Monday, July 31, 2017

Hatvala Vietnamese roasted Three Moons oolong

I tried another sample of tea my favorite source in Vietnam sent, from Hatvala, a Three Moons oolong.  I tasted it and wrote notes prior to seeing any description, but I'll share a description that they posted online here first (in their sales related page; this is their main information site):

Three Moons Oolong is a lightly oxidised green Oolong Tea that has been lightly roasted many times over a three month period to simulate the style of an aged tea.  Produced from leaves harvested from the Quingxin cultivar as a standard pluck of one bud and up to three leaves the tea is sun withered, shaken and then oxidised to approximately 30%.

After a repeated rolling and drying cycle the tea undergoes and extended period of roasting where it is gently heated for an hour and then allowed to rest.  The roast and rest is repeated mulitple times over a period of three months, or three moons! 

Three Moons has a light toasted aroma reminiscent of roasted green beans but with its flavour is a surprising contrast with notes of sweet apple or melon.      

As usual I didn't notice any apple or melon in that write-up, kind of how flavors interpretation tends to go, but the rest sounds exactly as one would expect from this in my notes.  The effect of the roasting really stood out.  The tea was nice, as described in the review that follows, which I won't adjust related to that vendor description.  That cultivar might sound familiar; it's the main traditional oolong source plant type produced in Taiwan (one that gets transliterated in different ways).

I've recently ran across an interview post that fills in a lot of background about Hatvala and local tea production in Vietnam, in this article.  It goes into their origin story, touches on sustainability issues, and local tea culture; all interesting stuff.  On to that review then.


It's pretty close to a Dong Ding style medium roasted Taiwanese oolong, so much so that the review is going to be about comparing it to others of that type.

The roast level is moderate but bumped up enough from the lightest styles of rolled oolongs that the toastiness comes across first.  It's hard to say if it's on the lighter side of medium roasted or not, since that would depend on expectations.  I tend to experience the comparison part first (how the tea relates to expectations, if it's like a known type), then a detailed description of individual aspects after, per mental processing, but switching that order may be easier to read.

The flavor range emphasizes the roasted effect.  It comes out a bit like toasted almond, although different people would interpret that in different ways.  If someone was thinking spice or even wood it's not so far off those, or a range for both might overlap.  To me toasted almond catches at least half of what's going on for flavor description.   Mineral underlies that, and it trails into warm spice, or even cocoa, but it's not distinct enough to pick out.  It has some floral range to it, but that gets mixed in with other complexity, and could get missed for focusing on the other aspects.

The main distinction seems to be how it relates to other comparable teas.  I just drank some of a pretty good version of a roasted oolong from Taiwan yesterday, as chance has it (reviewed here; I still have some left), and compared from memory it to another similar version that wasn't quite as good from earlier in the year.  This probably gives up a little for richness, mainly for feel effect, related to that Taiwanese tea,(the better one), but it's on par with that second tea that I bought in NYC.

It may give up just a little related to fullness of taste experience but the main difference relates to feel; it's not thin but not as thick as that tea.  Better Taiwanese oolongs have a nice mineral aspect that grounds the taste experience, and seems to come across on different levels, and that's limited in this tea version.

This would probably be the best oolong I've ever tried from Thailand, if it was from here, to put that judgment in perspective (or maybe only tied with one Oriental Beauty style version I liked, probably as much related to me loving OB in general).  It's quite good tea, it just falls short of being great within some limited aspect range.  It's almost splitting hairs to point that out as a flaw but it seems a fair comparison to me, since it's made in that style.  I've tried Thai tea that attempted to be made in a similar style, medium roasted, but nothing that achieved this degree of success.

brewed leaves; interesting colors variation

On the next infusion the richness of flavor picked up, and to a limited extent the feel thickened.  The balance of that toasted aspect works well, a roasted nut aspect, general warmth, complexity, with background mineral and floral aspects.  Mineral grounds the experience and floral is more top end but the roast related flavors really stand out.

It's not the kind of tea you would drink and wish it were better; there's lots to appreciate.  It's not uncommon for that roast effect to go just a little far or for murky aspects to creep in, for the taste range to drift a little to cardboard or wood, but these flavors are clean in effect and well balanced.  It prepared a number of very pleasant infusions, only losing appeal later once longer infusions were required to draw out the same infusion strength since the balance of aspects didn't work as well then, with the roasted effect strengthening in proportion to the lighter and sweeter elements.


I'm reminded of a couple of recent tangents that relate. One was about mixing descriptions of different tea processing inputs.  How does oxidation level affect this tea character versus a roasting step; is it more oxidized in addition to being more roasted?  I'm not really sure; could be.  I've read the description since and it says oxidized to "30%," but I'm still not clear on how that relates to the other light oolongs I've been running across.  Maybe those are less oxidized yet?

A general article dispelling tea myths mentioned a brewing preparation variable that relates (that article, Five Tea Myths That Need to Disappear, in Serious Eats):  preparing this at slightly different temperatures would change its character.  Somewhere around 90 C would be standard for this type, I would think, as much as there is one consistent approach used, but others would go with full boiling point instead, or maybe even slightly cooler.  To me it works best to prepare teas in slightly different ways and see what suits personal preference best.  People do tend to discuss optimums as if there is one best way but that doesn't match my understanding, that preferences can vary.  Here is some of the input from that article on the same point:

Here's a good rule of thumb: the hotter you brew, the darker and more robust your tea will be; the cooler your water, the sweeter and more mild it'll taste. You can brew any tea with this in mind, see what tastes best to your palate, and adjust your brew parameters accordingly. A white tea or lightly oxidized oolong, for instance, will make two different brews at 175° and 205°. If it's a good tea, both brews should good; which you prefer is up to you. For what it's worth, I tend to start brewing a new tea with boiling water and dial it down from there if I need to. The same holds true if I'm brewing an herbal tea.

That could hardly be wrong, since the advice is to try different things and see what you like.  Some of the rest of that article tends to take more of stand, with the only problem relating to not really always clarifying which parts are opinion and which parts are conventional wisdom (as close as tea knowledge tends to get to being facts).  Another example, related to brewing:

A Chinese dancong oolong, on the other hand, is best brewed with a ton of leaves in a tiny pot, with a series of flash steepings of just a few seconds each.

