Monday, August 29, 2022

Vietnamese black teas from Hoàng Su Phì and Lai Châu


First published in TChing here

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

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

Hoàng Su Phì Big Tree Black

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

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

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

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

Season: Spring 2022

Picking Standard: 1 bud, 2 leaves

Region: Hoàng Su Phì, Hà Giang

Elevation: 1600m

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Season: Spring 2022

Picking Standard: 2-3 leaves and some buds

Region: Phong Thổ, Lai Châu

Elevation: 2200m

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Viet Sun Vietnamese oolong and white teas


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunset Old Tree Oolong ($35 for 100 grams)

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

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

This tea was produced in Autumn of 2020.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

a recent temple visit

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

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Thai wild origin black tea from Aphiwat of Gaw Khee Cha


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the pictures get redundant but it was beautiful in appearance

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 11, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Season: Spring 2022

Picking Standard: 1 bud, 2-3 leaves

Region: Tả Củ Tỷ, Lào Cai

Elevation: 1100m

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

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

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

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

Deep sweet plum huigan and relaxing qi.

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

235 gram stone pressed cakes

Season: Spring 2020

Picking Standard: 1 bud, 2 leaves

Region: Suối Giang, Yên Bái

Elevation: 1400m

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


Ta Cu Ty on left in all photos

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

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

changing lighting moving outdoors changes everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liberal and conservative perspective filtering in the US culture war


I've been writing thoughts on Disney Marvel movies here recently, as much about how the liberal / conservative divide of the US culture war influences content and perceptions as much as whether those movies are good or not.  Burn-out over experiencing too much related content could be a factor for many, it just getting old, between Marvel, DC, and Star Wars producers striking while the iron is hot, adding show after show to streaming platforms, and shows like The Boys and Invincible building on and changing that theme.

The divide related to movies is about producer focus in representing left / liberal oriented themes in their movies, adding female empowerment themes, swapping out white male characters for diverse race, female, or diverse gender and sexual preference characters.  All that is fine, but it turns comic books into political statements.  They always were that, to a certain extent, driving earlier, less developed female empowerment themes, and racial diversity, it has just pushed further now.  Star Trek struck a good balance in emphasizing equality idealism, and Star Wars included diversity without making it a main point, and both approaches worked.  Except for the Jar Jar Binks character, I guess; there was going to a misstep along the way.

diversity and inclusion was emphasized more than the story in Ms. Marvel (image credit)

One odd twist in that divide is that people rally around disliking that cultural reference inclusion, and those movies, to a greater extent than might obviously make sense.  Disliking this trend seems to become a main part of their identity.  I suppose that's not new, that people defining themselves in opposition to other people and other perspectives always was a common theme.  It's just about comic book movies now, and it serves as a relatively easy path for Youtube media review channels to get to a million viewers, fueling the divide being regarded as an important concern.  Then movie producers push back harder; two characters were outed as gay in the recent Thor movie, for no reason at all related to plot or character development, apparently just because, to include inclusion.

This post really started out by offering comments on another subject, which I've written about before, views on Jordan Peterson, in this Reddit question:

Why do people hate Jordan Peterson?

The framing of that question matters, related to identifying this context:

I just don't know why, but what he says infuriates me, and I'm not the only one that feels the same way, he's smart, don't get me wrong, but I don't know why seem to hate what he says.

My answer:

It's culture war bias that's throwing you off. It's not exactly that Jordan Peterson represents conservative perspective, but one of his main themes is definitely rejecting the far left perspective, and their "agenda," to the extent that's even a real thing. To some limited extent I think it is real (then partly it's also not, not in the way he describes), and parts of everything he says works, but it's just a matter of people favoring one of two relatively extreme perspective biases, which evolved naturally over time, reinforced by media positions and other factors.

As I see it--just one more person's take--both extremes need to be analyzed together to appreciate what they really are, and how both creep into more mainstream, central perspective biases. Sure, extreme liberal perspective gets a little weird, and concepts like gender fluidity probably wouldn't work so well as a mainstream cultural form. And extreme conservative perspective is perhaps even more problematic, because it's not just about rejecting those issues, and the concept of privilege and so on, conservative views are also about maintaining a cultural consistency that's just not practical, rejecting that new takes on things and self-definition can evolve over time.

