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

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. 

Friday, September 29, 2017


Hard to believe another year’s gone by, yet here I am back at the doctor’s office for the dreaded annual check-up. Yes, my blood pressure this year is just fine. I sailed through the usual exam questions, successfully avoiding an internal for yet another year and no, I really do not need the squished boobie test nor that third vial of blood draw because, guess what, I am protected from all that. Yes doctor I drink--and no, not that stuff, I drink Puerh Tea, that is puer not puerh remember, it is in my file look-it UP.

Check-up day is oppressively hot for late September, but I leave the hospital thirsty and fully justified in stopping at the grocery store to buy a nice cold lemonade, dutifully eschewing the latest gleaming bottles of things they call iced tea. Lordy, but they sure find ways to bottle and package what knowing people like me and you can make at home with a simple gaiwan, not really sure who actually buys those things, that chilled tea with added god only knows what else in it. That which we ferment at home in crocks and pumidors, glass jars, shoe boxes, plastic bags, Rubbermaid tubs, back patios, rock caves and old socks are the Keys of the Kingdom, my friends.

I don’t know what the hell farmer thinks it a good idea to clog the road with a huge tractor going 20 mph backing up cars on a rural road at rush hour, driving home took forever. I barely get back in the door to sniff my tea enjoying the warm day on the porch when my Safelink obamafone rings. That’s the phone for old people with 50 free minutes a month because otherwise, no way am I gonna pay a smartphone plan with 2017 teas yet to buy. As long as my out of date browser IPad works, I am good. People can email rather than call. But I have a new doctor now instead of the one I had before for twenty-five years, and the new, younger one has a lot to learn, although I managed to get a full six months prescription of benzos out of her instead of the one month-only scripts I had to call the old doc for every frigging month. So now I can drink puerh all night long and not worry about waking up in time to call the clinic, and my obama minutes last forever. My new doctor just needs to learn to email instead of phoning.

Doctor says, we got your A1-C and you are three points into diabetes. Wut. Yes, you need to do something about that, maybe look at your diet and come back in a month. Those are not my test results, I reassure her. Sorry but I think they are, she says.

How can this be? The urine and blood samples I turn in consist mostly of tea. I make sure of that. We need our doctor appointments and tests to accurately reflect our situation. After I quit lying about all the tea, given how good my blood pressure is, I go in fully stoked on green pu because really, this is mostly why I need to pee anyway. I have confidence now. Yet according to said doctor (PA not MD this time) I must do a half/day self-examination of what can possibly go wrong here. We all know puerh tea completely prevents diabetes (source, pretty much anybody you ask and google it).

No worries, because I got it figured out. First of all, I have a different condition. I have what is called


This is what actors get paid to say on television and are famous for. I am not dumb, and I hear you people with your chit chat and fancy yakking and I lurk at all the sh*t on Face-Book and Red-It, yes I do sometimes. Everyone will tell me this so I might as well say it: it’s the tea and I am drinking the wrong tea. My tea is OOLONGED. It’s the fake puerh with the red around the leaves which turns the tea sweet and nice to drink because the sugars get brought out at the start and the crap doesn’t age. 

Tea like this:

And this:

Not proper puerh, like this:

For sure, yeah I been drinking from booteeks and not from the factories. If you are not finding sufficient numbers of hair, corn, seeds and cigarette butts in your beengs, and if your green tea is even remotely sweet and possible to swallow, you got the wrong puerh tea, friend. The tried and true claims about puerh tea really are not verified for the boutique puerhs, only the factory puerhs, fact, that chop and ashtray are therapeutic effects for real. The proof is you get Diabeetus. See? I listen.

But I am back at you because there is a huge difference between you and me. For now I got Diabeetus and not the real disease of real people, because I am drinking misty mountain, not licking ash tray like the rest of yas. Actually I drink both and I don’t pay much mind as to which is which not because I can’t, but because who the f**k cares??? Well apparently now me because I have to care and do something about Diabeetus and the only possible change I can see the need to make in my life is going from boutique to factory.

