Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Caffeine in tea, revisited

originally published as tching.com/2017/06/caffeine-tea-revisited/

I researched the effects of caffeine for a blog post last year (here), which reviewed a research paper studying caffeine withdrawal.   I'm revisiting the subject related to finding an interesting study of caffeine levels in different tea types.

Of course all of the effects of caffeine vary by individual (people react differently), and the overall effects relate to compounds other than caffeine, eg. theanine relaxes you.  I'll summarize some findings in that first post here, with more sources cited there:

-a standard limit for caffeine intake is 400 milligrams per day.  That's equivalent to roughly four cups of coffee a day, or eight to twelve cups of tea.  Levels for both vary, but a rough average for a cup of coffee is 100 mg and 30-50 mg for tea.

-over 500-600 mg. of caffeine per day typically causes negative side effects:  anxiety, elevated heart rate, etc., which become more pronounced if consuming over 1000 mg.

-it is possible to become dependent on caffeine--and suffer withdrawal effects--when consuming as little as 100 mg. per day.  Some studies of the positive effects of caffeine don't factor that in, and actually demonstrate the negative effects of subjects undergoing caffeine withdrawal.  Even ingesting small amounts of caffeine might eliminate withdrawal effects.

-even if insomnia isn't experienced sleep cycle can be affected related to the normal brain-state patterns being altered.  In other words, it's possible to sleep normal amounts but still experience fatigue related to the negative effects of caffeine.

caffeine withdrawal study results (see paper for details)

The rest that follows is on two other unrelated points about caffeine levels in teas, not the effects on people.

Amount of caffeine in tea

One reference stands out on this subject, written by Nigel Melican.  It covers two main issues:  amount of caffeine in different types of teas, and if tea can be decaffeinated by discarding the initial infusion (something of an urban legend).

The short answer to the second question is no.  Test results in that article measure the amount of caffeine removed over varying infusion times (a process that would vary with brewing parameters):

this is it, caffeine

30 seconds: 20% caffeine removal
1 minute: 33% caffeine removal
2 minutes: 64% caffeine removal
3 minutes: 76% caffeine removal
4 minutes: 85% caffeine removal
10 minutes: 99% caffeine removal
15 minutes: 100% caffeine removal

Clear enough?  Roughly speaking the caffeine is removed at the same rate as the flavor.

The other part is not so easy to summarize, about caffeine amounts in different types of tea.  Three generalities are cited directly from the same article (with other factors covered there):

1. Caffeine level varies naturally in types of tea and levels in one type may overlap with another type

2. Black and green tea manufactured from leaf from the same bushes on the same day will have virtually the same caffeine levels (within +/- 0.3%)

3. For a given bush, the finer the plucking standard, the higher the caffeine level

People tend to expect other generalities, for example that green tea has more caffeine than black, or that white contains the most.

A research paper I just read cited test results for lots of different compounds (not just reviewing caffeine levels), including these measured results:

Those measured amounts relate to theobromine (THEO), caffeine (CA), and Epigallocatechin (EGC).  Only caffeine means much to me, but I've ran across health claims related to other compounds (with others measured in that study).  I won't mention any of that scope here.

The most general conclusion I take from this:  caffeine levels vary across different types, related to different factors.  That first article cited a few main ones:  related to plant type, plucking standard (types of leaves used), processing variations, and growing conditions.

A few problems with the results in that table stand out:  the amounts are listed in milligrams per gram of tea, not a familiar presentation (but it still does indicate relative amounts).  And the results of testing these samples seem inconsistent, especially related to brewing time variation test results.

I'm not going to interpret these results, or go back to other finer detail in that first article and see if generalities cited there apply.  One general point from that first article does seem to be indicated:

• when the bush is assamica type rather than sinensis (can be 33% higher caffeine, thus African black tea tends to be higher than China black tea)

But then other factors cause so much variation that might not stand out clearly.

Starbucks product levels, higher than tea (the Caffeine Informer site)

This article wasn't focusing on caffeine measurement, instead related to measuring lots of different compound types.  This is a good place to mention the title, which is well worth a read, as the title suggests:

The Joint Use of Electronic Nose and Electronic Tongue for the Evaluation of the Sensorial Properties of Green and Black Tea Infusions as Related to Their Chemical Composition 

With proper research someone might pin down clearer generalities.  Studies like this one could help if someone wanted to minimize their caffeine intake by choosing types with lower levels.  It might not work to base that on just one research reference, since those might only describe results for the samples tested, not for the tea type in general.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Hatvala Vietnamese Oriental Beauty

a type-typical look; sometimes with a bit more color

This tea is a version of Oriental Beauty from Hatvala, a great supplier of original and local teas from different parts of Vietnam (and they run a cafe in HCMC / Saigon).  I reviewed a great version of a jasmine black tea from them not so long ago, with more of their selection related to local tea styles than these two examples indicate.

For whatever reasons the tea industry in Vietnam seems a bit more diverse than in Thailand, and in addition to covering more range of types the teas are better.  It usually doesn't work to make blanket statements like that, on the subject of tea or any other scope, but Thai teas somehow seem limited to being generally decent or else not quite that good.  Vietnamese teas don't tend to be as good as the best Chinese or Taiwanese versions, per what I've tried of both, but definitely a step closer, and sometimes on the unique side for being prepared in different styles.

One strange twist related to that:  it would be possible to try lots of Vietnamese teas, even when visiting there, and get the impression that they almost always drink one style of green tea.  Fish hook tea, that's sometimes called, from this area, and they also make Taiwanese style light oolongs.  I visited Hanoi a few years back and found others (that black tea in that review was great), it just takes some looking around.  This tea is from Son La, an area shown of the following map reference.

Vietnam tea areas map from Hatvala (pdf version available online)

I won't say much about what Oriental Beauty is here (also referred to as Dong Fang Mei Ren or Bai Hao), or even link to posts where I do, given how well-known a type it is.  The short version:  it's a more oxidized oolong style that tends to taste like fruit and spice, maybe along the lines of citrus, muscatel, or cinnamon.  This review describes this tea in relation to typical aspects, although of course they vary.  There's another part about the tea leaves being bitten by bugs, and that improving the flavor, covered elsewhere in this blog or in lots of other places.

the last OB version I bought from Taiwan, from the Lin Hua Tai shop in Taipei

The subject of tea knock-offs came up recently in a news article about teas from Vietnam being sold as an award-winning local version in Taiwan.  Apparently they have different types and levels of awards there, so it doesn't mean that Vietnamese teas are now equivalent to those from Taiwan, but there must be some degree of equivalence to collect any local award.  It's interesting that they can test for tea origin now; the article doesn't go into how.  I recently tried an oolong from Yunnan that could pass for a high mountain Taiwanese oolong too; it had that brightness, intensity, cleanness, underlying mineral structure, and distinctive flavor profile--the whole set.  This tea is definitely copying the style of a tea type from Taiwan but it's not a counterfeit tea in the same sense as in that article since it is sold as being from Vietnam.

