe, and selling different products); emphasizing the sustainability aspect, along with the novelty and uniqueness of different plant types growing in a wild setting.  Of course I was a little skeptical.  Beyond sustainability concerns one might speculate that commercial interests also come into play, a desire to sell what are essentially weeds growing wild for similar prices as cultivated plants.

Kenneth, in the wild (credit Monsoon's FB page)

Travelling in the South of Thailand informs part of the background story.  Whole regions of ecosystems have essentially been completely removed to make way for rubber trees and sugar and oil palms.  Tea farms in the Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai aren't on that scale, so maybe they're only clearing a square kilometer of space for crops, but even that isn't healthy for the environment, which does seem to be a real concern.

It doesn't just relate to what is removed or local fauna disruption; those farms would have an impact on the local environment, affecting drainage patterns, relating to pesticides used (even in organic farming, just different types), and so on.  The impact of changing nature is not always immediately evident.  The relatively widespread loss of bee colonies is an example that has been unfolding for some time, and I'm not sure that all of the root causes of that have been identified yet.  At one point use of fungicides seemed the most likely cause, per what I've read, but something I ran across more recently indicated loss of types of natural access zones may also be related, a different level of cause.

When you think about it if a weed makes a delicious tea (or tisane, if you must, but the plants are closely related genetic variants at the most distant, so it's tea) then paying whatever sorts out as a market price for that is a good value.  And drinking some of it plays a very small role in sparing natural areas from clear-cutting to grow tea plants.


This is a white tea, with an unusual look, some different colors, but then the appearance of white teas does vary.  My understanding is that it's Assamica, but I'll say more about that at the end.

The tea is nice brewed lightly, bright and fresh, a bit sweet and complex,  and relatively clean tasting.  It's in the normal range for white teas, just a little unusual.  Brewing slightly stronger will help with separating flavors.

There is a sweet fruit element, along the line of dried peach.  And it's a bit creamy, actually tasting a little like cream.  The fruitiness extends a little towards blueberry, or maybe raspberry instead.  It's not distinct enough that it comes across as those separate elements, just in that range.

There is a mild earthiness and dryness too, underlying that, and a trace of an unusual flavor, hard to isolate.  Forest floor is a more pronounced part of that, fall leaves, and a bit of mineral, and an unusual light earthy tone.  It's like the wood scent of a stump, not decaying wood as in a peat or mulch scent, but with an aged effect.

It all does work but it's different.  It helps that I've been on shou mei cakes for awhile.  They're not the same but the general range is common.

The next infusion is a little strong as well, really how a lot of people would typically brew this type of tea.  I'm using "light" and "strong" in a relative sense, related to how I prefer and prepare my own teas, so that's not so simple to communicate.  A specific measured proportion and brewing time could work as clarification but I'm not including that either (but it was prepared using a typical Gongfu proportion, a lot of tea relative to the amount of water, and brewed for about a minute and a half).

The sweetness is nice, the fruit.  It reminds me of running across a flavor like that of teaberry in a tea recently (a wild berry type, esssentially), something different, not exactly that but not far off it.  The fruit lightens up and transitions a little (now three infusions in), starting to pick up a bit of woodiness.

The one earthy aspect would make or break this tea, how someone relates to it based on their own preferences.  It's subdued, but not really common to other types.  For me it's fine, close enough to a spice tone that it's familiar, and clean in effect, but for others that impression would probably vary.  That one aspect shifts from forest floor in this infusion onto root spice, more like sassafras.

I tried the next infusion lighter.  The tea isn't close to finished yet but it should be on the second half of any transitions.  Brewed lightly it still works but the effect is different.  The feel isn't thin but it is lighter.  It still provides notable aftertaste but that always was in a moderate, type-typical range in the other infusions (although white teas or any type can vary a good bit related to feel and aftertaste).  The same fruity sweetness stands out, something out there between dried peach, raspberry,  and teaberry.

Brewed one more time the tea is fading a little but can probably make a couple more nice infusions.  Woodiness keeps picking up but that sweetness and interesting aspect range remains.  Even the woodiness is nice, not far from light root spice, not the heavier hardwood lumber taste some teas move to.  If I think "teaberry" that's still there but really I'm meeting the aspects actually present in the middle with that interpretation.  The tea is nice, different.

About the tea related to local history

This plant type is a variation of Assamica, I think, but I never did hear the full story related to that.  I'll start in on background history here instead.

I've been going over Thai history and tea history lately--and early human development,  for that matter--and these plants have been here awhile, more than long enough for plant types to naturally evolve.  The time line of 1000 years tends to be thrown around (also related to how old tea trees are, but who knows about that), but I get the sense that no one really knows.  It seems possible that people traveled a lot more locally (in the region) 10,000 years ago than we give them credit for.  Or maybe 300,000, for that matter.

Check out this reference about early Thai history:

at Sukhothai; not ancient history, but awhile back

The forebears of the modern Thai were Tai-speaking people living south of the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) on the mountainous plateau of what is now the Chinese province of Yunnan. Early Chinese records (the first recorded Chinese reference to the Tai is dated sixth century B.C.) document the Tai cultivating wetland rice in valley and lowland areas. During the first millennium A.D., before the emergence of formal states governed by Tai speaking elites, these people lived in scattered villages drawn together into muang, or principalities.

...Tradition sets 1238 as the date when Tai chieftains overthrew the Khmer at Sukhothai, capital of Angkor's outlying northwestern province, and established a Tai kingdom. 

As for that reference site's authenticity, this description of the content need not be accurate, but if it is then the source is probably relatively sound:

This website contains the on-line versions of books previously published in hard copy by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress as part of the Country Studies/Area Handbook Series sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Army between 1986 and 1998. 

Other content in that site mentions there was continuous human habitation in the Thailand area for the last 20,000 years, but it's not as if it can be limited to only then with certainty.  There is a variety of inhabitance evidence spanning different time periods, including disputed evidence of homo erectus ancestry in Thailand, Lampang Man (with more references for further reading on that cited in a related Wikipedia article).  I've actually seen fossils of what was presented as pre-homo sapien hominid in Northeast Thailand (Isaan), which seems more convincing, actually seeing evidence, but it doesn't really work to identify or validate a fossil as a museum visitor.  Maybe if I was the right kind of biological anthropologist I could.

