Wednesday, September 27, 2017

More direct tea producer sourcing

This is an edited section of a very long write-up about Tea Advice for Beginners (which other perspective and reference link sections in that), converted for posting by TChing, but similar to that original post section.

The general theme is more direct vendor sourcing options, how to buy tea that hasn't been bought and sold through an extensive wholesale sourcing chain.  Why not do that?  Each step adds cost but not value, and potentially limits the accurate information any one vendor in the chain has about the product.  You can still buy mediocre, over-priced, or falsely advertised tea directly from a tea producer, of course, so the same type of buyer-beware concerns still apply.

About shipping costs:  it probably wouldn't make sense to buy only 100-200 grams of tea from any overseas source, related to product pricing typically being lower but shipping higher.  Since shopping-cart style sites often show final pricing and shipping costs before check-out it might be possible to get an estimate of that before ordering.

To be clear, I'm advocating that people also support local physical shop options, since if you don't give some of your business to them you may lose that valuable resource.

Vendor sources

not making any claims is one way to avoid false claims (White2Tea)

Pu'er:  pu'er is mainly sold as either "factory tea" or as less mass-produced commissioned production versions (which is not an exhaustive list).  The main producer of factory pu'er is Tae Tea (also referred to as Dayi or Menghai), but with the focus here on sources I won't be going further into description of either category, or getting into tea claims and counterfeit tea issues.

A friend once described one main pu'er source, Yunnan Sourcing--now with a US branch--as the Wal-Mart of tea, which I think he meant in a good way, as saying the value is good and quality consistent.  They sell both types, their own commissioned versions and lots of factory teas.   White2Tea is more or less the other main pu'er vendor that sells their own teas, not described by origin per a marketing strategy that is a bit complicated to go into.

there are lots of online sources for fake pu'er

Farmerleaf:  This is a vendor and pu'er cake producer based out of Yunnan, that also resells other tea types.  I've reviewed some of their teas, and liked them, but to be honest my own pu'er experience is limited enough that I'm not the best person to put quality levels on a scale or judge regional type characteristics effectively.  Now that I think of it for the most part that goes for all tea types, and for taking advice about teas in general, from anyone.

Cindy with tea

Wuyi Origin:  an online friend, Cindy Chen, is a tea farmer in Wuyishan who now sells teas directly (the oolong type from there, Wuyi Yancha, and black teas, and some white, etc.).  They're not just any teas, but local award winning quality teas, much better versions than tend to turn up in tea shops, at least per my own experience.  There must be other examples of a real tea farmer setting up a direct sales site but it wouldn't come up often.

Hatvala:  As a Vietnam based reseller of local small-producer tea sources this isn't direct sales, just more direct.  It's a bit subjective but per my take their teas are great.  They also commission production of great jasmine black tea, Earl Grey, and lotus flower infused teas, a local type.

Kinnari Tea is a similar (but different) type of vendor selling local farmer-produced teas from Laos.  Their business back-story and the differences in relation to Hatvala are fascinating, but all too much to cover here.  Related reviews of teas sold by both in other posts tell parts of that story.

Gopaldhara and Toba Wangi are two other direct producers (in Darjeeling, India and Indonesia, respectively) that represent both options and limitations in buying tea directly.  Gopaldhara sells tea directly in India, and through other supporting external suppliers in all other locations, through various supply chains.  It's worth noting that large plantations anywhere will produce and sell a variety of teas, related to different local growing areas experiencing different micro-climates, and growing different tea plant types, etc.  Toba Wangi is a smaller producer in Indonesia that does sell teas directly (good teas, I might add), but mainly relies on other vendors and other types of supply outlets, and few of their products probably ever make it out of Asia.

101 tea plantation is an example of a main Thai producer that also sells tea directly.  Per my understanding there are only a half dozen main tea producers in Thailand, and although end customers wouldn't typically know it small online vendors are mostly selling comparable products from those few sources.

I've recently been reviewing Assam (Indian tea) from a small co-op producer (Assamica Agro), and there are good stories to pass on about Nepal tea sources that I also skipped (with one related source mentioned in this post).  That's far from an exhaustive list, more a sample of some of my favorite examples, selected to include a few source types and countries.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Wuyi Origin Jin Jun Mei, and a bit of origins background on me

Back to the quest for the unattainable in this blog, a simple review.  I've tried different versions of this tea type from Cindy before (Cindy Chen, oft-mentioned in this blog), comparison tasting three last year, so this will just be passing on how this experience goes, nothing new.

I've ran across a Reddit post of someone cross-reviewing different versions of this tea type not too long ago (possibly including this one, or at least a related tea also from Wuyi Origin).  And also the typical vendor claim that only a very limited range of versions are "real Jin Jun Mei," and everything almost everyone but them is selling is something else instead (or maybe also the other few vendors making similar claims, I guess).  I'd mention an example of a related claim but it would come across as blaming them, and there could be something to it, I'm just not buying it.

I didn't get a full description of the tea from Cindy, but if it's the same version as on their website then it's "2017 Honey Aroma Jin Jun Mei," which to be honest doesn't really mean anything to me.


not the best type of outing during getting over a cold

The dry tea smells rich, sweet, toffee-like, and a little earthy, with layers to what is going on in the scent.  Of course dry scent doesn't always match the brewed tea characteristics.  I'm still getting over a cold, the same one I had a week ago, probably because I went ice-skating last weekend before I was fully recovered.  Hopefully I've got enough sense of taste left to do this tasting justice; it's the usual feeling a bit off, not the full-blown version.

The first infusion is great; kind of what I expected.  The taste is rich and full, a bit sweet, with lots of layers of flavors coming across.  It's not as if one aspect hits you first; the impression is that there is a lot going on.  It's grounded by a very clean earthy range, towards mineral, a bit of the rock common to that region, but nothing like how that comes across in the oolongs.  A dark caramel or toffee fills in the sweetness (or it could seem a little like honey; I wrote that part after looking up the listing), joined by a roasted chestnut-like aspect.  Some of the sweetness traces off towards fresh roasted corn, but the tea doesn't really taste like corn, it's more the way that cooked sugar effect works out.

tea brewing in a gaiwan

As comes up regularly there is more to the experience that's hard to describe, something positive and a little unusual.  I'm reminded of former-blogger Amanda describing some Dian Hong as possessing a resinous quality; there is a richness and a feel to this tea that reminds me of such a thing, a way that it coats your tongue and remains as an aftertaste.  More will come up in the second round; it's often easier to tease apart the flavors based on a slightly stronger infusion (although still moderate, for this tea type, there's no call for brewing it strong), and experiencing the basic range first helps with sorting out finer level of details later.

