Saturday, February 26, 2022

The Buddhist nonexistence of self in relation to multiple personality experience (DID)


I wrote a summary about looking into Dissociative Identity Disorder awhile back, the experience of multiple personalities.  This won't go into what that is; that summary covered it.  The intention was to return to the idea of the Buddhist rejection of the existence of a real self (covered here) in relation to the experience of multiple personalities.

I was just talking to an online contact about this, and it helps frame ideas I've been "kicking around" for a few months to do that, so I'll use parts of how I expressed that here (many thanks to them).

To be clear the assertion that there is no real, permanent internal self is essentially meaningless without a context.  Of course our bodies are real, and our social selves aren't unreal, and we function as a legal entity, in an employee role, within the context of a marriage bond, etc.  We are real, in most main senses, as an abstract or internal entity.  Hopefully this will expand on what that could mean, and will get back to how this applies to DID. 

It's a bit overly simple but if the experience of one internal persona is not real, as I think it's not, at least in a limited sense, then the experience of multiple personas could hardly be more or less real.  Even the social convention part could be flexible; as of now there is no significant allowance in standard norms for people to manifest more than one internal self, but that could change.  It's probably a bit unsatisfying how this doesn't really develop these two sets of ideas much further, that any internal self is just an assumption or convention, and that the external social norm itself might be open to change.  I do fill in some background, and offer limited opinion about how this works out.

Back to what the "rejection of a real self" theme is about

It's very difficult to think through what it could possibly mean to say that no internal self is real, the one idea from Buddhism (which again is provisional and functional, not a statement of metaphysical truth or modeling). As I see it that only makes sense or has a meaning tied to a unique introspection and transformation project. 

Buddhism is promoting this as a thought model for a particular reason.  One might ask "which Buddhist teaching, in which core text?," and for that you need to turn to a Buddhism website and page around through basics.  In case your Google is broken this turns up on page one of a search, or this kind of starting point lists other online reference pages, with a bit of interpretation from a monastic source to follow.  

I'm talking about my own perspective as an outcome of long study here, what worked for me in internal review.  I have two degrees in religion and philosophy based mainly around study of Buddhism but I'm not going back through any of that, or start this out with citing sutras, or other interpretations (beyond doing a little with that to serve as starting points).  Buddhism taken as philosophy, as a model for reality, generally doesn't map well to what I take Buddhism to be, but I'll mostly set that aside too.

a favorite picture of my son as a novice monk

Taking up this idea as a conditional supposition works to help examine and to some extent deconstruct the existing assumed version of a self.  In practice our form of internal self-definition is really a collection of assumptions, beliefs, preferences, definition through personal history, inherent personal characteristics, outcomes related to memory, and so on.  Social roles build on all of that, or are an integrated part of it, both a basis and an outcome.

Why do this internal review, one might wonder.  An introspection process like this can help resolve some fairly conventional "ego," reality construct, and expectations issues.  We really only can act in the present (kind of a given, when you think about it), but our reality can become overly shaped by regrets related to the past or anxiety related to the future.  Lots of self-image themes can be problematic.  Here I'm describing a blurring between definition of self and experienced form of reality, the other parts that shape it, which tie to self-definition more than is immediately obvious.  

Back more directly to self image, a range of concerns could become negative in ways that it could be helpful to "unpack," and then move on to resolving.   These could relate to self-image, in relation to persona or physical appearance, social status and roles, ownership of material goods, social connections, and so on.  It should seem a little indirect to start from "self is not real" to move on towards better understanding and then resolving these things, but in my experience it can work, with that functionality the main point.

"Real" in this context refers to the form a particular person has taken up, so it wouldn't be just one thing.  For example, self-image could be a huge part of personal definition for someone, related to their physical image and social image, positioning within a subculture and such, or at an economic level.  Or that could largely drop out for someone else, and they could define themselves in completely different ways, for example through a set of interests.  I think even if someone is isolated on a remote island alone the social image conditioning aspect would never really completely drop out though; that you would define yourself in terms of being separated from social contact, like in that Tom Hanks movie.

As I see it we rely more on psychological models than others, so in a conventional worldview a real and continuous (somewhat permanent) internal self is not taken to be a mental mirrored aspect of a soul, typically. It would be accepted that self and brain function overlap, but the primary model people would tend to use would be psychological, about a subconscious and conscious divide, about inherent forms being exhibited based on innate tendencies, learned patterns of being and response, and so on.  We would probably tend to gravitate towards self-definition through defined forms and models, eg. introvert and extrovert, through class level, or the more modern and potentially problematic alpha and beta concepts.

The real meaning or purpose of this negative construct comes in when you consider what "not real" is about.  Those layers of being aren't tangible, like the physical body, but they're not exactly imaginary either.  All of those social constructs are "real" things, within the limitation that social constructs ground a lot of all of our lives, as assumptions and sets of ideas or conventions.

Of course we go just a little further, and we naturally assume that we experience a real internal self, that the internal persona we experience must map to something continuous and well-grounded, be it a soul, or an output our brain produces.  It could be that a self is a conditioned social response that represents a manifestation of our sub-conscious, invoking a divide which really just breaks apart two things we don't experience so directly. It works to question that assumption; what if that self is just assumed continuity, not rigidly grounded at all, or as fixed as it seems?  What if what "we" really are is a set of assumptions and response patterns, which are reinforced by social roles and language forms, but nothing more real than that?  What if we could reset that, or split it into parts, beyond just having aspects of our self being context related (work-self, family role self, etc.)?  I'll get back to that last point.

Limited input about rejection of self from a short reference source

Maybe that's enough framing, or maybe it's not.  Just in case let's back up and consider a popular writing explanation of what Buddhism is doing with this supposed rejection of self (or not doing), in this reference article (written by a monk, for what that's worth), “There is no self.”

When Vacchagotta the wanderer asked him point-blank whether or not there is a self, the Buddha remained silent, which means that the question has no helpful answer. As he later explained to Ananda, to respond either yes or no to this question would be to side with opposite extremes of wrong view (Samyutta Nikaya 44.10).

Right, so the idea that there is no continuous, permanent self according to Buddhism isn't a model for reality, a description of the way that things really are or aren't, that can be mapped out easily.  It's something else.  This following interpretation isn't a core teaching, it's that writer's explanation:

Because clinging lies at the heart of suffering, and because there’s clinging in each sense of self, he advised using the perception of not-self as a strategy to dismantle that clinging. Whenever you see yourself identifying with anything stressful and inconstant, you remind yourself that it’s not-self: not worth clinging to, not worth calling your self (SN 22.59). This helps you let go of it. When you do this thoroughly enough, it can lead to awakening. 

I don't really see this as wrong but to me it's also not the most direct and helpful description of the doctrine of anatta, or not self.  He adds more detail to that, about a final middle ground:

Some ways of selfing, the Buddha and his disciples found, are useful along the path, as when you develop a sense of self that’s heedful and responsible, confident that you can manage the practice (Anguttara Nikaya4.159). While you’re on the path, you apply the perception of not-self to anything that would pull you astray. Only at the end do you apply that perception to the path itself.

This mostly works, it's just back to the part about "apply the perception of not-self" seeming a bit awkward.  It seems a fairly direct reference to what gets abbreviated as "dropping" in Zen, setting aside forms of attachment.  In that context it relates to meditation and mindfulness, but that works as a description of Zen in general, and it really doesn't apply much less to other forms of Buddhism.  The output of last sentence then gets described as "dropping dropped," which is a cool structure of ideas.

If you are trying to stop obsessing over desire related to sexual attraction, for example, you would need to examine what is going into that and how to disrupt that focus, but I'm not sure that "applying the perception of not-self" would be an effective strategy.  If that meant cutting off the personal association with those ideas somehow--the tricky part--then sure, that's it.  Or related to reacting in anger, to sorting out why triggers cause that reaction, how to disrupt the internal association and response sequence, and so on.  

