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The Very Limited T-Shirt for Cwyn's Tea Fund

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Puerh Rescue Dot Org

As we approach the end of 2017, now is the time to turn to the dark side of collecting and storing puerh tea and ask for your aid, dear friends. During this holiday season I cannot help but think of all the neglected, harassed and abused puerh tea in the world. A problem of this proportion surely merits the full-time attention of dedicated volunteers, and I am here to be just that: a volunteer on behalf of the silently suffering puerh teas at the mercy of abusive owners.

The real nature of this problem is hardly exposed at all to date. In fact, most discussions are so careful to avoid offending others that abusers go free amongst most well-meaning puerh tea forums. People are quick to jump on anyone viewed as too “aggressive” or “direct.” In this type of passive tea audience, puerh tea suffers abuses of all kinds every single day. Let us look at some of abuses going on right now.


A puerh tea is a living thing, and it has feelings. How would you feel left to dry and suffer in a too-cold and too-dry environment? Or overheated and literally composting, unable to breathe, in conditions too hot, too stifling and without air or water? Everywhere teas are left to slowly die in cardboard boxes and paper bags. All of these things are happening on a daily basis around the world by abusers out of sheer neglect.


Verbal abuse toward puerh tea is all too common. Factory teas are insulted constantly by comparison to so-called “boutique teas.” Profiling is rife amongst harassers. The very nature of factory teas is insulted with words like “chopped,” “funky, “charred” or “smoky” even when puerh tea cannot possibly smoke! I have even heard factory tea called “too highly compressed” of all things, when everyone knows most puerh teas when treated appropriately and with respect in the storage workplace turn out just fine, and even become valuable teas fifty years on.

Boutique teas are also subject to inappropriate and humiliating harassment every single day. Common aggressive insults like “blended,”or “single estate” insult the very hometowns these teas come from. The worst insults relate to a puerh’s color, a quality it perhaps cannot help, with derogatory terms like “purple tea,” and “oolonged.” Can you imagine a human being referred to as “oolonged?” Well then, imagine how the tea feels.


This almost unmentionable behavior is when people handle puerh teas with rough, dirty hands, tearing off the wrapper and assaulting the tea. Naked teas are humiliated every day in tea social circles where they are mercilessly unwrapped, passed around, wo/manhandled, and sniffed by everyone in a tea group. This is called social groping and group abuse. Can you believe these people do all these things just to show off, or to take a photograph? Gropers showcase naked puerh for no better reason than to get little heart “likes” on places like Facebook and Instagram. They pick at the leaves and stick their noses in and pick at the beeng hole. They call it "tea porn."

Puerh tea exposed just
for the sake of a photo.
Teas that need airing and rescue might for a brief moment benefit from unwrapping, such as to change out a dirty wrapper. But these people are not changing a dirty wrapper. They put that same wrapper right back on. Then they wedge the tea into a tight, dark space with other teas, packed in like refugees in an enclosed truck bed.

Physical abuse

Now this is the worst of all and I can only begin to imagine all the scenarios. Right off the top, I bravely try to picture things like physically damaging living tea with a sharp knife and destroying the integrity of the leaves. Or brewing the tea in too-cold water where the flavors cannot and will not emerge and leave themselves in the mouth for very long afterwards, a practice so “objectively” bad it deserves a full treatise on its own. How can we treat puerh tea this way? Yet abusers do exactly this.

Humping emoji commonly
used on sexy puerh tea chat.
Then we have people conducting experiments upon tea, set to destroy it with mold or kill it on purpose or scent it with chicken curry by leaving it in the kitchen. They keep tea under or even IN their beds! They actually have pets like cats and dogs and mice and ferrets that leave odors and hairs everywhere, even fleas to get into the tea left in open areas for animal waste to prey upon. Filthy, filthy people and the things they do to their teas.

A Call to Action

I get harassed by folks who say I go on and on in my blog posts, but I am a big girl with a huge degree so I am willing to do something. We need to expose puerh neglect and abusers. More importantly, we need to rescue neglected, abandoned and abused puerh teas.

To this end we will organize lists of Adoptable Teas. If you know of any teas that need rescue and adoption, use the Contact Form near the top of this blog, or contact TeaDB.org with your tax-free, deductible donation and anonymous information. Send us these teas and we will make sure they get rehabilitation and find new “forever” homes.

The take-away here is we need to remember puerh tea has feelings too. I hope you spread the word far and wide, hashtag #MyTeaToo

Adoptable Teas

Currently None.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Little Bit of Dayi

Recently at the Black Friday sale I picked up a 2016 Menghai “Yun Shui Zhen” from Yunnan Sourcing’s US shop. With the BF sale, I paid $31 instead of $36 for this 357g “throat feel” tea. Mr. Wilson writes that this is one of the few Dayi teas he feels “excited” about, a quite surprising description. Unless you enjoy your tea bitter (well I do), Dayi teas are not good to drink young, and at this price point most of them are harsh at best.

