Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tea group buying & the Sheng Olympiad: an interview with Andrew Richardson

I’ve not written about this topic before, non-standard tea sourcing.  A blog post citation from Cwyn's Death by Tea identifies the background:

More and more tea heads on vacation trips are dragging home kilos of tea they tested and bought for friends back home... The forums are full of people now offering to do group buys from numerous sources, employing their own sets of connections…
So, a new wrench for vendors to contend with is non-professionals selling to peers, directing their tea budgets away from current vendors. Furthermore, the line between professional and re-sale is blurry. If honesty and truth are really what buyers want, the non-pros might have an advantage. And who knows when the day will come when tea farmers decide to get into the action themselves, and sell online to the highest bidder.

A friend was a part of blurring that line, buying kilos of hard to get Nepalese tea both to drink and sell.  Now there are now more tea suppliers from that origin.  My favorite tea farmer, Cindy Chen, in Wuyishan, is part of the last trend mentioned, opening a sales website very recently, selling directly from the grower and processer, her family.

Group buys are another interesting part of the story.  Andrew Richardson is part of that, owner of Liquid Proust teas , who is quite active on Steepster.  One of his endeavors has been to create and sell very novel blends, like French Toast Dian Hong, or Rummy Pu [alcohol infused pu’er], which is really a separate story.  He also conducts a non-commercial group buy for sheng pu’er, the Sheng Olympiad (see more on both in this blog site). 

More about that project follows, explained through an interview format.

Can you say a little about the Sheng Olympiad?

The Sheng Olympiad is a yearly event that I put together for the online community to have an enriched experience and access to rare/exclusive raw puerh. I do this as someone who is passionate about community and I see a huge potential for people to come together over something as complex as puerh. The Sheng Olympiad isn’t just about shared bulk purchase of good teas. For example: During February 2016, I was talking to White2Tea and Crimson Lotus Tea to produce the exclusive material to be ready for that December. At the same time, I was working with Bitterleaf Teas to help provide some awareness as they were quite new to being an online puerh vendor. Lastly, to provide that rare aspect, I secured the last of Tea Urchin’s 2012 spring Bang Dong cakes so it could be enjoyed by many before disappearing. There will always be a theme focus because The Sheng Olympiad is to be as educational as enjoyable, and while it may be curated by me the discussions that revolve around the tea are the end goal.

Sheng is known as one of the least approachable teas, related to adjusting expectations and preferences to the style, finding good versions, and also to being touchier about brewing.  At the same time it is commonly experienced as an end-point tea type preference.  How does this work out related to participants experiencing a learning curve?

Actually, it’s quite beautiful how this handled. Since this project has a lot of support from those participate, I end up answering almost no questions because people are connecting with one another as they share tips, give suggestions, and ask questions of one another. With that being said, I myself am constantly learning as I read the conversations happen and that brings joy.

Sheng pu’er is actually a diverse version of tea related to styles, regions, aspects, and types, isn’t it?  How do you address that in the buy?

Each year I have an educational goal in mind. For 2016, I decided I wanted a solid production of a specific region spanning over years for participates to taste the differences. What ended up being used was a 2005, 2009, and 2015 spring material from YouLe; the 2005 and 2010 are both from Hai Lang Hao and 2015 was the first time in 10 year that they pressed a YouLe cake. For 2017 I chose the Bang Dong and in 2018 it will be Jingmai. Eventually I would like to do some ‘storage wars’, but for now focusing on harvest time and region seems to be working wonderfully.

Is there a core message you would like to pass on to a non-tea drinker? 

There’s no better time than now. First thing I always tell someone is to join the community. There’s no requirements for how long someone has been drinking tea or how much tea knowledge they have. Tea is like any other passion or hobby, it’s a journey.

In a recent Steepster forum post Andrew explained why he will stop selling teas (the Liquid Proust blends brand) but would continue ventures like this one:

I recently got a promotion at work… This alone will eat up my time… so I decided that when I do tea it’ll be pure community, pleasure, or education, and never business.  I will continue to host the Sheng Olympiad… Group buys will continue with the main purpose to provide education or experiences…

So due to becoming busier in the future he will only be a tea evangelist, instead of a vendor; cool enough.

Rohini Estate first flush Darjeeling Jethikupi white tea

Jethikupi White, Rohini Estate first flush white Darjeeling

This tea was presented as a Jethikupi White Darjeeling from Rohini Estate, a first flush tea.  This is a good time to touch on the basic differences between a white tea and black tea, related to a graphic showing minimum processing steps per type:

World of Tea processing steps chart (credit)

Given that first flush Darjeelings aren't typically fully oxidized (true black teas) there's even less character difference than for more conventional black teas, related to those rolling and oxidation steps dropping out.  On to review.

The tea looks and smells great, with very light leaf material and buds.  The scent is fresh and fragrant, floral with a good bit of citrus.

The taste of the initial infusion is very bright and fresh.  Flavors are subdued due to going light on this infusion, basically using a light steeping / long rinse to get the tea started, but it’s clear where it’s all going.  The brightness and freshness stands out the most, and beyond that individual attributes, floral tones, a bit of citrus, sweetness that ties in light fruit aspects with the floral range, even a trace of light dried hay for complexity.

same leaves, closer up

The second infusion works out even better for picking up infusion strength and intensity, although still brewed lightly.  I initially wanted to brew this straight Western style, to match expectations and maintain more repeatability for readers, but ended up using a light version of Gongfu style, or Western style using a gaiwan and more infusions (sort of in the middle, between conventional styles).  The end effect won't be so different, typically, but I like the outcome better using shorter infusions at a higher proportion of tea to water.

The tea has a round type of feel and sweet, drinkable character which I’ve come to associate with the AV2 plant type characteristics (although it's not exactly that; the plant type is listed as 157 clones).  That freshness seems to relate to capturing a floral tone in a unique way, like a light and sweet wildflower scent and taste, bright, but hinting towards the bright and light vegetal range.  I don’t mean this tea tastes like kale or spinach, quite the opposite, instead that the scent of a picked flower would include a lightness from both the petals and also some hint of leaves and stem.  It’s not astringent, at all, very soft in effect, so nothing like the dandelion taste (for anyone that’s tasted those), on the far opposite side of that range too.  It's also fruity, it's just not obvious which fruit or fruits to include as a list of aspects, something bright, perhaps with enough complexity maybe more than one.

For using relatively low water temperature and limited infusion times the tea has plenty of flavor and character.  Lighter seems to be the way to go for this tea, not as for sheng pu’er because that’s going to balance out the astringency and bitterness that normal brewing intensity turns up, but because it provides lots of taste prepared that way; it just works well.  It’s as for Wuyi Yancha; brewing a strong infusion of good versions of those teas would almost waste them, spoiling some of the effect of presenting the attributes in their most natural balance.


On the next infusion the floral picks up even a little more.  It transitions from a light wildflower floral scent to heavier, moving just a little towards a richer flower type effect, lavender or orchid, or something like that.  I’ve still not resolved that floral scent memory issue, so I don’t have a broad flower impression bank to draw on.  There is still a lot of other range giving the tea complexity, including a nice citrusy high note, in addition to other fruit, in the range of orange zest, but so light that it’s in between tangerine and lemon instead.  Even though the tea is light and bright it’s also complex, with more taste range filling in depth that is harder to notice but present, something like dried hay or sunflower seed, but subtle enough that pinning down specific related flavors is difficult.

