Thursday, September 23, 2021

Sikkim and Manipur Indian oolong

Sikkim left, Manipur right, in all photos

Susmit of Ketlee sent a number of interesting and novel Indian teas to try and so far I've only reviewed an Indian (Manipur) version of sheng (which as I see it is a description that doesn't invoke a GI conflict until you also call it "pu'er," which not a convention everyone else would agree on).  These are two Indian oolongs.

Indian oolong is a strange concept, since most often that's used to describe a moderately oxidized version of black tea, not something processed similar to Chinese or Taiwanese oolong, or similar in outcome.  Which is fine, to me; I tend to not get hung up on concept specifics.  That same kind of concern can make it hard to identify Darjeeling first flush versions, which tend to be called black teas sometimes, when they're not really that oxidized, or those might not be assigned any main category designation.  

I don't see it as important where I personally stand on calling any medium level oxidized tea oolong; people can use or reject concept use in any ways they like.  For vendor branding it's a little different because that has to be both descriptive, giving potential customers an idea of what to expect, and positive, related to hopefully leading towards sales.  

Years back Indian oolong was a more novel concept, and now people are just living with it, or else avoiding it.  Kind of off the subject but Halmari (a main Assam producer) does a really nice Indian oolong that seems a lot like second flush Darjeeling, so really more in the range of black tea oxidation, or at least they did a few years ago.  That's a complete miss for style but to me positive outcome more than makes up for that.  It's hard to compare across years and levels of background experience but these are probably the next level up for tea quality, really better than I expected them to be.

before buying a phone with a slightly better camera, 4 years ago (that Halmari oolong post)


Sikkim:  it's closer to Darjeeling than I expected, that orange / muscatel range.  It's not really a close match for a first or second flush version, kind of in between related to oxidation level (as I suppose it should be, given the oolong theme). It's interesting how the bright, fresh, floral and intense range of first flush Darjeeling comes across, and also the deeper, warmer, citrus (and perhaps touch of grape) black-tea of second flush Darjeeling is also included.  It's a lot of scope.  Flavors are really clean, and feel is nice, with a touch of "greener" range astringency and the warmer base (I mean the flavors that usually connect to feel ranges, and also those feel ranges). 

Setting aside comparison to Darjeeling it's just floral and fruit intensive. Indian oolong can be open to criticism for not seeming like Chinese versions, and this doesn't, but it's pleasant on its own.  

Manipur:  a lot of points go to this for novelty; you don't drink it and think of how it's just like some other tea range.  An aromatic spice note stands out a lot, towards root beer or sassafras. The feel is cool too, in a way that matches, really creamy.  It's like how vanilla is creamy in feel, just not quite that thick. Flavors are pretty clean, and complexity is good, with a nice aftertaste carrying over from that novel spice range.  

There's some woodiness beyond the spice; someone might see that as a flaw but I don't. It connects well with the spice, and it's a novel form of wood, like a creamy and light version of tree sap.  Some of these kinds of comments are probably more accessible to people who spent childhoods splitting wood for heating a home in temperate climates.  I can picture the bark type this smells like, or like the sap inside that tree, but I've lost track of most tree types long ago.  A warm edge is nice, or rather the way it covers range that's light, fresh, and sweet and then also a warmer range.  It could be interpreted as a mineral base, or just as a tree bark flavor. To me that spice tone is really catchy.

To me this also doesn't seem like a Chinese oolong (or Taiwanese, etc.), but I'm fine with that, it's what I expected.

Sikkim, second infusion: this is really nice, it just might seem too much like a Darjeeling to someone.  I don't remember that I've ever tried any Sikkim area tea before; it would seem odd if that close match is normal. There's one distinctive dry, edgy feel and sweet floral and citrus range flavor of first flush Darjeeling and this includes it.  I suppose some of that citrus might apply more to second flush, but it's not a broad variation of theme, tying to a later harvest season and related processing style instead.  

Sweetness, balance, complexity, feel, intensity:  it's all good.  That one flower stem tasting (and dry feel) aspect might not appeal to everyone, but for people into Darjeeling it would.

Manipur:  again for novelty this is way beyond the other; the earlier round's complexity filled in some, along with some depth, but it wasn't thin or lacking range or intensity that first round.  I think floral tone picks up a little in relation to that spice.  It's a sweet, creamy floral range, not so far off plumeria, maybe just slightly warmer.  It's possible a touch of dryness ramps up too, or a little more body.  To me all that works well with the spice range; it makes perfect sense together.  It's a little hard to place in relation to any conventional oolong; it's just not like standard types and versions.  The other version seems more like an Indian tea just set to medium for oxidation level, but again like Darjeeling.  This is novel.

Sikkim, third infusion:  evolving a bit; the citrus picks up, and tone warms.  The dry edge is dropping back a bit, moving to richer feel. It's the best it has been, but that earlier mix worked for me too.  It makes it seem a bit more distinctive.  This would probably work well brewed fast and quite light; I've been infusing these for a bit over 10 seconds, and a very light round would be different, shifting what comes across.  Flavor intensity is nice in this; it would seem normal for a tea version with this much flavor intensity, across this particular range, to be a lot stronger in dry astringency feel than this is.

Manipur:  this doesn't increase in intensity, or shift in character much.  There is an intensity and depth to this sweetness and spice range that's a little like star anise, the way that's so strong, and so sweet, with that much aftertaste range.  

To me that spice is hard to dial in to a right level, so I usually don't use it in masala chai, or haven't added it to one for many years.  I skipped making masala chai last year; strange, given how much time I spent at home.  We were traveling a lot in the last half of the year within Thailand, and I tend to pretend that weather has cooled in the temperate Northern climate fall and winter, even though it's really always hot here.  It's 31 C now, tasting this outside at noon, 88 F, not so hot for us but not cool.  "Real Feel" is 38 in the shade and 41 in the sun (100 or 105), and I'm in the sun but under cloud cover.  They go too far with that correction; high humidity is normal here.  I noticed there was plenty of light to give the pictures a slightly washed out look; so it goes.

This tastes more like star anise, to be clear; it's not just the effect matching that a bit.  I suppose to some extent it did earlier too, but it's impossible to miss in this round.

Sikkim, fourth infusion:  thinned a little for trying this lighter, but it does still work like that.  If there was more astringency to work around dropping intensity like that would make more sense, but it wasn't too strong at an infusion strength more typical for me.  Sweetness is still really nice, and flavor intensity is ok, just thinner in comparison.

Manipur:  kind of the same as the other; it's interesting trying both light, but it doesn't necessarily work better.  It's funny how sweetness level is pronounced in both, and flavor strength is still fine, just seeming quite light and a little thin in comparison.  If I hadn't been blasting my senses with sheng pu'er for the last few years there's a good chance this is how I would always drink tea now, at a lighter intensity than I typically do.  

