neděle 16. září 2012

Several thoughts on blending


I'm recovering from an illness which ment no tea. Today I could feel tastes at last and I do not feel too sick - which means tea time! Now I'm meeting Banna Gu Yun for the first time and it could have hardly left a better impression. But as I do not have any tea notes ready for publishing, this post will not be about a particular tea.

I wanted to write about my experiments with blending things for some time so why not now? I admit I'm an amateur blender, but some observations might be interesting to someone.

What were my blending experiments like? I took ten or so different cakes of different areas and tastes, tried to write a "taste vector" for each of them, started blending them in various ratios and made notes about the resulting things. 


Initial failures
My initial attempts were generally bad as I tried to combine teas which were too different. E.g., I combined sweet, full tea with little taste with a tea that was rather thin, but had a strong fruity taste (Mengku), expecting fuller sweeter, pleasant fruity tea. Nope. I got a rather boring thing with hints of good things happening, but the tea did not work overall.

Although it is a heretical statement, these thick, uninspiring teas with hints of interesting things going on reminded me strongly of the 2009-10 Xizihaos I have tasted (and the 2007 Dragon and Phoenix too, to an extent) by its character.

Anyway, there were positives about this phase too. I learned that too much of something in a tea may hinder good mouthfeel (well, Man'E style bitterness does for sure). For example, the Pa Sha 2006 when alone, has a really nice mouthfeel, but it is not really top notch because something blocks it. But add it to something with a bit of cooling mouthfeel of its own and it makes that bit a huge chunk of cooling feeling.

Some successes
I must admit that out of my many initial trials, as little as 10% came out better than sum of its parts in my opinion (and in many cases, the result was worse than the minimum of its parts). But with time, the hits were much more frequent than they used to be when I started. Why is it? I started combining teas that have something in common. And that is the most important thing I learned - only when I combined teas that were close in some aspect, the result worked.


I offer the following simple idea - too simple to be true, I know, but it is a reasonable approximation I hope. At least, it is consistent with my observations. It basically is - take taste vectors of teas and sum them up.

Our idealized tea, represented by a histogram, will have two important aspects to watch for - the aspects that are more intense than 100 (arbitrary units) form the main, intense taste. The aspects that are more intense than 50 help in complexity. The numbers 50 and 100 mean nothing, they were chosen to illustrate the general idea only.

a) very different teas blended
Let us have three teas:

What does the histogram mean? Y axis is the intensity, X axis means tastes - you may think of 5 as of honey, 7 as dark fruit, 9 sugary sweetness, 11 light fruitiness, 13 floweriness, 15 grasiness... it really does not matter what it is exactly. We may see that all three teas have reasonable intensity (4-5 bars), i.e., have components stronger than 100. They have 7 bars of complexity (i.e., a bar more intense than 50) and little in common.

Now we take a third of each and put it together to get a blend of size of the original teas... we get:

As you can see, there is no component that would provide any sort of "main taste", i.e., there is nothing of sufficient intensity. You can, I think, sort of meet this in the XZH Banzhang/Yiwu blend - areas which have very little in common - and the result is hardly impressive, nothing stands out. The feeling of complexity may be there, but the tea has no theme, no character.

b) similar teas blended
Now, let us consider another three teas:

These teas do have something in common (but they are not the same, of course).
Their blend:

This is obviously very different from the previous blend. The tea still has 5 bars of intense taste (and they are quite balanced, nothing stands out too much), but it has 9 bars of complexity, i.e., we just created an about 30% more complex tea than any of its single components! 

Self-criticism and mini-conclusion

You could object that teas are not as one-dimensional as I displayed them. I agree - the features do not have to be "together" as in my images (it was simple to generate this kind of data, that's all). But whether they sum up to something interesting or not does not depend on actual positions of a feature in a histogram.

Also, you could say that some components will not simply sum up, but that the interactions will be more complex. I definitely agree here. But I hope that the importance of these nontrivial influences is not large enough to make my hypothesis completely wrong. And, above that, as I have no way of describing these nontrivial influences, I can not work with them really.

Also, I have not covered the aspect of aging. On MarshalN's blog, I believe, there has recently been raised the question whether blended tea ages similarly to pure components aging separately and then being blended. I do not know anything about that and so I could not incorporate into my model either.

As a proof-of-concept, I can safely say that even with simple "adding histograms", I could get much better results than by random blending. I.e., the model has at least some predictive capabilities which is good. Thus, I think that it might be helpful to blend your own teas, considering their features, trying to combine what they have in common rather than to patch one tea by another completely different, which "fills" the desired hole in a taste histogram.

