Sunday, December 30, 2018

Barbote Nepal white tea

I'm reviewing the second of several types of teas passed on by that Nepalese producer, Narendra Kumar Gurung, owner of Barbote teas.  The golden needle version was nice, and an earlier round of Spring teas were great, so this should be more of the same.  I tend to like white teas most from Nepal, since they're generally very distinctive, flavorful, and intense across all aspect range, not as subtle as some types and versions of white teas can be.


The brewed tea leaves looks a bit green; this may be less oxidized than the last version (or my memory of it).  I might've confirmed how harvest seasons work out there and included when this was produced, but didn't.  It seems best to just relate an impression of the tea.

My initial impression is positive; the tea is warm, complex, sweet, and very pleasant, with reasonably good intensity.  The earlier version really hit you with citrus and light mineral, even more intense, but there's something to be said for depth and range of aspects in a tea version, and subtlety.  There's no judging a tea based on one sip so I'll ramble on across a few infusions.  This will brew a half dozen, at least, since I'm preparing it Gongfu style.  At a guess it will give slightly better results made that way, versus Western style, but brewing it both ways would identify that better than guessing.

The light mineral from the earlier version is still present, flinty or like limestone versus "warmer" minerals.  It's perhaps just less intense.  This version doesn't seem quite as sweet; it's more subtle, with less distinct aspects filling in additional complexity.  That includes flavors along the lines of wood or grain, but I'll try to break that down further in the next infusion.

The tea is transitioning, or maybe just infusing more completely, more fully saturated after an initial round.  Some vegetal scope fills in that might overlap with green tea character but none of the astringency or grassiness common to that range is present; interesting.  Beyond the light mineral floral tone is the strongest component.  That seems to trail into a mild fruit, towards strawberry jam or marmalade.  It's a cool effect, that much going on in those ranges.  It compensates well for the later harvest version losing the intensity of the earlier one.  The flavors are very clean, well balanced, and well integrated.  It's "good" tea.  Good is all relative, it can mean different things, but the quality level is apparent.

It's odd the way that the tea is so green with edges that are so much darker, surely a by-product of a processing step's input.  I won't speculate further about that, comparing it to whatever else or guessing about the aspects input, just pointing it out.

Citrus seems to be picking up in this infusion; it's more like I remember the last version.  Anyone  who loves that distinctive mix of light mineral and citrus in Nepalese whites wouldn't be disappointed.  This is essentially the profile that seems standard to me.  Citrus is bright, towards lemony, maybe without actually tasting exactly like lemon, or only a little.  It's not that far off how I'd imagine the zest of a mandarin orange would taste.

Perhaps not surprisingly those oranges aren't called that here in Thailand, only referred to as Chinese oranges.  For all I know there could be variations of small, sweet types of oranges in China; that's kind of how that tends to go.  There are lots of versions of papayas, mangoes, and pineapples here, without English translations for almost any of the types, as far as I know.  I just bought a "Holland" papaya; that doesn't seem to be an original Thai name for that one.

This review seems to amount to random observations about flavors versus a comprehensive description.  I'll try to round out more about general character next round, an overall impression.

Warmth picked up a little.  I think part of these transitions is that slight variations in infusion strength allow the tea to show off different aspect range; very light and brighter elements come across more, slightly heavier and flavors seem to warm and deepen.  It's an interesting effect.  That would seem to get lost in preparing the tea Western style, but I can't be certain there isn't some other benefit on that side.  Maybe even brewed to moderate strength for 2 to 3 minutes complexity would seem greater, for example.  I doubt it, but messing around with approach and parameters and testing it out is the only way to tell.

A more complete summary then:  citrus and mineral stand out the most to me, at this point, although interpreting that sweetness and flavor complexity as floral range instead would be reasonable.  Mineral isn't quite as bright and light as I remember in the spring version; it's a bit warmer, towards a different kind of rock.  Feel isn't thin but this type of tea doesn't have as much feel-structure as some other types; it's not as full and round as oolongs can be, or as complex in feel as sheng range goes. 

Aftertaste experience is also moderate; it doesn't leave your mouth quickly, but isn't as drawn out as for some other tea types.  It's a generally flavor intensive experience though, which works well enough for my preferences.  The flavor has good complexity and depth beyond that.  An underlying tone might be grain or wood, or to me closer to a warm, neutral tone flower type, like chrysanthemom.  The overall flavor is so complex that a bit of dried fruit might join in with the rest, but those more pronounced aspects stand out more.

I let the next infusion run a bit longer, adding jam to bread since I'm having this tea with breakfast.  There is a simple tip for how to only taste the tea when tasting along with food: drink a couple of sips of cool but not cold water in between food and tea.  For more taste-experience precision skipping the food is better, while still cleaning your palate along with that using the water, but even for a tea blogger tea can be an integrated part of the rest of life, not something set aside for some functional or ceremonial form and context.  Or it can be that; someone could be wearing special clothes sitting at a special table in a special room instead; it's just up to the person.  For getting the most out of tasting for review detail keeping background noise and distractions to a minimum is critical; even turning down the music or turning off a television program makes a lot of difference.

Brewed a little longer the mineral tones emerge stronger, and citrus drops back.  Sweetness still gives it balance but the overall effect is different.  Even the citrus shifts from a bright lemon to a richer, heavier orange peel, or maybe relates a different kind of orange.

I brewed the tea a few more rounds and it's not finished yet.  Later infusions stay positive but longer times draws out more of a woody aspect, which works ok with remaining citrus and mineral.