It's not really related to this region or tea, but tied to the idea that it's difficult to determine what we don't know about the past, a relatively recent finding in Morocco potentially pushes back the origin of homo sapiens by 100,000 years, to around 300,000 years ago.  That also expands the scope of where early humans lived, across parts of Africa instead of only in the East.  So recently learning that tea cultivation started in China 3,000 years earlier than we thought is normal; the known history will keep changing as the evidence changes.

Related to an online discussion of tea types--more about Taliensis, a different plant type that's either tea or closely related to tea--a US tea grower just wrote an article that goes into some history.  But all that is a different subject, really, with that article also about pu'er, and Yaupon, so exploring different themes.

tea types information (reference source)

"Wild" tea plant variants are something else, or probably a range of different things.  This tea type source really could have just been Assamica, a conventional local tea plant, or since the plants can inter-breed (mix genetics) possibly somewhere in between.  This table of plant types shows how each differs; per my reading of this (not the most informed take).

The "shan" teas in the middle are local Thai variations of Assamica (the "A" on the species / variety column), with some other "wild" variations listed below.  Those are tea types that are not within the range of Assamica or Sinensis varieties, here relating to Taiwanese teas, since this is a plant types study from there.

Monday, June 12, 2017

2006 Thai Liu Bao from Tea Side

Thai Tea Side version left, Kunming 7581 right 

An online friend in Malaysia has mentioned preferring Liu Bao, a Chinese hei cha tea type that's more common there.  Per some references the process of piled fermentation to simulate the effect of aging of sheng pu'er was mostly borrowed from the way Liu Bao is made.  He had some input about a naming split for the tea type:

Luk Bou Cha is actually 'Liu Bao', merely different moniker referring to the same tea. 'Luk Bou', means 'Six Fort', in Cantonese, in other ethnic Chinese languages, it is called 'Liu Bao'. The word 'Cha', means 'tea', for emphasis, the Cantonese usually call it Luk Bou, only. Luk Bou is never to be confused with Pu Er. Although both are black teas, they are both different types of tea altogether. 

So there's all that.  "Black" in that is often translated as "dark" in Western references (the hei in hei cha).  It seems likely the mapping of concepts isn't clearly focused to mean one or the other, black or dark, so the alternate translation could be partly to avoid complication from black tea in English designation being called red in the original naming convention (hong cha:  red tea).

This is a Thai version, from Tea Side.  I'll taste it along with a shou pu'er to help pin down similarities and differences, but the one I have at home is a modest version of shou (read as "cheap"), a Kunming 7581 brick, which I'd already reviewed here.  I'll say a little more about Liu Bao in general after the review part.

Thai Liu Bao left, Kunming shou pu'er right


The initial taste is earthy; not really a surprise.  It's smooth and a bit sweet, somewhat rich, but mostly earthy.  It tastes like peat, I guess.  I'm comparing it to a relatively ordinary grade, standard shou to get a better feel for the range, and it is similar, but that shou has a good bit of petroleum-range taste in addition to the earthiness in this Liu Bao.  I'm wondering if I didn't just write the entire review, if there will be more to add to that.  I like the teas but I didn't get the impression there was a lot of complexity to describe, besides unpacking "peat," and I don't expect so much transition in aspects to occur across infusions.  But we'll see.

I went a little longer the next infusion, perhaps just over a minute, to brew a good thick version to taste.  I can try on the light side next and see how that varies results.  The Liu Bao is ok, sweet and thick, and rich.  There is something to it besides that peat taste, the earthiness; it's a little fruity on one subdued layer.  It's not completely different than fig, and a dark-wood tone stretches a little towards spice.  But it is mostly peat, or what I'd imagine an infusion of peat to taste like, not so far off the scent of yard mulch.

from an earlier age, when oil came from PA

Again the shou just adds quite a bit of petroleum to that, not so far off fresh crude.  Or really maybe aged crude; that scent from very old wooden oil well barrels that have been sitting and weathering for decades.  I love that smell.  In the tea it's not completely pleasant or unpleasant, a take on it would depend on preference, but it wouldn't be for everyone.

The next infusion was under 30 seconds, but the strength is still significant.  This is going to be about a difference between dark wood tone and petroleum.  The Liu Bao evolves a little towards cedar, still dark, but a bit cleaner, and different.  The peat taste never was exactly murky though, if that makes any sense, just quite earthy.  That aged petroleum in the shou may be a little murky, but it's a lot cleaner than one would expect given it tastes like oil.

the Liu Bao; loose, a bit reddish brown

The next infusion is more of the same.  The shou is drifting into tar a bit, deepening in richness and intensity.  The Liu Bao stays more in the range of dark wood, with a bit more subtlety and complexity.  That might be a different type of dried fruit, or the peat might well have lightened into autumn leaf instead.  It's not completely different but a bit lighter and cleaner.  But it's still not complex in the same sense other tea types are, not a layered experience.  The feel of both is a bit rich; that's nice, but still nothing complicated or challenging, pleasant but not especially unique.

Both teas continued for a few more lighter infusions.  One interesting element started to stand out more in the Thai Liu Bao, not unlike spice, but not familiar, maybe some mild root or bark spice I don't know well.  Or then again it tasted a little like cork too.

I have no idea how this compares to other versions of Liu Bao since I haven't tried any.  It's hard to guess how much it would have changed over the 11 years since it was made, or what the effect of another 11 would be.  It seems nice for what it is, not all that different from shou.  I like it better than the shou I've been comparing it with, but that tea never did seem like an above average example, that its strength is being within the range of normal.

I've probably never tried a really exceptional shou, although maybe in tasting in a shop sometime I did and didn't know it.  The ones I have tried didn't vary so much, not unlike the range in these two teas, more or less petroleum, peat-like earthiness versus dark wood tones.  I'm sure there is a lot more to experience that I'll get to later.  Other versions from this vendor from Thailand were the one exception to that, by far the most interesting I've tried of the general category, or in one sense outside the category themselves given they aren't from Yunnan, so technically not "pu'er."  Even though a lot of the shou versions I have tried were close to what I'd expect brewing my old Army boots would taste like I've still liked them, it's just not a personal favorite.

