Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Moychay 2013 Menghai shu



 


I'm covering more teas from Moychay, from a set they sent for review (many thanks!).  It's shu pu'er.  Versions of shu that I've tried in the past from them have been very consistent, of good quality, pleasant character, and great value.  I suppose all that's a judgment call, tied to preference for aspect range in shu.  The description-list account here may or may not clarify what I like most about this, or where it stands in terms of quality or aspect character for the type, but I'll try to place it.




To clarify what is already clear to a lot of people, lighting background changes the way cameras process images, and see color and other details.  This image and the other were taken in different places in my house, but it's the same tea chunks in the same gaiwan.  Some vendors adjust black tea images so that the material looks really red, and to some extent the tea probably kind of did appear that way in person, and in another sense it's an idealized image versus how it actually looks.  These two "chunks in a gaiwan" images I've left exactly as the phone camera saw them (a Huawei P10, nothing too special), in order to help make the point.  Of course the camera settings version isn't some sort of raw image, it makes choices about saturation level and such.


Review:

I usually always try a first round brewed light



First infusion:  nice; it's shu.  It's earthy, has some sweetness, of course plenty of warm tones, maybe a bit of dried fruit.  A creamy edge is nice.  For people into shu saying something tastes like peat, dried fruit, and cream all together would make perfect sense, but for others that might sound odd, as if those don't naturally pair together.  They do.  I like sheng better, and all shu seems as much the same thing as for any other tea type, but still shu does vary.  I've not looked at a description yet but per my past experience this creaminess would've evolved from an earlier aspect range present, maybe like petroleum, or maybe something else, back more towards peat.

Next, for as I interpret shu, I would try a couple more rounds and evaluate intensity, complexity, balance, feel aspect and aftertaste / length / finish, and see if any novel flavor or other range makes this version stand out.  

I already know it's pretty good shu, it's just about narrowing that down, placing it more clearly.  If I was just drinking tea for my own enjoyment I definitely wouldn't analyze it down into such a distilled set of concepts, but for a review things are different.  That process I converted to a starting point tasting evaluation template awhile back, which I don't use myself, but I do still use those categories in forming an impression (the ones mentioned, and trueness to type, related to any flaws, tied to subjective preference, related to what I see as quality markers, etc.).

What is a quality marker for shu?  It doesn't work like that as much for that tea type as others, as I see it.  For sheng bitterness balancing sweetness is important, and aging potential is a factor, with feel and aftertaste important parts of the experience.  A strong underlying mineral tone can help indicate an older plant source input, which tends to relate to a tea aging well, as well as overall intensity, and specific types of astringency and flavor.  "Balance" is the opposite of a tea quality marker, as I'm using these terms, related to how well all of the experienced aspects work together. 

For Wuyi Yancha a different underlying mineral marks the tea being type-typical, with a sophisticated complexity, and in some cases a liqueur-like aromatic quality, "marking" a tea as better quality.  Then that varies by how aspects tend to group; for a certain floral or towards-liqueur flavor range (aroma) that one distinctive aspect often seems to join, but for Rou Gui that tastes like a version of cinnamon (or maybe really cassia), or even fruit, that particular adjoining aspect tends to not be present.  Dan Cong tend to have depth, and flavor intensity, but to come across as very refined, with a type of astringency people see as type-typical seemingly often related to more medium quality versions.  

For shu it's either good across a standard range of aspects or not; I don't see one or more of those as marking it as better.  Intensity, full feel, or distinctive flavor range could be valued, but those aren't markers in the same sense I'm using that term.

 

looks a bit inky; I might've backed off that timing a little


Second infusion:
  flavor is ok, maybe a bit more towards cocoa.  The part I identified as dried fruit isn't really developing.  The earthiness isn't so much along the line of peat but more a dark wood, or a very moderate version of roasted coffee.  Creaminess is distinctive in this; it would make sense if this had a lot more edge to start and was aged for at least 3 to 4 years.  Of course that could be completely wrong, and aging here and aging in Kunming (drier areas) are two completely different things, and I've not mapped out how that works out in relation to shu "burning off" rough edges.  This doesn't have any, and for the most part "young shu" that is really full in feel would also tend to express less subtle and refined flavor, for at least part of that range, it would have some touch of edge to it.  

Without that creaminess I'd guess this was fairly modest quality range shu, even for lacking any flaws, that just happened to be pleasant across a broad range, but with it this may be presented as higher quality shu (relatively speaking; I never will conclude just how good this is on some sort of scale).  Rightfully so, I mean; that type of feel isn't atypical but it's not that universal either.  Shu very often has thick feel to it but not in a way that seems creamy.  Maybe the best example to place that aspect is how Guiness Stout comes across (although I'm not claiming that this is that creamy; I don't think that it is).

Then I just said that shu doesn't have quality markers in the same way, but I've experienced something quite similar in some quite moderate range quality shu.  That had started out quite fully fermented, with a lot of petroleum edge, then within a year or two was completely different.  It would help if I connected with what others conventionally see as "better" tied to my own subjective preference, but to some extent I just don't.  Shu is shu; a highly demanded aged version and something just ok that's a year or two old isn't so different to me.  The range of what varies seems narrow, compared to how lower, medium, and higher quality sheng works out, which can vary a lot across lots of dimensions.  Shu is fishy or not, intense or subtle, somewhat distinctive or else more ordinary; just not as varied. 

Moychay's Russian small-batch versions that I've tried were interesting for at least being different.  To some those differences could almost entirely relate to flaws, to a slight sourness and slate-mineral edge, but it was my impression in trying it (3 experimental batches?) that it just needed another year to rest for that to clean up on its own.  I tried to not drink straight through it, even though I did like it, to check on that in another half year or so.  Evaluated related to what I experienced it seemed a bit so-so but what stood out, to me, was that the versions probably had loads of potential to settle nicely over time.  Glancing back at that post I wasn't clear at all on that interpretation.  That related to notes from first trying it, and my opinion of it and a second version (or that and a third?) changed some over time, as re-trying any tea version will cause.  That business about me projecting ahead and guessing potential is just a guess anyway; I can check back in another year and mention how that worked out.



Third infusion:  creaminess really ramped up, perhaps related to brewing this a bit longer (maybe just over 15 seconds, which is "pushing it" for this proportion), and flavor range improved.  This is quite nice.  The level of mineral base in this works really well.  It's in a slate range, but not musty at all, so like a clean chalkboard, not a damp one.  Flavors are more complex than they come across without focusing in on them; it's a tight set of related range.  Part is root spice, hinting towards a different aromatic spice, with a bit of dark wood as an input, along with including a mild coffee range depth.  The coffee part kind of folds into the rest but that's what seems to be tying it all together.

The creaminess is hard to place in relation to how that comes across in another food.  Cream is creamy, of course, but this doesn't really taste that much like cream.  Like coffee with a bit of cream, sure.  Natural vanilla bean has a really creamy feel; the effect isn't completely unlike that.  It's hard to say if it's an illusion, the product of an association versus really there, but it seems to taste a bit creamy along with feeling creamy.


Fourth infusion:  more of the same, which is pleasant.  I'd expect that minor aspects will keep shifting over the next 3 to 4 rounds, then some limited natural transition will be joined by the effect of extending brewing times a little later on.  Root spice is probably picking up in relation to the coffee input.  The fruit never really developed but I get the impression that a hint of that is adding complexity.  Given how interpretations of teas vary some people might see it as a primary input.  It's like a touch of dark cherry, but it's masked by the clean range earthier flavors that are more dominant.


Fifth infusion:  I'm trying a round brewed quickly.  I really like the intensity of drinking this a little strong, and how that bumps up feel, but flavors might break down slightly differently brewed light (for under 10 seconds).  This is so far from losing intensity that's not an issue, that it might not taste like much.  The mild coffee range comes across a lot more like dark wood made this way, and of course creaminess does drop off.  Fruit doesn't pick up, the main reason I tried it that way.  Aftertaste experience is still reasonable, still positive.  This is pretty nice shu, quite pleasant.


Sixth infusion:  more of the same.  I could probably break out a minor transition shift over the next few rounds but I'll skip the attempt.  It wouldn't mean a lot to me one way or the other if this stayed quite consistent over 4 or 5 more rounds, versus varying slightly.

In reading back through these notes (in editing) I might have clarified more that it lacks any sort of mustiness or off mineral flavor.  It's easy to not include mention of what isn't present, and to some extent it doesn't work to review even shu, kind of a more consistent type, against some universal typical aspects set.  As I try this a couple of more times I would place that better.


