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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Whatever Happened to Bad Tea? A Return to the Outlaw

"Outlaw" Banzhangy-Yiwu-ey--I ain't what I claim to be tea.
Hard to believe this blog is now in a fifth year, though as I predicted at the very beginning, health and medications take a toll on my tea drinking. Today I am glad for the chugging years, all too often now puerh gets replaced by hongcha in my daily cup, yet on the bright side I have some hongs that are worth getting up for. Poor old Lu Yu, he knows that the greatest pleasure on earth is tea drinking, he has no need of it now, but if he has any remaining consciousness I am certain he misses it. Looking back on my older posts, I decided to revisit one of the teas I wrote about very early on. Let’s see how it is doing.

My intention when buying this beeng on eBay was to try and find the worst possible tea, to acquire a bad tea for my collection because everything else I own is so good that surely I am missing out. I failed miserably on this attempt to buy a bad beengcha, others have acquitted themselves admirably in the same task. 

After my August 2014 blog post on this “Overlord Drunk” tea, I tossed this tea into crock storage not long after spending some time in a pumidor I had then. The problem with this tea is the double wrappers were made of rather inexpensive paper which did not stay wrapped up, as rag paper will. Very quickly the wrappers got messed and started shredding, and loose tea began to flake off the stone pressed disk. On top of this, I noticed a somewhat smoky quality to the processing and decided to try and work this out by breaking up the tea into a crock. Thus, this tea made of probably autumn material from 2008-2011 or thereabouts spent about 4 years in a Haeger stoneware “cookie jar.” I tried to get some photos. 


Somebody did not want to move, and hard to blame him given the last few warm summer days when I took these photos (mid-September).



Okay one more for the too-cute factor. 


Winston is my 2 ½ year old orphan kitten who still wants me to hand feed him on occasion. Despite that, he is quite the hunter with some astonishing kills on his CV. He doesn’t like petting beyond a head scritch or two, so I think the very occasional hand feeding is his way of getting some emotional interaction with me.

Here is the original photo of the beeng hole side back from 2014.



Today, the tea looks like this.

Broken up beeng from stoneware jar.
The first thing I notice is the oxidation or browning that has occurred during crock storage, especially on the buds which were silvery white before. This is a stage that happens with any tea stored well. Basically the tea begins to lose color just as fall leaves do, although this is not really much “change,” the chlorophyll simply dies out. Fully oxidized tea is of course hongcha. The cell walls of the tea are loosening up some on this Outlaw tea, which admittedly did have some oxidized leaves on the edges of the beeng to begin with. This explains somewhat the orange color the of the brew back in 2014, and now.

A chunk from the pile, starting to turn brown.
People sometimes confuse oxidation with solid state fermentation, equating the two. Oxidation is a stage that happens most visibly in the first few years in both wet and dry storage. Oxidation is also a problem prior to retail if the tea sat too long before chaqing, or the chaqing was under done (and of course the tea will be sold anyway). But solid state fermentation of puerh tea takes two decades, unless one wets down the tea and quick-ferments into shou. A year, or even four years of storage, no matter how you store the tea is just an oxidation phase, with the tea slowly loosening its walls. The actual fermentation of yeasts and much later the conversion of juices from bitter to sweet are very slow after that. The browning on my cake is really just the start of fifteen more years to go.

Another reason I chose to revisit this tea now is because the origins are similar, in my mind, to the Dark Forest and Yiwu Spotlight which I reviewed in the previous post. The flavor profile is virtually identical, and the color of the brew too. But the eBay tea is much less powerful than the others, a weaker sibling. I brewed this tea in Yixing to duplicate how I brewed it for the older post.

Second steeping, rather orange like the Yiwu-region teas from previous post.
Far from a “bad” tea, I notice how much more thick the brew is now, motor oil thick with fuzzies in the strainer from the buds. The profile is a bit monotonous, lightly bitter and the oiliness settles the bitterness firmly onto the tongue which takes fifteen minutes to resolve into sweetness. Pleasant enough light apricot yogurt. I have to push the tea from the start to get what I consider a nice strong cup, at least 20-30 seconds. I went six steepings and you can see from the leaves they are nowhere near unfurled yet. 

