Monday, November 29, 2021

Greengold Georgian black tea


Reviewing another black tea from Nika and Greengold of Georgia (the country).  He joined a meetup discussion and discussed their tea production background, summarized here.  

This should be pretty straightforward and familiar, probably just including a novel flavor aspect or two.  Earlier black teas were balanced, refined, and complex, so this should be the same.  A cool mint aspect was present in some but not others, I suppose most likely related to a plant type input; maybe that will turn up.

If I hear more about a certain version this is I'll include that, but with tea versions changing year to year that will be more irrelevant again next spring.

Using a Gongfu approach seems standard to me for whole leaf black teas, giving better results, so I used that.


First infusion:  as expected, it's complex, balanced, and refined.  A less expected aspect range comes in this being a bit savory, including some sun-dried tomato range (or probably umami, for people into that range of description).  That can be fantastic when it balances well with the rest, and it should in this.  Very pleasant warmth rounds it out, towards cocoa, more in a dark chocolate form than processed cocoa (so really cacao), with warm underlying mineral as a base.  

It's clean; there is no hint of mustiness, wood (beyond tones similar to that being general black tea range), sourness, mushroom, odd earthiness or mineral, etc.  That cacao and warm mineral range comes across a little like brandy, leaning a bit towards dark cherry or some other fruit.  Just as this it would be good for the entire cycle, but this is surely just opening up.

Second infusion:  warmth increased, which comes across as a neutral change.  Probably this is brewing fast enough, and at a high enough proportion, that I'll have to be careful to limit infusion time or I'll miss getting the best out of this.  Just a little shift into a tea being brewed too strong makes it come across as warmer in tone, and more astringent, and causes lighter fruit tones and sweetness to be harder to pick up.  

It makes you wonder how the traditional tea tasting approach of brewing cups in the "ISO standard" form, overbrewing them by quite a bit to help identify flaws, works well at all for identifying positive range.  That would be strange to give up a lot of input on positive range to just focus on flaws, not that I'm saying that would be a necessary result.

The rest is still similar, cocoa / cacao, warm underlying mineral, dried fruit, and brandy.  The fruit range picks up a bit and heads more towards citrus, like red grapefruit or dried orange peel.  Trying out a lightly brewed round might help identify an extra flavor or two, or at least help place how these transitions are going better.  I was brewing that for in the range of 10 seconds, so it was already pretty fast, but as usual I've maxed out the proportion, and for teas that are a bit intense that demands really short infusion times.

Third infusion:  not different, just ever so slightly better balanced, even though it is a little light this round (tried out brewed really fast, in the range of a 5 second infusion time, with a second or two of pours on both sides).  I'm not noticing mint in this version but I suppose the way the savory aspect and citrus comes across if looking for it one edge could seem like mint.  It could be that a minor hint of mint, or something along that line, is what makes it seem so complex.  

Fourth infusion:  either mint really did develop or else I've just talked myself into noticing it.  This is so nice, with mint, cocoa, and limited fruit mixing in a way that's probably better than it sounds (maybe along the line of dark cherry, or some other dried fruit).  Feel is nice and full with a touch of dry edge, a form that matches the rest nicely.  A good bit of all this would come across brewed Western style but it would be hard to get the exact best infusion strength dialed in, and mixing these shifts together would retain an impression of complexity but would make it impossible to experience the details to the same degree.

Fifth infusion:  fading just a little, since brewing it longer (in the 15+ second range) only drew out the same infusion strength as earlier, but as pleasant as ever.  It's far from finished; it will keep making pleasant rounds.  Citrus might seem a little heavier in the balance, but natural shifts during an infusion cycle will occur, and slight differences in infusion time will add to that variation.



It's really nice, as I expected.  This is not just "not rustic," or beyond basic, it's refined, balanced, and complex.  

I tried it since brewed Western style and results weren't as good.  I think it could be in the same positive range brewed Western style but it's not a given that dialing in infusion strength would work out.  It's intense, and overall flavor intensity and heavier flavors can extract quickly.  Astringency isn't really an issue, although it does have a full and structured feel, but the heavy flavor range works best with infusion strength moderated (heavy as in both warm-toned and intense).

Probably my interpretation of this set of flavors would shift if I kept trying it Gongfu style a number of times.  I wasn't certain if I was picking up mint or not, or just expecting it, and the fruit and heavy floral range I didn't really clearly identify or define.  Early focus on cacao and some citrus seemed less open to interpretation, and that brandy-like range was relatively pronounced and distinctive, maybe even stronger in the Western style preparation.

visiting Sukhothai not long ago for a lantern festival theme event

celebrating Loy Krathong, where you float Krathongs to carry away sins

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Tea blogging life cycle

First published in Tching here

It feels a little like I've written about this before, in considering a tea enthusiast quitting tea in this 2016 post.  Looking back that was about pros and cons of a developed tea habit, about caffeine concerns and expense, with only a little on exploration playing out a natural course.  My favorite tea blog author just gave up blogging, Geoffrey Norman of Steep Stories, making it a good time to revisit that theme.  To add context, his current blog page is 10 years old, but he had been doing tea reviews and writing in different forms before that.

In between that earlier post on a tea interest lifecycle, in the past five years, I've written a lot more than I ever had prior.  I switched from mostly oolongs and some black tea to mostly sheng pu'er.  Maybe more relevant, over the last year I've questioned why I keep writing, for many of the same reasons Geoffrey mentioned in that final sign-off post.  It just gets old, writing similar thoughts over and over, and even covering new tea-range exploration feels like repetition.  In general the audience shrinks as platforms like Instagram draw more attention, with pictures with moderate caption text easier to browse through than reading text.  Facebook now focuses more on showing people ads than private blog link posts.  I could pretty much end this post there; all that is the crux of it.

But of course I can say more.  There would always be ways to add new dimensions to a long-standing interest that you aren't completely burned out on (tea scope, not just tea writing).  Geoffrey mentioned that he will dabble more in making related videos, and he has been making memes about tea for awhile.  Last year I was part of a small social circle / meetup group related to tea interest, along with three friends, and this year we extended that to talking to a number of tea specialists.  I should summarize how that has went here in a post, beyond posts covering individual details, since we didn't broadcast or edit and publish that video.  Even that series sort of felt like it ran its shorter course, since it was hard to set those meetings up, and it worked better as a late covid wave replacement for other social contact, with the pandemic finally easing up a bit now.

Long ago I started taking tea more seriously than would be typical for a beverage interest, and to some extent it's that part that isn't sustainable.  Learning and experiencing new things has been great, and making contacts, even friends, but it would help if it felt like it was leading somewhere.  

This is probably a good place to explain why I even started:  about a decade ago I started exploring social media more and used tea as a subject theme as a basis for that.  Just joining Twitter might be interesting, but connecting Twitter to a subject interest makes sense, not that I ended up liking Twitter.  The same applies for writing a blog, trying out joining and then co-founding a Facebook group (this one), starting a Quora Space, and so on.  A new form for social media channel interaction hasn't clicked in awhile, beyond the meetups.  And it's a little harder to keep learning now, having already encountered so many ideas.  

