Monday, February 27, 2017

Comparing two Himalayan Tea Shop white teas from Nepal

tea described as "silver"

silver tips version

More teas from Nepal, trying out the last of those samples from the Himalayan Tea Shop.

As background, the business founder, Arpan Kambu, is a from a tea selling family there, a younger guy striking out on his own.  The upside is that this is unique form of relatively direct sales, buying tea from an industry insider in a lesser developed tea source country.  The downside is transparency; the details related to the teas and tea sourcing aren't clear, at least this early in the evolution of his business.

Of course most retail tea vendors don't give clear, explicit, complete details about tea sources, and anything less than that isn't as transparent as it would seem at a glance.  One of these teas could use more branding for description purposes, just for saying what it is, but the main point is the tea, so onto more on the those.


One is a silver tip style tea (I'm not sure how descriptive that is as a category; a buds-only white tea), the other made of buds and small leaves, described only as a silver tea.  Typically silver tip teas are seen as a higher grade, harder to make, and more desirable, but the additional complexity of characteristics from including fine leaf matter can be a good thing.  We'll see.  I just read an interesting blog post claiming that both may not be a "true" white teas, from Tea For Me Please:

The Chinese definition of white tea stipulates that it must be grown in Fujian and made from the Da Bai variety of the tea plant. This definition was established at a time when China was the only producer of white tea. Now that we have white teas coming out of other regions like Ceylon and Darjeeling it becomes a bit of a gray area.

Either way, what's in a name, or in this case type-category.

Both teas are interesting, both quite different.  It makes you wonder how closely the sources are related.  Let's check on comparing appearance to another tea sold as a Shangrila White, reviewed in this post:

Shangrila White (reviewed awhile back)

Looks pretty similar, but who knows.  It could be from a producer listed on this site, but even if so that information is not very descriptive.  On to tasting.

The silver tip tea is earthier than teas made from only buds tend to be.  It's light and subtle, kind of how that always goes, with nice sweetness, but the range can often be light hay, sunflower seed, and maybe a touch of floral, and this is different than that.  Or actually that doesn't work so badly as a partial description to start, but there is more to it, so maybe the unconventional part is that complexity.  Something like a trace of smoke comes across, nothing like the smoky-smoke in lapsang souchong, or the much stronger effect in some sheng pu'er, just a trace, one that flashes past in the first part of a second in tasting.  After that other aspects fill out the range.  I'll need another infusion round to describe those further.

The silver tea (what I'll call the buds and leaves style one, for lack of a better name) is not completely unrelated in final effect as that first buds-only tea, also in that similar white tea range, a bit of hay, bordering on sunflower seed, with some floral.  But other aspects range that makes both teas complex is quite different.  Different how, that's the harder part.  The floral range could be different, and I'd not be able to pick that up, because it's a bit light and secondary in both.  One might wonder:  are these teas related, from the same producer?  Hard to say, but they aren't really unrelated in character, and the variation could be coming from the input of the leaves, using different material.  If it works out I'll do a follow-up post on more background from the provider.

The silver tea has a touch of complexity that comes across as savory.  That's an odd description, since it might mean a lot to someone that already knows what I mean, but not others.  It's not exactly like umami in Japanese green tea, but along that line.  In this case it's more like sundried tomato than seaweed, as a savory element resembles in those teas.

Of course umami is the name for an actual taste-receptor based taste aspect, not a flavor, which is instead picked up by the receptors in the nasal passages.  Umami is identified by the tongue, along with sweetness, bitterness, and sourness.  I can't be sure how my body--through various receptors-- is processing this aspect and effect in this case; but with more training and experience I probably could.  Based on having an unusual mouth feel maybe this is tongue related, an actual taste versus flavor.  I won't do more tangent here on tasting but I will mention a great lead for that, the "Taste What You're Missing" video by Barb Stuckey on Youtube.

So the silver tip is brighter, complex, with some earthiness in addition to that light, wispy hay and floral range.  The other silver tea feels completely different, with more depth of range, not so much brightness, and complexity that's not so simple to describe.  I went longer on the next infusion; that might help.

silver tea left, silver tips right

The silver needle tea picks up plenty more complexity.  Floral range elevates, and the feel thickens, that light earth range (hay, sunflower seed) is still present but it doesn't stand forward as much as the other aspects do.  This is a pretty interesting silver needle style tea; lots going on, nothing like those where you struggle to pick out finer, wispy aspects and have to settle for appreciating the feel of the tea.  Or brew it strong to get it to taste like anything, but even then some can still be a bit neutral when prepared that way.  Sometimes subtlety works out well, in can lead to interesting effects, but that's a different story.

The sundried tomato element is nice when prepared stronger, sweet, complex, well-integrated with the rest of the range.  That aspect could be interpreted in different ways, maybe as similar to the jack-o-lantern type of pumpkin (pumpkin types here are different, more like people tend to think of squash, although pumpkin is a squash, per my understanding).  The hint of smoke is still only present in the initial taste, flashing across your palate in part of a second, then it's gone.  That's quite different from the smoke effect in some sheng pu'er, which remains, maybe more on the aftertaste than actual taste, or at least both.

The other white (silver) is also a lot more intense, kind of a given, since it is brewed stronger.  With some white teas aspects can stay vague and subtle even as intensity ramps up; they mostly just thicken, and go from light hay to heavier hay.  There's nothing vague or subtle about this tea.  Floral is also elevated, a similar range floral, which I'm not able to tie to a particular flower, or really even to express much range.  It's sweet and rich but light, the kind of scent one might pick up in a wildflower meadow, I guess.  A bit of earthiness and mineral range fills in a context, most pronounced as a subdued mineral base (like rocks--again I'll struggle with saying which rocks).  The main difference in the teas is that stronger floral replacing all of the savory range in the other tea, and there being more mineral range.

There's a touch of earthiness in the buds and leaves version that could either be interpreted as interesting, positive complexity or as not being quite as clean in effect as the other tea.  It seems a subjective call if it's positive or not, but to me it's clearly pleasant and enjoyable.  It's a bit vague to describe easily, related to that stronger mineral range, but towards a woodiness, even though those are really different flavors scope (underlying earth and mineral ranges seem to somehow tie together, to express some related continuity, in this example).  I think if this silver tip tea was more subtle, if there was less to it, I'd really like this buds and leaves version better, but as it is both offer plenty of complexity, and both are positive and interesting in character.

