Saturday, August 29, 2020

Founding and networking through social media groups

 

I've been involved with starting three Facebook groups and one blog page, and have founded two Quora Spaces and a Reddit sub-forum.  This is about passing on what I learned from that experience.

To back up, I started into exploring social media coupled with an interest in tea some time ago, about seven years back.  Or really more like nine, but this blog started seven years ago.  Basing that online channel exploration around a subject theme helped, since daily life both is and isn't a shared interest.  Using a subject interest as a focus really works better for joining groups and discussions.

Tea wasn't the only subject interest I had, of course, or the only grouping I naturally fell into.  Back then I had just spent about 15 years pursuing an interest in Buddhism (which included being ordained as a monk once), both as philosophy and a religion.  For living in Thailand the expat theme came up, that of being a foreigner living abroad.  Thailand was a recurring theme, for being here, and travel in Asia came up a lot, which is really what led to the tea interest, for running across it a lot.

Enough about me though, on to how founding a social media group works out, some factors to consider going in, and decisions and details that come up.


back in the day in that religious role


Subject theme


I don't tend to see people discuss why to start a group, since it's usually an outcome related to having a well developed subject interest.  Blogging is different; people often ask how to be successful at writing a blog, before they fully narrow down what they have to say.  That's even with the theme of blogging being on the way out, now largely replaced by profiles in Instagram and the like, and discussion in Facebook groups.  Social media sites like Twitter are something else, but that format lends itself to relating to a narrow subject theme; you just follow profiles tied to a theme, and stick mostly to discussing that, or sharing posts about it.

If someone didn't have a really well developed interest in one particular subject starting a social media group would make no sense.  It would also be natural for someone to love a sports team, and certain foods, or travel, fitness, or fashion, to identify with these themes, but not to want to talk to people they don't already know about them.


writing this reminded me that I wasn't in any alumni groups, so I joined one


A commercial interest can help drive these sorts of pursuits.  Someone interested in fitness might only want to keep track of new references about the subject, but someone working as a freelance personal trainer would need to go further with making connections, and gaining exposure.  A tea vendor could start a tea group for the same reason.  They tend not to, but it does come up.  A social media tea group can even be limited to only relating to one particular vendor, like this Yunnan Sourcing Fans group.   That group has 3000 members; that sort of exposure could definitely have a positive impact on business.

It would be a little odd to start a group mostly to see how starting a group would go, but that could work.  It would still need a theme, since a "group about nothing" would go nowhere.  Regional themes can make for an easy fall-back.  I'm from a rural area in Pennsylvania and a local group there has been interesting for re-connecting me to some local news.  It almost goes without saying that a graduating class theme could also work.  Or any interest, really.  The narrower the better, and it's best if you have a really strong connection to the subject, because otherwise continuing with discussion and moderation tasks could become tiresome.


How it went for me

I started with helping two online contacts set up tea groups, one of which I'm still the main moderator for, and most active participant, the International Tea Talk group.  At least in terms of membership count that goes well; that group currently has 13,800 members.  In both cases I helped add some friends with a shared interest to get the group membership base started, and let the groups grow organically from there, or else not develop.

How the theme and activity level worked out is really something else, more mixed, part good and part bad.  It works best if you can set up an active core group that promotes ongoing on-topic discussion, and a feeling of community, but the members who are most active in groups tends to change over time.  In many groups most posts are either blatant spam, ads, or else information sharing designed to push the boundary between discussion and advertising.  

I met some really interesting people through that one group.  If someone said something interesting, or their background was really unusual, I'd say hi by message, and I've talked to a fair proportion of the tea industry that way, people all over the world.  When the pandemic first became active in China and Italy I talked to people in both countries about that, people I had already spoken with.  It helps having an established blog that's related, because it automatically sets up subject credentials that are hard to replicate in another way.  Just being a group moderator doesn't carry much weight.  To be clear I'm nothing like a celebrity, but it's easy to reference my degree of interest and background at a glance here.

The other tea group I helped initiate died of disinterest.  I learned that my approach to tea and that contact's weren't a close match, so I became less active.  Sharing ownership of a group is an odd theme; it might be as well to avoid that.  It worked out well for the other group mainly because the other primary owner is inactive, eliminating most of the potential for conflict over direction.

I also started two Quora Spaces, a bit later on, that site's equivalent to groups, but also in between FB's "group" version and that of topic pages as function goes.  One is about tea (Specialty Tea), back to that central exploration them, and the other is About Foreign Cultures.  Those have 5400 and 11,200 followers, so there seemed to be some interest.  I never hear much about that interest from fellow "Quorans," and only one contact on Quora really seems like a friend, someone who I've met "in real life" a couple of times since.

Related to membership equaling interest, a group can be quite large and still somewhat inactive, or most posts can just be self-promotion.  Those Spaces aren't mostly about followers adding content, so I post almost everything that appears there, along with a function supporting sharing on-topic answer posts from others.  For whatever reason people submit quite a bit of answers to be posted related to culture but not many in the tea space version.  I suppose that is a narrower topic in terms of general following, not just related to the follower count.




Even when page or group stats seem to indicate a moderately high degree of following, for example that stat of 3.2 million combined answer views on Quora, it's not always clear what that means.  I doubt people actually read the answers that many times, and someone scrolling past one in a feed doesn't mean much, or in the Facebook feed context either.  Those two Spaces' stats confirm that posts and topics compete there for interest; there's not as much traffic as the follower numbers would imply.  I don't even check that related to the International group on FB; it's not relevant to me, so I don't keep track.


Life-cycle of groups or forums


A bit on this already came up, but to some extent any online group, or even forums, tend to have a natural life-cycle.  I suppose I don't just mean that they drift off to becoming inactive, also that the patterns related to that seem consistent across types and context themes.  It's not completely unrelated to a person's life cycle and perspective, related to youth being about exploration and development, maturity related to building on already established themes and direction, with prior direction and activity level eventually narrowing and tapering off.  Renewal is possible, with a theme change, or membership change, but more often cycles of renewal tend to taper off too.

An expat forum was a clear example of all this, one of the places that led me to explore social media as much as I did.  It was originally called "Orient Expat" and later converted that to Expat.life when political correctness made that a poor choice of naming.




That forum really stood out, for a number of reasons.  There was an active core group of 8 to 10 main members, with another 20 or so regular participants, and lots of people coming and going, just checking in.  Individual country forums allowed for discussion across the broad region (not so much based out of China and Japan, more in South East Asia), and then discussion of general issues bridged across that.  This Wayback Machine capture register shows it's life-span:


it wouldn't have to relate but I would guess activity level equates to capture counts


Of course the "Xpat.life" site version continued that run, but the writing was already on the wall.  The founder eventually lost interest, after banning more and more people for less and less serious transgressions.

Facebook groups were going to kill it anyway, drawing all the oxygen out of the room for group participation, as they also killed off Google + eventually.

