A little over a week ago a friend and I, Sasha Abramovich, held that trial run tasting in the Benjasiri park, and this week the open version. It worked out. I was concerned about rain and too many people showing up and neither happened. If anything the attendee count was a little low, with 8 people actually joining the tasting, and two more women sitting nearby trying a few rounds of tea along with us (one visiting from China, as chance had it).
The way it played out was a little chaotic, as more ceremonial and theme-specific tea tastings go. We just kept trying different things, sort of in a lighter to heavier order initially, but even that much structure gave way later. Noppadol Ariyakura, the vendor who sells those two Lamphang teas I reviewed (with the reviews here), helped bring tea versions and also prepare them (many thanks to him for that). That worked well for adding more variety and one more layer of discussion, but it also led to a "tasting a lot of different teas" theme, which was fine given the purpose of the event.
A group that small allowed for some other discussion too, personal introductions and such. To place that related to other tasting themes it will work to talk around that range first, and get back to event details, like what we tried, and how water supply issues worked out.
all but me, and I didn't get a good picture of the two other women
the park background, before the tasting
one of my favorite pictures, her there 4 years ago
Keo as a 5 year old, that same day at that park
Different tea tasting themes
in a Moscow bookstore with Alexander and Dasha (left), Laos Tea "staff"
One local vertical sheng tasting related to trying different Yiwu versions of different years was the opposite. Not only was the selection theme tighter, and the brewing process adhered to, but together that led to a more limited and controlled discussion context. It was nice though, just closer to a ceremony in terms of formality than hanging out in a tea bar or a park. Of course tea cafes vary.
It should work to descibe theme differences more clearly as different factors.
Narrower themes work better for more detailed tasting resolution. I keep going on about this related to comparison review: to taste teas most effectively, in the highest resolution, covering a much narrower range is better. "Young sheng only" is still a bit broad; the closer the types are the easier it is to focus on minor differences versus just trying different things. Directly comparing two or more very similar teas enables picking out subtle differences in flavor range, the mouth-feel of teas, or the length and character of aftertaste aspects. Some aspects can serve as markers for quality level, and these might stand out better through such comparison.
Tighter control of parameters helps with more complete and detailed comparison. Water temperature, brewing time, the water used, tasting timing, should all be very uniform, if closer review is a goal. But it may not be. Casual conversation about subjects other than tea isn't necessarily a bad thing, it just doesn't fit well in all event themes.
Tasting more teas over a varied range works better for a broad introduction. It just depends on the goals. To get people introduced to a broad range of types you have to give up focus. Optimized brewing may or may not be a relevant factor; if half of the point is to support other discussion and conversation de-emphasizing a controlled structure may work better.
The theme may or may not focus on brewing and other tea background as subject matter. This doesn't necessarily naturally pair with the formal / informal and narrow / broad type divides I just covered. It would probably mean different things in each context, focusing on much more general issues if the theme is an initial introduction versus narrow type exploration. It's possible to hold an event that's all about how to prepare tea, investigating how minor differences affect outcome, or serving as a preparation tutorial, or ceremonial aspects.
Or it would work to push all of that into the background and focus on other aspects of the experience, or even separate discussion. Somewhere in the middle works too; to cover that as one part of the theme. We didn't for this; I noted when the brewing wasn't right, if I'd made a mistake, or pointed out trying varied infusion strengths a little, but that was about it.
Sasha explaining something
This event details
We tried more teas than would typically make sense at a more standard tasting, across a broader range. Before the event I was concerned that attendance level might be too high, due to mentioning the event in a few online groups, so I brought teas that would hold up well to a loose brewing approach, or even Western style brewing. It seemed possible that it would be necessary to split the attendees into smaller groups. Of course I expected moderate turn-out anyway; it's just how that sort of thing often goes.
Noppadol brought a number of different teas, so that expanded range. I'll list out most of what we tried, roughly in order, but here more split between what I brought and teas that he did instead:
2008 shou mei (aged compressed white tea)
Thai Yunnan-style black tea (an old tea tree version from Tea Side)
Lampang area Thai version of sheng pu'er
Menghai shou pu'er (2008 version from Moychay; pretty good shou)
silver needle (Noppadol provided; I don't have details for the teas he supplied)
Lapsang Souchong, a Chinese unsmoked version of a Fujian black tea
Longjing, Chinese green tea
Those might've worked better re-organized in a different order that made more sense. Noppadol and I didn't really coordinate what we were each going to bring and brew, or plan out the event order. Once you give up the typical structure and pacing it sort of doesn't matter as much anyway; when slightly overwhelmed by variety being able to notice a finer level of details in the teas more or less drops out. We really did end up trying a shou and a silver needle back to back, or nearly in direct comparison; that was kind of extreme, even given the chaotic running theme.
Noppadol pouring tea; a squirrel also checked out the tasting in the tree by us
One main concern I had was about a source of hot water, and that factor also threw off uniformity of the tasting. I brought two small thermoses of hot water, in order to have those to use as a start. The main plan for water source was for Noppadol to bring a small gas stove, and for us to bring well-suited bottled water, but it turned out that you can't bring a stove into that park (which was not a complete surprise). Plan B was to use hot water from a vendor, which you get from a concession stand there, as we had in the trial run a week before. I'm guessing that was unfiltered Bangkok tap water, not unsafe to drink when boiled, but pretty far from ideal, and I definitely wouldn't live on that as a water source.
Noppadol's wife joined us (not at the event; she's not in the pictures), and she heated one round of water out in the parking area, so we switched back and forth between "local water" and spring water. It's probably as well that we were drinking teas that were flexible about inputs like that, for the most part. I think as chance had it white teas weren't ever brewed with that park vendor water, which was as well since you could tell the difference it made using it. I brought a kettle (a "plan C"), but the only power outlets being located in those concession areas would make using one a bit more complicated.
Meeting people; other parts of the event
It was interesting that one guy was from Singapore, another Sweden, and two locals from the US joined. Sasha, my friend prior to the event, is from Israel last, and his wife and Noppadol are Thais. A Thai woman sitting next to us tried a number of teas, and a Chinese visitor did as well. Bangkok is actually like that; people can be from all over. I had expected some French locals to join who didn't, and a British expat friend said he might drop by. If a good bit more people had joined the feel would've been different; it wouldn't have worked well to keep it formatted as one group trying teas together.
I'm not sure what works as a "lesson learned," or what I'd do differently. Reining in the tea order or types theme to make more sense might not hurt. It seems odd to ramp up marketing that sort of event to increase turn-out. It didn't seem like Thais who saw the notice felt it related to them, but then based on the people I've worked with better loose tea interest isn't as common as it might be here. Thai FB tea groups have lots of members; there must be lots of exceptions.
I'd like to try an event in a different place, and have a plan for where, but it will take until after this coming holiday weekend to check on that. I added a survey to draw feedback about where to have a tasting in the International Tea Talk group that I'm an admin for. It seemed like it might work to get a cafe to hold a related event (as Seven Suns once did), or even to get a few Chinatown shops involved, and set up an informal tasting tour. At this rate I'd be helping expand tea awareness here bit by bit, but as long as the outings are pleasant and people enjoy them that's not so bad.
a nice space in the local Dusit Zoo that might also work
the animal prison theme is rough but we visit there more for open green spaces