Monday, February 22, 2021

Social media group exclusiveness


A couple of interesting experiences with social media group filtering have come up recently, of not being welcomed into groups that I had a shared theme interest in.  Both related to the form of the interest not matching up, or filtering just narrowing down participants to a known set; the feedback wasn't clear.  I'll get to saying more about that, related to running and cooking groups, but it will work to frame the background better in relation to tea, a subject I'm more active in.

Tea groups tend to gravitate towards specific tea-interest themes, either by initial definition or through an evolved consensus take.  Groups like Gong Fu Cha or the Pu'er Tea Club have the theme relatively set through the name alone, and what is implied by that title (I'll spare you the links in this post).  I helped found and admin for the International Tea Talk group, and that's a bit more organic, since it's not as clear what that should mean.  A lot of producers, vendors, and tea enthusiasts from around the world are members; kind of what one would expect.  I also moderate one called Tea there, just not so actively.  That has evolved to mostly be an Indian group, with a lot of other international participation.  

A group like Tea Drinkers is more for "beginners," people just starting into better tea, or maybe still on flavored teas, blends, grocery store tin versions, or tea-bag teas.  Not by definition or group rules, but per evolved convention.  The Reddit r/tea subforum is mostly like that, but with more diverse range coming up.

In any of these groups if someone posts about something outside the theme (not tea but form of tea interest), comments would tend to mention that it's not the right group for that discussion, versus a post being deleted.  In moderating the one International group I might even let a post about coffee stay, if the starting point is interesting, to see what that feedback looks like.  Group tone tends to vary, and while in general people are very nice in tea-oriented groups it's really up to the individual.  If a moderator or core group is a bit judgmental that tends to evolve into a norm for group culture.  Someone would typically need to post advertising that is prohibited by group rules, for example, to be removed from such a group.

those rules; a bit general.  it's harder than it seems to define an advertisement.

These other two group experiences, related to running and cooking, seemed a bit different.  I'm not active in those groups, but I have been following and participating in the running group for a month or two, checking it out.  And running for over two years, following a much earlier running history of track and cross-country competition in high school, and some in junior high.  The running group is really set up for people to compare shoe specification issues, or tech product use, or advanced training practices.  But the most interesting posts and discussion, to me, have been about more basic themes, about dealing with injuries, running in snow, or ramping up early training.  I posted about my own training history, about using running combined with walking as an early approach, and doing a form of interval training, running segments at different paces, and that post was deleted.

a relatively open-ended group rule can justify removing almost anything

It's just a tangent here but I'll say a little more about that running practice background, in case it's of interest.  In first starting out running I noticed a lot of people were running slowly, on a 10-12 minute mile pace, I would imagine.  I didn't have fixed goals for what I wanted out of running but since it was tied to getting exercise I intended to arrive at a faster pace, at some point.  To facilitate that, and to not move through a half a year of gradually increasing pace, and changing running mechanics, I instead started running at a pace that would seem more normal later, but that I wasn't initially ready for maintaining.  Maybe 8 minute miles, but I don't time the running (part of why I the post was probably removed, that violation of sub-culture form).  Later that evolved to include a mixed intensity theme, running nearly 2 miles (3 km) at that somewhat limited pace and 1 additional km / 2/3rds mile at full speed, at whatever pace my oxygen capacity would support.

That post removal theme isn't so unusual, depending on the group.  A lot of social media groups are relatively completely open and inclusive, but others are set up to emphasize participation by a core subset of members, or at least to narrow shared perspective.  A moderating judgment call could easily depend on degree of match or conflict with shared interest form, or in other groups it could just relate to not "being one of them," working up from commenting to posting topics.  I've posted in a group about mixed martial arts interest and an automated removal notice suggested commenting more first, prior to opening my own new topic discussions.  At first this seemed a quite foreign idea to me, only valuing input from established members, but group themes can and do vary, and I kind of get it.

In the cooking group the post removal seemed to make more sense, although it also wasn't explained, so that reasoning was a guess on my part.  It was about low-cost cooking, and I posted about making stuffed peppers, using bell peppers, sausage, rice, tomatoes, onions, and then other optional ingredients.  I would imagine that cost seemed too high, that the group was themed more around "dorm food."  Far lower cost food versions could relate to making tuna casserole using a can of tuna, cream of mushroom soup, and pasta, even more basic and cheaper ingredients and process.  Fair enough.

The context that emerges is that these groups are designed and filtered to collect and identify people with a narrow form of shared interest, not to be open to a broad range tied to theme.  Again and again this comes up, in different forms.  It seems a natural enough process, not just a product of people making the most of their own personal authority, or elevating favorite participants over others.  The ideas are not necessarily the main point; it's about sharing identification in a specific form.  In the running group I mentioned not using a sports watch, in so doing identifying myself as not one of them, essentially.  In the cooking group I was using fresh ingredients, declaring an ability to spend the money on bell peppers, and openness to making a dish that takes over an hour to prepare.  Again I wasn't one of them.

It's interesting how this ties to national sub-culture too.  I'm in a Thai (Bangkok-based) Foodie group, which is quite loosely organized related to form of food interest, and discussion there often turns to where to get good burgers or pizza.  If someone posted about that, or a fine dining meal, they wouldn't see negative responses (for the most part; someone can be negative about anything).  I would expect the same to be true of Thai running groups too, that posting about advanced training process or starting from scratch would both be welcome in almost all groups.  Oddly the starting point idea was one of the most common themes in that "advanced" running group; it seemed like filtering that back out was considered a problematic issue by them, re-capturing group theme back to what they intended instead.

As with tea interest, or any interest, the problem with that, limiting discussion to people of an advanced learning-curve scope, is that they don't necessarily need any input or advice.  So you are really looking for people part-way or mostly through a learning curve, informed by those at the far extreme.

It's interesting experiencing inclusiveness versus exclusiveness by platform.  Facebook groups have seemed very inclusive, in general, and Reddit subforums more towards the opposite.  Dedicated forums, the older form, tend to have sections that enable a broad range of contexts to be included, but that form is generally dying out.