I know I said I was going to keep this simple but now I'm curious what that one review said about it, so I'll take a look and copy it here before getting into the next round.  Typically I'll taste teas blind, but that just depends.  It's not that long so I'll cite the whole thing:

Wuyi Origin - 2017 Jinjunmei (honey aroma) Grade A

There were actually two teas that I tried from Wuyu Origin - the 2017 Jinjunmei (honey aroma) Grade A and 2017 Jinjunmei (honey aroma). I think they were very similar, with the Grade A being a bit sweeter, and maybe a bit more flavorful overall? The Wuyi Origin Jin Jun Mei is probably my favorite tea in general - I like this more than any others that I've tried (any kind of green, black, puerh, etc.). The dry leaf has notes of sweet bread, wood, and some kind of nuts (maybe almonds). After a rinse, the wet leaf has strong notes of chocolate and raisins. It still retains some of the notes of sweet breads/pastries that you could smell from the dry leaf as well. 

A first infusion has a great flavor - a subtle sweetness. Things like rose water, and sweet pastries come to mind. The taste is clean, and (maybe disappointingly) the tea doesn't exactly "coat" my mouth like some other more oily feeling teas would. Later infusions dull the sweetness, but a constant taste of fresh bread remains. Overall, this tea was relatively cheap compared to some of the other ones I've tried, which makes it easy for me if I want to get some more.

I would highly recommend this tea - even if you weren't looking to try Jin Jun Mei.  10/10

Nice complete reviewing, but without rambling on, a good balance.  Rose water, sweet pastries, and later fresh bread; maybe.  As far as this tea costing relatively little it was almost certainly the only version purchased directly from the producer.  The other teas had been bought and sold, perhaps multiple times, with every additional resale step adding cost but not value.

The next infusion has transitioned a bit, not less complex, but a little brighter and sweeter, a bit less earthy.  That resinous aspect (feel and taste related) did seem to shift a little towards yeast or pastry, with the roasted chestnut range dropping back.  I'm not sure about that gap in feel; it has diminished a little already, and it never did remind me lots of oiliness, more in between that and a typical roughness of astringency, on the novel side.

I think the interpretation-space is the issue here; I was calling something roasted chestnut that was probably alternatively interpreted as sweet pastry and fresh bread (assuming it is the same tea, which isn't a given, since they make more than one version, and he or she reviewed two of them), and I think both could sort of work.  I tried a Bai Ye dan cong black tea not long ago that wasn't far off related to that aspect, with it coming across more as baked sweet potato.  If you drink this tea and think "roasted sweet potato" that's it instead.  It's also not far off cocoa, just not exactly that.

I read through my own post comparing three Wuyi Origin JJM versions last year (a golden version, and one "good in soup," another "good in aroma").  I don't know which this would relate to; maybe the golden one.

This tea is thinning a little on the third infusion.  There is still plenty going on but the intensity and complexity have already leveled off a bit.  I've been using relatively long infusion times for the tea proportion, a good bit over a minute, and brewed very lightly the tea would stretch to produce twice as many.  This will still produce at least a couple more nice infusions, maybe even three of four, but I'd expect the flavor range to keep narrowing and for the taste to go towards woody or pine.

Some teas have an ideal brewed intensity that they work best at; I tend to notice that for Dan Cong or Wuyi Yancha (oolongs).  For others it really just depends on how someone prefers the tea; I guess various white teas work well for an example of that.  This one probably works well across a broad range, just balancing aspects differently.

Even with extending infusion time the tea is fading.  It's not going "off" in any way, maybe picking up a hint of coffee-like aspect versus the pastry / sweet potato range, more than becoming woody.  I'll keep brewing it but there won't be any more to say.

All in all it's another great tea, not so dissimilar to the same versions I tried last year.  I can relate to why that other reviewer rated it so highly, and per my own past experiences it would compare well to any other version of this tea type.  Unless this isn't Jin Jun Mei at all, and then who knows.

An unrelated post-script; about local Pennsylvania scenery and history

not exactly how I remember it

I mentioned being from the small town of Cranberry, PA in a recent post (hardly even a village, really).  That related to describing a tea as a little tart, and that high school mascot being a "super-berry."  A friend just posted some photos of visiting back there and I wanted to share what it looks like.

We would bike along the area in the pictures when I was younger, or even canoe there, getting dropped off in one place and floating along to another, sometimes the next day.  It was a different world then; we even did that without cell phones.  It's an area with a long history, well prior to Europeans visiting there.  The local Iroquois Native American people went by the name Seneca "Indians," which was also the name of the "town" that high school was located in (more or less just where some roads cross each other).

I've ran across a bit of that history in this local reference not long ago (referenced here).  That is related to another place known as Cranberry that's not that far away; funny how that worked out, but obvious enough why it would have, related to the berries growing in both places:

The Indians gathered and ate many kinds of wild plants and roots. They ate walnuts and hickory nuts, wild grapes and blackberries. In marshy areas, or bogs, along Brush Creek they gathered wild cranberries. They mashed the cranberries in dried venison, or deer meat, to make meat patties they called pemmican. They used cranberry juice as a dye...

...Another important Indian village was the Seneca Indian settlement of Venango. It was located at the mouth of the French Creek on the Allegheny River, about 50 miles north of Cranberry Township, where the town of Franklin is today. 

From Venango, the Indians could travel by canoe down the Allegheny River to visit and trade with Indians in downriver communities. One of those downriver villages was a Delaware Indian town called Shannopintown. It was located where Lawrenceville is today, about three miles upriver from downtown Pittsburgh.

Because the Allegheny is a swift, rocky river, the Indians could not easily return by canoe to their home village. Also, the Allegheny is such a winding river that the distance from Shannopintown back to Venango is much longer than a direct overland hike through the forests. So the Indians used a footpath, the Venango trail, to walk back to Venango.

That reference goes on to talk about George Washington visiting Venango during events leading up to the French and Indian war, nothing really so relevant to this tangent, so I'll leave it at sharing the pictures.

the Allegheny river (photo credits Mike Gibson, aka "Gibby")

not there quite yet but the area is beautiful in the fall, very colorful

old rail lines have been converted to bike paths

lots of National Forest and state game land around, just not here

Friday, September 15, 2017

Advice to beginners about tea

This subject has been coming up more than usual lately, related to talking about tea in two different places online, in the Tea Drinker's group on Facebook and the Reddit tea subforum.

It occurs to me in editing this that I would consider someone who had been drinking tea-bag tea for 20 years (Lipton's, Red Rose, PG Tips, Twinings, Celestial Seasonings blends) as a beginner when it comes to better, loose-leaf tea, or maybe even not yet introduced.  Tisanes, also known as herb teas, aren't even essentially the same subject, almost as unrelated as coffee.  I have nothing against those; I drank tisanes for a very long time before getting into tea, and still do from time to time.

