Thursday, September 29, 2016

On being a tea enthusiast, and other self-labeling

I'm in a Bangkok Foodies Facebook group, although I don't really consider myself a foodie.  Somehow I just don't feel like I like food more than anyone else.  I do cook, so there's that, but the proper focus seems to be on dining out, and expensive restaurant meals have essentially failed to make my list of priorities.

That group owner recently mentioned an Urban Dictionary definition of Foodie; cool that she took it so well under the circumstances:

A douchebag who likes food; kind of negative, when you put it that way.  It got me started thinking about how tea drinkers refer to themselves, adopted self-labeling for that.  It's sort of a different thing, since almost everyone likes food, to some degree, referenced in that definition's rejection of the concept.  So what about tea?  Here are some labels for someone who is into that.

Tea enthusiast:  seems most common, generally descriptive, fairly neutral.  For some it might be too neutral, or enthusiasm may just not seem a good fit.  You can self-select as a Tea Enthusiast by LinkedIn; that would make it official.  

Of course there's always the issue that non-tea-enthusiasts don't really get it at all, as in this Buzzfeed post "19 Pictures That Will Sexually Awaken Any Tea Enthusiast."  There had to be another way to put that, and many of those pictures show tea bags steeping; not so enticing.  

Tea lover:  way too conversational; may as well say "someone who likes tea."  Besides that it works.

Tea head:  a nice twist, although I've only hear Don of China Life and Mei Tea use it.  Maybe for some too close to negatively biased stereotypes, motor-head or pot-head, which maybe aren't so negative for car enthusiasts or stoners.  According to that Urban Dictionary tea head is actually British slang for a cannabis user.

that video cover; not my favorite advice related to tea

Tea sommelier:  more a rank or certification, a proof of taking a class or a test, or perhaps even a job title.  It would seem odd for someone to just start calling themselves that, and even the class certificate level could mean different things to different people.  Originally that term just related to wine, but now it seems fair enough to branch that out, even if establishing uniform credentials could be an open issue.  Here's a video on being a water sommelier, or an article on the same subject; it just keeps going.

Tea specialist:  At the World Tea Academy you can be certified as a Tea Sommelier, Tea Specialist (makes sense), Tea Professional, or Tea Health Expert (?).  The LinkedIn references to Tea Specialists seem to relate to such certifications; at a glance, a lot are through the Specialty Tea Institute.

Tea connoisseur:  I almost missed this one; seems a bit dated, along the line of "gourmet."  Here's a thread on Reddit about how to become one, or a Quora answers set (eg. try a lot of different teas).  How would I know when I get there, to be a connoisseur?  Here's a definition to go by:

1.  a person who is especially competent to pass critical judgments in an art, particularly one of the fine arts, or in matters of taste
2.  a discerning judge of the best in any field

An ordinary level of humility would prevent most tea enthusiasts from claiming this label, but I guess if someone is judging tea competitions they'd automatically fit that.

Wu De, tea enthusiast and monk (credit Global Tea Hut on Youtube)

Tea master / guru:  more something that someone would call their tea master, not themselves.  I ordained as a monk once--long story--and struggled a bit with whether or not to call my teacher / guide monk my master, and in the end no title really seemed to fit the role.

Tea man:  nice!  This has an old-school ring to it, like salesman, along with a working connotation.  I suppose there is gender bias built into it though, and tea woman doesn't work so well.  I guess "tea person / people" could be a comparable alternative, a bit odd gramatically but it works.

Tea blogger / vendor:  the easy way out, for people that fill these roles.  Just shift the meaning context a bit and some degree of interest and expertise is automatically implied, although not a given.

tea and travel, taken to extremes (photo credit)

Tea goat:  this may seem like just making stuff up.  I've only heard one person say this, maybe only once, but it seemed so catchy that it stuck.  That was Jeff Fuchs, if that name rings a bell.  If it doesn't you might want to check out his Tea and Mountain Journals, along with other writings about the old tea-horse road, a Himalayan version of the silk road trading route.  If anyone is a tea goat he is.

In conclusion, there are lots of things that you could call yourself if you feel you like tea more than most.  Some of those are quite official sounding, especially paired with some training credentials.  As far as something like blog branding goes you could be a tea fairy, tea imp, or tea Jedi, but you'd want to check those first since a lot of the good names are already in use.  In conversation there may be no need for any label, but it sort of does come up in writing about tea.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Brewing loose tea with a 20 minute breakfast

I've been training for this!  Having young children isn't just about spending free time playing with Legos, it's about not sleeping all that much, and taking a break from your own meals to help someone else with theirs.  Related to all that my work-day breakfasts are short, but I'm still drinking loose tea, and here's how to do that.

Of course more careful brewing works better when one has the time, and in general Gongfu style brewing gives better results than Western brewing (depending on the tea, not always), it just takes more time.  This could as easily be an article on how to Gongfu-style brew tea at work instead.  That wouldn't be hard to do with a gaiwan, tea cup, and half-liter thermos of hot water, maybe using a side plate or washcloth to deal with spilled tea.  The main problem would be appearing to spend a lot of time on just making and drinking tea, instead of working, but for desk-bound staff if an employer is fine with that then why not.  Either way grabbing a quick tea with breakfast might be desirable, and it needn't be from a tea bag, or cold-brewed from the day before.

Gongfu or Western style brewing?

regardless of re-purposing options loose tea is the way to go

Neither!  Modified Western style brewing is the shortest path, increasing the standard tea to water ratio and dropping the infusion time just a little, maybe down to 2 or 3 minutes instead of 3 or 4.  But then being in a heated rush is probably about not timing things, just going with it, and letting learned habit help you get it right, even in a haze of semi-awareness.  It would be normal to add to time over the later infusions, but then everything about parameters just depends.  If someone isn't using a rinse the second infusion might brew as fast as the first, with the leaves already wet, especially for a rolled oolong that needs to unfurl.  Experimentation can match results to preferences.

Related to heating water, an electric kettle is the obvious support, or really any approach but microwaving water.  Hard to say why but that's not advisable, not just related to my own preferences, but as a standard understanding.  Maybe that's because dissolved air doesn't fall out of suspension nearly as effectively using such heating, resulting in brewing tea with frothy water (but then I'm an engineer, not a chemist or food scientist, so what do I know).

Making multiple infusions is where timing and the rest of the process gets tricky; preparing three (or so) infusions in a very short time, along with making and eating breakfast.  Gear doesn't matter for the result--so much; of course it does to some extent--but simpler is better.  A French press works well for being easy to clean, but then a standard ceramic pot is about the same.  Even an infuser basket would be ok, the kind that gives tea space to contact water, but it seems a shame to expose more volatile components to air during brewing, allowing some to evaporate off, since these are part of what we taste.

The breakfast had better be simple too, a bowl of cereal or a pastry, maybe adding some fruit that isn't difficult to prep.  I feel like I need the tea more than food, to help get me started, but it works better to eat a light meal along with it.  Only green tea or sheng pu'er seems to affect my stomach, related to drinking teas without food. If someone prefers black tea prepared with milk and sugar I think that combination would be fine for digestion, I just don't drink tea that way (with some people arguing milk interferes with nutrient digestion, not something I'd worry about personally).

