Sunday, September 11, 2022

Moving to Honolulu



I considered using a title about reverse culture shock or other sub-themes, but this is what's up, moving to Honolulu.  It's a staged move, because my kids will start school here now, and I'll work out the year, in part remotely, in part back in Bangkok.  If finding a suitable position doesn't work out maybe I'll roll back the whole plan, but I feel like this has to go through.

Given that context a lot of what I might write about would be struggle on multiple levels, how the last 10 days have went, what it's like to start up relocation and new schooling mostly from scratch.  Or concerns about employment, and whatever else is a work in progress, although that concern really stands out.  Getting specialized data center company quality assurance / ISO support work to transfer to another country is really problematic.  I'll talk about culture issues here instead; it's more interesting, and sounds less like someone going on about problems.  Then a little on what already worked out; that's not so bad.

For initial context my wife and I met here in grad school, and married here, within that two year window.  That first year was really rough for me, all the adjustments, and workload, working and going to school in an academic program that wasn't a great fit, but I loved it here the second year.

Hawaii is a really magical place.  In general I'm not on that page, describing mystical spiritual experiences, but in some places you just naturally feel it, like in Sedona, AZ, Canyonlands national park in Utah, or in Siem Reap, Cambodia temples.  Lots of Thai temples have a great energy.  Or maybe we just imagine such a thing, brought up by stories, and reinforced by running themes and aesthetics?  Here in Honolulu that feeling is muted a bit by crowds of people and the urban setting, but it's still there.  If you can get out just a little and tune it in the experience is really amazing.  I felt blessed to spend that time here, and in a sense it wasn't enough for my wife.

We're here for the kids to go to an American school, not on the mainland instead because she feels more comfortable here, and thought that they would too.  They've always had to deal with being mixed race and nationality in Bangkok, which isn't seen so negatively, but they are different, and here they fit in.  I'm quite sure that it's safer here, with less emphasis on political divides and seemingly artificial conflicts, which lead to real impact, so I'm also ok with that.  Just a bit anxious about getting the details to work out.

This focuses on what I see as changes here, since it's too much to really describe the continuum of Hawaiian local cultures, but I'll add a little on that theme range first.  On the one extreme more local and native people live out a completely different lifestyle and perspective; it's like the difference between the melting pot in US cities and more traditional rural cultures, before radical conservative biases made those place breeding grounds for bad ideas.  

A local family here more or less took in my wife, which is why our kids have Hawaiian names, and share a middle name, that family name.  I can't do justice to describing their perspective, beyond saying that anyone could meet them and love them, so it's nothing exotic or difficult to approach.  They're closer to Asian perspective than mainland American, which only made sense to me after years of living in Thailand.  At first I thought it was about rice preference, warm weather, and appearances, but it's not at all, it's about perspective toward family and social roles, valuing connections more, and even accepting limitations that come with accepting such roles.  They're less focused on themselves, more on where they fit in relation to others, including respect for a local natural environment.

it has been amazing to have local family here

I was in grad school in Honolulu, so I knew next to nothing about all that, about local culture.  A friend joked that we didn't really live in Hawaii, but that we could see it from our school, and it felt a little like that.  Even with frequent outings to the beach; in a sense we weren't really immersed in any local culture, even transplant or tourism oriented culture.

Changes in Honolulu local culture

So what changed here, since that grad school experience 15 years ago?  As superficial differences go there are more homeless people.  It means little to me, in relation to being frightened of them, because I never really feared them before.  It definitely throws off the idealistic appearance, seeing someone sleep on the ground everywhere you go, or very disheveled looking people using the bus beside you.  I feel sympathy for them instead of fear; what they go through I can't imagine.  But then in cycling through countless Youtube video channel themes I ended up watching a few dozen personal stories from homeless people in LA, so I guess I feel let in on ways that can come up, and sort of remain in effect.  

Drug addiction and mental health issues are the primary themes, in those particular videos, at least.  People start out partying or use drugs as a crutch to deal with trauma, or mental illness, and it keeps going downhill from there.  In a strange sense I don't blame them.  I was essentially addicted to weed at one point, before it became legal, and I get it how transition from a social and sustainable habit can lead to the exact opposite.  Luckily my addiction wasn't on the order of opioids and meth in terms of typical impact.

Young people look different; I suppose that always keeps happening.  As a late 80s kid I could completely relate to the 90s, and the 2000s didn't seem so different, maybe just some extra piercings and such here or there, or that hipster aesthetic theme.  Tattoos are really common now, but beyond such minor differences one thing stands out the most:  the trend for young women to have large butts.  It's one thing in a music video or Instagram post and another to see lots of young women walking around who are relatively disproportionate, in relation to primary body shape forms.  How do they do that?  Squats, surgery, I guess it doesn't matter.  That's Waikiki though; surely local Hawaiians aren't looking to Instagram to decide how to change their appearance, whether they're local in the sense of native, or of whatever mixed background instead.

Everything else seems kind of similar to how I remember it.  I changed, or rather my life context did, more than who I feel like I am internally.  I'm a father now, and that role and set of responsibilities defines what I'm doing, or need to do next, at any given time.  It can weigh on me, especially in higher stress times, like during this transition.  But I've raised my kids to try to take things lightly, to see the good in difficulty, and notice the potential fun in every set of circumstances, and especially to not take themselves too seriously.  Keo tries, but he has frequent melt-downs here.  He misses the cat; she really was the glue that held the parts of his world together.  Kalani is so strong and balanced that I'm worried about her bottling up parts of what she feels, but I think she just passes through challenges as if they're nothing much.  She doesn't overthink things, and stress about what might happen, waiting to directly face issues when they actually happen.  Then she acts.  I'll provide an example to clarify that.

I've been talking to my son about what difficulties he might face, and how transition will go, to not be too nervous, and worry if some people don't like him.  As a mixed-race Asian he should be fine, but he sounds like a mainland American, his accent, which is going to give some classmates pause.  Two aunts were also warning him about bullying, a subject we keep talking about.  In discussing that topic related to Kalani they came to the exact same conclusion I did independently about her:  she won't be bullied, because if anything she will be the bully.  Or rather the one stepping in when anyone is being treated unfairly, and setting things right.  She's so small but she has an inner power about her.  And a unique physicality; no kid her size should step up to challenge her, for their own sake.  At one point I was worried about her being a victim and taught her how to throw a punch, and later it seemed like maybe I shouldn't have, because she can really dig into the body practicing it on me.

