Sunday, July 10, 2022

Doi Ngam Thai wild origin sheng

Awhile back I tried some really nice local Thai tea from Aphiwat Kokhue, a contact who is a member of a local indigenous group here, the Aker.  I wrote about a version here (compared to a Farmerleaf Jing Mai Dian Hong version for reference), and shared some other pictures of where he lives here.  After seeing a Facebook post about him selling recently produced sheng cakes I ordered some (through a FB contact, with that Gaw Khee Cha business page here).  I thought I remembered trying sheng from them before, but maybe it was only black tea, the one in that post, and I was mixing up that memory with another version.

This tea is good (jumping ahead to conclusions), interesting in style, very pleasant, and promising in relation to changes with aging.  It's not unlike other South East Asian "wild origin" versions that I've tried, which tend to be flavorful, sweet, complex in flavor range, and not so astringent.  Bitterness is more pronounced in this than in many other versions, but that can vary, which I would guess relates mainly to tea plant genetics and processing inputs.

I only have one concern about this tea, related to it being a bit pliable as you separate out leaves for brewing.  It may be more damp than is typical, and that potentially could be a risk, that it's not dry enough to store well, and may turn sour or mold.  I doubt that it will, but it's a significant concern, and one that connects with two earlier examples I'm familiar with of that happening, so I'm going to delve into that before the review.  

One well-documented example of this happening related to Mei Leaf communicating that a sheng pu'er and chen pi (tangerine peel) pressed cake they were going to sell molded.  That's a little different, because the producer just didn't account for including fruit peel properly, which probably would dry differently than only tea leaves.  I heard that a Thai producer making hand-made tuocha's experienced something related, not drying those enough, which caused big problems for them as they were stored.

The concern comes from the leaves being slightly pliable while pressed, which isn't common.  Leaves are always a bit crisp, maybe so compressed that they won't separate well, but never as flexible as these.  The tea won't naturally continue to dry out well here, even without humidity added as a storage environment control, because it's always humid here (in Bangkok), especially during this rainy version of a rainy season.

I could research how to make a low humidity salt pack and set this aside to dry, kind of the opposite of what everyone else does, conditioning cakes to add humidity.  This Tea Forum reference would be helpful for that.  I don't know that included moisture content is too high, and to be honest I'm guessing that it's fine, but if it is this tea could be worthless in a couple of months, and pose a mold risk for everything else.  Just balancing moisture level with the rest of the tea I have stored might do the trick; some kilograms of tea in large storage containers should act as a humidity level sink, equalizing and shifting to get back to local quite-damp Bangkok conditions, which are seemingly never damp enough to ruin sheng.  Or maybe just putting this in a small Lock and Lock style container with a baggie with some salt in it would do it, only drying it out, versus making some attempt at conditioning it to some level.  Nothing ever goes bone dry in Bangkok; that salt would already be conditioned to holding 60-some percent relatively humidity, because it's always that humid.  

Since it made for a cool science project sort of theme I did just that, roasting some salt in a steel bowl in a toaster oven for 10 minutes, to dry it, then wrapping that in a tissue and putting it and the cakes in a "tupperwear" container, more or less.  The rest will be all guesses, if that was enough salt, if the process is even practical, and how long to leave it.  I'm not so worried about over-drying it because whenever I open that container to check it plenty of moisture will enter, and it would re-condition automatically, when stored with the rest of my tea.

I doubt all that was necessary, but it doesn't really seem to involve adding any risk, and it may offset some.


First infusion:  unusual!  This has quite a bit of green tea edge, probably heated more than would be typical for a sheng (pu'er-like tea).  The labeling sells it as a green tea, and that may be accurate.  I'll still call it sheng in a title, and review it including commentary about which type it seems to be.  

other than proportion being vague and timing seeming long the brewing instructions sound ok

Bitterness is noteworthy; that part ties to sheng character.  Green tea can be a little bitter but essentially never like this.  It might be in between the two ranges in style, just heated a bit much, which could negatively impact transition potential.  Over 2 or 3 years that potential would be easier to estimate, and since full aging transition tends to take 15 to 20 years, or 20-25 under drier conditions, waiting to see how that goes is a long process.

Floral range is dominant, with some vegetal range.  Green tea can be floral but typically not as pronounced as this.  I'll do more of a flavor list next round, and continue to describe other aspect range.

Second infusion:  evolving a little, but essentially the same.  Bitterness definitely increased; I suppose that's a good sign, related to this seeming like sheng, and having aging potential.  Quite often wild material sheng versions can be sweeter, more flavorful, and milder, not astringent or this bitter, which could really relate to differences in plant types or processing inputs.  I'll often guess which in these reviews but I could never really know.  Let's do that flavor list.

