Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Two weekends in Pattaya, a Thailand beach resort

This post isn't about tea.  I've just taken a rare break from blogging, mostly due to spending two weekends on holiday beach-weekend outings in Pattaya.  For people familiar with Thailand that might seem odd, doing a family beach outing there, since that's known for being a resort themed around vice.

I just wrote a description of what's there as a Quora answer, which I'll cite all of, so there's really no point in clicking through except to see a few more pictures there:

What makes Pattaya, Thailand such a popular tourist destination? What are some of the best things there?

I was just in Pattaya over the past two weekends. It’s primary draw is as a sex tourism destination; no need to dance around that subject. I go there on family oriented vacations because it’s convenient, it’s the closest beach area to Bangkok, and taking a few hours to get there (varying with traffic density) versus 4 1/2 to 5 hours for Hua Hin makes a big difference. Cha-am is slightly closer than Hua Hin, just up the beach to the North, towards Bangkok, but not much different related to travel time.

Beyond what I’ve mentioned there are cabaret shows there where transgender (men to women) dancers perform. It’s not seedy or distasteful at all, if it sounds so, just novel, not something you see everywhere. The “cabaret” idea of seeing traditional costumes and dancing seems a bit unusual, but the only time I’ve been to one of the two main versions it wasn’t so bad.

at the Tiffany cabaret show; not my thing, but not so bad

There is a beach. It’s known for not being as clean as some of the other beaches in Thailand but I suppose the location related to where waste flows into the gulf from that city and other industrial areas would determine just how clean or dirty it actually is. We were in the water briefly this weekend; it seemed ok. It’s probably as well to split the time heavier on the side of spending more time swimming in a pool.

It’s not typical to see a lot of family vacationers there, as proportions go, but plenty of families do visit there in terms of a count. There are two large, modern water parks a good distance outside of town (Ramayana and Cartoon Network Amazone), and a local, inexpensive version in town (Pattaya Park, I think that was called). We just visited the last a week ago and went to a hotel water park themed area open to paying visitors this past weekend, at the Centara Grand Mirage. A brand new mall opened this past week, Terminal 21, interesting for having a theme on each floor as the one in Bangkok does (eg. ancient Greece is one floor, Japan another).

There are a few other attractions for kids or families but the main entertainment theme is nightlife, along with massage and such (multiple kinds). Visitors to Thailand who aren’t interested in that theme should probably go somewhere else since there are plenty of other beach area and island options.

About those weekend outings

This doesn't connect back up with the subject of tea; I often use weekend outings as a chance to take a break, from caffeine and from tea.  On the first I didn't bring any and only drank a single cup of coffee during one morning and then on the next day some tea while visiting a friend at Tea Village, a nice shop there, that also has a website here.  I took that further on the second weekend, drinking from some left-over leaves grandpa style the first morning, and skipping tea altogether for two more days.  This past week I was sick with a stomach problem (passed on from my kids) so I took two days off all caffeine, and one of those off food.

that little one was sick in this photo; she's very durable

I tend to express that my life here seems more normal and maybe even more "Western" than one might expect.  My kids love pools and water parks so that's what we were there to see and do.

other family theme vacations can work out there

Centara Grand Mirage pool area; we stayed elsewhere and visited there

jumping into the deep end, literally

Kalani couldn't really swim the first weekend and could the second; to me that was the biggest story and the most interesting experience.  It all just came together, over a year of practice and taking lessons, with some personal coaching from her brother tipping the balance.  

I'm not sure if all those details would even be interesting to other parents, never mind anyone else.  She was fearless that first weekend, swimming around in water too deep to stand up in, in spite of not having a reliable ability to swim over distance, or even to tread water.  Then the next she could do all of it, tread water, swim on the top surface, and underwater.  Part of the surprise was so much coming together; she could do freestyle, finally turning her head properly to breath, swim underwater half a pool length in the short direction, and picked up frog style swimming, kind of odd.

4 years ago it was his turn to learn; she's a year ahead of schedule

the last trip, October 2016 (we switched to going other places)

A new mall opened up here, only a week ago now, Terminal 21.  The first version of that is here in Bangkok, with different floors based on different themes.

the Eiffel tower

I was just watching some Youtube videos about dying US mall culture, kind of an old subject now, since that played out quite a bit around 5 years ago.  It came up related to Sears finally filing for bankruptcy, about two years after industry analysts first said that was immanent.  There's a mall in my hometown, Cranberry PA, that was hit hard by a JC Penny moving out, and this Sears issue will probably finally kill it.

How could Thailand be so far off the economic progression in the US?  Online retail sales never picked up to the same extent.  They will, and some malls opening now will close or be re-purposed, or older ones will fail instead.

In a sense this "being behind" is much more of a good thing than a bad one.  Let me explain.  If you (living in the US) could go back to the US culture and economic status of 20-25 years ago, would you?  That trade would involve experiencing limited scale economic growth instead of decline, infrastructure development, and economic and culture changes in a much more limited form.  That last part also relates to a lack of any form of school shootings or "crazy people" committing child abductions and mass killings, or even violent crime (ok, some of that started in the 70s and 80s in the US, but Thailand hasn't caught up to the US levels 30 years ago yet).  Unfortunately since I started this draft two days ago there was another of those very close to where I'm from, a mass-shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Thailand is actually ahead in terms of settling gender issues; there is a well-established third gender (M to F transgender), and no one cares what those people identify as, or limits their social role or work options scope, at least all that much.  Cultures just vary in different ways so it's not a great description or model to compare them as behind or ahead of each other, but to some extent doing so for aspects does seem to make sense.