I've only tried versions of OB from Thailand and Yunnan (interesting, but not as close a match), but I've seen others mentioned from India and Japan, and styles crossing over, a tea version of fusion, is more accepted now.  I tried a Japanese-style green tea version of Vietnamese tea on a visit to the HCMC area before I started this blog, maybe five or six years ago, and that was ok.  It's hard to really place on a quality scale based on memory that far back, and my experience with Japanese teas is still too limited now to be a great judge of those, all the less so back then.  It only occurred to me later that some or most of that tea might be making it's way back to Japan as Japan-originated tea.


The leaves look like an Oriental Beauty, maybe a little less colorful than some do, but with the same general twisted and multi-colored look.  The dry tea scent has a strong ripe peach aspect.  I don't mean an ordinary peach smell, the way a typical peach comes across, instead the rich, warm, complex flavor of a perfectly ripe, juicy, dark-fleshed peach.  It's almost separate from tasting like peaches often do, a different thing, a higher level of the experience.  Kind of a tangent but my Mom sent me a box of ripe pears once and it was a similar experience, much richer, sweeter, juicier, and more complex, almost as if I'd never had real pears before then (maybe that was these; some frightfully expensive pears).  There had been a pear tree at my great-grandfather's house. but that was a different type, I think.  Anyway.

The first infusion was more or less a long rinse, how I usually do that, but plenty of that bright, fresh peach aspect came across.  It reminded me a lot of a Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong, how some of those taste exactly like peach instead of honey orchid, how that translates.  I'd have placed it as that type of oolong in a blind tasting for that reason.  There was more going on, also citrus, and a hint of spice, with plenty of sweetness, but that infusion was just about getting my senses around the experience of that peach.  I say teas are "bright" often enough, which probably seems to mean something, and this definitely was.

The flavors rounded out a bit more on the first longer, real infusion.  Peach is still dominant, but citrus picks up, not so far from muscatel (grape-like, towards citrus, as I place those flavors), maybe a little brighter than that range usually goes.  There is a bit of spice as underlying context but this OB version is heavy on fruit.  It's an interesting contrast with trying those compressed white teas the day before, doing a four-tea tasting, just getting immersed in those warm, subtle, earthy tones, with fruit a subtle highlight in some.  This tea is definitely fruit-forward, and much sweeter, more intense.

It's a complex enough experience, with body and richness filling it out, and lots of flavors complexity, but still very approachable and easy to take.  It would probably be possible to move from describing three primary flavors up to 7 or 8, as some tea reviews tend to. That isn't one of my own strengths, parsing aspects out to that next level of analysis.  The tea has some complexity but it's easy to take as a simple, positive experience.  There's nothing challenging or problematic about it, and no sense of straining to pick up what's going on.

The warmth picks up a little more on the next infusion.  The peach drops down into an integrated range, with spice tones filling that in, and the citrus loses some brightness and intensity too.  The spice is pretty close to cinnamon; it wouldn't be much for rounding error to just say that's what it is, but I get a sense there's either more in related range going on or that's not exactly it.  The intensity is hard to describe.  I'm not brewing this heavy at all, really on the light side instead, but plenty of aspect range comes across as it is.  It has an almost perfume or liquor-like floral element, not really a richness, not exactly aroma, just an intensity that's not typical.  For OB's that type of effect is not unheard of though, normal for those.  This is well within the normal OB range, really, just better than it really should be for not coming from Taiwan.  The flavor aspects are nice, the sweetness and cleanness is pronounced, and the overall effect is really positive.  So they did good.

It's so good that I'm tempted to go the other way in looking at the tea:  what's wrong with it, what weaknesses?  No tea is perfect; they all only express so much range, and in fairness to Taiwanese OB's there should be some mention of that.  For most teas you don't even have to ask, to seek out what the limits are, or what could be different, you tend to shift brewing or focus to appreciate the positives instead.  I'll say more about limits related to this tea on the next round.

Hatvala tea sourcing video; some remote parts of Vietnam

Next infusion:  even more spice.  Now this is showing cinnamon with fruit instead of the other way around.  Peach is still there, and some background citrus, deepened a little in level, but the overall range is completely shifted.  As far as how it could potentially improve, maybe the feel could be a little thicker.  To me it works perfectly as it is, since the feel is light and a little thin, as oolongs can go, but with a hint of dryness from the astringency level (a bit high in the oolong range, how OB's tend to work, essentially part of the defined type).  Or maybe someone could see it as not complex enough, as having great flavors, but somehow wanting more range out of it, more depth to that astringency element, or a bit more aftertaste.  The sweetness and positive flavors linger, but not for the long, long time as some teas do.  Maybe being simple and approachable but complex in the range of flavor wouldn't suit everyone.  It definitely works for me though.

A Thai Oriental Beauty--that I've described a few times--was one of the best versions of OB I've tried from outside Taiwan and this is a good bit better.  That Yunnan OB wasn't close enough to the type to compare; it was sort of an interpretation, more a fusion style, at a guess not even based on similar plant types.  I've just finished the last of a nice OB from Taiwan, from that holiday season trip, and this compares well enough to that, just a bit different.  Flavor-wise it's better, more fruit and a little sweeter; related to other aspect range maybe giving up just a little.  All in all a great version of the tea type, better than it really should be.

I was just describing about how not everyone would like those compressed white teas, that they seemed to not be challenging, but how the general range and subtlety might be an acquired taste, or not to everyone's liking.  It's hard to imagine someone not liking this tea.  I guess people could be firmly on another page, drinking some other teas in a limited range, or off towards appreciating such high-level, sophisticated attributes that this could seem too simple.  Maybe it could seem too sweet or fruity.  But in general it seems like this tea would suit almost anyone, no matter what their favorite tea style is.

Comparing compressed white teas, shou mei, gong mei, and one freestyle

I've mentioned drifting into compressed white teas recently, and I think this last purchase and review are going to be where it all levels off for awhile.  I left behind a gong mei version a couple months back, at the Teeta Talk shop--not far from Central Plaza Rama 9, for people in Bangkok.  I kept wondering about that tea, and since I happened past that shop not too long ago I bought it too.  I don't know much about that specific version, or the type, except that it's described as a higher grade (quality level) than shou mei, with bai mu dan above that.  Bai hao yin zhen (silver needle) is sort of a different thing, made from only buds, while the others are leaf and bud material white teas.