It’s too early to push the tea to try to get more out of it, even though 3 or 4 infusions in, but I went slightly hotter on the water for a slightly longer steep to see how the tea balanced brewed this way, while it still had a lot to offer.  It’s quite intense made this way, but not overdoing it.  I still think lighter is the right way to enjoy this tea, for me, but it’s interesting seeing the change.  The floral picks up strength to become perfume-like.

only the smaller one is a tea drinker, at this point

That hint of vegetal trace, like a very light flower stem aspect, not really a bitter version of one though, picks up a lot too, altering the feel.  It’s hard to describe what that means, how it comes across, but almost as a touch of dryness.  This tea can’t really be astringent, per it’s base character, although hitting it with boiling point water for a four minute soak might enable that.

Floral is still heavy but even more fruit undertone joins in, similar to that taste in juicyfruit gum, bright, sweet, and complex.  That taste is a little towards pandan leaf or Fruity Pebbles cereal, if that gum reference doesn’t ring a bell.  The fruit aspect is pronounced and complex but I've not done it justice isolating it; it seems best described as a mix of different fruits, maybe something like tangerine / lemon citrus with peach and apricot, just a bright version of those, complicated further by floral tones joining in.

It’s described as a white tea but the character is interesting.  It reminds me some of the Nepalese whites I’ve drank in the past, the best versions.  That’s backwards, that comparison, isn’t it?  Those should be trying to be like this.  Either way they achieve some related effects, a lightness and brightness, good sweetness, lots of floral character and fruit, and nothing negative to detract from all that.  This may just be a little cleaner and brighter, but then I have tried a couple of really nice white teas from Nepal.  Let's check on the vendor description for more insight:

It has a tantalizing sweet aroma of ripe fruits with abundant fresh flavor.  The cup is very fruity and mellow with rich notes. The flavor is full and it leaves behind a very pleasant and distinct aftertaste. The low temperatures experienced during Winters impart a very distinct character to the tea.

That's it, but as can happen the aspects and flavors list approach doesn't really do justice to how bright and fresh the tea comes across.  It's intense.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Kinnari Tea Laos Earl Green

A Kinnari Tea Earl Green version!  Of course I’ve heard of versions of Earl Grey made with green tea but never got around to trying one.  I don’t drink that much green tea or flavored teas (blended or infused, any types), but since Earl Grey is an acceptable exception this may work.  I’ve tried jasmine black teas that weren’t bad, and a sticky rice tea from Kinnari Tea was a pleasant surprise, and Chiang Mai shop, Monsoon, did a nice coconut flavored green tea.  Osmanthus oolong can be ok, but some might be better without the osmanthus if the oolong is good.   

I’ll say a little about expectations first, a pre-review (something different).  I’d expect it to taste like green tea with bergamot orange oil flavor added, which is basically just the recipe.  The green tea might be a bit mineral intensive, not like Vietnamese green teas are, intense flint or limestone rock mineral on top of a vegetal tea, but likely subdued, maybe more like a sun-dried black or a really mild version of sheng.  I’d expect it to not be so vegetal, and not heavy on a toasted rice or nutty element, but with a bit more dried hay range than is typical for a green tea, and soft and light minerals.  All that is just a guess, from the looks of the tea and a description of the general style of the other types as much as anything.  Of course I’m also wondering how well bergamot orange oil works with green tea, but if those guesses hold up I won’t find out how it works layered in with grass or bell pepper flavors.

actual brewing was close to that, this time

After actually tasting it:  the tea is nice; it sort of works.  Of course it does taste like bergamot (orange oil, a specific type, so citrusy).  The green tea is mild, not grassy, not vegetal, no intense minerals.  The orange is a little heavy on the first infusion, or rather the tea is a bit subdued, since the orange is where it should be, but tea flavors pick up in the second infusion.  Altogether the flavors are sweet and bright and it all balances well.

I’m making it true Western style (really! ok, maybe just a little heavy on the proportion), even in an infuser device, which my parents gave me for Christmas, just to mix things up.  Using that device makes getting water temperature just right tricky because it would soak up lots of heat but I’d expect some guesswork to land that in about the right range.  I’d expect this will brew a lot of infusions, even for using a relatively typical Western proportion and timing, because of the tea type (just a guess, though, we'll see).

another gift, my kids call "ugly person" (in Thai)

It’s hard to review what the tea itself is like for being mixed with the bergamot oil flavor, so I’ll have to focus on how well it works together, the end effect, and maybe guess backwards to what it would be like alone.  They sent a plain green tea with the other samples, which I’ll review separately, but the style might not be exactly the same.  I was wondering going in if I’d even like “Earl Green,” and it’s fine, it works better than it sounds.

A bit more vegetable range wouldn’t be as nice, I’d expect, but this tea is soft and earthy, a bit subdued, so the only issue might be that that aspects range doesn’t stand up against the orange as much as a black tea might.  But they’ve adjusted bergamot strength to compensate, so it’s just a bit mild, in a lighter balance, brighter and less earthy.

The natural question that might come to mind is “why would they flavor this tea”?  Someone else might be an Earl Green type fan, and then they wouldn’t ask that.  For others, for me I suppose, it might be more natural to make it into a black tea instead, to oxidize it.  At least it is more novel this way.

On the third infusion I went longer and the bergamot and the tea taste both ramped up, but they were already in a good range for the last infusion.  It’s nice that somehow that proportion didn’t change, orange to tea flavors.  It’s not astringent, at all, just with a trace of edge to give it some feel, which works.

As with Vietnamese green tea standard practice (in Vietnam, at least) going with full-boiling point temperature water would bring more astringency out, but I’d as soon not.  The tea being this soft gives you the option of ramping up temperature, or experimenting with different ones.  They suggest 85 C, and it wouldn't be as biting as lots of green types when brewed cooler than that.  Some people could prefer an edgy green tea (the normal preference in Vietnam, per my understanding), and I suppose that softness could be seen as a flaw, if so.

Made a little stronger in this third infusion it’s possible to teas out more tea contribution / flavor from “below” the orange.  It is rich, and mild, but full, reminding me a little of the “cereal” element in the one white tea, the Silver Cloud.  There is a little mineral but less than I expected, even though I didn’t expect much, for it to be flinty.  You would think there would be some vegetable to be noticed, at least a little, but it’s more in the floral range, it seems.  It’s all a nice effect, quite bright and lively, clean and balanced, fruit and floral with mild earth and very light mineral as a base.  The sweetness helps support the rest.

A monk gave me some Earl Grey tea not so long ago, the standard Twinings version (odd how that works out, trading teas with monks, a long story) but there’s not much comparison to be made.  The bergamot is common, the rest is different, and the balance is quite different.  I think this still would work with a more typical green tea, something less soft and subdued, less complex, more grassy or vegetal, but it might be a lot better in this form.

The fourth infusion I went quite long for, and it is fading a little, but that seems fine, getting one light and three normal strength infusions out of a green tea.