Also, what the model says and what is my experience too, it is not really worth it to combine too many teas. Ok, some big factories may have made multi-component blends, I offer an explanation in the next section.

Why blending?

Indeed, blended teas often have more complexity. Why are single mountain cakes made then? The nice explanation is that smaller, "boutique" vendors like western connoisseurs and want to give them "single-origin", pure, clean experience. 

I tend to be more pessimistic trying to explain the single-mountain phenomenon and I believe that it is simply money-driven (or it started as such). Let's go back in time and ask ourselves - why were teas blended? With the few factories and huge productions, it was pretty much impossible to make a huge heap of tea from a single mountain as the single mountain just did not have enough material to make the desired amount of cakes. The blending had  to be employed then. That is the explanation I mentioned above - if you need to have a huge amount of cakes, then you have to use a lot of areas to get the necessary amount of leaves. It may not make the result much more interesting than if you used 3 areas only, but the 3 areas would not give you enough material.

Smaller producers, e.g., western eshop owners doing their own productions, were in completely different situations than the past big factories. Not mentioning the lack of knowledge of blending, if you do not have enough money to buy a lot of materials, let's buy from several single mountains, do not blend it, and make the bug (not blended tea) a feature (single-origin tea). In some areas (whiskey), e.g., single malts are rated higher than blends, so the process of making it a feature is made easier. People get used to the single-origin tea and want more and more of it - happy seller.

I do not want to sound like I'm against single-origin teas, not at all - it's fun to talk about Guafengzhai taste, how it is very different from Gaoshanzhai, you have that Banzhang transforming and Man'e non-transforming bitternesses and all that - it is fun. But with blends, you may really get those 9 bars of complexity, while you have only 7 bars with the single-origin cakes...

33 komentářů:

  1. As I see it, the main reason for blending is to make same tasting tea every year, so the customer who knows how the 8582 should taste would get the same in 1992, 2005, 2020.

  2. That's part of it too, certainly.

  3. I am not a fan of blending, necessarily. For good plantation, it's an awesome idea. Much unblended plantation tea is rather nasty to me. To give some old tree oomph to plantation leaves? Works rather well! For old tree leaves? Weeeeelllllll, it can be problematic. We see this with XZH, using waste LBZ and Yiwu leaves for a cheap(er) brick. The LongFeng isn't that bad, but the other cheap '07s, the 7542 and 8582 both are incoherent, if pleasingly full of qi. The practice of drinking single area old tree tea is about equivalent to a violin solo. By and large, I don't think I've ever tasted a truly well blended high end leaves tea such that I get a great quartet. It's also unlikely to age all *that* cohesively either. Thus, I think it really is a safer idea to use merely good leaves for blends and keep nonpariel leaves, each to themselves. That said, high end 6FTM blends are a traditionally successful blend, and West Banna also blends among themselves really well without too much effort. However, there aren't too many things like tea made from 2003-2006 or so were really good leaves were blended with other really good leaves from W banna. The Banna Gu Yun works alright very much in part because the leaves are mediocre and processed to be milder and more cooperative. Nothing like CGHT, XZH, Shikunmu/Changtai, and their like blends from way back in 2006 and before.

    1. It could also be the case that the people doing the blending in this case, for example the XZH boss, simply doesn't understand blending very well and therefore the tea comes out subpar. It's easy to go to a mountain, find a good supplier, and press single origin cakes. It's much harder to go fishing around various mountains and then try to find the few teas that will work well together. That's an art.

    2. About mixing old trees, especially "it can be problematic" - exactly! But just because something is problematic, you do not have to give it up.

      Of course, when one mixes teas, their component do not just add; some components tend to inhibit others and that's the problem - the old tree teas mixed together often do not work well because they kill good things in one another. But that does not mean that there are no good combinations. Who does these fancy single-origin cakes? I see mostly pieces by eshop owners who generally have no knowledge of blending (ok, Scott has done some good blends, but he still mainly does single-origin teas). Except the Xizihao blends which may be simply bad blends, what blended high-end products have you had? As the single-origin teas are such a new phenomenon and to my knowledge, no one has seriously started blending them, there is no reason why there should be great blends around.

      For me, blending is not about making super-great tea from great components, but about making great tea from good components, thus not having to pay $120 for awesome cakes, but having similar amount of pleasure for $30. Also, in some cases, it helps to solve the question of "what to do with these samples of these 20 fancy, single-origin, but ultimately boring cakes" - when blended, these boring teas may be combined into something with actual depth.

