Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas, revisiting the Bangkok Chinatown


My wife and I went to Chinatown to buy some Christmas gifts, per usual just a couple of days before Christmas day.  I made two quick stops in familiar tea shops, and bought some tea, but it wasn't mostly about that theme.  I'll pass on what the Bangkok Chinatown experience and feel is like these days, more or less at a low point in between covid waves here.  Omicron should probably pick up and cause us to close contact back down over this month but so far that hasn't happened.

at the subway / MRT ready to put in some kilometers, how Chinatown works out

It was great to be back there.  Logistics for visiting that one shop and the owners I really feel a connection with weren't ideal, because we had to walk a few blocks in the wrong direction to get there, and then to walk back.  It was a little strange going in there and saying that I couldn't stay, buying some tea in a rush versus visiting, then moving on to sorting through blocks of local warehouse market style shops, with some walking in the middle.  

the owners of Jip Eu, my favorite Chinatown shop

The tea was nothing special, just some low cost Shui Xian that I could buy for a number of gifts without spending much on it.  Those were around $3, and probably 200 grams of tea each, although maybe that's not right.  I bought enough one is for me, so I can taste it and see how moderate the quality level really is.

At the end of the rushed path I stopped at a second shop and bought a couple of Dayi sheng pu'er tuochas and some Thai oolong, mostly for one monk who I give tea to who loves rolled oolong, with one of those tuos for me.  I had bought an older Xiaguan version at the first store, one I've reviewed a couple times here; it would be interesting comparing the two.  I think I'm pretty clear on how that would go but it would still be interesting.

I bought some inexpensive Thai oolong at Sen Xing Fa as well, near there

Chinatown isn't dead, at all; it was nice contrasting that experience with visiting Pattaya not so long ago, which is really struggling.  Half of all the businesses in Pattaya have closed over the last year, and bars there are lucky to have some patrons in them to offset costs with some revenue.  We went there because my wife was taking a short training course on how to cut hair, one more odd and likely pointless venture on her part.  Since the kids go to school online and I work online in a sense we can do that from other places, and Pattaya is just a 2 or 3 hour drive away, with some hotels there quite inexpensive at this point.

Chinatown had lots of people eating in outdoor cafe themed restaurants, like a hybrid version of street food dining.  The wholesale oriented shops and market spaces we visited were as crowded as ever.  If it felt like the risk of covid was high I suppose that might've been uncomfortable, even though essentially all of it was outside, or only related to stepping into an open shop briefly.  We did eat in one enclosed restaurant, in Hua Seng Hong, which isn't something we've been careful to avoid over the last few weeks.  Covid stats are pretty low right now, and of course my wife and her mother and I are vaccinated, a process that ran so late that our booster requirement isn't quite timely just yet.

foot traffic picked up later

Thailand just matched the US for vaccination rates over the past two weeks or so, so likely has pulled slightly ahead now.  I just checked that; Thailand has 63% fully vaccinated, and 72% with at least one shot, with the US at 61 and 73 respectively, so nearly even still (with Thailand's stat counts running a few days behind in that Google dashboard).  I probably should skip interpreting what I think that means here, since to some extent it's all anyone's guess at this point.  It must help, having more people partly protected.

There aren't that many tourists in Chinatown compared to Thais.  One might wonder if I can reliably tell the difference, since a tourist from any Asian country could look Thai to me.  I can tell whether someone is speaking Thai or not if I'm overhearing them, but of course I was going mainly by appearance of the hundreds or thousands we walked by.  We might've saw a few dozen "Westerners" over a few hours, including on the subway to get there, nothing like the normal pre-covid case.

It was nice feeling that free, to just be there.  I had missed the smells and the feel of Chinatown.  It's never completely routine to me, always a little like I'm on vacation, even if I'm visiting there every other month or so.  We stocked up on chrysanthemum but didn't really buy much for my wife or I, besides very little tea.  

It's not an ideal place for Christmas shopping for an 8 and 13 year old but we found some interesting things, toys, inexpensive jewelry, and clothes and such.  The night before we checked out a department store, to buy a purse I think Kalani will like, and after visiting Chinatown we crossed Bangkok to a sporting goods store to buy them snorkels, something they've somehow never got around to trying out.  Christmas will be ok.

Later update:  for the kids being 8 and 13 we're at turning point for Christmas not being the same, and they helped exaggerate that by waking up at 5 and starting Christmas without us, opening almost everything on their own.  A year or two earlier I would've been disappointed, but now it just is what it is, at the end of their experience of such things, at least that earlier form.  Kalani is onto how the Santa thing works, even though she maintains the pretense out of respect and hopefulness.

The did love everything.  By far their favorite gift was a 300 baht / $10 Roblox gift card, which my wife didn't want to give them, because them playing games and watching videos instead of joining online classes has been a huge problem for over a year now.  It's what they wanted though.

We were that close to skipping Christmas, since if we had went on a planned trip to Chiang Mai almost none of those gifts would've worked out, and the only decorations we experienced would be in malls and a hotel lobby.  I'm glad we did it, that we changed plans to put emphasis on that holiday experience form instead.  I skipped a dinner outing to put up a tiny (very tiny!) Christmas tree, and to wrap everything, listening to those old "crooner" carols, and it was nice for me to think it all through again too.  Christmas here has never been a match for the old, traditional form I experienced in rural America (PA), but it's nice that we could give them as much of the experience as we could manage.  

Christmas at home 5 years ago; covid prevented planned visits for the past two years

It's funny how every year it seems new to my wife, who is Thai, that each time she asks how many gifts I think they need, and how things work out with Santa giving things and also us.  Her take is that she hopes this is the last time we need to go through this same form of the experience, and unfortunately she is partly right about that, that a 9 and 14 year old will relate the experience differently.

Merry Christmas to all readers!  I hope that your life has a bit of extra magic in it, and that if it's not these traditional forms then it's something else that helps you connect with a feeling of hope and positive reflection.  Everything is ok, and it's going to be ok, even when parts aren't working out.

of course the Charlie Brown Christmas special came to mind setting up that tiny tree

Thursday, December 23, 2021

What does it mean for a tea to be brisk?

first published in TChing here

I answered a Quora question about what it means for a tea to not be brisk, here, which I'll convert into the opposite, a summary of what "briskness" in tea actually means.  To me it either means bright in flavor and character or else astringent (possessing a mouth-feel) in such a way that is appealing, having a feel that is sharp in a particular positive way.  To me the latter is really the core meaning.  Could the two overlap?  Sure; I'll get to that.

A particular feel range does tend to pair with a general flavor and character intensity, or rather multiple variations of both tend to correspond in different tea types and forms. As you experience a slight sharpness in mouthfeel--not harshness, which would be a flaw--you also tend to experience a brightness or intensity in flavor range. It’s not as if they have to be combined, but it tends to work out like that.  Probably we are mostly talking about black tea, which will be implied in a lot of the following, but more explicit in certain ways related to the cause.  After talking through some basic meaning and experience range related to types this will get to root causes and compounds causing related effects.

Green tea often possesses a very different but typical astringency (feel), but to ask about an oolong being brisk makes no sense. Oolong is a broad category, that varies quite a bit in range, but versions tend to be full in feel, rich, or even creamy. Some contain an astringency that’s different than in black teas, but how that works out, and related to what inputs, and how positive that is, is all a bit complicated to add as a tangent.  The main types of oolongs, Tie Guan Yin, Wuyi Yancha, Dan Cong, Taiwanese high mountain rolled oolongs and Oriental Beauty, are all not particularly rough in feel / astringent.  Only off-area Guangdong oolongs I've tried are like that, which I won't go further into here.

A black tea that isn’t brisk might just relate to a different style of black tea not being like that. Yunnan style black tea, Dian Hong, or a related sun-dried variation of those, Shai Hong, are not brisk. The form of astringency is different, and the set of typical flavors. So we’re now down to talking conventional black teas, like those from Assam and Sri Lanka, with typical Assam character including more of that range. Darjeeling can even fall by the wayside a bit; for lots of those being oxidized to different levels aspect range tends to vary, and what we often mean by a positive “briskness” input doesn’t tend to apply.