I think if I liked green teas and flavored teas more this would strike me as a really exceptional tea; as things stand it was a pleasant change of pace.  It's just a matter of preference, not an objectively accurate evaluation, but to me the Sticky Rice Silver Cloud tea worked better.  Scanning back through that post there wasn't much there for subjective take, how I liked it, which is also relevant, even if that relates as much to preference for type and attributes as to a general overall judgement.  That wasn't just nice for being novel, which it was, but well above average compared to all the plain white teas I've ever tried.  I think I liked it better in part because of how well the flavors matched but also because that flavoring was very subtle, so that it really could have been a natural tea that just happened to taste a little like sticky rice.

they grow up so fast

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Teasenz Black Needle Dian Hong, and more comparison

I'm reviewing a Teasenz Dian Hong, which they describe as a Black Needle style tea (with a sample supplied by them for review).  I often mention shooting for a simple review, and then drift off on tangents, and in this case I did also taste it along with another related tea.  That wasn't informative, they weren't similar enough, so I'll edit out the comparison and say a little more about that after the review.

I brewed the tea Gongfu style, modified to use relatively longer infusion times.  That involves stepping back the proportion from some teas I brew using really short timing.  The tea would be ok prepared Western style, not so different, but using more infusions instead and a bit higher proportion gets you a better look at the aspects, and I tend to like Dian Hong better made this way.  It's hard to know if a certain tea wouldn't be slightly better prepared using a modified Gongfu approach or a more typical Western approach without trying both, but the general aspect range is typically not so different, it mostly just shifts around how the aspects balance.

On first tasting the tea seems nice, all the typical range, a bit earthy, with some soft and rich redwood-range wood tone, and with some cinnamon standing out.  Fruit is present but I'd expect that range will stand out more after an initial round.

Things do change a lot on the next infusion, even though still moderate in time-length (a bit over a minute but I wasn't timing it).  The color of the tea darkened to a clear dark red.  It picks up a good bit of toffee or dark caramel sweetness.  The spice isn't pronounced but I'm still picking that up.  I suppose that could instead be interpreted as cocoa, or maybe as a bit of both, but the other complexity makes it trickier to separate them.  The fruit tone is still subtle, in the yam range, but with enough depth adding another fruit or two to that description-list might be justified.

The flavors are relatively clean, and the feel is nice, maybe a bit soft, but to me that works.  It still has decent body and lots going on so it doesn't need some unusual form of dryness to make it more interesting.

dark and reddish; it would work brewed lighter too

It doesn't transition much on the next infusion, but it was nice the last round anyway.  The flavors weren't really murky before but the wood tones may have brightened just a little.  That wood is in an interesting range, along the lines of cedar / redwood.  It hints a little towards spice still, or maybe cocoa, although that last may have faded, a little harder to pick up.  More fruit shows up, but still as an underlying layer, not as pronounced as the earthy wood tones.  It all works; it strikes a good balance.  It's on the softer side, not astringent at all, but still full.

Light mineral tones underlie those aspects, and sort of tie to the body of the tea.  Something comparable happens in lots of other teas, just in different senses.  It's nothing like the Wuyi Yancha background context--those particular minerals--but the function is the same, the way it gives the range of both types of teas a nice depth and balance.

brewed leaf, still needle-like

The tea is nice:  a comfortable, complex, easy to drink black tea.  Aspects do vary for Dian Hong but this is within the range of what is typical.  It could pick up a little in the way of structure, or feel, or even a little in complexity, but it's well balanced, with a good bit going on, and nice character.  It's a kind of tea you could keep drinking frequently, which would probably work out well brewed different ways, or prepared at different infusion strengths.

Comparison tasting; why that doesn't always work

I tried this tea at the same time as a Farmerleaf sun-dried autumn harvest Jing Mai (Yunnan) black tea (reviewed alone here), but it wasn't similar enough to be informative.  The comparisons are just a phase I'm going through, what I'm experimenting on lately.

Even if the teas are different as long as they share enough commonality tasting two together can help highlight subtle aspects that they don't share.  But if they're too different it won't work out like that, and comparison will just be a distraction, too much about differences.  This was more like that second case.  Someone really into that cha qi aspect might not do comparisons at all; it would give you a blended cha qi effect, who knows if good or bad.

The Farmerleaf tea also had light wood tones as a starting point, it was also sweet, and also full in feel, maybe a little "drier," again with some fruit and hinting a little towards spice.  It started out more in the cocoa range but shifted to wood-tone aspects later.  It sounds exactly the same, put that way, but it was quite different.  The Farmerleaf tea came across as more subtle, which stood out in comparing it to the other oven-dried Farmerleaf black tea as well.  Per that vendor input sundried teas are supposed to keep gaining more character over the first two or three years, but I've only let it sit for however many months so far, and it's not even close to a year old.

There was an overall effect difference, how it all balanced, beyond the secondary characteristic differences between the two teas.  Maybe those contrasts would have been informative, if written out as a comparison tasting, infusion by infusion as the tasting notes were taken, but it was subtle enough that it didn't seem clear.  More than that, it didn't seem to add anything to helping with the review process.

The Farmerleaf tea also had a bit more earthy range, and less fruit.  Pronounced aspects ran a little towards forest floor, or maybe just woody in different sense, or possibly even towards a leather range.  It always sounds odd describing teas outside the range of actual food flavor aspects but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  I had a shou pu'er with lunch today that might be described as tasting like tar that was nice.  I love the odd earthy flavors ranges that can stand out in Wuyi Yancha, when those work well, in nice versions.

Both teas were nice, just different.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Online group psychology; why review tea, part two

Some of this could be my imagination leading in odd directions, but I think a deeper level answer to "why review tea," related to tea bloggers, as considered in this post, has to do with an online version of group-related psychology.  I'm speculating that self-identifying is one purpose, defining oneself as a member of one or more sets of tea enthusiasts, perhaps even more than having any other final goal in mind.  Of course I also write for different reasons, to keep track of review notes and links, to practice writing, and so on.  But here I'll consider the answer that tea blogging and review could relate to an unusual form of group involvement, relating to sharing an interest, potentially played out as much online as in real life, or perhaps both.

Obvious enough, but with that said, what would the rest of this post be about?  It's not as if I could distill that down to some clear and simple principles that no one is aware of; people talk about things online, in blogs, in groups, and otherwise.  So I'll just ramble on and cite some things, the usual approach.

This online reference on the psychology of groups can serve as a starting point:

Groups are not only founts of information during times of ambiguity, they also help us answer the existentially significant question, “Who am I?” Common sense tells us that our sense of self is our private definition of who we are, a kind of archival record of our experiences, qualities, and capabilities. Yet, the self also includes all those qualities that spring from memberships in groups. People are defined not only by their traits, preferences, interests, likes, and dislikes, but also by their friendships, social roles, family connections, and group memberships. The self is not just a “me,” but also a “we.”

Even demographic qualities such as sex or age can influence us if we categorize ourselves based on these qualities. Social identity theory, for example, assumes that we don’t just classify other people into such social categories as man, woman, Anglo, elderly, or college student, but we also categorize ourselves. Moreover, if we strongly identify with these categories, then we will ascribe the characteristics of the typical member of these groups to ourselves, and so stereotype ourselves. If, for example, we believe that college students are intellectual, then we will assume we, too, are intellectual if we identify with that group (Hogg, 2001).

groups graphic (credit)

Beyond starting a blog and writing reviews, or discussion in groups, there's always real life as a fall-back.  Someone could meet others in person and drink tea with them, with some clear advantages to that approach, but a limited form group association no longer absolutely requires that.  At some point limiting contact to online format only might seem a bit thin, less likely to extend to "real" friendships, but the basic dynamics might be similar.