The origins of "trolling" tie back to a similar practice, of identifying users as part of the established group or not, as described in the Wikipedia article on that theme:

The context of the quote cited in the Oxford English Dictionary[27] sets the origin in Usenet in the early 1990s as in the phrase "trolling for newbies", as used in alt.folklore.urban (AFU).[29][30] Commonly, what is meant is a relatively gentle inside joke by veteran users, presenting questions or topics that had been so overdone that only a new user would respond to them earnestly. For example, a veteran of the group might make a post on the common misconception that glass flows over time. Long-time readers would both recognize the poster's name and know that the topic had been discussed repeatedly, but new subscribers to the group would not realize, and would thus respond. These types of trolls served as a practice to identify group insiders. 

Related to that flowing glass concept, the standard description is that older buildings do tend to have glass windows that are not completely uniform in width, based on earlier inconsistent manufacturing instead of changes over time (the flowing).  It was conventional to check that and put the thickest side at the bottom, but it's also possible to find examples where that wasn't done, with thicker old glass sides located at the top of a window.

It's probably already evident but one part of my social media experience is about continually exploring themes, seeing what else is out there, checking out how different discussions and formats go.  I was really into Buddhism at one point, and still am in a different sense, and I've checked out a lot of groups related to that topic and philosophy.  In such groups setting up and maintaining focus is more a problem, getting people to actually talk about those subjects instead of others, but the two issues connect.  Someone posting about a different form of self-help material in a Buddhism group, or more random thoughts in a philosophy group, are both still about not maintaining a narrow focus, just in a very different sense.  In the groups I joined the failure to set controls led to groups degrading into mostly not being about those core themes later on.

Still, mentioning a slightly varied context theme of running training or cooking seems like something else.  It's a matter of degree though; if that running group was too open to beginner questions it could change to only be about basic stretching or injury issues, for example.  In the other cooking group people wanting to discuss more and more complex cooking themes would seem unlikely, but it's still a potential example of scope drift.

An idealistic person may want social media groups in general to be open and inclusive.  It isn't a positive experience to be told that what you want to say isn't ok to express, implying that you aren't who they are looking for as a group member.  If someone posts in a tea group I moderate asking about the best brand of green tea tea-bags I'm careful to frame the response in positive terms, that I don't know that answer, but I can discuss why loose versions of teas are often better, almost universally so.  Even that could be interpreted as a form of "gatekeeping," limiting discussion scope, but it's really not, technically.  People can still answer that initial question.  They tend not to, because green tea is particularly badly suited for drinking in a ground-up form, as it's presented in tea bags.

To me it just is what it is.  If someone wants to define their own social media group scope narrowly, and only imply parts of that definition in group rules and description, that's up to them.  It's hard enough keeping even far more broad themes on topic, and it's reasonable to want to narrow down members' shared perspective.  Groups tend to transition membership and evolve theme naturally over time, on their own, as part of an organic process, and that complicates things.  The filtering function may help support that staying positive, or it might lead the group to become inactive.  It would just depend on a range of other factors.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Moychay 2020 Yongde Da Hei Cha "wild" sheng pu'er


One more really interesting looking tea version from Moychay (provided by them for review, awhile back, so this review is one of a significant set).  I'm not great with keeping up with origin back-stories, type-typical regional character, or memory in general, but I seem to recall this origin being said to relate to wild source teas (in some cases; such a thing would never be universal).  If so it should be flavorful and a bit unusual, and those are often paired with less bitterness and astringency structure common to other sheng versions.  

That would match what I've just tasted, since I'm writing this after that part, but it was more or less what I expected going in.  I'll go straight to checking what Moychay says about that:

Yongde Da Hei Cha (wild tea from the ancient tea trees of Yongde country) (spring 2020)

"Dark Leaf" was made from the first spring shoots of thousand-year-old tea trees with dark leaves (Da Hay) in March 2020 in Younde District (Lincang County) in the Northwest of Yunnan Province.

In appearance: large, dark-green flagella of twisted leaves. The aroma is intensive, floral-herbaceous. The infusion is transparent with white grapes hue.

The bouquet of ready-made tea is vivid and fresh, multifaceted, herbaceous, with floral, nutty and fruity notes. The fragrance is fresh and tender, deep, floral- herbaceous. The taste is full-bodied and sappy, oily, sweet, a bit tart, with light citrus sourness and lingering finish.

We can just set aside the "thousand year old" claims; once tea trees seem a bit old there's no need to consider specific details beyond that.  Even for "gushu" the brewed tea character is either what you sort of expect and value or it's not.  That description is close enough to what these tasting notes say.  Citrus seemed prominent, and I did shift from initially thinking it might be a touch sour to interpreting that as a bit tart.  

The tea is a bit pricey (on towards $1 / gram); it's more typical for me to comment when value is unusual, when a tea is really good and also inexpensive.  This is hard to place related to a standard retail value.  More-wild teas come up but not many as refined as this; often a flaw or unusual and negative aspect will creep in.  Significant sourness can come up.  When teas are on the rare side, as aged tea versions are, or when you just don't see a lot of examples it can be hard to place a normal retail value.  That's especially true of a better than average version within a less common type.  I wouldn't be buying much of anything in this price range, and just couldn't on my tea budget, but just trying a little of this would cover some of the same function, and the smaller sample sizes aren't so much different from the 100-gram rate.

This "wild tree" type reminds me of a comment by one of the best resources out there, Lawrence Zhang of the Tea Addict's Journal, in saying that he sees them as tisanes more than conventional sheng.  In one sense that's an odd judgement about limited genetic range and style variation, but in another it makes a lot of sense, related to the results often being that different.  That was in a podcast video that's well worth checking out. 


First infusion:  sweet, aromatic, not relatively bitter or astringent at all; quite pleasant.  It is a little unusual as sheng goes for flavor profile, with extra depth across some fruit range, and just a trace of what could be interpreted as sourness.  I don't think most people would flag that as sourness; part of that interpretation comes from "looking for it."  Since this infusion is very light I can do the flavor-list approach more justice next round.  To me the fruitiness seems to span citrus, covering both a rich, sweet orange and a touch of grapefruit, but there's a lot more going on in this.  I already know that I like this tea but that may relate to being especially open to this particular style, from liking a lot of similar versions in the past.  

