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Monday, August 21, 2017

Teabook Puerh

Over the past few weeks my puerh consumption fell off the grid as I went through a dietary elimination to discover a source of GI distress. This turned out to be a medication which recently went from exclusive patent to generic. I have been taking this medication for some years and so did not recognize it as a problem until the new pill lost the protective coating that is apparently exclusive to the original manufacturer. GI distress is tiring and a symptom of so many possible conditions, the only way to figure out the issue is through dietary elimination, including tea. After identifying the pill as the culprit and adjusting dosage issues, I added teas back to my diet.

Teabook is a fairly new company based in Washington State, similar to EverydayTeas in that both companies share a marketing philosophy of less expensive teas. I received a cake of their 2017 “Raw Puerh Lincang” unsolicited from the company, a 100g beeng sells for $10.95. At $0.11/g this is certainly a budget tea. Teabook also sells Denong teas, and a “limited selection” of pricey teas but these are separate categories on their website. I requested a sample of the pricier “Agarwood Ripe” tea, which was reviewed by LazyLiteratus last year. I paid for the shipping on the Agarwood sample.

The 100g 2017 Lincang by Teabook.
Before I discuss these two teas, I must mention that I received an odd marketing email last week from Teabook saying that all their teas are now “permanently 50% off.” I am not sure if this is true because the website is still showing regular prices for everything. The website contains slick marketing features,  messages like “someone from San Francisco just purchased this tea” and banners like “Free Denong mini ripe tuocha with purchase” along with a countdown time clock for the promotion. All these features are designed to get you to hurry up and buy. I do not know whether any of these marketing promotions are “for real,” so I will assume the tea price listed on the website is the price to pay. Okay, on to the teas..

The 2017 Lincang 100g cake is very basic, and the description is that the leaves are from “50-100 years old,” marketing speak for plantation farm tea. This sort of tea may be a good low-commitment introduction for someone new to puerh tea, or perhaps a daily drinker for folks on a budget.

Leaf mix contains larger leaves and a few buds.
I steeped 8g starting with 60ml water and increasing from there to 100 ml or so. The leaves show a mix from larger leaves to some buds. They are surprisingly strong to the finger rub test in early steeps. The company claims the tea will go 25 cups or so. This tea is very new, and brews up as green tea currently. It needs a year to tighten up and begin enzyme activity.

A 2017 tea like this is likely to still be "green" now.
For 11 cents a gram tea, not much complaint here, I find the typical floral Lincang profile with clean processing, but it remains to be seen if the tea will age. The tea has a sour flavor note at the moment. Perhaps this will work itself out over the next year. Teabook advises brewing the tea at 85-90C, but I used boiling temps to push the tea. I consumed about four steepings, the tea is too green and sour to continue on. I will try it again in a year and see if it changes.

Some fairly strong leaves here.
Teabook advises using a few leaves in their travel infuser, basically grandpa style. This is probably the best way to take this tea, a few leaves at a time. People who want to add some puerh to their life as “green tea” can do so with this easy and clean cake. But there is nothing special about 11 cents a gram tea, I do not expect special at a low price tag. Teabook carries a few more premium teas that might interest me more. I ordered the sample of the Agarwood Shou Puerh and explained to Teabook that many of the readers of this blog are looking for unique teas, not necessarily basic teas. Many readers already have their collections filled in with daily teas, and only open the wallet for something different. This tea certainly is unique, as agarwood teas are very difficult to find in the west.

A new experience, shou and agarwood.
Agarwood in essential oil form is known as “oud” or Oudh in Arabic. Also known as Aloeswood, agarwood is a sticky, resinous woody growth on trees of the genus Aquilaria, a growth produced similar to the way chaga mushrooms form on birch trees in Russia and Canada. Agarwood is used as a medicinal herb, and as a fragrance for incense and perfumery. Oud is a very masculine scent.

In the early 1980s, I bought a vial of essential oil of Oud mixed with genuine deer musk at a meditation center. This tiny vial cost me $20 then, a rather large sum for a tiny vial amongst other scents costing less than half as much. But the essential oil was powerful, and the vial dispensed only a very tiny brown drop at a time which I applied to pressure points, a single drop was enough to use around my body. Oud is one of my favorite scents ever, and I had that vial for at least twenty years, losing it to a leakage in the jewelry box during a move. I wore that oil so often, and never did I smell it on anyone else in my mostly patchouli-scented hippie neighborhood. After many years of wearing this oil, oud is a strong memory scent for me.

3g of this is a sufficient session. One must be
careful with very strong teas containing added herbs.
Today, genuine Oud is more expensive than gold, with agarwood succumbing to overharvesting and increasing scarcity. Agarwood takes a number of years to grow and needs those years to develop depth and potency. But people harvest it too early just as they do with ginseng and many other natural herbs because of the prices on the market. If you see Oud anywhere, chances are it is either synthetic or a very weak version of the real deal. My vial purchased long ago no doubt would now cost several hundred dollars at least. Oh, how I wish I had that vial back again! I know my vial would still be at least half full now except for that spillage.