Whole leaf tea in general possesses far different astringency character than ground up or broken black tea. Flavor range aspects vary too, not in such a narrow set of ways that it’s easy to map it all out. I just drank a very pleasant Georgian black tea for a review and in one sense it wasn’t brisk; astringency was moderate. But flavors were quite distinct and intense, so if someone was using the terms in a different way than I do they might judge it differently.

Greengold Georgian black tea; too whole-leaf to be very astringent

One last aside before getting to more direct cause inputs:  how could there be differences in how a basic description term is used for tea? Aspects tend to adjoin and mix, and then without a centralized form of definitions other usage variation can creep in. Here’s a standard simple definition from a main commercial vendor, Harney and Sons:

Briskness - Refers to a tea’s ability to make your mouth pucker, also known as astringency.

So for them it just means astringency. I take that to be right, but common usage also implies connection to other tea character, even though it’s really a different aspect range (eg. flavor intensity, or certain flavor range).

Let’s consider if a specialized use of the term couldn’t have evolved within a research context in India:


The major quality parameters that are tested in made tea include Theaflavins (TF), Thearubigins (TR), High polymerized substances (HPS), Total liquor color (TLC) and Total soluble solids (Water extract). TF has a direct correlation with quality and price realization. TF contribute towards the briskness and brightness of tea liquor…

In addition to the above quality parameters briskness and color indices developed at UPASI TRI, correlate well with quality of made tea. Briskness index is given as percent ratio of TF to TF+CAF and the normal range for south Indian CTC tea is above 23.

Theaflavins and thearubigins are complex compounds found in black teas, outputs of an oxidation process as other types of complex compounds are converted to those. This Tea Epicure site reference covers all of the main types of compounds found in tea, and more on those in particular:

Chemical Compounds in Tea

There are several known categories within polyphenols. Flavonoids are arguably the most important category; they are the reason for many health claims surrounding tea because they contain antioxidants.

Within the flavonoid group are flavanols, flavonols, flavones, isoflavones, and anthocyanins. Flavanols (short for flavan-3-ols) are the most prevalent and thus the most studied. Flavanols are often referred to as tannins or catechins. The major flavanols in tea are: catechin (C), epicatechin (EC), epicatechin gallate (ECG), gallocatechin (GC), epigallocatechin (EGC), and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG is the most active of the catechins, and this flavanol is often the subject of studies regarding tea antioxidants.

Flavanols are converted to theaflavins and thearubigins during oxidation. They are the compounds responsible for the dark color and robust flavors that are present in oxidized teas.

The reference to color, flavor, and feel (implied in explaining that these are what is referred to as “tannins”) starts in on unpacking why it’s a good thing that certain feel range increases, because flavor range also does. People tend not to value certain colors in tea without training or experience in associating them with other experience, but that links too.

So, heading towards a conclusion, there are two types of discussions about the positive level and role of briskness, depending on the tea type, origin, presentation form (chopped vs. whole leaf), and related to varying use of terms. Describing a tea as brisk or not has two completely different meanings, depending on whether that’s an expected positive input range in the first place. For CTC (ground up leaf) black tea Assam a version had better be brisk (astringent in a particular sense, to a particular expected level), and for Chinese or Taiwanese whole leaf black teas in general they’re just not, because levels of related compounds are moderate, by design.

Astringency still plays a very important role in judging the quality of those teas, and the role and form is comparable. A black tea lacking astringency, in the different sense of fullness and structure, wouldn’t be as positive. It’s just that very positive versions of such teas wouldn’t be described as brisk, because astringency and related compounds are much more moderate, and probably quite different in proportion, at least in relation to those providing the most feel edge / rough feel.

If further reading on types to clarify this is of interest I reviewed a very pleasant Chinese black tea recently, that I wouldn’t describe as brisk, with a lot of detailed commentary about feel range in that review:  Wuyi Origin Wuyishan benefit black tea.

Just to offset this seeming biased towards Chinese versus Indian teas I also reviewed two fantastic, very well regarded Darjeeling second flush black tea versions this month, with very comparable observations in that review:  Arya Ruby and Giddapahar Second Flush Darjeelings.

None of those three teas I've just mentioned would I describe as brisk, but the mouthfeel properties in all three are different.  To me a brisk tea balances on the edge of being rough in feel and intense in warm flavor range, towards aromatic wood tones, without going far enough that it seems better to add milk to delete out that effect.  CTC teas, ground black tea versions, tend to cross that divide, and be more positive drank with milk added, and I suppose good plantation origin Assam is an example of what is right at that edge.  Really good orthodox Assam tends to be more like Chinese black tea, full in feel but smoother yet in character, with this main plantation Halmari version back at the slightly rougher edge but still balancing it well.

two phone cameras back the pictures weren't all that clear

Again I'm a Chinese black tea drinker, mainly, also open to Darjeeling and Nepal versions in different styles that are comparable in quality, so I'm not seeking out the more intense but rougher range of experience right at that edge.  Trying a more brisk black tea could be interesting but I'm fine with almost never experiencing what I interpret as in that range.  And I mostly drink sheng pu'er, which is very diverse related to complex mouthfeel range, but in a different set of ways that wouldn't be described as briskness.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Moychay 2005 Dian Sheng (pu'er)

This reviews an aged sheng, a category that doesn't get as much focus here as it really should.  I've tried plenty of aged sheng, just not in comparison to people who have been on that page for awhile, maybe only a few dozen examples with "some age" (10+ years), with perhaps only around a dozen more completely aged, at 15+.  It's not as familiar as young or moderately transitioned sheng.  In order to place this better I'll use two approaches (at the end, easier to scan or skip there), citing review comment feedback and tying it to impressions of other aged sheng. 

There is more to get to related to the subject of Moychay teas, teaware, and a recent book publication, which I will post about.  I was one of a number of final reviewers of that text, which is related to them so generously sending teas to try, as a thanks for that (many thanks to them).

First their listed information:

Dian Sheng Pu'er Cha Bing (2005), 350 g. ($140)

The bouquet of the ready-made tea is mature, woody-and-fruity with balsamic, autumnal and herbaceous notes. The aroma is deep and warm, complex, fruity-balsamic. The taste is rich and smooth, sweetish, with fruity acidity and lingering finish.

Almost a bit general, which is actually as well, because interpretations would vary, and the tea is going to keep changing.  To me that moderate pricing either implies the tea isn't of unusual quality or that demand is limited because of limited producer / name recognition (one or both).  Even though aged CNNP versions could kind of be anything, as that works out, they are appealing due to being recognizable, with older Dayi all the more so.  "Old" is relative here; 16 years old is probably not ready yet per some preference for some styles of tea, which vary a lot by starting point.  So we'll see.


so dark red for a quick first infusion

First infusion:  I was wondering if this might have been stored so dry that it would have limited fermentation transition, but that's absolutely not the case.  It has the warm, earthy, complex, and slightly funky range of fermentation transition character, and a really dark brewed color.  It will "clean up" a bit over the first two infusions, so by the third I'll see better what we're really working with.  

That flavor that people describe as "like dirt" is present (what's the better word for that, one that Marco mentions a lot in the Late Steeps blog?).  I guess not remembering that clearly represents how infrequently I review aged sheng here.  I paged through his posts to an older version and scanned down to it:  geosmin.  Petrichor is another other cool rarely used term that comes up, relating to the smell that occurs after it rains.  Someone could say that any significantly aged sheng includes that and they wouldn't be clearly wrong.

Beyond that it seems fine, even a bit clean for including that one heavy earthy input as the dominant note.  16 years is awhile for sheng; in a relatively or even average humidity level environment this could be pretty far along for fermenting, and it seems to be.

Since my wife is bugging me about doing an errand I'll try to copy his minimalist review style and speed run a quick 8 or so infusions [which as usual didn't work].

brewing the sticks is definitely a judgement call

2:  cleaning up nicely, right on schedule.  I could do a flavor list this round but it will work better on the next.  Feel has a nice thickness and touch of oiliness to it, and it's interesting experiencing this aftertaste.  I just tried an aged oolong with some of this age-developed range yesterday that all this brings to mind, but I'm keeping this short.

