Thursday, August 30, 2018

1980 and 1993 Thai sheng from Tea Side


easy to tell which is which (older version on the left)


Being mentioned in a recent Steep Stories review of some Tea Side Thai teas, which included discussion of Thai oolong cultivar issues, reminded me that I have a few more samples from them to try.  I forgot what they were, or maybe it really never did register, given that these two I'll review are some of the more novel versions I've encountered.

That novelty is based on age, of course.  The oldest sheng I've experienced may have been this 1998 version shared by Olivier Schneider.  I just don't have the kind of real life tea friends who pass on 80s or 90s pu'er, or the budget to even consider buying such old teas.  I'd be skipping out on too many other options.  Tea Side actually sells these two tea versions, which I'll get into in a section after the review, and buying only a little wouldn't amount to that much expense.  If this wasn't a vendor I've had plenty of contact with, who lots of people regard highly, I'd doubt those ages, but as it stands I don't.  I suppose they could be off a little due to minor error in record keeping but I'm sure the teas really are that old.


That 1980 version does look old, in the dry tea form.  The 1998 HK stored sheng I tried had a good bit of charcoal effect to work through in the first couple of rounds, after that smoothing out a lot and displaying a lot of really positive complexity.  Let's check back on that 1998 tea appearance for reference.




That tea was 5 years younger than the newer of these.  Fermentation depends on environment as much as time, and the range of differences related to starting point is something I'd have trouble placing.

I had guessed that maybe fermentation taken that far tended to transition some of the material towards charcoal, based in part on what I tasted in that tea, and that under the right conditions a century old tea might only be charcoal.  That tea was great after a few infusions cleaned up the aspects.  It'll be interesting to step back another 18 years to try a 38 year old sheng version and see where it stands.  I won't know of the initial starting point character, of course, but the experience should be no less novel and interesting for that.

The 1993 version looks a bit aged but youthful in comparison, only browned but not blackened.  The colors and texture come out better in the individual dry tea photos.


1993 Thai Tea Side sheng


1980 version; on the dark side


Review


I'll not drink an initial rinse for these, keeping with that convention for once.  They'll both need a rinse to wear off some of the less positive aspects of age, not to mention related produced toxins.  I'll taste that anyway, just to get a sense of how much char is being removed, so against convention I'll start a review with evaluating a rinse.


Rinse:


A flash rinse of the 1980 version brewed inky black, like shou given a 30 second soak.  This is going to be interesting.  I think from here on out I'll be using really fast infusions for both, delayed only by the time it takes to pour both in and out.

The 1980 version rinse tastes exactly like a chalk board smells.  Oddly that's a bit cleaner than I expected; I really thought more charcoal would come across than dark slate.  This just being a fast rinse may have offset that, only catching what was loose as very aged material on the outside of the tea.  All the same I expected that to taste like a charcoal briquet for two infusions, not like stone, as it does.

The 1993 version is interesting.  I could drink this infusion; it would be judgment call whether or not to.  Rinsing is also about removing toxins, although pu'er drinkers tend to not make that connection as often as citing removal of any other loose material.  I think if someone was drinking teas like this a few times a week it would be a real health issue but for a couple times a year not at all.  For drinking 10-15 year old versions on an every-other-day basis I'd expect that function would make sense, removing a bit of what you really shouldn't drink in quantity.  This initial rinse isn't so positive that it's like brewing a fresh bai mu dan and wondering why you are throwing away that bright, sweet flavored rinse (but then I wouldn't rinse white teas, typically not even aged versions, when this same issue may apply).

Per what gets communicated in discussions a lot of people would give these teas two more typical length rinses, 10 to 15 seconds each, to really clean them up.  I'm guessing the second rinse, which I'll try as an infusion, will help explain that.


1980 version left; doesn't look it but these were very short infusions


Second rinse / first infusion


1980 version:  yep, that's still a bit heavy on dark stone mineral, with some char.  It's funny the way that smooth, rich, complex underlying range is still blanketed by the mineral / earth / light char range but showing through.  On the initial taste it's all that dark stone mineral but the aftertaste is smoother and sweeter.  It's layered across your whole tongue, not as a tightening or bitterness related effect found in younger sheng, just as flavor and an odd feel, like there's something on your tongue.

1993:  this tea has great complexity too, and it's starting to show where it's going to lead, in some interesting directions.  There must be a whole vocabulary I'm missing to describe the range these flavors will have.  The feel is interesting too; thick, but in a much different sense of how that's used in describing oolongs and the rest.  Given this tea will evolve a lot over the next infusion it seems as well to not try going too far with describing flavor or feel until that next round.


Oddly I'm feeling these teas halfway through this first set of small cups.  I'm a little skeptical of most of what I hear about "qi," the drug-like effect in teas, but when it really does set in there's nothing to be skeptical about.  I could see why for some drinking these two teas together would be one of the craziest things you could do, to mix that effect from two teas when you'd not have the chance of experiencing each alone another time.

Beyond just that it might be like mixing drugs, for some, when experiencing each drug is the point.  I'm not into drug use myself, not even related to tea.  Teas causing an unsual feeling is interesting and definitely novel, maybe enjoyable, but beyond tea calming you and giving you a bit of lift I don't seek out the rest.

Preference is a funny thing, how it can lead in different directions and take different forms, and options and levels of details that an unconditioned person would be unlikely to take in could become important and clear over time.  I can relate to why people might seek out that range of experiences, I've just not become attached to it myself.  I'd probably see it in a different way if I didn't have a personal history with drugs that I'm happy to leave in the past.


again a very fast infusion, picking up color and intensity quickly


Second infusion


I let this round brew a few seconds but not for very long.  It's about the balance of not overbrewing these, which would happen fast, and diluting the experience by drinking them on the thin side.

The 1980 version never did get into as much char as I expected, and the little that's present and the high balance of mineral are clearing up.  A character and flavor I've described as closest to old furniture is a main flavor range, but that really doesn't do justice to the experience.  I've said the same about oolongs that had been around a few years, and to some extent the two were related, but this is something else entirely.  Lots of root-spice complexity seems to develop, and it even hints towards cocoa.  It's so complex that for someone with a really good imagination they could take sips and write lists, over and over, different versions of them.  To me a main thread is that root spice, not far off licorice, with a lot of what might be interpreted as very rich dried fruit filling in some range.  The complexity and smooth earthiness would probably seem a close match to a lighter roasted coffee, to some.  I think the tea is beyond any flavors interpretation really doing it justice; it has too much going on.

The feel and the way it coats your tongue is also interesting, and the way the aftertaste remains as a sweet, earthy, root-spice oriented complexity.  It's interesting enough that someone could spend a couple of hours drinking this tea, doing nothing else, not so much to pin down descriptions--almost better not to--but just to experience what's there, which will probably be much different in the next round.  That drug-like effect might support that; a few hours out in nature drinking it might be nice.


