Monday, June 27, 2022

Thai wild origin sheng review, and forest conservation theme


First published in TChing here

The production initiative between Sergey (Moychay) and Leonard Shevchenko sent me a sample of Thai sheng ("pu'er-like" tea) for review.  This should be interesting.  Often new production initiatives are about working the bugs out, developing processing skills, but it seems like they're ramping up high quality results fairly quickly.  That's based on trying a novel and pleasant white tea produced by them earlier, at least.

Their project involves preserving some of the oldest tea plants growing in Thailand (per the local back-story), in the Maetang mountain area in the North of Thailand.  It's a development effort that also provides local jobs for indigenous workers who process the tea.  This website covers some background, with this Youtube video an even clearer summary.  People are welcome to visit them, and there's a support program where you can sponsor habitat support for one tree, and have it tagged showing that you did so.

This looks a bit brown / reddish; it might be oxidized more than a conventional sheng.  That would be easy enough to cause; just slowing processing steps would give the tea time to naturally oxidize.  It wouldn't necessarily be a significant flaw if so, but the tea could be in between a conventional sheng style and black tea style.  William of Farmerleaf just produced an interesting video about producing more oxidized, long withered sheng pu'er, which talks through how that would work out, and how the steps vary.

In this case that black tea type (that it could be closest to) would be shai hong, a Yunnan version of sun-dried black tea, made out of the same material as sheng (just a Thai version of it, of course).  I'm not saying that it's like that; the reddish brown color implies that it may be, but tasting, and seeing brewed liquid color and wet leaf color, will tell more of that story.  Shai hong ages well, gaining depth, sweetness, and complexity over two or three years of aging, so the case may be different in relation to how this tea might change later.  For drinking it this year all that doesn't matter; it is what it is now, with brewed tea aspects the only consideration.

I tried a nice Thai wild-origin sheng version a year ago that seemed to resemble this in a few ways, which I'll skip going into here, to keep this post length moderate.  It was really nice though, it just might not age similarly to more conventional form sheng, for that clearly being more oxidized than is typical.  Monsoon is the main local Thai company and producer that works with wild origin tea, but they've never made any sheng, as far as I know.


First infusion:  this is a bit dark, but still in the yellow-gold range, not so oxidized that it turns to a dark gold.  Brighter / lighter yellow would be more normal for this type, as a brand new tea.

It's good.  Complexity hits you right away, that there's a lot going on.  One warm tone range is towards spice or rich fruit, with supporting floral tones, and even a vegetal trace.  That richness is novel; it leans a little towards a roasted yam or sweet potato.  There's some bitterness, characteristic of sheng in general, but it's moderate.  That aspect outcome doesn't necessarily need to tie back to a processing input; it varies by plant type, and growing conditions seem to affect that.  

The feel is nice, with great structure, especially for this being a first round.  Same for sweetness, and intensity; it's a fast start.  It's not so unusual to be talking about a rough edged feel mellowing out over the first round or two, although that's really more of a common theme for plantation sheng, seemingly related to high sun contact, high temperature grown plants that were pushed to maximize output.  Wild grown tea experienced something else entirely, and it's normal for more complex flavors to evolve, and for character to be complex but not as challenging.  

Bitterness just depends on the plant type, I think.  I tried a Myanmar sheng version passed on by Leo a month or so ago and it was quite bitter, with this at the opposite extreme.  I've not tried much wild-origin Thai sheng that was that bitter, but one version like that does come to mind.  It would just depend, mostly on plant type if I'm not mistaken, along with processing and growing conditions.

The vegetal aspect is also unique, a little like vegetables, or maybe like that deep forest earthy and aromatic plant smell.  I grew up in Pennsylvania forests that typically had a very rich, damp, sweet scent, and spent a lot of time in dryer, lighter scent toned Colorado mountain forests, but the tropics are something else.  Plant scents are heavy, diverse, and complex, with different flowers blooming and expressing scents every day, or at different times of the day.  It will be interesting to see which aspect range becomes dominant over the next couple of infusions, or if it all continues to balance evenly.

Second infusion:  bitterness evolved as much as anything else, still at a moderate level, in relation to the general type range.  Other complexity isn't so different than last round, that same broad and balanced mix.  Those warmer tones are atypical for brand new sheng, the part towards spice, or roasted sweet potato.  To me it works really well with the rest that had to come from plant type and terroir related inputs, the overall complexity.  If this is really a bit oxidized as sheng tends to go it would've picked up those warm tones, and some extra sweetness, dropping out some degree of bitterness, and giving up some long term aging potential.  

relocated outside, with lighting difference one reason for color change

Third infusion:  I brewed this round relatively quickly, in about 5 seconds, which may be most suitable for this maxed out level of proportion.  It's habit to make teas that way, not an optimum.  For teas that need to be pushed for intensity it works really well, but this isn't an example of that.  It's also not an example of a less drinkable tea that needs to be brewed really light to moderate challenging astringency and bitterness.

It's falling into a more sheng-standard aspect set; bitterness has leveled off to a significant level, and I think floral tones increased.  Richness of feel developed, even though I brewed this round quite light.  I don't mean in terms of structure, in the sense of it coming across as dry or rough.  Of course it's not as full and round as oolongs tend to be, but it's rich in a way that's towards that as sheng feel character usually goes.  

Complexity is a strength of this tea; there's still a lot going on.  And the balance works well.  It's clean; there are really no negative aspects to throw off the overall effect.  It seems quite suitable for drinking this young, but I bet this would pick up a nice depth and higher level of sweetness, and maybe even complexity, over the next year or two.  You trade out some "fresh edge" in letting a tea settle that much, and that's a difficult kind of aspect range or experience to describe.  That touch of vegetal tone might drop out a good bit, over the next few months; it may relate to an effect that's really less flavor-specific than that, more a general character range.  Or I suppose I could be completely wrong, to be clear, and within a year a stewed-vegetable aspect could really pick up.

I don't talk much about cha qi in reviews but I'm definitely feeling this tea.  Sometimes that effect is so aggressive that I don't like it, a bit towards your head spinning, but this is more of a body buzz with a distinct upper head lightness coupled with that.  I suppose that it's pleasant.  You can't fully appreciate those kinds of changes with background noise and distractions as an input, and my son is listening to a Youtube video about some video game within earshot, and loud construction is happening about a half a km away, saturating the entire neighborhood with hammering sounds, so this tasting context isn't really  ideal.  

Sourness isn't present.  I've discussed before how some wild origin plant types tend to include a lot of that, maybe related to the tea plants not being as conventional in type, perhaps related to a genetic drift effect, or merging with other related plants, like camellia taliensis.  Of course I really have no idea, it's just interesting to speculate.  My daughter, Kalani, tried the tea and she said that it's both bitter and sour, so maybe I'm wrong about that part.

Fourth infusion:  not really so different than the last round, but the balance takes on an interesting new form.  Roasted sweet potato really did seem to transition to a more floral range last round, and now it's on to picking up more aromatic spice or wood tone depth.  Where richness of feel increased over a few rounds now aftertaste really picks up.  It could be that this different flavor range is suited for that, that it somehow lingers better.  For bitterness being a bit moderate that "hui gan" effect of sweetness lingering is also fairly moderate; this is a flavor carry-over instead, or a balance of both.  A little of the bitterness experience also trails on, seemingly connected with the complex wood, spice, and vegetal tone, a non-distinct forest plant character range. 

Fifth infusion:  it seems like a specific form of spice is evolving from that more general floral tone, woody, complex plant scent input.  It's catchy, just hard to describe.  It's not so far off a cedar or redwood wood tone, but it's definitely not that, also including more spice input, coupled with deep floral range.  It's probably closest to an incense spice, I'm just not familiar enough with those to use them as descriptions (frankincense, myrrh, etc.).  Even in my younger hippie oriented days I was probably burning versions of incense that were too cheap and mixed in scent to make for good examples.  Floral tone is still picking up too, a rich version towards lavender.  

darkening of some of the leaf material is evident (browning caused by oxidation)

Sixth and seventh infusions:  intensity might be leveling off slightly, only making the infusion time judgment a bit easier, making out towards 10 seconds infusion time a good range for brewed strength.  Maybe it already comes across in earlier notes but the balance of this experience is quite pleasant.  It will keep shifting a little in aspect range, and will fade in some ways across another half dozen infusions, but most of the story has been told.  