The positive lessons from there still work though, about setting up a core group, enabling themed discussion that still allows for some range, and trying to support Q & A and news posting, and also general discussion.  There was a "shout box" feature there, a nice function enabling chatting beyond post commenting.  I haven't replicated all those things in any given group that I've started, and Facebook groups just aren't set up to.


Using groups for promotion


This could work.  I've already mentioned a commercially oriented group, and of course I add blog posts to the tea group that I moderate.  One main benefit of setting up your own group is choosing the rules, allowing or dis-allowing whatever you want.  A group that's essentially a business page would be unlikely to gain popularity, I suppose unless that business or brand is so successful that it may work to leverage the association, for an entity like Disney, for example.  Of course then a highly successful business wouldn't be seeking to increase exposure through a group or other media outlet (in the same sense), only to serve other functions, to add a communication channel, or develop a new form of association or information distribution.  That Yunnan Sourcing tea vendor fan group serves as an exception; it's more active than the average tea group, and much more active than the three different more conventional forum-based sites (Tea Chat, Tea Forum, and Steepster, with the last split between a discussion section and review functions).

For a typical small business, one selling something, or offering a service, it could be a real challenge to link general subject interest and relatively direct marketing.  Another example of a forum--not the same thing as a group, but related--comes to mind related to this.  

Tea Chat was one of the main tea discussion channels online at one point, probably the overall main one.  They managed to balance commercial interest (they were owned by Adagio, a retail tea vendor) with that discussion hosting role by essentially dropping out all connection to tea sales, by not marketing there.  But then that cost them most of the exposure and business benefit, so eventually, probably related to changes in management, they changed direction and instead emphasized product exposure.  

The conflict between the two themes caused a rift immediately; they ended up deleting posts or topics that ran counter to that positive exposure, and added "fake" accounts for testimonial purposes (allegedly, but some of that negative feedback came from the former main moderator, who was removed from that role).  Maybe a balance could have been struck, but the group probably never would have become as popular if that commercial theme had shared focus initially.  It would be problematic to emphasize only marketing for one related business, and perhaps even more problematic to allow open input from competing businesses.

Blogging dying out--giving way to Instagram following and the like--leads to less conflict of a similar form for mentioning blog links, which most larger Facebook groups simply don't allow.  Which is probably reasonable; to keep commercial or self-promotion posting in check it's necessary to establish clear rules, and a natural cut-off includes preventing blog link posting.


Rules and related issues


It wouldn't work at all to start a group without commercial-scope restrictions; if people joined it that group would immediately become an advertising platform.  Setting a cut-off can be problematic, because any restriction would invoke grey areas.  For example, not allowing ads doesn't necessarily prevent photo sharing or information posts by business profile members, which would essentially be ads.  Not allowing commercial profile members (from FB, or elsewhere, if personal and business accounts are mixed) is one way to move the limit back further.  

All groups would also need to set a limit related to discussion being civil, or eventually a test case would come up.  Other scoping would relate to subject theme.  Tied to a topic like tea that's clear enough, but there's always something, like herb tea (tisanes), or people selling tea packaging machines.  In one philosophy group scope restriction was really problematic, and tone; lots of people were more interested in communicating politically oriented opinions, which isn't conventional philosophy.  It was funny how the owners of the group I'm thinking of leaned into that bias by promoting their own political agenda there, and discussion of the subject philosophy more or less dropped out.


Options / channels


I've mentioned setting up groups in Facebook and Quora so far, but not so much about a failed attempt at a Reddit sub-forum.  I don't love Reddit culture but I'm active in r/tea there.  As an experiment I set up a sub-forum related to non-fiction Youtube video channels, but it didn't gain any traction.  Then again I just posted a few times to it, and didn't do much with promotion before pulling the plug, setting it to "inactive."  In general Redditors definitely wouldn't want to be sold something, or in my interest case to discuss tea in the same form I tend to.  I do answer questions there though, in the main "sub," or post blog links sometimes, which tend to be ignored.


r/tea on Reddit; there are 229,000 members, which adds a need for clearer rules



Since I've brought it up I should be clearer about what doesn't work so well for me about Reddit, but of course different sub-forums, topic discussion areas, are different, so generalizing only goes so far.  Lots of places on the internet pick up a negative discussion tone now, I think related to people being burned out on online contact, and getting in a rut related to promoting their own interests and biases and rejecting others'.  Because people are typically anonymous on there they can say anything, and it doesn't really tie back to them personally, and some few use that to be less reasonable.  Facebook suffers from an opposite problem:  because the profiles are personal self-positioning and promotion come up, even if someone isn't selling something, just in a slightly less visual form than on Instagram.

Facebook is obviously where the people are.  I liked some aspects of Google + but disinterest killed that channel.  It's also worthwhile noting that Facebook pages can serve a related but different role (as for this blog).  Those aren't as group-discussion oriented but can serve as a contact point or for exposure.

New channels are cropping up, which is about time, given how long Facebook has served as a singular main arena.  Discord groups or Slack discussion groups serve some of the same function.  I don't love the Discord format; it looks like an old main-frame environment, I guess on purpose.  I think Slack is more a communications app than a media based social platform, like Whatsapp and the like.  We use Line in Thailand, the Japanese version.  "Groups" in the sense of shared messaging is possible on any of those, but it's not the same, as Zoom video meetings aren't.

Then I guess there's always "in real life" as an option, connecting through sites like Meetup.  A Facebook group would work just as well to coordinate that though, and their media sharing and discussion and message functions enable limited exchanges to occur with or without that face to face step ever happening. 


I started an "in real life" local meeting group but then never held more events


Private online settings that split the difference between old-style forums and these main-channel groups really haven't been developing, at least not much.  This post is mostly about how someone might use an easy-to-establish group form anyway, not about forums, or customizing a new website based version.  I've checked out one recently though, to see how that might be set up, related to a former mob  / mafia captain telling stories on video through a Youtube channel (that group site and Youtube channel).


I'd definitely recommend at least checking out the mob story videos


Conclusions


If someone doesn't feel like there's anywhere they fit in online they could always try to start their own group.  The same would go for promoting a commercial interest, or ramping up blog exposure, whatever it is.  In most main channels there are almost no technical challenges to doing that, just a few details to work out initially, and a monitoring demand to keep up with, filtering the input.  

Pages work well for setting up a contact point, sharing information or media, or letting people follow a theme topic, but groups add discussion and participation depth to that.


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Beyond anti-intellectualism; explaining Trump support

 

A friend just mentioned an insight about Trump support that I really hadn't considered, at least not in the same context that he mentioned it.  His input:

I have a depressing theory about why there are still so many Trump supporters. I think that a lot of Americans (mostly in certain areas of the country) have a strong dislike of anyone who comes across as being smarter than them. Hence they continue to support Trump.


That is anti-intellectualism, but it's also not, at least not in the most standard form.  As I see it a more conventional take on that would relate to rejecting the science-based opinions of the "liberal elite," combined with other themes, like perspectives on political correctness or gender identity.  Rejecting climate change is a more standard related position, embracing "gut instinct" and politically inclined views, and rejecting research or subject authority based opinions.  Conspiracy theories about the moon landing or thinking the earth might be flat are just an extension of those themes.