Throughout the rest of this mixing ideas about group psychology with implied claims that online social patterns occur in comparable forms might be seen as problematic.  There are real groups, and also online social contact, and they seem related but different.  One often encounters the idea that online associations only become valid as an extension of real-life connections, or as a means to initiate those.  Make of all that what you will.  Feel free to reject the association, or think it through and form your own conclusions.  I don't think that the role online interactions play in relation to real-life forms is as clear as that might be, even though many of us have plenty of online experience to base an impression of that on.

A few more ideas from that initial source work to outline purpose, why group inclusion is desirable, and also relate to keeping score within a group, to ways to judge how well participation is going:

Groups also provide a variety of means for maintaining and enhancing a sense of self-worth, as our assessment of the quality of groups we belong to influences our collective self-esteem (Crocker & Luhtanen, 1990). If our self-esteem is shaken by a personal setback, we can focus on our group’s success and prestige. In addition, by comparing our group to other groups, we frequently discover that we are members of the better group, and so can take pride in our superiority. By denigrating other groups, we elevate both our personal and our collective self-esteem (Crocker & Major, 1989).

Mark Leary’s sociometer model goes so far as to suggest that “self-esteem is part of a sociometer that monitors peoples’ relational value in other people’s eyes” (2007, p. 328). He maintains self-esteem is not just an index of one’s sense of personal value, but also an indicator of acceptance into groups. Like a gauge that indicates how much fuel is left in the tank, a dip in self-esteem indicates exclusion from our group is likely...

Interesting!  Definitely drifting off the central topic a bit, but there are some related points to make.

Related to the first points, not only does being a tea enthusiast in a group add more value to the association, beyond that being the right kind of tea drinker, having the right preferences or experience or interacting with the right people, also works out better.  One could choose to take their rightful place in the smart and knowledgeable tea enthusiasts' group, a sure sign they are the same way.

Related to the second set of ideas, about self esteem and personal value, how could someone be excluded from an online group for being an inferior tea enthusiast?  Just mentioning making tea from tea bags in some groups might be a good example, or discussing adding sugar to tea.  Finer distinctions enter in related to teaware choices, or tea types preferences, or general knowledge.  It also seems like more interesting grouping patterns don't even relate to those things, but perhaps instead to personality types (with more to follow on that).

Facebook tea group I helped found and admin  (link)

Of course I'm not prone to feeling superior to others based on a beverage choice, related to the darker turns all those ideas could take.  I don't tend to drink tea from tea bags, or blends, but I'm not offended by that kind of thing.  Then again, if someone asks for suggestions about either in a group I wouldn't have much to add.  Any comment that includes the content "I don't normally drink that," combined with some other ideas to justify saying anything, could be a form of that self-differentiation.  One could become active in a group related to Gongfu Cha, a "higher" form of tea practice, related to those earlier alignment ideas, and that range of subjects would never even come up.

These lines of thinking, about group inclusiveness and acceptance, could also drift off the topic of group dynamics into personal psychological traits, since characteristics like openness and agreeableness relate to this.  Check out this reference citation that subject:

Agreeableness:  this personality dimension includes attributes such as trust, altruism, kindness, affection and other prosocial behaviors.  People who are high in agreeableness tend to be more cooperative while those low in this trait tend to be more competitive and even manipulative.

Sounds like that "disagreeable" person wouldn't be much fun to be around, doesn't it?  Or maybe even to hear from in discussion comments.  I've read elsewhere that less agreeable people make better managers because they're not so worried about making everyone happy, and just get on with making decisions completely separate from that concern.  That sort of rings a bell, culturally speaking.

There are online discussion "areas" out there where you wonder why anyone would continue to participate in being so negative, in the form of being judgmental, or insulting, or somewhere in between, and it could relate to sharing attributes like that one.  There is a Thai expat group in which most posts are quickly met with responses along the line of "you should just kill yourself," offered as humor.  It's not a happy place to exchange ideas, unless that fits with someone's sense of humor, and then maybe it is.

It's interesting to consider to what degree people could feel higher or lower self-esteem based on acceptance in a purely online context.  Entry and exit is easy in online groups.  How would that work, for bloggers in particular though?  Starting a blog is easy, but how to gauge social acceptance?

I guess that could be charted by viewer numbers, at least in part.  Or by other types of social contact aspects, related to being included in a summary of best posts, being cited, added to a blog role, linked to within other blogs (although that seems less commonly practiced now); any number of things.  Or real-life recognition could take different forms, like some sort of award.

group functional stages (credit this reference)

Interesting set of group stages and activities in the graphic, isn't it?  I'm going to have to leave most of that unexamined, but I will get back to a couple of points.  Obviously enough we can see a difference in more typical real-life social groups (clubs, etc.) and online associations in the norming and performing stages.  Online associations are marked by a lack of cohesiveness; anyone can show up, culling members out of the group isn't always so simple (although depending on the group interactions maybe it would be, "banning").  Achieving any combined goals in an online group is problematic, especially a loosely defined one.  Just keeping discussion active exhausts most of the potential.

There are ways around that, potential for tightening membership up and aligning interests.  Related to writing blogs about tea, something like the Tea Blogger's Association makes it clear who is in and who's out, related to defining a set, and setting some guidelines.  It seems like that group might have been more active in the past but that general point remains the same; people seek out ways to solidify relations, if they are so inclined.  Training and certifications could also relate, or any number of other ways to obtain labels or in-group status, but I won't go into those here.

Let's leave aside the issues of how good a fit this really is, comparing what a blogger does with a real-life group, and shift even further into group psychology.  None of this really will settle how much sense it's making, applying ideas from real-life group dynamics to much looser associations online, but there are some interesting next ideas to consider after leaving that aside.

tea review site and discussion forum (link)

Different relations between in-group and out-group members

This is where the subject gets interesting; related to what people do in groups they may not even notice being in, about how perspective differences play out.  Check this out (from a Scientific American blog post):

A large literature in social psychology shows that we process information about our in-group more deeply, we remember more positive details, make greater personal evaluations, and allocate resources more generally to those in the in-group. What's more, negative actions of those in the in-group are thought to arise from situational factors, whereas positive ones are thought to be inherent qualities of the individual, whereas the reverse is believed about members of the out-group.

Indeed, there is an emerging literature on "pathological altruism", suggesting that extreme compassion can have downsides such as difficulty passing judgment of right vs. wrong, and forgiving all transgression and failures of those in the in-group while acting highly protective and aggressive toward those in the out-group, even sometimes in the absence of actual provocation and injustice.

two evils

It makes me think of politics straight away, although it may be as well to not drift too far into that topic.  The "left and right, liberal versus conservative" sides tend to lump together the opposing side, and quickly distill it all into wrong versus right.  Whatever comes up related to their side is just fine, just a minor glitch at worst, easy to accept regardless of how awkwardly things play out.  Members of the other side are just idiots, with every negative turn indicating a deeply flawed worldview.

Within expat circles people tend to break along one main line of differentiation, related to fully integrating into the host society or remaining largely separate from it.  Of course it's not quite that clear, and some are in the middle, but generally people emphasize one approach over the other.  Related to these ideas about exclusiveness, in some cases people tend to become antagonistic about the other approach, to reject it as invalid.  On the one side there's a claim that people that can't immerse in a local culture and fully appreciate it should just go back home, extended to wherever that leads, for example to the idea that local language fluency is critical, or only eating local foods.  The claim on the other side is that "integration" emphasis leads to blindly apologizing for all local limitations, refusing to accept that there is good and bad in any cultural perspective, or to the position that food preferences really aren't that critical either way.  The truths and biases mixed together in both sets of claims make them difficult to sort out.