2016 Menghai Tea Factory Yun Shui Zhen
I am going a cautious 5g/100ml water to give this a try. Some of the tea had flaked off the edge so I pick off a few small chunks to accompany the loose stuff in the wrapper. The cake is firm, machine pressed, so I end up getting tea all over my kitchen counter in the process of chipping. Two rinses open up the usual Dayi “house” scent, but not as strongly as in teas like the more pungent 7542 recipe. With boiling water, the tea hedges on too bitter to drink, but backing off to just under boiling temps with my light tea/water ratio, the bitterness is just under control.

Even though this is last year’s production, the tea is still clearly green in the cup and has not fully settled. No doubt the machine pressing and Oregon storage keep the tea fresher than might be the case if ordered from China. I drink four steepings and note the usual Dayi house flavor but somewhat muted, and the tea is surprisingly thick and oily. The mouthfeel is creamy, and the brew lingers quite nicely in the throat with the promised yun and stretches its legs down into the stomach. The tea tastes a bit fruity on top of freshly-cut hay.

I sweat profusely after the first four cups, and note some qi around my ears, and I suppose I am little tea drunk because I found myself listening to campy 1990s music on YouTube. This Dayi is all about the throat and mouth coat, however, and not a heavy hitter like so many other productions, fully yin because I shiver with cold once the sweats die down. A cold yin is a big reason why people tell you not to drink young factory tea.

Some nice leaf here.
Later during the night I sneak another cup or two. This is a darn nice little tea. After six steepings, the Dayi house flavor fades and I get a bit of grape that better teas usually have in early steepings, along with some honey. The tea easily goes nine brews with thirty second steep times at the end. If I had used a more typical ratio of 8g/100ml, I am certain a session could go twelve steepings easily. The leaves are clearly from younger trees, but with respectable integrity considering my fiasco at chipping off a chunk.

Still a bit green tea-ish
The 2016 Yun Shui Zhen is a better than average factory tea for people who are new to Taetea and want to recognize their house flavor. For this $36 price point one cannot find many teas that also instruct us in yun, that throat feel we all look for in more premium teas, along with a decent mouth coat. Just go easy on the ratio to keep the bitterness at bay. I can see myself tong-ing this, but with only nine cakes left on the US site, maybe someone else in the US wants to pick one up to take advantage of local shipping.

Using a light clay teapot, such as this one
by Inge Nielsen, takes the edge off
a harsh new factory tea.
Collectors or storage people might want to look at this year’s 7542. I recently read a follower comment on one of Wilson Lim’s IG posts, noting that Korean puerh drinkers are discussing the 2017 7542 as more pungent than in recent years. A rather curious observation and worth keeping in mind as well.

Some darn nice leaf here for the price!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

2017 WMD Mansa

Over a year ago I very much enjoyed Bitterleaf’s 2016 WMD Mansa, and I added a 2017 version of this tea into an order I placed last spring. At that time, my attention was primarily focused on Bitterleaf’s collector/hoarder “late 1990s” CNNP, a well-stored tea I am still somewhat obsessed with. When ordering teas, my interest is often laser-ed in on one tea and other teas are add-ons mainly to take advantage of shipping. In the case of Bitterleaf Tea ordering, once you hit the $100 purchase mark you will get free shipping. I was well past the free shipping mark with the CNNP tea so I decided to get the Mansa now rather than order it later and pay the shipping too.
Dark wrapper this year.
Bitterleaf Teas continues to impress followers with their unique artisan tea wares, many of which sell out immediately. So you must follow their Instagram feed or email ahead if you hope to snag a particular piece. While Jonah Snyder primarily answers email inquiries, his wife’s professional-level photography skills make their website stand out from virtually all other tea vendor sites. In my youth I took old-school black and white photography courses, but with cell phone cameras and an “everybody is a photographer” mentality today, I appreciate here that professional skill and know-how are still obviously superior. I must cover my eyes to avoid tea ware temptation, and quickly navigate to the teas on the Bitterleaf website.
The neifei got rather buried in this cake.
My cake of 2017 WMD Mansa got a full summer of warm and humid weather to settle down and now nearly six months have passed since it arrived. The price of the tea is the same as last year, a hefty $0.88/g so $88 for 100g. I re-read my post from last year and further prepared for this year's session by not drinking any sheng two days in advance, so that the full effects of this tea might affect me all more strongly. As I recall, last year’s tea had some serious stoner effects for me. I tried to go lighter on the parameters with a small 60 ml gaiwan, but chipped off 5g so what the hell, steep it hard.
This is a 100g beengcha
The smell and appearance of the wet leaves under boiling water immediately seem to me a different tea than last year, something I have heard from other buyers. This tea does not have the strong florals as last year, although I do smell a bit of floral in the cup, but also an ordinary Menghai note which is new. The leaves for the most part are also much smaller.
Initial steeps have a custard-smooth and thick quality to the brew, some bitterness and a mild Menghai fruit flavor. The tea has some residual lingering in the throat down to the stomach. After four cups I broke a sweat and felt some stoner effects in my face, not so much as I recall from last year, but of course we are never the same on any given day. As the leaves open up, I find one or two that have the thicker stems as last year’s tea, but this year’s beeng is a bit more tip-py with small buds and small leaves.

