Thursday, November 29, 2018

Five years of blogging about tea

Originally published on the TChing site here.

It's been five years that I've been writing a blog about tea--the time flies.  I wrote about how tea culture seems to be changing last year so I'll go into how my own perspective and experience of tea has changed instead.

I got started just before my daughter was born; a lot has changed beyond tea.

meeting her family, in that first hour

Starting a blog and the rest was as much about exploring social media through a subject interest.  It does carry over into tea group discussions, which ties to co-founding a Facebook tea group.

a Laos tea garden (credit Kinnari Tea)

Of course the interest in tea did precede writing about it.  We traveled to Laos when my son was quite young, maybe 8 years ago, and I saw tea plants growing in a small farm there.  I was more interested in the coffee they produced but bought both.  That tea being a bit mediocre, probably related to processing limitations, to the farmers probably just letting it dry, probably slowed up what could've been a faster start for subject interest.

Discussing tea in groups keeps renewing my consideration of a "path to tea," of a typical experience curve.  I guess there wouldn't be any typical version; the starting point, steps, and how far it all goes would vary.  It is just a drink; I love it but can relate to people not really becoming obsessed.  I don't tend to pass on guidance for what to experience, or approach, although I did lay out some basic factors in an introductory guide once.

I seem to have come full-circle for preferences, in a sense.  I've just spent a year delving into sheng pu'er, a type and subject that takes more exploration to piece together, so that kind of review keeps going.  New types, like a Japanese black tea I just reviewed (only the second I've tried), keep coming up, but less of them.  What I really meant was that I can appreciate a broader range of types and quality levels than ever before now.  For a long time teas being new to me or as good as better versions I've tried, or even better, made them seem all the more appealing, but now the main appeal is whatever the immediate experience offers, which varies.

it doesn't get much more Thai than this

I'll give an example:  I've purchased that orange colored flavored version of loose Thai tea for the first time this year.  Even more unconventional, for a tea enthusiast, only this year I went back to drinking tea from tea bags.  Sometimes people who know I like tea but don't know which types pass those on.  In the past I'd give them away again.  Trying a version of Lipton early this year seemed to reinforce that those just wouldn't work for me.  But I tried again, mixed with sweetened condensed milk at work, and kept on with it.  One was a tea version from Kenya, mentioned in this post reviewing Cold War Berlin tea history, covered there related to mixing it with willow herb, Ivan chay.  I like willow herb now too (even though it's odd), and I've been dabbling in tisanes more.

Of course I can still relate positively with better tea, very exceptional Chinese oolongs (like my overall favorite tea, Wuyi Origin's Rou Gui).

Wuyi Origin Rou Gui; some versions do stand out

Lately I've been wondering where to go from here, related to blogging.  A classic blogger that I've learned a lot from has been saying that he's worked through a lot of what he has to say.  There seems to be an experience curve related to talking about tea that ends in just experiencing it, and not talking about it.  Another older local friend seems to have even cut back drinking it.  I doubt I'll do many more 100+ post years, or keep up the reviewing pace, but for now interesting subjects and new tea experiences keep coming up.  I'll stick with it.

Post-script:  about traffic, and some favorite posts

I keep the TChing content limited in word-count because even 700-800 word post versions seem to run long related to what else appears there.  I wanted to mention two more things here though, about readership volume, and mention some favorite past posts.

In a sense it doesn't matter how many or few people read this blog since it's not about validation through traffic as a way of keeping score, and there's no commercial angle that volume relates to.  All the same I'll mention readership, since it is one dimension, best shown by a stat graphic:

As of about a month ago individual page views dropped considerably, seemingly mostly because Facebook changed their feed-display algorithm in a way that decreased it, since most viewer traffic had been routed by Facebook link notices.  Popular posts had been viewed 300 or so times in the first few days, or over 500 for some non-review themes, and that's way down now.  

No matter.  It's hard to be sure how many of those 300k views were even people anyway, versus bots.  I'm not sure what the point is, really just sharing that, since that dimension never comes up.