Another part of that second set of points in that citation is interesting:  if someone did or said something perceived negatively within the group--however that was defined--then that would be attributed to just a part of that circumstance, only related to the person, but if someone did the same thing from outside the group that would reflect on them as a member of some category.  And the last part is about interpretive bias tied to that, how the positive or negative spin is overly emphasized.

It's a stretch dragging all this back to tea circles, to be honest.  It just wouldn't seem to stick related to something like shared participation in a forum, and besides, the subject is tea.  Someone might see people inclined to drink tea made from tea bags as an outsider, or a lower form of tea drinker, or labeling as "snobs" in the other direction, but those types of connections related to grouping and judgments just mentioned goes a bit far.  It might work better once more cohesion is developed, in a set of people that communicate more often, or "know" each other, not just tied to whoever shows up somewhere online and prepares a drink in the same way.

That relates to the "norming and performing" aspects in that group functions table.  To some extent it may be a problem for an online group to clearly define these, to set limits, and to take those next steps.  Inclusiveness could actually become a problem, related to that, due to incomplete "forming and storming" steps (note that chart includes a typo; there is no "stroming").  I'll drop this exploration of that process modeling though, just mentioning an interesting short definition of those stages in a business management context.

Some examples of negative biases and active exclusion related to tea circles do come to mind, most of which don't seem suitable for sharing.  I can only think of two cases where people were completely and explicitly excluded from an assumed in-group, related to tea, and both did get a little ugly.  I've been kicked out of a tea group before (a long story, tied to one of those cases).  I'm not counting that as a related example, just more background about things coming up.

It might seem like within tea circles the practice of one-upping or even slighting others seems to reject the dynamics work out in this way, as a true example of grouping.  It's not all just a love-fest, and people don't really seem so cohesive, in lots of cases.  Some people are like that, positive about anything, but "my tea is better than your tea" type commentary comes up, sometimes in the form of "you're not doing it right."  That could just tie back to the "storming" phase idea, about defining roles, or a different part of that first study into group psychology has some insights that might relate:

Groups not only satisfy the need to belong, they also provide members with information, assistance, and social support. Leon Festinger’s theory of social comparison (1950, 1954) suggested that in many cases people join with others to evaluate the accuracy of their personal beliefs and attitudes... 

Although any kind of companionship is appreciated, we prefer those who provide us with reassurance and support as well as accurate information. In some cases, we also prefer to join with others who are even worse off than we are. Imagine, for example, how you would respond when the teacher hands back the test and yours is marked 85%. Do you want to affiliate with a friend who got a 95% or a friend who got a 78%? To maintain a sense of self-worth, people seek out and compare themselves to the less fortunate. 

This process is known as downward social comparison.

So we really do want that good advice about using a different water temperature for making a certain tea (or about sourcing, whatever the subject is), but at the same time to a limited extent we might also want to be the person that offers that advice more than to be the one receiving it.  Of course everyone in the group can't be above average, a great general resource for answers, but it might be possible to take turns offering that last interesting insight.  Assuming all of this really does map onto online group dynamics (which I'll stop mentioning) it would always be possible to lurk in a more informative, "higher level" of experience group, to remain quieter there, and be a more active member in a less informed group, thus satisfying both demands in different ways.

World Tea Expo bloggers panel (photo credit)

Circling back to the review / blogging case

This all drifts further to online group issues, doesn't it?  Related to actually writing blog posts, that's not really social (drifting back to the earliest starting point:  the question "why review tea?").  Some tea bloggers' posts draw some comments but that's more typically the exception.  But it does seem to work to position that relatively individual activity within a social framework, to see it as playing a social role.

Bloggers make that more or less explicit in the writing; some are about social networked themes, and others seem to imply that context is of limited importance to them.  A review-only blog is at one extreme; completely unrelated to social contact.  All the same there's no reason why a blog that absolutely never mentions that any other humans exist, beyond the existence of tea vendors, couldn't still be serving a social role.  Readers as an audience are implied, at a minimum.  Part of the point could be to participate in a general, online-format discussion, but in a very indirect form.

This reminds me of the divide between introverts and extroverts.  A friend's take on this, a self-declared introvert, is that the key difference is a tolerance for social contact.  Obvious enough, with his point being that it's not just about liking or disliking being around other people, it's about being wired for not tolerating much of it versus essentially requiring that.  Online contact can serve as a middle ground for an introvert, according to him.  It's plenty of social distance; those people aren't right next to you, actively interacting, so it's tolerable.  That earlier reference summarizes it this way:

Extraversion is characterized by excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness and high amounts of emotional expressiveness.  People who are high in extroversion are outgoing and tend to gain energy in social situations. People who are low in extroversion (or introverted) tend to be more reserved and have to expend energy in social settings.

I guess the "Friends" sit-com characters were extroverts, spending every minute of their free time in a group of a half-dozen, while the "Seinfeld" characters may have potentially been introverts, just joining up for short chat sessions in very small groups and short outings.  I'm not sure how it interacts with these other factors but it seems possible online groups / interaction may enable more introverted people to participate in similar forms as in public contact, just outside of it.  At the far extreme reviewing teas could be like writing a journal, just online, still discussing tea socially, but just barely in terms of interaction.

Life cycle of associations; group "adjourning" played out online

Does all this work in my own case, this perspective?  I'm not so sure.  To some extent it does seem to be a real-life social activity replacement.  Viewer-numbers "scoring" does sort of work, a sign of involvement, and limited positive feedback in a sense since it keeps improving.  But then to some extent I have trouble placing why I'm still writing about tea.  It started as an experiment, to practice writing, and keep track of notes and research, and enable discussion, but I'm not as certain of which range of purposes really did work out.

All of this leads me to consider one last facet; tying these online group associations to the idea of groups "adjourning" and associations ceasing.  I'm reminded of a closing statement in a blog that went inactive:


Ok, I fought it and fought it, but the blog is officialy dead. It saddens me, as tea has given me much pleasure, as has this blog. Unfortunately for now my interests and hobbies have moved on to other things.

Maybe there's no deeper point to cite there.  As people define themselves, so can they change those interests and definitions.  A tea drinker could take up coffee, or tisanes, or juicing, or just not get around to posting.  That blog author mentioned participating in creating a tea site with friends, wikicha (which now links to a notice the domain name is for sale), which invokes the tie-in to other social concerns, which also ceased.

I participated in an active Asian-themed expat forum that went through that whole life-cycle, ramping up to a large active membership, with thousands of members (with maybe only a few dozen actively posting at any given time).  It spanned hundreds of discussion threads, with the more active core-group members posting in the range of 5-10,000 comments.  It's here, Xpat Life, formerly Orient Expat, with some remaining static content described as such:

If you have a question, or need advice on a subject not covered here, visit our forum by clicking the links to the left, which is staffed by experienced expats and frequented by a loyal membership who'll be happy to discuss this wonderful country with you.

But that section was shut down, and those links were removed.  It sort of just ran out of steam, for different reasons.

I helped found two separate Facebook tea groups, one of which I'm still active in, and an admin for, and it's been interesting seeing that group life-cycle from that perspective.