Steep 4
After eight quick brews I need to push the tea with longer steeping time. The next three steeps are sour/bitter with a touch of fruity floral, very astringent and mouth drying but still decently thick. Yet I’m hitting green tea now and the leaves are forced into a stewed veggie condition. Last year I remember thick leaves steeping for days, easily past fifteen brews. The mix of leaves appears to consist of some of the larger leaves I remember from last year, and much younger/smaller leaves that smush under the finger rub test. The larger leaves are more sturdy and do not break when rubbed.

2017 Mansa leaves
The problem for me is this tea has the same name on the wrapper two years in a row. I am somewhat stuck. I cannot help comparing last year’s production, my expectations are set in advance due to the name. I cannot explain the reason for these differences between the two productions because too many explanations are possible. Had Bitterleaf simply used a different name for the tea, I would not have the same expectations. The truth may well be that these leaves are from the same trees as last year, and the weather or time of picking may explain the differences. But I could just as easily believe the tea is not from the same trees as last year, or that the large leaves are the same but another younger batch of leaves has been added in. Maybe the quantity of the harvest was lower and the production required boosting with another tea.

2016 Mansa leaves on the same plate as above.
Overall the brew is not terribly complex, but then neither was last year’s tea. Certainly the tea is still fairly fresh and may change more in the next six months. Comparing the tea to an inexpensive drinker, the quality of the experience is definitely better than average but the sour late brews and lack of longevity are concerning at this price range. At this point, I am stuck because I know 2017 teas overall are more expensive. So, “this year’s prices” may well fit in with reality. What stood out about last year’s production was leaf quality and longevity, and the drinking experience was also better than the average drinker. If an “average drinker tea” of lesser quality costs more this year, then I could say 2017 WMD Mansa is right in line with other 2017 teas.
So if I buy 200g of this tea at $176, this falls in the higher price range of other vendors, for example white2tea’s 2016 Untitled 2. However I think I prefer a bit more complexity at this price range, and for the money a good alternative, theoretically speaking, is a much less expensive but sold out w2t Bosch. At the same time, not many teas offer similar drinking experiences with the body effects, and we will generally need to pay a hefty price tag for teas that do offer such effects.
I have heard second-hand that vendors are saying they could not make the same productions this year for the same cost as the past two years. I am left wondering about 2017 overall. Because I have not bought any other teas from this year’s harvest, I do not have a good comparison. One can do much worse buying a drinker quality, and this tea is a somewhat better experience. To decide for your own self how much better this tea is than other teas, I suggest sampling first. Honestly with this year’s prices so high across the board, buying samples before committing your wallet is likely the best strategy.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Making Decisions on Buying Tea Ware

Making decisions about tea ware is quite personal and can turn into an obsession rather quickly, whether a person is just starting out or has already built up an obscenely large collection. My recent post on clay kettles brought a number of emails regarding tea ware and other accessories. The vast majority of questions I get can be summed up as:

Should I buy X?

Where X = you name it, everything from Yixing, burners, boilers, to “where did you get that strainer, should I buy one?”

Well, here is my version of the truth summed up as decision-tree type pointers, take it or leave it.

We are alone out there.

No one else can open my wallet and make the decision. No one else can try my water and decide what makes my tea taste the best.

The answer is always No.

This is where to start with any decision-making process regarding tea ware. There is a possible exception in the situation of a Petr Novak club sale, during which we have maybe sixty seconds to decide. Unless one is willing to un-sub from the club emails, then I might as well just click and buy. Get it over with.

A spouse will always say no.

Hopefully you have not pursued this dead end for some time. I suppose if one is truly waffling on a buy, a spouse can tip the scales toward no. At best, a weary indifference means the spouse is unreliable for an objective opinion and we need to ask elsewhere for opinions. Luckily I do not have anyone to object to my purchases that I cannot bully or cajole. These skills are invaluable.

Tea Heads and B/Vloggers are not good to ask.

