Thursday, July 28, 2016

Gopaldhara China Muscatel Gold second flush Darjeeling

I'm reviewing an additional sample of a Darjeeling provided by Gopaldhara (many thanks to them for providing those), following an initial post of a very nice first flush version.  The teas are great, and interesting, so other posts will follow.

Gopaldhara Muscatel Gold (CH FTGFOP1, second flush)

This tea (described on the vendor site here) is a good version of what one might expect of a Darjeeling; a true black tea, and a second flush type at that, so heavier on muscatel and other fruit elements.  Even still dry the tea seems just how it should be, with the dry tea scent including plenty of muscatel, along with malty sweetness and citrus tones.

beautiful tea; good colors, a good bit of tips

One aside before I get into the review, about the idea of cultivar (plant type).  This tea is presented as from a Chinese tea plant (see prior link), which would have to mean Camelia Sinensis var. Sinensis, versus var. Assamica.  I've not done the appropriate research yet but it's my current understanding that Ceylon and Assam teas are typically all from Assamica plants, but that Darjeelings are not, that problems growing Assamica types in that region were addressed by changing to the Chinese plant types (var. Sinensis).  Here is a Hojo vendor post that essentially covers that, just not in much detail, also including the idea that the var. Sinensis plants have intermixed with Assamica type plants (to some degree), so per that source and some other reliable input they would now be a hybrid.  I'll get back to all this in another post; for now on to reviewing this tea.

The taste matches the scent:  lots of grape / muscatel, a bit of citrus in the range of orange zest, with a rich, earthy malt base for context.  The flavors are clean, with no edge of astringency, just a little to give it a fuller feel (even more interesting related to plant-type concerns, but I'm not going there).

From there a number of more subtle elements give the tea the effect of complexity, all in a pleasant presentation.  That earthiness is really at the edge of the mineral range, reminding me of red sandstone from slick rock hiking back in the Utah desert.  As one taste aspect can seem connected to a body or feel aspect a bit of dryness goes along with that, more in the second infusion I prepared than the first.

A slight touch of cinnamon spice also joins in, but it's quite subtle, nothing like the effect when that's a main taste element in a more roasted oolong.  It's a good match with the muscatel, citrus, and malt.

The tea doesn't have astringency one would need to brew around but it seems experimenting with brewing temperature could shift that effect, the feel of the tea, along with minor shift in flavor elements.  Brewed a little cooler the effect is of a softer, fruitier tea, with earthy aspects and a dry and fuller body coming out at relatively hotter temperatures.  Typically one would brew Darjeelings at a bit below black tea range to push the flavor effect and lighten the body, per my understanding.  Experimentation would determine how that corresponds to personal preference, and it might make more sense related to teas that are less oxidized, depending on that factor.

About tea batches, different products from the same harvest

It's my understanding that some tea growers and processors really make different versions of tea more than one might notice, based on typically buying tea branded as one uniform type from one harvest.  I just discussed an extreme example with a tea farmer / processor--my favorite one, who doesn't even need to be named--in the form of Dan Cong teas made and processed separately from a single tea tree.  She said that's rare though, because it puts a lot of processing demand on the tea maker.  That's not just in terms of extra labor for keeping leaves and batches straight, and working in smaller lots, but also related to tying up processing equipment.

I read of a more recent example from Taiwan, which might be a more common case, of a vendor preparing teas from different slopes, facing in different directions, resulting in different characteristics.  That was in a popular media post, good to see, and related to Tealet, a name that might ring a bell.  An online friend and knowledgeable tea guy, Peter Jones, recently posted in a Facebook tea group about trying teas harvested at different times, across a span of days, with a lot more variation than one would expect, as partially cited following:

Each sample was harvested 5 days apart. The goal was to see if we could taste the differences as the leaf age changed as we covered about a month of growth over the FF harvest....  Everyone seemed to think there was a noticeable shift in flavor around the 20th day. Light, floral in the first sample to piney, subtle muscatel flavors by the end.

Fascinating!  Related to an earlier post about a Ceylon black tea tasting like mint the tea maker said that flavor element would only be present for a short window, so catching it had to be intentional, and properly carried out, even potentially impossible depending on unfavorable weather variations.

Another post will follow about another second flush black tea from the same estate, covering how different teas from the same estate produced at the same time can vary, with a bit more on that cultivar issue there.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Top ten unwritten rules of tea blogging

Originally published by TChing blog site, here.

Related to talking to a friend new to blogging, I've noticed some assumed rules to tea blogging.  It's always interesting to break one of these rules, to go in an unconventional direction, but I usually explain why I'm covering that scope in posts when I do.

photo credit here

1.  Don't talk about price

This rule is such a given that I didn't include it in the first draft version.  A recent TeaDB blog post went there though, related to pu'er mark-up (and some extreme cases), so it's as well to address it.  Basically some vendors sell based on value, trying to use volume to offset those thinner margins.  Others go with the prices typically set by supply and demand, standard rates.  And some price teas high, relying on marketing to offset value gaps, at worst making claims that aren't completely justified.  Of course some branding isn't just about value, with unrelated issues like packaging and product placement coming into play.

It's not really a typical subject for a tea blogger to address, especially since it involves a lot of judgment.  Tea pricing really does vary by a lot of factors, particularly in relation to tea quality, type rarity, and demand.  I might mention in posts that a tea seems a particularly good value but usually I won't even say that.  

It's not so easy to explain how newer tea drinkers should evaluate vendors, or how to get the best teas for what they spend.  Tea blogs tend to not be so helpful, but discussions in places like Facebook groups, or Steepster, or Tea Chat may be.  If a blog about tea is really honest and open and the general impression of teas comes across, relative to other versions, at least that could provide input about those other aspects, and describe qualities in individual teas that explain some of those preferences.

2.  Never quote another review

In general the whole point of tea blogging is to give your own opinion of a tea, not to just repeat what others say.  Sometimes when researching tea types I run across interesting vendor descriptions, or even other blogger descriptions, and I don't have a problem with citing those.  Of course there has to be a point; it can't just be about cross-referencing the opinion of someone else who is better qualified to review that tea, which can come up, especially for judging rare types against a standard character.

Addressing specific questions about a tea type is a different story.  Related expert input can add an extra dimension to a blog post, even if taking that step is unconventional.  It could become tiresome if such input turned up frequently so I'll only add that if I'm following up on something.

3.  Don't admit to inexperience with a tea type, or a particular tasting weaknesses

This relates a little to the last point, and of course that approach can be the background context for a "newbie" blogger, but it works better when that's explicit.  I'm not new to tea blogging but still on the newer side (the better part of three years in--really too early for me to be writing about how to write a blog).  I'll still mention gaps as they come up, so I don't hold to this one, but the focus of posts is usually on the tea, not all the background that goes into experiencing one.

I've seen people take this way too far in different types of posts, being more honest than necessary, for example posting pictures of botched brewing.  If there was an interesting enough point to be made I guess I might go there.  If I'm trying a new tea type for the first time I'll generally say that, or even admit when relative inexperience is a factor in evaluation.  I will mix in background research about tea types, not really conventional, not exactly the same idea but sort of related.