For dabbling in tisanes again a bit now it's interesting how this complexity, intensity, and feel edge is impossible to mimic in a tisane, no matter what you drink or how those are blended, even with these brewed light.  I can still appreciate tisanes but it's hard to not see that as a gap, like one or more parts are missing.  It's strange saying that mixing herbs with tea can work to cover both concerns, adding new flavor range and also keeping some of that feel and range.  I don't try that often now, but some.

Sikkim, fifth infusion:  I'll close with some final thoughts this round; it's enough. I'll brew this back up at what is a normal infusion strength for me, more like 20 seconds of time this round.  It's similar to before, nicely balancing the same range in a similar way.  It's nice how that dry edge easing up fell into a really nice balance.  This is still dead-center between first and second flush Darjeeling character.  I doubt they were going for that, but if so they nailed it.  This flavor cleanness, intensity, complexity, etc. is pleasant, or impressive even.  This more than holds its own with most Darjeeling I've tried.

Manipur:  thinning just a bit; some of the body is pulling back.  Flavor is still just as intense, maybe coming across stronger for part of the range thinning.  If someone hated star anise this really wouldn't work for them, but it's better than star anise for moderating that flavor, and that cloying sweet edge.  It's still definitely pronounced in both the flavor while you drink it and the aftertaste.


Good teas!  I'm not so sure about the "oolong" part but these match what I've experienced of Indian oolong in the past, novel and pleasant backed-off oxidation level teas.  Quality stands out as exceptional for both; there is no trace of any flaws in either, and a broad range of positive aspects.  

I suppose the Sikkim seeming like Darjeeling seemed to detract from the novelty factor for me, but it's not as if I'm drinking Darjeeling every week.  For those familiar with Gopaldhara Darjeelings I don't mean like those, the blast of fruit they tend to include.  This one included more of that distinctive floral range and flower stem taste, along with the citrus, which may or may not overlap with muscatel flavor (which is not how I interpreted it, but maybe).

They are better teas than I expected.  Experimental versions just don't get to this level, and it takes established producers years of hard work to achieve the same.  Maybe starting with great plant material gave them an edge, or maybe these are far from early trial rounds.  It's a little late to get to it but I can also include Ketlee's description of these for completeness:

Sikkim Spring Oolong Tea (2021 version)

[Editing note:  the first posted draft included the wrong link and version description, amended here]

Harvested during early spring, this is the fourth batch of the 2021 harvest. Of course, this tea is made at one of our favourite estates, the Bermiok Tea Estate... 

The leaves were shade withered for 24 hours after which it was bruised by hand for oxidation. They are then hand roasted and rolled before the final drying... 

...The liquor has a hint of flowery notes, particularly sweet yellow flower notes. As you sip the tea and it cools down, the fruity notes come to the foreground and there is an abundance of cantaloupe, Indian pear and ripe peach notes. There is also a hint of malt during the initial infusions but the fruity part dominates the profile. The astringency is minimal, just present to greet you at the finish...

Not really much match to this post description, but that's how review interpretations go.  Floral and fruit range interpretations can parallel but it's normal for people to cite different range of flower types or fruits. It seems a good value, listing for $20 for 100 grams.

Manipur Young Tree Oolong

After more than two years of offering exclusively old tree teas from Manipur, we are very excited to bring something new from the region, wild teas from young bushes! Processed exactly like our old tree oolong(2020 Ball Rolled Wild Oolong)...

...The first infusion brings an interesting sweetness resembling the aftertaste of fennel seed along with a spice note dominant in cloves. The second infusion is another interesting one, with notes of lemongrass, vanilla and caramel. The third infusion is rich in sweetness with honey and black raisin notes, there is also a woody undertone to it. There is a mild astringency as well which makes this complex liquor even more refreshing. To us, this astringency along with wood and citrus notes make it seem a lot more closer to assamica teas from various parts of India. While the old tree teas are also of the assamica variety, it clearly has a taste of its own and does not taste like any other assamica we find here. The fourth infusion has even more sweetness with notes of muscat grapes, honey, damp wood and caramel...

Per usual actual tasting notes vary, but we are in agreement that there's an interesting, novel, and primary spice note being expressed in this, along with pleasant sweetness and complexity, and a supporting woody undertone.  I'm not so sure about the citrus part but I bet if I kept tasting this I would unpack some of what they identified as dried fruit range, versus seeing that as a warm floral tone.  That spice stood out as so novel it made it hard to kind of "get past" experiencing and explaining it.

They sell this for more than double the other version, $28 for 100 grams, and it really is that much more novel.  Although the Sikkim version is unique too, so there wouldn't be a market price that's easy to identify, this version is really different.  This doesn't claim to be organic but it wouldn't make sense to spray pesticides on tea plants growing naturally in the forest; it doesn't work like that. 

out running errands, nice to pick up those donuts again

the view from my office building, not quite as iconic from that angle

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Wild origin teas, adopting foreign tea styles

First posted by TChing here.

These two subjects came up recently in an online social meetup with Rajiv Lochan, about teas made from "wild" origin forest-source plants, and that of producers adopting and interpreting foreign styles of tea.  Problems can occur with both themes and approaches.

The range of both of these ideas and cases is all a bit complicated.  It can be hard to map out what is occurring or might occur related to using different types of natural growth plant sources, or drawing on local tea processing styles, and draw clear lines in what is typical or acceptable and what goes too far in violating some type of norm.  We didn't get very far with that discussion, so to be clear all of this is my own framing of a complex set of ideas, that we didn't discuss in detail in that meetup.

It's well known that wild growing tea plants are common throughout the Assam area, and other areas in India, and in Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam.  These Assamica variety plants aren't closely related to Yunnan Assamica, or maybe even to plantation Assamica versions of Indian teas.  Due to interbreeding with other species of Camelia Sinensis the range of what is growing can be inconsistent.  The typical understanding is that these plants are remnants of past use and intended planting by earlier people, not necessarily in ancient times, but as some point in the past.  Within that context the tea plants could be seen as feral versus truly wild, untended but not completely naturally propagated.  All that could be clearer, and to some extent it doesn't really matter.  

natural growth tea plant in the north of Thailand

this shows size better

what that area looks like

One influential tea blogger has claimed that wild tea plant produced beverages are better regarded as a tisane, not as true tea.  To me that goes a little far with applying category judgment, but I get it, and there's a lot to that.  Processed version results are often inconsistent, just less so for Yunnan based versions (or those represented as such).  Two of the main versions I've tried in Thailand ended up being quite sour, and then more other versions presented as such were not atypical of Yunnan Assamica plant based sheng pu'er.  I recently tried an Indian newly-created version of sheng, which was very unusual, as close to black tea in character as sheng pu'er.  It's not "pu'er," which is a region-specific type, but then sheng means "raw," so as I see it using that term is equivalent to calling any tea black (relatively fully oxidized), just a general description.