The 1993 version evolved and transitioned even more.  It's really gaining strength in the mineral range.  It's woody too, very powerful in taste combining very pronounced broad-range mineral flavors with an aged wood taste.  It's not the same as that "old furniture" aspect, but describing the difference goes beyond what I have concepts handy for.  It comes across a bit like tree-root.  Of course I mean the smell; I've not tasted that, or brewed it.  When you dig up a root base for a tree, or even just dig deep into the ground, there's a mineral smell and a vegetal range smell that's unique.  It's not as much like any form of wood as one might expect, nothing like fresh green wood, cut lumber, aged wood of different kinds, fermenting sawdust, and so on.  It's a little like the taste you get when you bite into a raw potato, or eat a fresh piece of the peel.  Not exactly like that, but in that general range.

It doesn't remind me of any other tea I've ever tried, really.  That alone is nice, and it's probably a lot more pleasant than the description makes it sound.  Again it's definitely not astringent in any sense but the way it coats your mouth is interesting (less centered on the tongue than the other), and the way that different flavors remain after you swallow it.  I'd expect the range to sweeten a bit in the next infusion or two, with the really intense mineral and root tones evening out, but it's pretty cool as it is.


One thing I've never been able to describe is why all tea is more complex than any tisane I've ever tried, and why sheng is typically a good bit more complex than any other tea.  I'm not going to try to justify or explain that further; if you get it and agree that's nice, and if you disagree or have no idea what I'm talking about it's as well to let it go.  It's just a part of the underlying context that doesn't seem to get much attention, and probably for a good reason.  Focusing on those aspects that make it a complex experience  instead--as I am in detail here--doesn't really describe or help explain the overall effect.  It reminds me of the saying about missing the forest for the trees; I'm not describing a forest here, I'm just talking about trees.

Third infusion


going with a limited proportion might work, along with limiting infusion time

Even brewed quite quickly the 1980 version is still coming out inky black, and the other now a rich dark amber.  I'm not doing this tasting right; I didn't account for these teas being this intense or strong in effect.


I can't regret trying them together (just yet, at least) since for me that's a helpful tool for noticing differences in a lot more detail than trying them one day after another; the experience of each tea helps shed light on the character of the other.  But really for drinking these for enjoyment versus review description trying them together doesn't make any sense at all.


They're way too strong in effect to be drinking as much tea as I easily could for other types, even for decent young sheng.  Setting them aside for an hour or two could help compensate for that, but I am working within a window of time when two little people aren't shouting in here, and being shouted at by their mother.  I'll probably drink these two cups and then wander around aimlessly for a short while and see what comes of that.


not helpful for tea tasting, or quiet in general


This isn't the intense high that comes with drinking a powerful young sheng, which is closer to getting stoned.  This current effect isn't really an experience that I'm familiar with at all.  I feel it in my body and in my head.  With the only LBZ version I ever tried I literally went outside to look at the colors of the green leaves for awhile, but for this I'd probably as soon just lay down.  I could probably sleep; it's strange.


The 1980 version is evolving but not changing fast.  Everything I said the last round about flavors still applies:  limited and integrated dark mineral, root spice, toward cocoa, not that far off coffee, with some sweetness that might trail towards dried fruit.  The feel and aftertaste are cool too, but I'll skip repeating in what way, just all a bit cleaner and lighter than in the last round.


The 1993 version shifted more again; not surprising this time.  That woodiness that had been similar to tree root is still there, onto more of a complex expression, covering old furniture some, but more into tree bark and fermenting sawdust now, balanced with a nice amount of sweetness.  A touch of vegetal range is more like tree leaves than anything else, not like familiar food items.  Of course some mineral underlies that, and the parts about feel and aftertaste again I'll not keep repeating.

Both of these are really complex experiences.  In both cases what you experience extends beyond that split into taste, feel, and aftertaste, and I'm not really even talking about that drug-like effect, a bit like I've taken a valium.  It just seems like there's more going on than you can really take in.



after several rounds but not completely unfurled yet


Fourth infusion


I took a break for about an hour.  These teas may not have really had a sedative effect, it might have just related to enhancing whatever feeling I was already experiencing.  I'm not really a morning person (even late morning, which it had been), so I was experiencing a lower energy vibe to begin with.  I'm back to it, but probably just for a couple of rounds, since I've got a daily schedule to get to.  I let the teas brew around 10 seconds this time, a little thicker, but that should pass on the full effect.


1980 version:  the char and slate-mineral ramps up a little brewed that little bit stronger.  The old furniture effect is also pronounced, with all those other aspects and layers giving this amazing complexity.  It's more than worth drinking this tea just for the way all that trails along your tongue as taste and feel after you swallow it, in a very novel way.  It's a little licking a blackboard, but probably more pleasant than that.  I think sweetness and dark wood / spice range is picking up a little in balance.  This might be a much more pleasant overall profile in another two infusions, but it's been nice already, very interesting.


1993 version:  "interesting" doesn't quite capture the complexity of this tea.  Dark wood, tree root, mineral undertone all ramp way up, with some fainter spice and mild dried fruit beyond all that.  Now instead of this tasting a good bit like potato skin it tastes like beet root.  For someone who doesn't like beet root that might sound awful but for me it really works.  I don't mean cooked beets, really, although it's common to that, more like the effect in drinking a carrot and beet juice, a brighter and sweeter version, but still really earthy in a pleasant way.  This tea wouldn't be for everyone but I almost get the sense that people who couldn't appreciate it would be wrong in some way, personally limited instead of just on another page.

I've said it before so I won't go too far with this idea but the complexity in both could lead to a broad range of different interpretations.  This 1993 version could come across as old furniture related in flavor, or old books, or that could seem like some variation of a liqueur instead to some, or I suppose even towards nail polish.  Obviously I interpret it as I've described it, but more experienced or imaginative reviewers might write a long list, or at least a different one.

Fifth infusion


1980:  this shifts more to a flavor I'd always imagined betel nut would have, I just never get around to trying that.  It's not nutty at all, more like a mineral intensive version of a leaf.  I suppose the other earthiness might be pulling back from dark mineral and char into the range of leather, like old baseball glove.  It's funny how all this sounds negative to me but I love the aspects.  Again it's more about the intensity than the flavor, and there's no describing that.


1993:  it works to say this version is close enough to the last round.  Again very complex on different levels, just not all that similar in character.  The flavor is actually stronger after you drink it than when it's in your mouth, and it still has a presence in your mouth, the feel.  That effect is cool.

Sixth infusion


These both might be just starting to level off in intensity.  They'll transition more, and they're really intense still, but it seems to moderate a little.

1980:  this round is about the balance of earlier aspects changing quite a bit.  It's hard to describe how, so I guess I just won't.

1993:  kind of the same as the last round, maybe just a touch thinner, leveling out a little for intensity.  Few enough teas are ever this intense of complex though, and I get the sense this is far from finished.


how those look opened up


Later rounds / conclusions


I did get back to these, and the next few rounds--all I've tried so far, but they're not finished yet--were still very nice, just thinning, decreasing in intensity, and it would've been repetitive to talk about those minor shifts.  They should brew an awful lot that's quite positive, maybe just with a bit of char picking up in level again due to being drawn out more from long infusion times.