Second steep, a plummy shou with oud fragrance.
The price for a 100g cake of agarwood puerh is a staggering $490, making this one of the most expensive puerh teas per gram at $4.90/g. So I wanted a bit of memory lane in Teabook’s Agarwood ripe puerh tea. I know I will recognize the scent, if it is really in the tea. The cake has tiny, rather crumbly ripe puerh leaves, because agarwood is small woody chips that will not stay in a pressed cake if the leaves are too large. My sample is 6g which is available for $24.95. One only needs 3g for a session in a 60-80 ml gaiwan or tiny teapot. Needless to say, a rinse is money down the drain.

The agarwood tends to escape the teapot
and float in the strainer.
Despite the crumbly tiny ripe leaves, the shou is a good quality wild growth tea. As you probably know, wild teas do not make for powerful, long duration shou, but the plummy, cherry flavor compliments the agarwood nicely. I smelled the agarwood at once in my clay teapot after pouring out my first cups and here I got my memory lane’s worth.

Agarwood consumed as an herb is a strong hypnotic, and the tea does not disappoint in this regard. Two cups and I felt the tea buzzing in my face and behind the eyes. The full experience is the scent of the wet leaves while experiencing the hypnotic effect, rather like sinsemilla marijuana. This is a lovely tea for an evening between two lovers, more sensual than wine. My memories take me back to those days of celibacy at the meditation center and the chime of a brass bowl on a pillow during our hours of sitting. Meditation is never dry or sterile, one should bring all the sensuality one has just as lovers do when together.

Dried leaves, the agarwood bits look like small wood chips.
The ripe puerh in the tea lasts for only about six steepings before giving out. One should boil the tea after this, because any woody herb needs to be boiled to extract the essential oil. If you prefer, you may wish to take a 6 gram sample purchase and steep in 80 proof or higher vodka or moonshine alcohol for at least six weeks, then decant and store in a dropper bottle to add to cocktails or other beverages.

Without a strainer, the agarwood floats to the top.
Easier to pour them back into the teapot this way.
With the $490 price tag, I think this is overpriced for a full cake. The sample is too, but more accessible. One can argue that the cost of the agarwood justifies the expense, but are we selling in the agarwood market or to tea people? Tea people do not especially care about the agarwood market, they are paying for merits in tea and we can find hypnotic tea for much less. The shou is nice, but not special nor aged nor durable. On the other hand, I can see myself springing for a sample. For $24.95 I get two sessions: one can have a 3g session split between two people, so about $12.50 for a romantic evening. A bottle of wine for such an occasion usually costs much more.

The Denong selection at Teabook is worth keeping an eye on for more offerings, and their travel tea infuser has had some good reviews in the past. We are seeing more small vendors dip into the puerh realm, and the story is usually the companies start out with a very basic offering and then try and source some higher end teas. With as much press as puerh has received in the “foodie” world over the past year, these companies are well positioned to take advantage of new adventurer customers in the US with lower shipping costs, minus the confusion of buying from Asia. This is great for new folks. Those of us looking more widely for teas around the world can thank these newer vendors who might catch on with new buyers, and keep them captive. 



Friday, July 28, 2017

An eBay Fake

This week I received a tea in the mail from a reader asking for an assessment of a tea he was not too sure about. With some queries, I discovered the tea was purchased on eBay from Fengyuan Teashop, an online retailer with obvious fakes. When you see 1990s teas selling for $40, of course these are too good to be true. Other tea bloggers have written extensively about puerh faking, and in this case I found a few flags. Personally, I have found some pasted teas may be decent enough to drink. So I can always approach a tea with at least a little hope of finding something drinkable.

I look nice for my age.
The tea was listed as a “1998 Menghai Tea Factory Zhangxiang” with Guangdong storage. The eBay seller offers a number of Hong Kong storage teas, so initially I expected very wet storage, however the reader still had the custom’s slip which stated Guangdong as the origin. The wrapper provided the first flag, which is that the ink seems rather new.


Another flag is the unattached neifei. Although certainly a neifei may detach on its own, this one has bug bites along the top. Now I’ve had many a bug-bit wrapper, but the actual wrapper has no bug bites which it should if the neifei looks like this. I suspect the neifei is faked or taken from a real tea consumed long ago, and subsequently added to this beeng. Or if you have a bug-laden warehouse, maybe all you need is to place a stack of fake neifeis in storage and eventually the stack is bit along one side. Steaming a bit of leaves is an easy way to attach a fake neifei. 

One bug-bit edge, but the nei piao looks much newer.
All the signs so far add up to “re-wrapping,” which is a no-provenance humid tea in a copied wrapper or even a real wrapper from a long gone tea. The nei piao appeared fresher and not bug-bit, again another flag. I noted the nei piao had a muddy smudge along the back corner as if someone had thumbed through a pile of them with dirty fingers.