[edited in later]:  aged rolled oolongs tend to taste like plum, to pick up that toffee and warm tone range, but apparently it's possible for rougher-edged oolongs to transition to a completely different range.  That isn't one of the main, familiar oolong styles, Guangdong oolongs that aren't Dan Cong, which can include quite a bit of astringency, which can transition nicely with significant age.  Enough about that though.

3:  this brews dark and intense for using really fast infusions; this had to start out as a powerful tea.  It's really nice at this stage, although it helps liking aged sheng in this range.  It's closest to a quite old 7542 I have that's about the same age, but that had transitioned a lot in essentially the same time for spending time here in Bangkok, which can come at a cost in terms of adding a wet-stored funky edge.  This tea definitely wasn't stored in Kunming.

I feel like I'm just going to jumble up trying to use the standard descriptions, saying if this tastes like jujube or betel nut, or has any camphor range.  Maybe, to all of that.  It is complex.  Part reminds me of an aged wood effect, not like that dry tone in a barn, but the sweet, warm, and rich smell of an old wood shack or abandoned oil barrel.  Having scanned through Marco's 2005 sheng post (that I cited) it's interesting comparing it to that. Flavor range sounds comparable, but there's nothing to this I would describe as bitterness, and the astringency has softened to a rich and oily feel, but with some structure to it.  That initial geosmin has faded to an integrated warm mineral tone, leading towards rich dried fruit, but it's not there yet.

4.  It's nice how this goes easier on the rough edges than the 2004 7542 I mentioned it seems closest to.  This round really transitioned to soften and deepen feel, with geosmin completely transitioned to other related warm tones now.  There's an experience of aged sheng that reminds me of aged furniture, of those rich dark woods combining with aromatic oils used to preserve them, with just a touch of mustiness related to being stashed away for decades.  My own clothing "wardrobe" is one example, but much more novel and aromatic versions turned up in going through storage spaces when I was ordained as a Thai Buddhist monk in a centuries old temple.  They've got some cool stuff around.

That rich and oily feel is much more pronounced, seemingly about as heavy as it's going to get.  That and the warm and heavy flavors transition to a nice rich aftertaste experience.  This didn't really evolve into dried fruit so much, beyond one hint of it resembling dried Chinese date (jujube), with even more roasted chestnut effect blending warm nut flavor tone, a wood element, and heavy mineral towards a bit of char, just not that form of it.

I might not be the best judge but I think this is better tea than I expected.  I picked it because the name sounded a bit generic, with Dian just the old name for Yunnan, but it's seemingly pretty good.  That geosmin / heavy edge would really appeal to some and put others off, but a form this positive would have broader appeal than one a bit rougher.

Marco called that tea he was describing "meaty, brothy," which might seem a bit odd, but I get it in relation to this.  It has an unusual fullness of range.

fast brewed rounds are still dark and intense

5.  I'm brewing this fast but proportion is too high for what this is; I should've backed off that.  It's not as if I've developed my own form of consistent tea evaluation by holding proportion standard across types and styles, and adjusting for that by changing timing, but it's a little like that.

The overall effect is so nice for this, the way the parts I've described come together.  Storage conditions must have worked out to get it to this level; I should ask about that part.  For some fermentation level could be pushed a little far, related to preference variation, into the heavier range more humid storage relates to when a tea has the right starting point to not just fade instead.  I don't think this was really "wet stored" though; teas kept here in Bangkok pick up a bit more of a heavy, damp, slightly musty edge that this doesn't have.  The hot and humid environment here is perfect for pushing teas through changes fast, and it seems to work really well for teas that just need that first 3 to 5 years of change to soften and deepen, but drier conditionsreally might be better for holding onto a suitable tea for 20 years, or that traditional theme of storing a tea in more humid conditions for some years then moving it to a dryer and more natural environment.

6.  it's interesting the way that taste along my tongue stays so pronounced after drinking this.  People tend to talk about throat feel effects lingering, the hui gan theme, but of course this has lost the initial bitterness long ago.  Minutes after drinking this I can still taste it, and the effect just fades, it doesn't really stop.  For someone that loved it that could be really appealing, and I suppose for someone who finds this warm toned range not to their liking it could seem way too much like a struck match.  I'm on the "appealing" side; it seems pleasant and refined to me.

7.  now it's interesting how it keeps evolving, moving off the heavier flavors into a spice tone range, towards those aromatic incense spices that I can't differentiate, frankincense and myrrh and such.  If someone had brewed a more sensible proportion of this tea for twice the infusion timing this would've come up rounds earlier.  This is seeming to not fade at all; quite the opposite.  I am using 10 second infusion times, so "stretching" it in relation to earlier rounds, but this is quite intense as it is.

8.  it's not transitioning fast enough to make more notes make sense, and I'd rather drink a few more rounds without making any notes.  There could be another minor interesting shift or two over the next half dozen rounds but this is enough writing, and those errands are going to need be addressed.

There's a story to be told in why the leaves are at least two different colors, maybe related to using similar material of different years to make this (or different material from different years).  To me the outcome is the thing, and it was nice.  It would be cool if this turned out to be a sheng and shu blend but I'm not guessing that, just mentioning it to add intrigue.

Initial conclusions, and two other evaluation approaches

I really liked it, and the experience had more to offer than I expected.  One part of the range could be interpreted as rough edges, perhaps due to quality concerns as much as style, but to me this style works, and the fermentation input, and so on.  

There are lots of ways to be clearer on what I mean, so I want to compare what I'm getting at to a few other teas I've tried and also to comments in the Moychay page listing.  That second part will serve a few purposes, to view this through the lens of other subjective preference, and also to judge quality in relation to a broader scope of what others have experienced.  Any input has to be taken with a grain of salt, no matter how well informed someone seems to be, until you can factor back out their own take on different teas (preference), which takes time to recognize through examples.

2004 7542 and 2003 7542:  trying a couple of versions of this "standard recipe" type doesn't count for much, since even within a year releases vary (I think at least one of those posts doesn't specify a batch number), and storage input changes a lot.  And versions can "not be real," so getting further would help set a baseline expectation.  The point here isn't to compare aspect by aspect, but to clarify saying that the tea still has moderate rough edges, and seems somewhat comparable in style to a 7542 version.  It had to start out edgy to be this intense, especially given that a heavy fermentation input--it wasn't stored dry, clear from that earthiness--would've transitioned this quite a bit over 16 years.  

It would be nice if I could cite a standard 15 or so year old flavor profile for 7542, an expected range, and compare this to that, but I can't, since trying a dozen versions stored in different ways would make that familiar enough to do that, and I don't remember that I've ever tried other versions of similar age to those two.

2007 CNNP 8891:  this tea might be familiar to many, since Yunnan Sourcing promotes and sells a lot of this same version (at a very moderate cost, still listing for $74 now, which only implies moderate quality level, it doesn't clearly indicate that).  I've drank about half that cake's worth over a few years, but it would be more familiar if that had been more recent.  The character and flavor may not be a close match for this Dian version but to some extent some comments about intensity level, complexity, very general flavor range, and "rough edges" do relate.  I think this Dian version is more fermented, seemingly stored even wetter, and it may have started out with a higher intensity level for being a really strong tea at this age, not faded in the slightest.  As far as getting into aspects more, beyond that round by round description, I'll mention my take on some comments to say more.

2008 Yong Pin Hao Yiwu Zhen Shan sheng brick

I bring this tea version up as a contrast.  I liked it, after adjusting expectations a bit, but a lot of the flavor faded from this tea over a much shorter time period, and under dryer storage conditions.  I suspect that a lot of fragrant, intense-flavored, but less challenging sheng versions would go this route, maybe retaining a novel and pleasant depth, much of it across feel range, as this had, but losing a lot of flavor intensity in general.  Even the oily feel and structure of the Dian version were much more intense.  Of course there are other completely different end effects to describe, combining a cleaner result and different complexity in even more positive ways.  Let's move on to how positive this is, or aspect identification, in relation to others' comments.

Moychay customer site comment input

Picking a few at random:

I have not tried anything more powerful in terms of influence from tea, now this one is the standard of strength.  Strong flavor-aromatic bouquet, somewhat reminiscent of lubao. Balsamic apricot with overdried berries. Deep dark chestnut color. Cook unambiguously.