Sixth steep, this tea has nice thickness, but not a whole lot else.
Maybe I am unfair, but like before this guy just doesn’t have what it takes to satisfy me. The tea is basically an experiment and nothing I hope to turn into anything. 


Steeped leaves in 2014.
I cannot fail to note that while the leaves may be less powerful than I would like, the leaf quality is such that the tea would cost far more now. The tea is still available in sample bags, the beengcha have sold out. Of course the price is higher too, but not ridiculous.

Steeped leaves from today, my sunny window
surely washes out the color a little.
Perhaps I will check this one again someday. In the summer it gets the heat and humidity my three-season porch provides, and I remove the lid on hot days, and replace it for any cold or rainy weather. In winter, I wipe the inner lid with a damp paper towel to add a bit of moisture. In the past few years we have had hot, humid summers and humid autumn and spring too, so I have not added moisture quite as much. My teas are still holding quite a bit of moisture through the winter. Fingers crossed, as always.


Friday, September 21, 2018

2015 Dark Forest vs 2018 Yiwu Spotlight

2015 Dark Forest
Four years into puerh blogging and I am only getting round to Tea Urchin now. This feels like a bit of an oversight on my part, but no reason for it other than my tea dollars only stretch so far. Other teas are simply more in my face for various reasons, and with some regret, as I have had my eye on several Tea Urchin offerings. Although I have a few samples in my possession from Tea Urchin acquired mostly through swaps or tea friend donations, the 2015 Dark Forest beeng is my first purchase from this company. Waiting too long now has priced a few intriguing teas well beyond where they once were. For example, Tea Urchin still has a 2010 Chen Sheng Yi Hao tea, which is now just brushing $200 for a healthy 400g beeng, but was half that only a couple years ago. I rather liked the strength in that tea, but it is another animal altogether from Tea Urchin’s own Dark Forest offering.

Photographed next to a daylight-filled window.
Back in 2015, word of mouth on Dark Forest was a bit muted, and Mr. Tomek’s notes are similar to what I heard from other puerh fans. So I hesitated, and in the meantime nearly $20 got added onto the 200g beeng. Again, I have no excuse really because I certainly dropped cash on pricier teas since then, except perhaps that the opportunities to buy puerh have vastly expanded and some tend to grab more attention. What got me finally is a tea friend who bought Dark Forest a few years ago, recently tried it again and said she likes it far better now, that the tea has changed from a greener profile to deeper notes. Well, before the price goes over that $100 mark, which it will, I decided I should buy one. 

Definitely a traditional pressing.
I let my beeng sit a month in my hothouse summer porch setting, and maybe the recent rains added moisture because now the beeng is a bit big for its box, having swelled some. Tea Urchin is located in Shanghai, and assuming the teas are stored there, we have far more humid storage there than Kunming. My ex takes the train from Hefei to Shanghai regularly, and I envy what could have been my chance to maybe meet up with folks like Belle and Eugene for tea.


Have you noticed that everyone has a so-called “secret forest” tea lately? The garden nobody else seems to access or know about. I tend to take all this with a grain of salt, except that Belle is a professional in the Chinese tea industry. Tea Urchin is not an outfit of greenish westerners with backpacks on bikes. The only advice I give myself about secret gardens is to look at photos carefully, because if the trees look a bit picked over, it’s a clue for thought. I have a secret watermelon garden and still kids steal my melons. At any rate, the Dark Forest garden is supposedly between Bohetang and Wangong. Tea Urchin also produced a Gedeng tea in 2015, so thereabouts in the general region they found the leaf for this production.

Second steeping.
My tasting of this tea rather reminds me more of a spicy Youle profile, the nose is brown sugar and my first steeping of 6g in about 90 ml yields initial notes of orange chocolate, light apricots similar to Manzhuan, and a warm nutmeg finish in the throat which turns cooling a few steeps in. The leaves are a nice mix of larger leaf with small furry buds.

Two-leaf one bud picking.
The liquor is notable with an amber color, usually this is a rare color to see so early, but I notice a couple of leaves in the mix which look either a wild purple or outright oxidized, either of which could contribute to the color. Drinking as hot as possible off the boil gives me the chocolate and nutmeg notes before the bitterness kicks in. Cooling the tea leads to a very bitter profile that turns sweet and cool in the back of the mouth. The pour looks thicker than the sip feels.