In later rounds a creamy feel seemed to stand out, maybe not exactly like I had described it as being rich in feel before.  Part of the brighter tone fruit seems like citrus, which surely was one interpretation of what was there over the first 7 rounds.  If I tried this tea a couple more times it's complex enough that my interpretation of it would probably change some; a review in this form only passes on a first impression.  Related to that particular judgement and transition, it seems likely that the flavor tone lightened later on, coupled with me trying it infused a lot lighter, and that really brought out the citrus.  Brewing this at a lighter proportion would make it easier to dial in a lighter infusion strength over the first half dozen rounds, but really infusion strength in relation to character type is based on personal preference.


This tea is as good, and as interesting, as I hoped that it would be.  I can't really make a final judgement about whether or not a touch of extra oxidation changed character and might impact long term storage potential.  Probably, but that's just a guess.  Unusual plant type input and more natural growing conditions also affect outcome.  Related to processing as an input, it is possible that this is roughly the best possible version of this tea material, that the touch of oxidation input, if present, added depth and complexity, perhaps at the cost of limiting intensity.  

It might not hinder it picking up depth and complexity over a few more years, and the tea losing some of that age transition potential after 15 more years tends to be a bit irrelevant, in relation to how most people are going to consume it.  You need to try a version in a novel style like this later on to really be sure, so it would be a 15 year long experiment to get to the bottom of all that.  That's part of what is so appealing about sheng, which may not appeal to everyone, that some degree of uncertainty enters in, in relation to those long cycles of changes.  This tea is nice to experience now, which is the main thing, at this point at least.

It's not unlike other versions of Thai or SE Asian wild origin sheng that I've tried.  In general those tend to not be overly bitter and astringent, to include interesting and complex flavors, often fruit and other range beyond the most typical bitterness and floral flavors in a lot of Yunnan sheng, with pleasant rich feel often coupled with the rest.  It's pretty good, placed within that range, a clearly much better than average version.  It's the kind of tea that I would buy and drink quite a bit of, but again preference always enters in.  Some people really would prefer that higher level bitterness and intensity in the Myanmar version that Leo passed on earlier.  I would prefer novel and complex flavor range and more approachable character over that.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Disney, Marvel, and the change in movie formats and values


It's no secret that the culture war has touched on essentially all aspects of American life, that everything divides between liberal and conservative views and preferences, well beyond entertainment media and news coverage.  Since I've been watching more Disney content than usual lately (my wife subscribed us to Disney + last year) those patterns are becoming more and more familiar, related to their input to Marvel movies and television shows.  Probably it would be for the best if I just eased up on hearing any related commentary (online views on their content), since that has moved from interesting and insightful related to outlining the two related points of view to quite tiresome, creating conflict where there only really needs to be preference differences.

Here is one latest reference I just saw, mentioned in a Joe Rogan Reddit subforum:

That subforum is a good example of what I need to stop being exposed to.  Does it really matter if cartoon movie characters are gay?  I don't know; I guess opinions on that would vary.  Probably it would be more of an issue how they framed that status and general acceptance of it, the perspectives of different movie characters.  I'll get back to placing it further.

A seemingly deeper issue has been Marvel television series and movies "ruining" comic book characters and themes by swapping out white male characters for female and minority equivalents.  Any problem there?  Again it depends.  Plenty of that came up in renewing text comic series, making female versions of Thor and the Hulk, for example, so these are based on existing in-print character versions.  Beyond that it seems to mix with problems with creating good stories, which would seem like a real issue.  This Youtube "Critical Drinker" reviewer post seems to outline the conservative side of this perspective divide, in this post "Ms. Marvel:  How Not to Build a Hero."

One might expect that the problem is that the hero in question is a minority female, a Muslim Pakistani American teenage girl.  It's not really that, or at least as that Youtuber frames things it's not.  He outlines how a movie needs to go about setting up a good superhero story (which we should consider and critique, rather than accept, but at least initially the points seem reasonable).  You need these elements:

1. a hero, with some sort of origin story 

2. that hero's well defined powers (or some just have extra capabilities, like using a bow)

3. an internal conflict to be resolved in that hero, enabling some sort of character and story arc

4. an external threat, typically a primary antagonist, but this could take different forms

So the problem is that this story misses most of that.  This story's hero wasn't like that (as described in the trailer, a preview, since he didn't see the episode then, since it hadn't come out yet).  The Ms. Marvel character (Kamila) has a background, so in a limited sense 1 is met, but 2 didn't seem to be clear in that preview (although later it would be; origin stories can develop that over time).  Based on his assessment, which turned out to match the first episode, since I just saw that, there really isn't much internal conflict to be resolved in the hero, besides her being a teen, and a minority, and being into comic books (although in that story the heroes are real; it's set in the Marvel world, so it's really just the in-movie real life characters).  The external threat might come later; as of the first episode and the trailer there isn't one.

Does what he is saying work?  In one sense sure, but in another maybe not.  This is a primary earlier paradigm for telling comic book stories that he has outlined, for sure.  But do Disney and Marvel need to stick to this template for every movie or television series?  Not really.  Traditional action, adventure, and fantasy story telling tends to follow this form, but leaving a part out or replacing one might be fine.

A common critique is that in this new liberal oriented version, as in Captain Marvel, the hero--or heroine; I'm not sure which term is more acceptable now, probably hero?--is granted powers by an external agent or force.  They're not tied to a development story, or linked with character limitations the hero needs to overcome.  Then again Green Lantern was just given a power ring, Superman was born that way, Spiderman got bit by a spider; like that.  It's not as if Marvel themes are a completely different paradigm, but they do tend to follow their own somewhat rigid patterns.

It's worth noting that this paradigm is part of a much older "hero's journey" theme that evolved in older mythology, as something that was written into stories about Green and Roman gods, Gilgamesh, Beowulf, and so on, up until the modern day.  Jordan Peterson--claimed to represent conservative perspective, and to some degree he does--attributes this form to Disney stories like Pinocchio, and it seems to fit.  This list of 4 plot points would need to add a rescuing of an external valued good, fulfilling a societal norm or family expectation, and probably transforming both self-understanding / actualization and also a broader framework of valued roles and actions.  Heroes often tend to "save the world" in some sense, not just overcome a serious threat.

What if a storyteller wanted to throw out most of these four "rules?"  It should be possible to still tell a different kind of story, which still may appeal to a broad audience.  Something like a tragedy form of story is different; it's not like this.  Of course a Disney television show can't be a tragedy, but I mean that the normal template isn't required, it's not the only one available.  Love stories set up a similar conflict / resolution theme, but they are also different.

All this makes me think back to when we saw forms of story telling change in the past, related to shifting how stories were framed, and which values and forms were promoted.  Star Trek tried to explain, justify, and lead societal changes by promoting inclusiveness for racial equality (represented by aliens, but clear enough in meaning), gender equality (to a limited extent), and the use of reason and value of promoting common good.  It all kind of worked, in a limited sense.  The parallel with the Cold War and roles of the Russians and Chinese (as Klingons and Romulans) was a bit heavy-handed, and they really weren't promoting a mature form of gender equality, but it was fine for the 1960s.

Prior to that what kind of rules could we derive from heroic story forms like Westerns, the Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rodgers, previous equivalents of stories like Star Trek and Star Wars?  Maybe these:

1. a central hero is a white male, matching that real life societal expectation, for example that every US President was of this type.  This paradigm is from earlier European culture, but these movie forms are based out of the US, from Hollywood.

2. a sidekick role can be used to promote positive value of minorities, females, or youths, with these secondary in importance, personal strengths, and story resolution effectiveness

3. characters need to be truly good or truly evil.  They can change from one to the other, but there can be no anti-heroes (a character who is both), or heroes with deeply flawed characters.  A character arc can transition a deeply flawed but basically good hero to the more uniformly positive form; this is really the most typical form.