Conclusions:


Pretty good shu.  It's hard for me to judge in relation to being above average, well above average, or truly exceptional because I just don't see that much distinction in shu across those ranges.  Of course others who are more into shu probably would.  It'll be interesting to hear Moychay's take.

Per my understanding this material being a bit chopped isn't overly meaningful, since the final results are the main concern instead.  Most likely what they used to make it wasn't of the same quality as higher grade sheng, or they would've left it as that, and not fermented it.  Better sheng tends to not be chopped, and I'm not so sure what to judge of that in relation to this.  It wasn't hand picked?  That alone should limit origin area, since tea from one of the higher prestige mountain areas isn't going to be machine harvested, and this should be some sort of plantation tea.  Let's hear their description.


Cha Dao Shi (Moychay.com, harvested 2013, pressed 2019), 357 g (selling for $35.56)


Shu Puer "Cha Dao Shi" ("A Tea Master") was made in 2019 by the order of Moychay.ru company from the raw materials of Menghai tea region harvested in 2013. 

357-g teacake of medium density, broken effortlessly with fingers into brown and reddish flagella of twisted tips. The aroma is restrained, woody and nutty. The infusion is transparent, dark reddish-chestnut.

The bouquet of the ready-made tea is mature, nutty-and-woody, with spicy, chocolate, milky and berry notes. The aroma is deep and warm, nutty-and-woody. The taste is rich and smooth, sweetish, with a pleasant woody tartness, the slight bitterness of cocoa beans, a sourness of dry berries and nuances of spices.


So related to region it's Menghai, related to pricing as an indicator of how they see quality moderate.  Their inexpensive shu has been pretty good in the past though; they seem to be able to source decent material and get fermentation to go well within a very reasonable cost range, and must be intentionally pricing shu below what they could probably get for it.  Being pressed in 2019 from material from 2013 means this is well-aged; essentially all the fermentation related funkiness should be gone, as it is.  That's plenty of time for any rough edges to convert to that clean flavor range and creamy feel.

Broken / ground leaf shu doesn't have the aggressive astringency most other tea types will have, but there still are compounds present that will extract in a different way related to that form.  Whole-leaf shu tends to be a lot more subtle and milder in character.  This is comparable to that experience range, because aging transition has provided time for any of what I'm calling rough edges to transition, to mellow.  Intensity can drop off just a bit with that 8 years of aging time but depth picks up, and range of experienced aspects can be more pleasant.

The difference in their description (interpretation) and mine isn't as pronounced as it might seem, and every description but berry and nuts they included is mentioned in these notes.  In reading what they used as a description for color, reddish chestnut, reminds me that would also work as a flavor description (the "nutty" part they mentioned just prior).  I was describing something else as like mild coffee, a bit towards dark wood, but that same range is present in a roasted chestnut, a nuttiness, slight char, and woody aspect.  This review description--what I wrote--framing it as cocoa, root spice, dark wood, and mild coffee versus roasted chestnut drops out mentioning there is a nuttiness present, but that works to me.  The creamy feel, which extends to flavor, and general richness is a part of how a roasted nut comes across.  I'm not really changing my interpretation, just mentioning the same flavors can reasonably be broken down in different ways.  About the berry, which I seemed to have flagged as a touch of dark cherry instead, I don't know; I can try it again and see.

If they had first tasted this in 2019, when it was pressed, I'm not sure how it probably would have been different then.  6 years is a awhile to transition, the initial age then.   For being stored in a really dry place at first that shift could go quite slowly, in which case there could've been more change yet to come over these last two years.  People tend to be more negative about drier range storage than I personally think is warranted.  The pattern of changes varies, and as much as that the speed, so that dry-stored sheng that's 8 or 9 years old can still seem kind of fresh, and not as transitioned.  Who knows how that relates to shu versus sheng.

It's hard to place just how good a value this is (impossible to place really, since that relates to making an objective call about relative quality level, and to some extent tea experience is subjective).  But I keep coming back to thinking of how a Yunnan Sourcing in-house range wouldn't have this priced anywhere near $36, because it's pretty good significantly aged shu.  I can reference that more directly by citing their current sales page:



Their lowest cost 2021 version does sell for $36, but among the 2021 in-house versions the average is about $55.  Who knows, maybe all of those cakes are better shu than this (which I kind of doubt), but for sure almost none of it would drink as well right now, the year many of those were produced.  Clicking through detailed descriptions some were harvested in 2020 and pressed later, with some brand new now, and one year is enough time for shu to settle some.  It would take a year of waiting for many to settle to really see what you have, although people who have been through that process a dozen times could project ahead / guess really well.

It led me to start considering theories about why this tea is even selling for that price, or why the others did, when they clear back out of stock really fast (you might buy this fast if you want it, since at a guess it won't still be listed in another year).  Maybe moving a lot of shu bumps Moychay's cash flow, and encourages people to add some other products when they place the orders.  Yunnan Sourcing is probably just playing a longer game at this point; they know that $60-70 per cake is a good bit for shu, but it's going to sell, and demand keeps increasing.  

I don't even love shu, compared to sheng, I just drink it when I feel like experiencing a simpler tea, but in reading those Yunnan Sourcing descriptions it all does sound intriguing.  Moychay sent a second to try, something even more novel, a "yesheng" or wild tree material version; maybe that will be even more unique, even though it's selling as a value oriented version too.


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Thai Mae Salong Bai Hao Mei Ren (OB inspired type)





I reviewed a Thai sheng version from this source not long ago, and here move on to a type inspired by Oriental Beauty (Taiwanese bug-bitten, relatively more oxidized oolong).  This naming is a little odd, mixing two of the names for OB (Bai Hao and Dong Fang Mei Ren).  I'll look up a description of it somewhere in a final edit, but here I'm more concerned about how drinking it works out.

There is some contact information on the label photo shown, or they have a FB page, and a Shopee page (kind of a Thai version of Ebay, one of two, along with Lazada).


Review:



First infusion:  nice!  A bit light, as I always go on the first round, but sweet and creamy.  A cinnamon note stands out the most, and the rest does lean towards Oriental Beauty / Bai Hao / Dong Fang Mei Ren range, with a hint of grape / muscatel.  The tea could be thicker, and the experience lacks intensity and depth at this limited infusion strength, but the aspect range is nice.  I'll give the next round a solid 15 seconds or so and see how it fills in, and add more of a detailed flavor list.




Second infusion:  it's interesting how flavor intensity does pick up a lot across a narrow range, and then feel stays quite thin, kind of a gap in the experience.  That hint of creaminess drops back instead of increasing.  On the positive side warmer spice tone increases, the cinnamon.  That's normal for OB ("real" OB; this isn't exactly that oolong type, an isn't really supposed to be).  Fruit is present supporting that but it's subdued.  Other aromatic woody range fills in, like a light version of autumn dry leaves, just a bit fresher in nature than that.  I could relate to someone interpreting all this as floral tone but to me the background range is more fruity, towards mango, or tangerine citrus.  It's not pronounced enough to stand forward as much as the warm spice range.  

Sweetness is pretty good but it could be a little stronger.  Feel being on the thin side could be seen as a quite negative input, as a gap; it would depend on how much one values that input.  It stands out more for normal oolong range, across a lot of types, typically being a good bit thicker.  Aftertaste isn't missing but it's not really a positive input either, kind of moderate.  Some sweetness, that spice, and a hint of fruit trails over, but the experience is limited, and doesn't last long.  

All in all I like the tea but the depth of the experience is limited.  You drink it and then it's gone, and part is missing from the time it is in your mouth.  To me it still works well as an interesting and basic tea, and a pleasant and novel version at that, but someone trying to judge for "objective tea quality" really could find it lacking.  I suppose it varies in relation to whether someone is looking for a particular experience, appreciating a full, balanced range of positive characteristics, or can appreciate whatever is positive in any given tea, without needing some basic aspect set to match up.  Flavor range is very nice.  

This kind of tea version might work better for people who aren't experienced tea enthusiasts.  Or the kind of tea enthusiast who can still appreciate an Earl Grey once in awhile would probably love this, and the kind who can't relate as well to medium quality level Taiwanese Oriental Beauty, versus an even higher end, probably wouldn't care for it.  For having a "crocodile's tongue" it works for me.