There's a split in expat (foreigner) perceptions about Thailand and Thai culture I should back up and explain.  One side is a bit bitter for being disillusioned by dealing with being in a foreign culture.  On the other extreme--people tend to fall towards one or the other--expats see Thailand as more ideal than where they came from, maybe not as a paradise, but often even framing it in exactly that extreme form.  I think this relates to people making peace with a decision to leave their native country, more so than how it really is in Thailand.  Or not being able to.  Of course how Thailand actually is factors in, but people can build a balanced, positive life in different places, or fail to achieve that. 

at a new park in Bangkok since, Chula's Centennial Park in Sam Yan

Switching back up to a much more general level, it's my current impression that people can believe what they want to believe, and can round off external experience an awful lot to accommodate getting reality to match.  Do I even need to mention how this relates to Trump?  He himself acknowledged that he could shoot a person dead in public and his supporters would find a way to be fine with that.  It wasn't exaggeration, and he didn't mean it to be.  I personally accept that on the more liberal side people are criticizing many bad leadership choices that are doing great harm to the country but on both sides people can focus on believe what they want to believe.

A different expat could visit Pattaya (also with a family) and see sex workers, and talk more about how the water at the beach isn't clean, about getting stuck in traffic (one of the two trips down was a nightmare for travel time, the two back were the fastest we've covered that distance; someone could remember whichever they chose to).

Building a new mall could be seen as a cultural blight; they already had a relatively new one, and there are countless malls where we live in Bangkok.  About the vice theme my kids saw go-go dancers on the one-block walk to and from that mall (it's that out in the open; one bar and one bar-area are public view, not walled buildings).  My daughter thought it was odd that the one woman was dancing alone, never mind the part about the pole. 

"Drinking Street," that publicly open go-go bar area

an earlier photo with the mall still under construction

How did we explain that?  We didn't.  We said "that's a bar," and let it drop.  Kids pick up an awful lot so they surely got a sense there was more going on than they were familiar with but then they don't go into bars.  I kind of did, as a child, since one of my earliest memories was dropping by a Moose club when my grandparents (one set) was into that scene.  People drank; there were no shiny poles or women dancing.  I think we might have played bingo, with drunk people around.

Wrapping up, or at least heading there, the rest is what you'd expect.  We visited an "open zoo" on the way down and my kids were really happy to get back to feeding giraffes and elephants.  I was in a pool a lot, both weekends.  I don't go to bars; I more or less gave up alcohol for the Thai rainy season, a 4 month Buddhist lent, which isn't difficult because I only drink one beer a week normally.  My wife's interest-requirement was a two hour oil massage, which I typically go experience with her since she likes the company.  There are other ranges of "massage" options there but those we experience are always the higher end spa versions, on the up and up.  Readers curious about what the other range might involve could Google search "soapy massage."

this kid turned 10 since this was taken

interesting how animal ethics issues relate

I suppose different readers would interpret this take different ways.  Maybe some would think I have an ideal life, or others a boring one, or some might think I've colored what I've passed on, stressed parts that were more interesting to me and minimized others.  Of course I did; that was the one point I tried to make, that it's what we do. 

To some extent I even intentionally embrace taking a narrow perspective.  I love seeing the world through my kids' eyes; it's a beautiful world to experience.  As an example 100 times over that last weekend I heard a quote from a Donald Duck cartoon from them:  thank you my good man; may I have a spot of tea?  I would laugh and say that never gets old, and I wasn't completely kidding.  It was a little fresher that first half of the times they said it but the light in their eyes from making light of being annoying and repetitive was much cooler than the counter of experiencing a repeating track.

I guess the second half of that video tells more of a mixed story; they repeat some version of an Indian accent of someone saying "please my friend."  I think that's from school, no doubt sampled from some media source via a friend. 

It's awfully culturally insensitive for mixed race and culture kids.  Kalani has a friend who is Indian, so they get exposure to other cultures, but it's another thing putting it altogether, and yet another sorting out which expressions should be limited.  Making fun of a cartoon duck with an English accent and an Indian speech patterns would be seen differently in the politically correct US culture environment.  In that context the British duck version might not be ok either, but more likely it probably would; I think making fun of white people, even the British, is still ok.  The cartoon duck pretending to be formal didn't seem a cultural slight but the rest did start in that direction.

with a new friend from Taiwan (the girl on the right)

Americans could make fun of other Americans but it's such a sore subject these days.  To quote a Canadian acquaintance, so many seem dumb as a bag of hammers.  Science denial is a personal pet peeve; rejecting climate change or evolution are absurd but that keeps getting extended, now onto flat earth theory.


Maybe a bit too much drift through that last part, but it is interesting how culture issues play out differently in a different country, and how being around a lot of foreigners shifts that.  Or being one, for that matter.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Liquid Proust sheng intro, Bulang and smoked Cai Chen's Fire

Bulang left, Cai Chen's Fire right (or I think the label said that)

I've been off tea drinking and tasting for a week; that's different.  We went out of town for beach weekend outings two weeks in a row and I tend to use travel as a chance to back off of tea.  Most tea enthusiasts seem to take the opposite approach, enjoying the experience even more in free time and unfamiliar settings, but for me it works out well as a time to take a break.