Definitely some wet storage.
The leaves have evidence of wetter storage, but no mold and the tea has a graphite smell which is often the case of well-aired but more humid storage, in this case Guangdong dry, or what I’d classify as “traditional dry” if I had no information on the storage origin. The reader said the cake arrived in shrink wrap which is common with aged teas sold in China to keep out humidity, preserve the tea and keep the cake from falling apart. Shrink wrap on older tea has a certain caché, suggesting a high value tea, an easy illusion for a fake tea to convey. Really, the storage aroma is pleasant; I like the slightly humid and metallic odor.

More evidence of wetness, mushy spots.
Not quite as enticing are the human hairs in the tea. An occasional hair is not really a flaw in an older factory tea, but when I find three hairs I start feeling a dirty sloppiness in the tea, and more turned off from actually drinking it. Luckily I did not find any pubic hair, which is where I draw the line.

One hair at 11:00 position.

I brewed up 8g of tea using boiling hot water. I did not have the courage to use a gaiwan and instead picked Yixing and pre-heated the teapot as hot as possible. I rinsed twice and did a taste-and-spit of the two following brews. The next brew turned out much darker, but alas the tea completely lacks any flavor apart from a light tartness, which is a shame because the storage flavor is quite nice. I can see the tea had some very aggressive aging initially with at least a few years of drying. Unfortunately a slight chemical residue is present which numbs the tongue.

A little tough to see, reddish hair at 4:00 position.
I found a third hair in the tea I broke off.
Otherwise the tea simply lacks any flavor at all and little to no presence in the mouth aside from the numbing. I did not want to continue with the tea any further at this point, and chased my single cup with a Rolaids to sop up any unpleasantness. The wet leaves are larger and leathery and simply did not have enough bitter juices to survive the wet storage punishment and convert into an aged flavor. All I taste here is the fairly decent lightly wet storage.

The leaves don't look bad at all,
the proof is in the cup.
I did not suffer any after effects from the tea, but this one is a tosser. Perhaps the reader had the same thought, but tossing is difficult and sending the tea to me is a way to defer the decision to someone else. I will keep the tea for a bit in case the reader wants it back, but I cannot suggest drinking it. Hopefully my friend has better teas to drink instead.

The tea has a nice color, a shame really.
Looking at recent feedbacks for the online seller, I see that most recent customers have purchased newer teas. Perhaps not all teas sold by this vendor are bad, but real 1990s tea cannot be bought on eBay and certainly not at the $30-40 price point I see on many of the vendor’s “old” teas.

Nothing to taste here.
Real 1990s teas are at or well over $200 on the low end, and very scarce now. Luckily this particular tea is no longer for sale in the vendor shop, but I would not be surprised to see it "miraculously" appear for sale again someday.








Sunday, July 23, 2017

EverydayTeas, a vendor for bulk buyers

Some puerh drinkers like to have every-day teas on hand to consume whilst saving their very special teas for quiet moments. Weekends are often quieter with time to reflect and pay more attention to tea. Other folks need budget teas, and hopefully a new website everydayteas.net will fit the bill. A big complaint I get from tea folks in the US is the cost of shipping from China for drinker teas, and tongs especially. Luckily, everydayteas.net is located in the US with a variety of payment and shipping options available. Right now the site is offering a 10% sale on their inventory to celebrate their opening (code: everydayopen). Their headline "Fresh out of Coconut Oolong" might be an attempt at humor, or maybe serious, I just don't know.

Everyday Teas is a new vendor carrying the puerh line from Royal Tea New York, a wholesale enterprise in New Jersey I wrote about last month. RTNY has plans for 2017 puerh teas so keep an eye out for more options later this year on the Everyday Teas site. In addition to puerh tea, ET has a selection of yancha, oolong and other teas. I think most people can get on board with the stated mission of ET, which is “everyday drinking teas without breaking the bank.”

2016 Year of the Monkey teas by RTNY 
I received the three 100g beengs pressed by Royal Tea New York that I saw at the World Tea Expo but did not taste then. These teas are priced around $.20/g, but the most interesting aspect of these cakes and the other teas as well is that you can buy in bulk. In the case of the puerh teas, a tong is 10 cakes. That's a full kilo! Other teas can be purchased by the pound. Their Shui Xian looks rather nice and is $57/lb. Imagine buying a pound of that and only needing to pay a 1 lb postal rate in the US! With a heavier order, the company offers UPS and FedEx as well. Everyday Teas is serious about drinker quality teas, no longer do you need to order from overseas to get something in larger bulk sizes.

2016 Nannuo cake
I chose to try the 2016 Nannuo tea. I was surprised to see a Nannuo sell out very quickly this year from another vendor. I’m sure Nannuo varies a great deal in quality from the drinker level to the premium. Here is a drinker version that definitely doesn’t “break the bank.”