On a different topic, the subject of tea blogger bias came up recently.  Is it clear how much I liked the tea, where it stands in relation to others, and what I see as its limitations?  To me it's good tea; a good version for the type, in a style I personally like.  I liked the spring version just a little more for being more intense, and maybe slightly sweeter, but after a few infusions of transition this isn't so different.  Related to other Nepal white teas made in a similar style it compares well; it seems above average.  Then again the versions I've tried were all fairly consistently positive, which could just relate to the luck of the draw.

The main limitation seems to be that the style might not be for everyone.  Flavor intensity (or even flavor aspects range, what it tastes like) is positive, but feel is a little thinner and aftertaste a bit less pronounced than for other tea types.  It's a set of concerns that applies to black teas in general too; they're often pleasant in flavor but might give up overall aspect range to oolongs or sheng.  Not to shou / shu pu'er so much, it seems to me, but even those can be very rich and full in feel.  Mostly the taste range just might not be for everyone.

It would be hard to judge that (trueness to type, quality related to the rest of the same range of tea versions) without direct comparison with a good version of a similar Nepalese white tea.  Not necessarily tasting them together, but using that as a benchmark.  Those seem more consistent than oolongs, sheng, and even black teas seem to me; most I've tried were quite nice.  Someone could drink only below average woody or cardboard tasting Wuyi Yancha for years, or only younger sheng that tastes bitter and a bit like kerosene or snuff.  Yiwu would tend to be floral and sweet instead but even for teas from that broad area drinking only the lowest cost versions might naturally turn up the worst examples.  From what I've experienced of Nepal white teas in this style versions being pretty good is normal.

Other business

I never really did include much of a "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!" section in a post.  I hope that you have had a great holidays and end of the year, leading into another positive and interesting year.  Of course 2018 had some glitches to work through, on the broader scale of events, but sometimes people go a bit far with the negative spin.  The world we had known is continuously ending, and some aspects of present reality are typically a bit messed up.

It's been a busy week here; lots of Christmas details to work out, three trips to a local play area, a good bit of tasting, and the normal errands never stop.

As usual I mostly just want to share pictures of my kids; they are the center of all I do.  Tea works well as a hobby for me to have an interest and focus beyond the work and parenting role but they still mean the most to me.

Christmas with family

an Elsa doll; Santa knew what she wanted

the Funarium, a Bangkok play area

their favorite gift

my view from the final edit too

we usually travel now, and add more activities this year instead

Thursday, December 27, 2018

2006 Zhong Cha sheng compared with 2007 Changtai Nannuo

There is some back-story to this tea, just not the kind that clearly describes what it is.  I was in the local Bangkok Chinatown a few weeks ago to when Anna of Kinnari Tea was visiting, and stopped through the local market Yaowarat Soi 6 area and to a tea shop I'm familiar with, Sen Xing Fa, to pick up a spare gaiwan to give away.  I'd bought a couple versions of shou mei there before, and a Tae Tea / Dayi 7542 that was on the younger side (3 or 4 years old then), and at one point bought an inexpensive, sort of no-name aged sheng cake.

That last wasn't an incredible tea, just decent, a bit heavy on tobacco and woody flavors, and a little thin in feel, but it was nice for having a moderate priced sheng around to share versions of.  I think I still have some but I've split most of it between giving it away and trying some from time to time.  It's not for people already exposed to aged sheng, to appreciate how good that version is, instead just to work as an example of the general range.  Aged sheng is much different in character than all other types of tea, even shou, and although drinking a so-so version only gets some of the general effect across a lot of the novelty still gets conveyed.  You can definitely tell that it's not black tea, or shou. 

That shop had what seemed to be a knock-off 10 year old 7542 there that might've been perfect for filling the same role; certainly not as good as the real version would've been, but if in the same ballpark worth drinking and interesting for trying something new.  I just didn't have time to try it, and didn't want to gamble on a tea I might not want to drink or give away.

that same guy from last year, at the Sen Xing Fa shop

I finally made it back there in the last week.  I tried that tea with the guy working there (who's name escapes me), a family member of the shop owners.  He admitted that it wasn't a genuine tea version (it was selling for $20-some, and a related version I looked up online was going for around $70-some).  Which leads to a tangent:  the actual right market-rate cost of that tea would depend on which lot number it is, what harvest batch it is.  A discussion comment on Steepster just explained that system:

The other number to notice, at least with Dayi cakes, is the 3-digit number that indicates when in the season the cake was produced. It has the form xnn, where x is the last digit of the year, and nn is a sequence number starting with 01. ...the first pressing of 2018 would have been numbered 7542-801.

Generally the x01 pressings command a price premium, as the first and likely best picking of the season.

It doesn't matter what that other tea claimed to be, and since this tea isn't a Dayi (Tae Tea) product that I'm reviewing it probably doesn't have a similar number to be concerned with.  To make a long story short I tried another tea with that staff, which he claimed was better, and it was a lot more substantial, not nearly as thin as the 7542 knock-off.  It turns out it was labeled as from the Zhong Cha company, which doesn't mean much to me, but does turn up as a known producer.  Whether or not it really is that or not who knows (or where the tea was grown, etc.); I bought it based on it seeming reasonable after trying a few rounds of it.  Really this tasting session will inform what it's actually like more, since I didn't have a lot of time to focus there, or to adjust infusion parameters myself to what I liked best.  Just rushing through tasting alone throws off how much you pick up.

I'll taste it along with a Changtai version sample a friend passed on, a 2007 Nannuo tea (at least presented as such; these teas do tend to get counterfeited).  I liked that tea, although it didn't seem that much better than the tobacco intensive version I've already mentioned, maybe more pleasant in flavor but a relatively subtle tea version (thin, to put it less kindly).