I wanted to mention some all-time favorite posts too; somehow that seems appropriate to the retrospective theme.  Picking favorites among review posts just didn't work.  I liked lots of different teas for different reasons, and most of the write-ups seemed a bit wordy. 

Most of these were written in the last two years, when I've branched into topic research and tangents a bit more than I had before then.  Only two don't mention tea at all, about my son becoming a novice monk.

Tea Related Research


Tea Shopping in New York City

not so into it yet but these two will be my favorite tea drinkers later

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Making masala chai from a packaged spice blend

An Indian friend visited awhile back, Suzana Syiem, and passed on some interesting tea, and some Indian snacks, and masala chai spice mix, which is what I'm writing about here.

I usually make masala chai once the weather gets a little cool; it seems to help me pretend that it's winter, even if it's still hotter than a US fall out (or summer, in most places).  There was just a touch of chill in the air a couple weeks ago but it didn't amount to much; it wasn't down below 25 C / 77 F even in the very early mornings.  It warmed back up and I'd missed my chance.  Now that it's past Thanksgiving, and Loy Krathong, I'm making masala chai anyway, even though it's not cool at all. 

Later edit:  it was down to 24.5 C this morning, around 75 F, positively chilly for Bangkok, finally!

Looking at the blend ingredients it's not like the versions of masala chai I make every year, from-scratch versions.  Those include cardamom, cinnamon, clove, and ginger.  Per my understanding star anise and black pepper are also relatively standard spice additions but I typically leave them out.

That package label shows the ingredients in this:  fennel seeds are listed first, with clove at the end.  Cassia is related to cinnamon, per my understanding (and Wikipedia's take) more often sold as cinnamon.  This blend version won't be like what I've been preparing.  It's a powdered spice blend, which is completely fine, only an issue related to storage conditions and storage time after you open it.  Recipes and some individuals recommend grinding or crushing fresh spices with a mortar and pestle right before use, which of course would be a little better, but powdered spices work too, especially when they're fresh.

I'll keep this explanation of brewing process and tea description short.  I simmered the spice mix along with a Thai version of CTC black tea I bought for blending (around a year ago; I don't get to that much), and threw a couple of Lipton tea bags in to shift the black tea character.  My wife picks those up in hotels when they're in the room and such, and they tend to just sit around.  That Thai black tea isn't astringent at all but it is a bit woody for flavor aspect, not typical of CTC teas in general.  Malt doesn't really stand out either, or mineral undertone, mostly just the mild wood tones.

kind of an odd look while it simmers, before adding milk

not ideal as black tea goes but it works well enough

I added some cloves to bump up that spice flavor range, really the only adjustment.  I also added a small dash of salt since I like the way that evens the balance.  It wouldn't take much of that to be way too much.  Instead of carefully measuring it all so that I could duplicate and adjust amounts later I sort of just dumped it in; one and a half very small spoons of the spice, a spoon half the size of a teaspoon, and unmeasured black tea.  It's possible to adjust the intensity a lot by adding more milk at the end, a factor that doesn't come up in almost any other teas I prepare, maybe just the orange Thai spiced (artificially flavored) black teas I've been drinking more of recently.

It would be possible to simmer the milk with the tea or to not, to just boil it with water.  I added the milk at the end to get some of that effect since boiling it does seem to change the taste a bit.  I'm not sure it matters much how long you simmer tea made like this since it's ground tea with powdered spice.  It boiled around 10 to 15 minutes and I think adding another 10 minutes probably wouldn't have changed much.  For more-whole spices it would make sense to give it a longer infusion, maybe by simmering a little, leaving it sit, re-boiling, then leaving it sit.  Or simmering for awhile; it probably wouldn't matter which.

after a bit of simmering

palm sugar; the shapes it comes in vary

Sweetener is the only other factor.  Using white sugar would seem normal.  Oddly we don't keep white sugar at the house all the time; funny how that works out.  I used up all we had that was nicked from hotel room tea and coffee set-ups with that Thai tea I had been making. 