 The next problem is how to actually drink three small cups of tea in a short span of time (or large ones; depends on the person).

How to cool the tea

an old-school approach to timing might work

Even if drinking a brewed green tea that started around 170F / 75C (or whatever one prefers), allowing the tea to cool enough to drink it would be an issue in a really tight time-frame.  If someone brewed tea for 3, 3 1/2, and 4 minute infusions (just an example; depends on the tea type and ratio of tea to water), the process takes up a bit over half a very short breakfast's worth of time steeping, with the tea still a bit hot to drink quickly.

Brewing using cooler water won't work, and adding ice or even cold water to tea seems completely wrong (although I can't identify why adding cold water wouldn't work).  Cold-brewing overnight potentially could work, and that works well for a broad range of teas, even for teas one might not ordinarily try it with like Darjeeling or Dan Cong.

Another possible resolution:  it's normal to use a serving pitcher to mix tea for Gongfu style brewing (a chahai or gongdaobei), which would absorb some heat (although my understanding of the main point of those is to mix the tea), and the same principle can be extended to using an extra coffee mug.  In a more extreme rush drinking a little cold water out of one before adding the tea chills it to remove even more heat, without adding anything to a tea.  Cold-shocking tea like that is probably not ideal, per getting the most out of it, but then waking up a half an hour earlier to use a more standard brewing process could be far from ideal too.  My kids waking me up multiple times a lot of nights is also definitely not perfect, related to a shadow looking like a monster or something such, so sleep time is at a premium for me.

Selecting a tea

Just as in a post about brewing Grandpa style (using uncontrolled brewing time, essentially, drinking tea directly from a mix of leaves and water) not every tea is well-suited to such a heavy handed preparation.  The best teas typically tend to respond well to Gongfu style brewing, allowing for careful control of infusion times, enabling the experience of aspects transitions over brewing.  If someone only drinks the highest quality teas, which would make sense for some, then rushing tea brewing may not be ok.  Some general types can't be rushed, in my experience, for example Dan Congs respond best to a short infusion time Gongfu approach, not achieving the same balance brewed Western style.  Then again actually trying out variations works better than generalizing; I just experimented with a pretty good Dan Cong version and it did well prepared using a modified Western style (the first time at least; the second time it didn't work as well, and some teas can be touchy about parameters like that).

So which teas do work out better, using a more Western brewing approach?  Black or white teas (again, per my preference and in my experience, just one person's take).  Or some lighter oolongs tend to be very forgiving related to brewing approach, and green teas should be fine, more touchy about temperature than the rest of the infusion process variables.

Issues with rushing a breakfast

This approach isn't going to work for everyone, but then not everyone even eats breakfast (or drinks tea, odd as that is to consider).  Personal schedule is also relevant; for someone with a one-hour car commute taking breakfast on the road instead might make sense.  Some tea tumbler infusers even allow for controlling infusing time, shutting down contact with water by closing off a section.  And grandpa style brewing--drinking tea as a mix of leaves and water; not limiting brew time--can also work, for some teas.

Most of the people in Bangkok think either Starbucks coffee or a powdered flavored tea is just the thing, preferably handed to them in a paper cup, but for me rushing tea brewing works out much better.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Alishan oolong review; related tea discussion

It's been so long since I've had a rolled lighter oolong--hardly any in the last couple of months--that now it's like a change of pace.  This is a sample that May Zest tea sent along with teas that I ordered.  They're a bit different as tea sources go, a higher volume sales oriented vendor in Taiwan, a great place to get a half a kilo of a couple kinds of nice tea, or maybe even more.

The dry scent of the tea is nice, sweet and fresh, with butter and corn scent, maybe more towards popcorn than fresh corn, but sweeter.  The taste is similar, nice, sweet and buttery, with more of a fresh sweet corn flavor.  More floral range is also typical for this type of tea but I've ran across that sweet corn aspect in other lighter oolongs.  More of a mineral element would also be normal, which does become more pronounced on the next infusion.

Over the next infusions the mineral keeps picking up, along with floral elements, and the sweet corn aspect fades.  The flavors aspects are nice and clean, bright, even, with a reasonably full feel and lingering aftertaste.  The general effect is also nice; it all comes together.

There is potential for the tea to have a slightly fuller feel, or even longer aftertaste, the types of aspects that separate exceptionally high quality teas from good teas, but this version is good.  The touch of butteriness is a nice compliment to the other components, bringing it to a good balance.

The tea keeps going in that range, aspects shifting just a little, but brewing a lot of infusions without flavors going off in any way.  A mineral aspect stays pronounced; typical, and positive.  The effect of freshness stands out in the experience; the tea is really bright for having that degree of richness and depth.  To me this is a nice, basic lightly oxidized oolong, a bit better than we tend to experience from teas made in Thailand but probably in the normal range for tea from Taiwan.

Ideas from discussing tea online

With a tea like this it's normal to think of aspects that place it on a scale of quality level, or maybe that's always normal.  Someone commented on a recent post about Bai Hao / OB that they'd tried an exceptional version made by a Taiwanese tea master.  That's a real thing; the quality level and types keep going.  But the "my tea is better than your tea" theme can get old fast, along with input that "you are making it wrong," regardless of the suggestion.  Then again good input about better teas and better brewing can be helpful and interesting, sort of relating to how it is offered, just in that case the implication seemed to be that person had tried much better tea.

Related to concern over quality and levels of teas, turning tasting a tea into a competition could potentially drain the experience of what drinking tea is all about, appreciation and enjoyment.  This was a really nice tea, with no flaws, in one sense, just room for existing aspects to be different.

Someone visited the North of Thailand and mentioned seeing tea labeled for sale as Taiwanese tea, in an outlet for direct sales from Thai plantations, selling Thai tea.  Make sense?  It would have been "fake" Taiwanese oolong, except they were pretty open about the local origin and the mis-labeling.  This tea I reviewed is surely really from Taiwan, but how could one know?  In tasting it I was reminded of some grade-related issues that "reading" the leaves may have cleared up, about when it was harvested (leaves were a bit large), and which leaf / plant type it was, although I'm confident it was Chin-Shin from Taiwan, as it was described.  Not much more to add about all that; not every vendor tells it like it is, and errors (false marketing) could creep in from "upstream" sourcing.

I don't lose sleep over all that.  If I had bought a great Wuyishan tea that was really from outside the park reserve area instead it wouldn't matter so much, although per my understanding they really do control use of chemicals in that area, so that may not make for the best example.  As you continue to get better teas from better sources those sort of trust issues dissipate, to some degree, but never completely end.  Back to the scope of Chinese oolongs, I'd trust Cindy Chen with my kids (my favorite tea maker), so if she says a tea is something it probably is, but then again my own confidence doesn't exactly change the facts of the matter.

A different tangent:  another recent tea group discussion comment about Oriental Beauty / Bai Hao style teas being produced in places other than Taiwan expressed that regions should stick to their own processing styles, and not borrow region-specific versions from other places.  That seems crazy to me.  Taiwan wouldn't be making black tea based on that premise, and probably not oolong, if you trace the history back far enough.  I think the comment might have been a gut reaction to that idea not matching something from a training class, something they'd not really thought through.  Making "fake" Taiwanese OB somewhere else and selling teas as something it's not is something else entirely.  Of course that shouldn't happen, even if they do a good job of matching aspects, or even if a really good counterfeit could potentially be just as good as what the tea is supposed to be.