4.  Describe the tea

Goes without saying, doesn't it?  But not all reviews actually do.  Often you have to read a post again to confirm there was no description of the tea at all, versus some general impression, like "wow!"  In such cases I guess the posts wouldn't really be a "review."  I don't see this as a problem, since it's between a blogger and their audience what type of content is included.  If vendors supply the tea for review that would seem odd, unless that's already a running blog theme, and then the burden might be on them to know that a specific tea blog doesn't really use a review format.  My posts vary related to the form of reviews included, how detailed, and by focus, but I don't break this rule when posts are about specific teas.

5.  Don't say that you don't like the tea

Writing about a tea you don't like isn't as interesting as writing about one you do, and exceptions to that do come up, but it's standard to only write in generally positive terms about teas.  One recent exception I read of in A Tea Addict's Journal was a great counter-example, a post was about buying a tea from Taobao, a Chinese version of Ebay, more or less.  That covered the form a "fake tea" might take, one sold as something that it isn't.  The first point went as you'd expect in that post, related to sourcing from really random individuals, but the description of a very bad example of a pu'er was also worth a read.

Other exceptions can occur when bloggers are asked to review teas they may well not like.  Specific post examples come to mind, of a critical review of tea-bag tea, and one of a somewhat fishy shou pu'er.

Bloggers' ethics are a funny thing; there are no clear guidelines, so how one approaches this isn't clearly right or wrong.  In a reference like this Tea Blogger Directory tea bloggers can say a little about how they review teas to see where they stand on various practices, but only so much will go into a short summary.

I recently wrote a review of teas that weren't really bad or good, sort of in the middle, and not enough interesting came out of it, so I decided not to use the post.  In that case I asked for the vendor's input, their opinion, and they said they were changing the sourcing for the teas mentioned (they weren't sent for review), so it seemed as well to skip it.  A friend recently commented that he can't always tell if I actually like a tea or not, but do I try to include some sense of that, along with whatever types of description are relevant beyond that.

Even without a relationship with a vendor to preserve in general it seems as well to not violate this rule, except in special cases.  It's a given that one can buy tea that isn't so good for lots of reasons, and the limitations usually aren't interesting, although there are exceptions.  On the other side of that issue, it seems something gets lost when all tea blog posts are only positive, and only marketing-oriented content.  A tea that is horrible could make for an interesting post, and "mystery tea" can as well, although in general it's much better to know what you are drinking.

  6.  Don't review tea from wholesale sellers

This relates to some tea bloggers having a close working relationship with tea retailers; it wouldn't make sense to shine the light on their sources instead.  It's not as if I've tried to violate this principle but as an example writing a lot about teas from Cindy Chen (a tea farmer friend) is starting in this direction.  Different selling models are blurring those prior lines now, so it could become more an more of an issue.  Cindy sells some teas directly, but most often wholesale, given her business type as a tea grower and processor.

To a limited extent I had reservations about mentioning that one source from Indonesia, Toba Wangi, because increased demand for that tea could screw up the present sourcing options for local tea lovers in Indonesia.  I'm sure Galung--one owner--wouldn't let that happen, that they wouldn't escalate pricing so that moderate income local tea drinkers could get left out that way.  They do sell teas directly, so that wasn't a clear case of reviewing from a wholesale seller.

7.  Guest posts

I've only posted one guest post, since it sort of came up from a conversation (about health benefits of Chrysanthemum), but for most this is a no-no.  I see all the conventions as flexible but in general it wouldn't make sense to have others writing much of the content for a personal blog.  Interview posts are a different story; that's a great way to give voice to a completely different perspective, particularly from expert sources, and the blogger still plays a role.  Just as the other exceptions can be interesting there seems to be plenty of space for interesting ways to contradict this assumed general rule.

8.  Link dumping

This is really more about internet social etiquette.  Posting notice of your fine blog work in a few related groups is ok (and Facebook, and Twitter, but Steepster and Tea Chat sort of don't want to hear about it), but it can quickly become too much of a good thing.  Vendors seek a different sort of balance since in vendor blog cases it's not about getting the good word out, it's straight marketing.  Some vendors do post something that may well be interesting to every related group and outlet they're associated with, clogging feed notices and turning discussion groups into spam outlets, but most keep it in check.

Other vendors really don't do enough with getting the word out, not effectively communicating what would be interesting news to tea enthusiasts.  A vendor just mentioned in a private conversation that they were working on making a well-known, relatively rare style of tea that absolutely isn't produced in that region or country.  It's probably a tea many would like to try, but I'm not sure how far word of that will ever travel.  If I try it I would write about it, for sure, unless I hated the tea, and then I'd be back to that other potential conflict.  The general point was that, to me, if there is really a unique story that changes things related to vendor content.  It's not the same thing but some vendors do a great job of creating educational content that could also support marketing, another interesting twist, like the China Life video series, or Hojo (vendor) tea type references.

9.  Don't write top 10 list posts

Really, why would you?  That's click-bait formula-format nonsense.

10.  Don't copy ideas or style from other blog posts

Like the top 10 list theme in this post, and critique of using them, lifted directly from a post by Nick Kembel criticizing "top 10" travel blog posts.  Nick is a blog writer that covers travel related to Taiwan, where he lives, and some tea scope, like this post about visiting the Global Tea Hut.  One interesting point he made was that someone could churn out travel posts about places they've not even been to, and sometimes do (no relation to tea; just an interesting idea).

the formula (picture credit here):  write a blog about how to write blogs

Tea blogs using a review-post format might essentially get a pass on borrowing style, since a lot of those use a range of closely related styles, so completely copying an existing one wouldn't necessarily be noticeable.  Some are so well formatted that they would be worth referencing for a new blogger, although hopefully they would put their own spin on it, and change up the approach a little.

One blogger said that she won't read blogs because she's worried about accidentally repeating their ideas or mimicking their style, an extreme approach to this restriction.  I'm just rambling on in mine, so until I get settled in an actual style I'd only have to worry about copying the ideas.

So that's a start.  As I see it tea bloggers are really outside the bounds of journalism ethics, so they would need to make all this up as they go along, and rely on common sense.  A tea blogger stepping outside those bounds could make for some interesting intrigue, if it was blatant enough, but "tea people," even vendors, are typically a relatively polite and orderly sort.

China Life Oriental Beauty (Bai Hao, Taiwanese oolong)

beautiful tea; that's pretty much the right look

A great example of this tea type from China Life; site link for this tea here. One of my favorite versions of oriental beauty is from Thailand,  a tea I just gave away the last of, so it's especially nice to try a version just as good.  Or this one may be better, depending on preference, since it's a little different.  That's really how the type goes, spanning an interesting range of related characteristics, so different in character there may or may not be one clear optimum.

The standard description of an oriental beauty (Bai Hao) fits this tea as a starting point:  good sweetness and complexity, tastes in the range of muscatel, citrus and other fruit, and spice (the package general type description trades out honey for spice but close enough; honey works too).