Then both together are more or less used as diversions for the wealthiest interests to get most of the rest of the country to focus on something beyond their own interests not being served by US government direction. If US government served the common good it would address problems like the wealth divide, climate change, national debt, universal health care, over-spending on military, and helping resolve an economic shift away from manufacturing towards evolving forms of service economy, which could be going better. None of that is being addressed, or even considered. Apparently your "team" is the liberal side, so the nonsense you are being encouraged to take up relates to gender issues, female equality, and so on, and only a thin token form of equality of wealth, which means nothing in relation to actually moving in that direction. Jordan rejects some of that as nonsense, which means almost nothing without the rest of the picture.

Don't get me wrong, trans-gender experience is a real thing, and it's valid; there's nothing wrong with new forms of social expression or self-definition. But as I see it the culture war does more harm than good, dividing people over points that don't need to result in such division, for the practical gain of a few. And the divide widens due to other natural forces, not just related to conspiracy theory driven inputs. Youtube channels that complain that Disney and Marvel embrace diversity too much earn a lot for those content producers, so whole new forms of media expression naturally evolve to promote that divide. Social media groupings promote biases and ever narrower shared perspective space, so the left and right keep drifting further left and right.

One part of that could be clearer, what I meant by saying that Jordan Peterson is critiquing a left biased social trend, and an agenda, that's sort of a real thing but also partly not.  He interprets that far left perspective as based in Marxist ideology, as promoting a set of interests that are unified, planned, and intentional.  Parts of that works; it all does probably tie back to Continental philosophy themes, as he claims in more developed critiques.  Seeing it as all one thing, derived into a planned agenda, doesn't seem right to me.  He's pushing back against extreme forms being developed and promoted within university education systems, and it probably does work better there, as a distinct and more clearly defined social perspective trend.  There must even be a goal there to eliminate others with a different set of assumptions and biases from within that educational context, to get some professors fired.  Then Disney and left oriented media may draw on parts of those themes, but they're not necessarily philosophers, working from a developed ideology, apparently towards some set of goals.

It's a bit of a tangent of a tangent here, but let's consider what works about Jordan Peterson's ideas.  He's emphasizing a type of self-help perspective, taking responsibility for yourself, and embracing self-improvement.  That's positive enough, even as he presents it.  He's not necessarily talking mainly to younger conservative men, but that's the audience that has embraced his messages, so in a sense it did work out that way.  Maybe being a college professor naturally oriented his message themes towards younger people, and I suppose males might tend to be more conservative, in general.

Peterson loves the earlier Disney "hero's journey" model for telling stories, which I've discussed more in this review post, and less directly in discussing Jordan Peterson's take on Christianity.  It uses a story about a flawed hero seeking self-discovery and external exploration, going out into the world to find themselves, being confronted by a challenge that threatens both them and their family or social group, and overcoming all of it through a self-development step.  I suppose he must see himself as engaged in something like that, biased towards the kind of oppositional framework I'm describing as problematic. I'm not sure which internal flaws he overcomes; maybe depression related to his wife's illness, and dependency on anti-depression drugs.  Those don't seem internal enough yet though; it's his reaction that needs to change, not just accepting issues and taking an externally related step.

It's obvious enough why he doesn't like the other kind of story telling, where a female or minority character has been oppressed by an external system (the patriarchy), and then moves forward only by actualizing her inherent potential, not going through any form of transformation.  That story claims that everyone has plenty of inherent potential and value, and self-actualization through self-development isn't the main concern, it's throwing off your oppressors.  Then one problem is that while an Iron Man character faces challenges and overcomes them by developing technology and changing personality traits, and focus, a Ms. Marvel character finds a magic bangle, and was born to be able to use it, inherent through birth.  

It seems the X-Men follow that second paradigm; they are genetically granted the abilities, and overcoming external withheld acceptance is their challenge.  The paradigm can't be applied by people without inherent atypical genetic abilities.  It could map to a theme that everyone is of value, if they can find their internal talents, but that's not how it's presented.  Then again Tony Stark was a genius billionaire to begin with, and his main accomplishment for perspective shift was deciding to help others, driven by chance to design new armor technology, which is admirable within that context, but it doesn't apply broadly.

