"Throwing Shade..."

One of the coolest things of having a "front row seat" to the evolution of the botanical-style aquarium "movement" is that I get to sort of function as a "learning house" for a lot of new and exciting ideas and approaches which my fellow hobbyists share with me regularly!

Sometimes, our shared progression and experience even makes me think about my own personal "rules" and directives. Pushing outwards has really helped me grow in the hobby.

Now, one of the things I've often talked about over the years here is the need for us as hobbyists to deploy patience, observation, and testing when playing with botanical materials in our aquariums. I've eschewed, even vilified "hacks" and "shortcuts"...I felt (and continue to feel, really), that trying to circumvent natural processes in order to arrive at some "destination" faster is an invitation to potential problems over the long term, and at the very least, a way to develop poor skills that will work to our detriment.

Obviously, I'm not saying that the botanical-style aquarium approach should be all drudgery and ceaseless devotion to a series of steps and guidelines issued by...someone. NO! That's even more frightening to me than the idea of "shortcuts" and "hacks!" Dogma sucks. And guess what? Ideas and practices evolve over time as we learn more about what we're doing and accumulate more experience. And that often makes me re-visit ideas which I might have formerly looked at in a more negative way.

Yeah, imagine that? Even crochety old me re-visiting ideas I've formerly "poo-pooed."

One of the questions we receive a lot is, "Can I use the water which I prepare botanicals as a sort of 'blackwater extract' or 'tea' to add to my aquarium?"  My answer has been, and still is the same: I don't recommend it, because in addition to the tannins and humic substances which are exuded during the prep process, you are also releasing a lot of dirt, dust, and organic pollutants which are bound up in the surface tissues of your botanicals.

My feeling is that the addition of a concentrated "brew" of the very stuff you're trying to eliminate via preparation into your aquarium is counter-productive at least, and downright detrimental to water quality at worst! Hardly worth the trade-off of losing ga small amount of the treasured tannins and humic substances, IMHO.

Yet, the questions continued. And the idea of utilizing the "tea" produced during the prep process persisted. And people asked about other stuff.

Hobbyists have for years played with other alternatives, such as Rooibos tea, which, in addition to bing kind of tasty, has been a favored "tint hack" of many hobbyists for years. Without getting into all of the boring details, Rooibos tea is derived from the Aspalathus linearis plant, also known as "Red Bush" in South Africa and other parts of the world. 

(Rooibos, Aspalathus linearis.  Image by R.Dahlgr- used under CC-BY S.A. 2.5)

It's been used by fish people for a long time as a sort of instant "blackwater extract", and has a lot going for it for this purpose, I suppose. Rooibos tea does not contain caffeine, and and has low levels of tannin compared to black or green tea. And, like catappa leaves and other botnaicals, it contains polyphenols, like flavones, flavanols, aspalathin, etc. 

Hobbyists will simply steep it in their aquariums and get the color that they want, and impart some of these substances into their tank water."Cold extraction." I mean, it's an easy process. Of course, like any other thing you add to your aquarium, it's never a bad idea to know the impact of what you're adding. 

Like using botanicals, utilizing tea bags in your aquarium requires some thinking, that's all. 

And of course, it got me thinking. I mean, tea is essentially defined as, "...a hot drink made by infusing the dried crushed leaves of the tea plant in boiling water."

I suppose that, by definition, it doesn't really differ substantially from what we are producing when we utilize botanicals in our aquariums- with the notable exceptions that we are: a) not drinking our tank water and b) allowing the botanicals themselves to impart the tannins and humic substances at their own "speed" over time (after preparation) into the water. More like a slow infusion, right? Oh, and of course, using the botanicals themselves in our tanks allows fishes and other aquatic animals to interact with them and use them for shelter and foraging, just like they do in the wild...

And yeah, I admit, I was openly critical of the idea of using Rooibos and many "extracts." 

The things that I personally dislike about using tea or so-called "blackwater extracts" are that you are simply going for an effect, without getting to embrace the functional aesthetics imparted by adding leaves, seed pods, etc. to your aquarium as part of its physical structure, and that there is no real way to determine how much you need to add to achieve______.

