Monday, January 31, 2022

2007 Menghai Chencang sheng pu'er


I really should get to more of a set of tea samples that Moychay sent for review, aged sheng this time.  To be clear I helped do a final read of Sergey's recent English language version tea book and this seems like a thanks for that.  It wasn't really editing, more of a final read.  So I suppose a warning about potential bias is in order, although it seems to me that I can still be objective.  Still, people often like what they want to or expect to like, so who knows.

I might have added more about that potential bias in the recent post about vendor bias and group identification.  It didn't seem relevant, since I was passing on thoughts about Moychay contributed by someone else, a relatively mixed input comment about some Russian tea enthusiasts liking Moychay and others not.  Then I moved on to how I saw patterns in bias and association play out, in tea groups and related to vendor preference.  It wasn't positive or negative in relationship to Moychay, or even mainly about them.  

I don't know anything about this tea, beyond what is in the title.  I'll add a Moychay reference, in as much detail as I can find one, but it may not include satisfyingly detailed background [just a short description of aspects, which I don't include here].  It will be kind of impossible to break down a lot of input and outcome themes in trying 15 year old sheng versions without more to go on, just randomly picking samples, so I may organize that better moving forward.  In general I prefer to try the teas without prior input, so I'm experiencing what I happen to pick up, instead of confirming or adjusting external opinion.  I was just talking to someone about evaluation systems for sheng, and how to break down experienced aspects in different ways, but I won't be developing that here either, and maybe not in the future either.

Since I wrote these notes I've retried a couple of aged sheng from around the same range of time I have at home, one of which works better as a benchmark version, and recently tried a 2005 Menghai sheng at a shop, where a vendor said that version was well-regarded.  It doesn't change my placement of this experience much, but I can write a little about that in a conclusions section.

The Moychay listing is here.


First infusion:  I backed off normal proportion just a little for this, not going with a level that maxes out the gaiwan when leaves are wet, in order to make dialing in timing a little easier.  Per usual I went with a really light first infusion, to kind of get introduced without experiencing a lot, to let the tea get started.  It's interesting.  Fermentation effect comes across first, but I expect how that shows through will change over the first two or three infusions, so it's as well to not make too much of it.  

It's not musty, or seemingly too much so, tied to some sort of damp storage theme.  It also doesn't seem "well preserved," as if dry storage suspended changes.  So it seems in a promising range.  Early on earthiness might come across towards a dry mushroom range but I think that's the kind of early aspect that will shift and possibly completely drop out.  There's a nice depth and sweetness beyond that, with rich spice and aromatic wood range showing through already.  It seems like it will be nice.

Second infusion:  good intensity.  Heavy flavors or rough edges can be a bit much, even for teas in this age range, but this is fine for expressing heavy range and intense flavors and also some degree of refinement.  It hits though.  A nice range (nice to me) of heavy dark wood, spice, and dried fruit flavors combines, with hints of what I take people to interpret as camphor or menthol, which I often have trouble placing.  

Really in two more infusions this will show more of what it's all about, for the early roughness transitioning off further and main infusion sequence complexity setting in.  I can still notice mushroom but the rest picks up in intensity while that fades in relation.  To me it's moderately clean for sheng that is fermented this far, with this much intensity as a starting point.  This starts in on interpretation and guesswork, but I think it couldn't have been a mild, sweet, floral range tea 15 years ago or intensity wouldn't still be at this level.

Third infusion:  the mushroom aspect is gone but it has been replaced by a wet slate / basement sort of range, which I take to be a main identifying flavor of aged Liu Bao.  The rest is pleasant (and I guess that part could be too, but opinions would vary on that).  It's clean in effect, and it balances well enough.  It's not subtle, not the kind of aged sheng where depth has remained and a lot of the rest has faded, and flavor intensity in this range some would probably like and some wouldn't.  I like it.  

Related to dried fruit input it strikes me as jujube, dried Chinese date.  It will be interesting to see how the warmer aromatic range shifts further, dark wood and spice range.  Aftertaste intensity is a nice part of the experience, the way that positive, warm, intense range carries over.  Again the one negative, which seemingly wouldn't be overly negative for everyone, is the way part of that earthy range is exhibited.  This is cleaner than a 2007 8891 CNNP version I've reviewed, I think, with less rough edge, if that helps place it [one of the teas I've retried since making these notes].

lighter, but part of that is probably lighting variation

Fourth infusion:  not so different; I should wait a round to say more so these notes don't stretch too long.  Again I think someone's take on a heavy slate mineral aspect would define how they see this tea, probably tied to if they can appreciate aged Liu Bao or not.  I'm not saying that it's like Liu Bao but that one aspect seems to match up.  I've never tried a Liu Bao with this much complexity, range, and dried fruit input, not that saying that means much, since I've only dabbled in trying versions of that hei cha.

Fifth infusion:  to me the balance improves, with heavier input range fading and a nice aged furniture and aromatic wood tone picking up, towards spice.  It's that effect of how very old dark wood furniture preserved through use of aromatic oils comes across.  It always reminds me of spending time ordained in a Buddhist temple, since there were rooms full of old furniture and religious ceremonial items.  I would almost feel high just from the smell, and then looking through whatever was there was fascinating, even though they kept the "really good stuff" in places I wouldn't run across it.

I tend to not really feel tea as people describe, but I get more than average effect from this, maybe due to being off aged sheng for awhile, or for it being quiet here now.  My wife is picking up our son at Mandarin class, and the main thing I hear is birds outside, and now a plane flying over, a bit faint for that airport being nearly an hour's drive from here.  I probably should experience quiet more often.  Going to swim classes with my kids in the evening has been nice lately, where typically only three of them will be doing laps, so I just listen to a bit of splashing for two hours.  I could review a tisane there.

Sixth infusion:  I'll finally adjust this infusion timing a bit more, moving past 10 seconds.  I had been keeping timing consistent and fast and letting the intensity drop a little round to round, suitable for the first two or three being a bit strong.  The same kinds of aspects as earlier balance completely differently now.  I did glance through the Moychay site listing and customer reviews for mentioning what this was to someone I'd been talking about aged sheng with online, and it's interesting how the mix of the two opinions that one might expect are there.  Some say it's so-so, not particularly interesting, and more find it a good, complex, pleasant, and typical aged sheng.  

Subthemes in aspects and experience range are more complex for aged sheng than any other type, so it only seems natural that variations in preference and opinions come up.  Then stories could also factor in, or hearsay could play a larger role than would intuitively seem warranted, in relation to direct experience.  

That heavy mineral in the aftertaste is interesting, much better for other milder input supporting and balancing it.

Seventh infusion:  mineral eases up a little, or at least a root spice sort of tone picking up starts to replace some of that relative range.  It's not so far off the aromatic dark wood tone earlier, but also clearly different, an evolution of that.  It's catchier at this stage, I think.  It's especially pleasant the way that range coats your tongue, combining with feel, and then carries over as aftertaste.  For someone inclined to dislike it (the heavy mineral flavor, or other range) it could seem too much like a struck match (the extended wet slate part), and not that pleasant.  

I can't imagine someone who likes good, complex aged Liu Bao not liking this though, for overlapping some and extending beyond that range, being more refined and complex, and having more to offer.  For people who hate that type in general this may not work.

Eighth infusion:  I'll probably stop taking notes here, even though four more infusions or so would tell more of this story.  It's interesting being in a quiet enough place to notice tea effect, and to not be rushed.  This contributes both a body feel and some degree of head buzz, as I interpret it, but it's also relaxing, so that I could probably nap after this.

Aged effect really stands out in this round.  I'd already mentioned general experience reminding me of how aged furniture smells, but this also leans into a heavier, sweeter, warmer tone of ranges that reminds me of old barn smell, just cleaner.  I don't mean horse manure or hay, or something like that, but if you live in a place where old buildings store things that are decades old, like an antique car, or old saddles, there's a general effect of age transition that comes across in smell.  There's a sweetness to that smell, more than a mustiness, tied mostly to mineral range scents, or I suppose it would depend on the specific example and context.


I liked it!  It made for an interesting experience.  This general range isn't unfamiliar but a slightly rougher edge version of it is more familiar.  That ties to me not spending much on teas, to be clear, not necessarily to this being an exceptional quality level tea, or an example of the true potential of aged sheng.  