That's largely related to stepping back from caffeine intake but also just get some space, to appreciate tea all the more for not drinking it ever single day.  As a high school friend once said, a true stoner takes a day off weed once in awhile.  That guy went on to be a pharmacist, so he was probably onto something.

the running theme, pools and water park areas

she had just learned to swim too; it all clicked that weekend

As it all worked out I took a couple of days off tea over last weekend, drinking one cup of coffee in the morning to prevent the withdrawal headache.  I had tea once Tuesday and Wednesday but then fell ill from a stomach problem and took two days off caffeine (one day off food in general; that doesn't come up much).  It's odd that doesn't come up more here; I think it was something my kids passed onto me since they'd both went through the same in the two days prior.  So of course I'm starting back in with sheng.  These have a little age on them, just not much; hopefully that will offset this going badly.  And of course I'm not drinking them on an empty stomach; that would be crazy.

I'm back to trying teas from an introductory set from Liquid Proust that was a lot closer to a free introduction to sheng than tea being sold (with the first samples reviewed here).

One is labeled as a 2014 Bulang, the other seems to say 2013 Cai Chen's Fire (or it could say Cai Chen's Five).  Chen isn't that unusual a Chinese name so it's hard to tell if that seeming to ring a bell really means anything.  I'm guessing the second will be quite a bit better than the first and that they won't be similar but who knows.  For most people I'd not recommend tasting dissimilar teas together, since it detracts from what you can pick up, but since I've been doing a lot of combined tastings that did or didn't match for two years I'll be fine.  The sheng-gut is something else; I might regret not going with a black tea or oolong.  I had a pineapple croissant before the tea and I'm already feeling that; not a good sign.

The subject of intermediate age shengs (young but not newish) not being generally desirable just came up in an online discussion so I'll address that briefly before the review.  It does seem like people tend to like 1 or 2 year old young sheng or 10+ year old aged sheng (more fully aged around 15) and not prefer what falls in between so much.  Different people cite different ages as the main awkward years, when versions lose their initial brightness, freshness, and intensity but don't gain aged character and different aspect range instead.  I won't go into that since it would vary by tea, fermentation and other aspect preference, and storage conditions, which change how fast aging transitions occur.

Suffice it to say that typically 4 to 5 year old sheng doesn't seem to match most people's preferences.  But then it seems possible, or at least conceivable, that based on a starting point for some sheng that could still be ideal, but it's just normally not.  Since this isn't a post about aging transitions, just a review of two tea versions, I'll leave it at that and get to it.

Bulang left, Chen's right (in all the photos)


Even from the wet leaf scent, without actually tasting the tea, I can tell I'm going to be in for some smoke.  The Bulang seems to have a hint of smoke but the other seems to actually be smoked tea.  Could that be right?

The Bulang is what I expected, interesting, flavorful, potentially challenging depending on preference range.  There's a lot mineral in it, and some of that one odd flavor / mineral and earth aspect range in sheng people tend to describe as kerosene.  It's probably closer to the way tree fungus smells than kerosene to me but close enough.  Oddly I don't dislike it.  It doesn't completely click for me but it's interesting.  The smoke is a bit subdued; that works, since I don't like really smoky tea.  When a Lapsang Souchong balances well I love those but as often the smoke is too strong, or sour, or off in some other way.  It's too early to call anyway, barely getting started.

I'm going to guess this other one really does have to be a smoked version of sheng, the Chen's Fire (what I'll call it).  That's different.  At this point I'd be as likely to guess the kind of wood the smoke seems to be from as to say anything accurate about the tea character; it just tastes like smoke.  I think once I adjust to the idea more I'll like it.  Smoked black tea works because the sweetness and warm earth in the tea balances that warmth and tendency towards sour and mineral range in smoke, and this doesn't have that.  But sheng with even 5 years of age on it has softened and extended into warmer mineral range flavors, versus being more intense, vegetal, and potentially floral and sweeter in younger versions.  Bitterness just depends; that can be really pronounced in a young version, or not so much, and it seems to have largely dropped out of this.

The Bulang wasn't that bitter either, come to think of it; there's a decent chance I'd like it better as a somewhat aged tea like this versus a young version.  Comparing the two makes the Bulang seem a lot more bitter; I guess I got swept up in that mineral flavor range and didn't flag how pronounced it was.

Second infusion

The Bulang has a nice sweet layer that makes the rest work.  I don't love the rest of that flavor profile, the aggressive mineral, the kerosene / tree fungus, moderate bitterness, light smoke, and whatever else I'm not picking up, but it all hangs together well, it balances.  I'll try to flag what I've missed for aspects next round, but sweetness is standing out more, with flavor moving into a bit of citrus range (tangerine peel, at a guess), so it becomes nicer.  The tea isn't thin either; it has decent feel, and the aftertaste lingers, so it holds its own across the range of experience.  With so much going on this might be really nice in another 5 or 6 years, once that set of aspects shifts.

The Chen's Fire is interesting.  Smoke still dominates the taste experience but it falls into a nicer balance, and will probably work out even better next round.  The smoke effect seems to tie to an earthy sweetness.  That really could be pine smoke, as used for Lapsang Souchong, given the character, but it has good sweetness for being that smoke type on top of slightly aged sheng (not "aged" as in remotely fully transitioned, not even middle-aged, instead aged in the sense of adjusted; it wasn't like this 5 years ago).  It works a lot better than it sounds, or at least sounds to me.  Add that smoke to that Bulang and I'd expect it to be nasty; layer it on top of Yiwu and it would squander the potential of the tea (although I like Yiwu better younger anyway, so that's not a great example, it's just the origin I'm most familiar with).