Third infusion:  a bit lighter; maybe I went just under 15 seconds this round, or maybe it is losing intensity already.  I will probably need to switch it to 20 seconds or longer to get the same infusion intensity out of this, and might be really stretching the times to get it to go a half dozen rounds.  It's made of really thin, broken leaves, so it's not surprising that it's fading fast.  I expect that I used a lot less leaf weight this time than normal for that density being so low.  A bit more would fit in the gaiwan but it's two-thirds full of wet leaves; it seems inclined to fluff up as both dry tea and also when wetted.

Typically that broken presentation would add astringency, across a broad range of tea types.  It didn't, in this case.  Something about this tea really reminds me of a white tea, as a version bruised and broken a bit but not put through normal rounds of oxidation as oolongs are.  Of course I don't know.  Maybe there is a hint more astringency in this round, lending it more structure, which is kind of positive, just not the full, creamy feel often present in oolongs in general and in Oriental Beauty versions.  Even though that astringency range present isn't necessarily positive--or negative; more neutral--I see the effect as a positive input for lending some complexity to a very simple, approachable character.  

Flavor range is about the same, beyond that.  Cinnamon stands out the most, then some mild underlying fruit, along with light and warm earthy tones.  It might remind some of tree buds or some form of light bark versus fallen leaves; to the extent this is like autumn leaves it's a really dry, light version of those.  I would imagine that warm tones and feel structure will bump up for infusing this for over 20 seconds that next round.  It's the typical trade-off one encounters in brewing lighter intensity white teas; brewed light the pleasant flavors are a bit weaker but they "pop" better; brewed stronger you get more flavor intensity, and warmer tones, along with more feel structure, but the pleasant light flavors tend to come across as weaker in proportion.  


Fourth infusion:  "pushing" this tea is the way to go, at least at this stage.  The warmer tones pick up, and a hint of dryness, with the increased astringency, but it gives the overall intensity a boost.  It would be nice if there was a way to pick up the flavor intensity without stretching out that astringency and shift to warmer range; I suppose really maxing out the proportion might work better.  For people who aren't accustomed to pushing down on a heap of expanding leaves in a full gaiwan this is brewed 3/4th full instead of 2/3rds; there's not that much room left.

At least there is nothing significantly negative about the tea, beyond the gaps (potential gaps; those kind of only exist in relation to expectations, but expecting it to have a fuller feel is kind of a typical broad expectation).  There was a faint hint of an odd scent in the dry leaf, a bit towards plastic (not new-car smell, not like a storage container, more like a cheap Chinese plastic toy).  That didn't really seem to translate to a main input, although I suppose if someone was really looking for it they might find it in the experienced brewed aspects set.

There's probably not much point in reviewing further infusions, since this is only changing in relation to brewing it out longer.  I could try one more round to confirm that but it'll probably just stretch a few more from here, or a half dozen, if someone doesn't mind drinking it thinner and thinner, with more and more of an astringency edge tied to stretching out the times.




Fifth infusion:  sure, just more of the same.  The overall flavor intensity dropping back while astringency stays as heavy as it ever was--not heavy, just filling in some range of experience--isn't as positive as the early balance.  This is where a conventional Oriental Beauty version might be after 8 or 9 rounds, with those supporting much shorter brew times due to possessing a lot more natural intensity.  For total infusion time this has been through a longer than typical cycle for 5 rounds, in relation to my normal approach for a lot of tea types.




To me this is pleasant for what it is, it just has natural limitations.  The character that comes across is pleasant.  If you expect it to match up against an above average Oriental Beauty version then it's not nearly as good; some of the aspect range is mainly a gap in relation to those.  The next 5 or 6 rounds after this review scope worked out better than I expected, retaining a lot of that earlier positive character, even for intensity dropping off. 

I drank it once since and it's an even better experience for really maxing out the proportion and not thinking about feel structure potentially being thicker, and the rest.  The flavor is nice.  It really doesn't fade fast; it's good for over a dozen nice infusions, prepared like that.  It would probably be fine prepared Western style too, or grandpa style, probably flexible in terms of getting pretty good results made in different ways.


Vendor product description:


From their Shopee page (automatically translated by Google):


Mixed with the scent of honey and mixed with the fragrance of flowers.

Suitable for tea drinkers who prefer a light texture. but gives depth to the taste of tea.

   

The specialty of Baihao Meiren tea (白毫美人)

*** It is tea from the top of Doi Mae Salong, Chiang Rai Province, which is 1,350 meters above sea level.

*** Picked from the young sprouts of the first half-pink tea From the young tea tree (軟枝), one of the favorite cultivars of oolong tea drinkers. and very popular


🌳🌳🌳 Bai Hao Mei Ren tea Grown in an organic tea plantation It is 100% natural without any chemical additives.

--- Process of production ---

👌👌👌 Use hand massage (hand made), pay attention to every detail meticulously.

to control the quality of the aroma and flavor of the tea So the tea leaves come out in three colors: white, green and brown.

🌞🌞🌞 a full day in the light sun.

👌👌👌Massage and shake your hands for thirty minutes to get the distinct smell of honey 密香.

🌞🌞🌞 baking technique Use the slow dry method to fully bring out the floral scent.


Interesting to read, but it doesn't add a lot.  I would take that organic production claim with a grain of salt, given how that kind of thing goes in Thailand.  Maybe it is organic, or maybe not, and even a local version of certification wouldn't make that claim much more convincing.  

Related to value this sells for 480 baht, or around $15 for 100 grams.  That seems pretty good, for what this tea is, quite pleasant and novel.  It seems normal for local vendors to either underprice their teas (tying them to local product pricing), or to really swing for the fences. This might be an example more in the middle, even though this pricing is high in comparison with standard Thai oolongs.  

That sheng version was selling for 700 baht for 100 grams, more like $20, or equivalent to a $70 standard sized cake, which I guess is ok.  I've tried equivalent quality tea selling for less and also for more, but both of these are rare enough that there is no standard pricing.


not sure what that was all about, making the cats line up


just what that looks like; the kids Xeroxed the kitten


Monday, July 19, 2021

Tea references

 

First published in TChing here.


Four years ago I wrote a beginner's guide to tea themes post that included a reference section.  Someone just mentioned a good reference on oxidation (a Tea Geek blog post), a source listed in that, and it made me reconsider what I had left out, or what has changed since.

Most of what usually gets mentioned isn't bad.  If you ask in a tea group--which I see, for moderating one--people will bring up blogs like the ones mentioned in that post, or the Global Tea Hut magazines, or a few Youtube channels.  I'll only cover what is new, or that I didn't include there, at least for the most part.  Mei Leaf and Hojo vendor content both aren't bad beginner references, but both contain errors and marketing bias, as I see it.  All vendor produced content doubles as marketing, so it's probably that part of that context bothers me more than that it's different from other sources I am mentioning.

Farmerleaf video content:  this vendor started making interesting tea production videos a few years back, about black, white, and pu'er teas (and most recently about oolong; strange for a Yunnan vendor).  I did actually mention this source in that post.  It's odd how rare it is for vendor content to seem like a reference.  Cindy added background on Wuyi Yancha in hers, there's just not a lot there yet.  That limitation is normal; travel photos typically are as close as vending pages get, maybe just with tea processing pictures mixed in.  It's all partly there to sell Farmerleaf products, but William Osmont does a great job of just covering basics, and some finer points, without steering ideas too far towards product sales.


William making some sheng


Late Steeps
:  this blog includes a lot of cool experiment references on using mylar bags for sheng storage, and heated storage experiments.  I'm not sure what other blogs seem like a reference to me, as half mentioned in that post some years back also sort of don't, more about reviews and general commentary.  One I left out then works for that:

Tea DB:  maybe the most popular video blog out there, with some pretty good research reference text posts.  It's hard for a blogger to level up to really being much of an expert, as tea producers almost automatically are, but someone doing research works out as developed content.

Mattcha's Blog:  this isn't mainly designed as a reference, like the Tea Geek blog is, but it's a personal favorite.  Some parts head towards that scope, digging a bit deeper into background.

