Sunday, January 27, 2019

2016 and 2018 small-batch produced Thai shu from Tea Side

There's probably not much need to set this background up related to who this vendor is but I'll add a little about that.  Tea Side is a local Thai vendor that seeks out rarer and better Thai versions of teas to sell online.  I've reviewed plenty of sheng and shu from them, which is not necessarily pu'er, given that those are from Thailand, which makes naming problematic.  I guess calling it "pu'er-like tea" resolves that, it's just cumbersome. 

I've reviewed black teas from Tea Side in the past, more or less in Dian Hong styles (including three I bought last year reviewed here), and well prior to that some oolongs, even a 20+ year old version.  To be clear these teas I'm reviewig were sent as samples, provided by the vendor.

They started trying to produce their own shu in smaller batches than is typically used in the last couple of years, including these two.  I can cite their own content background as reference to all that (which is interesting to me at least:

At first, of course, I was afraid that the raw materials wouldn’t warm up to the minimum required 50 degrees. As it turned out later, this problem do not arise at all. To warm up the pile, a small amount of leaves like five kilograms is already enough. There were other difficulties. For example, when you work with a small volume, it is difficult to keep its humidity within certain limits during the entire fermentation period. A small pile dries very quickly. Adding a new portion of water should be very careful. The overwatering leads to too rapid processes inside the basket. And there is a high risk that the material will "burn out"...

The actual descriptions of these two teas cover more related to that background, starting with the 2016 0201, leaving the aspects description in:

Experimental craft Shou (Ripe) Pu-erh made of spring 2016 material from Thai 300-500 year-old trees. Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, 1300 meters above sea level.  Fermented in September 2016.

Dry tea smells milky, walnut and conifer with hints of salinity. In the taste is interesting interweaving of coniferous oily tones with raspberries and dairy. Since the 3-4 infusion sweet woodiness and almonds appears. Aftertaste with pine and walnut tones, slight bitterness.

I probably would have matched that description more closely if I'd read that review beforehand (I typically don't and didn't, since that affects interpretation). 

The other description, the 2018 0101 version:

Handmade Shou (Ripe) Pu-erh made of spring 2016 material from Thai 200-400-year-old trees. Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, 1300 meters above sea level.  Fermented in March 2018.

This shou pu-erh is new for our project. It is made of the same material as our sheng Dragon. It is presented in two different forms: classic loose tea and the heads (cha tou).

In a dry aroma there are dairy and woody notes with pleasant sea salinity. In rinsed tea, the woody background opens up multifaceted, berry tones of raspberries and strawberries with milk are added to it. The taste of tea is dense, even, and rich. Despite the youth (short time storage after fermentation), this shou pu-erh is easy to drink. The taste is dominated by woody tones with coniferous hints and a milky-berry theme.

They sound good, and they were nice in review tasting.  I don't usually address tea pricing in review posts but just noticed both of these sell for $17 for 50 grams, kind of a lot for a shu (that would be a $120 or so cake).  I'll consider that value issue further after the description write-up.


2016 left; odd it brews lighter but more intense in flavor

2016, 0201, loose shu:  cocoa hits you right away in tasting this shu; that may be the most pronounced cocoa aspect I've ran across for this tea type.  It can be the main flavor aspect in some black teas but shu usually mixes in other earthy range.  Of course this includes other flavor aspects, the cocoa just stands out.  It's almost like the effect of an actual dark chocolate bar versus cocoa often coming across more like the powdered, processed version.  Beyond that the earthy range is typical, just lighter, cleaner, and sweeter than usual, the darker-range mineral and such.  It hints a little towards spice; this could develop in different directions from here.

2018 0101, as "tea heads / cha tou:"  this tea will need another infusion to really get going.  It had been in the form of shu curds or chunks, and those aren't completely opened up yet, even though I ripped the large one that I'm brewing apart.  It'll remain to be seen if I've guessed out proportion well too since I'm not into weighing amounts. 

I was concerned that this might have some fermentation related effect left (a fermentation processing, or wet piling, or wò dūi effect), since that can be a bit rough for the first two or three years, depending on factors I'm not really clear on.  It's not necessarily better that a shu tastes completely clean and easy to drink within the first year, and not necessarily better that it doesn't.

In looking that term up in Wikipedia I ran across an interesting reference to shu compounds:

Wet pile fermented pu'er has higher levels of caffeine and much higher levels of gallic acid compared with traditionally aged raw pu'er. Additionally, traditionally aged pu'er has higher levels of the antioxidant and carcinogen-trapping epigallocatechin gallate as well as (+)-catechin, (–)-epicatechin, (–)-epigallocatechin, gallocatechin gallate, and epicatechin gallate than wet pile fermented pu'er. Finally, wet pile fermented puer has much lower total levels for all catechins than traditional pu'er and other teas except for black tea which also has low total catechins...

The caffeine part just looks wrong, doesn't it?  It doesn't seem possible that fermentation processing would increase caffeine level, and it seems unlikely that other factors that would cause that variation would cause that (eg. younger leaves and buds contain more caffeine than older leaves; shu is usually made from lower quality material instead, so if anything leaves would be older).  If they took a small sample for that study normal variation could account for it, just random chance.  Which of course would call into question the validity of the other results, if the sample size was small enough that random variation could be a main factor.