So again, what's the problem with "wild origin tea," beyond someone preferring to keep the term and range of "tea" narrowly focused?  Inconsistency can be seen as a problem, for products to vary with changes in whatever happens to be gathered.  Some of the plants could really be Camellia Taliensis material, a version that's around in Yunnan, or Camellia Formosensis, a "wild tea" plant in Taiwan.  Or something else, or a hybrid, a mix of types.  It doesn't seem to pose a significant safety issue, that a producer might be poisoning you, but just not knowing what a product essentially is can seem unusual.  Maybe to some extent there is a health risk to be considered; I can't exclude that.

maybe "Shan" versions come up most, not the Formosensis "wild teas" listed (source)

Importing styles from one country or region to another is something else, raising a different concern.  Rajiv expressed how Indians producing something called Longjing or Matcha could be deceiving, whether or not location based designation protection deems that unacceptable or not.  I completely agree.  

This reminds me of a very early experience with tea in visiting Vietnam, trying a version of Japanese green tea there, produced with Japanese support.  I'd be a better judge now of how close the style match was, but I bought some and drank it, and it seemed fine, or maybe just a little rough edged.  At the time I thought it was great that countries and cultures could influence each other like that, to share experience and technology.  Later, after thinking it through and being exposed to more background, I realized that it was likely that the tea was destined to be sold as being from Japan, regardless of where it was finally consumed.  That's different.  The knowledge sharing and alternative product development steps still seem fine, but that last step not so much.

Can we say that Vietnam should not produce Japanese style tea?  It's not as easy to conclude that.  The toothpaste is definitely out of the tube in relation to Vietnam producing Taiwanese style oolong, a lot of which is understood to return to Taiwan to be sold as Taiwanese tea back there.  It would be all the easier for Vietnamese-Taiwanese versions to be misrepresented in other countries.  In the North of Thailand you can buy the same Thai tea packaged as either from local production, what it is, or as being from Taiwan, what it isn't.  That's a hearsay based account, to be clear, related to what has been passed on to me second hand as vendor communication.  It doesn't conflict with how other types of branded products are sold here.

Let's set that aside, and consider that if every product is sold as exactly what it is, should India produce Japanese style green tea or not?  It's hard to find a broad enough justification to say no, but there are clear reasons for seeing that as a negative thing.

What about sheng ("pu'er")?  As I see it we are onto a different kind of case, because at least based on my single related experience the resulting product from India couldn't be presented as Yunnan true pu'er, even if one wanted to do so.  It's too different.  Of course a variation of sheng made just across a border from China could be exactly the same as teas made a few kilometers away.

one year old Ketlee Indian "sheng;" it's dark

So now we are talking about hybrid styles, about one region borrowing processing steps and final tea styles from another.  Is that ok?  To me it is, but I can relate to why some "purists" wouldn't think so.  My favorite Indonesian tea producer, Toba Wangi, has moved to produce tea plant types from other places, made by drawing on foreign processing styles, as novel new tea types.  I think that's fine, but maybe not everyone else would.  It could depend on how the tea plants were obtained, and of course on branding / marketing claims.

early Toba Wangi plantation plantings; definitely monoculture

Nepal tea being sold as Darjeeling is something else altogether; now we are back to a sort of counterfeiting case.  What about a Nepal tea being based on a Darjeeling clone, borrowing as much as possible from Darjeeling processing, grown in conditions chosen to duplicate results, but still sold as Nepal tea?  That seems less clear, and not as clearly ok.  And that seems much closer to what Vietnam is doing with Taiwanese oolong, since all of those steps and factors match in that case.  Even Taiwanese people are brought there to process the tea, per my understanding. As Chinese people are now, and have long since been, training people in Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar to make pu'er-like tea.  

locally produced "wild" Thai "sheng pu'er-like" tea

Vietnam is different related to this case; the tradition of making what they tend to call "sun-dried tea" is not new to them (or maybe really just translated to dried tea, per what I've been told).  Those teas have long since been bought and brought back to China to be blended into Yiwu pu'er versions.  Mind you Vietnam makes a broad range of local styles that don't exist anywhere else too; their tea tradition is very diverse and developed.  Some of it is rustic and rough-edged, and some refined, distinctive, novel, and very high in quality.  Vietnamese teas don't get the credit they deserve, but the more awareness and demand spreads the more pricing inflates, so it's probably not a completely bad thing.

It's hard to end either subject with a clear "in conclusion..." summary.  Varying experiences bring up different combinations of circumstances and final outcomes.  I'm probably a lot more open to producers using different kinds of tea materials and processing styles than some others would be.  I see it as a natural evolution.  The sustainability issue related to using currently growing, forest based plants isn't lost on me; one main (frequent) alternative is for producers to clear-cut forest sections for mono-culture tea production.  That's not better.  Then right up to the edge of tea version counterfeiting I'm fine with producers borrowing styles.

Borrowing tea type names is almost a different subject.  Should Thailand producers be able to call teas Oriental Beauty?  If a type based on Yunnan sheng pu'er is made elsewhere, which is common, and pre-dated the current borders of China and the conventional name "pu'er," per my understanding, what should that be called?  Opinions would vary.  The point here was to raise these issues for consideration, for limited discussion, more than proposing my own take on resolutions or limitations tied to any of these themes.

Thai Oriental Beauty, or at least it's based partly on that type and style

Friday, September 17, 2021

Talking to Ken Cohen, host of the Talking Tea podcast

This is about talking to Ken Cohen in a meetup, not about being a guest on the Talking Tea podcast.  It was interesting hearing how hosting that goes, and other personal background stories and discussion.  There wasn't as much central theme as occurs with tea producers, or even vendors, when narrowing discussion scope down to a clearly defined range of tea types and activities makes sense.

Ken is from the same state I'm originally from, Pennsylvania, but over on the other side, in Philly.  We talked about NYC a bit since he also has had plenty of exposure to there.  And about Buddhism; he is also a Qi Gong and meditation practitioner.  I don't have any background with Qi Gong but the Buddhism and meditation parts are familiar.  We covered a lot on personal practice variations, and how Buddhism works out interpreted as Western philosophy, and considered Buddhism in relation to tea practice.

In writing about all these talks some degree of a lack of a central theme makes it hard to summarize what was covered, all the more so in this version.  I can start with the Talking Tea podcast background.

Talking Tea

Ken mentioned that he started this years ago to further his own self-education in tea background, which is a familiar theme with bloggers too, just less of a formal process and output for them.  In reviewing what he has covered the range is fairly broad.  I caught a version about Meghalya teas recently (an region in India), and an interview with Brother Anthony (An Sonjae), the main name that comes up in relation to tea themes in South Korea.  He came up in a meetup discussion about association with the Penn State Tea Club not so long ago.

Ken talked us through an elaborate planned out alcohol infusion experiment that related to a podcast episode.  That went a half dozen steps beyond what normal media coverage of a sub-theme gets to, never mind informal blog posting.  A tea vendor cooperated with a local spirits manufacturer to host an offsite, hotel-based alcoholic drink tasting session, which is complicated to arrange in the US. The podcast version would include more details, and the results of the alcohol infusion trials.