Third infusion

My stomach is holding up.  I won't make it a half dozen rounds with these teas but within a couple more at least it'll point to where this is heading.  It would be easy to sip them a few times and bin the tea instead of drinking it and get through a full cycle but I'm not like that.  This blog is about passing on tea experience, not wasting tea.  It's disrespectful to the tea.

This Bulang is transitioning nicely; I didn't see that coming at first.  The sweetness isn't just saving an aspect balance I don't care that much for, it's part of a pleasant set.  I'll stick with tangerine peel citrus as a main element description, an aspect that is still ramping up.  Mineral is still pronounced, but not in a form recognizable as smoke.  It's more an underlying somewhat metallic theme, a base context, which works, to me.

The Chen's Fire is balancing even better now.  It's hard to describe what's filling in beyond the smoke though.  It's definitely not the sweet, warm, earth range in Lapsang Souchong, but it tastes warmer and richer than I'd expect in a 5 year old sheng.  Then again that describes this Bulang too, and per limited exposure I don't think I've had great luck with teas from that area.  This may taste a lot more like how I expected the Bulang to be, just smokier, due to that seeming to obviously be an added input.

If this isn't a smoked tea I'll be amazed.  I've tried some smoky sheng but nothing remotely on this level.  For a Lapsang Souchong I'd say they got the balance right.  Just to add a couple of actual aspects descriptions (fairly limited so far) this also tastes like underlying mineral, kind of in between slate and flint, with a slightly aged but greenish wood taste standing out more in the forefront.  Or it might be both; well-aged hardwood mixed with green young sapling.  The smoke actually gives it depth and broadens and softens the effect, versus balancing sweet range as it would in a black tea.

Fourth infusion

Bulang left, Chen's right

This may be the last round for now, and where notes stop.  I think two more would tell enough of the story but I'm pushing it, even if I eat something else to counter all this sheng.  Which reminds me, this table is loaded with cookies and other sweets from a cousin who bakes for a business dropping them off for our kids ("Sweet at First Sight"). 

[after a pause] A few cocoa and almond cookies really did seem help just now.  Thai cookies and deserts are often sickly sweet, only tolerable for a few bites, but with some practice she's got the balance right, and uses salt as a counter at the right level, barely noticeable but working for that purpose.

It can come in handy having kids.  When they're being terrible, which is an intentional running theme for them, I ask them why I ever wanted to have kids, and they laugh and remind me that it was to keep things lively and interesting.  They're not wrong; they definitely hold up their end.  I kind of hate to seem them grow up, even though the process is interesting, and the changes.  I was considering writing a post that isn't just about tea that talks more about them; I should do that.

Back to reviewing:  more of the same for the Bulang sheng.  I've surely not communicated how the flavor set is balancing based on throwing so many descriptions out there (sweetness, citrus, moderate bitterness, metal, mineral, etc.), but it works.  This wouldn't be a favorite style but I like it.  Actually aged it might be quite nice; there's plenty of aspect range and intensity to transition nicely, and seemingly little chance it would just fade.  Even faded it would be fine, but it should pick up complexity by swapping out more of that bitterness.

The Chen's Fire probably has shifted balance a little but it's hard to pick up; it wasn't much.  It's still smoky and woody with a mineral layer under that.


These teas are only half finished, not even fully transitioned yet, never mind brewed out.  But this covers where they were headed.  It was a stretch to drink the first tea in three days after stomach problems two days back as sheng.  My stomach doesn't hurt but in another round or two it would go from feeling odd as it does now to that, so I'll stop here.  I'll mix the rest and see what becomes of it cold brewed to work around squandering its brewing potential given how that went.

They weren't what I expected.  The Bulang picked up more sweetness and complexity than I thought, moving off the initial kerosene phase onto actual citrus fruit.  It wouldn't be a favorite but it was pleasant.  I'd bet that even within two years of settling in here in steamy and warm Bangkok climate it would be even nicer.

The Cai Chen's Fire (if that's what it was) was interesting for being smoked, or at least seeming smoked.  Smoke is on the list of natural flavors that emerge in sheng, along with bitterness, floral aspects, camphor, varying mineral, and the rest.  This just seemed way too strong to be a natural aspect.  Contact with smoke can add more of that range in processing, singeing the tea a bit during a heavy version of kill green frying, or indoor drying in an area warmed by smoke.  I don't know what the story was, only how it tasted.  I did ask Andrew of Liquid Proust by message by didn't hear back at time of first draft.

Both of these would make a great intro to parts of the range of sheng, with that second on an unusual tangent, no matter what it is.  People have mentioned before that you can tell the difference between sheng that's smoky because that aspect comes up and from actual smoke as an input.  This seems like real smoke.  Neither would be a personal favorite but then I don't love tea most for matching preference for a given style, at this point.  That still does work, for favorites, but I like tea for what they are, with variety being as interesting and pleasant as that matching.

visiting that friend at Tea Village in Pattaya

I just tried to explain this to a vendor friend I met when he asked what my favorite tea type is now.  I really don't have one.  I like black teas, oolong, sheng and shou, and white, and other hei cha can be interesting and nice, so I kind of just demote green to a second level.  I have favorites (Dian Hong for black, Cindy's Rou Gui and Wuyi Yancha for oolong, along with Dan Cong) but novel versions are nice beyond those.  Or even basic, plain teas, really.  I've only started this year to drink tea-bag black tea again (just not very often), from people giving it to me as a gift, and I've been dabbling in tisanes for the last couple of years again (after a long history with those, and a shorter pause in drinking them).  Even deeply flawed or limited quality teas can be interesting for expressing something you don't get to often.