More on the type

I really need to try other examples to place this further, since any other descriptions are going to just be abstract ideas to me.  But I can add a bit about what this was, or was supposed to be.  Lets start with the Tea Side vendor description:

Loose-leaf Liu Bao Hei Cha of 2006 from old trees. Altitude of trees is about 1500 meters above the sea level.

Taste: Thick, rich, soft and oily. There are hazelnut, pleasant woody notes and a little of cinnamon. 

Effect: Tranquility, relaxation. Despite likeness to Shu Pu-erh teas, this Liu Bao tea can be drunk at night.

Sounds close enough.  I guess I'd have to drink it at night to check on that one part.  I thought the tea was pleasant, and I definitely picked up spice, it just wasn't distinct enough to pin down as cinnamon.

There is an Global Tea Hut magazine edition dedicated to the type.  It's an interesting read.  I sorted through it to see if I could cite a short summary description of the type, but it didn't work that way, with different articles covering different background and aspects.  I'll mention an idea that has nothing to do with this review, since it was interesting, on the subject of one type of mold spores:

So really more to do with Fu tea, it would seem, but interesting to hear that aspect can overlap with Liu Bao.

Beyond that the magazine generally describes Liu Bao as other descriptions place it, as an earthy, mellow, and complex tea not completely different than shou pu'er.  The background, history, and variations are interesting to read about there though, especially about how style differences have shifted over time.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Comparing silver needle teas from Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam

Doi Inthanon left, Kinnari middle, Hatvala right

I'm comparison reviewing three white teas, all presented as silver needle style teas, from Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam (from Doi Inthanon, Kinnari Tea, and Hatvala, respectively).  It's a bit much.  I've been on a comparison tasting cycle lately and may as well stick with that, since it helps place teas better than tasting them alone would.  I'll be dropping it before long, maybe for a couple more types then I will.

There is a cost to that, a drawback and trade-off to doing comparisons, which came up in a comment on the last review, comparing Darjeelings.  If the tea plant type or style is different then the review could be more about noticing the style difference than the relative quality level of the teas, and subjective preference description can work out the same, more about type than how good either tea is.

I try to make those factors explicit in the reviews, to clarify when I think I prefer a type-related aspect, or when a set of aspects is uniquely positive in a tea within a range of one style, but there's a limit to that.  With a God's-eye view of tea types, related typical aspects, and characteristics tied to quality levels that would work better, especially if every tea stuck to a clearly defined type, but obviously all of that don't match reality.  Teas tend to vary.  In a sense it really doesn't even matter how close these three are to an original Chinese white tea version anyway; I'm experiencing them in relation to how much I like the aspects, not judging them related to trueness-to-type.

This would be a good place to introduce the teas, perhaps with a few more words at the end about the standard type and differences:

Doi Inthanon (Thailand, outside Chiang Mai):  Silver Needle #12 Bai hau cha - tra trang

Kinnari Tea (Laos) Moon Buds

Hatvala Vietnamese Floating Cloud White tea Yen Bai

This review is mostly about how I experienced the teas, not that background about any standard.  No vendor really claimed these closely matched a traditional Chinese version, and I'm not the best person to judge how well they did.


Doi Inthanon lower left, Kinnari top, Hatvala lower right

The three teas look and smell quite different.  The Thai tea is much darker, with much smaller buds ("needles"), and a rich, complex scent.  The Laos version is the lightest, with a sweet, light, fruity scent, and the Vietnamese version is just a little darker than that and sweet but with a bit more of a savory edge to it.

The taste of the "silver needle" tea from Thailand, the Doi Inthanon Silver Needle, is a bit intense, perhaps closer to a black tea range than white based only first impression.  Of course white teas can oxidize to different levels based on processing differences, and this seems to have more than most.  That's not a good or bad thing, taken alone, just a variation; that just depends on how well it works.  I'll need to use short infusion time for this tea to limit the intensity, the opposite of what I expect from the other two.  It doesn't look like a silver needle tea at all, with much smaller buds than is typical, and quite a bit darker.  The dry scent is sweet and rich, heavy towards molasses and other earth tones, so I think it has lots of potential, it just won't match the typical profile, and it won't be subtle.

Tasting it the first round will involve tasting past an astringency balance that's a little high, but it's still positive.  It has an interesting citrus high note that stands out, and a great mineral intensive structure at the base, with lots of earthy range below that, the molasses, in general, maybe just not exactly that.  There's really a lot going on; it's partly floral, familiar from their other teas, and that molasses scent seems related to a woodiness in this particular infusion.  It all could be a little much for a white tea drinker looking for some subdued floral tones and maybe a little melon or whatever else mixed in; this is a little intense.  It'll review better brewed very lightly though, so I'll get back to all that.  That astringency even reminds me of pine needle tea, nothing like the bite in many other kinds of teas, a bit unique, coupled with a sharp, piney flavor element that's not negative, just quite different.

The Kinnari Tea Laos tea (Moon Buds) is subtle, as I would have expected.  It's sweet and complex though, with lots going on too, just in a completely different range.  Part seems like freshly dried hay, maybe a little floral, and that sweetness may well extend into fruity character, not so far from melon, maybe that.  I think there is some bright citrus going on too.  That citrus is so light and bright it's hard to pick a match for it, along the lines of tangerine peel spray, that citrus oil that comes out when you bend a peel.  I think it'll be easier to review on the next infusion for the opposite reason; it will take another round to really get going.  That contrast is funny.  The lightness and brightness is nice; it's not just light in the sense of being subtle, there is a bright character to it that's not easy to describe.  Someone might say "freshness" instead but to me brightness captures it.  It's a lot sweeter, or will be, once I get both of these teas brewing in a range that works for them.

The Vietnamese version (Hatvala Floating Cloud) is warmer, richer, a bit fuller.  Again this infusion is a little light for this tea; it will be easier to pin down going a little longer.  That first infusion was a bit over 30 seconds, probably still less than 45 though, long for this Gongfu proportion, but kind of normal for these types of teas that need longer to brew.  Or really the Doi Inthanon tea didn't need as long as it steeped; we live and learn.