Most puerh tea collectors already know this. However, a certain obsessive trait usually leads people to continue asking others for advice, even when the buyer’s mind is already made up to go ahead. By exploring this rung of the tea chain I am mostly past the No answer already, and heading toward a Yes. Am I really interested in the opinion, or am I seeking to confirm a decision I have already made? In that case, I might as well skip time-consuming messages for several reasons:

Many tea heads and bloggers have far more tea and tea ware than they really need and another purchase is even less justified. So their initial gut instinct is No. Or maybe they like to buy and need to fortify their shopping defenses against you. No matter the reason, the sheer fact of knowing one has too much already is enough to bias this type of person, and prevent them from objectively considering the item I wish to purchase.

They also are reluctant to suggest spending money to anyone because they do not want to be held responsible for buyer remorse. Or on the flip side, they may actually want the item I plan to buy and could snipe it out from under me. Is this what you want to risk? (By the way, this last bit is the type I am, a proud sniper).

Sellers are worse yet.

This is because the answer is mostly yes rather than no. A rare “no” should be interpreted as a yes in all instances. However, if the seller says “I’ve decided not to sell” and pulls the listing, then I probably missed out because s/he cannot let go of it. In this rare case, I will email and probably phone daily, possibly more often, to try and buy the item or tea.

Okay, so these are the main methods to get No out of the way. Passing all of these and still obsessing over a purchase means Yes is getting stronger by the minute. So now let us consider what else can go wrong before Yes is finalized. These are "strong stomach tests." We need a strong stomach when purchasing tea ware just as we need one for cheap puerh.

Shipping Breakage

No shipping method is 100% guaranteed against breakage. I think I have had a total of three broken tea ware purchases. Of course some sellers/artists are more reliable than others but no package is bomb proof, there is always a way to completely crush a box.

What Ass sat on your shipping box?
 photo by "alex" of Teafriends
reproduced with permission.
Can you return the item or get a refund? 

Broken tea ware may or may not be eligible for refund, depending on the seller. Sometimes it is not feasible to return tea ware. Earlier this year I bought a very pricey tea pot that had a lid at least 3 mm loose, from a rather famous tea ware artist (no, not Mr. Novak). This unacceptably loose lid was not disclosed in the sales listing. I simply assumed a fine artist of tea ware would not sell such an item. I was wrong.

The cost to return it was over $30 even before adding the necessary extra shipping insurance. The gallery and artist promised to refund the shipping and send a new pot only after I shipped it back. Thus the burden was placed on me to return the item intact. I could no longer afford to waste any more money on the purchase, and eat even more mistakes, so I just kept a gongfu teapot that is honestly not suitable for gongfu brewing.

The crazy part: I had already purchased a tea pot before this one that also had a loose lid. Not a 3 mm loose one, but more like 2 mm loose. Yet again this loose lid was not disclosed on the sale from the private collector. I emailed the collector questioning the non-disclosure. The seller replied that because the item was originally from a known vendor, the vendor reputation sufficed. Turns out the original vendor did not disclose the loose lid either. Wait...because an item is from a reputable seller that gives license not to disclose a flaw? Um…not really.

I could tell I was expected to accept what the collector and the original vendor did not realize is wrong about checking for flaws and disclosing them. “Tight lid” is what you want to see on a gongfu teapot listing, it was not there and I failed to ask, though maybe asking would not get me an answer anyway. So really I was stupid twice.

The opposite situation is with inexpensive tea ware that might cost triple its value to return, so a return actually more expensive than simply keeping the bad item. Ruyao teapots and gaiwans cost around $30, and return shipping is probably about that much. 

Can you stomach any mistake? Fortunately I have a strong stomach and rarely allow mistakes to get in the way of my Buy button.

Yixing Tea Ware

The above now informs my view on Yixing and any other clay tea ware. Most tea heads will tell people not to buy a cheap Yixing teapot for a number of good reasons ranging from poor performance to poor clay, etc. etc. But I say: buy a cheap Yixing or other clay teapot first. Decide whether I want or need Yixing clay before dropping $200+ on a decent one. Buy crap before buying the good stuff. Same thing for tea. I cannot know the difference from bad and good unless I start with the bad.  Also, this logic justifies buying more of the good stuff later on.

Factory 1 vintage new/old stock Yixing
photo and listing by Essence of Tea
I have a couple of Yixing tea pots, one for oolong and one for wet puerh. My water really does not require Yixing to add anything to the tea, but the clay is useful for tempering roast or wetter storage. If I lived in a city where the water is of poor quality, I may have a different view.

Tea Kettle Warmers/Burners

A burner heats water in a kettle or keeps a kettle warm after boiling. One can choose between charcoal burners, electric burners, infrared, alcohol and candle style. Does the burner have a cord, and will that electric cord work in my electrical socket? Can I accommodate the cord in my tea area, do I want that cord? If not, an alcohol or candle warmer may be better than an expensive hot plate.