Anti-intellectualism, or something else?


As I see it this is more about people who see themselves as of somewhat average intelligence banding together tied to cultural commonality, just not on an explicitly understood level.  To them maybe Trump is regarded as intelligent, and maybe he's not, but it doesn't matter, he's still "one of them."  And that he is; that stream-of-consciousness, uninformed, gut-instinct perspective he always puts out is the opposite of a considered, research and authority informed view.  He's informal, and conversational.


Put another more extreme way these people are embracing being stupid and uninformed.  I don't think it's that, though; I think it's rejecting what they see as forms of intelligence or worldview context that's just not similar to theirs, falling into the category of "other."  Someone using clearly correct English alone might identify that context, at least related to using a more formal version of it, or one that just lacks the errors they tend to include.  Saying "ain't" could be seen as a positive thing, a sign of group inclusion, or swearing.


re-writing history, taking credit for the normal business cycle



this is a problem neither side wants to talk about (source)



Culture divide and culture war


I'll get back to a post from a couple of years ago that adds background to all this, but first lets consider an image that summarizes some of it, from my nephew's Facebook post:



What is troubling about this, beyond my own dislike of Trump, and cartoonish depictions of American nationalism?  The "pussy" part is a use of speech not everyone could relate to.  Picturing Trump as some sort of 70s action hero can seem jarring.

I'm reminded of telling an employer for a part-time job about a figure of speech involving cursing.  I was working as a landscaper while doing other work, for a friend, employed at a very nice home.  That home was probably valued around $5 million around then, and on towards 10 during the real estate price spike; quite nice.  I liked the woman we worked for, an elderly ivy-league graduate, soft-spoken with a good bit of mid-Atlantic accent (like an NPR show host).  The saying I discussed related to my friend "treating me like a mushroom, keeping me in the dark, and feeding me a lot of shit."  I have no idea why I chose to share that saying with her; messing around, I guess.  She had never heard such a thing, and repeated it, but had to stall for a long pause in trying to get the last word out.

It's clear enough where I'm going with this, right?  The word "pussy" could divide people.  My nephew watches Nascar, works as a forklift driver, owns a lot of guns, and would use that word, in normal conversation.  I'm from Western PA; it all adds up.  To that one wealthy employer I was "the help," so using coarse speech wasn't necessarily awful, in that context, just a marker for being on that different social level.

She wasn't completely wrong.  I'm from a middle-class background, just not really "working class."  My parents both have graduate degrees, and I was an industrial engineer even when I did that work (it's a long story), with prior work experience in two professional positions, and I went on to get a grad degree myself.  But then I also grew up with hunting (killing wild animals for food), with grandparents working as a mechanic in the oil industry and as a truck driver.

As far as I know my nephew is not "anti-intellectual," but I doubt he has much of an opinion on the connection between climate change and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.  He probably thinks that the weather just happens to change from time to time, something Trump has repeated himself, which almost certainly must connect with pulling the US out of the Paris Accord agreement.  

My nephew has a rare and serious heart condition, so he's in the highest of risk categories related to corona.  But in spite of continuing to work he is opposed to wearing a mask, because he "can't breathe."  I suspect he may represent a rare case of really having an atypical problem, relating to that heart condition.  A co-worker at my office said that he does as well; he's in his 70s, and was a heavy cigarette smoker for many decades, and both his heart and lungs probably don't function normally.  If either of them get the corona virus that's probably that.


Blaming Trump supporters for believing the lies


For more framing that Facebook post I had mentioned accusing Trump supporters of something along the lines of anti-intellectualism helps go further:

An anguished question from a Trump supporter: "Why do liberals think Trump supporters are stupid?" 

The serious answer: Here’s what we really think about Trump supporters - the rich, the poor, the malignant and the innocently well-meaning, the ones who think and the ones who don't... 

That when you saw a man who had owned a fraudulent University, intent on scamming poor people, you thought "Fine." 

That when you saw a man who had made it his business practice to stiff his creditors, you said, "Okay." 

That when you heard him proudly brag about his own history of sexual abuse, you said, "No problem." 

That when he made up stories about seeing muslim-Americans in the thousands cheering the destruction of the World Trade Center, you said, "Not an issue." 

That when you saw him brag that he could shoot a man on Fifth Avenue and you wouldn't care, you chirped, "He sure knows me." 


It goes on from there, for many more lines; familiar stuff.  It leads to this conclusion:

What you don't get, Trump supporters in 2018, is that succumbing to frustration and thinking of you as stupid may be wrong and unhelpful, but it's also...hear me...charitable. 

Because if you're NOT stupid, we must turn to other explanations, and most of them are *less* flattering.


Clear enough; the other conclusion would be that Trump supporters are also racist, that they lack empathy, and that they're ok with supporting evil.  But is this true of my nephew?  The first two, sure.  That third point gets a little more complicated.

I think the key to all this is group inclusion, not buying into any particular ideas.  It's irrelevant to supporters that Trump has done unethical things, and continues to, because they are more concerned with other factors, and parts of that dark past may make him feel like "one of them" all the more.  About the immigrants being put in cages, maybe many think that is unfortunate, or that's just how things happen to go, which is less relevant for those people being an "other."  I think that ties it all together, in a way my friend's insight really helps inform.  It's not a conscious factor, but they are rejecting anything related to the opinions of people they are noticing are more intelligent than them.

My grandfather, who was a truck driver, would tell a lot of stories, all with the moral that the common worker and common sense are of greater value than "book learning."  In those stories he was the hero, for solving a problem that his more educated manager just couldn't understand, for not having the same practical experience.  All that works better for resolving how to deliver some boxes by truck than it does sorting out how to deal with an issue like a pandemic, climate change, or economic problems.


I'm part of an "other" too, for being intelligent, for not using incorrect grammar, for relating to people with different perspectives, for marrying a foreigner (especially for that), and for having more than one college degree.  Obama was seen as an outsider for being black, and probably also for doing that odd formal "Presidential" speech inflection, which I think is related to the mid-Atlantic accent my wealthy former employer used.  A Wikipedia entry on that speech pattern would fill in the background, or any related article, but really just listening to any given minute of NPR would work just as well, in between the classical music songs.

It's baffling to many people why Trump's public speech isn't outrageous to almost anyone, but I think this is it:  if he was making perfect sense, using clear and well-formed reasoning, structuring what he says as supported arguments, he wouldn't be "one of them" to his supporters.

From his last speech, a transcript from just hours ago:


But in three years, and what we’ve done in just this short period of time, there’s been no administration that’s accomplished what we’ve accomplished, and that’s despite pandemics and despite all of the opposition and all of the witch hunts, the phony witch hunts. No administration has done what we’ve done. We’ve secured our borders, brought back our manufacturing jobs, rebuilt our military, wiped out the ISIS caliphate 100%, killed our terrorist enemies, achieved American energy independence, and guess what? We’re just getting started. That’s just a small part of it. That’s a small part of it.