These were two great teas, very interesting, novel, and pleasant.  Of course I can't place them related to a broader range of 25 to 38 year old aged sheng versions.  The one tea I remember trying from the 90s was similar in some ways, but I don't have even a starting point of experience with 20+ year old sheng.

The "qi" effect was also unique, but I'll hold off on saying more about that along with the vendors' description, which goes into that too.


Tea Side vendor information / their description, and about "cha qi" effect


As I mentioned they sell these two teas; different to have such an option.  Surely there wouldn't be a large supply of either.  I'll cite most of their description for both here.


1993 Thai Aged Raw Pu-erh Tea


Classic old tea of dry or semi-dry storage, which Malaysia or Thailand can boast. Gives a dense dark-ruby infusion while brewed (see fast steeps on the photo). In the taste there are hazelnuts, sweet spicy wood notes and dried fruits. Feels soft, oily and silky on the throat. Deep taste and long, rich oily aftertaste leaves no doubt that the tea is made from very old trees material...

Its Cha Qi deserves a special attention. If you have some puer experience, you’ll guaranteed get drunk. By its power, this tea can compete with the best samples of Lao Ban Zhang pu-erhs. The effect is deep, sedative. The body boundaries dissolves into oily emptiness, the movements become soft, and the mind calms down.

This tea pleases with its great re-steeping ability. 7 grams confidently hold two liters of water. Make a 1,5-hour brake, put aside matters and enjoy the tea. Don’t plan anything serious for later.


That's a funny way to put it, that last part.  That effect of both teas was intense, and again it would've made more sense to review them individually to compare the effect separately.  Mixed, there was no splitting that out.  It gave me a strange feeling, which I'll say more about after mentioning their other tea description.


1980 Thai Aged Raw Pu-erh Tea


This raw (sheng) pu-erh tea has been aging since 1980. It was made from Thai old tea trees material, Chiang Rai province. Thai storage all the way long.

Exterior of the tea is excellent. Old school is easily detected - the leaves are one to one. Instantly brews into black liquor, but at the same time the infusion is surprisingly transparent. The taste is solid, perfectly smooth and soft.

There are three main notes: camphor and sweet hazelnut flavor on a spicy wood background.It is interesting, when a wet storage produce camphor, it feels pushy. But here camphor flavor is soft, natural. Tea has acquired deep sweetness and, despite its age, it's very tasty and easy to drink. The cover of gaiwan gives a light aroma of buckwheat and wheat.

6 grams of dry tea for half liter of water. The Cha Qi here is very different from the one of old 1993 raw pu-erh of the same master. "Covers" softer and gentler, you don’t feel such "swagger". The tea strongly warms up the body, calms and collects your thoughts.


I might have swapped out some mention of camphor for that of slate-range mineral, but close enough.  I get the sense that camphor is being used in different ways in tea descriptions.  Some teas really do remind me of the ingredient that is used in medicinal balms, just not very many.  This really didn't, but it did have some of an aged furniture effect that seems to get assigned that naming too.  Hazelnut, mentioned in both vendor descriptions, kind of works per my interpretation.


About the feel; they are saying the two teas have a completely different "qi" effect.  I can only pass on what happens when you mix those, which of course would make no sense to someone drinking tea primarily or even partly for that effect.


They were calming, with a sedative effect, but providing an unusual type of energy.  I wouldn't say I loved the feeling but it was novel.  Somehow even though calming and providing energy together sort of are the point of teas that produce a qi effect the energy seemed edgy, and a little unsettling.  I can't rule out that my starting point state wasn't a factor in that.  It was on a day off, when I had plenty of free time, but my days off tend to carry over some of the stress levels I've experienced from earlier.

Another Chinese tea vendor has raised a complaint against pu'er that echoes what I just experienced, that the energy from the tea makes her feel edgy versus calm, that it's somehow aggressive in nature (versus a type she likes better, and also happens to sell, so maybe not an unbiased take).  I'm not saying pu'er is like that in general, and I'm not even sure anyone else would have the same reaction to the exact same thing I just experienced.  It's interesting and relevant so I'm passing the ideas on.


I'll explain further by comparing these two two other tea "qi" experiences.  The strongest I felt was from an LBZ sample, reviewed in this post.  I felt stoned from that, as if I'd smoked marijuana.  I guess for someone into getting high that might be great, but then they have marijuana for that.

More recently I tried two young Yiwu sheng together and those passed on a good bit of effect, again the calming + energy pairing, but more mild, and nothing like being stoned.  That was more typical of what I've experienced in the past; milder, calming but more related to being energizing, and more moderate.


All of this is really more for someone who likes such effects, and seeks them out.  Some people pass on that they experience changes in energy level and calmness, or mental state of mind, based on drinking lots of types of tea, or I guess potentially all of them.  I don't reject that; people would be more or less sensitive to it.  I'm skeptical that they aren't imagining some of it.  That's in the same way I accept that maybe someone can identify a dozen distinct flavors from a tea (even one I've drank and not noticed any of them from); I just doubt that imagination wasn't a significant, or even critical, supporting input.

That could be taken in two different ways.  Imagination in terms of "just making it up" is one; some of that surely goes on at some point.  I also think to be most sensitive to effects of tea, or flavors, or any other aspects, someone would need to be very open to subtle inputs.  Imagination could support that, in order to help identify what really is there, just down at the threshold of what can be experienced.  This might occur well below the threshold of what most people would or could experience, in some cases.  Anyone who could notice that they've had a few beers would be able to notice the effects of these teas, easily enough.

Anyway, this makes for a chance for people to try and experience this for themselves, since these teas are being sold per weight versus in any set quantity.  They both certainly made for a novel experience on multiple levels that I really appreciated the chance to try.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Narendra Kumar Gurung on developing local tea production in Nepal


This post was originally submitted to the TChing site, published in two parts with the second here.

A farm in Nepal, photo credit the Highlanders Farmers FB page



I recently talked with Narendra Kumar Gurung about tea production in Nepal.  He has a limited history of working within that industry, following a much longer family history of growing tea.

His latest venture is to move on from growing tea and having it processed locally to conducting the processing on his own, by setting up a small processing center.  These are themes I've been discussing with others related to Assam lately, about trends in farmers and other entrepreneurs ramping up local processing and distribution skills.  There are several related goals:  to add more value to their contribution, to make better finished products, and to support more local employment and the local economy through such ventures.

This will work as a two-part series, since he has just completed a round of production that this interview won't cover, with more on how it worked out to follow.  The background of history of tea production in Nepal and where the industry stands now are interesting, described in the following.

The success of these kinds of ventures is important to resolving some of the economic development, sustainability, and tea production workers poverty alleviation issues.  This can be carried out through pushing production, value addition, and increased revenue to a more local level.  That's my interpretation, anyway.  The history and current status tell more of the story, from this small producer's perspective.  This content is in his own words, only edited slightly to adjust form.


Narendra, photo credit his FB page


1.  Could you share a little background about yourself and the family history of growing tea?  Why was there a prohibition against growing tea in Nepal at one point?