I relate more to the Moychay customer comments saying this is interesting and pleasant than limited.  I can't place that as an objective judgement though, as tea reviewers often tend to do, to claim to put it on some sort of scale, or frame it in relation to other examples and range.

I retried that 2007 CNNP 8891 version and a second more generic older tea brick I bought in a market in Shenzhen since writing these notes.  It doesn't help to place them all in relation to each other, I'm just getting more familiar with the range.  I think this might be slightly cleaner with a little more depth than that 8891, but that tea was better than I remember it, probably benefitting from the couple of years of age it's added since I tried it regularly.  

That tea brick seemed pleasant but thinner in character, maybe with slightly less rough flavor range, but also less intensity and structure to the feel.  Then a strange part was that after about a dozen or so infusions a few in a row seemed much more pleasant than the rest had, picking up a really cool flavor and character, and great overall balance.  I don't know what that was all about.  It even seemed heavier on sweetness and range that might be interpreted as fruit.  Often brewing other tea types longer in later rounds a mineral, heavy flavor tone, or astringency range will emerge much stronger, brought out by longer brewing time, but not usually a different and more positive overall effect.

Eight infusions was pretty early for stopping notes for this version but I didn't notice that effect, if I remember right, a pronounced positive transition in later rounds.

Meeting Paolo Panda, about tea and meditation

That meetup group recently met with someone who has been active in social media group discussion lately, Paolo Panda.  At first glance he is into aged sheng and tea ceremony as meditation themes, which really did work out as primary areas of interest through discussion.  We just didn't get far into details about aged sheng.

Jan joined, that contact (/ tea friend) living in the Netherlands, who I wrote about talking to here.  Huyen didn't make it; something came up.  As with most of these meetups there wasn't really any one clear theme or reason for meeting, just running through interesting ideas.

Paolo described the tea and meditation theme.  As background, he has personal history with the Global Tea Hut, probably the best known organization that promotes tea and religion or tea and Taoist practices themes.  He didn't say a lot about his experience with them, although we started in on that.  I guess they are into tea experience as meditation, with variations in brewing forms or natural experiences factoring in, but not really into linking that to religious ceremony or ideas, or more formal meditation.  He spoke positively of Wu De but not in so much detail.

Paolo's evolved ceremonial form largely involves having people join to drink aged sheng pu'er, selected in relation to what he expects them to like, and to typical effect from a certain tea (which would vary by person).  Then they drink tea without speaking, for an hour and a half.  He said that some people find that experience of tea in silence very moving, experiencing internal scope in a novel and unusually deep way.

In his website he talks about categorizing aged sheng, and about some relatively standard factors affecting how a tea comes across:  growing conditions, elevation, tea plant age, local source area, processing inputs, storage conditions, more natural grown or wild plant source material versus plantation grown tea, etc.  This site has more on the ceremony and meditation side.

Paolo is from Italy and now lives in England (Brighton), and has traveled a good bit, and has experienced quite a bit in relation to themes like tea and meditation.  The meditation and effect of aged sheng aspects just resonate with him; he doesn't seem the "spiritual seeker" type to the same extent one might expect from the rest.  He probably spends more time focused on inner reality and how he relates to external factors than most, but it came across as just being introspective, and open to atypical approaches.

To be clear I'm fairly open to a lot of that other Eastern culture range myself.  I practiced meditation in different forms at different stages of my life, and was ordained as a Buddhist monk at one point.  I don't think I would fit in at Burning Man, which Paolo mentioned attending, but then back in my 20s maybe more so.  Meditation seeming effective is familiar, just not that tea ceremony form.

Suzana's pictures are always better (credit to her)

We talked for awhile, about a broad range of things, but this is going to make it sound like we didn't.  Ralph, Jan, and Paolo talked about clay pots for awhile but I kind of tuned that out; I own a couple of those but don't even use them, since I'm familiar with gaiwans, and didn't make it through a full seasoning cycle.  In discussing aged sheng it helps to overlap quite a bit in relation what you are drinking with someone else, able to use familiar versions as discussion starting points.  I don't spend that much on tea, so the more interesting $1/gram and up range higher demand versions I tend to never try.  Ralph and Paolo might've put more effort into exploring that but didn't.  Jan is not new to sheng and aged sheng, and even sells sheng online in a small shop.

One interesting discussion point came up related to how people combine tea and meditation, or how they tend to borrow Eastern culture aspects.  Suzana mentioned that because meditation practice is so familiar and adjoined to yoga in India people wouldn't ordinarily connect it with tea experience.  There's a lot to that, and a deeper pattern that it informs.  Here in Thailand meditation is also familiar, tied more to religious practices, and internal self-development, and again it isn't regarded as connecting at all with tea experience.  

Keo!  he doesn't look like he's meditating in any pictures I have.

To move back to a broader level, it seems like "Western culture" individuals drawing on Eastern themes tend to see a broad range of ideas and subjects as connected, and import them as if they go together.  Tea, martial arts, meditation, religion, health themes, and even clothing styles can end up combined, when in the original traditions these are all separate subjects, that can have points of connection and significant overlap, but they rarely are tightly coupled, never mind embraced as a bundle.  Or at least that's my understanding.

We talked about how in modern Chinese culture people aren't even that into the same forms of these things.  Gong Fu tea practice isn't all that common, and not everyone drinks tea.  The people who do are far more likely to use very simple brewing approaches, like "grandpa style," brewing in a tea bottle.  We were close friends with three families from China through my kids' school friends, to the level that we did activities on weekends or visited each other's houses, and none of them were into tea in any way remotely like Western tea enthusiasts.  They could try to name a couple of local types they would regularly drink, and maybe not get far with that.  One friend from Japan drank tea but couldn't place any name, not even the category of sencha, just saying that he bought tea at a grocery store.

When I moved to Thailand to ordain as a monk something similar came up related to being disappointed with monks' takes on core Buddhist ideas:  they weren't really familiar with them.  The topics of rejection of a real self or the meaning of suffering as a fundamental condition of life experience they had heard of, but had no opinion on what those really meant.  Their approach was more towards being moral, going with the flow, staying relaxed.  And these were monks!  They said that forest monks do more with such theories, and related meditation practices.  I did study formal meditation (vipassana) at a local Bangkok temple meditation center, a main one too, Wat Mahadat, but even though the support was helpful the depth of practical advice and links to theory weren't what I expected.

I did want to touch on one theme that I noticed from that experience, which we discussed as a topic but that I didn't add in that conversation, about how sitting on a floor to meditate works out.  Many people notice that this makes them uncomfortable, and then it's often accepted that they could meditate sitting in a chair instead.  But there is a deeper function behind sitting meditation in relation to the physical posture playing a practical role, that links to internal perspective.  

We all carry stress in our bodies in relation to posture and tension; it's normal.  A practice like yoga helps regularly "clear" that, and a lot of kinds of exercises would minimize the impact or experience.  Something like sitting at a desk 8 hours a day would make it much worse, both the routine posture and degree of tension.  When you sit without support (the cross-legged theme) the lack of support and motion activates that tension as causing discomfort.  Mental experience and physical experience meet in this form, to a certain extent; as you relax and clear your mind the tension naturally reduces.  It's not about amount of time spent, and really also not about "not thinking," although thoughts racing and shallow chest breathing do adjoin the opposite experience, feeling tension and experiencing internal noise.  As you relax your mind and body together the physical tension can subside.

Anyway, we didn't really talk about that.  Per usual we did skim across introductions, with a bit on tea preferences and experiences, travel, and social media experiences.

It was great meeting Paolo and hearing his take on those themes.  I think the connection between tea and meditation is much more routinely embraced by Western Gong Fu Cha practitioners than I take up, but of course I see it as perfectly valid and functional.  It was interesting hearing about a developed perspective and approach to that.  The rest about tea exploration, varying cultures, and travel added up to more than I captured in this summary, but it didn't work to go back and add details to fill it in.  These written summaries need sets of connected ideas within main themes to sound more interesting, but organic discussion can be something else, about lots of diverse ideas.  

