Thursday, July 20, 2017

Wild unsmoked Lapsang Souchong from Wuyi Origin (Cindy Chen)




Just when I've been feeling a bit burned out on trying different teas, tea research themes, discussion, moderating a tea group, and writing about tea Cindy Chen sent some of my Wuyishan favorites.  Her teas are always some of the best I ever get around to trying.  I think one of her Rou Gui versions and this wild version of Lapsang Souchong may be the two teas I've liked the most of any.  Of course that relates more to a preference match than them being outrageously good teas (I like fruit aspects in teas more than floral tones), but they are exceptional, so I picked one of those to try first.


Don't take my word for it; read up on some Steepster reviews here, or about that Lapsang Souchong version in this review.  Cindy started selling teas online not so long ago, here, with a Facebook page here.  They actually make the teas, so that's an unusual thing, for a tea farmer and processor to set up a web page and direct sales.  It was a step that followed on years of her talking to people online and gradually selling more directly.  I've written lots of reviews of their teas (which include Dan Cong, since she has family in that area too), but just shared some pictures of making them this year, and first wrote an interview post with her about making teas back in 2015.


Tea Explorer photo (credit Jeff Fuchs' Tea and Mountain Journal, from this post)



I remember reading one account of Jeff Fuchs meeting Cindy, himself a familiar name in tea.  His own tea movie is coming out right about now (the Tea Explorer documentary, click to a newer post than this citation to check on that, per that post first airing on television on July 23rd, so worth looking into right away).  His Tea and Mountain site post introduction of Cindy:


...She is in the midst of tea production season and the shift work (fresh tea leaves are impatient fellows) has left its mark on her. She is blearly eyed, clearly ripped on tea, but still as generous and welcoming as a family member...

On this morning Cindy uses a simple white ceramic gai wan or flared cup vessel for ease of examining colour and rapid fire infusions. Rapid fire they are, but with Cindy every serving is something fresh and perfect, though she in all of her modesty claims that she is “only someone who knows tea a little.”

Cindy is made of tea it seems. Rampant energy, talking of nothing else, she knows tea from the soil to the very skin of the leaf and through the various stages it is a subject that is part of her. Her entire family for generations has produced Rock teas...


Cindy!  and tea (my favorite picture of her)




That's her, to me, a bright spirit, kind and humble, while working from a different level of knowledge and experience; something of a tea saint.  That whole passage / article is well worth a read, and that documentary covers part of the living history of tea through the mountains of the great tea road.



Pre-review review review (it's like a stutter)



I never read other reviews of teas before I try them, but I thought to mix it up I'd try that.  If this tea is like the version I tried last year it should be quite fruity as Lapsang Souchong goes, more in the citrus range, with amazing complexity and great balance of aspects beyond that.  From one of those Steepster reviews I just cited, for the same tea I'm about to try (the only one posted for this year's version so far):


Initial taste is a cacophony of fruits. It’s syrupy like fruit punch mix. Important to note, there is no chemical, or artificial taste. The tea soup is viscous. It feels oil like on the tongue. Taste develops into an intense sugarcane, fruity sweetness There’s also a bit of citrus taste in the finish. More shaddock, than, say, lemon. This citrus flavor also comes through on the lips. The finish starts off sweet. That sweetness is joined by an undertone of citrus, and a cool sensation towards the back of the mouth.


I had to look shaddock up; that's another name for pomelo, a type of grapefruit--or similar to a grapefruit, maybe that goes--that's common in Asia.  It's less descriptive than it might seem because there are lots of versions of pomelo, some sweet, some quite sour, some with white-ish flesh (fruit), others more yellow (not exactly yellow; tan, like dried wheat), or red.  Red versions are usually sweet but some yellow ones are too.  As an aside, apparently there are lots of different versions of oranges, grapefruit, bananas, pineapple, and mangos, lots of tropical fruits out there, because we eat different versions of all of those here (even different types of lychee, my favorite).

That's fine for an aside; I'll get on with tasting.

Review


On first sip this tea really meets the expectations.  I totally get what that guy was saying about grapefruit; there is lots of citrus in this but it's not in a typical range for orange.  Then again there are lots of types of oranges too.  I'm not going to have much luck pinning down which type of pomelo this reminds me of but it's not bitter, and has some sweetness, so I suppose closer to a red version.

There is great complexity, it's just not so simple to unpack what's going on.  Saying "mineral" works in general for most kinds of tea but it doesn't describe much.  I wouldn't say the tea is woody but there is an earthiness that's hard to spell out, nothing like wood or peat, not tobacco, out towards cinnamon or dark wood but not so close to either.  The thickness, complexity, and balance makes the tea exceptional.


the tea works well at different strengths



More of the same the next infusion; the balance has transitioned some, but I'll have trouble filling in how, or more specifics.  A citrus element is still the most pronounced aspect but other complexity ramps up.  It's interesting the way the mild malt range identifies this tea as black tea but there is very little astringency along with that, just enough structure to give it a fuller feel.


It could be wrong but I get a sense that stopping short of full oxidation allowed the tea to retain some degree of freshness and vegetal range, just not in any sense of any other tea that's coming to mind.  It's coming across mostly as citrus in terms of flavor, which is really unique, not so much related to her teas but I've not experienced the same degree in other similar versions.


That vegetal range I'm trying to describe is almost below the range of flavor, more exhibited in the feel and general effect of the tea, a hint of the experience of tasting a fresh tea bud or the top of a green wheat plant.  Right, tasting those things just doesn't ever come up.  But if it did there would be a sweet, mild, complex flavor involved that is vegetal but not in the sense of tasting anything like any vegetables.  I suppose some version of an edible flower might be as close as one might get, but who is familiar with the taste of different edible flowers.


There might be a bit of a straightforward floral aspect to this, one that's just not so simple to tease out for the rest of the complexity.  There's a lot going on in the tea, but at the same time the effect is that it's simple, clear and direct, and very clean in effect.  It's the kind of tea some people might not get, it might not match their preferences, and for them it would just taste strange.  But for others this would be an eye-opening experience, exactly the way tea should taste in a better world than this one.  I love fruit aspects in black teas or roasted oolongs so to me it's perfect.