This version is on the more oxidized side, which works well with how the tea comes across.  Of course OB typically is on the more oxidized side of medium, but this one is a bit towards a black tea from upper medium.  It's still a very soft, sweet, fruity and complex tea, so the extra oxidation just adds some extra earthy undertone to the flavors context, and changes everything around a little in a way that works.

a very silly tea taster

There is a lot going on with this tea, starting with that type description (muscatel, citrus, honey, other fruit that's not so easy to clearly identify).  Someone really good at teasing out an extra long list of component tastes might add a lot more than I will here.  As can be typical for me the spice is an intriguing element.  It's not clearly cinnamon,  but in that range, maybe closer to nutmeg or cardamom, but I'm not sure either is a perfect match.  A pronounced honey component is layered in with the other tastes too, very strong as a scent in the empty cup.

I asked for some input from my tasting assistant and she guessed banana, but I'm going to have to say she missed it that time.  Or maybe if she meant dried banana she might be on to something; I could see that, a taste quite like the softer dried version of small bananas, not the hard chips.

Across some infusions the tea doesn't shift a lot. Some of the more forward taste elements diminish a little to let the base stand forward more but the taste range is still sweet and bright.  The fullness thins a little but the flavors stay clean and as complex, a good sign and a pleasant attribute.

not really black tea, but a good bit oxidized

China Life made a great introductory video about the type,  linked here, explaining that terpenes are the compounds responsible for the flavors complexity.  I've researched the type background for posts before (especially here) but that part wasn't familiar.  I don't think I've mentioned that they make great videos that span explaining the basics of tea brewing, to others going into types background, like this one on Dan Cong, or on lots of tangents, like how slurping works in tasting

 As Don mentioned in that video this is a tea type that does well brewed different ways, good across a range of preparations, not touchy or easy to screw up.  One could draw out different balances of nice flavors based on slight changes in approach.  Since this tea is on the darker / more oxidized side body could change a lot, drank as wispy and subtle, emphasizing the fruit aspects and complexity, or brewed stronger, as a substantial tea with lots of body and full earthy / mineral flavors.  I'd have more to say about that after trying this tea a couple more times, and could fill in a longer flavor-aspects list, but I'm getting behind in finishing post drafts and tasting teas, so I'll go with that more basic description here, my initial impression.

It would seem a shame to use Western style brewing for a tea this good, and there is no way I'd brew it grandpa style, as covered in a recent post, but Western style brewing would work since the tea is flexible.  To me the tea type doesn't transition as much across infusions as some other types of teas do, more about flavor aspects that seem more forward and more of a base shifting in proportion, so there might be less to miss of that aspect--the transition itself--using simpler brewing.

My wife gave me some fresh pineapple to have with breakfast after drinking the tea for several infusions and it occurred to me that a similar sweetness, citrus character, and pineapple taste range could have been one part of what I had been tasting. Or maybe that was just the power of suggestion, and a vaguely general range, but I could swear I was "getting" pineapple after I had both in front of me.

I might mention that pineapple really isn't one specific taste, that versions of the fruit share common aspects, but there are lots of types of pineapples in tropical countries that definitely don't all taste the same.  My understanding is that Dole chose the one type familiar to Americans as canned fruit not for sweetness or specific taste but because that fruit shape was closest to that of a can.  The one my wife had bought was nice, bright flavored, citrusy, honey - sweet and complex (some general character shared by the tea), and of course it tasted like pineapple.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Trying 40 year old Tie Kuan Yin at the Jip Eu Chinatown shop

a rare photo with the shop owner

I recently visited the Jip Eu tea shop in the Bangkok Chinatown.  I wasn't looking for anything in particular, the timing just worked out to visit.  As in previous visits the owners were kind and friendly, so it's nice to stop by even aside from trying unusual teas and learning from them, both of which also seem to happen there.

They had been drinking a Yiwu pu'er (the owner and another visitor), between 10 and 15 years old; I've lost track of that specific age they cited.  It was nice but out of the range of what I'm used to drinking, still a bit towards aspirin related to the flavor range of other teas.  But of course there was a lot going on with the tea, a depth and complexity, a feel and structure to the tea, it just lost me in terms of familiarity.  I'm about to start back into doing more with pu'er, for real this time, with a set of nice samples and a newly ordered aged cake waiting at home now.

Next they showed me some aged teas, a 40 year old Shui Xian and Tie Kuan Yin (Chinese oolongs, of course, from Wuyishan and Anxi in Fujian, respectively).  The second of which we tried, the TKY, which was interesting.  Presumably the dates were estimates, given that they were described as newly found old teas, sourced by them buying back long-stored teas from customers to support a demand for older teas.

The Tie Kuan Yin had a fullness to it, and an unusual form of astringency, with an earthy / mineral character, a mix of aspects in an unusual range.  The tea didn't have any mustiness or off flavors to contend with, it was just different.  It made me wonder what the tea had been like starting out, how oxidized it was, for example, but I have no idea.  To be honest it was closer to the taste of coffee than any tea I've ever tried.  Of course saying that is too simple; there was a layering of complex earth and mineral tastes that must have taken decades to evolve to where they were.  Based on having tried three old oolongs in the past few weeks (and only really liking one of them, per this post) there might be an acquired taste to pick up to really enjoy old oolongs, but then that is a very small sample size, and I hadn't tried that many previously.

I recently asked a fellow blogger about his experiences with aged oolongs and he said that in general they seemed to pick up plum and floral taste aspects.  This was nothing like that.  It also didn't resemble the two aged oolongs I'd recently wrote about.  One had sort of been in the plum and floral range, that was just not how I interpreted similar tastes, and the other was a good bit off that, once some initial mustiness wore off.  This tea was hard to compare to any others that I'd tried.   It tasted better across a few infusions, I think more from me being able to relate to it than related to changes, and did seem to be softening and transitioning a little.  I've recently read of aged teas that some might taste medicinal.  I'm not sure what to make of that, really, or how to place it in relation to this tea, since it didn't taste exactly like medicines I've taken but it was sort of in that general direction.  For all I know if you wrapped a cracker in a paper wrapper and waited 40 years to eat it that might taste like this tea.

40 year old Tie Kuan Yin

Next we tried a tea that I might actually buy, an early harvest Wuyi Yancha from this year, a Shi Li Xiang (10 mile (or league) fragrance?  I'll have to figure out what this tea even is, but in the meantime here is a cool old reference on naming).  This was nice, just a little different than any other Wuyi Yancha I'd tried.

The taste started out closer to roasted almonds, with a bit of astringency giving it some feel and structure, almost not just in the range of feel, overlapping with a slight bitterness.  But both of these aspects, an unusual flavor profile and a unique feel, I'd really need another tasting or two to sort out and describe better.  I did buy some so I can see what I can make of it.  It wasn't the exceptional kind of tea that changes how you look at a tea type but it was interesting and novel.

And the shop owner passed on two samples of teas, a Rou Gui and Tie Kuan Yin, both not normal mid-range versions, instead pedigreed teas.  The TKY is from Anxi, where they have family contacts, and the Rou Gui from the Horse Head rock area, a famous Wuyishan location that I'm not so familiar with.  I really should visit there; we all should.