That is as much a standard take as there is one for brewing Dan Congs, only leaving out the parts about that process drawing out plenty of flavor but minimizing related astringency (in the cases where a Dan Cong has that as an aspect).  Per my understanding that approach would typically involve using boiling point water or water near that temperature range.  Again it is possible to offset the astringency another way, to drop that temperature instead, and use cooler water and longer infusion times, still at a very high proportion, so in the infusion duration range of 15 to 30 seconds instead.  Or maybe someone would prefer different techniques depending on the character of the Dan Cong; it's not as if all the types and individual versions are similar.  All of this just came up in a review post comparing two dissimilar Dan Cong versions from the same producer about a week ago.


The tea was great.  My preferences for tea types keeps shifting and this isn't the main page I'm on right now but it's a good version of a medium roasted oolong, and those aren't as common to come across as decent lighter versions (perhaps "greener," with limited roast).  Factoring in value this tea is absolutely amazing.  It costs about one half of a low guess of what you might expect, and one fourth what the relatively identical Taiwanese version I bought in NYC cost.  Of course it's not really a fair comparison, given the difference in supplier overhead (shop type and location), and sourcing on the opposite side of the world instead of relatively directly.

I didn't really notice the simulated age effect.  Aged rolled oolongs tend to pick up a plumy or raisin / fig like aspect and this didn't have that.  That roasted almond aspect was pleasant but hard to place, related to other comparable teas.  It's normal enough in one type of Dan Cong (the one named as "almond aroma," alternately referred to as Xin Ren or Xing Ren Xiang, one of which is probably more correct).  It can come up in roasted Wuyi Yancha too, although I've lost track of which one included something like that in the past half a year or so.  Instead of leaning towards fruit to me it included floral tones as a secondary aspect, beyond that.

Brewing variations can shift flavor profile quite a bit (see that related part of this post), so I wouldn't be surprised if the variance in the descriptions factors in partly related to that, if you couldn't draw more fruit out preparing it different ways.  This tea would work well brewed Western style (not how I made it), and aspects tend to shift a bit related to using a different proportion and longer infusion time.  A tea like this is especially nice because you aren't "brewing around" any negative aspects, trying to reduce astringency, for example, instead shifting factors to see how you like it best.  It can almost be like drinking slightly different teas, in examples where a tea version changes quite a bit, but you sort of need to brew it different ways to see how that plays out.

lots of fruit around just now

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Tea in Thailand, Thai tea types and local sourcing options

Sen Xing Fa Chinatown shop tea jars

This post is based on an article written for the website, which appears here.

The initial form of that article was edited to reduce citations to sources, shops and cafe options, with the original form appearing here.  Editing down that content transitioned the material more to an introduction of Thai teas, de-emphasizing the commercial "where to buy" focus, which may be useful to some.

Of course this advice is only based on my own experience and preferences, not a comprehensive guide to what is out there.  And that section focuses mainly on Bangkok shops and cafes, with limited mention of a few places in Pattaya and Chiang Mai, since I live in Bangkok.  It doesn't go into online options, which is really another broad sourcing avenue, in many cases a better set of options if you already know what you are looking for.

In order to balance not adding links for specific options I won't add links to any, only mentioning vendor names.  In a lot of cases reviews of cafes or teas from different sources were covered in other blog posts appearing here, but I also won't reference those directly.  A search function in this blog could turn them up, if that is of interest.

Thai Royal Project Jin Xuan (#12) rolled light oolong

Thai teas and tea types background

This article covers two overlapping topics related to tea in Thailand:  which teas are produced here, and where to find different types of better teas, mostly related to Bangkok.  

The main category of tea made in Thailand is lightly oxidized rolled oolong, a tea style common in Taiwan.  These are produced mainly from two separate plant types from a number series of cultivars / hybrids from Taiwan, Jin Xuan (#12) and Bai Lu (#17).  Tea is produced in the North, with most oolong grown near Doi Mae Salon, an area outside of Chiang Rai.  Most of the following relates to specialty or orthodox tea, with a brief mention of other popular forms of teas first.  Oolong and black tea are the two main types produced.

Ready to drink (bottled tea) is popular, with most styles originating from Japanese influence, so mainly based on green teas.  "Bubble tea" is also a popular, a trend imported from Taiwan; these are flavored black teas with milk.  Traditional Thai tea is a reddish colored sweetened and flavored milk tea, often made from black tea powder.  Other versions are made from loose black tea with sweetened condensed milk added.

Already these descriptions have referred to three of the main categories of tea:  black, green, and oolong.  These categories relate mostly to degree of oxidation in processing.  Black tea is "fully oxidized," green tea is at the other end of the spectrum, least oxidized, and oolong spans the middle range.  There are other main types (white and pu’er, or hei cha, which is typically compressed tea), but this article won’t go further into tea types differences or processing.  A lot of the shops mentioned in the following also sell a range of Chinese teas, in addition to Thai teas, with less from other countries.

Thai Royal project black tea

commercial Thai tea in a Tops grocery store

So far this reads as if you could only find Thai tea produced as black tea or oolong, and for the most part that is true, but there are plenty of exceptions.  Tea is also commercially produced as green tea, it's just less common.

I've tried a number of other types, which I won't go into further, except to add as a list here:  pu'er-like tea (pu'er is only from Yunnan, but the same tea type is made in Thailand, just not much of it), Oriental Beauty (a specific style of oolongs from Taiwan), Liu Bao (another type of hei cha), white tea (mostly silver needle, but not only that).

Where to buy tea, in general and in relation to specific shops

Teas are sold in a number of types of shops, in malls, or in stores in Chinatown.  Tea themed cafes are a different thing, with only a few mentioned here.

It’s best to never buy tea sold from open air bins, and avoid large jar stored teas, since air exposure removes flavor from teas.  Rolled oolongs might endure poor storage better than teas that are more sensitive to air contact, like versions of green teas.  I would try teas sold in large jars myself, out of curiosity to see what they are like, but I'd be careful about which types I would buy that way (with more details on that in this post about tea shopping in the NYC Chinatown).  I wouldn't expect to find the highest quality level teas being sold that way, which would factor into my purchase choices. Chinatown shops will sometimes keep Longjing--a popular Chinese green tea type--in a separate refrigerated location, since local Bangkok temperatures isn't good for maintaining the freshness of green teas.

No listing could be complete, and options change year to year, but this following list is a good starting point, representing both the best local sources and the general types of main options.  Purchasing tea online is the best option for buying very specific, known versions of rare teas, with standard vendors in producer countries the best resources for that (for example, Yunnan Sourcing for pu’er, for a type of Chinese tea).