So, bottom line this changes my shopping list somewhat for this year. I will need to look for the chopped and dusty-musty rather than the fresh and floral. I am in the market for body hairs and bamboo and plastic strap chunks to boil into what will surely bring me health and longevity and the size 4 body to fit the clothes in my closet. If you don’t believe all this well I can send you my lab tests and we can have a real before and after type scenario next year. Because all this is gonna change once I focus on the true Puerh. Really.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

2016 Into the Mystic

white2tea usually sends a sample with a purchase
I received a sample of 2016 “Into the Mystic” from white2tea this past spring when I purchased 2016 We Go High, a tea I wanted to buy and subsequently wrote about. Over the summer I completely forgot about this sample, until last week when I found it amongst some tea ware on a shelf. The bag held a couple of small chunks and a lot of loose leaf which had gone a bit dry and lost much of its odor. I emptied the bag into a gaiwan and wiped the inner lid with a damp paper towel and let the moisture work its way into the tea for a week. The tea woke up nicely and rewarded me with a floral and fruity nose.

With this tea, white2tea continues a literary theme of mysticism which points to an oft-asked question about tea, and puerh especially. That is, does tea enhance meditation or mystical experiences? For me, I distinguish meditation from contemplation. Meditation is an exercise of observing the self and the breath and any sensation as a practice toward deepening ones attention to anything that might arise in the sitting state. The goal is a stripping of one’s senses. We have neuro-image brain scans of Buddhist monks in a meditation state. Areas of the brain active during meditation are in the back right side of the brain, completely separate from the logical reasoning left hemisphere, and divorced from awareness of bodily sensation. The whole point is to move away from logic and reasoning and sensory experiences such as aesthetic appreciation.

Even before modern neuro-imaging, ancient mystics like John of the Cross in 16th century had already discovered that union with the divine lies well apart from physical sensation, and he emphasized strongly the dulling of the senses in his poem Dark Night of the Soul: “In darkness and concealment, my house is now at rest…with his gentle hand he wounded my neck and caused all my senses to be suspended.” John repeats the phrase “house at rest,” quite often, meaning he was free of emotional situations or other necessary activity. Our Buddhist brothers found much in common with Carmelite and Cistercian monks in the 20th century in sharing meditation practices. Widespread agreement exists among contemplative monks about the nature of meditation, and people interested in such practice seek out experienced teachers.

I think that between centuries of practice around the world, and today’s modern brain images, we have a fairly good idea of what a human mystical experience is not. The real thing is not about taking any substance to influence the senses, but rather the opposite experience of emptiness and sensory rest. This explains why the logical reasoning of science is in one part of the brain, and mystical experiences occur in a different part of the brain. Although one may be aware of the other, they do not cross (apparently Einstein’s intact brain is said the contain a greater than normal amount of connective brain tissue, leading a theory that he had more access than most people between pure experience and logical reasoning). Alas, so many people place all their marbles in only one type of human experience and debunk the other, and this is just missing out, in my opinion. I can only think of how much more a fly sees than I can see, and how much more a dog smells to know that my poor senses are nowhere near to perceiving true reality, inasmuch as we need to agree a table is a table simply to get by in the basic rubrics of living.

Contemplation, on the other hand, is a focused attention of the senses on some aspect of the holy, of nature or of an experience with the goal of uplifting the senses. Contemplation goes well beyond flavor notes of “this tastes like corn” into a deeper understanding of how things grow, cells and sunshine, human labor, life etc. We think beyond mere appearances to the nature of how things come to be, how a tea arrives at our door. For this I apply my reasoning to appreciate a greater whole, this is a higher order thinking skill indeed, but thinking is contemplation and not mystical experience, an exercise and work rather than a state of rest.

Tea is a beverage, so I feel aesthetics are the proper approach, because I want to experience all the sensory pleasures a tea offers. Instead of resting my senses, I fully engage with them. If some want to use the word contemplation, I might offer that contemplation is what follows after an aesthetic moment, when I think about the tastes and body sensations I have had, when I reflect on what is going on with a tea experience. This is why I cannot agree with the notion that tea is somehow divine, or part of the goddess etc., because I distinguish aesthetic pleasures of tea drinking from the thinking activity of contemplation, as well as from mystical experience which has nothing whatsoever to do with sensation or thinking. One can drink tea with aesthetic and sensory pleasure and this suffices, at least for me. In fact, I want to experience tea with the fullest sensory pleasure possible.