Maybe I'll get a chance to try that tea from that one "tea master" someday, and I hope I get around to trying a Japanese version of Oriental Beauty as well.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Taste comparison of three Oriental Beauty teas (Bai Hao)

Tea Village (Thai) left, May Zest (Taiwan) right

Who doesn't like Oriental Beauty teas?  That style of oolongs is approachable, complex, sweet, and distinctive, typically expressing a nice range of fruit and spice flavors.  Here I review three of them, directly tasting a Thai and Taiwanese version against each other, then reviewing a third from Taiwan.

One is a tea I've talked about a good bit in the past, a Thai Oriental Beauty sold by Tea Village, a shop in Pattaya and an online vendor; the other two are from May Zest, the first I'll discuss already reviewed separately.  Having covered that ground already the point here is noting how direct comparison goes, since sometimes that points out subtle differences.

Note that this tea type can vary a lot year to year due to the input of the insects in the process (the bug-bitten idea), which Google search will say more about, or other posts in this blog describes.  Tasting the same teas these vendors sell in another year could go differently, or May Zest might sell other versions for that reason (not lots of OB coming out of Thailand to choose from, although I have reviewed others).

Comparison review of two versions

Per appearance the Thai tea has more tips / buds, a good sign, but otherwise the general shape is not so different.  The Thai leaves are darker, the Taiwanese browner versus nearly black.  We'll see what that means related to oxidation level, but I thought both were around the same, quite oxidized.  The standard for the type is 70% oxidized or more (from sources I've referred to in the past), so relatively far towards black teas as oolongs go, even though measuring that may not be so simple.  The scent is different, both sweet.  The May Zest / Taiwanese version comes across with more cinnamon, and the Tea Village / Thai version showing more varied spice and also some earthy tones that are hard to separate.

May Zest left (darker), Tea Village right

Per the rinse this is going to be closer than I thought.  I thought I'd like the Thai tea more, that it would show better complexity, a larger range of interesting flavors, but both seem nice at this early stage, complex and sweet, with lots going on.

The first infusion was a bit light, good for separating out some trace aspects, but the tea will really get going more on the next.  The Tea Village / Thai OB is just beautiful, light and sweet, complex and balanced, clean flavored.  It has fruit aspects (maybe towards peach; I'll check again next infusion), and a cinnamon / nutmeg component, just not as heavy on the cinnamon as the May Zest / Taiwanese tea.

The May Zest tea has good flavors, pronounced cinnamon and honey sweetness, and good complexity, but it does give up just a little in being as "clean."  Related earthy flavors can easily include a little scope that isn't exactly a notable flaw in the tea, but in this case it doesn't come across quite as well in comparison.  It's hard to describe as a taste element, since it comes across as an aspect of how the flavors are, sort of a mustiness, but just a trace.  More on that next round.  Both teas are quite soft, no astringency to deal with, not exactly with a full, rich feel as some other lighter oolong types tend to go but with a nice feel to them,.  Both have a reasonable degree of fullness and just a hint of "structure" from being relatively more oxidized teas (a term borrowed from wine tasting, referring to how the tannins give a tea a certain type of body).

The next infusion goes a little further; things get clearer.  The Thai tea is still sweet and complex, with that spice coming across somewhere between cinnamon and nutmeg, a nice place to be.  There is fruit too, in the peach / apricot range, again more in the middle than being one of those.  The tastes are positive and well balanced, and clean, but subtle enough they don't jump out as a flavor-aspects list, it all comes across as a fruit and spice blend.  Being stone fruit and spice it does come across a little like a cobbler, there just isn't much in the way of a bread / pastry element (maybe a little though).  It's definitely not yeasty, it doesn't have that bread-dough characteristic some teas have.

The cinnamon really picks up in the May Zest version, taking over the other flavors, along with a lot of honey sweetness in the background.  Sometimes when reviews mention honey it almost seems like they are being generous, trying to add some depth to saying a tea has sweetness, but this tastes a lot like a dark amber honey, not so much like the lighter golden type.  A lot of tea sweetness does resemble honey though, so it just depends, in part on interpretation.  The mustiness clarifies a little, but it seems to have evolved to a light background mushroom aspect.  That sounds worse than it really is; it's not like a cinnamon, honey, and mushroom consume, but it does have a touch of earthiness below those other spice / sweetness aspects.  Someone might interpret some aspect as fruit but to me the cinnamon and dark honey cover most of that related flavors range.

May Zest left (a little darker), Tea Village right

This might be a good place to note that I really do like both teas.  There's something that I'm attaching to related to the Thai tea I can't completely place, maybe the complexity, maybe the balance, or general effect, of subtlety.  It's hard to completely eliminate that I might like the idea of the tea better, that something about past experiences may have led to a bias.

That Thai OB is a pretty good tea; worse things could happen than for someone to feel an attachment to it.  It seems to give up a little intensity to the May Zest tea, in terms of sweetness and that cinnamon aspect being so pronounced, but the cleanness and balance is really something.  Then again, per personal preference differences someone else might like the May Zest tea more, especially if that blast of cinnamon really did connect with them.  I might also mention that a friend tried the May Zest OB and didn't thing cinnamon was all that pronounced, although when I first tried it I checked to see if the tea was just plant leaves or includes any shaved cinnamon bark (it doesn't).

Next infusion:  more of the same.  I kept the infusion strength at a medium to get a good idea of what's going on with the teas, and they're not really fading yet, a few infusions in, just transitioning a little.  For this general type that's often not as pronounced as for some others, changes over infusions.  It can vary a lot by brewing approach, Bai Hao / OB (or this variation also goes by Dong Fang Mei Ren).  The Tea Village version softens a little, maybe fades slightly, just not much, but still in that same range.  Probably a little additional complexity creeps in, in the range of dried hay, but it's subtle and integrated with other tastes, not so easy to identify.  The May Zest tea shifts to straight, strong cinnamon, with that musty trace that had shifted to mushroom now shifted towards a dark wood element, which works better with the tree bark / cinnamon spice aspect.

This  general tea type works well brewed Gongfu style, as I'm doing, using multiple, shorter infusions, and a higher proportion of tea to water, but it does just fine brewed Western style too.  It wasn't transitioning a lot, the main reason to use Gongfu style brewing instead, the main difference, aside from the tea potentially turning out differently brewed using different parameters.  Or if you like messing around Gongfu style is nice, not worse in any way.  That general brewing approach also combines well with other interests, like buying things, or owning things, since endless amounts of gear and teapot collecting pairs well with that approach, and can support some sort of Zen meditation experience.  You could even take a video of yourself doing the brewing, which would look cool to other people, especially if you wear some unusual clothing, some sort of robe.

From there both teas just taper off a bit.  Longer brewing times are required to get the same infusion strength, and some of the more earthy background aspects and that oxidation-effect structure stand out more in each.  The May Zest tea may seem just a little more oxidized, also tied to brewing a little darker, but the difference between in the range of 70% to 80% instead isn't notable except for tied to that sort of minor aspect shift.