Ovente Infrared burner, eBay
about $24
Charcoal burners are really for outdoor use. If you plan to take tea outside, that is the main reason to use charcoal. If you have little kids around or pets that get into everything, then no on burners. I nod off and forget about kettles on the stove, so I only own a charcoal burner for outdoors.

Cast Iron Kettle

Mostly made in Japan, this type of kettle is popular for tea water. Cheap, readily available rust-free cast iron kettles can be found with enamel coating. Expensive art ware kettles are not lined and one should plan to use it daily to keep rusting at a minimum, and rusting is considered safe in these kettles.

Fine Japanese cast iron kettle
photo and listing by pu-erh.sk
An important fact: the used market has many of both types of kettles, lined and unlined. It is not recommended to buy a used cast iron kettle because it can have cracks the seller may not be aware of, and such kettle may not be safe to use any longer. The only decent resale market is antique value only for certain artists. Thus, a cast iron kettle is a life purchase a person is stuck with it forever. Would I plan to use it daily? Anything less, might as well forget it or buy an enamel lined one for the looks. 

Here is one I have that can be used on any stove to actually heat water. Unfortunately, at $56 the price has doubled since I bought mine a few years ago.

Cast iron enamel lined "Silver Warriors"
$56 (usually includes free tea bags)
photo and listing by enjoyingtea.com
Did I mention cast iron kettles are heavy? Very, very heavy and they get super hot too. Might want to consider steel-toed boots and a decent potholder. I have this cheap kettle solely for the looks and it has an enameled lining. The kettle also holds up well on the charcoal stove, I can simply wipe off any charring.

Silver Tea Ware

These are very pricey products. The resale is nil except for Japanese silver kettles, a person will not get full money back from reselling. Before going ahead with this expensive purchase, try a silver plate creamer as a cha hai from an antique store or eBay first, you can get one for under $10. Next, consider buying a silver cup rather than a teapot or kettle. I have not bought any silver tea ware.

Tiny Teapots

Small is huge among tea ware people. They score high in cuteness but consider your tea, whether it will expand in the pot requiring one to move the leaves to a larger vessel. Perhaps a small gaiwan or shibo is a good way to determine whether you like small size or not before dropping $100  or more on an art piece.

Mini Porcelain Gaiwan 50 ml
photo and listing by teaware.house
I know some people who love small pots and also others who now find them gathering dust on shelves. I use small pots exclusively for highly expensive aged sheng, or very potent sheng, teas I may want only a miserly few grams at a time to brew. Otherwise I prefer 100ml or larger.

Tea Tables

Bamboo wood tables will crack eventually and may also get black mildew stains if not allowed to dry. But they are a good way to decide if I like wood before dropping $300+ on a better wood. Ceramic is heavy. Stone is not easily moved around. Trying a Pyrex bowl may help decide how often I like soaking a teapot during my tea ceremony before dumping good money on a table that gathers dust or might crack. I bought a vintage wood tea tray on eBay for $20 and it has inlays too.

Vintage Lacquer Wood Japanese Tray
A good tea table is a life purchase and I have one very good table, but I am glad I had some cheaper tables first to decide what I like for performance and clean up.

Small accessories

Items like strainers, tongs, presentation dishes etc. may well be useful and these are inexpensive and fairly risk-free purchases. Most people will want a puerh pick of some sort. I like replacement wrappers for beengcha.

The Real Truth

The real dope is tea people have virtually no logic at the time of purchasing anything and usually make up decent logic afterward to justify what they bought. While my item is on its way in the mail, I practice the excuses I plan to use when people ask me about tea ware. Try and remember I am a sniper before you email asking me anything. A savvy collector of unique puerh tea and wares will have only a very, very short list of people not to screw over when a valuable purchase is at stake. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

New Suits and Old Shous: Sessions with the Longrun Company

At last summer’s World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to meet with representatives from Longrun Tea Group based in Yunnan, China. They had a booth set up on the Expo floor, and served shou puerh tea. This booth was not very crowded compared to many other booths, and watching people walk on by I surmised that puerh is still a rather confusing tea for many people, and I suppose typical US restaurants are not necessarily looking for shou puerh. I had the booth to myself which is mighty fine for someone like me.

Longrun Campus
source longruntea.com
Longrun is one of the largest puerh factories in China, and the only large factory with shares traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. (see here for English website) The impressive company campus resembles some of the technology campuses we have in the US. In addition, Longrun funds the Yunnan Tea Research Institute, and Tea College at Yunnan Agricultural University, a think tank, and laboratory. These facilities produce many scientific journal papers flooding the research market over the past few years, many with a "pharmaceutical" bent. I have noticed that our National Institute of Health journal archives contain a huge number of papers from the Yunnan Tea Institute. These papers have some critical issues worth discussing in scientific and academic settings. However, this goes beyond my blog and my blood pressure. Younger people looking for research topics and literature review opportunities will hopefully deal with these. A thorough grounding in statistical methods of analysis at the doctoral level is required.