I am retired from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Nepal after working for 20 years [with more on that development related agency here].  I have been involved with the family tea farming since 2016. My late grandfather Ranabir Gurung had started tea farming in the 1920s while Nepal was under the oligarchic Rana's regime, when Nepal was not open to the outside world. Ran Bir Gurung used to visit Darjeeling, Silguri, and Kolkata to purchase the materials for the construction of two suspension bridges in 1930, which he covered the cost of himself, over two rivers, the Maikhola and Puwa Mai of Ilam district of Nepal.

The history mentions that in Darjeeling the tea plantations started in 1847.  About 10 to 15 years later the district magistrate of Ilam Mr. Gajaraj Singh Thapa (son in law of Rana) developed the Ilam tea garden, based on growing Chinese plant varieties.  But under the oligarchic of Rana regime tea cultivation was not allowed at the farmers level. It is said in our family that District Magistrate sent some army staff to uproot the tea saplings planted, around .025 hectare, and we can still see 10-15 bushes abound our house in Ilam which were left only for our domestic consumption. He had also purchased some shares of Palashbari Tea garden, D. West Bengal 735202, which lies in the bordering areas of Bhutan and doors in Darjeeling.

It was only after 57 years of Ranbir Gurung’s endeavors in tea cultivation, that his son (my father) Man Bahadur Gurung (85 yrs.) started the tea plantation in 1980s, which had been developed to 6 hectares as of 2000. Man Bahadur Gurung had established the tea factory in joint venture with the Vaidhya groups of Nepal.  This was one of the first of its kind in this locality that benefited numbers of tea farmers in the vicinity by allowing them to sell their green leaves locally. The basic infrastructure for tea factories (transportation and electricity) in this locality was not well developed at that time.  The situation was not congenial to operating a factory, so Man Bahadur Gurung withdrew his share from the factory sometime in 2008.

Thus, after 18 years, once again grandson of Ranbir Gurung, Narendra Kumar Gurung (myself) has ventured to establish small scale tea factory that process green leaves from our own garden and tea farmers from the surrounding areas.


view of mountains


2. To what extent has the specialty or higher quality tea industry in Nepal changed in the recent past?

There is growing trend of establishing small-scale tea processing plants, in the last ten years. About 110 mini factories are already established, with the capacity ranging from 3000 to 50,000 kilograms of processed tea per year.  These are mostly owned by tea farmers and tea farmers’ cooperatives. In these mini processing plants it is much easier to control the quality of tea produced since the green leaves are obtained from their own gardens and there is strong sense of ownership.  Subsequently the quality of produced teas is much higher. There is encouragement and a sense of competition among factory owners to make different kinds of the best specialty teas.

Beside the affordability to start this mini plant, another factor is the relatively lower scale of investment required compared to the traditional large scale of tea manufacturing plants.


3. In what way has the market for higher quality teas there changed?  How are most teas produced in Nepal sold, and to what country?

The medium and large size factory owners buy green leaves and produce in large quantity, without caring so much about the quality, and those finished teas are sold to Kolkata auction market.  The products are often subsequently sold as Darjeeling tea, misrepresented as being from a different location.

But with the introduction of Chinese mini processing plants, there is a growing trend of producing the specialty teas (white, gold, silver needle, oolong, and green tea).  Producers are more often more connected with the garden owners, with these small operations continually developing increasing skills of tea craftsmanship. Most of these teas are sold to European countries, to Korea, Japan and the US through personal connections. There is not much domestic consumption for these types of specialty teas except for Chinese tourists buying them as gift items.


4. Related to discussing tea plants, can you say a little about what types of tea you grow (var. Assamica versus Sinensis, local plant types or hybrids)? 

Almost all teas that we grow here in Nepal originated from Chinese and Assamica varieties propagated through seeds. Only few varieties are from Cambodia. There are a numbers of lines developed based on Chinese and Assamica varieties from Darjeeling’s different gardens, imported through different channels. The hill areas where my garden exists, at an elevation of 1514 meters, produce only orthodox teas based on Chinese origin teas.





5. Can you describe more specifics about tea processing techniques you are familiar with, and where they originate from? 

The tea processing technique and sequence that we follow is quite traditional, as in other places:  (1) plucking, (2) withering (3) rolling (4) fermentation (oxidation) (5) drying (6) sorting and grading and  (7) packing.

Right after my retirement from JICA in March 2016, I had an opportunity to attend training entitled, “2016 Seminar on Pollution free, Tea production Technology for Developing countries,’’ organized by Zhengzhou college of Science & Technology, Zhengzhou Fijian province of China, from April to June 19 in 2016.  This short course was an eye opener for me, encouraging me to develop the processing of tea from my garden and neighborhood farmers. I also realized that Nepal’s experiences on tea at the farmers level is just at the embryonic stage while China has more than 5000 years of tea culture and tradition.


a different type of area, but reminiscent of tiered farming in Sapa, Vietnam



6. Is there a tradition of local Nepalese tea processing and related techniques, and tea products and types?  

Tea culture is rather new in Nepalese societies.  Although at the state level the gardens were developed in 1863, that production remained only within the government scope. Only in 1971 under the out-growers schemes of the Nepal Tea Development Corporation did tea plantation production start at the farmers' level. Taking tea as local beverage also has a similar history, only consumed in the eastern part of Nepal like Ilam.  This is perhaps due to those areas adjoining to the Darjeeling area. But now gradually the milk teas (based on CTC versions) are getting popular all throughout the country.


it's jumping ahead but I'll also share pictures of the next part



7. Where does Nepalese tea production stand now?

The teas that you had mentioned trying (golden black teas, and silver needle) are very new development products, perhaps being developed only in the last ten years. The taste, aroma, and quality of Nepalese teas as whole being so different from many other teas of the world is due to the high elevation, climate with mist, monsoon rain, and quite congenial weather of Ilam, the Eastern district of Nepal.

If we just gauge the tea history of Nepal at the farmers’ level, both garden management and tea manufacturing, 45 and 25 years respectively, there have been significant leaps made.  Surely there are lots of areas of improvement to come in terms of improving quality and efficiency. One of the major challenges the Nepalese tea entrepreneurs face are the marketing of their products, along with further developing processing skills and knowhow.

As we go forward there could be lots of interaction among the tea entrepreneurs, marketers and tea consumers at the global level, while Nepalese producers at different scales of production volume further develop their craftsmanship.

My company, Highlanders Farmers Private Limited, has supported about ten (10) tea laborers through out the years in plucking, bush management and so on. One manager is fully involved to manufacture the produced tea into different types and quality levels.  There are six tea farmers within the radius of one and half kilometers from my garden who will provide their green leaves for processing in my small plant.

Narendra Kumar Gurung
(narengurung@gmail.com)

Conclusion


Again this is only part one.  Actual finished teas have been produced over the last month or two at his small start-up facility, as a first step on this new venture that was described.  A second chapter that includes a review of finished teas will add more about where things stand, and about next steps in this development.  Narendra hopes to explore more direct sales overseas, which I will say more about along with reviewing those teas in this blog.


the second part should make for an interesting story



Saturday, August 25, 2018

Reviewing Thai tea (ChaTraMue brand, one orange version)


not this, but Thai tea Blizzards are even better than the drink


this version, along with a complete breakfast


I've written about making a spiced Thai tea from scratch before but never about drinking the commercial product, at least that I've brewed from loose tea myself.  Here in Thailand that would be a little like reviewing Starbucks coffee, or a McDonald's milkshake; everyone knows what they're like.  Except they seem not to sell McDonald's milkshakes here, so I mean they know back in the States.