Obviously, the same could be said of botanicals, but we're not utilizing botanicals simply to create brown water or specific pH parameters, etc.

Yet, with tea or extracts, you sort of miss out on replicating a little slice of Nature in your aquarium. And that's a different sort of thing. And getting my head around this sort of changed my thinking just a bit.

Of course, it's fine if your goal is just to color the water, I suppose. And I understand that some people, like fish breeders who need bare bottom tanks or whatever- like to condition water without all of the "leaves and twigs and nuts" we love.

THAT suddenly registered in me!

There is ( I know, because I listen to you guys!) an entire population of aquarists who love the tint of the water, the benefits of humic substances and tannins, but simply don't like all of the decomposing materials, biofilms, etc. which accompany the addition of botanicals in aquairums.

On the other hand, if you're trying to replicate the look and function (and maybe some of the parameters) of THIS:

You won't achieve it by using THIS:

It's not "wrong" or "lazy"- it's simply a different route....for a different purpose!

And look, I understand that we are all looking for the occasional "shortcuts" and easier ways to do stuff. Life is busy. This is supposed to be fun. And I realize that none of what we proffer here at Tannin is an absolute science. It's an art at this point. There is no current way available to the hobby to test for "x" types or amounts of tannins (of which there are many hundreds) in aquariums.  I have not even found a study thus far which analyzed wild habitats (say, Amazonia) for tannin concentrations and specific types, so we have no real model to go on.

The best we can do is create a reasonable facsimile of Nature.

We have to understand that there are limitations to the impacts of botanicals, tea, wood, etc. on water chemistry. Adding liter upon liter of "extract" to your aquarium will have minimal pH impact if your water is super hard. When you're serious about trying to create more natural blackwater conditions, you really need an RO/DI unit to achieve "base water" with no carbonate hardness that's more "malleable" to environmental manipulation. Tea, twigs, leaves, extracts, "Shade"- none will do much unless you understand that.

I'm not trying to throw a wet blanket on any ideas we might have.

I'm not feeling particularly defensive about using tea or other "extracts" because I sell botanical materials for a living. It's sort of apples and oranges, really.

So I rolled up my sleeves and started to think about a better way to impart the benefits of our botanicals and leaves into aquariums in a manner which will provide some of the benefits without the associated materials in the aquarium, which breeders, planted tank enthusiasts, and other speciality hobbyists might not want or need for their purposes.

Why exclude these people from experiencing the benefits of botanicals?

Now, I realized that various types of teas and crushed catappa leaves in tea bags have been used for years by hobbyists. This is hardly a "new" or "revolutionary" idea. Like so many things we do at Tannin, my idea was to evolve the process and refine it more. To do better. To employ a different set of "ingredients." To give hobbyists a product that can deliver more consistent, more predictable results and instill a greater degree of confidence than what's previously been offered in this form factor. 

I reached out to one of my trusted botanical suppliers overseas and started the process. What we came up with, after a number of iterations was a series of carefully-formulated blends of carefully prepared, dried, and ground-up botanicals and leaves- the same ones we offer in our web site collections- which will provide specific color effects with a simple "delivery" method.

The result was a series of sachets (I mean 'tea bags" is SOOO pedestrian, right?) with the correct amount of the right ratio of our botanicals and leaves to impart predictable, consistent color effects (and, by extension, the same types of humic substances and tannins you'd expect with our "intact" botanicals) in an easy-to-use form factor.

We call the product "Shade"- and we think this is a big "upgrade" over the products of the same type which have been offered before. The cool part is that, since they're formulated from the same Tannin botanicals we've collectively been offering playing with for years, we understand the "color effects" that all of our materials can impart to the water. This gave us the ability to come up with three different "flavors", each which can give a different effect. We'll be releasing the other "flavors" in the months to come!

Our first release will impart a "classic" golden-brown color into the water. Future releases will impart a light golden color into the water, and a deep red into your tanks. 

Fun. Easy to use. Effective.

"A hack, Fellman?"


A different form factor. A variation of how we do this stuff.

"It's a hack, Fellman!"