I'm writing more about other subjects, an activity that isn't new, but that I've only started including in my tea blog over the last year or so.  I guess that started here:  Calhoun's Universe 25 mice experiments; overpopulation effects related to modern social themes.  It's uncertain that this is the "writing on the wall" for quitting blogging about tea; maybe balancing different interests would work well.  Since then I've written about foreigner / expat perspectives on culture in China, Dissociative Identity Disorder (the multiple personality theme), on how social media groups define and reinforce perspectives as distinct subcultures, and on Buddhism as it relates to rejection of a real internal self.

None of this really relates to any broad movement in tea culture or awareness.  It's not that I think the subject itself loses steam, or ceases to renew cycles of discussion.  It just seems natural to only talk about an interest like tea for so long, and then to just drink it.  As one Tea Chat forum veteran said he felt "tead out" after awhile, or to paraphrase Alan Watts (about another subject) after you get the message it's time to hang up the phone.

But then I don't see my own interests, goals, or experiences as the boundary of what I communicate or discuss, or else I wouldn't have stuck with it for this long.  Helping others can be pleasant.  Even then declining interest in text content definitely offsets that as a motivation for writing a blog.  It doesn't matter if 50 or 500 people read posts, but at some lower threshold it somehow seems to make less sense.

people do still read the posts but not as many

I'll probably keep writing, and slow down review pace, and keep diversifying themes.  Asian culture  has been a longstanding interest, related to living in Bangkok for 14 years, and I've not really said as much as I might have about how perspectives are similar or different, which should eventually tie back to tea.  Not in blogs at least, but I did also start a second Quora Space about that.  Other things could come up too, interactions or tangents.  I met with tea producers from five different countries this past weekend to talk about industry perspective and some processing background; things like that.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Tea producer meetup, representing five countries


I debated not writing about this last meetup since the most interesting parts of the discussion, the details about growing and producing tea, I won't be sharing, since most of that is confidential.  Some parts might not be proprietary and related to business differentiation enough that I could share them, but to get the cut-off right I'll only mention general range of what was discussed here, not details, which really were the best part.  Let's start with who joined and why that was even possible.  First, my deepest thanks to all who participated, for sharing information that was really interesting to me and probably directly helpful to others in many cases.

Who joined:  Jason McDonald of the Great Mississippi Tea Company, Rishi Gopaldhara of the Gopaldhara Darjeeling producer, Anna of Kinnari Tea of Laos (a vendor, but also a tea production consultant across broad scope), Nika Sioridze of Georgia--the country--and the Greengold producer, and Narendra Kumar Gurung of Nepal, a private tea grower and processor.  What an honor to meet with them all, really.  My other tea clique joined as well, Ralph, Suzana, and Huyen.  Huyen has experimented some with making tea but it didn't take that many leading questions to move through a range of interesting scope.

To be clear all these people make great tea (or Anna sells it, but she's also involved with processing consulting).  Nika is a bit closer to the starting point than the rest, and that shows up in styles he hasn't perfected yet, but in general his teas are much better than one would expect, already above the level of some much more developed forms.  Even the one oolong, still being worked out, has a great distinctive roasted bamboo flavor aspect that makes it very positive to experience as it is now.  It's also possible to see some degree of ongoing transitions in what Jason is producing, even for trying one set as just a snapshot, but their teas work well for exactly what they are right now too, and don't come across as a work in progress.  In both those cases very positive inputs define their teas as distinct and unique, so it's not just a matter of copying forms and versions elsewhere.  

Rishi and Narendra aren't finished with making adjustments to styles, probably, but both make good representative forms of Darjeeling and Nepal teas, which is a positive thing.  It's almost not fair for Gopaldhara to have such a developed starting point in relation to a lot of other producers and types, but that's how tea goes.  There's another level of Chinese or Japanese producers drawing on even longer term prior production and processing, but I suppose to some extent more developed cultural tea tradition enables a better starting point and established demand but also well-developed competition.

So how and why did we end up meeting in this form?  In talking to Nika about processing issues, about them making adjustments to styles, it occurred to me that we have talked to a lot of people with a lot of exposure to those issues.  Getting them all together to share very proprietary, hard to come by information seemed a stretch, so I initially approached asking them in terms of how they felt about such a thing.  Everyone was completely open and positive; which was really surprising.  To my understanding it's not that none of the others was a direct competitor, although that might have helped, but more than that it seemed like "giving back" related to others having helped them in different ways, which caused them to be more open to sharing knowledge.

It probably didn't hurt that Jason and Rishi had met.  The rest my friends and I have met, in the meetups I keep talking about, but I'd imagine their contact was quite limited.

I won't add details here but the scope of what we covered was interesting, and I can at least share categories, and one very interesting general theme that emerged.  They discussed growing tea quite a bit, challenges that come up in different places (and natural environments), along with issues with market demand, sales channel development, and labor support.  I suppose it's not going too far to say that Jason experiences as much problem with getting staffing for farm labor as anyone else, and what he contributed about research and use of automated harvesting was interesting.  That's not a new subject but the actual approach and equipment does keep evolving.  

Jason also mentioned how climate change is a huge potential challenge for them.  Again it's not a secret that the climate in the US is shifting quite fast, with unusual storms, temperature extremes, periods of high rainfall, and droughts.  They'll make the best of it in compensating for drought, and beyond that the plants will have to try to endure most of the rest, and some plant types just won't.  He didn't talk about hard freezing occurring that far south in the US yet but it's probably only a matter of time.

To skip ahead to a general conclusion, or theme that was interesting, it was fascinating how the different producers were sharing detailed knowledge based on a range of different kinds of experiences and sources.  Of course Rishi was drawing on the inherited knowledge of a very developed business and growing region, even though he's making changes and experimenting with pushing forward from that starting point, adjusting tea styles and processing.  Jason had access to great research derived information; some of what he shared was really interesting, even for being isolated ideas from different scopes (their whole story for tea growing and processing would take a long time to tell).  Anna has broad exposure to what a lot of Laos producers are doing, at a very detailed level, and to how their industry is developing to respond to a lot of internal and external changes.  Nika is newer to tea business but it's fascinating how they've made a fast start based on reclaiming and renewing an older Soviet era plantation, which was interesting to hear about.

Narendra had a conflicting family issue to deal with and was less involved for joining towards the end.  In a sense that's a shame, because Nepal doesn't necessarily stand below other countries in terms of produced tea quality and novel character, in spite of working within a less developed tradition.  The farming and production that Narendra carries on was started by his father, so it's not really new.  He has attempted to translate his own production into a co-op theme, which I've not heard much about in terms of results since we discussed that last a couple of years ago.  I suspect that it was significantly disrupted by the pandemic, as many things were.

a capture version with Narendra

It was nice not talking very much about pandemic disruption and concerns.  We mostly stuck with basic tea growing, harvesting, and processing themes, with just a little added on the distribution and sales side.  If you could talk with a close tea producer friend, and you knew a lot more about those issues than I do, it's the kind of discussion that you might have, but with multiple inputs instead.

