Saturday, July 31, 2021

Moychay white and black Russian gaba teas


I haven't written about gaba teas for years, even though I did drink a number of them last year, from Moychay and at least one a friend passed on.  It's not a favorite type.  I tend to only write about teas I like here, unless there is a story to tell, and I kept considering what that story would be related to gaba but didn't get to it.  I'll fill in a bit of background on my history and take on gaba, with this earlier post covering what it even is.

It's odd in editing this that I've said essentially nothing about these being Russian teas, from Kraznodar.  I guess I just don't have much to add about that.  I visited Russia some years back and put some effort into turning up Russian teas and only found one green version, one like a hei cha but different, and some others from Georgia.

I have reviewed gaba oolong versions here, but it's been awhile.  They tended to be a bit one dimensional, and typically a bit sour in a distinctive way.  There was always the idea that people were feeling a calming effect from the gaba compounds, and maybe I just wasn't sensitive enough to it, or maybe not even experiencing the same physiological effect at all.  Gaba black teas I tried last year were better, and one version prior to then, maybe with a hint of sourness but nothing remotely the same.  But the one-dimensional theme remained; they lacked complexity, and some of the appeal of even moderate quality black teas in a range that I liked.

The Moychay versions that I tried last year, part of that set I said a lot about, were equivalent to the best gaba black tea versions I ever tried (the only one?).  In visiting a local friend's place once, Sasha's, he had a pretty good gaba black tea, maybe 3 years ago.  I still would have preferred a good Dian Hong, or good orthodox Assam, or second or third flush Darjeeling, a nice unsmoked Lapsang Souchong, and so on.  

Sasha!  But this meetup didn't include that tea.

I'll wrap this up at saying all that.  I don't expect to love these teas but the novelty should be something to experience.  I won't be able to really compare this 2020 gaba black--from that earlier set, I think, not from some new teas they sent to review--against the earlier versions, from 6 months or more back.  I might get back to doing more review of the last of one of the others, or comparison with a new version.  I don't remember what else Moychay sent just now (these were provided for review; many thanks to them!), but I have tried gaba sheng before, so maybe one of those.  

To be clear I don't think gaba teas are generally objectively not very good, I just think many versions seem to be missing some complexity (which probably does hold up as an objective take), most include sourness, and are a bit strange (now that part is subjective).  They just don't work well for me, versus the teas not being good.

It's been awhile since I've said this part:  in general reviewing two dis-similar teas together isn't helpful, but if you have tried that approach a few dozen times it probably doesn't take that much away from the analysis.  Adding any more dimensions to experience, even background noise, will drop back the level of detail you pick up, and that includes comparison tasting.  But I still expect that my impression will be roughly the same, just slightly less detailed.  Which could be good, since these reviews tend to run long.  I wouldn't have tried these together if the other gaba black tea versions hadn't already been familiar; it would be too much new ground to cover at the same time.


Moychay 2021 Krasnodar organic gaba white:  a bit faint and light, but then the first infusion is often like that.  I filled the white version fuller than the black, used more volume of dry leaves, to account for it being a lot less dense, but it's already clear that I undercompensated, and it should've been that much fuller.  I can work around that.  Splitting infusion times doesn't change that much in doing tastings like these; there is no reason for different tea types to be brewed under identical parameters.  

I don't get much at all from this tea just yet.  I suppose it could be regarded as slightly sour, but it tastes a lot like balsa wood smells, neutral, but with something there.  For those with less model or toy building background that's the pithy wood that such things are often made out of, which is solid enough to build things out of but soft enough to cut easily with a box cutter or craft knife version of that.  There's a hint of floral tone in this, and a touch of creaminess, so it will probably evolve in a positive way.  Sweetness is all but missing just yet; that might stay moderate.

Krasnodar black / red (their site only lists a 2021 version now):  there is some positive range to this, and it's different than the other version or two that I've tried (although it is easy to lose track).  At least one of those had a dried fruit range that was nice, beyond being a touch sour and one-dimensional.  This is more towards warm spice.  Not like Oriental Beauty, I don't mean, nothing like that straight-cinnamon Thai version that I just reviewed.  Hopefully that sourness will fade in proportion and make it easier to pick out the rest.  