There are other commercial versions of Thai tea.  I'm not really trying to explain the range of those here.  All flavored black Thai teas of this type taste a bit similar, so the idea is to describe that, with just a little comment on variations.  This does seem to be the standard producer, Cha Tra Mue, also going by Number One brand instead.


This is the first time I've bought the loose blended Thai tea here, in nearly 11 years of living here.  I do have it in cafes sometimes so it's kind of strange that never seemed like a good idea. I was really into exploring better plain teas, I guess, just setting that aside for an Earl Grey or jasmine black once in awhile, or more recently for trying those tea stuffed mandarin orange peels.


The review part won't be formal or long.  Thai tea tastes like mild black tea with star anise and artificial flavoring added. It's not that far from orange creamsicle.  Beyond that separating out flavor aspects doesn't work well.  Someone asked about it in a group once thinking it was peanut butter tea.  It's not that far off that, in a limited sense, but to me tastes nothing like peanut butter.  The flavor is like a mix of spices but seemingly also based on artificial flavors.  Research cited in that other post indicated that the original version may have been black tea, roasted tamarind seeds, and orange blossoms, and it may taste like that.


In coffee shops it's usually better.  Sometimes they brew them in an espresso machine instead there, as covered in this cafe review post awhile back.  That improvement is probably due to using a good version of a tea mix, plenty of sugar, or maybe sweetened condensed milk, and half and half instead of whole milk.  It works better cold, or even blended with ice, but then you might as well eat ice cream.  I did just eat a lot of Thai tea flavored soft serve when the local Dairy Queen ran that flavor as a special for a month.  I think I put on a little weight from that, maybe an extra 2 kilos / 4 1/2 pounds.  It's probably healthier for me that they discontinued that.  I suggested to the Dairy Queen corporation to run that as a promotion in the US but you can imagine their response; there wasn't one.


Review (a short version)


I've been making this Western style; that would be crazy to make a finely ground black tea Gongfu style.  It's so finely ground that even though I'm using a very fine strainer in a basket-style infuser some tea dust gets through.  It's a nice "For Life" brand version device, with a ceramic lid matching the cup, to hold in the heat and then hold the basket as a saucer.


The trick is getting the balance of sugar and milk right, as much as sorting out proportion and timing.  Whatever the artificial flavoring and coloring is that brews through relatively quickly (or just dissolves), so if you try to make two infusions--which I always do; I just never get to dialing back proportion and going with a single 5+ minute steep--then the flavor changes a lot in the second round.


I can tell this is probably Thai black tea.  It has a distinctive mild earthy taste, not bad or good necessarily, just different.  I bought a bag of it to make blends with however many months ago, and made it a few times to check on black tea with milk again, so it's relatively fresh in my memory.  It's almost time to get that tea back out to make fall or winter blends, even though we really have no fall or winter in this climate.  The rainy season ends and cool season begins around November but it's not all that cool.

Thai CTC tea; very inexpensive


It's hard to be more specific than I was in the intro in reviewing this particular version; the general flavor profile is always what Thai tea is, give or take some limited variation.  I added some star anise to it the last two times I made it to correct for that flavor input being too mild in this brand version (two stars worth seems to work well), and it's pretty good after that adjustment.  It tastes like a very mild black tea, kind of woody, not astringent at all, then like that star anise, and from there like some artificial version of spice.  It's odd that any of that approaches "creamsicle" but it does.




red when brewed, orange with milk added

This style of tea is prepared and sold here mostly as powdered tea.  That's probably not that different than a brewed version.  It's the mix of some limited amount of tea, artificial flavor, and milk and sugar that works, so brewing a subtle and complex version of loose tea doesn't matter much.  Given the quality of black tea typically used that's not even really possible.


It makes you wonder, what tea type would be ideal for this?  I'd think even modest quality Ceylon would work even better, and Assam wouldn't match as well for that maltiness and astringency.  Mostly Ceylon with a little Assam might be good.  But it hardly seems to matter that black Thai tea typically isn't very good on its own.  I think I like it for it not reminding me that much of normal tea.  It's like eating matcha ice cream; not supposed to be like the rest of "tea."  Or like an even more amazing version of hojicha soft serve I've tried.


I don't think it would be possible to duplicate the artificial flavor by using actual spices, but then I never could find roasted tamarind seeds and orange blossoms to try to make that original version.  I can definitely buy tamarind in lots of places, it's just a lot of work to try roasting, shelling, and grinding them.  Making one batch would probably be plenty of work and experimenting with the roasting process could take awhile.


The version I made from scratch was nice, but just as close to masala chai as this.  The flavor profile doesn't exactly seem to include vanilla but that is close enough to part of it.  Mixing that and star anise, the main flavor that stands out, and whatever other herbs would get you most of the way.  I don't think it is possible to completely duplicate the exact taste though, since it's based on artificial flavoring, as the orange coloring is.

You would think Amazon would sell this pre-prepared product but I'm only seeing the tea powder mix or tea bag versions there.


what's in the powdered version of that tea


On meeting people and sharing tea


I recently met an online tea contact who was visiting here, Suzana Syiem of the Tea group / FB page.  I guess this does relate, since we met at a coffee shop at my office building and she had a Thai tea there.



Now that I think of it we didn't talk about that tea.  I bought this can of flavored tea in part to pass on some to her, but it's not as if that didn't serve my interest just as much.  It cost next to nothing, something like $2.50 (what a single prepared drink usually costs), and I've drank it a number of times, since I only shared a good bit with her in one of those multi-layer envelopes that seal.  It would've been very little extra expense to buy two cans instead but lugging that can--like a small coffee can--doesn't match with a short trip / traveling light theme, and the other samples took up some space too.


Tea culture in different places has become an interest I'm pursuing, and she and I have talked about tea in India more online than we got around to that day.  Indians tend to like CTC black tea (commercial mass-produced versions), either with milk and sugar or those plus spices, as masala chai.  She shared some of something else entirely with me though, a high altitude organic black tea from Shillong, a 2018 first flush.  Very cool!  I'll say more about that later.

It was great meeting her.  It's usually nice meeting people you only know online; typically not too strange to connect in that other format.  She and her friend were really nice; it felt like I knew them both already.  Hearing a little about their short visit here was interesting, the ups and downs of navigating an unknown and slightly chaotic city.  For them it felt kind of orderly, it seemed, but there's still a learning curve to work through.

One funny part was comparing notes on politics, trying to see who's country is under worse leadership.  Of course I claimed the US is a clear winner.  Trump might go to jail within the next two years instead of serving out his term, and he's destroying the US as fast as he possibly can (with 40% still buying that MAGA story line; kind of pathetic).  They said that their country is also ran badly, under an anti-corruption theme that's not good enough with management details to do better than the corrupt version did (or only less corrupt, if India is anything like SE Asia).  One comment might've tipped the contest to be the worst in India's favor; the people there support that leadership, the majority, not just a sadly misguided large minority.