But he didn't do much of that--which is not the point.  Beyond the speech pattern, which is a little meandering, members of his administration have been convicted of felonies, with Bannon right at the start of going through that process.  This administration has done nothing to resolve the pandemic, if anything making it worse through denial, with almost all the rest about ISIS and Bin Laden occurring under Obama.  

I think the US really has stepped up oil production; there's probably something to that part.  That increase also paired with actively stifling renewable energy development, the one potential growth area that should emerge from the ongoing climate change crisis.


this is probably more representative of his normal speech, just rambling


The ideas aren't the thing anyway, it's the tone, the way he sets up an us and them type of bond with his supporters.  The prior statement does more with that:


And I watched President Obama last night, and I watched him talking about everything, and I had to put it out. I said, yeah, but he spied on our campaign, and he got caught. That’s about as bad a thing as you can imagine. If that happened to another campaign on the other side, they would have had 25 people in jail for many years already. Many, many years. It’s a disgrace.


Leaving aside most of the content specifics, this invokes the divide of the "left" as highly corrupt with him as a victim.

Trump is referring to a right-wing media misinterpretation of a legally processed review of server activity in relation to foreign election tampering ties to Russia, conducted through a search warrant.  Trump's campaign really did collude with Russia to have Democratic party emails released through Wikileaks, obtained through hacking, which is relatively the opposite of what he's claiming here.  If the Senate hadn't blocked reviewing impeachment processing the details of that collusion probably would've been an outcome finding.  But again, it's not about the ideas, it's the context, the us and them division.  It only makes sense if you buy in first.


All of this is just a long form of his supporters seeing him as one of their own, right?  There are different moving parts to that, and I think my friend is onto something for guessing that Trump not seeming intelligent may play a role in that connection and attraction.  It's not really that he's like them in general, or one of them culturally, or in terms of social class, but compared to a broad range of "intellectual types" and perspectives he is with them.


It's a problem on the left and right


I think it's important to fully consider to what extent these types of patterns also play out on "the left," or in Libertarian circles, or across all sorts of paradigms, not only related to politics.  People seem to start with the conclusions that they want to arrive at, and adjust the "facts" or evidence to support that.  In the case of this political theme it really doesn't help having conservative and liberal media sources to choose from, with relatively few in the middle.



CNN, The Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, and New York Post are all fairly close to the center there, and those are clear-cut sources of liberal and conservative news, nowhere near neutral.

To be clear I think the Democrats and Biden represent less severe problems with our political system, but problems nonetheless, for only truly supporting the interests of a small group of wealthy supporters.  

Trump is definitely making a huge mess of the country, risking the end of the US as a world leader and economic power, so ending that is a valid main priority.  All the same, the stories that aren't being told by both media sources is another big problem (eg. national debt being seen as a non-issue, the income divide, or climate change a concern, requiring lip service for "the left" but not substantial resolution efforts).

To be clearer, I think the problem extends to liberals too, that of seeing the reality that they want to see, feeling like part of a group related to perspective, and being ok with that.  Given where things stand "their side" is more justified in seeing current real problems for what they are, but the country really needs to get on with addressing other next levels of problems.  "Fixing" the economic impact of the pandemic by way of adding a few trillion dollars of government debt would create a second problem that is just as significant, and that's exactly what both the Democrats and Republicans will eventually do.


the impending demise of the US (source)


America really needs to start doing a lot better.  Of course that won't be possible under Trump, so the only two choices are certain disaster for the US or potentially negative outcomes.


The culture war and personal identity



This sort of thing shown in the photo, camouflage formal wear, really does identify people as being part of a social group.  And that can divide people, but it really shouldn't, at least not in the form everyone in the US currently experiences.  No one should look at this kind of photo and feel hatred, but I get it that people on both sides have already been pushed a bit far. 


the other extreme; taking tea culture and naturally dyed flowing robes a bit far (source)


Americans need to find the space to disagree about lots of opinions, preferences, worldview / perspective, priorities, and personal taste and style without setting up a divide like the one we are experiencing in the current culture war.  That subject needs no further explanation, since everyone in the US is living it, but this reference could help,  or I thought this mixed martial arts commentator summary framed it really well, tied to the issue of closing public events related to pandemic risk.  

I think some of the finger-pointing on both sides misses underlying important points, and in some cases real issues emerge as badly framed by one or both sides, by liberal or conservative opinions.  Trump supporters rejecting the use of masks to protect against the corona virus is probably as clearly one-sided as these sorts of issues ever get, but it's usually not like that.  Americans also need to be careful to not toss out reason in support of their side, and to realize when preference biases go a bit far, and cause problems.


The way forward


To start, Trump needs to be voted out of office, before he completely destroys the country.

I'm not calling for an end to the culture war, since that isn't practical, but it seems critical that Americans need to learn to live with their differences.  Aggravating and supporting these differences has been useful to some few special interests to shift overall focus, and blindness to that manipulation needs to change.  

A more peaceful coexistence is what the country is about, that whole melting pot theme.  In that analogy everyone might get reduced down to an ingredient in one integrated "stew," and even a limited degree of coexistence is proving problematic, but at a minimum we have to do better.  It's probably an ideal time to consider what both parties are saying related to these themes in the upcoming election, to view the perspectives put forth related to this divide and context.

Moving forward issues like the wealth divide, national debt, degrading infrastructure, media bias distorting information flow, inefficient health care system, and unrealistic expense towards military spending need to be addressed.  I'm not as convinced that resolving personal college debt should be high on the government's agenda.  Obviously there are race related issues and problems with law enforcement to sort out, but that has to be dealt with locally.  the US Federal government can't resolve racism, or tolerance for mistreatment of suspects within police forces.  Problems with the justice system are even thornier.



Intelligent, reasoned responses to all these problems are going to be required, and that degree of analysis shouldn't be seen as belonging to one cultural side or the other.  That won't be as easy to untangle from the rest as it might seem.  Upper class, wealthy business leaders and academics could end up favoring a limited range of interests, especially their own.  This combined set of issues will never be resolved until it is understood, but at this point it's more about finger-pointing towards real and perceived gaps on the "other side."

It may seem like I've been guilty of this in this post, for blaming Trump for ineffective pandemic response and all the rest, like ballooning national debt through a tax cut for the wealthy.  I really think that he is doing an objectively bad job, making decisions based on his own best interest, not that of the country.  I don't think Obama did as much as he could have to promote real change, which is another part of what set up conditions for all this to happen, along with media dividing into two camps.  

There are no answers here, just a statement of the problems and underlying context, as I see it.


Sunday, August 23, 2020

2008 Yuan Man Chen Yuan Hao (Yiwu sheng)

 


This is the last sample from a Liquid Proust tasting set.  Ordinarily I'd try this completely blind, based only on hearing a year and some foreign language terms, or name I don't recognize, but I'll mix this up and cite a real description first:

2020 Sheng Olympiad


~20g 2008 Yuan Man from Chen Yuan Hao: Taiwanese producers are always on my to watch list as I favor what they do. This is one of the earlier productions that Chen Yuan Hao had in which was priced fairly well. This is a Yiwu production that has aged well and provides a nice bold cup of semi-aged sheng.