There is a more standard interview form discussion with Paolo that covered more background available through this link, conducted by Pascal Djpas of the My Tea Pal community.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Jordan Peterson on the Bible as the basis for modern worldview


Jordan Peterson recently made an interesting claim in a Joe Rogan podcase video that the Bible is really such a foundational work that to a limited extent Western literature and general perspective itself is based on it.  Maybe.  It takes some doing to get to why he's saying that, in order to evaluate it.  Or maybe it doesn't really work to evaluate it, but doing the framing part is still interesting.

He outlines the main direction as follows, in the first words in that video:

"if categories just dissolve, especially fundamental ones, then the culture is dissolving, because the culture is a structure of categories.  That's what it is.  So in fact culture is a structure of category that we all share.  So we see things the same way, so that's why we can talk.  I mean not exactly the same way, because then we'd have nothing to talk about.  Roughly speaking, we have a bedrock of agreement.  That's the Bible, by the way."

I'll start with a bit of an intro of Jordan Peterson's general perspective first, and get back to this.  I mentioned this video to an online friend who is into Christianity who responded that he wasn't interested because Jordan Peterson is not a reliable source (just not put that way).  There's something to that; I think a lot of what Jordan Peterson expresses is either meaningless or not informative without placing exactly what he is saying, or not saying, and why, with his normal form of expressing content not at all clear without that context.  So although it's all tangent I'll address that part first, then get on with looking at how the Bible really may or may not be the basis for a modern Western worldview.  

I've studied religion a little, even in a number of religion classes, but I'm not exactly an expert on the subject, it's just something I've already given some thought to.

Jordan Peterson versus the left

His conflict with "the left" came to head at the same time his popularity as a thought leader evolved, in relation to the gender pronoun issue.  More specifically, it was identified as something like illegal hate speech to not use preferred pronouns where he was living, in one part of Canada.  There are problems with that type of law, which he correctly identified.  And a general context problem with the use of diverse gender identification, which he also identified.  Then he does also go on to make criticisms and sweeping cultural identifications that don't make sense.  Let's start with those.

He consistently identifies a broad range of perspectives and directives as tied back to Marxists and Marxism.  Parts of it seem to work, it's just that the framing really doesn't, as if there is a unified far-left perspective that involves a lot of shared philosophical underpinnings and final conclusions.  The philosophical part is weak too; a far left perspective evolved a certain way, but not really based on those inputs, or at least not as directly as he explicitly links together.

It might work to say that perspective basis and positions on final issues might be generally common to a range that could be fairly identified as extreme left, but he just goes too far with the generalities.  It's probably because he is exposed to extreme versions, and within the academic environment what these derive from, in general, is more consistent and known.  But it's not really like that related to the average person who thinks that trans-gender individuals should or should not have equal rights.  They're not necessarily well read up on 19th and 20th century philosophy, or involved with the same degree of philosophical and psychological assumptions.  Some are extremists, sure, on both the left and right, and draw on ideas derived in lots of ways.  One could argue that their final positions and views are partial extensions of those earlier ideas, and the linkage doesn't need to be tight, and that's back to working better.

The starting point of rejecting mandated use of language works.  It's not problematic to restrict use of negative terms (the "n word," fag, and so on).  Telling people which words they need to use is a bit different.  If there was a distinct set of new gender pronouns being advocated that would at least be a more workable context, but the list of those expanded to over 50, and just kept changing and growing.  Tracking them and being responsible for use in every interaction was already impossible at that point, and it's not as if the numerous early versions were going to stay fixed.

If it had only related to that the subject wouldn't have drawn the attention it did.  Jordan Peterson next claimed that only a limited set of pronouns made sense in relation to being tied back to biological gender, which of course is a divisive and problematic position.   That issue never really gets settled, because people on both extremes keep redefining their position context and finer points, so they end up talking past each other.  

It doesn't work to say that biological gender identification is optional, or you end up with female powerlifters competing and breaking records who only identified as female for a matter of weeks prior, or maybe even only on that day.  It also doesn't work to say that gender identification needs to be tied only to genetic factors, because lots of other cases contradict that, and there has to be space for gender to be regarded as a social construct too, because of course it's partly that.  Leaving aside atypical biological conditions it's just not right saying that people can't change their personal identity because of some genetic biological context.  Of course they can.  It was this messy topic that made Jordan Peterson famous, as much as any other.

His core messages were never really mostly about that.  He is second most known for a self-development theme, encouraging people to set goals for themselves, to take responsibility for their lives, to start with making small positive changes in their life circumstances or self perception, to become aware of limitations they place on themselves, and so on.  His earlier academic work wasn't about either theme (political perspective and gender issues, or self-development).  He focused on two topics:  the basis for and experience of meaning, and how basic teachings and groundworks of psychological models fit together with biological and social inputs.  That second one tied to the gender issues.

So how did he ever become a spokesperson for the right wing?  The short answer is that this is wrong, and he didn't.  He opposes an extreme left / liberal set of ideas and positions, but for the most part doesn't support much that is associated with the right wing / conservative perspective, beyond not explicitly rejecting the alignment as much as one might expect for a professed "classic liberal."  Maybe self-development themes could link with themes about personal independence, and then it all connects, but it's a stretch.  I suppose the whole nature versus nurture / inborn characteristics versus social development set of themes does underpin positions he takes or opposes, which map to conservative themes in whatever ways.  It just doesn't work to connect it all together.  

When he debates liberal members of the media they are consistently attributing positions and claims to him that aren't accurate, so those interviews get bogged down in talking about rejecting what he doesn't actually say.  It's not worth watching more than one example of that, because there is limited positive content from either perspective (ideas actually asserted) to relate to or not relate to.

So how does Jordan Peterson go too far, what does he say that's not fair, or accurate?  He habitually categorizes positions and perspectives in broad, sweeping ways, so that most "leftists / Marxists" are making the same claims, based on the same foundational context.  Some of that may work as a generality for some people and positions, but it's just not how that really works, that you can paint a broad and general political perspective into such a limited and clear set of positions and assumptions.  That's partly what is going wrong with people identifying his ideas and position in relation to the right, or far right / conservative perspective.

Oddly that tendency and pattern tie back to what works well in his teachings.  You really can't easily pull apart what foundational thinkers like Marx, Nietzsche, Jung and Freud, and later French philosophers are saying, pinning each down to a half dozen core assertions and ideas.  They address complex divides in thought that only really make sense in relation to other sets of ideas they are building on, opposing, or responding to.  Sometimes parts of some models are very simple and clear, and then simpler summaries do work better.  

But the problem with saying that you can't extract complex teachings into a half dozen simple statements is that you need to do this to "work with" such ideas, unless you are able to take a graduate class that studies their work, and even then you tend to only focus on one text by one person.  So to a limited extent distilling Nietzsche down to a dozen "Nietzsche says..." statements misses what he is really saying, but at least it works with some ideas, it considers them.

The other part of problems with Jordan Peterson's thinking, besides overgeneralizing, and being judged for advocating ideas that he is really not advocating, is that he seems to get caught up in negativity that isn't really necessary, other aspects of the political divide, and the general downfall of society sort of themes.  Extreme personal difficulties could account for that, facing problems across a lot of scope as a main life theme, health issues and such.

On to the part about Christianity, which will tie back further to his general approach and thoughts on other broad patterns, but not to problems or criticisms with him, his statements, or his work.

Christianity / the Bible as a basis for Western perspective and society

This subject is good and sweeping, isn't it?  More context on JP's approach and perspective on things:  he sees legends and traditional stories as distillations of familiar narratives and old events that include life guidance, that set up a context for an individual worldview, and underpin it.  He uses the Pinocchio story to give the most detailed examples, but any hero's story will do to fill in the same pattern.  Let's start there.  

First let's be even clearer about what I've just claimed is his position:  these traditional legends may or may not be about people that did exist, but the stories are built out of other old stories and forms, including external details of activities (things added).  I think this part is right; extra interpretation and things added or taken away in retelling would change old story forms to borrow from or match other old stories.

The hero's journey (a broad and shared form) is that the central character is faced with some sort of external threat or demand, and needs to go on some sort of quest to resolve this, to seek something out, or finish a difficult task.  Then they undertake this, face extreme challenges, and question their own perspective, capabilities, and motivations, often making some sacrifice, finally accomplishing their goal and returning triumphant, and altered by the experience.  