To a limited extent you would need to understand those cycles of self-definition, assumed context, patterns of input, and your own expectations and responses.  You couldn't just wave a general and broad "not self" concept at these themes and resolve them.  I'm sure this relates to the cited content being simplified to make sense in summary form, not related to practices that simple being supported (just stop doing it).  In the end the final step would be simple, just not doing that thing, not following forms or ideas mentally, but you couldn't just say "I'm not going to get angry anymore" and be done with it.

That author raises another good point:

The belief that there is no self can actually get in the way of awakening. As the Buddha noted, the contemplation of not-self can lead to an experience of nothingness (MN 106).

This could be a reference to different things, but Buddhism is definitely not about nihilism, the acceptance that nothing is real, there is no inherent meaning in anything, with adopted meaning of questionable value.  Retaining a lot of the experience of meaning of life is fairly important, but adjusting assumptions going into that and experience of response forms can be helpful.

I'm reminded here of continually seeing a lot of meditations on death stated in Buddhist discussion groups.  Those can be helpful for placing life experience; that's the point.  You can't really take up a positive modeling (an explanation) or value association for death itself, because it's just the cessation of life.  If you think about death quite a bit you can experience the transitory nature of life experience in a different form, or consider more deeply what you value, or which assumptions you hold that you tend to not examine (eg. the importance of social status versus enjoyment of direct experience, and so on).

Back to DID / multiple personality experience

If it turns out that a lot of what people are doing with the standard construct of a self is carrying through assumptions, biases, external forms and roles, and so on then it may not make much difference if that is being applied to one or more internal hypothesized selves, or personas.  Application to one continuous and relatively consistent internal form would seem more conventional, but it's not as if that's necessarily grounded in a basis in reality matching that form.  It could just be a convention.  How would it be different if we somehow regarded our work persona, family role, and friends oriented persona as relatively completely different individuals?  Hard to say.

It's best to not lose sight of the context, that people experiencing DID didn't choose it, with this condition brought on by fragmentation of self through childhood trauma.  I have ran across what seems to be a parallel form that is completely optional though, the experience of a "tulpa," a made-up internal persona friend, more or less.  A Reddit subforum for that interest describes them as "Intelligent companions imagined into existence."

People with DID may not see this "tulpa" theme as so closely related, or positive.  But then one problem the psychological treatment community seems to have with DID is that there is a voluntary or intentional aspect to that disorder, that suggestion, often framed as typically offered by a therapist, changes the experience by reinforcing it, in a more diverse and developed form.  

I'll set most of all that aside here, and not go far with examining the tulpa theme, just working with DID as best defined as a basic, limited form, involuntary experience, which can develop over time but is not intentional.  I will leave off by saying that people discuss tulpas in such groups (as the one cited) as distinct individuals with different points of view, with variations in internal perspective not taking on voluntary forms at all.  One recent post there discussed the difference in allowing a secondary persona to drive a car, instead of the main one, discussing how that persona needed more practice, drove differently, and so on.  Strange stuff, hard to place, but moving on directly to negative judgement may not be appropriate.

The broad conclusion seems a bit hasty, doesn't it, saying that if one internal persona is really not real then experiencing a half dozen isn't so different?  It doesn't necessarily match with the theme that Buddhism sets up review of self as potentially not real for a purpose, to discover which related forms can or should be changed.  Or maybe it does?

The reasons for this reasoning step seeming awkward and potentially in error seem clear enough:  we've left behind conventional experience as a context, and have crossed into considerations of mental health issues, or at best into voluntary alternate forms of experience of reality that are relatively completely unfamiliar.  A trained therapist might reliably consider if an experience of multiple selves is healthy or else negative, or how best to respond through treatment and intentionally adopted perspective.  

In online groups where people discuss DID it's a common assertion that therapists vary a lot in how they see the condition in general, and treatment approaches, or any one person's status, and I guess that variation could be problematic.  Obviously I'm not discussing this subject here as any form of proposed self-treatment, not really even for people with singular self-identities.  Just considering different sets of ideas seems safe enough, but putting these into some form of internal practice would be something else.

Considering broader mental health and perspective issues

I could be wrong, but even beyond the tulpa subject it seems like there are running themes that relate to how human experience is changing, and DID ties together with ways that people could be in the future but were not like in the past, nearly as much, or in the same ways.  Almost no one would have imagined that people being "gender fluid" might have become a standard option a decade ago.  We're not exactly there yet, but uptake is headed that way.  20 years ago there weren't many exceptions to binary gender self-image, never mind acceptance of those varying over short spans of time.  In retrospect it's odd that someone identifying as "gender neutral" took as long to come up with as it did, or at least to become a standard form.

Mental health perspective also changes.  Probably just understanding what schizophrenia is, or parts of it, would help explain parts of how conventional experience works.  I asked my kids if they ever experienced external voices or separate personalities and one said that he did, that some internal voices seem external sometimes. I'm not overly concerned about that, but I think there's something more common to it that connects with complex typical experience range.  

Consider this stat from the Hearing Voices Network reference site:

Statistics vary, but it’s generally accepted that between 3 and 10% of the population hear voices that other people don’t...

Some people hear voices talking when no-one is around. These could be like the voices of people they know, or complete strangers. They might hear many voices, or just one. Voices can shout, whisper, be clear or muffled. They can speak in sentences or say single words...

Some people see things that others don’t. These visions can be very clear and realistic, but they can also include fuzzy shapes, shadows and beams of light. Some people see the voices that they hear, others see insects or spiders. For some, the visions are very complex (like entering into another world)...

Whilst many people associate voice-hearing with diagnoses of schizophrenia and psychosis, research suggests that the majority of people who hear voices have no mental health issue at all.

This probably seems to be headed in a direction I'm not going to follow here, saying that there is a continuum of part of 3 to 10% of the population who hallucinate, with many of those people still experiencing good mental health.  My point is that we previously assumed that reality had almost always taken a very consistent, conventional, narrow range of forms, and that may not be what a lot of people had been experiencing all along, related to gender, sensory perception, image of self, and many other issues.  If half of everyone is "terribly mental ill" that doesn't necessarily change the nature of their condition, that proportion, but I suspect that something else entirely is coming to light, that it's not that, but just normal variation instead.

Use of "normal" is potentially problematic in that construct.  It has long since been normal for Thai culture to accept a third standard gender, M to F transgender, or however that's supposed to be expressed now.  40 years ago that wouldn't be seen as normal in the US, and now it would depend on perspective, normal to many and not normal to some others.

This is an interesting reference on a vaguely related but completely different experience, Eleanor Longden presenting a Ted Talk on "The Voices In My Head," about schizophrenia instead of DID.  I'm not trying to say that the conditions are similar; they're surely not.  But it is interesting hearing a clear account from someone about experiencing range beyond a singular internal voice and persona, including perspective on that condition, and approach used to maintain maximum functionality, to work with it.

Would Buddhism "work" for people with varying mental health or self-image contexts?

Obviously I don't really know; the point here would be to talk through perspective on it a little instead.  It's interesting to consider how someone with 5 or 10 internal experienced personas might only enlist one of them into Buddhist practices, or maybe several.  I've talked about it a little with an online contact, a practicing Buddhist who experiences DID, but understandably context for message discussion doesn't seem completely consistent.  The practice might become more challenging, related to perspective inconsistency.  If I can draw on more feedback from online contacts I might add more from them in other writing later.

It's in an interesting world we live in, that we might become curious about a form of experience like DID and then reach out and discuss it with people who experience it online.  I've done that, talk to a few people about it.

Really talking to anyone about Buddhism is problematic, regardless of their perspective.  If someone shared 80% of your understanding of the form, purpose, and helpful practices related to Buddhism then discussion with them about the remaining 20% could be interesting, and helpful, if enough use of related concepts matched up.  In any other cases it would be problematic to discuss ideas without assuming some exposure base for context, or without getting tripped up by varying use of concepts and terms within different sub-groups or traditions.  