This is going to go long.  I'll add a section covering some background issues first so I won't get far with research or tea descriptions, and hopefully the taste-by-taste part can be a little thinner this time.  I tend to focus on flavor versus other aspects when things get complicated, likely how this will work out.  Passing on a general idea will do; no need to describe the last aspect of every version.  I've tasted all these teas, so that should make it simpler on my end.  Onto a brief description of what these even are, then some background first, then tasting notes after.

Tenfu gong mei cake (online vendor reference here):  it's interesting looking for an example online and finding one for under $5 (but then that's vending related to Taobao, if that means anything, the Chinese version of Ebay).  I was never under the impression that this was rare, exceptional quality tea but the last search I did put online sources in the $15 range (related to a Western vendor I'm not turning back up), and I've just bought this for a bit under $20.  None of that affects how the tea comes across, really.  I've wondered If there is any chance a modest tea version like this could be fake but it almost wouldn't matter, unless it wasn't as good as the original, which is how that is supposed to typically go.

The tea is stamped as a 2015 product (the one on that site 2014).  I won't say much more about what it is, or should be, besides citing a Teapedia entry related to the category:

Gong Mei is a white tea made of the Da Bai subvarietal of Camellia sinensis. It is grown mainly in the provinces of Fujian and Guangxi in China. Because this tea is harvested later than Bai Mu Dan it's liquor is slightly darker in color and stronger in taste. The infusion is golden yellow and thus darker than other white teas. Gong Mei is sometimes also referred as Shou Mei although the latter is considered as fourth grade quality while Gong Mei is a third quality grade tea.

Shou mei (younger version):  I reviewed this tea here, as a Liu Miao brand shou mei cake, also from that Teeta Talk shop.  It's a 2012 tea, for what that's worth, so with a few years of age on it.  These teas are all going to look a bit similar, the cakes, multi-colored, mixed lighter and darker browns, like fallen autumn leaves, images a bit fuzzy from not putting the effort into photography, etc.  I add a bit later guessing the likely best way to break them up versus how I'm doing it.

Glancing back at that review post I wrote a good bit about storage conditions there, about what relative humidity really means, about the carrying capacity of level of humidity in air at different temperatures (the absolute versus relative difference), if that's of interest.

Shou mei (older version):  this is where descriptions are going to get even thinner; this is some random shou mei cake I picked up at that one Bangkok Chinatown shop, Sen Xing Fa, mentioned in this post.  I've tried this tea already but didn't review it separately.  It was ok, but I didn't like it quite as much as the shou mei version I just mentioned, so I never got around to that.

I could tirelessly image-search to find more about it, or use different methods to transliterate the characters, or if all else fails ask the shop what it is, but it doesn't matter.  It's shou mei, and the transliterated Chinese name would just be random sounds to me.  It says it's from Fuding; that's a good start.  I suppose it probably really is a 2008 produced tea but I wouldn't be that astounded if it wasn't; I did just write a review of an obviously fake pu'er from that same shop.  How do I know that tea was fake?  It was sold as an LBZ for around $20; I bought it as a fake, something I've not tried to do before.

candy bar style compressed white:  I'm not sure what this is. I bought it at the Sen Xing Fa Bangkok Chinatown shop too.  It was supposed to be a few years old (5?) but I don't remember much for specifics.  It just looked different and interesting.  From trying it before I know it's about as solid as any highly compressed sheng tuocha so it takes awhile to get the infusion process going.  I'm wondering if that doesn't limit changes due to aging, but then I guess I only need to wait a half dozen years and I'll know that.  Based on already trying this it's not great tea but it's ok.  If it was the only compressed white tea someone had ever tried it may seem better for the novelty but I liked the other versions better, and it's hard not to compare like that.

Background issues

Someone just asked me:  what is white tea?  Starting that far back for this post could turn this into a long read but I will touch on that, then skip across a few other related points.  "White" is a main tea type, along with green tea, black, oolong, and hei cha / dark tea.  Sometimes yellow tea is added but it's not so common now.  I've only tasted one of those, and since it was a South Korean yellow tea there's a decent chance they interpreted the processing and style a little.

tea processing chart (from the World of Tea site)

The general idea behind white teas is that they're processed less.  Green teas are heated in some way to stop an oxidation process early on ("fixed," fried or steamed, although I guess any heating would do), so they stay green.  Of course it's not so much about the color, but about specific compounds not changing, affecting taste and perhaps health benefits.  That last part is a real potential issue but I don't tend to focus on it, since research doesn't seem to clarify the related facts of the matter at all.

Black teas are roughed up a bit (rolled, to allow for air contact with the internal compounds), then allowed to oxidize, to brown, a combination of enzymes with air, specifically with oxygen.  Whites are sort of just left to dry compared to those, although nothing is ever quite that simple.  These two tea processing charts only mention one potential variation in processing but some reading up would surely fill in plenty of additional complexity, which I won't read up on or mention here.  Onto some other background issues.

another processing chart (from Wikimedia, from a Wikipedia page)

White tea as compressed tea:  why compress this in the first place?  Who knows.  Why not compress it?  Compressing teas was used for helping store and transport tea at one point, very early in the history of tea, per my understanding, and some related practices stuck around.  It wouldn't be exactly the same if it hadn't been compressed but it might not be that far off this either, relatively speaking, or at least that's my expectation.  In contrast to that I just tried some sheng pu'er maocha a vendor shared, essentially just a loose version of the finished tea, and that vendor said that re-steaming the tea and compressing it into a cake (bing, if you prefer) does tend to change it's character to some extent.

Aging tea:  these are different ages; there is a bit of correlation with compressing a tea and aging it.  The standard story with hei cha and pu'er--pu'er is hei cha, unless you think it's somehow outside that category, then it's not hei cha, do what you will with concept use--is that later in the history it was discovered aging helped the tea mature, to ferment and improve.  White tea sort of does the same, or so the story goes.  It's complicated to consider if compressing a tea helps it age in any way, since that would just reduce air contact, so I just won't address that.  I researched storage and fermentation issues for a post and mentioned a fascinating article on what the latter really is (my take:  the influence of bacteria and fungus living out their life cycle).