I will mention two online (website) sources that represent good options for higher and lower to middle level quality tea purchases, but these aren't intended to describe the best online sources, just the ones I've had the most success with.  Tea Village (also a Pattaya physical shop) sells a range of basic to upper-mid-level quality teas online (bearing in mind that as a tea enthusiast I tend to be conservative about what I describe as "good quality" tea).  Tea Side sells rarer and higher quality level Thai tea versions, teas that tend to be hard to find, but some are considerably more expensive.  They sell Thai versions of pu'er (teas like pu'er; that's really a regional designation for Chinese teas), which already means something to people that would be interested, and is difficult to explain to others.

Local shops are a good alternative for browsing, tasting, and learning more about types by talking to vendors in person.  Grocery stores do sell tea but in general it’s best to avoid buying any teas there, since much better quality options in the same cost range can be found elsewhere.  Royal Project teas sold at some higher end grocery stores are a possible exception to that rule, described further following.

Chiang Mai / other

Airport shop:  an outlet at the Chiang Mai airport sells Thai produced teas, described as a relatively direct-sales outlet, along with a Royal Project shop there that sells Thai oolongs.

Monsoon cafe "wild" sourced white tea

Monsoon teas:  a café specializing in selling “wild” local teas, flavored teas, and blends, with some plain tea types available.  You might wonder what wild tea really refers to, and it's probably as well to ask them that.  There are other cafes and tea shops in Chiang Mai, perhaps not offering the same range and depth of options as in Bangkok though.

the Tea Village tasting room (with scones)

Tea Village (Pattaya): this isn't in Chiang Mai or Bangkok but they do sell online, and it's a nice shop for basic or mid-level teas.  Tea shops can be found throughout Thailand selling basic Thai produced versions (part of their range) but few would focus on better specialty loose teas, or cover alternatives from China.

I'm mixing what I refer to as medium and better quality levels here, a vague category description that's hard to be consistent about.  Comparing the Tea Village and Tea Side websites could provide some input about what teas fall into one category but not another, still leaving the problem of determining the quality level of types common to both suppliers, which really needs to be experienced through tasting to be determined.  In some rare cases it's conceivable that both suppliers could be selling identically sourced teas.

Bangkok tea shops (dry tea take-away)

Thai oolong in the Central Embassy grocery store

Royal Project stores:  a good resource for buying ordinary grades of Thai oolong (really located throughout Thailand, not just in Bangkok), great options for someone new to tea.  I've seen a Royal Project store version that sells a basic type that I like in the Future Park and Paradise Park malls, in the lower level grocery store of Central Embassy, and in the Suvarnibhumi airport, beside the Airport Link train entrance on the lower level there.  I just reviewed a basic Jin Xuan oolong from one, which I'm making an exception to link to since this tea essentially defines what Thai oolong options are like.  The teas can be quite good, relatively speaking, and a great value.

Mall shops:  small booths sell tea in grocery store complexes, with more extensive stores in some malls (for example there are two shops in the Paradise Park mall).  Ong’s in the Paragon Mall is a higher profile option, focused on more traditional types and the higher grade range (just a bit expensive, per input from a well-informed tea friend, but somehow I've never made it there to shop for tea, even though that is one of the two most well-known malls in Bangkok).

Paradise Park mall shop (way out on Srinakarin road)

Tea Dee Zhang in the Thanya Park mall: one of the best standard shops in Bangkok, for different types, located on Srinakarin road.  This shop specializes in and sources their own pu'er brand (a Chinese type of compressed tea).

Twinings / TWG:  perhaps fine for “high tea,” an afternoon meal, and they do sell commercial loose teas.  These two chains are probably best avoided related to sourcing the most interesting, highest quality, and best value teas.  Twinings does carry some really exceptional tea, per a web-based search of everything the company could potentially sell, but per limited browsing and hearsay their shops would be more likely to level off related to selling decent Earl Grey and region-specific teas that don't identify individual supplier details, teas like "Darjeeling."  A tea sold as "Darjeeling" might be ok but tea enthusiasts tend to source versions that relate to specific plantations and harvest seasons, with branding sub-types within those relating to minor processing differences and sourcing from more limited growing areas within a plantation.

at the Jip Eu Chinatown tea shop

Jip Eu, my favorite Bangkok Chinatown shop: this shop specializes in Wuyi Yancha (Wuyishan, Fujian roasted oolongs), but they do sell Anxi area Tie Kuan Yin (Chinese light rolled oolong), Dan Cong (another oolong), and some other types as well.

other Chinatown shops: there are many.  Sen Xing Fa has a broad selection, including Chinese types, Thai teas, pu’er, and compressed white teas, a subject I did a lot of writing about this year (shou mei and such).

Teeta Talk shop

Teeta Talk Tae Tea outlet: formerly in the Belle Condominiums, beside Central Plaza Rama9, this shop was closed and vacant during my last visit, and seemed to be out of business.  I'll leave this mention here as a tribute to Bangkok's tea past, I guess.

Other factory pu’er / Tae Tea outlets: two are located beside the Don Meuang airport and in IT Square Laksi, with some pu’er available in the Central Embassy specialty grocery store.  I'll mention a link to the local Tae Tea website, since it's not as easy as a vendor page to find in a search, but the page is only available in Thai.

Cafes / other (all of these also sell loose tea)

Double Dogs:  the main Chinatown cafe, with a broad selection of dry loose tea.  The quality of the loose teas is above average but the relative cost level is also well above online pricing levels.

Luka Cafe / Marou teas: a higher end Ceylon carrier (Sri Lankan tea) in Sathorn, a unique range since Chinese teas get more focus here.

Seven Suns cafe owner doing a tasting event

Seven Suns:  an Ekamai café that sells standard range Mei Leaf supplier teas.  This shop is unique for bridging the gaps between selling quality loose teas (by the pot or take away), matcha, and cold versions of blended teas for take-away (what Thais drink most often), and even tea-ware.

Peace Oriental: an Ekamai café (with a separate newer second branch), focusing on specialty, higher end teas, including matcha; one of the costliest places to buy tea in Bangkok.

Peony:  a chain of cafes and loose tea stores, including one in the Silom Complex.  They sell inexpensive mid-range plain teas and blends, options best suited for those newer to tea.  It sounds judgmental put that way, doesn't it?  It's normal to move through some sort of a preference curve and as well to not rush that process, so that you can keep discovering and experiencing better and better teas as what you like changes.