No chop here.
The leaves are easily separated from the beeng, the tea is actually more of a “tippy” tea with lots of buds. I sessioned 8g in 80-100 ml of water, increasing the water as the tea opened up.

Easy to break drinker.
I rinsed the tea three times for no reason except that I didn’t want a thin first brew. The first steep was surprisingly plummy and so was the nose on the wet tea. I dug around in the gaiwan for the reason, and found some larger red tipped leaves. It appears this cake is a mix of buds, bud/leaf combos and a few large leave that are “oolonged,” that is, they are allowed to oxidize slightly and kill off the enzymes. The reason this is done is to produce a cake of tea that is drinkable new, but the buds and leaf combos are left alone in their bitter state and processed normally. The entire cake will then taste smooth and slightly sweeter now, but those reddish large leaves will fade over time as the buds and other leaf combos ferment. If the entire cake was processed in the “oolong” fashion, I would be very disappointed, but I think this kind of compromise is common today to produce a “drinker” style tea.

Bud mix with redder large leaves intended to drink
and also age. I've brightened the photo a little to try and match
my view outdoors.
The buds and leaf combos are certainly bitter, and definitely so with the heavy leaf ratio I used. The plumminess of the tea changes over to a fruity bitterness around steep six or seven. Then I had to increase steep time around steep eight. At that point I went to do some housework and forgot about the tea in the gaiwan, and returned to an impossibly bitter brew.

The leaves do not pass the finger test and come apart when wet rubbed, but I expect that at this price point. Whether this tea will interest many long time puerh drinkers is probably doubtful, but maybe it will if you require an easy drinking young sheng and don’t want to pay a whole lot for it. The Bulang cake is described as bitter and for more long term aging, and I anticipate the Ai Lao to be on the sweet side similar to Yunnan Sourcing Ai Lao teas.

Full natural light in this photo shows the tippy mix.
The petite size of the beeng is a tiny commitment for new puerh drinkers, and quite honestly anyone new to puerh and other loose leaf teas, especially people in the US should consider this line of teas because of the small initial investment and local shipping. You can get a single cake of tea for under $30 including the shipping, or a package of another loose leaf tea shipped for under $15 total cost. This small amount of money is an excellent way to up your tea game, and the option is there to place a bulk order if you find something you enjoy. The site offers several payment types including ApplePay, which I am seeing more and more in stores. With a 10% off coupon, hard to argue with the prices here.

I think many of us long term tea drinkers are looking at prices this year with some trepidation. When the Great Benefits 7542 nearly doubles in price, we have reason to worry. This drought year may be a good time to buy a few things, but many of us might look to less expensive options this year and dip lightly at first into the pricey stuff to make sure we are getting the best teas. Much yet about this season has yet to sort itself out. In the meantime, keeping the pennies tight and sticking to our favorite drinkers sounds like a wise plan to me.







Monday, July 17, 2017

We Go (Get) High

2016 We Go High by white2tea landed on my must-buy list after reading strong endorsements by two tea writers. This is an autumn production from last year, one of the few fall teas by white2tea, and at $.70/g certainly their most expensive fall production to date. The cake is a 200g size, so $139 is a hefty outlay of cash in this case. I am rarely disappointed by white2tea productions and so I took a very willing risk in shelling out for the whole beeng. I allowed the tea to sit for more than a month in the summer humid storage I have at this time of the year which rewarded me with a highly fragrant cake when I decided to break into it last weekend.

We Go High by white2tea
White2tea always manages to source beautiful leaf and processing is usually top notch. However, the initial breaking into the beeng turned sour when I realized this is a rather stiff machine-pressed cake. To be fair, the listing does say “pressed tight for the long haul,” but I found myself wishing “machine-pressed” would be more clearly identified on the listing, as most white2tea productions are stone-pressed. With this tea, the machine-pressing is a significant purchase factor, and easy to miss the ramifications if you order a sample rather than the entire beeng.

Recently white2tea has been toying with the theory that tightly pressed teas “age better” than stone-pressed teas. Taking a vendor perspective, I can envisage advantages for shelf life storage now that white2tea is based in humid Guangdong. Machine-pressed and iron-press teas like Post Truth will hold up better in a humid climate with relatively less change in a two or three year period compared to stone-pressed teas. Stone-pressed teas tend to loosen up in humid conditions, something you might notice in your storage when leaves start dropping off the cakes and create a mess. On the other hand, tightly pressed teas will not lose shape or change as quickly, and they resist mold much better. Thus, a vendor facing two or three years to sell out a production can rely on that tight tea to remain fairly consistent. People ordering a tight tea in year three will get virtually the same product as in year one. This is peace of mind for the vendor who can rely on the consistency of products shipped without worrying the tea has changed drastically due to storage.