The Liu Bao reference makes sense to me, but only in relation to a limited range of what those exhibit, maybe more how a feel edge can be retained than the flavor type, or tied to an earthy range versus the aromatic character.  Intensity I agree with, and specific flavor interpretations would typically vary.

Of the peculiarities - the color of the infusion is dark, almost like Shu Pu-erh, and the invigorating effect is obvious, which is rare for the shengs who are 15 years old. In general, for those who like such endurance of the sheng, it will probably come in. The price is, in principle, adequate for this. There is no new Mercedes at the price of a Zhiguli. If you want wow sheng - look for the 90s or 2000, but you will also have to pay several times more.

I don't "get" cha qi as much as many, but it's interesting to consider.  I like the quality reference, how they combined saying that value was good while also limiting the intended meaning of that.

There is a lack of depth of taste and a lot of things, as the raw material is very mediocre, but quite interesting and delicate tea. It's definitely worth a try, and of course the price-quality is normal.

I could see critiquing the flavor, feel (which I liked, but that was a bit unusual), or other character range, but saying that it lacks flavor and is delicate just seems wrong.  Subjective preference changes things, and some opinions can seem better grounded than others.  If they meant that there is plenty of interesting aged sheng range that this didn't get around to expressing, that other versions can be complex but also refined, then that makes more sense.

...The cognac aroma of the infusion, woody earthy, old wooden floor, membrane walnut, oak bark, smoked meats, stewed fire. Taste without the typical sheng bitterness, tart and dense like shu, fuller. Aftertaste, tart astringent, woody - spicy. Despite the fact that this tea is quite old and, in theory, should not be very tonic, for me personally it has an incredibly tonic effect. Drinking it in the evening is definitely not worth it, you will not fall asleep. In my opinion, this is the most successful pancake of all the shengs of this delivery, independent and complete, which does not require further endurance and experiments.

It's interesting to hear flavor and feel related feedback, with some of the finer meaning lost in translation (all of these are in Russian).  I definitely didn't feel sleepy after drinking this, but not as "energetic stoney" as is common with a solid dose of younger sheng.  The "quite old" part contrasts with the last comment, with that one seeing 16 years of age as an early starting point.  Referencing that bitterness dropped out of a sheng that age a bit odd, since it would have to be amazingly well preserved for that to hang in there.

Comparing different impressions is interesting, just maybe not that informative.  Paging through the comments on the Yunnan Sourcing 8891 version I mentioned a running theme came up, that many of the people commenting were seemingly brand new to experiencing aged sheng.  I remember someone mentioning that tea in an online discussion, asking what else is like it but more refined, and better, and I think even as a question that captured more of my take on that tea.  I liked it, and it was interesting, but not refined at all.  This is probably more atypical, a stronger tea, displaying an unusual intensity and mix of heavy fermentation effect with some brighter and clearer fruit range but even more aged wood, aromatic spice, and warm roasted nut.  Maybe that tied back to the mix of leaf colors.

These Moychay comments probably aren't coming from their equivalent Russian versions of Marshall N and Shah, it's from people exploring the subject, newer to it, as I am.  I find such input is still just as helpful, if you can read between the lines and place the perspective context.  Everyone's preferences and observations are valid, even if grounded differently.  It's interesting how most people liked it, with some qualification, and then a couple said more about limitations.  All of that could be explained by style match or mis-match to preference, really.  The tea was pretty good, and interesting.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Wuyi Origin Qi Lan (rock oolong)


the same leaves photographed inside, much different in color; strange

I didn't write any intro part making tasting notes so I'll leave that part thin here too.  I wrote more about the background on this tea, and a nearly identical review, related to a 2020 version here.  I was blown away by just how good that tea was, how balanced it is, and refined, with a really pleasant complex aspect range, and I just went through all that again.  

During tasting I was curious how Cindy described this tea (the Wuyi Origin owner) and cite that in with the notes.  I might add that I could be biased towards their teas because Cindy is one of my absolute favorite tea contacts, more a friend than a vendor contact to me, but you can double check my positive impression on their teas in any tea group.  Just search Wuyi Origin and every comment essentially says that the teas are amazing.  

They're doing a tea club theme now too, which would have to be interesting.  I really should subscribe to that, for being a fan, and just to try to return some of the favor for her sharing teas to try (this was sent by her, not bought), but in part related to honoring my wife's opinion on the matter I keep my own tea spending ridiculously low, closer to zero than should be possible.  We're not quite that poor, I do work in IT as a mid level manager, but it's within a Thai compensation scale, which is sad if you think about it too much.  We've got a good life here though, so I don't overthink that.


First infusion:  just great, as expected.  It's the balance and refinement of their teas that really stands out, as clearly a higher quality level version than 99% of everything else I ever try.  This one smells a lot like rich cocoa but then the taste includes more of an aromatic cognac type range, along with integrated floral tones, and plenty of scope beyond that.  

There are a few distinct styles of wuyi yancha and this is a great example of one of them.  One style relates to overburned examples, and another is really woody or tobacco like somewhat lower quality range.  Then some are quite fruity, although that isn't common.  Some can include pronounced flavors like cinnamon (especially Rou Gui), or other spice range.  Then one form is more subtle and floral, with a perfume-like or even cognac related range, balancing other subtle inputs, like this.  I suppose they might keep oxidation level moderate as a stylistic choice for their teas; they could trade out some fresh effect and even complexity for warmer tones pushing a little further with that.  To be clear I'm not second-guessing their processing skill or choices; they're nailing it.

Roast contributes to that rich flavor but you don't actually taste roast (char).  One part is like spice too.  It would be interesting to see what Cindy describes the main flavors like in this.  It would be easy to just say floral; that's definitely dominant.  Something like a light version of roasted chestnut would make sense as an interpretation; once you think of that it tastes a lot like it [interesting that last year's version included an almond range instead, similar but different].

Second infusion:  I'll break normal convention here and quote Cindy's Qi Lan description:

 The Qilan variety of Wuyi Mountain was introduced from Pinghe County, Southern Fujian in the 1990s. Because Qilan grows well under the unique and excellent geographical conditions of Wuyi Mountain, the Qilan quality under the unique Wuyi rock tea production technology is even more superior. Beloved by the masses, it is widely planted in Wuyishan area.

   Dry tea: the strips are neat and curly, the color is brown and green, and the color is oily and shiny; the color of the soup: the tea soup is orange and yellow, the entrance is mellow and sweet, and the teeth and cheeks are fragrant after the swallowing; the bottom of the leaf: yellow and bright, with a light green bottom and red border.

    The flavor is sweet, with the typical mineral taste of Wuyi tea. A flowery orchid aroma and cinnamon flavor. Very pleasant and smooth aftertaste as well. It has a pleasant, very subtle menthol-like effect in the aftertaste. Qi lan is a quite  popular Pinzhong among others pinzhong in Wuyi. 

Floral with cinnamon; that works.  What she means by dividing tea types there into traditional versions and later derived tea plant types is interesting, described in this blog post.

Cinnamon really ramped up in that; I suppose this could pass for a Rou Gui.  Of course I do notice a menthol-like effect in the aftertaste, having been directed towards noticing it.  The feel stands out more to me, the way it has a novel form of thickness to it.  Not as heavy as many types of oolong, but unique in effect.  A slightly "green" edge stands out in this; it seems to match a lighter oxidized style common for some of these.  I suppose the balance, quality, and refinement are what really mark this as unique though, the way it all comes together.  No one ever accidentally made a tea this good, guessing about production process working out well.

The heavy floral tone makes it seem more perfume-like than liquor-like at this stage, which I see as two similar effects.  

It's a little strange for me to be drinking tea this good.  I can tell what it is, and can appreciate it, but I also have a rough and basic palate, so that I can also appreciate and love tea experience way at the other end of the spectrum.  This would make more sense for people who try to only drink the best possible teas, not that it's off-putting that it's this good.  It's just two whole levels better than I really need to drink to see a tea as pleasant.

Third infusion:  I'll probably cut these notes short for a new reason, not because I'm rushed this morning, or because I'm tired of listing out ideas, but just to appreciate the tea without writing. It's a rare pleasant cool morning (72 F now, so 23 C or so) and I'm having tea outside to get the most from that, and to get further from the noise of my kids.