I see it as similar to appreciating the company of people who I don't share much in common with, even if they have apparent shortcomings in character.  If you can relate to them there is still potential for interesting interaction, and the main step towards doing that is you setting your ego aside to enable it.  It's the same for tea; if you think "I'm a tea enthusiast and I'm too good for this version" you set up the distance from being able to appreciate the experience, it's not the tea character that does that. 

The flexibility in perspective to cover range can serve someone well, for experiencing tea and people.  Go and brew some Lipton from your break room, add milk and sugar to that, try it and let me know.  It might help to not think of it as tea, to separate from pre-conceptions, in the way a brewed coffee drinker might when drinking instant, or a better brewed coffee drinker might if drinking a Starbucks caramel latte.

It feels a little odd not mentioning what these teas are, like unfinished business.  I'll never know that, it would seem, especially in the "Chen's Fire" case since I can't even clearly read those words.  Searching on Steepster, Yunnan Sourcing, or Liquid Proust's sales site doesn't turn up anything promising as a match.  The set wasn't about being introduced to what to buy (mainly), but about beginners exploring the range of what is out there for sheng.  A Vietnamese rustic version of a sheng was a bit smoky not so long ago but this style is atypical, and more interesting for that.

As to saying more about the other tea's general range this Tea DB post from awhile back reviews lots of versions of Bulang sheng; it covers what the origin is all about, related to that blog reviewing a lot of versions in two to three sentence descriptions.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Hawaiian tisane / "herb teas" and health benefits

Awhile back I reviewed a Hawaiian tisane (herb) blend, a combination of mamaki and wapine (a version of lemongrass and something else less familiar, with details in that post about what that is).  It was from a Hawaiian close family friend from a producer called Rocky Farms, located in Waimanalo. 

usually there were a few people around, but not different than this (credit)

That family friend (an extra uncle, sort of an in-law to me since they took in my wife more than me) lives in Waimanalo, and that whole small community area looks like you stepped into a postcard.

Since these posts tend to run long I'll go with that theme and quote a part of that post content about an herb here (referenced from here, with even more information here):

Mamaki is a native Hawaiian nettle species known as an ancient miracle herb. Mamaki tea is best known for its refreshing, smooth taste and medicinal uses. It is known to act as an antioxidant that promotes healthy cardiovascular functions, lowers stress and fatigue levels and acts as a mild laxative. It is also commonly used to reduce allergy symptoms and promote liver Health.

It's hard to evaluate those sorts of health claims, and more typical for tea reviews to just not bring them up.  I won't get far with a flavors review here, instead dealing more with accounts of health benefits (not endorsing or rejecting those, just sharing them), and more about local related resources in Oahu.

I think tea (the Camellia Sinensis kind) and other herbs probably are very healthy but it's hard to go further than that with specific guesses, or to research the subject.  Input turns up but it can be hard to place.  If the claim is that an herb helps with an upset stomach of course that can be tested, or a laxative effect can be, but for most of those already listed in that short passage would be more difficult to evaluate. 

a vendor photo with more information, apparently sold as RTD (credit)


The herb blend I tried tastes like those herbs.  Turmeric stands out a little, but then it might not seem to as much without appearing on the label.  The flavor is mild with some complexity, with a bit of sweetness and decent balance, nice enough.  The other flavor range reminds me of floral flavors that aren't necessarily sweet or overly aromatic, like chrysanthemum or chamomile.  There's also a vague, light spice background element, not one that's easy to place.  I'd probably drink light oolong that's in the same general range instead for taste if it came down to just that, and of course people do make health claims about those too.  It's pleasant tasting enough that I'd also drink it just for taste if I had it around, and for me it's nice to have tisanes--herb teas, to some--in the evenings sometimes, since I avoid caffeine then.

That's all I'll cover for flavor description.  To me health claims are more interesting, even if I tend to not accept those as necessarily accurate.  That skepticism is based on experience with lots of claims being made about tea, which seem to extend too far for all of them to be accurate.  For "real tea" those are based on traditional practices or medical care, sources like Traditional Chinese Medicine.  That could be a good input, but one ends up suspecting that some of the modern marketing function may have tied back to previous marketing functions instead of an earlier form of higher knowledge.  The framing doesn't help, references to "qi" and "internal heat / wind," but really valid practices framed in contexts that have been replaced with modern models could still be just as valid and accurate. 

Back to description

Per the written note this contained that mamaki (version of nettle), olena (Hawaiian version of turmeric), and ualoa.  That vendor picture of the same Mala blend listed it as uhaloa, olena, and wapine (lemongrass), so off by one ingredient.  I could swear the mamaki is common to both, as shown in this earlier blend photo, but then later it does look more like uhaloa (see later description and photo):

reviewed in the last post

Wapine is the lemongrass; easy enough to spot, and it does seem to turn up in this second Mala blend.  It would be easy to mix the herbs up when sending a note with it; no matter.  Let's review the turmeric (olena) health claims then come back to uhaloa.