Review of a third OB, also from May Zest

It looks like an Oriental Beauty, a Bai Hao oolong.  The smell is sweet but in the range of spice and sun dried tomato; different.  The brewed taste includes a good bit of sun dried tomato, and the spice range is cinnamon.  It's an unusual tea, but it comes across better than it sounds (unless that sounds really good,  then maybe just equivalent).

The type often include spices, so the difference is swapping out muscatel or other fruit for a sweet but different taste, something a bit richer.  On the second infusion the cinnamon picks up and the sundried tomato fades back so it's back in a more conventional OB range.  It has some citrus, expressed as orange zest, altogether a nice set.   The empty cup smells like honey, but that's not so uncommon from different teas.

The feel of the tea is nice, well oxidized but in that upper middle range, as OB goes, with that bit of dryness, nicely mixing with a juicy feel.  Later infusions aren't shifting a lot.  Cinnamon stands out as primary, that feel is next most notable, with decent sweetness and relatively clean flavors.  It's almost a shame that rich, vegetal leaning sundried tomato aspect dispelled a little, although still part of the profile.

I wouldn't brew to minimize that astringency since it has no bite or edge, it just gives it a dry feel, but you could coax this tea to being really soft instead, by dropping temperature and drinking it as very light infusions.  To me I'm preparing it as medium, but that would mean different things to different people.  To some I'd be drinking it way too strong, for others perhaps too light.  I like OB's prepared stronger than Dan Cong, if that helps, typically in a similar range as Wuyi Yancha teas maybe, probably just a touch stronger, with black teas brewed a bit stronger yet, usually.  All that depends on the tea, and on my inclination just then.

I tried cooler water and that sundried tomato taste picked way up, maybe for the dry feel and related mineral aspects dropping back.  Or maybe it's not that simple, and it all just shifted.  The mineral component is quite different, like iron ore might taste, earthy in a different way.  This is nothing like the drier, lighter minerals in pu'er, not like mineral tones in Vietnamese green teas, also nothing like that rock taste in Wuyi Yancha.  It would be interesting to visit these places and smell some rocks and dirt, to see how direct the mapping of mineral aspects to soil impressions is.

I could imagine people loving or hating this tea.  People seem to love OB for the fruit aspects, and for being easy to drink, and this works for both but it's not fruity in the normal range (muscatel / grape / citrus / spice).  It's not like drinking a green tea that transitions across a range of vegetables, where you really have to be on that page to appreciate it at all, but it's a bit dry and leans a little towards a savory effect, something different.  I don't mean it includes umami, like a Japanese green tea, but heavy minerals and that one rich, sweet dried tomato effect.

I'm not sure if I'd like it more or less after drinking a couple hundred grams of it but to me it was nice, not too novel, not challenging, and obviously a high quality tea, clean and well balanced.

Subjective comparison; which is better

I think preference for those characteristics I mentioned would determine which is better, and no one of these three clearly is.  The first May Zest OB didn't come across quite as clean-flavored as the other two, and that's one way to judge how "good" a tea is, but it was such a subtle difference that it wouldn't be so evident without direct comparison.  It was still slightly better than the average of other OB types and versions I've tried.  All three were quite decent OB versions.

Perhaps they aren't on the level of those storied most-sought-after teas that never leave their country of origin, but all are good teas.  The Thai version seems better than it ought to be, in reference to every other Thai oolong I've ever tried.  I'd be happy to drink lots of any of them.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong from Cindy Chen

More tea from Cindy; like Christmas in September.  She sent a number of different teas, and although it might make more sense to start with a Wuyishan tea (where she's from) I tried the Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong first.  She didn't send Wuyi Yancha oolongs this time, just this one and black teas instead, saying the wet weather there now isn't ideal for the final roasting processes for those from this spring.

Of course Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong means honey orchid aroma or scent Dan Cong, one of the main types.

As far as other Dan Cong types go, there is a great older blog that covers those, Tea Obsession, with this post on naming and different versions, and another listing posts on the basics.  I've heard that blog author referred to as "the queen of Dan Congs," but then I'd expect most people familiar with that nickname reference would also know of the blog.


This is exactly how you'd hope this tea would be, an absolute joy to experience.  Peach flavor initially comes across as primary, very sweet and full in taste, so clearly defined that along with the rich flavors of a ripe peach you can almost pick out the tangier taste of the skin.  This could relate to a different type of astringency is also common in Dan Cong, a feel and some related flavors that could be said to resemble unripe fruit, a nice pairing with the very sweet and fragrant teas, when it balances well.  This tea is on the softer side, so the feel doesn't add up to the same type of edge that is present in some, just giving it a little body.

standing by orchids, holding a cat; not my normal look though

Beyond the peach a floral aspect joins in, maybe similar to what a honey orchid smells like.  I have an idea of what that component should be but I can't compare it directly to that flower.  Even though I do end up walking by orchids often enough here I don't recognize the types.

The peach and floral elements are intense but there is complexity beyond that, maybe even a trace of cocoa.  That might sound strange, since cocoa would make perfect sense along with malty, more oxidized (mid-range) oolongs, with stone-fruit flavors like peach but also combined with other elements.  It all combines well, as one full, well-integrated, complex range of flavors.  There is plenty of sweetness, and the tastes are very clean, all balanced really well.  A lot of those complex aspects hangs around on your tongue well after drinking the tea, more important to some, only a little interesting to me.

The level of oxidation and roast seems perfect for drawing out those nice flavors and other aspects.  It's roasted on the lighter side, much less than the standard Wuyi Yancha range of oolongs.  You wouldn't want this to be the first Dan Cong you'd ever tasted or else you might be spoiled for the more ordinary range of those teas.  The flavors and other aspects aren't so unusual, individually, but it really all comes together.

Across the first few infusions I'm not noticing the aspects transition much, but then it would be as well if they stayed close to this range.  The balance seemed to shift into floral a little more, with the peach fading.  I had a kiwi with breakfast and something similar is going on there, just with quite different flavor aspects range, with a fruity, sweet character countered by a citrusy edge.  It might be partly power of suggestion but that slight edge in this tea reminds me of kiwi, in a good sense.

some well-twisted leaves

Some of the more subtle, secondary aspects are nice, but harder to describe.  It just seems fresh and bright.  As with other teas in this type the feel isn't as full and rich as with some oolong types, but it has it's own style of fullness and depth.  A richness comes across as almost like the oiliness in shou pu'er types, but coupled with a much different style of tea.

In part due to preferring this brewed lightly the tea goes on forever, lots of infusions, without that brightness or sweetness fading at all.  Later it takes longer infusions to draw out the flavors, well over thirty seconds versus quite short initially.  Sometimes that process change does shift the flavor profile a lot, but not so much in this case, and the flavors aspects never really go "off" in later infusions.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Jun Chiyabari Nepalese Himalayan Orange

A friend visited Bangkok recently, Ethan, and passed on some tea, a nice Himalayan Orange tea from Nepal.  The last really interesting tea he passed on was a Shangrila White tea from Nepal, reviewed here.  I'll say more about what the tea is in the second part, the shortest possible version being that it's like a Darjeeling, which aren't always so easy to categorize.  But I'll go ahead and review it first.