Suffice to say, Longrun is at the heart and hub of the major puerh industry in China. The company produces well over 200 products a year, according to their website. Shou puerh is a particular specialty and the company boasts modern stainless steel production and no fewer than 86 quality checks performed on their shou puerh teas. If you want clean shou, this is where you go to find it. Longrun reports their tea is one of the popular gift teas and ceremonial teas at the national level served to visiting foreign guests. To me this is indeed wonderful, that puerh tea which is a traditional craft product is proudly served and homage is paid to it at the national level. Government dollars invested in research is “walking the talk” of the importance of tea as an industry and culture in China.

Prior to 2005, Longrun was one of the state-owned factories producing tea under the government label. The company was sold into private hands in 2005, and this coincides with the fall-off of writing among many collectors. The teas mainly of interest over the past decade are mostly those produced by the old factory prior to 2005. More famous factories like Menghai (Taetea) still retain collector caché whereas Longrun might be more comparable to Lipton in the US. Such a comparison is perhaps something of a compliment: past articles on puercn have stressed that a goal of shou puerh factories is to find a way to market shou in the west comparable to companies like Lipton. In the US, Longrun has a branch company called SpringTeaUSA which sells some of their products, mainly wholesale.

The professional corporate image of the company was well on display at the World Tea Expo. This is not “flip flops and a rock” factory business. The three men representing the company wore formal business suits, and one member of the team was an American who said he grew up in California. All three men displayed friendly enthusiasm and repeated what other puerh and heicha sellers said, that they found relatively few Americans interested in their type of teas. I could see all the traffic at the green tea and flavored tea booths. I was happy to reassure the gentlemen that I have undivided attention to give a puerh company and am more than willing to drink everything they have, all by myself. In terms of dollars spent, one puerh buyer easily outspends and generally out-drinks a hundred green tea buyers.

Longrun served shou puerh at the Expo, and the company produces both sheng and shou teas. Surprisingly, the shou puerh is the more expensive product in their online catalog, some teas well on upwards of $150 per beeng. This probably reflects the greater production costs of shou puerh compared to sheng. Their leaves are obtained from plantation farmers who must meet strict criteria set by the company.  Thus, the sheng products are not the super premium old arbor “hike up the mountain” teas, but raw versions of the tea they purchase for shou production. I did not try their sheng, and while they had some on display I imagine these are not considered “ready to drink.” Instead, I drank a decade old shou with surprisingly perfect “old book” dry storage, and not much wo dui flavor remaining. This shou was quite impressive, actually.

I have been storing shou myself for going on a decade, and lately I appreciate more and more a decade or older shou teas rather than younger shou. The wo dui tends to overwhelm other flavors in young shou, and I really like a bit of storage flavor. Dry stored shou gets that old book or old wood flavor, and wetter stored shou can taste like oak leaves under wet snow. Storage flavor is one of the flavors to appreciate in any puerh. Of course the more flavor notes the better, but the storage note is one reason aged tea is so wonderful. Longrun’s aged shou is remarkably well-stored, rather unexpected for a company that produces new and gift teas. My appreciation was very sincere: the only other really decent shou I tried at the Expo was a sourced tea sold by Ito En, a Japanese company who obviously did not produce their tea.

The Longrun reps were really friendly guys and they gave me a baggie of tea to drink at home. They said this shou was a pile of tea found in the Longrun factory when it transferred to private ownership back in 2005. The door of the factory closed on full production, and so the new owners acquired everything in it. They found a pile of shou and no idea how long the shou sat there. The tea was dated 2005 coinciding with finding the pile, and the owners kept it since then. Wow, this is quite an interesting find for me!

Old tea nuggets, lao cha tou.
So, I have had this baggie since June and now we are in October. I let the tea stay open in the baggie for a couple of weeks but since June it did not develop much smell at all. My older shous in crocks are more fragrant by contrast. I am guessing this tea is preserved “as is,” but not as actively aged like the newer company productions.

I brewed up some chunks, and the tea is clearly a “lao cha tou,” or the lumps of shou that occur in a pile setting and are normally broken up before pressing into cakes, unless deliberately sold as chunks. This tea took several rinses and a sitting in a very hot Jian Shui clay teapot to open up. The tea is quite lively in the mouth, and to me appears to be a less heavily fermented shou than is usual with lao cha tou, probably evidence that the tea was a project that got left unfinished. It has the wine and mushroom flavors of other lao cha tou teas.