Why these themes, what does it mean?  Lots of things, really.  It's a good story (a basis for one); that's part of it.  It's also a teaching about personal character, appropriate motivations, questioning assumptions and one's role in society, about transcending earlier self-definition and assumed capabilities, and contributing to society.  The bad characters, and their motivations and actions, represent what society intends to reject, and "quest" setbacks represent conventional pitfalls in self-understanding or development.  And it's also about other things, I suppose, but that works for a start.

Moral teachings are an important part too, about placing the good of others and the whole above your own.  That one theme repeats more than any other in a lot of story telling.  But why?  It's part of the basis for society itself, part of the fabric of what a collective of individuals is based on.  If everyone only acts for immediate and long term self interest then the institutions and broader goals suffer.  Societal level issues like global warming and national debt could never be resolved, because these relate to the interests of future individuals.  

Even more mundane restrictions on things like stealing also help establish societal order.  Proactive emphasis on themes like generosity work in a similar way, just from the other direction.  Self-sacrifice is a great example of extension of that kind of theme.  Minor norms would end up being swept in too, relatively value-neutral components that are still positioned as generally positive, something like urban versus rural living, or aesthetic themes.

So the old legends people accept and re-tell are really tied to a kind of meta-narrative, about underlying themes and conditions.  Tony Stark is doing what Beowulf had been doing, and these stories include life lessons.  Then it's interesting to consider if we are really soaking up that message; does anyone lead their own life differently because the Stark corporation moved on from selling defense goods, or because Tony risked his own life to defeat Thanos, and then actually did die?  Probably not really.  But that always had been part of the point.

The Bible is a lot more direct about this intention, or religion in general is.  You are supposed to learn from these examples and apply them.  Then in the end your own place in heaven is dependent on doing this, with it all taken in one way.  With religion taken less literally there probably is no literal afterlife like that, but we build up the reality we should be able to experience based on all our own actions, perspectives, life directions, and moral choices.

So far so good; Jesus and Moses and the rest are teachers of correct perspective and morality.  Jordan takes all this one step further in observations in that video, and it's an interesting step.  To him it's not just meta-narratives that "roll up" to a worldview and perspective context, we can apply all this to literature.  Shakespeare informs a lot of later story telling, both in form and content.  He asserts that the Bible was actually the first set of writings to be collected into a book, really more a set of books or a library, and the most disseminated early on in printing development, and the most influential in general.  Then from there he concludes that the Bible is the literal basis for Western perspective, related to that.

Does this work?  Kind of, or maybe not really, given probably only partially so.  Separating a Western and Eastern perspective alone may not work.  It would be necessary to consider the role of the earlier Greek thinkers in impacting Roman perspectives, and that of others, how these inputs built up and influenced later thinking.  To say that the Bible is the single primary cornerstone for a relatively unified cultural perspective goes a bit far.  But then Jordan is into sweeping statements and conclusions, and it also still kind of works.  

We would have to try to place access to the Bible by people other than priests throughout history, and the role of Latin in academic study and daily life across a range of centuries.  It doesn't help that Jordan Peterson is not really a historian, or an expert on literary history, and that the order of his specialization goes pretty far down a list to get to that range.  He's most trained in psychology, while also drawing on a good bit of philosophy, literature, and physical sciences for input.  Already that's kind of too much range.  Folding in the general anthropology scope of history of ideas and cultural evolution goes a bit far.

The Bible did have to be about as influential as any other single work ever created; how could it not be?  He's right that it's not really a unified, singular work, even beyond the division into old and new testaments.  It's just that last step, saying that the Bible grounds everything else, that seems to reach a little.  Breaking that apart into influences of the old and new testament and tracing both across sets of cultural forms would work better, in comparison with other inputs and conditions.

To me it's still well worth considering, even if the limitations in using imagination and intuition to flesh it all out means that won't get far.  Let's add one more consideration that frames what I mean:  to what extent have we received detailed, intact versions of early Greek philosophy, which could be a separate contender as a main influence in Western culture?  The timelines might be a little different; we think Plato lived from 428 to 348 BCE, roughly, and a 100 year history of culture he was building on still doesn't reach back to the early Bible age.  Egyptians had been around for a long, long time prior, but let's consider Greek philosophy anyway. 

Plato hung around; his writing we do have.  Socrates, his teacher, taught Plato, and Plato's work is considered to be based on that input, but we only have what Plato said about what Socrates said to go on.  Maybe a little of other references here or there, but nothing significant compared to Plato's accounts.  To be clear I'm basing these statements on only taking one undergrad class that reviewed Greek philosophy and pre-Socratic input, so probably one professor's input on that subject.  It could be wrong.  What I was taught could've been right and my memory and interpretation of it could still be wrong.  From what we studied of those pre-Socratic philosophers, of the teachings of 8 or 9 main figures, we only have a few fragments of statements or writing from each, a page or two of text worth in total.  It's not much.

Doesn't this support Jordan Peterson's ideas about the Bible being more primary, since "the trail goes cold" related to what we learn from those Greeks today at around 400 BCE?  Sort of, but also not really, as I see it.  Just because some ideas or texts are not available today doesn't mean that the ideas didn't have a lot of indirect impact 2000+ years ago.  Then we also still have a lot of writings from both Plato and Aristotle, which were also very foundational in our understanding of human reality, worldview, and perspective.  And of physical reality too; Aristotle didn't stop at philosophy.  It could work to try to compare the relative inputs of Plato and Aristotle as grounding Western perspective (as much as there is such a thing) in comparison or contrast with Biblical teachings, or to seek out dependency between the two.  I studied religion some in a degree program, and more philosophy, but nothing like that ever really came up.  It's too broad, too sweeping, and too difficult.  

It almost doesn't matter but let's check on Wikipedia's take on how old the Bible is:

Considered to be scriptures (sacred, authoritative religious texts), the books were compiled by different religious communities into various biblical canons (official collections of scriptures). The earliest compilation, containing the first five books of the Bible and called the Torah (meaning "law", "instruction", or "teaching") or Pentateuch ("five books"), was accepted as Jewish canon by the 5th century BCE. 

So someone inclined to believe Jordan Peterson (personally) and this interpretation could completely accept it, or based on their own biases could just as easily completely reject it.  Actually sorting through the ideas would be problematic; it would be a lot easier to draw on a personal bias against Jordan Peterson instead of making any start on that.  How could we evaluate the input of stories about Gilgamesh and Beowulf in comparison with those about Moses and Abraham, or the Greek gods?  It wouldn't really work to try.

I like that Jordan Peterson makes the attempt though, that he tries to connect the dots in such sweeping forms.  That's probably more about personal preference than whether it all works or not.  At the risk of over-generalization about two thirds of what Jordan Peterson says completely works for me, with a minority of the rest seeming less functional, or maybe even a bit wrong.  He keeps all the statements so general that it can be hard to really argue against one as wrong.  If he says "Nietzsche says (x)" there's a pretty good chance that Nietzsche really did express and intend what JP was talking about, but that his interpretation is open to being disputed, or more frequently too general to really see as right or wrong.  Then JP extends that to roll together parts of what a lot of people are doing for perspective or beliefs, and that part might not work either.

Nietzsche said a lot of things.  He was talking about a lot of broad patterns or specific aspects of human experience in a lot of different ways, but never in as cut and dried, bottom-up form as would be expected or familiar from other thinkers.  Kant was at the other extreme; her really explained what he meant, only stopping short of being able to pull together hundreds of ideas into a complete and unified system, but he did an insane amount of development work towards that, and others built on that later.  Nietzsche didn't do that; he expressed himself in isolated aphorisms and symbolic parables, which only sort of connected back up.

Conclusions, take aways

I think there is value in considering what Jordan Peterson says, but all that value drops out if you aren't already completely familiar with how he's placing background concepts and perspectives.  To completely get there someone would've needed to develop an interest in his presentation of earlier, better grounded ideas about meaning of life positioning or psychology basics, and get through a lot of his material, seeing how he uses concepts and expresses himself.  Just being conservative and liking most conclusions wouldn't be enough to help you really understand what he's saying about most topics.