Ethan!  He's out there, but more conventional than he looks.

The tea is nice.  The dry scent seems a little faint, citrusy, with lots more seeming to go on below that, in the fruit range or maybe cocoa, just hard to pick out.  It smells a little like Fruity Pebbles, which to me means it smells like pandan leaves, since that seems to be a characteristic scent / flavor in those (surely artificially based in that cereal version).

The brewed tea strikes that nice balance that nice black versions of Darjeeling get to, lots going on, in the black tea range but different and unique.  Fruit not completely different from muscatel is there, it's just not really like a second flush Darjeeling, not pronounced and distinct, not the main element.  Citrus seems more predominant to me, more like sweet red grapefruit than the other types.  Maybe there is a touch of pandan leaf component in it, which comes across close to a tropical fruit range (an awfully broad scope, that).

It has that black tea character that is typically described as malt, that one limited range pronounced in Assamica teas, but really to me malt can be expressed in different ways.  Some milder, less oxidized teas can taste like a malted milk ball, or Ovaltine, especially when the flavor pairs with cocoa or other softer elements.  Coupled with astringency and other earthy, drier aspects it can be a totally different thing, still like malt, but not the same.  This is sort of in the middle.

I get the sense this tea would change aspects based on brewing parameters.   Brewed stronger it could seem like astringent black teas, a bit stout and full in feel, a bit astringent with earthy aspects.  Brewed lightly and easing up on temperature one could probably draw fruit out more without as much astringency, or maybe even get the fruit related aspects to vary some.  It seemed different across even the first two infusions, perhaps not so much from transitioning as me not minding brewing time closely (more kids' shouting than usual in the background, a bit of a contradiction in saying that because it's so typical in our house).

I  tested that with a really short, cooler infusion next, far from optimizing brewing, just messing around. This would be a good place to mention that I was using a modified western brewing approach,  going a bit heavier on tea ratio so it won't brew out in three infusions, as a more standard Western approach to a black tea might.  That fruit eased up a lot even by the third infusion.  The tea is still malty,  a bit dry, with traces of that complexity layered in.

I tried the tea again two days later, with similar results.  It has good complexity, with lots going on, striking an unusual balance between being a fruity, complex, relatively soft black tea, but also a bit dry, with some earthier components.  It has an unusual version of a typical black tea astringency.  That astringency is not so pronounced one would need to "brew around" it but it is a factor one could balance in different ways, based on differing preparations.  I could imagine different people describing the tea in different ways, even beyond those real variations in how it turns out.  It's really in between a lot of other types and styles, definitely closest to Darjeeling, which one could also say about teas from that region.  It would be interesting to do a comparison tasting directly with a nice second flush Darjeeling, but I didn't.

Beyond the review

Ethan describes a little about what the tea is, and some on brewing, in a recent Tea Chat post on a general black tea discussion thread:

I have been drinking an organic black tea from Jun Chiyabari in Nepal, Himalayan Orange (HOR) most days for > 2 years & have sold much of my large stash to teachat members. 

Lately w/ all tea, I have found myself employing less time for steeping w/o increasing the amount of leaf I use. This practice usually does not cut down on the aroma & flavors I like & avoids most bitterness or astringency that I don't like. For the HOR cutting the time down a lot was not close enough to perfect & keeping steeping almost as long still produced some astringency & bitterness that I used to feel was "body" or "fullness".  Today I accidentally scooped a bit too much leaf & decided not to remove the extra & go "semi-gongfu". A combination of a 45 second, 25 second, & 15 second infusions is excellent. To confirm I like this semi-gongfu & perfect it, I've made a 25, 15, 15 blend that is just what suits me these day when even slight earthiness or bitterness puts me off. This quick steeping is the best.

Interesting about the brewing, isn't it?  He's talking about "stacking," combining different infusions, not something I even try, but an interesting idea.  It seems odd to use such longer times first, then cutting those so much, since a standard practice would be to use a rinse to offset tea needing time to open up (which one could replace by using a slightly longer initial time), then generally adding times as infusions progress.  At any rate I was using an intermediate approach between normal Western and Gongfu styles as well, using a tea to water proportion and time-frames in between those two normal sets of parameters.

Related to buying a lot and sharing it (selling it), he had to buy a number of kilograms to get the tea from the source he did, and he said that still has some left, so he could still sell more of it.  He also said more about sourcing issues in conversation, and you could ask him about all that through this contact (  Initially one might wonder how two years of storage has changed the tea, which Ethan commented on:

My conclusion is that this HOR has strengthened w/ time. All it s flavors & characteristics are stronger.

I tried this tea once over a year ago, based on the Tea Village shop owner in Pattaya sharing some Ethan gave him to try then, and the tea isn't like I remember it.  But then a distant memory of trying a tea in passing is not much to go on.  It's a bit of an aside, but it's a nice sign when a tea vendor shares teas they don't even sell with you, not the only time that's came up.  This tea seems more like a conventional black tea now than I recall, more oxidized, less literally "orange" than I remember it, with a bit more astringency.  Or maybe the other flavors are just more subdued, which would take results to roughly the same place.  Or maybe I just remember it wrong.

I'm curious about what cultivar the tea is made from, and which flush it is.  Since it seems more like a black tea than I remember, a lot like a second flush Darjeeling, it would seem like Chinese tea plant type or else a related hybrid, and probably second flush.  But then the typical characteristics profile for second flush Darjeeling relates to multiple factors, to changes in the leaves across different harvest seasons, and also to those teas being prepared as more oxidized than first flush (typically, per my understanding, but that wouldn't always be the case).  I remember the tea as not being oxidized to the normal black tea range, which is close to how it comes across now, except the brewed leaf appearance tells a different story altogether.  Lets look at that:

Fully oxidized tea brewed leaf is brown; this retains a greenish color.  It also has a slight greyish-green look to it, which can be characteristic of aged less-oxidized leaves.

The Jun Chiyabari website (link here) doesn't mention this tea, or any specific teas, just general categories and background, so there is nothing to go on there.  A US vendor tea blog (Happy Earth tea) mentions some background, and a little on types:

Jun Chiyabari was set up in 2001 by two brothers Bachan and Lochan Gyawali. The 75 hectares garden was situated in the hills of Hille, just about 50 miles east of Darjeeling. The well-travelled brothers planted varietals from Dong Ding, Taiwan and wild forests of Miyazaki, Japan, unlike other gardens in the area that limited themselves to tea plants from Darjeeling.

Of course that really doesn't say what this tea is, and is nonspecific in general, and they don't sell this particular tea to help clarify it in particular.  Another vendor site, Klasek tea, goes further (they're in Prague, Czech Republic, totally unrelated to this tea or producer, but cool):

The tea garden in the eastern Himalayan region of Nepal, located in the hills around Hile in Dhankuta district...  The garden falls within an elevation of 1600 - 2000 meters above sea level. This area is about 200 km east from Kathmandu; 55 km west of Ilam in Nepal and 65 km west of Darjeeling, India.