Rinsing tea:  these ideas sort of all connect, as I'm presenting them.  In that article on aging tea the one research paper says that a rinse helps remove traces of toxins created in those biological processes.  No need to panic, the tea is safe, even if you drink a ridiculous amount of it.  But a rinse makes it a little safer, so why not.  Should you rinse aged whites?  There is no clear consensus on that but why not.  Unless you don't want to.  How bad could traces of toxins be?

Straining tea:  you can; the dust and flecks that get in the cup don't add much to the experience.  Or you can not; they don't take much away from it either.  Being into gear and presentation "tea people" almost always would strain it.  The sloppiness suits me so even though I have a few devices around that would work well for that I may or may not; it goes with how I feel at the time, so almost always not.  But then I'm no role model.  If you ate the tea nothing bad would happen, it just wouldn't make any sense to eat it.

the gong mei cake, missing some

How to break off tea:  it's best to help compressed teas flake off in sheets, more or less, to not shatter the leaves by pulling off a cubic chunk.  A pu'er knife can help with that but it's not so necessary for loosely compressed versions.  I have one, somewhere, but I haven't seen it for awhile.  A letter opener would also work, or I guess a butterknife would do in a pinch (although it would be best if it was shaped exactly like a pu'er knife, which wouldn't tend to come up by chance).

a letter opener, not a pu'er knife

I found a letter opener next to this comparison tasting set-up during cleaning up so I took a picture of it.  But then all that matters more for pu'er, when you might want to limit the astringency and retain a really clean profile by not ripping up the leaves.  I've been giving away parts of these white tea cakes and tend to do the opposite, to tear off sections, because that retains the original look of a compressed tea for someone else to see.  I'm giving away tea for people to experience something new, and getting a sense of the original shape is part of that, not so much for people that know the teas already to experience.

Aging effect on tea:  we'll see, I guess.  Without trying the teas at time of origin I would have no idea.  I've heard the teas get fruitier and sweeter after around a decade but who knows.  That might well depend on the tea, and storage conditions, and maybe even more so on interpretation, on someone carrying a bias towards tasting something in particular into the experience.  Comparing these teas and guessing about that factor as an input isn't likely to work.

Tasting four teas at once, related to quantity:  I ran across a problem with this tasting silver needle style white teas not long ago (in this post), related to taking in too much caffeine.  Better to go with the small gaiwans, if that's an option, but I only have three of that size.  This time I plan to not cycle through 10 infusions each, too, to sweep these aside into a combined cold brewing steep to drink some other time after the effects start to kick in.  

Brewing process / parameters:  I tend to guess all that out.  You don't need to flash infuse white teas, relatively speaking, easing up on times to limit astringency or bitterness as in young sheng.  Some people brew white teas for a long time to get the infusion strength (the flavor part) up to where it would be for most other types, or they also tend to be ok prepared lightly, brewed fast.  I'll probably just use 30 seconds to one minute infusions for these, varying it a little to see how that changes things, and probably won't really use a progressive increasing-time cycle.  The one candy-bar shape tea is pressed like some sort of floor-board material so I'll need to give it more time to open up, but the rest are accessible.

White tea gives you some flexibility; you can brew it however you want, because they tend to work well at different strengths.  A lot of oolongs are like that, or soft black teas, but some oolong types are nothing like that.  With Dan Cong and Wuyi Yancha you generally tend to go lighter and aim for an optimum, or really any tea could have a specific optimum per personal preference, it might just vary by person what that is.  I like white teas brewed on the lighter side, I guess, but not as lightly as some other types.

Tasting notes

Really these are from after an initial rinse, which I also tried, but didn't write about.  It was kind of like running a warm-up lap.  After all that about the toxins I still did drink those, although in retrospect given the caffeine issue I probably shouldn't have.

gong mei tea, in gaiwan (they tend to look about the same)

Gong mei:  this tea is nice!  It's soft and full, a bit sweet, with a good bit going on, for the general type being so subtle.  I want to say it's fruity but it'll be hard identifying a fruit.  Maybe initially it reminds me a little of dried tamarind, just to cite a range.  There is a little earthiness, kind of the standard context, but it's hard to pin down, not woody, exactly, maybe how aged parchment paper would taste, but still clean in effect.

gong mei, brewing (first time I tried it)

Shou mei (younger):  also nice, not quite as bright and clean.  It's harder to appreciate that difference without tasting the two side by side like this.  It's also fruity but towards spice from a more conventional expression of that, towards the root in root beer.  It's just a little woodier.

shou mei cake, older / Sen Xing Fa Chinatown shop version

Shou mei (older):  this has a little funkiness to it.  I don't mean that it's off, but it is different.  It's towards a light, sweet expression of dried wild mushroom, maybe.  Or maybe closer to a tropical dark wood tree bark, and somehow that sounds better.  It's not bad, but unusual.  The cleanness slips down a little across this whole tasting sequence, really kind of how I arranged these, from an expected most favorite to least favorite.

Candy bar style:  different, again.  One aspect reminds me a little of coffee--that's different.  I let it brew twice as long because it doesn't open very fast, so in a sense that certainly threw off a balanced comparison, which was actually impossible with the teas not unfolding at similar rates.  It's probably the least clean and bright / most murky in effect, but still decent tea.  It's not bad, with that coffee aspect drifting a little towards cocoa, just well off what these other teas are doing.

For the third infusion I'll go around a minute soak again, thick enough to not be grasping at subtle aspects.  I'm feeling these teas already; maybe two more infusions should be plenty, and that cold-brew experiment as a second part really could be medicinal strength if I'm not careful.  There is a lethal dose amount of caffeine but long before you get to that it can seem like too much.  About 5 grams might kill you, perhaps 100 cups of tea, something to keep in mind.  And it doesn't pass out of your system very fast, or at least mine, it can make for an all-day ride.

Second infusion

Gong mei:  the tea didn't pick up intensity or transition much.  It's nice how clean the flavors are, how it all comes across and balances, but it's not exceptional in terms of any one aspect or a set.  Maybe it's just my imagination, and the power of suggestion from just mentioning a related aspect, but I seem to pick up an underlying trace of wintergreen that fills in with the mild fruit and subdued spice / earthiness that gives it a bit more complexity.  If so it is quite subtle.  If someone didn't like subtle teas, which would be quite a reasonable thing, then they'd not like this one.  I can be put off by silver needle styles that don't seem to have much going on but the complexity of the context layer of these works for me.  It's not that there's not much to experience, it's just not in your face, instead complex in a subtle way.

dried persimmon; another reason to swing by a Chinatown

Shou mei (younger):  all of that general commentary can apply to this tea too.  It's a little thinner in effect though; there's slightly less to experience.  It's still quite clean in effect, and to me that makes earthiness work much better.  Add a bit of murkiness / peat / mushroom / oxidized aluminum (kind of joking related to that last one, but not completely) and this wouldn't work.  Distilling this to a flavors list is tough.  The earthiness is a little like a tree bark, the fruit a little like a dried persimmon.  But those are subtle, and I'm not capturing the complexity saying it tastes like those two things.