It sounded like a lot to take on as a hobby interest, not just that more developed event, but an audio podcast format in general.  Ken mentioned that rather than ramp up version production over covid times he has kept the pace moderate.  In part that related to being busy with other work scope.  Then he also added that lots of vendors are hosting lots of forms of more and less formal podcasts and online gatherings now, so he doesn't see that range as a gap to be filled over the last year and a half.  

I've written regularly about discovering new forms of these types of channels and versions, most recently about Discord channels hosting them, but Youtube and Instagram versions are common now too.  Crimson Lotus is an example of a vendor holding a video podcast version, Farmerleaf an example of a Discord audio only version, and Cody of the Ooolong Drunk blog holds regular Instagram based podcast sessions.  Elyse of Tealet seems to bridge from some of those forms into multi-channel events of different kinds, some more like seminars and some just random streaming.

Ken's approach to a podcast seems a little more considered, planned, and structured than almost all of those, more like a conventional media approach.  Maybe Farmerleaf one on one interview discussions don't fall too far from that theme, but as live sessions the result includes whatever it includes, and those seem a bit conversational.  Cody's version is quite social, which can be nice, or I suppose someone could see the small talk and extension beyond tea themes as not being of interest.  We've talked about extending these informal meetups to be a recorded and shared version in the past, but never did, because it would diminish the informal feel.

only the first of a longer list

Tea as Buddhist meditation

This could seem a little disappointing as a finding, since we discussed how tea practice could be used as meditation or mindfulness practice, but didn't get far with seeing it as closely linked.  I'm not really a great reference for meditation practice, but I have informally practiced that in the past, and went through a few weeks of guided instruction during regular sessions while ordained as a Thai monk.  In general a lot of Thai "city monks" leave off meditation practice after spending a lot of their time chanting in services and ceremonies, but I did visit a local meditation center daily at that time, one hosted by monks at the next temple over.

with Nong On, who is now the oldest of our three cats

Why wouldn't it be great mediation experience to brew and appreciate tea?  Formal meditation is something else than people tend to describe as meditational.  It's nothing too exotic or hard to relate to, but relaxing and paying attention to tea experience, or walking in nature, or whatever else, can overlap but it's not the same.  Related to the overlap part there isn't much to discuss that isn't already familiar ground; it can provide a good opportunity to relax and pay attention to the present moment, and to turn off a broad range of other distractions.  If a half an hour of that experience every other day helps calm and center someone then in a broad sense it is meditation.  In the narrower sense it's still not, related to seated meditation, calming your mind, watching breath, and noticing thoughts pass, which brings about some degree of inner experience change the rest of the time.  That involves a lower degree of external stimulus and can result in a different effect (per a standard take, and to a large extent to my past experience).

It can be a problem that focus on aesthetic forms or relatively trivial calming themes can be presented as Buddhist practice, when they are sort of that, and sort of not.  Getting a massage in a spa is quite calming, but not really equivalent to Buddhist meditation.  Wearing robes could seem pleasant, or having Buddha images around can be decorative, and a good reminder of some ideals, but I personally see no connection with that to meditation or mindfulness practices.  Being in nature is great; to me there's more overlap in just being outdoors than relates to wearing natural fiber clothes, lighting candles, burning incense, or playing New Age music.  But again I think if tea exposure is experienced as calming, as a means towards connecting with the present moment, then there's a lot to that, just not necessarily a lot to be said about it.

I have no problem with people combining interest in tea and aesthetics, I just don't

Ken talked about his formal meditation practice a little, but not to the extent of delving into how it works, for example in relation to breathing techniques, or daily life effects.  There's a Talking Tea podcast episode about Taoism that goes further into tea and meditation practice themes, it's just not entirely about that.  It would represent his take on Eastern religion and meditation practices better than these earlier comments, which are really written from my own point of view, and as an interview it would include background input from that guest as well. 

Maybe it's as well that people tend to connect interest in Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy with tea, even though related to formal practice the overlap can seem limited.

this can be associated with Taoism, but it's also easy to overstate the connection

Tea origin stories

It's not typical that the circle of friends who always join (Ralph, Suzana, and Huyen) end up covering their own initial connection to tea stories, but since Ken has that interview background it was easier for him to consider and raise this sort of point in discussion.  I think I heard and shared more about my own background than we've been through in any other single session, with some details about the other coming up that I'd not heard, even though we've been meeting and talking for a year and a half now.  

I hadn't heard Huyen's family's complete story related to two brothers founding two different tea businesses, although I was familiar with her working for one of them, Tra Viet, a gift shop company that sells tea.  

Huyen and her brother Dung looking amazing (photo credit her FB profile)

their spirits and their daily life is beautiful (just check out her Instagram page)

Ralph covered how his earliest family related starting points went.  Then Ken also described his early origins with tea, which led through and connected with other Asian culture practices, the Qi Gong and meditation themes.  It was really interesting.  In a story that comes up in different forms Ken was exposed to tea in two forms over time, related to drinking moderate quality Chinatown shop tea (like gunpowder), then later onto what tea enthusiasts tend to drink, the rest of the range.

New Kan Man NYC Chinatown store (a theme we discussed, with more on there in this post)

To some extent that kind of thing works better as a personal discussion, tied to social connections, than hearing many different personal versions in those informal podcast sessions I mentioned catching parts of.  A 5 or 10 minute version wouldn't drag on, but hearing over and over about someone running across a shop or knowing a friend into tea can just repeat.  

To be clearer introductions to tea is a sub-theme I'm interested in for more than one reason.  It can be interesting for story value, but it's also worth considering how tea awareness spreads, or why it doesn't, related to coffee and bubble tea interest dominating that of "real tea."  All those online channels and content forms I've mentioned wouldn't be of interest to someone not already into better than average tea.  Text based tea blogs are even less likely to be of interest to most tea enthusiasts, it seems, which is understandable.  The main tea theme is the actual experience, not reading and learning, or watching video.

Having a friend or family member into tea is the main introduction to tea story, or another Asian culture related interest leading to tea exposure.  I kept seeing Thai tea in grocery stores, and buying some, and did the same in visiting other countries.  Oddly I was into tisanes for 15 years in the US prior to developing that interest, and never accidentally ran across "real tea."  Today I think I would; things have changed.


This is the least focused on the person joining any summary has been, with good reason.  We talked about foreign cultures, covid themes, our own connections to tea, and shops and outlets in different places, not so much about Ken and his own tea interest.  I don't even know his favorite type of tea; maybe we could've focused more on that.  