Another round of tasting could draw out a few more adjectives, and it might be clearer what I mean by these descriptions.  I'm off to a swimming class soon so I'll need to rush this (my son's; I can swim just fine, although I'd stand out on a swim team for having bad form).  I'll make a couple more comments about transition on a light infusion and close this.

they swim; he's part of that splashing at the back

That savory element picks up in the silver tip tea.  What I mean might not be clear; it's a light, sweet, subtle, balanced white tea, with very clean flavors, nothing like a broth made from sundried tomatoes.  I emphasize that element because it's unusual, and gives the tea a great positive complexity.  Floral stands out the most, beyond that a light earthiness that could be hay or light wood, then below that the sundried tomato range.  It's moving more to a light cooked sweet potato range in this infusion, transitioning, still not much like similar sweet-potato and yam taste range in Chinese black teas, but a little similar.

The buds and fine leaves tea is still plenty complex, still showing floral and light earth range too, with more mineral aspects grounding all that.  To me it's clean in effect, and well balanced, and works really well.  It's not as "bright" in effect as the buds only version, but the extra range is nice in a different way.  That trace of mineral depth reminds me a little of drinking an aged (storage-abused?) white tea from a shop in NYC, a tea well darkened by poor large-jar storage conditions and aging.  Of course it's only a hint of that range, a faint tie-in, and I actually don't mind the way that other vastly inferior tea comes across.

"silver," buds and leaves version

I never reviewed that tea, so I'll say a little more about it here, since it makes for an interesting tangent.  A friend commented that adding a review in a review makes for something like a Russian doll effect, related to doing that in a Laos tea review, talking about making masala chai.  If it were clearer what that white tea was I might have reviewed it; a tea from the New Kam Man shop in Chinatown, labeled only as white tea, as far as I recall.  It included some buds and well-broken leaves.  It was probably from China, but who knows.

The main question related to that tea, beyond type, is how long it had been in that jar to darken as it had, and how many times that jar had been opened, details I would never have learned even if I'd asked.  It was interesting for how the white tea scope flavors had evolved, although of course I didn't know the starting point, what it had been like fresh, so there was some guesswork to that part.  The short version:  mineral tones ramped up, a lot.  The tea tasted a lot like a limestone / flint range, much as I could identify that.  It wasn't really "good," in the ordinary sense, but it was interesting, and complex, and not bad, so in a limited sense all that is good.

silver tips versions; relatively large buds

To summarize about these two teas:  they're nice.  They are not exactly like any other white teas I've tried, even different in character from other Nepal whites, to the extent I remember those.  They work well with my preference for not being nearly as subtle as lots of white teas I've tried from lots of places.  I guess that could be seen as a flaw related to other preference, for someone looking for subtlety, specific aspects range, and balance of factors other than flavors in white teas.

I haven't talked much about texture because the teas didn't seem particularly thick or thin to me, in the middle.  It would still be possible to comment on how they feel anyway, related to impact to different parts of the mouth, but I didn't go there. I typically prefer straightforward teas where so much is going on with flavors range that the feel aspects can be largely set aside as an interesting complimentary component, and these teas worked out like that.  For being no-name teas I found these both to be very impressive, on par with white teas from lots of other places and from different types of sources.  Per my preferences they were better than most white teas I've tried, maybe even as good as any others.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Bangkok tea social at Seven Suns cafe

Han (the owner) making tea

There was a tea social event in Bangkok this weekend!  It was at Sevens Suns cafe in Ekamai.  It was great that the owner, Han Mei, decided to host an event, and provided tasting of some interesting, nice teas.  Turn-out could've been better (hard to draw crowds for tea-theme events, it seems) but the event itself was great.

Of course I reviewed that cafe not long ago, for the second time after an initial introduction, related to a renovation to add indoor cafe space to a previous outdoor seating environment.  It's very nice now, and air conditioned, which is sort of important given the typical hot weather here.  I could go on and on about their offerings, and Han's ideas about how tea awareness and demand might develop here (with more on that in the first post), or related to him having a background in traditional Chinese medicine, but the original intention is to keep this short.  Here is a Mei Leaf Youtube video (related to the China Life brand videos) with Han doing a tasting of a Thai oolong with his brother.  That video also covers background on how Thai teas relate to Chinese versions and other types.

many teas, and some infused alcohols

Han provided free tasting of several interesting tea types at that event:  a ginseng oolong, gaba oolong, Taiwanese Ruby black tea, Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong oolong (the most common type, one that tastes floral, or in some cases like peach), a "Duck Shit" Ya Shi Dan Cong (a relatively trendy tea, although those peaks in specific type interest come and go), and a Tie Luo Han, one of the main Wuyi Yancha varieties, in this case a well-roasted example, as that type typically is.  The tasting wasn't structured as a sequential sampling flight, with lots of description and guided review, it was informal.  That worked really well given the people that attended mostly did  seem to have some background with tea, and it worked related to people coming and going.

Han also introduced some alcohols infused with tea, whisky, vodka, and gin, as I recall, and people tried tea cocktails.  I tasted one, the first tea cocktail I've ever tried, and it worked out a lot better than I expected.  It balanced, and the tea didn't get completely lost related to joining a stronger alcohol taste, it played a role.  Tasting the actual alcohols themselves, the full-strength versions, wasn't quite as approachable.  I drank a lot of whiskey and other alcohol when I was young, more before the official drinking age in the US than in the last decade, but I'm really not on that page now.

That was the short version already.  Related to the setting, the cafe is beautiful, with a nice bar seating area, sized to hold a half dozen or so people, and with plenty of other tables inside.  There is even more overflow seating outside, which wasn't required for this event.  It all worked out well.  Han and his staff were great hosts and the people I met there were nice.

More about local tea cafes, and sourcing teas

The next typical direction to go would be saying more about those tea examples, I guess to start into review territory, but I really won't go down to that level of depth.  The teas were nice, and interesting, Mei Leaf brand teas (related to both his brother's London shop and Chinalife online tea sales, a related brand).  It's unusual to drink so many teas that vary so much at the same time like that.  Per some people's preferences more continuity might be better, staying in a more limited range, but I don't see it that way.  I think a lot of variation in types worked well.

That approach doesn't lend itself to review analysis but it's nice to stop doing that in different contexts, to appreciate the overall effect of teas more, and just notice individual aspects as they come to mind, and to skip putting a name to many of them.  It seems possible to miss the forest for the trees to some extent when conducting reviews, to zero in on attributes and character elements but not fully appreciate the experience for all the isolating and describing details.