Anyway, it'll be easier to say more about this tea on the next round, once it's brewing more completely.  It includes some cocoa aspect, just not as much, and it doesn't seem like strong flavors related to processing are going to be an issue (tar or petroleum, peat, etc.).

Second infusion

2016 left again; I let this infusion run a little longer to get them going

2016:  this picked up a good bit of complexity, and it's probably not even fully expressing where it's headed yet.  The cocoa dropped back a bit in proportion but it's still prominent.  Whatever that one flavor is in marshmallow is present in this; that's catchy, in this context.  Of course there is some warm earth and mineral range beyond that.  The earthiness is woody but in an unusual sense, not at all how I would usually use that general range description.  Part of that is like aged barn wood, that sweet depth that comes with extensive aging of wood, and a fresh and bright part more like a tree bud, but without the astringency edge of young wood.  Next round I'll express that better, but the tea will probably have shifted in character a little by then.

I was concerned that these teas might not be on the same level of other shu since they're just ramping up processing (if I've got what they even are right) but that turned out to be no concern at all; these are great.

Specific expectations and preference always factor into that kind of value judgement.  These being this drinkable right now imply that they might not be as intense in 4 or 5 years when a shu that's been developed in such a way that it's a bit much the first couple of years is settling out.  That said, it's not my impression that negative characteristics after very little aging time are necessarily a requirement for shu to be good, or at some level for quality or intensity.  I haven't fully sorted out how it all maps together, but a tea being very positive right now is a great sign, especially if the idea is to drink it right now.

2018:  this version is finally coming online, only starting to fully infuse.  It might run behind the other in the cycle then, as that worked out, related to the two being in a different form.  This was essentially like brewing a compressed shu cake that I didn't bother to completely tease apart, thinking that it would unravel itself faster than it did.  It's my impression that it's not even compressed, that the producer sent me the chunks that form naturally, which per my impression (informed only by limited hearsay) are prized for having a unique character.

Some of that marshmallow herb is present in this tea too, and the cocoa, but it's different.  The balance is different, and the other aspects present, the context.  I can't really say one is lighter than the other, or pin down a difference in other earthy range, or mineral, at least just yet.  Both are complex, both have a nice rich feel, both very clean in effect.

When people say that they don't get shu, that it doesn't appeal to them, they may mean a few different things.  Some people would be referencing never having tried a good version, but I think that might be a minority case.  Regular factory shu is ok; any $35 cake should clue someone in to where the range is going, even if in below average versions it wouldn't come across very well.  Others say that it lacks the complexity of sheng, or that they prefer the different flavor and other range, not so much missing bitterness, but the rest that can balance that in sheng.  For others the comparison is with good aged sheng; that's too much to even get into, how that broad range of potential plays out.  Of course that's quite different.

Trying a version this good with this particular character (related to both of these) wouldn't come up quickly in trying random teas.  I'm not sure for how many people "not getting" shu this would turn out to be a revelation, or even just a different experience.  For some, to be sure.  These are still simple and approachable compared to good aged sheng experience; that goes without saying.  But they're not simple in character compared to the range of other teas, or any less pleasant, just different.

While I'm on a tangent here I looked up what that "marshmallow" flavor is.  In modern marshmallows it's only cited as "natural and artificial" flavors, and digging deeper doesn't turn up more about that.  Of course it might and probably does tie back to an original plant type used to make marshmallows, as referenced in this Wikipedia source:

The word "marshmallow" comes from the mallow plant species (Althaea officinalis), an herb native to parts of Europe, North Africa, and Asia which grows in marshes and other damp areas. The plant's stem and leaves are fleshy and its white flower has five petals. It is not known exactly when marshmallows were invented, but their history goes back as early as 2000 B.C. Ancient Egyptians were said to be the first to make them and eating them was a privilege strictly reserved for gods and for royalty, who used the root of the plant to soothe coughs and sore throats, and to heal wounds...

But do modern marshmallows still try to match that flavor?  This "Star" reference more or less claims that they do:

...Those bagged marshmallows, incidentally, are no longer made from marsh mallow roots. They are made from a mixture of sugars, egg whites and gelatin beaten together.

As you scratch into the soil at the base of a marsh mallow plant, the resemblance of marsh mallow roots to marshmallow candy becomes immediately apparent... 

Third infusion

2018 (right) leaf looks lighter; less fermented?

2016:  this hasn't developed much since the last round, so I'll just fill in details I'd missed.  The tea is creamy in effect.  It's an effect not so different from how Guiness Stout comes across, and some of the earthy range even matches, that touch that's a bit towards coffee in a flavor range that seems somehow related, but not quite to that.  The marshmallow flavor is stronger than the cocoa now, the main aspect, with earthiness like aged barn wood behind that, but in a presentation that isn't musty in the slightest.  One other flavor is like dark chocolate.

It's nice the way the feel is full (and creamy), and the taste range sticks around after you drink it; both add to the complexity of the overall effect.  I've been drinking a lot of shu over this past year (mostly thanks to Moychay; they've been hooking me up with a range of good versions) and this compares well with that range.  The character is a little different; it seems like most people might really like the way that sweetness, cocoa, and marshmallow herb work together, and some might not, expecting or desiring something else, more towards slate mineral, coffee, tar, or peat.  It sounds odd saying that someone might want their tea to taste like a petroleum product or dirt instead but those earthy ranges can work well, in the right context and aspects balance.