Japanese green teas / matcha:  matcha booths are turning up in lots of places, with better matcha versions harder to find.  Japanese grocery stores like Fuji could work as a starting point for both.  There are other sources for matcha around, besides booths and grocery stores, and I'd probably have more to add about those if I drank more matcha.  As with most of these other tea types once you move through a learning curve online sourcing for matcha would be likely to make more sense, after your preferences become clearer and you know what you are looking for.

The first Spanish tea harvest

An online friend, Alicia Ocha, was recently a part of the first commercial tea harvest and production in Spain. That is, as far as she knows, but I’ve talked to others that work in tea in Spain and they aren’t familiar with any other tea growing there either.  Alicia did mention that they are aware of limited numbers of tea plants growing as part of gardens, which did also come up related to a post here about tea growing in Mexico, mentioned in part two.
Alicia Ocha
I don’t plan to cover all the details here, mostly just to share some pictures, and pass on a little of what we already discussed.  There is a broad next level of information about what they have been doing that I won’t get to (about cultivars, growing conditions, processing steps, future plans…tasting the tea!), but if someone absolutely needs more details they can check in themselves with Escuela Española del Té.  That’s the organization behind the venture.  Their Facebook page group description follows (Google Translate’s take on it):
Founded in 2014, the Spanish Tea School is the first Spanish school dedicated to the diffusion of tea culture. Managed by a non-profit cultural association, its objective is to develop training and information of quality and excellence in the world of Spanish tea.
Thai language never translates anywhere near that clearly; it helps that Spanish and English are cousins.  These other details are from discussions with Alicia, a trainer at that organization.  She’s not really an experienced tea maker, although she has more experience than most people now, with playing a role in one small harvest and production behind her.  She passed on some input about a partner in the venture as follows:
For this new adventure, Alicia joined forces with Orballo, a young organic farming company located in Galicia, Spain’s northwestern corner bathed by the Atlantic Ocean. Orballo, meaning dewdrop in the local language, has specialized in growing herbs and medicinal plants. The region is famous for its beautiful parks and gardens full of Camellia japonica and other ornamental varieties defying winter weather with bright colors ranging from pure white to soft pink to dark red. Therefore, it only needed the curiosity and dedication of a group of tea lovers to start the first Spanish tea growing business. Orballo and Alicia teamed up with a Galician agricultural research center, Estación Fitopatolóxica do Areeiro, and they decided to grow and produce tea from three different plant types, this time only producing white teas from it.
They grew and produced tea from three different plant types.  Her understanding is that some cultivar types are especially suited for making white tea, which is why that type is commonly produced in the Fuding area (along with other terroir inputs being suitable).  They also chose that style because the processing steps are simpler, and partly due to having access to less processing equipment than experienced commercial tea producers would tend to use (but they are working on developing equipment used and extending processing styles).
Their harvest amounted to 12 kilograms of fresh tea leaves.  That’s not a lot of leaves, but it was one early step along the way of organically growing healthy, producing plants and developing processing knowledge and skill.  It made for a good chance to check on how much dry, finished tea fresh tea leaves produce, and she said this:
For one type of our kind of white tea from 1 kg fresh you can produce 350 grams of dry; for another cultivar we produced 400 grams of dry tea from 1500 grams of fresh leaves.
I was checking on that for a post about fluoride, trying to convert fresh leaf amounts to dry product, so I checked with a Wuyishan producer on their fresh-leaves-to-dry-tea ratio.  Excluding certain variables variables the range for their typical types is an 80 to 90% reduction in weight.
Another interesting part of experimenting with processing relates to also making a compressed version of the white teas, pressed into balls instead of cakes or another shape.  Related to pu’er coming in lots of different shapes that part doesn’t seem to matter.
I never did hear a lot of detail about how it tasted.  She said one version was sweet and fragrant, so nice, but I didn’t get a full report.  As a work in progress I’m sure they learned a lot and have lots of ideas for changes and new experiments next time.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Thai Royal Project Jin Xuan oolong (#12)

I wanted to pass on an impression of a Thai Royal Project Jin Xuan that I mostly bought for staff in my office to drink. This was one of the teas I started out on, along with light oolong made from the #17 hybrid from Taiwan (Bai Lu, although it's often incorrectly referenced as Ruan Zhi).  I like the tea, so part of the point is explaining why I keep saying Taiwanese versions are better, both to defend Thai teas and also put that in proper context.

The main reason I say that:  better versions from Taiwan are better, a whole level above this one.  That generalization is based on years of trying every Thai oolong I could find, from all different types of producers and from different types of end sources.  But there aren't that many Thai tea growers, per my understanding, and there are an even more limited number of central tea processors, which is why the oolongs seem so consistent.  I'll skip ahead to reviewing in detail and add more about that origin and general quality level comparison there.


The tea is bright in character, sweet and fresh, floral and a little vegetal.  I'm brewing it Gongfu style in a gaiwan this time and I could swear it turned out a little better prepared Western style in the past week, just a little brighter.  It's a bit creamy, in feel and in a butteriness coming across, but all that range can be more pronounced than it is in this version.

There is a characteristic taste of Taiwanese oolongs that comes across, although that was much more pronounced and positive in this other oolong version from there, a Shan Lin Xi version from the Lin Hua Tai shop in Taipei.  I guess to put labels to it the flavor range is a combination of mineral undertone, floral higher end, and a touch of different brighter mineral tone, all combined with good sweetness.  A typical feel for Taiwanese oolongs is a bit full, with lingering aftertaste also normal enough.

brewed lighter, with leaves in gaiwan

Some light oolongs express even more pronounced floral aspects, with this one extending a moderate degree of that into other vegetable range, not far from fresh green bean (uncooked).  The sweetness is almost like that in very fresh snap peas or green peas, which are nothing at all like a frozen version.  That better earlier session version seemed to emphasize flowers more.  I might have backed off the water temperature just a little then; sometimes I do that, but I'm brewing it this time using just below boiling point water.  Or maybe I just liked that overall effect better; usually Gongfu brewing works out the same or better but not always.  At a guess it was the effect of those things together; backing off water temperature works better, and the lower proportion and longer brewing time also did.