Bitterness, floral range (some warm and deep, some lighter and brighter), vegetal range (green wood, towards kale, maybe not exactly that), limited mineral base, warmer tones that are harder to split out. Those last two inputs might be easier to describe after it transitions across some rounds, but then they would also change.  Sweetness level is fine, pronounced enough to balance the rest, with bitterness just a little heavy at this point.  Feel has good thickness, just not much edge, and aftertaste is very pronounced.  Most often bitterness will transition to a sweetness effect, the hui gan theme, but this is trailing the experience of bitterness over to aftertaste more than is typical.  It's like biting a dandelion flower or stem; it stays with you.  

There's a lot of contrast between this version and one from the Moychay joint forest preservation project, undertaken along with Leo Shevchenko.  That was a more typical "wild origin" sweeter, less bitter version, leaning a little towards how fragrant, approachable, and fruity similar white teas can come across, just a good bit more intense.  Per leaf coloring this could have oxidized a little, and the tea liquid isn't as pale a yellow as would usually be for a relatively brand new sheng, but that didn't ramp up warmth or heavier flavor range much, or offset bitterness at all.  I couldn't be sure why.  This material is a bit broken, versus that being about as whole leaf as possible; that would change things.  Some of that could relate to separating the cake out; it seemed a little more tightly pressed than is typical, harder to split to whole leaves.

Plant material (genetics) are probably quite different from that other Thai "wild origin" version too, a factor I'll never really be able to develop.  For processing difference who knows; maybe this just got a little hot at the very end, leading to some of that green tea vegetal range creeping in.

Third infusion:  bitter!  I might back off infusion times a bit.  I'm brewing this for something like 10 seconds, but for this proportion fast infusions may be suitable.  Warmth and balance is picking up though, it adds depth.  Along with that intense floral range and good sweetness makes it pleasant.  

Fourth infusion:  I used a true flash infusion this time, a few seconds of brewing time.  That still brews intense teas stronger than one might expect, since the leaves are still wet right now, after the water was poured off, just not submerged.   That is nicer; bitterness drops way back at lower intensity, and there's still plenty of flavor to experience.  That intense, complex floral range is able to show through better with bitterness blocking it less.  

There's definitely a warmer side of flavor range to this tea, one that at this point really does adjoin the floral tones.  As for the vegetal side minimal flavor seems to pair with the bitterness, maybe a trace of green wood or tree bud effect, with that largely dropped out already in relation to how heavy it was at first (strange).  This seems like sheng, it's just a slightly green edged version of sheng.  No green tea was ever this bitter or this intense, or as heavy on floral range, that I have yet to experience.

The leaf coloration I took to be oxidation caused by harvesting damage to leaves, bruising, which I would've expected to contribute even more warmer tone flavor range than I'm noticing.  It could be inconsistent pan-frying instead, that some of the rounds going into this were heated quite a bit, pan roasted instead of just mostly fixed, resulting in it really including some green tea input (some of each type mixed together, as batches), even a slightly roasted green tea version, maybe.  Then with that mixed with most of the material being processed exactly like sheng it would take on a sheng character with more complexity towards that other range, what I'm experiencing.  All guesses, of course, but it's interesting to guess.  There's one friend in particular I would like to have try this tea to pass on her thoughts, one who makes tea, but as she filters her image to a limited online profile I'll stop short of naming her.

Fifth infusion:  not changing so much.  A warm fruity tone is picking up, a complex version of it, like Fruit Loops.  That's nice!  Bitterness is finally easing up some, but then switching to faster infusions was part of that.  Intensity is definitely there even so; this tea would probably brew 15 fast infused rounds.  Bitterness and intensity is too much to go through all that without some food input to tone it down, so maybe a couple of years of aging really would help moderate character.

Sixth infusion:  warm tones did finally pick up.  That lighter fruit just shifted from Fruit Loops range onto dried apricot, maybe the strongest expression of that particular flavor aspect I've ever encountered.  I was just about to say that's enough for taking notes on these rounds since this might have one or two minor transition surprises left but I'll keep going.  The green wood range shifted too, onto more aromatic cedar or redwood range, or even a little towards spice.  For this shift to be so pronounced one more significant change wouldn't seem so unusual.

Seventh infusion:  oddly the way it balanced shifted, not individual aspects.  It comes together.  Feel seems a little more rich, and the fruit and aromatic wood range seems to integrate better, to work more as a set.  It might be that mineral depth seemed to increase a little, and that ties the two, providing a foundation or interim range to experience.  Bitterness has faded to a supporting aspect that's not at all dominant (related to sheng experience range; for an oolong drinker this is still as bitter as could be, with those early rounds unapproachable for that level, if someone strongly prefers oolong character instead).  This is leaning a little towards oolong character at this stage:  moderate bitterness, good sweetness, complexity, rich feel, but not a pronounced astringency edge, and limited range warm tones along with plenty of fruit.  