It might not be easy to pin down the richness of this Floating Cloud even with optimized brewing; the main element seems closest to pine nut.  To me that's a really good thing, but I guess maybe not everyone loves pine nuts.  For people that haven't had them they're rich and a bit sweet, with a distinctive flavor, not so far from macadamia nut but not exactly the same.  They're a touch less creamy, but still creamy, and don't give up anything in being distinctive.  The warm aspect in this tea isn't so far from the fresh dried hay aspect in the Laos tea, they just head out in completely different directions from there, one to lighter, brighter and sweeter and the other to richer tones.  This is cool so far, and these teas have hardly gotten started.

the initial set-up

Second infusion

I went with a short infusion for the Doi Inthanon tea, around 15-20 seconds.  I think I'll go with the nicknames for these, instead of location, but this was only called silver needle (or bai hau cha - tra trang).  It's light but it works.  The sweetness and brightness stand out more, and that astringency steps back to a nice supporting level.  To be more specific it's not exactly astringency; it seems to both be a "feel" dimension and a related flavor element that seems connected with that, again close enough to pine needles.  For pine needle tisane lovers out there it's not light and sweet like white pine or hemlock (which is not the kind of plant that killed Socrates, it just shares the name), more like a Norway Spruce, a bit heavier and more intense.  It's like a light version of pine pitch.

The tea being sweet too makes that work.  The floral is still present but lighter, and something along the line of wood tones fills in some.  It might all work better than "wood, pine, and flowers" sounds, although really there would be a lot of range within those three description scopes.  There's a bit of a sage-like spice aspect filling in between that woodiness and pine that's nice.  It would too good a tea for blending with, and crazy to use it as such, but it would work well for part of the flavors base in a soup.

The Moon Buds (Kinnari tea) is still a little subtle, brewed for the same time again, in the range of 45 seconds.  I just can't measure infusion times; I'm philosophically opposed to it, but my internal clock works well enough.  There's something catchy about this tea, which I'm not going to do justice to by putting names on aspects.  It's bright and sweet, but not in a way that's familiar.  Maybe I like it more since I've been into first flush Darjeelings that emphasize brightness and sweetness, even though the character is a little different.

I should brew it for a full minute to let it go stronger, or a bit over that.  The package says 95C, 3 to 5 minutes (or was that a 7?), and of course part of going shorter on time is that I'm using a relatively high proportion of tea to water.  After 3 minutes at this proportion it would be as strong as a mild black tea in effect, but really some people would still like that.  I don't think it has enough astringency in it for that part to become a problem, but the flavor balance shift would let earthier elements play more a role and that light sweetness would drop back into a continuum of other aspects more.  I'll try it though; I can't add more to description here based on this tasting.  It's vaguely floral and citrusy, perhaps with a touch of melon, but there's more to it than that.  As for which melon, that part gets complicated.  I hate almost all melons but I like this flavor aspect, but maybe it's as well I don't expand on how that plays out.  Maybe it's not melon anyway, something fruity but slightly different, off towards apricot or plum instead.

The Floating Cloud (Hatvala tea) is still sweet but more in a richer, warmer range.  I will go a little longer on these two and describe them further for a third round.  The Doi Inthanon tea could probably handle a 30 second steep but not longer.

Third infusion

Screw the philosophy, I timed that last infusion, 30 seconds for the Doi Inthanon tea, 2 minutes for the other two.  To explain that part more, to me timing infusions puts more process between the tea drinker and the experience, as much as it standardizes and optimizes brewing.  I get it, about more people probably going the opposite way on that, but I like the minor variations in preparation, they are as informative as they are pleasant to experience.  And reviewing teas already adds a thick layer of analysis and interpretation to trying teas that I find disruptive.  It's interesting to do it, on a different level, but take away this blog communication step and I wouldn't really care to split flavors and other aspects into concept-lists like this.  Back to that though.

The Doi Inthanon tea is right at a level of intensity that works.  From here it's more about the balance of aspects working out for someone or not than dialing that in more.  It's woody, and floral, a sweet type of floral, with a bit of feel and taste matching pine needle, so more of the same.  The level of sweetness makes that work, but it's not as sweet as the other two teas.  The Kinnari tea is the sweetest, and brightest, but also the most subtle.  It's tempting to say the Hatvala tea is in the middle somehow but I'm not sure experiential space maps out like that.

The Moon Buds is picking up some warmth and depth brewed stronger, not giving up much brightness, but that aspect range is diminished for sharing some space.  The depth it gains is more in the range of sunflower seed, soft and sweet, a little rich, but still light.  I think it's a floral tone I'm not able to capture in description, as much as fruit, maybe spanning both.  It would be possible to try and focus on that dried hay / sunflower seed aspect and try to pin that down further too, and possible to interpret that in different ways.  It's hard to imagine that being read as mineral or spice tone but it's not inconceivable, really, or maybe I'm just missing something else.  The tea is a little subtle still but complex.

I haven't been saying much about feel or aftertaste (anything about those, really), but for me comparison tasting goes like that.  It works out to naturally truncate description for having so much space to cover.  A 2000+ word tea review is a bit much to write or read, beyond that extra being lots to focus on when tasting.  This tea isn't thin, and the taste does linger after swallowing it, but doubling the infusion time again would surely thicken the feel and add even more aftertaste.  It's a preference issue.  I always disliked silver needle style teas for being too subtle and not having enough dimensions but at the same time I prefer them on the light side, a bit of a contradiction.  To me--not a given, we're on what I think versus any standard understanding on this, best taken with a grain of salt--it shifts the aspect range going longer by pulling out richer, earthier flavors, at the expense of the lighter aspects, which don't drop out, but they do get crowded a little.

The Floating Cloud is similar to before, brewed stronger:  rich, sweet, a little subtle but with lots going on, with both brightness and earthiness.  The sweetness is in the range of both floral tone and honey, maybe with a trace of citrus, and that pine-nut aspect moves out to cover more range, but it gets harder to pin down.  I think I wouldn't have liked this tea as much a year or two ago for not really embracing the experience of related subtle teas, but I'm better with that now.  I've been drinking a good bit of compressed white teas lately, two shou mei cakes and some random pressed white version, and those are quite different--sort of--but the general range is not so far off.  This tea is definitely brighter than those, and more complex, with more going on at that higher end, the floral aspect, but not as bright and sweet as the Laos tea.  I think it's a bit richer and fuller than the Laos tea, maybe in feel too, but I really mean in flavors aspect range.