Second infusion:  much more intense; that will be easier to work with for analysis.  A really cool creaminess picked up in this.  It's not structured in the way young sheng tends to be, just not exactly thin or loose either.  It's smooth, rich, and creamy instead; that's different.  This feel would be more typical of an oolong.  Fruit is complex and intense, standing out most for flavor range.  One part is citrus, spanning a lot of citrus scope it seems, a little like orange, lemon, and sweet grapefruit.  Then additional fruit is more like peach; definitely different.  

This isn't really sour, although a trace of tartness is unusual.  It comes across as simple in one sense but also more complex than that flavor list yet describes.  Fruit is by far the main input, with very moderate bitterness, and it's hard to identify what else is giving it the effect of complexity.  There's a sort of green wood flavor that connects with the fruit, integrating with it, making it harder to separate out.  Sweetness is really nice; along with the fruit range and this being so approachable it makes the rest work well.

This contains some yellow leaf (huang pian), evident from the appearance; that would add to the mildness and sweetness, although the rest of the material must already be a good bit like that.

Third infusion:  warming a little, with underlying mineral picking up some.  Otherwise it's kind of similar to the last round.  I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't like this tea, but I guess someone looking for a more conventional young sheng profile could be disappointed.  Intensity is ok, and to me that mild bitterness works really well, versus a heavier expression, but it definitely falls short of where better range sheng covers for both.  

The biggest trade-off for this tea is probably aging potential.  This would probably warm and soften a bit more over the next couple of years but I'm not sure it would age well, or even change positively from there to 4-5 years.  There's nothing challenging to transition to something else; that bitterness, astringency, and heavy mineral serves a purpose.  I suppose that's just a guess, but I didn't just start guessing about that kind of thing in the last year, so I've seen some cause and effect play out, a little, just never for the 15 year cycle.

Fourth infusion:  that lemon edge stands out; it shifts proportion of what had already been present a bit.  Even brewed a bit fast and light the intensity is good; the bright, sweet flavor range comes across well.  There's very limited intensity in relation to bitterness or typical feel structure, with this creamy and full instead as I mentioned, but flavor intensity is good.  All that citrus fruit really seems to link to an unusual tongue feel, rounding out that richer fullness, so that there doesn't seem to be a lack of structure.

Fifth infusion:  not shifting so much, brewed slightly longer to see how that works.  Flavor intensity is fine brewed light but the extra punch and creaminess is worth it for adding a bit of infusion time.  In a sense this tea is simple, combining a few aspects and limited range but intense flavor, but it all really works.  It's catchy.  It may not be what everyone loves most but I could drink this every other day.  The brightness and freshness is so nice.

Later infusions:  more than transitioning in character the tea did just fade, but the intensity and creamy mouthfeel hung in there relatively well for a significant number.  Some sheng versions will keep going through late round transitions, and others will just lose a lot of their range, but this seemed to stay in a similar character.

Happy Chinese New Year!

doing some grilling lately; it's never winter in the tropics

that space, perfect for that use

Friday, February 12, 2021

Rohini Rare Emperor's Choice White and Golden Tips


Happy Chinese New Year!  Nothing new on this end related to that; Chinese neighbors gave us a lot of gifts, and that's about it.  I miss checking in with my favorite Chinatown shop, with Kittichai at Jip Eu; hopefully the pandemic exposure will keep fading here and local outings will seem safer and safer.  We've been down to single digit case instances in Bangkok for awhile, so maybe we're already there.

Asian pear and a glutinous rice item that is hard to classify

I've reviewed plenty of other samples from this Darjeeling set before, so this is about mixing up my own experience, getting back to reviewing, and clearing through experiencing the last of those (there's one left I probably won't get to; close enough).  These might be the most interesting yet, for one having the designation "rare" in the name, and the other sounding interesting.  Like a buds based black tea, maybe? 

It's cool out today, maybe around 26 C (around 77 F, I suppose).  It has been interesting hearing about a cold snap in Texas where it's just below freezing, where that never happens (I had lived in Dallas and Austin before; a long story).  Temperatures in the high teens here (C, mid-60s F) would already be an unheard of cold spell, at least for Bangkok.  It's just nice that it's not hot, at least not in the morning.  I'll try these outside to experience the weather that much closer, not that the house isn't plenty open and breezy.

Sai Tong visiting not far from where I do the tasting and writing

Per standard approach the vendor's descriptions follow, added during a final edit after tasting:

Rohini Rare Emperor’s Choice White – Darjeeling First Flush 2020

...made from the best quality AV2 bushes at Rohini Tea Estates, the youngest Tea Estate of Darjeeling...   The leaves are tippy whole leaf having silvery appearances that are finely plucked from the tea gardens. The tea has a taste of a traditional spring character...  a sweet aroma of fruits with a finish of honey typical of its class. The tea gives a satisfying and sharp aftertaste with zero astringency. The infused leaf also has a distinctive fragrance. It is 100% handpicked with no machinery involved.

Rohini Summer Golden Tips, Second Flush Tea

The tea is made from small leaves having lots of buds. It is made from AV2 bushes which is one of the most preferred clones of Darjeeling. The leaves are freshly plucked in the last week of May. The dry leaves appear to be brownish with lots of golden tips.  This finest second flush tea brews in to a bright orange and clear cup having mouthful, sweet & fruity muscatel character with a finish of honey.

All that works, a close enough match to the tasting descriptions that follow, with more in the site descriptions on growing elevation and specific harvest timing.  I didn't really go into factors like flush version or oxidation level in these, just describing the teas instead.

I always did also like their autumn harvest versions as well as any, and this was sent before those were ready last year, so anyone ordering any teas from them really should consider adding at least one from that range too (Red Thunder is kind of the main one, but there are others).  

As far as where Gopaldhara ships to directly--Rohini and Gopaldhara are linked plantation origins, parts of the same whole--that I'm not so sure about.  As with other plantations they do also sell through resale outlet vendors, and the website versions I think are mainly for direct sale within India.  It would work to Google search to check options, or just contact them and ask.  Trident Booksellers, a cafe and tea vendor ran by a friend in Boulder, lists a 2019 version of their Red Thunder (as an oolong; maybe you already know how that goes), and I'm sure they would keep adding others, as stock keeps changing.