Seven Suns cafe photo from the last visit (with cold-drip apparatus)

I won't speculate as to where those teas stand related to other teas I've tried, or talk about loose tea quality or pricing much at all (interrelated topics), but I did want to venture into how I see it as a great resource to have this sort of a cafe environment to try nice teas in.  There was a time, not long ago, when only one such cafe was ever mentioned as an option in Bangkok, Double Dogs, a Chinatown cafe.  That is a nice enough place, reviewed here.  I've also reviewed Peace Oriental, a cafe positioned as higher-end, actually not that far from Seven Suns, just up the street in Ekamai.  From there though Peony cafe selling more mid-range loose teas and blends is more typical, with some odd exceptions out there.  Luka cafe offers some nice Ceylon (not the commercial versions, specialty orthodox teas, if that means anything).  I am probably missing other exceptions, but the general point remains the same, there are options, but this shop is unique in some ways.

Seven Suns cafe, another part of it

Seven Suns is different than the others for offering interesting, nice-version range teas at a per-pot price range that competes with coffee shops.  It seems awkward to drift into pricing concerns--unthinkable, per standard tea-blog conventions, really--but since I see this point as important I'll do just that.  It matches the scope of some of my own self-assigned tea evangelist project.  There are no other Bangkok cafes--that I'm aware of, and I do look into such things--that give people a chance to try a broad range of teas of that quality at coffee drink pricing.

Double Dogs, a bit casual, nice for a Chinatown shop theme

Teas at Double Dogs aren't exorbitant but as I recall they did price pots of tea in the 250-400 baht range (more than a year ago on my last visit), maybe something like $10 and up to try a tea in that cafe.  That isn't bad for trying really interesting teas, but more than coffee (in Bangkok at least; I've not yet heard of $18 cup of coffee options coming here, although maybe I just missed that).  Peace Oriental is on another page, with some really interesting options if pricing of 650 baht / $20 per pot of tea isn't seen as problematic.  I tried a tea there, once; it was good.

I've not checked Seven Sun's price range since the remodel but it had been down towards what Starbucks charges for drinks, more like 150 baht.  That really is a great value for trying something truly unique--teas like those we tried in that event tasting--versus having yet another giant milky-caramel-espresso-whatever those are.  Those can be nice; I don't mean to say there's anything wrong with dressed up coffee, it's just a different sort of thing.  Peony cafes sell teas in a similar price range, maybe even a little less, but it's not necessarily teas on the same level, with some plain teas but the shop more oriented towards blends, which are fine if one is into blends.  Their plain teas aren't necessarily bad but the last time I visited I couldn't decide that I really wanted any of them, since I've been a bit spoiled by regularly drinking better versions of everything they sell, and the range is limited.

As for buying loose tea the main channel now is typically online shops, or even different types of options that sell relatively directly from providers.  The selection available online is vast, with options across essentially all types, costs, and quality levels (for the most part).  Along with there being great values online there are also some overpriced teas being sold.  Beyond not having a chance to try the teas and judge them for yourself--against preference, or to rate quality level, which varies a lot--teas may not always be the type they are actually sold as.

If someone has a relatively unrestricted tea budget then trying the first 100 online outlets chance contact offers up may be a reasonable approach, but if budget is any level of concern then research and asking around online for recommendations makes a lot more sense.  At some point more targeted purchasing would be desirable to narrow variability to within a more positive range, but then one does tend to learn different kinds of lessons from trying bad teas.

also tea, just a different type

An event like this tasting cuts all of those concerns out of the picture; a diverse set of teas is right there to try.  Online sales can never completely take the place of tea shops for this reason; you can only taste teas in person.  Beyond tasting events and shops that freely offer you the option to try teas before you buy them sitting down for a pot of tea in a cafe is a great way to expand your horizons.

Anyone in Bangkok really interested in teas might try out all the places I've mentioned here, with Seven Suns standing out as a good alternative among them.  And they do sell blends, iced teas, matcha, and cocktails, so lots of range, but I'd recommend moving past that to try out some better single-type brewed teas.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Rou Gui from Cindy Chen, and a bit on tasting variation

Just a simple, basic review this time, really.  And back to one of my favorite types, a Wuyi Yancha, a Rou Gui from Cindy Chen at that (my favorite tea farmer).  I'll mention again that she has developed a website in passing (wholesale sales oriented, a work in progress), and get on with it.

The look is a bit dark but I'm sure the roast will balance.  First taste:  it does.  It tastes like a roasted tea but that char effect is layered in a nice way, not heavy at all (all relative to preference, that, but then some people might not like roasted teas at all, I suppose).

A nice caramel aspect stands out.  There is some woodiness, and the normal layering of flavors that could be described as mineral (not pronounced in this, underlying), and then on to leather or whatever else.  The general effect is soft and rich, balanced on the lighter side, not a challenging tea at all, not the kind that only people really into earth-tones and dark roasting could appreciate.  This tea could be an eye-opener for people that haven't tried better Wuyi Yancha, but for me really familiar ground, just as it should be, a normal, good version.

How close is it to being the best-of-the-best, one of those teas that typically never leave China?  That I can't judge.  Maybe so few ever did leave China that I'd have no baseline to go on, and it's hard to tell to what extent I've tried great versus good related teas.  I don't claim to have the God's eye perspective on teas (God's palate?) that some people lay claim to, which is surely more justified in some people's cases.  One of Cindy's Rou Gui versions won a Wuyishan local competition last year; that's a good sign.  But then they would make lots of versions based on teas growing in small, separate areas, so they would produce it in lots.  It's really good tea though, per a normal frame of reference.

Next infusion I went just a little longer, still using short infusion times brewing Gongfu style (in the range of 20 seconds, but without using a timer).  That caramel taste extends out to a very complex experience.  Some really would say it's too heavy on char, but for me this range of aspects and balance completely nails it.  Breaking this taste experience into a flavors list seems wrong, oversimplified, maybe even disrespectful to this tea.  Of course there are aspect descriptions to be singled out but the experience is complex and continuous.  I'll do that anyway.

Wood tones lead towards bark-spice aspect range.   It's hard to pin down the wood tone more, nothing too dark, maybe cherry-wood, chestnut, or hickory (but it's been awhile since I've smelled a lot of wood).  As for spice cinnamon and root beer are pretty far from what I mean, but relatively close in that general direction.  I wouldn't say it tastes anything like mineral or leather, but then the complexity is based on layers that won't really describe well.  More range really is integrated with the wood tone / char effect / medium caramel / towards spice-tone range.