I had passed on some tea to her earlier, a good bit, and I've been giving away a lot of tea lately.  Often that's been connected with those tastings, but I share a little at work now and again, and just gave a doctor we visit some.  I just sent some to an online contact in the North of Thailand too, a guy who had ran his own version of an expat forum I was sort of active in before.  That experience showed how such a thing might not always be well received.  I sent this, from Farmerleaf (one of my favorite Yunnan pu'er and Dian Hong vendors), ordered directly from that vendor to him:




That might seem a little odd; even though the expense was limited, why buy tea for someone you don't even know in real life?  Part of it was about pushing that tea evangelist role to an extreme, to check on the outcome, and part about thanking him for contributing an interesting forum to talk in for a number of years.  Most of the expat forum versions here run a bit rough.  His only feedback:  I'm kind of busy these days.  I took that to mean he didn't like the tea but didn't want to put it that way.  I suppose it could mean that he didn't want to admit that Chinese tea is better than British versions, I just don't think so.

I'll surely buy that same set for me too at some point since I don't feel closure related to someone who could appreciate what that tea is drinking it instead.

I never could relate to that other part, about British people feeling a connection to tea that's not from Britain, with the style somehow making it their own.  Traditionally British tea was keemun / qimun (Chinese black tea), Assam (Indian), and Ceylon (Sri Lankan), although I'd imagine more comes from Kenya than any one of those other sources now.  Blending can influence a final tea style, and adding bergamot essential oil in the case of Earl Grey is a change, but it's odd to me that buying tea as loose Assam and Ceylon never really seemed to catch on to the degree commercial blended tea-bag version brands did there.


on that short list

Even though not all the examples of sharing tea made sense making those personal connections has been nice.  There is a good long list of people I've talked to I'd love to meet in person, and for a short list worth that step seems to be running late.


Initially when I used tea to research social media, as a shared subject interest theme, I thought that maybe most people into tea would be more interesting, broad-minded, and generally better people than average.  Maybe it didn't work out that way, but some certainly are.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Shou pu'er stuffed orange from K. Muikee Tea shop




a few kinds; I have another bai mu dan version to try


I'm finally getting around to trying one of those tea stuffed oranges I bought in K. Muiktee tea shop in Chinatown around three weeks ago (about that visit and a local market area there).  I bought both a shou pu'er and bai mu dan version, and am going with the shou this time.  Not that long ago I had tried my first tea-stuffed orange, a black tea version from the Jip Eu shop (which isn't exactly listed on their FB page).


I just did a group tea tasting yesterday (at time of taking notes) and it will be nice to take a break from brewing tea, or even trying to taste it at the same level of detail as those Gongfu brewing reviews work out.


It looks dark, with just enough light grey that it makes you wonder if it's even a good idea to drink it.  I'm guessing that there is enough mold on this orange that toxins are also present.  I really should have at least rinsed it, but didn't really consider that until mid-way through the first infusion.  I'll surely live; all that relates to long term exposure and risk.


It reminds me of seeing a comment in a tea discussion recently about how there can't be toxins in tea because it never made that person sick.  I don't think it works like that, like food poisoning.  I'd expect the risk is closer to how lead poisoning contamination works instead; it might get to you over time.  Or I've seen pictures of versions that look exactly like this online; maybe it should like that.


that shop owner with Huyen, my friend from Vietnam


Review


It tastes less like citrus than I expected in the first round.  That citrus stuffed black tea from Jip Eu was just that for the first two infusions, a bright, sweet version of dried orange peel.  It also didn't look black or grey; it had dried and preserved differently.  But then I was also using a Gongfu brewing approach with that, which sort of seemed not to make as much sense as throwing it in a pot for  minutes, even while I was doing it.  Sometimes I feel like the extra messing around.

the peel lightened up early in the brewing process


stopped brewing short of it turning inky black first round


It doesn't really taste that much like shou either, more just a mix of flavor range.  It's earthy, of course with some citrus.  The flavors are a bit non-distinct; they mix.  For that they seem cleaner than I'd expect.  Stones and earth come across, or as someone mentioned in a tasting about shou not so long ago that twigs and bark did.  So I guess I'm "getting forest floor," to dress that description up a bit.  And a dark wood.  The citrus may come across more next round, but then the orange peel hadn't opened up much in that first round.  I pried it apart a bit, so the balance should shift even more to shou input.

on the thicker side, how I often drink shou



torn open to help it infuse

On the second infusion the tea is even inkier, dark as a thick-brewed shou.  I brewed it for well over 5 minutes, maybe closer to 10, but not 10.  This should show off not only how well the mix of peel and shou works but also what tea is really like.  Again it's non-distinct.  It's brewed stronger, with the balance between citrus and shou not seeming to change much, just adding more intensity from both.

I can't tell if the shou is good quality or not; mixing citrus in throws off really evaluating it.  It probably was a bit non-distinct without that though.  Some versions can be intensely earthy in different ways, drifting into a dried fruit tone, or towards spice, maybe aromatic tobacco, but more often just expressing petroleum, dark wood, or mineral.

Some shou are just mild, much more subtle.  At the risk of speculating about patterns a bit more than comprehensive tasting can fully support (based only on a couple dozen shou--probably enough) mild, subtle shou tends to be easy to drink even when very young, and both better and worse versions tend to express more complexity and rough edges at first.  Those then even out over a few years and become complex in positive ways in better versions, or just stay a bit odd for others.


I guess that it's not bad; it's not off in any way.  It's a bit like the equivalent of Earl Grey for shou; the tea gets blotted out but the overall effect is still nice.  It might taste a little like a light roasted coffee under there.  The effect from the citrus isn't what I expected at all.  That did seem to transition to be a lot less bright, through aging to the form it's in now.  I'm not sure if it's supposed to be like that or not; I'm familiar with how teas age, not orange peels.

A pu'er vendor once had me try some aged orange peel with tea, maybe 5 years back.  It was supposedly aged in Hong Kong, supposedly 20 years old, or whatever it was (maybe 100, as Chinese stories tend to go).  The idea was that using just a little could add some depth to the tea and bring out some of it's own character; it wasn't about trying to make an Early Grey version of pu'er.  Of course there was a semi-mystical Chinese claim around all of it, about how it really should expand the depth of the feel and such, based on being so old, but as I remember she was speculating that it was more likely a modern product.  Anyway, it was dark too, I just don't remember it being grey.


after a second long soak; not changed much



green oranges (ripe), with longkong and bananas

Looking at the final image after one short infusion and two long ones it occurs to me this may not have been an orange colored orange.  There are a half-dozen at home on the dining room table that aren't the type that actually turn orange; you eat the fruit while the peel is still green.  I'd have to bite the peel to see if that matters much for how it tastes.  The fruit itself varies some across orange versions but not as much as for pineapple, mangos, bananas and the rest.  Juice oranges and mandarin oranges--which they just call "Chinese oranges" here--are different, but the rest are all similar.  To each other, that is; none of them remind me of that "Sunkist navel orange" type at all.