Some of what I've said in the past could be interpreted as a claim that in general semi-aged sheng doesn't tend to work out.  12 year old sheng can vary a lot in fermentation level, depending on what storage conditions it experienced, so that could be pretty far along, or else not.

Different sheng versions can be positive in different ways at different fermentation levels, which is affected a lot by storage conditions, along with how the tea changes.  The specific age matters less than how the effects come together, especially in relation to the starting point.  It might be rare that sheng versions are at an optimum at 12 years old, but I don't see any benefit in trying to add a proportion or frequency scale to such a framing, unless the whole point is comparing and contrasting broad patterns, and then maybe.

I've been re-trying a 2012 Xiaguan tuocha recently, definitely not at the fermentation level most people would describe as optimum, even without trying the specific version.  It's nice though.  It's not even close to completely fermented, but the character works at that level.  I expect I would like it more in another 5 years, but then for having a half dozen of them running through one now and again checking on transition seems fine.  Or even drinking straight through a whole tuocha could make sense; why not?  It would be a shame to do that without owning at least one more and drinking it when it's more ready, but if someone finds it enjoyable that's up to them.

I don't know what this tea is going to be like, or how it started out, and I'm not so familiar with the broad Yiwu range that I can narrow expectations to a limited set.  All the same we tend to expect things to be similar to what we have already encountered, and experiencing a 2008 Yiwu brick I bought last year has been pleasant.  At first it seemed way too subtle to me, as if too much flavor and other character had dropped out.  Some of that could've related to re-adjustment after shipping in early tasting; in some cases the few weeks of rest people recommend doesn't allow for a full transition, settling.  I interpret that more related to expectations, being able to appreciate a tea that is more subtle across some range, with limited flavor intensity, but good depth and interesting feel-character.  I've drank it a number of time since and like it.

This might be nothing like that; all that was more about framing a related experience than leading towards an expectation.  A side-by-side comparison might have been interesting but I feel too lazy to go through all that.



Review:



First infusion:  interesting!  I keep saying that, but lots of teas really are interesting in different ways to me.  This tastes like aged wood or hay to me, like an old barn smells.  That probably sounds negative but I mean in a very positive sense; the effect is very clean.  Often the transitions for sheng versions over the first few rounds are positive, improvement in different ways, so this being interesting, distinctive, and generally positive is a good sign.  There's enough other flavor range and depth of feel that it's clear this has a lot to offer, and clean nature and sweetness is positive. 

I don't know how this was stored but the balance works, and I feel inclined to guess, even though that's meaningless, since I have no idea what I'm talking about.  I'm just not there for guessing back to starting point and filling in storage input.  All the same this has no significant bitterness or astringency at all, so I'm guessing it started out fairly approachable.  Wetter storage can lead to heavier flavors developing, but that's not how I'm interpreting what I'm tasting here.  It's like bright version of cured hay, or a dry scent in an old barn, not the damp, heavy smell both could end up with under wetter conditions (I mean for the barn and the hay; I'm still on the analogy).  

Really dry storage can let a fresh edge persist for a very long time, preserving the original character of the tea, but this must have transitioned, because younger teas don't taste like this, even though the smooth character could be achieved faster than 12 years.  I'm guessing an approachable and pleasant young version experienced moderate storage conditions, especially related to humidity level, that this wasn't stored wet or dry.



Second infusion:  I really like it.  The heavier wood and cured hay flavors, which were moderate, have cleared off, revealing a balanced input of those, a light version, and more depth of other range.  It's complex; listing out more flavors isn't going to frame how intense flavors aren't the story of this tea, but it covers range and has depth, related to flavor and feel.  Aftertaste effect is moderate, but even the subtle flavor experience does trail over.  

A flavor-list approach seems pretty far off what would describe the experience best but I'll add that anyway:  the wood and hay are very moderate already, reduced to a supporting background effect, setting up context.  A bit of cured grain picks up, not exactly malt, but a flavor not unrelated to a very mild version of malt.  The depth comes across as chamomile can, flavor range that's not easy to pin down.  Then sweetness trails more into chrysanthemum, floral, but mild and subtle.



Third infusion:  more of the same.  It's a little anticlimactic not describing any transitions but it hasn't changed much.  If it stays a lot like this over another half dozen to ten rounds it will make for a pleasant experience, it just won't be as interesting as it could be on a couple of levels.  

Really this is exactly what threw me off related to that other 2008 sheng version that I mentioned; what I did experience was quite pleasant, but it seemed to lack intensity and some experience dimensions, to me.  Then drinking it a few more times I came to appreciate what was present more.  

Not every version needs intensity as an attribute, or complexity.  Giving up both narrows the form appreciation might take, but there can be a different kind of appeal in a narrower but pleasant set of aspects.  At least there is nothing negative about it, so anyone could appreciate this, but I suppose a wine or coffee drinker might see this as way too close to drinking water.  There is a depth to the feel and flavor profile though, you just need to tune in to appreciate it.



Fourth infusion:  I suspect this won't transition all that much.  That said, a really cool, sweet root spice picks up, like that found in root beer, but a natural version (so sassafras).  Maybe a bit of drift within a narrow general character scope could still be really interesting.  I could definitely drink another ten infusions of this just like this round and enjoy it though.


Fifth infusion:  the root spice is joined by a touch more autumn leaf range, and mineral is picking up in this.  Part of that range is close to a distinctive part of aged shou mei, both the warm, underlying mineral and the autumn leaf tone that leans a little towards cinnamon spice or dried fruit, along the line of prune or date.  Maybe I got that last guess wrong, about this not transitioning much.  These last two rounds have shifted a good bit.


Sixth infusion:  not so different than last round, but then it had been in a cool range.  The thickness of this tea is nice, towards seeming creamy.  That's part of what I had learned to appreciate in that other Yiwu version of the same age I had mentioned (a year younger when I was writing about it, but also 2008).  It's not fair to say this tea lacks flavor complexity, but that occurs over a narrow range.

The tea was pleasant, and pretty close to the version I was checking on it potentially being similar to.  This might have been slightly more complex in flavor range, which did help the overall effect.


Seventh infusion:  I let the next round run a bit over 20 seconds and that helped, bumping timing.  A touch more body develops, and a hint of feel structure, offset by the flavors seeming more woody when more concentrated.  The wood tone isn't negative, towards cedar, but I suppose I liked the root spice and autumn leaf combination a couple of rounds back better.

Even if this does transition a good bit more I think I'll drop the note taking.  This burns up time, mine and readers', and the more interesting parts of this story have already been told.  


Conclusions:


Given that this is about as mild as an aged shou mei at this point I'm curious about what sort of aging potential it would have.  The flavors could warm some from here but there is absolutely no bitterness or astringency present that would represent aging potential, experienced aspects that I would associate with compounds that might convert to other types of compounds.  It could become even smoother but it's kind of leveled off as very smooth already.