Discord Communitea:  not a reference at all, a social media channel and group instead, but then that post included that range too.  An old-style forum like Tea Chat can serve as a reference using searchable threads, but daily streams of discussions just aren't that (but I'm mentioning it anyway, mostly related to novelty and uptake).


a mainframe board kind of feel people would probably like or hate


Tea Forum:  kind of a carry-over from Tea Chat, more what that had been, really by design since a falling out in Tea Chat led directly to its creation.  It never became what Tea Chat had once been, but then it's a different time now; diverse online channels mean no central references or groups could take up the same role some had a decade ago.  This reference on making your own humidity control packs is about as solid as this site gets for that role.


same for this style; it would probably seem familiar and positive or else a bit obsolete


Moychay, Sergey's content:  their content is mostly in Russian but this sub-channel is translated. Content is pretty good, solid and in-depth, and not so directed towards sales.  

Tea Masters, Tea Obsession (Tea Habitat related):  classic blogs are worth a look, and Tea Masters is actually still active (a vendor-related Taiwan based blog), with Tea Habitat, Imen's now-inactive blog, mostly related to Dan Cong.  I must be missing a lot related to this range.  Walker Tea Reviews on Youtube were great (from 2011-2014 or so); I bet those haven't even aged badly.

Podcasts: since I don't keep up with this range, or necessarily see these as a reference, I'll just mention a couple of examples and let it go; Crimson Lotus does an interesting series, and Cody of Oolong Drunk does a cool informal version.  There must be lots of these (I keep seeing mentions), or saved seminar and forum content.  Again the "reference" theme can be vague;  if someone put enough research in a seminar session could be that, or the right expert talking for an hour is a great resource, but hearing stories about how someone got into tea can become repetitive.


That's good for a start.  I'm really not reading around reference content as frequently now; exploration naturally follows cycles, and after awhile that kind of drops out, then something triggers new rounds.  I try to not give up on learning but in basic references I tend to see more errors and omissions in reference content than ideas I'm not already familiar with.  It's hard to think of a counter-example, to place that in relation to something I've read or viewed this year that was newer to me.  William's Farmerleaf content always goes into more detail than I'm clear on for tea processing, and Sergey's Moychay content talks about visiting parts of China, and growing and processing themes there, which of course aren't familiar.

A lot of blogs are just about trying countless teas; I suppose mine could come across like that, even though I'm largely off the subject this year.  A little of that could go a long way.  It's nice venturing into new types range, to higher quality levels, or getting to other basics, but trying to drink the ocean for trying hundreds of kinds or versions of teas could be way too much to embrace.  Even the basic background context has limits for practical utility.  It's all about making a drink from dried leaves and hot water, which doesn't need to be so complicated.  I tend to see the background learning and social media themes as secondary and complementary interests, as much as directly tied to drinking tea.


Saturday, July 17, 2021

David Lee Hoffman and the status of The Last Resort

 


David Lee Hoffman is a real tea pioneer.  It's strange using any of those types of terms, pioneer, expert, legend, and I don't ever use "master," but in this case it seems clear enough that this less extreme judgement fits.  He was one of the first to bring pu'er out of China to America, or tea in general, but of course that's only true in a limited sense.  And he did it in significant volume, not only as a small to medium sized vendor listing out a set as one season's products, the normal paradigm today.  Maybe his earliest vending ventures were more like that; I don't know.

The interesting part was his start pre-dating most current paradigms, starting tea exploration and export there in the 90s.  He said that his own interest started with drinking tea, having lived in China previously, and also living for four years in Nepal and India back in the sixties.  There he got introduced to pu’erh teas, while living and traveling with Tibetan nomads in the high Himalayas, and later through working with Tibetan communities in northern India.

David then tried to find pu'er again when he moved back to the States, in California Chinatown shops, but what he found was very inconsistent.  He would use trips back to China as an opportunity to buy more tea.  Buying some for others as well led to a business, which developed later on to buying and reselling an awful lot of tea, and building up a collection further once he sold his main Silk Road vending business.


I'll back up and cover more context; only Ralph and I joined this meetup session, an outcome tied to the time difference.  We met at 7 AM Bangkok and Vietnam time, 5:30 AM India time (I think there might only be one zone there?), which is 5 PM in California.  Ralph met even though it was 2 AM there in Germany; his sleep cycle is a bit flexible, and he's good about making unusual allowances to talk to these tea contacts.

Earlier I had been talking to people I knew relatively well in the meetups, and branched into more distant contacts after that.  I reached out to David in relation to seeing a news story about his problems with building code and permit issues, about a foreclosure of sorts (as far as I know; it seems possible that issues or problems weren't simple).  This won't go too far into all that, citing some references beyond summarizing the discussion with David.  That status is at a critical juncture now; this will get into that.  

We only skimmed across a few topics but all that we covered was of deep interest to me.  I had the sense that another dozen or so subjects discussed at any length would've been the same, that it would have been fascinating discussing tea regions, history, US tea culture, tea aging issues, Chinese culture, or tea trade concerns.  David has been actively involved in all that range for the past 30 years, just maybe more so over the past 25, with less activity on the import and trade side over the last 7 or so.  That's probably essentially the timeframe of better tea interest in the US, not so far along 30 years back and more developed within 25.  Surely plenty of exceptions would tie to individuals, or maybe even small groups, going back prior to that, but in a sense mainstream high-end tea appreciation is something that hasn't happened yet in the US even now.

Let's stick to what we covered, at least until a reference section at the end fills in some background.  I'll be clear on context:  this isn't a critical, objective-perspective take on US or Western tea culture history, or David's role in that, or any other subjects.  I'm passing on what we discussed, from a subject source with a unique level and type of experience.  There's a sub-theme in tea enthusiast circles about people wanting to be the main, big authority, and to "poke holes" in what others say, or in relation to "just how good" their tea really is, and I'm not addressing any of that.  I'm not claiming that the Phoenix Collection teas are the best of the best available in the US, or saying anything about that relative status.  David definitely owns some tea, for now at least, and he was clearly a significant part of US tea culture and history, in a sense that few others match.


"All In This Tea," and related personal history


As added background David was the subject of a well-known tea documentary "All In This Tea," covering the earlier themes of more direct tea sourcing, considering and directing purchasing in relation to sustainability, appreciating narrow-source higher-quality pu'er versions, and "wild teas," and so on.  Les Blank and Tom Valens shot the footage for AITT 1in 1995 & 1996. It took Les another ten years to complete and release the film, thanks to Gina Leibrecht coming on board as the editor. All of that tea background is familiar context now, but in 2007 not so much (the time period of that documentary release), and in the 1990s even less so.  

The range of teas we kind of take for granted now just wasn't available on Western markets in the early 2000s, and David helped change that.  Yunnan Sourcing didn't always exist, and curators like White 2 Tea and Essence of Tea also didn't.  It makes you wonder how far back those go, doesn't it?  

Essence of Tea's site blog section starts in 2008, and Yunnan Sourcing evolved from an Ebay store into a website in 2009, with Scott Wilson's personal contact with China extending back to 1998 (covered in that biographical article), with vending started in 2004 and the actual Yunnan Sourcing outlet in 2009.  Cha Dao, a multiple author tea blog (not long since inactive), started posting in 2005, with a number of posts that year covering Silk Road teas (David's tea business).  Western tea blogging would've probably pre-dated that, but not by a lot, I'd expect.  A media reference I'll cite later covers David's role as a Chinese tea vendor as already active in 1998.

To clarify that timeframe, David explained that 1990 was when he first started travelling to China and began selling tea, and that he sold Silk Road Teas (his main early business) in 2004.



a 2008 Essence of Tea post photo; that has to be who it seems to be


We really didn't cover the early days of tea history in detail in discussion, or any timeline.  David spoke of how higher quality tea sourcing and purchasing within China wasn't common then, and how China wasn't really that open to visitors as it is now.  He mentioned that shipping was a problem, that at first conventional shipping of large amounts was coupled with buying products that were selling on a market along with that shipping support.  So to buy teas more directly from sources sending limited amounts by mail was necessary, with a daily limit per post office how much one could send.  

Back then shipping options would've been limited (a problem one media interview reference described as a political issue), and David mentioned how accounting for changes in temperature and humidity experienced by the packages required allowing them to breathe, to be packed in paper and somewhat air permeable packaging.  Now the opposite is true, even though it is still possible to send things by "slow boat" routes, and people tend to seal teas.  Even that would all tend to be locked into containers at this point, slower to shift in temperature, with less access to external conditions.  Packages flying from place to place would experience conditions changes, but it would be a different kind of effect and concern.


Storage concerns


We didn't get far with this topic, how he stores tea, and environmental conditions factors, but it's such an interesting theme to me that I wanted to pass on what little he did say about it.  I asked about humidity control issues, how he relates to that, even though time was running down at that point.  He said that his storage is based on naturally occurring conditions, so it fluctuates a lot, depending on season, but the range sounded relatively humid (50 to 70-some %; with the most typical level sounding a bit humid).  