One concern is always how it's going to work in terms of flow of conversation; we've never tried to get nine people to meet and converse.  I suppose we never had nine present this time, since a couple joined late and Huyen was called away.  It went really well though, with the odd zig and zag for theme, or missed comment, due to that many joining.  I think Anna might have been able to add more about processing but naturally slipped into a coordinating role, and it was probably as well to lose some input from one member to enable three others to share a lot.  The knowledge and experience everyone was drawing on wouldn't fit in an hour or two of discussion, but what did get covered was a great sample, with some points very relevant and actionable for others.

an early capture with Huyen included; it's hard to get 7 or 8 good images at the same time

The differences in their businesses were interesting, not just about climate and historical / cultural context, but scope and scale, and type.  Jason is ramping up very developed and advanced production for being a half dozen or so years into moving past a background and design review, and initial steps.  They push forward on lots of fronts, at the same time they are ramping it all up, across scope like environment design, equipment use, and sales channels.  

We didn't even touch on combining plain, high quality tea production and blend / flavored tea development, which I see as both a response to a market condition and also "the tail wagging the dog," them proactively changing their tea market as they expand into it.  Tea blends / flavored teas aren't new but their approach to them seems to be, to me.  Rishi is on the opposite extreme, also making a lot of the same changes for experimenting with new range, but drawing on tea tradition that goes way back. Their website mentions that they were founded in 1955, but that's the year his family took over the plantation, which was founded in 1881.

One really interesting difference came up in Jason's approach of drawing on modern research inputs that identify compounds in teas that transition in different ways during processing.  In the end best-case growing and processing practices that derived from that input seemed to map to traditional practices developed from received knowledge and personal experimentation.  

I suppose that theme of transitioning from a very old, grounded tea tradition to it being necessary to make a lot of radical changes just to make a business and "local" tea production theme work was common to everyone.  Laos was a completely isolated and undeveloped country 20 years ago; when I first visited there around 14 years ago they had just finished wiring the more populated half of the country with electricity access.  Nepal might have started on development a little earlier but must be in a roughly equivalent place.  Nika and Georgia's case is fascinating to me, related to their economy going through a reset after the 1990-91 end of the Soviet Union.  He invited all of us to visit there, and I would really love to get to that.  

Without climate change, a pandemic, general economic disruption, and large scale staffing issues a lot shift would be required for tea producers to keep up, but with those factored in ongoing success will require aiming at a moving target.  None of them seem to be getting caught flat-footed, trying to keep on with what tea production had been before; instead quite the opposite.

One part that helped make this possible, that I appreciate even more than the fantastic knowledge sharing, is how these are all people that I respect, admire, and can look up to as good examples of human beings.  None of them are taking short cuts, "doing what they have to do" in difficult circumstances; they're not that kind of people.  They are all paying dues in full, putting the work in, not trying to benefit from others' disadvantages, instead only seeking out successes that they've earned.  I only partly joked with one about how I would trust any of them with watching my kids, the one thing I value most in this world. 

All in all it seemed very successful to me.  I don't doubt that a much longer version wouldn't have ran out of discussion scope, so maybe we will be able to break past form and repeat that meeting version.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Arya Ruby and Giddapahar Second Flush Darjeelings


After talking to Rajiv Lochan in one of many social tea themed meetups this year he sent some different teas to try, some from Doke that they make, and others from other producers.  In addition to being a producer they offer other teas through a Tea Swan outlet.  I've been trying a good number of exceptional Gopaldhara teas for awhile but not so much of other Darjeeling, so this should be interesting.

I mentioned in that meetup summary post that Rajiv was one of the people that played a role in getting me into tea blogging.  By chance contact through a mutual tea friend we had talked a little online, many years ago, prior to the 8 years I've been writing this blog, and he sent me some tea samples back then.  There was no clear reason to, it was just an act of generosity and helpfulness on his part.  It's not as direct as the lure of potential free samples led me into more formal writing about tea, to blogging, but that helped bring up the potential for that support.  I wrote to practice writing and reviewing teas, and to share ideas, which I expected to tie to some form of discussion.

A bit on Darjeeling sources and styles prior to this write-up:  the novel part of Gopaldhara's processing has been to focus on creating whole-leaf tea.  These aren't exactly that; I can tell prior to opening the packages.  For a Chinese tea drinker that whole-leaf presentation would seem objectively better, but to an extent it will also just be a different style.  Once you open up the packages they look good though; the leaves are beautiful, and not so broken, whole enough that I don't expect related astringency to be a big problem.  

I picked these randomly from a set; I don't know if these match up well for trying together, or if they represent the best of that group.  If I remember right Arya is a well-regarded and therefore in-demand producer name, but that grounds a lot in a fairly unreliable memory.

The teas won't be as well suited for Gongfu brewing, so it wouldn't be right to try them that way, to not optimize outcome.  I'm not unfamiliar with Western brewing but since I use it for a broad range of styles that wouldn't Gongfu brew as well I suppose I might have parameters for conventional black teas a little less dialed in.  I could weigh it; the kids and I just did a science experiment using my wife's fairly sensitive cooking scale, but I don't weigh tea.  I started out "eyeballing" proportions over 10 years ago when I first got into loose leaf brewing and never altered from that.  It's uncanny how I can tell exactly how full a gaiwan will be with wetted leaves based on a broad range of types, that take up vastly different space in dry form.  It's like that trick in knowing exactly which tupperware will hold a dish of leftovers, every time; it's a mystery.

It'll be fine, I've got this.  I've tried a sensational amount of tea since that first set of samples, lots of it black teas, including a lot of Darjeeling and other Indian blacks.  Astringency will probably seem a little higher than I'm used to but that's not necessarily a universally bad thing, since in the right proportion it can give a balance to tea experience.  

There are no listings for either tea on their Tea Swan outlet but let's check how close those get.

Tea Swan Arya listing for "Delight": $10.49 for 50 grams  (there is no "Ruby" page just now, only "Delight")

They've probably sold out of Ruby, or sold it directly through a wholesale level.  This is most likely a different tea listing, a more medium quality level version, so it won't be helpful, and there isn't much on there about the producer background and such.  

The first Google search listing for Arya Ruby is from the Thunderbolt outlet, selling that for $32 for 50 grams, before it sold out.  Really?  Seems aggressive, but then supply and demand do determine pricing.  Vahdam had been selling 100 grams through Amazon for $19.99, so one third that pricing.  Without that "Ruby" type branding you'd never know if you are comparing apples to apples but with that designation on both they should be the same (the exact same apple from the same producer, not just broader grouping).

One thing to keep in mind from these outlet vendors is that you can bundle a few types and it won't matter if you pay a little more for any one if you can buy specific tea versions that you really want at the same time, or offset that difference in value with another.  The Doke versions are well worth trying out (Bihar region teas the Lochans make), and sampling teas from other regions at the same time would be interesting, especially if Nepalese tea could be part of that.  Nothing against Assam, since those can be great, and I have been surprised by how good versions from Sikkim and Manipur have been.