I like the tea; that may not have already came across clearly in the description.  It doesn't express subtlety in the sense of complex layers of aspects, with a range of flavors, since it comes across as a bit mixed together.  It's not earthy as shous tend to sometimes be, no petroleum or tar aspects or anything else too intense, and also definitely not off in any way.


That's not much of a description, but I get the sense that no matter how long I struggled to add aspect listings to that or tweaked brewing I wouldn't get much further.  It's vaguely earthy, clean in effect, with some citrus that's not bright, with mineral undertones and a primary flavor that's as close to a light roast coffee as anything else.  The earthiness covers dark wood range and drifts a little towards mild spice.  That's about it; not bad.

For a tea enthusiast into very subtle, high quality, distinct character teas this wouldn't work at all, unless they could also switch over to a daily-drinker alternative theme.  For a more conventional tea drinker I'd expect that many might like this more than most versions of shou.  Someone really into Earl Grey might not be satisfied with it; the citrus is just so different, muted and warm compared to that bergamot essential oil being intense and bright.

I was surprised this tea brewed a light first infusion, a second stronger version, and ran out of flavor to prepare a third light infusion.  Maybe it wasn't all that much tea to be brewing multiple half-liter pots out of it; that infusion time did add up.  I can't really compare that overall brewing volume with the other earlier cirtrus tea version I tried, due to preparing both in such different ways, but I can go into more comparison of the aspects.


Comparison with the Jip Eu black tea version




I'm reaching back a bit here, to compare this with a tea I tried 6 or 7 weeks ago, but that did stand out enough I think it'll work.  I didn't get the impression either was made from a great version of the base tea, but neither seemed bad either.  At least both were a bit subdued in character, and not flawed in any obvious way, so both worked.  I kind of hoped the earthy shou effect would be more distinctive and pronounced in this version, since some citrus might balance out even a petroleum-heavy version of shou, if it had a couple years to settle out just a little.

it looks as if this was a 2017 version; the rest isn't clear to me


Oddly the two teas seemed closer than one would expect for having those opposing type starting points; a soft, mild, non-distinct shou isn't so different than an earthy, mild, non-distinct black tea.  That earlier Jip Eu version had some chrysanthemum in with the black tea but it only seemed to give it a touch more depth.

The citrus effect did vary a lot.  That other tea's citrus flavor was bright and intense, not quite as sharp as bergamot can come across in Earl Grey, but getting on towards that.  The flavor range varied too, of course; dried orange peel can be similar to a zest but the drying part softens and deepens the flavor range.  That other tea was pretty close to how peeling off an outer layer of a fresh orange and drying that rind-free outer zest comes across, when dried but still quite fresh.  This shou version orange peel wasn't bad for being grey and black--I expected worse.  It was maybe only a bit milder for having experienced some aging effect.  I don't know for sure that means these orange citrus teas are any certain age; it might not take all that long for a peel to turn black and mold a little under the right circumstances.


mandarin orange peels for a blend (not dried yet here)


I'd recommend trying both.  But I wouldn't switch over to mixing these into my own tea rotation, and it's hard to imagine versions coming in an upper-medium quality level, versus these just being quite decent.

I'd be leery of drinking too much of that one, given that peel appearance.  I'm not a nervous person when it comes to taking chances on potentially dodgy teas but I do try to drink mostly versions I have good confidence in related to potential risks.  That really black peel that one vendor had me try once seemed odd too, and the slight whitish / grey surface appearance of this peel made me wonder.  It was probably fine though, probably supposed to look like that.


It probably really is all good


Monday, August 20, 2018

Lessons learned from another open Bangkok tea tasting




with Sasha Abramovich (representing Penn State!)


I held a second free, open tea tasting at the Dusit Zoo this past weekend.  That went well.  It's kind of a strange theme but the point of these is just to share tea.  I don't sell tea, and don't even earn advertising revenue from this blog (there are no ads).  Vendors do pass on samples to review, standard enough for blog based review, so that's some compensation.  I share some of those in these events.

It's not the second time I've prepared tea for others in a group setting, the fifth instead.  We did a warm-up tasting in the Benjasiri park before that first event, with only four of us present, to dial in the process.  The first time was for a larger group, for a Random Thainess group theme (two years ago now), where I did a short presentation about tea in Thailand.  I made them an Anxi Tie Kuan Yin and Taiwanese Oriental Beauty, so two oolongs, passing out cups just before the speaking part started.  That was hectic, trying to prepare 25 small cups of tea at one time, in unfamiliar circumstances.

The second time was at another structured-theme event, through CultCheers.  That was attended by 8 people (about the same size as these tastings), covering just a few kinds of tea, where I was both preparing the tea and discussing it for an hour or so.  That was even more hectic, doing both at the same time.  The teas came out well that time, with the tea-background content addressed in good depth for that limited time, even allowing for some attendee input and discussion.  It's interesting how a more educational presentation premise shifts expectations.

I'll mention how this outing went, of course, but the main point here is to cover what works and what doesn't in these events, and at this most recent one in particular.


with Sasha, Nok, and Joseph in the Benjasiri Park; small scale works well


the CultCheers version; a completely different theme


Event description


7 people attended, or 8 including me, the same as at the last tasting.  Noppadol, the local vendor who sells Lampang Teas and others, including a nice Thai version of sheng pu'er, joined again and helped out with providing teas.  He brought nearly half of them, and did a good bit of brewing.

It seems like mentioning this type of event in large local Facebook groups won't work for drawing more attendees.  In a sense that's better; for any more than 10 people the format would have to shift to compensate.

pre-tasting



That location worked well.  I arrived just before 10 and there were already plenty of people in the zoo, and some in that food court.  In a sense people having breakfast around me saved the spots, since they'd move on soon enough.  I picked a place beside the bird enclosure area beside an electrical outlet.  That part was going to be critical for using a kettle, or so I thought.  It turned out that outlet didn't work; in retrospect I might've tested it.


I felt a bit nervous about getting it started once 10:10 rolled around and I was still alone but I had expected that.  It's not an easy place to reach, coupling demands of parking and navigating inside a larger zoo complex.  Three people showed up around 10:15; the tasting was on.


the view out the window behind us:  birds


Background noise was a factor.  At 10:15 that was moderate but it ramped up over the next two hours, as expected.  It's easy to miss how that changes things.  From a lot of previous tasting experience it became clear that level of detail of experiencing the teas would scale back due to that.  Tasting a lot of different teas is also limiting.  Never mind; the point was to try a range of types, and to talk, to meet each other.

The pace was a little hectic, preparing teas.  I had to heat water in a kettle using an outlet somewhere else three times, and bought one extra bottle of water at one point.

This is probably a good place to list what teas we tried, more or less in order, with a general lighter to heavier theme (as much as there was any theme):


Gong Mei:  compressed white tea, a "factory" version, 3 years old.

Nepal white tea (buds and fine leaves):  more to follow about this source in another post; there is a lot more story to cover than about a standard vendor passing on samples.