I guess if someone was expecting cinnamon, and thinking about cinnamon, maybe it would seem more like cinnamon (the translation of the name, Rou Gui).  It's towards spice range, just not exactly that spice.  In a sense if I were really well-schooled on obscure spices range, other barks and roots, I could surely mention others that are closer, at least a combination of others.  But then that wouldn't necessarily be more descriptive since I'd be talking to very few people that knew of them.

The overall effect is the nice part, the feel, the balance, the richness.  It's not like that heavy thickness that comes with lightly roasted Taiwanese oolongs but it has a presence to it.  To me there is absolutely nothing challenging about this tea.  Natural preference could mean someone else doesn't like it nearly as much as I do but I'd guess the normal, typical experience of it would be closer to my own, that most people would completely get it.  Better teas have that transcendent type of appeal to them.

A few infusions in the tea is tapering off a bit.  I suspect it will last well still, that it's far from finished, but it does fade a little quicker than some other types, not completely unusual for relatively more roasted teas like this one.  It's probably still medium, but medium for the general type is a lot of roast.  The flavors shift a little to emphasize the richer, earthier tones, the same general range, maybe the mineral underlying layer just picks up a little.

The tea is aromatic but that balances well with the flavors range.  I don't want to get side-tracked too much by what I mean by that, since I've beat it to death in the recent past, but it's an emphasis on scent that can come across similar to liquor characteristic or perfume.  It just doesn't smell like liquor or perfume, I mean the related general effect.  Some really floral and aromatic teas are perfume-like, and some aromas remind one of different liquors, but a tea could be aromatic in different ranges.  It's just a little perfume-like, in effect, but not floral (although it's complex enough that different people would interpret the complex range differently).  This range is tied back to the flavors aspects, earthy and complex, but on the soft and approachable side as those go, medium-tone woods versus dark wood, etc..

On the scale of which characteristics I like in Wuyi Yancha this is pretty much it.  Again, the words won't really communicate that, since I'm sort of saying I like wood, caramel, mineral, integrated char effect, etc., but it's how it all comes together, not just in terms of a balance but as a sum that seems greater than the parts.

Tasting variations, tasting error

I talked to Cindy about the tea and she said it seemed to have a fruit aspect to her.  Of course I didn't just mention that in this description.  I could see maybe something like lychee, since that taste range is subtle and tends to include spice elements (in some; there are different species of lychee).  This didn't seem like peach or something more pronounced to me, but it was complex enough that people would probably interpret it in different ways.  And it split the overall effect of flavors intensity and aroma, and that second part seems a little harder to read to me.

That does bring up another interesting subject, tasting error.  What I write is an impression, and sometimes in tasting teas multiple times my impression changes.  There is real variation to account for part of that, shifting temperature a little, or proportion, but to some extent it's about subjective interpretation, putting it together.  I keep talking about background noise as an element and that's a real example of one input, and I've discussed how your palate can shift a little over time, for example based on what you've eaten recently.

I suspect that people vary a lot more in their perception frame of references than they could possibly notice, and that people can practice and train themselves to lessen that, or that people have different natural capacities related to being more consistent.  I suspect imagination plays a bigger role in tasting than one might expect, that bringing minor inputs to the range of description isn't as straightforward as it might seem, and that connection process varies.  Enough rambling though; I'll probably circle back to this soon enough to go on and on about it.  There was an interesting discussion of ordinary causes of tasting variations in this  Gong Fu Cha Facebook group recently, if someone wanted to read a little further.

I tasted the tea a second time.  That helps narrow down variations in interpretation versus what one thinks of a tea in general.  It wasn't different.  I was thinking "fruit" while tasting it, more or less looking for that, and it can have an influence, but I didn't really notice that.

With the layers of complexity I described lots of things could be interpreted as underlying, as mixed-in secondary aspects, or woodiness interpreted as leather, spice interpreted as a type of mineral range instead, etc.  If there was fruit it might be in the apricot range, something on the sweet and subtle side that blends in with wood-tone and general spice.

The tea was nice, quite good.  It was so good someone wouldn't fully take the experience in based on one tasting, even though it didn't change a lot in trying it again.

sharing a cool image; those characters say "Maruko"

Monday, February 20, 2017

Doi Inthanon Thai oolong review, and re-roasting experiment

I'm trying a Doi Inthanon oolong, from the Doi Inthanon Tea Partnership.  It's described as a #12 oolong, Yun Bi, with that number of course matching the main Taiwanese TRES cultivar made in Thailand, Jin Xuan.  A co-worker bought the tea for me on a trip up North.  I do tend to keep buying and trying Thai teas even though a very small number of those prove interesting, as this one did.

There isn't much in their website about the tea, beyond this description of who they are:

The Doi Inthanon Tea Limited Partnership is a small family business located on Thailand’s highest mountain just below the peak and at the foot of Pha Ngaem rock formation. We have chosen the name of the mountain as our business name due to us being the first cultivators of tea in the area...   Thailand’s highest known cultivated tea. We are located in Bahn Khun Wang, Tambon Mae Win, Amphoe Mae Wang, Chiang Mai Province.

The generality is that most oolong is made around the Chiang Rai area, and black tea in the Chiang Mai area, with older tea production in the remote parts of the far North, including pu'er-like teas.  In the "history" page it says the cultivation occurs at 1500 meters.  I ran across an interesting Tea Journeyman review of the same tea, from a couple years ago, but it didn't shed much light on that type name.  The review sounded a little like I experienced it, but then I reviewed the same tea twice and the experience varied some between those.

First tasting notes

It's good, different.  The flavors are a little earthy, not as refined as some finished teas, but it really does work.  It's clearly oolong but not in a conventional style.  The leaves are twisted and brown, so not unlike lots of types.  Wuyi Yancha and oriental beauty fit that general description,  it's just different than those.  It looks a little like a Bi Luo Chun preparation (a Chinese green tea), with leaves twisted in circles, it's just not finished to complete that effect as much.

I'll go flavor by flavor; that's one way to go with description.  An earthiness stands out, a light woodiness, clean but still towards autumn forest floor range.  It's floral, and as usual the sweetness probably could also be interpreted as fruit, but to me more floral.  That range really does work in this case.

stronger infused version; yellow-gold when brewed lighter

It's not completely unrelated to spice tones, to the way nutmeg is warm in the same sense.  It's definitely not astringent but it has a bit of body similar to how building lumber comes across (so that would be pine, but the wood tone might be closer to a hardwood, maybe cherry).  Or it sounds like I'm probably just daydreaming that part, doesn't it?  Maybe.