It wouldn't hurt to be relatively familiar with the sources he's referencing, to help place how he is using ideas, and which parts he is adding.  I've read a lot of Nietzsche and studied his work in philosophy classes, and am familiar with some basics from Jung (another of his favorites), and am somewhat introduced to Piaget's work on development of perspective and reasoning forms.  What gets grouped together as later Continental Philosophy I'm less familiar with, Sartre and the rest, but I suppose I've had some exposure to that.  

Really when JP says "the Marxists say..." he's referencing his own collection and rejection of ideas tied to existentialism (more or less).  It's kind of a strange summary form but listing some basic principles helps define that:

Tenets of Existentialism

Existence before Essence:  people are born as a blank slate create essence through unique experiences

Impotence of Reason:  Passion and emotion

Alienation or Estrangement:  from Humans, human instructor, past/future, self nature, God (From God man has provided all answers through sciences)

Despair or Anxiety:  freedom to create decisions and morals based on evidence (experience) causes fear and anxiety

Nothingness or Death:  death hangs over all of us

Awful Freedom:  Awesome/ Awful

The Absurd:  Human tendency to search inherent value inability to find any

Cope:  Acceptance of absurd, religious, suicide

Bad Faith:  when individuals negate truth in an attempt to become a self they are not.

Doesn't sound so optimistic, does it?  Basically all fixed definition of human nature is rejected by existentialism (to the extent that it's all one thing, which wouldn't hold up), and the existence of God is rejected, and of rigid and meaningful social forms and societal norms.  So what's left?  A bunch of conventions, which can be changed, and a process of searching for more functional self-definition.  

Jordan Peterson doesn't care for all that because social conventions play a real role, whether we think of them as rigid and well grounded or not.  If you throw out the gender roles for men and women family structures are likely to become a lot less stable, and a real connection to biologically based natural tendencies gets tossed out with them.  

He talks more about the second point (connection between biology and conventional roles), but I think his concern is more the first, that men can become more feminine (or women more masculine, assertive and such), or people being gay can be completely accepted in a society, or trans-gender status can be, but if you lose all of it there are no broad social patterns to fall under.  That's not a problem, it's the social roles related to those patterns dropping out that is problematic.  Instead of kids growing up with a father and mother they could be raised by a group of ever-transitioning caregivers who may reject even the concept of pair-bonded relationships, between any defined or undefined genders.  That extends the problem a bit, because gay couples tend to embrace pair-bonding too, but rejection of social forms could lead to later extensions of rejections of social forms.  It's not really something I'm worried about; I'm trying to explain what I see as one part of Jordan Peterson's critique.

It's easy to see how this maps to conservative fixed adherence to past social definitions and roles, and liberal rejection of those in any strong form.  

Does this work, the broad project to criticize changes in perspective of social roles?  To an extent.  Is it a problem that people in the US now don't see gender roles in the same ways?  The culture is less unified than it could be, for sure.  70 years ago in the US "white culture" was fairly unified around the idea that black people are fundamentally different and inferior, and surely black people were a lot less certain of that.   Perspective was not unified. So there were just two cultures, right?  And related to shared perspective issues someone who believed that all "races" are equal would have had a lot of trouble talking to someone who thought that of course black people were fundamentally different and inferior.

It's not so simple mapping this to changes in gender role definitions, which are some fundamental categories.  Some people on the liberal side would feel that relatively rigid definitions of male and female should be "dissolved," just as a lot of people in the US felt that racism should be dropped, those categories dissolved, although some people still don't agree with that.

From a narrow, somewhat flawed perspective this would be all about rejecting trans-people's right to exist.  It's not about that, really.  It's about whether or not retaining some variation of traditional masculine and feminine identification should be important, if the concepts of mother and father should be retained, for example.  Some people would say no; a woman can be a father, and a man could make a great mother.  

I'm reminded of an ex-girlfriend telling me that I would make a great mother, because I was good with some maternal aspects of raising her daughter that she had trouble with (a little girl I loved very much).  Sometimes my daughter calls me mommy to make fun of this same set of ideas, because I empathize with her and care for her in ways a mother traditionally should instead.  I help her shower and get ready for bed every night, for example, even though of course at this point she needs no help, because she's 8.  It's a ritual role and activity, and her messing around until I start to get angry about that is part of the normal process.  Last night it was making a "beauty treatment mask" out of toilet paper, and often it's something about making potions.  I love those experiences; I value them.  Just not on days when I'm tired and in a hurry.

Moving back to the Bible, it's teaching people to live within social expectations through stories.  It's a little problematic that old testament versions are kind of dated, so people might get killed by stoning for relatively trivial offenses in stories, or slavery could seem normal, or whatever else they did or didn't object to as much 2500 years ago could come up.  The lessons about being empathetic and supporting others and society, even at the cost of sacrificing your own self-interest, would hold up better across time and shifting social norms.  It's all not as hard to sort out as what Nietzsche or Kant said, so there's that.

Jordan Peterson's statement that the Bible grounds a lot of modern forms of literature and worldview I see as partly right, maybe even completely right within the bounds of how he probably meant it.  If you look back through that list of ideas put forth by existentialism (in a crib-notes study guide reference form) it completely conflicts almost all of the assumptions the Bible starts from:  society and human nature are based on rigid, externally defined forms, there are clearly defined norms for right and wrong, self-determination relates to accepting these boundaries and acting within them, as externally directed, etc.  

So which set of ideas is wrong, or more right?  People make that selection in relation to assumptions, which are largely inherited, and often only develop them a little through internal review.  My own take might involve a bit more explicit review for being on that page (interested in this general subject), but in the end maybe I just fall back on what feels right to me to, in relation to which parts of the two sets of ideas I accept.  I suppose I merge them.  Or to give myself more credit I resolve some of the assumptions that lead to these contradictions at the level of assumptions instead of getting this far, on to different conclusions.  Something like "people are born with a blank slate" is just wrong, but it takes too long to unpack the two levels on which this is incorrect, about societal perspective being a framework and how genetics factors in.

Let's be clear, Jordan Peterson can accept that social roles and definitions, and moral norms, are all defined through an organic process of reason and natural evolution of forms, not through dictates from a real God.  This was really Kant's project, building it all up from reason, without any need for random and shifting external forms, which kind of didn't work.  Nietzsche felt that people were right at the cusp of completely rejecting a lot of prior norms, evolving past them, and that's not as much in contrast with thinking that relatively fixed social norms evolve through rational development as it might seem.  Nietzsche didn't see it all as rational in the same sense that Kant did, but it works out similarly enough anyway, that instead of a rational mapping process explaining it all, and then eliminating inconsistencies, we can experience a re-write of social forms through the input of greater vision, creativity, and self-awareness.  Nietzsche's ideas lead more directly to what JP's "philosophical opponents" take up than what he does.

Except those opponents, the modern "Marxists," kind of don't really exist.  People are certainly acting on continued ideas and forms from earlier Existentialism, but there are no "boogeymen" of people who really know what they are doing in proposing ingenuine and manipulative philosophical positions, and then also advocate flawed derived norms.  Some of the social forms probably are problematic, and ideas flawed, there is just no insidious conspiracy to push it all through as Peterson describes.  Maybe there might as well be; some Hollywood movies are still impacted as if there was.  

If you look long enough you could find academics with related positions to debate, but they aren't influential known figures, or people pulling the strings from the shadows, they're just college professors or authors.  Contemporary atheism has proven much more popular, related to selling books and drawing attention, and that's unrelated.

Related to how I personally place Christianity, I think what Jesus taught is what people need to hear, even though I've been influenced a lot more by taking up Buddhism.  Buddhism is too hard for almost everyone; it's a process of guided introspection that involves a number of components, different functional tools and contextual references.  There's no one clear and simple modern form to review and try to follow.  Christianity is better; the moral teachings are essentially equivalent, and they work.  

this role represents a part of Buddhist religion but to me the core meaning is something else

For people who absolutely need to get the rest sorted out Buddhism could be the best reference, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it.  Sometimes the shortest path seems long, and Buddhism really is a long path.  The goal of understanding and revising your own worldview wouldn't be for everyone.   There's a bit on one core component here that fills part of that in.