Doi Inthanon lower left, Kinnari top, Hatvala lower right

Fourth infusion

To push the teas a bit I went 40 seconds for the Doi Inthanon tea and three minutes for the other two (timed infusions; but I'm not going to switch over to embracing optimized brewing all the time).  They would drink just fine brewed lightly but this should help show what's going on with them better.  A full five minute steep might work to identify more about the structure, or really delve into all they have going on, but it wouldn't match my own brewing preference, at least not at this tea and water proportion.

The Doi Inthanon tea is fading just a little, although it's surely far from finished, it would probably go any number of rounds past this brewed longer.  The pine stands out a little for the rest dropping back a little, and the lighter feel works well, otherwise it's about the same.

The Moon Buds tea doesn't transition much, but it does pick up more earthiness, probably both from a natural aspects progression and from going longer on infusion time.  That one "catchy" aspect does remind me a little of that AV2 Darjeeling character, the smoothness and roundness coupled with sweetness, brightness, and melon / light citrus character (or some other fruit I'm not "getting").  Or maybe I've just described a set of aspects instead, even if to me they tie together somehow.  All of those things almost come to a central presentation point in one distinct but hard to describe bright flavor element.  At the end I can say how the Kinnari tea owner describes it as a list; she's pretty good with such things.

The Floating Cloud moves into an interesting space, transitioning the most of the three, towards a sun-dried tomato sweetness, a sweet and savory tone.  That was actually present in the initial dry tea scent but I wasn't noticing it so much in the other infusions.  I wouldn't be surprised if it would be possible to pull out a completely different type of experience from this tea by going long with infusion time initially, and maximize the savory tone that way.  The Kinnari tea would pick up more earthiness range in such an approach too, whichever way that sunflower seed element would present itself brewed stronger, but the Doi Inthanon tea wouldn't be as drinkable brewed any stronger.  This might be a good place to close this, to move onto some final thoughts based on those vendor's input.


This will only make for a token aside about traditional style, not from the most authoritative reference on the internet, but the related Baiho Yinzhen article in Wikipedia (the Chinese name for the general type) points out something worth noting:

Two regions, Zhenghe and Fuding, spanning the north to north-eastern parts of the Fujian province are the major and original producers of this tea, although neighboring counties have also been producing.[3] The two major cultivars employed by these regions are Fuding Da Bai and Zhenghe Da Bai, named after their origins. These differences are important to distinguish the two major styles of Silver Needles — the Zhenghe style and the Fuding style. The former is usually a lot darker, with significantly longer piled-up time for oxidation, yielding a tea with fuller body than the latter style, which is generally lighter with shorter oxidation.[5] 

It wouldn't have mattered to me how much these varied from traditional styles, and I'm still not really pointing towards a connection in noting that, although a guess about plant types does follow.

Related to vendor descriptions, there is no vendor description of the Hatvala version on their site, but one does appear here (edited):

...from Suoi Giang in Yen Bai province.  This is a hand crafted tea that undergoes an extended sun withering followed by gentle stirring and drying... Made from leaf buds only harvested from wild tea trees that grow in the ancient bio-diverse forests at altitudes above 1400 metres... Floating Cloud is both elegant and complex and produces a delightfully sweet tea with notes of honeysuckle, sugar cane, walnuts and pine forest. 

None of the aspect descriptions match completely directly but the general description really does (eg. swapping out walnuts for pine nuts, interpreting sugar cane as honey).  I think the tea is quite good; the general impression matches too.

Moon Buds description (not as clear due to a branch in branding)

I didn't see any description of the Doi Inthanon tea, but this graphic lists some background on the Moon Buds version (listed as White Wings; it's possible different years' versions picked up different names, or it could just be a split in branding).  Again it sort of matches what I've described, just not directly.  Brewing it light I'd pick up less texture, although "buttery" is surely intended as a flavor here.  The mineral side would stand out more brewed even stronger too (I love "pebble" as a description though; I never can really sort out different rocks as aspects).  Citrus I'd mentioned, and the fruit I never did pin down, describing it as melon perhaps towards plum or apricot.  Incense:  maybe!  It really did have a lot going on.

It's probably as well to not stretch this out but I think all three are grown at significant elevation, with both the Kinnari Tea and Hatvala tea from older natural growth environments.  Not only would the Doi Inthanon tea be farm-produced (a typical row-planted, single, selected plant type) it's probably not similar in type to the other two.  I'd be speculating to say they are both from Assamica type plants but I think they are.  More "native" versions in the North of Vietnam and Laos are, per my understanding (only native in the sense of being introduced a long time ago, most likely).  That would explain the buds size differences, smaller for the Thai version, relatively similar in appearance for the other two, just a bit different in initial color.  So it's back to the idea of comparing apples and oranges I started on initially, related to the Doi Inthanon version, but then the review was clear on that in descriptions too.

All three were nice anyway, with a lot of complexity and interesting character from all of them, I just preferred the Laos and Vietnamese teas' styles more.  There was a time when the overall subtlety of those wouldn't have matched what I like in teas so well but now I'm more on that page, maybe not in terms of overall type favorites, but related to what I can really appreciate.  Those two teas were fantastic, so similar but so different, in different senses.  The Thai tea is still nice, well worth checking out, and positive enough that someone with a different style preference still might like it more, if having a bit more edge to the tea somehow seemed better.  As I mentioned in that last post related to Darjeeling types I tend to prefer oolongs and soft, complex black teas (Dian Hong and such), but it makes perfect sense for someone to like a bit more astringency than I do to balance other aspects.

One last aside:  I've been stocking up on gaiwans lately, so I now have three each of smaller and larger size versions for reviews.  I went with the larger ones for this tasting and it was a mistake; it took me all day to come down from the buzz of drinking around 18 cups of white tea.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Tasting Jungpana and Giddapahar first flush Darjeeling

Giddapahar first flush

Jungpana First Flush

Lochan teas sent some samples of different producers' teas, related to them functioning as both a producer (at Doke) and a reseller.  Many thanks for that!  I reviewed their own Doke black fusion tea a month ago; just exceptional, quite unique.