2018:  this isn't too far off the other tea, just a bit milder, more subtle.  They both share some of the same sweetness, creaminess, cocoa range, and unusual spice range (marshmallow herb).  This might have a touch more depth to it, and this tea might develop differently across the whole range of infusions related to that.  It's more whole-leaf, so it might just be that it's releasing compounds (flavor and other aspects) slower, so coming across as less intense just relates to brewing process varying by leaf presentation, more cut up versus more whole.

This if familiar ground.  It's possible to just let brewing time run longer for a more whole-leaf tea, to balance that out, but in general character won't be identical even with that adjustment.  With sheng often the whole-leaf version is much more positive for that dropping back astringency and allowing other flavor to stand out more in proportion, but shu doesn't have that as a main aspect to be concerned with.  If I'm just brewing the 2018 version slower, and to some extent that probably is the case, after a half-dozen infusions it would show up in the form of the tea continuing on more in the same intensity level and character range.

Again this doesn't necessarily reduce back to a "better or worse" consideration; the teas are just different.  It can seem that the 2016 version is more intense, as I'm brewing it, but I'm pretty sure it relates to brewing process.  I'm preparing these with very moderate infusion times, around 15+ seconds, but to me that's the right range, it's just odd that it doesn't match for tea leaf wholeness, so it's not identical.  I'll use 10+ seconds for the 2016 and 15+ for the 2018 to match that back up next round.  Both of these teas would still work well brewed between 5 and 10 seconds; it's just a matter of personal preference to brew them a little stronger than I prefer some other tea styles, as I do soft and sweet black teas.

Fourth infusion

a little redundant but these are cool looking teas

2016:  more of the same this round; the tea really isn't transitioning.  That complexity, balance, and character is really nice; it's as well.

2018:  it's interesting how much aspect range these two teas share, and how they really are different.  This version is still a little more subtle, even brewed for the extra 5 seconds, but it has a different depth to it.  Again I think the full character difference would only come out related to brewing them through the full round, preparing another half dozen infusions of both.

I won't do that for these notes though because I'm off to do a "Fun Day" outing at Kalani's school, the kind of even where they bring in 15 or so play stations for the kids to cycle through (bouncy castle, face painting, etc.).  That will be intense; a lot of children's joy to experience, to the point that it tends to seem overwhelming after a couple of hours.  Or maybe that's mostly the Bangkok heat, but at least it's cool out today, probably around 27 C / 80 F right now.

To add at least one extra detail this tea might have less of a marshmallow herb effect and a touch more dried fruit going on, towards dried tamarind, but not that.  The aged wood trace aspect in the first version doesn't really carry across to the second, but there is a good bit of complexity to it, subtle earthy layers below those that stand out more.  In that relative "space," where the trace of aged wood aspect is in the 2016 version, the 2018 has a depth and feel that's relatively neutral in flavor range, but not completely neutral.  I mean in the way chamomile tea has an intensity and complexity in flavor that almost seems like it's not there it's so subtle, but it is there.

Rambling on about these teas for 3 or 4 more rounds would've been nice, but that is the basic story.  I suspect the 2018 version has more to show, that being more subtle in the early rounds would translate to transitioning differently later on, and that one part of the story is that the 2016 version would've played out a bit faster.  I did try them again, with more on that added in the next conclusions section.


I really liked the teas.  To me these are a good example of well above average shu, not just decent versions.  Even for going on about complexity, interesting flavor range, feel, and aftertaste, there still is something to people preferring sheng for being more complex, beyond just being different.  To me these teas are very positive for being more approachable than most sheng (perhaps even aged versions, depending on the tea quality and type), and easier to appreciate, but that would vary by preference.

In trying them later the 2018 version did evolve to be even more positive, and slightly different, while the 2016 version settled into more of an earthy mineral range instead, giving up some sweetness and positive complexity.  The 2018 tea stayed creamy and subtle but intense, well-balanced, and complex in an unusual way, more pleasant than the other version across a number of additional rounds.  I get the vendor reference to it being "resistant to brewing," which I didn't cite earlier.

I didn't interpret these as fruity to the extent the vendor did, but to some extent that's probably a matter of normal interpretation variance.  These notes do mention an aspect coming across as tied to tamarind, or maybe undetermined fruit, and emphasize cocoa and an unusual herb input instead.  Using different water or even drinking them brewed stronger or lighter would make a difference. 

It's hard to evaluate general quality level of these teas, placing that in relation to their cost, mentioned earlier ($17 per 50 grams).  They're unique in character.  It's odd seeing shu selling for that but being a bit different, and in general better than shu's typically are justifies that.  You just don't see small-batch, distinctive style, older plant source, outside-of-Yunnan origin shu coming up (except maybe from Myanmar, but that's another story).  I guess the problem is probably more on the demand and expectations side; there might be a smaller audience demanding higher quality shu than for many other tea types.  For people who are into better shu these are options to consider. 

I'm not sure why the 2018 version didn't include more negative fermentation related aspects, that it didn't need time to settle, related to being made less than a year ago.  It really could be more lightly fermented, leading to less of that as an experienced aspect.  At some point it's just about enjoying teas as they are instead, not figuring them out.