The tea gives me more clarity of vision rather than a strong “body feel,” however the tea sits warm in the tummy for more than an hour afterward. After about four steepings the astringency kicks in for me. Maybe waiting a bit for the tea to settle in Shanghai was a good idea after all. I am glad for the bitterness and more traditional flavor as a base, over which I can find those spicy chocolate notes, the tea has strength which should hold up. This tea is far more cleanly processed than some factory teas I own with a similar profile. The yun is impressive even in late steepings, though some sourness shows up too, as can happen with Yiwu region teas after a few years. Plenty to give even after ten steepings, and just enough of the spice left to maintain some interest.

Placing the tea in my interests, based on what I already own, and what is on the market, this one is probably a bit underpriced now. I forgo linking the tea for you so the vendor does not notice an uptick in specific traffic, and people start saying “blogger effect.” This tea really isn’t traditional honey and wood Yiwu, it leans more Youle/Manzhuan and appears honestly uncultivated. So, the tea is twice the price of a basic garden Yiwu. If one cannot buy into super premium Yiwu, and wants something rather better than the $40-50/200g tea garden beeng, this one has much more complexity and lingering body/throat presence.

If these leaves were new this year, I feel fairly certain the cake would cost more in the $150-200 range. As for aging, uncultivated tea is rather uncertain, but buying a cake is probably not an aging project. A 200g beeng is only 25-30 sessions and likely to get consumed unless one tongs it. Dark Forest has an oddball potential: it awaits a particular someone who likes the yun and knows what the tea would cost now, who falls in love with it and buys it all up. I guess that’s a way of saying someone with a more experienced taste and owns tea already will buy this up, someone who whimsy buys a whole harvest, as opposed to people relying on others for “what should I buy?”

2018 Yiwu “Spotlight” Maocha

Last year I accepted some teas from yiwumountaintea.com, and decided after trying them that the reasonably priced and rather generous Yiwu sampler pack was worth a consideration. That pack sold out. This company has more sampler packs this year, but they cost more and contain less tea. I did not get asked whether I wanted to try 2018 teas, the vendor emailed me that he’d already sent a box. Blogging does bring welcome teas along with a bit of hostage-taking.

Beautiful long leaves.
Who is this vendor? This is another married-couple-vendor situation where the wife is from Yunnan and whose father, you can guess, is the tea pro. The vendor claims to make connections via father-in-law and then chooses to pay a “premium price” to sources to prevent them from selling elsewhere. That premium price, and then more pricing, all get passed on to buyers. Some of the teas on the site are sticker-shock. The Tongqinghe wrappers are found on very fine and not-so-fine wholesale teas, which creates a question of where the tea comes from and how it differs, or maybe just how certain wrappers get on teas. Scrutinizing vendors nowadays goes into a rabbit hole of more questions than answers. Suffice to say, we now have three or four married couple vendors to choose from, with father-in-law involvement now a meme. I am not questioning this vendor as such, but I am aware that I have no way of checking on any details. The vendor is in Guangzhou, in case anyone is able to check via local selling.

I received one 2018 “Yiwu Spotlight gushu,” a 2012 “Yiwu gushu,” and a 2017 “Yiwu gushu ripe brick” sample. Obviously these are impressive titles, and for now I can try the 2018. If the other two stick out in a particular way, I might post them on Instagram. The yiwumountaintea site overall is super expensive, and likely to appeal only to a small group of buyers who can afford these prices. Most people who read this blog are looking for more affordable choices, but from what I gather this vendor sells more locally.

Second steeping.
The 2018 Spotlight Maocha sample is from a 2 kg total loose purchase and is sold in 50g increments for $18.86. This is comparable, price-wise, with the Dark Forest in 2015 puerh dollars. However you can only buy loose leaf which makes storage a bit of a challenge.  I brewed up the entire sample in one go so I didn’t need to worry about keeping it. The result was probably rather strong compared to how most people might choose to consume the tea. In fact, probably a western steep of a pinch of this tea is enough for most people.