      Aging is a concern too - we do not know yet how these single-origin fancy cakes are going to age (ok, wonderfully, many vendors say, whether one believes it is another thing). I do not think that all regions are going to keep their complexity in richness. Pure Yibang, allright; pure Bulang, sometimes (though the good specimen of these were also possibly blends from inside the regions), but how about others?

      I guess that it goes to what one is used to. If you are used to unblended top tea and you are happy about it, the blends (which are generally done on not so top things) may not interest you. But I really do not believe the phenomenon of awesomely done tea (done by people with not-that-awesomely-long-experience) enough to pay the huge money for it.

    3. I think the question you ask me is somewhat unfair...

      1) At the end of the day, XZH is the best of what's available in the West, as far as I'm considered. And that "is" should be "was". Aside from YQH, who, if anything that people in the West can judge, is slightly worse at blending, there are virtually no other reasonably top end (for the masses) teas in the West. Furthermore, in practice, if you didn't buy your premium tea 2 or more years ago, your choice is to buy something slighty or more inferior at much greater costs, XZH and all. There isn't super-premium tea that I'd really have access to, and the one I'd really like to try, that Puersom Hekai/lbz blend, isn't easily available. Lastly, XZH has always have had more of an experimental attitude than other premium brands. They have a ton more premium tea blends than most other brands, so far as I can tell. They did a large number of blends in 2011, there were blends of Yiwu, LBZ, and Nannuo in 2006, and there were notable blends in 2007. You can easily look up YQH's back catalog, and see that he doesn't really do many blends. You can look up other shops with high end single leaf. Outside of high-end Mengku/Xigui leaves (back when they were slightly cheaper) spiking more mundane blends (see...Baichatang), where do you see shops blending super-premium leaves (not different areas of Yiwu, 6FTM, LBZ/Mengku spikes)? If anything, this willingness to experiment is one of XZH's more commendable attitudes, even though that makes for some odd (and bad) products, sometimes.

      2) I also think that an honest blending job has to be chopped and rolled hard, so as to give a consistent taste. Single leaf tea, while having flaws, if they do not need too much help, why blend them? Isn't that only just going to dampen the highs, without mitigating lows, particularly lows you're willing to live with? Speaking frankly, I've had too many teas that are supposed to be from one area deliver incredible experiences. From single trees, in the case of premium dancongs. All I really have to do is replace the topic from blending top puerh tea to blending top dancong or yancha, and I think the project is generally absurd.

      People blend because necessity drives it for some reason. The best quality unique/challenging blends I've ever had, were with good leaves, and done by Huang Chang Fan--The Taipei Memorial stuff. The SE Memorial from 2005, and to a lesser degree, from 2006 were also rather accomplished and aging well despite the diverse leafs that make up the blend. I've tasted plenty of other blends, expensive and cheap, and the virtues of virtually all of them was a broad and full taste, much like the Banna Guyun. And like the Banna Guyun, they can't really compete with any even reasonably well done single estate, like the also cheap Mengsong Guyun, and would get blown out by comparison to the '08 Lao Man'E from the same place. Good single estate has *character*. And the good blends that I've had, as you've noticed, are also from a bunch of years ago--same as the great single estate. They are also fewer and harder to come by than something resembling a decent Yiwu.

    4. Shah8,
      Just give me premium single bush dancong, that's all I favorite tea..except for the price :)


    5. shah, although I'm not MarshalN and would love to hear his opinion, I'll just add something of my own.

      There seems to be personal preference in game here, I would not say that things "can not compete" and this kind of things.

      a) Speaking concretely, although I may have not had the best of Xizihao, I prefer the Banna Guyun (I'm not sure if we had the same storage) over all of these Xizihaos, not taking the huge price gap in consideration (I only guess that the Banna Guyun will be cheaper). Furthermore - it's not that hard to add better feeling and energy to the Banna Guyun, but I have yet to find a component which would make my Xizihaos really satisfactory.

      b) the dancong example is not really fair because that's a discipline where it is traditionally good to have single-tree tea. Also, as I understand it, the "single-tree" is not only single tree, but great care put into the production process, precise, hand processing and all that. It is not necessarily only about the origin of the tea, or is it? Part of this thing happens, I believe, in puerh too.

      I do not want to look like a person who is against single mountains though. As you say, there are single-origin teas which have enough quality and complexity to stand on their own and one can easily live with their small shortcomings. The thing is, these things are generally quite expensive. I think that using good blends, one may get similar level of enjoyment for much less money - and that is why I like blending things.

      c) You do not seem to have had good experience with blended teas according to your last paragraph. How about all that pre-cca-2002 teas?