Cloudy brew with yellow ring
shows the fermentation halted.
Two issues with this tea, one is I found some char in the strainer and charred, burnt twigs. The other issue is the tea lacks clarity, evidence of a bacterial imbalance that probably occurred as a result of the fermentation left unfinished and uncontrolled. This is not obviously representative of any of the current products by Longrun, rather this is a historical vintage product from the old days. So nobody can generalize Longrun’s current products based on this shou. This tea certainly appears to match the story of “left in a pile.”

I steeped about eight times before the steep time needed increasing past flash steeps. The tea is not yet fully fermented and can benefit from further aging, evidenced by the yellowish ring around the cup and tinge to the tea, for it is still very slightly raw. The clarity will improve, the tea cleared up quite a bit for the ninth steeping, yet fully clearing will take a long time and I doubt this will ever be a great tea. The brew was not funky or fishy at all, but the wo dui is still strong for a twelve year old tea. In fact, I enjoyed much more Longrun’s later 2007 vintage shou, a cleaner tea with a perfect storage flavor.

Just nothing left after nine steepings, even when boiled.
The tea fell off after nine steeps. I tried boiling the leaves hard on the stove which often yields a nice cup from older shou and lao cha tou, but these leaves were done and I could not get more than just mildly flavored water. But hey, factories do not make premium shou every day and this tea was merely one current project when the factory changed hands. It is what it is. A photo of the wet leaves is difficult to capture the tea, even with my naked eye the lighter brown leaves are hard to distinguish after all that brewing.

A couple of charred sticks, some lighter brown leaves.
What is so special is that this 2005 is a vault tea from Longrun, part of their history as a factory. I am incredibly lucky to taste a bit of this history, for I doubt many people have this kind of opportunity and from such a famous factory as Longrun. I can appreciate the rough character of the old shou because it matches the story behind it, the tea tells that story perfectly well. I can appreciate also that the craft quality of shou tea is now at a new level due to science and improvements in industrial production. A comparison of this tea with Longrun’s newer products illustrates the company’s journey and achievements. The resulting financial and commercial success speaks for itself.

I want to thank Longrun for this rare opportunity to drink a bit of their history. This is a special experience I am not likely to have again in my lifetime. I feel more favorably disposed to consider Longrun teas after drinking their finely stored 2007 vintage. I worry that someday the premium teas may no longer be available in the west. A company like Longrun aiming for excellence and selling in the western market reassures me that we will always have something to drink.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

How to Season and Clean Clay Kettle Boilers

I don’t know whether a post on clay water boilers is of interest to anyone, but I might as well post what I do with my clay boilers. 

Clay teapots and boilers can enhance puerh teas, or at least diminish storage effects on older teas. Clay is also mitigating our water as well as enhancing flavors in tea. Any boiler or tea kettle may perfectly suffice for most people, and I believe that no special equipment is necessary for boiling water. Yet you may wish to consider a clay boiler down the road. These boilers are quite nice to have for brewing tea out of doors in areas with no electricity, such as on a camping trip. Like clay teapots, a clay water boiler softens water and enhances flavors within the tea. Clay boilers also allow one to use lovely porcelain tea ware while still enjoying the enhancements clay brings to tea sessions.

A clay kettle may be used on a burner or kitchen stove or on a charcoal warmer designed especially for clay kettle boiling. The standard advice with a clay kettle is to decide which sort of burner you want to use, and stick with one burner type only. I personally do not believe this is the case, as long as you use the lowest possible heat setting on whatever type of burner you choose. The key is heating the clay slowly.

Some tea drinkers prefer to boil their water in a faster electric kettle, use some to warm their clay kettle first, dump it and then add boiling water. Then the clay kettle stays over a low heat burner to remain warm during the tea session. I use this method, but also I have started with cooler water. As long as the kettle is not starting out ice cold and heated too quickly, there is no danger of cracking the kettle. Keep in mind if you start out using cool water, your clay boiler will need more time to heat up using a very low heat flame or burner.

I own three clay kettles because well, I am a pig first of all. Nobody needs three clay boilers. I am hopelessly addicted to tea ware. I could argue that I like testing various clays and justify my purchases for the “sake of the blog.” Hahaha. Anyway I own a Lin’s Ceramics Purion kettle, a Chaozhou (or Chaoshan area) red clay boiler, and an art ware kettle made of high fired clay by Petr Novak, a well-known Czech artist.

You can find a Chaozhou red clay teapot from Chawangshop.com, they have a nice selection of these kettles and also the proper stoves for sale. Shipping cost is a factor. A kettle or stove must be shipped separately from anything else in your order, adding approximately $20-25 to the cost. Even with the extra shipping, you can get a nice kettle and stove set-up for under $100. But you can also find clay kettles sold from many other sources to compare.