Thus I take the name and wrapper design chosen by white2tea as a literary notion rather than a statement about the tea. While indeed the tea may convey various bodily sensations, and it does, and perhaps give me enough of a tea “high” to feel a pseudo moment of mystical indwelling, all this is sheer folly, or more positively, an aesthetic pleasure. I am not fooled that a tea high equals mystical experience, because a substance has acted upon me and my senses are engaged rather than at rest. Of course, I cannot speak for TwoDog, but he is a trained artist and works with various themes in blending and naming his teas, so at minimum I take the name of this tea in a literary manner rather than as a fact about the tea itself.

I brewed 11g of tea in just under 120g of water, but
used a larger pot to allow for expansion.
The beeng is stone-pressed, a format that white2tea appears to be getting away from lately in favor of heavier machine pressing. I went heavy with 11g in about 120 ml of water boiled in a clay kettle. Based on the wet leaf smell, I detect a blend of both southern and northern teas. The description in the catalogue is an “out there blend,” and this is fairly obvious. I notice bud fuzz in the first cup and the brew is very oily thick and grape-y smelling, surely they wouldn’t add in camellia taliensis…would they? Surely not.

Second steeping on a sunny Sunday.
My bamboo tea tables are all cracked,
hence the cutting board.
This thought brings up a sort of puerh collector paranoia about white2tea that enough of us are having these days, so I might as well just say it. I think the lack of description about the provenance of the tea leaves made a fine statement about the puerh market two years ago, and yes, we get it that the market is all lies. But nowadays, alas, the lack of information on white2tea’s puerh cakes really works against the teas rather than for them. The notion of trusting the vendor has limits, and while I do trust this vendor, any creeping in of doubt is not the fault of the customer. Even I am having a more difficult time than ever selecting a tea from the catalog, because I cannot tell if I am getting something similar to what I already own or a unique experience. Every year we find more places to spend tea dollars and let us face it, those teas with more information are more likely to get the money if any doubt creeps in. We need a bit more information, especially when collections grow larger and tea vendors have more and more choices with little to distinguish between them.

This is really why I did not buy 2016 Into the Mystic blind, and also why so many of us are sitting around waiting for somebody else to try the 2017 offerings before spending a lot of money with this vendor. We have to wait for “word of mouth,” and even the bloggers seem to be waiting lately. The only real way to know what you might get from white2tea is by making tea friends with more money to spend who buy the cakes or samples and they can hopefully tell you what they think. I am not ashamed to say white2tea is one of the best blenders with the finest leaf quality I can buy, and one of my favorite places to browse and shop. But it is getting tougher for me to figure out what to buy from one of my favorite vendors. An upside is the teas are usually better a year later, such as this tea probably is, so I can save up.  

A thick porcelain teapot holds heat well
and does not cost a fortune.
Celadon teapot by camelliasinensis.com
About 36 USD
I hear the naysayers though, and I am truly not among them. I think to appreciate the best factory teas, a puerh collector needs to try better leaf and better processing and white2tea is all about the aesthetics of the leaf. “Into the Mystic” is definitely a literary statement about leaf aesthetics. This tea is as cleanly processed as you can possibly find, an interesting blend spanning the whole of Yunnan province. The tea has a heavy body feel, and best not to have any other caffeine in your system when you drink this, for the tea is very strong. I appreciate the florals but also the tea’s bitterness, powerful stuff, no insipid watery third rate leaf. You need a strong constitution not merely because of the bitterness. The whole of the tea is equal to an effect of moonshine on the body. I am certain I can put this tea into my car’s gas tank and it would run.

My first steeping has some notes of oatmeal cookie, then subsequent steepings are fruity and floral with darker apricot notes, the blend of regions is hard to miss. This cake is likely to age the florals first, and fade these while the bitter leaves turn over a longer period to sweetness. I am tea stoned on the fourth steeping and walked off to try and find my cat outside, and left the tea in the teapot, my brain is gone.