Off-topic, about that kids' event

Kalani's two best friends at that Fun Day

Keo helping out in a magic show

the "Foam Party" section

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Natasha Nesic, Snooty Tea Blog author, on life transitions and sports training

photo credit

Natasha wrote and developed video posts for one of my favorite tea blogs, the Snooty Tea Blog.  The YouTube based videos were really cool (but not there now, related to a fresh start theme).  They brought across interesting background about tea mixed with personal perspective.  

She fills in lots about her personal background and the sports training pursuits she has moved on to in the following, with some nice insight into current sports training trends and practices.  These are covered in photos in her Instagram page, with more detail in a related website, which links through to interesting articles on fitness training practices.

I can't thank her enough for sharing these insights into her life experiences, along with photos of stages along the way (all photos owned by her, with specific site or producer credit only mentioned in some cases). 

As a fan of her blog and an online acquaintance (or friend; it depends on how people use that concept) it means a lot to me on a couple of different levels.  She's a private person, so unlike many of us adding hundreds of pictures to public access Instagram accounts she's just not like that.  It's especially nice that the sports training ideas would still be interesting and maybe even helpful to people without any of that background.

Do you still drink tea?  Which kinds are your favorites?

I don’t drink tea nearly as much as I used to. If I prep a cup, it’s usually because I have some serious brainwork ahead— like the fitness guide I’m working on right now— and tea forces me to stop the monkeys in my head long enough to return to the focused mindset I cherished when I was a tea blogger.

If the day feels like a run-on sentence of planned activities, then tea acts like a nice, deliberate semicolon. My favorites are Gyokuro, Tai Ping Hou Kui, Tie Guan Yin (extra points if it’s Tealet’s Dark Roast variety), and Shou Pu-erh. Herbal go-tos are turmeric, dandelion, lemongrass, rosehip, hibiscus, and ginger. You can dump turmeric in just about anything, it’s beautiful.

Can you fill in some background on your journey with athletics, and about that leading into a training role?  How did martial arts fit with other range?  Did you compete in fighting matches or spar at some point?

I started off as an avid dancer in childhood, albeit not a very focused one. Ballet, modern, jazz— whatever my mom could sign me up for, we did it. But when I was nine, I fell in love with horseback riding, then Lord of the Rings, both of which took my heart away from dance practice. It became clear that I didn’t have the extra “hunger” to perform, something which would have taken me from amateur to pre-professional level as a dancer. Given that this was the age when dancers can start getting serious physical and psychological issues if they don’t have the traditional ballet body type, my disinterest was probably a developmental blessing.

So my chosen sport became horseback riding. Hunter/Hunt Seat Equitation, specifically, so I could still use my ballet training to sit pretty over fences. But due to limited economic resources— my parents are both teachers, let’s be frank about salary— I was unable to ride daily or lease a horse to get into competitions and advance. I had grand ambitions of being a world-class eventer when I grew up, but another developmental blessing hit in the way of cosplay.

Yep. “Cosplay” is that very nerdy pastime where you take your favorite anime, sci-fi-, fantasy, or otherwise fictional character and create their costume to wear at a convention with other nerds doing the same thing. Cosplay gave me the social life that I wouldn’t have had if I had stayed at a barn seven days a week, and taught me some valuable skills— which I’ll come back to for your last, most interesting question.

I figured that I’d make up for this when I got into college, and could compete on Mount Holyoke’s nationally-recognized competitive riding team. Everything went well until the tryout, when I nearly ran over the team coach— aka: our judge for the event. Once the results came in that I didn’t make it, I used the momentum of hysterical disappointment— this had been my seventeen-year-old life’s dream, after all— to run down the hill and plant myself in my dorm’s common room, where the first meeting for the rugby club was taking place. All you needed to do was show up to become part of the team, so that was that. I had a team sport in college! It was fantastic. I never knew I had any running ability until I was a wing.

It lasted exactly one semester. Problem was, that pesky cosplay social life had come up again, and I lost interest in practice. Magically again, it helped me avoid disaster. It turned out that the rugby team had hazing practices, which I was exempt from because of a Harry Potter Halloween party on the very night of the rookie initiation party, one that would later be investigated by the authorities and go on the attendees’ permanent records.

What rugby did do, however, was ignite my love of fitness. At an intellectually-driven liberal arts school with a fantastic gym, I was in the perfect place to research endlessly about the body and exercise, and then put it to use through creating my own workouts, yoga routines, and seeing the aesthetic results when I cosplayed. Biggest highlight of that was using all that knowledge to do Wonder Woman for my senior thesis on gender identity and representation in the cosplay subculture— which also served as a quiet, academic end to that hobby, so that I could focus on my career.

Upon graduation, I had intended to go to grad school for journalism, but my GREs were horrible and Columbia rejected me. This was fine, because then I had enough time to still work out, keep up my love of fitness by starting taekwondo and getting a National Academy of Sports Medicine Personal Trainer certification— “just in case” — and try to develop my tea blog into a worthwhile career path. I was able to pursue a few jobs in the tea field, right up to a Tea Sommelier certification and being hired at a very high-class restaurant with a noted tea program. Then the restaurant fired me, and I was stuck.

This is the part that I have to preface with, “Dude, I’m not making this up.”