On the next infusion things aren't changing much; the citrus is still wonderfully pronounced, maybe back to closer to where it was on the first infusion in terms of balance though.  Just a trace of woodiness is creeping in; I suppose that will be more pronounced in the next infusion, and will be a significant part of the profile after that.  That mild malt tone ties this tea to the other better Lapsang Souchong that I've tried but it's quite different, except for last year's version of the same thing.  Someone else probably could pin down a floral aspect, more than just saying it's there, and floral.  The sweetness really makes it work well, although it would still be ok if that was less pronounced.

I never really did address the complexity in the tea, to spell that out.  I get the sense different reviewers would pass on all sorts of different lists related to this tea.  So far I've covered citrus, malt, floral, earthiness and vegetal, in the sense an edible flower is that (not so clearly defined, some of those).  That fruit tone might extend into something warmer and deeper, along the lines of a dried longan.  The earthiness I was struggling to pin down is not that far from cocoa.  It would be interesting to hear reads from a couple of my favorite bloggers that tend to extend tasting all the way into the range of imagination.

I never said much about the feel or structure of this tea, the way the "body" aspect worked out.  As with most Chinese black teas it's on the softer side, to the extent that it didn't vary in character that much depending on the infusion strength.  It works well brewed relatively lightly but is fine brewed stronger.  It's hard to completely pin down what the "full feel" aspect range means so I just skip that here.

On the next infusion the tea just thins, but the citrus stays pronounced.  It loses a little for giving up some complexity and fullness but it's still the same amazing tea, four infusions in.  It did make another couple of nice infusions but there isn't much more to say for description.  I was brewing it on the stronger side, related to how light I prepare some teas, since it worked well at different intensities and those flavors were amazing experienced at higher intensity, but the tea really could brew closer to ten infusions if someone liked it prepared lightly instead.  Or a standard Western brewing process would work; the results probably wouldn't change that much for this particular tea, and then it might be back to three or so.  I wouldn't prepare this tea Western style but there's really no reason not to, if someone was more on that page.




Conclusion, and about related tea pricing



This is again one of the best teas I've ever tried.  I'm sure that relates as much to me preferring fruit aspects in teas as much as anything else, but it's also clearly an exceptional tea, not all that similar to any other version I've tried of any others.

A friend just mentioned checking out the Wuyi Origin website, specifically about how much he liked those teas, and we discussed pricing.  That's a subject I normally don't even touch on, more taboo than other taboo subjects for tea bloggers, especially since I consider Cindy a friend (online friend, if that matters, but I will get around to visiting).  I'm not good with observing taboo restrictions so I'll pass on some thoughts.


Some of their prices are higher than they were last year.  I suspect the higher demand for winning some local tea competitions is driving up the prices of some oolongs, the main tea types from Wuyishan.  Per my guess--given that I can't really judge the range of what a lot of other vendors sell--the most costly products on their site are still in the normal retail range, and still a good value for the quality level.  It's easy to see a tea selling for $10-15 for 50 grams on one site as a better value than another described as identical for $15-20 on a second but it really just depends.  The latter could really be a much better value, while the former might not be worth that, if it's mediocre tea, or might not even be all that pleasant to drink if the source choice is random.

A lot of her teas are probably still slightly underpriced, per my guess.

There may be some confusion over what teas would sell for in China versus in "the West," the US or Europe, and although I can't completely do the subject justice I've been to China a couple of times (and twice that if you count Hong Kong, but that's different), so I'll venture a guess.  The selling prices are not so different than in those other places.  Demand for tea is high, and awareness related to tea is better (although the average person isn't a "tea enthusiast," per my take, but that concept wouldn't transfer over directly).  It probably is possible to get great deals on the lower end for inexpensive, low to medium quality teas, especially if someone was interested in putting effort in, visiting wholesale markets, or chasing down more direct sourcing there.  But retail of better teas doesn't relate to selling them for any less, per my limited experience, with some exceptions for what "better" tends to mean, and for different types of sources using different supply chains.



this is really in Seoul, in 2012; my old Google Photo back-ups are patchy



It's important to keep in mind that personal preference is more a factor in how much you'll like a tea than it being a good deal, related to fair market value, or to what another vendor would charge for the same teas.  If you look through those Steepster reviews anyone that mentions cost or value there only does so related to saying that the tea was inexpensive when considered against comparable versions.  If they happened to not prefer a tea style they might not have felt that way; it can be tricky sorting out objective quality level and other factors that go into liking teas.

It would take some doing to sort through all the range of products they make and sell (having family that lives in Chaozhou making Dan Cong adds to that range), but I'd bet some are both unique offerings and great values.  I've not tried her white teas yet but those stood out for looking interesting.


Take all that for what it's worth; I can only share one person's opinion, and I'm biased.  Check out a related Steepster discussion thread too for a broader take, and see what those people say about them.  They don't know her, and aren't having free samples sent to them.




Singing Head, Shoulder, Knees and Toes (not about tea)

Friday, July 14, 2017

SNSS (Bangkok wholesale vendor) Ceylon review





I'm finally reviewing a Ceylon (Sri Lanka black tea) sample from that Bangkok tea expo awhile back, from the SNSS vendor.  They are really a wholesale seller, with more about all that in this post.

It's a bit odd reviewing a tea as "Ceylon," not considering more about sub-region or plantation, similar to reviewing something as a Chinese black tea or Taiwanese oolong; not so descriptive.  It was labeled as OP 1, per my understanding meaning that the leaves aren't very broken.  The vendor knows where it came from, a plantation source, it just wasn't passed on along with that information.

SNSS isn't really a retail sales vendor, and I sort of picked up a sample in passing at the event.  They weren't set up with lots of retail portions there but in retrospect I probably should have pressed to get a bit more tea, not squeezing them for more samples--full disclosure:  they didn't charge me for this--but just to have more to drink.

The tea is probably going to be what I expected, like decent Ceylon, a bit malty, with some astringency but still moderate related to that, etc., so to mix it up I will try it with and without milk.  I don't remember the last time that I tried adding milk to any plain tea (eg. not masala chai), so that will be different for me.