They both know not to fight.  We were just joking that Keoni's intro to Hawaii might be getting a swirlie from his super-sized Hawaiian classmates, but I made sure to be clear that I think nothing like that will really come up.  Hawaiians are great, until you give them a unreasonable degree of reason to show you their darker side.  Misunderstandings could come up, from visiting an off-limits local beach or whatever, but even then they would shoo you rather than acting hastily.  One guy I knew here did get dropped by a giant islander at a party, who one-punched every white guy on his way out of a Big Island gathering, but that kind of thing is an exception.  In two years of living here I crossed paths with two local people who seemed to resent me being white; not so bad.  Both only strongly implied it; even that scope, disliking me related to race and cultural background, they were nice about.

So to me Honolulu and Hawaii is still great, I'm just overly caught up in my own conditions at this point.  That would happen anywhere, less than two weeks in.

Running has been nice to help establish continuity, but I've only done that twice so far.  Of course swimming in the ocean has went even better.  We just bought a second boogie board today; we'll check that out soon.

we swam out to that flag once, 230 yards or so out, but didn't see the turtles there yet

It helps most that the people I care for most moved here with me.  I think that's why Kalani feels so stable; in her eyes the background changed but the rest didn't.  The cats we left with a sitter are the exception, especially Myra; we all miss her dearly.

Maybe this tangent won't exactly integrate with the other themes, but one neighbor is cool here, so nice.  And a bit unconventional, but he wouldn't work as well as a person without some of that.  It was comforting experiencing meeting him early on across a few levels, as a good sign, an indication of local support, and starting into a sense of community.  I never really felt that in Thailand, the entire time.  I felt at-ease and in-place but the context couldn't have been clearer that I wasn't one of them, and never would be.  

About that friendly neighbor Kalani once commented "he has a good life," and I think that sums it up, and how perceptive she really is.  Who reads people, based on fragments of impressions, as an 8 year old?  She does.  And related to him a few words here and there really brought across how welcoming he is, and how his own life experience covers some cool scope.  He invited Kalani down to do some resin based painting; that was really what triggered that comment.

American food experiences

I'll keep this part short, but a couple of unusual experiences stand out.  Living in Thailand has been great for access to inexpensive, healthy food; I've been living on fresh fruits and vegetables for 15 years.  Here those would be quite expensive, and preparation time could easily be a significant problem, at least for cooking the vegetables.  The US produces and sells a broad range of very inexpensive snack and desert items, and we've been living on many of those for nearly two weeks.  It started with Ben and Jerry's ice cream, pop tarts, and a tub of cookie dough, and Goldfish crackers, which we do have in Thailand.  

Even fast food is expensive in comparison with the low cost of these relatively empty calories, which come in delicious forms.  $60 for a fast food meal doesn't seem like much, for a family of 5, but in Thailand we never tended to spend the equivalent (2000 baht) on much healthier restaurant meals.  Cost of living works out like; it's normal.

It would be difficult and expensive to return to my Thai diet standard here.  On a tight budget I just couldn't.  The kids will have school meals, hopefully healthy versions, to fill part of that gap.  I'll have to be careful about retaining some balance, or I could change body weight over a period of months instead of years.  Keo must have put on a couple of pounds in the past week, although at his last health check for school it seemed that he hadn't yet.

School update:  Kalani's first day

Kalani went to school on Friday, in a local school so close you can see it from our balcony.  She said that all the kids were really friendly, and a couple of the girls are already her friends.  We met one the next day, when I'm editing this, part of a Japanese family that hasn't been here so long.  There is a Thai kid in her class but she's not talked to him yet; that'll come, but it won't be necessary for it to serve as a social tie, to compensate for organic connections not coming quickly.  I suppose that Japanese family could be our friends here too; that's how that went in the past, with one Japanese class-mate's parents one of the nicest people I knew in Bangkok.

It could be more challenging for Keo.  Being 13 is different; freshmen in high school have a lot of social issues to balance, without factoring in being a foreigner, or new to a local culture.  Or representing a less well-regarded outside culture, if they interpret him as a mainlander, which of course he's not, having only visited the continental US a few times.

A few more brutal errand days have brought it all that much closer to narrowed down to only getting a job yet to do.  We have wifi, re-activated an old credit union account, and I have an appointment to renew my license next week.  I'll meet a solitary online tea contact here towards the end of next week.

Given the transition and introspection themes I should be able to close this on a catchy life-lesson theme, right?  Not so much, but maybe a little.  It makes all the more sense to me why people don't do this sort of thing in the second half of their life, like we are doing.  Maybe as a retirement theme, but that's really something else.  We're shopping at thrift shops, weighing out where the dollars are going, even walking a good bit for transportation.  This post skipped a main sub-theme related to moving under absurd conditions, packing things people just wouldn't pack, taking two night-flights to keep that expense moderate while also scheduling it last minute, adjusting for when our apartment was available.  The first day we moved here we moved 20+ bags and boxes into an empty apartment to discuss lease terms; the landlord just kept saying "this isn't how this normally goes."  We sleep on the floor; we own less chairs than we have family members.

This isn't a sob story about what I suffer through, to be clear; in fact it's the opposite.  It's a challenge but also a privilege to struggle in this way.  And I don't regret that my kids have to endure it.  One of the main things that shapes and builds up children is providing them with challenges that they can overcome, and this is a huge set of those.  That's the life-lesson, I guess.  People would be crazy to take it to this extreme, but we aren't at the far practical limit yet.  I'm not doing this alone and unsupported; I owe my company, and one person in particular, a huge debt of gratitude for making this possible.  

I hope to look back on the fantastic things my kids accomplish and see this one crazy fork in the road as a big part of what enabled that.  Or if they go on to do very mundane things, and struggle themselves, that's fine, and I'll keep supporting them.  I'm just as Asian as I am a part of mainland American culture, and we don't write off family members so easily, or embrace our own independence and space by distancing ourselves from others.  Like they said in Lilo and Stitch, Ohana means family, and family means that no one gets left behind.  I hope that the magic here enables me to do amazing things myself, and I'll mention it if it works out like that, but probably will focus more on how my kids are doing, which also describes my life in general.

The story in pictures

a Thai uncle back in Bangkok passed on since we've been here; much love to him

family saw us off at the airport; that was a nice start

an insane amount of luggage

a rough two day set of flights, here in Tokyo

so nice, but a little rough edged still

Kalani's school

Keo's school, with some of Honolulu in the background

the errands take a toll

all of Honolulu has a nice look, not just the beaches or parks

at Keo's school

Monday, August 29, 2022

Vietnamese black teas from Hoàng Su Phì and Lai Châu


First published in TChing here

Recently I've been trying pleasant wild origin material sheng versions from the Viet Sun vendor, passed on by an American contact who founded that business, Steve Shafer.  Those were distinctive and pleasant, and Vietnamese black teas can also be exceptional.  Or any types, really, but the rolled oolongs seem to clearly be a Taiwanese style input, and sheng are mostly varying copies of Yunnan style pu'er (with two of those three a little different in style).  As with Vietnamese green teas the black tea versions can vary a lot, some quite unique and distinctive.  I first visited Vietnam and tried versions from there before my blog started, but an early post was about picking up interesting versions in a second trip to Hanoi awhile back. 