I never felt like I was the right person to map it all out, how someone might or should approach tea.  I'm all over the place myself, trying different things, combining brewing process elements between the two main approaches (using hybrid styles), adjusting steeping time from infusion to infusion, messing with water temperature.  It's not as if I'm even rigid on the basics, and vary all that within a narrow range to judge the effect, I kind of tend to wing it.  That is based on four to five years of drinking lots of teas, and research and discussion, and a few years of background with loose teas prior to that.  Related to just the point about brewing of course some types of teas more or less require a standard Gongfu approach on their own (sheng pu'er, wuyi yancha, or dan cong, for example).

All the same I've been mentioning some basics, and cover more here.  This runs long so I'll summarize it all to start.

-Answers to two social media group questions on tea basics, one an overview of issues related to tea (general types, brewing categories, etc.)

-Thoughts on perspective evolution in tea, how the experience curve tends to go

-Tea references:  a summary of some favorite online tea references

-Tea sourcing:  some thoughts on sourcing issues (vendors), with more specifics on direct sourcing options

I might say a little about my background with tea, not along the lines of bragging about depth of experience, but as an example of one more random path into it.  Around seven years ago we visited a small coffee grower in Laos, and I bought tea there, not at all appreciating seeing those plants grow since I was more into coffee then.  Since I live in Bangkok tea is around here, but not as popular as one might expect (beyond the matcha, bubble-tea, and such).  A work trip to China five years ago really got it started, seeing a Huawei company presentation of Gongfu tea preparation, and later picking up some tea at a shop while I waited on others in a market / mall area.

That brewing presentation seemed a bit much, complete with a lot about pouring tea over small "tea pets" to enable making wishes, and drinking wispy-thin light-brewed tea I wasn't accustomed to appreciate.  Tea can be about what you want it to be about though, relating to ceremony, or religion, collecting teaware as a form of art, or just about drinking something healthy and interesting in the morning.

a Huawei tea presentation (not the one I was at, photo credit)

Reddit tea sub-forum question:  How can I step up my tea drinking?

I'll let an edited version of the question serve as the introduction:

I bought 4 different green teas from Tee Gschwendner in Germany. They are called "Japan Sencha", "China Gunpowder", "Südindien [=South India] Singampatti Spring", "Nepal Ilam Mao Feng". I was told they are all pure green tea leaves (no additives). Did I get some good teas for a start? Anyways, I love them and I am starting to get better and better to distinguish the differents between those teas.

At the moment I brew my water in a normal electric kettle, wait an estimated time and put the tea in. I put the tea leaves into something we call a Tee Ei (in english: Tea egg) [editor's note:  seems to be an infuser ball]... 

My question now is, how I can improve the tea drinking? I see you people post a lot of pictures of different 'cups','kettles' and all that stuff, but for a new tea drinker this is an overwhelming amount of information.

That's already a much better start than one might expect; a clear description of a starting point, clarifying some background issues, getting a little specific about trials and process, pointing towards brewing device issues as a particular interest--just great.

Initial comments went in different directions, as one might expect.  One main split seemed to be that two people recommended using a gaiwan and yixing clay pot and others weren't clear that made sense initially (to move into Gongfu style brewing versus Western style).  Instead of picking a couple of specifics I tried to map out a range of general subjects, the basic themes that come up.  I sort of regretted that by the time I was half finished, since the whole general scope of what tea is all about is too broad to summarize.  Here is is though:

It is funny how fast the input diversifies, isn't it? Any one of these ideas is fine but taken together it all includes some contradictions. You need to sort out a landscape of some basics, to get a feel for how many different sub-themes and branches within those you are up against. Related to the tea itself you've got a start on green, and black tea and oolong would make sense to explore next. White and pu'er are the other main categories, and those can wait.

Black tea branches into CTC (ground up, more machine processed) and orthodox, and there's nothing wrong with CTC tea except that it's more astringent (it's what is in tea bags), and you'll probably move past that quickly. Oolong splits into rolled styles, which are then either lighter / greener or roasted, and twisted styles, generally roasted. You might try a rolled style lighter oolong first then go from there (a Chinese Anxi area Tie Kuan Yin or something such; Taiwanese oolongs often fall in this category, or roasted versions of those are also nice).

Picking out one style / type of black tea is harder than it might seem at first, although they're not as complicated as they seem (a bit of a contradiction). If you pick them randomly from lower end sources you could be at it awhile before you find one that suits you, but decent versions aren't necessarily that expensive. I don't mean this as a purchasing suggestion but I like Dian Hong, Yunnan (Chinese region) black tea, with some listed here (and pu'er; you'll get to that):

Western-style infuser basket based device (lid doubles as basket saucer)

On to brewing: there are two branches, Western style and Gongfu style. You are using Western (a low proportion of leaves to water, in a teapot, or infuser device, or even a french press / plunger would work, at something like a teaspoon of tea to a cup ratio). 

Gongfu uses a higher proportion of tea to water, multiple infusions (a lot, versus only 2 or 3 for Western brewing), and different devices (a gaiwan or clay pot, of which "yixing" is a type). Western works ok for black and green tea, pu'er is touchier, not as suitable for that. Oolongs vary some by types but in general rolled styles would work fine brewed Western style, maybe some a little better Gongfu style later.

black tea infusing in gaiwan (Gongfu style brewing)

Reddit tea subforum temperature guideline

Besides proportion (which ties to the two types of equipment) temperature and timing are the other main factors. Green teas brew better in cooler water, maybe around 75 C / 170 F, but it's never that simple, the ideal varies by tea type and preference.  There's no need to overdo it with optimizing brewing, getting the proportion, timing, and temperature perfect, just get it all to work and adjust from there. Preparing oolongs and black tea at boiling point would work, or often a little under for both, maybe 90 C or so (again varying by tea type and personal preference).

No matter what you do don't try to drink the ocean. It's nice to botch brewing and try so-so teas at first because it helps support a path of continually drinking better tea for a long time. Those Mei Leaf introductory youtube videos [that another comment mentioned] are fine but a physical shop is good if you can find one for purchasing. Then you can talk to a human about teas and brewing tea, and once you narrow things down just a little more buy teas online. If things feel strange related to buying a tea just back off or only buy a small amount, or even samples if that works (even 15 grams would let you try a tea more than once).  Sources vary a lot in terms of price and value, and match to preference is always an issue, and you don't want to stockpile tea you don't like.

A next comment rejected part of that input as valid, claiming that person wasn't a fan of the Tee Gschwendner shops or other local German shop options (which of course I have no opinion about; I'm an American living in Bangkok).  I did agree that online sources of both information and tea may be superior.  That brings up a funny point, doesn't it, related to what different people might be looking for in teas.  For some value is a main concern; for others it's not really an issue at all, and quality is the main focus.  People tend to experience a preference and experience curve related to tea, and it probably doesn't work to say that tea quality is experienced in the same ways by everyone, or that it should be.

at a Bangkok Chinatown shop (Jip Eu) with the owners and a local tea celebrity

One reason online advice could be really hard to gauge is that every statement and idea could be clearly right in one context and wrong in another.  It's quite possible that visiting a shop is one of the best ways to discuss tea with someone who is knowledgeable about the subject, and to try teas, and also that all the shops in a certain area could be very poorly suited for that.  There isn't much scope for discussion where the same kind of problem can't turn up, a direct contradiction in a most likely best approach.

that Bai Ye "dan cong" black tea

As an example related to brewing, I just said in that comment advice that black tea is typically fine prepared Western style, not so different than prepared using a Gongfu approach.  I last reviewed two completely different black teas that isn't true for, a "dan cong" Bai Ye black from the Guangdong province in China, and a "honey black" tea from Taiwan.  I had prepared the Taiwanese tea a few times using Western brewing and was surprised how much better it turned out using a Gongfu brewing approach instead, and at a guess the same result would apply to the Chinese "Bai Ye" tea as well.