If my earlier theory that inconsistent (mixed) processing input helps cause this unique character it could be that some of that range tends to "brew out" a lot faster, with other parts still intense.  Or even green tea transitions across rounds, so it could just be that instead.  From the wet leaf and brewed liquid color looks of this I had expected oxidation to be a significant input, but I'm still not so sure.

Eighth infusion:  citrus tone picks up in this.  That's not completely different than what I've been describing over the past two rounds but it's still quite odd to not include citrus as a description until round 8, and then to have that be this pronounced now.  It's hard to identify as a particular citrus type, maybe closest to tangerine.  Together with the mouthfeel and other flavor intensity, and aftertaste carry-over, it's all a quite pleasant effect.  And of course strange that this is so different from the first four rounds.

At this stage it's not so different than more oolong character oriented younger sheng versions I've tried before.  I love that range, but I suppose it might not be for everyone.  It's not challenging at all, so I don't mean that, only that everyone could be on slightly different pages for main preference.  It's not completely unlike a Moychay Nannuo version I loved, one of the first teas I ever bought from them, a random guess purchase in a store in St. Petersburg (mentioned here).  That sheng style was not right for aging; the character did warm and deepen a little over a couple of more years but it was at its best right away.  That Nannuo tea included a pear-like fruit aspect, and this is not so far off that for shifting between Fruit Loops, dried apricot, and citrus.

Ninth infusion:  my patience is exhausted for taking notes, and this is finally fading just a little.  I'll still figure out how stretching infusion times just a little (I'm brewing it at 10 seconds still) affects outcome.  Often warm tones or part of feel range can increase as a result, but for this particular tea I have no idea.  It might go through one more unexpected transition.


Really nice!  I'm a little concerned that they might've left this a little damp during processing, as I mentioned, but otherwise it's quite novel, interesting, and pleasant.  For anyone not able to relate to bitterness this tea is of no value to them.  That will fade some over a few years, but it's not as if it's going to completely drop out prior to a decade of aging transition.  

I just retried some of a Lao Man Er version, half a sample that I had left, not finished for no good reason,  that had been part of a Liquid Proust set.  That was from 2016, surely pretty bitter to begin with.  Aging one single chunk in a sample packet is far from ideal, so I'm not claiming that it represents an optimum or typical change process, but it was interesting how flavors had deepened and bitterness level was more approachable but still intense.  I probably got that set 3 or 4 years ago; who knows what else has settled to the bottom of a box of miscellaneous last bits.  Some that I do know about is pretty interesting stuff, and then it's always interesting trying teas I don't recognize, when labeling isn't clear.

If this does store properly I think it might have great potential for gaining depth over a 4 to 6 year stored time-frame.  That last Thai Moychay partnership wild tea sheng seemed better to drink just now, or might be optimum over 2 or 3, just settling and shifting some, but this has a lot of intensity and bitterness to support changing more.  It would probably be good in 15 years too, but whenever these kinds of atypical versions make that potential seem less certain it could be harder to justify setting much aside to find out.

It should be atypical.  Anyone trying Thai, or any SE Asian sheng versions, hoping to find one that is exactly like one standard form of Yunnan sheng would make no sense.  Yunnan sheng versions are so diverse that mapping back the other way could work; atypical versions across a broad and diverse range would come up there too.  But this doesn't seem like factory tea, or Western outlet commissioned versions, or higher end boutique styles, to the extent I've ever tried anything like that (essentially not at all for that third category, to be clear).

I tried this tea again the next day and it was really nice to experience without the extra work involved with making notes.  This is no green tea, and people buying it to experience it as that may or may not like it, depending on how their brewing process works out, and personal preference, but it's pretty good as this type of sheng goes.  It's not better than the Moychay project version, just different in style.  People who like approachable, sweeter, complex, floral and fruit-oriented sheng might like that better, and for someone able to appreciate all that combined with really significant bitterness might prefer this version.  

I think this will probably be amazing if it can rest properly over a couple more years, which is why I carried out that probably-unnecessary science project of drying out the two small cakes a little more.  It's good now, and I could really enjoy drinking straight through it, but I think it will settle quite well, maybe even over just a couple of years.

that movie was nice

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Reviewing Obi Wan Star Wars series in relation to forms of bias


Recently I wrote about how Marvel series interpretation varies a lot in relation to a "woke" theme issue.  Marvel (and Disney) really are adding a lot of diverse characters to their movies and television shows, in some cases clearly swapping out white male characters for female / minority versions.  I don't see that as a problem, but it is interesting how that shifts interpretation of whether the shows are good or not.  