So that was it; basic stuff as reviews go.  It was nice but it could have been a little brighter, a little more floral, a little creamier, or could have expressed a bit more mineral tone.  The level of sweetness was fine, and the flavors were quite clean in effect.  I didn't notice pronounced aftertaste, and the feel wasn't particularly full, but it wasn't thin in effect either.  This is all how Thai oolongs tend to go.  They start to express some nice attributes but then you realize you've had Taiwanese versions in a relatively identical style that expressed them much better.  Part of that could relate to the hearsay-based idea that the best Thai oolongs are shipped to Taiwan to be sold as "counterfeit" teas from there.  Given that I've tried so many versions from so many sources it's hard for me to imagine there is another whole quality level out there that I didn't get to but I suppose it's conceivable.

To me they are a great beginner's tea, or could work as a nice, inexpensive daily drinker.  I just had that tea with lunch, with duck noodle soup, and it works better with something lighter and less earthy, maybe with a pastry, or with apple pie and ice cream, or even with a ham and cheese sandwich.  As for pairing with Thai foods it would be fine with anything that's not too spicy or not too far in any other direction for strong flavor, like herb and garlic roasted fish.  For spicy food something like sweetened bael fruit "tea" (tisane infusion) might be better, or really water pairs better with any kinds of foods than it's often given credit for.

It would work really well as a blending tea, but blending makes more sense with black teas, to me (adding flowers, or mixing a tea with spices, making masala chai and such).  This tea cost 100 baht, around $3, for 100 grams, so not very much at all.  I've seen closely related versions (or maybe this one) selling in online Western vending outlets for around double that. That's typical for here though, although sometimes other versions can cost somewhere around 350 baht for 200 grams (around $10), or still not much at all.  #17 / Bai Lu isn't so different from this but the character does vary just a little, usually lighter on the creaminess, with a bit more influence in a mild earthiness leaning towards a spice aspect.  It's probably better than it sounds; I don't mean it tastes like actual earth, or "forest floor," or cork, it's just a little warmer, with spice range moving towards nutmeg that typically stays non-distinct.

Thai oolongs at Central Embassy Mall grocery store

There are Royal Project stores in different places here; this was from one in the Future Park mall, way on the North side of town, almost up to Ayutayah.  They sell different versions of Royal Project oolongs and other teas though, and this version is the one I've liked the best, the one that comes either in octagonal shaped boxes (see an image of those) or red or gold foil packaging.  I've seen shops selling this version in both the main Bangkok airport (Suvarnibhumi; good luck finding it though, over by domestic departures), and in the Chiang Mai airport, and in the Central Embassy grocery store, but it's also sold in lots of places.  I can't remember if the Royal Project store in the Paradise Park mall had it (I think it didn't) but there are two other tea shops there that would carry something similar enough.

You would think there would be a website related to this, a central Royal Project version, but I didn't find it.  That's probably related to using English to search, and to there not seeming to be one singular Royal Project, there are multiple initiatives.  Here is one version though.  I did also find another nice review of a similar or perhaps identical tea by the Tea Squirrel blog.

One might wonder, why review it here at all, only to say that it's a mediocre tea that's not on the same level as the other few dozen teas that I've reviewed this year.  Partly because I don't think I have reviewed one exactly like it, and it's a basic staple here in Thailand.  I did review a similarly sourced Royal Project black tea not so long ago, tied to the same general idea, describing the local teas landscape, what an ordinary quality level Thai tea is like.  There are some better examples of black teas and oolongs out there; they're just not so easy to come by.  I've had the best luck with Tea Side as a source, an online vendor.  Winter harvest versions of oolong tend to work well for my individual preference, warmer and a shorter step closer towards a spice aspect.  Jin Xuan based black teas can be very nice, or they can be not so good, it just depends.

I had all but put this general type aside by the time I started this blog, but seeing them in a grocery store was part of my own introduction to decent loose tea years back.  Part of mentioning them again relates to recently writing an article for an expat site / forum on where to buy tea in Bangkok, and to a lesser extent Thailand in general, which I was thinking of sharing here.  It would make sense to describe this tea first related to that, to set the general range for local basics.  I could link to where that is already posted but they edited down the details of mentioning most specific locations, which would be helpful to readers here, and without that there isn't nearly as much point.  Shops here are like anywhere else, they come in a range of different types, but it works best to describe those general types related to specific incarnations.

The tea is ok; I'll probably drink it once a week until the staff here gets around to finishing it.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Ya Shi (duck shit) and Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong from Wuyi Origin

Mi Lan Xiang, honey orchid aroma Dan Cong

Ya Shi (duck shit) Dan Cong

I've been drinking some Dan Cong relatively recently so I decided to start with these teas before moving on to oolong samples sent by Cindy (from Wuyi Origin, their brand name).  Of course I've been drinking Wuyi Yancha too (Wuyishan oolong), but I decide what to review next by way of immediate impulse, the same way I pick what to drink with breakfast.  I already said plenty about Cindy and the source in the last post so I'll skip that part, and ramble on about other things instead before the review.

An online friend passed through town recently and gave me some samples of other Dan Cong, after visiting a few tea regions in China.  He's a vendor, but with regionally limited business scope, and I don't think it would matter if I mention his business here, so I'll skip that part.  The samples were interesting; one a maocha, a tea that isn't completely finished, so interesting related to that.  Two others were quite good, and one a bit off, so it made for an interesting refresher for the type.  Of course trying only exceptionally good versions also makes for a pleasant reminder or initial introduction, but it's informative in a different sense to try teas across a range of quality.

I had planned to try one of his samples along with one of Cindy's, since I've been on the page of doing comparisons, and it helps to point out differences in body and minor aspects.  After thinking it through I really don't want to write a half dozen different reviews of Cindy's teas, since that would get repetitive, both for me to do and for readers, so trying two of Cindy's together resolves that.

Most people reading a tea blog would be quite familiar with these teas.  Mi Lan Xiang is honey orchid aroma Dan Cong (oolong from the Chaozhou area), although those tend to taste a lot like peach sometimes.  Ya Shi is duck shit (just a funny name; no connection to actual duck shit), and those can be harder to pin down in terms of a characteristic flavor element.  They tend to be warmer, fuller, with more going on, and more subtle, maybe bridging ranges of floral, fruit, and spice instead of coming across as one or two main flavors.  Per only trying a few they do tend to taste like one thing, it's just not as easy to say what that is related to it being just like a honey orchid flower or peach.  They're more complex, heavier on aroma than flavor.

Related to a recent online discussion about flavor being identified as taste (what the tongue does) versus aroma (related to sensors in the lower rear of the nasal passages, where most subtle distinctions in flavors are identified) I'm not using "aroma" in a conventional sense here.  I think I covered what I mean by that in the last post, about how Chinese producers tend to use the term as a distinction within the range of what we would call aroma based flavor.  You can read back to that last post to reference it, or just read past it here; it's not critical to the explanation.