Making that more specific, David clarified that he thinks 60-70 percent would be the target median humidity, but that he is comfortable having it go as high as 80%, as long as there is good top to bottom air circulation.  He explained that airflow control is essential to managing a positive storage environment, eliminating dead spots in limited air movement where conditions could vary, and reducing mold risk at the most humid times.  The balance is the thing; too much or too little air exposure can ruin the tea, and it doesn't need much.

That was really most of it, that we had time for discussing.  A larger scale and more pressing issue took up more time, that of him losing that property, and by extension the tea itself, related to a recent court ruling on that subject of building code and permit issues.


Losing the property, and a life's work


David didn't have a lot to add beyond filling in a bit of background, which was surely a brief snapshot of a long and complicated process, which I've since reviewed in a half dozen media articles.  Per everything I've seen for news about this issue building permits and code violations were always at the core of the conflict with local government.  

David said that earlier in his residence application and enforcement of building permit and code restrictions were more liberal, and as they tightened those, and restrictions were policed differently, he experienced more and more problems.  Of course there must more to it than that, a local political sort of dimension, but that discussion and by extension this post isn't really about investigating that, even in the reference summary section.


part of the complex (all related photos credit the Last Resort website)


the feel of a lot of those photos is just amazing, but the videos there really tell the story


In terms of update he now has one month to vacate the property.  He said that he doesn't plan on removing all the tea, that there are 25,000 kilograms of it on-site, and that given the three month notice it never was practical to remove it or deal with any potential facilities or building relocation issues.

To back up, another related part we didn't talk about was how building and development tied to his vision for developing sustainable environment, related to tea storage, worm farming, and water and waste processing.  He mentioned that a favorite major project had been creating a tea tasting building.  I'll cite more of pictures copied from an online source at the end that fills in some limited range of that scope.

It's hard to place this development, how the earlier context of long legal battle framed it, and how relocating literal tons of tea and many other facilities over three months was supposed to work out.  It wasn't supposed to be manageable, seemingly; that was probably never the point.  A longer review tracing back years of steps and recent developments might make more sense of it all, but this isn't the place for that.

David doesn't know what will become of the property or the tea.  He expects the buildings to be demolished, for the land value to not relate to them.  A lifetime's development work will probably come to a fast end.  The tea is another concern; just putting a market value on it might be all but impossible, or just sorting out what is there.  There must be some records but tons of tea collected over nearly 30 years may not be well documented (David began container quantity tea purchasing in China in 1994).


In asking around about other experiences I've heard different things about his teas, which I've seen mentioned in passing in the past.  It was interesting seeing reviews in those Cha Dao posts that weren't mostly about pu'er, or maybe none were in the year of posts I scanned (2005).  One online friend's input was that his cafe business bought teas from David (and presumably then Silk Road), because they were selling teas that no one else had access to.  It's hard to say if those rare types related to the somewhat now-conventional sounding black tea versions mentioned in those Cha Dao reviews, but then who knows what other sources were even around back then, or what types seemed rare or novel.  I automatically associate David's tea collection with pu'er (and hei cha; he said a substantial amount is that too), but the import business may have been mostly about other types 15+ years ago.

This seems to be a story partly told, with a part written more as a tragedy to follow soon.  I would expect the path leading to these next steps wasn't exactly like a good versus evil Hollywood movie theme, but sometimes life is a bit like that, and evil corporations or corrupt governments are shifting events like pawns on a chessboard.  We make our own fates too, moving within the forces of societal changes, as David did in helping shape a stream of tea experience and demand.  And cause our own problems, in lots of cases, or at least fail to avoid them.

It was an honor to talk with David just a little about these themes.  I really hope that the next steps in his story go better than they currently seem destined to.  The next section will add depth to parts of that background I've only barely touched on here.


References


Beleaguered Lagunitas tea seller given three months to vacate property:  the sad part of the story, the news article I mentioned seeing, date May 16th, 2021:


Marin County is a step closer to winning its long legal battle with a Lagunitas tea seller whose property is filled with experimental, unpermitted structures. Last month, a judge ordered David Lee Hoffman to vacate and turn over possession of the property called the Last Resort, where Mr. Hoffman has lived for almost half a century, within 90 days.

...Mr. Hoffman, who deals in Chinese pu’erh tea, has built almost 40 structures on his property in the Lagunitas hills, including his own blackwater recycling and worm composting systems. He admits that some of his constructions are illegal, but he thinks of them as a model for sustainability. 


The Last Resort websitethe photos and videos on that site are really moving.  They tell a story about David creating his own dream environment, related to building structures as artwork, and sustainable processing of waste and wastewater built as complex, natural systems.  

You can see why neither scope is going to draw much understanding or empathy from local government zoning and building regulators; these are not necessarily conventional topics, or probably regarded as typically relevant to making exceptions.  Anyone could see their own home or gardens as a natural or artistic space, but the effect wouldn't typically be the same, the scale and complexity, and attention to detail.

It's not a story I want to try to tell in a complete form here.  The pictures convey the image and feel of what is there, and the video clips allow David to explain what it means to him, and what he was trying to do, and why.  The site includes a news article that tells the whole story, up until the most recent events:

Marin tea guru in the fight of a lifetime, San Francisco Chronicle, August 2017




The Phoenix Collection tea:  to many related to tea this would be the main story, but we didn't have time to explore this subject at length.  I must admit I feel more of a connection to David's dreams in relation to his property, after going through the images and stories.  


from a listing on that website


His bio on that site covers some background, much already covered here:


David Lee Hoffman has been traveling the remote back country of Asia for more than forty years seeking out the world’s finest rare, organic, and wild pure leaf teas. He is the first American to work directly with tea farmers in China and to engage in joint ventures with old, established tea gardens. With an extensive background in vermiculture and soil fertility, he has worked in China with the prestigious National Tea Research Institute, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and the Department of Agriculture to help them implement organic and sustainable tea farming practices. 


At first I was skeptical of the wastewater treatment theme but it seems to work (site link), but to be clear I'm an industrial engineer, not civil


This 1998 Tea Trade press media article helps frame all that in terms of even more specifics:


TT: Do you want to make a prediction for China tea?

D: China tea is going up. I am working hard to promote it. It still has some of the best teas in the world. The future of China tea is anyone’s guess. There’s going to be a lot of popularity in the product and there’s going to be a lot of jockeying for position of control in China.

TT: What’s the most satisfying aspect for you being an American trader in China tea?

D: I love tea, I love finding great tea. It’s so wonderful to drink really good tea. It’s one of those cheap thrills in life. You can have a wonderful cup of tea, it costs you pennies for the cup, it’s very satisfying, it’s good for your health, you can drink it all day long with no ill effects. Why not indulge in one of life’s oldest, simplest pleasures?


His philosophy on brewing and enjoying tea, cited just before those conclusions, is especially relatable:


...What we need to do is to educate people how to drink tea, how to taste tea. And how to prepare tea. And my approach is to remove the intimidation of having it be complicated or difficult. Because it's not. It's simply a leaf off a plant. Nothing more, nothing less. It's only the sophistication of how they roll that leaf, how they pick it, how they prepare it, and how they feed the soil -- or not feed the soil -- that determines the differences between these teas.

...There's no right or wrong way to make tea. You can do it anyway you like. So what I try to get people to do is, do whatever it is you're doing, but taste it along the way. And if you find it's not strong enough, let it steep longer. Still not strong enough, put more tea in it. But don't judge the tea because you had a bad experience the first time. And as you develop a palate for tea, you'll learn what you like and what you don't like...


All as true today as 23 years ago.  It's nice that tea enthusiasts can at least find a sense of community among other tea enthusiasts, in part based in a broad range of social media forms.  It's great that the one-way text media articles, like this one, have been replaced by multi-channel discussion and varied media, at least to the extent that former news outlets dying wasn't a bad thing.  

The tea experience itself hasn't really changed, there are just more options for experiencing a broader range of types.  Now it's available from other countries beyond China, Japan, and India, extending into more and more novel offering scope.  We have early pioneers like David to thank for that.  I hope that his current challenges can meet with a better resolution than it all seems headed towards at this point.