Rare Emperor's Choice left and Golden Tips right (in all photos)

These teas look and smell fantastic as dry versions.  The Emperor's Choice version looks a lot like an Oriental Beauty, that distinctive mix of different colors, and twisted leaves.  The Golden Tips looks like a bud-heavy black tea.  It smells just as complex and sweet, just a little deeper and richer in range, trading out some tangy citrus fruit scent tones for warmer ones.  They should be great.

It's funny how every single Gopaldhara (/ Rohini) paired review turned out to contrast oxidation levels and styles.  That wasn't intentional; I've just picked these kind of randomly.  Of course the relatively opposite approach makes more sense, matching style as closely as possible, to zero in on finer level differences through comparison, versus just relating how both are pleasant in different ways.

Rare Emperor's Choice:  absolutely exceptional, and this will bump in intensity for fully saturating the next round.  It's heavy on citrus but not in a truly conventional first or second flush sense; it's not really the bright, tangy, almost lemony citrus of a first flush or the heavy muscatel grape / citrus more typical of second flush style.  It's complex, adjoining a lot of other range.  Not so far off Oriental Beauty style, really, more related to complexity and some of the flavor range than the entire character.  Oxidation level is typically higher for those, pushing the limit of oolong towards black tea, but that can vary a good bit.  This is listed as "minimal oxidation level," so not at the far side of oolong range.

I should do the full flavor list description next round, once intensity bumps up, but it's clear where this is going, with lots of fruit range leaning a bit towards spice standing out.  It's not astringent at all but a very mild and well integrated version of that one typical Darjeeling flavor is present.  It's really a set of flavors, a combined profile, spanning citrus, mineral, and other scope.

Golden Tips:  this is great too, completely within black tea range.  Not so much typical second flush range, the heavy muscatel, but warmer and deeper.  It's not malty in the same sense Assam is, most of it at least, but the way a milder version of that adjoins other warmth, fruit, mineral undertone (a warmer version) is common with the best orthodox versions of Assam, tea types that only a very few producers are making.  

The range of good orthodox Assam is broader, lots of interesting and pleasant styles, but as I interpret it some few are closer to Chinese black tea character.  This could almost pass for a really good version of Lapsang Souchong, one far too good to ever be touched up with smoke.  The trace of malt edge is different, but the fruit, warmth, and underlying mineral tone is close.  Again I'll make the next round a straight flavor list.

Second infusion:

Rare Emporer's Choice:  a touch of Darjeeling-typical flavor set picked up a little.  In lots of Darjeeling samples that's paired with an astringency that one needs to "brew around," adjusting temperature and timing to get that to drop out, to the extent that's possible.  Not for this version; it's more just the flavor input, a distinct citrus and mineral range, with that feel softer and full.  

It is really close to Oriental Beauty range, including plenty of citrus, towards muscatel / grape, warmth that's leaning towards cinnamon spice but not quite that particular flavor, and mineral edge.  The citrus alone seems to be complex.  One part is a little bright, towards tangerine, but the range covers the sweet and rich depth of orange marmalade, with a similar flavor (orange peel versus tangerine) deepened and adjusted by immersion in sugar and thickener.  

The brighter range is quite close to the Chinese / Mandarin oranges I've been eating a lot of lately, not due to Chinese New Year so much, just because I buy those whenever I see them.  Complex citrus is definitely the main range, but the rest makes that work better, adding complexity, shifting context for that experience.  Mineral especially maybe, which doesn't lend itself to clear description.  It's like tasting a light colored rock, not flinty, but not quite as warm as the typical Southwest US reddish sandstone.

Golden Tips:  it's funny how much this seems like a Chinese black tea to me.  I don't mean to imply a hierarchy by that, claiming that better Chinese black teas are just better, although I am primarily a Chinese tea drinker.  Chinese black tea range is a favorite of mine, up there with appreciating sheng pu'er and oolongs (all really broad categories, of course).  There is some fruit present in this tea, probably closest to citrus, or mostly including that, but making that call is less certain.  This could really be interpreted in lots of different ways; although the flavor profile isn't that broad it is complex.  It leans towards floral range too, something like rose.  I'm not seeing it exactly that way but interpretation as dried dark cherry might make sense.

Given a lot of flavor is heavier it's back to pinning down what that black tea scope tastes like; dark wood, cured leather, tree bark that includes a spice aspect, something along that line.  Cocoa plus root spice, covering a range, isn't so far off.  Mineral stands out in this too but a much warmer, deeper tone.  It's all really clean, true for both of these teas.  Feel structure and aftertaste are fine, notable, but for spanning a broad flavor range in one tasting session I tend to focus most on that flavor scope, both in terms of comparison and contrast.

Third infusion:

Initially I had planned to leave off here, since late-round transitions tend to shift less for these styles, in my opinion.  These are not even half finished, so there would be more story to tell, but it should be more about proportion of what I've already mentioned shifting, something picking up and something else fading.  Versions this good stretch out for extra infusions well, and I might keep pushing them to get 10 rounds from them. I did add notes for a fourth round too though, based on how much these are transitioning. 

Sheng pu'er intensity is nice for the really fast infusions and strength of the tea letting you go further, all the way to 15 rounds or so, depending on parameters and preference, but oolongs and Chinese black teas are similar to these in that regard.  For Cindy's oolongs (Wuyi Origin versions) I might not give up on them until really long infusions lose intensity, also going well past 10.  Instead of relating to how they brew and intensity drops off that's about them being really positive no matter how faded they are.  Simmering those might not be a bad idea.

Rare Emperor's Choice:  I would keep noticing different things as I keep brewing these, with minor shifts in infusion strength letting different flavors stand out more.  This was brewed a bit faster and lighter, I think, even though you can't see that in the color, and it makes a honey tone much stronger, really the dominant aspect.  Higher end, brighter citrus is shifting, onto warmer tones, from fresh tangerine to dried orange peel.  The deeper range picks up, moving into aromatic wood, like cedar or redwood.  Maybe I should describe a fourth infusion.