Review


The tea is nice, malty, with a touch of astringency but not too much, with a bit of mineral below that, as expected.  That mineral is the interesting part, hard to pin down.  Another blogger once said Ceylon tastes like blood to her (Amanda of My Thoughts are Like Butterflies, a cool blog), and that might work for a start, but in a nice sense (not how she was using that description).

I would probably just say "mineral" instead, and not get into rocks or bodily fluids for comparison.

A discussion came up about Chinese black teas seeming astringent recently (and malty too), and this tea isn't overly astringent.  Normally it wouldn't cross my mind to add milk or anything else to it.  The sweetness and balance is nice.

Beyond malt, a trace of astringency,  and some mineral there are mild earthy tones adding complexity,  it's just hard defining them since they really don't stand out.  Maybe it's also a touch woody, like cedar or redwood.  That mineral reminds me a little of a struck match too, maybe more so than any kind of rock.  It's odd that I'm saying that the aspects are nice but these specific descriptions don't sound positive.  As much as a tea tasting like blood, a struck match, and a humidor could taste nice this really does; the balance works well, it's clean in effect, with a good level of sweetness.

Tea with milk


On the next infusion I tasted the tea before adulterating it with milk. The mineral taste was a little stronger but otherwise it was the same.  Then I put milk in it.





It tastes like black tea with milk added; a lot less distinct in character.  Maybe I can tell this isn't Lipton but part of that may relate to already knowing that it's not.  It's hard to pick out anything but "black tea with milk."  It's definitely not astringent, but then it wasn't before.  I might as well add sugar at this point but I won't.  I was thinking that I might still be able to detect some of the character, the flavor, in spite of diluting it, but not so much.  It would probably be better brewed stronger than I drink plain teas, and more astringency in the aspects profile might work better, since this might be a bit too soft with the milk added.


That was pointless.  I could swear that I tried relatively decent black tea with milk some years back and liked it better then, but who knows.  That could relate to preference shift, using a different tea, or just bad memory.  I brewed this tea a third time and the results weren't as good as the first two, a bit woody for stretching the infusion time to maintain the infusion strength (using Western parameters), so all typical enough.


work canteen; the view in my tasting room


Conclusion


I should have more of this tea to keep drinking it.  I liked it better than any green tea I've been trying (my least favorite type), to put it on a scale, but it doesn't match my preferences as well as most Chinese or Taiwanese black teas.  For novelty I'd probably enjoy some more than mid-grade Chinese tea types that match my preference for type better, I just wouldn't want to drink a lot of it.  I could really enjoy 50 grams for trying something different, but 100 would probably stick around awhile, and if I had 200 I'd probably end up giving some away.  I guess it could work well as a breakfast tea, so maybe not.  It's the right aspects range for that time of day, and it's nice having teas that aren't challenging for then, something I don't really feel a need to gongfu brew and focus on for an hour.  Apparently I'm not so into black tea with milk, so maybe I'd stick to drinking it plain instead.


These guys are local but since they're set up for wholesale vending in order to run across more I'll have to arrange to meet them instead of drifting into a shop somewhere.  They import the tea themselves, so there is more information about the sources available.  They bought this directly from a plantation, per my understanding.


I've tried silver tips and gold tips from them too, so they also do carry some more interesting teas, but they do more with supplying local shops with more standard versions.  It works out to be a relatively unique option here since I only know of one other vendor selling better Ceylon in Bangkok, and at a guess they would probably sell a tea that is nearly identical to this one for a lot more.  But then that's how sales from different types of suppliers tends to go.


doing crazy eyes


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Wuyi Yancha comparison, two Bei Dou and a Huang Mei Gui


I'm reviewing two of the Teasenz Wuyi Yancha samples they sent with the last tea I ordered.  I don't remember trying a Huang Mei Gui version before (also called Yellow Rose), although that doesn't rule out that I have.  Bei Dou I've tried a little of (with another review of one of these versions here); basically it's a cultivar type derived from cuttings of original Da Hong Pao plants, or something along those lines.  The version I'm comparing these other two teas with is from Jip Eu, a Bangkok Chinatown shop.

I'll reverse the typical sequence and add a little more about what Huang Mei Gui is first, then get into tasting review.  Let's start with Wikipedia's take:


Huang Meigui (Chinese: 黃玫瑰; pinyin: huáng méiguī; pronounced [xwǎŋ měi.kwéi]) is a very new Wuyi oolong tea, developed c. 2002. It has a highly aromatic fragrance and a lighter floral taste than most other Wuyi oolongs.  The colour of the steeped leaves is a very light green, much greener than other Wuyi teas.


That last part would tend to relate mainly to processing variances, one might think, not to plant type factors, but there could be something to it related to a more conventional preparation.


A random vendor, Verdant, adds this about their own version:

The Li Family's careful roasting brings out the wonderful balance of floral and savory that this varietal exemplifies. The earthy notes of taro and sweet corn meld with rose and jasmine in a way reminiscent of Turkish Delight candies.


I've already tasted this version and it wasn't like that.  It's interesting that these two type descriptions vary, not completely contradicting but not so similar.  Another one of my favorite blogs just reviewed this tea, My Thoughts are Like Butterflies:

So, if you were ever curious what eating raisin bread covered in honey while sitting next to a bowl of blooming orchids and plumeria tasted like, then good news, you can find out with this tea! It is impressively floral for a Yancha, not quite at Dancong levels, but certainly close, with an intense nectar like sweetness... Yanchas as a whole can be pretty intense, even when brewed lightly, but this one was almost delicate.


The review part will get to comparing my impression with hers, since this is the same tea.  Our takes never completely match, and she seems to have a more colorful and detail-oriented take on description, but the few times I've compared my reviews against hers for the same teas the general impression matches up, even if some details don't.  Let's also check with the vendor, Teasenz:

Huang Mei Gui (Yellow Rose): light roast. this oolong has a very unique floral aroma that evolves after every brew. It becomes sweeter, steep after steep.