Yet another beautiful cake from the white people
I believe that white2tea is actually considering aging more broadly than mere retail storage, however, and the theory behind the tight pressing also includes some notion of quality in the long run. However, I question the sanity of collecting tight teas in my climate situation. What chance do I have of seeing any tight tea age out, unless I have thirty years at my disposal? Sure, we all have tuos and mushroom shaped teas in our collections. But I associate such tight pressing with lower quality plantation teas with chopped up leaves destined for storage in much more humid parts of Asia. To wit, I am willing to accept the risk of tight pressing in my $20-30 mushroom, but how do I feel with a beeng as expensive as We Go High?

Can't complain about this beeng pucker.
My feelings definitely sussed themselves out trying to break into this tea. Luckily I managed to pry up a few intact leaves, but even my new beeng knife barely dented itself into the tea. My first cup consisted of many broken leaves and tea dust. This is hugely disappointing for a tea as nice as this. Again, I can accept dust and bits in a cheap tuo, but they are hard to swallow at this price point and I don’t find much fun in the activity of picking perfectly good tea leaf bits out of the strainer.

Reality of that tight pucker.
The tea brews up a lovely autumn golden with decent thickness, and a floral sweetness dominates a smooth and clear soup. The advertised tea high hits immediately, I definitely feel sweaty and tea stoned in my face. I didn’t experience much bitterness in this tea, even when pushing with boiling temps, but astringency is noticeable for me. The leaves are strong quality and resist finger breakage when wet, again pointing to the regrettable tight pressing: these leaves are not inclined to break on their own, yet I am going to damage them myself even before I start boiling the water.

Dry damage by this user.
I got a good eight or nine sweaty steepings before the tea thinned out. After reading MarshalN’s new post on grandpa brewing, I decided to try long steeping a few leaves, but the tea leaves just didn’t have enough at this point to even flavor the water much beyond a lightly green tea. I might have got ten gongfu brews otherwise.

Leaves are strong and resist tearing when wet.
On the upside, I positively enjoyed all the gongfu brews. This tea is a highly relaxing stoner tea, very smooth and lightly sweet. While the astringency suggests more aging will bring out deeper notes other than spicy floral, why would anyone age this tea? It is already sweet and smooth. Here again, the regrettable machine pressing nags at me, because this is a tea most people will drink up in the short term rather than age, so why make the cake difficult to break into?

The grandpa on the left is a bit of green water.
On the other hand, We Go High may be an excellent opportunity for people living in warm and humid settings. In your case, you have a chance to buy a more premium tea that will hold up better in storage. Many people living in humid states like Florida have written me saying they much prefer iron pressing. Well then, here you can get a better quality tea leaf than you normally find with firm pressing. The tea “high” and leaf quality easily compare with far more expensive (cough Yiwu) productions. I’d hold this up as a bargain against any of the super premium Yiwu teas any day for a sweet and thick stoner brew. If I live in Mississippi, why would I pay more for a stone-press Yiwu when I can buy this hefty mama for much less?

The wrapper itself suggests that white2tea deliberately designed this production for southern-based tea drinkers, with the reference to Pope Pius IX's letter to Jefferson Davis during the Civil War. Basically this says "here is one for you Confederates." I am not sure how this appeals to anyone nowadays, but Catholic guilt is certainly a theme in many white2tea wrappers. The Catholic fashion nowadays is to mea culpa much more over Pius XII, who still has at least a century or more yet to go for us to culturally be free of him and then we can finally start in on the mea culpas for equally horrible post-Vatican II pontiffs such as Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) who at least had the good sense to resign. As art, I suppose I can accept or ignore this tea wrapper, but the fact remains the tea pressing is meant for more humid climes. 

The reality is, I live in Wisconsin and I plan to drink this up, dust and all. I am glad to own this tea among my more recent autumn tea purchases. I feel like I have done well recently buying autumn teas, rounding out my mostly spring collection quite nicely. Yet I have to warn you people. If you are thinking about this one, take my word that a sample is not the same experience as the full beeng. Pressing and climate do matter, and take your climate into consideration. If you are living in humid conditions and want a premium tea that will hold up to weather, “We Go High” may be worth the investment. It is certainly worth the enjoyment.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

2005 Autumn Guoyan Lao Ban Zhang

Fall 2005 Mengyang Guoyan LBZ
from Yunnan Sourcing US
A month or so ago Yunnan Sourcing offered a sale on Aged Puerh, a store category of tea that does not go on sale very often. With the addition of free fast shipping for purchases over $75 on the US site, I checked there first for any teas that might interest me. I found the 2005 Mengyang Guoyan Autumn “Lao Ban Zhang,” a 357g beengcha for $190 (regular price) that is not currently available on the China site. Steepster reviews for this tea are quite mixed, and I wondered how many of these reviews are based on a sample of the tea rather than the full cake. Certainly any tea review is worth perusing to get as much information as possible before purchasing any tea, and especially one hovering at the $200 range. Yet another review elsewhere swayed my decision to purchase this tea far more.