All this drifts away from my original concern that over-emphasis on these two strands of thought isn't positive.  This was already a very well developed theme in the 1950s through 1970s, with two sets of people pushing for the world to change or stay the same, based on observing radically different sets of norms and values.  This is a good video excerpt / Youtube channel reference of people in that time period discussing those issues.  It all normalized through the 80s and 90s, as diverse strands of thought that somehow separated people less.  It would be nice if the positive values of acceptance of minorities and also appreciating conservative social patterns that were positive inputs in the past both evolved then, but maybe that really didn't happen.  Later racism seemed to return, and sexual preference and gender divide widened with self-definition scope increase.  On the other side the value of family bonds never became more explicitly appreciated.

The parts drawing the main focus now seem to be outcomes from these underlying focuses, or the most extreme expressions of this diverse perspective divide.  On the left it's not enough for females to be seen as equal, or gay people to be accepted (which never really did fully "go through"), new forms of self-definition evolve, and these now need to be accepted too.  Which I see as fine, as long as it doesn't degrade into embracing change for change's sake, pushed well beyond what positive and practical range.  

One "mistake" in hippie sub-culture was extending social equality and personal freedom themes on to over-emphasis on drug use, or commune style living that wasn't practical, or extreme forms of personal clothing style, like wearing flowing robes (which are coming back, to be clear).  It wasn't a conscious decision to make practical concerns extend further, just a natural drift.  It seems that we are seeing that again now.  

The same happens on the conservative side; there is nothing wrong with valuing a traditional form of family, a husband and wife, pursuing traditional consumption and ownership related goals.  Then that can naturally extend to bizarre and far less positive scope, to preparing for a zombie apocalypse, rejecting vaccine treatment during a pandemic, or hating people for wanting to change their original gender.

All of this falls pretty far from making sense of the culture divide, or filling out forms of how it gets expressed, and reinforced.  It was just about adding more thoughts on the subject, writing out what I was thinking about a few ideas that came up.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Wild origin sheng from Thailand and Vietnam


We spoke to another two interesting tea contacts two weeks ago, one a tea vendor in Vietnam, and another an anthropologist doing research into tea culture patterns.  This post isn't about that discussion, or really even about either of them.  Eventually I will probably say more about that anthropology theme, since it has caused me to reconsider some assumptions about why tea culture gets taken up in different places, and why it takes on the forms it does.  And that other contact is really interesting, and nice.

image credit Suzana

This is about a Vietnamese tea instead, which was sent by one of those contacts, Steve Shafer, to give feedback on what I think of the versions, and the limited exposure reviewing teas here provides.  I won't cover much for his background except to say that he's American, and an experienced chef, who had lived in other places earlier, including in China.  He comes to tea with a perspective and palate informed by that culinary experience.  And he embraces the organic foods, local production, farm to table theme that has been popular in the US for awhile, applying some of that to tea.  These are organic, naturally grown and produced versions, not that production methodology changes much in terms of involving chemicals or problematic steps.  But as Vietnamese local teas they will probably vary in style from the most conventional Yunnan sheng versions.

Steve mentioned other factors, about his approach to tea interest and evaluation, framed in comparison to local Vietnamese tea perspective, but I'll not include that here.

They're not pu'er, since that naming is associated only with Yunnan, per a Chinese registration convention.  I'll just call them sheng; use of the term "raw" isn't restricted, although eventually maybe it will be.

I had reviewed two versions of Thai "wild origin" teas in the past month or so, so I've included trying both together with one of these versions as a review tasting.  One was from a local contact Aphiwat, initially reviewed in a pressed cake form here, with this a maocha (loose tea) variation he also sent.  It's great tea; I already knew that.  The second is a cake form of a wild origin Thai tea from Leo Shevchenko, produced through a cooperative effort with Moychay, initially reviewed as a maocha version here.  Again it's very good tea, very pleasant and distinctive, without a hint of a flaw or limitation that would make comparison as relatively more positive, or even equivalent, easier for the Son La version.  It was a bit more oxidized than is standard, I thought, but that can work really well for sheng versions, it can just cost them some aging potential.  I'll say more about that factor at the end, and addressed it at length in that first review.