I've had local Thai teas made in unconventional styles that were interesting, that sort of worked, but this being marginally better than those makes a difference.   Add a touch of cinnamon aspect to this tea and it would really be something; add a little tree fungus aspect instead and it would be terrible.  It's in the middle to start, and the novel character depends on the final balance to work.

A second infusion is still plenty woody, and still floral, not easy to pin down related to flower type, but might drift a little into spice.  It's not so clearly a spice that it's easy to pick one, still more towards nutmeg, but not exactly nutmeg.

It's interesting to compare to other standard tea types since it's not all that close.  It seems possible it's just not roasted (baked) or the result could be more like a familiar oolong. I'll try that, roasting it.  It's definitely on the lighter half of the oxidation scale but not that close to a green tea.

Roasting experiment, comparison tasting

A friend re-roasted a rolled oolong in Indonesia last year and the results sounded interesting.  I've read of people trying out re-roasting finished teas before but the process isn't familiar, so I just guessed it out.  I tried out baking the tea at 100 C for half an hour, checked the status, and then 120 for a second half an hour.  I'm not claiming that's an ideal approach, it's just what I tried.  It would seem much better to enclose the tea in something very suitable for being heated, something that seals a little but not enough to function as a bomb, to offset all the volatile components evaporating off.  But I didn't.  We have metal food containers that might have worked, which look to be stainless steel, but it could quite easily impart a metallic taste to the tea.

Of course the idea is to taste-test the original version against that baked version.  They look about the same, maybe just more stems in the roasted version due to some accidental sorting, and it's slightly darker.

The original version is even more floral than I remember.  I'm making the tea in a style closer to gongfu (modified, seems to typically be a light-proportion version of that), after using a relatively standard Western style preparation in that first tasting.  I'm noticing less spice and it's quite floral, a heavy and sweet version of floral at that, more lavender than rose.  Fruit is a little heavier, peach, or close to that, but that's a very minor aspect compared to the floral range.  It's much better prepared gongfu style, or maybe I'm just picking up more for whatever other reasons.

It's not quite as soft, not really astringent but with a bit of an edge, like a light version of how Dan Congs can be (with that effect varying a lot in those too).  It's a bit sweet, but not in exactly the same way as I usually mean by that.  I guess it comes across as closer to a green tea.  Of course the shape always had been a bit unconventional, and the colors were different than I would have expected, darker, compared to how it comes across, so some of the typical clues to the style matching a conventional version didn't work.

The roasted version isn't too far off, a little richer, shifted just a little into a light toffee.  The sweetness backs off just a little, giving way to a richer tone.  It changed a little, not a lot though, still essentially the same tea, the same aspects presented only slightly differently.  Better?  Maybe.

initially only slightly different colors

It's an odd tea to begin with.  It's not exactly like a conventional oolong.  It's floral, but not like other oolongs tend to be, sweeter and heavier, a bit of a different range.  Thai oolongs don't taste anything like that, so odd.

The next infusion (third) improves, perhaps as much from not screwing up preparation as an actual transition (I brewed it a little lighter).  The floral eases up in the character and a more pleasant balance of softer tones comes out, finally some of that wood and spice range I'd been going on about.  The astringency eases up, although it hadn't been pronounced, not really in green-tea range.

The warmth and caramel / light toffee sweetness of the roasted version works well, I'm just not as sure about the rest of the balance.  I like it better.  It gives up a lot of floral range for making that transition.  It still seems like a pretty light roast, like it would have changed a good bit more with more cooking.  The main shift was giving up floral aspects to transition to caramel / light toffee sweetness and move towards fruit, in the range of peach or apricot, a little harder to separate out for still including plenty of floral scope.

later infusion; the color shifts

Across another infusion the color difference in the two teas becomes more pronounced, with the roasted version moving to a peach colored versus the bright yellow of the original, with flavors not changing much.

Both teas drink better prepared relatively lightly; some teas are like that.  The flavors are intense enough that brewed as what might be "normal" for some oolongs or black teas it's too much.  Of course that's all down to preference, and some people might tend to drink every tea so wispy light that only hints of the flavors emerge, and someone else might like strong tea.

roasted brewed leaves left, a good bit darker

From there I'll leave off chasing the last couple of tastes in a transition series; the general point is mapped out.  For whatever reason this tea brewed a lot of infusions, just kept going, which seems to relate to the general character of more lightly oxidized oolongs.  The brewing experiment seemed a success, since the tea changed, and per my preference improved.  There would seem to be potential for the producer to use a more controlled and professionally applied roasting step to adjust the tea style with better results than I achieved in an oven.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Comparison tasting golden tips teas from Nepal, Darjeeling, and Laos

I happened to have three similar buds-only or mostly-buds black teas from three different countries, different versions of golden tips, so I compared them.  Two of them including some fine leaf material, or buds developing into leaves--and one not--is an inconsistency, but then lots of variables could change the results, and they're not supposed to be completely identical.  The point is only to compare similar teas, to taste how final results stand in the cup.  I tried a vaguely related black tea from Sri Lanka not so long ago but didn't have any on hand; probably as well since three teas is enough, and stylistic variations beyond origin differences are already problematic enough.

It's unconventional to compare teas from three different suppliers, stemming from the marketing function blog reviews serve.  This blog was never supposed to be advertising, that function and discussing tea just happen to overlap.  That makes for a good placement to mention that all three of these teas were contributed by the suppliers for the purpose of review.

In general I only review teas I like, since those are most interesting, although in discussing that scope with suppliers I'm clear on reserving the right to publicly express what I really think about any of the teas.  I suppose if a tea were bad in a really interesting way that could work for a post, like reviewing a ridiculously smoky lapsang souchong recently, perhaps due to chemical treatment instead of smoking.  That tea wasn't provided by the supplier; I bought it.  Typically suppliers provide nicer teas for review, so the most frequent concern is describing when preferences don't match a style, more so than for teas being bad or mediocre.  On to it then.

Himalayan Tea Shop golden tips (Nepal tea)

Rohini (Darjeeling) golden tips

Kinnari Tea Laos golden tips (Golden Flame)

The teas, and background

I've already reviewed one of these, a Kinnari Tea Laos Golden Flame (golden tips).  It's good.  The point here is to compare that to two others, a Golden Tips from Rohini Estate, a Darjeeling, and from a private vendor reselling teas from Nepal, the Himalayan Tea Shop.  Maybe interesting similarities and differences will turn up, for example comparison of region related (terroir) aspects.  Of course terroir can also refer to other things, to the effect of the specific micro-climate (eg. amount of direct sun, effect of fog), or the minerals in that particular soil, or to effects from other plants growing nearby.  A more experienced reviewer could say more about trueness-to-type, matching a typical range, than I'm going to here.

