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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

2018 Bamboo Shou by white2tea


Last month I attended a tea tasting with white2tea at Macha Tea Company in Madison, where I had the opportunity to try this new bamboo-pressed shou puerh. If you have never attended a formal tasting, a session like this starts out with various sheng teas, and a shou puerh is served last to warm and balance the body. Sheng teas have a very cooling effect, and shou settles the tummy with warmth to counter bitterness and cold effect. I really enjoyed this shou tea and ordered it immediately when I got back home, and it took a month to arrive.


Many vendors carry bamboo tube teas, but often do not ship with the bamboo tube because the tea may be more likely to get stuck in customs as it may resemble contraband substances. The packaging is made for reusing, the tube has a sliding slat cut into it. One end is covered with cloth and held together with braided bamboo, and this is easy to put back on the tube. The tea is not as densely packed as might be expected, I can break off a piece using my fingers. For this session, however, I found some loose tea in the tube with a small chunk and decide it is enough to brew up.


This tea reminds me somewhat of the excellent Crimson Lotus Tea Nannuo shou mushrooms with a remarkable sweet character. While the CLT mushrooms have a strong vanilla note, this bamboo shou tastes like a Dr. Pepper crossed with shou, with notes of sarsaparilla, vanilla, and my mother's knitting basket (the bamboo). TwoDog stated he felt lucky back in November 2018 with this finished tea, as sometimes bamboo teas can turn out burnt or rough, and this one tastes so mellow. Bamboo pressing relies very heavily on the persons doing the work, and so the vendor has less control over the finished flavors than with a disk pressing.


I notice a fermentation flavor in the first couple of brews, along with a very clear liquor. The fermentation fades quickly into a more buttery vanilla, rather like the browned edges of a butter cookie. This character remains in subsequent brews while the bamboo note comes forward more. The leaves are small, and the chunk does not fall apart easily. If I had used more tea, the chunks might brew out longer than the eight to ten steeps I am getting today. This tea is a boiler, and would benefit from a pan boil on the stove after the session, but I do not have time to pan boil today.


This tea would pair exceptionally well with sweet bakery or even lunch, I could envision drinking this grandpa all day long. This is a nice tea for the office and for sharing with people who are not puerh drinkers. A weak cup can easily be taken to settle a stomach, it stays warm with me after a bout of shoveling snow.


Over the past year, I have had exceptional shou puerh teas from at least three western vendors. The idea of "waiting for shou to clear" seems more and more an idea from the past, from factory teas stored in dirty warehouse conditions. Western vendors still sell such teas, but I feel like their own house teas are superior to most factory high bulk productions. We don't need to settle for teas that need years and years to lose dirty flavors. 

Price-wise, this tea sells for $32 for a 200g tube. The bamboo packaging has pros and cons. The pro is that you don't need special storage, the tube can easily store in a desk drawer and the sliding slat is reusable. A pick can remove tea for brewing without too much fuss. One the other hand, the tube is long, about the size of a tennis racquet handle, and other than in a drawer I can't think of how else to store this. You could remove the tea from the bamboo, but then you lose the flavor benefits of the bamboo over time. Yet I cannot imagine most people storing this tea for long, 200g of yummy shou like this will go fast. Better hurry if you want one, TwoDog says they don't have many tubes left and his wife is drinking it all up on her own. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Puerh Trends We Need to Thrive in 2019


2019 promises another busy puerh year for most buyers, judging from the pure frenzy of Black Friday buying last fall. You need to be quick these days when contemplating a purchase, don’t think too long because whatever you’re staring at might be sold out within seconds. Last year’s buying certainly suggests some wishful ideas and perhaps stark reality. Let’s consider some trends we need versus the probable reality.

What we need: more $100 and under options.

What we will get: more tiny tongs.

What I see with these tiny tongs is that nobody actually wants a producer to make these, no one wants tiny tongs as the only affordable option. Yet when I look at social media and see pics of puerh hauls, the tiny tongs are everywhere. People tack them on to a purchase of something else, and honestly half the time the tiny tongs are not the main buying plan. But vendors benefit here, and they have smaller quantities of nice tea that will not fill out a full size production, so why not make minis when they sell well?

What we need: more semi-aged teas in vendor shops.

What we will get: more buyer-led group buys.