Shou mei (older):  this did transition; way different.  Now that is tree bark, just a bit towards aged leather from that.  It has a touch of fruitiness but it's hard to sort out under that earthiness.  It might be more like an aromatic bark spice under an earthier, heavier tree bark.  The woodiness is towards cedar, or maybe redwood.  It's not bad but it wouldn't be for everyone.  The flavor is still a bit clean but not like the first two.  This could almost pass for something other than tea but I'm sure it's tea.  Aging might have changed it; this is supposed to be nine years old.

candy bar style version, it never does flake apart as well

Candy bar:  I went with the same infusion time for this one this time (around a minute) so it lightened.  It's closest to the third, of the other three, but still tasting a bit like coffee.  Kind of strange, really, who would buy a tea intending it to taste like coffee, since there is another beverage option for that.  It has a slight toastiness to it too, and a touch of cocoa, so at least it's interesting.  It's hard to imagine someone preferring this tea version from the rest in this set but I guess that is possible.  

If shou was someone's favorite tea type this would be the one that rings a bell.  It's still ten times more subtle than any shou, so to be clear I'm talking about within a compressed white tea range here.  It has some sweetness but the last two gave up a little to the first two related to that.  That doesn't match the idea that teas would sweeten as they age, since the first tea in the set is the youngest (the gong mei is 3 years old), the third the oldest, and second and and fourth about the same (both probably around 5 years old now).

teapots at the Sen Xing Fa Bangkok Chinatown shop

Third infusion, last one

The caffeine is going to add up, and I've been tasting teas for awhile and have things to do, so this will have to be it.

Gong mei:  the tea is thinning a little; it seems early for that.  The general effect is still nice and it just seems to be tapering off slightly, not transitioning.  I'm sure it can brew a few more by stretching the time but it doesn't seem like it's going anywhere for changes.

Shou mei (younger):  the same for this one.  Maybe compressed white teas aren't as interesting for expressing transitions as some other types, in general.  A lot of the effect is subdued too, a base of rich, complex flavors, but not something that stands out as a list as for some other types.  I guess I'm saying they're not perfect for review description, but the experience is still interesting, if someone is on that page.

Shou mei (older):  this tea is changing a little, moving more to root spice off heavy wood and tree bark.  Maybe those few extra years did lend it more complexity, at the cost of coming across a bit extra earthy in the first few rounds.  I'm not sure though; I'd have needed to try it when young to know.

a break from pictures of compressed white tea

Candy bar:  this one is just thinning.  That coffee / earthiness / cocoa effect doesn't work as well thinner, but it would be possible to bump that with longer infusion time.  It's not just about intensity but also depth of the experience, the range, and it wouldn't work to get that richness back, even if it was stronger.  This just isn't as good a tea as the first two, and the third probably depends on preference related to it being the best or the worst.  It was the most complex but in an earthier range.

Overall take

I like these teas, the first two the best.  It's nice that I like the gong mei since I paid twice what I did for the younger shou mei for it, or rather the same amount for half as much tea (just under $20 for 200 and 100 grams; still a decent price for both).  I think my intuition did well in selecting that first shou mei; it probably was one of the more interesting teas and better values in that Teeta Talk shop (as if I'd really know that).

I think if someone tried white teas for the first time all of these might seem a little thin, too subtle.  It takes some adjustment to appreciate the range.  It's not the same kind of adjustment it takes to crave a sheng that tastes like tasting an aspirin, quite the opposite, but to me a light oolong or soft black tea makes for a more reasonable starting point.  Even shou can work as a starting point if the earthiness--tasting like a crude oil soaked chunk of peat--matches personal preferences in some odd way; there is no finer level of appreciation to dial in related to liking or not liking those.

These teas could all ramp up intensity just by giving them a longer soak, and in a limited sense they would push more towards the range of a black tea for doing that.  That sense would be quite limited; the astringency would never be the same, and the taste range couldn't shift.  Brewed stronger this set of aspects is still going to seem subtle in a different way, just stronger, and the effect of feel might thicken a little.

I like all of them, and it will be interesting to see if they change with more age.  I have enough I don't mind sharing them too; I've passed on some to two local monks to try out not so long ago.  Some feedback from one:  he thought it was interesting but likes pu'er better.  Another I didn't talk to about it but he's more into oolong anyway.

she probably has no future as a monk, really

Friday, June 23, 2017

Rohini Enigma and Enigma Gold, Darjeeling second flush teas

Enigma Gold left, Enigma right

I'm comparison tasting Rohini Enigma and Enigma Gold.   These are good teas.  They're completely different than the lighter style of the first flush versions I've been reviewing, reminding me a little of the effect of Oriental Beauty, a nice range.  Both are a bit more oxidized than typical lighter Darjeeling first flush styles but not completely in the range of black tea, maybe not as oxidized as second flush teas tend to be, but then styles vary.

They really don't remind me of a second flush tea in terms of other aspect character either.  The citrus element could relate to muscatel, although it seemed different to me, a bit lighter and brighter, and there's quite a bit of bright fruit range.  The Gopaldhara site, that lists some versions produced by Rohini, a related plantation, doesn't list these.  I'll say at the end what it is, and what the producer mentioned about it, but for now I'll leave it as a riddle wrapped in a mystery.


The Enigma version is nice.  The base flavors are warm and sweet, with light, clean earthy aspects, with a bit of bright citrus balancing that.  One taste aspect is just a bit off cinnamon, maybe in between cinnamon and nutmeg.  Fruitiness is hard to summarize, complex, a bit like cooked mango, but with more range.  It all really works.


The Enigma Gold pushes all that to the next level (although of course that's partly my interpretation; they're similar but not the same).  There's one taste aspect that really takes me back:  teaberry.   Those grow wild where I'm from--in Pennsylvania--and nothing has ever tasted like that, until now.  That taste is bright and sweet, and distinctive.  It tastes a little like those sweeter tones in the old scratch and sniff kid's products, which I haven't seen for a long time.