Beyond all that we talked through lots of ideas related to teas, about travel, sourcing, and aging tea, about Thai teas, even a little about my kids.  A day's worth of ideas flew by in the space of an hour or so.  I'm looking forward to the follow up tasting of those three teas, one of which I have plenty to work with, and to visiting them again in a month when the rest of the spring harvest Wuyi Yancha have arrived.

40 year old Shui Xian

About the shop in general, they seem to specialize in selling Wuyi Yancha and Anxi Tie Kuan Yin.  The first are sold as commercial range versions and also more interesting and costlier examples, which still seem a great value to me compared to others I've tried.  I've also bought a decent commercial version of Dan Cong there, perhaps not great compared to the relatively expensive better versions one might see a newspaper article about, but a good example of the type for that price range.  That would work as a good way to try out the type or for use as a novel form of daily drinking tea.

One friend recently expressed that he doesn't prefer Wuyi Yancha oolongs that are heavily roasted, which may overlap with a similar concern about mid-roasting, and this shop's owners expressed that their customers typically prefer that range, so it is what they generally carry.  One comes across different accounts related to this preparation style issue.  An extreme take is that only relatively lighter roasted versions are ever better teas, with all more-roasted versions covering up flaws in tea by overcooking them (essentially).

Per this interview with a tea maker, Cindy Chen, it's not that simple, and different types of tea plants or teas grown in different conditions respond best to different preparations.  Of course personal preference is always a factor; maybe for some only lighter or darker styles would be objectively better (or only medium, I guess).  I have had some really nice experiences with lighter-roasted teas of this general type, and also with others at more medium levels, but I don't feel qualified to pull it all together through my own personal experience and knowledge.  I'll check back later after trying more of this season's teas in posts covering those.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Travel to Roi Et, Thailand; brewing grandpa style on the road

This past week we traveled to Roi Et, Thailand, in the Northeast, to the Isaan region.  As usual the theme was going where my kids wanted to go, to see a space museum / planetarium and dinosaur museum and fossils.  Except for highway traffic road trips in Thailand are nice.

Related to tea, it was a good chance to extend past exploration of brewing grandpa style, the technique of using uncontrolled brewing time, just mixing leaves and water in a tea bottle and drinking that, then refilling.  I'll say a little about the travel and get back to how that part went. tested on a lot of types.

Museums, and travel in Isaan, Thailand

Nothing here is going to be the Smithstonian but both museums were great.  A late start nearly cost us the space museum part because they were only open on Saturday, the day we started, and we didn't leave at 3 AM as planned. 

It takes 9 hours to cross that stretch of 500+ kilometers (350+ miles), so we were one hour away from missing that museum altogether.  It really should have been a 10 hour drive; I cut it short by taking a road-rally approach to driving.  Maybe that late start was for the best given how the travel pace worked out as it was.  One might think planetariums would be a rarity in "developing countries" but apparently not; based on internet research finding background on that one we drove by a few of them to get there.

I hadn't realized there was a Thai Tyranosaurus, that they had that covered too.  The most interesting part of that museum was learning about the natural history of primitive people living in Thailand.   I knew people had lived in Thailand since the stone age but apparently earlier hominids were here well before humanity evolved, at least a half a million years ago.  

It's funny seeing people post online about how evolution couldn't be an accurate model because there would be fossils of early hominids if it were, when lots of those fossils are out for display in museums, as I just saw.  But then I guess it's easy to reject any and all of science when you just visit web pages that are into that project.

Thais were here 500,000 years ago, in one sense

As for contacts, those places aren't as easy to look up online as one might expect (Trip Advisor had never heard of either, which I'm working on fixing), but here is a link for the dinosaur museum (the address and a number, at least, not their web page), and for the planetarium / space museum this is their Facebook page and web page.

All the driving was fueled by lots of tea, the next subject.  Driving in Thailand is a little crazy to begin with.  It's not so bad if you don't mind getting places very slowly, but since they don't use dedicated slow lanes and passing lanes it's a free-for-all if you want to drive at normal highway speeds.  At one point I told my wife that if I'd been trying one passing move in a video game instead we'd have made it, but since I was gambling with our lives I needed to keep it all in proper perspective.

Brewing grandpa style

good ice cream is something to get excited about here

As far as I know the Tea Addict's Journal blog popularized this expression,  based on a common Chinese brewing practice,  perhaps the most common form of tea brewing used in China.  There is a later post in that blog on the author doing more of it recently, with a follow up in the next post after that one.  

If you walk around places like the Forbidden City in Beijing many people are carrying inexpensive plastic bottles full of wet leaves, or tea mixed with hot water.  Hot water for tea is available all over; even on trains there is a spout offering it, like a different take on a drinking fountain.  If they're drinking the most common forms of tea one sees sold they're brewing green teas, mostly Longjing style (typically sold as actual Longjing, but maybe some is and some isn't), or lightly oxidized rolled oolong (Tie Kuan Yin, or the like).

The advantage to this brewing style is ease and portability; the disadvantage is lack of controlled brewing time.  I'll be able to describe how that works out for different tea types since I just tried most.  Of course it doesn't really have to be prepared in an inexpensive plastic bottle, and controlling infusion times would be possible based on use of specialized bottles designed to do that, which to me really wouldn't really be a version of the same brewing approach.

A bit on the actual brewing:  I used two half liter thermoses so I could brew two quite large infusions, or three if I started with the tea bottle full.  Bathroom breaks were more of an issue than hot water refills, but when it did come up 711s and coffee shops were always great about handing over free hot water, without much in the way of giving strange looks.

Snacks might be another issue, since downing a liter of most tea types would require some food to offset the stomach impact, for most.  Potato chips seem to work fine for that; or most foods, really.  From experience only eating fruit with tea doesn't work well for me; adding some pastry along with fruit is much better, and having only dairy with tea would seem odd.  But I tested drinking lots of tea while just eating ice cream and that's fine.

Black tea (Hatvala Vietnamese Wild Boar): 

I drank this last trip, two months ago, more because I felt like black tea than because it was well suited for this approach.  A more astringent black tea would be horrible prepared this way, but this one is relatively soft as blacks go.  It works ok brewed light or a bit strong, which is how this goes.  It has an interesting character, some earthiness, wood or tobacco or something such, with a little dark cherry, and enough astringency to give it plenty of body.  It lacks that "briskness" that comes up in Assamica based teas, which I don't think it is, but I didn't go back and check that.

Since tea made this way is still too hot to drink for at least 5 minutes without a second cup to transfer it to one only experiences it brewed a bit strong, but of course proportion can counter this.  Oolongs work better since they will support even a few really long steeps, and work well at different brewed strengths.  To some extent one can adjust proportion of tea to water to counter using a 5 to 10 minute brewing time, but it's not the same as balancing the factors in a normal way, so the end effect is different.  For some tea purists it might be a no-go, but for me it's fine for a change.

