; Cwyn's Death By Tea: 2014 ;

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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tung Ching Tonight

Still working my way through the various boxes sent to me by friends. For the past few days I've been sessioning Tea Classico's 1997 Tung Ching Hao-Chi Chang. So far I've had two sessions, one in my porcelain gaiwan and the second in my Origins Tea 1980s Yixing pot, the latter I recommend to moderate the storage and bring out the flavor on this tea.
I've had one session already.
Neil was kind enough to send me a good size sample of this, which is more than lucky because he isn't currently offering sample sizes of this tea. You have to spring for the entire 357 beeng at $189 or so. I'm guessing he probably has only a few cakes of this and that is the reason for not offering samples. I believe James of Teadb has covered this tea in his recent mature puerh report.
This is about half the sample.
The tea is rather loosely compressed, but this could be due to the humid storage and also because of the number of sticks in the cake. There are quite a few sticks and I notice huang pian, those colored older leaves as well. I suspect given the flavor and maturity of the tea that this is an autumn production cake, but there is no way of being certain. The label on the cake, well I don't think any of you puerh freaks need an opinion on that, you can see for yourself. The tea is what it is, and the cup says it all in the end.
I did pick out some of the sticks before brewing, a few are okay but I don't want the old wood flavor to take over the tea. If I were younger, I'd keep all those sticks and boil them good for a completely different cup. But who has time for that? I can just picture my son having to clean out my tea collection after I'm gone and finding small baggies of tea twigs, and him thinking I went completely demented in my final years. In case I do start saving twigs, I'll need to prepare him for this behavior by showing him how to brew kukicha tea. Never mind, let's hope I don't go there.

Did three rinses on the tea which worked rather well to work off some of that humid storage. First few cups had a bit of tang, I thought, almost sour but not really, just tangy. Leather and wood. Later cups pay off with peppery notes on the throat along with the leather and still a bit of that tanginess which turns sweet. I like this better than the Apple Green tuo, a bit more to taste here. Not superbly thick, but I don't really expect that because the tea is completely mature and aged out, red and brown in the cup, smooth, there is nowhere to go with more storage on this, it's a drink-now kind of tea. More subtle than punchy, which is why I suspect this might be an autumn production of unknown leftovers. The best leaves went into higher premium cakes and the rest got pressed into these. The good news is the tea is still quite clean.
Fourth steep
So Neil is getting good at picking Tea for Old People, this is yet another of those Drink It Now cakes. Save it for too long and you'll lose the tang and warm pepper and just be left with a bit of smooth leather and wood. Got a good 10 steeps out of this with really packing the leaf into my teapot. Then while typing I let it steep and did get a bit of bitterness and slightly thicker brew, very dark red. Nothing to complain about here.

Generationtea.com has what appears to be the same cake for $29 less. The page for the cake shows the neifei and also that the beeng has been in their catalog since 2007. I would imagine their cake has had more years of very dry storage, but hard to know for sure. The lighter neifei suggests, at best, that the tea might have been aged loose and then pressed after the humid storage period. You can decide for yourself. Since I know what I'm getting with Neil's tea, I'd be more inclined to just spend the extra $20. It's a decent aged tea for daily drinking, and I'd feel confident letting puerh newbies try this because all the flavors are easy to pick out, there is nothing obscure that only a trained palate will find.

The only issue for many of us is, do we have too much tea? A sample is an easy decision, if it were available. Many of us are looking for aged tea and unique experiences, and I'd say this is more than worth a sampling. I'll hang on to the rest of this for a swap so someone else can give it a go.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ring Ting Tinkling Too

Honestly, life would be hell without tea. Especially holidays. Fortunately, I've had some time alone to spend with my tea and nobody gave me any new tea too horrible to drink. In fact I still have last year's gift Trader Joe's Cinnamon tea bags unopened. And my friends have been so incredibly generous, sending me boxes of fantastic puerh samples, always a welcome sight.

In the winter, I drink tea three times a day. Once before the Nap, once after the Nap, and again later on to balance out the other two sessions. From the title of this post, you can guess where I end up after all this tea. Yessiree, lots of water means lots of...

Which brings me to water, an oft discussed topic amongst tea drinkers. My water isn't bad, I don't have scale on the bottom of my teapot, no off tastes, etc. Really if we are going to discuss the effects of water on tea ratings, we all need to be drinking the same water, to eliminate it as a variable. So if we are really going to decide if the Apple Green tuo is a "good" puerh, and try to be anything but Relative, we all need to go out and buy a bottle of Poland Spring and THEN see if we can agree on the tea.

The topic of water and a nice glass of eliminate...then I have my Nap and dream about my friend the late actor Donald Hotton. He too was obsessed with water.

Like me, Don was born and raised in Wisconsin. After college he went to New York as so many actors do, and eventually made his Broadway debut playing opposite Anne Bancroft in "Mother Courage and Her Children" in 1963, playing a Colonel and Soldier. By coincidence, he played a colonel in one of his last films, "Dances with Wolves," you can see him in the opening scenes on a horse, telling Kevin Costner what a remarkable young man he is. Don is probably better known for his film "Brainstorm," and also for playing a scientist in "The China Syndrome." Don moved to Madison when he retired, hoping Wisconsin would be a less expensive place to live than California on retirement money. He and I worked on a few shows together, and I liked to hang out at his studio apartment near the university. Don always had a bowl filled and a bottle of water ready at a chair when I arrived.

"The water is lowering the IQ of people in Wisconsin, everyone is an idiot here," he used to say. "It's the fluoride. I got a dozen homeopathic articles to show you why. You do know I'm a self-taught homeopathist, don't you?"

Don's brilliance as an actor got marred occasionally by bouts of untreated bipolar disorder. No doubt I dreamt of him recently because of my housemate's untreated illness that we've been suffering through around here for months. When Don's bipolar illness got bad, he became more obsessed with fluoride in the water. He was convinced this is the reason the actors are so awful in Madison, and why people in Wisconsin are so stupid, and why he didn't have many friends. Looking down on people is not really the best way to make friends, and at some point nobody cares what Hollywood films you made, sorry to say to all my formerly famous friends. Unlike my housemate, Don did have some awareness about his mental illness.

"At some point I began to realize that if I started running naked in the streets in Hollywood and the cops tossed me in a hospital, that is the sign that I'm getting bad."

Ya think? But like my housemate, he eschewed meds. His method involved locking himself into his apartment to prevent running around naked.

"I've learned I can't go out when I'm like this," he told me, instead preferring to drink vodka and smoke weed until it all went away. "As long as I stay home and avoid cops." My housemate needs to learn this much.

But untreated mental illness, whether it's depression or mania, all of this made it impossible for Don to make many friends. He kept alienating the people he needed most, the actors and other theatre people in Madison. I tried to visit when I could, and we spent several Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays together. He wasn't a boyfriend or anything, but both of us were people who had actually read nineteenth century Russian novels, not just people who talked about reading them someday.