From Nepal came plants (cuttings and seeds) from the original seeds plants given by the Qing (??) Emperors (1850’s-1860’s) to Nepal’s rulers. Locally available plants from Nepal Tea Board like AV2 were also planted.  From Darjeeling we got cultivars like T1, T78 and Phoobshering 312 and many others. Also valuable cuttings and seeds from China seeds plants were obtained through friends and well wishers.  From Japan common variety like Yabukita and some special tea plants growing wild in the forests in Miyazaki ken were planted out.  From Taiwan plants like Si Ji Chun (??? / Shikiharu) and Chin Sin Oolong (????) from Dong Ding in Nantou were brought and planted.

Could be anything then.  Si Ji Chun and Chin Shin are familiar enough; not sure what the question is related to those.  I've had some great luck with Gopaldhara tea versions based on AV2 cultivar, a hybrid of variety Sinensis and Assamica plants, but that's just part of this list.  That vendor does sell a tea described as Himalayan Orange, a second flush black tea, but their description doesn't include a plant type:

Clear gold red-brown in a cup with full rounded and smooth flavor with tones of cocoa, cinamon, tropical fruits and long sweet nutty aftertaste.

The tea I tried seemed a bit heavier on fruit than this description, and I wasn't noticing much cocoa (maybe in the scent, not as much in the tea), and no cinnamon, but the rest sounds close enough, probably the same tea.

After all that hard to know what note to end on to wrap it all up.  It was a nice, unique, interesting tea; between this one and the Shangrila White a sign that some novel teas are coming out of Nepal.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Golding Bulang Dragonball (sheng pu'er ball)

Interesting looking!  I'm not seeing this on the Golding shop website, but then they've communicated they're updating that site content now, with an alternate contact for them through Facebook.

Even the initial brew, with the ball just starting to loosen up, shows where this is going to go.  The tea is nice, good sweetness and complexity, with lots going on, and some of the astringency / bitterness /  mineral element / medicinal aspect common in sheng.

a little edgy to be tea drunk

Other pu’er drinkers might contest any of those descriptions as common sheng pu'er elements, although what I mean in general is probably clear enough.  Astringency isn’t used here in the same sense as in Assamica black teas, for sure, closer to related aspects in green tea.  Bitterness is often confused with astringency, even though they are different things, one being a taste (bitterness) and astringency a mouth-feel element.  More tasting will help determine which is present in this tea.

The taste range includes some mineral, it’s just not as clear that relates to the other flavors / aspects I’m saying it could typically tie to, that astringency and mineral flavors could be related.  “Medicinal” is more commonly used to describe an unusual aspect found in older teas, typically as something positive.  But then different medicines would have different tastes, so there would need to be more inter-subjective agreement on how it should be used for that description to really be meaningful.

All that aside, the tea is nice.  There is lots of honey sweetness too, along with floral tones, some mineral range, and below that a trace of a pleasant earthy aspects, maybe something towards leather, with a bit of spice.  I’m ok with preference for teas within that sheng character range, so all this just requires some dialing in and unpacking.

Early on even a flash infusion works, barely giving the tea a few seconds, tempering the more challenging aspects down to a background element.  The tea is even positive toned way down, brewed quite lightly, of course depending on preference, still letting the nice flavors step forward.  The flavors and character are going to soften and transition just from the tea loosening up and coming to life beyond some initial infusions.

After some it does soften a little, with that honey sweetness remaining as the primary flavor aspect, with floral elements and minerals below that.  I’ll leave off with the mouth-feel description since I don’t have developed preference related to that anyway.  The tea is nice, with good complexity, but it’s hard to separate into more flavors; I’m mostly just getting that basic set, and I’m not so good with breaking down “floral” into specific flowers.  Based on the dry scent it had seemed like there was a little more range that would come out, earth or spice, but it remains faint, or maybe only present in my imagination.  The mineral might correspond to a trace of overlapping vegetal tone, not like a green tea tasting like green beans or bell peppers, but there might be just a faint touch of something.  I'm not noticing much in the way of actual bitterness, just a touch at most.

Even though flavors are mostly in the range of honey, floral, and mineral aspects, not a description of my favorite tea types, the tea still works for me.  The flavors are really clean, and the character softened to a nice range.  I wouldn’t give up dark roasted oolongs and black teas to focus on sheng pu’er based on this one tea experience but it’s nice enough, pleasant.  Many infusions along that trace of spice did start to pick up a bit, it seemed.

It seemed to me there is enough complexity to the tea that different brewing approaches could draw out different aspects more, so even though I didn’t experience lots of transition the tea seemed like it probably could potentially express more range, in that sense.

Beyond the review

The tea raises some questions.  It’s not normal for blog posts to point towards gaps in what is covered, typically just citing a description and moving on, but I’ll do so.  It struck me as odd the tea wasn’t more astringent or bitter.  Per a Tea DB post that gets into sub-regional version characteristics of pu’er bitterness would be characteristic of Bulang pu’er, and of course younger sheng pu’er in general:

Located in Menghai county, Bulang stands in stark contrast to the light and subtle aftertaste characteristic of Yiwu. One of the principle tea regions for Menghai tea factory, Bulang raw pu’erh is usually bold, bitter, and strong flavored. Due to its proximity with Menghai Tea Factory it commonly finds its way into ripe pu’erh. It is less likely to find Bulang marketed as Bulang than Yiwu, even though it produces alot of tea. Perhaps most notably, Bulang is also home to some of the hottest, pu’erh areas including: Lao Banzhang and Lao Mane.

Very clear!  So different areas cover different scope, and designations can overlap, to some extent.

Back to the tea not actually being bitter (or even astringent), it makes me wonder if the tea hasn’t been aged, or how aging changes related to smaller pu'er shapes.

That citation also starts into pu’er origin areas, to what extent different teas from the same area express different characteristics, which I won’t follow up on here.  Based on experience with other tea types characteristics can vary a lot or not much at all by the type of tea.  Some black tea types or light oolongs can be relatively consistent, varying by quality level but not as much in range of aspects, or put another way some tea types tend to be relatively consistent by aspect.  Wuyi Yancha or Dan Cong oolongs can vary a lot, not just as different quality levels, with different aspects per equivalent teas.  Those express a wide range of characteristic flavors, aromatic components, preparation styles, etc.

Some of the rest of what remains open relates to my own preference, and preference development.  It seems at least possible I like this tea compared to those other pu’er versions from Golding more due to becoming more familiar with sheng range, again.  I don’t think that's a significant factor, but more tasting might help pin that down.  It just seemed like a pleasant, easy to appreciate tea, for some maybe not bitter and edgy or “structured” enough, per preference for such things, but quite nice to me.

All this reminds me of a more general consideration, the difference in interest between actually experiencing drinking a tea and in reviewing tea background (cultivars, processing, regional sources, types, storage issues, etc.).  To me they are two completely different subjects, even though they do overlap.  I have an interest in both, in learning lots about tea (and discussing all that, here or in groups), and in experiencing different teas, but for me I experience both almost as two different interests.

I can completely relate to people who are much more interested only in drinking tea, an idea raised by a friend recently.  Some knowledge of types is required in order to place orders but maybe not a lot more than that, maybe more accurate for other types than for pu'er.  Sorting out source areas, age, and storage conditions is required for pu'er, some of which you can skip if you can just trust a vendor to pick what you like (which is typically a cue to mention the White 2 Tea vendor; make of that what you will).