For what it's worth I bought the cakes related to the Thai #1 version, and Aphiwat provided extra maocha to try (a good bit of it to, not the usual 10-20 gram small sample), and Leo provided the second tea for review (many thanks for that, of course), with Steve providing this and other Vietnamese teas for review (again which is much appreciated).  I see myself as objective in judgement regardless of who provided what but it's best to be clear on that background.

I'm trying a maocha version today, but this was that pressed version from Apiwat

the Thai version from Leo; the opposite this time, I wrote about maocha and this is the cake

I didn't check any background on this Vietnamese tea before trying it, but I'll cite what is in a website here to introduce it:

Sơn La (listing for $27 for 100 grams, $96 for a 357 gram cake equivalent)

A special tea from Sơn La province in northwest Vietnam.

This is a tea from one of the best ancient tree gardens deep in the forest in Sơn La province... 

This tea brews up a thick floral sweet liquor. The moderate astringency and bitterness pairs really well with the heavy sweetness of this tea. The fragrance of this tea is also unique to the area.

You can expect this tea to go many rounds...  Rich, lasting Huigan with a strong focused qi.

Season: Spring 2022

Picking Standard: 1 bud, 2 leaves

Region: Sơn La Province

Elevation: 1900m

Sound good; onto the edited review notes.

in the same order as reviewed L to R, Thai #1 left to Vietnamese on right


Thai tea 1, from Aphiwat:  bright and fresh!  It's almost lemony, or really that specific description works.  There's some vegetal range too, but not much, and it integrates well with the brightness, sweetness, and other complexity, the very moderate bitterness and pronounced floral range.  This tea would be easy for a broad range of people to love.  A lot of green tea drinkers might regard the experience as a wake-up call, that there is other comparable range out there that's perhaps far more interesting, and pleasant in a different way.  

On purely a quality level scale, as much as separating out that kind of judgment makes any sense, really good Chinese green tea versions are just as good, or maybe better, but per my preference they would struggle to match this tea for pleasantness of experience.  It's so intense, high in sweetness, and clean, while at the same time approachable.  Bitterness is quite moderate, hardly noticeable as young sheng goes.  Flavor complexity stands out, that pop.  It should be interesting to see how the others compare.

Thai tea 2, from Leo Shevchenko, the Moychay forest preservation initiative tea:  this doesn't even taste like the same category of teas.  It's far more oxidized, even just from appearance, brewed color.  That is atypical related to the style, but the character works well, which is the main point.  This tea is slower to open up (it's pressed), but it's already showing lots more warmer range and depth.  Spice notes already emerge, and dried fruit tones.  There's a pleasant aromatic wood base that could be interpreted as spice bark range instead, or as cedar or redwood like, taken the other way.  

This is quite clean and well balanced too, it just lacks that bright, sweet, floral and citrusy front end, so it doesn't pop in the same way.  Not that it has to; it works well in its own form.  Depth of feel stands out already, and the tea is hardly getting started.  Part of this turning out this well had to relate to drawing on processing skill, not just luck, then it's odd that it was oxidized that much, that atypical in that one way in final form.  It works for me for experienced character and aspects, again the main thing.

Son La Vietnamese sheng, from Steve Shafer of Viet Sun Tea:  also darker than usual, maybe just not quite as amber as the second Thai version.  This contacted smoke, apparent in the taste, so that's going to stand out as a difference.  And it's in a more conventional range for bitterness, which to me isn't a bad thing, since I've been drinking sheng for some years, but for some it would be off-putting. It's just how sheng more typically is, with bitterness, sweetness, and flavor complexity often balancing each other.  Sometimes that relates to versions needing a couple of years to settle to be better, but this isn't like that, it's fine.  It helps that it's whole leaf, changing character for the better, and that it's clearly very good material.  

As for the rest floral tone stands out the most, but a light vegetal edge related to green tea range is also present.  I think that's the type of early character that tends to "burn off" over the first couple of rounds in some sheng, even though it's more often feel related more than flavor oriented.  Together with the smoke the sweetness, bitterness, floral range (intense and complex), and light green wood edge are all pleasant.  

In terms of comparing to experience pleasantness with the others--too early to do that, really, but let's go there anyway--this needs to open up to match the others' level.  That's about style though, how different versions evolve across transitions, not how good the teas are.  That first tea got a running start on the rinse step, which I also tasted, but didn't review.  I wouldn't recommend throwing away the rinse for tea #1 given how that worked out, never mind concerns about whatever someone thinks they are rinsing off.