Where the other had a mild sourness like balsa wood this is a bit towards musty, like cedar or redwood lawn furniture that had stayed damp or wet for a couple of months.  "Wet cedar chest" is probably about as good a singular description as I could use.  In a sense that's a good thing; if anyone ever craved a tea that tastes a lot like a cedar box smells this is it.  It would just be nice if that were a drier cedar box version, one fresh out of attic storage instead of basement storage.

It's odd re-trying the first white tea after this black version (red, to them; they are on that page for naming convention).  It being so much lighter stands out at first, and then that contrast in form of sourness comes next, with the rest of the finer distinctions triggering as a third round of what you notice.

Second infusion, white:  I didn't offset these times much, brewing the black version for about 10 seconds and the white for a few more.  I can add to that divide over other rounds if it makes sense to.  This is developing nicely, and not necessarily in a direction that I expected.  Cinnamon picks up.  This isn't all that far off the Thai Oriental Beauty derivative version I just reviewed, although it probably never will match it for sweetness level of pronounced but narrow flavor range.  The flaws in that tea match the flaws I would expect in this:  narrow range, limited complexity, lack of full feel or aftertaste experience.  

Sweetness doesn't bump much in this, just a little, but more positive wood tones join along with that cinnamon spice increase.  It tastes like a light, sweet wood tone, like fresh sassafras wood, or something along that line.  Fresh tree barks of that type, the kind that peel off as a pliable layer, have an odd sticky feel to the inside and an odd scent, and this isn't far off that.  In a good way; that's a cool range for something to be "woody" in.

black:  sourness ramped up most; that's not exactly ideal.  This is a bit like brewing a chen pi (aged tangerine peel, more or less), just a little lighter on citrus, and not as sweet.  Beyond that it is kind of towards that aromatic wood range I mentioned, or maybe onto tree bark instead, with a hint of spice supporting that.  But so sour.  I've been doing acclimation training to be able to appreciate sourness, maybe mostly in the form of regularly drinking one Thai wild tree material cake, but whenever I drink that tea it takes me a few rounds to get back in that mode, to not see that sourness as a very negative component.  Then as the sourness fades and I readjust expectation by the end of that infusion cycle I like it.  Maybe both will happen for this tea too.

Again it's strange drinking the white version after the black; with the sourness so much less pronounced you don't "get" any of that, and it comes across as mostly a strange neutral tone, more like fresh light tree bark than balsa wood, at this stage.  It's more novel than pleasant, for both, but I suspect the best of these will be drawn out over the next 2 or 3 infusions, versus them being as positive early on.  

third infusion, white tea:  the last round's description still works.  This is positive, but just barely.  Sourness is such a limited component that the other woody part and cinnamon range work, as a flavor experience.  Sweetness being so limited really doesn't help how it comes across, and there is really nothing to say about feel or aftertaste aspect range, beyond that there isn't much.  This might work well as a tea blending base for being so neutral, with just a bit of warm wood tone and spice.  Add some rose petals and cacao nibs to this and it would probably be great.  

I don't remember ever saying that a tea would be good for a blending base in a review; I must have, but that tends to not come up.  Quite often plain teas stand on their own for novel experienced aspects, and when they don't I don't publish a review of them.  A mediocre quality Tie Guan Yin might be sort of what I'm talking about here, versions where the sweetness, intensity, and floral range really don't pop.  Those can be fine as something to have with food, just not the kind of tea you would focus on as an experience.

black tea:  sourness is "letting up" a bit but it still defines this experience.  It seems likely that I could describe a more positive balance and do more justice to describing the rest in the next round.  So I'll skip ahead and say more then instead.

fourth infusion, white:  I should be getting absolutely dosed with those gaba compounds, since I am actually drinking all this, so maybe I can report on feeling calm or centered or whatever else soon.