Of course any discussion would need to actively avoid self-framing as some sort of accomplished authority, perhaps even if someone was serving in a monastic role.  A monk like Thich Nhat Hanh could let that drop; people would get that his interpretation and communication about core teachings isn't a misplaced guru role claim.  There are few examples of such well respected, authoritative teachers like him, and in a sense the world is a poorer place in relation to his recent passing, but that is how this transitory existence goes. 

The idea of Sangha, or Buddhist community, helps resolve this, by leading practitioners to embrace shared experience, and by placing the role of monks as members within an appropriate context there, in relation to an established set of teachings, and consistent use of concepts.  In a Buddhist country more or less the whole country is the community, but then acceptance as a conventional religion also enters in, putting focus on ritual aspects, societal forms, ethics, etc.  In "the West" active participation in application of core teachings is more of a focus, beyond it serving as a grounding context for normal life.

To be clear, and to address one key point I've left out, it's hard for me to relate to how challenging it would be to navigate reality with significant mental health issues.  I also can't fully relate to how any other person would interpret or utilize any Buddhist teachings, even though I've definitely discussed that with people. At the risk of repetition this is intended as discussion, not some form of practical guidance, and certainly not as definitive interpretation of core Buddhist concepts.

Approaching these ideas in these ways has seemed helpful to me, and to have positively impacted my own worldview.  It was a process that took time, that isn't finished after three decades of taking it up.  It's hard to even see it as relating to having made progress, as much as how I've just used these concepts might imply.  If anything I may have clarified a few prior mistaken assumptions, and shifted perspective a little, and that's about it.  Application of Buddhism probably made it easier to consider the perspective of others, and to lighten up in seeing the world only in relation to my own self-interests and biases.  

Maybe less is more related to self-image, and people experiencing DID, or tulpas, voluntary related extra selves, would do well to deconstruct those experiences a bit, and to thin them, to scale back the experience of ego.  It seems more functional, less demanding, and simpler to experience a more limited version of a singular self, if possible.  I can't be sure though; since I've only ever experienced one self that's a guess.  It may be no less functional to experience the world through the perspective of multiple selves, or at least it could be interesting, the extra diversity.  

Maybe re-framing that is in order.  It seems better to me, to have worked well through past effort and trial, to focus less on internal definition, on conventional ego, likes and preferences, self definition and self-image, immediate inclination related to fulfillment of the next desire, focusing on the past and future, and so on.  It seems an improvement to also function in accordance with the perspective and interests of others, or to look at contexts from multiple contextual frameworks, without only focusing on one of my own that ties to what I want out of a situation or set of circumstances.  But I'm not comfortable extending that to a more objective framing, to say that such an approach is better in general, or that others should attempt this.  

Creating and sustaining fictional internal selves may be positive for others.  This seems to relate to the tupla case, while for people experiencing DID it's not necessarily about that, per my understanding, since they experience multiple personas in relation to response to early life and ongoing stress.  In the DID case it's about working with an existing form of reality, not adopting one, so the experience isn't really "fictional" in the same sense.  I don't have a clear feel for to what degree the experience can be adjusted, or that forms are optional.  

It is interesting considering how some accounts relate to complex "Sims" simulation program style physical spaces and social structures, and other accounts are nothing at all like that, but it's hard to place that meaning anything in particular.  Accounts of experiences vary so much in discussion and study references that it's not really even possible to identify if there is a most standard form of DID experience, but there seems not to be.  It can couple with a broad range of other mental health conditions.  If people really are experiencing quite different things in relation to DID experience it would seem reasonable that coping or self-development approaches should also vary.

It almost goes without saying but people take Buddhism to be a broad range of things, related to a lot of different practices and core ideas, across a broad range of living traditions, and other forms.  I'm not advocating one as most central here, as much as must have seemed implied, just discussing my own interest, past understanding, and approach.  It never did overlap that much with DID experience in this discussion, but it seems there could be more connection to patterns in changes in how people self-identify than I'm clear on just yet.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Cha Gao, traditional instant tea


first published in TChing

I've tried a broad range of tea types in the past but never cha gao, traditional instant tea.  It looks like hashish, condensed down to a brown hard substance.  This brings to mind what I've not tried yet, which main tea types (not that this is definitely that).  Those include Chinese yellow tea, although I have tried versions from Korea, America, and Russia.  I've also not tried tea from South America, Turkey, or Hawaii, even though I lived in Hawaii for two years , back when I was into tisanes.  Cha gao should be interesting for being new range.

A Thai tea contact who visited from Chiang Mai passed on this sample; many thanks.  He even said what it is:  a version from Bitterleaf, probably the "bronze" or lower quality type from three different quality levels they had been carrying awhile back.  Their listing is here, and another blog post describing the Oolong Drunk blogger's experience (Cody's) with the same tea.  Lots of kinds of teas cycle through "tea circles" as interesting and cha gao does seem to recur as a theme.

Review:  it is interesting, but not great.  I think this is prepared about right, just mixing it with hot water to an appropriate infusion strength.  There's not much for aromatics going on, so in a sense it seems weak, but I think it would ruin it to add more of the condensed material, since taste intensity across my tongue is at a significant level.

It tastes most like a hei cha, like some sort of brick material; no surprise there.  It is interesting how aftertaste carries over, warm mineral, and other earthy range.  While you drink it that's what comes across too.  One part is catchy, like a warm malt effect, which also includes cocoa, and a towards metallic or rocky effect isn't bad, just unusual.

I had stirred it for a long time, and it seemed combined, but it's getting stronger, and drinking it down there's still a small chunk left at the bottom.  I added more water and mixed it again.  

This might actually work with milk and sugar added; part of the flavor range really isn't that far off conventional black tea, tea-bag variation character.  No need to check on that though, adjusting this with inputs.

And there isn't much more to add; it's kind of basic, not exceptional but interesting, and it doesn't seem to warrant a dozen term flavor list. So I will reference one of my favorite blogs that includes some background on the type (which I won't cite here), and Geoffrey Norman's description of one version:

Yep, boiling water poured over both pastes. Then I waited three minutes. That’s about it. Oddly enough, neither the paste pellet nor cube completely dissolved.

The shou Cha Gao brewed as dark as was expected – brown with a ring of black. The aroma it gave off was straight earth and molasses, like someone at fat camp dropped a chocolate bar during a hike. 

I hadn't really thought to try to "brew" this, and this description raises another question:  what kind of tea / pu'er was this?  Bitterleaf describes it as 2015 Yiwu sheng pu'er:

While this cha gao is made entirely of raw puer material and water, the resulting flavour is one that can be surprising. It contains many of the qualities one could expect from a traditional raw puer – fragrance, sweetness, huigan, bitterness, etc, but there is also some earthiness and even light smokiness, though in a unique way...

I don't know about all that; maybe more so in the silver and gold versions.  This Path of Cha blog reference post described the shu version:

A good cha gao is characterized by a sweet woody taste, with notes of cocoa, as well as a unique fragrance. The taste, however, is quite different from a typical shou pu-erh.

This Yunnan Sourcing description adds more about history and character:

'Cha Gao' literally means 'tea paste', and this technique evolved from a process developed in the Tang 唐 and Song 宋 dynasties, while the process of making Pu-erh Cha Gao in particular was enhanced and perfected during the Qing 清 dynasty... One of the benefits of 'cha gao' is that it concentrates the chemicals found in Pu-erh tea to a very condensed and potent form. It was for this reason that it was widely considered a form of medicine during the Qing dynasty, with the 'ability to cure 100 ailments', especially concerning the gastrointestinal tract. 

I think I feel worse after drinking that instead; I should get some food in me.  I'm still recovering from a covid vaccine booster so maybe this tea can rush that process along, even though its area of focus is described here as covering a different internal system.  

The cha gao was interesting and novel, as I had hoped, and not quite as positive as above average brewed tea experience, as expected.  