A puerh tea lover is fortunate when information on a tea is available on the Half-Dipper’s blog. While I very much enjoy Hobbes’ photos, poems and creative prose, I find more valuable still the careful notes made on each tea. With the 2005 Guoyan cake on my mind, I remembered the initial post of his Montana trip many years ago with the Americana kitsch photos, but not the painstaking effort of updates on this single tea. When I see nearly ten years of notated updates, dear tea friends, I am so moved and touched by this. How many of us take the time to check our teas, re-brew them and then make notes over the years? If a person loves the old monographs of the Royal Geographical Society, think about what a revelation it would be to view the old field notes from the explorers before they wrote the final monograph. Yet this is what we have in the Half-Dipper.

I must thank Mr. Hobbes for his gift of detailed note-taking to the puerh tea community. No one else is as dedicated to tea over time as this writer. And it was his years of notes and subsequent re-purchases of the 2005 tea in question that settled my decision to jump on it for a sale price. I’m fairly certain the Half-Dipper paid far, far less for the tea starting back in 2008 than I paid recently. Mengyang Guoyan was something of a budget tea at the time. But with today’s prices, I think Yunnan Sourcing is selling very low.

One must take care when purchasing a tea labeled Mengyang Guoyan Cha Chang  勐養國艷茶廠 and I suggest heading over to Babelcarp and acquiring all the possible Mengyang Guoyan spellings before you search on the net or on Taobao. Fakes abound, and this tea uses the second possible spelling used by the company, the one I have just above. I got very different results trying all the spellings on Taobao. I ask that if you look for this tea, please compare the wrappers carefully.

The wrapper itself is important in distinguishing this tea from possible faking. According to Yunnan Sourcing, the tea was made for a private sale to a Kunming dealer and was never sold by the factory publicly. Apparently, a spring tea version existed at one time. For all I know perhaps some will crop up. But I noticed a few things about this production on the wrapper.

First off, the wrapper is thin with no date stamp. The back had many crimp folds and a twist on mine, but that is not necessarily unique. Some key things to look for on this thin wrapper include the Te Ji red stamp, which must be located on the left side of the design, not located on the bottom nor anywhere else. Next, the tea leaf in the design must point between two specific characters on the top of the wrapper. Finally, there is what appears to be a hand drawn stylized character in green ink. This character does vary between cakes, and mine has some heavy ink on parts of lines which makes me conclude this is hand drawn, so it indeed may vary somewhat. But the presence of varied and uneven ink on the lines of the drawn character will distinguish it from a computer printing. Here is my photo again, and I drew in where to look.

Teji red stamp on left is key on this private production.
Also note the direction of the leaf and the possibly
hand drawn character on the left. 
Now view this example from Taobao. I reproduced one image, it is a small image but I think you can see the variances.


Any Mengyang Guoyan cake should at the very least have the leaf angled correctly, though details in wrappers from other years may vary.

I compared my cake with the one in the Yunnan Sourcing photo, and with Hobbes’ tea and concluded that all three are similar with the key marks mentioned above, but with slight differences in placement of the red stamp and slight differences in the hand drawn green character. Yet the Taobao cake I found for about $72 did not share the proper characteristics and had a red stamp on the bottom of the design. Also, the Taobao cake looks much less oily, and the tea itself on top and bottom appears less consistent though this might be arguable. Of course one wants to think we have the genuine goods. With Yunnan Sourcing, I do not question this very often, but of course we all want to know if we can get a good price.

Long, oily leaves.
This is a beautiful tea with long leaves and intact stems, and arrived to me with a floral vegetal nose and also a smell of cold water metal tap. I allowed it to sit a couple of weeks just to take advantage of the warm humid temps of summer where my teas are stored. I removed some leaves by hand as the side and top portions of the cake are looser due to time. I didn’t measure the grams brewed here because some leaves are so long, I doubt I can get exactly the same gram weight every time without breaking leaves or hunting about for smaller ones. Not worth it to break up leaves simply to satisfy a tea scale. I also needed to use a larger gaiwan to stuff those stems in after they hydrated.

Long leaves easy to carefully pry off by hand.
I threw away three rinses because the tea took time to open, and the initial nose is a bit of medicine, wood and the aforementioned cold metallic water. The brew is brown for at least eight steeps, the color of drier storage. The leaves are oily looking, and the brew has decent thickness but not as much as Yiwu tea. Early steeps have some bitterness, but also a complex array of flavors. This tea is far more complex than most teas I have had for awhile, and the complexity got me to fall in love with it. I tasted early on in the session some deep spices, like mincemeat, in addition to a bit of medicine/incense, honey nectar, wood and floral flavors. The cup retained a lovely floral scent after each brew.