I'm "brewing around" only having two thirds of what I'd normally brew for that Changtai version, so I'll need to go slightly longer on infusions to keep this even, throwing off a completely consistent comparison tasting but it's not really a problem.  That tea was there to remind me of a range of what I'd tried in the past, and to serve as a marker for potential of sorts, not exactly as a benchmark to be achieved.


just getting started (Changtai left; there's less of it)

2007 Changtai Hu Chen Nan Nuo:  somehow the baseline idea seems to work better trying this tea version first in each round.  It's interesting, not bad.  Seemingly it clearly is aged sheng; kind of my impression from before.  The flavor is a little towards tobacco, but more aged leather, hinting towards aromatic dark wood or spice.  That works.  It'll probably pick up a bit more complexity across rounds and be quite nice.  Trying it again maybe pipe tobacco works as a description, a more aromatic version in the same range.

2006 Zhong Cha:  it's more complex than the other version but the flavor range isn't quite as positive.  I'm not alarmed yet; a couple infusions will show where it's going.  It has a lot more depth, more mineral, more in the range of corroded iron versus woody earthiness.  A touch of mushroom or musty aged wood pulls that in a direction that could be more positive; that's what I'm talking about probably evolving to be more positive.  The overall intensity is completely different.  The other tea wasn't really noticeably thin in effect, feel, and aftertaste (and just getting started) but compared to this version it kind of was.

Going back and trying both before moving on to the next infusion I appreciate the sweetness in the Changtai version, and how clean those flavors are for being in that earthy range.  I'd not notice the lack of intensity or missing aftertaste as much in that tea without trying it with the other.  The Zhong Cha version isn't exactly musty, as I normally use that term, but some flavor transition will either make it positive or else it will be quite limited.  The staff at that shop mentioned it does transition positively, but I didn't have the time to spare to get through that much of a full round.

Second infusion

2006 Changtai:  again the flavor is nice for this tea, shifted a bit into an incense spice and old furniture range a little.  I'm using a slightly longer infusion time given the proportion difference but it never will be possible to compensate for that, but that's not really the point anyway.  Feel is a bit thin, and the aftertaste doesn't disappear immediately but it's not pronounced either.  As aspects go this is flavor intensive, which works for me, but missing a full feel aspect does lighten the overall experience a little.  The flavor is interesting to me but I don't immediately completely connect with that range (pipe tobacco, warm mineral, dark wood, incense spice, and old furniture).  It would be nice for drinking something different from time to time but I don't know that I'd want to experience it too often.

2007 Zhong Cha:  at least it did transition, and in the right direction, but the mushroom or tree fungus part of the flavor is still clearing out.  Mineral in the form of rusted iron is quite strong in this; again that's not awful but not something I'd want to spend a lot of time experiencing.  It's almost hard to place what the extra levels of depth of intensity, mouth-feel, and aftertaste mean to me.  I've never completely moved on from appreciating teas mostly due to taste but at the same time the overall experience has a character shaped by multiple factors.  There's too much corroded metal range in this for it to balance for flavor at this point but I do get the sense it's still evolving into where it will be.

Oddly this isn't that close a match to what I experienced in that shop, but I'm getting a sense the staff was brewing it very lightly to get that aspect to balance better early on, since intensity is an issue related to being too much rather than the opposite, across the entire aspect range.  I'll do a flash infusion next time and see how that goes.  It was probably as well to try this made like a tea better brewed a little heavier to get a feel for all the aspects, to see if anything stood out as a flaw experienced like that.  Taste range is still an issue, otherwise the rest works.

Third infusion

Changtai:  it's not changing much.  That flavor range is catchy; I like it better than I had.  It's probably better for trying it alongside a tea that tastes a lot like a corroded iron bar.  I think that other tea will be better having a couple infusions behind it, and for using a flash infusion this round, but it does brew a lot darker even for that (at a higher proportion too, mind you).  Since this tea is coming across a bit thin I think I'll give it a 20+ second soak the next round to see what it's like brewed at a more conventional intensity; this really is still prepared lightly.

Zhong Cha:  that initial mushroom and tree fungus (maybe including a little tree bark) has dissipated, and the iron mineral softened, transitioning to a nicer aged furniture / incense spice range.  I guess in a sense it's headed towards where the Changtai started out for flavor aspects, or at least where it was a round earlier.  Maybe that kid in the shop was onto something with his assessment in mentioning that it keeps improving.

I tend to not make a lot of what tea vendors say until I experience things myself but of course a lot of them have plenty of experience with teas to draw on.  Buying this version was a bit of a leap of faith, not made mostly for that reason.  I had gambled on some random no-name whatever-it-is somewhat aged sheng from that shop before, and it wasn't great, but for the price it was a lot better than it might have been.  I should probably be comparing this to that; I think there is still some around. At any rate the next round seems to be the real starting point for this tea, when it finally clears past some initial odd character aspects and gets down to it.

The way that Changtai is working out, not transitioning much but decent right out of the gate, is probably better for letting people try a tea version they're completely unfamiliar with.  It's probably a lot more forgiving related to infusion intensity too, harder to screw up.

Fourth infusion

Changtai:  spice had already picked up in that last round, so this had really been more on aromatic wood and spice versus tobacco range then, and it hasn't moved off that.  Giving it a 20+ second infusion didn't ramp up intensity much.  It just is what it is; it has decent flavor but the feel and aftertaste is limited, and even the flavor intensity is a bit limited too.