4. antagonists represent negative character, not just an equivalent moral value separate interest.  Limitations in character (morality) and competence link together and cause their downfall.  Again I'm referring to an old paradigm; in the most modern form it's better if people can relate to the villain's perspective as somewhat reasonable.  Even the Heath Ledger Joker made some good points, and he was clearly evil.

5. there is room for arbitrary "other" character range as background.  These rules for main hero and main antagonist don't apply to all other characters, although the others are generally aligned with one "side" or the other.

Can we still tell this form of story?  Sure, but it's not going to work out like that in most cases.  It's a dated form, and a far more interesting story theme to move on to the Marvel template, or even beyond that.  Superman is written in this older form (for example he has no character flaws or arc), and it makes stories too simple sticking to that.  This is why they tend to include "evil Superman" arcs in comics, or add shortcomings for him to overcome in movie versions.  Not so effectively in recent films, really, because it runs against his entire character type.

Why is it a problem to include a protagonist / main hero who faces absolutely ordinary and mundane background and challenges?  Why can't being normal be a problem, like being a minority teen seeking out a self-identity and clearer social role?  Or I guess a drug or alcohol problem, or losing a job, or physical injury.  Dr. Strange overcame a physical injury, but his real arc was about character transition, and change of direction in terms of what he values.  But a more mundane form of story might be more relatable, without taking up magic use being so central, or leading on to saving the world. 

In a sense having the Moon Knight (tv series) character experience mental illness followed a related form, even though Dissociative Identity Disorder isn't conventional or mundane.  Mental illness sort of is conventional; lots of people struggle with depression or schizophrenia, and so on.

I'm not sure that Marvel made that work, setting it up as an internal challenge to be resolved.  The two primary internal personalities quickly became friends, although I guess per the writers' intent maybe that was a series long challenge and resolution, and it only seemed thin to me.  The wife of one persona immediately felt a strong personal bond with the other, which I guess could be a basis for later tension and conflict, but it missed an opportunity to write in real conflict to be resolved.

Per the Star Wars story and character arcs what this liberal "side" wants to write are stories where characters are granted special powers, without facing an internal arc, replacing older characters as superior than them, and later triumphing based on those received attributes.  Some of the "life lesson" form intended in old myths, and in not nearly as old Marvel stories, then drops out.  That was about overcoming setbacks, conflicts, and personal limitations.  Is this really a problem?  It's hard to say for sure.

To succeed as a form of mythology, to transmit values for ordinary people to take on as lessons, it might be a problem.  It doesn't take much adjustment for a new form of similar lessons to enter back in.  Per one interpretation Captain Marvel succeeded because an accident gave her powers, and per another she realized her then-inherent potential through deeper self-understanding, and through accepting risk of failure in testing her own limits.  Rey of Star Wars played out a similar revised form of character and story arc.  She did nothing to earn being the most powerful force user in existence, with the movie #8 explanation being that random chance caused that, and there were no unusual choices involving her taking on the hero's path, she was pushed into it externally.

On the conservative side of the perspective divide it looks to some people as if Disney / Marvel / movie content producers overplay this theme by not only having the central character granted special powers, without going through any internal challenge and transition, but the same happens with supporting characters.  In the Shang Chi story one main hero was a sidekick--a minority, without physical gifts or aptitudes, representing an ordinary person--who saved the day in the final battle with a lucky shot with a bow and arrow, after a few hours of practice, hitting a small moving target 1 km away.  Roughly the same happened in the Star Wars series, based on almost exactly the same character type, and to some extent the exact same action sequence.

The lesson here is that ordinary people can be heroes, even if being a main protagonist involves special circumstances and in-born or granted attributes.  In a sense that really is ok.  It just doesn't match an earlier expected form, and per one set of expectations it makes luck way too central to main movie turning points, versus effort and earned aptitude.  It doesn't try to teach people to work to earn special status, and the ability to resolve difficult problems, the lesson is that luck determines most things.  Or there just is no lesson, really.

From there intentionally including a lot of reference to gender, race, and sexual preference is off-putting to conservative viewers.  Female heroes are more effective in many recent Marvel stories, and older central heroes are "nerfed," reduced in power level and importance.  In the new Hawkeye series Hawkeye doesn't take part in the final "boss battle;" his younger female sidekick does instead.  If a very high proportion of primary protagonists are female or minority race, or gay or trans, in a sense that's still fine, but to viewers of conservative political inclinations it won't work well.

Surely all this came up related to the old Star Trek series, and that earlier paradigm shift.  Everyone had to get it that female characters were playing a greatly expanded role, even though, as in James Bond films, those roles were secondary.  It must have been clear that it was all allegory about race or nationality.  Looking back that shouldn't have been a problem, because the Klingons (Russians) were evil, and Romulans (Chinese) were also evil, and also somehow less respectable, so from both of "that time period's" conservative and liberal views the stories should have still worked.  They broke new ground, but from this time period's perspective they were careful about limiting that.

Next we might guess at where all this is leading.  It's possible for better story tellers to use these potential new forms in more developed ways, that support broader acceptance.  That's another sticking point; these stories being told could be appealing to people valuing these minority and gender representations, but they're not great stories in terms of building compelling characters and plot lines, setting up conflict to cause tension, and leading to engaging action as resolution.  The real shift to acceptance should be based on that.  The Star Trek form, and those old shows, are still popular today because it was all so well done, while a series like Battlestar Galactica was novel but largely faded from view, for not pulling it all off as well.

Then it's a problem that new stories aren't being told, as often as old characters and franchises are re-used.  Television shows will need to lead this form, since it's a risk to spend $150 million on a major production not based on a known story context.  Or presumably small-scale drama oriented stories could lead action / fantasy / adventure story context changes.  Streaming platforms are definitely helping drive this.

In the meantime if you listen to liberal or conservative film and television content commentary both "sides" come across as a bit "toxic" (most typically a label the left applies to the right).  They both make reasonable points about these issues, but tend to miss that they are opposed to the sub-contexts that they don't prefer, based around story-telling mode preferences and gender and race character context.  Any one person should only see one set of opinions in their Youtube or Facebook related secondary opinion commentaries, given how political preference filtering works out in those platforms, so that side would seem more right.

Digging deeper into secondary issues and contexts

What about the starting point of opposing or being open to movie characters being gay, or self-defined in other less traditional ways?  That's back to a simpler sticking point of the culture war divide.  "Hollywood" really does want to press a liberal context acceptance agenda, and half of the US population isn't on that page.  Or maybe it's really 45%, with 10% not as actively involved in the left and right divide.  It may come down to which proportion of movies and television content take up that context and portray it as a normal life theme, a standard value norm, and which other content sets that aside.  

The last Marvel movie I saw, Dr. Strange, included a gay character (America Chavez), but they didn't include that portrayal in the story, beyond having her wear a "pride" pin.  I don't remember it coming up in the last Spider Man movie either, and the Eternals had gay characters kiss, as a reference to it.  It's an active culture war; it's going to come up.

As I consider further the challenges faced by the Ms Marvel character it seems like I'm overstepping "internal struggle" concerns as trivial that are being addressed as serious, and of primary significance.  That character was a Youtube content creator with no following, and she had friends, and participated in social activities, but wasn't popular.  Completely normal, right?  Sure, but to not see this as a problem trivializes how younger people, and people in general, relate to their own life experience.  If she was a very attractive girl, with parents pushing her to be popular, and academically successful, or probably if she was wealthy, her conditions would be quite different.  She would experience other status and benefits from social acceptance.  

Her minority status seems to not be problematic at all, as portrayed, but I suppose incidental challenges might be seen as more important than I'm attributing them to be, for example her character having a tighter curfew.  I suppose it's understandable that such context as personal challenges has to be inconsistent, to fit episode plot lines, for example that one week she can't go to a comic convention (real life hero convention "in-story"), and the next she can go to a party.