Often we will have palm sugar around; that's a good alternative, not so different than brown sugar, just not exactly like that.  That seems to be the same thing referred to as jaggery I've seen in discussions about making masala chai online.  Since we're out of both I went with honey.  I love honey on toast but I'd as soon just use white sugar in a tea like this, but it sort of doesn't matter.

Skipping to how it turned out:  it was nice.  It was much different than what I was used to, the quite-different spice blend version, but it was good.  I didn't like it as well for it being less familiar, but it was hard to split out the impact of the blend balance not being optimized from that factor, just dumping it all in at no set ratio.  The other masala chai versions I'm used to have a lot of kick from the ginger and clove standing out and this was a lot milder.  Fennel seed was hard to identify as a separate flavor since it all integrated.

I'm guessing that using two thirds as much spice and half as much tea for the same amount of water would've turned out better.  It's hard to judge how much tea went into it since both the tea leaves and spices expand a lot simmering but it looked like way too much for two large mugs of tea produced at the end.  After drinking both my nerves were a bit jolted too.  I think beyond that factor, ingesting too much tea at one time, the flavors would balance better not made really strong.  All the same it worked well enough.

my son made breakfast again (bacon needed another sear, otherwise very nice)

when people ask about how to get dosed on caffeine this will come to mind

I usually make a Christmas blend around this time, and a version last year was based on a modification of masala chai (adding white chocolate and a touch of bitter orange marmalade).  I'm not sure if I'll get around to that or not.  Throwing some peppermint and a touch of chocolate into a black tea could count as one, maybe along with some orange peel for balance. 

It would be nice to be back in the States since pine needle would be a great input for one, and I could walk outside in lots of places and collect that.  Per past experiments I suspect dried pine needle might work best (versus just brewing it fresh then), but that would easy to arrange, laying it out for a bit, or speeding that up by putting the needles in a very low temperature oven for half an hour.

making a chocolate covered cherry themed Christmas blend

I bought some Christmas decorations today (when writing the draft); maybe finding our tiny artificial tree in storage and putting up some lights and the rest will make it seem more natural to get back to that theme.  Cooler weather wouldn't hurt but there's nothing to be done about that.  It's typically cool for about a week at the end of December but it's also not consistent.  Even though it never really seems like we re-create a US version of the holiday, missing the weather, not doing decorations justice, or hearing much of the songs, my kids appreciate how much we do manage to observe, so we'll make what we can of it.

awhile back; like a plastic version of that Charlie Brown Christmas tree

in Murmansk last year; odd to go to Russia to experience more of that holiday

Monday, November 26, 2018

Vietnamese trà chít (or trà bó), and local Laos sheng

trà chít (or trà bó), Vietnamese tea I don't know much about

that same bundled tea, the separated leaves

Phongsaly (Laos) sheng; it turned out "young" refers to the plant age

From talking to a random contact online, who sent some tea, I'm trying a type of tea that's new to me from Vietnam and a Laos sheng.  The contact is interesting (Somnuc Anousinh):  he's from Laos, but was visiting Vietnam, and had a chance to mail some samples from Thailand in a short visit to the North East (in Isaan).  It's cool talking to people about very local, rare tea types.  It's a bit much to ask them to actually send some, but he did offer to.  I need to get some of what's around together to send back, to turn this into a tea swap instead of just a random gift.

I get the sense he's just a tea enthusiast who takes a hobby interest to unusual extremes, but I'm not sure.  Maybe he does sell some of these versions to support a local travel habit, since these teas are coming from relatively remote places.

One I thought was bamboo pu'er but it's not (the trà chít).  It's not really compressed.  I've seen experimental Sri Lankan black tea leaves prepared in lots of unusual ways that this resembles (although I've never tried any of those), bundled up, or that plus some shaping.  The idea for Yunnan bamboo sheng and falap (more or less a local Assam version of the same thing) is compressing tea down into a bamboo casing then heating it, doing the kill-green step with roasting versus frying, adding bamboo flavor and smoke to the tea, to the extent either transfer over.  This is just bundled leaves instead.

