1 (edited by ABx 2008-11-06 20:21:27)

Topic: Different times of the year

Something that has always fascinated and confounded me is the phenomenon of oolongs (especially) coming out differently at different times of the year.

I always hate for summer to end, but the one up-side for me is that I get to enjoy my Wuyi yancha again. This year was a little different, though. It was still getting up to 70F/21C here just last week. Nevertheless I broke out the yancha as soon as it started cooling down but found that most days I just couldn't get anything more than an insipid cup. I could get a horribly bitter cup, but it would still be an insipid bitter cup offering nothing more than hollow bitterness with no aroma or body.

I've talked with vendors and enthusiasts that have noticed the same. It happens with just about any tea, but yancha seems to be the most profoundly affected. Lisa from TeaCuppa (in Malaysia) notes that once per year yancha all tastes sour. I, and others in the states, have noticed that it comes out insipid. Asking around, it seems everyone notices it but has no idea what causes it. My thought was heat and humidity (making the air less capable of carrying as much steam, and therefore aroma, or just changing the exchange of heat and steam through the brewing vessel), but if that was the case then the places where these teas originate would probably never taste any good at any time of the year.

I did, however, get an interesting response from Sebastian at Jing:

"Regarding to your last questions, it is normal that some periods of a
year, you can't get good cup of teas. No matter yan cha or puerh or anxi
oolong... Especially with the no heavily roasted oolong teas. After
about 2 to 3 months of new oolong launched out, most of the lightly
roasted oolong will "Fan Qing (returns to green)", that is an
embarrassing period for them. Most of them they don't taste good. But
for the heavier/heavily roasted oolongs, the first 2 months are not
tasty neither due to the fire taste, the tongue just get "harsh" feeling
when you drink the tea.
Also, because of the weather temperature or the humidity, sometimes the
human body just don't feel right about teas. There is nothing we can do
about that. :-)"

That didn't provide many answers, but it brought up a whole new slew of questions in my mind. Did that low-roast yancha that I got last year only taste good this year because I learned how to brew it or because it was in that 2-3 month period? Are my brewing experiments at fault for my lousy results, or did my body chemistry play a role?

I would love to find out what some of these variables are so that I can decide whether it's worth trying certain teas before wasting the leaf. Any ideas, thoughts, facts, or observations?

I do, at least, know not to expect much from new yancha in the first year or so, but that's another discussion :)

Re: Different times of the year

It's an interesting idea. I guess it could have to do with temperature and humidity. I noticed that a medium fire Jīn Fó (金佛) that's usually at least decent tasted kind of acrid / sour to me yesterday, so maybe you're on to something.

I think your taste buds also change from day to day (I certainly notice this a lot myself), and what you eat makes a HUGE difference. I love flavorful, spicy food, but I've noticed that tea, especially certain types of tea, tastes awful after a meal that's laden with garlic and spices. I tried drinking a medium roast / medium oxidation Tieguanyin recently after such a meal, and the taste was absolutely awful. There's a reason that food tasters eat food that's pretty bland for a day or two before they have to do any serious tasting.

Re: Different times of the year

Ive read in interviews in Art Of Tea Magazine where some tea makers will not sell their tea,s until they have been stored for at least a year so that the tea,s flavor will become "balanced"
I have no answers for any of these pondering,s but I can say that your taste buds play a big part in this, I know many times Ive drank the same tea Ive been drinking regularly and noticed a flavor that I had not noticed before and wondered how could this be? It,s the same tea. But I dont consider this to be a negative thing, to me it,s an added bonus.
But I know what you guy,s are talking about and Ive been drinking tea for such a long time that I really dont put too much effort into figuring out why the tea sometimes tastes insipid and sometimes sublime, if it,s a day where it,s not good I just put the tea away for a while and come back to it latter and find the tea is just fine.But I think this is mostly a summer time problem in the winter the tea,s flavors stay pretty consistent.
Dont beat your head against a wall trying to figure this out, it,s not gonna happen.

Re: Different times of the year

The thing is that when this happens I can usually find a tea that will come out fine (sometimes even a tea of the same type, like yancha), it just takes a few tries. It doesn't affect every tea at the same time (sometimes it can even just be one TGY or baozhong over another), so I really don't think it's just my own tastes. Some just simply won't come out well at all.

Now when it's really hot and humid it just makes sense. On those days I just can't get much aroma until I go into an air conditioned room. Air conditioning does resolve those issues on the very hot and humid days, so that just leaves the days that aren't hot and humid but simply produce insipid cups.

The main thing that bothers me about these times is the amount of tea I end up wasting just to find something that will work.

Don't worry, I'm not beating my head against a wall; it's just an intriguing mystery :) When I encounter a phenomenon like this I just feel compelled to investigate. That's how I got into tea in the first place :)

5 (edited by LaoChaGui 2008-11-07 04:23:33)

Re: Different times of the year

I have noticed on some days I have the same problem. I have in the past blamed this on
1. Yancha palate fatigue. After drinking only Yancha everyday, I start to be less sensitive to Yancha flavours. It usually helps to take some time off.
2. Random brewing problem. Too much leaf, water not hot enough, etc. I like my tea strong and sometimes I go overboard with brewing times and leaf amount.
3. Some other problem with body chemistry.
4. Tea needing a refresher roast. Especially light roast Yanchas seem to change flavour quickly.

I never really considered heat and humidity, but I can see why that would make such a difference especially in aroma.

I had a very similar experience with the first Yancha I ever bought, . It tasted pretty good the first time I bought it.  I would often have very long huigan experiences. Later on when I bought another 100g I could not get it to taste good even once. According to what the vendor said it was already nearly two years old, and so the possible Fanqing period had passed. perhaps the second time I had it was during an off period. I had a better Yancha in between these two, so it is possible my palate was already equilibrated to a better quality and wouldn't be able to enjoy the lower quality.