At one point we tried writing a play together, it was supposed to be a debate about the manifesto of Ted Kaczynski, with Don taking the part of defending the manifesto, and I taking the part of opposing it. Actually Don wrote the play, but the final result was something of an unplayable mess. I have it someplace, but all I can remember is how he got more and more manic as our discussion of the material went on, which made me more and more sad. He tried to douse me with natrum muriacticum, which is nothing more than sugar and salt tablets. And he complained the fluoride in the water was ruining my brain. I kept remembering my dad's old saying "It's better to be average," and thought I could probably benefit from a few more glasses of fluoride.

But the water, or the mental illness, finally got to him and Don decided to leave Wisconsin and return to California. Not before writing his own manifesto on fluoride to the local liberal news rag. He sent me a couple of letters in late 1998, including a copy of his medical marijuana prescription, yet another reason to return to California. I lost track of him with my busy life and then finally in 2001 managed to find out he had passed away in April 1999. I called the Humboldt County Courthouse to find out what happened, since he was only 66 years old. The clerk wanted $11 before she'd tell me, and I couldn't bring myself to send it, nor to know what had finally happened. California law doesn't require published obituaries, so I had to dig to even know he'd passed. Last year I noticed the imDB film database website had the wrong Donald Hotton listed, so I got that changed at least with a long letter to them.

In my dream the other day, I'm sending him off on a theatre bus, $25 for the bus ride and a ticket to an Equity show. Guess the dream must be about my housemate, Don, my mother, yet other people in my life I've lost all too early because they won't go see a doctor, they have untreated illnesses and crazy ideas about health and illness. Crazy ideas that went wrong and blew them up prematurely.

If it's really about the water, knowing the truth means we can eliminate it as a variable, just as going to the doctor and getting a blood test means we can eliminate diabetes or mental illness as health problems. We can move on from thinking the problem is one thing, because we've tested it and know that in fact the problem is something else. If water is a problem for determining a good tea, then we can in fact eliminate it as a variable by drinking the same water every time. If everybody tests a tea with the same water, then any differences in opinion are due to yet unknown factors. I have a feeling that the remaining unknown variables are too many and too large, and tea opinions are far more relative than we think. Statistically, our one fact we can know is that water can be eliminated as a variable in order to test if differences still remain.

Aside from this, my only view on water leads right back to Don, to craziness, and to the truth that badly wrong theories lead to horribly wrong conclusions. The correct response is not to stop drinking the water, nor to stop recommending tea and thinking the problem is solved. But rather to examine how to rule out variables systematically and keep an open mind to other solutions. Shutting the door on all possibilities due to only one variable is usually called hasty generalization, and down that path there be dragons.

Now that I've spoken my piece on water, I'm gonna go have me a nice glass of eliminate.

Requiescat in Pace

Friday, December 19, 2014

Little Green Apples

Been on a bit of a puerh hiatus lately. The truth of aged sheng is the caffeine is aged out, and I need the boost so I've been drinking a good deal of black tea instead. And I've had my reasons.

My roommate is a psychopathic maniac with an alcohol problem. He's out of meds and won't go get any more. I just can't manage to chop up a tuo with any appreciation when he's drunk and calling the cops who don't quite believe me when I say I only have a tea problem myself. I wish I were the crazy one making jokes, because the truth just seems made up. But I really do share a household with a person with a severe mental illness and it's been a bad year for him and consequently it just cuts into my tea hobby, especially when I'm chopping up the front door frame with a chisel to install a yet another deadbolt instead of sniffing my tea collection which I'd rather be doing. Right now I'm trying to type whilst said roommate is obsessively vacuuming, something of a conciliation on his part because I caught him drinking mouthwash this morning. At least the vacuum drowns out his singing.

To the rescue, my tea friends have been so very generous and I don't know what I'd do without you all. Managed to sneak out of the house today to the post office to pick up a very generous, unsolicited sample package from Neil over at Teaclassico.com. Cracked it open to try the 1998 CNNP Apple Green tuo cha, I recall reading Hobbes' review on this tea back in August and I think Teadb covered it as well.
I'd get stopped at airport security traveling with this baggie.
Aged tea is difficult to come by, and this tuo confirms further my belief that if we older people want to buy some tea with a bit of age on it already, we need to look out for examples like this. The tuo has had a year or two of Hong Kong aging, so it has that touch of humid storage which works out the smoke and bit of char I see in the strainer. The bitterness too is basically gone, making this a reasonably priced example of tea with a little age that is drinkable now. I get a bit of tingle in the mouth from this, and a bit of dry mouth which as I've said before can be triggered by medications I take.
These tight tuo leaves open up quite a bit over multiple steeps.
My sample seems to be completely aged out. In the 10 or so steeps I got out of this, all were fairly brown and smooth. Gives out the darker brews early in the first 4 steeps. The leaves are larger and have a leathery dried look, I'm not seeing any green here. No work needed on my part to age this further, the humid storage lingered in the steeps but I didn't air the sample. All the tea needs now is just airing and no special storage.
Second steep. I find brushing my tea pets a calming ritual.
Is it mind-blowing, life-changing sheng? No, but a nice daily drinker for those with a taste for aged tea.

Now, this tea sells for $93 at Teaclassico.com for a 250g tuo. USA-based Tea shoppers might want to take a look at what is likely the same tuo at Generationtea.com. I've heard that these two online sellers buy from the same distributer in Taiwan. Generation Tea also calls this tuo "Apple Green" and overall tends to charge a bit more for puerh, in this case $100 for what they are saying is a 230g tuo. At Generation Tea, differences of $7 in price and maybe 20g of tea (shaved off for samples, maybe?) might be offset when comparing the shipping cost from Teaclassico. Currency exchange rates might be a factor for other buyers as well.

The question comes down to this, do I have the time to age newer tuos and hope to live long enough to drink them at this level of age? Can I be bothered to deal with years and years of storage? For some, the answer might be "yes," and young people can likely pick up the latest $20 Dayi tuo for much less cash and hope to drink the results in years to come. If you are older though, and money is less of an issue, it might be worth paying an extra $70-ish for aged tea you can drink right now. The Apple Green tuo is worth considering if you are in the aged category as I am. Either way, if you can get ahold of a tuo with a year or two of Hong Kong aging under its belt, I think this is one of the best ways to guarantee a good tea down the road. Your years of dry storage following a humid start to a tea is likely to be a good bet if you live in the west. When I brew this again, I think I'll use an Yixing to add a bit of that mineral taste and tone down the storage flavor.

If you decide to pick this up, plan on airing the tea and drinking it fairly soon. It's ready now.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Auld Lang Chai

At the end of the year, we all wax nostalgic and get more honest with ourselves. As far as holidays go, tea drunks don't send out holiday greeting cards. We're too busy emailing tea vendors to possibly think of other people, like friends or relatives. Email written 1 December 2014:
______________

<cwyntea@gmail.com>    Mon, Dec 1, 2014 at 5:42 PM
To: "YogiTea.CustomerService@yogiproducts.com" <YogiTea.CustomerService@yogiproducts.com>

Hello, I'm an old lady with a tea blog. I am so old that I remember the days of the original Yogi teas, the numbered 8 herb, 16 herb, 22 herb etc. that we used to get in bulk at the meditation center where I studied. I remember buying this tea in bulk from food co-operatives until sometime in the mid-90's, I think. The holidays have me waxing nostalgic. Do you still produce those old chai recipes in loose, bulk form? Not the tea bag. I suspect you might, but I am not lucky enough in joy searches to track this down, so thought I'd ask. My tea blog is http://deathbytea.blogspot.com in case anyone wants to check.