This tea is transitioning but across such a narrow range that the old description still works well enough.  It's mostly woody at this point, which is how I described the last round, just a different version of seeming woody.  I kind of like it.  With those relatively bad Tie Guan Yin versions I compared this to there is something slightly off-putting in their character, the way a vegetal component comes across.  It's not as cooked vegetables, as can occur in some green teas, but a neutral, woody tone can be more negative than positive in those.  Here it kind of works.  

There is a faint creaminess filling in a little; that helps.  The flavor is somehow clean, and that makes it work.  Odd saying that about a gaba, which I equate with sourness, but the sourness has already dropped out of this, and I'm not as negative about sourness as an input as I would've been two years ago.

black:  the best this has been, by a wide margin.  It is odd how that sourness really dropped out of being the main thing that you experience to quite minor in this round, over two infusions.  Cinnamon is as strong as any other component, and warm wood or spice tones support that.  Even for being sour (some, still) it's clean in effect, not musty, not off in some other way.   There's essentially none of the underlying mineral that gives a lot of teas a good base, and sweetness level isn't where it would be for an average black tea range, so there are missing parts that could be seen as gaps, but what is present kind of works.  It's narrow in range; that's not necessarily good.  A tea with strong, unique, and balancing limited inputs can enable narrowness of character to work really well, but for this it's just not as negative or limiting as it might be.  

To put an example to that a third flush Darjeeling (a true black tea, as I'm describing this example) can be subtle, limited in flavor scope and intensity, and still have a limited range of experience that balances really well, and can even seem more positive for not being complex, or turning intensity up to 10.  I can't compare this to a better third flush Darjeeling; it's just not on that level.  It lacks positive flavor aspects, comparable intensity and complexity (even for that being an example of those being limited), and overall balance.  Maybe it's not that far off a medium quality version of one of those in appeal, where it all pulls together but not quite as well.  There is no shame in not matching up with one of the most distinctive and positive forms out there in tea experience range, so I don't see what I just said as insulting this tea.  It's "as good" as it is, matched against my subjective preference, and just not that good.  It seems a given that others would interpret it differently, since all this is a discussion of match to preference.

fifth infusion, white:  I'll probably leave off taking notes to have something else to attend to, giving the cats their weekly bath before afternoon rain moves in.  They live outside (the two older ones), and are exposed to "street cats" with fleas, and all sorts of fungus and other things that grow in tropical environments, so we counter that risk input by washing them every week or two.  Which of course they hate.

It's essentially the same this round.  It's nice enough, just a bit plain.  For saying over and over that these lack complexity, intensity, thickness of feel, and aftertaste it's the complex base range, slightly full feel (relatively, at least medium), and limited aftertaste that's making this work as well as it does.  Add just a bit of sweetness and any one extra flavor element and this would be really nice.  As it is it's ok.

black:  that last statement sort of works for this; tweak a couple of aspects just a little and this could be much better.  It's actually ok, but not so far from being significantly better.


These both brewed more than another half dozen rounds, although the last few tasted like cardboard (I tend to stretch teas to check on that).  Both are ok as basic, decent teas, but for me buying either to drink in relation to experienced characteristics wouldn't make much sense (but then that is tied to personal preference for aspect range, to be clear).  For something basic to have with a meal they're ok.  

I tried the white version a few days later and it comes across better when you aren't breaking it down for a detailed review of aspects.  The black is probably like that too; I suspect that I'm overdoing it with comparing both to expectations in relation to regular-oxidation versions, so that when I don't think about the tea much at all it seems better.  I bet if I could come to terms with them being a bit sour all this would shift a lot, as was the case with trying Thai wild origin teas.

I was trying to notice if I felt any more calm after drinking them.  Not that I could tell, but then I'm fairly calm all the time anyway.  Maybe they do affect some people that way.  Or maybe a placebo effect could be effective, if someone only thinks that they do, that it can work to relax more if you think a drink is helping you with that, even if in terms of compounds present it's not.