That "middle-aged sheng not being positive" theme relates to a couple of types of starting points not working out for the best around 8-10 years along (this is 12, a slightly different case).  For as much transition as this had potential to undergo it might've went through it.  Again just guessing, but that probably related to this being a mild, flavorful, approachable tea to begin with, not one exhibiting a lot of bitterness and astringency, or intense flavor range like heavy mineral tones, or natural smokiness.

Often for sheng versions around 12 years old you are either waiting for them to fully transition through fermentation or else noticing that they'll probably just fade from here on out, and at a guess the second is where this is.  It has enough intensity and complexity I think it would still be pleasant in another decade but I don't expect there is any compelling reason to wait to drink it then instead.  It's good now, and it can't soften in tone much, so the flavors might just warm and deepen a bit, or I suppose it could fade in intensity.


I may not have done justice to how exceptional this set would be for introducing someone to novel types of sheng pu'er, since I've been comparing these to what else I've experienced all along (except the sheng and shu mix; that was new to me).  For someone close to the start of the path this would open a door to a new world.  For me it was great for adding more exposure to interesting, great quality, diverse sheng versions, with many similar to some I've tried before.  

I really appreciate that Andrew does this to promote tea exploration, the evangelism theme.  It's not so much to provide profit, since I really do believe that he subsidizes these types of sets versus earns from them, so close to a group buy theme.  The world of sheng can drift into "my tea is better than your tea" implications too often, sometimes even when people are just genuinely and enthusiastically sharing what they are going through, not trying to one-up anyone.  These sets and this context isn't related to any part of that, it's just for people to gain exposure to teas.  And it worked, in my case; it has been fascinating experiencing them.

If you wanted to see more of what Andrew is exploring following him on Instagram would work for that.


Friday, August 21, 2020

Shu pu'er basics

Moychay 2015 Menghai gong ting shu pu'er


I'm not really a shu expert, or even all that into the type compared to sheng, but I've drank a good bit of it, as is true of many other tea types.  I recently commented on some issues in two discussions that fills in a lot about the type, about aging and storage issues, and factors that go into final experienced aspects in versions. 

Someone in the Gong Fu Cha group had recently asked a question about shu:


I bought a ripe puerh tea cake, my very first one but now I don't know if I am allowed to drink it right away or I have to let it age first?? Also, is it ok if i put it in a sealed bag, you know the one for foods and leave it in a dark place. I live in the UK so it is not too warm however there is a lot of humidity.

My take is that you can definitely drink a shu pu'er whenever you want to, but some versions benefit from resting or airing out for awhile, which varies by individual version. If it has a heavy petroleum, tar, or even fishy taste or smell that kind of thing could fade over half a year to a year. Typically that would be more of a concern with a newer tea version, with a shu that was within two years or so of being produced. Not all versions pick up that sort of fermentation processing related character, so it just depends. 


this Kunming 7581 brick was really nice, after four years of aging to settle


that package


Humidity is probably not a concern; even up to around 70 % RH most likely the cake wouldn't mold, and that is quite damp. More humid than that it might. 

It's typical to not completely seal either sheng or shu pu'er, to not let them experience air exposure to the degree of sitting them out on a counter only enclosed by the paper wrapper, but also not sealed in a multi-layer type packaging used to keep other kinds of teas very isolated from air contact. Keeping it in ziplock type bag is probably a reasonable option; those do "breathe" a little. 

Letting the tea get cold and then warm again is a main problem; this will cause condensation on it. It's hard to imagine what storage conditions would bring that up (putting it in refrigerator and taking it back out?), but the idea of avoiding it actually getting wet is important. It would mold fast. 

In the longer term that kind of tea will mellow and deepen in character some but it's as well to just drink through it, unless it needs time to settle for some reason.


In another discussion some time ago someone mentioned moving from one apartment to another, and taking stored pu'er out of an air conditioned environment and into a much warmer setting.  The tea molded, probably related to condensation caused by that change.  High humidity is the main input that would cause mold, with some potential for air contact to limit that risk, but tea getting wet is worse yet.

There's a lot more that could be said about optimum storage for sheng and shu, about humidity ranges that work best, airflow issues, or related to external contamination by other smells.   A former blog post, also shared to TChing, but broken up into three parts there, covers a number of articles I've written on different aspects.


different colors, maybe related mostly to fermentation level


I wrote another summary of issues related to shu puer in a discussion thread in the Tea Forum:


So I've had enough shou that I am able to start noticing differences or at least preferences in teas. I found one I really like from Mandala, but other than knowing where it was harvested, Boulang, there isn't a lot of write up on the storage and other factors that influence the tea... Trying to determine what factors about the tea make me appreciate it over others so I can look for other tea with similar characteristics.


To me shu kind of just tastes like shu, as uniform for different versions as any other tea type, but still I can add how I interpret a few main variables, since I've tried a bit.


Source region: I've not really drank enough to try to isolate inputs related to area, as is more commonly discussed for sheng. This comment is just to frame that context, that to me this can sort of get lost among other concerns, or might only show up after sorting past an awful lot of examples to isolate other inputs.

Fermentation level: this isn't hard to pick up, so the opposite. I've wondered to what degree relatively lightly fermented shu might have more aging potential, but it takes a lot of exposure to piece together individual causes and effects, so I don't know. The effect is what you would expect, highly fermented shu is much earthier, more prone to aspect range that might improve with some settling, and lightly fermented is much more subtle.


Thai Tea Side small batch produced shu versions (reviewed here)


Whole leaf versus chopped material: again what you'd expect, whole leaf is more subtle, less intense, probably a little cleaner in flavor aspect, and chopped material comes across as stronger, but not always in a good way. To me the difference related to this factor is more clearly tilted towards whole leaf being much more positive for sheng, because of how aspect range for both plays out. Shu that is made from relatively ground material tends to be bad though. I think some tuochas and mini-tuochas tend to be bad to awful in relation to a convention of those being lower quality, not related to there being any necessary connection.

Bud content: high bud level shu is often sweeter, lighter in tone, with a flavor that can even trail towards tasting like cocoa. A couple of references might help place that, a Yunnan Sourcing sampler that lets you click through to their take on grades, and a review I did of a version that seemed typical enough:

Customer Favorites "Loose Leaf Ripe" Pu-erh Tea Sampler [Yunnan Sourcing vendor link]

Gong Ting shu pu'er mini-bar from Jip Eu [my own Tea in the Ancient World blog post]


I've tried and reviewed better versions of high bud content shu than that before, but it's probably a relatively typical above average quality example. If the idea here is to only be concerned with really good shu I'm not the person to be passing on any input; everything I tried was probably in the bad to upper medium quality range.  