Toba Wangi Wu Mei Indonesian oolong:

It's kind of a waste to brew tea this good this way, since it really shines when you get the parameters right, but it works well across a range of approaches so I tried it.  It was nice;  good flavors, good at the range of strengths, good for a few long steep infusions.  Brewed-out like that it picks up more astringency, leaning towards green tea character, and the sweetness is subdued.  It was still fine as long as you didn't mentally compare it to how good the tea could have been brewed the standard way.

Toba Wangi green tea:

Green teas usually don't work as well brewed for a long time, or using boiling point water,  but this one was ok.  It's not that hard to back off temperature if one has some room temp water to mix,  and it cuts the wait to cool the tea to a drinkable range.   Luckily this tea is a bit mild as green teas go, so was fine but just not optimum, really how the technique goes in general.

Toba Wangi white tea (silver needle):

Notice a pattern?  I'm clearing the last of that set of teas, which I'd usually rather give away so that someone else could try them too.  Buds only white tea works really well for this style, although it helps if someone prefers the longer-brewed fuller-bodied white tea preparation style (versus lighter, which is also nice).  Even if you back off the proportion the flavor profile still changes to how the tea is when brewed longer, it's just not so strong.  As a result the light, sweet, more floral tones were swapped out for mineral and light wood / sunflower seed range flavors (but still nice).  Silver needle style teas just won't quit brewing too, good for a lot of very long infusions; the taste just keeps edging further in that flavor direction.

Tea Side (Thai shop) Japanese hojicha:

This tea is well suited for the brewing approach, it's just not my favorite type, or in the top half of my favorite types.  But it is mild, and still mild if brewed strong, and the taste profile doesn't shift much from something like dark toasted sesame no matter how you prepare it.

Finally at the end I tried the tea that worked the best, the one I had expected to.

Anxi  (Chinese) Tie Kuan Yin,  I think a sample from the Jip Eu shop in the Bangkok Chinatown:

Perfect for this brewing approach; a great tea for drinking brewed lightly or unusually strong, which steeps to make a lot of tea.  I think I again lost some subtlety and floral / vegetal tones to mineral from the longer brewing time, but it worked well.  Even across the unusual brewing format I think this was the most mineral intensive Chinese TKY I've tried, close enough to Taiwanese versions, so maybe I shouldn't have been messing around with it using this approach.  This was the only time I cut the brewing process short to drink the tea on a set time frame, before it cooled on its own,  pouring in some cold water to replace normal air cooling so I could have it with ice cream at one stop.

not hopped up on tea

Really someone could integrate that into their approach and deviate from true grandpa style brewing, or just bring a second cup to move the tea to after a standard three or four minute soak.  If minimalism was a goal the thermos would even work for that, for use as a separate cup, but it's probably better to stick to just putting water in one, since no matter what the thermos inner lining is it's going to pick up the taste.  The tea I had with breakfast in a hotel I would pour out to cups; on the road I switched back to just drinking it out of the bottle with leaves still floating in it.


There's not much time or effort saved if someone is making tea at home, based on drinking tea grandpa style versus standard Western brewing,  but it works in a pinch.  Tea selection and sourcing is almost the key step since this isn't ideal for really nice tea, which essentially deserves better, but then who drinks bad tea.  As for other tea types I think shou pu'er would work well made this way, inky and dark, made palatable or even pleasant by getting the proportion right.  Blends would work, teas mixed with other things, I just tend to not drink those.  I've been dabbling in Earl Grey more lately; that could be ok.  Or even tisanes, except that driving "on caffeine" seems to work well.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Gopaldhara Wonder Gold, first flush Darjeeling

An exceptional tea, and a unique version of a Darjeeling.  The full name is Gopaldhara FTGFOP1 CL WONDER GOLD, from the first flush (their main site, here, and the tea under a different name, Emperor's Choice, here).

In tasting the tea the general impression stands out more than specific tastes:  bright, rich, sweet, balanced, nuanced.  As to flavors, a rich and layered honey sweetness, in the floral range, is balanced by a complex flavor structure.  There is a hint of muscatel but not much, and a bit of citrus integrates with that.  The tastes are very clean and refined, simple in a way, but complex in a different sense. There is very little astringency in the tea, beyond coming across as full bodied.

An earthiness and mineral background that contributes complexity is hard to describe.  It's like that background context that comes across as a related set of tastes and texture (feel) in white teas, particularly in silver needle style versions.  One might describe it in different ways, with the taste aspect in the range of sunflower seed, a mild light wood tone, or only part of the flavor of chamomile, but what I'm talking about relates to character beyond tastes, in a way those somehow both seem related.

I've been drinking a Peony style white tea from Sri Lanka recently that has a similar effect, from Ebony Springs, a subtlety and richness, an experience not well defined by specific tastes.  It's exhibited much differently in terms of other trace components, in the mineral range instead of sweet floral (with a write up on the first time it crossed my path here).  I'll do more with describing that source and related teas in a later post, since in that one I didn't get beyond mentioning the link for that tea maker.

oxidation level:  a very happy medium

It's nothing like a black tea, not oxidized to that level (although being Darjeeling it might still be considered a black tea, as much as any standard type).  It has none of the vegetal character or bite of relatively greener teas, but it does retain a lot of that freshness.  The fullness is like that of oolongs, full and rich, but in a different flavor range.  The overall effect is nice, bright flavored but subtle, sophisticated, and very pleasant.  As with most better versions of teas description by listing of attributes doesn't really do it justice.

I would normally use this type of comparative description sparingly but it seems a better version of Darjeeling than almost any I've ran across.  It helps that I'm an oolong drinker that has been into lots of white tea lately, so I'm calibrated for this sort of general range.  It seems to represent the best of both worlds as tea types and styles go, in between a number of other typical styles, in a tea that comes across as unique.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Comparing aged teas, 21 and 30 year old Chin Shin oolongs

Hojo 30 year old oolong (Dong Ding, from Taiwan)

Tea Side 21 year old Chin Shin (from Thailand)

This post is about directly comparison tasting a 21 year old tea from Tea Side (an aged Lao Chin Shin Thai oolong) with a 30 year old tea from Hojo (described as a Dong Ding).  Why review two teas at the same time?  Good question.

The idea was to try to identify common aspects related to aged teas, if such a thing could be done.  If two teas aren't very close in character drinking them together, at the same time, can just make it more confusing, by bringing on a bit of overload.  That's sort of how it worked out but it was interesting anyway, and there was some common context, if not so much similarity.

According to one online reference (see following table from the Tea DB site) given that Dong Ding typically is Chin Shin both teas would be the same cultivar, but of course standard types used for a region doesn't always hold up for a specific version.

Twenty one years is a long time related to the Thai tea industry, still in it's infancy then related to its modern commercial form, unless one considers there really are very old tea plants here, so some forms of making tea go back centuries.  It's my understanding--perhaps not much of a reference source, what sticks in my mind--that one main basis for modern Thai people was immigration of Southern Chinese people on the order of 1000 years ago, with advanced practices like making Chinese pottery imported here later, in response to varying export limitation policies by Chinese government.  That would relate to old forms of Chinese government, to us, but given the span of their history perhaps those were relatively more modern developments by Chinese historical standards.