Cheers, Cwyn

Sent from my iPad
________________

Ten minutes later I'm tapping my fingers, awaiting a response. They are located in Oregon, which is behind my time zone by two hours. And at nearly 4:00 in the afternoon, surely they have nothing better left to do than reply to my email. After all, it is Cyber Monday, and the shopping money meant for myself is just as good as that of people who are actually buying gifts for other people. Let's be honest once more, instead of buying socks for Daddy we're taking advantage of the tea sales and planning how much we'll be spending before the end of December. A chai is perfect for the holidays and winter, full of cinnamon bark, peppercorns, and other aromatic roots and seeds. Buying some now sounds like a great idea for December.

Sixteen minutes later and nothing. Time is just getting added to the days my tea will spend in shipping. Never mind. I might still have some left over, real herb chai. If so, the tea will be old, and who knows where I got it? But one thing is certain, I wouldn't throw out a chai no matter how old it is. I check and nope, no bulk chai. Well maybe I do have some but it's not in the tin I expect. Instead, I dig around the kitchen and find a carton of Tazo ready-made chai in the back of a junk cupboard above the fridge, not in my usual tea cupboard which is probably why I forgot about it. Before posting a photo of this carton, I must warn you of the explicit images to come. For these are a head-on, "face the music" reality of tea hoarding, and flat, dried out tea leaves just don't have the hoarding impact of actual liquid tea soup.
Yucky carton. The price on the front says it all.
I have to wipe off the dried dusty gunk on the carton to see the dates. Manufactured 2006, expiration date June 2009. Whoops.
I probably ruined your holiday chai plans.
Should have tossed this years ago. And yeah, it's gross. We can see why puerh is a better tea for Mother to collect. For one, it's stored better than this, and growing old or forgetful about puerh is a good thing. Can I face my tea hoarding and try this stuff? I'm not preparing my body in vain for anything healthy so that suggests a yes.

Boiled it over a little.
1 part milk to 1 part liquid, boil about 2 minutes and serve. When boiling bulk herb chai, root herbs should be boiled for at least 5 minutes before adding the milk. Roots are very dry and solid, they take time to rehydrate and release their essence. But this liquid Tazo already has that work done for you, so you just need to add the milk and heat it to a boil.

Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Okay, this stuff contains a LOT of sugar. The spices are nice, the beverage isn't spoiled. Don't know if the milk did something to the mixture, but I'm getting a strange coating on the roof of my mouth. Not something a straight tea drinker like me is accustomed to. Of course this doesn't have caffeine, which means when the sugar high wears off I'll need a nap. Haven't had this much sugar in one dose recently. The spices are still plenty powerful. Hm, maybe I should have kept this carton for the day when our government sends out the police army with guns, as my friend Rob in England expects will happen to me any day now. Personally I don't believe that myself, but like Christmas shopping, it's hard not to get caught up in the group-think sometimes. I got me a big wood cane just in case.

Yogi Tea finally got back to me three days later. As you can see in their email, they have one vendor for the original Yogi recipe.

-----------------------------------
YogiTea CustomerService
<YogiTea.CustomerService@yogiproducts.com>    Thu, Dec 4, 2014 at 12:49 PM
To: Cwyn <cwyntea@gmail.com>

Hello Cwyn,

Thank you for contacting Yogi! It sounds like you might be referring to Yogi Original Cinnamon Spice. Although we are no longer producing this particular tea, it can still be ordered in loose leaf 1 lb. bags through Ancient Healing Ways. Please visit their website or contact them directly for pricing and ordering information:

Ancient Healing Ways
Website: www.a-healing.com/yogi-tea.html
Phone: 1-800-359-2940
Email: customerservice@a-healing.com

Yogi Classic India Spice tea is one of our current teas that would be closest in terms of flavor. However, at this time, all of our teas are packaged in individual tea bags as opposed to bulk, loose leaf form. Here is a link to more information about Classic India Spice on our website: http://www.yogiproducts.com/products/details/classic-india-spice/

We also have several chai tea varieties that you might be interested in trying:

Yogi Chai Rooibos
http://www.yogiproducts.com/products/details/chai-rooibos

Yogi Chai Green
http://www.yogiproducts.com/products/details/chai-green

Yogi Chai Black
http://www.yogiproducts.com/products/details/chai-black

I hope this is helpful, and please let me know if you need any further information.
Thank you again & Be Well!

~Adriane
-------------------------------

What's missing are the middle years when they added more herbs to the original recipe to create the bulk blends that I remember. Apparently those are discontinued, and out of company memory. I guess those of us who drank the blends in the early 1980s are like people who drank the original Coca Cola back when cocaine was in the recipe.

Oh well. I think I'll pass on the original Yogi blend, I can make that myself if I want. And the rest of the links are for tea bags. Actually that bit of Tazo put me off chai for now, rather like trying to face a fourth day of turkey leftovers.

Requiescat in Pace.






Sunday, November 30, 2014

Chip, and How I Fixed Him But Good

Chip
Nothing distresses a die-hard tea addict more than losing a beloved teapot. It's like losing an old friend when a teapot injury is so severe that we have no choice but to toss it. A cracked Yixing is particularly sad, the years spent steeping tea flavors into that clay. My tea pot "Chip" is fragile from the get-go. I found him on Ebay with a repaired handle already, rather badly with some sort of brown resin that I thought was painted glue. Still, the brown repairs added character, and old Chip seemed to cry out from the computer "rescue me!" You've seen Chip before on a previous post of mine, the photo just above is how he looked before his latest mishap.

The Ebay seller had disclosed the repaired handle, but failed to mention the inside of the yellow clay pot had been painted black. I don't mean schmeared with paint to appear tea-stained, I mean painted a matte black. And the paint had a chemical smell. How can a seller fail to notice this? Now I can forgive an ordinary joe selling stuff who doesn't know a hill of beans about their items. But this seller is an antique dealer in Japan, selling a lot of nice stuff, with 5000+ feedbacks and 100% sterling reputation.

Now, I've sold a lot of USA-made vintage items on Ebay, usually 1950s-1970s-era stuff. Sometimes I refinish or repurpose items to spruce them up, but I always disclose what I've repainted or resurfaced. Most of the time buyers like a fresh, clean vintage item, but an unglazed clay teapot painted on the INSIDE is a disaster. Well, one doesn't usually paint glazed clay either, but recently that notion got blown when I saw an old 1930s Red Wing stoneware canister at a thrift shop that somebody had lovingly, and horribly, covered with white acrylic paint and embellished in a nightmare of poorly rendered daisies. So I guess sometimes nice vintage ware can be a project gone bad for aspiring artists, but really a good vintage dealer can spot condition issues immediately. You'll probably draw the same conclusions I did about the seller, but I'm fairly sure most of the seller's goods are on the up-and-up, they are mainly mid-century vintage and not terribly expensive. Probably stuff that sits in secondhand shops the way mid-century might sit over here.