One main theme in this post has seemed to be why I've not been reviewing any gaba versions for years.  They're ok, but in terms of experienced aspects in relation to my preference generally just shy of a cut-off for what I usually find positive or interesting enough to review.  The last black (/ red) gaba tea version I didn't write about from them was a slightly better match to my preference, as I recall.  It swapped out that cedar wood and cinnamon range for dried fruit and cherry, leaning a little towards cocoa, and it wasn't all that sour.  But it was one-dimensional too, not complex, a bit thin in feel, and not as sweet as is typical for Chinese black teas. 

It's a judgement call whether or not it would be helpful to Moychay in terms of promotion to pass on this feedback.  A post basically saying "I'm not that into gaba; it's so-so and not very complex" might only mean something to people who've never tried it themselves.  It's worth trying, to check out something different.  I would expect that some pressed tisane bars they sent will be more pleasant and interesting to me, and those aren't even tea, in the narrower sense.  Black teas and oolongs are favorite types too, and sheng is mostly what I'm into now.  They sent a number of teas that are more what I love, so I'll get back to doing more typical posts about those.  

It's hard to place how someone else might interpret these same teas, related to continually referring to judging these against my own preference, and why a conclusion might be different, but I think I can address some of that by referencing two website reviews of the white version.

Moychay site customer reviews

In looking up the product listings (I skipped mentioning relative value here; they're unique enough there is no market price for these) two customer reviews mentioned completely different aspect interpretations and general impressions, cited in relation to the white version:

Alexey Makarov:  ...This year, a refreshing menthol-mint bright note can be traced in all Krasnodar teas. It is wonderful. Then there is a delicious fruity sourness, a crust of white bread, softly toasted, and the crumb of the same white bread itself. There is soft candied fruit, but you can't call it pumpkin anymore. Strongly, but pleasantly knits... 

Dmitry R.:  A wonderful multifaceted white, combining the features of bych, luicha and yellow teas. Bright juicy berries, languor, dough, shortbread cookies, yellow fruits (both unripe and overripe) and almost sugary berry jam, and black bread, and sesame seeds, and garden flowers. The infusion plays with gold. The aroma of the infusion, the bottom of the bowl, dry leaf and wet leaf are of barberry and juicy berries, but the wet leaf gradually turns into a fresh rye bun...

It seems like the overall effect and flavor range could be interpreted more positively if you can tie the experience of sourness to a relatable and pleasant food experience, like that of fresh bread, mentioned by both.  Of course fresh bread contains an edge of sourness that's a positive part of that experience, along with other very complex flavors, and texture related experience (the tea won't have that, a crust).  

And that reminds me of the owner of Monsoon teas, the vendor who produced and sold the Thai wild forest origin teas I mentioned, that were sour, saying that while tea enthusiasts tend to not like their wild teas chefs typically do relate to them very positively.  Tea enthusiasts probably tend to relate to sourness as either a processing or storage flaw, for example to a tea being stored too damp, so it's hard to see it as a positive and integral taste aspect.  But in food sourness is definitely not "out of bounds" for any reason.  I like sourness in sauerkraut and Thai sour curry.  

There's a good chance that I'll like this white tea better as I try it more, as probably also occurred with the earlier gaba black teas.  Most tea enthusiasts could probably relate this expectation and acclimation pattern to sheng pu'er, in relation to bitterness, which tea drinkers typically don't value at first.  Later many come to love bitterness, in proper form and balance with other aspect range.

I'm not as sure how to place what I interpret as narrowness of aspect experience, beyond that atypical flavor range, for the set of flavors being narrow, or feel being thin, and aftertaste experience limited.  These reviewers aren't seeing flavor range as narrow.  One cites what they see as a distinctive mint flavor as central to the regional origin character, which I didn't even mention.  

These aren't minty, in the sense that Ruby / Red Jade # 18 cultivar teas are, which are very heavy on mint, to the point of that coming across as eucalyptus, often too strong.  The black gaba tea Sasha shared, that I mentioned, was based on the Ruby / #18 cultivar plant type, and that mint range was fine in that, pronounced but not overwhelming (as I remember; that was awhile back).  It will be interesting re-trying these and considering these additional interpretations as further input.

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.


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.


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 (, 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 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).


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.


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.