At any rate it doesn't take much for one person to bring tea harvesting and processing knowledge with them from one country to another, so the state of the industry in Thailand in the 90s wasn't so relevant; the skill of the people involved with making this particular tea was instead.

Comparison tasting

For the first infusion the Thai oolong (21 year old Tea Side tea; I'll reference these by vendor, not that it matters) started to show some nice character,  dark caramel, and earthy tones hard to make out.  At first the Hojo tea (30 year old Dong Ding origin / Taiwan-originated oolong) tasted old, and not in a good sense, musty, hinting towards peat and mushrooms under that.

By the second infusion the Tea Side tea was picking up a lot of complexity, earthy wood tones, some dates (or could be raisins), a dark caramel / toffee; good sweetness and richness in general.  The Hojo tea got even worse, from tasting like something that had been stored in an attic towards tasting like the floor boards in one.  There was interesting complexity under that but it was hard to pick up and appreciate under the nasty front end flavors.  To be fair, the friend that gave me the tea said he didn't notice this mustiness in his version, from the same package, and another friend advised giving older teas several washes rather than a more standard quick one to offset any storage taste issues.

assistant taster; this means approval

My two year old daughter helped me with the tasting, and on the first infusion she agreed the Tea Side tea was much nicer.  By the second infusion she would only taste the Hojo tea but would pass on actually drinking it, just taking a sip and handing it back.  I think she would have agreed that the Hojo tea drew into a more even range after a few infusions but she had dropped out of the tasting due to us limiting her intake of tea.  It was a little odd that the similarly aged Tea Side tea had no issues with any mustiness to clear up through initial infusions, which one might guess related to storage conditions.

On the third infusion the intensity of the Tea Side tea kept picking up, with flavors transitioning, now more like roasted nuts (non-specific nuts, maybe).  There was a trace of rusty earth tone that reminded me of those found in some red wines, not in most versions, not so much in Californian wines, more in the Burgundy range, with just a hint of a component.  Of course the tea didn't taste a lot like wine.  The sweetness was still very nice, altogether a great, complex balance.

At the same infusion the Hojo tea flavors started to clean up, moving to a roasted chestnut effect.  The tea might work out.  Some sweetness finally started to kick in too.  An earthy element was in the range of a tree bark; different, not bad really.  The mustiness was still there but as a faint background element, no longer a negative factor.

Finally less transition was occurring on the fourth infusion, but both teas did change slightly.  The Tea Side tea softened and became slightly earthier, just a little towards a dark wood / leather range.  The Hojo tea flavors cleaned up just a little more, with the mustiness essentially completely dissipated,  with more mineral tones joining in.  The roasted nuts taste shifted slightly to a light wood, but still quite nutty.

I went a little longer on the fifth infusion to keep the flavors standing out, and the interesting character of the teas was all the more so for concentrating fading flavors and changing body.  I might point out that someone inclined to drink very wispy teas, as many would be, could have went much farther in an infusion count covering the same ground.  The teas weren't brewed strong, not even approaching that, but the range of light to medium is very broad, and a more medium strength seemed optimal for allowing for really experiencing the complex aspects in both.  Both teas had a nice body, a good feel to them, just not the fullness and thickness other types of oolongs tend to show, and certainly not a lot of astringency in terms of having an edge.  One of the vendors (Hojo) mentioned that the tea was full flavored but approachable, suitable for all sorts of different people, and I would agree with that, although I would think a reasonable amount of experience would help someone more fully appreciate the range of what was going on with both.

At this stage the sweetness was hanging in there in the Tea Side tea, even though it was fading a little.  The dark caramel and leather moved a little into an unfamiliar wood-bark spice range, not exactly cinnamon, a different one, like one of those intriguing but unfamiliar scents one picks up in an Asian spice market.  The Hojo tea was still getting sweeter, picking up a root spice flavor, in the range of sassafras, a bit bright and round, right in between earthy and fruity; definitely something different.

I tried a relatively shorter infusion next just to see how the effect changed drinking both lighter.  With that complexity and taste range they were both still quite pleasant, holding up well.  Brewed even lighter the Hojo tea tastes still stood out, something related to that flavor range at that stage.  The Hojo tea was interesting, and quite pleasant, and both are unique, but the Tea Side tea component of dark caramel / toffee really worked well with that interesting range of earthy flavors, so it came across as a bit more pleasant.

At infusions beyond count the flavor balance of the Hojo tea got even better, although it was thinning a good bit.  The Tea side tea was still nice but thinning even more, but then it had been at it awhile.

Hojo left, Tea side right; both have a similar unusual color, greyed with age

The taste of age

I've tried aged oolongs before but it's not such familiar ground to me that I can reference it against lots of other similar teas.  When people describe such teas they often don't get far, citing something vague and a bit circular like "it tastes of age."  Both did express an unusual complexity, and beyond that there was an underlying feel to them in common, an impression I couldn't completely place.  I may not have had great versions before but I've not been very impressed with the few others I've tried, but of course it doesn't work to judge a type by a few examples, for all the obvious reasons.  

It's common for people to express a lot about aftertaste or feel related to aged teas, having some effect on the feel in the throat, for example.  With so much going on with tasting two I didn't make an effort to spell that out in the notes, although there was more to the experience than just those complex tastes.  Of course one really shouldn't drink two teas together if the idea is to observe the effect of the tea, the qi, but I'm not particularly tuned into that anyway.

It goes against convention but maybe vendor's descriptions could shed a little more light on all this, starting with the one from Tea Side:

Taste:  A thick, deep taste with rich aroma of cherry, chocolate, sweet red apple. Velvety aftertaste of aged tea with cinnamon and bark notes. It is not like any of the Chin Shin Oolongs that I ever tasted....  In addition to amazing taste and flavor, it gives a very powerful state. By the third-fourth brew different metamorphosis of consciousness begin to happen. The tea has a calming effect, it always brings relaxation to my mind and body and fills me with tranquility and light euphoria....

So my tasting notes missed some of that flavor list, but it was a really complex tea, with a lot going on.  He mentions in a part of that write-up that the tea can vary a lot with different brewing approaches, something I intend to work on verifying.  That definitely matched my impression; it had lots going on, and I didn't feel like I was going to spell it all out in that tasting.

When you drink this tea, you feel a dried fruity flavor. 30 years of maturation makes taste extremely smooth just like vintage brandy.

It was odd that even before reading that the Tea Side tea did remind me of the effect of aged wine (the reference here is from the tasting notes, written before I read that page description); not so much this tea though.  They also explain that ball-rolling was started in between the present time and 30 years ago, which explains the more open leaf presentation of this tea.  Of course I couldn't verify that, but it is interesting that both teas look similar in that regard, with leaves slightly rolled but nothing like the standard form today.

The age made it hard to factor in differences in oxidation or roast, since changes over time combined with the original style inputs of the processing.  I would assume that neither started out as a very lightly oxidized oolong, and that a mid-level roast gave both a complex flavor base as a starting point.