The fact is, semi-aged tea is barely worth the time of a profit vendor to scout out and sell. The profit margin just isn’t there. Any good tea is still pricey enough wholesale. Anyone who has a good tea usually knows what they have. So the vendor is not getting a decent enough steal to make the same margin as with newer, young tea. More and more people are going to rely on tea heads to middleman scout on Taobao and elsewhere. Still plenty of space for LP buys, Teas We Like, An Adventure in Every Cup etc. to bring semi-aged teas to buyers. The market is there, but the profits generally are not, the middleman does it for love.

What we need: teas with body feels.

What we will get: weed in tea, teas with body feels.

I think the goosh-only phase got a dose of reality over the past few years. Gushu gets slapped on a lot of teas that aren’t, and gushu doesn’t necessarily mean ethereal level tea anymore even when genuine. So much overpicking going on, and too few truly pristine, untouched tea areas accessible to any of us. We do have an abundance of cheap weed, according to a recent Vice report, Oregon is awash in cheap weed because of issuing a license to just about anybody wanting to grow. The next logical step is add that cheap weed to tea and amp up the tea crowd and the weed crowd. I wonder how many people would even notice bits of crumbled weed in a beengcha.

Having said that, I think vendors will deliver on the body feels even without the weed. White2tea certainly delivered in 2018 in Feng Qing Arbor Red and White, and for a price point under $100 such that you can buy your puerh and get your body feels too.

What we need: premium shou.

What we will get: premium shou.

Over the past few years we saw a few vendors hitting shops with 40 cents/g and up for tippy, premium shou tea. People like premium, they like clean shou and are willing to pay. While premium, gift quality shou has been around forever in China, western buyers are probably more receptive to western vendors due to cleanliness notions, meaning no funky off-flavors, no storage odors or flavors, tiny tippy leaves. Maybe premium shou will get downsized into tiny tongs rather than upsized, but the buyers are there for clean and pricey shou. Unlike sheng, shou is consumed quickly by comparison leaving the buyer hunting for refills. I think vendors are going to deliver on this trend.

What we need: affordable sheng.

What we will get: white tea and red tea.

I see these teas flying off shelves in part because they are beginner friendly in profile. White and red teas are also ways to sell less expensive maocha. Vendors are delivering on this trend and with pretty wrappers. I expect a lot more Yunnan whites and reds this year. I doubt maocha prices for the good sheng puerh teas will improve much, unless we have such an awful weather year the quality is poor.
 

What we need: Taetea collector prices to fall.

What we will get: more Taetea special productions.

The reason behind the price flurries of recent years is the real estate market in China has taken a bit of a nosedive. Real estate is one of the few investments middle class persons have for their cash. Collectibles pick up a bit when real estate falls, such as tea which can be unloaded quickly by comparison with real estate. I don’t know if the price will fall in the collector tea area this year, especially if real estate stays flat and currency flattens more. I am seeing more tongs up for trade though on Facebook, maybe people are getting nervous. 

In any collector market, a situation where everyone crazes over too many productions, eventually the best and most desirable bear the price falls of less desirable items. In order for the cream to rise to the top, the low end needs to drop out. Taetea has too many productions starting retail at over $100/beeng, and like used cars  leaving the dealer lot, the price drops to half in retail price cutting. The market gets confusing as to which productions are really worth not only their starting retail, but perhaps more as the run sells out. Right now we are in the midst of this confusion, and perhaps this is the year when we start to see a real distinction of low end from high end. Honestly, a lot of these beengs are the same old chopped tea with very little to distinguish one from another aside from the wrapper design.

I would be very, very wary of jumping into collector beengs that are not part of a drinking plan. Taetea is surely still on the boutique tea upswing, we will likely see more special productions starting in the over $100/beeng retail range as long as people continue to buy like crazy.

What we need: few predictions and more tea reality.

What we will get: more speculation.

You can count on this one.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Personal Puerh Aesthetic: the Why


Why do I drink puerh tea? I approached puerh tea via a long journey through green teas, over a period of years, for health reasons. I find green tea a helpful tonic, along with stress management, to keep my kidneys healthy. This alone is not a reason to spend $200 on a beeng. The Why behind drinking puerh tea, especially in the west where the tea is not easily accessible, is mostly a rabbit hole of reasons, none of which particularly justify the purchases from a financial point of view. Actually, I cannot think of any good reason to buy puerh for health reasons that less expensive forms of tea will not suit just as well, and perhaps better than puerh. The health claims behind puerh are mostly anecdotal, or involve stuffing mice with more puerh than any human can reasonably and comparatively drink. In fact, I could go back to buying gunpowder green tea at the grocery store and come out just as healthy.