It may have just been that initial character of the tea didn't lend itself to retaining intensity over a longer term.  It could've been more bright, sweet, floral, etc., and then didn't have the bitterness or astringency (the related compound proportions) to transition to a fuller tea later on.  It's still fine.  I wouldn't expect it to be much different in another 5 years, and it may just fade more from here, but it drinks ok as it is.  I've mentioned sweetness but I'm not sure I highlighted the critical role that plays in the balance enough.  It's not so far off toffee or molasses in range, and it really makes the rest work.

Zhong Cha:  this tea is striking the best balance it has yet.  On the one hand it's interesting, complex, and a bit intense, with plenty of intense feel, mineral base, and aftertaste to support what's going on.  On the other that flavor range just wouldn't be for everyone, even compared to this other version tasting like tobacco and then incense, aromatic wood, and other spice.  I suppose it's heaviest in a range of incense spice now, frankincense or myrhh or whatever it is.  It's a lot like brewing one of those incense sticks might seem it would be, except I don't think that's actually possible.

This makes for kind of a strange tangent, but I've been talking about traditional Chinese medicine a good bit lately, and actually visited a practitioner a week ago.  I have less to pass on about that than one might expect; he looked at my tongue and checked my pulse, and the main problem for being treated with those medicines is that there isn't much actually wrong with me (I was there to join my wife; Thais tend to believe in everything).

Anyway, check this out about myrrh, from Wikipedia:

When a tree's wound penetrates through the bark and into the sapwood, the tree bleeds a resin. Myrrh gum, like frankincense, is such a resin... 

...In traditional Chinese medicine, myrrh is classified as bitter and spicy, with a neutral temperature. It is said to have special efficacy on the heart, liver, and spleen meridians as well as "blood-moving" powers to purge stagnant blood from the uterus. It is therefore recommended for rheumatic, arthritic, and circulatory problems, and for amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, menopause, and uterine tumours.

Myrrh's uses are similar to those of frankincense, with which it is often combined in decoctions, linaments and incense. When used in concert, myrrh is "blood-moving" while frankincense moves the qi, making it more useful for arthritic conditions.

It is combined with such herbs as notoginseng, safflower petals, angelica sinensis, cinnamon, and salvia miltiorrhiza, usually in alcohol, and used both internally and externally.[10]

I have no idea what this tea might be doing for my qi.  I'm on some random herbs from that Chinese medicine guy anyway; I'm probably good.

Fifth infusion

Chang Tai:  this tea is just fading.  It won't be a fair comparison from here because I've been stretching the infusion times all along to get it to match the other version being brewed at double the proportion.  Again I think for someone trying to experience aged sheng range in an approachable form this really works.  The flavor is pleasant and the thin spots in other aspect character wouldn't matter to everyone, especially not to people without developed expectations.  I'll keep brewing this because it's pleasant but it will take one minute infusions just to get a light round out of it, probably onto closer to two minutes soon.

Zhong cha:  aromatic wood and spice is balancing differently in this tea now.  It doesn't work well to describe proportion or balance changes like that in an aspect-list style description.  That underlying warm mineral proportion (tasting like iron, and also rocks I guess) is in a really good balance now, lighter, working a lot better as a supporting aspect versus a primary flavor.

Sixth infusion

Changtai:  at least the long infusion times are coaxing a bit of floral aspect out and touch more earthiness as a supporting element.  It works well still, it's just really thin even brewed for a long time.

Zhong Cha:  the old furniture effect is picking up a little, which makes a trace of that earlier tree fungus range more noticeable.  It hadn't completely cleared, I guess, it was just below the range of what was noticeable related to other flavors.  It still has plenty of aromatic wood and incense spice range going on, still with a lot of supporting underlying mineral.  It's probably nice for being thinner, since I'm not generally good about pulling off full-speed flash infusions and giving this the extra 5 seconds works at this intensity.

This tea experience raises the age-old question:  do I like it?  I suspect I will more once I've had it a couple of times, but it still works now.  It would be nice if that Changtai tea had half this tea's overall intensity, with a flavor range more in between the two.  There's just something about experiencing a tea that doesn't disappear out of your mouth when you drink it, that has some structure to it, that all joins in making this a nicer experience.  The aromatic spice and wood range is something else; I'm just not familiar with it standing out to this degree.  I could imagine people with no background with sheng at all, people I'm introducing the type to with this tea, wondering if it's really ok to drink it.  It tastes a little like what one would expect from some Chinese herb practitioner.  That stuff is kind of nasty, actually, but not so far off this.

Seventh infusion

I get the sense the Zhong Cha tea is only about half finished, unless transitions don't justify keeping on with brewing the tea, but I'll close taking notes after this round.  I let the Changtai tea go for over two minutes so this will describe what was left to be drawn out of it.

Changtai:  it's much better, given 2 1/2 minutes of infusion time.  That faint spice aspect has moved a bit towards some aromatic root spice, as I interpret it.  It would probably work out ok to go with a packed gaiwan proportion of this and stretch out the infusions to a dozen or so, and it would probably be even better.

Zhong Cha:  this might be the best this has been; it might have more positive transition to go in it.  That whole list of flavors (which I won't repeat) has shifted in balance, with the earthiness / underlying mineral moving a little towards tree bark or potato peel.  That doesn't sound good, put that way, but it's the way a complex range of flavors (and other aspects) balance each other that's working, not one or more of the flavors being positive on its own.


Where a Laos black tea I tried recently had an aspect range and character that would appeal to everyone (fruit and spice, dried cherry and cinnamon, well balanced and not remotely challenging) this Zhong Cha tea experience really wouldn't.  It's hard to imagine those flavors "cleaning up" with additional age but the degree of intensity would suggest that it might not just fade and taper off over a good number more years, and even if it did it has intensity to spare.  It's the part about using this to share with people to try a new range I'm concerned about.  Someone a few steps down the path of experiencing different teas might not love it but they could at least place it.