Can we put Jordan Peterson's assertion that the Bible underpins a modern Western worldview to use in any way?  Not really, I don't think.  Reading the New Testament helps identify what Jesus really taught, but getting through the Old Testament is all but impossible for almost everyone, regardless of what is or isn't in there, or how much filtering would be required to place the ideas.  It's still interesting to consider, for me, but I'm not sure how common that positive reaction to the idea would be.  Jordan Peterson's broader themes are more worthy of consideration, or early work on meaning and psychology basics, but as I've covered here I see it all as connected.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Gopaldhara Spring White Teas

Not exactly timely, reviewing spring versions of white teas in January, but I wanted to keep on with trying spare samples, and passing on thoughts on those.  I never did get around to this range trying Gopaldhara versions from a set sent by them to try last year.  They'll be really good, of course, but maybe in some interesting way.  Or maybe I'll just keep writing about them being sweet, complex, fruity, refined, etc., just what I expect.

One is described as a Bai Mu Dan; that might be different.  It's a reference to a Chinese white tea style, of course.  The other referenced something about being an early harvest version, which only became clear later after talking to Rishi about what it was, since that didn't match up with a website marketing name version.  It was something they didn't sell by direct retail, a batch they only sold wholesale.

This review gets a little strange because that earlier guess, from the review notes, that their white teas just repeat in style was completely wrong.  The Bai Mu Dan was really unusual for being processed in a different way than was typical for them, which I've just heard about, but which I'm not really going to try to summarize here.  Processing details tend to go in one ear and out the other, so I wouldn't do that justice.  It was pretty much just left to dry, so it's a standard white tea, but there was a little more to it than that.

The other white tea version was relatively broken.  In these review notes--written while I tried the teas--I guessed that it probably wasn't like that as they sold it, that I probably got the last of a large bag for the sample, broken material that had settled out, and Rishi guessed that's probably what it was too.  To me that makes for an interesting test case, because I've wondered how similar their teas would be to more conventional and more broken leaf Darjeeling, and this will test that.  Of course I could just split a sample that's relatively whole leaf and crush half, and then brew both parts separately, but I never get around to that.  Intuitively astringency level would be higher, and flavors might change just a little, and that's kind of how it worked out.

I'm not changing the contents of these notes based on learning those extra details, but not that much changed in relation to the Bai Mu Dan version anyway.  I think Rishi said that it's from AV2 material, but that's already in the web page description anyway:

As is typical they keep a flavor description limited, which is probably for the best since different people would always interpret flavor aspects differently:

Instead of rolling and oxidizing, this tea is sun-dried in a controlled method that preserves its unforgettable smooth, creamy and fruity texture. The picturesque dry leaves are greenish-grey in appearance with lots of silvery tips which brew into a pale yellow-green coloured liquor. A hint of honey and notes of wildflowers can also be felt in this tea.


Gopaldhara Early Harvest White (2021):  I might've went with the more typical fast infusion time to adjust for this being more broken than usual, but instead I let it go longer to avoid writing about how I would know better next round.  This is too astringent to really evaluate.  In a sense that works to help identify flaws in the tea, what the rest of the character is really like, but it won't work to evaluate it against preference.  Except that nothing really stands out except the astringency.

This is oxidized more than I expected.  White teas vary a lot related to that; it just depends on how much air contact occurred during processing.  And using broken material would really ramp it up too. This is going to seem more like a black tea than their first flush versions typically do.  I'll try a fast infusion next round and can talk about how it is then.

from their website; I spaced taking dry leaf pictures, which never happens

Bai Mu Dan:  infusion time was just about perfect for this version (towards 20 seconds, quite long for a typical Gongfu first infusion).  This is really unique.  At first it seems like that novel flavor includes a lot of melon, but I might adjust that after considering it.  Yep, melon.  Probably like honeydew or something such; I kind of hate melon so those could be more familiar.  Oddly that really doesn't carry over to disliking teas that taste like melon, so this is nice.  

Beyond that it's hard to describe.  There's a warmth to it that's hard to place, and a depth of fullness to the feel.  Warmth might be a bit like really fresh croissant, with a warm and mild floral tone mixed in, like chrysanthemum.  It's really unlike anything else that comes to mind.  And this range isn't too far from how Bai Mu Dan can be too, which is odd.  I suppose for being this novel it would be atypical but still that's right somehow.

oxidation level difference is easy to see in the brewed liquid

Early Harvest, second infusion:  for normal Darjeeling this would be good; it has plenty of astringency edge, and lots of floral flavor, and it's clean, with good sweetness.  It's hard to even place that in relation to the other Gopaldhara teas I've been trying, for awhile.  It's that astringency bite, which brings with it green wood flavor, or at least seems connected to that to me.  At half this proportion it would be brewing better, even at the same flash infusion I just used.  

It's just not what I expected, the intense, fruity and floral, approachable, very sweet range.  I can't say that a tea that seems like a typical Darjeeling is a complete miss to me; that doesn't seem fair.  It just seems harsh in comparison to their other range.  Most likely if I try another white from what they sent (I think there might be two more in that set) those will be what I expected, and this just isn't.  

It can happen that you get a sample from towards the end of a larger package, that it being this broken isn't really typical of what it's sold as.  Tea reviewers, or customers in general, can end up feeling put out by that, but it is what it is, and results aren't always really negative in relation to that.  Last year a vendor sent me what had to be the end of a batch of Thai Oriental Beauty (an interpretation of that style, really) and that really worked, with the extra astringency and edge supporting the mild style of that tea nicely.  That was a tea I bought a normal amount of, not a sample, but since I liked the tea there was nothing to complain about related to that form.  Looking back at that post the tea in that bag near the top wasn't as broken, with the bottom half just fragments.  Either way, it was nice.

Bai Mu Dan:  warm tones pick up a bit, so that melon doesn't stand out as much.  It's still a bit bright and sweet, but offset from just that in tone.  The way some faint aspects come together is catchy, the general effect.  It wouldn't be completely off to interpret this as including mild citrus, it's just not exactly how I see it.  It's mainly floral tones, but a range of those.  That warm part I mentioned is similar to fresh baked bread of some type, or interpreted differently leaning a bit towards balsa wood.  It all works though.

Early Harvest, third infusion:  getting a lot more pleasant.  That floral range is really intense, and the astringency is really easing up.  Probably next round it will be in an even nicer balance.  "Intense floral" can mean a lot of things but most of those wouldn't be this intense.  A different reviewer might question whether or not this is a flavored tea, but it's absolutely not, since they wouldn't send that, and the difference in effect is clear enough.  

It's odd how this comes across as more oxidized than standard first flush Darjeeling.  Brewed color alone clearly indicates that, and of course warm toned flavor range and astringency.  The next round should indicate what this really is.

Bai Mu Dan:  it's strange how richness picked up a lot, even though the other general aspect range didn't change that much.  It's a little "cleaner," not that it was musty or murky in some sense before, but the flavor range is brighter and clearer now.  No set of words would capture that one "catchy" effect that I mentioned.  It's an emergent property of how the other aspects come across, not one thing, or even clearly tied to a set of a few aspects.  That said I think there might be one main thing causing it that I've not done justice to describing.  Maybe it's how that fruit tone, now harder to identify, mixes with the floral tone and warmer range, what I've described as like fresh baked bread.

Early harvest, fourth infusion:  it's interesting how this reminds me of most Darjeeling first flush versions I experienced in the past.  Heavy floral tone is offset by an astringency edge, which has moderated to a level that's pleasant.  That floral range is so intense that it carries over as a more pronounced aftertaste than most tea types provide.  

This would've been better made using half as much tea; I wasn't thinking that broken leaf effect through.  It's just not the page I'm typically on, and I've been preparing teas more or less on autopilot for awhile now.  Using the same proportion and modifying timing works really well for a broad range of teas, just not necessarily this example.  Or for broken leaf versions in general, really.  This would've been a more positive sounding review if I had dropped dry leaf amount to half this, even though I'm trying to describe how the input changes things.  Or Western brewing probably would've went better.

Bai Mu Dan:  this is going to come across much differently not just for being whole leaf, and a different character of tea, but also because I used less dry tea to make it.  It took up about one and a half times the gaiwan space as the other dry but double would've been more suitable (best achieved by cutting back the first, as described).  Of course I'm adjusting timing to longer for this version than the other to offset that, but I'm still drinking these at two completely different brewed intensity levels.