To some extent focus on those themes, and not story lines and character development, may really be causing a correlation, of poor story telling adjoining those diversity / inclusive-focused forms.  The show I was discussing, Ms Marvel, is pretty bad, in the sense of developing core characters well and setting up motivations, oppositions, and story lines.  It's really for kids, so in a sense keeping tone lighter and focusing on form could make sense, but it's still bad writing, and kids can definitely relate to good writing, in the right form.  Movies like Frozen worked well for succeeding at all that.

The Obi Wan series works as a good example because, to me, it's right in between good and not especially good, and it tones down the gender / race diversity themes.  The story line is interesting, just not incredibly well developed, and of course the characters are compelling, and general look and feel of the show is relatively amazing, very well done.

I get the sense that a set of popular Youtube movie "critics"--they do represent the new form of that, but it's not like Siskel and Eibert, or newspaper media versions--lean heavily to the right, politically, and mix together story and character development judgment with their own political bias.  For shows like Ms Marvel and the Hawkeye series poor writing quality really does combine with adding "diversity" and gender swapping main characters, but this is something else.  The Obi Wan series could be interpreted as a fantastic development of prior Star Wars themes, better than the last three movies, or on the other side as suffering from the same weaknesses.  It might help to spell out what worked well and what didn't, before critiquing that left / right bias issue.

Positive show aspects:

-characters, setting, familiar theme, use of backgrounds, film quality:  all of this equates to the production quality and style of the rest of the nine core movies (with two others, and lots of animation and text adjoining that).  It's possible to critique the use of the same characters within the story line, as not developing them, or not being true to earlier patterns or details, which I'll take up again as a potential negative aspect.

-CGI use, sets:  beyond filming in similar appearing locations (as the main movies) the production quality and set design choices, and use of visual effect input, all seemed positive to me.  It's possible for critics to say that every single movie exhibits a gap in CGI use, perhaps unless a film clearly takes a next step in what can be shown, as Jurassic Park and the one Terminator movie did.  In a sense saying that the CGI is bad seems to imply a reviewer is seeing something others aren't, as a better judge.  To me the look of the films was fine, quite positive, including that input.  They added two new set versions, Darth Vader's "castle / palace" on the volcanic planet shown in the third movie, and a new Empire base that included an underwater building setting.  To me the final outcome is more about the stories and characters, but these parts were an obvious positive input.

-acting:  for mostly drawing on already established characters the main points related to fleshing those out related to included character arcs (writing quality) and actor selection and portrayal.  For the most part, to me, those worked well.  The child actor portraying Leia was fantastic, as good as any child actor portrayal of any character I can recall, and of course Ewan McGregor is on another level, among the best of this time period.  The main criticism would fall to the black female antagonist character, Reva, and the writing, how characters were used, which goes beyond what actors can do with the material.

photo credit and background


-acting, character development:  was Reva's character arc that bad, or was she so badly written, or portrayed through limited acting skill?  It was more that shifts in her character arc didn't make sense.  I think that actor's skill level didn't match with Ewan McGregor's, that the same degree of subtlety of expression wasn't there, but it would've been harder to give life to a character with relatively poorly written motivations and personal direction.  This is a weakness in the series.

Reva's arc was this (a complete spoiler for the general story line):  she had been trained by the Jedi as a young child, was present for the killing of the other children in training in the movie series version events (film #3), then joined under Darth Vader to hunt Jedi, and later changed to try and extract revenge on Darth Vader, still acting on negative motivations (revenge), and then turned back to "being good" at the end.  It didn't really add up.  

Obi Wan's arc from not being the powerful and confident warrior he had been, after a decade in hiding, and then returning to that form, also didn't work.  It was so close too; with minor revisions that sequence could have transitioned naturally.  It seemed like some of that might've related to not shooting and editing the whole series as one long movie length segment, so it was harder to get the transitions like that to flow naturally.

breaking canon / inconsistency:  this gets overstated by Star Wars enthusiasts.  Creating lots of movies and television content is eventually going to relate to inconsistencies, but earlier focus on complete consistency tried to avoid that.  To me these were trivial (eg. a "force ghost" changed capabilities, a main movie line describing prior relationship between Leia and Obi Wan didn't reflect them meeting in this series), so it works to set this aside.

improvement potential:  this is where things get really hazy.  What was so badly managed that it should've been different?  Did they do injustice to any prior character forms, were parts so unrealistic that they "take you out of the movie," did parts of the character and story just absolutely not work?  

I already suggested the main antagonist role didn't really come together; there's that.  In the original three movies (#4, 5, and 6) they set up Darth Vader and the Empire as this oppressive, powerful, mysterious evil background opposition, and that really worked, not developing those characters or story components so much, using background context and short exchanges to support that, more so than developing a character perspective.  Then that approach wouldn't work as well in a smaller scale story designed to focus in more on limited story and character range, as this was, the form the Mandalorian series also took, largely successfully.  Adding a little about Anakin's earlier perspective kind of worked, but it was a late and limited addition, and it didn't tie to what Darth Vader was going through in those sequences as well as they were trying to achieve.