Over an hour later as I am typing all this I still feel it. I notice a bit of sour aftertaste that I think is my fault for allowing the loose tea dry out in the bag for too many months. Samples in bags are never the best way to evaluate a tea compared to drinking from the cake, and normally I prefer to buy the entire cake. I understand the budgetary need to buy samples, but samples in a bag are not representative of the full beeng.

Astringency creeps in, but when I am tea high I just want more. I left my fifth cup to go cold while typing this post, and quaffing the tea fast the cup is bitter, punishingly bitter, a quality in its favor. I know for a fact in my gut and brain this tea is better now than it probably was a year ago when pressed. I really do not want to like this tea, or more accurately my wallet does not want to like an ouch $149/200g, but YES I like it, way too much and the script in my head gets highlighter pen on lines like “all the crap tea you have had lately old girl yes you have, many good teas out there for less money, but admit it, none of those can hold a candle to leaf like this.” I suppose I can remain happy with cheaper teas but it’s worth it to remind myself that better tea is out there and white2tea has it. One must drink the so-so stuff to appreciate good tea, and keep drinking that tuition before dropping money on the better teas.

Because this is one strong tea, enjoy the first 3-4 steepings and ease up. Maybe refrigerate the leaves for another day.. This is not an everyday drinker tea and frankly I do not feel many stomachs could or should drink Mystic very often. This is the bottle of expensive cognac you want to pour a small glass from on occasion and drink up the cake slowly. Save a good chunk of it for long term, years down the road.

Notice the large leaf at the top left of the photo,
it is not even unfurled yet after six steepings.
My photo of the leaves shows they did not even fully open, so I kept them until day two. Saving leaves will not work in warm and humid weather, but we have a crisp and dry autumn day and no worries for me the tea will turn to smelly mush. I kept the tea for three days and went on steeping, I increased steep time starting about steep eight, and well past ten the tea is still going, the bitterness less intense. The florals in the empty cup are nice to sniff.

Mystic is worth the money, damn my wallet. Fk what anything else thinks, fk u w2t a million thanks keep at it please-please-please and god bless.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

It ain't done yet...

People send me their trash and their treasures. I get boxes from people who really wanna get rid of tea less than ten years old. Hell, less than twenty years old! Then I will find another box in the mail with guess what, the same brand ten years older, just a small tiny chunk, because this person is sending me their treasure. From Dayi to Xiaguan, I get the gamut in the mail of teas one person rejects yet another peep somewhere else in the world has found the same teas age just beautifully.

A ten year old or younger tea is not aged, nowhere near done with its cycle of fermentation. Sheng puerh requires a very long time investment and patience to turn into something nice. How many samples and cakes have I received that are so young? The tea is “flat,” they say. Yet it is merely sleeping, in a stage or a stage-between-stages. I can wake it up quite readily with a little heat and humidity and it says “hello” to me. Or I get packages with a tuo someone says “I will never drink this, take it for your crocks,” and the next week I get a similar tiny tuo chunk from someone else who says “this is so good,” and it is a twenty year-plus aged tuo, darkened to a lovely chocolate color, a red ringed cup that fades to a smooth honey and I think what a good job this person did in choosing and in preserving what was probably a $2 investment. That person might happily take the reject tuos I got last week because they know good tea is all about the wait.

For all the focus we put on “drinking your teas,” we need to put an equal or greater focus on fermentation, on aging, on waiting it out. I am at the point now where I know I will not drink everything I own, and I am fine with that. I am aware that this tea is not just for me, somewhere down the line somebody else will drink this. As with owning a house, I am a temporary caretaker because this tea will endure long past my lifespan as an older person now. 

Quite honestly the fun I have with sheng puerh lately is more about the process of fermentation and aging than with drinking. As for drinking, I feel more like the guy checking the whiskey barrels with a hammer and tap, giving the brew a taste here and there to see how it is coming along. Perhaps for those of you who send me teas, your expectation is that I will drink them and yet the reality is I will merely taste them, because I cannot know what they will be in twenty more years. Everything you send is too young, minus the rare submission of a completely dead, soaked to the bone overly wet tea that is one step away from compost.