The Viet Sun range seems to mostly relate to wild origin oriented material; let's start with if these are that:

Hoàng Su Phì Big Tree Black

A really pretty (all qualities) black tea from Hoàng Su Phì, Hà Giang.

This tea was produced from ancient trees growing at around 1600m in elevation. 

The first thing I notice when drinking this tea is the thick mouthfeel. The fragrance is quite sweet and builds after a few cups. The sweetness is also complex like caramel and forest flower honey... 

The qi builds slowly. It creeps up throughout the session. I usually feel it getting strong by about the 5th cup. 

Season: Spring 2022

Picking Standard: 1 bud, 2 leaves

Region: Hoàng Su Phì, Hà Giang

Elevation: 1600m

It looks like a Dian Hong style tea, like a related version made from Assamica plants.  At $21 / 100 grams the pricing seems value oriented, if this is as good as it looks.  I take the "ancient trees" part with a grain of salt, but it probably is from mixed age, wild origin context plants, which is generally positive for a few reasons.  Final product aspects can be nice from those, and it's unlikely that a producer would take chemical fertilizer and pesticide out into a forest to treat local plants already growing there.

Lai Châu Secret Forest Black ($26 / 100 grams)

This is another really interesting tea from Phong Thổ, Lai Châu.

Producing this tea requires a long walk into the ancient tree gardens at over 2200m in elevation. Picking the leaves to make this tea is also an arduous task as some of the trees here grow over 20m tall!

The tea trees used to make this tea are a non-Sinensis, Camellia varietal. Research on exactly which varietal they are is still pending!

This tea is more restrained initially in fragrance and flavor compared to Lai Châu Forest Black as more of the fragrance is hidden in the liquor.

This tea brews up with a thick pale copper colored soup. The flavor is really complex. You'll notice a woody- tree root caramel flavor that starts building in the throat after a few cups. Sweet almost chewy huigan lasts well after the session has finished. I like brewing it at 85-90 degrees for shorter and then longer steeps.

This is a strong tea with an intense qi. It puts me in a tea-drunken stupor every time I drink it. Not for the faint-hearted!

Season: Spring 2022

Picking Standard: 2-3 leaves and some buds

Region: Phong Thổ, Lai Châu

Elevation: 2200m

Of course the qi input won't be clear at all for trying these together, one trade-off to that approach.  I don't tend to notice that very much anyway, mostly only related to when it stands out in sheng pu'er versions.  The part about the plant type being unique and unidentified is interesting; that comes up a good bit here in Thailand too.  Genetics of plants can drift over time, and there are versions beyond standard variety Sinensis and Assamica around, I guess related to Taliensis and whatever else.  It's not unusual for tea from such plant types to express unique flavors.


Hoang Su Phi:  A bit light and twisted in style, similar in appearance to Dian Hong, a Yunnan black tea style.  The brewed liquid color is rich but slightly less red than the other, probably related to a backed-off oxidation level.  The flavor is subtle still; this will need another round to get started.  What shows up so far is really nice, in that roasted yam or sweet potato range common to Dian Hong, maybe with a bit of cinnamon beyond that.  Depth of this is good, richness and complexity.

Lai Chau:  This looks darker, more conventionally fully oxidized, as most black tea outside of Yunnan styles tend to be prepared.  It's more intense, which is just about starting faster, at this point.  An interesting savory range stands out, like sun-dried tomato.  It will also be easier to extend that to a flavor list next time.  

Overall effect in this is positive already, even for it being a bit light still, the rich feel, sweetness, and overall complexity.  It may include a touch of menthol edge, or mintiness; that can be a really interesting and positive inclusion in some tea versions.  For black tea I mainly remember it coming up for Ruby / Red Jade / #18, a Taiwanese cultivar, and a wild origin version from Laos, which may be closer to this context.  It was amazing in that version, more like wintergreen mint than menthol, which to me worked much better.

Hoang Su Phi second infusion:  these are both beautiful teas, the look of the leaves and brewed liquid.  The scent of just the wetted leaves is amazing, rich and deep for this version, with a couple of distinctive aspect notes in the other.  Depth of the experience stands out in this tea, more so than the intense, forward flavors.  It does include roasted sweet potato / yam (a bit light to be distinct, as one), and some cinnamon range, and a touch of fruit, maybe a bit towards dark cherry.  Wood or other spice tones add depth.  All of that is subtle though, compared to the rich depth of the total experience, and over-all effect.  

There's a pretty good chance that this is along the line of a shai hong style, backed off oxidation with sun-drying, a style that ages particularly well, picking up greater depth and even flavor intensity over a few years time.  It's good now; I don't mean that it needs transition to become better, only that it seems likely that it has the potential for it.

Lai Chau:  that sun-dried edge evolved into something much stronger and different, still tied to that range, but adding a lot of mineral depth, and fruit range that starts a bit towards sourness.  Not sour in the sense of a tea being off, I mean similar to how apple cider comes across, after darkening and picking up richer tones through moderate flavor transition.  It's unusual, and easy for me to appreciate, related to liking a broad range of tea types, but I guess it could be challenging for some.  The fruit, mineral, and slightly sour edge remind me more of a tisane experience, towards roselle or something such, but with more depth and savory base.  The menthol / mint edge didn't evolve, now hard to make out in relation to that other stronger flavor range.

Hoang Su Phi third infusion:  letting that brew slightly longer than the other version seemed to even up intensity, or it was probably ramping up anyway.  Depth of roasted sweet potato or yam, cinnamon, and fruit range are really pleasant in this, changing in intensity, proportion, and expression but not shifting in flavor-list form.  It helps that this is one of my favorite styles of black tea, or maybe my overall favorite.  That rich flavor intensity and great depth with no limitations related to astringency or negative range is really pleasant.  Feel has nice thickness, and some aftertaste experience extends the experience.

Lai Chau:  this balances better this round, with rich fruit and warmer tones balancing back out with that mineral and sour fruit range.  The savory edge is easier to appreciate again, and that hint of mint even stands out a little, not as a main part of the experience, but as an extra note adding complexity.  The part I'm describing as sour really isn't that, in the most conventional sense, but it works to describe it as in between the experience of sun-dried tomato and natural pressed apple cider.  It's fruity with some savory range and an edge extending further, with all that leaning towards a rich floral tisane.

Hoang Su Phi, fourth infusion:  as described, not really evolving, but really pleasant as that form.  This compares really well to Yunnan Dian Hong / Shai Hong for this character type, complexity, depth of experience, and value.