The parts that over-use coincidence, or just didn't portray space battles realistically (?), didn't seem as problematic, I suppose with one exception.  In one scene an escaping small ship couldn't be captured prior to time to allow plot development to occur, even though it was pursued by a much larger and heavily armed ship.  Or a wounded character recovered way too fast, from one scene to the immediate next one, in time sequence.  They just weren't careful enough to avoid a few obvious errors.

General assessment:

People can like or dislike whatever they watch, based on their own preconceptions and preferences.  Blade Runner 2049 can be regarded as a masterpiece, a visual marvel that creates complex story lines and characters, true to prior development, and weaves together a complex story with just enough open ended aspects to keep it all interesting, and enable significant plot twists and development.  Or it could seem like a horrible, uneventful, muddled slog, badly acted and written worse yet.  People could love or hate this Star Wars television series, or any of the movies, or Star Wars in general.

To me this matches or exceeds level of writing quality and character development of the last six Star Wars movies.  Maybe that could be seen as a problem, since the first two movies, #4 and #5, were clearly better than the rest (per my judgement, at least).  With positive or negative bias going in one might love or hate this tv series.

I don't see the "woke" / left-leaning concerns as much of an issue.  The main antagonist was a black female, and I think if that character had been a white male the politically conservative critics would've reviewed this series much more positively, but to me that's a case of being conditioned by bias in an unreasonable way.  Maybe something like one fourth of all Americans are white males, so a majority of characters could reasonably be female or of other races, all the more reasonable when you consider that Star Wars isn't supposed to map directly to US gender and race diversity.

One criticism often levelled against series framed like this, in terms of placement in a franchise series, is that "it's a story that no one asked for."  To me that's relatively meaningless too.  No one asked for the Mandalorian either, which wasn't as concerned with core characters, but since the show was well written and developed this criticism was never levelled at it.  The prequel movie version of Han Solo's story line wasn't as well regarded, so that came up then.  When animation versions are released the opposite response seems to occur, because Star Wars enthusiasts then value creators fleshing out story lines and events that had only been developed in text forms prior, in "official canon" or other forms.

One main input seems to be that Youtube content creators draw viewers by honing in on popular opinions, so that given the culture-war context they either need to hate left-leaning content (or what can be framed as such) or support it, to draw on a related viewer base.  Once a dozen (or 100) prior Youtube videos expressing a point of view draw large viewership it becomes a matter of of pursuing ad revenue, and earning a living, to keep pushing that theme, regardless of how it relates to content being critiqued.  Hating Marvel and Star Wars movies and television shows pays off; passing on mixed reviews wouldn't, and acceptance probably targets a much more limited audience.  

These content creators need to stick to form too; to some extent they can't love one Marvel show and hate another, even though some are much better or worse than others.  They can openly accept content aspects that offset their primary opinion, but viewers are there to support one of two main takes, acceptance or criticism, which would tend to apply across all similar content.  For viewers generally disliking the past six Star Wars movies (with the seventh version made, also #7 in production order, a bit more neutral) it's clear which side general viewer opinion falls on, and which stance is going to draw more views, and compensate Youtube creators better for supporting.


Let's consider what audience or critics thought:

Generally positive, but critic opinions can tend to differ from movie viewer takes, and seemingly can relate to a left-leaning political bias.

It's a little unusual that one third of Rotten Tomatoes viewers regarded the film negatively, and about 80% gave it a score of 7 or above in the IMDB reviews, but there could be differences in who provides feedback through different channels, or how a general positive and negative identification tends to be used.

In general the show was good.  Writing about it here related to considering why it got the mixed reviews then, not showing up so much in terms of that Rotten Tomatoes score (although over one third of the audience didn't like it), but tied to online opinions.  It was good but it could've been better, and it didn't seem to be accepted well because it was dealing with core characters, which some audience members weren't open to seeing portrayed in a series with some clear weaknesses.

Unfortunately probably including a black, female antagonist probably shifted about 25% of the audiences perceptions.  Or maybe half, with that only accounting for a lot of the negative takes.  Maybe it's that 63% liked it partly because one character was a minority female, and another a white female.  Maybe the culture war is just like that now, that everything is going to be filtered through that lens first.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

2006 Xiaguan 8653 sheng pu'er, Bangkok stored

I visited that favorite Chinatown shop again, Jip Eu.  No one needs to mention this to my wife, but I re-checked how a 2004 7542 cake from there was transitioning and noticed it was over half gone, and it was so pleasant and improved that I wanted to buy another.  Really I should be sitting on a mountain of such cakes, since the pricing for some is either fair or else favorable, but I mostly just try to keep buying more than I drink.