As a general rule the better the black tea the more it might make sense to use Gongfu brewing instead, but there would probably be counter-examples to that as well.  Trying different approaches tells the story.  Before going too far with those lines of thought, lets switch back to the original subject of tea types, related to comments and discussion somewhere else online.

Tea Drinkers FB group discussion of black teas, and exploring tea in general

Someone asked about others' favorite types of black teas in post, saying that theirs is Earl Grey (bergamot orange oil flavored black tea).  In a lot of tea enthusiast groups, or the Tea Chat forum, or to some extent on the Reddit subforum, that would lead straight to discussion of the types of teas I've been reviewing (if not the specific examples).  These would include Darjeeling, Dian Hong (Yunnan China black teas), Lapsang Souchong and Jin Jun Mei (Fujian China black teas), and similar range Taiwanese types.  I've been reviewing Assam lately; that wouldn't be as common, in either beginner oriented groups or those closer to the opposite of that.  In that discussion most answers were closer to the Earl Grey starting point, about breakfast blends, flavored teas, suppliers of blended black tea types, and from there onto Darjeeling, Ceylon and such.  Someone even mentioned Lipton; that is an option.

As I see it two distinct levels of tea experiences and preferences emerge, two extremes, really, with most people grouped closer to one end or the other.  Closer to the range of Lipton commercial versions and blends tend to be more widely available, many in grocery stores.  These are perhaps more suitable for people starting to explore the subject, but of course it would be possible to drink these types of teas all your life.  There seems to be a relatively distinct other approach to tea, related to trying to explore the original, foreign tea drinking traditions, and to pursue experiencing other types of teas.  I mentioned that in response to a recent question about exploring types of teas further (not so different than the Reddit thread idea):

One thing that might seem strange is that if you look at the responses recommending types of black teas (for example, since someone just asked here) in this group and in another one the answers will be completely different. I don't want to say that tea drinkers are on different levels but the perspective on tea can vary a lot. In a lot of circles "tea enthusiasts" tend to only drink plain, single source, orthodox, better quality teas and this group is more inclined towards people that drink commercial products (grocery store versions versus specialty vendor versions), blends of teas, more CTC versus orthodox, more blends of teas (with other teas or herbs) or flavored teas versus "plain" versions. 

It might seem natural for me to try to move this background observation towards some conclusion, but that's not the point here. After enough exposure someone would probably prefer single-type teas, and not drink versions from grocery stores or flavored teas at all, or much in the way of blends, but in one sense they're not better (although in a different sense they sort of are). I guess all of this is by way of explaining that "which loose teas are the best?" isn't really as simple a question as it first seems; one possible answer is that whichever tea you like best is best for you.

Farmerleaf vendor black matai (Dian Hong, Yunnan black tea)

Perspective evolution:  where the subject leads from there

So two different themes are coming up:  people are in different places related to types of tea, prior exposure, and current preferences.  The same sets of concerns apply for people with different interests or levels of exposure (where they are in a preference development curve), but the details vary a lot. 

Not only simply related to tea quality expectations, two natural ranges of perspective seem to emerge:  

1.  tea should be a simple thing, being only a beverage.  Although experiencing a lot and preferences changing is normal--and positive--the "more is better" approach isn't justified, and the tea-master related themes are off-putting.  Some people want to find and brew better tea but they don't necessarily want to embrace foreign tea cultures or move on to collecting anything, or take up a study habit.

2.  tea is a positive thing, the more positive the more you experience of it.  Going further with knowledge and exposure is better, and much further is much better.  Based on this starting point perspective it would make sense for a complete beginner to use a gaiwan or to begin to collect yixing clay teapots, or to try to buy the best teas they could possibly find, even if limited awareness makes understanding types, sourcing them, and optimizing brewing problematic.

Of course some people are in the middle, embracing a limited range of complexity instead, not just going with the all-in "more is better" approach.  There are people moving beyond grocery store teas and blends into plain tea types that aren't necessarily reading tea blogs or taking up aspects of Taoism.  I do recommend reading the Tao Te Ching but it's sort of a different subject.  Expense comes up as one potential limitation, at some point, and shelves of art-quality gear or aging pu'er really do represent investment-level commitment.  The divide comes up well before that, but a tangent helps put it in perspective.

The $5-7 a cup of coffee might cost--here in Thailand too; Starbucks is now a global standard for that--goes pretty far towards dry loose tea.  To be more specific, most medium quality loose tea costs in the range of $8 - $14 per 50 grams, or even lower, so that cup of coffee expense equates to 25 grams of medium quality loose tea.  It's not as simple as it might seem to say how many grams of dry tea equate to one cup but roughly speaking it would prepare at least a dozen cups of tea.  Move down to the lower cost end of that loose tea range and the cost is more equivalent to that of soda, or even much less than soda bought from a vending machine.  But of course it's not just about expense, or not even mostly about that.

shou mei compressed white tea cake (so many types to try)

I can relate to both takes.  Since this is a tea blog and I review somewhat uncommon types of teas every week I've broken towards embracing the complexity, but even for me there are limitations to that.  I don't have shelves of tea gear at home; I tend to use the same half dozen devices all the time, and I didn't spend a lot on those.  When people talk about how many pounds or kilograms their tea stash might amount to I can't really relate.  In some of those cases people are discussing owning significant quantities of types they are no longer so interested in, not just about holding onto teas that improve with age.

I try to keep it simple, and keep drinking what I have, roughly as fast as I buy tea (or at least give some away to balance that part back out).  I would have a couple of kilograms worth of pu'er, shou mei and other compressed white tea, hei cha, etc. around for longer term storage but not much at all as pu'er enthusiasts go.  I've been meaning to ramp that up for awhile.

Trying teas and hoarding are only part of the landscape of ideas, though, with the early learning curve more about other basics, gear, and how to brew it.  Is it ok for that guy to stick with using a tea-ball infuser, or not?  It's up to him, of course, and again the answer depends on perspective.  I suppose even an English-style ceramic teapot may prepare slightly better tea than an infuser ball, related to giving the leaves more space to mix freely with the water.  Or an infuser basket, or French press, or any other equivalent device should work better.  Really it seems equivalent to use a coffee mug with a saucer placed on it (to prevent volatile compounds from evaporating off), strained into a second mug, but you never hear anyone admit that.