How can anyone know what a tea will be in twenty years when it is younger than ten? I am here to take the pressure off you. Everyone is so anxious about a process that will take two or three decades. If your tea is less than ten years old, you have no idea what will happen and yet the tea itself is far more resilient than you think. A little mold here, a little dry air there, a bit of everything will happen to each tea, even those in so-called ”ideal” conditions. Most of us will not see the final result of our teas, but then most of us will not get to see our great-grandchildren either, unless we started early with both endeavors. Both our teas and our grandchildren need to survive, that is the important thing. Anything we have done to ensure the survival of these, then we have done our job and the next gen needs to take over.

My grandfather died a very wealthy man who grew disgusted with his one remaining child and her children, and he left his fortune to a charity. One can say well, a man can do what he chooses with his wealth, and indeed he may. But would he change his mind now that he has great-grandchildren who have grown and graduated college and started lucrative careers? Of course they did this mainly with his seminal contribution and not much more, but really grandfather gave up too early on his efforts. It isn’t about the investment he might have made but rather the vote of confidence, the nod to endurance, the passing of the baton. Make plans for one’s children and one’s tea, in that order. Even if all you have is a plan and crossed fingers, we cannot know how everything will turn out, only that we can give the best possible start. Today’s “tuition” is tomorrow’s success.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

2017 Best Tea Books

Tea chatting online is a daunting activity, with puerh fanatics known to lurk for years before saying hello. You can avoid the awkwardness of speaking up about your favorite tuos with this clever guide. Before sticking yourself out there in the minefield, read this book for tips on sounding erudite about bricks while avoiding tea trolls. Full explanations of Simplified vs. Complicated Yun will appeal to beginners as well as experienced fanatics, as will the chat applications available on Ubuntu. Probably the most useful chapter is Google-ready tea phrases in a variety of languages, including apology texts in Japanese. 

Finally a breath of fresh air in the field of seemingly endless gender studies, this time focusing on tea from the male perspective. No doubt the chapter called Down Town Abbey which focuses on tea, politics and London men's clubs will result in at least one well-attended forum at this year's MLA conference. Sorry ladies, but you are sooo last decade. It's time to step aside and finally allow men their day on top of the tea world. Surely they have more to say.

This timely publication is a straightforward how-to from soup to nuts on pressing your own puerh without ever leaving your sofa. Contains necessary information like bulk mailing producers and disguising third party Lincang sources. The book has a 200 page chapter on designing your own wrappers and nei fei, and examples of date stamp fonts and holostrips that rival even Taetea's best fakers. Real or pretend, you can do it yourself and cut out the middleman. This book will pay for itself in no time once you start emailing friends and selling tea on Instagram like the other big guys do.

A typical tell-all confessional from the perspective of the child dealing with a parent's puerh hobby. You might need to skip past the whiny chapters on the author's therapy experience and 12-Step co-dependency groups. The book contains a surprisingly sensitive distinction between puerh collecting and actual hoarding, but also some rather alarming advice on selling beengs without mother noticing they are gone. I stopped drinking for one day after finishing this.

A software application does not really qualify as a book, but nobody really reads anymore and this app is so timely. The features are simply amazing. The app is a browser .EXT that reverts Yunnan Sourcing back to its classic design, so you don't need to bother with the new catalog format!

I like the Doom Cart feature. All I do is type in the cake I want and the app finds it with the current price and adds it to the Doom Cart with an ongoing price tally, and any applicable buyer points. Whenever I load my browser, my Cart automatically updates with price increases or discounts.

To your desktop you can add on optional credit card interest calculators, savings planners and current vouchers. I haven't tried the new Bitcoin wallet bots yet, these might out-date themselves rather quickly but they are a cool idea for earning free money to buy tea. This fully automated language translation app works with Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, GSA, FxiOS, Maxthon, CriOS, Mobile and SamsungBrowser.

Finding good tea books to review is a daunting task, and I hope you enjoyed this year's review because I might not have another for next year.