I still wanted to rescue poor Chip, he's just one of those pots with mojo. Besides, I wasn't about to pay the shipping to send him back to Japan which would happen if I filed a Paypal dispute. So I just dinged the seller's feedbacks with a nice, fat red Negative, and a juicy comment on failure to disclose a painted interior of a vintage tea pot. Seller got rather upset, and refunded my money asking that I change the feedback. I wrote back that I hadn't asked for a refund, was willing to keep the pot, but the sale is not perfect when a vintage dealer makes a mistake like this, deliberately or not. I said that I sell a lot of vintage USA made items, such as Harley Davidson parts and vintage Levi's jackets to buyers in Japan, who would be very disappointed and upset, rightly so, were I to fail to disclose serious condition issues. And no, I didn't feel guilty about the neg, with over 5000 feedbacks she can afford the ding to her ratings. Buyer beware.

I knew Chip's handle would fall off in a matter of time, and I could do a much better repair. I managed to remove virtually all of the paint on the interior, you can perhaps get a glimpse at what's left. A good cleaning after grinding off the paint with a Dremel rendered the remaining paint stains inert to smell and taste. I've been using old Chip for green leaf teas like rolled green oolongs, he's not a puerh pot. He is not of that caliber clay, he is too soft and sensitive. The handle finally fell off last weekend and I could spend this past holiday week making repairs.

Poor Chip
First, I sand off the edges of the old glue as much as I can, until gaps show when I hold the handle against the pot. What I will be doing is rebuilding the gap with stronger material, essentially adding to the ends of the handle. Simply re-gluing a broken handle will not work, I must actually add material between the pot and the handle. This same logic applies to fixing rim chips on ceramics, I don't want to actually glue the old chip back on because it will never sit flush where it broke off. Instead I will create a new chip using bonded material.

1. Choose an epoxy compound.

For ceramic chip repair, I like to use a product called JB Weld, which is essentially an epoxy and hardener. My housemate uses products like JB Weld and Bond-o on car body repairs. Alas, as I get out my JB Weld tubes, I see that my housemate has used up most of the product on his past projects. But I have enough left to make my repairs. 

JB Weld Epoxy. Bond-o is another one to try.
Generally with epoxy/hardener products, we mix an equal part of each together. For ceramic repair, I prefer to use slightly more hardener than epoxy. The black epoxy you see here is a sticky, tarry substance, a bit too much of the black makes the compound runny, I want it more substantial like putty. So I'm using a tad bit more of the white than the black. 

The two products before mixing.
Mixing the two together with a toothpick gives a sticky gray.

2. Apply the bonded epoxy to the broken spots and layer a new gap.

I want to build a new gap, not just glue the spots.
I use the toothpick and then my finger to smooth the product as I go. This is an important step because the bonded epoxy will dry extremely hard, and I will need to sand the dried epoxy smooth. By spending the time now to get a smooth finish, I won't need to sand it so much after it dries to get it smooth. 

Epoxy is layered about 1 mm thick.
Luckily, JB Weld is very forgiving and dries slowly. I can scrape off what I don't like and start again. Also, for deeper repairs, I can layer the epoxy by letting a small amount dry for a day, and then apply more to build up the surface. Use a rag or paper towel moistened with a bit of water to help smooth the surface and remove any messes around the area.

3. Allow epoxy to dry for at least 24 hours before applying more or sanding.

Using my Liu Bao "candy" dish to hold my pot so the handle is helped by gravity to stay in place. 

Letting gravity help keep the handle in place.
The following day, I'm fairly happy with the results, but notice a little bump of epoxy along the top handle joint. I don't want to spend forever sanding that out, so I'll apply a little more JB Weld to smooth over that spot. I also apply thin stripes of epoxy along the handle on the top and bottom. This is to counter the new stress points created on the handle from the repairs. The pot is stronger where the original breaks are, but more stress will then be displaced to the handle around the stress points. With soft clay like this, I don't expect the handle to last forever, but I can delay it a bit by adding material to the rest of the handle.

Additional epoxy means another day to dry before sanding. My house is very arid right now, we have cold and snowy weather. Not great for unprotected puerh cakes, but perfect for my teapot project.

4. Sand the epoxy areas with fine grit sandpaper until smooth.

This epoxy sands easily to a smooth finish with 200 or greater grit paper.
The more time spent smoothing wet epoxy, the less time spent sanding.
I can tell when my sanding is done by running my finger along the repairs, I don't want to feel a seam where the handle is joined to the pot. This is mainly aesthetic. When I repair chipped pottery, I don't want to see where the chip was. If the seams are gone then I won't be able to tell where I did the repair.

5. Choose acrylic paint colors to replicate the color of the glaze (or clay).

Chip isn't a glazed pot, and for myself I wouldn't bother to hide the repair. But I can show how to match paint colors in case you want to know how to hide a repair. This is key for repairing chipped ceramics, how well you can match up the paint. Two principles apply:

All clay and glaze colors are based in nature.

Nature has a limited palate of pigments which form nearly every hue that we see in nature. We call these "pure" hues. Fired clay pots and glazes all utilize pure hues and mineral pigments.

Choose paints that contain only pure hues or mineral pigments.

You can create every color in nature's color wheel with 6 paints, IF those paints are pure hues. When mixing paint to replicate nature, such as nature's clay or glazes, do not try and purchase a paint close to the color of the project. We don't know what is in that paint tube, whether any chemicals created the hues in the tube. We cannot mix paint with chemical colors and accurately predict the resulting tone without knowing what minerals or chemicals are in the paint. Pure hues are predictable and easy to control. 
 Studio Basics Acrylic, or "Artist Grade"
If interested, you can purchase pure hues as a boxed set. These sets are used by art students in color theory class. If you are a painter, you can buy 8 tubes of paint and that's all you'll ever need. Unless you want to buy neon pink, which is a chemical color, not a natural color. Never buy pre-mixed paint except for your house maybe.

You can distinguish an amateur painting by an overuse of white or black mixed into the colors. An experienced painter will create a correct lighter green by adding cadmium yellow, not white. This is the trick to art faking. The Impressionists taught us how light penetrates color, and is made matte or flat by adding white or black, reducing the vibrancy of sunlight through color. In China and Japan, scroll painters skillfully utilize white parchment or rice paper, creating washes of color so that the white shows through in the light, rather than adding white to the paint. The result is multi-dimensional and ethereal. Porcelain painters allow the white clay to show through the color washes, creating a delicate and refined result.

So, you can mix any hue you want from this basic paint set. I can complete my project with this set of paints if I want. But my project is unglazed yellow clay, not a ceramic stoneware which is painted and then glazed. I can use mineral paints which are natural earths to match my unglazed clay.

All fired or unfired clays and glazes are made from mineral earths.

We can purchase paint made from the same minerals as clay and glaze. You can recognize these by mineral names on the tubes. They should be called something like Raw Umber, or Burnt or Raw Sienna, cobalt or cadmium. Make sure a natural mineral is the name of the color.
Mineral-based acrylic paints are more expensive.
Here are the colors I selected, you can see that Chip fits into this color palette.