Thai #1 second infusion:  a bit light; I brewed this round quite quickly to see how that would go.  It's probably as well to skip adding detail and infuse it a little longer next round.  I used less leaves for this than the second, and only slightly less than the third, an easy problem to create due to brewing maocha and pressed tea together.  Later edit:  oddly once all three "opened up" levels in filling the gaiwans were almost exactly the same again; strange how that goes.

Thai tea #2:  evolving woody range a little; as well to keep this description short and let round 3 tell more of the story.

Son La:  smoke may be easing up a bit already; imparted additional flavor can work like that.  It will stay for many rounds, I mean that it has lessened in relation to proportion.  Again let's see next round.

Thai tea #1 third infusion:  I really love that character.  It's sheng range, no doubt, but bright, fresh, floral, and lemony, a cool mix.  Aftertaste adds complexity; that's nice.  Feel isn't substantial, but not thin either.  The moderate weight and mouthfeel impact matches the light flavor tones well.  Aftertaste almost has a refreshing effect; it's strange how that carries over to lead an experiential interpretation, or at least seems to.  Without so much sweetness it wouldn't tie together and have the same impact, but it's nice and sweet.  Then it's interesting how the other two are also appealing, but in completely different ways.

Thai tea #2:  the prior wood tone / bark spice depth picks up lots more floral range input, and leads into an aromatic, essential oil sort of direction, like a natural wood conditioning oil blend might smell.  Spice range is picking up too, a sandalwood / frankincense sort of range, which I'm not well versed on enough to really pin down.  Feel becomes drier, with more structure (where the first was just light, with decent intensity, but lightness matching the flavor tone).  Again that feel wouldn't work nearly as well paired with different flavor character, but with this it's perfect.  Where the other left you with a light, intense, sweet, towards-citrus aftertaste in this version the warm tones, towards dried fruit, but really still back more on spice, pair with that drier, quite different feel.  Dried fruit might really evolve in this over more infusions; that happened on the last tasting.

Son La:  smoke continues to fade, at a nice place for evenly balancing with the tea character.  By "smoke" people might be thinking of a tea that's almost ruined by a heavy input, an accidentally smoked tea, like Lapsang Souchong, but I'm talking about a level that matches the other flavor range, it doesn't dominate it.  This tea came into contact with smoke, it's not smoked.  It seems to fade at a rate that will have it be quite secondary in another infusion or two.  Floral range stands out in this tea, more than for the other two, so complex that it's really a range of floral tone, not a simple form.  Then that bitterness edge is a bit like flower stem, or something such, with a vegetal edge to it.  

This is probably the only one of these three teas with significant aging potential, that might well be quite good in a decade, where the other two will peak now or in a couple of years.  It's the most conventional style of the three, related to Yunnan versions.  

Of course if I owned 100 grams of this tea it probably wouldn't see the end of next year, whether I wanted to save it to experience aging transition or not.  That might be a shame, because it seems a good candidate for moderate aging too, that it might deepen and evolve in form over 3 or 4 years, versus a fuller cycle.  I think all three of these teas would be fine in 3 or 4 more years, but the first is so bright and fresh now that it might be a shame to allow it to transition like that.  

Thai tea #1 fourth infusion:  I'll probably only drink this and one more round, giving up the second half of the cycle in note-taking as a cost of trying three teas together.  And being in a rush to do other things, but 15 small cups of tea is a lot.  This tea picks up some depth while the brighter and sweeter fresh range fades a little.  Going with a longer rinse that you drink instead would maximize having that early experience.  It's still great like this; the extra depth leads into a bit fruity range.

Thai tea #2:  while the first loses some of the initial main appeal this is just hitting its stride, the best it has been, which will probably continue for a good number of rounds, or I suppose could potentially even improve.  Dryness eased up, with feel richer, and earlier wood tone swapped out for more warm dried fruit, a bit towards apricot, or maybe persimmon, that different range of lighter plum.  It's quite nice.

Son La:  floral range and touch of vegetal edge overtook the smoke, still present, but quite secondary already.  Bitterness is still at a much higher level.  It's funny saying that, that it's relatively bitter, since this is still towards the conventional sweet Yiwu range in comparison with bitter Myanmar or Lao Man E range.  The other two teas are atypical instead, in a more "drinkable when new" sheng range.