Letting discussions take an organic path lands on different results, and it was as well that we made it through so much interesting scope, instead of getting into what he's drinking, or the gear he owns.  Huyen was the only other person on time for the session, so we did an earlier limited participation version talking more about Tea Masters and tea in Vietnam than we typically do, and Suzana joined really late, so we talked about Indian teas towards the end.  That transition of themes was nice. We tend to either get pretty far into covid discussion or skip that part, and it was nice comparing notes about experiences in this session (which of course I'm not summarizing here; everyone knows how the pandemic is going, we just add more local detail in the discussions).

It makes perfect sense to me that when we talked to a podcast host and Buddhism practitioner the focus wasn't on him personally.  The opposite shouldn't have happened.  Most typically one or two of us tend to talk less than the others, with conversations settling into a two-way form, and that didn't really happen this time, which I also see as positive.  When we are talking to a tea producer it's as well that almost all focus is on them, and what they are doing, and related background, but for a more open social form discussion the more even balance is really nice.  At times I can miss just talking to Ralph, Huyen, and Suzana without any theme or topic, and this session was like that, with Ken as just one more of our friends.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Smoky Muscatel Gopaldhara Autumn Flush Darjeeling

In picking which tea to review I looked through what my friend Ralph liked best in his Instagram based reviews, and noticed one of these teas from Gopaldhara is smoked.  That should be different.  Of course Lapsang Souchong is the main smoked tea, the traditional Chinese version, and I've tried a version from Japan before that was nice, one smoked using the wood from whiskey barrels to give it even more complexity.

I tend to never read any description of teas before reviewing them, to approach them with a clean slate, since hearing a description will influence what you pick up, but it seems like a reasonable time to make an exception.  I'll read and copy Ralph's description here, from his Instagram post:


2021 Smoky Muscatel Lapsang Black FTGFOP1 Autumn Flush from Gopaldhara, Darjeeling, @gopaldharateas

The tea variety is an AV2 bush grown in high elevation at an average of 6000ft (1830m), the tea gets heated over pinewood for the smoked flavor.

1st infusion: great! A rounded, sweet, fruity and smoked Lapsang aroma, where the smoke is nowhere bitter or too intense, just obvious enough to blend in very balanced and add to the flavor. Minerality is nice as well and gives an oily viscosity.

2nd infusion: it's a bit lighter, but still very sweet and fruity, the pine smoke shows some slightly fresh sour notes now with a very tiny bit of bitterness in the background which is just typical as these notes are naturally in the pine needles and the smoke itself...

Daily facts: a great version of a Lapsang Souchong and as a Darjeeling tea it's even more fruity and sweet than the usual Chinese Lapsang souchong. It might be not as thick and powerful in the mouth as other versions, but totally makes up for that with sweetness, fruitiness and quality.

Daily rating: 4.8/5

Sounds good.  Maybe I can even keep the description short to adjust for including two reviews here.

One thing that stood out was calling this "Lapsang," since that seems to reference that Chinese tea type, Lapsang Souchong, which this isn't (I don't think).  In looking up their website description, cited at the end, it doesn't include "Lapsang."  That's probably better, since everyone would already know what smoked black tea means.  Of course comparing the character / aspects to the main smoked black tea type, Lapsang Souchong, makes a lot of sense.

It occurred to me just as I was pouring the first infusion of water into the gaiwan that Western brewing might work better, since the smoke flavor might extract faster than the rest using multiple infusions / Gongfu style.  I guess I'll know better soon enough, but trying it brewed both ways would tell the full story.


first infusion:  it is smoky, and smoke flavor is extracting faster than that of tea.  It could still fall into a normal range balance next round, since surely one fast infusion didn't rinse off the smoke, and tea flavors should be ramped up a lot even by a second round.  The smoke effect is nice.  It's hard to get the level to balance, which I can judge better next round, but a pronounced but still clean effect is also important, which is easy enough to assess this round, since smoke dominates.  It tastes like pine smoke.  Dryness is at a good level, adding an edge to the feel and aftertaste, but that could easily be rough, and it's not.  Too strong and a pine smoke aftertaste would seem a bit cloying, but this is still just pronounced.

second infusion:  it's a cool effect the way that both tea flavor and smoke ramped way up, even for using a fairly fast infusion time, under 10 seconds.  This would brew good intensity tea Western style at a moderate proportion.  Smoke is still a little strong in proportion, but for Lapsang Souchong that can be normal.  I've tried much stronger.  The smoke isn't balanced with sweetness and tea flavors but it still works, and that should even out next round.  

The effect is clean; a heavy mineral base and higher end smoke make this tea intense, but it's not rough, overly earthy, or sour.  A touch of sourness is present, or maybe even a medium level, but it works in relation to the sweetness, other flavors, and smoke taste.  It's going to be hard to judge if these infusions wouldn't be better combined.  I could've "stacked" the last half of the first three rounds, but I just thought of that too.  My mind is running behind in planning out this tasting session. 

third infusion:  tea sweetness and flavor ramped up, with smoke dropping back in proportion.  I don't think it's fading just yet, but this was a really fast infusion, drawing out less of that.  The way it balances makes for a pleasant effect.  A dry feel to the tea, a good bit of edge, but not astringency roughness, works well along with the strong flavors.  That feel reminds me more of good Assam than Darjeeling, which tend to either be smooth or have a sharper bite, but not so much the dryness, which seems to pair with the malt flavor in Assam.  

Sweetness is a little towards molasses, but it stops short of that, landing more where a sweet version of cured leather smells.  Or it's like the sweet scent in pipe tobacco, which may or may not translate over to the taste of that smoke; I've never smoked one of those old style pipes to find out.  With the smoke in this it might remind someone a lot of a pipe tobacco effect.  There is other range, beyond the heavy mineral base, it's just hard to break out as a list, beyond the smoke and the rest I've described.  It's complex.  

fourth infusion:  that "other range" is really emerging this round.  I can see how someone might like this better combined together as two more complex infusions, or how some others would rather experience it layer by layer like this.  Smoke, heavy mineral base, and dryness are still present, but the leather / tobacco sweetness is developing quite a bit.  A bit of citrus seems to develop, along the line of orange peel, or maybe red grapefruit instead.  The leather tone is slightly woodier, but sweet and rich, along the line of cured (aged) sawdust.  That's a favorite scent from my childhood, from lots of playing on a huge old pile of sawdust that was part of a long forgotten sawmill operation on my parent's property.  No one had any memory of that sawmill, or the trees, but judging from old pictures the land had been clear-cut decades before.

I grew up in the upper-middle left of this photo, near an old drive-in movie theater

a mall replaced that drive-in movie theater, and some forests regrew

fifth infusion:  spice tones ramp way up in this; it's cool that it changes round to round.  Citrus is still there, with mineral and smoke dropped way back.  If I had brewed this using a conventional two round Western approach I'd expect this infusion range to be a part of the second infusion.  The form of that spice is catchy, but hard to pin down.  Towards cardamom, just including a touch of fennel seed?  It might even lean a little towards clove, or that aromatic aspect could tie back to the grapefruit citrus.  It's probably the best that it's been, even with the smoke mostly faded.  The dry astringency is dropping out too, giving it a rich and full feel.

sixth infusion:  all of the rest fades a little to give way to a more conventional wood tone. This is probably finally on the decline.  There is still plenty of positive complexity, but I would imagine it will just get woodier, and although the intensity isn't easing up quickly stretching infusion time to keep that up will draw out less positive flavor range.  Citrus might seem more like dried orange peel now, a bit warmer.  