The tea isn't transitioning beyond the balance of aspects shifting a bit, with floral, cinnamon, aromatic perfume-like range, and other mild vegetal background changing in proportion.  That initial roasted chestnut faded to a nice background tone, one that complements the rest really well.  The vegetal range is along the lines of a touch of green wood.  For once maybe I really feel "cha qi;" who knows.  Hearing family shouting and rushing to get to the next task don't lend to noticing subtle shifts in internal state.  

I'm behind on turning post drafts into finished versions too; I could touch up a couple instead of straining to see how this tea shifts slightly over three more rounds.

Fourth infusion:  some of the pronounced and distinctive flavors might be fading a little but the warmth and depth seems to increase.  This will be amazing for a significant number of further rounds.

Fifth infusion:  on that last round it could've been that I let those leaves get a bit cool while finishing another post (on trying two really nice Laos sheng; you should check that out).   Since it is actually cool outside that might've affected brewing temperature.  

I talk like I'm brewing tea in the snow but it's probably moving up towards 74 F now, so almost up to 25 C, what we consider to be room temperature.  Trying the tea this round it seems to just be transitioning.  Cinnamon and floral is fading some but mineral depth picks up a lot, and a richness in feel and general character is as strong as ever.  That "rock" taste really comes out.  I think after 3 or 4 more very positive rounds this will turn a bit woodier, still ok but not what it has been.  Of course if someone pushed the brewing proportion less, and used longer infusion times, all of that would've played out much faster. 


As good as tea tends to get, per what I ever experience.  Part of what is strange about experiencing that, as I mentioned, is that I'm mostly on sheng pu'er these days, and tend to drink black tea next beyond that.  It's odd mostly just dabbling in oolong these days (years) and then drinking something this exceptional.  It's fantastic to experience, of course, a little like rediscovering good tea again every time.

you can't tell from this but I think the long hair is starting to work better

Monday, December 6, 2021

Gopaldhara Everest Orchid Black and Rare Muscatel Gold (Darjeeling)

More great Gopaldhara Darjeeling!  I won't say much about them or other background since lots of posts have done that, and mostly just describe trying two more really nice versions.  

I have some spring and white tea versions that look even more novel and interesting (many thanks to Rishi for sharing samples to try), but we're in the middle of a cold snap in Bangkok (down to 20 C or so at night, finally into the 60s F here).  It's too cold for lighter teas, probably about time I try out making a batch of masala chai again.  This weather has been perfect for running, a subject I wrote a bit about here recently.


Gopaldhara Everest Orchid – Second Flush 2021

This amazing and rare second flush black tea from Gopaldhara Tea Estate is one of the best muscatel black tea in Darjeeling hills, made by AV2 bushes. The tea is expertly fully oxidized to extract all the flavour. It takes a lot of different processes to oxidize, without crushing and cutting the leaf.

This rare second flush black tea has brownish dry leaves with abundant golden tips that brew into a red aromatic liquor. You will find a honey-sweet and very well-rounded muscatel finish with the notes of ripe fruits, almost like red wine. This tea is very clean with absolutely no hints of astringency and harshness.

It has astringency in the sense of feel structure but not harshness, so that last part works.  It's cool that I just read that description during the final post edit, after adding pictures to the notes, with their description and mine both mentioning red wine.  I said that it tastes more like brandy to me, but had even mentioned that the effect could be interpreted as either red wine or brandy.  It must seem like I go back and change the notes instead.

Gopaldhara Rare Muscatel Gold – Second Flush 2021

It is a tippy tea made from more than 130 years old high-quality china bushes planted by the British. It brews into a rich orange cup which gives abundant sweet muscatel character and mouthful flavor with a woody taste and notes of ripe fruits. It is a dense tea and is well layered. It is very smooth to drink and is not astringency is not apparent. It is definitely one of the best second flush produced by Gopaldhara Tea Estate from the old bushes. You will like it more if you like the old-style Muscatel tea from Chinary bushes.

That last part is a reference to how some standard tea plant types used in Darjeeling are relatively directly derived from Chinese tea plants, and some are hybrids of variety Sinensis and Assamica.  I was thinking that AV2 was a hybrid, variety Sinensis mixed with Assamica genetic input, but it may not be simple whether it is or not.  This research paper covers how it really is a variety Sinensis tea (a "Chinese type," as it's sometimes described), but what they mean in discussing genetic variation I'm not clear on.  

I suppose it doesn't matter; information about the inputs can be interesting, about plant types, elevation, or processing steps, but the results are the thing, described as follows.  AV2 plant type versions tend to have a distinctive and refined character, and that's the mapping that matters, one that can help you set expectations.


Everest Orchid Black:  very nice, of course.  It's typical black tea, fully oxidized, in the normal flavor and feel range, which is pleasant.  Warm tones and fruit are primary.  Fruit seems to include citrus but a main flavor is more like dried dark cherry, which is really nice.  With the other warm tones including cocoa this is as close to a chocolate covered cherry as a tea will ever naturally be.  It has astringency and feel structure related to the warm tone flavor range (earthy and including warm mineral), but it balances well.

This reminds me of seeing a Reddit post about how a Marriages Freres flavored tea is the best black tea in the world, their seemingly standard "Marco Polo" version.  How could that be, based on what I've just experienced and said?  This tea I've not even dialed in for infusion strength yet, and it's just getting started, but these are well-balanced, refined, very pleasant natural flavors, derived from exceptional tea plant material (related to plant genetics and growing conditions), being processed in a relatively optimum way.  

I don't know what that "Marco Polo" tea is.  From looking at a few references online, including the Marriages Freres web page, it's not clear what country the tea leaves are from, or what the flavoring is, seemingly just "floral and fruit."  Responding to a post like that I commented that while the tea probably is good that tea experience is broad, and no matter what one experiences it's always too soon to say that you have already covered the full scope.

Rare Muscatel Gold:  this tea is very subtle compared to the other; it will take longer to "get going." I used a greater volume than for the other but it probably will work out to very similar wet leaves volume after a few more rounds.  This version will probably prove more durable, brewing out slower, rather than it having less flavor to offer than the other.  The other tea will extract much faster for being fine leaves with less buds, and it was brewed at double the infusion strength level of this one using the same timing.  I won't adjust timing by offsetting what I use for both just yet, just doing a fast round next time and seeing if that is necessary.

This is softer for being much lighter, and it lacks the warm earthy tone range the other had.  There's a nice sweetness, not completely unlike the cocoa / cacao flavor in the other, but spanning that and also malt range.  Honey flavor also comes across in the sweetness, and it seems like other subtle flavor tones will develop from starting points that are a bit vague so far, maybe light floral and spice.  It should develop to fruit as well, which I'm not really noticing yet.  It's as well to describe that more after another round instead.

Everest Orchid Black second infusion:  even more floral, with more flavor depth, but astringency did ramp up too.  I brewed this fast, the way that you moderate astringency using this brewing approach, but it could've been all but a flash brew instead and flavor intensity would seemingly still be fine.  It did brew for 10 seconds or less, more or less a standard approach for sheng or oolong versions, kind of fast for black teas prepared this way, but adjusting timing for results instead of type is standard.

The feel is cool, rich and syrupy.  There's a bit of dryness too but not so much that it's all that negative.  That "warm mineral" flavor is so intense and distinct that it's in between ink and brandy.  There's a lot going on in this tea, with the earlier fruit and cacao still present, but floral range (rich like rose) and warm tones ramping up.  The brandy part one might interpret as closer to a red wine, but to me it's definitely closer to brandy.  I suppose the astringency and touch of sour / bitter effect that results from feel mapping over to flavor range is somewhat negative, just really moderate, and not entirely negative, since it provides a base for the rest.  That is exactly the feel aspect that people identify as bitterness, when really it's not that, it just comes across in a similar way.  Here it's more an addition of feel structure than a pronounced roughness though, lighter and in good balance.  It's quite good.