One thing I didn't mention about this Zhong Cha version:  it's quite compressed, and the tea leaves are relatively aged, but not as much as I would've expected for a 12 year old tea version.  That could relate to storage conditions (stored in a less humid environment), or that level of compression might've slowed up fermentation a little, by limiting air exposure within the tea.  Or both, I guess.  It's definitely fermented, and definitely not shou, so although I can't be sure it really is a 12 year old tea that still seems about right.  The character (aspects) went in an unusual direction, compared to what else I've been used to, but it seems a good bit of fermentation could lead to that result, even if another half-dozen years might finish off transitions in progress more.

At least it's interesting.  If anyone visits Bangkok they're welcome to try some of it.  It reminds me a little of trying a very atypical "witches broom" sheng version (or at least I think that's the common name for it; it's called trà chít in Vietnam, where it was produced), but it's not quite that challenging.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Kinnari Tea Xayaboury Laos Shai Hong (sun-dried black tea)

I'm behind on trying lots of teas; probably a good problem to have.  Anna of Kinnari Tea dropped off some when visiting Bangkok (mentioned in this post), and I've really been looking forward to getting to them.  Yesterday was kind of a long day, starting out with my relatively new practice of running (2+ miles, not far yet), and ending with a family Christmas gathering (prior to Christmas; I write these posts in two parts, making the notes along with later editing).  It will be nice tasting a "comfort tea," a style of black tea that I really like.

my wife (in purple) with two of three cousins, the two guys

the one on the right isn't mine; hopefully she didn't pick up any bad habits

These are never far off Yunnan blacks, teas from right at the edge of Yunnan (at least when similarly processed, given the tea plant types are so closely related).  That last version from Somnuc was great for being pleasant and novel; we'll see if this compares well to that.


The initial flavor is a bit subdued; that was to be expected for this black tea type.  It should open up a bit and gain depth and sweetness across a couple more infusions, but this tea type gives up intensity in a trade-off to achieve a different aspect range, and to be able to pick up some depth and complexity across a few years of aging.  The aspects it already shows are nice:  soft, sweet, rich black tea sweetness, towards the dried fruit and light spice range that is typical.

Where that other Laos black tea I just reviewed has a bit of tree-bark character to transition off of, not musty, but earthy in a completely different sense, this is very clean in effect from the start.  Beyond that the general range isn't all that different.  I'll revise that general description to a flavors list in the next round.

The intensity really did pick up; this probably has one more round of opening up to really kick in too.  It seems to me that some teas describe better than others; some are so close to a typical, standard type and set of aspects that it would be easy to just flesh out finer details.  This one not so much.  It's not atypical for sun-dried black tea but those do vary, and the interesting character range, the style variations, doesn't describe well.

Fruit and spice still stand out most; I'll start with that.  A slight earthy dryness hits you just as quickly establishing the balance that defines the experience.

My tasting area just turned into a winter Lego Disney cartoon theme screening area, with Elsa and Anna in that video, so I was bumped to the outside tasting theme.  It's a nice reset.

As far as pinning down the individual aspects in this tea it's hard to separate them.  Fruit, earth, and that slightly dry mineral structure could be described in lots of different ways, and what you really notice is how it all balances together, not whether the fruit is dried cherry, dried tamarind, or if it contains citrus, or relates to roasted squash.  Maybe all of those; it's complex.  If there is any citrus that would be very mild, just a bit of dried peel to balance the rest.  It probably works as well to say it all tastes a bit like dried persimmon since I think that's closer.  The spice range might pick up more later; for now it's a faint trace of cinnamon.  The earthiness isn't too far from a tropical dark hardwood flavor.

The spice range did pick up on the next infusion.  Sometimes it must seem like I've edited those predictions back in later, right?  Except when they're wrong, of course.  Cinnamon does seem like part of the spice range but it also seems like a different aromatic bark or root component, I'm just at a loss for which.  It's not sassafras, the general taste in root beer.  It's not clove either, but the way that a more aromatic part works together with a richer, deeper range is a bit related to that in form.  The touch of dryness is nice, related to a warm underlying mineral range, which isn't pronounced.  This tea isn't astringent at all but having that slight edge fills in some feel range, adding to the overall complexity of the experience.

A little more fruit and sweetness might be nice but that could develop in the next infusion, or probably would within about a year to a year and a half if left to age.  It would probably be better yet after two, and maybe just fading after four.  Of course I'm guessing; I've tried a number of shai hong versions (sun-dried black teas) at various ages but if you don't try the same tea and track how it was versus how it is there's no piecing it all together.

(Next round) this overall balance is really nice.  I've tried versions with more fruit but this earthiness is good, and fruit balanced with a bit more spice range makes for a great effect.  This tea doesn't seem to be transitioning a lot as black teas go, but then the last similar tea I reviewed might have more for including a range of material types (adding yellow leaves; maybe varying beyond that), and the relative inputs of those may have been shifting.  This version is simple in character, as some teas go, but catchy in overall effect; every sip makes you crave drinking the next one.

I probably would have described this tea completely differently a year ago, or at yearly intervals, due to interpreting the same aspects in different ways over time.  To me it seems like I'm zeroing in on better descriptions that are more accurate, that would mean more to a reader, but I'm not completely sure of that.  It might just be a personal convention shift, a different form of interpretation of experience, more neutral in accuracy and effectiveness.