It kept hitting harder long after I drank it, just one medium sized cup of it, based on using a little chip.  That friend and Bitterleaf both warned that caffeine content is significant, and that was my experience too, that it ended up being a lot stronger in stimulant effect than brewed tea.  It felt a little like drinking coffee, which doesn't come up for me so often.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Trying Gopaldhara autumn harvest Darjeeling oolongs


Rishi of Gopaldhara sent some really interesting looking teas to try, a batch of some autumn harvest teas, I think these are.  Seasons don't match temperate climates perfectly at other latitudes but maybe Darjeeling does experience more autumn and winter than here in Bangkok, related to being at a much higher altitude.  We can tell that the days get a little longer and shorter here but that's about it, except for one week typically being cooler than the rest of the year here in December.  This year that ran early, and lasted for two weeks, so it was a nice cold season for us, down into the teens C at night (60s F), not cold, but nice and cool.

I don't know anything about these, beyond the names, but per usual process I'll go back and add more after making the notes.  Let's skip the part about how close Indian oolongs really are to Chinese style oolongs.  Not that close, but medium oxidation level and some comparable degree of processing steps needs to have some category name.

After checking, the background related to a website change includes more to consider than just the description; this is posted in the Gopaldhara India site, but there's an additional international site now too.  With pricing listed in US dollars, so maybe it's a US site instead?  I'll check on that and add more about it in a later review post.  When vendors list multiple site versions, as Yunnan Sourcing does, it's often about basing stock and shipping out of somewhere else, which drops cost and speeds up delivery time anywhere, and can relate to avoiding customs issues in places like the EU.

This listing information:

Rohini Winter Frosted Rare Creamy Oolong – Master Series 2021

This rare Darjeeling yellow oolong tea has very exceptional characteristics than any other oolong teas in the Darjeeling Hills. It is produced from P157 clones at the picturesque valley of the Rohini Tea Estate in the winter season. In this season the growth of Darjeeling tea is very slow and the workers could only bring in a very small quantity of leaves that are very special. The workers carefully pluck the tea leaves while making sure that only the best shoots with eminent buds are plucked.

The teas are very mildly oxidized and delicately processed to induce minimal damage to the whole leaves. As a result, the dry leaves become greenish with abundant silvery tips that give us an amazingly clean cup with very high notes of aroma. The texture is very creamy and we get the mixed flavour of Green Apple, Ceylon olive or Indian olive, Indian gooseberry, pear, and vanilla.

Sounds good.  Per my understanding both of these are somewhat experimental, representing ongoing evolution of processing, where the related autumn "Red Thunder" version is pretty far along that path, something they've been tweaking for years.  

This "Christmas honey oolong" Rishi said was sold as a batch but not listed on either site.  It's interesting how that part works out, how producers try to re-create standard branded versions, like the Red Thunder, accounting for variations in annual results by blending inputs from different lots to get to a more standard outcome.  To the extent any part of what I'm claiming or implying is wrong I'll also amend that in another post; it's not as I'm passing on these few comments directly from input from Gopaldhara.


Christmas honey oolong:  that is really interesting.  I gave it a nice long soak so I wouldn't be saying "we'll know more next round," and infusion strength might be just a touch over optimum.  The flavor is complex and positive, and character really isn't even completely familiar.  After trying so many experimental Gopaldhara teas that's nice, that they can keep breaking new ground.  

I want to say that there is a novel aspect in this, but it's not that, it's a set of them.  The varying oxidation levels apparent in leaf color would indicate that might happen.  One part is bright, floral and including vegetal range, that green wood that I take to be one main characteristic of Darjeeling.  Another is warm, rich, and sweet in a different way.  There's a risk in such circumstances that it might not integrate, but it really does.  I think astringency expressing so much range makes this interesting in one way and a little confusing in another.  Not in the sense of it being unpleasant, but related to fully taking it in.  As to flavor list someone could brainstorm and just keep going on, about honey, floral range, warm spice, trailing towards cocoa, or an aromatic part relating to cedar or other wood tone.  It'll be interesting to see what stands out as this evolves, and how the proportion shifts.

Creamy oolong:  a similar experience of not really being able to place this tea occurred again.  Again it's quite pleasant, so not in the sense of it seeming off, although the warmer range mostly dropping out in relation to the other seemed a little jarring at first.  I think a crazy range of floral tone is making these hard to interpret; their characters are crowded around expressing a lot of that.  This is creamy but not buttery; the smooth and rich tone also connects with a bit of vegetal edge.  It tastes like butter in relation to how a butter cookie tastes, at the intersection of that butter flavor and shortbread.  The more vegetal part I'm not really identifying yet.  It's not so far off flower petal or stem but it's not that.  

I think it also complicates things that these teas are expressing mostly floral range but also rich fruit.  I wouldn't be surprised if that seems more dominant and noticeable as infusions evolve.

Christmas oolong, second infusion:  much better a little lighter, and opened up. Intensity is good, and overall balance. Astringency edge is moderate related to typical Darjeeling range but substantial as the much lower whole-leaf Gopaldhara versions go.  At this level it gives the tea a nice balance. It would be just as good with less, but it's not negative.  Honey sweetness stands out more than in the first round.  Floral range seems to evolve more into dried fruit, it's just hard to pin it down to one version.  Maybe not far off dried apricot.

Creamy oolong:  it's interesting how this tea would be completely different without this degree of astringency edge and green wood flavor.  It's nice as it is, but with half that input the overall effect would shift.  Put another way this stands between Chinese oolong character range and first flush Darjeeling.

Maybe my kids' review input will help clarify.  My daughter tried both and said that both are nice, and that she liked this creamy version more, but didn't really explain why.  My son tried both and said that both are bitter.  Maybe a little, but it's really astringency that he's picking up.  My daughter, who is 8, seems to tolerate it better, and see both as more positive, which really makes no sense given that her only food preference is for eating candy.  He could live on bacon, and neither prefer to ever eat vegetables, or even fruit.  Ok, maybe all that is not helpful.

The richness and creaminess in this tea make it very pleasant, and the positive floral and fruit tone complexity.  It's not so citrusy but it leans a little towards lemon citrus.  For being a sheng drinker the slight astringency edge and touch of what really could be fairly interpreted as bitterness is very moderate, and as positive as it is a weakness, for adding complexity.

Christmas oolong, third infusion:  I would just be repeating the earlier comments to add more, but I'm not really bringing across how this is.  It's novel.  Intentional or not they've managed to oxidize these leaves to a lot of different levels and it really adds a unique depth to the experience, a broad range.  It's not unlike how rolled oolongs might be browned at the edges and greener at the center, it just varied more within different leaves.  This goes an extra step, because parts seem to be contributing true fully oxidized character to this, and other leaves relatively green inputs.  It almost seems that in theory it shouldn't integrate as well as it seems to.  Again without that final green edge and feel this would be a relatively different tea, and I suppose it might even work better, but it also works like this.

Sweetness, floral and fruit, and overall intensity are so pronounced that it leaves you with a perfume-like aftertaste.  That one dry edge really defines the feel; probably that would improve somewhat if it balanced more with the rest, if it didn't stand out.  But this tea experience is like drinking perfume, in a good sense, so it's not appropriate to focus on part of that seeming like a flaw, since how it all works together probably depends on the parts in a way I can't unpack.

Creamy oolong:  this is warming in tone; interesting.  A lot of all the rest of that about the Christmas version applies to this too, just in a different sense.  This is a little lighter and brighter in character, with that other tea's warm dried apricot range swapped out for fruit towards citrus.  Floral range is probably brighter flowers; it's not my personal strength to add flower names to that.  Plumeria and what I think is an Indian cork / peep tree grow in one yard now and it's along those lines.

Christmas oolong, fourth infusion:  this round I brewed really fast, just trying out variations, and it works quite well this way.  One nice outcome is that it would brew very many infusions made that way, cup after cup, without losing intensity.  Transition could also relate to a pattern of character changing across rounds; that happens.  With astringency dialed back as an outcome this is just the straight experience of warm and complex flowers, with a bit of warm dried fruit underlying that.  It's still intense enough to carry over as a pleasant floral aftertaste.