The 8th steeping, tea much more yellow now.
Overall I found the tea is on point price-wise, if a bit overhyped in the description. The early steeps had a sour note, no doubt in part due to my keeping the tea in the bag for most of the summer. I noted a burnt brown sugar profile, and like the Dark Forest this tea steeped up dark early on but unlike Dark Forest the brew lightened up to a honey yellow later on. I got quite a caffeine bump from the tea, and it mainly sits in the stomach. Because of going heavy on the tea leaf I had quite a bitter cup of tea. I’m glad I kept going past the early sour brews to enjoy more of the brown sugar along with a tomato vine green tea flavor in later steeps. Thickness was not that impressive, but in a drinker quality tier I hope for a good 8-10 steepings and an enjoyable but not necessarily unique experience.

The reality with Yiwu area teas is that we have the choice of going super premium house-payment-priced teas and then…everything else. Most people have or want at least some Yiwu teas in their collection. Dark Forest sticks out a bit more from the crowd for me, but otherwise you can find decent drinking Yiwu from a number of vendors such as Bitterleaf’s much less expensive yearly Yiwu cake, or white2tea’s former Diving Duck production for example. One can easily acquire Bitterleaf’s Yiwu just as an add-on with a teaware purchase. I’m just not sure I can find reason to pay more for new Yiwu unless I want to really bump up higher to a much more premium quality elsewhere.



Tuesday, August 21, 2018

They are Out to Get Us


I hardly sleep at night on the best of days, and last night I got red eye after making the mistake of trying to read the New York Times to pass the time. This is a habit I absolutely must quit, but in the meantime check out the newest of horrors about to descend on us import law abiding puerh drinkers. A couple of years ago we had the “soapy artichoke lady” to contend with, now we have the genetic food researchers coming for us. In an article titled “Your Spit Might Help You Learn to Eat Your Greens,” assistant food science professor Cordelia Running, PhD from Purdue looks at the ability to taste bitter foods, and supposedly discovered a way to force us to endure bitter foods.

Even though the Purdue research is done on rats, all this is based on the newest genetic DNA studies from places like 23andMe collecting spit from people to supposedly track their ancestry, which includes the possibility of having one, two or three bitter taste detector genes. You know where all that data collection is going because the founder of 23andMe is married to a Google spouse, and selling the data is the whole idea. But never mind that, the point here is that the ability to taste bitter flavors is tied to how many of these genes you actually have, adaptations really, intended to help humans detect and avoid poisons such as in mushrooms or your Carbolic Soap wielding neighbor like myself. The variability in how many gene strands you have to taste bitter explains why someone like me is pounding the sofa in pain from the 2008 Haiwan LBZ and some other blogger writes on Steepster “this tea hardly has any bitterness to speak of.”

But Dr. Running found out if she feeds cocoa to her rats that saliva can change to interpret bitter as sweet. “Bitter taste tends to be rejected,” she says in the article, “but this is something you might be able to change about yourself biologically.” 

No, bitter taste is not really rejected as we know. The scary part: the goal of this whole project now is, you guessed it, to do more studies, and next up we have

"The researchers hope to try future studies with something even less tasty to drink. Eventually, Dr. Running said, the idea would be to study of whether the effect crosses over to other foods: could regular doses of cocoa, for example, “make a really bitter terrible-tasting tea taste better?" [Ibid]

I will leave it to the social science people to pull apart the conclusion that society wants poor people on food stamps to eat more veggies and this is the way to get that to happen while lowering the amount of food stamps at the same time. My job is to point out the obvious, for what is a “really bitter terrible-tasting tea?” Can you think of any other than puerh? Didn’t think so.

Regular doses of cocoa, people.

Now we have government funding involved, and that always goes nowhere good. We know what is next up in the water supply real soon. Keep in mind this cocoa will be American cocoa, at this idea our European friends will stop reading right now and hop a train to Brussels. That’s all they need to hear to start a good protest, but the rest of the world likely requires things spelled out a bit more.

For those boutique people enjoying their fresh “oolonged” puerh, the whole world government idea here is that leftover summer tonnage is coming your way and the good stuff cordoned off forever from your grasp, and to accept it without complaint you will chew your Hershey’s unsweetened, brew it from the brown water tap and expect to cut it in your lamb chop too because you know it’s going in the feed supply. Get out that spoon, because cocoa is the new quinine for tea rickets.