Golden Tips:  one catchy aspect in this reminds me a lot of Lapsang Souchong.  Only people familiar with better versions of that would know what I mean.  There's a set of flavors that combine that mark a better version of that type.  Wuyi Origin's (Cindy's) wild version is more fruit intensive, so that's not the same, but in others there's a characteristic note or set that's more like tree bark and rich dried fruit, like tamarind, or I suppose it could be similar to a root spice aspect I'm not aware of.  By tree bark I mean similar to a very specific flavor, maybe closest to birch, which I should probably skip trying to describe:

this reminded me of #3, but I've not been smelling those bark types lately

Fourth infusion:

I brewed these way too long; someone handed me a cat and I got distracted.  That's a decent way to help identify flaws in teas, overbrewing them a little, but I don't think there is much for flaws to discuss.

Emperor's Choice:  it kind of works like this; the character comes across more as a black tea.  Even brewing it way too long, around a minute or longer, astringency still doesn't pick up.  Feel structure does increase, and technically that is astringency, but it's not that kind of edge that's hard to relate to.  Fruit and aromatic wood range mix in this, with the longer brew making the latter much heavier.  It's still good.  Feel / structure doesn't bump any more than aftertaste range does, which extends much longer brewed heavier.

Golden Tips: it's odd how the astringency is so limited in this that the basic character isn't all that different.  Feel shifts a little, and flavor and overall intensity some, but it's not astringent.  This is not at all optimum preparation for this tea but still good.  

I've been so focused on describing flavor aspects that I've not really did justice to the role sweetness played in overall effect, for either.  An appropriate and pronounced sweetness level makes the flavor range of these teas stand out all the more, and makes them make sense.  Drop that and add a bit of an odd earth or mineral character and you'd get a completely different effect, from a tea profile that's not all that different.  It's rare that everything comes together in teas like this, and no accident when that happens.

It reminds me of trying to explain why Nepal teas are so exceptional.  It's kind of impossible to.  A distinct mineral tone is usually nice in those (which is also in these, in two other forms), and sweetness is good, and flavor intensity and complexity, often with a citrus tone leaning towards lemon in lighter versions.  But you can't really list out aspects and convey why it works as it does (in versions that lack flaws, I mean).  Teas being refined in character works as an example, as these are.  Nothing is wrong, and complexity is good, but it's more than that, how it all comes together.  

It's a little strange saying that Darjeeling is good because it's like Nepal tea, really a bit backwards, but somehow to me there might be some explanatory value in that.  It's not about one region or standard form being better, but about tea versions having an overall character that transcends related but different typical styles instead.  This black tea being somewhat close in character to some of the best Lapsang Souchong makes the same point.  I definitely don't mean related to a smoked tea; if you've never tried an exceptional quality LS version then it's something else to get to later, if the range sounds good.  This is one example of what I'm talking about.

All in all really good teas, as I would have expected, not just good but exceptionally balanced, refined, and novel.  I think I did enjoy these just a little more for the slight variations from the most type-typical styles for both.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Moychay experimental shu comparison

2017 cake version left, experimental batch right

This review is a little atypical, because I already reviewed an experimental Moychay shu (the #2 version), and it's good, but depending on interpretation described aspects could be regarded as flawed.  And I expect #3 to be similar.  All the same I've tried that #2 trial version a couple more times and it's interesting, and I wanted to revisit adding observations about that style, aspect range, and apparent aging potential.  Thanks again to Moychay for sharing a lot of tea to try and report on.

Later edit: I accidentally called this shu "pu'er," but of course as a Russian origin version it's "pu'er-style tea" instead.

There's something odd but catchy about it (that other experimental version), an unusual slightly sour, woody range, a little like a dark rye, but not exactly that.  I think that one aspect will transition a lot and drop out over time, that the version will improve a lot.  In retrospect, after reviewing this #3 trial version, that's a lot of what I end up saying.  It's interesting seeing how the other type I'm comparing it to has changed, almost entirely related to improvements.  That Moychay cake version was one of my favorite shus from them, and what I regarded as potential for positive change has translated to exactly that.

That #2 batch version review and the "Soviet guy" version review (really called "peace.  hard work. tea.") serve as background, but the post content here works without reading any of that.  I might add that this is really Russian tea material, grown and processed there, not just from a Russian vendor.  I speculate a little about that in that earlier post but there's not so much to say; I would need to try it made as a separate tea type to get a feel for what other tea plant character it resembles.  

A quote from that earlier (2018) comparison version review clarifies that transition projection, from when that 2017 tea was a year old:

...this tea [infusion round] is transitioning quite a bit; it's not what it had been.  It's moving towards a dark wood / spice range not so far off the first version's.  It just has an extra layer of depth to the range, and more intensity.  Mineral is much heavier, like that strange smell of a volcanic soil beach, or even that you might smell in the lava flow area, a very dark rock.  It works to interpret that as "peat" instead, but that shift from petroleum to peat seems to indicate it might clean up even more over the next couple of infusions, who knows into what range.  I like it but for someone new to shou this would be too much.  At the same time I suspect in another two or three years that story would change a lot, that this might just be a young version that has room to shift character and clean up a lot... 

similar description in a sense, just in completely different terms


Moychay Soviet guy (left in all photos):  really nice, rich a sweet, quite clean. There is a trace of off spice aspect, something unfamiliar, and fullness is limited, but in general it's great. There's a cherry sweetness to it, chocolate covered cherry even, and the heavier earth range is spice versus peat. This is probably much improved from when I first tried it, much cleaner, and I had already liked it then. That root spice is great with the rest.

Russian test batch #3: the funkiness present in #2 is even heavier in this. The catch is that I expect a lot of that to fade or transition over another year, and it's hard to project what it will be like then. Oddly I find the significant sourness and woody tone, close to cork, somewhat appealing. I'm not sure why; I guess that I like cork? It's a little like a dark black bread too, but maybe the #2 version is closer to that.