Within weeks of that firing, I was on the subway and it stopped midway between 66th and 72nd Street. Just dead in the tracks. No one knew how long it would be stuck. Then the guy next to me started talking about bodyweight training, and one of us mentioned that we’re working on one-armed pushups. Immediately he went, “Here’s my card. I can put in a good word for you at Equinox.”

I started there a few months later, and have trained at a few other gyms since then before settling into a mostly private practice. The guy from the subway is still one of my best friends, and I’ve written content for his own brand, Semet Fitness. The taekwondo I keep up for myself, and because it gives me a way to quantify the other aspects of my training: kicking power, agility, reaction time, etc. It’s also therapeutic.

For your last question, yes. I was almost scheduled for an MMA fight this past December, but I backed out because a) I am extremely nearsighted and contact lenses aren’t allowed in fights, and b) it’s just not financially in the cards right now.

What subject scope covers your current training role?

I specialize in corrective exercise, and that serves as the foundation for everything else. When a client comes to me for non-corrective work, such as weight loss or overall fitness, I still use the principles behind a comfortably moving body, plus my background in dance and martial arts, to make sure they get the biggest return on their workout.

How does someone find the type of athletic pursuit that’s right for them?  Is it about personal interest, a balance of training ranges that work together, or a match to particular goals?

All of the above! I find people work best when they have a concrete, specified interest that they want to enhance. For example, one of my dearest dudes came to me for overall longevity, so we started off with a lot of stability and small-muscle strength work, which led to larger strength movements, and then pure brute strength with core maintenance. As we navigated progressions for exercises around his pre-existing injuries— meniscus and rotator mishaps— he told me about his admiration for ballet dancers, so I worked that into his routine by giving him techniques that could both strengthen his weak points and help him realize how to embody the physicality of a dancer, in his own way. He’s progressed exponentially since we made that connection, and now we choreograph his workouts so that every exercise feeds into that goal and passion.

It’s not so much balance as it’s a matter of interweaving. Find the points that lead to each other, and build on them in a positive manner.

In particular in reference to readers who may have been involved in the past, what has changed in sports training, related to sports physiology knowledge, training approaches, cross-training philosophy, diet and other factors, mental approach, etc.?

Oh gosh. Everything.

When I started, “vegan” and “keto” were unicorn words on Google, and YouTube was only just starting to be the go-to fitness platform. Zuzka Light, a guru I followed in 2009, was filming sketchy dumbbell videos in a basement with her boyfriend. Now she’s a certified wellness coach with her own brand, and a book out in Barnes & Noble— sans boyfriend, go figure. It’s incredible to see that evolution with her and other wellness professionals, and pretty tickly to know that I’m participating in it on a smaller level.

The fitness industry continues to grow at such a rapid pace, so the knowledge keeps getting rewritten, which can be dizzying. You have to be on top of it at all times, while still applying the truths gathered in your own experience. Not every solution works for every body, which is why the industry has exploded; more and more people are looking for that custom solution, and with the external motivation from social media and Instagram, they’re more likely to want to put in the self-work it takes to get their body to the place they want it to be.

My job, in all of that, is to help the individual along by being an interpreter between the person and their body. Not everyone trains like that, but as I said, gone are the days of plug-and-chug exercise routines and diet plans. I’m not a big fan of diet plans, either, because they don’t account for the variability of the person’s emotional state and environment, ie: both the world we live in outside, and the world of the microbiome that lives inside us. Both of these are responsible for each of our biological responses to food, and that allowance is hard to program into a standard diet or workout regime. I guess the biggest change is that popular science is now giving us more freedom to listen to our gut, literally.

Could you say a little about your background with “motion training,” what that scope refers to.  What related practices did you train in, and how those helped with other sports pursuits?

“Motion training” falls under the “movement training” buzzword, which is a brand of fitness that stems from teaching the client how to perform primal movements that are also found in dance, gymnastics, capoeira, martial arts, etc, in order to achieve greater neurological connection with their bodies. Ido Portal made this very popular amongst certain MMA enthusiasts, from his work with Conor McGregor, and you can see it in the way that fighter moves like jaguar and a crocodile when he’s in the ring— fluid, responsive, never stepping twice the same way.

That’s why movement training results in all-around better performance for even the average Joe, as each individual movement serves as a blueprint for what the body will later be able to perform subconsciously. While you’re training, you won’t know why you’re being told to bridge up your hips to one side, for example, but then it’ll come up during an act of daily living when you have to reach over your head for something at an awkward angle, or in an emergency like nearly being nailed by a delivery biker, that requires drastically shifting your center of gravity in order to move out of harm’s path.

I don’t use Ido Portal’s method, but I am certified in Animal Flow, which was created by Mike Fitch of Global Bodyweight Training. If you watch the video, it’ll make my above explanation make more sense:   This Is Animal Flow

What is it like living in NYC?

Breathtakingly wonderful. Every day I wake up and I’m grateful I’m here— and that I’m lucky enough to live on the Upper West Side, two blocks from a Trader Joe’s!

Your look changed (hairstyle, most obviously).  Is there anything more to share about that?