Two leaves and one bud tea.
This tea has big yun in the throat and a large presence in the stomach, while dancing around the mouth in a lively way. After four cups of about 100 ml or so I stopped for a bit to assess its effect. I got really tea stoned behind my eyeballs which turned foggy like I used to get with some types of weed. Also, the tea is rather astringent after about a half hour in the tea stoned state. My eyeballs and mouth dried out and I needed water. Then of course I started in with the tea drunk emails, and sent one to Scott Wilson saying “you under-price your teas, why do you do that?” Really, the man is insane.

He said, “Not sure you are referring to all my teas…”

I tipsily replied, “Yes I’m referring to all your teas.”

I have had at least five cakes recently that I thought were under-priced. Easily that means his other ten thousand teas are under-priced too. Or so I thought while under the influence, a time when statistical concepts like large representative samples and random sampling etc. mean shite. Truth is happily much more relative when tea drunk than at any other time. (I swear I am committed to conservative objective truth and go to bed with Hume every single night when not drinking.) Mr. Yunnan Sourcing said something along the lines that he tries to keep his prices as low as possible because he is aware his loyal buyers are the ones who keep his unique business afloat, etc. etc. Remarkable that the man continues to politely and rationally reply year after year to tea- inebriated people like me.

Early light steep.
After eight steeps I start getting a taste of nuts, real objective nuts and not just crazy nuts. More like walnuts or filberts. Nuts combined with wood and honey. The tea has a little bit of char which accounts for the medicine flavor in the first few steeps. Recently someone asked me what char looks like, so here is a photo of my strainer.

Check your strainer for char bits on any tea.
This one has a few black specks, not many.
Char should go away after a steep or two and one can get rid of it almost entirely by breaking up a tea into a jar. The char will mostly flake off during the process, and any remaining will fall to the bottom of the jar eventually. This will mostly prevent the flavor from affecting a young tea as it ages, but over time the worked in smoke will affect the tea. Many people do not find this unpleasant. I find it unpleasant when overdone, but that is not the case here.

The tea settles into a peppery floral honey after about eight steeps, and benefits from several hours rest every two steepings or so. Many aged teas are like this, they seem to fade but then with a few hours rest, or even overnight, they have quite a bit more to give. I’m still holding those 1960s leaves that are mostly steeped out from a session two years ago. Every six months I fire up the kettle and give those leaves a couple more steeps to squeak out a bit more tea brew. Even when faint, I can taste the flavor of the old tea. Then I dry them out again and let them rest for another six months. Not every day will I get an old tea like that to brew out. One reason some old teas may rest and give is because the leaves are very sturdy and get a bit leathery, more like tree bark. As a good puerh ages, the juices go and leave behind a concentrate and very firm material, so unless you want to boil out the leaves in a pan in one go, they can continue to leech flavor for some time.

Exceptional quality of the two leaf-one bud picking.
Astringency continues in subsequent steeps the following day as well, something that may or may not appeal to you. Of course I take drying meds and that may affect me even late in the day. I also got hot flashes, something I had much of five years ago and not so much recently. Either it is a woman’s thing or maybe a heart issue, or just related to hot tea in summer weather.

Of course the tea is still plenty olive green because of the dry storage and I am not sure that years ago I would have liked this tea as much as I do now. The slow storage has preserved the main qualities in the taste, so I can really appreciate what good dry storage does. The tea is much more comfortable than it probably was some years ago, and the deeper spicy autumn flavors are coming to the foreground without loss of the higher notes. 

Steep twelve. Still darker than the early steep above.
Tea stoned and sweating, my foggy tea stoned eyeballs still evident to me after ten steeps, although I must admit to steeping longer, more like thirty seconds. Some slight sour around steeps 9-11, that middle storage sour of a dry session which usually gives way to sweet syrup later. How long you want to go on this tea is probably up to you, at steep twelve I let it sit 45 seconds and was rewarded with a bitter and astringent brew rather than the sweeter brew of a short steeping.

Steep 13, not gonna toss this yet!
I paid $171 for this with the sale on at Yunnan Sourcing. I can see why the Half-Dipper bought several of these and carefully watches them. I’m sure the tea retailed for much less years ago, but I can think of other places where this tea might cost more like $225-300 at this point. But this Guoyan costs much less than even the price for YS 2006 Autumn LBZ and the 2009 Spring which have received much attention on tea chat forums. The days of finding any LBZ for under $200, or even large intact two-leaf/one bud teas of any region pre-2006 are at an end. This tea might be one of the last. 



Monday, July 3, 2017

2016 Chawangshop Hekai


Tong Shrine
My tong of 2016 Hekai from Hanshan Tea House aka Chawangshop arrived while I was in Las Vegas for the Tea Expo. A tong of tea is a welcome sight to return home to, and yes, a whole tong because I purchased the 2015 200g cake and drank up the bulk of it in only a few short months. By the time I needed more of this tea, the 2015 production sold out. Therefore I am not messing around buying one beengcha at a time, developing a need for a tea, only to find the puerh heads have bought it up. I don’t trust none of yas, and as soon as my tax refund arrived this was first on the shopping list. After all, none of yas need this tea the way I do, except maybe a few others in the older puerh drinker category.