She isn't really identified as experiencing mental health issues, like attention deficit disorder, but it's implied there.  As a parent I can relate to the general concern that all kids who spend more than half their free time consuming media, playing games, or on social media might naturally develop a limited real-life context attention span.  Dealing with this in a story line is probably going to be problematic, for that show, so they won't go there, but waving aside the issue as trivial isn't right either.  Teens experience this as a problem; they have to deal with it.

The same parallel can come up related to kids who are gay, or who now see themselves as gender neutral, or gender fluid (which I really won't try to unpack here).  To them it's a serious concern and challenge, and it doesn't work for a more conservative viewer to just see that as normal, as nothing to be concerned about, as not a significant internal conflict.  

I'm reminded of one gay roommate experiencing a significant internal struggle with exactly this issue, and after some degree of dealing with self-image and external social image he came to see it as normal, as not particularly unusual or challenging.  But that process took years, probably a main life theme for him between 15 and 25.  It works better for Spiderman to work through challenges of having superpowers and balancing saving people as a demand than for him to be gay; it fits natural fantasy story lines.  I don't mean that it has to be off-limits, or that it's a story that can't or shouldn't be told, but it's complicated, and a lot easier to move plot points along related to having superpowers.  My roommate put it all together little by little, one discussion and social exchange after another, and it took that full decade.  Spiderman tends to go from the spider bite to stopping muggers within a few scenes, only delayed by uncle Ben dying in two out of three portrayals.  He could come to terms with a gender or sexual preference issue in 3 or 4 short scenes too, but it would conflict a lot with real life experience.

Back to the theme of good storytelling form, I think one main problem is that these can be real character concerns, internal struggle for them to overcome, but that in the movies or tv shows I've cited they're not actually addressing and resolving these issues, these are just background concerns for them to deal with.  In one sense the Moon Knight character resolved having multiple personalities, so that's a potential counter-example, but really it went from impossible to work with and relate to on to being completely resolved with very little struggle or resolution effort on the main character's part (the two of them, two personas).  It would've required very developed, nuanced, and abbreviated form story arc to change that, and I suppose to some viewers that's exactly what they pulled off, and I just didn't see it that way.  The same could apply to Captain Marvel; to many maybe she really did overcome personal self-limitations and fear, through long struggle and introspection, and that's just not how I saw it on-screen.  She realized that she had a control device on her and pulled it off; problem solved, easily.

Maybe these personal development arcs are going to need to be like that, to match real life forms, drawn out across running threads and many personal exchanges, across more scenes and screen time.  I'm referring to the abbreviation issue tied to my friend and roommate's case.  These Youtubers who are criticizing this content themselves spent years building up to 100k follower counts, learning their craft of developing content, managing algorithms, telling their own stories, networking to build viewer base, etc., and the Ms Marvel character can't be shown doing equivalent things.  Maybe in a montage sequence of some sort, but even that would look mundane, beyond the limitations of showing it in a half dozen visual images.  Her own resolution needs to be about having superpowers, as occurred in the Spiderman story.  Peter Parker struggled with relationship issues and job concerns, so they balanced all that, but it took careful storytelling to do so, adding a moving depth to that character.

There's one additional problem, a big one, that relates to why the news media divide thrives on developing this perspective divide, instead of helping resolve it.  That "Critical Drinker" Youtube video has 1.5 million views, and that content creator has made another 20 videos with almost exactly the same theme, across different Disney or other producer characters and stories.  It's his job, literally, to take that side on this issue, to express it and for others to consume that content, and for him to get paid for making it.  Over the next year he will make another dozen videos complaining about the same issues, in exactly the same way, and he will draw the better part of another 10 million views for doing it, and earn the related ad revenue.

He's not exactly an outlier in that regard; this other channel, Nerdrotic, made roughly the same video ("Marvel PANICS After Year of M-She-U FAILURES | Ms. Marvel DISASTER Undergoes EXTENSIVE Reshoots"), at the same time, which has so far drawn 680k views, for a channel with less than half a million followers.  It seems like a Youtuber equivalent to doing what it takes to succeed in a corporate job; maybe it matches their views and maybe it doesn't, but it pays off either way.  I don't know that liberal supporters of this content form draw quite the same following, but that content does exist.  Drama and negativity work better for drawing viewership, and this "conservative side" can build on attachment to earlier forms of the same stories, complaining that Disney is ruining comic book stories.  Maybe they are, per one valid perspective and set of expectations?

One might wonder how people in other cultures place all this.  I live in Thailand; what do people here think of sticking to more traditional forms of hero stories (like Iron Man had been), or moving away from that, embracing diversity issues over a main central character arc, like in the Eternals?  They don't tend to think about it.  

I recently discussed superhero movie preferences with my wife's cousin, who is on that page, and his main comment was that he didn't like the way general story tones became darker.  For example, the Infinity War story killed half the universe, Endgame killed off a few main characters, and even the last Spiderman movie killed one main one (aunt May), for no clear story support reason, just to add tension and impact.  The good guy tended to win in the past, and at most they dabbled in offing a secondary character to mix things up.  It's not unprecedented in written comics, but not a sub-theme he likes.  In the written comics characters could die and come back, which also happens in films, but it has a different feel to it.  

Characters being minorities or gay doesn't seem to hold positive or negative value for him, I don't think.  Gender perspective isn't transitioning here, and it was fairly open to begin with, so that people can self-define as they like.  No one is going to learn any extra pronouns, but in general people will call trans individuals according to the role they take up, without anyone overthinking that.  They're not exactly "fully enlightened" in relation to such issues, but a liberal and conservative culture war wouldn't have the same divide to build on, so one has yet to start.

Does it seem like I'm tipped pretty far in one direction related to all this?  I feel as if I can relate to both sides.  If these newer, more progressive hero stories were just better stories I'd be fine with them.  The Loki television series (on Disney +) included a powerful, compelling, well-developed alternate universe female character that completely worked for me, framed within a good story.  It's a little late for me to be newly introduced to the idea that a woman can be a superhero too, since Wonder Woman covered that in the mid 20th century, and Gamora is one of my favorite Marvel characters, but it added to that legacy.  Folding in more social role commentary might be tricky, but if it somehow told an integrated story it could be fine, maybe even if I didn't fully accept the point of view being suggested.  

It will be interesting to see if Disney ever can succeed in normalizing normal internal struggles as part of a new form of hero's journey.  I mean mundane ones, like normal teen social development.  It should work.  It might fail for a reason I've not brought up, that it's too ordinary, and fails to fulfill the function of fantasy escapism.  It was nice having Neo of the Matrix escape life in an office cubicle, but what if he worked there for the entire movie instead, and a main sub-plot was about mundane office politics, him not getting a raise or promotion?  Maybe the imbalance in parallel themes could be interesting, as they started to play off of in Fight Club.  But it took great writing to do what they did in that movie.  They didn't include sub-context just because it made for a cool background aspect; every point brought up was woven together into story lines and character development.  

In the Eternals one immortal character was a child, just because they happened to be that, as one seemed to be a teen for the same reason, and characters were gay just because they were.  It can frame these contexts as normal, as they should be, but without being a part of a story about characters and developed plots it doesn't mean anything.  Could an immortal being maintain the status and personality type of a child, instead of developing mature social perspective, matching an adult form?  Would such beings face and overcome conflict related to same sex gender preference, and would that form shift over historical time periods?  The movie didn't develop these points.  

This is really why a more standard path is to start with origin stories at a more detailed level, to build up how these inputs work, instead of starting from a team-up movie theme context.  It's just good story telling, versus showing cut and pasted versions of expected images, exotic locations, action packed fight scenes, and novel superpowers.  To do justice to supporting new social role definitions and issues movie makers will have to build up interesting characters and tell good stories.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Duyun Mao Jian and Meitan Cui Ya Shougong green teas


Mao Jian left, Meitan Cui Ya right.  it's partly a focus issue but that Mao Jain is also fuzzy.

There's unusual context for these two teas; they're from a sample set sent from Moychay for review last year, so 2021 green tea versions.  So ruined by aging, per one take on how green tea storage works out.  They'll definitely have lost a lot of the freshness that marks most green tea appeal, so that wouldn't be completely wrong.  Then green tea also just transitions to deeper, warmer, more mineral intensive flavors, so in a different sense they will just be different than how they started out.