This tea was part of a sampler set they offer, designed to let people try different Wuyi Yancha versions.  I won't be able to judge how true to type this one is but I can definitely pass on an impression.


The review notes are finished, in a relatively complete draft form, so none of this was going to change my impression.  Reading any description before trying a tea tends to shift things a little but I went into this only with the expectations related to being familiar with one of the teas, and it didn't taste much like I remembered it, which is covered in the following.


Jip Eu Bei Dou left, Tesenz Bei Dou top, Huang Mei Gui right

Review:


The Jip Eu Bei Dou tastes a bit coffee-like.  It's not the most fair version of it for comparison since I'm tasting the last of this bag, which included some quite broken tea, and that will probably pull the flavor range in a less positive direction, or at least change it.  That aspect might ease up a bit after this first infusion, which is more a rinse, but it's not really negative as it stands, just not how I remember it.  That coffee taste isn't as pronounced as actually drinking coffee, of course, more off to the side of cocoa and some bark spice, a bit interesting.  This tea isn't like I remember it, possibly also related to aging effect, since I last reviewed well over a year ago (the same leaves, not a different version).  Aging could dissipate the flavors or it could conceivably change, or even improve.  I won't comparison review it against that earlier impression, though, just describe the tea.


The Teasenz Bei Dou is also roasted a good bit, still medium though; the first aspects that comes across are in between a light char and dark caramel.  It's still probably going to be fine but that range could make picking out other subtle flavor aspects harder.  It seems lighter than the Jip Eu version, with an interesting undertone going on, maybe towards roasted almonds or chestnut, or perhaps just along that line.  Using a medium to darker roast is sometimes an intentional style preparation, per my understanding, that some people prefer heavier roasts, and some tea types lend themselves more to that than others.  But others see it as a flaw in a tea, either a processing mistake, a technique used to cover other flaws, or just a style they don't prefer.  Let's check a short Teasenz (vendor description) take on it:


Bei Dou Yi Hao (North Star): a light roast yancha characterised by a fruity aroma.


Per my understanding particular aspects like fruit tones versus other types can vary for the exact same tea prepared in the exact same way year to year, shifting based on what the tea plants experience as they grow.



The Teasenz Huang Mei Gui is also on the medium roasted side, not exactly light, but not heavy; all three of these will be in a similar range at least.  I tried a sample of another Wuyi Yancha version recently that seemed both light on roast and even a bit light on oxidation, so in a completely different range, and maybe that's shifted my expectations a little.  Maybe all of these don't seem as "green" and light roasted as if I'd been drinking some charred teas instead.

Maybe eventually I'll get around to saying more about that other tea I just mentioned; I have another sample of it.  It works well to not try completely different teas in a comparison tasting anyway; the contrast can be interesting but it really doesn't help with tasting.  Anyway, this version is a bit earthier, with more of a bark spice component to it, along the lines of dark wood.


Editing note:  so this is not so close to the other descriptions of this tea type so far, even though two of those were of the exact same tea version.  That can happen.


Jip Eu Bei Dou left, Teasenz Bei Dou middle, Teasenz Huang Mei Gui right


Second infusion


This is really the first real infusion, since I tend to use the first one as a long rinse.

The Jip Eu Bei Dou has cleaned up a little in profile, but using more broken leaves seems to be affecting it.  The coffee aspect has dropped back a bit but the general earthiness remains.  It still has spice tones to it making it interesting.  I remember this tea as being unique for balancing aromatic and flavor range aspects well (close to the same thing, but different), and it still does have a nice balance to it.  It comes across as more roasted than I remember it, maybe from using broken leaves, which would change the aspects present.  It's still a very nice version of a Wuyi Yancha, just not quite as exceptional as I remember, since it was one of the best I'd ever tried, per that earlier impression.


The Teasenz Bei Dou is picking up an unusual flavor aspect, a bit towards cardboard (but it sounds nicer to say wood, and that really would work instead).  In general that's a negative thing, a part of a less clean flavor experience, but it's not terrible in this, just not necessarily positive, and taking up flavor space where something more positive might be.  The level of roast has settled a little and it has good richness and fullness in flavor range, and beyond that one aspect is pleasant and positive.  It is a bit more aromatic than some versions of Wuyi Yancha, which I understand to be characteristic of the type.  That range comes across as more a liquor-like experience to me, in this case maybe in the range of cognac more than perfume.  It's still a relatively clean tasting experience, just not ideal due to that one trace aspect, which may well essentially drop out in transitioning.  It has some sweetness that helps it strike a nice balance.


The Teasenz Huang Mei Gui is moving off in a different direction, a good bit earthier, but more along the lines of roasted chestnut still (more like chestnut than almond, as it progresses).  It's a cool effect, and pleasant, although I suppose I would like it just a little more if I liked chestnuts better.  I absolutely love the idea of roasted chestnuts, and the scent, the flavor is just a bit so-so for me.  In addition to the earthiness being a bit like a bark spice or dark wood this has a bit of root spice depth to give it more complexity.  It's all much cleaner in effect than that flavors list would sound, more subtle, lighter and sweeter, but still complex.


3rd infusion


These should all level off roughly to where they'll be in this round, and then maybe just decline from here.  I'm using a relatively high proportion of tea to water, even for Gongfu brewing, because they were small samples so it wouldn't work well to split them up.  It's more than necessary for one infusion but a little light for two, so I just went heavy on all three, which matched how much of the one Bei Dou I had left anyway.


Jip Eu Bei Dou:  this is a really nice tea, with a good balance of aspects.  The coffee aspect has leveled off but it's still driving an earthy side of range that balances with other aromatic elements, all clean in effect, working well together.  It's not as mind blowing as I remember it but it's quite good.


Teasenz Bei Dou:  this tea is probably suffering from being compared directly to that other Bei Dou, which is one of the nicer Wuyi Yancha examples I've ran across, even if it has lost a little for being tasted as the roughed up end of the bag.  It's nice, balanced, complex, and clean in effect, with some nuttiness and plenty of aromatic range.  It's just that the one hint of cognac traces over into either wood or cardboard, not as clean in effect as the other tea.