That shop visit was nice; I don't even remember when I was just in there to hang out.  I met an online contact in there a year or so ago, and stopped by for a couple quick visits to pick up teas for gifts, and maybe an extra tuo here or there.  I might not have stopped to chat since covid started.

it looks like it's transitioning

Talking about sheng prompted Kittichai, the owner, to share some Bing Dao dragonballs, three of them, which I think he said were from 5 year old younger plant material, but decent tea.  They know a local Bing Dao processor, which would definitely help with getting tea that's "real," related to that kind of high demand origin area context.  They don't even try to source or sell Bing Dao, so it's not the typical case of vendors networking to know producers, he just happens to be from an old Chinese tea family, so they know different people.  

Since we were hanging out he brewed some of a Bing Dao cake, which was really nice.  The short sequence of rounds I tried didn't do it justice but I had to go, and at least that was one more example of the type for awareness sake, not that all Bing Dao is supposed to be relatively identical.  I had only remembered trying one version, which may or may not have even been genuine.  I can say more about that experience, and the earlier one, when I get around to mentioning more about trying those dragonballs.

While buying that 7542 I asked if they had older Xiaguan, since I keep buying a tuocha version, and they mentioned this cake.  Selling for around $60 the pricing seemed quite fair, for a 2006 version.  Of course I had no idea of online source pricing, and wasn't inclined to look that up to help with judgment, I just bought those two cakes.  After the review part I mention what turns up when you look for similar age-range versions, which is interesting.  This seems to be a sort of benchmark or known style version, which may be well suited to aging, to the extent that a 16 year old Bangkok-stored version might not be quite there yet, or at least that's pretty much what this review concludes.


First infusion:  so promising!  The color was so dark it flashed though my mind that I might've accidentally bought a shu, but it's just age transitioned, so the color went dark and into brown and lighter reddish brown.  

There's a bit of a funky edge but a deeper set of flavors is really positive and catchy.  That one part is like catcher's mitt, aged and well-cured leather, of a specific form.  I would guess that might fade over the next two rounds and the rest will develop.  This includes other range like bees wax and dried autumn leaf, nothing completely out of the ordinary for general range, but novel for individual flavor expression not tending to match those.  Jujube is probably a more natural interpretation, dried Chinese date.  This should be really nice.  

Feel is already developing some depth, on the first somewhat light infusion.  I went a little long on that one to get this started, over 15 seconds, which I'll scale back to drink at a normal infusion strength.  Proportion isn't absolutely maxed out but not light either; this might be a reasonable trial.

Second infusion:  that edge is still present; hard to say if it's fading since intensity increased quite a bit, which makes it hard to sort out effect of what comes across most, which changes with intensity.  If "catcher's mitt" makes that hard to place damp stored books is close enough, it's just not exactly it.  This tastes a little like the one library in the University of Hawaii smells, Sinclair.

Warm mineral depth picked up a lot; now that's a main component.  The feel of this tea is really interesting, the way that it's rich, just slightly dry, but also sappy, with an effect that crosses the middle rear of your tongue, and connects with an aftertaste sensation coming from all around your mouth.  It feels like you can taste this with the sides and the roof of your mouth, like it's activating a new range of sensation.  That one rich, heavy, warm fruit tone got stronger too; this tastes more like eating a dried jujube than actually eating one, in a sense.  Aftertaste wouldn't carry over when eating the dried date like this.

Even though the main rounds are coming up, when it will open, clean up, and show off its real potential, I'm already thinking crazy thoughts about this tea.  I should buy another cake, and not post this review.  As a middle-ground solution I might post it but skip mentioning any links to it online, keep it a bit quieter.  All that is getting ahead though; it might not develop to be more positive over further rounds.

Third infusion:  cleaned up a little.  I really like this tea.  All the same description that I've already mentioned still works, but it doesn't do it justice, or really describe why, what is so catchy about this aspect set.  It's in a pretty good place for aging transition; that helps.  It's pretty far through, but the form of that works, the odd edge wasn't coupled with the normal degree of mustiness.  Fermentation transition isn't relatively complete, it doesn't seem, and it's far from optimum; I don't mean that.  It's not just a bit before you can really appreciate it, at the edge of moving on to a better transformation form.  It's already there, where a new range is starting to make some sense, it just doesn't balance like it's going to later.  

If this does clean up further with a couple of months of rest this will be as good as any aged tea version I own a cake of, in relation to match to my preference.  Maybe that's a bit sad, since I think this is still ordinary quality range and aspect form tea, but I tend not to think of it that way.  I own or try whatever I happen to, and that's fine, and doesn't include any $200 and up cakes, and perhaps never will.