A gentle tea with a fierce warrior.
Chawangshop released most of their 2016 teas last December shortly after a late pressing. From what I am hearing again this year, factory pressing time is even more at a premium, perhaps this is the reason why the tea house held their spring maocha until winter. In a way, I regret missing the first six months of this Hekai tea, because the 2015 early green tea period was a lovely time in this tea’s life. Yet the green tea of the 2016 pokes through for a couple of infusions even a year later, after about five steeps or so. On the positive side, the tea has firmed up rather well and yields a mostly golden yellow brew which indicates a proper processing on the front end. In other words, this tea is one that will continue to change as a puerh should.

Hello, friend.
This tea is firmly in my gaiwan as we speak and I have just quaffed four infusions in short order for emergency purposes. As for sessions, this is my fourth session with this tea since it arrived. I do not know whether this tea is truly gushu or not, what matters for me is that the source of the leaves is the same as the 2015 production, according to the listing. 

A very nice bum.
I cannot overstate the agreeableness of this tea for medicinal purposes of treating edema and overheating within my body, which I experience on a daily basis and all the worse in the summer. Some of this is medication-related, and some is just I have had an overly warm constitution. On top of that my son made buttered popcorn for a movie we watched on DVD, and I really should not have salty popcorn which makes the edema all the worse, though to Son’s credit he used less salt and added garlic powder instead.

Tea leaf shape beengcha knife by JTTea, Inc.
So this Hekai production is very much like a water pill for me, and does the job faster than the actual water pill I take in the morning. In fact, when I feel my legs stiff and full of water just two cups of this tea will relieve the leg pressure within fifteen minutes, and then I start my trips to the bathroom within an hour or so. Maybe green tea in general works this way for most people, but none of my considerable and really obscene number of puerh teas has as much of a diuretic effect as this tea.

Knife with sheath on a hinge.
I am not the only person to feel this. Since my review of the 2015, several people in my age group emailed to report they have the same diuretic effect and need this for their own physical condition. So we commiserated when the 2016 production arrived at the tea shop and I can report more than one of us bought the full tong right away. Really every tasting note I read on the 2015 was positive, and unless you don’t want a mild and sweet tea with low bitterness I cannot find anything to complain about on the drinker side. While this tea may certainly age and change, my purchase is very much about drinking up starting right now.

Ready for surgery.
Cracking open the tong and opening up a cake gave me the opportunity to try out a new puerh knife I bought at the World Tea Expo from JTTea, Inc. for $10. The company is working on a retail website, but right now has only a wholesale catalog for vendors. The knife is shaped like a tea leaf but opens up in a Persian knife shape. This knife is meant to easily slide through a beengcha to lift up a perfect half. It looks very sharp, but in fact the blade is about 2 mm thick and rather dull so I won’t cut my fingers very easily.

A perfect split.
I felt a little crazy buying this because I had to Fed Ex mail it to myself. I considered buying a leather thong to use the bael and wear like a necklace “hey it’s a tea leaf” but did not dare risk losing it at airport security, as if yes I plan to cut up people with a very blunt tool. Now I am glad to have it because it works better than a regular pick at prying up large pieces of a puerh pie.

I also bought a teeny, tiny clay teapot from JTTea, Inc.
The coin for reference is a small American dime.
Teapot made in Taiwan.
Other than the sweet and mild nature of this tea, with just a bit of bitterness, the experience is straightforward overall until the diuretic effect kicks in. Honza said to me he doesn’t know why a number of us find this tea a particularly nice diuretic and so none of us can explain it. As with any green puerh, one needs at least something in the stomach beforehand to protect the lining even though the tea is mild for a puerh. I do not taste or see much char, the processing is very clean. The tea fades at about ten steepings, which is just fine. In a taller vessel like my milk creamer I can smell a nice floral scent which gets lost in a wider cup. The mix of leaves include buds, and overall the leaves are smaller than many other teas. Supposedly the tea is a single origin which is nice to know but hardly important to me given how agreeable the brew is.

Relief is at hand. After about eight brews, some green shows
in the mostly golden liquid.
I am glad the tea is back in stock, and hope for a 2017 production. This 2016 costs $38/200g and is $2 more than in 2015. At 19 cents a gram, a tong of five cakes rings up at $190 which is less than many single teas I have purchased. Chawangshop continues to excel in finding high quality teas in the easy drinking price range, a characteristic of this vendor I very much appreciate. I have my eye on a few other teas from the 2016 line up for later this year assuming they don’t sell out on me first. No, I will not tell you what those are. ;)