Olena / turmeric health claims

Turmeric is regarded as some sort of miracle health input per some "progressive" or non-mainstream health sources.  Not as if it's a research summary site but let's see what WebMD makes of that (summarized):

possibly effective for hay fever, depression, high cholesterol, osteoarthritis, itching (pruritus).

They then go on to list out as many conditions there is evidence it doesn't help with (surely based on other hearsay claims that it does), and a list twice as long related to benefit claims there just isn't good evidence to support or imply are probably not accurate.  Note that the general theme there is that they are citing what has been confirmed through research as likely (in the initial claim), and rejecting what seems unlikely based on research.  WebMD isn't a research status summary; one can do better, but the point here is to get a feel for where these claims stand, not try to ground them.

It's very difficult to do isolated studies on people to prove nutritional or preventative claims, so unless there is a clear linkage to a negative effect it's hard for research to come to a firm conclusion.  Studies can show what a limited input over a short time causes, or test high doses on rats.

Another article there on WebMD is more positive, and more colorful and speculative:

A tablespoon of ground turmeric offers 29 calories, nearly a gram of protein, 2 grams of fiber and 6 grams of carbohydrates. It contains minerals such as manganese, phosphorus and potassium. Turmeric also contains magical nutrients -- the kind that practically cast spells to keep you strong and healthy.

Turmeric is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat inflammation -- both inside and out. Uses include cancer prevention and treatment as well as treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and infections.  Curcumin, a substance in turmeric, is being researched for cancer prevention and treatment, and has shown promise in animal studies... 

That one Hawaiian herb vendor (Maui Medicinal) lists even more potential benefits on their page.  Turmeric probably is a beneficial dietary input, even without the benefit of magic.  Let's move onto the last one, uhaloa.

the live version (photo credit)

Uhaloa background and claimed health benefits

The University of Hawaii related site I referenced in that earlier post passes on a full description (that's one of my alma maters, by the way; I went to UH Manoa awhile back):

Waltheria indica var. americana (uhaloa)

ʻUhaloa (Waltheria indica) belongs to the Malavaceae or Mallow family, sometimes placed in Sterculiaceae, or Cacao family. The genus Waltheria has some 60 species, 53 of which are from the Neotropics (the Americas). Two species are native to the Hawaiian Islands...

Hawaiian Names:  ʻAlaʻala pū loa, hala ʻuhaloa, hiʻaloa, kanakaloa are all alternate names for the commonly used ʻuhaloa...

Modern Use:  Medicinally, in the Hawaiian Islands ʻuhaloa is still used even if other traditional plants are not always in use. [6] When mixed with certain other plants ʻuhaloa is used for sore throats, bronchial infections, and asthma. [1,2] The bitter roots are used much like aspirin is today. [2]

This plant is used throughout the Americas. One reference source outlines the importance of Walthera indica: "A tropical shrub, the whole plant (roots, leaves, buds and flowers) is used against chronic asthma. This plant has anti inflammatory and antifungal properties. Other uses include: cortex (root bark); chewed as a very effective natural medicine for sore throat. Internally for arthritis, neuralgia, common cold, cough, bronchial phlegm or mucous, diarrhea, eye baths, fatigue; used as a bitter tonic." [5]

that does look right (photo credit)

Interesting!  That Rocky Farms picture source adds more to the health claims listed on that package:

'Uhaloa tea with bark. The leaves & flowers serves to treat (asthma), arthritis, neuralgia and pulmonary complications like bronchial phlegm, mucous and chest congestion. The bark is chewed to help with sore throat.

I also spoke with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs about doing research and they sent a really interesting looking reference citation, well worth following up for anyone interested in the subject (from "Native Planters in Old Hawaii:  Their Life, Lore and Environment," by E. S. Craighill Handy and Elizabeth Green Handy):

mamaki and uhaloa are mentioned

That book costs $700 on Amazon; you'd have to really want it.  All the claims do seem to align, but then that doesn't confirm them as accurate since it could relate to common sourcing.  I bet these herbs are very healthy, and it would only matter if effectiveness related to one condition was limited (or related to a different cause, so only ineffective in one case), if someone was trying to use that as a cure or preventative for something in particular.  

Rather than stick with the review of health claims, which is hard to extend further, I'll switch topics and say more about local medicinal herb resources there in Hawaii (East Oahu, more specifically, still in that same area).

Waimanalo's Community Herbal Medicine Garden

Looking around at subject references, most specifically related to that Waimanalo origin area, turned up mention of the Waimanalo Health Center there, focused on renewing use of medicinal herbs.  A recent media article described that background:

lotus?  it's a random picture from that Center's FB page.

Lāʻau lapaʻau is the traditional Hawaiian practice of healing using plants. Practitioners list an arsenal of more than 2,500 plants used for various human ailments.   

“Lāʻau lapaʻau is a fading art. I wouldnʻt say dying art, but its fading,” says [Ikaika] Rogerson, “Hopefully by being able to teach the community even just the basic different varieties of lāʻau that we have within the community and how to use it then maybe itʻs an alternative to purchasing pills.”

This is part of why I'm open and optimistic about use of herbs either as a medicinal or dietary supplement.  I can't be certain that traditional herbs could be used as directly as conventional medicine (which isn't ideal either), but there's a long history of plants used effectively for both purposes.

