named after the river that runs past Bangkok
Visiting with a friend awhile back the owner of Monsoon, who made this tea, stopped by and shared some samples with us. It's the second time that I've met Kenneth Rimdahl (that owner); he seems like a really nice guy. He talks about the forest-friendly theme here.
I could be clearer on the "Assamica" part in this title. Old, wild-growing tea plants in the North of Thailand are exclusively Assamica variety, per my understanding, but my understanding wouldn't always be accurate. There are so many tangents to get to in this post, along with the review itself, that I'll not dwell further on it here, or say more about the wild and "forest friendly" aspects.
Kenneth in white; Sasha (right) hasn't been mentioned here for awhile
I've written a little about that in this post, which related to meeting Kenneth the second time. In that post I downplay the overall impact making a limited amount of tea from wild sources will have on the industry, but if the impact is still positive that's a good thing, and it sets up a basis for expanding that over time. This post relates to meeting him in my favorite Chinatown shop prior to that, and we did talk about that background there.
Of course wild sourced tea is a very positive theme; old tea plants really are growing in a natural fashion in different places (organically, in a biodiverse environment), and the tea from such plants tends to be mild in character (low astringency), intense in flavor, and very pleasant. It's hard to not notice that the tin presentation, the container, contradicts the conservation theme, but this isn't a critique of how it all works taken together.
three years ago; the time flies
On the subject of tangents, I wanted to also share which flavored teas I've liked best in this post. It's a subject that doesn't come up often here, not for a couple of years in any post, and one I tend to discredit or downplay. But to be clear I think there's nothing wrong with people liking all sorts of different teas (even Lipton tea bags), and flavored teas can be interesting in diverse. To me natural, better-quality, loose-leaf versions are more interesting, in general, but citing some exceptions helps place my take on all that.
I think this is lychee and mango
The first infusion is really fruity; it tastes like lychee and mango. Taste is clean, more natural in effect than flavored teas would generally be. A bright citrus aspect is a bit lemony but mango often includes something like that naturally, and lychee isn't far off that range either. Lychee is my overall favorite tropical fruit, and mango might be a close second. It's hard to get much read on the tea itself in a light first infusion.
More of the same on the second infusion, brewed for close to 20 seconds, a bit strong as other tea types go, for this proportion. Flavor is really clean; aroma is pleasant. Sweetness and other aspect balance is good. It's still hard to pin down what the tea itself is like beyond the flavoring but it integrates well. It's a light oolong, not dissimilar to a Jin Xuan, but since this should be Assamica it should be quite different.
Normally I'd only only provisionally like any blend or flavored tea, it could be fine for what it is, but this works as an exception. It's good.
Vegetal range is picking up as fruit drops off but this is still sweeter and fruitier than a plain light oolong. It's not vegetal in the sense of green beans or pepper picking up, more a floral range with just a trace of green wood. For as clean and pleasant as this is it had to be fine plain, but I get it why a lot of people would prefer it flavored. I'd have to try a plain version to know which seems better.
A touch of butteriness picks up; that might have been what reminded me of Jin Xuan, even though I didn't notice it in the last round.
The fruit flavor is hanging in there, two thirds dropped out, or so, but still a main component. The overall effect is still really nice, bright, sweet, fresh, and complex. These flavors must be extracts of some kind; there's no way chemicals would taste this natural. I should ask Kenneth but probably won't; blog posts take forever with Q & A back and forth as an input. I'll do an interview post later if I get to it.
It's hard to do much with evaluating this as an Assamica based oolong, in part due to the flavoring layer input. It's clean, with good complexity and feel, a lot like a well above average Thai oolong. This other post covers trying two of the very rare Assamica based oolongs I've ever had that worked really well, versions from Hatvala from Vietnam. But those were more-oxidized in style, a completely different thing (what people often call "red oolong," a popular but less common style imported from Taiwan).
Later rounds: 3 more rounds stayed pleasant and well-balanced, with fruit tones fading and woody flavor picking up. Even after 8 or so infusions the tea was still quite pleasant; interesting an added flavor would hang in there that long, even if greatly diminished. I put the leaves in the refrigerator with lukewarm water after those rounds, to cold brew for an extra infusion; they still weren't done yet.
It would seem more conventional for people to brew this Western style, of course, for people more into flavored teas to just brew 2 or 3 rounds in a teapot or some infuser instead. That would work.
I really liked it. The color shows it's a very lightly oxidized oolong, which is either a good or bad thing, depending on how that suites the final tea aspects and character, and for this it worked really well.
Other flavored teas
There's nothing necessarily wrong with flavored teas, or liking flavored teas, but inexpensive, low-quality versions are often more a gateway to better tea than a final preference destination. Artificially flavored, low quality tea based versions aren't like this blend, closer to how flavoring gas-station coffee with those artificially flavored non-dairy creamer cups comes across (which can be ok, for a road-trip caffeine fix).
I'll list a few flavored tea versions I've really liked, with these exceptions intended to fill in what I think represents the best of this category.
Earl Grey: no need to go to far with describing this; bergamot essential oil (citrus) blended black tea should be familiar. If not go try some. Twinings loose version isn't too bad, but even better versions than theirs can be really nice. I've reviewed a good bit of Earl Grey here but none of those reviews shed any more light on what it is, or how it is. An interesting version from the Cordon Bleu cooking school was really maxed out for that orange citrus flavor, right at the balance point for being too much. That seemed like a natural place to set that level, upon drinking it. I think they stopped making it though; a later search about it didn't turn it up.
Monsoon coconut flavored black tea: this really stuck with me (that post was from 2005). This same producer made a relatively natural version (per my understanding) that worked really well as a winter / Christmas seasonal theme experience. Some extracted, essential oil version of coconut really captured the flavor of toasted coconut (presumably it was that), combined with what seemed like a pretty decent black tea. I'll drink that again someday.
Jasmine black tea: my overall favorite flavored tea, probably. To me jasmine works much better with black tea than green, and balances and complements it even better than bergamot essential oil. A bad version might seem off, but even Indonesian grocery store versions were good. Hatvala, a Vietnamese vendor, makes my favorite that I've tried (reviewed here), but Moychay also produced a really exceptional example. It's hard to describe further than just saying that this particular floral range and good black tea work really well together, even better than it sounds.
the cacao nibs on the lower right; they work better ground a bit more, like coffee
Chocolate flavored tea: I've not done much with this popular flavored tea sub-theme (maybe well represented by David's Tea selection). Two Christmas themed blends, based mostly on a masala chai base, did use cacao nibs and actual chocolate. Both masala chai and Christmas blends are promising directions for blends that aren't really typical of flavor-added teas. The most basic version of the latter is something along the lines of black tea, orange peel, cinnamon, and mint, or just a twist on a masala chai recipe, maybe adding pine needles or something such. Cacao husks would be a good way to add real chocolate flavor to any tea, probably as well balanced with a mild black version as any (the nibs, the actual "bean," can be hard to infuse).
fruit peels dried for one of those Christmas blends
That seems like a good place to leave off. Blending other flavors into teas is promising, it's just that drinking single-type, narrow-origin, high-quality plain versions of teas is even more promising. None of those blends or flavored tea posts are from the last two years; I've just not been exploring that lately. I made a mostly herbal version of masala chai that worked well when I was sick last year; that's an exception (and tried chen pi then, from looking that up, tea stuffed in an orange / tangerine peel). I really like masala chai, it just takes some messing around to make a version, and I don't get to it often.