On it's own it would probably seem a lot more exceptional for the strengths.  It's probably a touch more aromatic than the other Bei Dou, so "how good" in comparison might relate on preference for that too.  I tend to like either less aromatic or more balanced teas, not more aromatic, but others could easily go the other way on that.  It's why I was never really taken by Cindy's Qi Lan versions even though for some others they would be the best of what she makes and sells, and potentially absolutely amazing teas, if that's what someone liked best in Wuyi Yancha character.  This tea is the lightest of the three teas, which I can appreciate in how the style worked out, it just traces into one aspect range that isn't as pleasant along with carrying a lot of other range that works really well.


Teasenz Hang Mei Gui:  fading just a little, although I'm still using quite short infusion times, so it would be easy to compensate by lengthening that to draw out another two or three infusions.  The range is similar, earthy, with roasted chestnut fading a little, more of just a balance of different things going on now.  It's more complex than I'm really going to be able to describe; it might be floral tones filling in that background, but it's hard to sort out.  To put a name to that spice that picked up in this infusion, it's like cinnamon, not as edgy as Rou Gui cinnamon can be or as smooth as cinnamon in apple pie comes across but still cinnamon.

Altogether it's good; clean in effect, the level of roast works, with that dark caramel / toffee sweetness present in all of them maybe a little more pronounced in this one.  I'll let these go a little longer on the next infusion to see what that changes and that will be it for reviewing.



she sings happy birthday (but I didn't do much with pictures of these teas)

Fourth infusion:


"Longer" in this infusion is still around a minute, just to be clear.  From here it would work to push that out to a minute and a half but woodiness would probably increase.  I suppose some people would just call it quits instead; that would depend on preference.


Jip Eu Bei Dou:  the toffee element picked up a lot from the longer time; it's nice.  There's a trace of the coffee and cocoa from earlier but it's softened up, and it never had been murky in any way.  This will probably make another really nice infusion since this flavors balance is working so well this way.  It's a little woody but with toffee, coffee and cocoa on top of that, hinting a little towards spice, with a bit of aromatic range off to the side--more like a coffee liqueur in this than cognac, where the other Bei Dou falls instead--it's still quite good.


Teasenz Bei Dou:  this tea is still one component aspect away from being a fantastic tea.  Drop out the cardboardy overtone to the congnac aromatic range, filled in by very mild earthiness and limited dark wood / spice range, with a bit of toffee, and this would be great.  As it is it still works well.  Even just not tasting it alongside a relatively similar tea without that would help; it makes it stand out.  All three of these are pretty good teas, really.

Lighter Wuyi Yancha can pick up a greener wood tone that's unusual for a background context, and this has a little of that, I suppose not unrelated to what I'm describing, or maybe I'm just reading that in this way.  It's a bit hard to describe what green wood is like.  If you went out and bit into a half dozen live twigs it probably would be a good bit like one of them.  I was never tasting twigs that much--but then I was a strange child, so maybe a little--but I cut and split a lot of firewood as a child, maybe more than Abraham Lincoln, and played in trees, and did some construction.  It was a strange childhood, with lots of wood around.  Now that I think back this slight funkiness in this tea might remind me a little of playing on an old sawdust pile, a remnant of a sawmill operation on our property from a distant past (probably only a few decades back, but who knows).  Aging, fermenting sawdust piled up to about half the size of a small house has a great smell, really, but it's a slight stretch of range for tea.


Teasenz Huang Mei Gui:  this tea is fading faster than the others, for whatever reason, with the earlier character unchanged otherwise.  Part of that could relate to just being more subtle.  It's still nice but it's thinning quite a bit.  It can make another infusion but it will just be thinner, and doubling infusion time will ramp up strength but it won't get the most positive character back.  Four infusions for this type of tea isn't bad, but the Jip Eu tea did hold up a lot better, odd given how broken those leaves were.


Conclusion


All of these were nice.  The Jip Eu was my favorite, even diminished for using the last broken leaves of it.  The Teasenz versions were not far behind, better than they probably sound in comparison.  Wuyi Yancha comes in a range of types of aspects and quality levels (most teas do, some less varied than others), and being in the upper-middle of that range is a good thing.  Per my understanding these aren't being sold as "teas that never make it out of China" quality level, so they're fine for what they're represented as, decent versions, interesting, positive and unique teas.  I'm not so familiar with the Huang Mei Gui but I suspect they're relatively true to the standard types, which is kind of important given the point is trying those related to being sold as a sampler set.

A couple of years ago when I was just getting into better versions of Wuyi Yancha they would have seemed more exciting, now kind of becoming more of the same.  I suppose Cindy's teas have been spoiling me.  Tea can be like that; preferences can shift, but even beyond all that you can sort of end up chasing the dragon related to trying better and better types and seeking out new experiences.  That can work out well if you keep trying better versions, since the teas can just keep improving.  All three of these are a step or two above anything mid-range that you randomly run across, a lot better than teas sold out of large jars.

That cycle of moving expectations I mentioned is probably one part of why people tend to naturally drift to pu'er as more of a preference end-point; with aging differences the same exact teas will keep evolving, and the range in those types is broad, and the experience can extend well out of taste / flavor range.  I'd want to keep drinking some Wuyi Yancha since it's still a favorite type.  But now it's a favorite among other favorites instead, and even interesting, good versions can seem a bit more ordinary, as if I just expect the teas to be that good.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Fluoride in tea: good or bad; how much is too much?


Someone asked this question on Steepster, if fluoride in tea is a good thing or a concern.  I took a look around about that, and I'll use a blog post to share what turned up.

It comes up that taking in some amounts of fluoride could be too much, and as with everything else discussion of what level is a health risk varies.  So it seems that the fluoride in tea would either be a very good thing or a bad thing depending on how much fluoride someone is already taking in, perhaps mostly through treated water.  Lets get to reviewing that.


The approach here is to review the following:


-what is the recommended intake range of fluoride, and how much would be too much?

-how much fluoride would people ingest through that added to municipal water?  I don't think it's added here in Bangkok, where I live, but I'll still look into that.