I checked the next round and it's just as positive; this might be fading but it's not fading fast.


Quite positive!  The level and type of smoke input was nicely balanced, which makes a lot of difference. The tea input seemed well suited for that, heavy in flavor but sweet and balanced.  The form of astringency seemed a little unusual in relation to what I expected, dryness versus light edge, but it worked with the rest of this tea character.

The comparison tasting against Ralph's impression didn't work so well for using two completely different brewing approaches, but it did match well enough. That fruit he mentioned seemed to take the form of fresh orange, then red grapefruit, then dried orange peel.  Of course smoke was a primary flavor in the first few rounds, with some sourness joining that, and a lot of mineral range.  The rest was harder to interpret, but I saw it as contributing a lot, especially in the 4th and 5th infusions.  It was cool how earthiness similar to pipe tobacco transitioned to spice range.  Even up to the 7th round this is nicely balanced and complex, and not finished.

I can't really place this in relation to higher quality smoked Lapsang Souchong; I've just not been drinking any versions of that for years.  The last I tried was clearly artificially smoke flavored and I guess that put me off.

I've tried a lot more unsmoked Lapsang Souchong over the past 5 years or so, and I suppose this could be a little similar to those.  I always did like smoked versions, but it's hard to find versions where the smoke balances well, or where that input isn't a bit off in taste, too sour or contributing a harsh aftertaste, or where using low quality tea doesn't limit complexity detract from overall effect.  This doesn't seem to suffer from any of those flaws.  The strengths and positive aspects that do shine through are quite pleasant.  

Gopaldhara Darjeeling Smoky Muscatel – Clonal Black Tea

This Darjeeling smoky muscatel tea is designed for those who are fond of good quality clonal black tea with smoked preparations. This Darjeeling black tea is made from AV2 bushes which is one of the most flavorful cultivars of Darjeeling; heated over burning pinewood shavings, which contributes to the sweet fruity and smoky flavor with a honey finish. As we are using pinewood for smoke, it also imparts a little pine resin aroma and muscatel flavor taste...

The Gopaldhara smoky muscatel tea is made with hand-picked leaves collected from Darjeeling at 5500 to 7000 FT elevation during the Autumn Flush season. After a little rolling, the tea leaves are passed through the pine smoke chamber several times to get the smoked flavor... 

I've been discussing what "muscatel" means a little lately, and it's strange that there isn't a clearer meaning.  Let's consider two meanings, from the source of all mostly correct but incomplete knowledge, Wikipedia:

Muscatel (/ˌmʌskəˈtɛl/ MUSK-ə-TEL) is a type of wine made from muscat grapes. The term is now normally used in the United States to refer to a fortified wine made from these grapes rather than just any wine made from these grapes. This fortified muscatel became popular in the United States when, at the end of prohibition, in order to meet the large demand for wine, some poor strains of muscat grapes (used normally for table grapes or raisins) mixed with sugar and cheap brandy were used to produce what has since become infamous as a wino wine. This kind of fortified wine has, in the United States, damaged the reputation of all muscat-based wines and the term muscatel tends no longer to be used for these "better" wines in the United States.[1] In other markets the term Muscatel, or Moscatel, refers to a wide range of sweet wines based on these grapes.

So I always thought it referred to a strong version of wine, towards grape, raisin, and brandy in flavor, also leaning towards heavy citrus.  In my mind I was working backwards from what is present in tea, but then who knows, maybe I was always way off, or completely inconsistent.  The tea version description:

Muscatel refers to a distinctive flavor found in some Darjeeling teas, especially the second-flush teas. It has been described as a "distinct sweet flavour" that is not present in other flushes or tea from other localities,[1] a "musky spiciness," [2] "a unique muscat-like fruitiness in aroma and flavour,"[3] or "dried raisins with a hay like finish."[4] Though difficult to describe,[4] it is prized by tea aficionados.[5]

The flavor develops in part through the action of sap-sucking insects, jassids and thrips, which partly damage the young tea leaves. The tea plant then produces terpene as an insect repellent. This higher concentration of terpene produces the muscatel flavor.

Right, so sort of related to Oriental Beauty oolong.  This tasted like citrus to me, a little, maybe just not so much like grape or wine.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Greengold Georgian black and green teas


the bit of green gives away the type

I'm reviewing two more samples from Greengold, provided for review by Nika Sioridze.  I covered background from talking to him about restoring an old tea farm and reviewing two really nice tea versions in this post (with more about them on their website or in a Facebook page).  These next versions were among the most broken leaf included; I wanted to see how this grade or leaf presentation came across before writing a last review comparing the others in the set.

At first I didn't even realize one was green, because the leaf is so dark, but after opening the package and preparing it for brewing it was clear that this wasn't black tea.  I suppose it could've been some kind of atypical version of oolong, the hybrid style versions some producers make.  Even after tasting the tea it seemed a little atypical for green tea character, but still definitely green tea.


Green (GFBOP, which doesn't mean anything to me):  this is brewed a good bit off optimum parameters, way overbrewed, so I would need to try it again to judge it based on a more ideal preparation.  Brewing temperature should be a little cooler and infusion strength is too high, which dropping back proportion or timing would resolve.  I can still make notes, and get back to that next round, since I typically use a modified Western brewing approach that enables making three infusions.  I'm not really so accustomed to Western brewing now, and I can get complacent for brewing seeming automatic using a Gongfu approach, with changing infusion time round to round as an easy fall-back.

It seems fine, as green teas go.  For those two issues it's not that astringent, a good sign.  It's vegetal but the range is well off "straight grass" or cooked vegetables.  It's really in between the toasted rice / nutty range of Longjing and including other vegetal range, a bit of grass, green bean, some bell pepper.  For me liking Longjing best of all Chinese teas I like it.  Umami stands out, but the flavor range isn't a close match for sencha (no seaweed, related to other flavor), it just leans towards those in that one regard.

This has to be better green tea than this preparation is doing justice to.  Sweetness tends to show through a lot more once you get green tea brewing right, and the astringency and heavier cooked vegetal flavor would drop way back.  Astringency isn't really an issue in this, although it could smooth out a little.  Mineral base is positive, a flinty sort of dry range, that connects with a hint of dry feel for body.  