Rare Muscatel Gold:  it's interesting trying these together for there being no related astringency at all in this version, at the opposite extreme.  It probably makes the first seem a little rougher and this version seem even smoother, or maybe even thin, in one sense.  After hundreds of comparison tastings it's no problem tasting dissimilar tea versions, and I can separate the effects just fine.  Fruit does ramp up in this, as expected.  Intensity does too, but it's subtle.  The feel for this is rich and creamy, intense in a very mild and distinct form.  

Back to flavor, citrus picks up as dried orange peel.  There's a mild but sweet and rich tone that one might connect with butter or caramel.  I still get a sense that mild and non-distinct floral range is filling in complexity, that something along the line of chrysanthemum is giving this the effect of greater intensity and depth, even though it's hard to isolate.  It's not that far off a mild root spice range, in between sassafras and ginseng, so pegging it as that instead would make sense. 

It probably will make sense to stick with a fast infusion for the first tea and go a bit longer for this one; I'll try that next round.  Longer here only means 15-20 seconds, which is an extended time for this high proportion.  Judging from still partly wetted leaves there is slightly more material in the first sample; guessing out completely different forms of leaves should result in that more than it typically does.  The first sample will be 90% full or so unfurled and this only 80-some.

Everest third infusion:  it's interesting how that warm mineral tone, astringency, dryness, and complex flavor range all balance together.  For someone into conventional black teas this would be just perfect, better than anything remotely standard, never mind comparisons to flavored teas.  For a mild Chinese black tea drinker it might be a bit much, that edge.  I can easily appreciate it for what it is, but I suppose the milder and varied flavor set in typical Dian Hong (Yunnan) is still a better match to my preference, teas that can be fruity but often build on a cool roasted yam or sweet potato base, with dried fruit or cocoa flavors complementing and layering on top of that.  For the style this tea is it's just perfect; it's important to give credit where credit is due.  If warm tones and astringency could back off just a little it might be slightly better, to me, but it's already as high quality, complex, refined, and balanced an example as it can be, so that's more a comment about style than quality level.

Muscatel Gold:  more of the same.  I don't want to overstate how slight shifts in balance come across in this; the flavors I mentioned will change in proportion over rounds, and eventually one or two more will join that set.  This does live up to the name "muscatel" but it's a mild version of it, closer to citrus fruit than the rest of what muscatel tends to mean (towards grape or grape based liquor).


I left off taking notes there, for whatever reason, but I did drink a number of additional positive infusions.  It can be hard to do hour long tasting sessions on busy weekend mornings and for teas that tend to evolve and transition less (black teas or even oolongs in comparison with sheng, mostly) three rounds is enough to describe where it's going.

The subject of trying two very dissimilar sheng versions reminded me of how it might be interesting to mix these two teas, to try them as a blend.  I don't remember if I actually did or not, but I think so.  I really prefer experiencing narrower range of aspects, not appreciating the trade-off of greater balance of character that comes at the cost of muddling together a range of distinctive aspects.  For teas with more in the way of flaws that's something else; it would help a lot to mix inputs to work around problematic astringency or unbalanced flavors, or thinness across some range, like a lack of sweetness.  In one sense mixing these two teas would pull both towards more of a middle range for style, mixing the light body of one and higher level of feel structure of the other, for example, but the distinctiveness would be lost.

Cindy, of Wuyi Origin, a Wuyishan oolong and black tea producer, sent some Jin Jun Mei to try, the style of which overlaps a little with this Muscatel Gold version.  Only so much; I'm not saying this tasted or seemed like JJM.  That light body, touch of creaminess versus structure, and subtle flavor range are what I mean.  I don't know how well I can hold an impression of this tea in memory for weeks but I can say more about parallels whenever I try that.

perfect weather for riding bikes at a local replica park, in Ancient Siam

I did eventually tighten up her bike helmet strap for her

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Cardio training in one hour per week


Again off the subject, I've found myself discussing this theme a bit in Quora answers (like this one, which is more about lifting weights at later ages).  I've settled on a running based exercise routine that seems to allow for relatively low impact and risk but still effective cardiovascular health training.  Anyone could just get out and run, and it's not as if I'm making it work a lot better than average, but all the same I want to share the experience here.

Through experimenting with forms I settled on a pattern of running 4 km twice a week (2 1/2 miles or so), and doing one km of that at full speed, as fast as I can sustain.  It takes about an hour a week, although some weeks I run three times.  I think more ordinary "high intensity interval training" involves shorter duration cycles mixed in with low intensity recovery periods, but I'm not really into trying to apply theory, I just experiment.  I don't use a sports watch either, although my wife did buy me an inexpensive version of one awhile back, so I can't say that I don't own one.  I've thought about timing that kilometer pace at some point since I really no idea how fast I'm running it, or if the time varies day to day.  It may well.  [Editing note:  I did that; I'll cover how fast I run that kilometer at the end, and what measuring it seemed to mean to me].

Good post; nice talking.  No really I will ramble on a bit more about some other related thoughts and background.

I started this at 50, 10 years after doing any other form of exercise, although I had already taken up walking one short stretch home, skipping a bus ride commute leg to walk 3 km or so.  Oddly that started because the local Dairy Queen ran a long term special Thai tea flavor, and there was one on that walk home.  I probably gained a little weight adding that to my normal diet, but for me a kg or two is weight gain (3 or 4 pounds), since I've weighed between 70 and 74 kg for the past 14 years (154 to 163 pounds).

It wasn't really a problem training when out of shape, except that I did experience two minor injuries, a mild muscle pull and a tendon issue.  I kept adding more stretching and warm-up, even a cool-down, to account for that risk.  At one point I was running 8 km per outing but I let that go when I tried out the interval theme, maybe a bit over a year ago, and haven't got back to it yet.

I took up yoga in the middle of that three years, and did that for one hour-long session a week for a year or so.  Letting that drop related to the pandemic; the studio I was going to closed, then reopened, and later closed for good.  Yoga is probably as good as any form of exercise for maintaining health later in life, adding muscle tone, flexibility, body control, and balance, but it's just not cardio training.

For anyone considering this kind of exercise who is completely out of shape I would recommend starting out with walking.  I don't have any real experience with weight loss, or concerns related to exercise in relation to being overweight, but for sure walking would acclimate your body to a milder version of similar activity, and I suppose it could potentially factor into weight loss, although changes to diet would probably work better.

One other atypical choice I made in starting out running was to run at a faster pace than joggers here typically adopt.  That's a strange thing to discuss, without timed pace to quantify it, but the facts of the matter and this discussion format are what they are.  I could guess at pace stats but it might be off.  The reasoning was simple enough:  for being in terrible shape I was going to sustain quite slow running for the first year or so, at significant distance, so I wanted to train for some months at a faster pace and with walking breaks so I didn't need to adjust running mechanics later on (stride form).  Really that slow shuffling form and pace joggers use probably is more efficient and lower impact, better for joints than the natural gait your body adopts when running faster, so this is not a simple judgment call.  I never did like that shuffling form of run, which was a familiar option back when I ran cross country a long, long time ago.  

As for the "frequent walking breaks" part a large square is set up as a running track near our house, setting up natural stopping points at the corners, and I would usually break at 2 or 3 of them, early on.  I still do at the second corner, doing a warm stretch after the first 1.3 km or so (our alley ends in the middle of that square, not on a corner).

the canal I run beside, also where that one turtle was from

In my own case I wanted to use limited time exercise for conditioning, not to train for racing, and I knew it wasn't going to be that long before the pace could quicken, even though I wasn't in good shape.  For someone else keeping pace limited might seem more comfortable, or a desire to run greater distances would pair well with a slower pace.  That full speed kilometer still does feel a little rough, a year or more into that form (so 100 runs or so in, probably a bit more), but the time to endure it is limited.

For me to continue to increase conditioning, to not just level off as I have, I would probably switch back to doing an 8 km version for one of two weekly runs.  Or it would be possible to run two of the 1 km legs at full speed, but that might be a bit much.

Timing running:

I recently tried this out for the first time.  I've long since been curious about how fast I ran that "top speed" 1 km section, but at the same time I don't want to feel like I need to match a certain timed pace.  The first time I timed it, in the last week, it was right at 4 minutes.  That seemed slow to me; that's a 6:26 mile pace (per this easy to use reference matching distance timing and speeds).  I timed it again the next run, maybe just under 3:50, still not so fast, but more what I expected, down towards a 6 minute mile.