-how much is in different types of tea?

-where does that all leave us, is it probably good or not, or is there potential risk in some cases?


the happy side of fluoride (image credit)


Someone interested in the short version could skip ahead to the conclusion section, since all of this gets a bit complicated, and the conclusions summarize all the rest.



This post doesn't really focus on the effects of taking in too much fluoride, which I completely left out of a first version, but here is a relatively short description of that from an EPA reference document:


Adults exposed to excessive consumption of fluoride over a lifetime may have increased likelihood of bone fractures, and may result in effects on bone leading to pain and tenderness. For effects to teeth, children are most likely to be affected by excessive exposure to fluoride because it impacts teeth while they are still in formative phases. Children aged 8 years and younger exposed to excessive amounts of fluoride have an increased chance of developing pits in the tooth enamel, along with a range of cosmetic effects to teeth. For prevention of tooth decay, the beneficial effects of fluoride extend throughout the life span. 


So fluoride is a good thing, in the right amount.  In the first version of this post I didn't include any reference to how rare this condition is, but I'll add that here, cited from this research paper source:


In the USA, the prevalence of dental fluorosis appears to be increasing. In children aged 15–17 years, the 1999–2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found 40.6% had very mild or greater enamel fluorosis, up from 22.6% in the 1986–1987 study (fig. 3)...

The incidence of very mild and greater fluorosis in persons aged 6–39 years was 19.79% in white non-Hispanics, 32.88% in black non-Hispanics, and 25.8% in Hispanics (table 3). The increased prevalence of fluorosis in black non-Hispanics may suggest a genetic influence on fluorosis susceptibility.


In that paper cases of severe fluorosis are cited as the following percentages:




There seems a good chance that only "moderate / severe" cases might be recognizable related to the most negative effects, which on that table only relates to 1.81 to 4.03% of the people studied (which is still higher than I would have expected).


Research on how much fluoride is good or bad for you


A general medical site like WebMD is good for listing some basic starting point information, perhaps if not for serving as a final word on a subject, so let's check an excerpt there:




Clear enough?  I'll summarize:  they recommend you take in 3 mg. / day for women and 4 mg. / day for men, but not more than 10 mg. per day for either.  Those levels are much lower for children.

It's clear in that post that the risk relates to long term consumption levels, since it says that fluoride is used to treat osteoporosis at a dosage of 15 to 20 mg per day, up to double the limit for long term exposure.  It makes you wonder how that's going to work out related to other findings, the amounts in water, which should be easy to figure out given that typical range of .7 to 1.2 ppm.

I never do get around to reviewing the input of toothpaste here; that might be limited factor, even if you do spit it out.  It's interesting that fluoride is part of more than one compound, in that last citation sentence; that's something else I won't review.


A nice summary reference by the EPA covers similar range.  I'll check that against another better source of input (or one that might be better), a research paper entitled "Chronic Fluoride Toxicity: Dental Fluorosis," which lists how much fluoride is safe, it just takes some looking around to find it:


Prevention of Dental Fluorosis:  Dental fluorosis can be limited or prevented by following the ‘recommended limits for fluoride exposure’, suggested by US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) [20]. The reference dose suggested by USEPA is 0.06 mg fluoride/kg/ day, which is the estimate of daily exposure that is likely to be without any appreciable risk of deleterious effects (any degrees of dental fluorosis) during a lifetime...


I weigh around 70 kilograms (just under 160 pounds) and that comes out to a limit of 4.2 mg. per day.  That's quite a bit less than the 10 gm/day limit WebMD listed.


Let's check one of those health-risk-warning type sites (Fluoride Alert), and see if they're saying the same thing:


The current “safe” daily dose for fluoride fails to withstand scrutiny: The Institute of Medicine (IOM) states that anyone over 8 years of age — irrespective of their health condition — can safely ingest 10 milligrams of fluoride each day for their entire life without developing symptomatic bone damage. Ten milligrams, however, is the same dose that the IOM concedes can cause clinical signs of skeletal fluorosis within just 10 to 20 years of exposure...   

Some people are particularly susceptible to fluoride toxicity: It is well known that individual susceptibility to fluoride varies greatly across the population...

...The margin between the toxic and therapeutic dose is very narrow: The NRC concluded that the allegedly “safe” upper limit of fluoride in water (4 mg/l) is toxic to human health. 


If someone drank two liters of water per day that 4 mg/l would put them at 8 mg/day, which this is saying is toxic.  The main reason here seems to tie back to people's tolerance varying, more than that some people might manage to drink over 2 1/2 liters of treated water a day.

It's possible that both of these sources are interpreting risks on the higher side as assessed by conventional wisdom, but worth keeping in mind that that 4 mg/l level is still quite a bit over the .7-1.2 mg/l cited as a conventional range by WebMD (over three times that higher limit).  It had been cited as ppm there (parts per million) but they work out to be the same thing, based on the miracle of the metric system, and related to a milliliter of water weighing a gram.


Checking back in with that "Chronic Fluoride Toxicity" paper, lets see what levels they claim is in municipal water:


In the USA, approximately 10 million people are exposed to naturally fluoridated public water. In 1993, it was reported that 6.7 million people drank water with fluoride concentrations ≤1.2 mg/l, 1.4 million drank water with 1.3–1.9 mg/l fluoride, 1.4 million drank water with fluoride between 2.0 and 3.9 mg/l and 200,000 people ingested water with fluoride concentrations ≥4.0 mg/l [16]. Some areas have extremely high concentrations of fluoride in drinking water – such as in Colorado (11.2 mg/l), Oklahoma (12.0 mg/l), New Mexico (13.0 mg/l) and Idaho (15.9 mg/l) [9]... 


If that really is right drinking one liter of water in those last three states (in the right locations) would be too much fluoride.  It makes you wonder why that data is from 24 years ago; this paper was published in 2011.  One reason could be a comprehensive study is available from then, or they could be picking data that matches the highest risk, trying to discuss a worst case.  It's seems quite possible those samples relate to untreated sampled water, to well water and spring water sources, and if so in most cases people may still be drinking that same water that includes those same levels of fluoride.