Lai Chai:  more of a one-note experience at this stage, with a lot of other range and depth filling that in.  This is better for novelty of experience, for being so unique, but related to pleasantness and match to my own personal preference the other is nicer.  For someone who loves Taiwanese black teas more than Yunnan versions that might be reversed.  Either way that sun-dried tomato range experience is cool, a nice effect, with the rest balancing it.

Later infusions:  the Hoang Su Phi held up for intensity, brewing another several positive infusions.  If anything the Lai Chai version improved, with the dominant slightly sour fruit aspect fading, with other range filling in and balancing nicely.  Both teas should be fine brewed Western style, given how brewing results worked out, but I would still use a Gongfu approach for them myself.

It's hard to summarize these in terms of quality, or character in relation to other versions, or match to my preference.  They're good; these were clearly well-made teas, prepared from good material.  The Lai Chau was unique and distinctive instead of matching a standard type form, which could be more or less positive depending on match to personal preference.  The Hoang Su Phi held its own against typical Dian Hong aspect complexity, intensity, and overall positive character, better than most versions you find.  I suspect it may be common for Yunnan producers to harvest sheng producing plants in the spring and fall, and to use a summer harvest in between to produce that black tea type, and the result is a low intensity, related to the plants being forced to produce too much material.  For both teas overall balance, refinement, and richness stood out.

Often Vietnamese teas can be inconsistent, in styles that can at times extend beyond the conventional type ranges, or with strengths and weaknesses that are unique.  One flavor character input in one of these was distinctive, probably tied to using a unique plant type input, but otherwise both fell within standard higher quality black tea range, not unusual or flawed in any ways.  As with the sheng both examples highlighted the unique appeal of exploring tea range beyond standard Chinese, Indian, and Japanese types.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Viet Sun Vietnamese oolong and white teas


I'm trying the last two samples of teas from Viet Sun, more wild origin, local versions sent by Steve Shafer for feedback and review (many thanks).  All have been exceptional so far, exemplifying why exploring well above average versions of teas from SE Asian areas can be so interesting.  

I have some pre-conceptions about what these might be like, based on trying other things, but it will be as well to add his descriptions during editing and get right to the tasting, talking about the actual experience instead of guessing about it ahead of time.

Pu Ta Leng White ($28 per 100 grams), with more background on their FB page

A special tea from the upper slopes of Pu Ta Leng Mountain. The raw material for this tea comes from ancient trees growing at an altitude of 2200m+. Some of the trees here are 20-30m tall! The leaves of these trees take on a dark-green purplish color and have a wild look to them.

The tea trees used to make this tea are a non-Sinensis, Camellia varietal. Research on exactly which varietal they are is still pending!

This is a tea for purple tea lovers! This tea has a wonderful sweet sour, fruity floral fragrance with a tingling cooling sensation that builds in the throat.

The qi is energizing and uplifting. Drinking this tea always puts me in a great mood.

Longer steeps at 80-90 degrees work well for me.

Sunset Old Tree Oolong ($35 for 100 grams)

A strip style oolong produced from old (100-300+ year old) Shan varietal trees growing in the Hoàng Su Phì area of Hà Giang.

This is a unique tea. Assamica oolongs are typically much harsher than their Sinensis counterparts so processing and storage play a major role in the production of this tea.

This tea was produced in Autumn of 2020.

Producing this tea requires some real skill. The tea maker actually won the Tea Master's Cup a few years ago. After production the tea has a nice fragrance, strong qi but the flavor is quite harsh and unbalanced. Aging for 2 years in an ideal environment has really brought this tea to a wonderful state.

The flavor is complex. I pick up notes of savory warming spices with a peppery floral fragrance. Thick sweetness with a medium-thick body depending on how strong you brew it. It has this softening effect that spreads and finishes with a bit of a tannic bite.

I like brewing it at 85-90 for shorter and then longer steeps.

Sounds good.  It's interesting that a guess about cost in the notes matches these prices, which really are a great value for what these teas are, especially the white tea version.  I've tried purple leaf tea versions before but nothing like this white tea, and only sheng and black tea made from leaves described as such.  It's unconventional, which matches those, but not really jammy or including an odd sour note, as some other examples have.

It's an interesting comment about Assamica oolongs typically being harsher.  I can only think of three examples that I've tried, beyond Indian teas presented as oolong, which is always a bit hard to place, almost also so far off Chinese oolong style that direct comparison isn't meaningful.  Those three weren't harsher (one from Yunnan and two from Vietnam), but they weren't as smooth, rich, and light in character.  Maybe that other range could be interpreted as harsher, and it's more about use of concepts than interpretation of aspects.  Here's a link to reviewing two of them.


Pu Ta Leng white:  really novel.  I end up saying something like that a lot, but it's true in a different sense for this tea.  Depth and complexity hasn't filled in, since this is only the first infusion, but there is a range of novel flavor aspects that I've not experienced before.  It's fruity, a bit subtle, sweet, and distinctive, with an almost champagne-like character, so it leans a little towards a light Darjeeling, but it's not remotely close to that typical range.  Citrus is part of it, but something else really interesting is going on, maybe towards a light spice range, but almost like a version of alcohol.  Breaking that apart one might come up with fruit, floral, spice range, but it's something else in actual effect, closer to some sort of wine range, although it may be Northwestern US Pinot Noir scope instead of Champagne.  It'll be interesting to see how it evolves.

Sunset oolong:  that's about as novel, again completely unfamiliar range.  It doesn't offer the same degree of immediate connection, a "hook" effect, that the other did, but it's perhaps even more promising related to how this might unfold.  It's much more intense, and just as novel.  Of course there are warm tones, rich fruit, and a touch of dryness from the oxidation level input, but the specific flavor range is the interesting thing.  

One inclusion is towards citrus, like red grapefruit.  A richer depth reminds me a little of autumn leaf, a very rich version of that range, the smell right when the leaves falling peaks, not yet dry, but not too wet either.  Or interpretation as roasted butternut squash wouldn't be unreasonable, but to me it's rich in a different way than that.  That dry tannin edge supports the rest, although it would also be fine without it.  With the much greater intensity aftertaste also extends further than for the first version; it remains an evolving experience after you swallow the tea.   This could be sold as a black tea and no one would question that; it's quite oxidized.  It's a bit different than the Oriental Beauty theme, where intense fruit and some spice combine, but oxidation level  and some parts of that general effect apply.

Both lived up to expectations for being novel, complex, balanced, and expressing no significant flaws.  To account for the intensity difference I'll pour the oolong first, brewing both for in the range of 10 seconds, just under for that and over for the white tea.