I asked my Vietnamese friend Huyen and she said "we call it trà chít, or trà bó."  Few people in Vietnam would probably be familiar with it, but she had a picture of it, and knew who that other contact picked it up from, and had just been visiting there a week before he did.  It's a small world.  She had passed on some very rare Vietnamese tea versions earlier, so she also gets out (with two reviewed here, and about actually meeting her in Bangkok here).

That other version picture:

Huyen visited the same producer just before Somnuc did, so that tea she is holding should be closely related.  It's aged; 10 years old (which would explain the color difference).  Somnuc mentioned that the version I'm trying is from 2017, so it's had time to age (ferment naturally as sheng does) a little, just not that much.  The scale of that bundle she is holding is a little hard to identify since her hands probably are on the small side:

Compare that earlier picture to a five-year old holding this year's version bundle:

Huyen also shared a picture of Vietnamese bamboo sheng, which I still have to get around to getting ahold of:

I was going to just try the that first tea alone but after two rinses it still just tasted like mineral, like slate, and I wanted to get further with tasting range, to not just talk about why it's like that or mention some degree of transition, in case it didn't.  Combined tastings are nice for me, although it's usually a bit much tea.  My son did go to his Chinese (Mandarin) lesson this morning, and the entire household with him, so it's a quiet space here to taste and write.  On to what these are like.


Fermented Vietnamese trà chít left, Laos sheng right

Fermented tea:  I'm not sure to what extent or through what processing this is really fermented but since it was presented as such that'll work as a more familiar working label than trà chít.

This is on the second infusion after two rinses so it's clearing up in character a bit.  The last round had been really mineral intensive; it tasted like licking a slate chalk-board, with a trace of underlying char and old basement flavor.  It seemed it just wasn't there yet for "opening up."  For younger sheng usually that relates to bitterness and astringency easing up through the first few rounds but in this case more to clearing off age and mineral intensive flavor to get to a sweeter, milder, more balanced range.  It's not musty though, and it wasn't initially.

The slate / blackboard may have given way slightly to a touch more char, and it did sweeten and gain depth, but it's not there yet.  To me this tastes a good bit like a Liu Bao.  Those vary but the typical range is heavy mineral with a touch of char; just what this is.  Probably the best well-aged versions mellow out into a different range after a lot of years but I've think I've only ever tried younger or moderate quality level examples.  One that I tried was really musty from aging, probably stored in too wet an environment, or else the air-flow wasn't set up right.

Somehow I didn't think this was supposed to be pre-fermented (it seems it couldn't be wet-piled bundled like that), but that may be what it is; that would explain the Liu Bao similarity.  It'll be interesting to see where this goes from here.

The brewed coloring is odd.  One re-interpretation could relate to "fermentation" meaning "oxidation," as some Western vendors mistakenly use the term, more or less a case of bad translation.  It's not black tea, but it could be produced in a style that's supposed to be something like a more-oxidized white tea.  I came into the tasting expecting it to be like some type of pu'er, so that read on bad translation didn't even occur to me initially (or until the post editing step, really).  The brewed sheng is the color of sheng.

Vietnamese tea left (some leaves unusually dark), Laos sheng right

Phongsaly young plant sheng:  at time of tasting I wasn't clear on details but this is "young" sheng, as in from young plants, from around Phongsaly, Laos.

A bit of geographical aside:  that's quite close to Xishuangbanna (Yunnan) and not so far from Pu'er, which is a village name the tea gets that type name from, a designation also used to specify a broader area (prefecture) that also goes by Simao.  According to Huyen the bundled tea is from Ha Giang, which is on this map over in Northern Vietnam.  The Oriental Beauty version I just reviewed had been from Son La, which is closer yet, also in the North.