Both teas were interesting, a bit different than any others I've tried, very complex, with lots going on.  I will say this about the Tea Side tea, which I guess helps place the impression it made on me:  I  ordered some before I posted this, just in case.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Bankit Wangi silver needle style tea

Another great Indonesian tea!  They actually call this tea silver hairy buds (with more about Bangit Wangin on Facebook, here) but it would be typical for marketing to reference silver needle,  even though some reserve this as a partially regional designation.

The dry tea is very aromatic, sweet and floral, with just a little muscatel.  This seems to be a typical profile for Indonesian silver needle style white teas (the floral part), but it's no less positive for resembling others that I've tried, and it might be that extra bit sweeter and more floral.

large, silver, "hairy" buds

The taste is sweet, floral, and full, with a notable smooth, rich feel.  The primary taste is familiar,  floral in the range of a light smooth lavender (but then, for the millionth time, I'm better with other scent-memory than flowers).  Beyond that there is some complexity of flavors going on.  The sweetness might vaguely resemble a light honey, but that doesn't seem to add much.  The difference between this and other Indonesian silver-needle style (buds only) white teas is that of intensity; this tea is really sweet and floral.

In terms of flavors it's all a bit subtle, not lending itself to writing out a list.   In fact I keep drinking it and I'm stuck on that point:  what else does this tea taste like?  I fell back on a tasting trick, thoroughly washing my palate with plain water to get a fresh taste.  Some of that mineral richness I've come to expect in Indonesian teas had been there.  Between that and the sweet floral aspects there is a rich flavor element, along the line of sunflower seeds.  I get a faint impression of spice but it's not clear enough to put a name to it.  Going beyond that I might just be daydreaming.  For as bright and sweet as the floral aspect is someone picking up fruit wouldn't seem unreasonable, maybe in the range of some type of berry, or tied to that muscatel scent element, I'm just not pinning that down.

Rodino!  a rare tea related visitor in Bangok

A friend visiting from Indonesia (Jakarta), Rodino, passed on the tea, along with a couple of others.  He just started writing a blog about tea himself, or really beverage themed in general.  I'll probably keep drifting back to the subject of Indonesian tea for having a friend on the scene there, a very good thing given how nice the teas I've tried so far have been.  It makes sense that agriculture would go well there based on how Indonesia looks (see related post on a trip there), a paradise for plant life, aside from the odd catastrophic volcano eruption, and even that must be great for the soil, once the devastation subsides from the more intense versions.

Giving this tea longer soaks over more infusions keeps bringing out lots of flavor, moving into clean wood tones, still sweet but less sweet.  The smooth fullness switches over to a more textured fullness, towards dryness but not dry, all aspects that work well together.  Some versions of white teas, silver needle-type styles in particular, can be a bit too subtle for me to enjoy as much as other types, just hinting at some mild earthy tones, but this was nothing like that.

no reference scale here but these are big buds

It might help to compare taste this with another Indonesian white tea, and I do have a bit of a couple left, even one type I never opened from that trip in December, but I didn't get to it around the time of the initial tasting.  An online friend visiting Bangkok gave me a good bit of this tea so I could, but instead I'll just compare based on tasting another later.

Comparison tasting with another Indonesian white tea, over different days

I tried the Toba Wangi silver needle style tea for comparison, just not side by side, two days later. I'll have a go at comparing based on memory.

It's less floral and sweet than I remember the Bangkit Wangi, but since a floral aspect is a main component there seems a chance they are more equivalent in this respect than I'm remembering.  The floral element is rich, sweet, and luxurious, just not as intense, and as usual hard to place by description.  I looked back to find an earlier review but apparently I'd only mentioned it in the post about a Bai Mu Dan style white from this producer, White Beauty (some good tea).

Beyond those aspects there's also a mild earthiness, which comes across a bit like chamomile, but much fuller and more complex, in part approaching the range of dried hay (in a good sense).  This played the same role as one closer to sunflower seeds in the Bangkit Wangi, just shifted a little in taste.

My general impression from this tasting is that it's in between those mild-flavored whites I was referencing, mild teas that you feel as much as taste, and the Bangkit Wangi in terms of really intense, distinctive flavors coming across, especially in that floral range.  It does have that full feel a lot of nice white teas have, in this case so pronounced it almost felt like a roundness, even though I'm not sure myself what that means.

I cold-brewed the tea, not able to put in enough infusions to finish it in a session, storing it in the refrigerator with warm but not hot water to be drank again the next day.  Somehow that really drew out a much more intense sweetness and floral effect, in the range of those sakura (cherry blossom) green tea bottled teas, but a bit better for being natural, and not based on green tea.  It made me wonder if the tea couldn't provide a range of different results based on variations within conventional brewing parameters.

Where was I going with this comparison again?  Regardless of that, these exceptional versions really have me coming around to silver needle style whites, but for Toba Wangi's teas I'd go with the White Beauty instead for novelty.  This does seem a natural place to close but since I was already discussing the Bangkit Wangi teas a little with Ronald, the plantation manager, I'll add a little more background on that tea, what might have led to it being so intense (for a white tea; they do tend to be subtle).

Input from the Bangkit Wangi owner about this tea

Ronald mentioned the Bangkit Wangi silver-needle style tea is based on Camelia sinensis var assamica and from Gamboeng clone.  It seemed really sweet and floral to me to be based on an Assamica type, but then I'm not as familiar with white teas as others related to different general type and cultivar origin inputs.  That does help explain how those buds could be so big.

He gave the following input that he felt contributed to the tea being as sweet and intense as it comes across (only edited slightly to keep this short):

1. The age of tea plant

Our tea plantation started in 1920’s by the Dutch people in which at that time colonized Indonesia, during that time the tea plantation is grown mostly in our region in West Java. During that time the root of our tea plan is already span deep underground to 5-8 meters. 

2. The water content 

Inside our plantation there lies a water source from the top of our plantation in which it drops down in veins through our plantation to then compile back to a water fall called Citamboer waterwall (Tjitamboer). 

These two seem to go together, don't they?  Strong, mature plants develop healthy supporting root systems, and these roots enable plants to take advantage of natural irrigation paths within the ground.  This distribution would surely both filter the water and add minerals to it.

3. Organic practice

Our plantation recieved an organic certification in 2007...and at this time we don’t use any pesticide whatsoever.  We found out that the plant itself is getting stronger in battling their common enemy such as pest and wild bushes and weed.  So by looking at this we can be sure that the tea itself is building their own immune in battling the common pest and also fighting for nutrients from common wild bushes to feed the young bud leaves.

This last idea is one I've heard claimed of Wuyishan area teas as well, that only the strongest plants survive the various external challenges, and that supporting the plants by providing a pest-free environment throws off the natural balance, and can impact the taste of the teas.  Who knows, really, but it's also familiar from the case of Bai Hao / Oriental Beauty teas that a seemingly negative input of insects biting plants' leaves can potentially have positive effects in the outcome of teas.