Again I think that's exactly the fermentation process related aspect range that will fade, the cork-like sourness. Or maybe it never will completely leave; maybe only time will tell. Beyond that some cocao rounds it out. It might be that part I like, the way cocoa and cork / dark bread go together.

experimental version (right) lighter, surely not as fermented

Soviet: color is much darker in this tea, likely tied to heavier fermentation level. One might expect lower funkiness from less fermented shu but I'm not sure it would be so linear, that a mix of factors would combine. It's hard to experience shu as an outcome of specific causes.  You just work with what is in the cup, and expectations about future changes are only guesses, at my experience level anyway.

More of the same. If I remember right both that chocolate and fruit have evolved from years back, and weren't there before [with the earlier review citation supporting that, added later]. Maybe a drier cocoa was, but this tastes like cacoa nibs, or like dark chocolate. It all seems like pleasant and fortunate evolution.

#3: funkier! It's probably a shame to drink much like this since that will probably wear off and change in a positive way. I'd expect that to take time though, about a year and a half for most of that change, with where it is headed evident after another half a year. All just guesses, of course. It's hard to place how positive or negative that funkiness is, and I think that's tied to preference, and openness to range of experience. I live in Asia; I'm relatively open, because that's how food experience here goes. 15 years ago this may well have seemed nasty to me; I could only appreciate a much narrower range of flavors and texture experience.

An aside:  my son just cooked bacon, eggs, and toast for everyone for breakfast, and did a great job. It's awesome how both kids are turning out, and amazing that the chaos they live through hasn't affected them more negatively.

Soviet: evolving, but it's going to be hard to say how. A warmer tone picked up. It's still from the dark chocolate / cocoa range but maybe towards mineral. Cherry dropped back a bit.

#3: not transitioning as much. This doesn't stand up to the other for positive character but again it's not a fair comparison. The Soviet guy version is better than it had been too; it didn't compare well to this in the 2018 form. I really don't mind that odd cork effect, with some cocoa; the novelty is positive, even though the range could be improved.

I might stop here, even though two more rounds would tell a fuller story. I want to add some rambling to these notes and have other things to do just now.

experimental tea right; lighter, made up of small nuggets


The rambling could've made more of the fermentation level difference; that was obvious, and it made for a change in outcome.  The main story was character difference related to a lack of rest time in the second tea, and probably in that being made from a plant type not typical for shu, probably not even Assamica.  It will take another year for this tea to be fairly judged.

Oddly the strange cork-like slight sourness and woodiness isn't unpleasant, to me.  It's a shame drinking much of this or the #2 batch like this though, since I expect both to change a lot over a year or two.  The "peace. hard work. tea." version definitely improved a lot, but I had also liked it with more rough edges and peat range.  I'm glad I didn't share or drink most of it, although between those two uses it is half gone now.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The middle of the tea experience curve

 First published in TChing here and here.

One year ago I wrote about intermediate level themes in tea, about people exploring brewing options and diverse types, or higher quality versions of one category.

Lately something related keeps coming up, about the experience curve itself, the order in which people explore tea, once they move past tea-bag and flavored blends introductions.  Of course everyone has their own path.  One new online contact / friend is completely jumping in, moving past initial Constant Comment / English Breakfast tea by exploring basic green, black, white, shu, hei cha, and even sheng, in one large Yunnan Sourcing sample order.  That's a great way to do it.  Ordinarily I wouldn't recommend even trying sheng pu'er before sorting out some other range but in her case I did suggest trying an inexpensive tuocha, to see what it's about. 

a smaller-scale venture into trying some hei cha and shu

Eight years or so ago, before I started a blog, I tried a set of 20 or so types from a Chinese vendor, an individual selling tea.  I don't remember much about those, but it was definitely a launching point for diverse exploration.  By chance a vendor sent a first sample set of Darjeeling versions around then, when I first started a blog (thanks much to the Lochans, who produce and sell novel versions of Doke teas).  You next learn that one step in any given direction isn't really the generality you might've imagined, that one sample never captures a type character, but still your tea journey is off and running.

Groups tend to see people bunching up according to preference, where they are on an exposure curve, or even by pattern.  Gong Fu Cha and Puerh Tea Club are at one end, Tea Drinkers at the other (where Harney and Sons is a main staple), with the one I moderate, International Tea Talk, settling on an outlier diverse member location theme.

It's interesting seeing people make their journey / exploration public, as bloggers do.  It's a funny thing, how there is no real threshold to arrive at before starting to write and share ideas and experiences.  Even now, some years later, I tend to point out that I'm nothing like a tea expert.

Liquid Proust comes to mind as an interesting case.  That vendor, Andrew, explored novel forms of blends, then jumped straight into aged sheng, one of the main natural end points (maybe only drifting through aged oolong along the way).  He was selling both of those; exploration rarely works out like that.  For being different than what most experienced tea enthusiasts drink the blends sounded good, teas like rum infused pu'er, and "French toast" Dian Hong.  His sheng pu'er taster sets help people take a similar step as he did, onto some complicated and diverse range.

To me exploring horizontally, across a diverse range, makes sense, minding per-gram tea price to enable covering a lot of ground and seeing what you like.  It's interesting how some people start with a flavor or character profile and go from there instead.  In discussion one guy just mentioned liking earthy tea range, shu pu'er (of course), and heavy black teas, exploring via flavor aspect range.  Hei cha would work along with those.  Another mentioned liking cigars and Scotch, and some types of roasted Wuyi Yancha and sheng pu'er mirrored that interest, related to profile.  Hei cha might not, so much, at least related to funky and earthy brick teas, but a mineral-intensive Liu Bao might resonate.

comparing compressed white teas of different ages, a good exploration tool

Pace is an odd component, not just related to making a broad start, or exploring a range quickly, or working towards the highest possible quality level versions.  On the positive side exploring moderate cost but diverse teas can add a dimension of change to a daily routine.  It's potentially negative that one could instead experience a constant state of lack, related to not getting to most of what is out there, or competing with countless others to experience what seems like a typical range or amount of exposure.  For me personally it's helpful to limit scope.  For example, I don't explore teaware or Japanese teas, just to keep the range more manageable.  Budget constrains that, mainly, but even aside from that exploring all there is for tea is problematic.