Now, don’t think you factory pu preferring peeps are off the hook here. That summer tonnage is coming for you too, and gone are the days you will care to age anything. You won’t find aged tea to buy from Taiwan anymore, because who needs the actual basement when you can drink sheng right from the factory, and the whole point is so you can taste your vegetables? Well, and of course the teapals will still pay over $1k for the privilege of “whatever” because you won’t taste the difference.

Really what’s happening is all the good spring tea can just disappear because we won’t be able to taste anything anyway, and we will therefore accept any new tea and people like me will probably end up writing about the wonders of Xiaguan once again, and straight off the drying rack this time. Whole categories of food go worthless when people think everything tastes like chicken, so the same happens for tea with a cocoa-numbed palate.

The real kicker is the researchers saying that in order to keep up the saliva-changing effect of cocoa, you have to keep consuming it indefinitely. This is not just an annual spring dose of de-worming, we have population change as the goal, read that last paragraph in the article carefully. You can say I am crazy, but look at the tea vendor offerings this year. We have the choice between Laoman-er and Hekai just about everywhere. Do you not see the test before us?

Many of you have done your due diligence by posting as much Laoman-e as possible on social media. PhD’s only listen to each other so don’t worry, I am all over this research which WILL be presented at the American Chemical Society this week. Researchers need to get back to normal trying to prove puerh prevents diabetes, which is supposed to keep them busy indefinitely. But I am one step from the nursing home, and soon enough I won’t be here to lay it out when we see the writing on the wall. This is the time to post the photos of your tea and vegetables and email them to Purdue. Right now I need sleep, and once I manage to get some I will be back with a new tea review and a completely revised perspective. 



Saturday, August 18, 2018

2018 Censers and 2018 Arbor Red white2tea


While I am not a frequent buyer of white teas, over the years I picked up a few cakes which promptly got lost and forgotten somewhere in my house. I cannot tell you where a single one is located at the moment, except to say I do not store them with my puerh. A few years ago, white2tea caused a stir amongst their tea club members with a sample of Aged Fuding white tea, and several of my tea friends have tried to find a similar tea ever since. I got that same club offering too. I opened the bag and thought hmmm, no…and closed it back up again. My bravery for trying aged white got lost after other sour and un-impressive examples left a rather bad taste in my mouth. I feel somewhat like I do not yet deserve to try a decent white tea, going into it with a bad bias. But because my new puerh teas are still rather wet, now is a good time to drink this new 2018 Censers white tea I got as a sample with my recent purchase from white2tea.

A lucky sample in my purchase box.
White tea offers instant gratification for a tea drinker, unlike puerh which must first sit and firm up, and then age for half a lifetime. In all its processing forms, white tea is very good new, and generally speaking a Bai Mu Dan is best in the first couple of years. However, this tea is a Bai Mu Dan grade pressed into a beeng intended for further aging. The popularity of white2tea’s pressed white cakes speaks for itself with ubiquitous sold-out signs every season. I believe that the company is definitely interested in producing with an aging focus, given the market prices for a decent aged white tea. A good aged white rewards the drinker with a wine-y mix of spices and florals, and the leaves turn into brown leather which you can boil in a pan to extract even more flavor.

The wrapper is a reference to the aromas white2tea finds in the tea, I don’t own the wrapper but it appears to be a Christianized imagination of a Jewish High Priest, from what looks like the choshen mishpat breastplate of twelve squares, but with a rather bishop-y looking hat instead of a wrapped cloth hat. Maybe this image is taken from a some old painting, I am not going to chase down where it is from. The incense idea is probably the take-away from the wrapper image.

You can see how green 2018 Censers tea is at the moment.

Very freshly pressed white tea.
By contrast, check out the Aged Fuding club tea I managed to dig up from a box of tea envelopes. This is probably the color goal some day.

A more autumnal color.
I decide to brew up just 3g in about 30 ml water. I have to say this is definitely one of the more complex white teas I have ever tried. I used water just off the boil and didn’t rinse the tea because new white tea does not need rinsing. The first three brews are bright, almost neon yellow, with a floral and spicy aroma. White tea processed this way seems to burn a little on the way down the throat like a white radish. The white tea florals are obvious notes to look for, but I got hints of green watermelon rind and dried fig rounding out the bottom. This is rather amazing for white tea which is normally somewhat a floral two-note tea for me.