Tea Swan listing for Giddapahar AV2 Clonal Wonder Black Tea ($14.74 for 50 grams)

This definitely isn't the same tea; only first flush versions are listed right now, no second flush.  Darjeeling makers tend to sell different lots under different brands, or mix them, so without a clear brand match it's hard to identify that, even a tea would seem similar.

I suspect there would be a price difference between these two versions I'm reviewing but at significantly different prices I'd drink this tea if it cost less, for sure.  The review notes explain that part.

It's interesting considering the Tea Swan brewing advice (part of it):

If you have got the primary flush Darjeeling tea, warm water to 80-85C. For the second flush or harvest time flush, warm water to 85-95-C.

Add one teaspoon for each container into the teapot.

If you're making an 8 oz container, at that point include around 3gm of tea. Pour hot water into the teapot. Steep it for 3 minutes.

Seems like good advice, especially the temperature part.  One would hope that people know to re-brew a tea brewed at 3 grams per cup for 3 minutes, which is probably quite close to how I made these.  You can even stretch a third infusion out of 3 grams of tea preparing multiple cups but two rounds would extract the most positive character from the leaves.


Arya Ruby:  it's nice; there's nothing throwing off reviewing this as a positive, complex, balanced second flush Darjeeling version.  I've brewed it using parameters that will produce two different and pleasant infusions, a little heavier on proportion than for the old "teaspoon a cup" standard, but that's just how I make tea Western style.  Onto the flavor list part.

What I take to be muscatel does stand out as primary (an aspect range which I always thought I was clear on recognizing, but who knows).  Wikipedia suggests that muscatel is "a type of wine made from muscat grapes," which of course I've never tried, the wine or those grapes.  As I interpret it that aspect range is in between heavy and warm orange citrus tone, a bit grapey, with some character along the lines of  rich red wine or brandy.  Describing this tea is really mostly about describing a variation of that.  It's clean, positive in nature, with feel / astringency nicely balanced, not overly sharp or heavy at all.  If anything it's softer and smoother than I expected, but still full in structure.  I wouldn't say that it has a dry edge but compared to even softer Chinese style black teas it might come across as such.

The citrus is nice; it really makes it.  That pairs really well with the warmer and deeper mineral tones in this.  Even though I've got a lot to drink compared to the tiny Gongfu cups I'm still having trouble discerning a lot of other flavor list.  Muscatel really stands out, which isn't bad, since it's so positive, and since that is a complex set of flavors, really.  I suppose the warm range I'm describing might come across like aromatic wood, like cedar, or the other richer and deeper fruit flavor someone might interpret as in the range of dried tamarind.  Comparing and contrasting with the Giddapahar might help.

Giddapahar:  different!  But still overlapping some.  I like it, but it has more astringency edge, and it's moved off the "straight muscatel" effect into a warmer range, towards spice, or even a bit earthy.  Part of what I said about muscatel applies here too, but that's only one part of a range, more or less primary, but it stands out less, and it's evenly balanced with the rest.  The Arya Ruby had a wood-tone component that seemed like cedar but this comparable range is a lot stronger and heavier.  Of course I'm not guaranteeing that the proportion is identical, and that's exactly the kind of shift in effect that even a relatively minor difference in proportion or timing could cause.  Or even water temperature; I'm using water not far off boiling for these, but someone being careful to pre-warm devices and use right at boiling temperature water would see more astringency edge extract.

There's a catchy part to this, along with heavier flavors being interesting, but not necessarily really positive or negative.  It strikes me as being towards a spice tone.  The part that's slightly wine-like in nature in the Ruby is even stronger in this, for sure.  It makes for a mix of inputs that are positive and then some negative, in relation to the Ruby version, and the balance just lands in a different place.  On the negative side that astringency form isn't quite as smooth, and that dark wood / earthiness isn't really positive.  On the positive side the extra lean towards spice and the wine-like range is interesting and pleasant.  

For me liking lighter, sweeter, fruitier Chinese black teas (which I really appreciate heavy fruit flavors, mineral base, and overall complexity in, to be clear) they Arya is a natural fit, but if the idea is to have a tea with food that changes things a little.  The Chinese tea drinking theme is quite often not about that at all, maybe with a light snack used to offset just drinking a lot of liquid, and repeating tea-range experience too extensively for too long.  Personally I'm very open to using tea as an everyday beverage; it would seem odd to me for people to let that entirely drop out.  What are they having with breakfast, coffee?  From that more ceremonial Chinese tea drinking perspective saying that a tea would be good with food could be an indirect slight, like saying one of these would be great with milk and sugar added, just not that extreme.

There's one more related factor, while I'm on this tangent:  I eat just prior to drinking tea, or something light with tea, because I don't want to put my stomach through the experience of drinking a lot of tea without food.  I've never had any problems with my stomach, at all, and my digestive system works pretty much as well as it did when I was 18, but I'd like to keep it that way.  I don't blast my stomach with a liter and a half of tea with no food (usually; if I eat a little just prior to that I will, so reviewing often works out like that).  And I don't overdo it with caffeine, so that I never have to worry about long term effects from that.  With breakfast I drink tea, and also often with lunch, but I tend to not finish brewing cycles from breakfast and brew a bit more from then, since I've been working from home.

Second infusion:

Arya left; a bit more consistent dark color

Arya Ruby:  not bad, not so different, maybe with just a little more heavier flavor range (again which is also an expected outcome from brewing stronger, that experienced tasters can learn to factor back out, for using a standard strong-brewed approach for evaluation).  Heavy mineral steps up, more comparable in level with the muscatel range.  Bright flavor range doesn't drop out, related to citrus, but it's in a more even balance.  It's interesting how this is exactly what you would hope that a cheap Darjeeling tea bag would taste like, a standard type-typical optimum, but they never do.  

They got oxidation level just right in this, it seems; the warm tones work well, the citrus / muscatel really hits, and the overall balance is great.  It should be relatively fully oxidized, for second flush style, and it is.  I think a lot of generic Darjeeling tea bags end up being all sorts of different leaf colors because they're mixing lots of all sorts of things (to get an optimum, to be most generous, or making the most of offsetting lots of different flaws, on a more practical read).

Astringency might have picked up a little but probably not as much as the flavor description made it sound.  The balance is good; the tea is very approachable, not harsh in the slightest.  At the right level astringency can just complement the flavors, and work as a style input rather than a flaw, and this is around there.

Giddapahar:  this balances a little better, maybe a little lighter versus the other being a little heavier.  I don't think that has to do with proportion or process in any way, just how the two versions naturally transition.  After thinking it through a little more I think the "catchy" part, that I couldn't really place, might relate to a subtle and well-integrated root spice input (like sassafrass or root beer, not so much like ginseng, and definitely not ginger).  A woody tone is probably as negative as positive, but kind of neutral, really some of both.  It gives the rest good balance but offsets the clean effect just a little.  