This seems like this is a good place to either transition to a deeper level of insights about how online groups thrive and then die or close this, and I've covered too much ground already.  It's funny how online social contact goes.  I hope that reading these rambling, tiresome posts means something to someone, and that sharing a love of tea really can extend a little beyond sharing a beverage preference, even if only through online connections.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Farmerleaf Jingmai Miyun sheng (Spring 2016), compared to a Golding pu'er

Farmerleaf 2016 Jing Mai sheng pu'er

Golding (KL vendor) 2016 Jing Mai sheng pu'er

I never did get around to reviewing pu'er from Farmerleaf, that Yunnan tea source that really probably specializes in pu'er more than the other types I did review (mostly black teas, although a moonlight white was also really interesting).  I just noticed on their website they'll be on break from sales for a month, starting in a day, for what that's worth.  They do make tea; likely related to that.

Since I had some of a Golding shop privately pressed Jingmai pu'er to compare it to (two, really, so I just picked one) I went ahead and tasted this alongside a Jingmai 2016 gushu sheng from them (tea from old plant / tree sources).  To review, Golding is a Kuala Lumpur shop that sources and presses their own tea cakes.  Or has them pressed, most likely, but per my understanding the process is a lot more hands-on than someone ordering tea cakes to re-brand from a local producer (like Farmerleaf).

I'm finishing up a post about Yunnan tea growing and sourcing issues based on interview input from William of Farmerleaf, and he produced some Youtube videos on the subject (here).  It's a bottomless subject, with answers always leading to more questions, but if it's of interest his videos make for some good input.  He's French but he's been living in Yunnan, and working with his wife, who is from a tea farming and producing family, so what he's passing on is relatively first hand experience.  There is also more on processing in the description for this particular tea on their website.

Switching around between tea types--reviewing different teas every week--comes at a price, and I'm not so well-calibrated for pu'er these days.  I've tried one sheng since I checked in on that subject last, a tea I picked up in NYC from Sun's Organic Shop.  That tea was ok, I just don't get around to reviewing everything I try.

This subject of trying lots of teas versus sticking to a more narrow focus is something I've discussed before with a tea-type specialist who may be familiar, Imen of Tea Obsession.  She wrote about that a little in this post, about horizontal versus vertical experience, but it's all what you'd expect, and there's not much there.  To some extent you have to give up depth for range if you choose to focus on everything (or choose not to focus, really).  I also didn't study under a master, or take classes, so best to take anything I say for what it's worth, as some guy trying things and thinking out loud in writing.

Review part:

Based on the first tastes the Farmerleaf tea is nice.  It's just a little bitter, with plenty of floral character, and strikes a nice all-around balance.  Of course there's always the hurdle that pu'er drinkers might be more focused on the feel of the tea or the effect, and I might notice this or that about feel but apparently I'm not properly tuned to notice the cha qi input.  I'm not saying it's not real, I just can't notice it enough to describe it, I can just sort of tell there is caffeine in tea.  I've heard people say lots of conflicting things about that subject--who hasn't--but I'll just not go into it here.  It wouldn't work to guess about that factor in this case anyway, due to doing a comparison tasting.  Probably that's problematic, per some takes, mixing those cha qi inputs, but I think I'll be ok.

Related to cha qi--more tangent, that never gets old--there are so many active components in teas that it doesn't need to necessarily be some mystical force that acts via magic.  No one ever seems to get to the point of measuring different compounds, and describing their effect, beyond noting there is caffeine and theanine in teas.  Aging could change those, or tea plant age really could correlate.  Or maybe it's some of both, pharmacology and magic.  Lets check on some input on all that from a tea book source I've been mentioning a little lately, Tony Gebely's "Tea:  A User's Guide:"

Tea leaves contain many amino acids, the most abundant of which is theanine. Theanine, specifically L-Theanine, is responsible for promoting alpha brain wave activity and a feeling of relaxation. L-Theanine in concert with caffeine can induce a state of “mindful alertness” in the tea drinker... 

The main Methylxanthine in tea is the stimulant caffeine. Other methylxanthines found in tea are two chemically similar compounds, theobromine and theophylline. The tea plant creates these chemicals as a way to ward off insects and other animals... Methylxanthines also contribute to a bitter taste in the tea infusion. The level of methylxanthines in tea depends on the variety and cultivar of Camellia sinensis used, the climate, the age of the leaves, and the propagation method (seed vs. cutting) used on the plant. 

No claims about transcendent experiences there but given those two categories don't exhaust his description of tea plant components there is plenty of space for chemicals rather than mystical forces to cause unusual effects.  Then again, sometimes different perspectives and descriptions can be right in different ways.  So back to the tea.

The Golding tea might be a little more bitter.  It's odd that doesn't match my old review; I do wonder how often I'm completely wrong about teas.  Bitterness is a relative thing, and I'm a bit put off by teas that come across like taking an aspirin, which of course could also stem from using inappropriate brewing techniques.  Neither of these teas is anything like taking an aspirin, really towards the opposite end of that scale, not so bitter at all.  Relating to that earlier subject, drinking different types inconsistently could lead to making significant brewing mistakes, but over time it all sort of gets sorted out.  The subject might seem simple, since the main brewing factors--beyond sourcing, storage, and aging--are teaware related, and tied to aspects of the water itself, then related to water temperature and proportion, and timing.

On the next infusion I'll try to get a bit further into those descriptions, although again I don't expect to get too far with "feel" differences.

Farmerleaf version left (but they look about the same)

As a rough description floral with a bit of bitterness really does describe the Farmerleaf tea.  There's just a hint of smoke, so light that you could miss it, and of course substantial mineral tones underlie all the rest.  There is an interesting structure to the tea, the way it tightens your whole tongue as you taste it, but still feels a bit wet, then transitions to a feeling in the throat after you swallow.

plumeria, growing in our yard

The exact same description matches the Golding tea, but at the same time all of those aspects are a little different.  The floral comes across a bit heavier, more like perfume.  The range of flowers is a bit similar but I don't think I would make it clearer by guessing what flowers they are.  Lots of flowers come across in between lavender and wildflowers to me, or some are like orchids instead, or else light and sweet like a daisy, or a touch earthier like a chrysanthemom or sunflower.  The floral scent in these teas is in the first range in that list, a sweet and rich, I suppose not so different than plumeria.

I smell tropical flowers here in Bangkok, including lots of plumeria, which were also common in Hawaii, and orchids are around.  There are lots of flowers at our house that I'd only be able to find out the Thai names for.  But someone with a much better grasp of floral scents could do a lot better, could pin it down to types.

The next infusion I brewed a little longer (not so much due to experimenting, just not careful, but the effect is the same), providing a good input to both how the effects are transitioning, and what the tea is like brewed slightly stronger.

The bitterness is still the main element in the Farmerleaf tea, but it's subtle enough that it doesn't really detract, as long as one is ok with some bitterness.  For drinking young sheng it kind of goes with the territory.  The general effect is still quite approachable, with lots of floral range layered below that, and with complexity picking up.  The hint of smoke dropped out entirely and it seems there is a hint of cinnamon in place of that.  It all works.

The Golding tea has a little more bite to it, but to me it's still soft enough.  It is interesting the way the flavor and the feel remains after drinking the tea, even transitions a little, but to some extent that's true of both of these.  I walked away to do something else at one point and noticed it lasts something like 15 minutes, maybe longer, so that taste and feel just tapers off, seeming nearly permanent.  I'm not sure if that's a good thing.  It seems a bit pronounced, as if the general effect would be just as nice in a much lighter version.