I guess I'm saying people should be fine with where they are for preference, and perhaps be aware if there are options just beyond that range that might suit them well.  Drinking tea-bag tea is pushing it; producers put low quality tea dust in those things, and dust doesn't brew well for a set of different reasons.  It gets to be a long story but the health claims people make about tea--which can also be problematic--probably apply less to the lowest cost, lowest quality commercial versions.

From here I'm going to move past this type of general perspective and offer suggestions on references, and after that touch on the subject of tea sourcing, which I won't get far with.

Tea references

There are many!  I'm not going to try to establish a comprehensive list, just to sketch out some ideas, with focus here on my own favorites.  Really it's not necessary to study the subject of tea to enjoy drinking tea.  It does help to know how to brew it, and trying less familiar types requires some degree of knowledge of what those are.  For me the study is almost like a separate interest than the tea drinking experience.  Discussing tea online could be viewed as a third interest, and the reviewing and writing is a fourth (although I really break it into liking the experience of tea and also all the rest).

This would probably be most helpful separated into what a beginner should know first, related to basics about brewing and types, and then on from there.  This section mentions what sources cover what but it's not divided up in experience-level sub-divisions in that way.

Of course the discussion groups I've been mentioning are references of a sort; someone could ask questions or take part in tea-themed discussion there.  Facebook tea groups and a Reddit sub-forum already came up, and I helped found and admin for one Facebook tea group, International Tea Talk.  Tea Drinkers works as an example of a good beginner-oriented FB group, and Gong Fu Cha represents the opposite end of that spectrum well, for people already well-introduced to the subject.

Steepster site tea review listing

Some other favorite reference sites include Steepster and Tea Chat.  The first is primarily a site designed to retain, organize, and share tea reviews, also with a discussion section.  Tea Chat is a subject themed forum site, the standard version with individual threads grouped by section.  Both are searchable, so both work a lot better for subject reference than Facebook tea groups.  There is a search-function bar in Facebook groups but of course the topics scroll down related to when each was last posted or commented on, without any subject sub-divisions.

Blogs are another type of reference.  These are typically related to individual tea reviews, but themes for them vary.  One of my favorites, Steep Stories, does reviews, but also introduces novel tea origin sources and tells stories.  Tea Geek and World of Tea are reference blogs instead (both well worth a look).  Tea for Me Please is a blog review site that also includes a lot of introduction reference, review of types, brewing coverage, etc.  I also contribute to TChing; that's an unusual type of tea blog, a multiple contributor site set up more like a news page than a personal blog, except the posts vary, and most aren't news.  "Classic" blogs are a personal favorite type of mine, perspective references that have been around more than a few years.  Tea Addict's Journal is a good example, also a good subject theme reference that's set up to be searchable, with that one more focused on commentary than tea review (and more inclined towards pu'er).

Sometimes vendor blog pages include a lot of good information, or sometimes those are just marketing content.  The Mei Leaf / China Life introduction videos, already mentioned, are a good example (a mix of both themes, I suppose, but the basic information content there is good).  There are lots of others.  If someone really likes one they might follow that as with personal blogs or news-page sites, but these also tend to come up in Google subject searches if a reference is particularly good.  Hojo's content seems better than average, to cite an example, although in some cases that tends to adopt minority positions on some finer points.  Farmer Leaf's Youtube videos are a good example of intermediate content, more related to pu'er background.

There are other types of references but not that many exceptional examples that require a long list to cover.

Global Tea Hut (long story what that is) publishes a magazine that's quite good, but I'm not familiar with an index or search function that helps organize that.  It's really designed to be a part of a subscription program, so something like a typical magazine subscription but along with tea.

Tea Journey is a by-subscription tea magazine, with some free content available.

World Tea News is a tea news site, associated with training services and the main annual tea expo event.

Teapedia is a tea themed wiki site.  I've seen at least one other one before but as I recall that didn't stay active.

I'll leave it at that; those would represent the main tea sites I would end up visiting regularly.  Google + groups had a lot of potential before that whole social media platform essentially went dormant.  Of course tea themes come up in places like Instagram and Twitter, not usually related to groups or reference sites.

Vendor sources

It's a bit odd to talk about sources without doing more with discussing types, regional origins and other broad categories (black, green, oolong, white, hei cha), and what doesn't fit well into those categories, or the main specific types of teas (Longjing, a Chinese green tea, Taiwanese high mountain oolong, etc.).  All that is just too much, so I'll not include it.

I'll keep this general, related to discussing source, because otherwise I'd list out my own favorites, and that biases heavily towards vendors who send samples for review.  Along that line it's important to keep biases in mind when considering references to vendors; some of those wouldn't tend to lead to bad recommendations but that could come up.  I will drift into more specifics here related to discussing a subject of particular interest to me:  more direct sourcing.  In some limited cases it's possible to buy tea from vendors that are the tea producer or one step away from the production, versus through longer supply chain based sources.  Specific recommendations here are meant to represent potential general channels as much as endorsing these sources, but based on my own experience the vendors I do mention are all good options, within the range of types they sell.

Per the other earlier discussion I think local physical shops make for one main starting point.  Searching those isn't as simple as it might be.  Adagio (a vendor) included a Tea Map section along with that Tea Chat discussion forum but it seemed focused on the US, and doesn't seem to be completely up to date (Steepster's version also seems a bit limited, based on checking Bangkok listings there, or maybe it just doesn't work as a reference in Thailand).  Google search or even Google Map search are a bit rough but those would work.

Google Maps "tea" search in Bangkok

It's repetitive for people to keep asking for shop leads in different groups but that is another path to take.  Local Facebook tea interest groups make for an interesting alternative; if you live in NYC or LA groups based out of those places would be a more natural place to ask around, or there is one for Colorado.  Those kind of groups tend to be smaller (very small, really), and less active, but you would really only need input from one good contact to find out about shops.

Pittsburgh Tea Association map (credit their site; I guess Google might mention such group leads)

There are literally countless online tea vendors.  Sometimes for a specific subject or type a couple tend to emerge as more standard options (as for Yunnan Sourcing--now with a US branch--and White2Tea for pu'er, both of which I'm not going into further detail about here), but more typically that doesn't happen.  Teavana and David's Tea would stand out as larger corporate options for purchasing blends, both associated with physical shop chains, but per relatively widespread recent news Teavana is closing up shop.

From there less standard, larger scale options emerge than one might expect.  There are few cases where online discussion of well-established, major sources doesn't lead to positive comments and also claims the teas are generally low quality, a poor value, and deceptively marketed.  It seems better to try and compare alternative sources and sort things out that way, and to not get locked into using only one supplier since it may turn out that better teas are available elsewhere for less.