Censers starts out bright yellow.
The tea darkens in yellow color on steeps 4-6, and thickens considerably, bringing out the fig and spice a bit more. I struggle a bit with steeping the next few, the brew remains thick but the money steeps seem to be the earlier ones. 

Pretty in the gaiwan.
The tea fades somewhat into a greenish floral at this point. The leaves are very leathery already, suggesting a boil might be in order.

Tea thickens and gets a little darker steeps 4-6.
When boiling the tea, I am rewarded with a much darker brown brew that tastes more like diet cola in melted ice water. 

Wow, quite a change from yellow to brown after boiling.
This tea definitely could be boiled more than once, but I think the best days for boiling are further down the road when the tea ages and the flavors gel together more. At that point I would expect deeper wine flavors, spicy fruitcake and the radish to show up more in later steepings than they are now.

Leftover leaf might have more to boil out.
This tea is not a caffeine bomb for me, but I can feel the spicy radish in my chest as I often do with white teas like this, and a mineral aftertaste which may change in character in a few months. I need to try this tea again sometime over the winter. Right now I am sweating from a combination of the weather and boiling water.

I am not the best judge of white teas, and I look forward to a more seasoned palate person taking this one on, such as OolongOwl. I am also not the best at brewing white tea. This is a very rewarding tea in the money steeps, however. Yet if I go for a white tea purchase, I might pony up for the just slightly more expensive 2018 Arbor White and get something with a bit more body feel.

With puerh prices so high this year, if I am budget-conscious I’d rather have a super nice white tea at this price point instead of buying a wet-stored mediocre drinker puerh just to find something easy to drink. For that matter, I would rather have a decent hongcha and did just that by purchasing the 2018 Arbor Red. I know for a fact I will drink up any and all hongcha that arrives in my house, and having consumed all the Big Red I purchased from white2tea a couple of years ago, I am well overdue for another hong purchase. With my Censers sampling out of the way, I feel warmed up for something more hard-hitting.

2018 Arbor Red


2018 Arbor Red comes sealed in a white envelope.
For the record, 2018 Arbor Red is not the most expensive hong I have bought from white2tea. I’d say white2tea’s Xigui hongcha ringing in at $1/g cost me more. I still have not opened that pricey tin, obviously I am hoarding for no good reason. That tea came with a buyer/seller “contract” in blood to gong-fu and not western steep. 

Very nice touch, the addition of a cloth-like inner wrapper.
Outer wrappers get wrecked so quickly...
This Arbor Red claims to contain old arbor large leaf puerh with serious-sounding effects in the description. At $0.43/g this is not cheap hongcha, but it’s not in the hoarding price range of the Xigui, so I am expecting some fun over the next year with this baby.

Does the neifei really say "fuck the fakes"?
I think so...
Arbor Red arrives in a sealed white envelope in the box for a reason. Opening it up, I am bombed with the strongest odor of hongcha I have ever smelled in my life. I also had a tong of puerh in the box, this Arbor Red would have tainted my tong for all time in shipping had it not been duly sequestered. The cake is really fresh which is probably why it is so strong-smelling right now, I am reminded of the day I steamed apart my 100g beeng of Drunk on Red, which was Feng Qing material and now, alas, completely consumed. I plan to hang on to the envelope to keep in the wonderfully intense aroma in this Arbor Red tea, and plastic bagging on top of that just for more insurance. (note to curly: I’m pretty sure your wife will not let this in the house.)

The tea is slightly greenish, with varying shades of brown.
The tea is strongly compressed and requires an ice pick to break some off. If this tightens up any more I might need a saw, but right now going in through the beenghole works. Thankfully someone sent me a stronger tea pick recently. I break off 3g and brew in 30ml of water, the first steepings need more time because of the compression, I start at 4 minutes, 3 minutes, then 2 and I can do 15 seconds after that, no strainer, I plan to pour back the stray bits. No wasting leaf…

The last somewhat nice photo of this post.
Okay. I am typing and deteriorating rapidly. The tea hits me with fresh tobacco, tannins, and heavy honnggg oak barrel. Drinking as hot as possible sears the throat like a shot of bourbon and Virginia cigar. Face melting after two steepings.  The tea sits in the throat and gut like hard likker, I know I won’t be drinking this in the morning with milk and meds. In fact, this could interact with meds in ways I might regret. However, the tea may calm down more over a year or so into a gentler sibling, but I can definitely tell this is puerh leaf. The empty cup smells mineral-ly like a screen porch after a rain or a wet tool box.