Astringency is comparable to in the Ayra version for this round; it's not harsh at all, just enough structure and dryness to fill out the experience.  


To be clear there are no flaws in both teas, as I interpret them; they're well made, and surely made from good material, with a universally positive experienced aspect outcome.  They're quite good, even better than I expected.  I like Darjeeling, so my expectations were positive, but the quality for both of these is really good.

Some potential "negative" one might interpret relates to style, expecting or liking something else more.  Good quality Assam or Ceylon is also like that; you wouldn't dislike those for including any flaws, but might not like them as much as other types for preferring other character.  Ten years ago high quality Assam probably wasn't very common at all, while that wouldn't have been so unusual for Ceylon or Darjeeling, but lots of good orthodox examples turn up now, and small-batch, specialty producer versions that can be really exceptional.

So just how good are they?  That's harder to say.  I'm not really a specialist when it comes to higher end, standard character Darjeeling, although I've tried a good bit over the years.  I really can't place these in relation to the best versions produced by other Darjeeling estates, or sold by specialty outlets like Vahdam, Tea Box, or Golden Tips.  At a guess these are pretty far up the scale, pretty good even as pretty good Darjeeling goes.  It would be interesting to see if a pricing difference implied a potential quality difference between these two, but demand factors in too, so the reputation of a producer might change pricing, along with how the tea actually is.

I've been drinking more Gopaldhara than all other Darjeeling combined for a few years and I can say more about how they compare to their tea.  The style is different.  These seem more like good versions of what I've come to expect from second flush versions in the past, while Gopaldhara is pushing onto doing entirely whole-leaf versions, not even broken, and experimenting with different processing steps and styles.  To me, and this is just my take, not necessarily what anyone else thinks, their teas end up being much lighter in tone and fruitier, and closer to good Chinese black teas in style.  Astringency drops out to the extent that instead of considering whether it balances or not it's a minor input.  Fruitiness bumps up, and flavor intensity, with range of flavor aspects shifting.  Per my personal preference I like their teas a lot but I think that partly ties to preference specific to me, as a tea enthusiast more into Chinese teas.  These two versions probably match prior typical Darjeeling type better, which for some might make them better.

I think for drinking these teas, or what I've tried from Gopaldhara, with food that evens things up a lot too.  That extra bit of astringency edge doesn't just add balance to other sweetness and flavor range, it could help counter a food input.  

I'm reminded of how back during my wine drinking days that was a main thing everyone kept on about during pairing discussion, about how for certain types of foods, a lot of them, both reds and whites needed a degree of astringency edge to hold their own, to balance.  Then some other foods might not require that; it would depend.  A wine maker friend pointed out that in some cases shared aspects makes for a great pairing and in other cases it's the contrast that helps.  I remember one other wine specialist friend talking to a restaurant owner about how he drank vodka and grapefruit with food because it had plenty of acid range to match up with anything.  He was only partly joking (he was drinking vodka and grapefruit juice just then), and for both I think that theme made a lot more sense than it did to me.  How could you even taste food drinking that with it?  To clarify these guys were kind of snobs, but also just "on their own page;" where we were was like that.

sporty looking wine enthusiasts, and that general scene (photo credit)

So on the whole I think these were really nice.  "How nice?" might relate to style preference more than any attempt at objective quality assessment.  I probably liked the Arya just a little more, but I think some of that preference issue mapped over to this judgment too, more than judging quality.  The novelty in the Giddapahar version was equally interesting and positive, I thought, but I just love fruit, moderate astringency, and a lighter balance in black teas, and the Ruby version tipped towards that a bit more.  The Ruby might have given up a little for complexity, but both had plenty going on, and both really lacked any significant flaws.  

Really I would have to try both a few times to dial in my favorite brewing approach and see how a lasting impression versus a first impression worked out.  There's a good chance that a heavier range and more complexity in the Giddapahar might seem better for repeated drinking, with Arya more positive in an initial taste, perhaps comparable to how the old "Pepsi challenge" made Pepsi seem superior for sipping a bit of both, but too sweet for many for drinking a lot of it.

It will be interesting trying more versions of Darjeeling from Rajiv, and then some more from Gopaldhara, to compare with these.  I think that both these versions set the bar pretty high.   

a birthday celebration at a local restaurant, a family tradition

everyone takes a better picture than me, even aside from the strange movie-villain long hair look

just days prior; their birthdays are close, and we don't get observation on the actual date right

Friday, November 12, 2021

Ketlee 2020 Manipur (Indian) Spring Wild White Tea


Reviewing the last of a set of samples of interesting and novel Indian teas, provided by Susmit of Ketlee for review (many thanks!).  Earlier posts covered trying Indian sheng (a variation of Yunnan pu'er), Sikkim and Manipur origin Indian oolongs, with this a wild origin white.  We met Susmit in a meetup discussion described here, talking about changing Indian tea styles, and shifts in awareness and demand.  I'll add his description before posting this, and get right to the tasting part.

2020 Spring Wild White Tea (the Ketlee site listing)  ($7 per 25 grams)

Grown in the wilderness of Manipur, this tea from very old plants are mother nature's gift to us. It has been one of our most awaited teas yet, after the last years harvest sold out way earlier than expected!

The tea starts floral and fruity with hints of fresh coriander leaves and spearmint. The spice notes are soothing and present just on the finish. The fruit notes are reminiscent of litchi, green apples and kiwi. The flowery notes are dominant in yellow flowers with a hint of honeysuckle. There is a hint of sandalwood in the later steeps which blends seamlessly with the flowery character. The liquor coats your mouth and is extremely silky.

It's cool the way that the general impression and flavor categories are almost a complete match with the review that follows, and not one single individual description is common to both.  That's how that goes.  I don't necessarily see that as a problem with tasting skill or a critical limitation of tasting description, it's just that any impression isn't as specific as the descriptions and associations tend to sound.  It's an interpretation, and those would always vary.  Every part of what I wrote matches in general, about complex fruit and floral range, limited spice range, freshness, transition in character across infusions, warm tones, balanced and integrated individual aspects, and thick feel.

Related to accounting for real change in tasting experience, trying a tea a year later (letting it settle due to aging), brewed with different water, using a slightly different brewing process (proportion and timing) would shift results a little.

Related to value / pricing, $14 per 50 grams is getting up there, but for tea that there is only one version of available that's hard to peg in terms of a market rate.  Related to quality level and positive experience this is probably still a good value; it's that pleasant and unique.

It goes without saying, but for people not so familiar with this scope buying "wild" origin teas is a way to ensure they are not grown using chemicals.  There is no way that a producer is out spraying down the forest to protect tea plants already thriving within a balanced ecosystem.  You have to be careful that teas aren't misrepresented, that they're not really plantation grown tea that sounds better described differently, but I'm pretty sure there is no significant risk of that from this source.  If a vendor is buying and reselling something they didn't work closely with producers to have created they might just be passing on a story they heard, not necessarily making that up themselves.  