    6. P.S. Not many people may afford to drink these great single-mountain things that are good enough on their own. Although it may sound too hippie these days, I'd be glad if even "common masses" could get high-quality tea - and blending will be necessary in such a case I believe.

      P.P.S. I think we may not really compare blends of more ordinary teas with blends of high-quality teas. The latter do not exist much because a) there is little need to do so, just as you say, b) there is no knowledge of doing it afaik. The former do exist, but they did not appear out of thin air. It's not like that by mixing any low-mid quality teas, one gets better tea. If done randomly, the result is much more awful than any of its components. But as some people really tried and experimented, they found how to make very good tea of rather common materials. They had to to make the result good. With already high-quality components, you do not have to. But there may be some truly awesome combinations awaiting...or they do not have to be.

      I'd say that there is a simple parallel in food. Let us consider tuna - common tuna is nothing to write home about and I have to blend it with other things - spices, other fish, etc., to create a very good and ingenious food. On the other hand, good tuna is an awesome thing and I'll gladly eat raw, fresh tuna on its own, maybe with a bit of rice, ok, but that's not important. The tuna will be good enough on its own.

      To make things even more confused, on the other hand, even though good meat/fish is good on its own, it can be made differently good (better for some) by adding some herbs, pairing it with a proper wine and that sort of things. Even though one will enjoy a good cheese on its own very much and he'll enjoy Chateau Beaucastel another evening, some people would swear to combination of these. I guess that such a case is a parallel to how blends of great single-mountain teas could potentially work.

      P.P.S. I myself would choose the Beaucastel alone, the example is academic.

    7. 1) While of course opinions may vary, I do own a bing of the LongFeng, and I have repeatedly partaken of it. I know its strengths and weaknesses. And while it's not the greatest tea ever, the Banna Guyun and LongFeng are not in the same class, no way and no how. If you like the cheaper tea, great, good for you and buy yourself a tong! You're not the first to love cheap tea, and you certainly will not be the last, nevermind being lonely on the journey of TeaDao. I like the Banna GuYun because the advertised price is 150 RMB, and I like the taste and has enough potency to consider drinking on a regular basis. However, these things are true of items like '08 Xiaguan FT#s and other factory cakes. It's crafted to be disposable, drinkable tea, and does what that's supposed to do well. The LongFeng, especially on a good day, will outperform most factory cakes, and aging should produce a superior aged tea. Not to mention all the aspects it does do better than the Guyun, like sweetness, huigans, complexity in taste and aroma, and some measure of qi. The Guyun mostly just offers a fuller taste and thicker texture, partially which was accomplished with some processing that will limit what it could be. That's why you could add stuff to it so easily, and make it work!

      2) If you had said Wuyi Yancha, that might have been on target, but dancongs do not particularly complex processing. Even so, do you really think that good puerh teas don't come from good processing, too? Hey, I've got a '99 Dadugang with that certain yuanbao wrapper I can sell! And you can find 2005 YangQingHao Yiwu Chawang for sale (or at least recently)...Why is that, when the all of the 2004s are as scarce on the shelves as hen's teeth? Speaking of Yiwu, have had all of those Yiwu that smell so good, and have fruity tastes that either tries to choke you later in a session, or fades into nothing/nastyness a few years down the road? And I've not started talking about all the roasted pu out there, and smoked into permanent ashtray...

      3) When you say that there are good blends available, I just don't think you're paying attention to what's going on. Take one of the best, and one of the very best available for lincangs, Treasures of Five much are those? The relative new '11 is $84. How about for Banna teas...have you checked out how much Fujin, Chen Shen Hao, Hopewell Chang, and other purveyors of high end blended tea? Dayi Gold isn't that expensive, price/quality when you compare it to those teas, most of whom aren't described by anyone I know as being all that awesome.

      Good tea is expensive, man. More than that, it's getting harder and harder to simply *buy* straight up excellent tea, even if you have the money, because everything in the media and teashop are trying to direct you towards the high margin products, which usually are the cheap stuff, because people buying those don't know how they're getting ripped off. Then there are the high priced items that are there to make some other product look cheaper (and both the top stuff and mediocre stuff are mediocre). There isn't anything for it, but do the leg, finger, and tongue-work to find things worth having.