How to Season Unglazed Clay Boilers

Chawangshop recommends their boilers soak in water for 24 hours prior to use. I asked about using a food starch seasoning as this is what I normally use. The traditional starch is rice starch. Chawangshop replied that this method is not necessary for their clay Chaozhou. You can find their instructions on the listings.

Clay Chaozhou from chawangshop.com
For me, I need to consider that while my water is not terribly full of minerals and my kettles do not build up much scale, I would rather prevent this scale from building up. Once the scale forms it is difficult to remove without using anything other than water. A simple food starch seasoning will slow down any scale formation. A starch seasoning needs only to be done one time.

Corn Starch or Rice Starch

These starches are good for very fine particle clays. Start with a dry pot and fill with room temperature water, add a heaping spoon of starch to the pot and stir well. Heat the boiler to boiling over the lowest possible heat temperature.

To use rice, mash cook rice on a plate and then add it to the boiler with water and stir well.

Adding corn starch to water.
I used a tea brush to clean off the mess.
Tea boat by Mirka Randova.
Boil for 1-2 minutes, remove from heat.

Pour off the water as soon as it is cool enough to pour, minding your hands.  Remove any rice if you used rice.

Do not rinse the pot. When the water is poured off while very hot, the remaining water will evaporate quickly leaving behind a film of starch.

Allow the kettle to dry for 24 hours without the lid.

Potato Starch

Cooked potato or potato flakes are a nice alternative to corn, and the cooked potato will fill a more coarse type of clay kettle such as my Novak. Potato works very well with composite clay kettles.

Local tater.
Mash a small cooked potato in a bowl.

Mashed potato with peels removed.
Add the potato to your clay boiler and top with warm water. Stir up the potato.

Add hot water to potato.
Clay kettle by Petr Novak.

Boil the kettle over the lowest possible flame slowly. Allow to boil for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the potato is mostly dissolved. 

Stir with wooden spoon or bamboo skewer.
Do not rinse, any remaining hot water will evaporate very quickly.

Use a tea pot brush if necessary to remove any excess starch left on the bottom or around the top.

Allow the kettle to dry without the lid for at least 24 hours.

Photo of the lid just after the starch procedure.
A bit tough to see a film left from the starch,
which has mostly soaked into the clay and will dry.
Using the Clay Boiler

You may want to toss the first 1-2 boils to remove any excess starch or use them to water plants.

Do not use ice cold water; allow water to reach room temperature if you are using bottled water. Warm water from a thermos is also okay. The idea is not to shock the clay.

Bring to a boil over the lowest possible temperature on your stove or burner.

Use all the water, or pour off any hot water when your tea session is finished. Do not let water sit in the pot after use. Allow to dry for a full day with the lid off.

Cleaning Exterior Stains from Clay Boilers

Stains add charm to a well-loved clay boiler, but sometimes people want to remove them. Cleaning clay is like cleaning vintage or antique items in that we want to use the least intrusive, least harsh methods first. So, try water with a tooth brush first.

Next, use a slurry of baking soda and water with a toothbrush, and gently brush stains. Wait about 10 minutes, and then wipe off excess. Pour hot water over the entire pot to remove the soda.

My Lin's Ceramics kettle has a few stains.
Normally I would not remove these, but
this is for demonstration.
The next step if you are not yet happy is to use whitening toothpaste. I like Gleem, it is an older and gentle whitening toothpaste that works very well on vintage plastics, glass and porcelain. Gleem will also remove yellowing from your car headlights. I don’t use Gleem on my teeth, but I always have some in the house for cleaning.

Baking soda and water slurry.
Wet-brush the stain gently with Gleem, can also be used on top of the baking soda if you wish. Pour hot water over the entire kettle to remove the toothpaste or baking soda.

Gently brush on baking soda slurry or wet toothpaste.
If you are still not satisfied, you can repeat any of the above or proceed to a dry sandpaper of 300-400 grit. This is the harshest method, so test the sandpaper on the bottom of the boiler first to see how much it affects the color of the clay. Sandpaper will also remove patina, the last thing you want is a more prominent stain. Sanding should be a last resort. At the same time, if you burnt your boiler to a black char on a tea stove then you may wish to completely sand off the char, although there is nothing wrong with leaving it charred.

Stain has lightened somewhat to blend into the pot.
I could remove more of it, but choose not to.
I would not recommend cleaning the interior of the boiler. As long as hot water is poured off and the kettle is allowed to dry after use, then further cleaning is not necessary. If you happen to get dirt or scale inside, boil water in the kettle and pour off.  Wipe out any remaining particles.

I like to try my teas using a clay boiler to heat my water, and compare the clay boiled water with water from another heating method. Clay boiled water is very nice with drier storage puerh teas. By contrast, I prefer to use small clay teapots for steeping wetter stored teas, and then I don’t need clay boiled water.