It makes for a good chance to do a relatively blind tasting.  I recognize these producers but really not on the level of expecting specifics from these teas.  The teas were labeled as follows, but from here on out I'll just use the plantation names:

Giddapahar AV 2 Clonal Wonder First Flush 2017 Darjeeling Exclusive

Jungpana FTGFOP First Flush 2017 Darjeeling Organic

It goes without saying that all the Darjeeling plantations make lots of different batches of tea, and that lots of factors vary how each turns out:  plant type, growing lot location, sun exposure, rainfall, local drainage affecting water availability, harvest time and conditions, processing variations, etc.  I wouldn't think these two versions could really be indicative of all the versions both produce, because it wouldn't work that way.  Then again I know about as little about Darjeeling production as anyone else, but all that is near enough to just being common sense.  Vendors provide descriptions of different teas to provide more about those details, and pricing indicates where they stand in relation to other versions, more or less.


Both have bright, fresh, sweet characters based on scent, different in appearance and smell, but I'll start the review with tasting the brewed tea instead.  Straight to it then.

The Jungpana is pleasant, bright and complex, with a lot of complexity.  There is an edge of astringency I've not been used to from drinking Gopaldhara teas for awhile (not sure why those have been as smooth as they are; it wouldn't seem that would relate to just one factor).  It's not "off," definitely not a bad tea, it just has that element that one would take into account in brewing, which is half of what I'm picking up in this infusion.  That structure and feel help shape the experience. The rest of the aspect range is sweet and complex, floral and citrusy with more going on than that.

The Giddapahar has some of the familiar character from drinking Gopaldhara teas, perhaps from sharing the tea-plant type origin, AV2.  It's smooth and round (not a standard tea term, maybe, but it sort of means something to me), complex, sweet, and very fruity.  The fruit tones are close enough to juicyfruit gum, bright and sweet.  In the last review of a Gopaldhara tea I compared it to yellow watermelon; not so far from that.  It's a soft, rich, tea too, not challenging in any way related to astringency.  Mind you some people could see that edge as a necessity, as a compliment to the brightness and sweetness, to round out the experience, as some describe liking the bite of astringency in some Dan Cong.  I'm not attached to astringency in Darjeelings, but then I'm mostly an oolong drinker, and prefer softer, complex black teas, Dian Hong and such.  I suppose liking other AV2 based teas might have set up some bias in preference towards those.

I'm tempted to guess how good this Giddapahar tea is compared to the last Gopaldhara.  That's not really fair to either, since I'm tasting it across time (not that long though), and the styles are likely to vary a little, which might be what I would be judging, relation to preference versus how objectively "good" each is.  It's similar enough I might leave it at that; they're not so different.  That last Gopaldhara version seemed a favorite of what I've tried from them, just outstanding in aspect range and balance, so it's not fair to judge this one against that tea for that reason too; it matched my likes especially well.

Giddapahar left, Jungpana right (different looks)

Brewed quickly, so a bit light--in more of a Gongfu style, the page I'm on these days, even for teas Western style would work just fine for--the Jungpana is better than it was the first infusion.  There's a lot of taste so a light infusion still works well; it's still sweet and complex, and very clean flavored.  The tea shows a nice "round" effect in this aspects balance.  I'm not having luck splitting the taste range into parts but it has complexity, fruit and floral tones, all quite integrated.  There's even a creaminess to it, in the feel and the taste.

The Giddapahar is even better in the next infusion.  That first taste seemed quite like pineapple; not the flat, lifeless character in canned pineapple, the lively, complex, citrusy and bright version in fresh pineapple (of which there are lots of types, that vary quite a bit).  I remember living in Hawaii bringing fresh pineapple to a grad-student outing where an Austrian friend tried that for the first time, and she just marveled at it, as if her world had changed right then.  It really can be that good.  I was slightly addicted to drinking fresh pineapple juice when I lived in Honolulu and it's quite like that.

Related to the immediate novelty of the experience I could drink a lot of this tea. Sometimes when you taste a novel aspect it's hard to isolate it, and it could be different things, or a combination, and later a definition occurs to you, but this just tastes like fresh pineapple.

Giddapahar left, Jungpana right

Next infusion:  these are both really nice teas.  The Jungpana is suffering a little in comparison but it's not at all a so-so version of tea, it's fresh, bright, complex, and sweet.  It has a little astringency going on, mellowing out a bit related to that, a version that's like the mild bite if you taste a fresh tree bud (anyone?).  It's vaguely along the same lines as Dan Cong astringency, just different, not that.  That aspect is nothing like CTC black tea at all, a little closer to a green tea astringency, but not really that either.  At any rate it falls back into being a supporting element brewed lighter and works well enough that way.  The Giddapahar is very round and approachable, just as complex related to flavors, and just as sweet.

That one "pineapple" aspect in the Giddapahar still really stands out too, a nice surprise.  It fades back a little on the next infusion, falling into a more integrated role along with other aspect range, seeming less like pineapple presented in that way.  The tea is still nice; I wouldn't be surprised if it brews a number of additional infusions without drifting towards any less of a positive balance.

brewed leaves not so different (G left, J right) 

Conclusion, about preference

I could do a lot more with breaking down aspects and describing further transitions but that's pretty much it already.  Both are nice examples of first flush Darjeeling, nothing like black tea, light and fresh, mid-level oxidized but not like an oolong either in a few different ways.  It just came up in a discussion how a lot of the same adjectives work for first flush Darjeeling and Taiwanese high mountain oolong--aspects are floral and mineral intensive, both can be "rich" in feel in different senses--but the teas themselves don't match.  There's a problem there with specifying characteristics at the finest level of detail; it's hard to break down floral and mineral far enough.  Spice range or other food-related aspects are easier to separate and describe than those.

Personally I like the Giddapahar a lot more but to be fair I think some of that relates to my own personal preference, related to how one takes that mild astringency.  Then again that pineapple aspect was cool.  I think I've picked up a preference for that AV2 general profile along the way, although I don't know what plant type the Jungpana is made from.  There was a little on that AV2 plant type in this review but I don't feel like I ever did get to the bottom of that.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Comparison tasting three Wuyi Yanchas, Rou Gui and Tie Luo Han

top Tie Luo Han, right Jip Eu Rou Gui, left Teasenz

Comparison tasting, why not?