Fourth infusion:  not changing, not improving.  It's down to whether some of what I interpreted as a storage related edge really isn't the effect of this not being fully aged transitioned.  At this point it seems likely that in a few more years a more complete change-over might be more positive, maybe even a half dozen.  Why is it always that time-frame?  Probably that's error related to guessing.  In this case this has some of that warmer, deeper aged character, it also just includes a bit of green wood flavor range, which along with that odd edge and feel effect seems to imply it will deepen, smooth out, and gain more of the resinous range, just perhaps not on that shorter time period.

I just re-tried a 7542 version from this shop, a 2004, that shifted pretty fast over a comparable time period, maybe 3 years.  The rough edges I described in the last review were gone.  Flavor intensity dropped along with that, but deeper range is more positive, and smoother richness, versus the slight harshness of mineral and vegetal range.  If this changes that much over the next 3 years it should be an interesting and positive experience. 16 years sounds like a long time, how old this is, especially related to hot and humid local conditions, but I guess initial style and compression also factor in.

Fifth infusion:  a spice tone might be picking up, something hard to pin down.  I might've lost track of an infusion along the way; this really could be six.  My wife and kids are adding considerable background noise and minor drama to this tasting experience, which I've conducted outside to avoid, not really so successfully.  

Sixth infusion:  heavier flavor range includes something that's not as positive, a sort of heavy grease mineral range.  That's more pronounced at this stage for longer infusion times drawing out heavier range better, which makes the form seem different.  Part of it is character transition across rounds, probably, and part just effect from some range standing out more.

I think I was a little overexcited at this experience being novel for me, but it's still in a normal range for being positive (versus negative or neutral), it's just new to me.  Part of the character really is catchy, it just didn't evolve to be the main experience range over further rounds as I hoped.  In a couple of months a longer settling process will have occurred, and I can try it again, and it may be better.  

Later infusions:  it kept going, with a bit of earthiness similar to wild mushroom or some other fungus increasing.  That seemed odd to me, since more often that range is stronger earlier then it fades towards what was more positive in this earlier, the sweeter dried fruit range.  It seemed to be the result of stretching infusion time, which more often brings out heavier mineral flavor range, or changes astringency effect, but in this case related to that.

Expert input

I asked someone with more experience than me--across both sheng exposure and aging scope--about his general impression of this tea, and aging concerns, "Mr. Mopar," who we talked to in two online meetups this year.  He said that he likes the 2005 version better (both are selling through King Tea Mall now, with this version--one seemingly identical--selling for $50, and the 2005 for $58).  That's in the range of what I paid for this, which I took to be a good price, and still do.

I asked Mr. Mopar when he thought this tea would be relatively fully age-transitioned, and he said that might take 25 years or so, at least under normal Taiwan conditions, which could shorten by 3 or 4 years in Malaysian storage, if everything was ideal.  Of course moving off the ideal theme could also relate to ruining the tea potential, not something we discussed.  Bangkok climate range is similar to Malaysia, just as hot and humid most of the time, just with more variation in climate / weather here, so that it's a bit cooler some of the time, just not so much drier.  

Going off that this tea might be relatively completely changed over after 21 years, so in 5 more.  That's not to say that it couldn't be quite positive after 18 or 19, in 2 or 3 more years, but I get it about why seeking out an optimum makes sense when you have a few dozen sheng versions around, or more.

I'll never own tongs of these teas, unless I change approach, and take up selling some.  My tea spending will be capped like in that example of buying a second aged 7542 when one runs down, placing one significant online order per year, and picking up other tea here and there.  I don't really mind not being in the mix for trying a few dozen better versions over a year, just getting to what I get to, and not owning an extra 100 cakes that map out potential consumption over some years.  I own or try what I happen to get to, and not pushing that on to match some expected form or norm works out well, and matches up with my budget limitations.  

In looking up vendor references about this tea type and source options I turned up input from another blogger that does explore a little further, in Mattcha's blog, which I cite in the following section.

Other sources, other input about this tea

In looking up what this is supposed to be a few different themes emerged, that it's one of those benchmark version teas, mapping out a distinct style, that 80s and 90s versions were well regarded, and that teas in this general time-frame range are available and not so expensive.  Then some versions just a little older, specifically the 2001 version, seemed to cost quite a bit more.  Why would that be?  Some years are better regarded, which could factor in, or a version that aged to a relatively ideal place now and not widely available might cost quite a bit more than one 5 years newer that's the opposite of both, not quite ready with more out there on the market.  Let's some examples and what vendors say about them.