All that said the description from last round still works.  I'll probably not add any more notes on later rounds, even though these will shift some, because the basic story is already covered.  Some degree of brewing error is part of it in relation to the first, but it's also just broken leaf first flush Darjeeling, which is pleasant enough brewed as fast as I'm making it, just not the type I expected.


That Bai Mu Dan version was interesting, and novel.  I'm not sure that I like it more than their typical first flush white tea versions, but it's in a similar range for positive aspect character, and sometimes just being different is better.

The other version was interesting for that broken leaf form experiment.  Tried as a whole leaf tea it would've brewed a lot slower, with much lower astringency, and less of a green wood / plant stem sort of flavor input.  Not that all that is so terrible; someone could actually prefer both those inputs, especially if they were acclimated to expect them.  To a limited extent we like what we expect to like.  Only to a limited extent though; people are generally also open to new experiences being positive.

It's drifting way off the subject but let's consider an example from my life; what kinds of things did I experience moving to Thailand that were novel at first, that I liked a lot right away or else needed time to adjust to?  Sticking to foods will keep it simple.  One of my favorite deserts, that I'm reminded that I could eat and enjoy every single day when I have it, is something I didn't like at first, a mix of  Chinese beans, dried fruits, ice, and longan juice.  That's a little different, about a set of flavors and overall food experience being novel.  

Food texture differences stand out a lot more here; lots of things are mushy.  Some mushy foods I absolutely love now, like congee (boiled rice soup), and others I'm still so-so on, like those gelatinous desert cubes they make from rice starch.  I think I loved mango and sticky rice the first time I tried it here, but to me it would seem odd for someone not to.   Those could hardly pair any better, with the sticky rice flavor and texture adjusted by adding coconut, and with an extra coconut sauce.  All of this isn't really supposed to tie back to how Darjeeling style expectations would work out, it's just a tangent.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Tea vendor bias and group identification


Sergey Shevelev in the Moychay Amsterdam shop

I had mentioned talking about tea vendor perspectives in a meetup session summary post, about appreciation for or bias against Moychay by Russian tea enthusiasts.  I'll go into more on that here, reviewing how I see cases of vendor support or negative impressions.  I think it might have more to do with embracing shared group perspective and association than what one might take to be more intuitive inputs, about range of selection, best quality offerings, or about value issues.

Alex said that the further along tea awareness exposure among Russians you go, relating to people with more developed preference and awareness, they tend to have a more negative opinion of Moychay.  But why?  It could be because they are better informed to judge, but that's not what Alex added as his main take.  He thought it's because as a vendor grows, gains a lot of exposure, and seems more "corporate" opinions naturally become more divided on them, including significant negativity.  To interpret that a little, it could be that tea "beginners" appreciate supporting introductory content, and haven't yet sorted into preference related groups.

We can see that in cases like Yunnan Sourcing and Mei Leaf, although maybe there's not a direct parallel to the layers of controversy surrounding Mei Leaf.  Or maybe we can set aside problems with plant age claims, exaggerated descriptions, and that one glitch related to branding through a Native American cartoon image, and perspective issues might start to match back up across vendors again.

I've noticed myself being more critical of Don Mei's content than may be justifiable (explained at length related to causes and limitations in this post).  In some cases his Youtube content contains minor gaps or errors, but even when a number of statements aren't wrong, but aren't clearly objectively right either, and that's all presented as background to sell a specific tea version, it seems a bit dodgy to me.  It could be like that with Sergey (the Moychay owner), that people are overly sensitive of tone in presentation, suspecting that a lot of the range is as much indirect marketing as it is genuine background content.  

Back to Don, I'll cite an example to place what I mean.  In one post about a Rou Gui he mentioned how the link between that type and cinnamon flavor--what Rou Gui translates as--is often overstated, that it doesn't necessarily taste like that.  Some do taste like cinnamon, or cassia, and some don't.  But if he had said exactly that it would be providing good background information content that could support selling the version he was discussing (which didn't taste like cinnamon), but as I interpreted his statement he implied Rou Gui just doesn't really taste like cinnamon, which is wrong.  Then probably if he had been selling a version that happened to include that flavor the opposite would have been emphasized.  Maybe I'm wrong about that; I tried to look up that video to re-watch it to evaluate that again, but I'm pretty sure that video has been deleted.  He did upload another on judging Rou Gui and Wuyi Yancha (Wuyishan area "rock oolong"),  but it's not the one I'm mentioning.

In that second video on judging Wuyi Yancha quality most of his ideas seem fine, it's just not how I would put similar interpretations.  He doesn't really get into mouthfeel and aftertaste as considerations, which to me leaves a lot out in terms of describing what people experience and value.  Complex flavor is part of it too, and I tend to frame descriptions a little differently than he would, but I can't say that he's wrong about what he said in that.  

There is an intensity and hard to describe character to good Wuyi Yancha that isn't exactly about flavor, feel, or aftertaste, but spans those.  I see it as a liqueur like or perfume like fragrant and aromatic quality, which comes across and balances differently in different versions.  His take is more about a long flavor list occurring, including subtle flavors, which is ok.  Different people can focus on different things, flavors really can be complex, and they do tend to transition over rounds, further complicating things.  People new to tea do tend to focus on flavor as the main experience, which never completely drops out later, but it's often seen as only part of what one is experiencing.

It's interesting how Yunnan Sourcing avoids this particular range of objection by Scott (the owner) not really using Youtube content as marketing, and erring on the side of limiting written product description of teas, just saying a little to give a bit of sense of what they are.  There's a good chance that half of his Yunnan Sourcing Fans Facebook group--which kind of is a sales tool, but a different subject, since Scott isn't really active there--aren't familiar with his Youtube content, because they just don't emphasize it.  

Different people do pass on thoughts on teas there in that group, so that's not different and could support sales, and marketing could still be the main point of the Youtube product description videos.  Part of this point relates to Yunnan Sourcing having 6000 subscribers on their Youtube channel, compared to 3900 members in that Facebook group; just promoting videos there would surely add to that viewership and follower count, but they don't do that.

Scott Wilson (of YS) making light of image issues, through a "caption this" contest, as I see this

Mei Leaf has almost 90,000 Youtube followers, and Sergey Shevelev of Moychay has 105,000.  Mind you I see nothing wrong with vendors producing tea background content to serve as both marketing and information for customers, and others.  It promotes the industry and general awareness, in addition to one vendor's products.  Everyone else selling or promoting tea should be grateful that both are successful at it.  

The point here is that in developing a lot of content, and being successful in gaining a following, even without self-promoting as a tea expert a vendor would automatically seem to take up the mantle of being an authority, one step towards being a "tea master."  To me it seems to help a little if there is less marketing angle and they are de-emphasizing their own reference content, as Yunnan Sourcing seems to.  William of Farmerleaf strikes a really great balance; nothing in their Youtube background information material seems geared towards sales, more just on background, but of course it could still support sales in that form.  He has 6000 subscribers too, as YS does; you can make of that what you will.

I can't really offer any opinion about most of Moychay's video content, related to that factor of balancing general information and promotion, because I've only seen a half dozen of their videos, mostly geared towards a Western audience, the translated versions.  It seems sales emphasis neutral, but there could be indirect marketing concerns with the more viewed Russian videos, for all I know, with that content open for critique.  It's sort of a slippery slope.  One might say that Wuyi Yancha is good, and then that this particular version is, and then that you should buy this through our shop.  It takes a deft touch to offer informative background but to not take the last step, so that it doesn't feel like watching an ad.

Alex's point that people are just going to be divided makes sense.  

Next one might consider whether or not there are broad quality or value issues that could trigger negative reactions from some Russian tea enthusiasts.  I'm not sure.  Moychay's product quality and value don't seem so different than Yunnan Sourcing's, to me; pretty good in general, covering a lot more range than is normal for standard vendors.  Some is exceptional, above average tea selling at a great value, or representing really novel offerings, with other examples just kind of normal related to all that.  Eventually a below average quality or value product might turn up from any source.  