There's a lot more going on than just teaberry.  The aspects set takes what the Enigma version was doing and extends it.  One part is a little like cinnamon, and another a brighter citrus tone.  A bit of mineral balances all that,  not presented as astringency, not even as feel or structure; it's in the range of taste.  It gives up a little of that cooked mango fruit range for adding those layers but has more going on, and is probably a little fruitier, just in a different range.

Enigma Gold left, Enigma right

On the next infusion the Enigma doesn't transition much, still well balanced, not different.  The feel is nice, with good lingering flavor after, even brewed lightly.  That mango aspect reminds me a little more of pineapple this time, a little brighter.  It definitely includes citrus too, just not as heavy as muscatel typically comes across, in a lighter range.  I could guess an orange type to attribute it to but that would just be making something up to get an idea across:  blood orange?

The warmth picks up in the Gold version.  How those aspects balance really can't be described, it has to be experienced, but of course I'll start in.  It shares some of the feel of a lighter black tea, more in a Chinese style range, but it's not exactly like that, with a brightness and complexity coupled with flavors depth and range that only compares to Oriental Beauty (Taiwanese oolong, Bai Hao, Dong Fang Mei Ren, you know).

Enigma brewed leaves, colorful

If this was sold as a Darjeeling attempt at OB it would seem like they had some success with matching that style, or at least in interpreting it.  It wasn't; I'm just using that to help explain it.  The set of flavors--citrus, spice, other fruit--is the same, and the mid-level oxidation isn't far off either.  This must be slightly less oxidized than a typical OB (70-80% oxidized for those, as I recall, as much as specifying that even makes sense).

Brewing these a little longer to keep the intensity up--on the fourth infusion--the mineral and earthiness of the Enigma extends to a light dryness, picking up a trace of wood, but it still works well.  The sweetness and citrus balances those aspects.  The citrus aspect still isn't completely different than muscatel, maybe drawing closer, but it doesn't seem identical to that, to me.

The intensity of the Gold version picks up, brewed a little longer, along with the mineral element and feel.  Brewed stronger these resemble black tea more, but per my preference their optimum is to be prepared a little lighter. It's not as if you need to work around astringency or bitterness, they would be fine prepared in different ways.  It is strange to prepare them Gongfu style in the first place but as I keep saying it's just the page I'm on now; it's interesting to keep messing with that.  With transitions a bit limited it wouldn't change much to use Western style brewing, although I'd expect the aspects range to shift just a little based on even a minor parameters change.  A tea like this one would probably change character quite a bit brewed at different temperatures, for example.

The Enigma tea was nice, unique, positive, well-balanced, with great characteristics, it just suffered a little in comparison since the Enigma Gold had just a little more going on.  The Gold was a little fruitier, slightly more complex, with a little more spice, a combination that was interesting and positive.  Both were great teas, not exactly like any others I've tried, but the Gold really stood out as something different.

wild turkeys (where that teaberry picture was taken, in PA, the same day)

It's a bit of a tangent, but I ran across this looking up teaberry background:

The fruits of G. procumbens, considered its actual "teaberries", are edible, with a taste of mildy sweet wintergreen. The leaves and branches make a fine herbal tea, through normal drying and infusion process. For the leaves to yield significant amounts of their essential oil, they need to be fermented for at least three days.

Those do taste a little like wintergreen!  Too bad no one living in that house in the picture is remotely as obsessed with tea as I am; those plants in the other picture are growing almost in the frame, a few steps from that one turkey, with lots more around.  This part was interesting too:

White-tailed deer browse wintergreen throughout its range, and in some localities it is an important winter food. Other animals that eat wintergreen are wild turkey, sharp-tailed grouse, northern bobwhite, ring-necked pheasant, black bear, white-footed mouse, and red fox. 

Those turkeys might have been snacking on it.  It is tasty; I ate a few of the berries that day too.

What the teas are

Per the Gopaldhara manager the harvest timing is really in between first and second flush.  These are made from AV2, the plant type I'm familiar with from other Gopaldhara types, capable of making some amazing, soft, fruity, complex teas.

The preparation style seemed in between what's typical of first and second flush to me as well, which was interesting.  According to him the oxidation level is unusual, more medium than is typical, low for second flush.  You just never see that much fruit and that much spice from the same tea, unless it is a Taiwanese Oriental Beauty, and then that would be typical.

Shiv Saria, tea man (credit FB profile)

I asked the manager of the Rohini plantation, Shiv Saria, about the teas,  (a really nice guy, and unusually knowledgeable, probably even as tea-makers go), and he mentioned some background:

Enigma is made in 2nd Flush from AV2 leaves.

Unlike other Darjeelings, it is lightly rolled in small batches in China rollers to avoid heat generation and prevent the cup from being opaque and coloury. 

I visited Taiwan and imported oolong machinery including a panner, from there.  Prof Kunzo Sakata, of Kyoto, Japan, was trying to get us to produce OB teas in Darjeeling.

The withered leaves are fixed before rolling and final drying is also done in a panner.

Enigma Gold, is slightly lighter withered, for a more coloury cup and is made from leaf from section no 5, AV2- higher elevation and weaker bushes due to poor soils.

We do not sun the plucked leaf, as is required in oolong manufacture

Fascinating stuff!  Some of that would mean more to me if I actually made tea but it's still interesting.

In further discussion he confirmed this production processing is still far removed from that of oolong, but per this input it draws on processing experimentation and equipment use from different sources, and lots of experience.

Based on drinking those teas it all seemed to work out nicely.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Dhara white wild Northern Thai white tea, from Monsoon

I met Kenneth of Monsoon teas not so long ago, visiting in my favorite Chinatown tea shop, Jip Eu.  I've known him online for awhile, and reviewed some of their teas, but it was our first time to meet.  He's nice.

Monsoon's thing is wild tea (beyond being a Chiang Mai cafe, and selling different products); emphasizing the sustainability aspect, along with the novelty and uniqueness of different plant types growing in a wild setting.  Of course I was a little skeptical.  Beyond sustainability concerns one might speculate that commercial interests also come into play, a desire to sell what are essentially weeds growing wild for similar prices as cultivated plants.

Kenneth, in the wild (credit Monsoon's FB page)

Travelling in the South of Thailand informs part of the background story.  Whole regions of ecosystems have essentially been completely removed to make way for rubber trees and sugar and oil palms.  Tea farms in the Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai aren't on that scale, so maybe they're only clearing a square kilometer of space for crops, but even that isn't healthy for the environment, which does seem to be a real concern.