In partial explanation, I had a lot of samples to get to (many thanks to them for that), and green tea isn't a favorite range.  I helped out with some editing and those were a thanks, it seemed, which I really valued, but it's been a lot to get to all of them, even over time.  I had planned to just drink through one version this morning, not reviewing it, but it reminded me of one of the first teas I bought that I couldn't identify early on in my tea journey, a pine needle looking version only sold as "mountain tea" in a Beijing old style market.  Not exactly a sign from the universe but still interesting.

I just mentioned in a post on Gong Fu brewing about how in general Western approach could be as good or better for many green teas, but I'll brew these Gong Fu style.  It seems more respectful to the tea, and it will tell a slightly different story.  I'll use water well off boiling point (with temperature not measured), so it's not about dialing in precise parameters, just what intuition dictates in this case.

Trying dated green teas before should help a little with guessing about transitions that have occurred in these, but that short summary of changes is going to be most of it.  Since the form of both is quite different it may require adjusting brewing to be different (adjusting timing), but that's easy enough to do on the fly.

The vendor input is a bit limited in relevance since these should've changed some since last year, and may not be available, but I'll still look them up:

Duyun Maojian Ban Shougong Cha (partly handmade) , march 2021

«Hairy peaks from Duyun» is the famous tea of Guizhou Province. It was made of the very first spring tea shoots (early March 2021).

In appearance: small, thin flagella of green buds, abundantly covered with fuzz. The aroma is fresh, herbal. The liquor is transparent, light greenish color.

The brewed tea has fresh, airy, herbal-floral bouquet with nutty hint. The aroma is tender, herbal-floral. The taste is refined and full-bodied, juicy, sweetish, with fine berry sourness and lingering finish.

Brewing suggestions. Brew tea with hot water (70-75°С) in a porcelain gaiwan or in glass tea ware. The proportion is 3-4 g per 100 ml. The time of the first steeping is about 5-7 seconds. After that do short steeps (just for 1-2 seconds), increasing steeping time for each subsequent step, if necessary. You can repeat this method up to 7-8 times.

Parts of that match these tasting notes; the mention of it being "nutty" worked out as an unusual and pleasant theme.  It's interesting that they brewed it not so differently than I did, just at a lower proportion, since I definitely wasn't using flash infusions (1-2 seconds plus adding some time).  I did try one really fast round, and liked it; odd that matched up (I only read this kind of content during editing, typically, and this time).  

It's not available on that main site now, so there was no price to check, but I checked their Netherlands (Amsterdam) site to see if they still list it and they do; it costs 10.50 Euro for 50 grams, which is $11.  What's up with the low Euro?  That actually sounds like a great price, for this, even for one year old green tea, based on writing this after I've tried it.

Meitan Cui Ya Shougong (Emerald Tips from Meitan, handmade) , march 2021

“Meitan Cui Ya Shougong” ("Emerald Tips from Meitan, handmade") is a green tea from Guizhou province. Made in early March from the very first spring buds. Harvest 2021.

In appearance: select, glossy green buds. The fragrance is fresh, floral-herbaceous. Tea infusion is transparent, with a light green shade.

The bouquet of the ready-made tea is fresh, floral-herbaceous with notes of baked chestnuts and sweet peas. The fragrance is tender, floral-herbaceous. The taste is full-bodied, sweet and smooth, slightly tart, with a delicate berry sourness and long, refreshing finish.

Steep the tea in a hot water (70-80°С) in a porcelain gaiwan. The proportion is 3-4 g per 100 ml. The time of the first steeping is about 20 seconds. After that do short steeps (for 3-5 seconds), increasing steeping time for each subsequent step, if necessary. You can repeat steeping up to 6 times.

It's odd that this was probably the singular most floral green tea I've ever tried and that didn't get emphasized more in that description, even though it was repeated as "floral-herbaceous."  The color of these buds may have darkened some, based on that description.  It is what it is.  Again no price was listed, because that's from an archived listing, and this time it didn't turn up on the Netherlands site.

It's interesting how many aged green tea versions they have on their sites.  That's a subject I've been meaning to get to, because Moychay sent some unusual old teas and some really, really old versions last year, even back from the 70s.  At least it's a non-issue giving those an extra year to get to.  I'm not nervous about trying something outside a normal range but I still don't look through samples on a Saturday morning and essentially never think this is the day to try that 50 year old tea.  I was really moving through a lot of aged sheng samples too, the main type they sent, which matched an exploration phase I was most focused on, so just ideal in that regard.

People might wonder if aged green tea is really "a thing."  It's rare, but it comes up as a novelty experience.  Within the first half dozen years of being produced old green tea is still just seen as ruined, but double that to a dozen years or more and people could get curious about how it might have changed, or even more so at around the two decade mark.  I'll pass on what I experience when I get to that.  I'm curious myself.  I just missed trying some 40 year old green tea when my favorite Chinatown shop owners had tasted some with guests quite a few years back, and never returned to that theme again.


Mao Jian left (in all photos), still a bit light, but novel and interesting in spite of that

Dayun Mao Jian:  lots of trichomes in this already, fuzz that you can see on the surface when you brew it.  That's not surprising given the appearance.

I really wasn't expecting this much umami in this tea; it's in a Japanese tea range for that.  The warm mineral tone I mentioned, related to natural flavor drift over time, especially for storing tea in a hot place, like Bangkok, kind of works well with that.  A fresher and more vegetal range being more pronounced last year would've been a different effect, the way that combined.  This is kind of cool though.  Mineral is so bumped up that it's a little towards salt or metal, in a nice sense, like sucking on a penny.  Sweetness ties those parts together nicely.

Meitan Cui Ya Shougong:  I didn't see that intensity coming; it's even stronger than the other.  It includes a hint of smoke, lots of vegetal depth, mineral, sweetness, and some vegetal range, and floral tone.  That's a lot going on for a buds based tea, and dialed up to an intensity that's atypical.  Definitely strong floral tone, but a different kind of mineral stands out more, even though that kind of range usually takes up a background / base context form.  This has an interesting aftertaste carry-over, related to being that complex and intense.  Proportion is a bit higher for this tea, bumped a little since whenever I see plain buds I expect intensity challenged tea, but the opposite happened in this case.  Floral tone is nice, heavy, towards lavender, a nice fit with the rest.

Neither of these are similar to the character ranges that put me off a lot of green teas, heavy seaweed, grassiness, or vegetal flavors.  I like Longjing, but that's more in a toasted rice / nutty range, with other tones including vegetal range, but not typically a blast of it that ruins the effect (for me).  I get it why people might like other styles and aspect sets than I do, it's just personal preference varying.

Dayun Mao Jian, second infusion:  this shifted a lot.  Umami is still present but a lot of vegetal tone picked up, warmer range, and mineral ramped up quite a bit.  On the "is it ruined?" theme I would imagine all this was tied to a brighter, fresher floral range when first made last year, or at least lighter vegetal tone.  So maybe; it would be a judgement call about tea style and aspect forms.  This tastes a good bit like roasted sunflower seeds; that doesn't come up so often in tea tasting.  I like it, but then I've been sorting through varying styles, quality levels, and age-transition level versions of sheng for awhile, so I'm probably more open than average to atypical tea experience range.  Even that metal edge, now overtaken by sunflower seed general flavor, works with the rest.

The brewed liquid isn't completely clear, slightly cloudy instead, but it's covered in trichomes, and those mixed in with the infusion might also be causing that.

Meitan Cui Ya Shougong:  the exact opposite shift occurred in this, making for an unusual experience.  I brewed it little faster to account for intensity being high last round and it's much less intense now, lighter on the heavier and deeper flavor range, more onto a mild and sweet but still complex floral range.  This could be a good version of a tisane and tea blend at this point; it could have a floral input.  It doesn't, because there's no way you could make that mild in a first infusion then have it come out more in the next.  And they're just not on that page; Moychay isn't that kind of vendor source.  Their tea quality level and value can shift quite a bit version to version but it's all what it's supposed to be, per my impression.