More direct sourcing is a particularly interesting subject theme, to me.  Of course it's hard to find any vendor that doesn't make claims related to them being a relatively more direct source, supporting ethical and sustainable production, etc., etc.  But it's very rare that a tea producer would actually sell tea.  I'll mention some exceptions, which would serve as good leads, also intended here as an indication that other exceptions do exist.

A general word of warning first:  if someone claims to be a foreign tea farmer in a social media group there's a good chance that they're not one.  Why does that matter?  If you are buying tea directly from a farmer they know under what conditions it was grown.  Perhaps even more relevant, if someone is buying tea through a typical wholesale distribution channel (from a local market or wholesale vendor, for example) that tea may have been bought and sold a few times already, with each step adding cost.  And it's less likely to be higher quality tea, because those sorts of outlets will sell low to medium quality level versions for a lot less, enabling a better mark-up.

one way to be sure there are no false claims:  don't make any (White2Tea)

If a vendor isn't who they say they are it also becomes a lot more likely that online contact or a reseller at a prior step is buying tea that's one thing and selling it as another, or that any one vendor in the chain may not even know exactly what it is (where it was really grown, for example, or what year it was produced in).  It's relatively common knowledge that more tea is sold as products from Taiwan and Japan than those countries actually produce.

Just because a tea has definitely only been bought and re-sold once before you buy it, or even if you happen to really come in contact with a farmer, that is no guarantee that the tea is better, or that the description of it is accurate.  I guess this is sort of where knowing more about tea than is really necessary can come into play; the more you know and have already experienced the more you can watch out for.

On to mentioning some relatively direct-source examples.

Cindy with tea

Wuyi Origin:  an online friend, Cindy Chen, is a tea farmer in Wuyishan who now sells teas directly.  They're not just any teas, but local award winning quality teas, much better versions than tend to turn up in tea shops, at least per my own experience.  There must be other examples of a real tea farmer setting up a direct sales site, but I'm not aware of any.

If Wuyi Yancha (roasted twisted oolong) or Fujian black teas aren't familiar her site is a good introduction to what they are.  They also sell Dan Cong due to her husband's family producing tea there.  That relates to another good way to identify if a vendor is who they say they are:  someone carrying lots of types of teas from lots of source areas is almost certainly not closely linked to all the producers of those teas (although there are exceptions to every generality).  If someone has never tried any Wuyi Yancha (a general oolong category from there) it wouldn't be right to start with Wuyi Origin teas, much better to try a few in a normal range to get a feel for what some typical flaws are like before trying a better version.

Farmerleaf:  this is more typical of how relatively more direct sales would go; a French tea enthusiast moved to Yunnan and married a local woman involved in the tea industry there and started a resale business, with some pu'er processing input of their own.  That last point relates to an intermediate step other vendors take in production:  commissioned production of tea, particularly pu'er cakes.  In that limited sense lots of vendors are now tea producers, hopefully with sufficient control and oversight in place so that what they describe is actually what they are selling.  In some cases it's obviously not; rejecting unrealistic tea-tree age claims is a favorite recurring theme in tea groups.  I've tried and reviewed some of their teas (which also leads back to the bias I'd mentioned) and their black teas (Dian Hong) are worth a look, and pu'er seemed good for the value-oriented pricing.

Hatvala:  this vendor represents another variation of direct sales, as a Vietnam based reseller of local small-producer tea sources.  It's not direct sales, in the sense that farmers aren't selling the tea, but teas are not passing through a multi-level aggregator and wholesale vendor supply chain.  It's a bit subjective but per my take their teas are great.

They also commission production of some truly unique versions of flavored teas:  jasmine flower infused tea (the real versions, including a black tea type I've only seen commonly consumed in Indonesia), Earl Grey, and lotus flower infused teas.  To me it wouldn't make sense to buy only 100-200 grams of tea from them, although an online contact here in Thailand just did exactly that, but since that link is a sales site it's easy to click through and see how lower tea pricing and higher tea shipping costs work out in the end.

Gopaldhara and Toba Wangi are two other direct producers (in Darjeeling and Indonesia, respectively) that represent both options and limitations in buying tea directly.  Gopaldhara sells tea directly in India, and through other supporting external suppliers in all other locations, through various supply chains.  It's worth noting that large plantations anywhere will produce and sell a variety of different teas, related to different small growing areas experiencing different micro-climates, to growing different tea plant types, etc.  Toba Wangi is a smaller producer in Indonesia that does sell teas directly (good teas, I might add), but mainly relies on other vendors and other types of supply outlets to sell their teas, few of which probably make it out of Asia.

101 tea plantation is an example of a main Thai producer that also sells tea directly.  Per my understanding there are only a half dozen main tea producers in Thailand, and although end customers wouldn't typically know it small online vendors are mostly selling comparable products from those few sources.  Someone could click on that site link and buy tea, a couple hundred grams or 100 kilograms, I'd expect, but the names of such sources tend to just not come up.  The same type of thing happens here in Bangkok:  tea is resold without the source being cited, but more frequently through tea-booth sales (physical outlets) instead of websites, or Aliexpress (Amazon/ Ebay-like shops), etc.

there are lots of online sources for fake pu'er


That's a lot to cover; I hope some of it is helpful.  This blog serves a number of different purposes (eg. a way for me to keep track of reviews of teas, or references), but helping others with their own exploration is a part of the hobby.

I could address other specific questions through message through a FB page for this blog, or in comments here.  Or routing a more public version through Quora might be interesting (my profile there), and then others could answer it too (or in that International themed FB group).  I've already talked a little about basic tea issues there in Quora, and caffeine and fluoride, two subjects I researched related to other posts here.

Good luck with your own exploration.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Bai Ye Varietal Dan Cong black tea, and a Taiwanese honey black

Bai Ye Dan Cong black tea

Lin Mao Sen Taiwanese honey black

In ordering a set of various hei cha from Yunnan Sourcing not so long ago I added a Bai Ye plant type based Dan Cong black tea.  That was based on the recommendation of the friend who suggested the one shou puer in the first place, Rodino Ayala.  He would also be a good reference for tea in Indonesia, where he had lived not so long ago, or Las Vegas, where he is now.

Let's back up and formally introduce the teas:  one is a Bai Ye varietal ("Dan Cong") black tea from Yunnan Sourcing.  I'll comparison taste that with a honey black tea from Lin Mao Sen (with the a Facebook page here), a physical shop in Taipei, Taiwan.

That Taipei shop is beautiful; it would be worth it just to visit for the visual experience (with more on it in this travel-themed post), and also more than worth it to visit for the tea there.  They're a wholesale oriented vendor but sell in retail down to a level of 150 grams per sales item, or one quarter "jin." The teaware selection there is so extensive that it's hard to visually take it in.  Per usual I was in a hurry there, how I always experience vacation outings, so I sort of just didn't.

that Taipei shop; credit their FB photos

still on that shop; lots of teaware

It's strange it hasn't come up but I've not tried a black tea from this region (Guangdong province, where Dan Cong is from).  Of course it's better known for oolong, but it's not exactly a rare type of tea, still not that far off being a standard type.  I just hadn't got around to it.