    8. 4) Well, a major problem with blends is that so much of the good plantation materials are being used to cut so-called pure material. Moreover, the puerh industry has grown, but well managed plantations haven't increased in size to match. Taste specially produced Dayi and Xiaguan. '96 Purple Dayi, late '90s blue water mark, the FT commisioned stuff from '99-'01 or so. Simplified 7542 from '01, the 7542 208, the '03 Jin and Yin Dayi, the '03 Changtai top product. After 2003, the amount of good leaves going into blend has gotten less and less, and what there is of it has gone into severely overpriced bings with names like Fujin. There are odd examples of good blended tea with good leaves, but they tended to be things without that name, like, oh Cloud's Formula from '07 and '11. Baichatang, Yibang Chamasi (some products), etc, etc.

      5) As far as tea for the masses...I believe it's called Dayi and Xiaguan. Haiwan. Plenty of that stuff. Some of that cheap stuff is even potable. Factories made cars for the masses, and they made tea for the masses. There's even pre-tenderized puerh! As such, I don't think the tuna example follows. People will just open a can of tuna, mix in mayo, some pickles and spices, and veg out on the t.v. eating comfort food that they barely pay attention to.

      Let us not go in the the howling abyss known as EasyCheese.

    9. Shah, I'm not sure we're really understanding each other. I think it's like you respond to a different post. Anyway...

      1) I agree that the LF and BG are not in the same class. But the LF (I might have had a bad chunk, or badly stored though) has so many shortcomings that I think it is a really bad representative of high class of tea, while the BG, on the other hand, is a very good representative of mid-class. I agree it's probably more suited for regular drinking than for meditative sessions. Yes, I will buy some cakes of it and experiment with it.

      You say that LF will outperform some teas... I would expect that "outperform" means do better in pretty much anything and that's why I have a hard time imagining the LF outperforming anything but truly ordinary tea. You even say that the BG is better in some aspects. Wouldn't you expect "different class" tea to bury such a pety ordinary blend under the ground?

      It's like if I said that the (factory) made Haiwan Pa Sha outperforms the LF because it has stronger and longer cooling feeling and much, much stronger taste. These teas are beyond comparation though, I guess, too different style. But the Pa Sha is hardly a "almost top class cake", while the LF (in my opinion) pretends it is.

      Or 2005 Changtai Peak of the cloud, that's probably a lower class of tea too, yet from what I perceive in a tea, it owns the LF (and much more expensive Chawang of 2007) in pretty much everything. And that peak is a blend. Actually, it is an example of a very pleasant blend I think.

      2) I think that with the darker Dancongs, there will be a lot of processing art involved too. Also, it's not just processing, but conditions in which the trees grow and that sort of things

      Ok, some good blends are 2005 Changtai Jing Pin and 2005 Peak of the cloud from thechineseteashop.

      Really good blends - 2003 YWZS from Stephane Erler, 2003 YWZS from Yongpinhao and, of course, 2001 YWZS from Yongpinhao. These teas have pretty much excellent complexity, excellent mouthfeel and energy. The 2001 YWZS would be a hot candidate for best tea I have ever tasted, along with the unknown 2003 Bulang that I have - both blends.

      That 2003 Bulang Jingpin we both like is likely a blend too. What single-place (single village I guess) Bulang you know that would match it?

      2004 Shi Kun Mu Menghai is the best thing I have had in a certain style of puerh.

      I think that good tea is not that expensive - the Banna Guyun is good, I think, for example. Guess it depends on what we call "good" and "expensive". I would not dwell on these words, nor on this paragraph too much :)

      Very good/great tea is probably expensive, especially if you buy new tea. But I see little point in doing that.

      4) Indeed. With Xiaguan and Dayi, the amount of good leaves in a tea has certainly went down. But that is not a problem of blends.

      5) I know, that's really for the masses. I did not express myself too well there. I ment something more high quality - like Changtai, maybe?

      In the tuna case, I was not speaking of canned pre-cooked fannings of tuna ("Xiaguan"), but about eating normal tuna flesh.

    10. I never really thought we understood each other. I'm reasonably sure that if I were to put the LongFeng up against 'ordinary' puerh in a tea sitting with other hard core drinkers, it would win over many people rather strongly. Essentially, it's not chopped liver, and by various rough measures tea judging go by, it would have its fair share of fans. If I really loved it, I would have bought another, but I didn't love it for $68 (even though that was cheap for what it is). However, comparing something like Banna Guyun to Longfeng is almost analagous to comparing a Guiness to some craft beer. Different audiences, different consumption settings, different purposes. I'm harping on this because people routinely cheat themselves by telling themselves how this cheap thing is just as good as that expensive thing--nobody can tell in a blind taste test! I *promise* you, indiosyncrasies aside,for the average tea geek, the Longfeng is much better than anything like the Banna Guyun, it's not close, and I'm not saying that as a XZH fan. I'm not a fan of this tea, but I understand its technical merits.