It's not as if I'm digging so deep in this post; it mostly does just say what the one tea version tastes like, so here just related to typical area-type characteristics.  Looking back the last version of abstract tea research in this blog related to Darjeeling cultivars a month ago, although research into a Wuyi Yancha type strayed a bit too, and I was covering a lot related to cultivars from Taiwan last year.  I may do more with pu'er background based on more Golding vendor input later; we'll see how that goes.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Tie Luo Han from Cindy Chen (a classic Wuyi Yancha type)

I'm about to get some nice new teas from Cindy, which inspired me to go through some older stock of samples I didn't get around to trying, in this case a Tie Luo Han, another Wuyi Yancha type.  In part I'd like to re-calibrate back to accustomed to the type, and also just to get started a little early, especially after recently trying interesting locally sourced Wuyi Yancha (a Shi Li Xiang from the Jip Eu Chinatown shop).

In the past I'd mentioned Cindy's Facebook page as a contact, but more recently she's taken up tea blogging, here.  Both places have much nicer tea pictures than any tea blog or reference I've ever seen, covering finished teas, plants and terrain, and processing steps.  She still posts shots on Facebook but Spring is a busy time for her to be working on blog posts; lots of tea processing and tea shipping to be done.

The tea looks like a well roasted Wuyi Yancha, a bit dark, with a slightly unusual flatness to the coloring.  That might relate to it not being completely scorched as some Wuyi Yancha versions are (not so much hers, but they're normally not light-roasted either).  The dry tea scent is in the normal range, some roasting char but not lots, with lots of sweetness, and earth and mineral tones.

The tea has a nice nutty element to it, in addition to all the other standard range (sweetness, char, dark wood, mineral, etc.).  It's so pronounced that it comes across as almond, versus some other kind of nut.  That taste aspect could just as easily be interpreted as something else, of course, maybe roasted bamboo or the like.

Different Wuyi Yancha have different degrees of an aromatic component to them and this one is pretty far up the scale.  The related element comes across as slightly floral, but really more in the way that perfume does, between perfume and an alcohol based distillation of floral essence.

Just a couple short infusions in the taste shifts towards floral more from the almond aspect, still rich and full with tons of complexity, with a full feel (in a different sense than light oolongs), and with plenty of taste remaining well after you actually drink the tea.  The char effect is minimal; it's not a heavily roasted tea to the extent that takes over, but it is well roasted, in a medium range.  It's hard to fully appreciate but one thing that really makes such a tea work is how clean the flavors are, with nothing negative joining in, and a brightness that goes along with the fullness.  You could spend your life browsing Chinatown shops and years picking online vendors at random and never run across a tea like this, although with enough tries sheer luck could bring it to cross your path.

nice color range; of course some would strain the tea

After one more infusion the sweetness somehow seems to really pick up.  This seems to have transitioned a bit towards fruit, maybe in the range of tangerine, although it's still really primarily floral.  There is a lot of mineral undertone to it but it serves as an underlying background context, not the forefront role that such flavors play in some Wuyi Yancha, along with dark wood / leather tones.  On the first infusion I thought "nice, another typical Wuyi Yancha, lots like the others," but it turns out that wasn't really accurate.  The scent in the empty cup indicates a nice cocoa aspect, not the dry, earthy cocoa that works well in mid-range rolled-ball oolongs, more in a Taiwanese style, but a sweet, fresh scent that must be more like a fresh, lightly roasted cocoa bean might express (not that I've ever tried those).

The tea does well for brewing a number of nice infusions, but around a half dozen in I noticed I would need to ramp up infusion time to keep the flavor intensity up, which had been coming across well even brewed quite lightly.  Without astringency as a factor this tea could be prepared at different strengths but it would seem best to me to acclimate to drinking it on the lighter side, to better pick up the flavors, even though that intuitively could seem backwards to some.  For people that drink a good bit of Wuyi Yancha that would just mean brewing it to a normal strength, I'd think, but I like to think a broad audience might read what I write (and you're welcome to add a comment and give input on that).

Just as with any tea going a little longer on infusions will change the flavor profile drawn out of the tea (maybe not lighter oolongs so much; those can be consistent, but the blacks I've been drinking lately can shift some in aspects balance, not change what's there but change the proportion of elements).  The roast comes across more with a slightly longer infusion; finally it does resemble that char a bit in other Wuyi Yanchas.  The tea has plenty more to offer but the best of that really nice almond / floral / tangerine transition is likely behind it.  Of course the almond never really did drop out, still there, still a nice aspect balancing against increasing earthy tones, more of that dark wood that had been so subtle.  The flavors are still really clean and bright, absolutely nothing like a mid-range Wuyi Yancha where a touch of aged cardboard or balsa wood mixes in, or maybe even "old catcher's mitt," flavors aspects that may or may not seem "off" but wouldn't be as positive as this tea's range.

Even thinning a bit the tea is a joy to drink.  I can describe it component by component, as flavors, and brightness, cleanness, full feel, whatever else, but the experience itself is something else.  If I think "cocoa" while tasting it, based on that aroma aspect, that is another interpretation of the earthier components I'd been describing differently, and that might be making a lot of the difference that I'm struggling with describing.

not scorched, not light green, medium

Around ten or a dozen infusions in the tea is still going strong, with the amazing balance of aspects shifting back to mostly almond more as the floral tones subside.  This is the kind of tea one would greedily keep brewing longer and longer, not wanting it to end.  So late in the process it needs infusion times over a minute--starting with a pretty high proportion of tea to water though; not everyone prepares teas like that--and it could go a few more at really extended times.

The aspects never really seem to drift to any "off" range, even nearly played out like that.  It's a good sign for a higher quality tea, not that I needed any more confirmation of where it stands at this point.  This tea is just fantastic, in my opinion, although I guess there's always the potential for someone to be on a different page, preference wise, maybe a green tea drinker.

Tea type research:

I've been getting away from it, but earlier in this blog I would research new tea types, both to share and to retain information about them in posts.  I don't think I've tried this type of Wuyi Yancha before, and I've certainly not written about it, so here goes.

According to Wikipedia, this is a classic Wuyi Yancha type (not that most of them don't seem to be, in some sense): of the Four Great Oolongs and a light Wuyi tea. Tieluohan, all but unknown abroad,[citation needed] is the cultivar responsible for one of the four best known yan cha, "rock teas" grown on cliffs in the Wuyi Mountains in northern Fujian Province, China. Legend tells that this tea was created by a powerful warrior monk with golden-bronze skin, hence the name Tieluohan, which means "Iron Warrior Monk".

The color of the leaf is an intense green and the resulting tea is of a lighter color. The taste of the tea should be full-bodied and supple, with gentle floral notes and the traditional long-lasting finish.

Nice!  That typical taste profile doesn't mean much (floral, long finish, could be most teas, and color of leaf and the brewed tea depend on processing steps), but making some list and "Iron Warrior Monk" is a good start.  Another vendor, Tea Spring, adds some more related details:

Tie Luo Han is one of the Famous Five Wuyi Rock Teas and also believed to be the earliest Wu Yi tea; with history records dating back to Song Dynasty. The tea bush was first found in a cave (Gui Dong or Ghost Cave) in Hui Yuan Yan, one of the ninety-nine cliffs of Mount Wu Yi. Legend tells that this tea was created by a powerful warrior monk with golden-bronze skin, hence the name Tie Luo Han, which means "Iron Warrior Monk".