A strong perfume-like effect comes across for floral range being so heavy in this.  I don't remember ever drinking a green tea that expressed this much of that, actually seeming like a tisane blend.  The warmer tone and mineral base works well with that, rounding it out.  Aftertaste experience didn't drop out but it is a lot lighter for going with a lighter infusion.  And I think this tea started brewing much faster than I expected, maybe related to me associating buds form with white tea, of course in error, at least related to this case outcome.

Dayun Mao Jian, third infusion:  this is settling into a range closer to Longjing than it had been before, with that sunflower settling back to a toasted rice or nutty range.  Cool!  I love that aspect set.  If you would try this you would think it is a heavy, mineral intensive, maybe slightly age transitioned (not so fresh) version of Longjing, but still a pretty good one.  Intensity is good, flavor is clean, sweetness is nice, and mineral base gives it great complexity.  A bit of background floral tone adds even more complexity and depth; there's a lot going on.  

I always thought I'd probably get around to trying more green tea range that would make it all make more sense, it's just odd exploring it in this form, and adding in a completely atypical aging factor.  Of course I have tried a lot of versions of green teas, maybe even a couple hundred, but I mean expanding that into even more Chinese types I've yet to run across.  It's my impression that it's impossible to try half of all there is for Chinese tea types, all the more so for trying good versions of those.

Meitan Cui Ya Shougong:  it shifted again, no doubt related to going back to a slightly longer infusion time.  This could be a white tea, for expressing this profile, heavy on mineral, with a bit more depth and structure to it, but mild at the same time, expressing quite a bit of floral.  It's like a silver needle that's seen a bit of age, in between being fresh and bright and transitioning to much deeper and warmer tones much later on.  There's even one way that a warm mineral tone and towards-lavender flavor set comes across in silver needle that this matches.  The feel structure too, the way those start in on astringency fullness in an unusual way, not in the sense of having an edge, or seeming dry, but full in a way that starts towards dryness.

I know it seemed like these were just starting to get interesting but I might do one more round and leave off the notes.  I only have so much attention span to work with, related to combining tasting and writing notes.

Dayun Mao Jian, fourth infusion:  odd the trichomes keep extracting out in this tea version; it was absolutely loaded.  This is heavier in tone than it has been yet; strange.  For both of these teas I think minor changes in infusion time would shift their character, and to some extent did.  Or temperature probably would too, if that had applied, but I'm using water from a thermos, all the same across these rounds.  

This tastes a little like fresh popped popcorn, that heavier taste, maybe even including the edge that enters in when you burn a few kernels.  Both of these teas might have transitioned a significant amount from storage, but it's hard to say for sure.  Most likely there is a quality issue behind that; I've probably been exposed to generally lower or average level green teas before, maybe with exceptions entering in related to gyokuro, sencha, or longjing, so I'm accustomed to a rough edged, vegetal aspect range.

Meitan Cui Ya Shougong:  this includes a bit more of that feel edge I mentioned, taking a short step further into dryness, with the heavy floral tone clearly evident beyond that.  Finally there's not much to say about dramatic transitions beyond that change.  I've probably been "pushing" both these teas further than they really needed, not using long infusion times, a bit over 10 seconds, maybe 15, but at this brewing proportion they might've been fine brewed lighter and faster, maybe even better.  Backing off proportion is the obvious way to adjust for that, making 15 to 20 seconds relate to the same infusion strength range, making it easier to dial in an optimum, or at least a better range.  No regrets though, not even about not trying these teas last year, as I should have; it has been an pleasant and interesting experience.

Duyun Mao Jian, fifth infusion:  I tried a bit faster infusion, probably using a little cooler water, to see how that changed things, related to considering that last time.  It works; intensity is much lighter, but profile is shifted to a standard light floral and vegetal range, just quite light.  A light perfume-like nature comes across better, this is just a bit faint, it is so light.  It would probably still be quite pleasant to brew 20 rounds like this, to do a whole long cycle of very light infusions, instead of the less than 10 this sequence is headed towards.

Meitan Cui Ya Shougong:  for floral tone, warmer range, mineral depth, and feel intensity all being so strong this works well brewed very light.  It's not that different, the general impression just changes.  It's odd how an aftertaste carry-over still happens, a faint impression that keeps trailing off, but doesn't actually seem to stop.  People really into one range of white teas might absolutely love this.  It's nothing like I expected but quite pleasant.  That's true of both of these, really.


I always kind of expected that I would get back to trying green teas that were more novel and better than what I've tried before, I just never sought that out, since it's my least favorite general category.  Here they are though.

It seems like soldiering through a broad range of sheng pu'er has really prepared me for this experience, which isn't what I expected.  For those you tend to value complexity and uniqueness, sure, and intensity, and unending new range, and these cover some of that scope, without the heavier feel, and without coming across as grassy or vegetal.  I can eat seaweed and vegetables, like anyone else, probably appreciating that more than most for spending 17 years as a vegetarian, and eating a broad range of Asian foods.  That's just not a range I prefer in tea flavor experience, so it was nice for these to not emphasize that.

It probably really is that I've tried more moderate quality green tea than better versions, with the exception of some decent Longjing and Japanese versions, and the odd "wild" SE Asian version, or Darjeeling.  It was nice taking a step in an unexpected direction like that.  I don't expect the impact of aging (one year) was an overly negative input for these teas, but standard expectations about them being very fresh in character probably wouldn't have been met.  To me that might not have even been negative, based on trying an awful lot of aged sheng over the past year, so that transition effect has been a big part of what I routinely experience.  

It's different in sheng and green tea, for sure, but I think that one generality might tend to get overstated, that sheng is completely separate in that way (aging potential), and green teas absolutely must be drank within six months.  When I've heard of people going through and throwing away lots of dated green tea versions because the flavor faded or shifted it has seemed a bit odd to me, that perhaps with a shift to their expectations the tea really wouldn't have been that undrinkable, or even unpleasant.  People associate green tea with freshness though, and who am I to say that's objectively wrong, overly rigid, or unreasonable.  Tea experience is what you want it to be, with broad expectations as one input to that.  If you think that all shu pu'er tends to taste the same (which I'm more guilty of) then experience can confirm that, more so than experiences would without that rigid expectation factoring in.

Friday, June 10, 2022

What are people getting out of tea?


It tastes good, right, and it contains caffeine?  There must be a lot more to it than that.  I was recently talking to someone about tea enthusiast culture, trying to explain my own connection to tea, and how it means different things to other people, about how it's not simple to summarize that range.  That person was an anthropology researcher, which led to interesting consideration of underlying factors.  Some of the main long term appeal of tea doesn't even relate to direct experiential aspects, or a narrow set of social dimensions; it seems more complicated.

So let's get to it, I'll say a little about what I think is attracting people to tea, and keeping them connected, often beyond the range of how other beverage interests are experienced.  I'm mostly leaving out health interest.  Maybe tea is so healthy that's a general context all along, but you can never really connect shifting personal preferences to greater health benefits.  You might "go organic" along the way, or something like that, also taking up tisanes / herb teas, but I don't see that factor as a typical main connection.  For some it could be mostly about that though.