I try teas somewhat organically; I'm not in a hurry to move through all the main types, and get to what I get to.  There's a loose queue of types I'd like to try, as with checking out more hei cha recently, and Assam teas, but it's a long enough list that I'll never get to all of them as fast as the list grows.  Pu'er exploration lags a bit, and I plan to get back to Japanese teas more later.

Why try the two teas together, one might wonder.  In cases where teas are common it helps separate finer aspects out, and makes them stand out.  If there isn't much commonality the contrast can be interesting but in general it's not helpful, and reviews will contain less description detail, typically with feel and aftertaste aspect descriptions falling by the wayside.  I've just been wondering how the styles compare myself, and although two individual versions don't stand in as ideal type representatives--they're whatever they happen to be, both due to being type-typical and other factors--it's a start on determining that.

I'll mention dry tea scent in this part and then move on to review.  The Bai Ye black is very fruity, a complex scent that seemed to include some grape range, with lots going on beyond that.  The Taiwanese tea is also sweet but richer and warmer, more like a raisin danish.  They might not be all that similar but at least I'll be trying two good teas together.  Even the color of the dry leaves says more about differences than common ground; the Bai Ye is inky dark, with small leaves tightly twisted, and the honey black is browner with some tips.  I've drank this Taiwanese black tea a half dozen times so it's familiar; that will help limit crowding experiential space for the analysis.


a superberry

The Bai Ye tea is just great.  It's sweet, rich, complex, and fruity.  A bit of tartness gives it a nice counter to all that, as if a touch of cranberry is one of the fruit aspects (which is the name of my home town, by the way, Cranberry, PA).  The fruit I picked up in scent as grape really is more in the cranberry range, but there is a touch of raisin to it.  There's a depth of flavors and aspect range beyond that, other fruit, a warm tone, a rich caramel layer.

The flavor complexity is so great I'd probably even interpret some of the rest in the background as floral, just nothing I can pin down as a specific flower.  I guess this tea could be seen as fantastic or not very good depending on how someone related to that tartness, which isn't all that common in black teas, at least not expressed like that, related to my memory of past experiences.  I'll go a little longer on the second infusion and see how it transitions and if I can separate out more that's going on.  I suspect some of the complexity relates to a mineral layer too, since my impression is there is lots of flavor range to this tea, but it's not clear that's right.

Bai Ye left, honey black right (different)

The honey black is completely different; so much for comparison making sense.  It seems a little better than I remember from making it last time; I think the tea does well if you bump up the proportion and cut the brewing time and brew a more intense, richer version.  Made in a straight Western style it's a bit thin, and comes across as more woody, but ramps up intensity without necessarily increasing brew strength a lot through more of a Gongfu approach (in the middle, really) helps the rest come across.  I am getting plenty of cinnamon raisin danish in the flavors.  It's not really tart at all, so different than the other in that regard.  It's about the same for sweetness level, and both are rich and complex, just quite different in character.  It's not as bright, and the flavors range is completely different.  There is fruit to it as well, but more along the lines of apple cider (so I guess there could be a faint hint of tartness, but in comparison none at all).

Again for this tea someone might love or hate it depending on type preference.  It's different, maybe even more than the extent to which different teas are always different.  On the down-side someone could interpret part of that flavor range as cork instead of apple cider / raisin danish, and that wouldn't necessarily be wrong.  Or maybe it's both.  The richness and complexity remind me of different ways that versions of malt come across in tea but to me it's not malty, in any sense (not Assam edgier mineral malty or Jin Xuan black tea ovaltine malty, which was showing up a little in those hei cha).

One strength of other types of teas, or limitation of black teas, from the reverse perspective, is that they can taste nice but flavor is what there is to experience, you drink it and it goes.  High mountain oolongs have a rich, full feel and long aftertaste; Wuyi Yancha have lots going on, seemingly extending into subconscious levels of exposure, aligning your chakras or whatever else.  Pu'er spans a broad range beyond those for taste, aftertaste, mouthfeel, and drug-like effects.  There is some fullness to both these teas, and I'm noticing that the Bai Ye flavor sticks around well after you swallow it.  If anything that tartness, sweetness, complexity and richness hits you when you first sip the tea and then a second time after you swallow it, with the effect transitioning afterwards.  It's not like with some types of sheng pu'er, where the aftertaste is almost stronger than the taste, and the experience doesn't re-intensify by taking another sip within five minutes since it's still going on anyway, but it's not exactly there and gone.

Second infusion

As I see it I'm brewing these teas in between Western style and Gongfu style, not ideal for passing on the type of experience others could duplicate, but it's not rocket science to work out a proportion and timing in between the two.  It's a little odd that I'm using a Western device, an infuser basket and cup, for the Bai Ye, and a gaiwan for the honey black, so this really isn't a controlled experiment, even though I have supreme confidence in myself to brew teas from instinct.  Judging from how these are doing early on both these teas might be much better suited for Gongfu style brewing than Western.  Often for black teas the results are similar, or in some rare cases Western works better, but it works best to check that by brewing teas different ways to know for sure.

I get it about most other people being on the other side of that, and using very standard approaches, for two different sets of reasons.  Some people newer to tea would want to follow whatever approach is considered best and get brewing right, or others with lots of experience could have dialed in forms based on a lot of exposure.  It probably wouldn't be atypical for people to prepare these Gongfu style, even though they are black teas.  As partial explanation for using non-standard approaches (hybrid forms),  I started out mixing tisanes randomly 25 years ago, and started on brewing loose teas by instinct in the range of 9 years ago.  I'm an engineer, which I guess could connect with me experimenting a lot to see what works, versus taking a rigid standard approach.  To me it's like cooking; some people use recipes, and go line by line, and I absolutely don't, I just wing it.  Except for making chocolate chip cookies; I'm not crazy (although those can be re-engineered, to an extent).

The Bai Ye hasn't transitioned much; it still has a good bit of fruit going on, paired with a tartness that works, with complexity below that, a sort of rich caramel range that is similar to that found in roasted teas.  This really does taste like a black tea version of a Dan Cong; that part isn't disappointing.  Those can be different in lots of ways, the oolongs, more subtle, or quite intense, fruity or floral, smooth, or a bit edgy, with tartness and a unique type of astringency bite.  This tea is more straightforward.  Since I'm not getting anywhere with describing changes this might be a good place to check the Yunnan Sourcing description of it:

"Bai Ye" (lit. White Leaf) Dan Cong is grown in Ling Tou village in the north of Raoping County (Guangdong Province).  Bai Ye Dan Cong varietal plants are special in curved large appearance with light yellow-green crowns.  The aroma has both Flower and Honey characteristics with a heavy pungent nectar quality.  The taste is thick and pure with a sweet after-finish.