The remainders of a babbling fool.
I can drink this and never need to see people ever again. Arbor Red is a tea for the guy who doesn’t change his underwear until spring and roasts squirrel on a spit. Or the momma who hits fast pitch hard past third. Well, Arbor Red is for the type of person who won’t be buying Censers, I feel fairly certain about that.

After steep 8 or so I need to add much more time to get me a heavy brew, but now I am getting the sweeter aftertaste in the mouth, hints of dark chocolate. Yunnan leaf red teas usually have malty chocolate notes, although they usually don’t hit like a truck the way this tea does, making me think pancakes and bacon while laughing at my own internal dialogue.

I know I can get more out of this tea than the nine gong-fu steepings so far, but I want to move on to the boil. I add a lot of water to my 3g of leaf compared to the white tea I boiled earlier. 

I added a ridiculous amount of water here, filling the pot.
While I’m awaiting the pot to boil, I realize I am overdosed on the heavy body feel of this tea combined with the caffeine. The white tea earlier surely contributed a little, but five hours have passed since then.

After about 3 minutes of boiling pot likker.
(3:45 a.m. I go across the street and order a chicken sandwich with chips. While waiting for the cook, I see bottles of Gold Peak Unsweetened tea in the cooler, 10.5 ounces for $1.89. I feel smugly satisfied that my Arbor Red session at home cost $1.29, that full beer mug by itself in the kitchen is 12 oz. My leaves are not even done yet. I can boil them up again later.)

Fruit jar of fun.
Maybe down the road as this tea settles it will fade in the fresh tobacco notes and move the dessert chocolate forward, but I hope not. I don’t have another red tea with this profile, and I am not a huge fan of super sweet Yunnan dessert style teas. Arbor Red is a unique savory addition to my collection.

The best reason to do a red/white tea session side by side is to figure out which kind of drinker I am. (As if I don’t know that already). White2tea makes a white tea processed version of this same leaf. Forget that, I’m sure it’s just as good in its way but is better to leave that one to others who really dig the lighter and more subtle flavors. I can’t afford a whole tong of this, and that would be piggy of me. But I went ahead and bought one more for the long winter.




Thursday, August 2, 2018

2018 (It is Damn) Splendid

2018 Splendid by white2tea
When I first started writing this blog back in 2014, I knew very few people aside from myself drinking puerh tea. Of course, many people drink puerh, but at that time I drank my tea mostly in isolation. I had maybe two or three friends online I chatted with about puerh. We had one rather huge thing in common, which is that we had the money to buy any tea we wanted. Even as my online tea buddies expanded, along with a few I met in real life, I existed in a tea bubble of sorts. Sure, we could gripe about the money we spent, how expensive good tea is, but for the most part purchase prices were a matter of choice.

Just over a year ago I wrote a post called “How Can I Afford this Hobby?” out of my growing awareness that not only were prices of tea going up, but a significant group of tea buyers wanted to purchase puerh tea and really needed budget options. Over the past year since writing that post, I watched week after week as it got more page views than any other non-current post on my blog. The number of page views on “How Can I Afford this Hobby?” now dwarfs all of my past posts except for those on storage (after all, everyone into puerh needs to think about storage). Thousands and thousands of page views speak for themselves. We have a significant group of tea shoppers who need budget puerh tea options.

I have to show off the new gooseneck water boiler I will use
for my tiny gaiwan here. This is actually meant for
single-cup drip coffee water, but who cares?
"Miyacoffee" Natural Wood 400 ml kettle.
Made in Japan. About $44, ships free, eBay
The oft-repeated sage advice from bloggers, I among them, is to save money toward better teas rather than loading up on drinkers. But what if one’s savings do not add up to a “better” tea over the course of a year? What if you have $5 a month to put toward tea? That’s $60. Does $60 buy a markedly better tea than $50 (my budget challenge in the aforementioned post)? Honestly, the answer probably is that we need to compare specific teas rather than draw a general conclusion, because comparing two teas might indeed stand out with one better than the other. At the same time, in the budget tea category, one can bide time to compare samples and wait for word of mouth, while the choices sell out before deciding. After all, the decision between two budget teas is not as stark as a budget tea compared with a pricey tea.