So it goes with those lists, five instead of four here, with a mention of a cave where it was first found added.  Seven Cups (vendor) adds a couple details on the legend and timeline, and more on processing, but still no word on flavor aspects:

Tie Luo Han bushes first became popular in making green tea during the Song Dynasty and later as the first of the four famous rock wulongs to become popular in the 17th century.

One of my favorite blogs, Steep Stories, reviewed the Seven Cups version as follows:

...the same tart introduction that the Ba Xian had.  It’s like someone used a Dan Cong oolong cultivar for both that tea and this. But that quickly gave way to sweetness in the middle that faintly reminded me of Mexican fried ice cream. Toward the end, it trailed off into flowers-‘n- forest-fire territory.  Further infusions went from raisins to more charcoal-roasty, along with earthier notes.

Nice!  Tartness, sweetness, floral, a touch of char effect, raisin; lots of complexity in an interesting range.  Of course any reference to flavor aspects would vary by version, related to plant growing conditions (the location, the weather), and to processing inputs, so even if there was a typical flavors profile that might not mean much.  Here is another actual description from an obsolete tea blog, the Tea Nerd blog, another interesting subject, voices from the past talking about teas:

The aroma is lovely; mostly chocolate, with a touch of raspberry. The flavor is very similar. Like a lot of Teacuppa's yancha, this is not highly roasted, so there is very little charcoal flavor unless it is brewed with a heavy hand.

The version I tried was absolutely nothing like that, but then this wasn't even presented as a standard profile, and the vendor's description (versus the bloggers) was said to reference floral aspects and a full body, which describes lots of teas.

You would think that general references of the type would turn up, in some tea-themed reference site, but the closest paging through a Google search gets is a Tea DB blog reference to Wuyi Yancha in general, on page 7 of search results for the tea name:

Tie Luo Han (Iron Monk Warrior) is the next most common of the famous bushes [their list includes four, starting with Da Hong Pao]. It is still far more difficult to find than Da Hong Pao in the western world but is also an extremely famous tea in China. It is characterized by a lighter-roast, thicker body, and a rich floral taste.

So maybe what I'm picking up as almond isn't typical, or maybe this mid-level roast isn't standard either.  I've not had lots of exposure to lighter roasted Wuyi Yancha, and the few that I've had were nice, so it will be good to get back to that range at some point.  I reviewed a Shui Jin Gui from a Chinatown shop a year back that was roasted a little lighter (at Double Dogs tea room, reviewed here), and per that Tea DB site that Wuyi Yancha type is typically fruitier than others and prepared as "less oxidized," which makes one wonder about the typical level of roast as well, a different factor.

At any rate this version of a Tie Luo Han was just great, so whatever Cindy's family was doing related to processing they might want to just keep on doing.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

May Zest Honey Flavor Black tea from Taiwan

Not long ago I reviewed an Oriental Beauty (Bai Hao) from May Zest, a wholesale tea vendor from Taiwan, and now I'm reviewing a black tea from them, a Honey Flavor Black Tea.  Their description invokes the same story as for OB, as follows:

The tea is hand-plunked and made from Chin Shin Gan Tze which is cultivated in San Xia Township. The tea farmers won’t use pesticide, because they want leafhoppers come to eat the tea leaves. After the bite of leafhoppers, a chemical reaction occurs in the leaves and causes that fragrance and sweetness.

I'm not so sure about any of that but it is decent tea, well within the range of what I like in black teas.  It's a variety Sinensis black, given that cultivar reference, which is what it seems like, a soft and fruity black tea.


It does have some sweetness; maybe that does resemble honey.  Cocoa might come across as the primary taste element,  with a bit of subdued fruit, yam or sweet potato.  Another main aspect is an interesting dryness, an unusual feel I've heard described in other teas as resinous.  All that range overlaps with Jin Jun Mei, it's just presented differently, in a conventional black tea.  It's not really fair to compare this directly with that Jin Jun Mei from Cindy Chen, or even to her unsmoked Lapsang Souchong, because those were some really exceptional teas, some better versions of those types that wouldn't be so easy to run across.

There is not really any astringency to work around, but a little of the earthiness reminds me of Assamica black tea versions, just not the general character of the tea.  It seems like a variety Sinensis tea (which it is); soft, sweet, similar to Chinese black teas in style (although those vary a lot).

nice brewed relatively strong, per my preference

I really expected it to be closer to the Thai Tea Side black tea I've been drinking, slightly fruitier, with a trace cleaner flavors, not quite as dry as this comes across.  It's funny how expectations can shift an experience, how any change can be something to get past at first, unless a tea is somehow clearly better than expected.  I guess the point is that different than expected could easily be interpreted as not as good.

The flavors stay nice through multiple infusions, consistent, or maybe even improve.  The fruit seems to move towards cherry a little, a nice pairing with the cocoa element,  like a chocolate covered cherry.  The feel effect is nice, different, a touch dry and a touch juicy at the same time.

With lots of similar black teas it works well to use water a bit below boiling point to brew, then switch to full boiling after a few infusions to extract a bit more. That will also pull out a bit of dark toffee taste in that last infusion.  Per someone's preference simply ramping up the tea to water ratio and cutting the brewing times a little enables brewing more infusions, sort of shifting to a hybrid Western-Gongfu style, but I don't think that would change aspects results much for this tea.  At any rate it's not a touchy tea; there would be some optimum but it works well across a broad range of parameters, likely with similar results in spite of variations, but aspects might shift just a little.

would work well brewed lots of ways

To me it's a great breakfast tea, easy to brew, no challenge to drink, none of the stomach issues with green teas.  It pairs well with pastry and cereal, or would work about as well for an afternoon tea too.  To me it's sort of a basic tea, a general type I love to have some of around, so I'm not sure if it really lives up to a billing of being a black tea version of an Oriental Beauty, but it is nice.  I've tried a lot of black teas from a lot of places over the last year but it doesn't work well to put it on some sort of scale.  It's good, and a lot of good black teas vary more by being slightly different than by some being much better than others.

 There's a divide between Assamica and Sinensis types by characteristics, and I suppose I really do like variety Sinensis black teas better, in general.  But nice versions of the others can have lots going for them, and that's more about my preference than those really being better in some objective sense.

The vendor type shifts things a little, related to buying this tea.  Of course since May Zest is a wholesale vendor the general idea is that someone could buy a lot to resell, but really nothing is stopping someone from buying more than the usual 100 grams to drink themselves.  The smallest amount they sell is 250 grams, but that's essentially same packaging size one often sees for Thai oolongs (200 grams, for my favorite line of those, which I never drink now since I've burned out on lightly oxidized oolongs).  I gambled a bit and bought a half kilo each of that Oriental Beauty and this black tea and luckily I like both.  I have enough to share as gifts but I won't need to figure out what to do with them, since after a year or so in the rotation of teas I could just drink most of that.  They also sent some samples so I'll be posting more about their other teas.