The Nepal vendor I'd mentioned in this post reviewing a green tea (a decent green tea at that).  That vendor's name is Arpan Khambu, essentially someone with a family business background starting to sell teas internationally on his own, a very small-business model.  That's an interesting back-story, one that would be more familiar for a vendor based somewhere like the US, but those circumstances change sourcing quite a bit.  In the future his business practice may evolve to include more information about the grower, including details about growing conditions (organic claims, etc.), but due to just starting out as of yet the related information that's available is sparse.

Rohini is a major Darjeeling producer, or really a sub-set of Gopaldhara, so there is information about them and their teas on their website.  Not about this particular tea though, since it is likely not a main production version, and that producer sells teas primarily through distributors, with only the main types described there.

I was surprised that Kinnari Teas had developed materials describing the teas in great detail, just not down to grower's photos and Google's coordinates of the farms.  Here is some background on the teas they are working with that I didn't get around to mentioning last time:

All our tea plants are grown from seeds from ancient wild Lao tea trees. These unaltered tea plants are perfectly adapted to their environment, evolved to thrive in this particular microcosm without the need for human intervention. In our highly biodiverse tea gardens, the collaboration of different plants, animals, insects, minerals and microorganisms ensure healthy and rich soils, no pesticides or chemical fertilizers are required. The tea plants’ strong taproots provide them with all the water and nutrients they need, while anchoring the soil on the hillsides. Each garden is a biotope: their cultivation contributes to the protection of the environment in rural Laos.  

Growing tea from seed and artisanal hand-processing also results in less predictable and more complex aromatic characteristics within one single garden and throughout the seasonal harvests. Like with fine organic wine, each harvest and each batch is an adventure and a surprise.

Interesting!  Someone with skeptical inclinations could reject that as less valid than an organic certification but it seems to really not be intended as standing in place of that, just a bit on context.  The part about genetic diversity of plants of course is a real thing, which leads to more questions about the differences between native types of plants grown through natural breeding versus use of clones (controlled breeding).  There's more on the general background related to this particular tea:

Southern China’s Yunnan Province is widely regarded as the cradle of tea, and famous in the west for its excellent black and puer teas. But plants don’t care about borders, and northern Laos’ geographical proximity to Yunnan can be felt in this exceptional tea from Phousan Mountain in Xiengkhouang Province, which echoes the renowned Chinese Dian Hongs...  Upon infusion, the tea releases rich aromatic compounds reminiscent of Yunnan blacks, but with a distinctive elegance.

That mention of Yunnan and Dian Hongs makes perfect sense.  These teas are not that far from versions I've been reviewing in the not so distant past (like this Farmerleaf autumn sun-dried Dian Hong).  

All of this about the Laos and Yunnan origins isn't to imply that Darjeeling and regions in Nepal are giving up a lot related to working with near-ideal high elevation growing conditions, or that great results couldn't be obtained from working with modern tea plant types or species evolved elsewhere.  It's really about the final results, and different good teas can be produced in different places, which is really the whole point of this tasting exercise.


Initial color difference seems to relate to teas including only buds (the Kinnari tea) or fine tea leaves and buds.  That will likely shift flavor profiles a lot, and change the effect of brewing times.  But then it's not science, just a comparison tasting.

The Nepal version (Himalayan Tea Shop; I'll just refer to these by country designation) is nice, darker, sweet smelling as a dry tea, and complex (they all are, really).  The initial taste is in the cocoa range, a bit subtle, sort of malty, but in that softer sense of that flavors range.  Malt is sort of complex anyway, not so definitive, but cocoa and malt describe most of the initial range.  It is nice and clean across that range, with a bit of bright citrus helping the profile.

The Darjeeling version (Rohini, a plantation associated with Gopaldhara, owned by them) is nice too, in a similar range, again malt and cocoa, maybe malt with cocoa versus the other way around.  The mineral structure below that seems to stand out more but it's still quite soft, and definitely not astringent, not even significantly "structured" versus biting, if that makes sense.  It might be the earthiest of the three, pulling a little towards wood tone, maybe even a hint of mushroom, but not in a bad sense, that clean tasting woodiness some wild mushrooms have.

The Laos version (Golden Flame from Kinnari Tea) is more subtle at the same parameters, without addition of some fine leaf content that would allow it to brew out as quickly.  It's more cocoa in the range of chocolate instead, that sweetness extended into those types of richer tones, maybe with a little brighter citrus tone mixed in.  Being more subtle offsets comparison a little; it might make sense to adjust brewing process since it may brew out slower.  I'll go a second infusion at the same times and judge that.

left to right:  Kinnari Tea, Rohini, Nepal tea

On the second infusion the Nepal tea is really nice, that cocoa and malt balancing even better.  Citrus is also there, with some spice tones joining in, close enough to cinnamon.  The sweetness is good and the feel is nice. There is a citrus element, a very light ruby red grapefruit (as a taste only; there is no bite / edge as from even mild grapefruit, just that warm sweet range is there).

The Darjeeling is in a different range, woody, maybe towards cedar, again with cocoa as dominant and plenty of malt (so maybe cocoa even picked up a little).  It's still nice, just different, it trades out citrus and spice for wood tones.  There is a lighter trace of citrus too but a different citrus, more toward bergamot.  The flavors are nice and clean.  It had seemed that woodiness could drift into a less cleaner over-all flavors range but it didn't work out like that.  That hint of wild mushroom transitioned to clean wood tones.

The Laos tea does seem to brew slower, so I'll be tasting it as a milder tea without adjusting to add time.  The proportion could also relate; going just a little heavier would add to the infusion strength.  This tea will probably last longer too, being only buds, or it might transition less later since the other two will see the fine leaves give out while the buds take more time to do that (at a guess).  The flavors are nice, again malt and cocoa (common to all of these), with citrus, and a light woodiness that's not the same as in the Darjeeling version (the Rohini).  That tea is more in the range of cedar, and this is really something that may be more like hay, it just covers the same range.  The last review also mentioned raisin, and between the more dominant cocoa and citrus underlying aspects could be sorted out as fruit, that raisin, or as malt (sweet malt, as in malted milkballs; there's nothing dry or mineral intensive about this tea, the standard pairing with other types of black teas profiles).

The citrus aspect may be the strongest in the Nepal version, or maybe it's that the spice tone adds to that sort of aspect effect, with those two sort of defining a "top" range, of sorts.  It's interesting the way there are so many comparable elements in these three teas playing out slightly differently.