As to tasting process a blogger friend--who I only know online; maybe should I be saying "acquaintance" until I meet these people?--has been considering if long term effects of caffeine are getting to him.  I've had some problems with comparison tasting adding up related to caffeine intake, so I'm going with small gaiwans for this, which probably should have been an obvious step for tasting multiple teas all along.

On to these version specifics in tasting then.


Skipping the appearance and scent parts, the initial infusion--more a rinse that I didn't discard--shows the characters to be like that expectations summary I just covered.  The Mi Lan Xiang is bright, sweet, intense, and complex, mostly in the range of peach with a good bit of supporting floral tone.  The Ya Shi (I should probably just say "duck shit" instead, since it's catchy) is warm, full, complex, and aromatic, and won't be so easy to describe in terms of two or three main flavor elements.  I won't even start on that until the first real infusion.

The Mi Lan is the same but more pronounced in aspects intensity at the normal infusion strength.  It's brewed to a medium level of infusion concentration to me, but people might well tend to drink Dan Cong either on the lighter side compared to some other types, or on the much lighter side, and this could be in between those ranges.  The peach really ramps up in intensity.  It's interesting the way that the astringency (which is moderate, but one of the main defining aspects) seems to mimic the way that peach skin comes across, the separate flavor of that from ripe flesh.  It trails into that unripe fruit range, with a slight bite of an unusual type of astringency, nothing like that found in black teas or sheng pu'er.  But it's in great balance, not negative, even if it would be a matter of preference deciding if that added or took away from the effect of the other aspects.

The roast is not heavy but you can notice it, a bit of caramel or light toffee in the back, or really not exactly that but in that range.  Maybe if you fire-roasted a peach and it picked up a brown-sugar to cooked fruit tone that's closer to what I mean, although of course there is no smoke aspect in this tea, so the "fire" part might just be for descriptive color.  With some allowance for preferences varying this is more or less exactly how this tea should taste, to me.  It's tempting to try and put it on a scale of good to unbelievably good but I would need more experience with very high end Dan Cong to reference against.  It's a lot better than typical generalist specialty versions would be, teas typically sold in the $15 dollars per 50 grams range, described as great examples that are really just not that bad, only in the general range of type-correct.  I suppose there is always room for improvement but it's quite good.

The Duck Shit version is warm, complex, and subtle; a totally different kind of experience.  It's also aromatic, not pronounced in terms of flavor, although there is plenty going on with that, as much as in a broad range that covers sensation trailing off into sensory ranges that you sense but don't fully capture.

I'm having trouble assigning specific flavors to the experience, but it has to come to that if I'm going to review it; it would be strange doing a tea review and never getting there.  The main range is floral, but not in the same sense as bright, sweet, pronounced flowers, so I suppose just an earthier, richer, more subtle flower range.  Tropical flowers here seem to be bright, sweet, and intense, the different orchids, plumeria, and such, more like wildflowers back in the US.  This tea's range is on the opposite side of all that.  It's not far from how I'd imagine a sunflower to be, but I can't think of a flower type I actually have smelled that's a close match, something warm and complex.  It's towards chrysanthemum but not that, with more depth and richness than that flower blended with chamomile, but in that general range.

With all the complexity it wouldn't be wrong to say it also tastes like some warm, subtle, earthy but light fruit, maybe in the range of dried longan.  But the flavor range is well integrated, so it doesn't come across as tasting like a few different things.  I'll keep tasting, since that complexity may well also related to extension into mineral and spice ranges.

Ya Shi left, Mi Lan Xiang right

On the next infusion I probably went a touch longer on the time--not long at all though, around half a minute--and the strength and astringency of the Mi Lan Xiang picked up.  It would be more conventional to use slightly hotter water and go with really fast infusions instead, ten seconds, and the astringency would be light along with the flavors being less pronounced too.  This was brewed at 80 C; I tend to like teas prepared a little cooler than some if offsetting astringency is a concern.  It's really about personal preference more than one approach being objectively best, or at least that's my take.  It would've balanced better brewed for ten seconds less but it's still nice, but at this strength the astringency starts to pick up enough to be more pronounced than the flavors.  Nothing like a young sheng, not that type or on that level, I mean related to the balance per what I like to experience.

This same infusion time worked better for the duck shit; without astringency as much of an input at all, not even to the extent of filling in structure.  The flavors just intensify and the feel thickens a little.  It comes across as richer, almost buttery, just in a completely different sense than for Jin Xuan oolongs.  I tried a decent one of those I bought for the staff at the office, a Thai version, so related to me always going on about how mediocre Thai oolongs are I was going to review that and put the record straight.  But that tea is not on this quality level, not even close.  It may be two full levels down, but for what it is drinking that tea makes for a nice experience, good as a "daily drinker," as people tend to say, as something to have with lunch.

The sweetness and rich flavor changes for this duck shit version, a little, more towards a lightly browned butter effect, which isn't so far from a really light caramel.  Someone that absolutely prefers intense floral aspects might not appreciate that but the complexity, fullness of flavor and other range, and the way it all balances makes for a cool effect.  It's a good tea.  Again I can't map it to best of the best; it's about as good as the best duck shit Dan Cong I've tried, more or less, but I haven't put effort into exploring the highest range.  Or expense, more to the point; better Dan Cong moves to $1 a gram or beyond much faster than most other tea types.

Ya Shi left, Mi Lan Xiang right

On the next infusion I went more like 15 seconds for the Mi Lan Xiang and around 30 for the duck shit; brewing and tasting different teas at the same time can go like that.  The balance is back to great for the Mi Lan version; the flavor is plenty intense, quite sweet, nicely complex, and the astringency level compliments the tea instead of taking away from it.  If someone absolutely loves soft teas instead something like the duck shit version might work better, or another style of tea altogether might, or possibly just a different version.  Then again it's hard to imagine someone not liking these teas.