Monday, August 28, 2017

2007 Liming Golden Peacock Qi Zi

2007 Liming Factory "Golden Peacock Qi zi Bingcha"
Here is a tea I bought last spring. Back when I purchased the 2005 Yellow Mark from Yunnan Sourcing, I needed $7 more to qualify for free shipping, which amply justifies adding another $31 beeng to the order. The Liming factory located in the Menghai region is known as a plantation tea factory, and the reputation for quality tea declined somewhat among collectors after 2004, I suppose a rumor stemming from the overpicking in the years that followed. Yet I cannot help but wonder if such a rumor is premature, after all any tea produced over the past decade or so is still a young tea. Can we decide now and forever that a factory produces lesser quality tea? Maybe we need several decades to make such a determination.

This 2007 Golden Peacock refers to a tea which has more buds in it than usual. Back in the early 2000s, farmers had trouble selling their puerh leaves apart from just tea buds, they got paid only for the buds. The surface of the cake shows a generous sprinkling, though not so much on the underside, rather typical of a factory offering in a lower price range. Yet today a bud tea may price for more new, given all the puerh hype going on. The wrapper bears a blue 2007 date stamp on the back. Alas, just within the past few days the price of this tea increased on the US site to $34, and remains $32 on the China site. I was hoping Mr. Wilson would not notice the US site tea cost $1 less, but he caught it. The tea is still in the budget price range, however.

Nice clean storage.
The cake underwent nearly a decade in Guangdong storage which is good news for people who want a little moister aging, but the tea aired for three months in my possession has no storage odors and qualifies easily for Guangdong “dry” storage classification. The heat and humidity are just enough to loosen the edges of this machine-pressed cake and allow some tea to collect inside the wrapper. This is definitely one tough long-haul production, despite ten years in Guangdong storage the beeng still appears rather green to me. I keep my expectations low for a budget tea.

Surface shows lots of buds.
I brew 8g in 80-100 ml, mostly I collected up the loose leaves from the wrapper and pried a few loose leaves off the edge of the beeng. When you find a lot of loose tea in a beeng, sometimes it is best to just scoop all that out, dump the dust clean off the wrapper and re-wrap for storage. This tea makes a good sample for tasting but loose leaves will give off everything they have early on. Indeed I am rewarded with a hefty and bitter drink.

Underside not quite so pretty, but ok.
A Menghai production like this has the whiskey barrel profile, with strong bitterness, sour mash, aged oak barrel, caramel and a bit of incense. This profile is good for people who do not want any floral bizness in their puerh. We rest assured that we have a traditional Menghai beeng for our money, and rather clean with not much char. I see a bit of cloudiness from what appears to be bud fuzz small enough to go through my fine mesh strainer. One steeping removes all that to reveal a clean drink.

First steeping showing the storage color and clarity.
The storage shows a bit of turning with a red ring to the cup, so I know this tea is fermenting quite nicely. One cannot really drink this tea fully as it is in the middle of fermentation and tastes like half done whiskey mash but the oak barrel is already developing. I get a bit of tea qi behind the eyes and a relaxed body feeling, nothing very intense but I mostly taste and swallow maybe twice with each cup, just to see where the tea goes. Again, this is not really a drinker right now. I stopped at six steepings with the tea hardly opened up yet. The leaves show a long way to go before steeping out, but I am satisfied with the strength and the developing fermentation. Also, the brew thickened noticeably after the third steep.

Third steeping shows a nice clarity.
We are fortunate to find budget teas like this in the Yunnan Sourcing catalog, of course it is a product of the Liming tea factory and not a Yunnan Sourcing production. Thus we know nothing about any testing for pesticides, and I doubt Liming really tested anything. Yet I recall a couple of years ago white2tea’s Liming 7542 from the late 1990s, now that tea retailed for over $1100 a beeng and sold out too. Nobody who bought that tea needed to know more. The college student of today should snap this Liming up for the future and then can say “I bought this for 30-odd back in the day.” When a brand new Menghai 7542 costs $40 to import, we have a somewhat upside-down market in factory teas.

Lots of buds, and still fairly green.
Yes, the discussions go on about pesticides in plantation teas, mostly by people who surely rely on others for food production and are not yet out skinning their own muskrats. I always just think to myself well, some puerh heads with fully outfitted, survivalist tea storage caves are trying to scare off the new buyers because they want more for themselves. I guess I am firmly in this camp: more tea in the shop means more for me. After all, I have a dirt floor in-ground storage garage for when the world ends and I need a tea to drink on the way out.