      Let's think about some of those merits, then. First and foremost, some merits are more valuable than others, simply because it's not that common. For example, the LongFeng can generate huigans that starts deep in the esophagus, and rise up in a stream of pungent sweetness and mouth aroma. The Banna Guyun does not. Alright, are there lots of other teas that does that sort of huigans? Some, but they all cost a lot of money. Why? Because people really like that feeling, and relatively few teas will do that. Let's move on, what about qi? Longfeng has some, not that much, but more than Banna Guyun. Again, look at the marketplace and the hobbyist magazines. What's prioritized over pretty much everything? How a tea makes you feel. What makes boring tasting 40's and 50's puerh so pricey? Qi, of that kind only found in old tea. Having materially more qi of that old tree kind is not an insubstantial advantage. Well, what about flavor, aroma? Well, that does depend on what you want. The Longfeng has a relatively thin flavor, and more elegant than robust, but in general, not that great. The Guyun has a much more robust and broad flavor, and certainly more pleasant. However, what advantage is that, really? There are many teas that can taste good, and how a tea taste is very often dependent on the drinker. From *my* vantage point and *my* experience, my judgement, though, is that the Longfeng is a far better bet for aging. I think it should fill out--and even if it doesn't, and both it and Banna Guyun fade in flavor and aroma, it will retain charms quite a bit better. There are actual reasons why the Longfeng is $100+ in Asia. If it were twice the Banna Guyun at 300 RMB, I would be buying the LongFeng and not look back.

    11. Okay next...

      I loathe Changtai as a rule. Tea that they blend and press, and not teas others have Changtai press for them. They like to have tea that is far too mild for my palate. Decent Changtai also tend to be more expensive than they're really worth. While I've not had Peak of the Clouds, I've had a number of Yiwus of that age and price bracket. Given those experiences and add in an awareness of Changtai preferring mild and sweet, it's very unlikely that I would be especially impressed with that tea. The 2007 XZH Yiwu is not a impressive example (and gets killed by, oh, the XZH JingGu tea I drank today) of a great Yiwu, but it occasionally does put forth a good session. Again, not chopped liver. Just because it's not the best, doesn't mean that it is in anything like the same class(probably, who knows, maybe this once Changtai has a great product, but if it did, I *really* think it would cost more). There are no more XZH '07 Yiwu Chawang to buy here, but still plenty more Changtai '05, at less than half the price. There is a reason for that.

      I've not ever been very interested in the Erler and Yongpinhao Yiwu. Erler's Yiwu cost way more than it's worth, among other issues. From reviews and personal communications, Yongpinhao yiwu do not have characteristics that recommend themselves to me for aging, and are too expensive for drinking now.

      As for blends, I propose that the term be restricted to leaves from further apart than a village or two. The Jing Pin, as I've said before, tastes like aged banzhang of some kind--something northern Bulang. To me, it tastes rather pure (and thin tasting) for it to be much of a blend. Not sure what I'd compare it to, as it's not that much like other aged Bulang, and it's not that much like any older LBZ.

      I think good tea *is* expensive. Drink enough of it, and one figures out what people are paying for. Read a lot so you don't get scammed by people trying suggest just because something is expensive, it's good. However, many, many people search for good tea. If it's a famous brand, it's actually pretty unlikely to be especially mispriced relative to peers. There are diamonds in the rough, but you have to go to China and drink through a tremendous amount of crap, and the odds are, the shopkeep knows what's good and won't let you sample anything like that unless the two of you are friendly.

    12. Ok, I guess we are finally getting somewhere. I agree that there are teas with a certain singular quality so that one gives up some other features and enjoys the other qualitites. For me, this is, e.g., the HLH Yiwu Chawang - the energy and feeling very well makes up for lack of interesting taste and I actually do not feel any sort of need for more interesting taste as it could be actually disturbing. Or the 90s Red Mark - although the taste itself is not really awesome, it has that good taste of fresh plums and so I enjoy it. Anyway, I enjoy certain styles of performance in tea which are probably different from yours, this may be the core of our disagreement. If I get fresh plums in aftertaste in a semi-aged tea and it has sufficient mouthfeel and non-repulsive taste, I will like the tea well enough - some people would want better taste of such a tea.

      I tasted the LF with some of local pu drinkers and they too agreed that it feels hollow, burned out and generally not interesting. The more we talk, the more I think it had less-than-good storage. Now I brewed a tester to detect what you speak about and it is just not there. The taste is not really good. It feels good to drink, but some 90s are even better in that, imo, while costing similarly and being better for me in general.