Thursday, July 15, 2021

Covid status in Thailand

 

I've not been on this subject lately, how the pandemic theme goes here.  I wouldn't say that it's interesting in the same way Olympics news or space flight developments might be, but at least it might be informative of how that theme goes in other places.  

In talking to people during meetups it often came up discussing their local experience, especially related to my friends living in India, Vietnam, and Germany.  I'll keep this mostly about Thailand.  And I'll not settle into research points much, although all the issues point back towards that context.  I was just talking with Ralph about the new concern that the Sinovac vaccine may not be as effective against the Delta variant, but it seems like there's not enough data to really tell yet, with only one new study mentioned when looking around a bit.  All those details will be clearer as the stats become available, in some cases too late for related decision making, but in general underlying uncertainty is just the typical context for a pandemic.

We're in the middle of what I view as a third pandemic wave in Thailand.  I suppose people could view those larger summary conclusions differently, as any number of different counts of waves.




It almost looks like there wasn't a first wave at all last year, doesn't it?  The one that shut the country down in March through May 2020 related to daily case numbers not so much over 100.  December's second wave, which ran into January, approached 1000 per day; that was much worse.  This plateau is at 8000 cases per day.  At the start of this current wave in April there were still only a few hundred deaths in Thailand from covid.  That number of deaths closes in on a total of 3000 now (2791, as of July 13).  That's a former daily mortality rate in a number of the hardest hit countries.

All the same the country has been closing in stages over the last two months.  Restaurants just closed a week ago, malls the day before yesterday.  Those restrictions aren't stopping the increase.  The faster spreading delta variant is the obvious main cause, but it might not only be that.

About six weeks ago there was talk of the virus gaining a foothold in poorer neighborhoods, where people are crowded together more, where once it became entrenched there would be no way to ever clear it.  I suspect it was far too late before this wave even started, back in March (2021).  Looking back all of March was a flat looking wave; interpreting that is tricky.  It seemed like the virus went nationwide back in December and it wasn't ever going to work to end the spread, as occurred last year.

Onto what life is like here now.  People aren't necessarily panicked, but restrictions do get old.  It was funny talking to my mother about how they were relieved that the virus experience was wrapping up in the US, while case counts and deaths were still far higher than in Thailand, even taking into account the four times higher population level.  They're finally on par now, per person, maybe with Thailand edging ahead.  Or at least that was true prior to the recent uptick in US cases.  

But we are "locked down," probably to a degree that many people never were in the US.  Or maybe it's more similar in both places than it seems; last year people went out once a week, and only once a week, to buy groceries, and you still see people out buying food for that day and the next.  My wife goes to a grocery store a few times a week, and doesn't avoid other errands.  We do work and go to school online; there's that.

in a closed mall (the grocery stores in them stayed open)


A mostly online friend, who I've only met once, is here now, in quarantine to enter the country.  That's unique to only some countries.  Using such an approach Thailand kept the country disease free over the span of time from May to December 2020, by isolating everyone coming in for 14 days, with almost no exceptions.  Then undocumented foot-traffic border crossing is what brought the pandemic back, at first widespread within immigrant communities, but soon after nationwide.  That friend had been in Cambodia, which is now experiencing a renewed pandemic outbreak.



It can be hard to place stats in relation to what might be getting missed.  Thailand has leveled off number of tests at 60,000 per day or so, and up until recently Cambodia's were even at 6500 per day.  Thailand has 8 times the number of current cases, and 5 times the population; it seems worse here.

A recent spike in number of tests conducted there, over the past week, could be a main cause of the case count spike over the last week.  Thailand kept finding new virus "hot spots," places like prisons, manufacturing facilities, old markets, and construction sites, where a round of new local testing would turn up hundreds of new cases.  Or thousands; the prison system was so impacted that for awhile the stats for case counts in prison rivaled those found elsewhere.

It's interesting checking the US daily testing count for comparison; it's at 385,000 now, trending down, but at the last level over a million daily tests were conducted from February to April.  The opposite of what we're seeing here for escalating testing leading to increases in cases could work backwards.  The positive rate just doubled there in the US, under 2% for awhile to approaching 4% now.  In Cambodia that had been holding steady at 15% and in Thailand it doesn't show stats.  I guess if the average tests conducted were just over 60,000 for three months and a daily average was 4,000 (hard to average, given it's upward slope) positive percentage should be in the range of 6%.


This seems to keep mixing between daily life experience and those stats.  The two pair together more than it might seem.  I've had no daily life impact from the case count increasing from 2500 a month ago to seeming to move past 8000 now but the feel of the pandemic depends on those numbers.  If I had been going to malls and restaurants my life would've changed a lot over the last week.  If I owned a restaurant the change could be extreme, maybe the difference between financial losses and bankruptcy, if the restriction stays in place. 

One strange life-experience change:  I started running wearing a mask in the last month.  It's possible to do that; I wasn't as clear on how it would go prior to trying it.  The first day I wore a special running mask designed to hold an N95 mask insert and that was rough, and from there on I just wore the relatively ineffective outer mask part, a kind of thick but open plastic mesh.  Other runners were split on whether to skip the sidewalk and outdoor mask requirement or observe it, which I understand completely.  I was running during the afternoon in over 90 F (35 C range) heat for some weeks, getting the most out of an unseasonal heat wave, some extra heat conditioning training.




Now as we drive around my wife points out more and more areas recognized as hotspots.  Probably all of Bangkok is a hotspot at this point, and soon enough all of Thailand.  The vaccination level and rate is a problem, related to that; about 15% of everyone has had at least one shot, so not so many.



That looks like 4 million "at least one dose" additions to get to the current level of 9 million, and maybe a million and a half more "fully" (or not quite that), so it could be 5 1/2 million shots over a month?  That's a long way to go, covering 70% of 70 million, moving up from 3 million fully vaccinated to more like 50.  The pace will have to change to get that completed this year.

Again the stats side and life experience mix.  Those numbers are a bit abstract but we live out being where we are in relation to them.  My mother-in-law and I have had one vaccine dose, and my wife none yet, so none of us are fully protected.  The country being relatively closed is an extension of all that.

On the cultural side, we don't really have the same type of pandemic denial here.  Some people really aren't so into wearing masks, but even that is more rare.  You have to keep in mind that 2700 people have died here versus 606,000 in the US too; it took about 250,000 deaths there to really get the most opposition-inclined conservatives to give in that there was a pandemic underway.  People here accepted that it was a real threat back when there were 100 deaths; that's why the country was able to eliminate it in about two months in 2020.  To some extent that perspective change is what let it become so widespread now; people know there's a pandemic on, but they don't always care, past wearing a mask and washing hands more.

Last year people made a bigger deal out of being isolated, in most countries.  Not just related to perspective about it, and personal practice; it was more of a thing on a few levels.  As we ratchet up controls and restrictions here we never completely get back to that feel.  Maybe it's just familiar now, or the relative risk is easier to place?




One might wonder, how does all this relate to the generalities one encounters about cultural perspective?  Are Asians, and Thais, really less individualistic, less concerned about personal freedom than Americans, and do they accept cultural norms better?  Sure, but it's just not quite that simple.  On the Thai side perspective on the pandemic is also a personal theme, not uniform across an entire country. 

There's no completely equivalent liberal / conservative divide here, and people move on to basic understanding faster (that there is a pandemic), but perspectives are still diverse.  In the US there did seem to be that split in perspectives, with the liberally oriented locked down hard last year, and conservatives following whatever views and practices they happened to embrace.  In the end it's not as different as it would seem at a distance, since going out and running errands over the past month hasn't felt so different than it did prior to the pandemic, except for the masks and hand washing.  We get it that the disease really is all around us now, so it's a little different, but after a year and a half of that seeming to be the case, at least to some extent, it just seems normal.


I feel bad for Vietnam; this is going to be rough for them (source)


Saturday, July 10, 2021

Thai Qing Fu Cha local Thai sheng (wild gushu, etc.)

 




This is the longest I've went for awhile between review posts.  I'll say a little about that break first and then get on with reviewing a Thai sheng "pu'er-like tea." It's a Thai version of sheng from Qing Fu Cha, presumably from the 2021 season, but I could be clearer on that.

I'm not buying much tea lately and vendors haven't been sending much.  I just wrote a review for one tea a vendor sent but I'll never post that, because the tea seemed a little so-so to me.  When vendors send teas if I don't like a version I won't review it, and if the review seems as negative as positive I'll let them review it and then skip posting it if they choose.  