Pu Ta Leng white, second infusion:  so much depth increased, even for the very fast infusion time.  This is a really exceptional tea.  I end up saying or implying that all the time, since I only review teas that I like, and don't generally run across the most conventional examples, but this is something else.  Spice is definitely part of what is going on with this, all the clearer because the tone warmed.  It has a light citrus fruit edge too.  It's hard to be clearer on which spice and which form of citrus; it's not so far off cinnamon, but not that, and the lighter and sweeter citrus last round is evolving more into a dark orange tone, like a blood orange.  

An overall effect is what maps to an alcohol / wine / champagne range.  Do you know how tisanes can often be very positive even though the flavor can seem very one dimensional?  This is the opposite.  Even though the flavor isn't intense it covers decent range, but a lot in the context of what is experienced relates to depth.  I don't connect with white teas that don't taste like much but this isn't that, even though the general tone is subtle and light, and there isn't a long list of flavors to cover.  Maybe I'm missing an input that really gives it appeal, like a hint of tangerine making the rest balance and seem catchy.  Or that could just be floral tone depth showing through, acting as a base, the kind of thing that mineral range usually covers for sheng pu'er.

Sunset oolong:  the same, just a bit different.  Warm tones increased, which kind of comes across as a bark spice, or just plain bark edge.  Depth picks up as some sun-dried tomato range joins in, which isn't so different than the first round, just more pronounced.  There's plenty of fruit range too, and that significant dry edge.  It's hard to unpack any of it, since it comes across as complex but simpler than the flavor list version would sound.  A floral input seems rich and heavy, like rose, with the red grapefruit citrus vague or else transitioned this round.  This seems in between a Dian Hong (Yunnan black) and Oriental Beauty range, with some novel flavor range not completely common to either.  It's interesting.

Pu Ta Leng white, third infusion:  this evolved to taste a lot like peach or nectarine; that's pretty cool.  Maybe it was always a peach aspect that seemed extra catchy, and I was having trouble sorting it out from the rest.

Sunset oolong:  spice tones switch around, both the form and balance.  This includes a spice range element that's not completely unlike soap, which works a lot better than it sounds.  Fruit complexity stands out more, and that rich and savory sun-dried tomato depth, along with a roasted squash sort of deep flavor range.  Pumpkin maybe, instead, Thai or Japanese pumpkin as opposed to the orange jack-o-lantern kind.  It has a lot going on though, as I've already listed out.

Pu Ta Leng white, fourth infusion:  not exactly fading, but reducing intensity requires extending timing more than I did this round.  I could try a long-brewed round to share how that goes, out towards 30-40 seconds.

Sunset oolong:  oddly that astringency edge isn't fading, even though the flavor intensity is dropping out a bit already.  It's still quite complex and positive, but stretching infusion time to add flavor intensity back in will surely ramp up that dry feel edge and structure.  I think on the light side, as this is, is probably optimum now.

Pu Ta Leng, fifth infusion:  this is perfect for stretching intensity by adding time, since the feel always had some depth but no real dryness or edge.  Citrus bumps a bit from that change, as warm underlying tones also do.  An effect that comes across as slightly vegetal joins in, nothing negative at all, maybe just a touch of green wood tone.  I'll leave off the note taking but I think this has the potential to brew a few more very positive rounds, and keep stretching to make more tea after that.

Sunset oolong:  it is a lot drier brewed that bit stronger, more intense in a way that only black tea drinkers might appreciate.  This is still in the really good orthodox Assam black tea level of astringency, not so pronounced.  The flavor edge that matches that is interesting, not exactly malt, as in Assam, but a warm bark-tone theme that's not so far off, in one sense.  


A minty sort of note evolved in the white tea version after further infusions; it stayed just as positive through a long cycle.  The oolong was positive through more rounds too, but my personal preference really clicked better with the white tea version.

It's interesting that both of these don't really remind me of any other tea types.  I suppose the first might be closest to a Baozhong, a light Taiwanese oolong, definitely not like any white tea I've ever tried.  This oolong is in an unusual place in between Oriental Beauty, Dian Hong, and orthodox Assam range, just as close to black tea character as any oolong, maybe even more oxidized than some teas presented as lightly oxidized black tea.  

They're both quite good.  For being so high in quality and unusual in style I'm not sure what that relates to for a market rate price.  There wouldn't be one.  It will be interesting to go back and see how these are priced then.  If I had seen no other listings from them I would guess in the 40 cent per gram range, but for seeing other really good teas priced lower maybe it's 30 instead.  Setting value aside the experience of these is really unique, and both are so well-balanced, complex, and pleasant that it would be nice to drink quite a bit of either.

a recent temple visit

missing my cat daughters lately, separated related to some transitions going on

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Thai wild origin black tea from Aphiwat of Gaw Khee Cha


I'm reviewing a Thai wild origin material black tea version sent by Aphiwat Kokhue along with Thai sheng that I ordered not long ago.  I reviewed that sheng here, with a second try of a related maocha version here, compared to another Thai and Vietnamese version, and with a Facebook business page for them here, for Gaw Khee Cha.  Other background relates to Aphiwat being from the Aker indigenous group; I'll share a few pictures placing that part at the end.

This is going to be good.  I've tried other tea from them a couple of years ago, and there was never any version that wasn't significantly above average in terms of being pleasant, well-made, and high in quality level.  Style can vary a bit, but positive results have not, at least so far.  It will be interesting placing these in relation to trying two Vietnamese black tea versions recently; I'll mention in the notes if anything stands out, parallels or contrasts, or a general quality comparison.  The posts will seem to go up in reverse order since I submitted that to TChing for use, but that review will still also appear here.  On with it then.


First infusion:  I gave this a long enough soak that I won't be saying that I'll be able to tell what it's like more next round, over 10 seconds, and it's probably a bit strong for infusing that long.  Different black teas infuse at different rates, and it's hard to tell from looking at dry leaf how that's going to go.  I would assume that it relates to how rolled / kneaded the leaf was, and oxidation level, but what would I know.

It is interesting!  In the other Vietnamese black tea review mentioned I kept going on about a savory note in one, which tasted like sun-dried tomato, and this includes such a thing.  I'm not sure if this will evolve to a sour fruit range with lots of mineral base, as that did, or if it will transition to something else.  This includes fruit too, a little towards black cherry, but the moderate sourness / tartness stops it from coming across as that.  That effect would probably be different brewed slightly lighter, and teas often shift in character over the first few rounds, so it's early to guess what it will be like.  Intensity is good, and balancing sweetness level, and warm mineral tones.   This is clean in effect, without notable flaws, unless one sees that one flavor aspect as a poor match for preference.  To me it's good, and I expect it will keep improving.