Use pure hues to mix the colors you need or find real mineral pigments.
For more brown pots, adding a cadmium red to my palette could correct these colors toward a more reddish hue. You can see the Sienna has a yellow undertone which is tricky, but Raw Umber brings Sienna closer to Chip's base color. You can see from the photo I am using water with the paint to layer light washes. The best color is the one that seems to disappear into your project. However, I must also correct a little of the old resin glue which is dark brown, to blend that in, and I don't want the paint to look flat, so I use the other colors in the palette to add more natural variation. 

Mix water in to create and layer light washes of color.
And there we have it. If you want to repair a glazed stoneware item, after the paint you can brush a little bit of clear lacquer over the spot to replicate the glaze. I use basic clear nail polish for that. This will also protect your paint work from moisture. I won't do that here but I also won't be pouring tea water over the pot any longer. I can use the interior as usual, but I won't want to slop the pot with water on the outside due to the repair. 

Chip still has his lid chips.
Chip won't last forever, but I get to keep him around for awhile yet. With any luck he'll outlive me.


Requiescat in Pace













Friday, November 21, 2014

Viaduct and Not a Chicken

Sometimes jokes are so old nobody gets the references anymore. You'd have to be a Marx Brothers fan to get my title here, AND a white2tea club member to know which tea I'm talking about. If you got both, you can stop reading right now and leave well satisfied for yourself that no explanation is necessary. The title here is a line from the old film "The Cocoanuts" (1929), the Marx Brothers' first feature film and one of their most famous vaudeville sequences of all time. The viaduct part is supposed to refer to resort property sales in the 1920's Florida land boom, and the sequence is an absurd number of English word puns crammed into five minutes of time. The end bit:

Groucho: Now here is a little peninsula, and over here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.

Chico: Why a duck? (pun on immigrant pronunciation of vy for why)

Groucho: I’m fine, how are you? I said this is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.

Chico: All right, why a duck?

Groucho: I say that’s a viaduct.

Chico: All right, why a duck? Why a duck? Why not a chicken?

Groucho: Well, I don’t know why not a chicken. I’m a stranger here myself. I know that’s a viaduct. You try to cross over there on a chicken and you’ll find out why a duck. It's deep water, that's why a duck.



 Video link: http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4493024/the_cocoanuts_why_a_duck/

I'm asking "why a duck?" about the Duck Shit Dancong Oolong tea in the white2tea club box this month, but it turns out this tea has quite a history. Hojotea has a good article on the varieties of Phoenix oolong teas, and is a good source of buying this type of tea. the one we got in the club box is Phoenix Ya Shi Xiang 鳳凰烏崠 烏崠鴨屎香単叢. Supposedly the farmer didn't want anyone stealing the tea and hoped the scatological name would keep people away. But why a duck and not a chicken?

First of all, I can't believe I'm going online googling why a duck again. Earlier this year I became obsessed by Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli's childhood story of her food-obssessed parents hanging a cooked bird from their dining room chandelier for three days. I couldn't imagine what kind of recipe involves hanging up a cooked chicken or some such. I'm getting flashbacks of salmonella fears which caused me kitchen cleaning OCD back when my son was little, because of all the warnings on US television back then of salmonella on kitchen cutting boards and counters. So I had to know what kind of chicken recipe involves hanging up a cold carcass in the middle of the house. Took me months online to find out the recipe was, you guessed right, Peking Duck. It's, why, a duck! Not a chicken.
Oh Shit, this is all I got left...guess I mostly drank it all.
 All Phoenix oolong is not created equal. As with so many other tea leaves, we have a range in quality. The Duck Shit oolong comes from 350 year old+, mountain tea bushes grown above 1000 feet. Duck Shit is not terrace tea, and is known for complexity because of the growing conditions in the rocky mountain terrain. Duck Shit is not an easy grade to obtain, and is a higher priced tea accordingly. This is probably the reason why a duck and not a chicken, because Duck Shit Tea is not an ordinary Dancong oolong from ordinary tea bushes.

Hopefully you did not brew yours in the Yixing, because clays can kill a tea like this. Best keep it in the porcelain or glass gaiwan. I got a gaiwan full of luscious, huge leaves, and a good 8 steeps which is rather amazing for an oolong. Full of cherry fruit flavors on my tongue, my local reference taste in "stone fruits". I'm glad I chose to brew up only 6 grams to start and didn't binge in my usual tea drunk fashion on the entire 10 gram sample in one sitting, because the two sessions I'm getting here are precious indeed. But that leaves only 4 grams or so to photograph, cuz *hic* I drank it all.

A steaming pile.
But why a duck and not a chicken? It's deep water, so that's why a duck. Okay so duck in the tea name is at least partly explained by the rare grade and 350 year old trees. We haven't yet got to why TwoDog decided to open his new tea club with this tea. It's a good tea, but there is something naughty going on here. I haven't asked TwoDog, and I can't represent his true point of view and tell you for certain. But I am an old lady who tells stories about this area where we both hail from, about the culture, and stories might explain why I would think something naughty is going on.

When I was in 5th grade, I attended a three-room country school in northwestern Wisconsin. This school had actually been closed, but an overflow of students that particular year in my hometown led to busing students who were not studying a band instrument to an old school house located nine miles out of town. My father would not let me study oboe, nor any other band instrument because he wanted me to study piano instead. Not a bad choice, but it led to a year in a country school which infuriated my father who did everything he could to prevent me from being bussed out of town to no avail. You no take-a band, you no get-ta stay in town. It was a tough year for me in another way, my parents were going through an ugly divorce, not common then in my neck of the woods. But my teacher Miss Vallez was a new, young teacher just out of college and I liked her.

One day early in the school year, a boy brought a live muskrat to school in a garbage bag. He handed it to the teacher and it bit her on the hand. She was out of school for a couple of months and had no fewer than twelve rabies shots in the stomach. The muskrat ended up testing negative for rabies, but the test took a long time and she had to go through the shots anyway. To make things worse, the boy who brought the muskrat was from one of the four Polish families in town. And I was from one of the three others. Wisconsin Polish Americans have ways of embarrassing one another, the later pope just made it worse around here. And they aren't just rural situations, I read in the Madison paper of a Polish American guy who was caught by the cops outside a local grocery store with a pound of shaved ham in his pants he hadn't paid for. When asked about the ham in his pants, he said he couldn't remember how it got there. This is pretty much the same excuse that Muskrat Boy gave as to why he brought a real, live wild animal to school for Show-n-Tell. He got suspended for a couple of weeks I think.

Because of this, I can fully imagine some kid bringing Duck Shit tea to school because he thinks it's funny and it's really the true name! A teacher not knowing any better would think he's being naughty and send him to the office. The secretary would call his mother who would be angry, not because her kid brought Duck Shit tea to school, but because she had to leave work and pick him up.