It doesn't just relate to what is removed or local fauna disruption; those farms would have an impact on the local environment, affecting drainage patterns, relating to pesticides used (even in organic farming, just different types), and so on.  The impact of changing nature is not always immediately evident.  The relatively widespread loss of bee colonies is an example that has been unfolding for some time, and I'm not sure that all of the root causes of that have been identified yet.  At one point use of fungicides seemed the most likely cause, per what I've read, but something I ran across more recently indicated loss of types of natural access zones may also be related, a different level of cause.

When you think about it if a weed makes a delicious tea (or tisane, if you must, but the plants are closely related genetic variants at the most distant, so it's tea) then paying whatever sorts out as a market price for that is a good value.  And drinking some of it plays a very small role in sparing natural areas from clear-cutting to grow tea plants.


This is a white tea, with an unusual look, some different colors, but then the appearance of white teas does vary.  My understanding is that it's Assamica, but I'll say more about that at the end.

The tea is nice brewed lightly, bright and fresh, a bit sweet and complex,  and relatively clean tasting.  It's in the normal range for white teas, just a little unusual.  Brewing slightly stronger will help with separating flavors.

There is a sweet fruit element, along the line of dried peach.  And it's a bit creamy, actually tasting a little like cream.  The fruitiness extends a little towards blueberry, or maybe raspberry instead.  It's not distinct enough that it comes across as those separate elements, just in that range.

There is a mild earthiness and dryness too, underlying that, and a trace of an unusual flavor, hard to isolate.  Forest floor is a more pronounced part of that, fall leaves, and a bit of mineral, and an unusual light earthy tone.  It's like the wood scent of a stump, not decaying wood as in a peat or mulch scent, but with an aged effect.

It all does work but it's different.  It helps that I've been on shou mei cakes for awhile.  They're not the same but the general range is common.

The next infusion is a little strong as well, really how a lot of people would typically brew this type of tea.  I'm using "light" and "strong" in a relative sense, related to how I prefer and prepare my own teas, so that's not so simple to communicate.  A specific measured proportion and brewing time could work as clarification but I'm not including that either (but it was prepared using a typical Gongfu proportion, a lot of tea relative to the amount of water, and brewed for about a minute and a half).

The sweetness is nice, the fruit.  It reminds me of running across a flavor like that of teaberry in a tea recently (a wild berry type, esssentially), something different, not exactly that but not far off it.  The fruit lightens up and transitions a little (now three infusions in), starting to pick up a bit of woodiness.

The one earthy aspect would make or break this tea, how someone relates to it based on their own preferences.  It's subdued, but not really common to other types.  For me it's fine, close enough to a spice tone that it's familiar, and clean in effect, but for others that impression would probably vary.  That one aspect shifts from forest floor in this infusion onto root spice, more like sassafras.

I tried the next infusion lighter.  The tea isn't close to finished yet but it should be on the second half of any transitions.  Brewed lightly it still works but the effect is different.  The feel isn't thin but it is lighter.  It still provides notable aftertaste but that always was in a moderate, type-typical range in the other infusions (although white teas or any type can vary a good bit related to feel and aftertaste).  The same fruity sweetness stands out, something out there between dried peach, raspberry,  and teaberry.

Brewed one more time the tea is fading a little but can probably make a couple more nice infusions.  Woodiness keeps picking up but that sweetness and interesting aspect range remains.  Even the woodiness is nice, not far from light root spice, not the heavier hardwood lumber taste some teas move to.  If I think "teaberry" that's still there but really I'm meeting the aspects actually present in the middle with that interpretation.  The tea is nice, different.

About the tea related to local history

This plant type is a variation of Assamica, I think, but I never did hear the full story related to that.  I'll start in on background history here instead.

I've been going over Thai history and tea history lately--and early human development,  for that matter--and these plants have been here awhile, more than long enough for plant types to naturally evolve.  The time line of 1000 years tends to be thrown around (also related to how old tea trees are, but who knows about that), but I get the sense that no one really knows.  It seems possible that people traveled a lot more locally (in the region) 10,000 years ago than we give them credit for.  Or maybe 300,000, for that matter.

Check out this reference about early Thai history:

at Sukhothai; not ancient history, but awhile back

The forebears of the modern Thai were Tai-speaking people living south of the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) on the mountainous plateau of what is now the Chinese province of Yunnan. Early Chinese records (the first recorded Chinese reference to the Tai is dated sixth century B.C.) document the Tai cultivating wetland rice in valley and lowland areas. During the first millennium A.D., before the emergence of formal states governed by Tai speaking elites, these people lived in scattered villages drawn together into muang, or principalities.

...Tradition sets 1238 as the date when Tai chieftains overthrew the Khmer at Sukhothai, capital of Angkor's outlying northwestern province, and established a Tai kingdom. 

As for that reference site's authenticity, this description of the content need not be accurate, but if it is then the source is probably relatively sound:

This website contains the on-line versions of books previously published in hard copy by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress as part of the Country Studies/Area Handbook Series sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Army between 1986 and 1998. 

Other content in that site mentions there was continuous human habitation in the Thailand area for the last 20,000 years, but it's not as if it can be limited to only then with certainty.  There is a variety of inhabitance evidence spanning different time periods, including disputed evidence of homo erectus ancestry in Thailand, Lampang Man (with more references for further reading on that cited in a related Wikipedia article).  I've actually seen fossils of what was presented as pre-homo sapien hominid in Northeast Thailand (Isaan), which seems more convincing, actually seeing evidence, but it doesn't really work to identify or validate a fossil as a museum visitor.  Maybe if I was the right kind of biological anthropologist I could.

It's not really related to this region or tea, but tied to the idea that it's difficult to determine what we don't know about the past, a relatively recent finding in Morocco potentially pushes back the origin of homo sapiens by 100,000 years, to around 300,000 years ago.  That also expands the scope of where early humans lived, across parts of Africa instead of only in the East.  So recently learning that tea cultivation started in China 3,000 years earlier than we thought is normal; the known history will keep changing as the evidence changes.

Related to an online discussion of tea types--more about Taliensis, a different plant type that's either tea or closely related to tea--a US tea grower just wrote an article that goes into some history.  But all that is a different subject, really, with that article also about pu'er, and Yaupon, so exploring different themes.

tea types information (reference source)

"Wild" tea plant variants are something else, or probably a range of different things.  This tea type source really could have just been Assamica, a conventional local tea plant, or since the plants can inter-breed (mix genetics) possibly somewhere in between.  This table of plant types shows how each differs; per my reading of this (not the most informed take).