Puerh tea also comes with social issues related to coffee and tea consumption in the west. Most people do not purchase large quantities of tea or coffee. They purchase a bag of loose leaf, or a box of tea bags, or a bag of coffee beans to consume and then refill the supply only when finished.  By contrast, most puerh drinkers will need to buy ahead of their drinking because of the aging and resting of the tea. A serious puerh drinker is buying ten or even twenty years ahead of time, and I don’t think anyone who purchased tea ten years ago is regretting it now, given how high prices are today. But the buying ahead comes with social explanations to partners and friends and family, why do you have so much tea? The stockpiling and aging process runs contrary to the more minimalist caffeine approach that most of western society takes with their beverages. Puerh is slow tea, not fast break pick up at the drive thru window.

For me, slow tea is one of the best explanations behind why I prefer puerh. Checking my storage and going through my collections is relaxation time, much in the way a gardener goes outside to check the plants, pull a weed or two, and in general enjoy the fruits of a long season of labor. Puerh tea involves work, which most people in the west don’t associate with a beverage. They get their shot of caffeine on the way to work, rather than take the time to gongfu brew in the morning. No one seems to have time for slow beverages. In my part of the US, slow mornings carry a tinge of lazy morality, not the get up and move common to my culture and associated with success.


One might turn to fellow pu heads for support and encouragement, but even here the urge to keep going is easily stifled. While one might share a common hobby with another pu head, all too often pu heads judge each other based on their own personal preferences. Sure, you drink puerh, but do you drink the right kind? Are you in the club of wet heads, drinking traditional stored puerh, who disdain young green sheng puerh? Are you a factory tea drinker trading Dayi and scouting Taobao, or god forbid do you buy teas from easily accessible online vendors? Do you spend $200 and even 4x that much on a beeng, or are you in the club of people singing the praises of buying a $20 beeng, no matter the quality, and bragging you won’t spend a penny more? Do you merely drink shou puerh, or are you gulping green 7542 without a wince?

Really puerh people seem to have an opinion on everything and certainly I do as well. With so many contrary opinions around, all we can do is have our opinion and feel brave enough to stick to it. In the end, perhaps all we can expect from fellow pu heads is maybe a tip or two on a decent buy, or a swap on occasion. Socialization is somewhat limited in the end if we are all busy criticizing and arguing over storage. I can’t say I am into puerh for the social aspects at all. While we can wax on about how great it is to share tea with others, the reality is we mostly drink alone and get together mainly on the gripes.


Still, something about the depth and complexity pulls at me, the long, deep throats, the custardy thick brews, body feels, whiskey finishes. I taste puerh randomly when I am out in the world, sitting at a stop light in the car, suddenly I feel like I just sipped an old Yiwu. The idea that no two sessions are ever quite alike appeals to me. The fact the my tea changes enough to surprise me puts puerh tea miles ahead of green teas that don’t change, but rather fade in a year or two. I can look forward to more every year from a production well kept.

Puerh is just the most excellent of teas. Can we drink to that?



Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Personal Puerh Aesthetic: Considering the Where in Drinking Puerh Tea



In considering the “Where” behind my tea drinking, I think about all aspects of my environment. While I do drink tea in the presence of others occasionally at a tea shop, the vast majority of my tea consumption is alone or with family consuming beverages other than tea. As a blogger, I spend much of my time testing teas that are either samples provided by others or my own collection to check storage. I constantly ask myself whether the tea I am drinking is worthy of writing about. These issues are obvious, but the “Where” is more about specifics.

While tea might lend itself to a meditation setting, I find my tea drinking setting is far more spare than a prayer type space. I had to give up incense and even body perfumes because scents go right up my nose and down the back of my throat. Do you find that you “taste” scents? Because strong essential oil products like incense and perfume just wreck my palate, worse than food. Constipation and indigestion also produce vapors that make their way up my palate. If I plan to enjoy a cigar, it must be after the tea and not before. I don’t smoke marijuana anymore, but I find that people who do often report an inability to experience chaqi.