Evaluating tea origin stories can be tricky.  Hatvala of Vietnam, Kinnari of Laos (which doesn't necessarily serve as a direct retail outlet, but are out there), and Monsoon of Thailand are other examples of vendors who work closely with local producers.  They could all be relied upon to tell accurate stories about origins, because they all played a role in both sourcing and in initiating specific forms of tea production, working directly with local residents who actually harvest and make the teas.


First infusion:  there's a touch of smoke in this; that's different.  It's so faint that I don't expect it to hang around long as infusions pass, but it does affect this first infusion quite a bit.  It's relatively positive; in the right form and balance smoke can be nice.  The tea probably came in contact with smoke, versus that being a natural taste.  Beyond that it's sweet, rich, and complex, even for the first infusion often being lighter in flavor.  

I'll do better with a flavor list next round but for now a bit of warm depth compliments lighter and sweeter fruit range nicely.  This might taste a bit like peach and vanilla, with the depth relating to mild mineral tone and aromatic wood, which is towards spice.  Feel is rich, not so unusual for white teas.  It's great how warmth, sweetness and depth all indicate some degree of oxidation and freshness and brightness show that to be limited.  A great start!

Second infusion:  I didn't try to use a longer infusion time to bump up intensity, brewing this for no longer than 10 seconds, including the pours.  Again it's interesting how this covers so much aspect scope.  I suppose going from the appearance slight inconsistency in degrees of oxidation might have led to that (more apparent in wet leaves), probably more an accident than something intentional, which worked out well in this case.  

The smoke isn't noticeable at all, replaced by heavy and complex floral tones; it would probably take at least two flowers to describe that range.  Fruit is also present but less forward and intense, now maybe more towards dried apricot.  The warmer range is pleasant, still a light warm mineral with cedar.  As if that wasn't enough there is a vegetal range of aspects that seems to extend across both, as warm, sweet dried autumn leaf tied to the warm part, and towards an actual vegetable matching the lighter tones, or let's say a lot like holy basil (tulsi, to some).

This seems a good place to guess where this is headed; I'd expect transitions to level off this round and then stay stable for most of the rest.  Even minor difference in timing would change brewed tea effect so that could seem like transitions, but not really represent that, if I shift timing a little to longer or shorter.

Third infusion:  warmth picked up; that range increased.  It's interesting how there's so much going on in this that lots of interpretations would make sense [interesting that I wrote that in notes before reading Susmit's description].  This fruit tone could be regarded as any number of things, like dried mango instead, maybe part of that heading towards pumpkin, including citrus peel (a warm version; maybe even grapefruit).  Same for the warmer range.  To me it's quite close to cedar but it's not that far from dried tamarind, or "on the other side" not completely unlike metallic range.  

The floral range is a bigger part of the story I'll probably not do justice to.  One part is rich and heavy, like lavender.  It's more complex than that though, so a hint of sweet depth might seem like rose, or the brighter range like jasmine, just a subdued and integrated version of jasmine.  On the lighter and sweeter side it's more like orchid.  That's a lot of flowers; the range really does seem to cover a lot of scope.  Still it all makes perfect sense together; it integrates.

This is interesting for being one of the more flavor complex teas I've tried in awhile.  The great versions of Darjeeling I've been trying (most from Gopaldhara) were like that but they seemed to often hit 3 or 4 notes hard, with a couple of supporting aspects, and this seems broader, maybe even to represent a range of processing outcomes.  It's not like a blend though, since they probably "got there" by mixing plant versions that may be slightly different genetically (the plants shift in genetic profile as they grow in the wild, as people change in related background over time).  The leaves could've oxidized just a bit differently, as I mentioned, but were all grown and processed together.  Those Darjeeling got the most out of one type of material processed in one way, accentuating novel, positive aspects through consistent processing, which just happened to include enough diverse supporting aspect range to give those good balance. 

Fourth infusion:  this isn't so different than last round, but it did shift a little.  The fruit picked up, evening up with the floral, or maybe moving past it.  It tastes a little like juicyfruit gum, unusually bright and sweet.  I probably did accidentally brew this a few seconds faster, causing warmer range to drop back, and it probably would've shifted a little without that.  

This is the exact opposite of white teas that suffer from either being too subtle, not tasting like much, or not spanning much range, just covering some warm cinnamon with a touch of floral (for shou mei character), or bai mu dan that's floral and sweet with a good bit of melon, and that's it.  The only way that someone wouldn't like this tea is if they are really into other aspect range and aren't flexible about that.  That's wouldn't be as negative as it might seem; someone could get really hooked on sheng pu'er and only make exceptions for some oolong or black tea range, and that would still be plenty to experience.  And I suppose not everyone loves fruit range in teas like I do.

Oddly a Thai Oriental Beauty variation I tried this year isn't so far off this.  It always had reminded me of a white tea more than an oolong, and was heavy on cinnamon and floral tones, maybe with a touch of citrus or light fruit mixed in, but not covering quite as much range as this.  You would think it would've been much more oxidized, matching that typical style, but it really wasn't.  For being moderate cost tea I thought that was great for quality level and novelty, it just didn't land in the typical OB style range.  Then this part is crazy; I liked that tea even better mixed with another white tea to stretch out the range and give it a bit more depth of feel.

Fifth infusion:  I'll leave off here; it's enough to say about one tea, and later transitions won't change an overall impression by much.  Of course this tea will have good durability and will make another 5 very pleasant rounds, using limited timing and high proportion to prepare it.  Balance is just great, and it's still evolving.  The warmth now reminds me of cinnamon, with fruit on to more like cooked peach.  The earlier floral range gave way to that fruit, and the earlier cedar aromatic aspect faded to become that spice, but hints of both give it great depth (in the sense of complexity).

I've said that the feel is rich but I can add to that; in addition to feeling full there is just a hint of dryness that gives it a pleasant edge.  Aftertaste experience is nice, with parts trailing over to make the experience seem longer, for including an extra dimension.  This probably is one of the better white teas I've ever tried.  I expected it to be novel and pleasant but not this complex and refined.  They really nailed it, which had to start with high quality material suited to this plant type.  The best version of a wild source white Monsoon Thai white tea included some similarities, just not quite the same positive result across so much scope.  I thought that was really good even for that; white tea doesn't usually compete with good Darjeeling and fruity oolong for complexity and intensity.

I've not really said where the level of sweetness stands, but explaining a lot about floral and fruit range implied it was above average in level, as I experienced it.  That makes a lot of difference in final effect.  It's hard to imagine a tea including too much natural sweetness, although I suppose that's possible, but if the level is lower that causes tea aspects to not tie together as well.  For a tea like this it could swap out some sweetness for some savory range, like sundried tomato, and that would still work, it would balance.  In saying that this kind of resembles sundried tomato a little too, but to me this last round is closer to dried persimmon, which is related but different.  In between plum and prune works to approximate that, if dried persimmon isn't familiar.

All in all really nice tea.  I expected it to be pleasant but not like this.