ABx wrote:

Lisa from TeaCuppa (in Malaysia) notes that once per year yancha all tastes sour.

are we to understand that this happens once a year for every tea? and only once a year? This is so intriguing. I want to look around to find more information on Fanqing. Fanqing seems to be different, however. it ought to only happen once in a lifetime, not once a year.


6 (edited by ABx 2008-11-09 21:55:52)

Re: Different times of the year

2. Random brewing problem. Too much leaf, water not hot enough, etc. I like my tea strong and sometimes I go overboard with brewing times and leaf amount.

I get that as well.. there are days that I just can't brew a good cup to save my life. As in Stephane's response below, I've also noticed this with my mood. This phenomenon becomes even more strange, however, when you use a Zoji. With the Zoji you can be absolutely sure that so many things remain exactly the same when the results come out so differently. The water temp is kept at the same temp, the brewing vessel is in the same spot underneath, just sitting on the tray and not being held, and so on.

are we to understand that this happens once a year for every tea? and only once a year?

Yes indeed. I think I may have come across this as well, however I only ever attribute things like that to my own brewing skills.

Since starting this I've paid a bit of attention, and while it seems to happen more on hot and humid days, heat and humidity do not seem to be the determining factors. I had it happen a few days ago, but the heat and humidity were the same as later when it came out just fine. I'm tempted to find a college professor that would understand the physics of things like aroma. I have actually noticed that on these days the same can happen with the aroma of some foods as well. I'm not a "foodie," though, so it doesn't make as much of a difference to me.

Very hot and humid days, though, do sometimes make a large difference. During the hottest times of the summer I don't even bother with my good teas and just make iced tea instead (with something that has more flavor than aroma). Anything with a delicate aroma just doesn't come out. This is pronounced for me when I brew something in my kitchen on these days and then walk back to my air-conditioned [home] office (I use in-window AC, in the office and living room only) - I'll smell nothing but the very slight veggie-protein aroma in the kitchen, but then as soon as I walk into the air-conditioned room I can smell the whole range. I've also noticed that some teas seem to do much better in brewing vessels that breathe, rather than something like a porcelain pot or gaiwan with a water seal (or vice versa). I think some teas need a certain amount of evaporation during steeping to bring out the aroma, which would be reduced on hot and/or humid days. So in other words I don't think heat and humidity can be ruled out entirely, but they don't seem to be the only cause either.

One other thing that I suspect may change is water quality. I use filtered tap water, so it's very possible that they do something different with the water at certain times every year - such as adding some chemical to fight off various organisms that may hatch at certain times. I don't think that this accounts for everything, as some of these people (like Lisa) use bottled water, but I think it may be one factor. I am thinking about finding a decent bottled water to keep around for these times to test it out. I'm also heavily considering a 4 or 5 stage filter pitcher that does a much better job than a Britta, but more importantly only needs filters replaced once or twice a year, which would probably make up for any differences in water treatment.

I also need to get a master test kit for my aquarium soon, and so I'm thinking about keeping a log of the changes to the tap water. While this may seem a little anal, I am really supposed to be doing frequent tests of the tap water for my aquarium anyway (so I can be sure of which readings are due to my care and which aren't, such as nitrates in the water, hardness, pH, and so on), so it would just be a matter of writing them down. Then I could test again on these days to see if there's any difference. Nitrates could very well be a factor.

I've also been wanting to get one of those weather stations (thermometer that also shows inside and outside temp, RH, barometric pressure, etc.) for other reasons, and soon, so perhaps that will shed some light.

A response to the question from Stephane:

We've had similar questions to Teaparker: why does the same tea come out differently at different times.
First, he said this also happens to him. It's a sign that tea is so sensitive. The slightest thing impacts tea. He even finds his mood affects the way tea comes out, as it affects the way he pours hot water in the teapot. This is also what makes tea so interesting to understand that really anything affects tea. Even you practice it a lot and improve your technique, you never fully master it.
So, I guess that there is not just 1 answer but many to why some teas don't succeed on some days. And the contrary also happens: sometimes, the tea comes out just perfect and it's real bliss!

Re: Different times of the year

P.S.  I have noticed with predictability that newly arrived teas ( just delivered via mail or whatever ) that the teas flavor is not the same as when you just let the tea sit for a few days and get accustomed to their new home. This especially applies to Sencha and Matcha.

    I agree with whoever it was that wrote that even the mood your in affects the teas outcome, seems so strange but it,s true. Or I think more likely is the mood I,m in affects my perception of the teas flavor. As for the ever ephemeral perfect cup of Yancha, Ive really just got to the point where I pretty much leave them alone thru the summer months. I look forward to Autumn and my Yancha just like Spring and my Shincha.

  I also ( most the time ) use a Zojirushi water dispenser so seeing that I weigh the teas quantity, use water thats at a precise temperature and use a timer, thats about as consistent as I can be with the variables of tea brewing. As I said before I really don't worry about this anymore or try to understand why I just deal with it and move on to a tea thats being co-operative.

Re: Different times of the year

The mood thing can sometimes be weird, but there are some aspects that really are quite understandable. It's going to make you more tense, less patient, and so on - generally just more sloppy and without the careful attention. Sometimes, though, it seems like you can do everything exactly the same, and it still affects the tea.

See, my problem is that I always end up craving those teas on the days that they won't come out. Unfortunately I often only have around 50g of those teas, so if I only actually get anything out of them in 1 of every 2 or 3 sessions, then I waste a lot of that 50g :(