What about reducing scope to what is found in a grocery store?  What I say tends to discount that is valid, defining it here as just prior to a middle-level range starting point, but to an extent it's not.  It was disappointing for me to learn that grocery stores never stock teas that matched my type and quality-level interest at one point, a step that led to that vendor sample set evaluation.  That's not as true in China, and Russians seem to have access to better Ceylon in grocery stores, but in general grocery store tea isn't "good."  Not everyone needs to ever get to the middle of an experience / exploration curve though, just as for many sticking with box wine or Budweiser suits them.  Those are fine for what they are, with some thoughts here on where Lipton stands in relation to the rest, with input on some better black tea starting points.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Moychay Lao Ban Zhang sheng pu'er


Greetings for 2021!  I hope that it's a good year for everyone, once some after-effects of 2020 settle out.  It seems appropriate to start with reviewing an interesting tea.  Last year Moychay sent a number of samples for review, or really just some tea, since the amount added up, so I'll be continuing on with trying a varied range.  A lot of what they carry is on the basic side, good well-above average quality good-value types, but some is more rare, aged teas, from atypical origins, or experimental types, or even high-demand lower availability types.

This sheng type is unique for the starting point being justifying that it is really what it's presented as.  Same for Bing Dao, or 80s to 90s aged examples of almost anything; versions presented as such would more typically not be those things.  This won't be about establishing likelihood for authenticity, or building a case.  At a guess it really is LBZ.  My impression is that Moychay buys directly enough and knows background well enough that most of their teas would be legitimate.  "All" is probably a stretch; producers might often try to get something past buyers, and eventually something from a nearby area instead could get through.  My intuition isn't much of a guide though; like anyone else I buy into biases along with other evidence.  

My past experience only goes so far, related to this source area.  I wrote about buying a clearly fake Chinatown version once, but otherwise I've only tried tea presented as LBZ, and likely to be that, three times.  I can't really establish likelihood for those three times either, or judge character against a typical profile.  Once was a sample provided by King Tea Mall, described as an autumn version, explaining why the price was high but still moderate, and once in a Liquid Proust sample set, with the third case in a local shop.  Mention that in a more pu'er-specific group or online context and more than one comment would probably guess that it was all fake.  Those three impressions match up quite a bit, but I don't go into that much in this post.

I appreciate tea more for character and experience than story-value anyway.  If it's good then it's good, and that's real, even though framing does adjust both expectations and interpretation.  On to that, after two more tangents, about trying these teas in a random order, and the vendor input about this.

Related to trying these samples randomly, or by inclination that may not seem to show a pattern, people tend to ask in some online channels which tea they should try first in a large set.  One reasonable answer is whichever you feel like.  If that's too vague, and a methodical approach is the goal, one might drink the teas from lower quality range to higher.  Working from most straightforward and approachable into those that would benefit from more discernment might be good.  You wouldn't have to sort out brewing or wrestle with acclimation curve for a medium quality Tie Guan Yin, or a simple and straightforward Chinese black tea.  

If you are trying an LBZ sheng, or a tea presented as such, it might be good to have more reference exposure, and to get to it later.  Combined tasting can help with sorting out finer aspect details, trying two teas together, but with "cha qi" or feel effect as one significant factor that may not be appropriate in this case.

Moychay's description:

I was curious what this would sell for, but the listing is still pending, or rather it's there but the availability and pricing isn't listed yet; different.  Their description:

Laobanzhang is a village in Bulangshan Mountains (Western Xishuangbanna), known among connoisseurs as one of the cult places where the best Sheng Puer is producing.

In appearance: large, twisted tea tips with long cuttings. The aroma is restrained, woody-balsamic with a honey hint. The infusion is transparent, with a shade of white grapes.

The bouquet of the ready-made tea is fresh and vibrant, woody-balsamic, with floral, herbaceous and nutty notes. The aroma is multifaceted, woody-balsamic with nutty accent. The taste is refined, full-bodied and sweet, oily, a bit astringent, with a fruity sourness and minty chill, turning into a lingering juicy finish.

That works, it's just not exactly how I described it, but close enough.  That "mint" part is interesting; in trying a late infusion it is a little minty, just not as a dominant aspect.  And it's nothing like a menthol aspect in Ruby / Red Jade (a Taiwanese plant type that is often made into black tea), much more subdued, and in the range of light and sweet spearmint instead.  Rich sweetness stood out a lot in the dry leaf scent (which I usually don't even mention, since it's inconsistent how much that ties to brewed tea character), and honey came out later after it had transitioned for a few rounds.


it was a little bright out for ideal photography conditions

First infusion:  it's fruity, towards lemon, but not exactly that.  Again, I won't be able to pin any of this description on being type-typical, or the opposite.  I do remember two of the prior presented-as-such LBZ versions as being fruitier than sheng typically is, but that doesn't mean a lot to me.  For liking fruity versions of sheng I like this.  It's bright, with good intensity, and quite clean, with moderate bitterness, in a form that complements the rest.  This tea is just getting started though; it will transition some across the next couple of rounds.

Mineral is nice in this; it balances with the rest well, and gives it a dry edge that works well with the other fullness and sweet range.  It's quite pleasant.  Intensity really stands out, along with balance.

Second infusion:  that distinctive fruit aspect picked up.  And intensity did, even though I brewed that fast, under 10 seconds.  It won't really work to fully describe that fruit range, but it's close enough to say that it's somewhere between lemon and juicyfruit gum.  The rest of the description from the first round still works, intensity just bumped a little, and it was relatively intense in that round.  

The aftertaste is pleasant, how all of it carries across, just no so extended in length.  Feel has a reasonably full structure, maybe just a bit "dry" in effect.  A reasonably high level of sweetness is nice; to me that can tie together other aspect range well.  It's not so unusual for a sheng version to be bitter, or heavy on mineral, leaning towards a bit dry, or fruity and sweet, but I don't experience it occurring together so often, at least at this intensity level.  And floral range is probably more typical than fruit.  The way that interpretations can vary someone else might see this as only floral, and not fruity, but that would seem like an odd read to me.