One does not need to be terribly strict with any of these issues, especially with casual tea drinking, but I feel it’s only fair if I’m blogging to give a tea my best tasting. I should at least reserve some judgment and not say “this tea has no qi” if I’m a person smoking doobies every day. In that case, tea is an adjunct, not a main drug. I think for most bloggers tea is the main drug, or should be if they are reviewing, not all bloggers do reviews.

The “where” is also about storage, where is the tea stored? Storage encompasses all of my storage as well as all the many places around the world my tea comes from. Weather too affects my tea, and while I don’t need to dwell on the weather most of the year, I am aware of it and certainly weather impacts the teas I choose to drink, whether more warming or more cooling types of puerh. I find I cannot tolerate warming teas in the summer unless I want to lie awake all night sweating.



Even though I have several tea tables, numerous tea pillows and trays, most of my tea is prepared and consumed in my kitchen. I feel I am “working” or paying attention to food and beverages in my kitchen more so than anywhere else. I might enjoy tea outdoors in the summer, or on the patio, or in my sun room, but mostly I like to be near my hot water source and, well, the bathroom as needed. Tea gets all things moving along nicely.

In the kitchen I can get my head into the tea because I am not fussing with the tea setting as I would outdoors or somewhere fancy. My crocks are extensions of food preservation intrinsic to the farm community in which I live. I feel more local, and less odd or exotic drinking a beverage from the other side of the world. The tea is mine in my kitchen, and I carry my crocks from the next room to the countertop and check the progress. I usually make a mess when breaking tea off a beeng, and my tea mess is just easier to clean up in the kitchen. I get water everywhere too.

Many of my photos show a red laminated table, this is a 1950s cafĂ© table on a metal pedestal that is secured to the wall, the type of table you would see in a soda fountain shop sixty years ago. Think “Grease” the musical. I have an old 78 record on the wall above a yellow vintage hurricane mushroom lamp.


Then my bedroom is just off the kitchen and so if I overdose on tea, bed is just a few steps away. One never knows with a new tea how to judge the leafing until that first try. When the tea inspires a monologue I carry the cup to the computer and start typing. Everyone I live with ignores my tea drunk giggles and tea habit in general. I usually do not get sheng gut aches, but if I feel a little bit dodgy in the tummy I like products such as Life Saver’s Pep-o-Mints (the large ones), Nabisco Zesta soda crackers, and Icelandic Skyr. These products contain tummy soothing ingredients like peppermint, baking soda, milk and cultures.

So, the “where” is all about the conditions as well as the places of drinking tea. I can understand why some bloggers stop after awhile and just focus on enjoying tea because blogging does affect the entire process of drinking even when the tea is quite nice. In the next few weeks I hope to attend a tea tasting and enjoy tea with others and get outside my blogosphere for a day.  




Saturday, December 22, 2018

Personal Puerh Aesthetic: Considering the What in Drinking Puerh Tea


What is a puerh lover? I look in the mirror and know how I got here, a fairly straight path through green teas on a health quest. None of this explains how one acquires so much puerh, beyond that of what I reasonably drink. Puerh lends itself to a constant grail search, the dream of the divine disk transporting me into a state of bliss and youthful glow, dripping with complex spices and fruits, all I need is the golden sofa and grapes. In the case of puerh, the more aged the tea the younger I hope to feel.


What is this magical Yunnan leaf tea I drink? Usually the reader wants a treasure map, a list of names of teas, prices, places to run to and buy wonderful tea. Quite honestly, reviewers provide these lists all year long. Still, the reader is left less than satisfied, or perhaps merely hesitant, thinking that this or that tea is not quite the one. The truth is, if we line up ten collectors of puerh tea along with their current favorites, each person will have a different group of teas to swear by. With my personal puerh aesthetic of who-what-where-why, I divide my “Whats” into drinkers, stunners and untouchables.

Drinkers

Drinker teas are daily consumption teas that require little thought to enjoy. From bricks to tuos, this group is mostly in the lower end of the price list, under $200. I would list nearly all factory teas into this category. Sure a few older factory teas reach a legendary status, but the truth is virtually all of these teas today are likely to leave one satisfied if somewhat disappointed. 