Luang Prabang is the coolest place I've been to in Laos, a really old, beautiful, quiet but lightly developed tourist attraction area, with lots of old temples and local markets.  Pak Beng is in the middle of nowhere, a small village we visited on a river-based travel leg.  They shut off the local power a bit after dark when we were there, and then depending if a generator kicks on wherever you are the nearby electric lights may or may not stay on.  That part was cool.  Laos is fantastic to visit, and it's nice that not so many people think so that it's ruined by tourism.  Back to the teas then.

This second tea is actually sheng; that much is clear.  It's really sweet and approachable for this being a first infusion after a rinse.  In some cases local tea versions can be whatever they happen to be, but this is normal sheng, not an interpretation, or a bit towards white or green tea.  It's earthier, sweeter, and more complex than most young sheng seems to be.  Wild-grown plants have a different taste to them, milder, towards fruit or spice, not so much just floral and bitter over light mineral tones as a lot of other sheng expresses (although sheng can include fruit, or smoke, or lots of different aspects).

One particular aspect in this I associate with wild-grown sheng (right or wrong; I've tried a good bit of quite varied tea but I'm no expert).  It's like tree bark, but sweeter, a little towards spice.  I've not been in temperate climate forest much for a long time but I'll go with birch tree bark, or maybe that towards hickory, something light and sweet and a bit aromatic (so nothing like maple or oak).  There is a faint trace of bitterness but that's really light, hard to pick up without trying to notice it, essentially none as young sheng typically goes.

I showed a picture of it to a real tea expert (of sorts; we're all just on a scale, even people at the further end), and she mentioned it hadn't been sorted to remove yellow leaves, which is referred to as huang pian when sold as a separate product.  That would make the flavor milder and sweeter, and cost the tea intensity in other range, since that's how huang pian goes.

Second infusion

Fermented tea:  this is still "cleaning up."  I don't mean that in the sense of odd fermentation or storage flavors wearing off, or in the case of young and astringent sheng needing a few rounds to be more approachable.  It's moving off that mineral with a touch of char flavor range.

It tastes more like tree root now, that mineral intensive odd smell you get when digging through roots in clay soil.  It's not that far from potato peel, to use a reference that might be more meaningful.  It's probably more positive than that sounds; who would eat raw potato peels, or want their tea to taste like that?  Slate-range mineral is still pretty heavy in the background underlying that but the char has diminished.  It's still a lot sweeter and cleaner in effect that the flavor range implies.

I'd like a Liu Bao that tasted like this, but if a sheng did I'd wonder what was going on with it.  Expectations do a lot in defining tea experience; it helps to have had mineral intensive teas similar to this before (other Liu Bao).  I thought this might be smoky but it's just not.  That trace of char could be interpreted as smoke but to me it's not that, it's a faint touch of charcoal instead.

Phonsaly sheng:  this is some really nice tea.  The first round hinted at that, the range being that positive, but this has increased in depth, complexity, and intensity a lot, in a very nice flavor range.  Tree-bark is still the main aspect but that description doesn't do it justice.  That leans towards root-spice, with so much sweetness and complexity that it seems after one more round fruit might evolve enough to put a label on it.  Or I could be wrong and it could add floral range, I just don't expect that. Some of the mineral layer isn't unlike the other tea's, that's just framed in such a different context it's more or less an opposite style.

I love this style of tea, the aspect set, the softness, and complexity.  I suspect not very many people are getting a chance to try teas like this, maybe not even that many experienced sheng drinkers.  It's kind of the opposite of factory tea for character, and not even close to commissioned sheng versions I've tried.  It has to be wild-sourced, locally produced tea, or at least produced from tea trees growing in a relatively natural environment.  Or I could be way off; what do I know.

Again if someone had no contact with tea versions like this I could imagine placing the experience as positive or negative would be harder.  It would just be unfamiliar.  The softness could be interpreted as a flaw, as a sign the tea is from younger sourced plants, when in fact that character seems to relate as much to a different range of plant types growing in a different type of environment instead.  This write-up would look odd if I included a description of the opposite origin and try to account for all the wrong guesses, but even after editing I never did hear more source details.