It's at least possible that the rich gold color, off a paler yellow, relates to this oxidizing a little during processing.  If that's true--which I'm not claiming, just putting it out there--that would account for the flavor being so sweet and bitterness and astringency being relatively moderate.  Both of those tend to be character improvements, but per some standard hearsay that comes at a cost in relation to aging potential.  Or getting the fixing step wrong, heating the tea too much, can make it more similar to green tea instead.  All this is intended as discussion, raising an interesting tangent, not a guess about actual status, which I do commonly offer here in relation to tea character in different cases.  Color can vary a little and aspect range too; others might able to map back to likely inputs and project ahead to potential, but I'm really not there yet.

Third infusion:  I brewed this closer to a flash infusion than I usually ever tend to go, not rushed as much as is possible but covering only 5 seconds or so, with both pours spanning most of that time.

It's interesting how this evolves.  The heaviest fruit is backing off a little, with feel range shifting.  Mineral tone is picking up, but the adjoining dryness has changed, not completely different, but that description doesn't work as well to describe this effect.  Mineral is a lot more complex now, joined by what I would interpret as wood-tone.  Not "woody" like a cheap black tea version, like cut and somewhat cured (dried) lumber smells, more the bite and edge in a green tree.  Even that part is so complex that it spans a lot of range, linking with the fruit (diminished but not gone), and with the complex mineral, extending to an aromatic range like a pleasant version of turpentine.  Which makes no sense as a verbal conceptual description, of course.  It's probably better to say that the wood tone is in between something mild and sweet, like green maple tree sapling, and pine; it's not as close but more relatable.

I may or may not be feeling this tea.  My energy level and clarity are usually all over the map, related to not sleeping as consistently as I should be, and the effects of work stress combining with home-life stress.  Home life goes ok; I don't mean that, just that parenting and being married put a good bit of work-load on you, unless your focus is putting that on your marriage partner, or getting domestic help to cover it.  Or neglecting your kids; it would be possible to just hand them a tablet and check in a few times a day.

Beyond all that I may feel a bit of bright energy from this, not a stony head-buzz, of body-feel sedative effect, or the latter coupled with a bit of kick.  I might feel a little clearer, if anything.  The caffeine dose alone would pass some of that on, so I mean maybe beyond that normal positive side-effect.  Just being outside feels nice too, getting some sun and being around all the plants at the house.

Fourth infusion:  I never will really describe how that laundry list of aspects I've mentioned integrates into one really pleasant and intense experience.  Trying to break it all out probably downplays how it comes across.  It's good, and too complex to be described.

Lately I've been talking more than usual about a learning curve for tea, or what I take to be an experience curve, really.  If someone started into better loose tea on a version like this it might not seem appealing at all, which would almost be sad.  Not that the tea is wasted, but that they couldn't get it.  Then when I think about parallels in beer, wine, or liquor appreciation it makes me consider if people really need to be "getting" any of all that, if it's even better for them to.  

The rush you get from going on a nice run is definitely paired with other positive effects, and the euphoria you feel towards the climax of a hard night of drinking with friends comes at a cost.  But then maybe enjoyment itself is the point, not side-effects, and both are more equivalent than they seem.  This tea probably is getting to me, leading my mind to wander.

Fifth infusion:  still brewing this quite fast, intensity is in a good place, good and strong, but moderate.  A honey-like sweetness picks up.  It's odd how hard it would be to describe the woody character, again maybe closest to a faint experience of turpentine.  Put another way, interpreted differently, like that aromatic, warm, sweet, and rich twang from cedar, but just that part, mixed with other aspect range.  The flavor is complex enough that a more free-form review could be all over the map; this could be seen as tasting like blueberries, or metal.  A reviewer more prone to expressing free association could just keep going.  Feel is just as hard to pin down.  To me it seems to link to that flavor, a dryness, but not really "dry," more an atypical form of structure.

Sixth infusion:  I'll wrap this up, since it's transitioning but the description wasn't helping convey that anyway.  The feel is changing in a pleasant way, but I wasn't doing justice to that part.  Aftertaste experience is moderate, or even a little limited for a young sheng, in relation to how intense the flavor is.  I did go on to brew it a lot of times, maybe 10 more, since it was pleasant even after it had faded some.

This is my first tea review in the better part of a month but my wife thinks I've wasted enough time on it already, that it's time to move on to errands, or at least playing with the kids; back to that underlying stressful context theme, not having more than an hour to spend on anything.  Tasting outdoors has been nice today; cool weather meant that it was in the upper 20s / low 70s in the late morning, versus hot out already.  The air quality is bad in Bangkok now too, probably 170 or so (AQI value), but that effect kicks in over time, it's not something you notice over an hour in a tasting.  It could be muting my experience of this a little since it's been bad for a few days.

On the "cha qi" side I'm not sure; at most I feel a boost in a clean form of mental energy.  I didn't go through this tea as fast as I tend to at breakfast every day though, when I drink a quick 10 rounds or so, or dozen or more, before going to work.  The writing slowed that down, and just not rushing.

Confirming the part about someone not so into sheng probably not liking this, my wife's cousin visited and I gave a round to him and his wife, and they really didn't care for it.  Then again she said that she only drinks bubble tea.

Kalani and that cousin's daughter; she is so adorable

both kids really love her (photo credit Eye's cousin)

As far as judging quality level of this tea goes it seemed quite good to me.  Pleasant more than objectively "good," I think, since I've lost some faith in what I had previously regarded as sheng "quality markers."  Pleasant doesn't really capture it, how positive it is.  This tea is very enjoyable, refined, complex, and distinctive.  Sheng can be good in different ways, and guessing if it's good in a standard way seems odd, as true to origin type, or in general, in relation to what others like best.  

Aging potential is something else.  It probably would be just as good or better over the next 2 or 3 years, and beyond that, in the long term, I'm not the right person to say.  Heavier bitterness or astringency can indicate higher levels of compounds present that can change in positive ways, but the really pronounced mineral base in this, moderate dryness (unusual astringency character), and overall intensity may play a similar role, preventing this from just fading.