Storages matter here too, I consider flawed storage teas to be drinkers, and that includes wetter stored teas. Wet storage is a flaw, and while such tea is perhaps drinkable, it will never be great tea. I spend a great deal of time on my blog writing about drinkers because so many beginners are looking for drinkers, even though I have plenty of these teas and need no more of them.

Stunners

These teas today generally are going to hurt your wallet, costing $200 or more, regardless of the size of the beeng. I say beeng because any tuo or brick costing more than this is iffy, I would generally not pay that much for a tuo or brick that to me is just drinker even if well aged. A tuo or brick just is not going to blow me away. A stunner is generally a beeng or loose puerh tea. A stunner will not have processing flaws like burnt leaves, oxidized leaves, or anything other than tea leaves, a quality control issue. 


A stunner is dry stored or lightly wet stored, very light. The clue here is price, assuming the tea is priced by someone skilled in evaluating tea. People continually try and find stunners by looking in cheap tea joints, the truth is you won’t find any. A real stunner sticks out with longevity, thickness, mouth and body feel, just to name a few qualities. I might be in the market for a stunner tea if I think the aging potential is there, some uncommon strength to survive the long twenty year haul.

Untouchables

Untouchable teas are frequently unmentionables, alas. Very often a friend or vendor sends me an untouchable, or shares a session, with the caveat that I do not mention the tea on my blog. Sometimes to ensure I do not discuss the tea, I am not told what the tea is. The person does not want others to know of this possession. Blogging does lend itself to more opportunities to drink or acquire this level of tea, along with a very, very healthy wallet. But blogging does not work in the way you might think. People share tea with me almost from a negative contingency. Rather than saying “oh here is a tea you might love,” the impression is “I will give you a tea that is better than what you have,” a bit of a dig suggesting my taste isn’t quite what the person thinks I possess at this stage, and a failure to appreciate on my part will prove a negative point. Perhaps my statements that I will drink anything lend itself to some collectors feeling challenged to send me a tea with grail potential.


Untouchable teas are those without real price, or undetermined price, or so high that, well, don’t ask. The teas are one of a kind, or few of a kind. You need to know someone. For certain these teas cost well over $1000 a beeng, and probably much more. Not all are completely inaccessible, however. TeaDB just reviewed a XiZhiHao this week that is probably attainable, assuming you have the cash and can find a collector willing to sell. But in the case of the review, a friend provided a single session of the tea which in itself is a generous gift. I am always on the hunt for untouchable teas.

How does one get to a place of owning better teas? Aside from the necessary disposable cash, you need to get to know tea people. You won’t find the best teas on your own, even if you travel to Yunnan. Over time you may acquire sufficient stunner teas to trade for a session of really decent tea.

Puerh Across Its Lifespan

My puerh aesthetic is all about drinking teas at various stages during the aging process to appreciate the current condition of the tea. I can taste the differences along the way, and make adjustments as needed to my crocks or move a tea out. I might decide to plastic-wrap a twenty year old tea to slow it down and preserve its current state. Others I acquired with a little dampness might need airing, which I also check. I enjoy tasting how tea changes the longer I have it in my possession. Occasionally I experiment and sometimes end up tossing a tea. All this for me is an important part of appreciating puerh tea.


I won’t be able to drink all my tea. I made plans for it when I am gone. This is the best I can do, and I am okay with what I choose to drink and stopped punishing myself for what I am not drinking up. I am also expanding my palate into drinking more white and red teas, and some oolong teas I have stored for some years. The What is a journey into my collection and beyond, and I don’t expect to find the grail.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Personal Puerh Aesthetic: a Who-What-Where-Why Consideration


Puerh collecting is a rabbit hole of a hobby, whose lemming-like labyrinthine paths toward tea greatness are never-ending tunnels in which we lose ourselves, emerging only to check the position of the sun in late winter to anticipate the coming Yunnan spring tea picking season. Oh, then we find ourselves thirsty thinking of all the rich nutrients in spring tea, or so we hope, and such cravings empty the wallet quickly. Before I know it boxes will arrive at the door, and I wonder what the heck I bought and why, asking “what were you thinking?” knowing full well craving is not the same as thinking. I think, I am puerh collector, and so I am. Perhaps considering more deeply who I am as a collector will not only inform my buying, but perhaps inform not buying, not allowing my cravings to take over my wallet. A Who-What-Where-Why Strategy is a good way for me to flush my hoarder self out into the light of day well before the first signs of spring. This post will consider who I am as a person/collector. What aspects about me personally affect my behaviors with puerh, my aesthetics, if you will?