More of the same next round.  It's not really fading, and I went slightly longer to compensate for the round count (infusing it around 20 seconds, maybe slightly longer), so as a result I'm drinking this slightly stronger.  It's nice this way too.  The earthy edge that takes the place of astringency is a little stronger, but this tea is soft and approachable, just a bit complex, so it would work well even stronger.  Optimum is lighter, it balances well there, but it's not like sheng that often just doesn't work well outside of the narrower range for which it works best.

On the next round the tea is just thinning a bit; I probably went a bit shorter on infusion time, 15+ seconds instead, adding to the effect of diminishing.  From here the only remaining story to be told is how brewing it for 45 seconds to a minute to compensate for further fading changes effect.  Based on only one longer infusion earthiness picks up, shifting to a lessened proportion of fruit input, and even less spice, really, even though that somehow seems to tie to the dark mineral / dark aromatic wood underling tone more.

All in all it's a really nice tea.  It was definitely cleaner in overall effect than the last Laos black tea I reviewed, and probably a little more refined.  And more standard in character type / aspects range.  I think I liked that other one a little better for being novel, for the complexity taking an unusual form, and for fruit range being so intense, which is a good match for my personal preference.  This traded out some fruit for spice and other earthy range in comparison.  Shai hong can be subtle when first produced though, and this tea would probably be better in a year, and better again in another year after.  It's hard to factor in that potential in evaluating one since you don't get to experience it, until later, at least, if you have enough around for it to stick around.

This tea isn't separate from the range of Yunnan Dian Hong produced, not different in character or any lower in quality.  As with the sheng pu'er from Laos it's made in mountain ranges and from tea tree types (usually forest-grown older plants, but that would vary), that are continuous with those in Yunnan, with processing styles varying per individual practices, not separated by country borders.  This tea is probably a good bit better than the average version of "Dian Hong" sold by conventional vendors in the US; what makes it through would vary in character and quality level.  Yunnan produces most of their teas as sheng pu'er, because the demand is there for that, and the selling price also is, with some moderate quality versions being converted to shou pu'er instead (typically; of course that would vary).

Good luck finding any Laos teas on the Western market.  Beyond a resale vendor carrying Anna's (Google that), and one other mainstream producer (who's teas aren't quite this good, per what I tried of them, and not widely available in "the West" since they're not US or EU based), they're just not around.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Meeting online tea friends, and about tea swaps

Originally published as:

Editor's note:  Merry Christmas!  It's odd posting about something else today, but the timing of the TChing post worked out to match up.  I'll share lots of cool pictures of the little elves soon enough.

I’ve long since talked to lots of people online about tea.  That relates most to writing a blog about tea, and being an admin for an international themed FB tea group, and now for a second, and participation in forums or a sub-Reddit and such.

That has extended into real life more lately, with three people just visiting here in Bangkok.  I’ll use that example to lead into how value-oriented purchasing could enable tea swaps.  Linking the ideas is a stretch, but it should work.  To keep it simple I’ll place the initial themes by visitor, and tie together the threads at the end.

Tea from Nepal

Narendra Kumar Gurung, the Nepal tea vendor setting up a co-op style processing initiative, sent some teas.  A contact of his, Sunil Sainju, was visiting Bangkok for a conference so he brought them.  Right away this doesn’t seem to relate to how someone who isn’t blogging or talking to producers might use a similar approach, but I’ll get to that.  I just reviewed a golden needle style black from those; very nice tea.

Meeting an online friend from Laos

There are just a few online contacts who feel a lot like real-life friends, even though I’ve never actually met them.  Cindy of Wuyi Origin stands out; we’ve never actually met but I’d trust her with my kids.  Anna of Kinnari Tea, who I just met, is another favorite.  It’s a little awkward adding that extra level of input about someone after only talking by message, but it’s rare that they’re not at all what you expect.  Anna is great. 

I didn’t try any of the half-dozen Kinnari Teas (Laos versions) that she dropped off but I already know that they’re fantastic, unique and high quality.  I gave her some samples of this and that, including some from Narendra (nice how it goes in a circle, especially shared with people who would appreciate them most).

Somnuc Amnousinh, another visitor from Laos

I’ve been reviewing very unique teas from Laos and Vietnam recently, mostly local versions of sheng (pu’er-style teas).  In this case passing on teas in return completed a tea swap.  Due to space limitation I’ll only mention one unique personal detail about Somnuc:  he speaks Chinese, Vietnamese, French, English, and Laos, and is probably fluent in Thai (which overlaps with Lao).  Very cool.

How this ties back to tea swaps

These mostly aren’t tea trades for me; more often people give me samples for blog review.  But I give away tea to anyone I think will appreciate it, not much quantity, but enough to try part of what I’m trying.  I think a related “swap” theme could apply to more people.

These three related tea sources aren’t exactly what I had in mind (and Somnuc doesn’t even sell tea), but still let’s use the other two as an example.  Someone could reach out to Anna or Narendra to try to buy tea, and even though they’re both not really set up as end-point retail suppliers as agreeable people they’d probably help out with that.  Buying samples off a wholesale vendor seems a bit unrealistic but one might decide to buy a ¼ kilogram of a few different teas instead (for example).
That idea comes from a vendor selling their own produced teas in a large-block retail form, from the Halmari Assam producer’s offering a nice orthodox Assam black for $25 per 250 grams (with their “oolong” my own favorite).  That’s the smallest quantity they sell.  Or Assam Teehaus is another co-op style producer selling similar teas, but that drifts off this theme.

Meeting Maddhurjya Gogoi and Bulu Deka (of Assam Teehaus), at the Jip Eu shop (with Sasha and Kittichai)

A similar approach might relate to a shared group-buy theme.  It doesn’t make sense to buy low quantities of teas from the other side of the world; shipping would cost as much as the tea.  The higher the volume the more that proportion balances back out.  Or someone with a kilogram (or pound) of tea, who doesn’t plan to just drink through it, could use it for trades for other teas, or for gifts.