On the third infusion the Nepal tea doesn't change much, maybe just a little nicer.  That cocoa, malt, cinnamon, and citrus integrate well together.  The other "earthy" range is more dark wood than mineral, or just a bit off cedar towards something darker yet, but not at all murky in effect.  The malt sort of has that brightness and complexity it seems to have in very different black teas, just not paired with astringency at all, and with different flavors altogether.  The spice tone (close to cinnamon, but not exactly that) covers range out towards coffee, just a mild version of it, a light roast, I guess.

Rohini plantation (photo credit)

The Darjeeling is moving into a richer, earthier range.  Without trying that Nepal tea just prior it would seem a lot different, brighter in comparison, with some of the same general aspects filling it out (cocoa, malt, citrus).  Due to direct comparison with the Nepal tea just prior a heavy, earthy tone stands out a lot more.  With that comparative bias going it seems a little towards a shou or aged pu'er, that dramatic, but once you adjust to tasting it on it's own it's nothing at all like that, just earthier.

Is all this clear?  It's covering similar cinnamon / coffee complexity range as in the Nepalese tea, just earthier, more centered towards a dark wood, and it seems the difference stands out more than the rest of the common flavors profile--most of what comes across--due to comparing the two teas.  It wouldn't be unusual for someone to attribute that to something else, peat, autumn leaves, mineral range, or something else, but it's clean and integrated, not "off" in any way.  The tea works well.

The Laos tea is more subtle than the others, again with part of that down to brewing parameters issues, trying to brew teas that aren't identical in the same way.  I can taste around that, and let it sit a little longer next time.  As with white teas this seems a little like tasting a silver needle style against a bai mu dan type.  Of course there is less complexity for including one type of thing instead of two (buds versus leaves and buds).  I think I'm biased towards that more complex effect, in general for both types, related to tasting these and for those white teas.  The opposite preference would also make perfect sense; it's subjective.  The tea is great though, as I just reviewed separately.  Cocoa, malt, hay, citrus, and fruit make for a nice profile, and it's quite clean and well presented.  It's possible to ramp up infusion strength different ways with brewing, it's just not possible to add more elements that aren't already there, and those aspects and balance are nice.

On the next infusion the Nepal tea is still similar, picking up just a touch of dark caramel tone.  I would expect it to start tapering off a little from here but who knows.  The Darjeeling version stays clean, with dark wood still pronounced, maybe shifting a little closer to the Nepal version, starting to come across more in between spice and light coffee.  It is a little more earthy than the Nepal tea.  The Laos tea is just hitting it's stride, bright in effect and picking up more complexity, but then it had already been complex.

not so related, but she does love tea

I think I'm liking these teas a lot more for calibrating my expectations to the range more, for appreciating them as a bit subtle (compared to leaf-only black teas).  It didn't hurt that two versions met me in the middle for including fine leaves in addition to buds, more familiar to me and a better match for my preference, that additional complexity.  And all three are really nice teas; that helps.

I suppose I am describing them in such a way that the Nepal tea sounds better, and I do like it better, slightly, but the Darjeeling is quite close in aspects range, so they are more similar than different.  The differences stand out a lot more for trying them side by side; tasted a month apart it might be harder to distinguish the two.  The Laos tea has a different effect going, brighter, in a slightly different range, but it's also nice in a different way.

It's odd the mineral aspects are so subdued in all these teas that I've barely mentioned them.  It must be an underlying element of the flavors context, part of the reason they come across as complex, but quite subtle for all.  I like the way the dark woods / spice range is doing more for the two more Himalayan teas, with different citrus higher notes supporting the more dominant cocoa for all three.

On the next infusion I think all the three teas are dropping back a bit  The same elements are there but they're thinner, and would surely keep getting thinner.  Based on the tasting last time that Laos Golden Flame really is able to go more rounds than one would expect, staying consistent across longer infusion times for a number of extra rounds.

lower left Laos, right Nepal, top Darjeeling

The spent leaves look a little different but the Nepal and Darjeeling versions aren't so far apart, more a slight color difference, with the Nepal leaves just a little darker.

That was interesting!  A word of caution about comparison tasting golden tips style teas:  the level of caffeine in these feels substantial, with that effect going a bit far given how many rounds I tasted through.  It took a good number of hours for that extra level of tweak to wear off.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Shan Lin Xi high mountain Taiwanese oolong from Lin Hua Tai

I finally reviewed one of the high mountain oolongs I picked up in Taiwan, a Shan Lin Xi originated lightly oxidized and roasted rolled version.  It's from the Lin Hua Tai shop there, which I wrote more about in this general travel themed post, and in this Oriental Beauty review.  I'll say more about what the tea is after the review section (but it's a lighter rolled oolong, to start).


The tea is sweet, light, and fresh tasting.  It has some degree of butteriness to it, and a light, fresh vegetal tone, but the brightness and sweetness stands out beyond those aspects.  It feels thick, but then I'm not well-calibrated to judge relative thickness of light oolongs, having been off the subject for awhile now.  To me feel-related aspects are typically only interesting anyway, secondary to how a tea tastes.  The lingering aftertaste is nice too.

There's something about the overall effect that really does transcend the aspects, if that makes sense.  I can still keep going with listing aspects, mostly flavors, and maybe it would point towards why the tea comes across like that, but the effect seems to not be about that list being so interesting.

The tea brews to a bright golden yellow; it would seem the oxidation level and roast are both on the lighter side (I didn't discuss or get a clear written description of such things from that vendor).  Whatever those levels are the tea is prepared in such a way to give it a good complexity and very nice balance.  On the second infusion that feel picks up a lot, a good bit thicker, with a feel that really coats your tongue, and an even longer aftertaste.  It's creamy.

Unpacking tastes is another issue.  There are dominant floral tones, and vegetal tones that extend into the range of sweet corn, or really kind of hard to pin down, some of that overlapping with nice Chinese Tie Kuan Yin (a little).  Mineral doesn't stand out but some of the base complexity would relate to that, and even drifts toward spice range a little.  The sweetness and richness is even more appealing, or again how it comes together.

On the next infusion the mineral picks up a little more, with all the rest staying strong, nothing dropping back.  I get the impression I'll be able to talk some more about transition over a good number of additional infusions but that's essentially what's going on.  The concepts really don't do the experience justice.  I can write words like "clean, complex, rich, and sweet" but it might seem normal to describe teas that exhibit less of those traits using the same terms.