I think once someone adjusted to get the best character out of it and moved past fixed expectations that lead to interpreting it as a mix in between other green tea styles it would benefit from both.  There's really no benefit in placing it in relation to every other green tea out there; it's surely its own thing.  For description purposes that helps, but for experiencing it that might add an interpretation layer that doesn't make the experience seem more positive, that makes it seem less direct.

black tea (GFBOP):  it's pleasant.  This contains more astringency than I'm accustomed to, for being that much more broken, so it requires an internal shift in expectations, that I'm trying a slightly different thing than the whole leaf versions I tend to always drink.  That makes it sound like I'm questioning whether to add milk or not, and I don't mean that, it's not that far along the scale.  It just has more of an edge, that other kind of feel.  I'm relating a little to how astringency can be interpreted as bitterness, even though it's in a really mild form here, even though the two aspects really are different.  

Brewing parameters aren't way off for this version.  I've even went as far as using different proportions for both, not accustomed to using these different devices together, and really just not focusing in since I'm not all there in the mornings when I write these reviews.

Earthy flavor range stands out most.  It's in between warm mineral and cocoa, and interpreting this as a mix of those two would work.  Or it could seem a little woody, but in a catchy and aromatic way, including a trace of cedar or redwood edge.  It's not the plainer "tastes like wood" effect that brewed out black tea tends to pick up once it's past a certain infusion round stage.  The sweetness has a complexity to it; to me interpretation as including a warm floral aspect would make sense, along the line of rose petal.  It's not citrusy in the sense that second flush Darjeeling can contain a pronounced aspect but one part of the flavor edge could seem related to grapefruit, or grapefruit peel.  To me it's not sour but some others tend to invoke that description when I don't.

It's good; it balances nicely.  There's room for adjusting results a little for this but I get the impression that this is basically what it's going to show.  For how much the other two black teas transitioned I wouldn't be surprised if this varied a lot over Gongfu rounds, or in a second Western infusion.  

Of course the only way to be certain of which brewing approach would work best is to try both, and it wouldn't hurt to try both more than once to account for minor parameter variations, or variation in interpretation related to the taster, my mood shifting some day to day.  Or energy level; that's more of a concern.  I'm not 100% there before 11 on any given Saturday or Sunday, when I often review teas.  How much background shouting or banging is going on in our house changes things too; right now that's a medium level.  I don't have the energy to feel upset about that today, which is usually not a good sign.

looks a lot more like it

Green tea, second infusion:  much lighter, with diminished astringency, and a higher level of sweetness coming across.  The feel picks up a nice depth and creaminess; that's unusual for a green tea.  The mix of flavors isn't so different though, still including toasted rice / nuttiness, some cooked vegetables, a touch of grass, and umami.  A brighter range stands out than did overbrewed, and using too high a brewing temperature, not exactly extending to citrus or light floral but pretty close to both.  Based on interpretation someone add both to the list, light lemon citrus and orchid range floral, those are just non-distinct.  It's nice the way that an aftertaste effect includes more of that range than the rest.

This green tea might have oxidized a little in processing, leading to some of that atypical aspect range (smoothness of feel, creaminess, subdued astringency, and more complex flavor range).  That would explain the darkness of the dried leaf color.  I don't see that as a bad thing.  I've tried Thai or other SE Asian teas that were a bit off the narrowest range of a tea style before that were really positive, and I tend to value what works out well most, not only tea versions at the center of a typical type character.  For a tea from a new region some of that expectation tends to automatically loosen, because there is no existing set of expectations for me to judge Georgian green tea experience against.  This tea is good; that's the main thing.

Black tea:  it evolved well, and improved, not a complete surprise after trying the last two versions and seeing them go through that.  Astringency / dryness dropping back let a really rich feel and flavor range show through.  That diminished dryness and heavy warm mineral stands out a lot, defining the rest of the experience, even though in a sense that serves as a base.  The "tastes like tea" part is really complex, bunched across a narrow range, but intense, comprised of a lot of flavors.  It's woody, in a sense, but again like the aromatic edge of cedar, but not the rest.  One part is similar to the rich sweetness of molasses.  Other warm flavor range could be alternately described as being like leather, spice, or floral range, even though those are all different.  Maybe even towards brandy.

It's good.  If someone really doesn't like that astringency edge in their tea, which would kind of make sense for someone on the Chinese black tea page, then it wouldn't be as good.  For a CTC Assam drinker there is almost no dryness or edge to this, but then that tea range would almost always be adjusted by adding milk and / or sugar.  This is a significant amount less astringent than Lipton, if that helps place it.  It should be; that's tea dust.


The green tea made a really nice, intense, positive character third infusion; green teas can be a bit durable like that.  This black tea version is good but the green tea kind of stole the show, which is odd given that I tend to not like green teas as much.  It had a nice smoothness instead of an astringency edge, and pleasant sweetness, towards floral and citrus range, with a mix of a lot more going on, even some supporting umami.  That toasted rice range reminded me of Longjing, my personal favorite green tea type.  

The black tea was good, pleasant and complex, without noteworthy flaws, but to me more in the normal pretty good black tea range, beyond flavor complexity and some aspects standing out a bit.  I don't drink that much black tea that's broken leaf at all; probably if I was more accustomed to that now it would seem even better.  It's on the opposite end of the scale as CTC, not harshly astringent, just in a different balance range than whole-leaf Chinese blacks I normally drink (or whole-leaf Darjeeling sometimes, as that has been working out).  I think I might be judging it a bit harshly based on how good the other two black tea versions were; this would be the best Georgian tea I've ever had except for those (a short list, but it's pretty far ahead).

For being somewhat broken leaf versions these are really exceptional.  That's probably partly related to them not being that broken; this would just be normal Darjeeling from most producers, or maybe more whole than the most typical versions of those.  It would be interesting trying these Gongfu style but I won't keep writing review after review of the same teas.  I liked them, and I'll leave the descriptions as these notes put it.  It doesn't really work to say that they were good basic versions of teas; they were better quality than that, and more distinctive.

a normal Bangkok neighborhood near our house, near Ari

blue pea / butterfly pea at the house; we can use a brewed version to test acidity in things

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Talking with Rajiv Lochan


Rajiv Lochan is a well known and respected member of the international tea community, and it was an honor to meet online and talk with him.  Where I live, in Thailand, really doesn't have people in roles involving changing tea production, sourcing, or awareness (not so actively, anyway), which limits how far options changes and common awareness progresses.  The US does have people playing a variety of different roles, the transition just takes time.

Per usual I'll talk about what we discussed, keeping details limited to a summary of what is interesting.  As is typical we made a start on interesting sub-themes more than we delved deep into them, because an hour or so of discussion only goes so far.  This talk meandered less than most do; it was nice that Rajiv helped steer it back to different participants contributing their own input, and addressing some basic tea themes, where tea culture, types development, economics, and awareness stands in India.  In other informal meetups tangents veered a bit further in random directions, which can be nice for social purposes, but Indian tea culture and types development are such broad subjects it was best to stick with that range.

These topics aren't covered in any particular order, maybe just related to what makes the most sense first, what sets context for the other range.