Another interesting idea we didn't discuss, that tends to come up, is that the influence of other types of plants can change flavors in tea plants growing in close proximity.  Again, who knows, but somehow all these factors together did work towards creating some exceptional characteristics.  Processing is another significant factor, with this plantation drawing on roughly 100 years of experience.  Maybe that's not so long by Chinese standards but plenty of time to sort out making some very nice tea.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Luka cafe in Sathorn, Bangkok, revisited

I visited Luka cafe in Bangkok and reviewed a tea there not long ago (in March, a Bai Mu Dan / Peony, here), and just made it back for another lunch recently.  I tried a second tea, so I'll say a little more about that, and I bought loose tea there this time, so I can pass on how that works there.

Review of a conventional Ceylon black tea

meatball sub and good Ceylon black tea; nice enough

I tried a standard, better Ceylon black tea (UVA from Malou tea, with another FB contact here), from the pricing sold as a medium grade tea.  The description was limited, mentioning fruitiness.  There was actually  a noticeable mint aspect, not so much in the range of fruit, but a little, and of course an underlying earthy-range context.  The astringency wasn't so intense, just adding some body and dryness, and the flavors were clean.  The overall effect was well balanced, so it seemed nice enough.  "Nice enough" may not be clear enough; good versions of any tea can't be taken for granted.  One could go years here without running across comparable versions of this type, standard as it may be according to some reckoning, so I did appreciate it.

Natural mint flavor in a tea is a bit unusual.  The other type I've tried with a related pronounced aspect is Ruby black tea from Taiwan.  Too much might really throw off the general effect of the tea, and I could imagine people either loving or hating it.  I'm in the middle; such a tea wouldn't be a favorite, and could come across as positive, but I'd just as soon pronounced fruit or floral aspects stood out, of course matching the tea type.  Different can be good, though, and no one would mistake this tea for a Taiwanese Ruby, so the novelty was nice.

The do-it-yourself aspect of this tea presentation could be a hurdle for some.  They provide a tea brewing in a device similar to a very small pitcher using an infuser basket element, and it's up to the customer to decide when to pour it out, and to manage not over-brewing the tea when only a third of it is going to fit in the cup they serve it with.  The idea seemed to be to taste it until it seemed ideal then set the basket aside, which really would work.  I let it keep brewing to try the tea over a range of strengths, because I'm inquisitive like that.  Although the basket barely makes contact with the water once two thirds of the tea has been drank (after two small cups) the last cup was still a bit "brisk."

The tea wasn't naturally overly astringent so it stood up well to being drank as light, medium, and strong-brewed versions.  Someone really into optimizing tea brewing might be a little freaked out by that (most tea enthusiasts), more into drinking the tea one best way.  Not all tea types work so well across a range, but this one did.  But then one could just use tasting as opposed to timing (proportion always varies, and the clock started on infusion back in the kitchen), and pull out that basket.  As during the last visit it seemed odd not re-brewing the leaves, essentially leaving behind half the potential of the tea.  That would be more upsetting for a better version of a tea, for the peony / bai mu dan style I tried that first time, for example.  This Ceylon black was nice but after the three small cups I was ok with stopping, even if the leaves weren't really done.

Per discussion with the tea-partner manager the tea-service approach is to keep it simple for customers, which I can completely relate to.  Once you bring out the clay pots and timers you might make someone already into all that happier but you can make a very nice pot of tea without such gear.  There is some allowance for teas of different styles working out differently, but it seems likely they've thought all this through, and aren't selling teas that would be likely to be particular.  An example might be a Dan Cong I tried recently, a tea version and general type that really needs gongfu style brewing--short infusions and a higher proportion of tea to water, more or less--to exhibit the better aspects.

Dry / loose tea sales

I bought the peony / bai mu dan tea I had tried during the earlier visit to take away, 50 grams of it.  The price was pretty fair, 375 baht for that much, just over $10.  The conventional black tea version would have been less, and for people into such teas maybe also a great value.  I really do like softer, fruitier, var. Sinensis versions of black teas better, or at least a different form of Assamica black tea style (see countless related posts, even though I'm more hung up on oolongs).  I should mention that this Ceylon peony is not something you see here in Bangkok; I don't think I ever have, in spite of putting time in at shops and cafes over some years.  There was a vendor importing only Ceylon teas at a recent tea Expo and although they had a nice selection of products it didn't include one.

Based on tea aspects alone I might just go with an upper-middle range Chinese version instead but factoring in the novelty I'm really looking forward to trying this tea a few more times.  It seemed the kind of tea that could change character based on adjusting brewing, but at the same time the kind of tea one couldn't easily ruin, so a nice tea to experiment with.

not the page I'm on, but they sell bottled tea blends

They were selling a broad range of plain teas and blends, so I might say a little more about that.  Typical plain tea examples include a Ceylon silver needle-style tea, a Thai oolong (lightly oxidized, of course), Longjing / Dragonwell (my favorite green tea, in general), and a few other conventional forms of Ceylon black tea, different grades / preparations.  For plain herbs I remember seeing chamomile, a lavendar / rose (plain in the sense of mixing two flower types), some variation of a blooming flower tea, and rooibus.  Blends included a rose black tea and mint tea blend (based on green tea, I think) that smelled exactly like toothpaste.

Is it coming across that this is me being positive about that selection?  Good versions of plain, single type and source tea are what people should be drinking, per my preference, and it's nice that the quality is there for the relatively standard price level.  It's also nice that other types of offerings related to different preferences are represented, the blends and such.

To help place this tea in relation to alternatives, I just gave 50 grams of a nice peony / Bai Mu Dan style tea (a Chinese version) to a monk for a gift, a Tea Village version I'd bought for some other reason, that had cost just over $10 (the same).  I've had that tea before, and it was probably a little sweeter and more floral versus this version.  The Ceylon fell in an earthier range, as I recall, but was still a pleasant, subtle tea, quite unique and interesting.  I hope that karma / merit process does work as directly as Thais tend to believe, and I'll be doing well on both ends, set up for karma and still drinking nice tea.

About the cafe

I've already touched on the cafe aspects in the last post but I'll say a little.  The food was also nice; I had a sloppy meatball sandwich--intentionally made that way; I'm not criticizing the sandwich for being messy--that would have been a good version of the same back in the US.  Salads my companions ordered looked good, and the deserts, and one other had a nice looking updated version of a burrito, quite common in some places but that doesn't come up much here.  Here in Bangkok "good Western food" is not so simple a range to pin down.  It's easy to pay a lot for food that one could make a much better version of at home, and I don't want to even get started on what some places do to Italian food.  Suffice it to say that it wouldn't be easy to make food this good, and it would be a tall order to make better; they're on it.

and they sell trendy furniture

The decor is interesting, sort of modern-industrial, with a sub-theme of being a furniture display and sales outlet.  The pricing is higher mid-range for Bangkok (500 baht lunch range; under $20, so normal for other countries, or even low, but here that seems like more).

All in all I'd recommend a visit, and ordering and carrying out some tea as well, although personal preferences factor into that.  They aren't carrying or selling the highest range Chinese teas but there is plenty of selection to choose from, and if you know what you are looking for some would stand out.  You didn't hear it from me but I've even heard the coffee is ok.