Who: A Embarrassment of Riches

My own personal aesthetics on puerh drinking definitely have roots in my childhood food and beverage experiences. Specifically, how I approach puerh now probably relates to my father’s foodie tendencies. One might forgive him his approach. Dad attended a seminary school on a poor boy’s scholarship not long after the great War. He starved his way through eight years of seminary and then three years of law school. His stories were filled with bad food, too little food, stealing sugar and ketchup packets from the cafeterias to fill in his stomach beyond the one meal a day he received for years.

Understandably then, my father was obsessed with food. He spent money on little else, and he spent riches. Dad would not accept a meal of a casserole, or something cooked by a child, no, it needed to be rich meat, and the best meat. Not t-bone steaks, but filet minon tenderloins, individually wrapped and ordered from specialty food companies. Not pork chops or lamp chops, but whole pigs and lambs purchased from farm children at the local fair and Dad made sure to overpay so those kids had money in their pockets for college.


Toward his food efforts, Dad bought a fishing boat on Lake Superior, and a hobby farm for growing acres of fresh vegetables and fruit trees. He stopped his car next to canning factory fields and ran us in to grab up armfuls of pea and bean vines filled with pods. He stopped food semi-truck drivers at the bar. Not Maine lobsters, but rock lobster tails ordered from South Africa. Not Gulf crab, but King Crab from Alaska. Not chicken, but duck and goose. Never carp or cod, but fresh Lake Superior Lake Trout and wild-caught salmon. He left behind guns and fishing poles.

“Your dad didn’t own much stuff,” my stepmother said after his death. “He spent his money on food.” Well, and drink too, we cannot forget that. Both killed him early.



All this of course affected me in ways that are not socially acceptable to discuss, really. Who wants to say they grew up dining on lobster tails and filet minon? Who should say that I had enough of steak at age eighteen never to want to eat it ever again? I sound ungrateful if I say I went from a childhood of rich food to preferring simple vegan food for many years, and an interest in world cuisines just to balance out what I grew up eating, when anyone might give their left arm to dine as I did as a child. Even as a nun I could not get away. Dad called me up.

“Go down to Reinhart’s Foods, there is a box for you,” Dad said.

The box contained more special order filet minons and lobster tails, and crab. None of the nuns knew how to cook these things, and they were so pleased and ignored my embarrassment. We were supposed to be poor and eat simply. Dad even sent a microwave to every convent house I lived in. I swallowed my embarrassment because I knew Dad thought I might starve as he had done. He did all that because of his Who-What-Where-Why, and who in their right minds wouldn’t want the best of the best?


So of course this carries over into my puerh collecting. I want to know what the best puerh tea leaf is. I will pay ridiculous sums for the best tea, and yet at the same time I appreciate a craft product, stemming back to the vegetable and canning days Dad put us through, just to make sure we had plenty of the fresh stuff. Dinner started out early with hors d’oeuvres of fresh caught same-day fish filets and fresh veggies, and then we ate a large meal at seven. I was pairing food and drinks and learned the beverage order before I learned algebra, and bought alcohol starting at age ten. What are kids for, after all? We always had guests too.

I approach puerh as a digestif, probably a substitute for the cognac and single malt after-dinner drink set. Green tea started out for me as a way to keep my kidneys running, but so very natural to migrate on to the single malts of puerh tea as a way to end a fine day, and the occasional bender over night, because what else did I see growing up? Drunk people on the rug, passed out from too much good food. A reader told me “you seem to have farm and city sophistication, but you really can’t have both.” That person didn’t know my dad, because he had both and I got both. He was a farm boy, after all.


I had an embarrassment of riches growing up, and so today I am embarrassed at the riches of my tea collection. I am definitely the after-dinner drinker like my father, and he passed on his aesthetic to me. In the next post, I will consider the What of my tea drinking, that is, what I prefer to drink. Perhaps you may wish to reflect along, and consider how you formed your own approach to drinking puerh tea.



Thursday, November 22, 2018

Notable Teas

As Black Friday approaches, I push myself to brew up a few teas I purchased this year, but didn't have time to write up before. Hopefully, a couple of quick jottings will suffice, for these teas are well worth the attention.