It's irreverent. It's the answer to why a muskrat, and not a puppy. Every other kid is going to bring a puppy. Like they are supposed to. It's why we have Duck Shit tea in a brand new, high-end tea club box, instead of Emperor's Tribute Tai Ping Hou Koi. This is Wisconsin, not Paris. In Wisconsin, we can adopt city culture, new countries, go to the opera, and collect Rap CD's but guess what, the Chicken Polka dance will forever trail you not far behind, you can run from it but you can't hide. In Wisconsin, it's a CHICKEN and not a DUCK unless you go to China and drink tea. It's why the tea descriptions are spare and factual, why the pricing is honest, and why a tea is represented as only for what it is and nothing more fancy, but the wrapper will have some humor. This is a place where we're all so serious and obedient, and all anybody wants to do is mess with the expectations and get away with it. Or even better: mess with the expectations and come out beyond reproach.

This Duck Shit tea is beyond reproach, it's fantastic. And it's naughty.

Requiescat in Pace.
_________________

Epilogue:

Just an aside to the school story, because when things can possibly get stranger in Wisconsin, they will.

I met my 5th grade teacher from that country school nearly 10 years later after the muskrat. At the time, early 1980s, I was a young nun assigned to a Catholic elementary school during my teacher training. One day at the school, a man with schizophrenia off his meds, inspired by the Prophet Elijah, came to the school after morning Mass with a shotgun and killed the priest, the deacon, the janitor and shot up the sacristy. The lunch ladies hid in the lockers. We barred the school until the man shot himself, and I'll never forget the sound of hundreds of kids wailing that day.

School psychologists were hired to be on-site at the school afterward to deal with the trauma. Kids were finding bullet casings in the parking lot for weeks. Saw the school psychologists one day in the teachers' lounge. And there was, you guessed it, my 5th grade teacher.

"Are you Miss Vallez?"

She jumped up and grabbed my arm.

"Who are you? I know where you're from, because I got married and only taught for two years under my maiden name." She was Mrs. Allen now.

I told her who I was.

"You know, I became a school psychologist because of you. You wrote an essay in my first year of teaching about your parents divorce as the saddest day in your life. I didn't know how to help you. So I went back to school for my master's degree two years later."

True story of meeting up with Miss Vallez, err, Mrs. Allen, after a school shooting. Also true: years later my name became Mrs. Allen too. For a time.

Like I said, if life can get stranger, or more naughty, it's Wisconsin's unique definition of entropy that it will. And when it does you'll be in the wrong place at precisely the right time. It's deep shit here, that's why a duck.







Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Goodfellas

Tea might be the ultimate boys club.

This isn't a conclusion I arrive at lightly, nor without some consideration. No, I have to examine the boys clubs I've survived so far, mostly through luck and amazing circumstances. Apologies in advance if this gets long.

As a girl, I ran in a neighborhood consisting entirely of boys. We had our  friend Jeff, a quiet and kind little boy who still lives today in his parents' house. He wasn't a problem. We also had Mike, a sadist who considered torturing frogs and kittens great fun. We all saw him sneaking to his school psychologist sessions every week. He kicked my 7 year old legs to and from the bus stop before and after school, every day for months. Then one evening when our families had dinner at their house, a group wrestling session led to a split second when I accidentally socked him in the eye, and he ended up crying on his mother's lap. I got to watch that lucky humiliation from the doorway. He ignored me from then on, all the way and out the door of high school.
Cassie Punches Kon, Teen Titans 1960s, credit
We also had a large neighbor boy, Danny. He had an intellectual disability but he was huge. He solo'ed an entire team himself in our neighborhood American-style football games. Took all of us little kids, Mike included, to tackle Danny down. Mostly Danny was cheerful and benign, but one day he decided to take me and Missy, Mike's younger sister, and wrap up our arms and legs with duct tape and sat us up on the wood stove in Danny's garage. When he went into the house to look for matches, Missy and I jumped down and hopped away. Got lucky that day for sure. And it got better when my dad bought out Danny's dad. Danny moved to Alaska, and we moved into the house. All the fist fighting ended for me when I hit adolescence, and the boys started looking at me funny. And they developed a serious interest in Playboy. I was furious. Couldn't fist fight my way out of that one and knew when to Walk Away, but it wasn't without some chagrin.

Next we have the Catholic Church, probably one of the most closed of boys clubs. But even here the glass ceiling can be shattered with a little bit of luck. Well, maybe more than luck. I took a job as a young nun at a parish directing the religious education program. But I guess a young nun was a little too scary for the local priest. At the end of the first month, I arrived at my office to find the keys to the rectory, the sacristy and the safe along with a letter saying he was moving to another parish with his live-in housekeeper and their two basset hounds. Yes. The diocese didn't have anybody else to assign, and I was told the parish would be closed within a year or two. Had to run that place and an attached mission church by myself to train the people there to do everything themselves to avoid closure. I was 23 years old. One of the most amazing moments of that time occurred one evening when I had to attend a deanery meeting, which is the club of diocesan priests, who had gathered to receive a series of parish policy updates. The Green Bay diocese was run at that time by Bishop Adam Maida, one of the most conservative of John Paul II's appointees, and a real political climber, so I'd heard. You can bet he was in the club of men wanting to see nuns like myself clad up in habits and locked away behind cloisters. But that evening he gave me the policy books, and said: "I hear you're doing a really good job out there. Keep it up." He gave me a heart-warming smile and a special blessing and I heard the glass splintering over my head.
"Radical" Nuns, lafinjack
So you'd think a Tier 1 university PhD program wouldn't be any problem after all that. But if you plan to choose a math-related field, think again. Getting downgraded when you read primary sources, and the male professor doesn't but thinks he's doing me a favor by donating to pro-choice, all that was the least of the problems I had. Add in competition for assistantships, coming in second for job postings among the guys happened every day. The ultimate insult occurred when my dissertation committee couldn't read the math in my third chapter and didn't even bother to admit it until the defense. They passed me with honors but what kind of honor is it when nobody reads your paper? I'll never be 100% sure of my paper without a fair critique. Boys. Wouldn't of survived it myself except as a teenager I secretly read Marilyn French's banned book "The Women's Room," her story of surviving a PhD program at Harvard in the early 1970s. Her image of woman in male-dominated academia is unforgettable, wearing a skirt and suit coat with bouffant curled hair she felt like she dropped menstrual blood on the floor as she walked down Harvard's hallowed halls, "splat, splat." This is the heart of the matter. Thinking to myself "splat splat" saved my sanity more than once.
Not me, but damn close.
Oddly, the 2011 article behind this photo is called "Women on the Shelf," and refers to the book as a story about women's "domesticity" in the 1970s, did the author read the book?? Even today, people still can't handle it, they neglect her story of Harvard, and rewrite the book's entire meaning. At age 13, I had to hide my copy from my step-mother, back then I thought she's my only real problem.