Why does it matter if it matches a certain mile time?  I compare it back to running times in my teens, which isn't really a fair comparison.  I could run a 5k trail race in about 19 minutes then, a 10k road race in around 44 or so, and an 800 m track event in about 2:10.  Those aren't good competitive times, to be clear; I wasn't a good runner.  I never loved the experience and didn't train year-round, which is how you push on to higher training levels.

On the positive side just running twice brought up that my "top speed" left a bit out related to really pushing my current potential.  That was never supposed to be a race time, and even for the timed versions I skipped the "sprint to the finish" part, just picking up speed and running at a slight oxygen intake deficit towards the end.  If I did push a little harder I probably would improve conditioning better.

On the negative side I was always leaving space for running against how I felt that day, not really trying for a good personal time, which kept it comfortable.  Just from timing that twice I'm considering if I couldn't get that down to closer to 3:30, and a more respectable towards 5:30 mile time.  Should that be a goal?  If I was going to run any shorter distance races, sure.  Just for getting in decent shape it's not as clear.

But then why not keep going; it seems natural to want to keep improving, even without showing that off to other runners in a race context.  It's most typical for people to make running social connections, then those themes pair even more naturally.  People at work run, some of them, but without racing to include as Facebook post accomplishment announcements that sort of goal oriented form doesn't work.  They naturally seem to try to run further rather than faster; posts never really seem to highlight an especially impressive 10k time, but they do get around to running 20k or marathons.  If I liked the activity of running more that would make more sense.  To me it's a like a variation of being on a treadmill; doing it for only an hour to an hour and a half a week is a positive.

I have to factor in that my exercise recovery time is slow at this age, compared to what I experienced when younger.  It's too much to run every other day, to only get one rest day, given that intensity level.  I don't remember any soreness related to running when younger, beyond the early season conditioning phase.  I could easily run three days a week if I adjusted form, adding one slower "active recovery" version, or mixing in longer distance with higher intensity short runs.  I would have to just jog slowly, as most others do, if I wanted to run 4 or 5 days a week.

The point here was to share this in case it's of interest, to spur consideration of how different approaches and forms might work for others.  Maybe if I do step up training a later post could work better for bragging about results.  I've considered trying out a race before but social gatherings mostly dropping out over the last two years didn't help with that.

Trying two Laos sheng versions


We talked to someone new to vending tea in Laos not so long ago, Danang Thorphialuang.  He's working on a vending site that I'll mention in a later review post.  This is a review of two of his teas, versions of sheng (just not sheng "pu'er," since it's from Laos).

For most of those meetups I wrote a summary of the discussion but in some cases people didn't want any exposure, or in very few the discussion didn't include central themes that made for a good story.  Laos tea in general is one of my favorite themes in tea exploration, but that discussion just didn't narrow down to a few central subjects well.  One of my first introductions to interesting tea related to visiting a coffee farm in Laos and buying some tea too, about 12 years ago.  Anna of Kinnari is one of my absolute favorite tea contacts, and Somnuc (a personal contact) passed on really interesting samples, and meeting Alexander of Laos Tea was a wonderful highlight in visiting Moscow.

with baby Keo visiting a Laos coffee and tea farm

Danang talked about his experiences with Laos tea, and we talked about Laos tea in general, and different trade and development issues.  I suppose I've covered those kinds of themes in more detail in lots of posts here.  We talked about a tisane he helps produce and sell that were new to me, a dried gooseberry version.  I'll review that again in another post, since he sent some to try (and these teas; many thanks to him for that).  It just didn't come together enough, without repeating a lot of what I've said about Laos tea development.  This is in a different area in Laos, towards where the "plain of jars" is, per my understanding.

Danang seems like a nice guy.  That may seem beside the point, since this post is about teas, but to me it's really not.  I've tried to do meetups with people that I deeply respect as individuals more than those I respect as authorities on tea, and it has worked out well to combine the two contexts.  It's idealistic to think that more people who share a beverage choice are more exemplary individuals than average, but in a better world than this one that would be universally true.  As it is I take comfort in it being mostly true.


#1:  The initial flavor for this includes characteristic bitterness, moderate in level, and complex somewhat earthy and vegetal range beyond that.  This includes a touch of mushroom, but the form seems to be of a type that might transition off after the first round.  I don't really love mushroom flavor in sheng but this is generally positive, and it will probably be much better next round, the typical initial "opening up" cycle.  I'll save the flavor list breakdown for then.

#2:  this is unique in style, in between a lot of other type ranges.  A warm sweetness and richness leans towards black tea and a vegetal edge, stronger than tends to come up in sheng, is more like green tea.  It's even more bitter than the other version, so it's clearly sheng.  I think it will also be much better the next round, but for a different reason, for allowing that bitter edge to settle a little.  I brewed these much longer than I tend to for first infusions, not in the 10 second or so range that might be optimum for a high proportion, but well beyond that to not be mentioning a slow start, and how I can't tell yet how they will develop.  Results were pretty similar for how much I'm getting covered in review notes anyway, just for a different reason.  

When people mention bitterness in sheng that's really talking about a range of aspect experience and intensity.  A most familiar form is from not yet aged, chopped leaf factory teas (Dayi or Xiaguan, or like that); those can be a little harsh.  Then a much milder form can complement typical above average quality sheng, balanced quite differently, or some better versions really are quite bitter, as this is.  It would only work well brewed fast, so I'll try that next round.

#1, second infusion:  a little light; I erred on the side of brewing these a bit fast, 5 seconds instead of longer than 15 the first round, maybe a little overshoot.  That mushroom is already almost completely dropped out.  For this being faint it won't be ideal for complete description, and a slightly heavier round will work better next time.  The rest balances.  Sweetness is ok, at a good level, and feel works, with other complexity supporting the experience.  Refinement and balance are good; for local made teas that's often not the case.  I think this is probably as good as versions presented with all sorts of quality level and style claims.  What I mean will be clearer in description next round.

#2:  sweetness and a floral perfume character really ramped up.  I knew this would improve but not like this.  It still has a bit of extra vegetal edge leaning towards green tea style but this is closer to standard sheng range (to me; I suppose that part is a judgment call).  Sometimes good versions of sheng that lean towards green tea style seem like they would work well as a replacement for green tea, an improvement on that range of experience, and this is like that.  Probably conventional Western brewing wouldn't get great results from this, until someone could really dial in infusion strength.  For this range I think it's much better to use hotter water and then low infusion times to adjust infusion strength; results are much better.  

The richness of that floral tone includes so much range and depth that it might include some fruit too.  Interpretation of which fruit is probably meaningless, given that heavier bitterness and floral intensity mask that part.  It's mostly floral, by a large margin, with rich and heavy floral tones, like lavender, and lighter and brighter range, like plumeria.  The point was that it's so complex and has so much depth that it seems like there's more to it.  It's interesting how proportion is similar for these (but this may include just a little more leaf) but this is on the strong side, while the other is light.  It might have to do with transition pattern as much as anything else.

#1, third infusion:  this is coming in nicely.  A bit of warm tobacco range picks up, adding to mild floral tones present before.  When a mediocre quality sheng ages significantly to taste a lot like a cheap cigar smells that's something else, related, but quite different.  Tobacco range is really complex; it covers a good bit of scope.  Probably somewhat mixed or non-distinct floral range stands out most.  Then a warm tobacco range joins that, which could easily be interpreted as a wood tone.  It's not mushroom; that faded away, or changed to be something else.  

#2:  floral range is really complex in this, and it comes across as much sweeter.  The vegetal range of that has all but faded away now, adding more depth across warmer range.  It's still mainly complex floral tones.  The rich feel complements that rich flavor profile, along with a relatively high level of sweetness.  It's still bitter, but in a much more moderate range, not even all that high as young sheng goes.  Faster (appropriate) brewing probably offset that as much as transition.

#1, fourth infusion:  not so different than last round.  The warm tobacco oriented range along with subdued floral tones is nice.  It's odd how this is a relatively subdued flavor intensity tea with the other on the opposite side.  I suppose for this including that other range it works better, that slight wood tone background and aspect category complexity works well as a lighter tea, where if the other was dominant floral but light it might seem thinner, or more limited.  Where the other is rich in feel this has some slight dryness and structure to it, again which I see as working well for matching both types.