Our Bai Ye dan Cong was picked in late April 2017 and processed through May. Instead of being processed like Dan Cong Oolong, this teas was processed into Black Tea by wilting in small cloth bags in the sun and then shade.  The resulting tea is incredibly complex and unique.  Bai Ye Hong Cha has thick sweetness and a very pronounced baked sweet potato taste that lasts many many infusions. 

He's probably right; that is sweet potato.  That tartness had pulled my interpretation of it elsewhere, since sweet potatoes definitely aren't tart, but I agree, that captures the rest beyond the tartness better than I did.  Baked yams come out a little richer and heavier, if I'm remembering the two right, and this is lighter and brighter than that, so sweet potato it is.  It's funny how the power of suggestion works, how interpretation goes.  They sell fresh roasted Japanese sweet potatoes in high end grocery stores here--priced way higher than any root vegetable sells for, several times over the normal rate; they turn that scent-experience into an impulse sale opportunity--and this is a good bit like that.  Even the raisin-like sweetness and touch of caramel are parts of that overall experience, natural results of roasting the sweet potatoes.  Strip that touch of tartness away and it's exactly like roasted sweet potato.

It's a bit of a shock to my palate drinking the Taiwanese honey black after this.  The two overlap so little it makes no sense drinking them together, and the contrast doesn't seem to inform much, but it is interesting.  The cinnamon-raisin danish effect is a lot stronger, and the spice tone has moved into a bit more range.  I just reviewed a tulsi (holy basil) and Assam green tea blend, and went into how licorice root seemed to relate to one flavor element, and the Wikipedia article said that flavor compound range shares some common ground with anise, star anise, and fennel.  Of all of those this reminds me the most of fennel, the one related aspect, which is only a secondary part of what's going on.

That probably sounds strange, that a tea that tastes like cinnamon raisin danish also tastes like a vegetable that's between licorice and celery, but it kind of does.  It's got complexity.  Brewed differently all of that would drift a lot further towards cardboard, or at least balsa wood; it wouldn't work nearly as well.  It's funny how for some teas it's hard to get them to express a broader range of character and for others they naturally shift a lot, based on only small changes in brewing approach.  This tea's aspects balance well but it is unusual, and it makes a big difference related to getting it right.  For some black teas using cooler water helps the flavors balance better, shifting the distribution of astringency and brighter, sweeter flavors, but I think this needs to stay brewed in the normal hotter range (perhaps a bit off full boiling point though) to keep that caramel or toffee element balancing the spice and earthiness, and to draw out more of the earthiness and structure.  There's not much astringency to be concerned about in either of these teas, really.

Being four relatively full glasses of tea in it's a judgement call going for another round (I'm brewing these in between the two styles, but using a good bit of tea and water for both).  Using small gaiwans works a lot better for comparison tasting; my instinct for what will work for brewing isn't always paired with foresight for how it's all going to play out.  I'm reminded of doing a four-way compressed white tea tasting that worked out great except for completely dosing myself with caffeine, which I finally came down from in the mid-evening.  I've got a touch of a cold too; that changes things, and I don't want to be drinking a lot of tea.  One more round though; there's tasting work to be done, and these two teas will go well beyond that.

Bai Ye left, honey black right

Third infusion

Right on schedule, a slightly longer steep in reasonably hot water draws out a bit more caramel in this later infusion in the Bai Ye.  That tartness has faded away, and the overall range is more like that specific complexity in Lipton tea (in a good sense; I don't mean it's starting to taste like low-grade overly-blended tea dust now, I guess it would work to say malt picks up, but that's too simple).  Mineral base is picking up; that's part of it, but it's really more about that one higher-end aspect.  It reminds me a little of baseball glove leather, not the musty 20 year old catcher's mitt type, the bright, sweet, almost tangy, newer equipment, newly oiled infielders glove version.  Sometimes I wonder if I'm actually still making any sense.

With the intense fruit mellowing out and earthier range picking up the tea is still nice but moving towards a more conventional black tea range now.  This could pass for a better Ceylon at the same point in the infusion cycle; the flavor range cycle paths cross.  The sweet potato is still there but not as intense, and a broader mix of flavors combine.

The Taiwanese honey black is showing even more warm, aromatic spice.  I completely wasn't getting this when brewing it using a standard Western approach.  That warm spice--which is hard to describe, really like a spice blend, cinnamon with a couple of lightly balanced root or bark elements--pairs well with apple cider fruit that's actually picking up.  The raisin and pastry-like aspect is still there but moving to a supporting element range.  Oddly while all that flavor complexity is so ramped up the tea is thinning quite a bit in feel and other effect.  Both these teas will easily go one more infusion, probably even a pleasant one for both, but earthier elements are probably going to be a bigger part of those.  Often that's a dark wood tone, but some Assams I tried not too long ago went to being pine-like.

Conclusion; subjective impression

The Taiwanese tea is better than I remember, or maybe better than I've experienced it since I've been trying it out prepared Western style.  It's quite good made this way, complex and interesting.

The Bai Ye is probably better, although that's always a judgment call, with subjective preference coming into play (which is why I don't always include a summary take like this).  I expect trying it prepared different ways and using a purer Gongfu approach I'll see even more out of this tea.  I ran across a couple of reviews of last year's version when looking up the Yunnan Sourcing page for it, which per my more typical approach I didn't read until editing the notes.  In this case even the Yunnan Sourcing description was a complete surprise until I checked it making notes; it can work out having such a bad memory.  That previous year's version was well received, to say the least, described as more complex than I've given it credit for, but it wasn't mentioned that the tea is a little tart.  Funny.

Both are exceptional teas.  The Bai Ye comes across as more unique, probably not unrelated to me already drinking through 150 grams of a very similar black tea I bought at the shop next door in Taiwan since January.

Post-script:  the completely unrelated slice of life part

I've been sharing some images of what things are like here in Bangkok (and even more of my kids, really), and related to the former I wanted to show what a front yard that resembles a jungle looks like here.  An old PA friend shared an article about a modern trend to live with lots of houseplants, to make a jungle of your home.  It's the rainy season now so things are as green as they're going to get.

The pictures won't completely bring across the feel, or the smell.  Different flowering trees and vines give off strong smells at different times of the day, most often at night, so it's nice walking around after dark and noticing that.

The plants are my wife's mother's passion; she is the owner, who we live with in a nice house in an older part of town.  It's not one of the oldest parts, per my understanding, a neighborhood the last King (Rama 9) developed when he moved the Royal residence from the Grand Palace to Chitralada, which would have been around 60-some to 70 years ago.  Bangkok and Thailand did a lot with modernizing over the last four decades or so, so it doesn't really feel like a "developing" country to me, but back then it would have.

breakfast spot

front yard

other yard, trimmed back a good bit; it had been getting wild

mango tree; the squirrel was surprised I climbed it for the mangos

a very green driveway view

there is a house too