      To these blends - I agree that the SE Yiwu is overpriced. As I said earlier, I think it is the same material as 2003 Yongpinhao .

      As you have not tried the Yongpinhaos really, it is difficult to talk about them more. I agree that newer YPH may not age terrifically, but these 2001-3 teas are a different league. Why should have not they age? Now really, after 10 years, they are beautiful and complex - I would not even want them to age much more. Expensive? They are on the similar price level as Xizihao (2001 did cost 170, 2003 80), but, in my opinion, do not have the shortcomings of Xizihaos (those that I have tasted).

      The reason for changtais/xizihaos available may be the overall size of the production and, of course, investment value, which is undoubtedly high in Xizihao. That is why I believe, that if there is a famous brand tea, it is pretty likely to be mispriced relative to peers, simply because of added investment value. Look at Hai Lang Hao, how his prices rose more than other producers, while the rise in quality is debatable.

      I agree that some Changtai teas are too mild. These two I mentioned did really sort of stand out between the rest. I even do not know if they are really Xizihao. Honza of Chawangshop had some of the Jing pin in Kunming and said it was horrible - we talked about what he had and came to a conclusion that one of us had a fake. It could have been me - that's why I say, e.g., "peak of the cloud from thechineseteashop".

  4. I agree, blending is a low-mid quality operation done by factories, to achieve consistent uniformity (as it is in any industry, i.e. big agribusinesses). But I think a high quality product (of anything) should have inherent characteristics of depth and complexity such that blending isn't necessary. After all, the best oolong comes from a single place or a single bush. In Taiwanese oolong, we talk about the differences of the tastes of different mountains-Lishan, Alishan, Shan Lin Xi, Dong Ding..I never heard of anyone blending them. They're all quite distinct and special in their own ways.

    1. Nope, they're routinely blended. Most of the DYL you buy are going to be blended by the wholesaler, as is your Lishan, Alishan, etc etc.

    2. Nick, I disagree with the "in any industry" - in the closest (imo) area, red wine making, blending is a matter of taste, consistency comes second.

    3. Sorry, what's DYL?

      Marshal, are you saying people blend tea claiming to be be from Lishan is routinely blended with that of other mountains, i.e. Alishan and Lishan together?? That would seem pretty fraudulent. I haven't heard of that. I'm sure there's plenty of blending going on within different parts of the same mountain, and I saw for myself while living in Taiwan how little it means to say something is from X mountain, as I drank many, many different Alishans of varying quality and characteristics, but few had any more distinguishing information on the labels than "Alishan Tea." That being said, although I didn't get a chance to visit individual tea farms, at least some of the tea I bought comes from a business that owns their own farm in one location, and claims to source it all from there. I certainly found this company's tea to produce the more distinctive and excellent teas I tasted in TW.

    4. Dayuling = DYL, sorry, was lazy.

      No, what I mean is, your dayuling, or Lishan, or whatever, are routinely blended. Not Lishan with Alishan, but Lishan from farm X and Lishan from farm Y (and Lishan is not a very small place). Wholesalers routinely do this to achieve a more consistent taste and also to cover up flaws and accentuate strengths of the tea. So they are, in fact, blended products, but only within a range. Or is that somehow magically not blended in your eyes? Even single farm products may be blended with different harvests or different batches to create a better taste. Unless all of this also doesn't count as blending. Then your definition of blending is pretty flexible, in which case your original claim about low-mid quality operation is no longer valid.

      Distinctive and excellent are by no means characteristics that are necessarily related. Just because something is distinctive doesn't mean it's good, unless you equate one with the other - i.e. a distinctive tea is a good tea. I don't know what your definitions are and don't pretend to.

    5. Oh, yes, definitely. If anything, DYL is more suspect than say, Lishan, because it has a higher cachet. Well, usually people only praise something as distinctive if it has positive attributes, right? Unless one is interested in trying things that are bad in an unusual way, I suppose that's also a learning experience..