Creamy oolong:  again the aromatic floral range is off the scale for this version, just in brighter range, with a different touch of feel grounding it.  These teas are nice.  I'll probably give both one longer infusion (still 10-15 seconds, not long) to see how that compares with transition cycle input and then stop taking notes.  These will easily brew another half dozen infusions; it's more about me running out of patience for the review process.

Christmas oolong, fifth infusion:  interesting how feel shifts along with infusion strength, and a warmer toned input.  This might have evolved to include more citrus along the way, more a warm orange citrus, versus the other being brighter and towards lemon, or at least Mandarin orange.  It wouldn't be surprising if transitions included a little more flavor range shift, beyond balance just changing over the next half dozen rounds.  The feel to this includes an edge but there is a cool syrupy quality to it as well, which matches together with that perfume-like floral blast nicely.  Aftertaste and feel effect both trail off slowly for teas of this typical type range.  Or maybe these aren't part of any typical type range.

Creamy oolong:  this is quite pleasant, but I think sheng pu'er conditioning for high levels of astringency and bitterness help with that interpretation.  Someone drinking a lot of typical edgy, slightly harsh first flush Darjeeling might end up in a similar place, and see this as soft and approachable as a result.  The level of floral range intensity in both is hard to really describe.  Both contribute a real open handed slap of floral flavor.


Both very nice!  I suppose I liked the Christmas version better related to appreciating warmer toned range in similar teas.  The usual first versus second flush character divide is pretty much about the same thing, with the "creamy" version closer to typical first flush range.  Both were nice though, novel, complex, and pleasant.  Both definitely included plenty of floral and fruit range.

About the oolong theme, I get it why producers in  other places (than China and Taiwan) try to produce and communicate a general range for medium level oxidized teas.  The character is just never going to be a close match, because of other starting points varying, tea types, growing conditions, and so on.  I'm open to styles borrowing from other places, and name uses being flexible.  Some people see the words "Thai Oriental Beauty" together and see that as a misnomer, but to me it's not a problem.  What they mean is clear, and until a designation is origin area protected there's no need to avoid using it, as I see it.

It's really about how people see language use in general, more so than views on tea.  If someone is open to seeing "literally" mean "figuratively," or they / them as a singular gender neutral pronoun, then it's easy to embrace the concept of Indian oolong.  If not what can you do; people vary in how they prefer language is used, especially related to changes.  Calling these oolong, in addition to autumn flush Darjeeling, just communicates that the oxidation level is medium.  For some that's clear, appropriate communication and positive branding, and for others they probably shouldn't be saying that.  It's up to Gopaldhara to decide it, since I see this as more of a branding issue than a category use issue.

They are not a distant away from dialing in a narrower range of oxidation level, it seems to me, and these would seem a lot closer to Chinese and Taiwanese oolongs in style.  Tie Guan Yin often have a darker leaf edge and "greener" center, so it's down to getting that less oxidized part to transition just a little more.  Or what do I know, really; I'm just a tea blogger.  I can express how I interpret flavors and my own match to preference, and beyond that I really am just guessing.  Related to those factors these teas were nice.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Bing Dao sheng pu'er coin

Seeing discussion about Bing Dao origin sheng pu'er lately reminded me that I've long since had a sample Bing Dao mini-disk I'd been meaning to try.  I think my friend Noppadol probably gave this to me about three years ago (it's stamped as a 2018 version).  He sells some tea, here, and it involved with making a decent Lamphang origin Thai sheng (reviewed here).  I've got a tuocha of that hanging around too, and already drank one.

first try at a public tasting event, with Noppadol left and Sasha and Nok beside him

I couldn't find much about this tea brand, beyond reference to it selling other teas:  GEXIANG Brand Yiwu Guafengzhai Pu-erh Tea Cake 2019

coins are cool, like a tiny cake, and they don't unfurl slowly like a dragonball

I won't try to guess if the reputation of that shop implies anything about the tea; that's too indirect to really be meaningful.  Do I think this is "real?"  I'm not even sure what that means in this context.  Bing Dao is definitely an origin area, but people discuss it in terms of broad or narrower defined range.  Sergey's Geography of Chinese Tea book would be a perfect place for reviewing that, or looking through Olivier's to see if there's an article on it.  This post draft had included "but I won't" ending that sentence, but I found a citation about it in a blog post of mine from 2019 looking for something else (from

Bing Dao is the group of village Bing Dao

From the point of view of local Bing Dao (冰岛) is quite eccentric to Da Xue Shan and Mengku . Nestled in Northern Mengku , Bing Dao village is quite far from the summit, the boundary between Mengku Valley Nanmei .

Bing Dao is now though and definitely the most famous village of Da Xue Shan, but also all the Yunnan and more than 2000 euros per kg of crude maocha (2014) , authentic teas Bing Dao reach prices which no young puerh could have asserted before. If it is less than a decade that we see such a craze around Bing Dao, the reputation of the village and its tea is not new and dates back to the fifteenth century.

We often hear that it is the village of Dao Bing originate all tea plants Mengku see by extension the local variety " Mengku large leaves" that can be found now in many region of Yunnan. This is not entirely false , and many gardens teas Mengku we probably born between 1500 and today from seeds or cuttings from Bing Dao, based myth Bing Dao mother of tea of Mengku , myth echoed by the famous pancake Mu Shu Cha (literally "mother of tea trees ) produced by Mengku Rong Shi from 2005 and completed the advent of this village.

So there's that, and more in that article.  I mentioned trying a huang pian version of Bing Dao in that post about a poorly attended tea tasting (where I ran across that citation), but I just don't count huang pian as a conventional character example, and it was that (presented as that, maybe it wasn't really Bing Dao, and maybe it wasn't really huang pian).

Type-typical descriptions always vary, throwing around terms like aroma, fragrance, floral, bitterness, mouthfeel, and so on.  I've scanned through a dozen versions in the past month for it coming up a lot and it doesn't narrowing as a result.

The point here is to see what this tea is like, and make notes on that, edited into a blog post.  After I try a few more, if I ever do, I can compare those to a dozen online summary descriptions and make of it what I will.  All that would be really unsatisfying for some people, not even making a start on a "is it real?" matching process, or at least the background review.  I did a longer cycle with more steps "sorting out" if the LBZ versions I kept trying might be "real," but it was unsatisfying adding extra steps.  For now I'll either enjoy this tea or else I won't.  

To add a guess though:  based on whatever narrowest definition of Bing Dao is out there it's "not real," but if the term is used loosely (incorrectly) as a broader area reference maybe, or maybe not.


First infusion (after a rinse):  interesting!  This has depth, already.  It's mostly floral, with a good bit of underlying mineral, but those sorts of list descriptions don't really capture what I mean by that.  There is a catchy and distinct flavor, so there's that, but the overall effect is cool.  That distinct flavor is probably really a complex set, a band of rich floral tones that borrows some from fruit range.  The mineral form is really distinctive too.  It's light in a sense, like limestone, but it also contains some warmth.  Depth of the overall experience is interesting; for this being a light first infusion it includes good mouthfeel and aftertaste.  It will be interesting to see how it evolves.

Second infusion:  that infusion was on the fast side too, not over 10 seconds, and intensity ramped way up anyway.  That complex underlying mineral tone is almost the main thing noticeable in this, the dominant aspect range; that's different, it tends to never work out like that.  It still has really pronounced floral range, that leans so far towards rich fruit tone that it would be open to varying interpretations, but the mineral part is really something.  A plant stem like vegetal range connects the two, making it all seem continuous, and somehow even more intense for hitting across a broad range.  Good sweetness makes it work better and bitterness is present but moderate.  This would've had to have seemed different four years ago; that's a long time here in Bangkok.  

I'm not sure how well "balanced" applies as a summary; this is novel, so it would be open to interpretation how positive it is, or how well it all integrates.  I like it because I tend to value novelty, and there's nothing negative about it, and the overall intensity and the aspects themselves are positive.  But it's still odd.