Doke tea, and Rajiv's background

Rajiv is a veteran of the tea industry.  He and his family has founded a tea estate, Doke, and also developed an online tea outlet, Tea Swan.  He described that early background more than I'll cover in detail here, about taking up tea trading at a relatively early age, after spending substantial time working in the industry.  Later forms covered more consultancy work range, then finally onto developing local production, related to Doke.  This is intended more to set context than as a detailed biography, and for most people familiar with tea industry themes some of that context might already be clear.

I've heard about Doke for quite some time, and reviewed teas from there in the past.  I reviewed their signature "Black Fusion" main product last in 2017, and I think I reviewed some of the earlier white tea they produced back in 2013.  Rajiv explained that black tea is their main product at this point, with green tea and a lesser-volume production white as primary others, and them moving away from production of a Rolling Thunder oolong, but not ceasing making that.  He explained that their Black Fusion tea progresses in quality and character as they make adjustments to processing and irrigation (even though it's been good for years, per trying it).  He said that it's well received, in appropriately high demand for the volume they can make, so it works well for them to focus on that.  Green tea is popular and in demand for the well-known reasons; some people prefer that range, and some associate it with health benefits.

Those are the basics, with irrigation development, history in developing that production, and plant-type inputs filling in more interesting range.  Related to irrigation obtaining adequate water sources and setting up the infrastructure is a significant feat, but they've went one step further in converting form to a misting system, to both offset high growing temperatures and to drop stress on plants in relation to foliar watering.  Ok, he really didn't go into that last detail, but plants can absorb water and even nutrients through leaves, so it's obvious enough how this could work really well related to plants' capability to use water.

The history was just a summary, so I'll leave most of that out.  A bit of discussion of tea cultivars was interesting, about how India developed a standard set of plant types over time, in a similar form that's more familiar to me in relation to the numbered series of Taiwanese cultivars.  It just doesn't work to bridge into all the range that's really interesting based on that starting point:  what tea types went into what cultivars, and what properties relate to many of them (productivity related, disease or pest resistance, environmental tolerances, water demand, related to processed tea characteristics, and so on).  We would need another talk to go further with all that, probably with a plant breeding export joining to help reduce it all to summary form.  

Rajiv did mention that one cultivar shares some characteristics with the now-popular purple tea theme, related to atypical coloration and unique compound inclusion, which affects flavor character, and probably even health benefit properties (which tea producers and enthusiasts do well to keep framed as an undeveloped subject).  Rajiv mentioned that his personal favorite, among related tea plant types and final forms, are Yunnan purple tea varieties.  Lots of people feel that way; it's a general range-- and one specific product form--that comes up as often as any other in a Yunnan Sourcing Fans Facebook group, and I've tried at least one interesting and pleasant version from Farmerleaf before.

Huyen's nephew caught part of it

Indian tea awareness, preference, and culture change over time

This subject comes up in talking to people everywhere, including India, but it takes very consistent forms in discussion with tea producers and vendors from India.  India's history relates to producing high volume, automated process produced, low to moderate quality tea.  To some extent Darjeeling versions serve as an exception in relation to this paradigm, and to some extent they are also an example of it.  In talking to Rishi of Gopaldhara the main focus was on discussing how they've put a lot time and effort into adjusting harvesting and processing processes, to produce more whole-leaf and higher quality tea forms, which included changing over some processing equipment to forms used in China.

Rajiv expressed the same ideas, but from the experienced perspective of a long time tea trader and direct vendor.  According to him for a long time the main focus of competition in the Indian tea industry was on who could produce and sell the cheapest products.  We didn't get into related sub-themes, but he said that this broad trend didn't fare well for increasing tea quality over time, or supporting high standard of living for tea production staff.  As everyone else we've talked to in India stated gradually this perspective is changing, and people are realizing that better forms of tea offer somewhat different experiences. But that awareness curve is occurring faster in Western nations, and to a limited extent doesn't apply in the same way in other Asian countries.

Of course I've just spent years discussing the same themes in relation to South East Asia, so it's not as cut and dried as a summary that many Asians already know about better tea.  Even in China most people drink very moderate quality tea.  Even in Japan, per my understanding, although I'm less clear on that status and the details.  At any rate Rajiv discussed how their Doke teas do have a foothold following in many countries, with that awareness and uptake not as far along in India as it might be for Indians universally preferring tea as a beverage.  The potential is huge for that to develop further.

Doke tea brewing variations

In trying what was surely even a less developed earlier form of their Black Fusion four years ago I can see why it would be well received in other countries.  I found the tea to be very approachable, unique, pleasant, and complex, without the limitation of a high level of astringency found in many black tea versions.  Rajiv asked an associate join us from Japan, (Chitose Sashida), who described how they experimented with alternate brewing forms there and had great success with  a cold-brewed, iced, and shaken version.  For me it's a little odd to take a tea that turns out that well and try to change results, but I still sort of get it.  Even though there had been limited astringency to "brew around" in that version that I tried the final effect could be completely different using different preparation methods.

She and Rajiv described the results as not even tasting exactly like tea, taking on a high degree of fruitiness, and even an alcohol-like quality, relating to part of the depth.  I'm not philosophically opposed to drinking tea cold, cold-brewed, or even slightly adjusted with citrus or whatever else, I'm just on the plain brewed page myself.  All the same I can see where this subject and the issue of introducing the tea to an audience not sharing my main preferences could overlap.  

Thailand has picked up a love of ready to drink tea from Japanese influences; it's everywhere.  Even high-end "boutique" versions of RTD teas are now produced here.  I tend to not even try them, but they must be well-received, for continuing to increase in type and number.

one variation, being sold in the Central World mall in early 2020, before the world changed

a high end local Ceylon version, photo credit their FB page

I'm not trying to say that Doke should move into RTD tea just yet; they can sort out what product forms they think would work best for them.  To me it's hard to even relate to cold brewing, and that much harder to consider buying a bottle of any pre-brewed tea.  Tea awareness and demand needs to connect with existing preference, but tied to my own preference a likely and promising end point is soaking leaves in hot water yourself, without adding any flavor before drinking the result.  Of course that's a biased perspective; this is a tea blog.

Wild tea plants, adopting foreign styles

Very near the end we started into some really interesting scope that connects with a lot of other range I've explored through teas from lots of different places.  Both of these topics, that of wild tea plants, and the adoption of foreign styles of processing and presenting teas, are very controversial.  Since a lot of what I wrote in an initial draft about that subject is more my perspective than what we discussed I've split it off to a separate post instead.


It was all very interesting, discussing these issues, and drawing on the wealth of knowledge and perspective Rajiv possesses.  I appreciate and value tea enthusiast perspectives too, but that other context adds range of what can be covered.

It would be nice to talk again and get further with some specifics.  The most interesting discussions we've participated in have all been like that, pointing towards more we might discuss later.  Which we're not really getting to just yet, repeating meetup guest attendance, but when we do it would be nice if we could talk with Rajiv again.