In the past I've knocked the entire range of lightly oxidized and roasted oolongs for getting boring but a better version is a different thing.  I get the impression "light" is too simplified related to those factors, in general and in this case, and what really is light compared to a mid-roasted tea still spans a range that makes a lot of difference.  I've got more to learn about Taiwanese oolongs, even though I already do keep reviewing versions.

Given plenty of experience with rolled ball oolongs expanding--Thailand and Vietnam also make those, and of course China--I thought that I went light on the dry tea amount and still got the balance wrong.  The tea isn't pushing out of the gaiwan, not the degree of botched brewing session one sometimes sees pictures of, but it is filling it, and using half as much would've worked as well, or maybe better.  The overall result might not be so different, something I'll be able to test since I bought 150 grams of this tea.

This is why people tend to weigh out teas.  I just wrote a post that discussed some of the problems with optimizing tea brewing versus keeping it simple.  That was more about making tea seem too complicated for people towards the beginning of a learning curve, but I really don't like to treat brewing like a chem-lab sort of experience either.  I'm an engineer, I did those chem labs, and I get it why people do push for consistency, about optimizing results, all that.

I can even sort of relate to ritual-oriented approaches, indirectly, to why people might prefer a 15 step gear-intensive brewing process for the same reasons, to roll up small technique related incremental improvements into a nearly perfect final result.  I'm just not on that page.  If I didn't have other things to do and had lots of budget to put towards it maybe gear and ritual aspects would seem more interesting.  But then probably not; I'm more a function over form sort of person, and the contribution to final outcome for heavily ritualized brewing steps strikes me as marginal.

On the next infusion the mineral and spice-like aspect--very light, nothing like cinnamon in a more roasted tea, but towards that general taste range--shift into a more even balance with the floral and touch of vegetal aspects.  Of course the feel of the tea is still full and creamy.  It's almost as if there is a flash of aftertaste that's actually stronger than the flavor of the liquid, which transitions a little but remains strong for a full minute after drinking it.

And that was it for tasting notes.  On the one hand those descriptions seem clear and detailed, in another sense maybe a good practice run for a real tasting instead.  It's never enough.  I have two more Taiwanese high-mountain oolongs from two other shops to get to, so if it works out I'll comparison taste to help get to a finer resolution description.  I just did that with golden needle teas and it worked well (not posted yet), it just makes sense to be careful about how much tea it adds up to at one go.

Research section

Taiwanese oolong is kind of not unexplored territory, but it's also more diverse than it might seem, beyond the issue of ever-better grades being available, those teas that never leave the country and such.  Here's an interesting Jastea vendor reference that describes teas from this particular area:

Shan Ling Xi – Tight leaf nuggets in a dark green color infuse a pale yellow liquid. Just be sure to steep them loose, not in an infuser, so they can open up all the way. The liquid has a light aroma and sugary quality. This oolong tea is from Shan Ling Xi in Nantou county of central Taiwan located at about 1600 meters above sea level, an elevation that provides ideal growing conditions due to air that remains cool year round. Tea has been grown here since the 1970’s and is known as one of the premier tea producing regions of Taiwan.

Not so much for any general aspects description (floral versus whatever else) but that sounds about right.

in Nantou County, in the center (just spelled differently)

That last reference and this tea growing area name (image credit) highlight one difficulty in keeping these areas straight:  Shan Lin (or Ling) Xi is transliterated in that as Shun Ling Shi.  There is one official spelling, it's just hard to know what it is based on surveying different records.

Tony Gebely describes this problem well in his text "Tea:  A User's Guide" (a great tea reference, reviewed in this post):

The Chinese standard for romanization is Hanyu Pinyin. Hanyu Pinyin became the international standard for romanization of Modern Standard Chinese in 1982; prior to 1982, Wade-Giles was the primary method of romanization... Hanyu Pinyin became the national standard for romanization of Modern Standard Chinese in Taiwan in 2009. Because this was a recent decision, Wade-Giles is still very prevalent there.

He also mentions that beyond that transliteration divide people can just rough out their own version sometimes, and it's possible for non-standard earlier versions to become relatively accepted (with "oolong" as a good example of that).

Another general tea reference and sales site (Tea from Taiwan) adds some interesting background on the area, with some interesting anomalies in the content:

This oolong tea growing area of Shan Ling Xi is about 1800 meters in altitude. Most of the oolong tea is the Wu-Long variety which is a very popular type of oolong tea in Taiwan. Two other varieties of tea - Jin Shuan and Tsuei Yu - are also grown in the Shan Ling Xi area.

Shan Ling Xi is also a popular tourist destination. There are cedar forests with running brooks in the vicinity that make it an enjoyable hiking area. There are many trails that meander through the forests with breathtaking views of waterfalls and beautiful flowers and plants.

The climate of Shan Ling Xi is temperate with plenty of rainfall and cool temperatures. The area is covered in an almost perpetual fog with short periods of sunshine. In winter frost and even snow are sometimes seen.

Interesting!  And of course partly wrong, beyond that elevation difference in the two citations.  There is no way that Wu Long is a tea plant type, which is what Jin Xuan is (or Jin Shuan, what's in a spelling, of course #12 in the TRES hybrid series).  Wulong is actually the correct (Hanyu Pinyin) transliteration for oolong, the common name version that stuck that's a bit inconsistently rendered.

Shan Li Xi tea plantation area (photo credit)

Someone with a lot of experience in the general range might be able to untangle inputs and say what this tea is--the plant type--based on tasting it.  The creaminess reminds me of Jin Xuan from Thailand, but the taste profile more of Bai Lu, the spice dimension, and the vegetal sweet-corn part Tie Kuan Yin (which they do also grow in Taiwan).  It's probably Qing Xin, since that's the most common plant type used (per my understanding), with most references I'm seeing to teas from this area basing teas on this plant type.

It's better to read about the area, plant types, and about good tea versions from better references, like this Tea Master's blog post on visiting the area and tasting a tea from there.  That tea was described as made from the Qing Xin cultivar, identified as Chin Shin in the older Wade Giles system.  His pictures and the description of the local climate are nice:

Everything is big, dramatic and extreme at this elevation. The light coming through the fog looked bright, but everything else became dark and mysterious. This fog brings moisture and freshness to all the plants, including our Oolong leaves. This afternoon fog is the secret ingredient of high mountain Oolong and explains why its leaves can grow so long while retaining their suppleness and freshness.

Nice!  None of this could lead back to more specifics about the tea I reviewed but it made for an interesting tangent.  It probably did taste so nice because of fog, and also growing and processing skill.