Miyaco uses 18/8 Stainless steel for the interior.
You can get a Miyaco tea kettle which is larger, but costs much more.
Yet I believe tea vendors are paying attention. I can still find teas under $0.40/g that I feel are worth a try. Many of the teas I suggested in that past blog post are still available. As for this year, I decided to order a few budget options from vendors rather than starting out with the pricey stuff. I did not order anything from white2tea’s 2017 line-up, aside from the excellent We Go High, which is actually an autumn 2016 tea. I sort of took a pass on last year’s lineup, so this year I bought two budget options straight out of the gate.

The 2018 Splendid gets me excited because of the price, $28/200g. That’s $0.14/g. Along with that, the old lady on the wrapper might resemble me, except she actually resembles Abe Lincoln in the face. Probably the suggestion here is a stingy old biddy. I actually like this tea.


I brewed a small amount of this because I know it’s still wettish, using 3g/30 ml (filled gaiwan less than half full). Why waste tea on a session when the tea will tighten up and change a bit over the next year? I can see the greenish cast to the brew, although it’s surprisingly yellow already. The leaves are smallish in this, including some small huang pian leaves. The description promises some decent huigan and delivers this in spades on the first five brews.

Second steep, still has greenish cast of fresh tea.
Initial aroma going in is vanilla caramel in aged oak, followed up with a daisy stem/tomato vine greenish weedy flavor, common to puerh teas when this green and wet. The first steepings coat the mouth, tongue, throat and I feel it in the stomach. Steeps 3 and 4 pour thicker and the thickness continues until I stop at steep 10. Heavy bitter tongue and mouth coating, throat vapor. Some mild face-numbing and munchies after four steepings.

The remarkable aspect of this tea is the lingering mouth coating, especially as the tea gets more oily in the pour on steeps 3-6. Alas, this slowly dissipates after steep 6 or so, but the tea still retains some bitterness and caramel huigan. The caramel seems to wind around my teeth that have gaps in between, the tea is a bit chewy. While this isn’t super premium gushu (did you expect that for the price??), this is quite nice for a super-budget tea. I can find plenty of super budget teas, but I don’t remember any with this kind of mouth coating bitter vine and chewy caramel. It’s ridiculous.

Steep 10, the greenish cast brewed out.
I definitely feel this tea in my stomach, but for me it’s soft and leads to munchies, but I am not sure about those who have stomach issues with fresh tea. I am fairly confident in my 10 steepings on just 3g wet so far. Yet I have some concern that the leaves are smallish and thin. Will this tea hold up to hard aging? Unless I plan to drink this now… if I live in hot hurricane Florida, I am thinking this tea will get overwhelmed fairly quickly. Of course I’m drinking this wet already, maybe it will tighten up some. If I live in Florida, I’d look elsewhere for something bitter, smoky and Menghai-ish plantation for the price.

But I don’t live in Florida, and Splendid might be good for pumidor type storage where tea ages slowly and doesn’t lose the top notes. Maybe this is a tea for more temperate climates. TwoDog is crazy. What is he thinking selling such a nice tea for $28? This is Chawangshop pricing, not white2tea pricing.

“Glad you like it. I feel the same, was just aiming to make a few decent teas that don’t break the bank.”

Thank you, this is a vendor paying attention. I know other vendors are paying attention, too. I see budget choices everywhere this year, and rumors are that some vendors are pressing more ripe as a way to counter the high prices of premium raw. More than anything I would like to punish this tea with some aging, and so I plan to buy more for aging and comparison with a control. I need a couple more of these for sure. Or maybe a tong. A tong gives me five potential experiments.

If I have to recommend budget teas, right now I’d suggest this Splendid for fresh, and the 2005 CNNP Big Yellow Mark at Yunnan Sourcing for a more aged choice.

Just because I’m cheeky, I had to ask TwoDog about that $200 Dancong Oolong beeng. What the hell is up with that tea? Carbolic Soap...I have that in my cupboard and use it to poison my neighbors.

“It’s sort of just what that level of Dancong costs. I think Puer is still a better deal than most high end teas. I mean compared to the high quality oolongs out there, Puer is still sort of a bargain somehow.”