King Tea Mall, 2006 version:  this might be relatively identical.  Of course storage changes a lot, and the only information listed with this tea is that of "Guangzhou natural storage," along with the $50 price.  Not much to add, given that's all they say.  Their 2005 version sells for $58, and a 2004 is $140.  Maybe it doesn't matter which supply and demand factors shift that, if years really are so different, but it would be interesting to hear more about that, why the pricing varies in that form.

Teas We Like 8653 mixed set:  they had listed a 2001 version, now sold out, so that pricing isn't available for comparison (although another reference I mention here says what it had been), but they do currently list a Taiwan stored set of related teas, selling for $225:

1 Quarter Cake of 2001-T8653

1 Quarter Cake of 2003-T8653

1 Quarter Cake of 2005-T8653

1 Quarter Cake of 1999 Xiaguan Commission

The last is a tea made in the same style, but not a Xiaguan cake, or so that says.  Their post of the sold out 2001 version places it in relation to the others, and says a little about the general style:

The iron-pressed version of this cake, with its flat edges and characteristic indentations, is particularly sought after nowadays for its favourable aging behavior.

This was our favourite batch of the recent tastings of early 2000s 8653 cakes, and we included it in our Xiaguan Iron Cake QC set. Wrappers are not in perfect condition, as expected for this kind of cake. The taste profile is very slightly smoky, dense, sweet and resinous.

Yunnan Sourcing 2001 8653 version:  listing for $540

Xiaguan's classic 8653 recipe was first developed in 1986 and produced for many years since then. Our offering is the 8653 blend pressed in 2001. The pressing was done with an iron press and the cake is tightly compressed and has a coin-like flat edge.

The 2001 version of this cake is a classic, and the cake which we are offering here has been aged in Kunming since 2001. 15 years of Kunming storage has given this cake an aged feeling but not compromising it's character or powerful taste and cha qi.

Sounds good, but the $540 pricing seems a bit much for most people.  King Tea Mall lists a 2001 version too, but theirs costs $700 (ouch!).  I guess for some people one number is the same as another.  I don't keep track, at all, but it can happen that specific versions get flagged and accepted as classics, as YS mentioned, then demand plays out however it does.

Mattcha's blog tends to look into popular tea versions, and not necessarily hold back from trying out more in-demand, higher cost versions, so I checked if he had mentioned these, and he did earlier in the year, in February:  2001 Teas We Like Iron Zhongcha: An Oil Slick of an Aged Puerh!

That says more about a tea that is like the 8653 but different, and then also compares it to the Teas We Like 2001 8653 version.  He said this about the pricing and availability:

Vs 2001 Xiaguan 8653 Iron Cake from Teas We Like.  I got a few of these cakes when offered for $275.00 for 350g cake. They stopped offering them after only a few months likly due to increased prices to restock? These are very different in almost every way except that they are iron pressed cakes.  The contrast is an interesting comparison.  I don’t think I would have guessed the 2001 Iron Zhongcha to be the 8653 iron cake… it lacks some kind of Xiaguan quality… mainly the smoky bitterness and crotchety crankiness… it just really doesn’t feel like it at all.  

The 2001 Xiaguan 8653 has a much more rich, condensed, flavourful, complex, and powerful taste.  The 2001 Xiaguan 8653 that Teas We Like sold is still not fully aged out so a bit harsh however achieving a nice balance between maintaining its power, concentration and essence while still moving the aging along.  Still ends very bitter.  This 2001 Iron Zhongcha is dry Malaysian stored, the dry storage is really quite nice on this one and is pretty aged out already with still that initial power in the first few infusions with which could still be built upon...

Too much to unpack, but interesting that he comments that 21 years of Taiwan storage left the 8653 "still not fully aged out so a bit harsh."  It's an iron cake, so pressed that much tighter, which would slow the transition a little.  This cake I just tried included next to no bitterness, so it at least seems possible that this version, which is 5 years younger, may have age transitioned that much faster.  

The heat and humidity level in Bangkok is no joke; it's a cool day now, during the rainy season, but it's 91 F according to a notice on my laptop, 33 C per my phone app, with the humidity at 64%, which means something else at that temperature than when it's in the 70s (mid 20s C).  Fungus absolutely thrives here, to the extent that buildings grow black streaks of it, and books mold in normal indoor conditions.  If your cat scratches you that might result in a fungal infection, although I'm 1 for about 100 in happening; I get marked up all the time, and have only had one. 

20 years just isn't there yet for teas benefitting most from a long aging cycle, at least not related to the change process leveling off.  So the decade-ish old drier stored teas I own might not only be partly ruined by transitioning in the wrong form, they may be 20 more years from a good, relatively final aged form.

None of this maps directly to what I experienced, or offers a clear good guess as to what this tea will be like in another half dozen years.  Too many variables enter in, like difference between production years, and storage input.  It's still interesting considering related ideas, product offerings, and accounts of  experiences.