Funny you mention it like that, because even though it looks like I’m changing my game from the ultra-feminine Snooty Tea alter ego, it’s actually been an experience of coming back to my roots.

from the Snooty Tea Person days

That’s where the cosplay comes in. As a cosplayer, in our groups I was usually the one doing “bishounen,” or “pretty boys,” which meant that I spent my adolescence walking around in a very androgynous second skin— and it was fun! Now I channel it into my personal style, with a little taekwondo thrown in there for kicks.

Oh gosh, I didn’t mean that pun! I swear. Dangit. Old habits die hard.

more than just pulling it off, but the fitness guru image works too

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Barbote Tea Nepal Black, tea from Narendra

the golden needle version label (this pack was plain)

Narendra Kumar Gurung

I've reviewed a golden needle and white version Narendra sent awhile back, the co-op style producer of Nepalese teas I wrote about last year.  Those teas are sold under a Barbote label through the Highlander Farmers Private Limited.  This review covers the black tea version.

I've tried this tea a number of times, and shared some with friends, I've just not got around to reviewing it.  It's nice; a well-balanced, complex, clean-flavored tea.  The style is probably closest to Darjeeling but it's different enough that the comparison might not be informative.  It might bear some resemblance to a Chinese black style, just not to a specific type that I'm familiar with.  It seems to vary some depending on parameters used to brew it; that can be nice to experience.

I asked Narendra what it was, and this was his input:

It is made from Tagda 78 and Gumtee, both are based on Chinese varieties. About the season, it is from autumn flush.  These were plucked till the Oct till the end of November.  After this we let the garden go on rest till spring that mean by March end.

These teas are from young tea plants, not more than 20 years old, grown by organic methods.

I'll keep this basic then; no need to write out 1500 words every post just to say all that I can think of.  It would work well brewed Western style but I'll prepare it Gongfu style because I'm in the habit.  It might well work a little better that way, but I'd have to try both again over a shorter period of time to be sure.


Malt stands out as a main aspect, a much softer version than occurs in Assam (although those do vary; some versions are quite soft and mild).  A touch of dryness and very light astringency goes along with that flavor aspect, but it's a very soft and mild tea.  The astringency gives it some body and a different feel, no actual edge.  Beyond that the flavor is complex.  A good bit of mineral fills in a base.  One pronounced aspect reminds me a little of sweet corn.  Floral is so common in teas that it would be easy to just default to that description instead.

The aspects might come across more as fruit if the mineral, malt, and dryness weren't pulling it so far in that direction, countering a clearer interpretation of other lighter range.  Sweetness is pretty good; it balances.  I expect the flavors will shift and "clean up" a little next round, that the mineral toward light rust will be cleaner after an initial infusion.  Brewing it light (versus this being kind of medium, infused for well over 10 seconds) might help tease out finer aspect range for description.

Brewed lighter, and being a second infusion, the effect is different.  It wasn't musty in the sense of tea production being a bit off, it just seemed the way the mineral would come across would change.  Some of the warm earthiness, mild malt, sweetness, and light corn is similar to what you might see in different golden tips black tea versions, or even Jin Jun Mei (a Fujian, Wuyishan area origin black tea).  I like that character.  I'll be honest though, I'm really most taken with Chinese style soft and sweet blacks with flavors aspects in the range of cocoa, cinnamon, and dried fruit, or even roasted sweet potato / yam.  But this does also work well, and the way that shifting parameters changes its character gives it a lot of potential.

There's a lot more interpretation that could be applied to the earthy range; aspects like warm mineral, malt, and darker tones like dark wood (or leather, or even tobacco) could be described in lots of different ways.  I've just kind of skipped it here, passing on the general range description.  If you roast corn on a fire (still in the husk), and singe the husk and silk a little that gives you a sweet, rich roasted corn flavor, some caramel, and a darker earthier range from the light char that isn't so far off this.

On the next round astringency stands out a little more.  When preparing black tea Gongfu style at a high proportion small shifts in brewing parameters would change that without any actual transition coming from the tea itself.  This tea is intense enough that brewing it at a low proportion for Western style would still works well (I've tried it that way), and gives a different effect.  Backing off temperature just a little would change outcome too but I think using relatively hot water would be the best way to go, maybe not full boiling point but 90 to 95 C.  It's not as if there is any need to work around astringency as a concern.

Brewed slightly lighter the character does change back to closer to what it had been on the round before.  Astringency drops back and that malt, caramel, and roasted corn flavor picks up.  This tea is best brewed on the light side; the flavors are plenty intense and complex that way, and even the mouthfeel doesn't thin out brewed faster and lighter.  An aspect may hint a little more towards fruit but I'd need more rounds to isolate that better.

brewed stronger, but indoor lighting changes color too

I came back to brew the tea after a long break for a few more rounds (4 or 5 more; using a packed gaiwan for proportion really does extend the count) and a main aspect seemed a lot more like muscatel than I'd picked up on before (a type of grape).  That's the main characteristic aspect in Darjeeling versions, especially second flush, but it can be present in autumn versions too, just typically in a more mild flavor aspects and feel character.  A touch of citrus seemed present too; if anything the tea seemed even better even though it was a good number of rounds of infusions along.