People on the skeptical side point out that if a compound is confirmed to have a benefit it's adopted for use but that misses part of the point.  If that skeptic is eating a McDonald's based diet along with a handful of pills a day they're not going to be nearly as healthy as someone eating a balanced diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, diverse foods, and some herb / tisanes for additional input.  I don't buy that taking any number of pills a day would provide a similar benefit.

olena / turmeric (source credit)

They mention this about turmeric in that last article:  

'Olena or turmeric, one of the most versatile plants in traditional Hawaiian herbal medicine can be used for a number of ailments. Juice is extracted from the root and can be used to enhance the immune system and purify the blood.

Detox skeptics might feel a little "triggered" by that last claim since the kidneys and liver purify the blood, not medicine or supplements, but again valid health benefits and accurate use of updated models and terms are two separate issues.  According to that WebMD source turmeric is shown through research evidence to lower triglyceride levels and possibly reduce cholesterol, qualified as follows:

Turmeric seems to lower levels of blood fats called triglycerides. The effects of turmeric on cholesterol levels are conflicting. There are many different turmeric products available. It is not known which ones work best.

Not a strong endorsement, that middle part, but then this is passing on multiple sources of research evidence for study still in progress as a very short summary, and "findings conflict" would be a natural result.

Post-script; trying to apply all that

This has always been the part that's a problem for me; how to apply that information.  That plant background database looks great, quite solid as such content goes, but it doesn't seem like it would work well to scan through that and know what herbs to use for treatment or preventative purposes.  You could try, but it seems limited and not designed for that.

I've talked to a couple of people trained in the use of herbs as both (herbalists?) and of course their recommendation is to go to someone with similar training and get consultation input.  I'm usually skeptical when answers inevitably turn to "just pay me" but in this case there aren't many good options.  Progressive-minded health enthusiasts (odd putting that in any phrasing) tend to pick and mix what they want to buy into, from a broad range of sources, the herbal health equivalent of salad bar faith.  Maybe that works. 

I didn't get around to talking to her but Leina‘ala Bright seems to work in a similar capacity in the Waimanalo Health Center I'd mentioned (although I really don't know her duties or their range of services).  Some input in a reference they passed on from her research at UH adds more about why turmeric probably really does live up to at least some of the claims:

That source includes a reference of her as a researcher and "Cultural Practitioner of Lomilomi, Lā‘au Lapa‘au;" that works.

Incorporating use of tisanes might work better than one might expect for the same reason tea is almost certainly living up to a lot of it's variously grounded cited benefits:  if you replace soda with tea you are at least eliminating a negative with a neutral input, even if not a positive one, and some of the component benefits are probably real.  Anyone replacing boba tea--powdered, artificially flavored, heavily sweetened, products containing powdered milk or other fats and thickeners--with real tea is taking a similar step.

I recently had an opportunity to use this herbal tisane more directly, when I picked up a stomach problem from my kids and threw up a few times.  I was wary of drinking even water because not long before I'd seen my daughter try to drink water with the same condition and it didn't work out.  I drank a mug of this tisane (related to some of this research saying one herb calms an upset stomach), and my stomach did feel much better, and then I was able to handle another small glass of electrolyte solution. 

the morning Kalani was sick; I think positive outlook alone helps a lot

I'd love to be able to incorporate herbs and other tisanes in a way that makes more sense over the long term but at least making that start into useful application was nice.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Moychay compressed Da Hong Pao brick (Zhong Huo)

I want to try something different for this review, no round by round detailed description.  I'll mostly just clearly describe one main, complex flavor aspect.  In a sense that should be easy, but to some extent only people already familiar with something very similar might completely get it.  I'll also cover a bit about how I think this tea being compressed changed things, about the infusion cycle, and differences in comparison with aspects present in loose Wuyi Yancha Da Hong Pao oolongs.  I didn't know this actually was DHP initially (the brick itself isn't labeled, and I didn't look it up), but I expected that's what it was (it would be that), and tasting seemed to confirm it, then reviewing the actual product description during editing did.

The main flavor first:  it came across as similar to a sweet version of leather, like a bomber jacket might smell, just a bit towards molasses from that.  Of course different people would express that in different ways.  It could seem like aromatic woods instead, or it's a bit of a stretch but maybe like sweet dried fruit and spice.  It was complex, so a touch of the rich and savory but still sweet sun dried tomato range might work for description.

To me that's not atypical, but the way it was presented was. Some good DHP is like that (with "good" all relative; really high quality versions tend to be more subtle and aromatic versus flavor intensive), with versions not quite as good more towards a plainer version of wood or even cardboard, or heavier on char.  The way that sweetness and complexity was expressed it seemed slightly more oxidized than is typical, towards a sweet, rich black tea, with some limited degree of toast input but not enough that you could really place it.  The character was typical of DHP in one sense but parts weren't typical, which I interpreted as being related to being compressed.  It's funny how the sweetness, earthiness, and mineral stood out, parts that can relate to a tea being roasted more, but this didn't have much of the explicit "char" effect.  Maybe a year + of aging dropped out some that had been present?

it takes some doing to get it started

an early round, a little light

Some of the same themes played out in evaluating a compressed Yunnan black a year and a half back (Shai Hong, a reference to being sun dried).  I loved that tea, and I really liked this version too.  They're quite different, so I don't mean that they're close in character or flavor profile, but some of the sweet, rich range overlaps.  It's a step towards being jammy, like a cooked and reduced fruit, but it stops in an earthier place in this oolong version.  That would be cool to comparison taste them together, not for the 2000 word round by round write-up, but just to experience that.