Later edit:  for completeness it might help to reference comparison reviewing two better buds-heavy versions of shu from Moychay, a main Russian vendor, in this post (with the initial cake photo and brewed tea comparison photo from that).


it doesn't change the tea but cool labels don't hurt


Age: odd to mention this so late in the list, isn't it? To me shu doesn't change all that much over time, compared to how many other people see that as critical, and making a lot of difference. I've tried a decent number of versions that were over a decade old (just not a decade earlier, then again after that aging), and they seem to just mellow out and deepen in character, and round off any rough edges. More issues come up with the tea needing some time to rest earlier in it's life-cycle, most often within the first two years of being produced (or so). All of this is probably already familiar.

Huang pian: I only mention this because I have a shu cake made from yellow leaves (huang pian material), and it's really unusual, very mellow, but with a cool thick feel. I guess this is the opposite of the input related to high bud content. Having tried one version of this I have absolutely nothing to say related to generalities; it takes a number of examples to know how other version range probably goes, versus just trying a few.


that huang pian or yellow leaf shu version, again from Moychay, from 2017


that other cool Moychay label was no anomaly



Tuesday, August 18, 2020

2004 Dayi purple label 7542 sheng pu'er




The first thing many people would consider related to a tea like this is "is it real?"  The original draft of this post only said a little about that, but then after talking to a friend and tea expert I added more on that theme.

There's a pretty good chance that this tea is what the label implies that it is, but even that takes some unpacking, for missing reference to a number or version name.  The source and back-story is that my favorite local Bangkok Chinatown shop, Jip Eu, bought this tea quite awhile ago.  According to them it's a 2004 tea purchased by them in 2004, from a Dayi outlet, a version of 7542.  It spent almost that entire time here in Bangkok.

In Facebook tea groups and other circles people often suggest that any tea that hasn't been verified by a tea expert, or traced back to an original source purchase, isn't "real."  Rumors can even start based on limited or bad information.  I'm not that sort of expert, or interested in those forms of hearsay.  

There was a local rumor going around that this particular tea isn't authentic, based on what may or may not be good input.  I've heard more about that story, the moving parts, but it seems as well to leave it at that, to mostly just dismiss it here.

I'll cite a reference that may be a type description and earlier review, which is quite likely talking about this tea from this same source, since it's from a local Thai blogger.  He's not identifying the version as a numbered type, but in looking around references come up (there or here) to a time-period version of 7542 having a purple label as well, and the shop--who bought it--at least now thinks it is that numbered type.  That other reference:


2003 Purple Dayi (Menghai Tea Factory) (reviewed in 2015)

The 2003 Purple Dayi is one of a series of reproductions from 2001 to 2004 by Menghai Tea Factory to replicate the iconic 1996 Purple Dayi. The tea is old style Menghai production consisting of plantation raw material that is brutal in character. The tea is made for long term aging... 

Upon its initial released to the market I found the 2003 Purple Dayi to be almost undrinkable such was its brutal nature. Whilst the passing decade has served to mellow the tea and darken its character, it remains a powerful storm of aggression. The raw elements are present in strength and with vigor. The brew gives off a storm of wood smoke and erodes the senses with rough waves of bitter astringency that leaves the mouth faintly numb. Close to the finish, after the storm has subsided a rainbow emerges and the sweet taste of a new beginning reveals hope for a brighter future. 


Poetic, interesting.  "Brutal;" I like that.  I'm not sure if that version description is accurate.  This photo citation seems to match up, but doesn't provide a lot of extra background:



Even if this really is that version (which isn't clearly identified as 7542, or tied to any number recipe) the better part of 6 years is a long time for a tea to age / ferment here in Bangkok, related to that January 2015 review date.  Any tea not held in air conditioning is subject to hot and humid conditions, a combination that would change tea character fast.  The exact same cake wouldn't be remotely the same. 

So one strange part is that Dayi seemed to be using the same plain purple wrapper for two different teas at the same time.  Or maybe not; that's only going off parts of different references.  That reviewer said the tea was from 2003, and if it was the exact same version it could be that the vendor bought it in 2004 and it had been a 2003 tea.  I mentioned in a post recently about Kittichai, that owner, making a version himself, literally processing the tea, and saying it was between 2012 and 2014 when he did that, mentioned at the end of 2019.  Getting old is like that; you need to see the old email trail or photo caption to even pin down a year that something happened.

A friend (Ralph, for those of you who know him) looked up an online reference that he felt confirmed it was "real," based on minor errors in the label matching actual errors in that label (eg. a letter being slightly crooked), from this vendor source:



Checking Steepster turned up a review of a 2003 Menghai "Purple Da Yi 7432" Raw Aged Puerh (but of course no label photo).  That's only so relevant, since I've not fully determined this is from the same year or version type, never mind the same batch, but it's still interesting (from a 2014 review):


The dry leaf promised much with its hot hay aroma. It smelt good and promised a robust and pleasing experience. Sadly the liquor failed to deliver. It has a nice bitterness at the back of the mouth and in the throat and is quite smooth, but in the end it left me feeling that something was missing. There is a slight smokiness, perhaps a hint of grape, a soup├žon of sweetness but really not much more...  It is bland and underwhelming, and failed to enthrall me. If I wished to damn it with faint praise, I would describe it as nice. That is all it is.


Then again 11 years of dry-storage aging for a lot of sheng would go badly.  That's towards the end of the period where it wouldn't be even close to fully aged yet, not softened or deeper in aspect range, but not exhibiting the positive fresh flavors from earlier on, which probably went along with a challenging astringency and bitterness for a tea like that.  Going through a relatively flat phase wouldn't be unheard of.  This cake spending 16 years in a very hot and humid place would put it in a completely different place for fermentation character and level, which of course varies along with the starting point.


I asked a real sheng expert for input, since I'd been bothering the author of a Tea Addict's Journal about some other point recently.  From looking over the pictures he said that it doesn't look obviously fake, and that the paper fold in the back may provide a good clue.  That alone is interesting to consider, but a bit hard to check out, since you then need to become familiar with how it should be.


Now that I think of it I last reviewed a 2003 Dayi 7542 version two months ago, a tea that was part of a Liquid Proust sheng sample set; I guess that's a fortunate coincidence.  This post is really about how this tea is, not a comparison with that, or any other.  And to return to the point I think that this is a 2004 tea, but it would be easy for that shop owner to forget that they had bought a 2003 version instead back in 2004.  With varying storage conditions it wouldn't really make sense to try to look back to whether the starting point was probably similar or identical, even if I knew two versions were from the same production batch, although that "separated at birth" theme can be interesting.  


Going in I was wondering if this wouldn't be a bit musty, since the teas they pull straight out of storage at Jip Eu tend to be that way, and then that seems to clear off relatively completely after two months or so.  It's my current impression--which may well change later--that limiting airflow quite a bit, by which I mean restricting any exposure to air, not "sitting out," does cause a sheng to become musty over many years time, but that this can "clear off" well.  My review impression here doesn't bring that up as a factor.  If it was out in a cabinet near the front of the shop for awhile that would support that "airing out" function.