Second infusion:  better balanced, for being brewed quite fast, but probably erring on the too-fast side, a few seconds of infusion time.  I wanted to really place what that higher infusion strength input was contributing, and brewing a round a bit light will help with that.  It goes without saying in these reviews that brewing is Gongfu style and proportion is maxed out; it's just how I almost always prepare teas.  

This hits on so many levels that there isn't one aspect that stands out as primary.  Sweetness is there, but a fruit range that doesn't seem tied to sweetness stands out, maybe closest to a tart version of cherry right now.  Warm mineral depth isn't just a base, it's on an even level with the rest for intensity.  Complexity and flavor intensity is so developed that I think warm floral range and some limited degree of spice is present beyond those main ranges.  It's so intense in flavor that it carries across in aftertaste experience.  

Third infusion:  probably improving, but not so different than before.  There's an interesting feel I've not described yet, a fullness and dryness.  It reminds me a little of how really good Assam can come across, a hint of the feel that ties to cheaper, lower quality, maltier and rougher versions.  Now that I think of it this should be described as malty too.  Not malty in the sense of Ovaltine or malted milk balls, but malty in the sense that Assam is, a drier version of that.  This is closer to a really good version of orthodox Assam than to Dian Hong; strange.  I wonder if this material wasn't grown at lower elevation, and hot climate input didn't contribute to that.  Probably not, since this is from the Chiang Rai area, and it's typically a bit higher up, and cooler; it's probably just a coincidence that it worked out like that for style.

So far I've said that this is a bit malty, and slightly sour, like sour cherry, with plenty of warm mineral base, and other range more like other floral input.  All that works, but there is more to it than that.  The way those warm tones work together this almost tastes a bit like a lightly roasted coffee.  It's still in a good quality tea range, of course, but there's an intensity and depth across a warm toned range that matches that general theme, more than it tastes exactly like coffee.  It's a bit unique in that sense; I don't remember the same general effect coming up.  Sweetness level balances that well enough but with just a bit lighter tone, more sweetness, and a touch more warm fruit range this would be amazing, instead of just really novel and pleasant.  I guess someone could add sugar to it, and accomplish half of that transition, I'm just not in the habit of doing that to tea this good.  I just ate longan and banana for breakfast, before this tasting, it could also be that the really sweet breakfast shifted my palate in terms of expectations and judgment.

Fourth infusion:  this keeps getting better; that's an interesting effect.  I would say that it picks up depth and balance but it seems pretty deep and reasonably well balanced across the whole cycle.  It's that the proportion of aspects I've already described keeps shifting, with those integrating better now than in the earlier rounds.  Feel seems richer as opposed to a touch dry now too, with aftertaste more pleasant for being based on that feel and a more balanced flavor set.  

Other than being a lot better tea than one would typically eat breakfast with this would be perfect for that role, complementing rich and sweet foods, or I suppose it could even work with more savory range, as Thais tend to eat for breakfast.  It still does include a sun-dried tomato savory aspect range, it's just diminished and a secondary tone that balances the rest now, where it really stood out instead in the first two rounds.  I had thought fruit might evolve in some other way, but this is still tasting like a tart cherry, with warm floral tone developing as secondary range more.

the pictures get redundant but it was beautiful in appearance

Fifth infusion:  not evolving or changing much, but not fading in the slightest either.  This might have 5 more positive and intense rounds to go, and a late stage transition could be even more positive than it has been so far, which is already quite pleasant.  The warm tone shifts a little towards cocoa, and tartness eases up, so to a limited extent it is still improving, just less quickly than before.  Maybe I will give this one more slightly longer infusion and see how that goes, probably around 15 seconds.

Sixth infusion:  it seems like even minor shifts in infusion strength affect how that warm tone and feel come across, in relation to lighter tones, fruit, and floral range showing through.  It seems drier and heavier in tone brewed even that little bit stronger.  Aftertaste picks up too, and the intensity of the experience.  There's not enough range that one would tend to see as negative for this being stronger to seem like a problem, so it's down to optimizing effects and balance, not avoiding any.


A unique and very good black tea.  It was interesting that the style leaned a little towards really good orthodox Assam, a version that included a good bit of fruit, instead of really good Dian Hong.  That probably related as much to a relatively random plant type input as anything else.  It was also interesting that the tea kept seeming better and better, that it evolved so much in character over so many rounds, and all the changes were from it seeming like a good tea to an exceptional one.  It wasn't done where these notes left off either; it made another half dozen very pleasant infusions, just as good as the fifth and sixth.

In the other post I had mentioned about Vietnamese teas (Viet Sun black tea versions) I talked about how novel plant type input probably caused one to be really distinctive, maybe in a way one could interpret as matching some aspects of good Taiwanese black tea.  Minor variations in processing steps and that plant material input difference, along with terroir / growing conditions input, all can lead to these types of wild origin input versions being quite unique.  Or at least I think that's what this is; I've only discussed the teas in general a little with Aphiwat, not a confirmation of this version's background.

I also mentioned that I would share some photos he shared of Aker indigenous people wearing traditional clothing, as follows.  There are more photos of the tea itself, and pictures of people and his family, in this post from three years ago.  It was interesting re-reading a naming convention issue related to his tribe name, which at first I thought was Akha, but that turned out to be wrong, per his description:

We are not Archer Arkhar. The real name is Aownye Gaokhue, or Aownyer Kokhue.  But other people call us Archer Arkha.

So apparently they end up designated as a sub-group of a main indigenous group, the Akha, but they see that as misidentification, since they're not related to that other group.  And then he later clarified that using Aker as a short version of designation is probably most accurate, or at least it's acceptable.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

More Vietnamese sheng, 2022 Ta Cu Ty and 2020 Suoi Giang

I'm trying more teas from Viet Sun, provided for review by Steve Shafer, a contact I should've said more about in a review I wrote notes for yesterday (at time of tasting).  Steve is a former chef, an American living in Vietnam, which is all I was going to add here too.  We talk more about tea than our backgrounds whenever we have talked.

These areas don't mean much to me, but then even the most main areas, like Ha Giang province, I can't identify in relation to typical character or aspects, like flavors.  To a limited extent the plant types, local climate, soil type, and local conventional processing style could make for a local character to a tea version, but really any of these could vary over a very small area too, and teas could be dis-similar.  Microclimate would change with elevation, degree of sun exposure, etc., and growing conditions would vary in relation to other plant types around, how the land caught weather and held moisture, and so on.

The Son La version I tried yesterday was nice (these notes have been set aside for awhile).  A bit of smoke contact and flavor people would take differently, and the moderate degree of bitterness could seem ideal to people who value that, or high to people who try to avoid it.  Or not high enough too, I guess.  The positive tea quality was unmistakable; it was well made tea from good plant material.  I'd expect the same of these.