Third infusion

Fermented tea:  again it's milder and more approachable, although that was true of the last round too, just less so.  That root-mineral is easing up already, falling into a more balanced effect, and sweetness might be picking up a little more.  The flavor range is clean, just unusual.  The potato-peel flavor aspect (more tree-root) has shifted to raw potato a bit.  Slate is broadening in character, more to wet-spring rocks with a touch of corroded iron.  It's interesting.  This would now be more like a clean, complex, pleasant version of a Liu Bao, way off the initial char and heavy mineral.

Phongsaly Sheng:  that tree-bark root-spice effect has shifted, onto how pine cones smell.  It's rich, sweet, and aromatic, also woody but not in any typical sense one encounters in most teas.  I almost want to guess out which pine tree's cone this flavor aspect resembles but that really would be pushing it.  The taste resembles pine too, in between a blue-spruce pine flavor (light and sweet, but dry and mineral intensive) and the richer and sweeter range of pine-tree buds (which you can eat; they're delicious).

Both of these teas are more interesting than I expected.  Huyen shared some really pleasant and novel versions of Vietnamese sheng awhile back but in trying those the theme was more about how the style wasn't really exactly sheng, so the experience was about identifying what the character was, along with the novel aspect sets.  These are just as novel but the second seems completely like sheng to me, just not a conventional version of it.  I'd chalk the differences up to terroir and plant source issues more than processing (going off-script for typical production steps), but of course that's still a guess.

This second tea (both, really) doesn't come across as thin, or leave your mouth quickly, and there is some lingering aftertaste.  All that aspect range pairs more naturally with the mouth-feel, bitterness, and other flavor intensity blast you get from young sheng, from more conventional versions of it.  These just "aren't thin," which works for me.

Fourth infusion

These aren't transitioning fast enough to add a lot more description, given how long this is running.  It works to say the "fermented" version is pretty close to how it was in the last round.  The sheng too.  I think it's still picking up more complexity, kind of like how those Dragonball characters spend forever continuing to power up.  The pine aspect reminds me a little of tea-berry in this round, a sweet, aromatic, wild-tasting version of mint, with a touch of berry fruit (more or less).

Vietnamese trà chít

Laos sheng

Fifth infusion

I accidentally left these soak for awhile, distracted by something else.  I can describe what the effect of a really long infusion is at this point and given transitions had evened out anyway can stop there.

The fermented tea is just a stronger version of where it had been.  Oddly the balance still works; it had lightened enough, and never was challenging.  The root-mineral / potato peel effect is a good bit stronger but it's still pleasant, it doesn't really seem "off" for that.  That's an odd narrow aspect range to express, so this tea may not be a personal favorite for almost anyone, but it is interesting, and the balance works for me.

The sheng's greater intensity doesn't work as well as a more conventional infusion strength.  The pine aspect is a bit strong; it's like trying to eat a pine needle.  Brewing a tea that strong (which never comes up, just "stronger" does, when I get to it), allows you to identify feel better, and flaws, instead of being more pleasant that way.  None of the aspect range present (with flavors way too strong, made this way) is off in any way, beyond that intensity.


I really paid the price for drinking a triple-strength infusion that late in the rounds.  My stomach wasn't normal and I felt a bit off from overdoing the caffeine intake.  Oddly I could still take a nap (sometimes sheng works out that way, that you can sleep "on it"), but I didn't go back to feeling normal until dinner time.

Both were really interesting teas.  That "fermented" trà chít version wouldn't be a personal favorite related to that unconventional aspect range but it was nice for being so novel.  No teas I've tried were ever similar to that one.  The sheng was really nice for seeming like a good example of a wild-plant origin sheng (if it was that).