WHO risk map of local water source fluoride levels (image source)



The research says 2/3rds of all water is treated to within that typical range (under 1.2), with three levels above that, although only 200,000 people are exposed to concentrations over 4 mg / liter.


This is going to be tricky to summarize related to tea input as a good or bad thing, since some people could already be taking in too much fluoride from a water source.  It will work better to say how much is fine for people not taking in fluoride from treated water, or how it works for people within that standard range.


If someone drank two liters of water per day (a bit over 8 cups, a standard amount for a total) treated to 1.2 mg per liter (the standard level) then they'd be at 2.4 milligrams intake per day.

That's perhaps not at risk yet, but getting most of a recommended daily dose.  Again I never will get around to considering how it works with toothpaste as adding exposure to fluoride here, or other potential sources.


For some people this may not be enough background yet, and I'd recommend checking on this reference:  Fluoride in Drinking Water: A Scientific Review of EPA’s Standards.  The short version:  they don't recommend continuous exposure to water sources at 4 mg/liter, even though they state the risks would be higher for a limited number of more sensitive individuals at that level.  The paper clarifies that all cases of municipal water fluoride content higher than 1.2 mg/l are relating to natural levels being higher from local contaminants (it can occur as a natural mineral in rocks).

Interpreted further, if levels higher than 4 mg/liter are occurring naturally they are either recommending or requiring that local water authorities treat those sources to reduce the levels, as described in that EPA reference:


A very small proportion of the public water systems nationwide have exceeded the drinking water standard for fluoride. In these cases, the high level of fluoride is generally the result of natural background resulting from the geologic composition of local soils and bedrock. When routine monitoring indicates that fluoride levels are above the MCL of 4 mg/L, the public water system must take steps to reduce the amount of fluoride so that it is below that level. 


Drinking private well or spring water sources would be a different subject; people would only know about that exposure if their water had been tested.


Fluoride level in tea


Finally!  This reference looks reasonable, "Fluoride Content in Tea and Its Relationship With Tea Quality" (there's a paper listing here or a Scribd upload here).  To keep this moving let's go straight to a table of measured results:




So the point there wasn't discussing fluoride as a good or bad thing, hence that paper title, but we can apply the results towards that anyway.  Old leaves contain a lot more fluoride; who knew.  At first I was reading this related to hei cha / pu'er aging, and wondering how the tea was picking up so much extra fluoride later during storage, but of course they're referring to plucking standards instead, using smaller, younger leaves towards the end of the branch versus older leaves lower on the branches.


Before we get to considering how much fluoride you would end up drinking one might wonder how this compares with using buds instead, which is on this table:




To rough out some of what this means, we're seeing a lower range of fluoride around 100-300 mg/kg for the second and third leaves, even lower for a bud and first leaf.  Fourth through sixth leaf levels are still lower than many in that prior "old leaves" table, which ranged from 500 mg/kg up to 2000, with some grouping in the middle, around 1200 or so.


There's one more hurdle before we can do the simple multiplication step:  these tables are measuring fluoride in fresh leaves, and I've just referenced how much dry tea someone might drink.  We need to factor the water removed from fresh leaves during processing back out first.  That would be easy, if I already knew how the relative weights of fresh and processed leaves compare, and I have heard that before, but it didn't stick.

Per this reference (a River Tea vendor article) fresh tea leaves contain 70 to 80% water, and per this World of Tea blog article reference processed dry tea contains 2 to 3 % moisture.  At the risk of completely botching conversion dry tea might well weigh one fourth what initial fresh leaves do, if around 75% of the weight in water is removed.  I just asked someone who just made some batches of tea (in Spain, a long story) and she confirmed that dry tea weight versus fresh leaves can vary from one fourth to one third original weight, per her experience, which does vary based on different factors.


Editing note:  after checking with a tea producer in Wuyishan prepared teas can be reduced by 80-90% of original fresh leaf weight, which again depends on tea type and other factors.  The calculations following will be revised to multiply fresh tea levels by four to estimate prepared tea fluoride levels, a conservative estimate based on these inputs (a multiplier of 5 would be more correct based on only this input).


Or, alternatively, there is a table in that study measuring fluoride present in dry, prepared tea leaves. But what fun is that compared to sorting through how it should work out in theory (and the subject comes up again in evaluating these results against the range of what is possible in other tea types not listed):


already processed dry tea amounts measurements



An average amount doesn't exactly jump out, but 50 to 60 mg/kg might be a typical range for grade 1 or 2, with plenty of outliers on either side.  Fujian oolong runs a bit higher, 100 to 150 instead, with green teas lower for most, 60 or less, but one set of Zhejang green tea samples is in that range too.

It won't be so easy to translate this to what someone drinks in a day, or to account for absorption rates, etc.  To simplify things let's just assume someone will take in all the fluoride present.  Pointing out a range of how much tea someone can drink in a day is problematic, even a working estimate.  Let's say that 5 grams of dry tea can brew a good bit, a few cups, and people wouldn't tend to drink more than two or three times that, so a higher working range of 10 to 20 grams per day will do.

20 grams of dry tea a day is an awful lot, of course, but some people would get there, so we could use that as an upper limit, with 10 grams a day serving as a more reasonable substantial habit.


Fluroride levels in prepared (dry) tea calculation



Let's check on total fluoride based on some earlier estimates, using 20 grams per day at 60 mg. / kg:

20 grams dry tea X 60 mg fluoride / 1000 grams fresh leaves  =  1.2 milligrams


Not so bad, especially given that was drinking a lot of tea.  Some finished tea samples double that measured amoung, up to 2.4 mg / day instead, but even that level seems fine, unless someone was already taking a lot in from treated water.

The highest levels on that finished tea chart leveled off around 200 mg/kg (with one outlier at 252), which would bring daily fluoride consumption based on 20 grams of tea per day to 4 milligrams instead.  That's still a very safe amount, unless someone is taking in that much fluoride from water sources as well, and that's still within the WebMD guideline range (8 mg versus a 10 mg recommended limit).