Third infusion:  I am getting the impression that this is higher quality tea than I tend to drink.  It's definitely more unique in style than what I tend to encounter.  The next round is similar:  intense, complex, with bitterness offset by nice sweetness, floral tones, and warm mineral, complex in a few ways beyond that.  

I'm always saying aftertaste is pronounced but this occurs in a different way.  Not about time duration; it doesn't last that much longer than any other version with significant aftertaste intensity, beyond a common trailing-off effect.  It's just intense after you drink it, across feel, based all around your mouth, and related to trailing sweetness.  That catchy mineral range is strong while drinking it and after.  It's warm and a bit metallic now, like sucking a penny, but it includes other mineral tone as well.  It reminds me a little of getting toasted pumpkin seeds right recently, when I steamed some fresh pumpkin, that earthy, rich, complex flavor of the seeds themselves and the warmer roast input.

Fourth infusion:  some transitions occur but for as wordy as this is becoming I should take a round off and say more next time instead.  A really pleasant floral tone picked up, so warm and sweet that it's in between plumeria and orange citrus.  It's too bad I didn't try this tea years ago when I got it; I might've been able to buy more of these.  Even higher pricing than I tend to spend on tea would seem fair for this.  Then it's awkward considering that further as specifics; if this thing is 5 grams, and it was priced at $5 ($1 / gram), would I buy that?  Probably not, but it's probably worth it, in terms of buying into a more unusual experience, even setting aside a back-story theme.  I'm accustomed to Thai spending practices, and although Starbucks coffees do cost $7 here I wouldn't buy them.

Fifth infusion:  a first faint hint of aspect that's not clearly positive enters in, a bit of woodiness, or a mineral range that smells like hot sand.  Even that complements the rest though.  That crazy level of feel and aftertaste experience including mouthfeel is relaxing a bit, with this coming across as juicier but less intense.  I'm sweating like I'm in a sauna, probably related to humidity level as much as temperature or this tea radically altering my bodily functions.  It's 32 or 33 out, so not hot for us (91 F), but it's also over 70% humidity, from raining a lot lately.  No one else in Bangkok is sitting outside drinking hot tea at noon today, even in the shade.  

I'll have to check on my kids lunch soon and never tend to do these reviews in two parts, but it seems unfair to this tea to report on the first half of the cycle, or to rush through three more infusions (which is how I always address that).  On to the rushing then.

Completely off the point, I got my first covid booster three days ago, a Pfizer, after two Astrazeneka shots last year, and today is the first day I'm really back to normal.  Or close enough that I feel normal; my immune system took that hard, really gearing up for war, it would seem.  Nothing too troubling came up for side-effects but it all really added up.

Sixth infusion:  the main thing that stands out is how catchy this is, that set of complex aspects coming together.  It hits hard in a few ways but it's how it integrates that works.  That one mineral part is so strong and so closely associated with mouthfeel that it's almost as if I can taste it with the roof of my mouth.  The floral and fruit range is really complex, and linked to the warmer mineral, through a lighter vegetal range.  That warm mineral seems to exhibit depth from being tied to other range, maybe root spice.  There's so much going on that it comes across as a dynamic experience, as if there are moving parts to it.  Nothing is really moving though, beyond the aftertaste shifting form quite a bit.

Seventh infusion:  not transitioning so much; maybe I will throw in the towel, for now.  That hint of citrus seems slightly stronger in this, but that could easily be the kind of thing that varies with slight infusion time variation. 

This has been an interesting and positive experience.  I could probably describe the feeling side of this experience better (towards cha qi effect) if high humidity wasn't causing as much reaction.  I don't mind sweating, and it's normal for me, but it was really dry up until this rainy period about five days ago, so the change feels more extreme.  If I get time I'll go run in the afternoon heat; that should be even more interesting.

Of course I can't say if this seems like Bing Dao to me or not, because I don't remember that I've ever tried a version, so probably didn't.  It's very positive and novel, which seems a good step towards that being more likely.  And the tea being like it is works well either way, no matter what it is.

Later:  it was interesting how bitterness didn't really fade but other flavors did, through a good number of additional infusions, making it proportionally more bitter.  Since that bitterness level had been moderate it still seemed quite positive, just odd that it worked out that way.


It was good, as described.  I don't really have any more to add about the Bing Dao storyline theme, or how I would place this in relation to other sheng experiences.  It seemed a bit novel, which is always nice, if a tea is this pleasant.  

It's seemingly better tea than I tend to buy, so I would only be attempting to place it in relation to other samples I've tried that are better than I tend to buy in any volume.  That just doesn't seem meaningful, to go on to broad conclusions about style or quality level, beyond these impressions, so I won't.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Discussing tea culture themes with an Indian tea vendor

This meetup was an interesting variation on talking to tea vendors at different stages of business and tea perspective development.  An Indian friend living in America, Poorvi, has started selling tea, still early in that process.  Her own interest and learning curve took a familiar form, moving from exploring other range to taking a class, discussion in groups, talking to vendors and trying samples, on to considering different business themes and forms, starting with selling tea at local farmers' markets.  This post won't do justice to all that she experiences, or her current business form and direction, but a sample of some ideas could still be interesting.

Of course one of my meetup social group friends is Indian, Suzana, active in online group development and in-person tastings and tea contact development.  Another online contact joined, April.  From here on maybe I'll just call every contact a friend, since I see them all that way, without trying to justify a distinction.  April is experiencing an earlier form of the process, but still way beyond what the average person would ever be exposed to in relation to tea.  She had lived in India for years, now back in the states, so her cultural perspective is broader than most, to say the least.

It's interesting considering how people might develop from lower quality black tea or commercial blend interest (Tazo or Harney and Sons) onto better Indian tea, versus other ranges being appealing.  When I suggest to people good first steps past tea-bag tea or grocery store flavored versions transitions to better plain tea I usually recommend either rolled oolong (Tie Guan Yin) or flavorful and approachable Chinese black tea (Dian Hong is my favorite), but Indian teas also work.  Decent Darjeeling, better Assam, or other harder to find source area versions are so approachable and pleasant anyone could appreciate them, and so diverse and high in quality that any tea enthusiasts also could.

I should switch this back to talking about what Poorvi expressed, or main discussion themes.  We talked about perspectives on tea, and preference patterns, about Indian tea style changes, and better tea development, and how consumers see all that.  Better Indian tea is under-appreciated in current tea enthusiast circles.  Maybe 8 or 10 years ago Darjeeling was as well regarded as most other kinds, and it hasn't really been downgraded since, or seen as less desirable, but focus on Chinese teas evolved, and attention to Indian teas didn't.  Trends related to appreciating white tea, Nepal tea, gaba, and lots of other things have came and went since.  Chinese hei cha (dark tea) was always that close to being taken up as a trend, but it never quite got there.

Since we've talked to Rishi of Gopaldhara in a meetup (a Darjeeling producer), and most of our group has tried their teas, and Poorvi has also, we focused on them and their development focus as much as any other.  Really Gopaldhara making better whole-leaf versions is only one of many starting points for Indian tea improving, or appreciation for better traditional versions developing.  We didn't focus on Indian tea history; but it came up that the Indian tea tradition includes range that's not really appreciated that's also not new.  There is currently an Indian derivative of sheng pu'er being produced, and lots of experimentation on styles similar to or drawn from oolong processing.  Indian tea is diverse, and the quality and positive character doesn't really fall short of Chinese tea.

That's true in only a limited sense, I guess.  Developed, appreciated, sophisticated main styles of Chinese teas have pushed beyond what almost any other production areas can achieve.  There is nothing like the best Wuyi Yancha, sheng pu'er, and Dan Cong coming out of any other countries, with Taiwan and Japan as possible exceptions.  Indian teas can be great but it's hard to argue that they are that great.  To me that's a meaningless difference, to an extent, because if someone loves high quality Darjeeling or novel and better quality versions of Assam, or teas from other regions, it's more about personal preference than hitting a high water mark for objective quality level.   The problem isn't that, it's that awareness of and demand for these best-case, best quality examples isn't well developed.  So how to change that?  We talked a lot about that.