Moychay tisane bars: Caucasus blend and Da Hong Pao with Willow Herb


the Caucasus herbs blend version

I've reviewed a few of Moychay's tisane bars in the past, including two from a recent set.  They were all really interesting and pleasant.  I wrote notes for one version two months ago and one a few weeks back but I've not collected them into a post, which I will here.  There is more on what is in these (although the one is fully defined here, the ingredients), and a vendor description, links, and pricing, all in this post, or their website tisane section is here.  These cost about $4 for 50 gram bars; not very much, especially for how good they are, and how unique.

It makes you wonder why the tisane / "herb tea" theme isn't something more common in "the West."  I was drinking mixes of tisanes back in the 90s, that just never evolved to be standard commercial products, or at least popular versions of them.  I remember drinking one called "Immuni-tea" blend from a local shop back then; they had health issues on their mind, and were already doing tea puns.  Chrysanthemum and a few others are around in Bangkok, but not so much back in the US.

I've also been using some of a pandan leaf and lemongrass tisane tea bag someone passed on for blending recently, mixing that with inexpensive Jing Mai sheng pu'er and adding a little chrysanthemum.  It works really well for something to brew "grandpa style" and drink while driving, since the tisanes can handle being brewed quite strong, and caffeine level drops out as a concern.  I'm still drinking plenty of caffeine doing that since the quantity I use is crazy; that should be scaled way back when you don't limit brewing time, and I just don't.  I'll often add room temperature or cool water to completely stop brewing, and to dilute it, so in a sense I am limiting brewing time, part of the time.

Back to the one Moychay real tea (oolong) and herb blend, this stood out because I really like their past pressed Da Hong Pao bar (this, but of course it's sold out now), and if I'm remembering right some earlier willow herb was also pleasant.  Any tisane can seem a little odd when you expect it to be like tea, or can give up complexity in relation to "real tea" character, but what I've tried of willow herb was complex and pleasant.  

I'm not sure how this half tea and half tisane blend works out to make sense for people, but then I guess I just did explain how I've been making a variation of that myself, and why results were positive.  Maybe it's as simple as that, that results are pleasant and limiting caffeine drops out as a concern, since the starting point is on the order of half that of tea (but I don't know the actual proportion).

The other Caucasus blend might have been my favorite of the set of a half dozen or so bars they sent.  It tasted like I remember Sleepy Time tasting, but I bet it was slightly better, given how complex and balanced it seemed.  Or maybe not; I'd have to re-try Sleepy Time, since it's been ages since I tried it (that Celestial Seasoning product).

Da Hong Pao and Willow Herb / Ivan Chay Review:

It's nice.  Again if you expect it to be just "real tea" it might seem off, or atypical.  There is a fairly limited astringency edge; not much of that at all.  There's an interesting warm and fruit flavor range, like dried cherry and cocoa.  Typical dark roasted oolong flavor doesn't stand out a lot in relation to those flavors, neither the higher end slight char edge or the warm mineral base.  To be clear DHP tend to not typically taste burned; the roast input usually settles at a lower level, but that does vary.

This is very nice if someone can appreciate that extra flavor complexity and range as a positive experience.  There's a lot going on, what I take to be cherry, cocoa, a mineral layer, and some non-distinct earthiness.  Intensity is fine.  It doesn't have much astringency edge, just a bit of fullness of feel, which is a little thin as regular teas tend to go.  There aren't flaws, beyond interpreting more that could be present as missing.  Tea expresses a broad range of sharp edge feel and taste effects that this lacks.  Even oolongs, which tend to be smooth and round, have a certain type of intensity of some flavor range, typically, an intense floral range, or creaminess, or other scope for more oxidized or roasted versions.  This is closer to how tisanes come across, but in the middle.

Using really hot water might bump intensity and edge a little; I used just off boiling point water, but skipped a step of prewarming a for purpose ceramic mug that comes with an infuser basket, my favorite device for Western style brewing.  Even then it seems like it's suited for a simple and easy to approach tea experience, like that blend of pandan, lemongrass, chrysanthemum, and Jing Mai sheng pu'er I mentioned brewing grandpa style out running errands.  Brewed light or really strong both would be nice, at the cost of this probably not supporting close scrutiny of Gongfu brewing transitions as well as a well above average quality Wuyi Yancha version would.  Not so different than most random Chinatown shop DHP or Shui Xian, in that regard.

It seems suitable to serve as a comfort tea, something to brew when you don't feel like messing around in the morning, or maybe more suited for afternoon break since caffeine level must be low.  For people not touchy about when they ingest lower doses of caffeine it could be an evening tea.  I would expect this to have similar stomach calming property as shu pu'er, since it's also earthy, smooth, and mild.  I never have stomach problems so in a sense I can't really tell for sure.

a second infusion I brewed a little less inky

I don't know about using it for blending; it's already a blend.  I bring that up because it's been interesting experimenting with the other two bars I've already tried that way, which work out to be better without mixing other things with them, but it's still interesting to try.  Someone could mess around adjusting balance by adding a little black tea or shu, but it's fine as it is.  I retried an inexpensive compressed Dian Hong version recently that might be perfect for that, a Yunnan Sourcing "drunk on red" version.  That tea was not a perfect match for my preference for being a bit tart (I hoped it would fade but it didn't drop out later), but that tartness wouldn't show up much mixed with this.

Caucasus Blend Review:

This is what this is:

Ingredients: Oregano, St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum), alpine thyme, mint, Epilobium willow-herb, sage, raspberry leaf, rose blossom, hawthorn fruit, rowan berries, rose-hip (Fructus Rosae).

Really nicely balanced!  I think the intended health effect is the thing with this, but it's nice that it holds up to a flavor review as well.  Mint stands out for being mint, but it's well-balanced beyond that.  Warm floral tones and a neutral base joins it.  I'm not going to have a lot more to add to that; it's a complex effect, a lot like chrysanthemum with another 4 or 5 things mixed with it. It's a lot like the Sleepytime mix of herbs, maybe leaning a little to the "Zen" blend from there, or maybe I'm remembering wrong and it was Zen.

And that's it; layers of subtle but complex flavor experience combine nicely. But I'm not going to describe it; it just tastes like mild herbs I'm mostly not familiar with, except the mint, and the way chrysanthemum is similar to one part of it.  Sage is my overall favorite plain tisane, and that's in this, but I can't notice it mixed together like that.  

Something in this gives it a feel not unlike that of shou mei, a bit on the full side.  Related to the overall experiential effect I could drink this every other day forever.  Anyone ordering any kind of teas from Moychay should probably add one of these to their cart, or two, since it's about $4.

As to health effects, that's anyone's guess, but it's probably healthy.  I would love to look into that part, and I will try to [which I didn't, a month later].  