To be clear there is a different lighter, more subtle, more structured aspect range Wuyishan area oolongs can express, even if they are earthy and a bit sweet, in the leather leaning towards dried fruit range.  This tea version (the aspect range) seems a little unrefined, a bit basic, but in a way that really appeals to me.  Yunnan black tea drinkers would totally get it.  There is mineral range as a base context, and thickness of feel and after taste I've not described to also appreciate; it's good tea.  But one related general Wuyi Yancha oolong range of character types is fruity, and another earthy or even towards spice, and another liquor-like, all potentially quite straightforward and flavor-forward (like this one is), or more aromatic and subtle instead. 

The last post about a really nice version of Rou Gui works well as a contrast in styles; that was completely different in character, much more refined and distinctive.  I appreciate teas for what they are, with some styles clicking better, matching preference.  Green teas tend to fall outside the main part of that range, with good Longjing an exception, and umami-intensive Japanese greens interesting in their own way.  This tea clicks, in a basic, flavor-forward style that I like.  It seemed blended more than that one (with that one a better than average example of a smaller batch tea), giving up refinement and pronounced subtle aspects in exchange for picking up flavor-range depth.

a little further along

It is odd how it brews, kind of like getting a more compressed shou to get going, but even shou tend to be pressed looser than this.  It would be possible to use a long soak as a prep step and first infusion then pry it apart, but I was fine with it brewing a bit unevenly, with the process taking time.  That pronounced flavor isn't going to transition so much anyway, and it works really well a bit light or strong.

I brewed a chunk gongfu style in a 100 ml tasting gaiwan, or it would be fine in a clay pot seasoned for Wuyi Yancha oolong (cue some people rejecting that it would match other typical style closely enough, and throw off the residual effect).

That sweetness and the way that the earthiness played out reminded me a little of a Fu brick hei cha awhile back, for being sweet, straightforward, and novel, with that a little more towards prune from sweet leather.

There's always more to say, a different take on flavor, more about a secondary aspect, some consideration of how this would age (I don't know, but I'd expect it wouldn't be fading much over a few years, if anything probably developing instead), but that's already a basic take.  I'd expect this isn't costly tea but if it was above average for pricing for type and style (as good tea but not a great tea) to me it would be worth it, on character and novelty both (I was actually shocked about that part; see the next section reference).

Vendor description

I really didn't even know for sure this was Da Hong Pao, but it's good that it was, since that saved me some explaining for getting it wrong.  It might still be Shui Xian; that's how that can go, with DHP used as branding for a style of tea (a character type) that's often a blend or else all that other tea type.  It was and is a plant type too, related to those six plants that are still standing, covered in more detail in this post.  This is dead on a typical good version of normal Da Hong Pao style so I don't mean that as an accusation, just background context.

Moychay's description is cited here:

“Big Red Robe” is squeezed from fragments of leaf (middle and small fraction), sorted during production of high-grade Dahongpao harvest 2017 (various batches). It was the heat of the fires.

100 grams of tile, compressed sufficiently tightly, but easily brokens into segments (12 pieces). The aroma is deep, with smoked pastry notes. The infusion is transparent, with dark amber hue.  Baked tea; the aroma is deep and viscose, complex. It is a bit tart.

Brew tea with hot water (95-100 ° C) in a porcelain gaiwan or a teapot of porous clay. The proportion is 1 cube for 200-250 ml. The time of the first steeping is about 10 seconds. After that for short seconds (for 2-3 seconds), increasing steeping time for each subsequent step, if necessary. You can steep the tea up to 6-8 times. Also it is well revealed in cooking on fire.

The price stood out to me more than anything in that description; they're selling it for $7.50 for 100 grams.  How to put this?  If you like standard range DHP at all you should buy it; if you already love the novelty of varied compressed teas picking up two bricks might make more sense.  I don't remember ever suggesting that someone should buy a tea that directly, since it's bad form for a blogger to do so, but this tea would be a really good value at double that price.  That's just related to aspect range; I love novelty in teas and this is a little different in character too.

To critique their description a bit I wasn't really picking up tartness.  It is possible that a year of aging rounded off the flavors to subdue that, or it could just be that I'm interpreting it differently.  That "smoked pastry" does make perfect sense.  It's odd saying a tea tastes like leather, which I had it pegged as closer to, or like any non-food item, but regular drinkers of DHP variations should be able to make sense of the intended description range, even if it's not easy to place in ordinary concepts.

The last part, about "cooking on fire" brewing may relate to using a samovar (this is a Russian vendor).  Unless I'm way off that relates to using a long brewing process not all that far off simmering a tea for a long time, or at least an extended brewing time where the water doesn't go cool after a half dozen minutes.  This probably would be good made that way.

samovar in use at a dogsled camp we visited in Murmansk

It would work well grandpa-style too; brewed in a tumbler or tea bottle, filled and refilled with hot water, drinking the brewed tea with the leaves still in it.  A broad range of different infusion strengths would still be pleasant, which is a main criteria for that.

Oddly Chinese people tend to use that style for green teas, which are the opposite, getting quite astringent without balancing the time and infusion level, but then aspect preferences do vary.  Vietnamese people love astringent hot-brewed green teas too.  They also use that brewing approach for rolled lighter oolongs, per my understanding, the other main "common-man's" tea in China, which makes a lot more sense to me.  I like shou mei (compressed white teas) and mild black teas prepared that way and this falls into that general range, even though the flavor profiles for all three are different.

in that camp break-room, with more on travel in Russia here