My professional life clearly didn't give me enough trouble because I seem to pick hobbies that are dominated by male voices. My first video game was Pong in 1975 and I've played ever since. Keeps my brain sharp. But if I found bishops or professors a challenge, they are nothing compared to the boys who play games. Lately this boys' club even made the BBC with the death threats against Anita Sarkeesian, a "feminist video gamer" intending to speak on images of women in video games at a conference. She not only withdrew from the speaking engagement, but had to go into hiding. Having translated games from the Japanese, written game guides and moderated gaming forums, I've had enough shit slung at me from the boys to see Anita's problem immediately. Her gamer creds consisted of Wii and IPad gaming and she hadn't even mastered the games. It's not Anita's fault she's a girl, and she shouldn't have to put up with death threats. And she knows when to Walk Away. But take it from another girl who wanders through the hallowed halls of boy-dom, don't even bother to comment unless you master your game. Even on the relatively polite Japan servers, my Chinese guild mates used to tell me "we don't think girls should really game after 20 years old." Why not? "Because you should be focused on being mothers." I had a son already at university; my age in life and well, my mastery gear too, earned me a pass.
The Paragon Choice, Mass Effect poll
Age and good gear get you further in the boys club of tea too. Experience and treachery will always win out over youth and vigor. That aphorism actually applies to the tea, not just to tea drinkers. The older the tea is, and the more made-up the origins behind the tea cake, the higher the price. And whomever owns that treacherously old tea, why that wallet of yours alone will get you places. If you drive a BMW too, then you're untouchable. (Just for the record, I drive an old Toyota. Like Marilyn French. Splat, splat.)

Here we are yet again when the BEST sheng puerh forum on the internet, in English, bar none, is badgerandblade.com "Sheng of the Day." Yes, people we have a website dedicated to men's shaving which also hosts the Best of the Best in Puerh Commentary (or Dysentery, depending upon the teas, and where "dissent and commentary have mixed," old Annie Hall joke). We can actually read about how Hobbes got started drinking fresh, raw Xiaguan almost 10 years ago, and how all the boys followed suit. I read all 340+ pages of the forum.

After someone sent me a link to this incredible topic of thousands of posts covering years of puerh drinking, I wrote a few well-known teaboys who post on there. The responses I got were unanimous.

"It's a shaving forum? It is? I never noticed that."

Look at the forum home page. You'd think you walked into a male locker room. Oh, and don't drop the shaving soap, there's guys like Greek Guy in there. A whole site full of Goodfellas, err, maybe the English public school version with aristocratic nicknaming conventions intact and in play.

"Well, why don't you become a member and join in the discussion?"

Don Cherry on female reporters in men's locker rooms.
workopolis.com 1 May 2013 Editorial
Uh huh. Let's see, we have a few token females on this site. They've got their own dedicated forum of Wet Leg Shavers, or something like that. Do I really want to comment that I pluck my beard and moustache hairs, rather than shave? Will that get me extra Bravery Points? (for the record the word "moustache" is red lined as a spelling error in TextEdit, is that male encoding or female??) No, I pluck...not because I'm trying to be oh-so-female, but I've had my own prior examples. I used to watch the little old nunnies walk down the hall with their long beard hairs, wigs and nylon stockings scrunched up at the swollen ankles, farting as they walked, and I told myself I will never, ever,  become THAT. I will do anything it takes not to become that. One factoid of nuns you might not know, years of wearing a veil leaves a nun completely bald on the top of her head, and does not discriminate the full-headed from the sparse, all are bald and not from shearing. Genetics notwithstanding, women in veils are bald too.

I wonder if Steepster gets such a bad rap among the Boys not just because of the rating system, but because the site has so many women? Splat, spat. Is this such a controversial thing to say? Are there any examples of Puerh Tea Moguls out there who are women? Does anyone know of any? I mean, serious women buyers and sellers walking to Taiwan in high heels, splat splat, buying the best tea at auction up from underneath the boys. Do we know of them or do we only know how many sons they've got? Or are all the girls wearing the sun hats and doing the picking of tea buds out amongst the bushes?

"Now the moon is a sliver in our eyes, we stumble bleeding on this broken glass. There was too much repetition, over and over and over again. You know we're past the point of sane, over and over and over again. And all this broken glass we've left behind won't let us make a clean, clean. I said, Walk Away."
Indigo Girls, reimagined by munecas
I've got a sneaking feeling, a nagging sensation, that yep the girls are still the ones picking the buds, running the parishes, having the babies, doing the math, preparing and drinking the tea.
2014 Guinness Book of World Records. Yep.
But somebody else of the male persuasion is running the puerh tea racket, doing the buying, the talking, the scheming, telling the stories of origins and getting the credit behind the scenes. Splat, splat.

Gonna raise my cup now to all the gals, the ones trying to break into the tea business. The ones with the cash keeping all those boys afloat and doing the housework while they are all online. The girls doing the pouring and the talking where it counts, cuz she's a good old boy. It's up to all of you younger ones, this old biddie is tired and I'm-a drinka a cuppa for you. Splat, splat. Cheers!













Monday, November 17, 2014

Tea for Old People

Portrait of a Burmese Lady, by Urs Schweitzer
Sucks to be old. I've been in bed for four days now with a bad back, some eroded disc that acts up on me, especially when I've overdone and when the weather misbehaves like it's doing lately. We are having cold weather two standard deviations below the normal mean temp for this time of year, at night -17C. Tomorrow's wind will take the temps lower than that. The supervisor at work sent me home. I need tea for old people, and I'm not alone. This morning I woke up to an email that I had to blink at and read three times. My dear younger sister writes about drinking puerh tea for the first time. This poor soul has even more challenging physical stuff going on, so I had sent her some ripe tea last spring which she just got around to trying. She wrote:

"I am looking at the beautiful clean snow here in Milwaukee this morning drinking the second run of the Bulang Shan 2008 shou/ripe puerh and omg is it wonderful!  You're spoiling me to real true fabulous tea!  Thank you!!!!"

How many of you have had the shock of a family member using words like "Bulang Shan" for the first time? Then you know why I blinked and double checked that I wasn't reading email from a tea head instead of my sister. My family loves me, but previously she had written something like "I'm so proud of you for having a tea blog, and I tell everyone about it! It's wonderful! Could you send me the link for it?"

Sister emailed again later in the a.m., she clearly felt the effects of a nice ripe tea on her body.

"I'm too comfy inside with my warm feet (grin) to venture out today.  I even put my bag of garbage in the garage vs outside in the can. Lazy!"

She has circulation problems and warm feet is no small thing to achieve. I can thank Crimson Lotus Tea for the 2008 Bulang Shan ripe making her happy today. I'm sitting here with my bad back and one of the reasons I'm still drinking white2tea's 2014 Manzhuan is because the qi from it hits that painful disc spot in my lower back and spreads relaxation around the area. So we have the first Criteria of Tea for Old People.

Criteria #1 Tea that makes me Feel Better.

We are in the age of the Old Man and the Shou, a pinch of ripe in a cup and adding more water and more leaves, sipping all day long. Keeping the body warm and comfortable. Tea must do this for old people, or else a plug of brandy might be the next solution. I used to add Jameson's Irish whiskey to my coffee in the a.m. on a bad day, but I haven't done that in at least 4 years. I've got shou for those days. Or a really good Oolong.

My sister and I have different needs. She struggles with the circulation in her legs and feet, and feels cold all the time. Her hands and feet turn blue. I am the opposite, too warm. House heating is awful, I wake up overheated every single time I sleep, even with -17C outside, I still have a window open and a fan in the window in my room. She is a perfect Shou Lady, I'm a Sheng Mamma. What will make her feel better won't work for me. I know I horde white2tea's 2005 Naka because that tea could get me through chemotherapy if need be. And I've got sheng to clean me out when I get backed up. Enema sheng, Miralax is for suckers. Every old person needs a stock of tea that will meet their old age needs, probably containing theanine in some amount.