You'll never convince me that it is...Even if it sort of IS! 😆

And we have found, through a lot of testing and trial and error, that, unlike botanicals themselves, we can sort of develop a rough (albeit superficial) "dose" for the sachets. We've found that one sachet can influence about 5 U.S. gallons of water. And yeah, I know, I typically HATE - I mean REALLY despise making such "x" number of leaves or seed pods per gallon" recommendations.  This is a bit different, of course, because of the form factor of "Shade."

Now, by "influence", I'm referring to the color. Sure, these sachets could also impact pH of the water if you use reverse osmosis/deionized water to operate your aquariums. If not, they'll simply impart some color (and likely tannins and humic substances) into the water...Not a bad thing, but don't fool yourself. You need to test the impact of "Shade" on your water chemistry to know for sure.

Although "Shade" is a carefully formulated  well-tested alternative to "dumb old tea bags", it's not a "miracle" product.  It just isn't. "Shade" won't guarantee that you'll get your wild Cardinal Tetras to spontaneously spawn on command. It won't cure fungal diseases. It WILL help you achieve the color effects you are looking for. It WILL offer many of the same potential health benefits to your aquatic animals that using our botanicals in your aquariums in their "natural" form will. Of course, even those benefits are STILL not fully understood, 100% predictable, or really all that well-defined! (C'mon, you didn't think I could guarantee THAT kind of stuff, did ya?)

It's a cool product.

Better than what's out there now, if we say so ourselves.

Yes, it's not super-duper cheap like products which consist of just crushed catappa leaves are- becuase more botanical materials, more thought, and more "R&D" went into this product! Some of you won't like it, or simply dismiss it as bullshit or whatever. I get it. Personally, I think it's going to become a very popular item; a useful vehicle for imparting our beloved tannins and humic substances into our aquariums in a very different way.

However, like everything we do with botanicals, it's still sort of "experimental" to a certain extent. Yeah, it is. Until we have the means to analyze the exact types and concentrations of tannins and humic substances in every botanical we offer, and until these are cross-correlated with the specific types and concentrations of humic substances and tannins found in the natural habitats of our fishes, this approach will remain at best, a sort of "best guess" approach to fish-keeping!

And that's okay. It's evolving. And we're all contributing to the evolution!

Like everything we offer here at Tannin, we hope that you utilize Shade in ways that are creative, inspiring, beneficial to your fishes, and above all- fun! It's not a "game-changing" product- rather, it's a strong evolutionary step towards making the idea of botanical-style aquariums more accessible to a wider variety of hobbyists.Of course it's not for everyone. However, "Shade" is an important part of our on-going mission to help "tint the world", and blur the lines between Nature and aquarium.

We look forward to sharing more with you about "Shade" in coming days.We look forward to hearing about YOUR experiences with this new product! 

Stay focused. Stay excited. Stay bold. Stay creative. Stay diligent. Stay observant...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 




Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


4 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

January 31, 2021

Hi John!

Thanks for your purchase!

You can leave the “Shade” sachet’s in the water until you see a diminished impact (in terms of visual color). The ground botanicals in the sachets will continue to leach into the water for a week or so…obviously, your “mileage” may vary, as they say, but you should get more than 24 hours out of an individual sachet!



January 30, 2021

Hi your products seem great, I just purchased shade. But I’m confused if I leave the sachet in the water after the 12-24 hours or if I take it back out? Can you leave them in till you need to replace? Or after the color takes effect

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

July 14, 2020

Glad to hear it, Ryan! I think that “Shade” will definitely make it a bit easier to maintain this consistent color effect, and we’re pretty excited to see all of the other possible applications for hobbyists to use this product!


Ryan Taylor
Ryan Taylor

July 08, 2020

Good day Steve, I am intrigued by your new product “Shade”. I have long had an issue with maintaining a relatively constant level of tannins/tint in my display tanks due to my constant water changes. I’ve been looking for a way to “pretreat” my 20 gallon container of RO/DI water (mixed with a few gallons of raw water) that I use for water changes. Shade seems to be a suitable way to do that. I may try it out. Ryan Taylor

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