These teas are brewing to a nice golden yellow.  I suppose that might mean more to someone else, slight differences in shades.

It's a good number of infusions in but it seems these two teas might still just be getting started.  The Farmerleaf version goes to a nice place, with the different attribute ranges falling into a good balance.  That initial bitterness tapered off, and some warmth and complexity picked up.  The hint of spice didn't increase, maybe shifting towards a bit of woodiness instead, still it's nice for filling out a range.  These teas are both clean flavored and lively.

The stronger floral still stands out in the Golding version, with the feel and aftertaste effect moderated by switching back to a relatively light infusion strength.  Compared to brewing other tea types all of these infusions are on the light side, but the teas are so intense they work well in that range.  The balance is still nice for the Golding tea, just quite different than for the other, even though aspects are similar.  Bitterness did moderate a lot; it's an input, but not so pronounced.  Maybe that's what I meant in that earlier review, that bitterness tapers off quite a bit once it loosens up, or maybe I was comparing it to sheng that really are like taking an aspirin.

Farmerleaf tea brewed leaf

I'm going to be feeling these teas.  I keep saying I don't notice cha qi, or even caffeine, but there are limits to that.  Maybe part of what I mean is that I don't drink tea for effect, even though to some extent I must, just not on a level I'm clearly noticing.  I do recognize when it's too much; hard to miss that.  I did a white tea comparison tasting not so long ago and it really was.  I'll go a couple more infusions and give these teas a rest.

People say some types of teas are a lot more relaxing than others and I've always been a little suspicious of those claims.  It seems like if you think you will be relaxed that's an easy enough state to get to through the power of suggestion, by just relaxing.  Then again I did take an early nap about two hours after drinking these teas in the late morning; maybe there is something to all that.

Golding tea brewed leaf

Next infusion:  that warmth keeps picking up in the Farmerleaf version, it keeps improving.  Now it's woody inclined towards spice, but even more complex, out towards aromatic and warm root or bark spices, or maybe both.  Floral gave way a bit to make space for that, with nice sweetness still present, and I like this balance even better.  The aftertaste stays pronounced but the feel has softened back into a more "normal" tea range.

The Golding version stays more floral, still quite strong, but warms a little more too.  If someone loved a really, really pronounced aftertaste this tea would be perfect for them.  Even for loosening up many infusions in it brings out a tightness all along the middle of your tongue, and you can feel it in the throat after drinking it.  You could drink it for a whole afternoon, a few sips every 15 or 20 minutes, and just stay in the experience.  I'm still on the fence as to whether that's a completely good thing or not.  It's interesting.

Both were nice teas, both interesting.  The Golding tea was nice for a really pronounced sweet floral range, with an interesting aftertaste effect, and the Farmerleaf tea was nice for developing into more flavors complexity.  In this case they were similar enough and different enough that comparison tasting made sense, and probably did help shed light on finer points of both.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Comparing a Da Hong Pao and a Qi Dan; what DHP really is

Qi Dan

Da Hong Pao (blended version)

Some of you might be thinking, that's strange, Qi Dan sort of is Da Hong Pao.  It's the cultivar used to make it (the main one; the story isn't that simple).  I went through all that awhile back in this post.

The short version:  Qi Dan and Bei Dou cultivars are derived from those original DHP plants (the legendary but real ones, the plants that might have worn red jackets--the "red robe" part, but probably didn't).  Seems not that complicated, when you put it that way.  But different people mean different things by Da Hong Pao, and it's can also be a style or generic branding name, which I'll say more about after the review part.

As for what the two teas are (both from Cindy Chen, made by her family; see website for details); one is a Wuyi Yancha (Wuyishan area "rock oolong") made from the Qi Dan cultivar, and the other is identified as a blend, a mix of tea-plant types to produce a version of "Da Hong Pao."

The teas have a nice look to them, typical for the general type.  The Da Hong Pao smells a bit heavier on the roast, more dark toffee and earthiness, and the Qi Dan is a little lighter in color and smells more aromatic.  There's lots going on in the scents, and in the brewed tea leaves scents, but I'll take up reviewing with the brewed teas.

Qi Dan left, brewed lightly

The Da Hong Pao is complex, well-roasted for sure, still maybe only upper-medium though.  Dark woody tones are pronounced.  It has so much complexity one could go on and on, but it would be hard to completely capture it.  It's in that typical range:  dark wood, a touch of toffee, char effect (not burned, well integrated), underlying mineral, perhaps aged leather, extending a little into spice, towards cinnamon.

The Qi Dan is a lot more aromatic.  If I'm using that term right--it's from a Chinese description, not as common in Western tea circles, but surely some end up saying it--that aspect range comes across as a perfume or liquor-like trait, which doesn't really resemble perfume or liquor in flavor.  It's a flavor that comes across a certain way, resembling a smell, hence the "aroma" root.  It's also a bit woody, just in a different sense, a much lighter wood.

There's an interesting aspect I interpret as being close to a root spice, just not something I can specify further, which comes across as "round," if that helps.  Of course there is some underlying mineral too.  I won't make a lot of that in further description, but the typical, type-defining, base range of minerals is present.  The whole aspects range is more subtle than the Da Hong Pao, lighter, with a clean effect.  The Da Hong Pao wasn't unclean, not murky in any way, but a lot more forward, with a heavier roast driving a different range of flavors.

Might as well get this subjective judgement part out of the way:  these are good teas.  Typically it seems to not be my place to place teas on a quality scale, and this isn't a claim that I really know this general range so well I can pass an absolute judgment, but it seems to me that any part of a complete description should mention some of that personal take, for these teas in particular.  There was a time when teas this complex, and clean flavored, with this sort of aspect range would have seemed really exceptional, but after being spoiled by Cindy's teas I just come to expect it.  There must be range of even better teas out there, since that's always how that goes, but these are pretty good.

Qi Dan left, brewed stronger

This is nothing like that random-find Chinatown shop Da Hong Pao that you hope is nice and interesting; this is like the version where the owner goes out of his or her way to tell you what it is.  More than that, it's the type of version some Chinese shop owners won't even bring up unless they think you know your teas well enough to appreciate what it is.  Funny how that works out in those places; even someone that knows nothing about teas might well buy a more expensive tea if told it is really good, but for some reason there is part of a Chinese tradition of not "casting pearls before swine," even to upsell.  There's a story about a person not appreciating a horse that's difficult to manage that is suppose to explain that, but that story only makes it more complicated, once you sort through parallel structure aspects, figuring out what the analogy is or isn't covering.

On the next infusion things change a little.  The Da Hong Pao picks up even more complexity.  That dark wood shifts into a woody range that might instead be how a collection of different woods would come across.  The clean effect and sweetness really makes it work, and the way that integrates with the mineral base.  There's plenty of dark toffee sweetness and richness to connect the range of aspects.  It leans a little towards spice in effect but others might describe the mineral as more pronounced.  To me it's more an underlying context in this tea, but definitely there either way.  The tea tastes like rocks, in a good way.

The Qi Dan gets even richer, also more complex.  There's an interesting way it's not completely flavor intensive, also aromatic, but it's all so intense that at the middle of drinking and tasting it the tea almost overloads your palate.  It's not strong-flavored, in a sense, not as intense as the DHP, but there's a lot going on.  The effect impacts your whole tongue, and the rear sides of your mouth, and it almost seems like the top of your mouth is tasting the tea as well.  Of course scent also carries the taste.