There’s lots more that I could say about making tea-contacts online, or trying out other novel forms of teas, and limitations and potential problems with swaps, but that covers the initial broad themes.  This post on more direct producer sourcing might spark some other ideas, but only on the supply side.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Semi-oxidized Jing Mai sun-dried black tea

This tea is interesting for an aspect mentioned in it's description, as "Hong Cha: semi-fermented tea." People get riled up about translation as fermentation instead of oxidation but the point is clear, and use of both terms was standard at one time. It's not fully oxidized, or at least that's implied; that could mean different things.

At the end (checked after writing these notes) again this tea isn't currently available.  It's interesting in style though, so I'll go ahead and post the notes as a finished review. 

I've been reviewing a good bit more Moychay teas lately because of one running theme:  clearing through trying what I didn't get to, so that older tea sample sets don't carry over to next year.  I still have more teas from Moychay, and lots from around South East Asia, from Anna and Somnuc, and from Tea Side (a Thai vendor), and another Liquid Proust set (finally the actual "sheng olympiad" version), but I'd rather review what is interesting from prior to all that before moving on.

The dry leaves are really dark but lighter streaks and an unusual coloring imply to me that the brewed leaves won't be that common pale brown color, and that brewed character will vary too. We'll see.

It does brew a bit lighter in liquid color, not the reddish of a standard black tea. And the aspect range is unusual, lighter, with a different form of mineral aspect, and not malty at all.  I have tasted this profile before, more commonly in unconventional oolong versions. It's not bad, but hard to place. I'll break down flavor more in the second infusion.

This tea type seems so unconventional that there wouldn't be an established demand for it (less oxidized black tea). Tea Side in Thailand and Farmerleaf in Yunnan sell enough black teas they might reference oxidation level but the low end for black teas is usually higher than this. Oriental Beauty oolong is often more oxidized. All the same it's interesting; different.

It's well-made good quality tea, definitely not something unintentionally prepared this way. It works.

The character is closest to black tea, per my judgement, but the lighter mineral character, floral range, and light vegetal aspect isn't. So maybe it's really in the middle. That vegetal range is a bit non-distinct; it could be interpreted as woody, or it might not be wrong if someone saw that as tying to some sort of similar range, eg. some type of grain.  To me green wood is closest.  The floral tone is nice, very rich and pronounced (orchid, or something such, towards lavender, or maybe just that). That gives it a perfume-like character that extends into feel and overall effect. Some lighter wuyi yancha are like that too; that part is in oolong range. It's hard to place what makes this seem just as much like a black tea to me, given only a flavor aspect list.

It might be mostly expectation making it seem more black; the label description. Oolongs aren't just backed-off oxidation black teas, the processing is different.  The only other "lightly oxidized black tea" that comes to mind relates to the trouble people have in placing some versions of Darjeeling, in particular the first flush versions, which typically aren't fully oxidized.  One odd way to get around that is not to commit; just call a version "first flush Darjeeling" and lead into aspects description instead of categorization from there.

More of the same on the third round. A lighter tone, different mineral range (lighter), and brighter floral tones are kind of in between oolong and black tea, and I could relate to an argument that it just is oolong (although it seems to not be, to me). It's a cool effect, which only works at all because it's good tea (all relative, "good," but the quality is evident).

The next round is similar again. The balance probably is shifting, with warmth picking up just a little.  The flavor gains complexity; floral tone covers a lot of ground and some fruit may be layering in with that.  That part is towards juicyfruit gum.

There's probably a slight savory component lending to that complexity effect, a trace of sun-dried tomato. Even though umami (related to that) is familiar with sencha and gyokuro (Japanese teas) in this aspects set and presentation to me it matches a black tea theme.

Next round the tea is still transitioning, but in a subtle way. Mineral is heavy, still in an atypical form. It probably tastes like some kind of rock, since that's how mineral goes, and to stretch imagination a little further maybe like volcanic rock, like a black sand beach or volcano crater might smell.  There might even be a faint touch of sulfur in it, struck-match, but it's positive in this since that fits in well with a pronounced range of other minerals.  Sweetness and floral tone also add to that balance.

All in all an interesting tea.  It's far from finished after 4 or 5 infusions, where these notes leave off, but that gets the general character across.

Moychay's description

Given this tea is unusual checking on the vendor description seems in order; what is it?  The first thing their website listing says is that it's out of stock.  That's been coming up lately.  They may sell some teas they've only been able to obtain in limited quantity, in which case they might just come and go.  That's probably not more of a limitation than vendors only selling what they can carry a large stock of, since then the range would scale way back to include only those in greater availability.

Here's their description:

Qing Wei Shaiqing Hong Cha (semi-fermented red tea)

"Fresh Fragrance" was made in the spring of the Yunnan large-leaf tea trees of Mount Jingmai (Puer County). It was under the sun.  [surely a reference to sun-drying in processing]

In appearance: large flagella of greyish-brown leaves and silvery biege buds. The aroma is a restrained, with spicy, woody and fruity notes. The liquor is transparent, meadow honey color.
The fragrance is a bit tart.

Odd this being semi-fermented didn't draw more discussion.  Being a sun-dried black from Jing Mai does add more real description, but it's nothing like a typical version of those.  It seemed more floral than fruity or spicy to me but woody definitely works, and a secondary aspect had shifted from the pronounced floral towards fruit later on.

This tea is unusual and appealing for being a bit unique.  It's not a great match for my aspect preferences in black teas, or in general, but related to offering a chance to try something different it's much more appealing.