For teas that are completely unique it can be hard to identify value, for brand new types, hybrid style versions, or rare aged teas.  For example, this yellow tea from Khosta, Krasnodar region, 2021 sells for $20 for 100 grams.  Sounds kind of low to me, but who knows, it might also depend on how well it turned out.  I doubt that there is a second yellow tea from that Russian area being produced to set a market value, not that I would know if there was.  I tried a yellow tea from Mississippi last year, from Jason McDonald's farm, which listed for $14 per ounce (50 cents a gram instead of 20), but production overhead in the US would probably be much, much higher, and the tea could be better, or the target audience could vary.

The main opinion expressed about Mei Leaf is that their tea is good, which is the main thing, but that value isn't very good, that you could get the same quality level of products elsewhere for less.  Then some Mei Leaf fans reject that last part, seeing the teas as unique and positive enough for above average level pricing to be fair.  A sub-theme about people liking or disliking Don Mei almost eclipses whether or not his teas are good, or a good value, as discussed in this Facebook group thread.

Where am I going with all this?  How vendors present themselves and end up being perceived is an interesting theme to me, especially related to forms and causes.  My final take may be way off, that people are really looking for a way to self-identify and connect with others in a lot of cases, even though they may or may not see it that way, framing their own outlook as a normal shopping perspective.

Group identification related to tea vending

For one particular reason I think Mei Leaf probably doesn't get fair treatment, in retrospect, maybe even from what I've communicated, even though I think their tea is probably generally overpriced too.  I think Don "rubbing people the wrong way" as a video persona factors in a lot.  I don't think Scott Wilson of Yunnan Sourcing gets too beat up online, but it seems like any successful vendors can easily become targets for criticism, justified or not.  Maybe justifiably so?  A bit of pushback here and there might keep them honest.  Reddit comment discussion sometimes tends to go a couple steps beyond that.  Scott did get involved with a messy discussion issue there once, but then that's Reddit for you, not much better than Twitter for sometimes being harsh.  

That's only half the story though.  People love Don Mei more than seems justified too, clear from that Facebook group post I mentioned:

*In Mei Leaf's most recent video*

Commenter: "Why does the Facebook Gong Fu Cha goup hate you so much?"

Don: "🤷‍♂️ Maybe I would dislike myself if I was on the outside"

Lololol I don't buy Mei Leaf teas because of shipping costs, but I love Don so much.

I guess that he loves Don because of his sense of humor?  I'm not sure that comment was offered as humorous.  The comments there talk about appreciation for his teas, his online content, and for him being an interesting and charismatic person, the part that people are divided over.

I think group inclusion is the extra component that's not as evident.  Why would almost 4000 people join a Facebook group to talk about tea from one vendor (Yunnan Sourcing Fans)?  To be fair Q & A discussion does go better there than in most places, but cutting off discussion at one vendor's selections seems limiting.  Why are there lots of vendor specific Discord servers now, with varying degrees of engagement?  I only belong to Farmerleaf's and Liquid Proust's, because I was just checking those out more than participating, since I wouldn't have anything to add for not being a regular customer for either.

Moychay's tea clubs theme is something else, but it connects.  That adds in drinking tea in a setting that goes a long step beyond a cafe for being decorative and establishing a vibe, and it supports a more ceremonial take on tea experience.  All the same it is also shifting individual tea experience to social experience.  

this is more a tasting area than a club, but Moychay's club theme is an interesting subject

The online group case is more interesting to me though, because then it's reduced to being abstract, having more to do with self-definition and text message discussion contact than real life.  Or the "main" Discord group, Communitea, is big on voice / audio based meetups; I guess that's more in the middle.

In a podcast comment discussion someone once mentioned being "on team Xiaguan," not just saying that they like Xiaguan, but emphasizing how that put them in a group.  To me that's odd, even though that form of expression comes up more and more now.  Podcast creators tend to lean into this social dynamic, making their audience feel like part of a group, by establishing specialized use of slang, or even a nickname for group members (as "teaheads" is used).  Theo Von and Chris Delia are good examples of comedians using this form.  Oddly on one Reddit subforum Joe Rogan podcast followers connect and unify related to seeing Joe Rogan as an idiot, reveling in dumb things he says, or making fun of him for using steroids, for being short, or for his anti-vaxer position.  It still works, I guess, it just seems backwards, unifying as fans connected by partial dislike.

Vendors could make use of this, the positive part, right?  That's essentially what the Discord groups represent.  It's not negative really; to the extent someone wants to feel like they are a part of something for liking Don Mei's teas, or those from Yunnan Sourcing, Moychay, Farmerleaf, and so on, that's fine, and it really is also about sharing information.

Next more experienced and older tea enthusiasts might look down on all that, and see it as silly how younger and newer participants cling to odd forms of association.  But it happens in more subtle ways across a broad spectrum, even when people don't feel a need to formalize the link.  If someone loves Essence of Tea, Teas We Like, Tea Encounter, or Hou De you won't tend to hear about it, but there's no reason why someone couldn't value "being in the know" in a similar form, just with less post comments for interaction.  Without even taking up the external role as an elite, experienced, "higher" form of tea enthusiast the more subtle social role as isolated participant may still be regarded as meaningful.  Not joining a group or talking about it could be seen as just following a different code:  those who talk don't know, and those who know don't talk.

Let me pass on a thought that ties to this, that might clarify it.  To an extent I get the impression that some more introverted expats--foreigners living abroad, somehow implied as higher in status level than "immigrants"--like the social role because it defines them as different, and as being a certain way, without any need for setting that up or interacting.  Just being white is a stereotype, where in the US you need to pair that with class / economic status to make a start, and then it still doesn't go far, and you also have to add political affiliation.  Here in Thailand, where I live, foreigners are respected but also disliked a little, seen as quirky and odd but likely to be intelligent, and interpreted as probably having questionable morals, related to paying for romantic relationships.  It's not quite that simple, but basically you are a type, just for being white.  Let's set aside how that would go for other races; that's not the point.

The point is that stereotyping, and to some extent group inclusion, is almost freely granted, and some people seem to value that.  In tea groups you just need to adopt shared perspective, which isn't quite as easy, but which may not be very difficult.  

Tied to Mei Leaf support expressing or just feeling that "I love Don" is more than enough; you're in, even without buying the tea, as that guy explicitly stated in that post.  As a Yunnan Sourcing fan you just need to have placed one order, and to have liked one tea version, and to express intention to keep going.  If you want to feel at home among 10+ year experience tea snobs on Tea Forum--no offense intended; those people are nice--it's not quite so simple, but parroting what others say goes a long way.  In the Gong Fu Cha Facebook group you just need to buy a gaiwan, and to be looking into yixing, or post any photo of drinking tea outside.  R/tea on Reddit isn't a unified social group, but posting a picture of a half dozen boxes of grocery store tea-bag tea in a cabinet will draw at least 100 upvotes.

Why are we like this, group oriented to a strange degree?  With me included, surely.  An online contact put it well in a Quora answer about how social interaction is evolving: 

There's a broad emphasis on smaller and more detailed clustering, which in turn relies on people having a firmer sense of self and on them defining themselves in certain ways. We assign ourselves to many categories which are smaller and more specific than perhaps they've been in the recent past.

Right! A half dozen years ago people might group together in relation to tea interest, but that has pushed down to which teas people like now, or how they brew and experience them, and on further to which vendor sources of those teas they prefer.  Embracing or rejecting someone with a high profile online as an information source, or sub-culture leader, is just an extension of that.  

there's nothing wrong with combining being charismatic and informative, as So Han does

People can even now unify, to an extent, in relation to shared dislikes, not just personal associations and likes.  So this seems to be the last component of the negative mixed feelings related to many tea vendors; it's attractive to dislike a lot of things, and even to identify through that.  It automatically places you above that subject or person, for looking down on them.  If you dislike Dave Chappelle for making transgender jokes that identifies you as more sensitive to minority perspective than him.  If you can criticize the people who make that criticism, for being "woke," then you are implied to have a broader view of how social commentary works than they do.  Even not liking a movie can place you socially.

Never taking up these kinds of connections and oppositions would be a very reasonable and functional option.  But then there wouldn't be that much to talk about on social media, so that perspective would tend to not be expressed, or wouldn't seem interesting if it was.  There's normally a strong inclination to like or dislike things, to agree or disagree with ideas, so remaining neutral isn't so simple.  It's natural to react, and to place yourself in relation to that kind of perspective.

William Osmont of Farmerleaf