Compressed Dian Hong, Yunnan black tea (from Moychay):  a nice version, just a little tart for my preference in black teas.

Bao Ing Huan Zhi Guangdong oolong (from Moychay):  in between Dan Cong and Tie Kuan Yin in style.  A nice tea; different.

Dan Cong (Noppadol contributed): I don't know the details, but it was a decent version, good tea but not great, type-typical, so fruity and sweet.

Myanmar sheng (Noppadol contributed):  probably the same as I reviewed previously, or maybe not.  It tasted similar, but I wasn't doing a really focused tasting given this background.

Lincang sheng (Noppadol contributed--no details):  an ok version, but that's not my favorite region origin for sheng.

Lao Man Er shou pu'er, huang pian version (again from Moychay; they were kind of an event sponsor).

Shui Xian Wuyi Yancha (Noppadol contributed):  again type typical, good tea, not exceptional but above average, which is a nice range for Wuyi Yancha (Fujian roasted oolong).


It was a lot.  Noppadol brewed most of the teas he brought, so he was doing a lot of the brewing for the last hour or so.  We kind of stuck to a general lighter to heavier order at first and then later jumped around between types a good bit.


just some of the aftermath


The Moychay-provided tea running theme relates to them providing a lot of teas for review this year (not news to regular readers; many thanks to them again for that).  The tastings are a good chance to use that input to share exposure to a lot of types, all pretty good teas, ranging from basic inexpensive versions to some pretty good stuff.  Most of these ones were more basic than some others I've reviewed--just how it worked out.  That Lao Man Er huang pian shou wasn't; it didn't seem like people were really appreciating the depth and subtlety of that tea, but under the circumstances that's understandable.


The tiny porcelain cups I bought in Jip Eu worked well.  I was concerned those might be too small, even though I've tasted tea from them plenty of times in the past.  It would seem silly to drink Western brewed tea in a half-ounce cup but somehow the large thimble-full makes perfect sense in a Gongfu brewing context.  Even for those being so small one large gaiwan didn't make enough to fill 8 of the cups, but it worked well to "stack" two quick infusions, to brew two and combine them in a sharing pitcher (or beaker-style measuring cup used as one, in this case).  It would have been easy to use two gaiwans for the same tea type too, if it came down to that, but combining subsequent infusions is roughly the same.


Noppadol and the Jip Eu owner, when I bought those small cups


The main point worked out, to share the experience of the teas.  It was nice to have a couple of local Thais join this time, and to meet Larry, who I'd been talking to online for awhile.  It was nice seeing Sasha and Pat from the first event, and nice of Noppadol to help out so much again.  Really everyone contributed their own perspective; meeting all the people was nice part of it.

Attendance / format issues


I'm a little torn between thinking it would be nice to get more people involved and exposed to the teas and thinking 8 is actually an ideal group size.  The same format could work for 10 people but for any more one person doing the brewing would be a problem; splitting into two smaller groups might make sense.  We had two people doing the brewing already, but it was nice trying lots of teas as one small group, round after round for a couple of hours.  We downed a lot of those tiny cups of tea, bordering on too many.


I had a contingency plan for how to scale it up for more people, beyond splitting Noppadol and I up into pouring for separate groups.  I bought a Western teapot on one of those Chinatown visits, and it would have worked to stagger in a couple of types brewed that way.  Making a pint / half liter at one time would speed things up, and two pots worth would fill a lot of tiny tasting cups.  And provide free up time for more heating water or swapping out leaves in a gaiwan.


That leads into a second concern a friend raised, about my role in leading discussion versus letting others share their views on the teas.  I was too busy making tea to keep up more than one person's even share of talking.  I only passed on minimal background about teas, a type and origin country, maybe also asking a question and mentioning a flavor I thought I noticed.


I would really need more help to do more with that, to draw on the front waiter / back waiter form to put more of the basic duties on someone else (or just drink less types of tea).  It might work to split that socializing part out, to do more freestyle tasting before and after, and then mix in more information along with some form of central tasting part.  It was nice keeping participants meeting each other as a main sub-theme, with the extra chatting keeping the tea background information limited.

I had been at a tasting event with Mhee before (the guy in both the first photo in this post and two people to the left of me in the one following), but we were more concentrated on the tea in that event.  Those teas sort of required it; it was an age-sequence (vertical) Yiwu sheng tasting, with differing storage locations adding an extra variable.


that Yiwu tasting last year, a more standard format


Participants passed on suggestions for theme changes at the end:

-hold an event at a tea shop instead (I have some loose plans related to this)

-boost attendance by linking up with a Thai online tea group (maybe not, but it's an option)

-hold a registration confirmation step, and possibly charge attendees

-narrow theme, down to a specific tea type, for example.  If I keep holding these eventually I would; it just makes too much sense not to move to doing that.


traditional shops tend to be small but one might work (Ong Yong Choon)


Lessons learned based on both tasting events


The outdoor theme was really nice, in that first event.  It didn't seem too "off" being in a food court, maybe dressed up a little for background for having a dozen exotic water birds walking around in a pool not that far out the window, but it was noisy.  A source of hot water is critical; that remains a sticking point that hasn't been resolved in ideal fashion yet.

The narrow versus broad tea type theme depends on the audience.  As a cold introduction to better tea broader is better; to really pick out details and fully appreciate the tea aspects narrowing in a bit makes lots more sense.  The same applies to an open chatting themed format versus having one central person guiding focus on the tea experience instead.

That latter group-oriented tea-exploration focus includes its own natural split.  It would work to have someone who really knows the teas cover half the discussion, to present background, and frame what they think is going on with each version for aspects and character.  Or it would be natural to cover that as more even input group discussion, but it would help out a lot if the group was sort of on the same page.  With friends or a group meeting regularly all that should fall together naturally.  In a random-mix intro theme maybe not so much.


review tasting is often round-by-round comparison instead


A second natural split comes in focus on either describing a tea, the typical wine-tasting context, or on just experiencing it, more of how many might take the Gongfu cha ceremonial aspect.  You can converse during most forms of ceremonial tastings, per my understanding, or even during an informal Japanese tea ceremony version, just not a more formal version.  In the most precise, ceremonial form those are about as close to performance of choreographed dance as to a more typical meditative experience.


That was a lot of tea to try in one go.  By the time we'd only covered an aged Gong Mei and Nepalese white--a good version of one; really something to experience by itself--everyone could tell it was going to cover some new ground.  Probably towards the end it started to get to be a bit much, just one new type, version, and experience after another, while the lunch crowds thickened and background noise level kept increasing.

I have some ideas for how to counter some of that, to keep a later event simpler, and more tranquil.  A natural space would be an ideal setting, and I might be able to arrange a really unique location that's tranquil, open, and comfortable but also set up for events. 

If any readers have their own thoughts to share about locations, format, or process I'd be happy to hear those at this related FB page, or sharing photos of your own event would be welcomed in an international themed tea group I'm an admin for.


there are natural open spaces, a bit crowded now since the zoo closes soon


from the day after that tasting, back there again


not all the wildlife is in cages