I have retried the tea since and my impression is about the same.  It seems relatively complex and balanced as tisanes go; even for mixing them they often come across as one-dimensional, giving up feel and aftertaste range that add a lot to real tea experience.  I couldn't place it but somehow this comes across as complex.  Maybe it's just that a warm and mellow base, other herbs, some light floral and fruit range tones, and a high note touch of mint all balance.  Or feel could be helping.  I don't think it's just that I want and expect to like it, because that's true of all these bars I tried, and I did like all of them but not as much as this one.  It just works.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Wuyi Origin Wuyishan benefit black tea

Cindy sent me some samples to try, really related to acting out of friendship more than for review, but of course I'll mention my impression of some of them here.  

She was kind enough to meet with my friends and I twice this year in that meetup series, in one of those explaining a lot about issues related to Chinese tea production, tied to changes in perspective or demand there for teas:

Tea processing and demand shifts in China

Cindy is just great.  I wish that everyone who is interested in tea could make a Chinese friend like her at some point, in order to gain more perspective and feel more connected to that culture.  Maybe the tea producer or expert part is a bit much to ask, so here I just mean to know someone from that country to add context and perspective.  Three families of my kids' best friends were Chinese, two temporarily working here from there and one just visiting long term, which also involved that kind of exposure, just not focused on tea.

five years ago, but it seems like longer

I miss this girl every time I see her picture

Permit me one more short aside, and I'll get back to the tea theme.  This year I wrote about foreigners' living in China perspective on China, here:

Those Youtubers told two different stories, about a culture that's not so different than anywhere else, very positive in general, and also about a government that keeps a close eye on citizens and foreigners, a bit restrictive in terms of who can say or do different things.  One Youtuber told both stories, related to his own experience shifting from very positive to relatively negative.  I've visited China three times, and it just seemed normal to me, so I'll leave that out as discussion input. 

The issue for the one guy seemed to be that once you gain Youtube following and draw views from criticizing aspects of Chinese society, and government controls, while living in China, the clock is ticking on your welcome there.  It's not necessarily the same in the US, but then maybe if someone was on some sort of temporary visitor visa and they were critical of the US on a public forum like that visa renewal may not go as well.  Probably not though; you could probably be in the US as a student or chef or whatever and actively protest the government and still stick around, and they would never even try to make the connection.  China isn't like that; if foreigners protest government actions there they aren't welcome, and for citizens it would just depend on what they were saying, and who and where they were.

Americans do make it a point to discuss political views online, maybe too often, but in other places criticism is generally ok but only across a limited scope.  Here in Thailand no one can criticize the monarchy (which is illegal), and foreigners probably shouldn't express controversial political views in public social media statements.  Oddly Russians can criticize Putin, per my understanding, but people tend to know the limits.  Free speech isn't one of China's things.

Again this means nothing in relation to the vast majority of everyday life.  People aren't living in fear, oppressed, they just can't set up public inquiry and protest over potential minority rights issues, and they certainly can't research such things for publication on Youtube, to draw views to earn income on what is essentially a banned platform.  They wouldn't necessarily be "disappeared" if they did, but people observe societal norms, as much as they are concerned about risks.  Someone just commented roughly the same thing about Vietnam online (someone from there), that it's a norm to seek out societal problems and publicly criticize the government in some places, but not there, it's just not part of their culture.  That part of it seems to get lost in US based discussion.  Ok, back to the tea.

Cindy described it this way on their website:

Benefit tea ($10 / 50 grams)

This is a black tea that I use my rock tea raw material to process. The variety is Chunlan (春兰)which is a high-flavor variety in Wuyishan rock tea. I use this raw material to process oolong tea every year, and then I processed a little  into black tea version in 2020 and sent it to WuYi Origin Tea Club numbers . This year I also processed a little as benefit tea  which is affordable and you can drink it every day. But the quality is definitely higher than the  regular Tea .

I'm a bit surprised to see that listed at $10 for 50 grams, based on trying it.  This is roughly Yunnan Sourcing upper medium quality Dian Hong pricing, and it's clearly a full level beyond that in terms of tea quality, or maybe two levels, depending on how one arranges them.  "Quality is definitely higher than the regular tea" is an understatement.  I'll just edit the notes to make them readable and that will be the rest of this post.

Not so different than a really good unsmoked Lapsang Souchong. The fruitiness is backed off a little, further into other range, but the rest is similar, the balance and style. There's a nice inky mineral tone, pleasant warmth and underlying mineral, and leather or spice tones. It's the refinement that stands out the most. This is the best black tea I've tried since I last had one of theirs.

[editing note]:  I drink more sheng than oolong or black tea at this point, and I'm definitely not spending much on tea these days, just mostly drinking what I already had or samples, so I've bought no moderately expensive black tea in the past year, or even much at any price.  All the same other notes place just how good this tea seemed to me, and it's not just "above average" tea, it's better than that.

An aspect like a refined wood tone picks up, vegetal, but hard to describe in range. There's spice along with that, and it's not far off fruit range, a hint of citrus with other dried fruit depth, like tamarind. In a different style and quality of tea that one edge might seem like a roast effect but in this it's complex and refined, layered.

Aftertaste effect is much cleaner, more pronounced, and longer than I'm accustomed to. Feel is smooth, not edgy, and just a bit full, not as much to talk about.

Warmer yet; this could really pass for a great version of Lapsang Souchong, if it's not that. There's one distinct set of flavors that matches, what I've already tried to describe. 

Rich sweetness fills in more than I could do justice to. It's like a lot of the flavor range of tasting real maple syrup, that sweetness, richness, and wood tone, especially the effect right after you swallow it, the aftertaste range. Although it is towards wood tone it's very refined, pleasant, and catchy, the opposite of the woodiness in trying to get a second infusion out of a Lipton tea bag.

The fruit is on towards closer to dark cherry too. It's quite good.


That was it, some short notes for being rushed that day, as usual, and fairly burned out on writing 1500 word tea reviews.  I drank other very pleasant rounds but had stopped taking notes.

It was refined, balanced, pleasant, and distinctive.  For that to be selling as an intended moderate cost tea was shocking to me.  That's 20 cents a gram, a bit higher than the standard list of 15 cents a gram mid-range versions, but it's an altogether different thing.  Another vendor could easily turn around and sell this for double or triple that, and even for that higher end pricing people without sourcing as dialed in might be so happy to get it for that.

I consider Cindy a friend, so you should take what I say with a grain of salt.  Maybe I'm hyping it to get people to place an order, or maybe I really think it's fantastic because I want to experience and think that, tied to expectations.  Or maybe they did make and offer crazy good black tea at the completely wrong pricing level to thank her customers.

This is probably better than any tea that I've ever tried from Thailand, of any kind, to put that in perspective (maybe setting aside an aged sheng; it's just too different to compare that range).  It doesn't usually work to extract out an objective quality level judgement like that but in some cases it seems clear enough.

I'd be interested to hear what you think, if you end up trying it, or already have.  It's also possible that I've been drinking so many slightly rustic style teas for so long that moving a bit beyond that, while still retaining part of a related flavor theme, is exactly what I would want to experience.  Again it's the balance, refinement, and depth that makes this so exceptional to me though, not just about a set of flavors, or lacking some other flaws.  

8 year old Kalani

13 year old Keoni