It would be interesting to know if the few guesses here were right about these teas, or to know more about the parts where I didn't even have a decent guess, like what "fermented" ever meant.  That tea couldn't have been wet-piled, and per the input from Somnuc and Huyen it wasn't aged tea, which rules out the two typical meanings.  Another tea friend said it looked like white tea to her, and that could account for a bit of oxidation, which would explain the dry tea look and brewed tea color, it just didn't taste remotely like a white tea.  At least it made for a very novel experience, positive as experienced aspects go, but even more interesting for being so unique.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Hatvala Vietnamese Oriental Beauty

a local holiday theme; more to follow at the end on that

It'll be nice getting back to this familiar tea type, to do a review of a tea that's very pleasant, complex and subtle, but not challenging on those other levels (combined or blind tastings and such).

Geoff of Hatvala sent a few Vietnamese sheng to try, along with this version I'm reviewing (which is also from Vietnam).  I've tried previous years of their OB before, which were great, so it'll be interesting to try this one.  If it's the same version another friend talked about it's different this year, more subtle, complex and pleasant, but not as intense and forward related to the fruit and spice notes.

There is back-story to ramble on about related to the potential range of this tea type, how much versions vary, but I've been through all that.  Protests about Taiwan sharing the term "Oriental Beauty" do come up, but regardless of where someone stands on those naming convention issues the teas don't change.  Tea experience itself is more interesting to me than naming conflicts, history, and related rituals (even teaware, and that scope is completely functional).  Other functional issues like cultivar background or processing seem more interesting to me, since they're direct causes of how the teas turn out, but they can be hard to gain a clear picture of.

At best the debates over names and categories can be territorial disputes that are a bit irrelevant, people marking out their own space as special through holding onto their own words (beyond actual "counterfeiting" issues).  At worst it seems to just be trolling, about getting conversation stirred up versus actually making any point.  Language can be like that though; there is plenty of room for people to take use of labels differently than I do.  I suppose that relates to me not wearing that many labels myself.  I'm an American, and self-identify as a tea enthusiast, and beyond that different categories often get a bit hazy.


On first sip it's clear the tea is great.  I can see how this comes across much differently than I remember the last version.  Some OB is bright and sweet, heavy on muscatel or other citrus.  Other versions can show more spice, earthy but in a sweet way, with lots of cinnamon and the rest showing up.  Both ranges tend to be more intense than subtle.  This is different.

Cinnamon does stand out; that is common with a familiar range.  Beyond that the main aspect seems to be a subtle melon range.  I don't like melon, any versions but watermelon, so it's odd that it tends to work for me in the more rare cases where it makes it across in teas (and I identify it; more rare yet).  Bai Mu Dan can include melon as a flavor aspect, for example, and that tends to seem pleasant to me.  Mineral plays a larger role than it often does for OB.  It's still soft, easy to drink, and very approachable, so it's not mineral as pairs with astringency and malt in a black tea; far from that.  It does include some corroded iron bar range though, which is common in teas that are typically a lot edgier.

The taste is still clean.  Really how well this particular tea works out, working from that aspects range, depends on that factor.  It will evolve and flavors will shift but it wouldn't take much tree-fungus or fermenting peat aspect to totally throw off other really pleasant effect.  I don't think this will go that way though.

That first infusion I went a bit over 15 seconds to get things started fast, to avoid saying "it's too light to be sure but..."  All that just depends on preference; that makes for a nice start to experiencing a tea too.

I was just thrown out of my tasting space by the family making too much noise, putting a new steam iron together nearby.  It's a nice change, to taste tea outside instead.  It would be nice if I were a full kilometer away from that home appliance project since some people have quieter fights than my wife talking through interesting things going well.  Luckily my wife has Keoni in there for common sense and mechanical aptitude; it'll still be loud but at least it will work out with him helping.

Keo made me this breakfast, French toast

somehow we had made it to a Tefal warehouse outlet sale

The way these aspects balance together have me not missing the more intense, brighter, and sweeter character of the earlier versions of this tea as much.  It seems closer to a soft, sweet, rich Chinese black tea in character, where fruitier OB might share a little space with second-flush Darjeeling (just not the tannin edge; even for soft versions of those Darjeelings there's a lot more structure to them than in the softer Taiwanese--or typically Taiwanese--more-oxidized oolongs).  The tea didn't transition that much in this first round; it still comes across as cinnamon, subtle but pronounced melon, probably a touch of citrus (just not a lot, maybe along the line of dried blood-orange peel), and mineral, in the range of corroded iron with rocks, I suppose.