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  6. Three more things
    a) I checked the interview in Art of Tea 3 with "master blender Huang Chang Fang" - I do not know how credible he is (he seems to be though), what he says about blends is about quality, necessary amount of materials and the consistency, so the real reason will be probably a blend too.

    b) In my post, I talked mostly about teas that mean something on the market. If a small vendor makes 200 premium cakes, fine, but it hardly affects anything; i.e., I was speaking of tea produced in some quantity.
    Blending of top, single-mountain teas may be a different thing. I know that these teas are all the rage now, but that does not make me love them. Their price/performance ratio does neither. But as I said, I do not know of any real attempt at blending such materials, so I could not write about these teas, obviously. Besides, it would probably raise the price of such a blend even higher, which would be hardly good (mostly when there is the feeling that single-mountain cakes are something positive).
    I guess that blending is a sort of full-time job. I try to learn as fast as I can, often trying many blends in a day - but it seems to be a work for many years to come. Vendors doing premium cakes often do a lot of things themselves and so they can not have enough time to learn how to blend. That may be another reason why premium teas are unblended.

    c) There is basically always some blending involved. It starts with blending materials from single households/farms. Then, various villages are blended. Then, various mountains in a range are blended. Then, various vintages, and/or mountain ranges may be blended. I'm not that a big fan of the last blending, true, but the previous levels may be important. The question is, whether one takes the blending at these levels as a necessity or as an art.


    1. Yup, our increasing move towards subdividing previously uniform areas (Yiwu became various villages, Bulang became various villages, etc) means that prior to, say, 2007.... all these teas were "blended" by our new definition. So, where does blending start? Do we have to have single tree produced cakes?

      That's like whisky's single barrel concept, which has a niche market, but the fact is, single malts are blended too - they're not blended in the legal sense (in whisky, blended = malt + grain whisky) but they are blended in that different vintages and maybe different finishes are mixed together, even though all the whisky comes from the same distillery.

    2. Sure, at some level, if you cast a truly scientific lens on things, all of these discussions become a bit artificial. Even within the same location, many variables can change the growth and development of plants. I think a lot of it becomes descriptors that a company can hide behind or use to effectively promote its wares. e.g. the myriad of small and large variations of location and cultivator that are used in Wuyi Yan Cha which may be totally hidden from the average consumer, who only sees those famous words. Likewise with TW oolong, I found through firsthand experience. The only judge you can count on in the end is your own palate, through experience.
      From studying ecology and thinking about physical systems, my intuition is away from making any sort of claims about blending or not blending being superior to one another, or like you've written, fall or spring being superior to one another, because there's just too many variables at hand to make a definitive rule, you can only generalize. I do think nonlinearity is the rule rather than the exception, which is why I'm skeptical of logic about just being able to linearly add onto characteristics, because most things are just not very linear--either on the growing stage, or the the way they are processed at the tasting stage.

    3. Nick, the thing with models is that they often capture the idea, even though they are inaccurate. Models that try to be too realistic are generally bad, because no one is able to tell whether their behavior is right or not, they are impossible to analyze and debug. This is the case with models of social insects, neurons, I think that with ecological system models too.

      In other words, the point of a map is to show you an overview of an area and you can get perfectly well from one place to another using it, even though you don't see fallen branches on it.

      An important thing about models in general is - do they have predictive power or not? I found that even the model of linear addition has certain predictive power. It is not a "become a blender walkthrough", I just wanted to share some experience I made in past year. Some of my friends tried blending leftover teas and were disappointed. I was too, when I tried it for the first couple of times - the model of linear addition explains our failures. It suggests a starting point in attepmpts at blending teas that has worked for me. That's about it.

      I did not really expect such a discussion as appeared here. One shares something semi-seriously ment and supposed to help others a bit and gets that what he does is meaningless, that single-origin teas rule and all that. Well, that's not actual ranting, I'm glad that this discussion happened, yet I'd like to discuss these things in a little different atmosphere I guess. Or I may be misreading things.


  7. Hi Jakub,
    Yes, I am in total agreement with you. As we are both people with a scientific background, so that isn't too surprising to me. I did not mean to suggest your blending efforts are meaningless; more that I wanted to comment on the theory behind it and my (mis?)perceptions of it. I have tried blending too, although probably with much less success than you. Please, keep on doing it, and I am interested in what results you can achieve, and that you share some good ones with us!

    1. Good idea! I'll try to mention some good combinations in my future posts. Or make a dedicated post about some nice combinations.
      All the best!

    2. Mix different black teas. They're easier to play with, I think.

  8. Maybe chocolate and chili powder? Sad thing is, that type of "blend" is probably the best from a market/profit perspective, for the average consumer!


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  10. I have had a sample of LongFeng before buying. That sample was not exciting at all, and I only bought the cake because it was $37.50 at the time. I'm like, well, it's worth $37.50 to me. The cake wound up being better than the sample.

    The HLH Yiwu Chawang I always thought was outrageously expensive. It was more expensive than '10 XZH teas at first introduction!

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