It might seem like I'm discounting some of these experiential aspects or other factors as trivial, or not of significant value, but really that's not my intention.  People can choose what they want to experience and value for their own reasons, and as long as it doesn't harm others, or at some point also themselves, then any basis for choices seems valid.

tea bags, English Breakfast tea:  not really started yet, but those are related.  One might wonder if higher quality tea prepared in pyramid style tea bags couldn't be an exception, since it is better tea. Sure, why not?

flavored teas:  this is at least a gateway, something people can value for novelty and intensity, a nice next step for people acclimated to sugary sodas.  For me this was jasmine green tea, although many years prior I had tried Tazo blends, and if things had gone differently trying those might have led further.  Loose tea was available in the US when I got into tisanes, in the 90s, but it was harder to find then.  In the loosest sense Arizona iced tea in a can is a flavored tea, but of course I mean something else here, the range that you brew.

plain medium quality loose black tea, oolongs:  the main appeal really only starts to show through here, and none of those deeper level, emergent aspects apply yet, like a social dimension.  It's fascinating that tea can extend beyond a commonly known range, and that plain, real tea can match and exceed other flavored versions for complexity and positive character.  Just putting dried leaves in hot water can seem like a novel food preparation step, maybe a little daunting at first, but later on there isn't that much to it, or at least doesn't have to be.

you just can't describe how novel and interesting the actual experiences can be

exploring average or above average loose teas:  things shift here, once you realize that the limited set of versions you've encountered are only the early start, and that quality levels vary, so that even what you tried didn't represent those types and categories well.  All this is still about experienced aspects, for the most part, and on to novelty of experience a bit.  That there is a learning curve becomes clear at this point, which I guess could be taken in different ways.  This is a good stage for sorting out that you can make masala chai yourself, or Christmas themed blends, just a little early for trying versions that aren't from China, Japan, India, or Sri Lanka.

flavor versus mouthfeel, aftertaste, and body feel effect, cha qi:  at first people tend to value taste in teas, and generally need those to be on the intense side to relate to them, hence the flavored tea gateway.  Later on it becomes possible to value other experiential aspects that add depth, like mouthfeel and aftertaste (which can go by different names, like texture or length).  "Drinking tea with your body" (discussed here, and framed in that way, by the godfather of tea blogging) is often described as desirable after a good bit of exposure, appreciating the way teas make you feel, for some more so than all the rest of the experience.  I only notice those effects when they're on the strong side, when it starts to resemble drug effects, and don't really value that.  That said I do drink whatever tea I feel like every morning, and I can't be sure which effects I'm intuitively desiring.  My mood might match a certain experience, across different aspect range, and I can't rule out that I'm connecting types with outcomes in a way that I'm just not clear on.

brewing exploration:  along with getting to slightly above average versions at later stages it becomes clear that the early brewing practices first learned were also only a start.  It seems like tweaking those a bit would lead to much better, stable form practices, but later it becomes clear this is all part of a much longer learning curve too.  The first move in learning is to try to optimize practices, to dial in proportion, timing, and brewing temperature for type, and then later it's clear enough that it's just not that simple, and you can keep varying experience in ways that are just different, not more or less optimal.  Water mineral content factors in; inputs like that take time to sort through.  The shift from a Western brewing approach to Gong Fu brewing tends to come up later, a subject I just wrote about.

references, social connections:  probably before the last step or two the idea that an external reference might help can come up.  It might be an online group; that could make more sense now than looking into a text blog or Youtube channel, or I suppose that might depend on the context, what information one is after.  This kind of slightly deeper dive might couple well with the next steps mentioned here.  This experience level is really a good place to learn a bit and set it all aside, on to exploring some other subject instead, but either the experience, the social connection, or reference links pointing further might lead to the opposite, continuing on.

one old-style tea forum is still active now

placing yourself socially in relation to other tea enthusiasts:  definitely not necessary, but once this starts you're hooked.  Vendors can use this as a form of adding consumer value, but it's not that easy to set up, or to simulate through social media content.  Mei Leaf does a decent job, with high energy, charismatic approach sales pitch mixed with information, indirectly framing customers as a common interest group, not just related to liking tea, but to liking their tea.  Of course once you are further along a learning curve all that is off-putting, because you see it for what it is, a lot like how people try to sell you cars, or anything else.  I've bashed Mei Leaf and praised them at different times, but on the positive side they're packaging information and developing tea interest more than any vendor in the US tea industry, so they deserve to do good business.

Online groups support this step; the Facebook group that I moderate has 25,000 members, and a Reddit tea sub is over 650,000 now.  Discord servers themed around one vendor are that much more direct.  Real life tea social groups fit the form that much better, which can be coordinated through an online form.  Moychay, a Russian tea vendor, runs "tea clubs," commercial meetup spaces that are not really exactly the same as cafes, but this requires a developed tea subculture to work out in that form and on that scale.

a small social event at a local friend's place

owning stuff:  at some point consumer culture kicks in.  At first it's probably about how little someone needs to own to buy in, maybe picking up a basket infuser, ceramic teapot, a gaiwan, kettle, and a bunch of cups, and then later it's about what else one might want to have.  Matching what others own ties to leveling up to their status, even if other kinds of exposure level is a difficult thing to rush.  I remember a funny comment once about how so many people are "pressure cooked experts," and it's really like that.  After about a year of exploring tea it seems like you know about and have experienced a lot, and then after about two years it seems that you know almost nothing.  Owning what others own definitely buys you into one form of participation status though, as trying rare and expensive teas also can.

Owning a tea tray is simple enough, but once you start on clay pots it could never end.  If you start in on sheng pu'er, which isn't a good idea early on, you'll need to own at least one device to break up cakes (compressed teas), and probably an informal variation of a humidor for storage, a range of gear much more complicated than a wine cellar.  Other kinds of tea you generally buy to drink as soon as possible, but once you prefer teas that tend to improve with age collecting becomes a natural fit.

not something I'm so into, but teaware can be cool

coupling secondary interest with tea:  this also makes it all the easier to form a personal connection, the prior point, eg. combining interest in nature with tea experience, or Buddhism or Taoism.  Tea and food pairing would be another example of this.  Tea and health interest I've already set aside, but it never really completely drops out.  Drinking too much tea can be a concern, and it's hard to ever really fully bracket what you hear about potential benefits, for example Traditional Chinese Medicine approaches or connections might come up.

tea, nature, social contact; it can all go together (image credit to Sergey of Moychay, on the left)

connection with Eastern cultures:  a bit of a stretch?  The perception or appeal of this can stand in for real connection, and a little can also go a long way.  You don't need to go straight to ceremonial brewing or tea as meditation practice, but adding just a touch of those as inputs to routine practice adds lots of depth.  If a vendor happens to be Asian it all automatically connects, organically.  Or if a friend or contact is Asian--preferably Chinese, I guess, but tea culture exists elsewhere in Asia--they just need to have an uncle who was really into it, and they're a great reference by association, whether they are actually have much exposure to the subject themselves or not.

All that really sounds too negative, more so than I mean it.  I've lived in Asia (Thailand) for almost 15 years, and not very many people are into tea here, but connections to Indian and Chinese culture are stronger.  Even Japanese culture; we regularly shop in Japanese grocery stores, and our two overall favorite restaurants are popular interpreted versions of Japanese food themes.  I got into tea mainly because it was around, decent oolong at least, and I kept running into other types traveling elsewhere in Asia.  Gong Fu Cha brewing gets complicated, and wearing martial arts clothing I see as a little silly, but it all does connect at some level.  Chinatown is my favorite part of Bangkok, and a set of shop owners there feel like an extra aunt and uncle to me.

really inexpensive teas mostly for gifts, but I drank some jasmine green tea today

I guess to a limited extent whatever they do represents Asian culture

social connections, the next layer of placement:  along with the last two steps people push further into a range of exploration, and already have favorites, not just type ranges but favorite individual tea producers and versions, and developed forms of brewing, leading to ownership of tea gear.  At this level you can make connections with like-minded individuals, not just those who also love tea, but who take it in a similar way as you, related to exposure level and preference.  

One cool part is that with online contact being what it is those people could be anywhere in the world.  Not so much in China, since their internet is a bit walled off, in general, but even there plenty of people use VPNs.  Language issues also shut that down; to the extent there are Chinese equivalents of Western "on the path" tea bloggers or Instagrammers they're not really seeking out Americans or Europeans to talk with about that.

meetup with tea friends in lots of different places

From here I would need to spell out how tea related subcultures tend to work to really fill in what I mean by this in relation to the other connection with secondary interests.  Just being interested in both tea and Buddhism wouldn't be enough; there has to be a social group or vendor center to provide a natural point of connection.  Global Tea Hut is sort of both, tied to Buddhism, "progressive" perspective, and tea sales, and formerly tourism in Taiwan, but I think that part is on hold for now.  Local groups take on characters of their own, often centrally connected by local Facebook group, like this one in NYC.  Most typically the range of interests would just be those generally tied to tea itself:  drinking tea, trying new types, somewhat ceremonial forms of brewing, and interest in teaware.  