It's difficult to change perspectives on tea types.  Awareness of better Indian teas is spreading, slowly, but with better Chinese style teas being so trendy now, among tea enthusiasts, good Indian tea demand might be "turning over" fans as fast as new people learn of them.  There has to be a way to tap into a very large, very developed group of people who drank, or still drink, teas from vendors like Tazo, Teavana, T2, David's Tea, Harney and Sons, or even to Celestial Seasonings and Twinings.  Many must be ready for a next step.  We did more with brainstorming about patterns in preference transition than how to really drive a change.

More direct vendor sales threatens the model of small vendors like Poorvi.  Probably Tea Box is selling medium quality tea versions at somewhat high markup, and large vendors like Golden Tips aren't quite there yet for pushing into the most novel and interesting new Indian variants, but one or two new producer outlets opening in Amazon cuts off the role smaller vendors had been playing.  This isn't a pattern or theme that's unique to tea; this kind of transition and challenge is common across most retail range.  It more or less killed off earlier major retail players like Sears, it's just a different form of challenge to home-based online tea vendors.  But those small vendors can find other ways to add value, by expanding offerings, or pairing content and information offerings with novel product sales.

Suzana is visiting family back in Meghalya now, the area where the Shillong tea production is based, which brings up a range of other themes, about how all this can relate to other traditional tea production in India.  One might wonder how these themes map over to traditional Indian tea preferences, and to new forms of types awareness and demand.  Indians mostly drink inexpensive tea, masala chai and such.  That's true of Americans too, that there is no comparable market for better sheng pu'er or oolongs in relation to the volume that Lipton sells.  But development of interest in flavored tea and blends seems to serve as a gateway into changing that, which is probably not as developed yet in India.  Older local traditions can relate to drinking local teas, but that's something else.

Kind of a related tangent, it has long since seemed fascinating to me how US tea enthusiasts are eager to learn about and experience diverse and better Chinese teas, but the range of what makes it to the US is vanishingly small compared to what is produced and consumed in China.  The limited set of producer areas and types on the "Western market" is the tip of the iceberg.  One could argue that what are known are probably the best quality and most appealing versions produced in China, but most people would be making that argument from a position of relative ignorance, making it just a guess.  Over time trade from some areas evolved, and demand probably pushed continued quality refinement as much as those types were ever better originally.  Of course that's just another guess.  

I've recently reviewed Sergey Shevelev's "Geography of Chinese Tea" book that covers a range of other producing areas, but even according to him that area scope covered is still incomplete.  It doubles the location range of best known areas descriptions, including all of them and that many others, but Sergey says that he has only visited 20% of all the counties in China that produce tea, which took 10 years of active tea sourcing to get to.  For sure lots of really good and very novel tea is out there.  

One of the earliest better teas I ever experienced was a pine-needle shaped green tea version that I bought in a Shanghai market 8 years ago.  I could look up what that probably was in Sergey's book (I think I even saw it reading through), but the point here is that the types are out there, some of which I've even experienced.  Someone just gave me a sample of cha gao, tea condensed down to something that looks like hashish, not at all a new theme in China, but one that only tea enthusiasts have ever heard of, and I've yet to try (I should get on that).  I should try out hot-knifing some for old times' sake.

It's interesting how relatively organic supply and demand and awareness spread sets up how much export, import, appreciation, and consumption of different tea types occurs.  Internet groups and information sources act as a catalyst, but only to a limited extent.  100 people might read this blog post, or possibly more if some people decide to share links, but it won't change general tea awareness at all, as the entirety of what I've ever written won't, maybe except in a few hundred isolated cases.  Or is it thousands?; this blog is at 600k total views, surely counting my loyal bot readers.  I've also co-founded one of the largest Facebook tea groups, International Tea Talk, and write a Quora Space about tea, and at some point those kinds of trickles of information exchange might add up.  

How can a small online vendor add to those information sources, or use them to support their own business?  Again that's problematic.  The success stories are about businesses contributing something completely novel, not only doing that effectively but to some extent also being lucky.  Maybe Yunnan Sourcing goes beyond being an example of this, one of the main online Chinese tea vendors, but at one point that's what it was, a small business heading in a new direction.  What-Cha might work as a better example, for not moving on to dominating a sub-theme, but being quite successful.  But then they already focus on offering good quality, good value, diverse teas from different tea areas, so they would already sell the same teas we are discussing from across parts of India.  How to keep going and keep shifting theme is tricky.

We discussed how to pair other themes with tea, possibly adding teaware options.  It would take a very developed, original, and well thought out effort to pull it all together into a concise and successful new tea business plan.  At some point other ideas would have to support the rest, discussion of sustainability, organic themes, about supporting small producers, and so on.  Online content issues, packaging, logistics; the list of related concerns would be formidable.  It would have to be a labor of love, as it is for Poorvi.

New social sub-group connections to tea could support development.  The shape of that is open to still being developed.  It is yet to be seen how food interests or cultural background could tie into developing tea preference.  This also relates to the theme of tea as a trendy social movement, the routine announcement that "tea is having a moment."  It's not, but eventually it will.  People like Poorvi, my friends, and the people we've been talking to in meetups will make that happen, but it might take another decade.  Her tea business needs to see it occur to a lesser extent in the next year or two, with business failure one of the distinct possibilities.  

It will be interesting seeing how this plays out.  I'm a fan of tea producers and tea culture, obviously, and of people trying to make a difference in such a way, even though half of the motivation is financial gain, along with personal subject interest.  That's fine; that's what brought tea trade to the rest of the world hundreds of years ago.  British people would be drinking a mix of local tisanes if it hadn't, or having water with their afternoon break, which would be sad.  Now we just need to help more people learn that better tea options are out there.  I'm interested in helping producers and vendors but I'd really like to share how tea has made a positive difference in my life for the benefit of consumers, so that more others are also able to also experience how it's not just a pleasant drink, it can also be about continual exploration.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Wuyi Origin blended Da Hong Pao, compared to a Chinatown version


This backstory should be familiar to most people, that Da Hong Pao seems to mean two completely different things.  On the one hand there were 7 or so bushes that tea plants were derived from, not genetically identical plant versions, but similar, and the later resulting teas from them are Da Hong Pao.  The two main cultivars from those plants are now called Qi Dan and Bei Dou (with more on that story here).  Then a lot of commercial Da Hong Pao could just be anything, maybe only Shui Xian, or as often a mix of other plants.  The blending idea seemed to be to recreate that original character and to create balanced, blended tea versions (so two separate goals, really).  Or maybe it just started with loose branding, copying over a traditional story to broader type inputs.

I think this is a picture of those bushes

This is a blend, the second example.  Cindy sells more original Da Hong Pao variations as Qi Dan and Bei Dou on her website, and is clear about what this is, marketed as blended Da Hong Pao.  I've been drinking a decent Chinatown shop Shui Xian lately, from Jip Eu, so the range is more familiar again.  That version was so inexpensive, one of the rare exceptions where a very low cost tea could pass for mid-range, or really is that, but just isn't priced as such.  That may be a blend of inputs too, but given that designation it's probably just Shui Xian.  This should be a bit better, more refined, more balanced, with subtle aspects that work slightly better.  We'll see.

I should add that Cindy sent this tea to me, not so much for review, but as a gesture of friendship, as I take it.  She's on the short list of my absolute favorite tea contacts, so if bias was ever going to enter in it could related to her teas.  But as I take it they're so good that they don't need help from biased interpretation to shine.  Their description of this tea:

Da hong pao blended (拼配大红袍)2021

Blending Dahongpao is not to mix different varieties together, but we select different varieties, and then complement each other according to the characteristics of the tea varieties. A good mix of Dahongpao requires skills,

Raw material: We used Rougui 肉桂, Shuixian 水仙, Jin mu dan 金牡丹  ,Meizhan 梅占, and  Chun lan 春兰 ,All the materials are from our 2021 Harvest . Baking level: 3times roasted, medium roasting style  ​About Blending: Different materials with different features all mixture together. This blended dahongpao: Zheng yan Rougui and Shuixian fix its strong body. Jin mudan 金牡丹 and Chun lan 春兰 help to enhance the aroma .Blending is a good complement of different materials.