In looking around for this product description Moychay does really do carry a lot of black teas; it's not the only black tea that's a bit unique listed.  The tea description wouldn't necessarily help someone place it but they do have a comments section that adds a bit.  The impressions are originally written in Russian, and automatic translation could be a little clearer, but still they work.  It's always funny hearing mixed impressions of teas; something unusual like this some people will love and some won't like at all.  There are examples of people who just didn't like it (to be fair and balanced), but I'll cite a comment of someone who did, mainly to make the point of how automatic translation goes:

Guy - super! Really surprised and pleased! Yes, it has both sheng and white tea to taste. And in general, the taste is not usually pleasant. It is a pity that it did not work out to take 100 grams, took 50 samples for testing. And it keeps the straits well. And if you overdo it a bit, then not much thermonuclear taste. The finish is long, refreshing. In dry form, the leaf has a caramel flavor, and when brewing it is even stronger and more intense. In general, tea is interesting, tasty and not ordinary!

I guess that floral tone really is more common to sheng than black teas; that part works.  But the overall character definitely doesn't remind me of sheng, or white; it was kind of its own thing.  I guess the "thermonuclear" part relates to this working brewed strong; it would still be fine, but in general would seem optimum back in the standard range.  This probably matched that person's aspect preferences slightly better than my own but we're in agreement over the novelty, and the generally positive impression overall.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Local Phonsaly Laos black tea from Somnuc

not much for packaging description

I don't know much about this tea; it's from the Phongsaly area (North of Laos), and surely it's from a local Assamica plant type ("shan" plant types, I think that is).  Somnuc passed it on, that tea contact I've been mentioning and reviewing teas from.  A short review should cover it then, just describing how it is.


It's an interesting tea.  I expected earthy, on the sweet side, rich, with earthy aspects near a tree bark and fruit so sweet it was like dried dark cherry.  Most of that was from the slightly rustic look and sweet and rich dry tea smell.  It was like that, so much so that it works as an initial description, but with even a little more earthiness than I expected.

The woodiness is complex.  "Tree bark" is still right, but not that smell you get from sniffing a tree, or breaking off a chunk of bark.  It's the smell of the back of the bark, that you only encounter when splitting firewood (or I guess logging, if the tree happened to split a bit, and I've done some of that too, but I'll try to keep this relatable).

It's "cleaner" than it sounds but still earthy in an unusual way.  I suppose another normal description might be that it tastes woody, but like sticks.  The sweetness is really nice; that gives it balance.  I'll stick with describing another aspect range as a warm, rich fruit, but a version that's hard to make out under the rest.  This should evolve a good bit infusion by infusion, so that one aspect interpretation might become more clear.

tasted with a jasmine black just reviewed separately; it never works out like that

In the second infusion that earthy /  woodiness comes across more as autumn forest floor or fallen leaf; not so far off, just a little different.  A faint version of cinnamon spice joins in.  I really like this tea.  I could imagine someone with different preferences being put off by this character, seeing it as strange, or not clean in effect, or just not matching preference, but it works for me.  Sweetness still ties to a fruit range I'm not really putting description to.  It's not that far from apple cider or roasted squash; I suppose it's possible that it's just complex, covering a range, and that's what makes it hard to pin down.

Even description as floral works, it's just a different part; there's a lot going on in this tea.  Experienced together with that clean version of autumn leaf it has a great balance.  Even though this tea is a little odd I think I'd be happy to buy a half a kilogram of it and see how it goes drinking it all the time.

On the next (third) infusion the tea is "cleaning up" (although not in the sense that it was musty, or off), moving off that autumn leaf range.  Cinnamon stands out more, and the wood tone that is present is more like split hardwood (let's go with cherry tree, a wood that actually does smell a bit fruity).  The fruit stands out more too, and complex related range that had been more "apple cider and roasted squash" is now closer to just cherry.  There's a very faint tartness that might relate to some forms of cherry but I'd typically not describe this tea as tart.  The cherry, cinnamon, and hardwood makes for a different, even nicer balanced aspect set.

There is no astringency to the tea but enough of a related aspect range to give it a full feel (as black teas go; oolongs and pu'er feel full in a different way).  Aftertaste is nice; those two supporting aspects make for a complex experience.  Per an alternative interpretation some of that cherry and wood is still tied back to apple cider, the way that sweetness joins an interesting earthiness in slightly fermented fresh apple juice.  A little sourness would match with that cider description, if present, but it seems to only include a trace of tartness instead.

The next (fourth) infusion might again be the best yet, although it's still pretty close to the last, so that describing the slight shift in proportion of the same aspects wouldn't be informative.  The way that cinnamon and cherry combines is great, with a much milder range of earthiness supporting an overall positive balance.  I did go on to stretch a few more infusions out of this after this break in taking notes but it seemed to only fade from this fourth infusion versus transitioning aspect balance further.  It kept producing really pleasant tasting infusions, they just kept getting thinner.


I love this type of tea character, and that it transitioned as much as it did, and this specific aspect set.  It probably wasn't all that far off some Yunnan black tea styles, which is understandable since it came from right across the border.  It's so close that a lot of the teas produced in that general area cross the border and end up being sold as Yiwu, or so I've heard.

It's yet another example of a local South East Asian tea being great in a novel way.  Anna of Kinnari Tea dropped off a number of versions in a visit I mentioned not so long ago; I'll be saying more about other related versions soon enough.  I'm not finished with this set from Somnuc too, so there will be more of novel and--if the pattern holds--very pleasant teas to go from those too.

this map again (Phongsaly); below that Luang Prabang is one of the cooler places I've visited in SE Asia