2017 Nannuo Mini-Mushrooms by Crimson Lotus Tea

I purchased these earlier in the year, probably 6-7 months ago and stored them in a vintage Ball jar. Every so often I gave them a sniff. They are four grams each, making a nice size for those tiny teapots everyone has. I started with a cold rinse and two quick boiling rinses.

Nannuo Mini-Mushroom, my own Ball Jar with sticker
The material here is notable in that multiple years of tea were combined, some vintage tea included is apparently as old as twenty. The vintage material is what attracted me to the tea, as I like my shou older than ten if possible. I brewed in a Lin's Ceramics blue glazed teapot. 

This tea is nothing short of a revelation. Brewing hard and thick, the first 5-6 steepings taste like candy nuggets were soaked in vanilla and rolled in cocoa. I don't often find the chocolate and vanilla notes that others taste in shou, but here these flavors are unmistakable. Pile notes are only slight, this tea is as sweet as cake, and sits in the heart chakra with happiness. I must be truly happy, because I picked up the crusty soaking meatloaf pan on the stove I was avoiding til later and scrubbed it right up.

Early steeps have a slight astringency which turns to juicy when the vanilla begins to fade. Then I can taste the storage, a whiff of old buildings, reminding me of the old tunnels under the convent. The presence of ancient Illuminati confirmed. The tea starts to die out around ten steepings, but what a session! The mushrooms can be had at about a dozen for under $20. Not cheap shou, but affordable in small quantity. I should never publish these words, I should hoard this tea to which in the offing, virgins with lamps lit run.

Bulk starting at $17.99/50g crimsonlotustea.com

2015 Poundcake 2 Unreleased by white2tea

Remember the long-sold-out 2015 Poundcake, with its floral candy-like sweetness? Yes, the one we got in tea club in butt-plug form. This year, white2tea released a second version of this tea on the down-low, to tea shops only. You cannot buy it on the white2tea website, although I cannot vouch for whether bribing the owner will get you one. I do know that Macha Tea Company in Madison, WI has it, and will ship by the ounce or whole beeng. 

Poundcake 2 Unreleased
photo by machateacompany.com
I got to try this in the shop over the summer, at a delightful session with tea blogger Rambling Butterfly, who opted for another tea of her choice while I manned my own gongfu teapot. Poundcake 2 has a more traditional wood smoke processing, rather like Chawangshop's campfire version of the Lao Yu teas. Consequently the tea has a darker, more smoky incense quality and I have to say I like it better than the original Poundcake. The flavor profile has a fuller bass note that the fresher, more spring-like original lacks. 

I can see why white2tea did not offer this on the website, the original Poundcake was a popular seller, and people who liked that tea might be disappointed at a traditional version. However, people preferring a traditional olde tyme factory religion Yiwu will like this. 

Bulk by the ounce, or $80/200g + shipping, Macha Tea Company machateaco@gmail.com, Phone (01) 608.283.9286

Guangxi-Style Liu Bao by Essence of Tea

People ask me where to buy good heicha, and Essence of Tea has the most intriguing selection at the moment. EoT sources in Malaysia and currently offers not one, but two 1950s aged Liu Bao teas. While these antique teas will set my wallet back into the Dark Ages, EoT has some less expensive  "younger" offerings such as 1990s, and a curious "Betel Nut" which will give anyone new to Liu Bao a taste of the nutty flavor prized in this type of tea.

First steeping
Liu Bao is first briefly oxidized like red tea, and then pile fermented for about ten days or so. After that, the loose tea is traditionally packed in baskets for aging, or pressed into bricks such as the Three Cranes brand does. This tea I own was passed to me by a tea friend. It has the usual flavors of red tea, shou, betel nut and a tangy zip on the tongue that a lively Liu Bao gives, and settles the stomach after a heavy meal. The chunk in the photo forms during piling or later in the basket. This Liu Bao is on the youngish side still, with dry storage. I got five good steepings, which is typical. 

While aged Liu Bao isn't cheap, the prices are a bargain compared to similarly aged puerh, and a good way to get a taste of antique tea for me of modest means. 

Selections of Liu Bao, bulk prices starting at $5,Three-Leaf Liu Bao $5.40, essenceoftea.com