I'm trying two Rou Gui--one from Jip Eu, a local shop, and one from Teasenz--and a Tie Luo Han from that shop as well.  I had written about the type here (one of Cindy's versions, and background research on te type), last September, which I had forgotten until checking.  So many teas!

I'd already tasted two of these teas there, in Jip Eu in the Bangkok Chinatown (they gave me the Tie Luo Han when I bought the Rou Gui; very nice of them).  That shop is my favorite in this city for a few reasons, and selling good tea is only one of them (but kind of important, that part).

I just visited another tea cafe owner from Chiang Mai there too, after that shopping visit, Kenneth of Monsoon teas, and we had a nice time tasting different things and talking about tea in Thailand.  I mentioned that in talking about going to a Bangkok tea expo very recently, a post I didn't mention much in notice links to see how that would go.  They sell local teas, flavored teas, and wild teas in that shop, probably worth checking out.  Their Thai teas span a unique range, with plain versions likely of most interest to readers here, but one coconut flavored version really stood out to me, odd such a thing could be really good. Kenneth passed on a novel white tea; I'll say more about that later.

We tried a Thai black tea that the Jip Eu shop owner made himself, not commercially, just something he did.  It was one of the better black teas I've tried from Thailand.  That shop is 90 years old, ran by the same family over that time, but he's personally been helping other family members that produce tea in China, essentially making tea his whole life (just not full time).  So he can turn out black tea, Wuyi oolongs, or Tie Kuan Yin (there are two branches of his family in Fujian).  It'll make a great fall-back if that tea shop business doesn't pan out.  And they're friendly about trying teas and discussing tea, just perfect.  Onto these teas then.

I look a bit serious.  It was a hot day, a bit of a stretch drinking hot tea.

My favorite tea I bought from them in the past was a Bei Dou, with just an amazing balance of character, with both aroma and taste filling in a nice full range.  That should be familiar as the name of both a cultivar, one of the most original forms of earlier Da Hong Pao plants (along with Qi Dan), and as the location that comes from.  Of course this Rou Gui is a completely different tea.  Cindy Chen's versions sometimes have a really nice fruit aspect as part of that, always very well balanced with the earthy and mineral tones, but this is probably more typical, in the cinnamon range.  It's not exactly like the cinnamon you add to oatmeal, but a bit similar.  That Tie Luo Han was more subtle, more in the range of bamboo, which is nice, just completely different again, full bodied and flavored but still balanced and sophisticated.

The third tea is a Teasenz Rou Gui sample, sent by them with that last order of a Shai Hong (compressed Dian Hong) and Longjing.  It seems a little sweeter, with a bit lighter roast, and plenty of aromatic, perfume-like character.  I'll dig into more taste by taste review and then move on to impressions, how well each works against my own preferences (a part that would vary by person).

if you do visit the Bangkok Chinatown try to take the Express River ferry

Review (really this time)

The Jip Eu Rou Gui is the most heavily roasted by a good bit.  That bit of char taste wouldn't appeal to everyone, but then setting the tea aside for a year or two will cause a lot of that to drop out, or at lease ease up and transition some.  Related to that, it's relevant if this is these are year's tea or last year's.  I'm guessing last year's; processing for this year is more or less finishing up now, I think, but judging by taste along this Rou Gui might be new.  Given how my memory works these days they probably mentioned it.

Cindy doesn't sell some teas in the first year at all, and sometimes at this shop they'll offer both, and let you try how the teas varied over that year (it really is a nice place to hang out; you shouldn't plan on walking in and back out quickly).  Why not just go lighter on the roast in the first place, you might wonder.  Some people prefer heavily roasted teas, just as with French Roast coffee, and others would prefer the character a dark roast evolves to after a year or two.  The roast level is supposed to go with different initial tea aspects to bring out the best results, per my understanding, and at the end of all that someone not into more roasted teas could just go with a different style instead.

The cinnamon is an odd thing, strange to be writing about Rou Gui for so long and to feel like I'm coming back to this for the first time, in a sense.  The shop owner said it wasn't the same type of cinnamon as in Western-version spice jar, although I'm not so clear on the differences.  In reading up on cinnamon for another post there are two main types (two trees that bark is collected from as a spice), with one regarded as original or real cinnamon and the other a variant.  .

Let's check on that subject with the final word on most things--for lazy researchers--Wikipedia:

Cinnamomum verum is sometimes considered to be "true cinnamon", but most cinnamon in international commerce is derived from related species, also referred to as "cassia".[1][2]

Cinnamon is the name for perhaps a dozen species of trees and the commercial spice products that some of them produce. All are members of the genus Cinnamomum in the family Lauraceae.[3] Only a few Cinnamomum species are grown commercially for spice.

Glancing through that reference it's all complicated; there are lots of related types.

(Cinnamomum verum) left, and Indonesian cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmannii) right (credit Wikimedia)

So a spice merchant might be able to pin down more about the range, related to all that.  The other character is interesting (still on talking about the Jip Eu version).  Beyond the roast / char input it has lots of earthiness and depth, a bit towards a brandy-like character, with just a hint of well-integrated fresh crude underlying that, and of course mineral.  It works well, but judging how well depends on how one relates to the heavier roast.  I can do heavier roast; for me it goes tea by tea if that aspect is working with the other aspect range or not, or if it's too much.

The Teasenz Rou Gui overlaps in nature a little but is completely different.  The roast level is lighter, the presentation of that cinnamon aspect a little different.  It's sweeter, and the brandy-like aspect is more towards cognac, and that one trace of crude oil more like fresh tar in this (in a good sense).  It has plenty of complexity and decent balance but it wouldn't be for everyone for different reasons.  That sweetness is different, paired with such earthy character.  It's unusual for tea to seem a bit too sweet but this is pushing towards that edge.  The roast helps give it some balance, not as char effect in this, just one more layer of complexity (like charcoal still, I guess, but quite subtle in comparison).