It's not like a lot gets lost in the omission; someone selling mediocre tea isn't much of a story.  If it's a big name, like Yunnan Sourcing or White 2 Tea, and I've tried a number of versions and find them all lacking then that would be a story.  That wouldn't happen; this other case was just a vendor reselling a decent but ordinary quality tea.  Maybe I shouldn't have agreed to even try the teas, since often enough that's how that would work out.  I actually thought the tea was ok; to me it would've made sense to post that review, but it can come up that vendors expect reviews to look marketing content.  These posts say what I think; even if I like a vendor they content isn't hype.

The reason for not buying tea lately is mostly what one would expect, that my tea budget is limited.  I ran into a high expense paying to get teas through customs at the end of last year, and my wife spent a lot on a temporary boarding school venture, that I've not went into here.  So I adjust to drinking what I already had, which was a number of types (per my wife's take more than ever should have stacked up, which doesn't seem to decrease much while I drink it for months).  I could've did more with reviewing samples I have around, or about how some sheng is aging, but it was nice to just go on break from reviewing instead.  Writing about doing some online meetups was enough.  I've been meaning to get into opinion pieces more, and venture off the subject of tea, which I have yet to get far with.

On a personal update, I just had the covid vaccine the day before yesterday (when doing the tasting and draft), the Astrazeneka version.  It's too much tangent to cover, that background on local pandemic status.  I think my sense of taste is relatively normal, related to that input, but it's at least possible that I'll miss more than I'm aware of, since I'm not yet symptom-free from vaccine side-effects.  And there's the usual noise and chaos around the house, and the tea didn't rest (from shipping within Bangkok), so maybe it would shine a little more under different circumstances.


the story I could tell is about a nasty Delta variant related third wave in Thailand



Review




First infusion:  this is brewed light, after a short rinse, my typical process.  The flavor is a little unusual.  

In discussing tea with someone recently I was reminded that I don't use as consistent a split in terminology between taste (tongue based distinction of sweetness, bitterness, sourness and some other mineral range tied to detecting both salts and minerals) and aroma (aromatic volatile compound based sensation detected in the rear nasal passages).  The actual experience of the two tends to mix to become one experience, and you can sort of "split them apart" in defining and describing experience, but I don't use one set of standard terms to do so here.  There are only a limited range of terms used, but those vary.  Taste and flavor can be used inconsistently, but aroma is standard enough, it's just not always separated out.  Flavor might be used to define both ranges or only aroma; that would vary too.

Anyway, there is a woody sort of earthy tone to this, and a cool root-spice oriented theme, with sweetness that might be in dried fruit range, but it's all so light that I'll describe it more next round.  It's not atypical for feel and flavor aspects to shift quite a bit over the first two rounds, so it's even possible that one I'm noticing for this being so light won't be a main character aspect after one more round.


not really focusing in on the photography aspect this time


Second infusion:  interesting!  I wanted to go far enough with infusion time to be certain to get a clear read, but not far enough to be describing overbrewed tea, so I went with around 10 seconds, a few longer than I would ordinarily see as a likely optimum, but not enough to ruin it.  Sure enough this is a little strong.  Astringency is notable; that stands out first in the experience, along with a bitterness level that's really moderate as young sheng goes.  Astringency is limited as young sheng range goes, to be clear, but still significant.  Flavor is nice.  Some base mineral probably rounds out tongue-based input related to that, a warmer tone version.  

Other aromatic input is interesting.  Floral tone is part of it, and dried fruit, and a warm and somewhat non-distinct range that might be best described as woodiness.  It points towards a familiar tobacco range common to some inferior quality sheng, but it's not nearly as pronounced as that tends to be in more "tastes like a cigar smells" versions.  To me it works.  I could imagine someone being put off by part of that, or the overall balance, but I like it.  It's clean and comes across as balanced and well-made tea.  I suspect that it might be atypical in ways that could affect aging transition potential but I'll say more about that and other causation as the review continues.  All meaningless guesses, probably, but that's how tea blogs can go.


probably a bit oxidized; I didn't get into that


Third infusion:  it's good, relatively speaking.  Intensity is a bit light but what is present is fine.  There's a catchy root spice aspect that works with the rest.  A mild and subdued fruit range is pleasant, just hard to identify.  It's not so far from some dried longan I ate not long ago.  That fruit version of those was amazing, so tasty it was hard to stop eating it, and a good sized bag of it wasn't around long.  Longan flavor is what makes those Chinese ice based mixed-bean deserts so appealing, I think made from simmering dried longan for a good while, versus being processed from a fresh version.




Light bitterness and moderate sweetness both balance well.  Lacking flaws, sourness, mustiness, smoke, odd flavors, works well, but it's hard to appreciate as a range of aspects that aren't present.


Fourth infusion:  I went a little light on timing; it's easy to shift that when the proportion has a range of 8 seconds or so being optimum.  This has lost enough intensity that up to 12 seconds is probably good now, and within a round or two 15 might work well.  Commenting that here isn't about identifying good brewing practice or settling on an optimum, I wanted to make a point about how the balance of what you experience shifts with brewed tea intensity.  

It's possible that someone could appreciate a broad range, and for many tea types stronger, more medium, and lighter infusions would all be quite enjoyable in different ways.  Here I'm saying that brewing this tea for 7-8 seconds on a fourth infusion instead of 12 shifts what comes across.  The tea seems a little thinner, and flavor profile seems to shift.  I suppose it's instead that what comes across in what proportion shifts.

The base mineral tone stays strong, and sweetness is present but slightly reduced, with bitterness probably dropping out even more.  Other aromatic compound range diminishes even more, what people might see as "the flavor."

I never will be able to fully place this related to other "wild" teas, or address aging potential, but saying a little wouldn't hurt.  Related to the second, more challenging teas in terms of a higher level of bitterness and a certain style of astringency seem to have a high potential of transitioning well.  Sometimes that relates to needing a full 15 years to really get there, the Xiaguan / factory tea case.  In more moderate cases you get a sense that a sheng might be better after 3 or 4 years of aging, and then sometimes you wait and experience that to be exactly the case.

This seems quite drinkable now, not really challenging, but also not like the fresh, smooth, mild, and flavor intense sheng versions that more or less need to be drank right away because they'll lose appeal rather than gain it.

The wild or forest tea theme is a funny thing.  I was just reading a Matcha's blog post about that.  The strange part in that post was that he was splitting forest tea as completely separate from wild tea, as two completely different things.  Of course the subjects would overlap, and the idea there seemed to be that plant genetics are central to discussing both.  The implied claim is that some tea plants are very conventional in type but are growing in relatively natural conditions (the "forest" case), and that other plant types are not one of the main Assamica versions used to make tea, or not a part of the continuum of standard types (the "wild" teas).  I think that mostly works.  

The only problem with it is that marketing separation of the types seems to be drawn on as a good source of making a distinction (implied in that post), and per my experience vendors aren't identifying and operating based on a great grasp of underlying inputs and consistent use of terminology.  Wild / forest / ancient tree sources would be used as equivalent, just based on a personal convention by the vendor staff.  Using "forest" or similar description, or just framing, for a tea that "seems like sheng," that seems to be based on a typical Assamica version input, would work, and then splitting off what seems different as "wild."  Maybe that was a main point.  Calling "wild sheng" more of a tisane might be a bit strong but in at least some sense that works too; it can definitely be quite different.




Fifth infusion:  better, for brewing time being more optimum, out around 15 seconds now.  It's not unusual for some sheng types to be so intense that they just drop into a more normal tea intensity range by the fifth infusion, not really thinning.  It's tempting to try to tie that initial limited intensity and faster than average transition to causes but I really would be guessing, and probably guessing wrong.  

That root spice aspect has moved into an autumn leaf range.  I suppose it's tied to the woodiness and earlier trace of tobacco, which I'm not really getting now.  I mean the fragrant, sweet, complex smell you find in a pile of mixed fallen leaves.  I often help my wife's mother sweep up leaves in our driveway, which come from a broad range of tropical plants, or flowering vines, palms, whatever is around, and it's interesting how that scent can be more complex than a tea experience ever is.  It should be; something like 20 kinds of plant leaves are mixing in those piles, and they're actively fermenting and drying from fresh leaf versions, with rain adding a random moisture input.

This tea will keep transitioning, and a couple more interesting minor shifts in aspects will occur.  How the rounds work out in count and later character is also part of the story.  I just don't feel like filling all that in, so I'll move on to some concluding thoughts instead, adding some about how the next half dozen rounds went in the conclusions.