Let's add the vendor page descriptions of these for contact first:

Tả Củ Tỷ (I've skipped the accents in the other written versions; it's all spelled wrong, in a sense)

$23 for 100 grams (good value for tea this good)

The trees growing in this area of Tả Củ Tỷ have leaves that are longer and narrower than the typical Assamica-Shan varietals growing in northwest Vietnam. The leaves used to make this tea come from a mix of old trees (100+ years old) and Ancient trees (200+ years old)

The fragrance and flavor of this tea is complex and really interesting. Something like menthol with lotus and fragrant woods. You'll notice a building cooling sensation in the throat after a couple of cups of this tea. I'd say the bitterness and astringency is at a 6 out of 10.

It brews up strong quickly with a medium-thick body. Qi is energizing and focused without being overpowering. Floral cooling huigan lasts well after the session has ended.

Season: Spring 2022

Picking Standard: 1 bud, 2-3 leaves

Region: Tả Củ Tỷ, Lào Cai

Elevation: 1100m

I'm sure that what I've said in the following completely conflicts that description, but since I'm trying it two weeks later during the editing process it sounds right, versus what I just drank.  There's probably something subtle along the lines of dried fruit that I may not have mentioned either.

Suối Giàng 2020, ($38 for 235 gram cake, $50-some for a standard 357 gram amount, pretty good)

Suối Giàng is probably the most well known Shan tea producing area in Vietnam and this tea comes from in my opinion, some of the best ancient tree gardens there.

This tea was only produced two years ago (2020) but has already taken on a semi-aged flavor. There is a thick, complex, jammy plum sweetness aroma and taste. A pleasing gentle bitterness and astringency pairs nicely with the heavy sweetness of this tea.

Deep sweet plum huigan and relaxing qi.

This tea is quite flexible. Don't be afraid to push the brewing temperature and time. 

235 gram stone pressed cakes

Season: Spring 2020

Picking Standard: 1 bud, 2 leaves

Region: Suối Giang, Yên Bái

Elevation: 1400m

Sounds good.  I never will go back and compare my notes version to this, the usual process,  but the general character impression is similar.


Ta Cu Ty on left in all photos

Ta Cu Ty:  a bit subtle yet; I skipped the rinse this time, in part to vary approach, and in part because one of the two Thai teas I reviewed lost one positive round from that practice.  Warm tones stand out, for this being a 2022 sheng version, not so far from the Thai tea from Leo (the Moychay cooperative version).  It's as well to not add a flavor list given this is light though.

Suoi Giang:  even darker; two years is enough for aging to change a tea, under hot and humid enough conditions, or it could've been oxidized some too.  Of course it's hard to be clear on inputs, especially tasting a first light round.  Both could apply; this could've changed a lot in comparison to a normal 2 year transition, and it might've started out warmer and less bitter and astringent due to some oxidation input.  There's a nice fruit tone already emerging in this; we'll see if that develops or else more or less drops out.

changing lighting moving outdoors changes everything

Ta Cu Ty second infusion:  a bit subtle as sheng often goes, but it has plenty of depth, so that's more about the higher end / forward aromatic range.  The warm tone ties to warm mineral depth, but the rest leans towards spice input.  It's subtle enough that it's hard to describe; along the line of bark spice, in between an aromatic wood, like cedar, or an incense scent.  Feel has good structure, some fullness that's a bit dry, adding depth, since less intense flavor and limited aftertaste limit the overall intensity.

Suoi Giang:  definitely fruitier, with a bit more intensity.  It's still not overly bitter, not heavy on floral range, or significantly sweet, so it also comes across as slightly subtle as young sheng range goes.  It's more as I would expect a version aged for a bit longer to be, after 3 or 4 years of transition, or one that swapped out some sheng character for oxidation pulling aspects towards black tea range, warmer, with good sweetness, but more mild in nature.  Or both?  Probably that is it. 

For both of these seeming a little subtle it's almost as if I'm a main factor causing that, as if a touch of congestion or general fatigue is throwing off what I pick up.  I can't rule that out, I'm just not aware of any such factor.  I'm relatively tired from the last month being really busy, but that didn't seem to affect me yesterday, and it was worse then, Saturday after a busy work-week, the day after a hard evening run, a fast 8 km. 

I have also backed off proportion just a little, after not getting through more than a half dozen rounds of notes trying three versions yesterday; maybe a slight increase in timing didn't compensate enough yet.

Ta Cu Ty, third infusion:  it's interesting how dark both are, brewed a little longer, 15+ seconds instead of under 10, too amber for that to be from brewing time.  You automatically think of oxidation level in relation to that, unless tea age could be a factor (some maybe, for a 2 year old version), but scorching a tea during pan fixing could change color, essentially roasting part of it.  People sometimes guess that this might cause some common smoke input, but I would guess not, that actual contact from smoke would be a more typical source for that.  These teas were all probably wok heated, in the fixing / sha qing step, using wood heat versus gas.  There's no smoke though, not like the Son La version had been.  That would come from storage near a wood fired heating source, I would think, not from spending that few minutes in proximity.  These teas are oxidized more than is typical; it has to be that.

This is much nicer, having opened up, and being at a more suitable infusion strength.  A bit of dried fruit joins in, and the warm tones give it a nice spice range base.  It tastes like a sassafras tea, not exactly like root beer made later to mimic that general range of flavor, but like a more original version.  I don't remember ever actually drinking that tisane, to be clear, but a childhood of contact with trees, growing up in the woods, using them as play infrastructure, and being required to cut a lot of wood for firewood, brought me exposure to many.  There's a sweetness to sassafras that's unique to that tea type, like hickory possesses in a warmer aromatic range.  The fruit in this is hard to make out, but not so far from dried Chinese date, jujube.  Interpreting part as floral tone would be natural, or even all of it as a complex version of that.

Suoi Giang:  the warm tone and bit of dryness is unusual, really for sheng of any age or background.  I don't want to say that it's not sheng-like, but it's different.  There's an aromatic edge, beyond that warm mineral / towards black tea range, that's also hard to identify, in this case even related to general range, spice versus dried fruit and so on.  The warm tones give it a savory effect, like sun-dried tomato, just not as clearly heavy on umami, but that's not what I mean.  I guess it's just floral range I'm trying to pin down further, but not in a form I'm familiar with.  It's rich and heavy, like a heavier version of lotus, or not completely different than lavender.  It's quite pleasant, but appreciating it requires shifting off a normal range of expectations about how milder and warmer character sheng would generally be.  