The "cinnamon" in both is different but comparable, and so close that I won't be able to describe that aspect-input difference.  Neither Rou Gui demonstrates the balanced, structured, evenly complex aspect set better Da Hong Pao versions do, but then they're not supposed to be the same thing.  And the flavor profile is quite different, just in the same general Wuyi Yancha range.

The Tie Luo Han is on a completely different page.  It's primary taste element is bamboo, not cinnamon.  That's an interpretation, by the way; someone else could taste the same thing and think almond or wood, but once you think "bamboo" that's exactly it.  The roast level is moderate so there's no char / charcoal to pick up, just more complexity from the flavors being shifted towards a dark toffee as that process results in.  The sweetness in all these is somewhere in the caramel / dark toffee range, just a minor aspect compared to the other flavors, the taste part of that beyond being sweet.

It would be hard to explain that "bamboo," or what else is going on.  It tastes a lot like eating a fresh or cooked bamboo shoot, maybe a roasted version to soften and deepen the profile a little.  If bamboo was completely unfamiliar, or just didn't come to mind, then one would describe this as woody, but in the range of an unusually light wood, like a sweeter and more complex balsa wood.  The sweetness is nice, nowhere near on the level of the Teasenz Rou Gui, but enough to balance the rest.  The general effect is clean; earthy and mineral elements combine well, integrating in a way that balances and makes sense.

same order, but they look similar (higher roast shows in Jip Eu Rou Gui lower right)

One the next infusion--nice and light, to help separate the flavors better, funny how that works--the Jip Eu Rou Gui cinnamon aspect seems even more pronounced, and the roast input eases up.  This still isn't the cinnamon I put in my oatmeal, exactly, but an interesting spice input close enough to that.  Prepared lightly the flavors are still pronounced, and well-balanced, but the liquor-like effect eases up a lot.  The feel is still nice, not at all thin, and a pleasant spice-note effect lingers after you swallow it.

The Teasenz version drifts into an earthier range, picking up woody tones, dark wood, although there is still plenty of cinnamon.  It seems a little early for that standard transition; this isn't the move to a general woodiness lots of teas show when they're towards getting brewed out, I don't think, just a character transition.  The feel is just a little thinner and aftertaste less pronounced than the other Rou Gui but it still comes across as nice tea.

The Tie Luo Han shifts to be more complex.  The bamboo eases up a little and more spice picks up, in between spice and earthiness, or across both.  It's almost moving a little towards that Rou Gui character.  Even brewed lightly the liquor-like aspect is still going on, one version of an "aromatic" versus taste-range characteristic.

More transitions on the next infusion.  The Jip Eu Rou Gui is fading a little, still in that same general range, but roast level / char input dropped way back.  Other than being a little thinner it might be better, depending on preference for or against that.  The cinnamon character is slightly less earthy, a little sweeter and lighter.  Earthiness of the Teasenz version picks up, or really mineral character towards the range of earthiness, in between rock and rust (those types of aspects are typically nicer than they probably sound).  It's not really improving but it's still nice.

The Tie Luo Han moves into an interesting place, with the same aspects falling into a completely different balance.  I was going to do more with subjective impression at the end, how I liked each, but judging only from how the character evolves the Tie Luo Han is clearly the best of these three teas.  It's just as good as it's been all through the infusions, just different, and perhaps balanced even better.

Next infusion--quite a few in--more of the same occurs.  The Jip Eu Rou Gui stays pleasant and positive, just a lot lighter, and thinning, and the Teasenz version retains a late-developed earthiness that isn't so bad for my preference but not exactly an improvement.  The Tie Luo Han stays balanced, complex, sweet, and positive, with that perfume / liquor like range overtaking the bamboo flavor, but it all integrates pretty well, it's a nice range.

This last image might show the brewed color difference better, brewed a bit strong in one infusion to help flavors differences stand out (although in a different sense that works better lighter; brewing a tea stronger helps sort out the range of what's there for aspects, and flaws, and preparation on the lighter side works better for teasing apart sublte flavor components).  The Jip Eu Rou Gui on the right is darker, Tie Luo Han in the middle just a little more golden, and the Teasenz version (left) is a standard reddish brown.  All three would be a slightly reddish gold brewed lightly.

Which ones I liked most

Related to methodology, this three-way comparison review process sort of worked, but seemed to truncate review scope mostly to flavors.  There was just too much going on to map out all the aspects, to focus on feel and aftertaste just as much.  You lose something in writing a description as you taste any tea as it is, it adds a bit of work and noise to the process, too much thinking, and multiple tastings with documented description is pushing it.  Tasting across types, as I did here, can be a trade-off, since it's generally more informative to compare within a narrower range, but sometimes aspect or feel differences really stand out better with a bit of direct contrast as context.

They were all three nice teas, good examples of the complexity and interesting character of different Wuyi Yancha.  The Tie Luo Han probably is the best version in terms of quality level, and showed slightly more refined character, a little more complexity, and it stayed really positive over more infusions.  I do like that flavor set in Rou Gui, the different type of cinnamon, drawing those two closer to even.  I liked the Jip Eu slightly better but both are decent versions of the normal profile, if anything both a little heavier on cinnamon than I typically run across.  Some others would surely be put off by the level of roast in the Jip Eu version but it matched the rest well enough to me.

Cindy's Rou Gui tends to be fruitier (due to processing differences, growing area--I have no idea), but I like hers even better because they're just on a slightly different level.  That's probably more a statement about my own preference than objective quality, but given that they won a local Wuyishan competition for one version recently--judged by the producers themselves--it seems inter-subjective agreement might apply in this case.

I don't intend this judgement part to overshadow that trying a decent, type-correct version of a nice tea type is really the main thing.  You can move on from there to try better and better versions, or appreciate aspects varying to better match your own preference, but it is by no means a given that if you order a tea sold as a good Wuyi Yancha version your experience will match that.  Some taste like roasted cardboard.  If you walk into a completely random shop and buy something that's moderately priced per my past experience you would be very unlikely to try a "good" tea (or "decent," but then I tend to not use those concepts consistently).

I like "decent" teas too, especially when the character is interesting, but all three of these go that next step and taste sort of like the type should.  I'm less familiar with Tie Luo Han so that style judgment is a bit of a guess related to that one, but if it is atypical at least that's in a way that works really well.

Buddhist chanting in Pali, sort of (not about tea)