I usually leave out most discussion of processing and leaf input, since what do I know, but that mix of colors could easily relate to differing leaf type material and a good bit of oxidation input, compared to that typically not being the case for sheng.


Conclusions:


This seems to be a kind of tea that could be taken in two different ways.  It could be presented and interpreted as a unique style but average quality "local tea," pleasant but limited in complexity, intensity, and refinement.  Or with a bit more spin that novelty and quality level could be played up, and this could be regarded as a uniquely positive and very pleasant version.  

It's pretty good tea; that doesn't change, but the relative judgement could.  I get the sense that style expectations and interest in novelty both factor into all that, of course along with subjective preference.  It is a little odd how it ends up interpreting the exact same tea as of moderate quality or instead as highly desirable, in both cases a bit non-standard, but framed completely differently.

Then there's the paradigm of someone being a real high-level expert passing on an objective opinion "from on high" that truly places a version.  Obviously I'm not claiming to be such an authority; I started this post by saying that I'm not drinking that much new tea lately, and I've never had a tea budget enabling access to purchase $150-200 cakes, which is just standard good tea range to some.  I've tried lots of South East Asian teas, probably as much range as anyone else, but I'm not sure what that should mean.  

I doubt this version could pass for anything like those higher quality Yunnan versions, which of course would be a range, not one single thing.  Where it stands in relation to what Western facing vendors sell as $80-90 standard above average quality tea is more of reasonable question.  This I did buy for about $20 for 100 grams, implying a claim that it falls around that category (more like $70 for a 357 gram cake, but really selling the tea within a Thai market could change things a bit).  It could be a little high related to only quality level, but then there's not much similar to be had, so supply and demand balance is hard to call.

It's interesting considering how I place this related to gushu in general, or "wild" teas.  Even though this has been has a really slow year for reviewing teas I have written about multiple teas presented as "wild / ancient tree / forest grown," two from China and one from Laos (from Yongde, Mannuo, and Phongsaly).  It doesn't really work to map out consistent patterns among them.  It's tempting to do so, but I'd likely just be identifying what many of the first half dozen I had tried years back were like, later using confirmation bias to reinforce that the rest tend to also be like that, and seeing others that weren't as exceptions.  

If I did that, and again this seems to be stating generalities based on random patterns within my own experience, not in general, I would say that more wild tea versions tend to be less bitter than standard Yunnan versions, and less astringent, more likely to express a range of novel fruity or spice flavor range, versus more standard Yunnan versions more frequently being floral.  Intensity tends to be lower, especially related to flavor and astringency.  Take it for what it's worth.  Some "wild" versions exhibit a really odd sourness, seemingly tied to atypical plant genetics (or it really could be due to processing flaws, or just not drying it enough initially), but normal variation range is something else.

Pegging quality of this version is also problematic, splitting that off from style.  At one point I thought I could identify markers related to quality (and typical gushu character), but now I don't think that.  I do think that conventions related to standard patterns of styles come up, so when people claim that a tea version is objectively however good they judge one to be, they're not necessarily wrong, they are just basing that on common conventions that they take to be universal.  Which may be relatively universal, within a broad set of opinions, related to large groups of producers, vendors, and enthusiasts.  True objectivity is something else though, or rather one might say that a more robust version of objectivity would be grounded differently.  Gushu I've tried (teas presented as such) seemed to have a pronounced mineral base, and the mineral range I've described in this--as a warm tone--was more pronounced than it would've seemed if I'd kept repeating description of it.  If it would've transitioned I would have; then there would have been something new to say.

This tea "brewed out" relatively fast, and never really was very intense, not a great sign.  Plenty of sheng is so powerful that very short infusions still leave it as an intense experience early on (at a high proportion, which I sort of take to be standard, even though it's really probably not).  For starting out really intense and being brewed fast across rounds 10 infusions in a version may still have plenty to offer, and might only fade after a dozen or more.  This isn't like that; by 8 or 9 rounds I was stretching it to get decent intensity, and the character didn't stay as positive.  It did keep producing reasonably flavorful tea well past 10 rounds, but it was kind of a limited range experience, with some base mineral, higher astringency from adding infusion time, and more subdued earthy tones, like cedar wood or something such.

To an extent that sort of "staying power" also relates to how positive the stretched rounds come across.  A really good Wuyi Yancha might be turning thin at 8 or 9 rounds too (they typically would be, depending on brewing approach), but character might seem quite positive across longer and longer infused or "stretched" rounds.  This version kept brewing tea, it just didn't have a lot of pronounced positive character to carry over.

This could easily be an autumn harvest tea; that would add up [see following late edit; it is, but what that means is probably different in the tropics, because there is no true "Spring"].  It would explain why intensity wasn't pronounced early on, or across an infusion cycle, both in terms of how much individual aspects came across and what flavor was present.   I really don't care if a sheng version is called gushu or not, unless there is some particular adjoining reason why a vendor would get that right, and not so much even then.  In a related online "Shopee" sales page there is a description about that part:


...Pick the tops of tea from the ancient wild Assam (古樹茶) tea trees, aged between 500 and 1000 years old. The average tea leaves used to make this tea lot are about 700 years old.

Gu Hua tea is a tea that is harvested during the fall. But there is something more special than general autumn tea. The harvest time for Gu Hua tea is from the end of the rainy season to the beginning of winter. which is a short harvesting period

during this time corresponds to the period when the rice is ripe It is when the flowers in the valley are fragrant. and the fields are golden That's why we call the tea collected during this short period of time as the Valley Flower Tea (Gu Hua Tea)....


On the seasons and "winter" theme here the annual low temperature in Bangkok doesn't fall much below 25 C, or 77 F.  I woke up at 5 AM once half a year ago to go running at 70 F; that was nice, that bitter cold snap.  It's cooler at elevation in the North but it's not really winter; Thais just say "cool season."

Related to plant age claims--which of course could be accurate, or probably much more likely not--I talked to someone not long ago who was surprised about an aged tea type being "faked," and it seemed odd that such a thing would seem odd.  The first time I visited China a local IT vendor guide described how they made fake eggs there, actually in the shell, with a white part and yolk.  If anything can be duplicated in China then it is, and it's not as if things are so different here in Thailand.  To be fair it's hard to tell how old a tea plant really is, and vendors often cite ages for the oldest plants in the area as the material type it's from, even though of course that makes little sense.

Here's what the vendor said about origin:


Gu hua cha is from Wawee mountain, while the other 2 are from Mae Salong.


That kind of rings a bell since I've drank a lot of Thai tea but it's still not especially meaningful.  Mea Salong is where the oolong plantations are, with a reference on both areas here, where my friend Alex Phanganovich has been living (or contact, if you prefer to use that association designation sparingly).


The tea is nice; that's the thing.  Maybe I wouldn't be so clear on that conclusion if I'd had narrower expectations, for it to be some certain way, but within a context of lacking specific expectations I like it. 100 grams might be enough to get plenty of experience of it but if I had bought a full cake's worth I might not be upset.  It would be a cool tea to share with others, since there's a novelty appeal to it.  That relates to both flavor and background, and it helps that although it's not intense (or probably suitable for long aging) it is pleasant to drink.  And it probably will bump a little in intensity once it picks up some rest time, when I try it in a quieter atmosphere (if the kids ever go out of the house again), when I'm not soldiering through a covid vaccine recovery.  

I never really did mention the main likely cause for it being how it is, at least that seems to stand out in leaf and liquid appearance, a likely high degree of oxidation for sheng.  It wouldn't clarify much if I had.  It would probably be like this is, a bit mild, sweet, less bitter and astringent, warm in tone, with floral aroma range dropped back, lacking as much aging potential.  But don't take my word for that; check out this Farmerleaf video on making sheng ("pu'er;" his versions are mostly from Jing Mai, Yunnan, where he lives), which I'm too lazy to rewatch and time-stamp the reference to William saying exactly that.


The next version from this vendor that I'll review is something else again, what they call Bai Hao Mei Ren, and describe as such:

It seems like oriental beauty, but the leaves that we bought to produce is young leaf, and fully hand made.  Normally Dong Fang Mei Ren [OB, which is also called Bai Hao sometimes] is made from summer leaves, and bug bitten, but for this version we used spring leaves.


grilling for the 4th of July recently (Keo gets so tall now)


a better angle of Keo, who pulls off the pandemic look much better than me