That last mineral part has so much depth and complexity it comes across as a natural well spilling out of the side of a Pennsylvania hill does.  That's how my parent's house gets water, by the way.  It's filtered by miles of hills that it falls on as rain, and picks up the taste of the rocks it runs through.  One particular mineral is stronger in their source, but I forget which (which has little to do with this tea, it's just a tangent).  It may be that range that could make this tea very appealing to someone, or it might not if that doesn't click for them, and the brighter orange and other spice range is missed.  Either way it's not hard to relate to, to "get," unlike some subtle teas or intense teas that take more processing.

The idea of alternative interpretations of flavor aspects has been coming up, a little.  Not in online discussions so much, but as something that keeps occurring to me.  Someone could see this as floral in nature.  It's not a stretch at all to shift interpretation from melon, subdued citrus, and cinnamon, over mineral, over to including or being based on a rich, sweet, complex floral tone instead, maybe in orchid range.  Or I suppose it would be more natural to just add it to a list.

That cinnamon tone with mineral leans towards what people tend to identify as toasted pastry.  It's not like croissant, in this case, but more like a good version of danish, or even matching sticky-bun.  As to the fruit I'm interpreting as melon a different part of the range reminds me a little of dried longan, which has a sweet, rich flavor that's hard to describe.  Given all that the melon could be interpreted as an anomaly, a part that doesn't match the rest, but to me the tea including that range lends the experience complexity.

The tea isn't thin, and it doesn't leave your mouth as soon as you drink it; it's just not so noteworthy in those regards that I've ended up going on about that range.  If someone really valued full feel this might seem a little thin but it's not thin at all.  The aftertaste isn't localized or intense as it is for sheng, or even bright-stone mineral in Taiwanese high mountain oolongs, but that interesting mineral range stays with you, sweetened and deepened with the cinnamon doing the same.

However many infusions in it's not transitioning much.  Some teas do and some don't; at least it had nice complexity and balance going for it all along, and it seems to be holding up well across the first 4 infusions or so.  I've got things to do though, so I'll grab a couple more fast infusions and then get back to this later, leaving off taking notes for now.

That friend who had tried this mentioned he liked last year's version a lot better at first, since it's more typical of OB range:  brighter, a bit sweeter, more intense, heavier on fruit aspects like citrus.  He also said that after drinking this a few times he appreciates it more, as different instead of inferior.  I'd tend to agree.  I did like the version and set of aspects better from the version I tried before but this is interesting, well-balanced, and quite pleasant, just different.

As with any of the Hatvala teas this version is a good value for what it is.  Their rolled oolong versions sell for less but that's how the types work out in Taiwan too; this type is a lot more rare (good versions of it are), and in higher demand.  Versions from Taiwan vary so much it doesn't work well to say if it's typical of that general range or not.  To me it seems so, and it seems above average related to what I've tried of those, but again with a high degree of variability any one person's personal judgment about that means less.

Sharing Thai culture theme images

On a completely different subject I recently attended a traditional Thai version of a wedding, and on the same day the US celebrated Thanksgiving Thailand observed Loy Krathong.  It's probably closer to Easter in underlying theme than Thanksgiving; the idea is to float small "boats" (kratongs) made of bread or leaves and flowers to carry off your sins.  Originally it tied more to appreciation towards nature, per my limited and likely flawed understanding (so getting back towards being thankful), but it seems to relate more to personal observations now.

At any rate I'll share some pictures of both.

that "boat" is a krathong (which I helped make!)

it makes for a colorful setting

beautiful and environment-friendly but still a mess to clean up later

traditional Thai wedding look (the bride is my wife's cousin)

family photo; with a cousin and my wife's uncle

I've lost track of what this step symbolizes, pouring water

the Thai Buddhism equivalent of a priest or minister