There's one aspect in particular that's hard to describe.  "Floral" would be a good approximation, and maybe it is exactly like some sort of flower, but that doesn't clearly capture it.  Maybe just a little like cognac, without alcohol.  I'll continue to try to pin it down better.

They're completely different teas; that makes it interesting.  Often more similarity can help with a comparison tasting, to highlight the minor differences that do occur, but in this case it's about appreciating lots of aspects and character elements both don't share.  On a second tasting I tried to focus on aftertaste, to see if there is anything unique or interesting to that part, but to me the same flavors just trail for awhile.  I don't notice any odd sensation lingering anywhere, but then I'm not so into such things, and others might notice that.

Da Hong Pao brewed leaves (blended tea)

The Da Hong Pao might be tapering off just a little, only three infusions in, but still in the same range, still very nice.  It would be possible to stretch that process by brewing the tea a lot wispier, even without giving up range, but I've not been preparing these lightly to emphasize the aspects for description.  In a second tasting--with these notes based on the first, this sequencing--I tried them brewed a lot lighter, and that probably works better for appreciating what is going on versus noticing it better, if that makes sense.  Factors like infusion strength always come down to preference, and one person's "light" could be another's strong, or vice versa.

Back to that first tasting setting, the Qi Dan is not really transitioning.  I might mention this is pretty close to a Bei Dou I tried before, a really exceptional tea, with those two plant types supposedly closely related (more on that in the next section).  I was amazed by how aromatic that tea had been, but this time I'm more impressed by how that effect is balanced, how it doesn't give up flavors range, and how the different aspects integrate well into an overall effect.  I must admit, I'm absolutely not doing the effect of this tea justice in this description.  I tried a Qi Lan from Cindy not so long ago and I said the aromatic component seemed too pronounced versus typical flavor range for my preference, versus how others came across, but this Qi Dan strikes a really nice balance.

Qi Dan brewed leaves

After trying brewing the teas very lightly (in the first tasting, but also in the second) both teas worked really well on the wispy side.  Tapering off in intensity doesn't detract from either much.  That one effect I can't describe well in the Qi Dan is also present in a really light version, an aromatic quality, a roundness, or a complexity, a je ne sais quoi.  I think it might be as much how the aspects balance as anything, or a combination of the nice aromatic effect with an interesting flavor range.  Or maybe it's just a floral aspect, and I'm making it sound more complicated than it is.

On the next infusion both really are starting to fade (a half-dozen steeps in?).  The teas still have a few nice infusions to offer by lengthening the brew time, and per past experience mineral related aspects will pick up a lot due to doing that.


On plant types and what Da Hong Pao is, the background

I thought I had this settled in this earlier post.  Da Hong Pao is both a tea plant type, or more than one related genetically similar tea plant, and a final tea version, or at least that’s where I left it there.  DHP was supposed to be Qi Dan and Bei Dou (cultivars), with Qi Dan as the closest to the original version, and Bei Dou directly derived from closely related cuttings, second generation plants.

That legendary origin story traced back to a few specific plants, with all later related plants derived from these.  These plants weren’t said to be a gift from a god or angel, and no statues came to life, so it was basic enough stuff.  The Wikipedia version:

According to legend, the mother of a Ming dynasty emperor was cured of an illness by a certain tea, and that emperor sent great red robes to clothe the four bushes from which that tea originated. Six of these original bushes,[not in citation given] growing on a rock on the Wuyi Mountains and reportedly dating back to the Song dynasty, still survive today and are highly venerated.

That leads to considerations about genetic diversity and what plants existed prior to those few that I won't get into here.  A citation from Tea:  A Users Guide, a nice reference book by Tony Gebely, transitions this to the core concern:

Wu Yi Da Hong Pao;  (武夷 大红袍, wŭ yí dà hóng páo);  Wu Yi Big Red Robe
This style of tea is one of the two wulongs (Tie Guan Yin is the other) that make it to the list of top ten famous Chinese teas (see appendix). Big Red Robe is the most famous and widely produced of the Si Da Ming Cong teas. There is no specific Da Hong Pao cultivar; either Qi Dan (奇丹) or Bei Dou (北斗) are used or a blend is made from many different cultivars with the goal of creating a tea that best exemplifies Yan Yun (岩韵) or rock rhyme, the distinctive aftertaste of Wu Yi Yan Chas.

In that earlier post I had interpreted types based on unrelated cultivars as not being “real” Da Hong Pao, but if the actual common practice is that Da Hong Pao is a tea style, often a blend, then there are really two different and conflicting conventions to consider, as he says.  This would explain why a Bangkok Chinatown shop sold me a Bei Dou as Bei Dou (reviewed here), coupled with the claim that it is a version of real Da Hong Pao.

Those two teas, this Qi Dan and that Bei Dou, were very similar, but not much at all like other versions of Da Hong Pao I’ve tried, or this one.  I mean these two teas I just reviewed are similar to the extent Wuyi Yancha in general spans a common range, but quite different within that range.  Processing as an input further complicates things.  Roasted more this Qi Dan might have resembled a typical Da Hong Pao profile more.

Cindy, roasting tea

An interesting Global Tea Hut publication goes into what they identify as characteristic DHP (along with lots more background on types and the local growing area), based on assuming the tea type is from that limited set of genetically similar plants, not a blend:

The tea is full-bodied and has the fragrance of osmanthus flowers.  It is especially famous for the sensations (cha yun) it brings, especially to the upper palate, and a rich, long-lasting aftertaste (hui gan).  True Da Hong Pao is said to taste and smell of the citrus spray that flies off an orange as it is peeled).

So there's all that.  I didn't notice citrus in this Qi Dan or remember doing so in that Bei Dou but some of that general effect may match.

Cindy mentioned a bit about blending, about their approach.  None of that would be considered a standard, but the end aspects range does seem somewhat consistent, based on versions I've tried (aside from lots of quality variation):

About the blended DHP:  all family material included (versions) are different; you can choose any material you want to use.  My family includes some shuixian with very good aroma, that is not deep in the energy, some rougui with strong energy but not good aroma, mixed.  Of course you also need to include some Pinzhong like qilan or huang meigui (high aroma cultivars) to enhance the aroma.  For blending all of the material needs to be roasted to the same level, so their brewed leavs can be same color, it won't work if some is lightly roasted and some highly roasted. 

Her English is actually pretty good; that's not edited for grammar much at all.  Their website does mention that DHP version is a blend, and a little background on that.  That citation makes it sound like wine blending, doesn't it, the role different grape inputs play in the  Bordeaux blend?  The "energy" part is what you'd expect that to refer to, the cha qi / tea effect idea.

A friend once mentioned tea-type blending is only carried out to cover flaws in some or all of the teas used but as with Bordeaux that may not be a completely fair assessment.  Then again, it would have been a shame to mix that Qi Dan with anything else, so to a limited extent there could be something to that.

All this didn't head towards a conclusion, really, but at least the broad picture is a bit clearer.  For those that see Da Hong Pao as a closely related set of tea plant types it's clear enough what that means; the broader definition meaning might be vague.  It could also just be a nicer sounding way to sell Shui Xian, a re-branding.  That's a plant type often used as restaurant tea, generally lower quality examples, which can be made into very nice tea in better versions.