Roasting level : the 1st time roasting : 2021.June.9th

                          the 2nd time roasting : 2021.July .15th

                          the 3rd time roasting : 2021,August 20th

This is a very fragrant Dahongpao, which has been fragrant from the beginning to the end.

that Jip Eu Chinatown shop Shui Xian; a bit more broken, but decent looking


First infusion:  yep, better than I've been experiencing recently.  How refined this is comes across fast, right after you get a flash of a sense of a few distinct aspects.  There's cinnamon in this, and faint and balanced roast effect, like a touch of edge from French roast.  I tried this prior to checking that description, and from seeing that it makes sense there is Rou Gui in this (which doesn't always taste like cinnamon, or cassia, but often does).

Sweetness stands out, and underlying mineral.  From there flavor is really complex, seemingly involving some cocoa too, and probably a touch of fruit, along the line of elderberry.  It's a lot going on but it links together and integrates.  This tea is barely wet yet and mouthfeel and aftertaste are already quite developed.  A pleasant echo of all of that stays with you after you drink it, not the minutes-long powerful sensation from some sheng pu'er, but it trails off slowly.  It's nice.

That other Chinatown version I mentioned had a few positive aspects that spanned considerable range and worked well together, with no significant flaws.  These parallel each other in some ways, because that's all true of this tea too, it's just a broader set of positive aspects, and it integrates even better.

Second infusion:  depth kicks in; that Shui Xian was pleasant for including mineral tone that tasted like ink (to me), and this now includes a lot of that.  It has more other range and depth, but that one aspect is really close in form and level in this.  It's mineral-like ink that leans a little towards brandy, very pleasant in form.  In this it's nice that the pronounced cinnamon and milder cocoa is filling in complexity beyond that, with roast level really nicely balanced.  The other wasn't so far off this for roast input, which is atypical for inexpensive versions.  Those are usually off in terms of roast, low so that it doesn't provide a balancing input, or more often slightly burned.

It's nice the way that this really coats your mouth and fills in a lot of range of experience.  The aftertaste is much more pronounced than in that lower quality tea.  There's a floral aspect that comes out mostly in the later part of the aftertaste experience.  Both would be fine with a cinnamon roll but this is better suited for appreciating on its own.

Third infusion:  this keeps transitioning; that's different.  To some extent it's about the balance of what I've already described changing in proportion, which alters the effect, making it hard to describe.  I think even very subtle shifts in infusion strength would alter that proportion quite a bit, and that's probably part of what I'm experiencing.  The roast coffee edge stands out even more this round, and the inky mineral range, with both taking over the more subtle parts just a bit.  A flash infusion would probably be quite different, dropping back the heavier range and focusing in more on lighter and sweeter components, maybe with cinnamon, cocoa, and the floral range seeming to bump up.  

It's nice that all these aspects are so positive and balance so well that I'm not seeing minor changes as better and worse so much, just different looks from the same tea.  It's nice how intense this is this round. To be clear I brewed this for 10 seconds or less, so I'm not talking about what happens when you focus online too much and accidentally double that timing.  It would probably make sense to use two thirds as much tea for this to make it easier to dial in shifts in timing, or that could be true in general, that pushing it for proportion always involves a trade-off like that.  It's habit to brew at this high proportion, more than seeing it as optimum.  I don't see habit as such a bad thing though.  Our intuition tells us to head in a certain direction related to outcomes from prior experience, along with some randomness and mixed bias creeping in.

Fourth infusion:  cinnamon is a lot stronger in a very light infusion.  Brewed strong enough this might not taste like cinnamon at all. It's cool the way that the inky mineral range drops back to supporting that, but doesn't drop out when brewed very lightly.  Aftertaste experience is faded to the point of almost being gone at a very light infusion strength.  This tea would probably brew 20 very pleasant infusions made this light, I'd expect.  For most bumping timing up to 8 seconds or so would be better, or dropping proportion back so that something similar resulted between 10 and 15 seconds instead, at least at this part of the brewing cycle.

Fifth infusion:  this is so nice back at what I consider a normal infusion strength, balancing really well.  A floral tone supporting the rest seems much stronger now, with all the other list I keep mentioning giving way to that.  Better Wuyi Yancha exhibits a liqueur-like effect, something that reminds me of the scent of perfume, and this moves on to include more of that.  It almost seems like something that manifests out of a set of other aspects, or maybe it is just more aromatic range I have trouble describing, at the edge of what can actually be tasted.  

It's an understatement to say that this tea comes across as well balanced.  For mixing a lot of inputs in some cases, for some blends, overall effect can seem muddled, and you give up stronger experience of a narrower set, but it's also possible for everything to take its place and combine together, versus getting mixed and lost.  It's probably partly the difference related to mixing teas to work around flaws in some and using better material that contributes different positive range.  Those two wouldn't be completely distinct; probably these individual inputs wouldn't come across as nearly as complex and balanced.  A lack across part of a range could be a flaw, in a sense.  But it would be different trying to drown out a negative aspect.

Sixth infusion:  more of the same.  The slight shifts aren't worth going on about; a lot of complexity keeps changing in balance.  Probably after 2 or 3 more rounds it will thin a bit, and some of that range will drop back, and it will stay pleasant but narrower for a few more rounds.  I'm just not patient enough for a dozen round review, so I won't mention those details.


Just fantastic, as expected.  It is interesting comparing a really good blended Wuyi Yancha with a recent and repeated impression of a pretty good one.  For a tea to have with food the difference scales way back; both would be ok.  For drinking a tea as the main part of an experience this is more suitable.  You could still just have it with breakfast, of course.

I find myself drinking through lower quality teas I have around faster because of that distinction, that I need to have something quick 5 work-days per week, and tend to drink something as a pick me up in the afternoons that I also don't focus on.  It would be possible to re-structure life to pay more attention to immediate experience, and to allocate more time.  For me I'm not a morning person, so it just wouldn't be practical prior to 9 AM, and I suppose to some extent I only have so much focus to work with every day.   

That connects together well with another theme I'm writing about in another post draft, about how I just ordered a lot of tea, almost all sheng pu'er, based largely on what I could buy that's the best and most interesting in spite of being low in cost.  My tea budget also drives that; my wife was shocked enough to learn of a moderate sized tea order expense.  It's nice that I can keep trying interesting, diverse, high quality teas related to this blogging theme, vendors sending it for review, and still buy modest quality teas in much greater volume that I mostly drink day to day.  This tea costs 50 cents a gram on their website (for the 50 gram amount; down closer to 40 at 250 grams), and it's definitely worth that.  There is plenty of Wuyi Yancha out there not nearly this good selling for more.  

Maybe I shouldn't say what the range for inexpensive but decent sheng is?  On the order of a third of that, which would vary for "how decent" someone is talking about, and their type preference, and vendor source.  You definitely notice the vast difference in tea quality, and there are tradeoffs related to most or less preferred storage conditions input, but one catchy part of sheng experience is that the tea you buy and experience this year will be quite different in two more years.  I think beyond preference for aspect range and the trendiness of sheng pu'er preference that transition is a lot of the rest of the appeal.  

Just related to how positive a tea experience is this Wuyi Yancha really holds its own, with anything else, with considerable allowance required for personal preference.  In general less acclimation and preference development shift would be required to enjoy this; a lot more people would "get it."  It might not be the next natural step to follow drinking Harney and Sons blends but it is a next natural step after appreciating more mediocre Chinatown shop Wuyi Yancha, which can also be really nice, just in a different sense.