Thai tea #1 fifth infusion:  really just in the main part of the cycle, but I'm pretty much wrapped up for tea input.  Bitterness actually increases in this, since I've added a bit of brewing time compensating for it fading a little.  It's odd how the character is closer to the Son La version than it has been across all the other rounds.

Thai tea #2:  honey flavor picks up in this, probably present over the last two rounds, I just wasn't noticing it.  Along with that dried fruit range it's quite catchy.  Feel is richer and fuller than earlier, maybe just structured in a drier form than the first still.  Across this many infusions the two are better matched for pleasantness, for the initial most positive range of the first fading, and this evolving in positive ways.  This probably has another 5 or 6 infusions that would be this positive to go, before stretching brewing time to compensate for it fading changes character.  At a slightly lower proportion, that would speed up a bit.

Son La:  bitterness seems stronger in this than it has been, probably really related to slight variations in how I'm brewing it more than actual transition.  Of course it's that bitterness with sweetness effect that happens in sheng, hui gan.  It's just not overly centered on a rear throat experience, more across the middle or even front center of your mouth and tongue.  For anyone seeking to avoid bitterness in sheng (kind of an odd approach, really) the first two versions are a suitable match, and this wouldn't work; it's more bitter.  Smoke is hard to even notice now; heavy floral range and that bitterness completely replaced it.  Flavors are complex enough that interpretation as fruit instead of floral range might work; that story would be clearer over a few more rounds, or better evaluated over multiple tastings.

I wouldn't mean to say that this tea needs aging but I think it would be better in 2 or 3 years, per my preference.  For people into bitterness in sheng experience the opposite would probably be true; it would lose some appeal.


All three of these are so different in style that it doesn't work to say one stands out as better.  The version from Apiwat clearly won the early rounds for being a fast starter, and not needing to evolve past any bitterness or astringency edge, but the other two evened that up even across a limited tasting session range, five rounds worth.  Of course I came back to drink more of these later, and they had a lot of positive output to offer, but this summary won't really draw on that.

It worked out as interesting that the first tea is probably as good as it will ever be right now, and the second Thai version may settle into an even nicer place over another couple of years.  It's completely fine now too, and quite moderate in bitterness and astringency, what people often might hope to see transition, but given that brightness and freshness aren't as much of its appeal and depth and warm, sweet tones are all that range may deepen further, even over moderate time.

The Vietnamese tea will be even better in 3 or 4 years, I think.  Smoke input has a way of settling out, and bitterness, still not necessarily at a problematic level or form, will ease up as the tea gains depth.  It definitely has intensity to spare; that fading a little would be no problem at all.  All three kind of do, beyond the second Thai tea needing a couple of rounds to really open up.

I would need to keep re-trying these to accurately map them to my preference, and the aging potential issue complicates things, trying to fold that in.  

There's a catchiness to the first Thai tea that gives it a natural edge, and for the second Thai tea the late round fruit character really works for what I love in sheng.  For how the Vietnamese tea was I think giving it more focus over a full 12 to 15 round cycle would give a clearer impression, brewing it more carefully than I did to balance intensity and bitterness.  I suppose it's possible that the Son La tea would need a couple of years to settle to match my degree of preference for the other two, that if someone is more into drinkable sheng that they'll go through right now it loses comparative appeal, swapped out for greater aging potential.  I think saving the Son La tea for a dozen years would be overkill; it's just not like that.  A few years to transition some would be fine, maybe optimum at 4 or 5, depending on storage conditions and preference variation, but it would still surely be close enough after 2 or 3.

All three lacked limitations in terms of processing flaws or apparent limited potential related to material input.  They all started with very promising material, it seems to me, with initial potential differences and processing steps probably both causing the broad range of variety in outcomes.

These teas represent exactly why people should be trying South East Asian sheng versions, if variation from dialed-in optimums from their favorite Yunnan sources and narrow production areas is of interest.  If you could find "local" enough forms of Yunnan versions you could get close to how these turned out in styles, but it would be more typical to find blended-together, more conventional, and above average quality input mixes that are nice in their own ways, but not like this, not as interesting and distinctive.

really from tasting the next day, in the same spot

with the cat that keeps checking in to see how the tasting goes