It crosses pretty much everyone's mind that at some point they could make money off what they've learned and experienced, and if that works it can be a stable and persistent connection, to continue on as a vendor.  From there social connections could be a helpful business support.

tea as a part of social gatherings:  Alcohol is more familiar as a social drink, and tea won't really offset natural inhibitions in the same way, but it can be a shared interest, a sub-theme to base gatherings on, and a great supporting experience to couple with hours of social contact.  After quite a bit of tea you feel a bit buzzed, and amped up, and since that sets in gradually social experience tone can gain energy along with it.  It's like how drinkers can start out a bit mellow and end up shouting in each others' faces, or dancing to loud music, but based around experiencing a mild stimulant instead.  And you never black out, throw up, get in a fight, or crash your car.  Too much of the wrong type of tea on an empty stomach can make you feel uncomfortable but eating the right kind of snack tends to offset that.

a checklist of types or areas:  this can be tricky, because new ranges turn up just as fast as you can cover your own list.  A set of 6 or 8 most famous Chinese tea types might turn up early on, leading on to trying out Indian and Japanese versions, but then Nepal tea can sound interesting, or one more variation of white tea or hei cha, or a seasonal spring tea experience others talk about.  Once you start on pu'er (sheng) the list is so long that it's never even a clearly defined set, since source areas, aspect sets / styles, producers, vendors, storage age and input, and other factors make for an endless matrix of potential experience.  Then it's on to quality issues, those talked-about source areas, or ancient plant / wild growth versions.

Why do that to yourself, right, trying to drink the ocean, adding arbitrary experience gaps as a main part of your "tea path?"  The learning curve and social connections themes can indirectly cause it.  Every interesting idea, new type, quality level experience, tea source, online tea friend, or real life social connection can lead on to what might come next.  That can be a great thing, if endless rounds of new experience are seen as positive, or else it might seem tiresome and pointless.  You would never really know when you passed a midway point for learning and exposure, until you were clearly approaching a far side, and even then broad gaps in what you haven't experienced would still stand out.

It's not just competition to try the next trendy theme version, or the highest quality levels, that can make this sort of background context off-putting.  Eventually quite a bit of all communication about tea online can seem either like a vendor trying to sell something or a tea enthusiast indirectly bragging about their own broad range of unique experiences.  Endless photos of large tea orders or unusually exclusive versions can make it impossible to match the perceived median experience range, no matter how far you get.  People typically don't mean it that way, I don't think, self-promoting as doing well in such competition.  Explicitly waving off that context in online comments can seem ingenuine, for example citing some unheard of tea version experience along with "by the way, what's in your cup?"

tea subculture leadership / "expert" roles:  it's more that eventually people really do reach the middle of an exposure curve, but I guess to some extent some thin version of status could eventually apply.  You might start a tea group that gains following or activity, or start a tea blog / YouTube or Tik Tok channel / podcast.  Writing text content about what you have learned, or tea current events, is more a theme from the past, but multiple author reference blogs like TChing still do exist, and there are plenty of published books about tea.  

There aren't many vendors with broad YouTube following, and no one I know of related to tea that's not a vendor; only the Mei Leaf channel and Sergey of Moychay's come to mind (discussed further here).  The Tea DB video blog is a good example of this; it's a popular, well developed video blog, the most followed version I'm aware of, and they currently have 7000 followers.  Not bad for the subject of tea, but there must be a dozen channels with a million followers about telling scary stores (like this one, Mr. Ballen, with 6 million followers).

It's a little harder to become the venerated, seasoned expert type without some of those exposure related credentials applying.  The learning curve is so long that it would be hard to distinguish yourself as towards the far side, and people would tend to not care if you are or aren't (as you really shouldn't).  Related to groups it could easily become tiresome answering newbie questions, because of course those repeat.  

Really a lot of that information and perspective sharing applies more to the middle of the learning curve anyway.  Those who know don't talk, and those who talk don't know (or something like that Tao Te Ching reference can work out).  There are groups oriented towards advanced tea enthusiast perspective but none that I know of themed around discussion between people towards that far extreme.  They've mostly already talked it out, or were never interested in that, or move on to a more limited guide role instead.

the end of the path:  is there one, or any number of them?  People experience different forms of this.  Some just move on, ready to explore the next thing, and this is probably more common than embracing the last few steps that I've mentioned.  Developing a caffeine intolerance nudges people in that direction; it is a drug, and long term tolerance varies.  It would also work well to integrate a simplified version of this preference into your lifestyle, and drop out essentially all exploration and self-definition.  

It's not the same thing but it reminds me of an Alan Watts quote about exploring Buddhism (and drugs more, really):  when you get the message, hang up the phone.  That doesn't mean one would need to give up tea, as I see it applied to this context, but dropping discussion and potentially even related social connections might make sense at some point.  That would never happen because someone had explored most of what there is to cover related to tea, since the subject is endless, covering countless types, experience dimensions, and background information, but it's an open option to leave off at any time.

All of this connects with ego, obviously, even the parts that are explicitly about rejecting ego, or ironically maybe especially those.  Owning more stuff, achieving status as an expert, gaining knowledge and experience, even acquiring greater levels of modesty about such status could be clear signs of personal development, for others to respect and hold in high regard.  There are so many other places to put self-definition and external value that it's rare for tea to hold a lot of that meaning for anyone, but all of these dimensions are there to potentially contain it.

Tea as a movement and personal experience

One might wonder why tea is gaining popularity just now, but the opposite question also works, why tea never gained the same degree of popularity as wine, coffee, or craft beer.  Or even matcha, which of course is a tea sub-theme, as boba / bubble tea also is.  General Asian themes might have gained some uptake over the past couple of decades, as martial arts interest increased, and foreign foods in general.  But better tea isn't "having a moment" just yet, and it potentially might never.  Foreign culture can be a great theme to explore for people on that page, and it can mean a lot to them, but it's easier to pick up and maintain an interest in lots of other subjects, most of which require less work and active involvement.  If health benefit is a main goal exercise and good diet stand out as lower hanging fruit.

The diversity of tea, which is part of the positive character, enabling continuous exploration, may also offset the obvious appeal.  Wine comes in a lot of types, often already sold in grocery stores, and opening a bottle is pretty straightforward, or the pour spout on a box, at that other extreme.  I went through shorter exploration cycles with wine and craft beer.  I remember when I first tried putting loose tea leaves in hot water and it seemed interesting, and mysterious, but also really unfamiliar.  I don't remember how much I actually loved the tasting experience, but apparently it was enough to keep trying.

an old-style mall in Shenzhen; buying tea here was one step along the way

Related to my own exploration, and why I never stopped after the first 4 or 5 steps listed here, I coupled tea exploration with learning about social media.  It sounds strange saying that now, but a decade ago social media was still expanding into new forms, and mainstream channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube weren't yet what they are today.  Today it's a much more relevant concern how to limit online social exposure, and media content consumption.  Back then I was wondering what newer forms like Tumblr and Google + were all about, and it helped to combine that exploration with a subject theme, to "add friends," or however that went, around a topic interest.  Blogging was a part of that.  In a sense that only shifted over time, as old-style forums largely went away and newer forms like Discord picked up.  Tea apps are trying to gain acceptance now, and maybe one is actually getting there, the My Tea Pal version, and that set of online friends and I recently talked with a Steeped app founder.  

Still, it's a lot easier to watch content creators tell mafia stories on YouTube, or to follow podcasts, and to some limited extent that can already feel like being a part of a community.  Tea podcasts are out there now but the experiential nature of tea leads to most people not putting focus on watching someone else drink tea, or even learning subject background.  It's like how runners can join groups or watch channels to support their interest but it's still mostly about tying it back to actually running.  

To me the deepest appeal of tea is the pleasantness of quiet, simple, but also multi-layered experience.  It's like how watching a sunset can be much different than almost any other kind of aesthetic experience.  Being present in that moment is the thing, not consuming a designed and packaged experience, or framing yourself in a certain way for others.  Tea can help bring you in contact with yourself.  I suppose that is also why its appeal might never apply to more people, because that's not a page that everyone is on.