The duck shit version aspects haven't changed.  I've tried a version before where the aromatic / complex effect cost the tea in terms of flavor complexity but this one strikes a nice balance, covering a lot of range but still offering up plenty to taste as flavor.  It's definitely warmer than the Mi Lan, and richer, in one sense, but perhaps less intense for being more complex.  It makes consider how level of roast comes into play, but I really won't venture much about that, since I don't know.  The Mi Lan brews darker but the brewed leaves look about the same; I'd guess it's roasted a bit more but that isn't much in the way of an informed guess.  With Wuyi Yancha it's possible to tell that medium to darker / heavier roasting occurred because the teas taste more or less charred, slightly toasted in a normal sense if not a bit burnt in cases where it goes too far.  It's not possible to pick up anything like that effect in these two teas.

I could keep going for a couple more infusions to talk about transitions, or to pin down a few more flavor aspects, or to stretch this out to some vague, potentially invalid analogy (astringency effect like biting a tree bud, etc.), but I'll skip all that.  The teas aren't close to finished but not transitioning a lot.
I will try to mention which I like better, but that's hard to say too.  They're both great for what they are expressing, for being so different in type.  In different senses I like both best.  I think they work really well for tasting two teas that don't overlap all that much in character together, for comparison tasting related to contrast instead of shared range.  Usually the opposite works much better, picking out finer levels of aspects related to them sharing common ground, and I may well have missed some levels of range for going against that.  This said next to nothing about "feel" aspects, for example, and when two teas share a lot in taste range and that differs your attention tends to drift there (or didn't get that far with taste description, really).

My final assessment:  two more great teas from Cindy.  Someone that has been drinking the best of the best Dan Cong available for some time might disagree, and these could seem quite ordinary to them, but that's how tea tends to go.  I would expect that for someone only exposed to a conventional, typical-supplier quality range of Dan Cong these two teas would be a step up in quality instead, teas that they would really enjoy.  For someone only exposed to so-so versions or new to the type they could open a whole new world.  I've tried Dan Cong sold as relatively higher end versions--at upper medium level pricing--that wasn't nearly this good.  It will be interesting to look around at other reviews and see what other people think, if I get around to that.

my girl surfer at swim lesson with some kid

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Wild unsmoked Lapsang Souchong from Wuyi Origin (Cindy Chen)

Just when I've been feeling a bit burned out on trying different teas, tea research themes, discussion, moderating a tea group, and writing about tea Cindy Chen sent some of my Wuyishan favorites.  Her teas are always some of the best I ever get around to trying.  I think one of her Rou Gui versions and this wild version of Lapsang Souchong may be the two teas I've liked the most of any.  Of course that relates more to a preference match than them being outrageously good teas (I like fruit aspects in teas more than floral tones), but they are exceptional, so I picked one of those to try first.

Don't take my word for it; read up on some Steepster reviews here, or about that Lapsang Souchong version in this review.  Cindy started selling teas online not so long ago, here, with a Facebook page here.  They actually make the teas, so that's an unusual thing, for a tea farmer and processor to set up a web page and direct sales.  It was a step that followed on years of her talking to people online and gradually selling more directly.  I've written lots of reviews of their teas (which include Dan Cong, since she has family in that area too), but just shared some pictures of making them this year, and first wrote an interview post with her about making teas back in 2015.

Tea Explorer photo (credit Jeff Fuchs' Tea and Mountain Journal, from this post)

I remember reading one account of Jeff Fuchs meeting Cindy, himself a familiar name in tea.  His own tea movie is coming out right about now (the Tea Explorer documentary, click to a newer post than this citation to check on that, per that post first airing on television on July 23rd, so worth looking into right away).  His Tea and Mountain site post introduction of Cindy:

...She is in the midst of tea production season and the shift work (fresh tea leaves are impatient fellows) has left its mark on her. She is blearly eyed, clearly ripped on tea, but still as generous and welcoming as a family member...

On this morning Cindy uses a simple white ceramic gai wan or flared cup vessel for ease of examining colour and rapid fire infusions. Rapid fire they are, but with Cindy every serving is something fresh and perfect, though she in all of her modesty claims that she is “only someone who knows tea a little.”

Cindy is made of tea it seems. Rampant energy, talking of nothing else, she knows tea from the soil to the very skin of the leaf and through the various stages it is a subject that is part of her. Her entire family for generations has produced Rock teas...

Cindy!  and tea (my favorite picture of her)

That's her, to me, a bright spirit, kind and humble, while working from a different level of knowledge and experience; something of a tea saint.  That whole passage / article is well worth a read, and that documentary covers part of the living history of tea through the mountains of the great tea road.

Pre-review review review (it's like a stutter)

I never read other reviews of teas before I try them, but I thought to mix it up I'd try that.  If this tea is like the version I tried last year it should be quite fruity as Lapsang Souchong goes, more in the citrus range, with amazing complexity and great balance of aspects beyond that.  From one of those Steepster reviews I just cited, for the same tea I'm about to try (the only one posted for this year's version so far):

Initial taste is a cacophony of fruits. It’s syrupy like fruit punch mix. Important to note, there is no chemical, or artificial taste. The tea soup is viscous. It feels oil like on the tongue. Taste develops into an intense sugarcane, fruity sweetness There’s also a bit of citrus taste in the finish. More shaddock, than, say, lemon. This citrus flavor also comes through on the lips. The finish starts off sweet. That sweetness is joined by an undertone of citrus, and a cool sensation towards the back of the mouth.

I had to look shaddock up; that's another name for pomelo, a type of grapefruit--or similar to a grapefruit, maybe that goes--that's common in Asia.  It's less descriptive than it might seem because there are lots of versions of pomelo, some sweet, some quite sour, some with white-ish flesh (fruit), others more yellow (not exactly yellow; tan, like dried wheat), or red.  Red versions are usually sweet but some yellow ones are too.  As an aside, apparently there are lots of different versions of oranges, grapefruit, bananas, pineapple, and mangos, lots of tropical fruits out there, because we eat different versions of all of those here (even different types of lychee, my favorite).

That's fine for an aside; I'll get on with tasting.


On first sip this tea really meets the expectations.  I totally get what that guy was saying about grapefruit; there is lots of citrus in this but it's not in a typical range for orange.  Then again there are lots of types of oranges too.  I'm not going to have much luck pinning down which type of pomelo this reminds me of but it's not bitter, and has some sweetness, so I suppose closer to a red version.

There is great complexity, it's just not so simple to unpack what's going on.  Saying "mineral" works in general for most kinds of tea but it doesn't describe much.  I wouldn't say the tea is woody but there is an earthiness that's hard to spell out, nothing like wood or peat, not tobacco, out towards cinnamon or dark wood but not so close to either.  The thickness, complexity, and balance makes the tea exceptional.

the tea works well at different strengths

More of the same the next infusion; the balance has transitioned some, but I'll have trouble filling in how, or more specifics.  A citrus element is still the most pronounced aspect but other complexity ramps up.  It's interesting the way the mild malt range identifies this tea as black tea but there is very little astringency along with that, just enough structure to give it a fuller feel.