I guess this did seem a bit like an autumn flush Darjeeling, to some extent; a bit subdued as some black teas go for astringency and feel structure, but still flavorful, complex, and well-balanced.  The initial malt aspect reminded me a little of better Assam instead.  Nepal teas are always a bit different, always their own thing.  This is a good example of one, a nice tea.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Visiting Chinatown, trying another LBZ; Bangkok's first department store

Ordinarily visiting the local Chinatown isn't enough of a story to relate, at least taken alone.  This visit was different.  I finally met Noppadol again there at my favorite shop, Jip Eu.  He is the part-time local Thai and Myanmar tea vendor who helped out with two different tea tastings last year (covered here and here).  And my friends Sasha and Nok stopped by; I haven't seen them for awhile, since they've been out traveling.  I met a local doctor who I've met there before too, but I've forgotten his name.  It was nice seeing everyone and the teas we tried there were really interesting.

I would usually start with that, but I'm going to cover a visit to Bangkok's first department store just after that outing first, checking out the Nightingale-Olympic.  That way readers only curious about the department store part can skip the last half, and others who could care less about 1950's era Thai Department stores, and what is in them, can skip this first part instead.

pictures don't do the feel justice; it's like a museum in there

The Nightingale Olympic Department store

Old Siam; market space with shops above

I've been meaning to check this out since hearing about it a couple of years ago (in references like this article).  Reviews in places like Trip Advisor are divided; people agree that it's like stepping into the past, like time-travel as much as visiting a museum, but then they differ on how interesting and positive that is.  Some loved it, while others were put off by not wanting to own anything in the store, and didn't feel comfortable there.

I walked through the Old Siam mall on the way there (through a lot of Chinatown too, really).  That made for an interesting warm-up.  I bought a silk jacket for my wedding in that center 11 years ago.  It feels like a part of the old world in there too, but it's still active, a very functional retail center.  Due to walking around hot city streets I bought a "Arctic rush" slush float at a Dairy Queen in that center, the modern version of a "Mister Misty freeze" that I grew up with.  It seemed odd checking out stalls with countless interesting and cool looking traditional snacks in the center of the market area, while eating something completely foreign to that theme, but it was worth it to change internal temperature so quickly.

Nightingale Olympic was different.  I was the only person in there, except for a half dozen staff.  I could immediately relate to peoples' account of a negative vibe; the staff looked at me almost accusingly, as if I was probably only there as a tourist (kind of the case, to be fair).

I really wanted to start snapping pictures but those accounts mentioned a "no photos" policy, also documented there in the store by signs.  The downstairs was mostly clothes, with both the look of the shop (and design) and the clothes all looking a bit dated.

I went upstairs.  They had really old musical instruments and sports equipment up there, with only one staff member there to give me a strange look.  New versions of soccer balls and barbells made for an updated, practical option for a purchase, if someone wanted to participate in a typical retail role in such a way.

One photo in a review had included disks that I couldn't identify; I checked those out.  They turned out to be what I think were wood and metal discuses; very odd.  A lot of the musical instruments and sports equipment (beyond the barbells and soccer balls) were probably too old to be useful to most.  The musical instruments went way, way back in terms of what was there; I couldn't even identify all of it.  Lots of very old looking guitars stood out; some of those might really have value.

Back downstairs I walked around a little to be surprised to find something I really did want to buy, something that I never would've even imagined existed:  doll dresses in a traditional Thai style, the colorful silk versions.  My daughter would love those.  Anyone living in Bangkok, or a visitor who felt a connection to old Thai culture, with a 5 year old girl who loves Barbies would react to that much differently than anyone else.

Sure enough back at home my daughter was thrilled.  Anna and Elsa (the "Frozen" characters) are now dressed in traditional Thai outfits.  Kalani didn't love the period Thai-silk pants (not exactly pants) as much as the dress so I actually went back just two days later, and bought three more outfits and a Thai vesion of Barbie wearing another one.  The outfits were only 100 baht each ($3); buying a few more seemed a good idea, so her Barbies can hold a themed event together.  I thought she could give an outfit to her best friend too, to share one since she now has 6, but it seems unlikely she'll part with any.

I asked at that store and they do re-stock those; even if you visit and they're out they would get them back.  Asking for them in English might not go well.  I hadn't thought it through but that staff may have seemed a bit negative about seeing a foreign tourist because language issues could come up.  I switched over to speaking in Thai there; mine is a bit limited, and rough, but if someone can deal with me dropping out the tones it still works to say a few things.

Jip Eu shop visit

late-rounds smaller-group  tasting

Noppadol brought a version from a Lincang village (I forget the name of which), and since Kittichai, the Jip Eu shop owner, had a version from that village for comparison we tried both together.  They were both a little bitter but as long as someone was able to appreciate that style they were both nice, and more interesting for tasting them in comparison.

Noppadol passed on a sample of some Yunnan sheng, and gave me another of those tuochas of Thai Lamphang sheng I'd asked him to bring (we've gotta even that balance back out; I'll have to figure out what to pass back on that's interesting and of comparable value).  That Thai sheng is aging nicely; it seems to be in the range of style that could use a few years to mellow and transition some bitterness but doesn't necessarily need over a decade of aging transition to be pleasant.

I'll skip right to it:  Kittichai had Lao Ban Zhang sheng mini-discs and provided one for us to try after that.  I really should have bought some of those; I tend to get caught up in wanting what I missed last time and bought an aged tuocha Noppadol had bought last time that I missed.  I'll have to go back for that LBZ before it disappears.  I did pick up a second aged tuocha that I bought on another short stop there since, one for our family monk, since I'd tried the first version I bought in the first day.