#2:  also not so different than last time.  Sweetness difference stands out a lot in contrast, higher matching floral range flavors for this.  There is a background edge of warm bark spice that gives this complexity, that makes that one heavier dimension of complex floral range work all the better.  Mixed together these might be nice; for experimenting with adjusting proportion it could balance.  I poured the last of these two rounds into one cup and it does add up to a nice middle range.  The more forward floral tone and sweetness in this version probably stands out more but the other gives it better depth than just drinking the second alone.

#1, fifth infusion:  I'll probably drop taking notes here, since I tend to get bored with review process prior to a 10 round cycle.  As I always say late transitions can be very positive and interesting, so it's not about that lack of potential, I'm just over it, and putting readers through an 1800 word review is too much.  It's nice the way that in Mattcha's blog he lists out 14 or so infusions, with a different 3 or 4 flavor description for each round, but I never tend to notice that much shift.

Tobacco range really bumps up in this, a factor for giving it a much longer infusion time, again between 15 and 20 seconds (due to writing a bit and not minding the time, not so much a planned alteration).  It works well for there being other range.  Floral tone underlying that is mild, like chrysanthemum, but it plays a nice supporting role, acting as a base.  I could relate to people interpreting fruit aspects in this like raisin or dried orange peel, but they are subtle in comparison with floral and tobacco range, which I take to seem like a spice scope input.  No one is mixing part of a cigarette into their soup to season it, but the range and profile role is comparable in this.

#2:  again a little strong for using the longer time; the other version is well suited for this infusion time but this isn't.  It's a cool effect how rich the feel is.  Sweetness is a bit much in this too, at this strength, a little cloying.  Again for mixing the two the effect might be better than for either, although the first worked better brewed stronger than for the lighter rounds.

This reminds me of running across a typical idea about how blended sheng versions were traditional in the past, and the push towards narrower and narrower area and character type sourcing is new, and maybe not well-suited for aging transition.  I'll drop descriptions here, and never do much with conclusions, since my impression was probably clear enough already.  These are really nice, much better than I would've expected, as good as a lot of South East Asian sheng that I've tried adjoined with a lot more hype about quality and interesting background.

Tangent about narrow origin versus blended source sheng

This idea was expressed by Lawrence Zhang, in podcast interview with the owner of Crimson Lotus, and re-summarized in a blog post summary in Mattcha's blog (so with a extra layers to this citation, since it's a transcript from a summary):

33:35 “What young sheng puerh characteristics and qualities characteristics are best for aging?”  “Most of the good stuff gets made into single origin puerh which is mostly a function of cost.  It’s very hard to find anyone who wants to put some Laobanzhang material in a some regular old blend… because you can’t sell it for that much because no one will pay for that much  (see my post on Extinct Blends)… after 10 plus years of experience with some of these teas, I’m not convinced that single estate puerh will age that well… or not that interesting…. Old cakes are all blends.”  Old schoolers generally prefer factory teas and blends over single estate.  80% of what I buy and consume are blends.

This reference to "single estate pu'er" is only part or one description of that paradigm.  These two teas I'm trying are from two different production batches that might have come from a relatively limited and nearby source area.  I highly doubt this material was grown on any sort of "estate."  It's not as if re-planted tea farming is unheard of in Laos, but production from older naturally growing material is a common paradigm.  Not that the plants these were from were necessarily all decades old; it grows as a now-wild or feral plant type, so some plants are older and some younger.

Back to the blending versus single-origin theme, a producer could balance inputs in teas by combining versions from any scope of range, from different parts of Yunnan, or just from different relatively local production sources (as I would imagine these two teas are).  Of course lots of inputs like plant genetics, growing conditions, and processing factors all mix.  The paradigms people tend to be familiar with are wild origin tea versus plantation grown versions, differences related to broad or smaller source area regions, processing style varying (including how whole the leaf is), harvesting season related (mainly spring versus fall tea), and plant type age varying.  The "factory" part is about larger producers like Dayi, CNNP / Zhongcha, Xiaguan and many others sourcing tea from lots of places and mixing it. 

It could be a little misleading, what that says.  One might take it as an implication that 20+ year old teas all being blends, almost all made by large tea producers, is an indication that in the past this was regarded as the best approach.  It was just what sheng pu'er was, how it was processed and then sold.  Sheng was also a cheaper version of tea; there was no comparison 20 years ago to most of it now costing between $50 - 100 (standard sized 357 gram cakes), or for "gushu" material now typically being priced in a $1 / gram range, with high demand versions much pricier.  Sheng pu'er is a different thing than it was.  In another 10 years what Lawrence is saying will either be confirmed or proven false, about aging potential tied to styles, but with this "narrow origin" trend largely starting in the last decade it's too soon to call.  Of course since the pu'er boom was in the mid-2000s there would be plenty of exceptions to use as examples that are around 15 years old now, but it's my understanding that the broad style shift occurred a bit after that.

He seems to have addressed that; the claim is that he's already had 10+ years experience with some of these teas.  Fair enough; he's been at this awhile, so his personal experience is as good as any as an indicator.  Let's check for how long, since if it's 12 years that's cutting it close, but over 15 that's easier to accept (not that he couldn't have been drinking aged "narrowly sourced" teas 10 years ago).  This July 2007 Chadao blog post sets his public discussion of pu'er timeline:

The 'Constant Tea Meeting': MarshalN on Blogging about Tea

...It's been almost a year and half since I started my blog. 

So early 2006; almost 16 years ago.  He helps frame where blogging and tea discussion stood at that time:

Initially I had no idea how many people would read it. I figured that if I get 10 readers a day, I would be doing well, since according to some study the average blog is visited by 7 unique visitors every day. While my blog has certainly exceeded that expectation, the fact remains that it is merely a small project, comprising mostly of notes for myself and observations I have gathered along the way.

During this time, however, the blogosphere has blossomed. When I first started, only four of the links on the blog existed -- Babelcarp, CHA DAO, La Galette de Thé, and the LiveJournal Puerh Community. The rest, as far as I am aware, were still in gestation. Now any visit to any of these sites will bring you to even more blogs and journals out there, composed by dedicated tea drinkers like you and me. Just keeping up the reading would mean visiting a dozen or so blogs every week, at least.

So tea blogging and tea discussion really came online in a developed form between 2006 and the middle of 2007; odd that it seemed to shift so fast.  Given people weren't limiting that discussion to brand new teas then we are at a good place for lots of people to have developed impression of teas from 15 years ago, a typical threshold for relatively fully aged teas.  And again no one needs to limit what they try to what was produced right when they entered tea exploration; aged versions of these teas were a common theme in the last century, just not as developed.

The main problem then is going to be sorting out a consensus take on this issue ("after 10 plus years of experience with some of these teas, I’m not convinced that single estate puerh will age that well… or not that interesting...").  He's definitely one of the main experts to listen to for a developed opinion, but he's still just in possession of one more subjective preference.  Two different people could judge the exact same tea differently, based on varying preference patterns.  Lawrence Zhang is credited with accurately representing a traditional Hong Kong perspective and preference for tea styles, but I can't even guess at how accurate or limited that really is.

My son tried these teas with me and I was mentioning to him how that early bitterness in one version would fade and change over even 5 years, but that no one is going to age this particular tea to experience that, and become clearer on effect.  Probably mixing these two together would make sense, then aging that, and that won't happen either.  I did eventually pour the last of two rounds together and maybe they are better that way, more balanced.  I suppose something must get lost in the experience too, the distinctiveness.  

Surely a broad range of sheng versions we come in contact with offset initial input limitations in such a way, and were blended from different sources to create a more balanced and seemingly higher quality final version.  Not just "factory blends," I don't mean; it must occur with what is presented and sold as narrowly sourced off-area versions like these, again created by as simple an extra step as mixing these two types together.

Again many thanks to Danang, for providing a much more interesting tea experience than I expected.  Sheng from outside China can be pretty good, but higher quality, distinctive, and pleasant versions like these are really nice to experience.  I expected them to be a lot more ordinary.