This is probably a good place to mention that "wild origin" sheng versions tend to be more approachable than more standard range versions, less bitter and astringent, more flavorful, and more varied in flavor profile.  The intense simple notes version of bitterness, sweetness, and a narrow range of floral tone common to many sheng versions just isn't how they often go.  Some are fruity, some covering novel or broad mixed flavor range, some well into unusual spice tones.  Sourness can come up, which may or may not be natural plant type variation input versus a processing or handling flaw, for example too much humidity left in the processed leaves.  So it's not unusual that these are a bit atypical, in relation to ordinary commercial higher volume production Yunnan sheng; they're supposed to be like that.  Wild origin Yunnan sheng can vary in these same ways too; this Moychay Yongde version, a personal favorite, was like that.

Ta Cu Ty fourth infusion:  I'm burning out on trying these teas already; I seem to be working with less focus range to begin with.  Again character is interesting for this being relatively subtle, as sheng almost always goes.  Bitterness not being significant is normal enough, that can happen, or sweetness being moderate, or even this warmer tone range, but it's all a bit dialed back for intensity.  Still quite nice, that's just not how that tends to usually go.  

That could seem to contradict what I just said about wild origin material teas, but as I see that it doesn't.  Character range can be atypical but still intense; it's more that factor.  Yunnan black teas, Dian Hong, can be milder across some flavor range, not intense, but often still just great for including a nice base, and this is a bit like that.  There's plenty to the experience but flavor intensity is below average.

Suoi Giang:  some of the same applies to this tea, about it being warm in tone and generally not intense.  I'm not completely ruling out that an odd input related to me is causing this effect.  A lot of noise in the background can mute what you experience, I'm just not in that kind of environment right now, in the usual spot outside, on the cool side as Bangkok goes.  I've heard a theory that relative humidity and pressure changes can impact how a person senses things; maybe there's some of that happening.  Or I'm getting a cold, and just don't realize it yet.  I tried drinking a bit of water; sometime resetting your palate has a positive effect.

Ta Cu Ty fifth infusion:  warmer tones, some floral, towards spice range, a cool root spice version of that, with limited dried fruit input, the same as before.  I thought dried fruit tone might evolve but I'm not noticing that.  It's pleasant, just not within conventional sheng range, without much bitterness at all.

Suoi Giang:  like the other, with a different warm spice range, a different warm mineral base, and heavier on floral range, both maybe still expressing subtle dried fruit.  Still these are fairly similar, which is odd, for both being so unconventional.  Based on a scale of evaluating oolongs or black teas maybe bitterness is more pronounced than I'm describing; it's only against a conventional young sheng range that it's quite low, and there is a little.  I suppose this is a little more bitter than the other, with a bit more of a dry edge to the feel, with the other quite light and "round" in feel.  

It's odd that I'm not mentioning feel or aftertaste aspects more, but both of these have pleasant moderate fullness of feel but nothing too pronounced, and limited lingering aftertaste effect.  It's nothing like the gap in such range one experiences from limited quality range tea though; that's something else.  I just retried one I bought for very little in China 3 years ago, somewhat aged then, a couple years along maybe, in a decent place for being further along in aging transition than these, with even more warm tones and dryness, but it didn't express the depth that these do.  A rough general intensity level might be comparable, but these are both fuller in a way that's hard to describe.  Looking that earlier tea review back up it was a 2015 Bulang (and still is; I didn't finish it), that I bought in 2019, the "300" version.  I think the other tea I reviewed along with it then was better; I should retry it and mention it here.

I've had been giving these longer than average soaks but tried on at over 20 seconds next (round 6), but there wasn't anything new to mention.


I liked the teas, but this atypical range isn't one that I find that much more appealing than any other.  The Son La tea was nicer for the greater intensity level carrying through lots of infusions, but the smoke and bitterness level would divide people in that version.  And these are quite good teas but not the most exceptional, for any particular reason, beyond the milder tones and warmer range potentially being something someone else really loves.  I'm accustomed to a higher bitterness level, and higher flavor intensity level, pairing with more sweetness, so the two Thai versions that I reviewed with the Son La version are more familiar ground.

Then price enters in, and aging potential.  Related to the second these don't need to age, at all, and are fine as they are.  I suppose for someone not interested in holding onto teas that's a positive.  They might pick up a bit of depth over the next year or two but I wouldn't keep them for long expecting positive change.  Related to price they might be even harder to place, for not matching a standard style.  I don't see these as $100 a cake quality level, 35 cents a gram tea, but they're a lot better than factory sheng range, especially if one is seeking something to drink now.  That doesn't mean that they're  necessarily right in the middle, that averaging $40 and $100, coming out to $70 (for 357 gram amount) would make sense.  

Huyen has said that better quality loose sheng pricing increased a lot in Vietnam a couple years ago, and these are good enough to get swept up in that.  I wouldn't be surprised if this was selling as 40 cent a gram maocha, even though that's way off a normal competitive Yunnan version pricing, and a lot more than I would pay for Thai equivalents.  Laos and Myanmar versions are all over the map for pricing in relation to quality level and style now; it just depends.  Let's check those listings, and Steve's input on what this is.

Later input based on a second Ta Cu Ty tasting:  the tea is much better once you expect it to be as it is, if you can adjust expectations for that novel style.  I see it as really right in between sheng and black tea style, not just more oxidized as an input, but a lot more subtle than sheng tends to be (less intense), with aspect character in a warmer range.  Bitterness and astringency aren't significant.  I really like it.  

Again sometimes Dian Hong picks up a character low in front-end aromatic flavor intensity, but with good depth that compensates, and this is like that.  It's perfect for a breakfast tea, not challenging, distinctive but neutral enough to match with different foods, easy to brew.  It lacks the astringency edge and sharper flavors in a black tea that would really offset something rich, like a buttery raisin bun, but it would still be fine with that.  And it's good enough quality tea that it would hold its own in a single type tasting session, as the main focus.

It's interesting how this extra oxidation input parallels limited aging input, and how it is different.  Bitterness moderating and warmer flavors increasing is part of that, but for typical sheng even 4 or 5 years stored in a relatively wet environment won't change over character as much as this oxidation level input did (or seemed to; to some extent that's still just a guess).  Bitterness transitions to other aspect character gradually, for example, and this just didn't include it to begin with.  This doesn't taste exactly like a black tea or a medium aged sheng; it's slightly different than both.  It's good, as a unique and different type and style.  

I can also see why this style never really caught on within Yunnan producer or sheng drinker circles, since that character change came at the cost of losing so much intensity, without ever really achieving those positive black tea flavor range (dried fruit, roasted yam or sweet potato, cocao / cacao, etc.).  But then a bit of extra oxidation input seemed to change the Thai wild origin tea version I reviewed in the last review in a much different way, so it only goes so far mapping that as a consistent and necessary trade-off.  And both these teas are still more intense than average white tea range, so a lot of me going on about that as a potential limitation or trade-off relates to my expectations for the type, not to the tea not tasting like much.