Per the last post, in the past week, about trying a Lao Ban Zhang version, how would one know if it's "real," actually from there?  That always gets complicated, when it comes to teas that are in such high demand that selling other types as something they're not is profitable.  The standard answer is "use trusted sources," which invokes a bit of a regress; how to establish and justify that trust?  I'm going to report what this tea was like and my best guess based on character, but again it's not as if I have a familiar baseline in memory to compare it with.

they're busy getting ready for Chinese New Year, packing gift boxes

The tea was great.  It had some bitterness to it, but that transitioned to a very nice sweetness, and balanced well.  One aspect range might have been interpreted as floral tone, but really a pronounced honey flavor in that sweetness stood out even more.  It was intense in character; that was one difference that seemed to stand against the last LBZ version actually being that.

The balance made it work even better than those positive aspects sound; it was clearly one of the better sheng I've ever tried.  As for cha qi / drug-like effect it's harder to isolate that when drinking a tea along with other versions and in a good-sized group.  It's hard enough for me to pin that down in a very controlled environment at home, and I was chatting with lots of people there.  We stopped out to a lunch in a nearby shop (food offsets tea effect as much as anything, but then it was lunch time), then later drank more of that and another tea.  At the least that LBZ example was outstanding tea; that makes for a good start.

One other way you can tell if a tea is "real" LBZ is by price; if the cost is too low it just isn't that, because the initial tea material sells for a lot.  Unless I've got it wrong they were selling those 8 gram mini-disks in a small tong, of sorts, at a rate of 100 baht ($3) per disk; on the low side for LBZ but perhaps conceivable.  To me it's always better to buy tea because you like the tea, not because you are investing in a story, even if the story is true, and the tea seemed worth that.

After the lunch--at a nice local shop across the road, well worth checking out, even for being basic and local-style--we tried a pretty good version of a Rou Gui.  It was in a cinnamon-intensive style, so quite type-typical, within one range of how those go.  The roast balance was nice in that version, and the quality level of that tea.  Really that tea could've been a revelation to someone who hadn't been exposed to above average Wuyi Yancha, and as it was that was just more normal tasting for visiting them there.

I really like the owners of that shop.  It feels a little like visiting family to stop by there, like it does in visiting the monks in the local temple my son and I were ordained in.  I saw pictures of them visiting China during New Years break, winter scenes from a mountain environment, and Kittichai told me about visiting a tea competition in Anxi back in October.  Maybe I haven't been there for awhile.

I think a first time visitor would have a different experience; it can be hard to sort through expectations and get straight to the teas that you would like most there.  There is no clear menu of what they sell, and they seem to have something different around every visit, probably with at least a 100 versions tucked away here and there.  The shop specializes in Wuyi Yancha, and due to them having family ties to the Anxi region they would carry unusual versions of Tie Guan Yin.  I've bought nice Dan Cong there (relatively speaking; they sell good mid-range versions of it), decent Longjing, and a nice silver-needle compressed cake.

preview of a later post, a 2006 Nan Jian Tu Lin raw tuocha

One last odd turn came up in re-visiting the store the next time, swinging by to pick up that aged tuocha (which I'll review separately, and a Hunan brick tea sample Kittichai gave me).  A foreign visitor stopped by to look for something specific, which turned out to be a green tea type that wasn't well-identified by the packaging photo he had.

It turned out he was from Poland (a place I've written about related to local tea culture recently, here, with local blogger input as a second post).  And he was in the shop due to reading my blog post mentioning there; cool!

We talked a little about tea types, the open-bin storage used for teas in some stalls (better to go with the large-jar stored tea, really, and even that isn't all that functional), and eventually he left with a little Longjing.  The tea was really for his mother, complicating buying what he thought she might want.  It's kind of a shame he was that close to decent Tie Guan Yin and didn't buy any, given the lighter tea character focus, but at least decent Longjing makes for a nice start on passable tea.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Moscow winter pictures; flashback to visiting a year ago


A Russian online friend shared some wonderful pictures from around Red Square and the Moscow GUM Department store with me, which I'm sharing here.  Her name is Olga Rubtsova.  All the pictures shown were taken by her and remain her property, with no permission for any other use implied.

We visited Moscow just over a year ago, during last the Christmas and New Year holidays.  It was great for all of us to experience lots of things there; the winter, holiday season, Russian culture, infrastructure, attractions, and so on.  It was all the nicer for also visiting St. Petersburg and Murmansk, in the Arctic, to see the aurora / Northern Lights, and a reindeer farm and dogsled camp (with photos from that visit and a general description covered in this post).  Even the subway systems are a very unique experience in those two cities, far beyond any other city's system in terms of look and style, an attraction in their own right.

I found the Russians we met to be very pleasant, and I'm now a fan of Russian culture.  Then again I liked the people and what we experienced in China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Australia, and in other countries, and Thais and Americans are great too (my family).  There's not much more about that to cover in this post; I mostly wanted to share those pictures.

being from the tropics just experiencing winter was an exciting theme for my kids

experiencing it all with them was the best part of our trip

a Thailand family dressed up for cold weather