Calculations related to higher fresh tea levels:



Lets check out how that works out with the fresh leaves calculation, to see where this stands related to leaf inputs.


Down at the 100 mg/ kg fluoride to fresh tea leaves level (see the last round of charts), if someone consumed 20 grams of dry leaves per day it would work out like this:


20 grams dry tea X 4 gm fresh leaves / 1 gm of dry leaf  X 100 mg. fluoride / 1000 gm fresh leaves


Equals 8 milligrams of fluoride, consumed per day.  That person in the example was drinking a lot of tea (20 grams); drinking 10 mg. of tea per day resulting in 4 mg. / day might be more sensible.

The reason that number jumped was because of the assumed much higher level of fluoride in a tea prepared from fresh leaves.  Here I used a multiple of 4 (dry tea weighing one third the fresh leaf weight) but note that none of the prepared leaves amounts on the third table actually measured at 400 mg fluoride / kgm of prepared (dry) leaves; all were below that, with only one sample measured around 250 and three around 200.


It seems that only younger leaves are being used to make teas, related to data in the fresh leaf samples and these measured finished tea results.  It's conceivable that fluoride could have been removed somehow in processing (eg. there was more in stems measured in the other set, which were sorted out), but it seems like the plucking standard--using younger leaves--is the likely explanation for the difference.


That last calculation was still on the low side related to the oldest leaf fluoride measurements though.  For "old leaves" 1000 mg / kg of fresh leaves was still moderate, so based on the same calculation as the last one that bumps daily fluoride intake to 40 to 80 mg / day, way over safe limits.

It is quite conceivable that a different tea type than those tested could contain much higher amounts of fluoride.


Research paper on fluoride measured in prepared Indian tea



It would be nice to review a paper testing amounts of fluoride measured in some prepared teas, to make sure these conclusions didn't miss something, and one did turn up:

Estimation of fluoride concentration in tea infusions, prepared from different forms of tea, commercially available in Mathura city


The numbers cited in that study are a great match for the others reviewed, including this clear summary of where it all stands, and what I might have missed:


It is important to note that the availability of F− for consumption is not only from drinking water but also from other sources such as diet, dairy products like milk, fruits and vegetables, beverages like tea and coffee, etc., This means that the beneficial or detrimental effect of F− will depend upon the total consumption from all sources taken together.

This table summarizes their test findings:




Nothing too scary in that, but it would be possible for someone to drink more than a liter of tea in a day.  In the earlier estimates someone drinking liquid prepared from over 10 mg of dry tea almost certainly would be.  One part of the conclusions states:  Indian population usually consumes on an average 150-200 ml of tea/day; not much compared to what I have with breakfast.

They are concluding this level of fluoride is probably generally more positive than negative, typically a beneficial supplement rather than a risk.  One fifth of this highest measured level (relating to 200 ml) is still around .76 mg of fluoride, not so much, and drinking a whole liter is far from a health risk given the entire testing range is still under 4 grams for that.


Conclusions:  summary of findings


That seems like a complete enough review based only on those inputs.  Here is a summary of it all.


Range of fluoride level (recommended versus at risk):

-recommended intake, 3 to 4 mg/day (perhaps not universally accepted; that's a "Web MD" reference)

-at-risk range, as low as 4 mg/day, maybe as high as 10 mg/day for a standard limit; individual tolerance and reactions vary (with a limit really relating to amount per body weight, not a simple measurement)



Range of fluoride level input already in municipal drinking water:

-2.4 milligrams per day (based on highest range of typical level, at 2 liters consumption per day)

-much higher in some locations if local contaminant sources (amount present as a natural mineral) is not treated and removed.


Some people could already be taking in too much fluoride from water, but only in cases where it's a natural contaminant, since the added municipal water level limit of 1.2 mg/liter is relatively safe.

The amount used as a universal control limit for municipal water could be clearer; the past control limit of 4 mg/liter may no longer be accepted as standard guidance.


Range of fluoride level in tea:


-an Indian research study found measured prepared tea levels in the range of 1 to 3.8 mg/liter of prepared tea.  That study assumes people would typically drink well under a liter per day (true for most people, I guess).

-working from measured dry tea levels is not a simple calculation, but perhaps 1.2 - 2.4 mg/day could be ingested based on consuming 20 mg dry tea per day per one study findings (a lot of tea).  At the highest prepared tea recorded levels in one cited study that could relate to 4 mg fluoride intake per day.   

-that total could be much higher if old leaves are used as tea source (fifth leaf on branch average is five times as high; older leaves content can be 10 to 20 times that high)

-potential consumption could be 40 to 80 mg/day for consuming tea sourced only from old leaves (based on that research data and some assumptions, and 10 - 20 mg of dry tea consumed per day).  That's a lot higher than what is considered long-term safe levels, but none of the measured finished tea levels were anywhere near that.  It seems possible that causes that offset produced tea fluoride levels versus measured fresh tea leaf amounts for the oldest leaves weren't taken into account.


Final conclusions


So most people are probably safe enough, related to tea being a primary source of fluoride.  An easy option to reduce fluoride intake is to drink better tea, those sourced from buds and smaller leaves versus older leaves.

It seems possible that something was missed in this related to very low grades of tea, perhaps for tea produced in other countries, or versions of hei cha made more typically from older leaves instead.  I'm reminded of a comment by a tea vendor from Turkey saying instead of the plucking standard there relating to use of a leaf and two buds it was more like using the first foot or two of a branch.  Maybe that was just a joke.

Comments in that Steepster thread discussion and in this one in Tea Chat both mentioned some types of hei cha are known for containing relatively high fluoride levels, but I found no references to put numbers to that.  If those do relate to the "old leaves" measured quantities in one study cited there could be some risk related to regular consumption.  Otherwise the risk of consuming fluoride in tea seems limited, even for drinking lots of tea, unless other sources already elevate the amounts consumed.

The normal municipal water level should be safe (1.2 mg/l or less), even combined with substantial tea consumption.  Ironically the most risk might come from using spring or well water sources where natural levels of fluoride aren't monitored and happen to be high (shown in that area risk map).