It could be wrong but I get a sense that stopping short of full oxidation allowed the tea to retain some degree of freshness and vegetal range, just not in any sense of any other tea that's coming to mind.  It's coming across mostly as citrus in terms of flavor, which is really unique, not so much related to her teas but I've not experienced the same degree in other similar versions.

That vegetal range I'm trying to describe is almost below the range of flavor, more exhibited in the feel and general effect of the tea, a hint of the experience of tasting a fresh tea bud or the top of a green wheat plant.  Right, tasting those things just doesn't ever come up.  But if it did there would be a sweet, mild, complex flavor involved that is vegetal but not in the sense of tasting anything like any vegetables.  I suppose some version of an edible flower might be as close as one might get, but who is familiar with the taste of different edible flowers.

There might be a bit of a straightforward floral aspect to this, one that's just not so simple to tease out for the rest of the complexity.  There's a lot going on in the tea, but at the same time the effect is that it's simple, clear and direct, and very clean in effect.  It's the kind of tea some people might not get, it might not match their preferences, and for them it would just taste strange.  But for others this would be an eye-opening experience, exactly the way tea should taste in a better world than this one.  I love fruit aspects in black teas or roasted oolongs so to me it's perfect.

On the next infusion things aren't changing much; the citrus is still wonderfully pronounced, maybe back to closer to where it was on the first infusion in terms of balance though.  Just a trace of woodiness is creeping in; I suppose that will be more pronounced in the next infusion, and will be a significant part of the profile after that.  That mild malt tone ties this tea to the other better Lapsang Souchong that I've tried but it's quite different, except for last year's version of the same thing.  Someone else probably could pin down a floral aspect, more than just saying it's there, and floral.  The sweetness really makes it work well, although it would still be ok if that was less pronounced.

I never really did address the complexity in the tea, to spell that out.  I get the sense different reviewers would pass on all sorts of different lists related to this tea.  So far I've covered citrus, malt, floral, earthiness and vegetal, in the sense an edible flower is that (not so clearly defined, some of those).  That fruit tone might extend into something warmer and deeper, along the lines of a dried longan.  The earthiness I was struggling to pin down is not that far from cocoa.  It would be interesting to hear reads from a couple of my favorite bloggers that tend to extend tasting all the way into the range of imagination.

I never said much about the feel or structure of this tea, the way the "body" aspect worked out.  As with most Chinese black teas it's on the softer side, to the extent that it didn't vary in character that much depending on the infusion strength.  It works well brewed relatively lightly but is fine brewed stronger.  It's hard to completely pin down what the "full feel" aspect range means so I just skip that here.

On the next infusion the tea just thins, but the citrus stays pronounced.  It loses a little for giving up some complexity and fullness but it's still the same amazing tea, four infusions in.  It did make another couple of nice infusions but there isn't much more to say for description.  I was brewing it on the stronger side, related to how light I prepare some teas, since it worked well at different intensities and those flavors were amazing experienced at higher intensity, but the tea really could brew closer to ten infusions if someone liked it prepared lightly instead.  Or a standard Western brewing process would work; the results probably wouldn't change that much for this particular tea, and then it might be back to three or so.  I wouldn't prepare this tea Western style but there's really no reason not to, if someone was more on that page.

Conclusion, and about related tea pricing

This is again one of the best teas I've ever tried.  I'm sure that relates as much to me preferring fruit aspects in teas as much as anything else, but it's also clearly an exceptional tea, not all that similar to any other version I've tried of any others.

A friend just mentioned checking out the Wuyi Origin website, specifically about how much he liked those teas, and we discussed pricing.  That's a subject I normally don't even touch on, more taboo than other taboo subjects for tea bloggers, especially since I consider Cindy a friend (online friend, if that matters, but I will get around to visiting).  I'm not good with observing taboo restrictions so I'll pass on some thoughts.

Some of their prices are higher than they were last year.  I suspect the higher demand for winning some local tea competitions is driving up the prices of some oolongs, the main tea types from Wuyishan.  Per my guess--given that I can't really judge the range of what a lot of other vendors sell--the most costly products on their site are still in the normal retail range, and still a good value for the quality level.  It's easy to see a tea selling for $10-15 for 50 grams on one site as a better value than another described as identical for $15-20 on a second but it really just depends.  The latter could really be a much better value, while the former might not be worth that, if it's mediocre tea, or might not even be all that pleasant to drink if the source choice is random.

A lot of her teas are probably still slightly underpriced, per my guess.

There may be some confusion over what teas would sell for in China versus in "the West," the US or Europe, and although I can't completely do the subject justice I've been to China a couple of times (and twice that if you count Hong Kong, but that's different), so I'll venture a guess.  The selling prices are not so different than in those other places.  Demand for tea is high, and awareness related to tea is better (although the average person isn't a "tea enthusiast," per my take, but that concept wouldn't transfer over directly).  It probably is possible to get great deals on the lower end for inexpensive, low to medium quality teas, especially if someone was interested in putting effort in, visiting wholesale markets, or chasing down more direct sourcing there.  But retail of better teas doesn't relate to selling them for any less, per my limited experience, with some exceptions for what "better" tends to mean, and for different types of sources using different supply chains.

this is really in Seoul, in 2012; my old Google Photo back-ups are patchy

It's important to keep in mind that personal preference is more a factor in how much you'll like a tea than it being a good deal, related to fair market value, or to what another vendor would charge for the same teas.  If you look through those Steepster reviews anyone that mentions cost or value there only does so related to saying that the tea was inexpensive when considered against comparable versions.  If they happened to not prefer a tea style they might not have felt that way; it can be tricky sorting out objective quality level and other factors that go into liking teas.

It would take some doing to sort through all the range of products they make and sell (having family that lives in Chaozhou making Dan Cong adds to that range), but I'd bet some are both unique offerings and great values.  I've not tried her white teas yet but those stood out for looking interesting.

Take all that for what it's worth; I can only share one person's opinion, and I'm biased.  Check out a related Steepster discussion thread too for a broader take, and see what those people say about them.  They don't know her, and aren't having free samples sent to them.

Singing Head, Shoulder, Knees and Toes (not about tea)