The "shan" teas in the middle are local Thai variations of Assamica (the "A" on the species / variety column), with some other "wild" variations listed below.  Those are tea types that are not within the range of Assamica or Sinensis varieties, here relating to Taiwanese teas, since this is a plant types study from there.

Monday, June 12, 2017

2006 Thai Liu Bao from Tea Side

Thai Tea Side version left, Kunming 7581 right 

An online friend in Malaysia has mentioned preferring Liu Bao, a Chinese hei cha tea type that's more common there.  Per some references the process of piled fermentation to simulate the effect of aging of sheng pu'er was mostly borrowed from the way Liu Bao is made.  He had some input about a naming split for the tea type:

Luk Bou Cha is actually 'Liu Bao', merely different moniker referring to the same tea. 'Luk Bou', means 'Six Fort', in Cantonese, in other ethnic Chinese languages, it is called 'Liu Bao'. The word 'Cha', means 'tea', for emphasis, the Cantonese usually call it Luk Bou, only. Luk Bou is never to be confused with Pu Er. Although both are black teas, they are both different types of tea altogether. 

So there's all that.  "Black" in that is often translated as "dark" in Western references (the hei in hei cha).  It seems likely the mapping of concepts isn't clearly focused to mean one or the other, black or dark, so the alternate translation could be partly to avoid complication from black tea in English designation being called red in the original naming convention (hong cha:  red tea).

This is a Thai version, from Tea Side.  I'll taste it along with a shou pu'er to help pin down similarities and differences, but the one I have at home is a modest version of shou (read as "cheap"), a Kunming 7581 brick, which I'd already reviewed here.  I'll say a little more about Liu Bao in general after the review part.

Thai Liu Bao left, Kunming shou pu'er right


The initial taste is earthy; not really a surprise.  It's smooth and a bit sweet, somewhat rich, but mostly earthy.  It tastes like peat, I guess.  I'm comparing it to a relatively ordinary grade, standard shou to get a better feel for the range, and it is similar, but that shou has a good bit of petroleum-range taste in addition to the earthiness in this Liu Bao.  I'm wondering if I didn't just write the entire review, if there will be more to add to that.  I like the teas but I didn't get the impression there was a lot of complexity to describe, besides unpacking "peat," and I don't expect so much transition in aspects to occur across infusions.  But we'll see.

I went a little longer the next infusion, perhaps just over a minute, to brew a good thick version to taste.  I can try on the light side next and see how that varies results.  The Liu Bao is ok, sweet and thick, and rich.  There is something to it besides that peat taste, the earthiness; it's a little fruity on one subdued layer.  It's not completely different than fig, and a dark-wood tone stretches a little towards spice.  But it is mostly peat, or what I'd imagine an infusion of peat to taste like, not so far off the scent of yard mulch.

from an earlier age, when oil came from PA

Again the shou just adds quite a bit of petroleum to that, not so far off fresh crude.  Or really maybe aged crude; that scent from very old wooden oil well barrels that have been sitting and weathering for decades.  I love that smell.  In the tea it's not completely pleasant or unpleasant, a take on it would depend on preference, but it wouldn't be for everyone.

The next infusion was under 30 seconds, but the strength is still significant.  This is going to be about a difference between dark wood tone and petroleum.  The Liu Bao evolves a little towards cedar, still dark, but a bit cleaner, and different.  The peat taste never was exactly murky though, if that makes any sense, just quite earthy.  That aged petroleum in the shou may be a little murky, but it's a lot cleaner than one would expect given it tastes like oil.

the Liu Bao; loose, a bit reddish brown

The next infusion is more of the same.  The shou is drifting into tar a bit, deepening in richness and intensity.  The Liu Bao stays more in the range of dark wood, with a bit more subtlety and complexity.  That might be a different type of dried fruit, or the peat might well have lightened into autumn leaf instead.  It's not completely different but a bit lighter and cleaner.  But it's still not complex in the same sense other tea types are, not a layered experience.  The feel of both is a bit rich; that's nice, but still nothing complicated or challenging, pleasant but not especially unique.

Both teas continued for a few more lighter infusions.  One interesting element started to stand out more in the Thai Liu Bao, not unlike spice, but not familiar, maybe some mild root or bark spice I don't know well.  Or then again it tasted a little like cork too.

I have no idea how this compares to other versions of Liu Bao since I haven't tried any.  It's hard to guess how much it would have changed over the 11 years since it was made, or what the effect of another 11 would be.  It seems nice for what it is, not all that different from shou.  I like it better than the shou I've been comparing it with, but that tea never did seem like an above average example, that its strength is being within the range of normal.

I've probably never tried a really exceptional shou, although maybe in tasting in a shop sometime I did and didn't know it.  The ones I have tried didn't vary so much, not unlike the range in these two teas, more or less petroleum, peat-like earthiness versus dark wood tones.  I'm sure there is a lot more to experience that I'll get to later.  Other versions from this vendor from Thailand were the one exception to that, by far the most interesting I've tried of the general category, or in one sense outside the category themselves given they aren't from Yunnan, so technically not "pu'er."  Even though a lot of the shou versions I have tried were close to what I'd expect brewing my old Army boots would taste like I've still liked them, it's just not a personal favorite.

More on the type

I really need to try other examples to place this further, since any other descriptions are going to just be abstract ideas to me.  But I can add a bit about what this was, or was supposed to be.  Lets start with the Tea Side vendor description:

Loose-leaf Liu Bao Hei Cha of 2006 from old trees. Altitude of trees is about 1500 meters above the sea level.

Taste: Thick, rich, soft and oily. There are hazelnut, pleasant woody notes and a little of cinnamon. 

Effect: Tranquility, relaxation. Despite likeness to Shu Pu-erh teas, this Liu Bao tea can be drunk at night.

Sounds close enough.  I guess I'd have to drink it at night to check on that one part.  I thought the tea was pleasant, and I definitely picked up spice, it just wasn't distinct enough to pin down as cinnamon.

There is an Global Tea Hut magazine edition dedicated to the type.  It's an interesting read.  I sorted through it to see if I could cite a short summary description of the type, but it didn't work that way, with different articles covering different background and aspects.  I'll mention an idea that has nothing to do with this review, since it was interesting, on the subject of one type of mold spores:

So really more to do with Fu tea, it would seem, but interesting to hear that aspect can overlap with Liu Bao.

Beyond that the magazine generally describes Liu Bao as other descriptions place it, as an earthy, mellow, and complex tea not completely different than shou pu'er.  The background, history, and variations are interesting to read about there though, especially about how style differences have shifted over time.