I still wonder if this won't change a bit over the next month or two.  Teas settling is a funny thing; sheng often tends to develop depth and shift aspects a little over that time-frame.  The standard take is that shipping related temperature and humidity changes cause that, but I think moving from one set of storage conditions to another also would, even without getting cold or dry.

It goes without saying but "Bangkok storage" definitely wouldn't be just one thing.  The first and second floor temperatures in our house vary a lot, every day, and our home environment is probably a lot more humid for there being so many plants in a jungle-like yard and garden there.  Air contact changes a lot, as the background smells of any type of environment would.  I'm not going anywhere specific with this, just pointing out the obvious, that lots of little variations would add up.


one version of the house jungle, just after a thorough pruning



Review:


First infusion:  interesting!  I expected some mustiness but this is quite clean.  An earthy range stands out, towards leather or dark wood, like that pleasant smell in a Lipton tea bag, which doesn't necessarily carry over to flavor in those.  This has an edge to it, a form of astringency I'm not so familiar with. 

The flavor and character is in the range I'd expect for a tea of this type and age, it's just cleaner than I thought it would be.  Really the next two rounds will show more where this is going; this is an early take.  It's very promising; I can't imagine that this won't loosen up to show a lot of depth and complexity, and become approachable in a very interesting way.  It's not unapproachable now, but that flavor range and a slight resinous feel should soften and deepen.



Second infusion:  this has tons of depth, and it's very clean.  The storage issue I spoke of in the intro doesn't seem to apply to this, a potential trace of mustiness.

Flavor covers a lot of range.  Warm mineral provides a nice base context, like a clean version of iron bar.  At the forefront a complex set of flavors stand out, like cured, tangy leather, with some dark wood, a bit of dried fruit, along the line of Chinese date / jujube, carrying over to dry autumn leaf high notes.  It wouldn't be wrong to interpret traces of wild mushroom in this, just a clean version of that, no odd funkiness that can come across as fungus related.  

The feel is cool, and the way all of that experience trails as aftertaste.  It works.  I think this fermentation level and form are positive, although really developing a broader perspective on those inputs and outcomes is where I am headed, and not there yet.



Third infusion:  really hitting its stride, but this will probably keep shifting over the next few rounds.  A faint touch of mushroom, probably slightly stronger in this round, might put some people off, but compared to how that plays out in some Xiaguan tuochas there is none of that at all.  Intense warm mineral really gives this great depth, along with the list of other flavors from last round.  Really it's just a touch cleaner in feel than the last round, and a faint trace more complex, but it was fine related to both then.  Spending a lot of time in Bangkok has led to this being quite far along for fermentation, but none of the potential off flavors tie to that, or at least the worst versions of those, mustiness, basement or attic related flavor, geosmin (dirt, give or take), or touch of char.


Fourth infusion:  that touch of mushroom is giving way to warm mineral that's closer to a touch of char, I just wouldn't usually describe this as that.  I like the balance, the flavor set, and the feel and aftertaste range also works.  There's a lot of intensity to this tea; it must have started out really strong. 


Fifth infusion:  the flavors list mentioned before shifts towards tree bark, a warm, earthy, heavy flavor, but one that is still clean in overall effect.  It matches that slightly resinous feel.


Sixth infusion:  a root spice sort of depth that was present in last round, but less significant than the bark tone, picks up.  It's cool how this keeps shifting.  The balance really works in this tea; it's hard to describe that in terms of the lists of aspects description.  The flavor range, feel, and aftertaste effect all combine well.


Seventh infusion:  the same aspects keep shifting; probably even a two second difference in infusion time is changing the balance of what is experienced.  I should have went with a lower proportion; these rounds are brewing for around 5 seconds and at this rate it's half done, or could go a lot further.


some later infusion; I'm not sure of the count for this photo


Eighth infusion:  more of the same; minor shifting.  I could imagine people absolutely loving this tea or seeing it as a bit "meh," depending on their relation to this set of flavors.  Experienced sheng enthusiasts always make a lot of drinking tea for "cha qi" effect instead, or aftertaste, or overall balance of aspects, but it would seem that flavor range would have to be a factor.  I'm just not well tuned for noticing "energy" effects in tea; I can only tell when quality is an issue, because the negative range stands out more.  A bad version of tea can make me feel like I drank a cup of coffee.

On the positive side the intensity, balance, complexity, and cleanness is quite positive.  On the negative side if a little of that mushroom, iron-bar mineral, and tree bark shifted to sweeter dried fruit tones or more root spice this would come across a lot differently.  I suppose it's possible that this is still coming out of storage influence and could shift, even over the next two months, but it just didn't have any of the cement block / basement / musty attic storage flavor range I had expected.  


Ninth infusion:  some of that kind of transition I just spoke of seems to still be playing out as the rounds progress; this is a little sweeter, with flavors covering a slightly different range.  What I meant before by "bark spice" relates to that.  Cinnamon is the only bark spice that comes to mind, and casia, roughly the same thing, but when I was going through a long run of tisane interest many years before others came up.  It would work to interpret the flavor as not far off dried tamarind too, which is catchy, especially within the context of the rest.


Tenth infusion:  I'll probably let this description drop here; I've got stuff to do, and the main story has been told.  I'd guess this will still be very positive out towards 15 rounds for using quite fast infusion times.  I let this round brew for well over 10 seconds, the first round I've really stretched out timing like that.

Still not so different than last round.  That long list of flavors I keep mentioning is about where it was last round.  Letting infusion time go longer and longer will draw out more of the heaviest mineral range.  Feel is thinning, and aftertaste intensity.  The overall effect is still similar, and the late rounds shifting to a cool flavor range is nice.  

This is nothing like those cases of drinking a 10 year old, somewhat dry stored sheng, and guessing when it might be more ready.  It's ready.  If it cleans up just a little, and sweetens and gains a little depth, over a few more months of getting a little extra air contact it will be exceptional.  But I really like it just as it is.


Conclusions:


I tried a few more rounds of this later but it was tapering off.  It would've worked to keep drinking it but things just didn't work out that way, since I was busy.  I didn't emphasize it much but some of the feel seemed to hint a little towards an astringency dryness, as if this wasn't through whatever transition it was going to complete.  If it is 16 years old, or even 17, then some people might expect it to potentially have further to go with fermentation, but usually that's an awful lot of time for here.  

That 2003 7542 I mentioned recently reviewing (said to have experienced Hong Kong natural storage) reminded me of Liu Bao in early rounds, for fermentation related effect covering so much wet slate / heavy mineral range.  It was really fermented tea; you could taste it and see it in the leaves:


that Liquid Proust 2003 7542, "HK natural stored"


this tea, which spent the time in Bangkok


Re-reading these different earlier reviews reminded me that different people would describe the exact same experience in different ways (which really does go without saying).  Some type of underlying earthiness could be associated with a version of wood tone or as cured hay, for example.  One person would focus a lot on feel effect, and another might emphasize flavor.  To me this de-values the usefulness of tea reviews, but it's not as if some degree and detail of impression can't be communicated.

All in all a cool experience, something I look forward to repeating.