My sister wrote more about her changing drinking habits.

"My stomach is way out of whack.  If the tea helps that's a huge bonus.  I had to quit coffee and do not even miss it which is odd and now am enjoying tea every day. I had your tea front and center in my cupboard and with the snow this morning and that tea I felt a joy and peace that was such a gift."

Sister gave up coffee and she has a Keurig too. But now I know what she needs, and will stop sending her K-cups and instead dig out the best of my shou puerh, aged oolong and roasted Jiri Mountain Korean tea to send. And maybe a cute tea pet.

So our taste now is about finding the tea that seems to help with whatever condition we find ourselves in. Even on a good day, most of us need a good hit of caffeine to start moving. A good tea can mean taking out the garbage versus not, getting through a day versus staying in bed. It's about getting in touch with our needs and matching the tea appropriately. I recommend at least one covered Yixing mug. I bought mine from EnjoyingTea.com, very inexpensive. This is good for the all-day shou brew and never needs washing, a boiling water rinse and a wipe suffices.

Criteria #2 Tea that makes me feel like I'm 30 again, preferably 25.

Now we have the reason for a good tea drunk. Old people need a few minutes to feel young again. My brain is probably still the 12 year old girl, it likes video games and thinks it can still climb trees, punch out the gang of boys I used to run with, and read 900 page books I can no longer see so well. But I can fool myself with a good e-book, an old Final Fantasy game, and a tea drunk. A good sencha never fails to give me that experience. That might not work for everyone, but it works for me.

My aunt Alvina is an example for me now. A Polish lady with a big bouffant hairdo and bathroom wallpaper of hot pink fake fur, she was the first person in Wisconsin to receive a full heart transplant. She wasn't supposed to eat any cholesterol whatsoever, but I remember her dropping the egg yolks into her cake batter. "Whoops," she'd say, "Oh well." She couldn't imagine trying to choke down a dry egg white cake, she wanted the old recipe she made from the time she was five years old. Now is the time to eat and drink to feel like we're young, old people food is for the nursing home. As for Alvina, the heart didn't get her in the end, it was the same disc problem I now have in my back, she got a blood clot after the back surgery. A sobering thought, and I drop the proverbial egg yolks in and drink the tea cake that makes me feel good, not the one I "should" have instead.

Criteria #3 Bucket List Teas.

Now's not the time to stock up on the latest plantation cake. I don't have 20 years to wait until something is aged enough to drink. I'm fooling myself if I think I should "invest" in cakes that will appreciate in value. Old people don't have that kind of time. Instead, I want teas that are unique in their experience, that I can enjoy right now. Whether that means a high quality new cake that can be enjoyed today or a highly aged tea that is on my wish list, Tea for Old People means drink what I want, buy what I want, and yes to hell with a budget. Pay the bills by all means, but I'm not putting off the teas I want to try. If for you that means going after that 1950s Red Mark at $500 a session, then DO IT. Don't wait.

Take that tea vacation. How about the Jingmai Brilliant Resort and Tea Spa? On this vacation, you can attend tea ceremonies, traditional dances, and even trek up the mountain to pick your own tea and press your own cake! You can get a massage with tea. It beats rolling on your own tuos to break them up. Why not have someone else roll 'em for you? Or drown you in a golden tea shower? Just what you always dreamed of, I know it.

Actually my bucket list would be more along the lines of some of those backstreet tea shops that MarshalN writes about, the ones where they are roasting their own oolongs, or some such. Where the tea is hidden in the back someplace. I could easily see myself nodding at whatever is initially offered, but then scrunching up my face a little with a sigh, fanning myself with a tattered street map, looking like I'm wishing for something better, something more, something to get me excited enough to open that vintage purse and extract more than a hanky. Our Burmese lady above in Schweitzer's photo needed someplace to wear that hat, and mine's off to her. Mine's also off because I'd rather be sitting in a dusty old shop on a wood chair hoping for a decent bit of magic sludge in a mug. Tea shops are for ladies, back alley shops smelling of charcoal roast are bucket listers for an old tea drunk like me.

Using old age to our advantage, saying "I want to try this while I can" is what we must do. We don't have an Association of Retired Persons to advocate for tea drinkers, it's every man for himself. Or every woman, which might be an advantage if we have photos to show of Young Son with University Degree. Oh, and can I have some old tea?? Please? I need to sit down. In fact, I'm feeling a bit faint just now. It's probably my heart medication. Something to warm the belly so I can move along. My white hair is uncovered in these circumstances. Just the other day I found myself next to another old lady who said, "I won't ask you for help, but I really need somebody to pick up my cane." I set mine aside and managed to bend down painfully and get it for her. At least I was given the benefit of the doubt. In tea, I flout it shamelessly. This isn't the time to pretend I'm young. Those who continue to dye their hair are missing out, and I plan to fully horn in and get that tea that isn't offered to those who refuse to go gray.

Criteria #4 It isn't about the Money anymore.

Are we sitting on a stash of plantation cakes that are nowhere near ready to drink? Unless we are under 35, there is little to no guarantee we'll ever see that tea at its prime. Time to reallocate the priorities. Recipes become less important unless that recipe belongs to a 20 year old cake. Menghai? Better be 20 years or older. Xiaguan? Forget it, unless it's a ripe. Finding a raw Xiaguan older than 25 years is tough, and if one surfaces, then suck it up price-wise. I don't blink at $400 a cake these days, but then I don't have a college fund for the kids to save for. I'm not going to waste my time on hoping that $60 cake is gonna give me what I need, either in making me feel good, making me feel young, or in being a bucket list tea. I'm in la-la land if I still think it will. You know what? I'm looking for thick, engine oil puerh, brown and almost sticky. A little humidity doesn't seem so dank and nasty to me anymore, instead I feel warmth coming on when that brew goes dark and darker in the cup.

Then, we have quantity to consider. At my age, a cake is probably more reasonable than a tong. Will I really have the time to drink up a tong of tea? Or is it better to buy a cake that I know I can drink now, if for no better reason to move on to another cake? I now have an even better reason to spend the money on yes, expensive samples. I can drink up that sample and move on to some other tea experience instead of getting hung up trying to finish a tong.

Moving on to new tea experiences more quickly might be a new criteria of old age. Seeking out unique teas might be more enjoyable than stocking up on tongs for down the road, unless that tong is giving me Criteria #1, Tea that makes me feel Better. Or, perhaps instead of new experiences you're after a smallish stock of teas that are Old Standbys, reliable teas that give what we need. Perhaps we feel done trying new things and it's all about refining a collection of easy-to-reach-for drinkers. Maybe it's about packing that bag ahead of time for the hospital stay with the non-clogging Yixing, the shou mug and the gaiwan travel set along with stashes of those mainstays. Only the young can afford to travel hoping for tea bags at the destination. As for me, I never travel without my stash and hotpot. Whatever we need, money is not the issue, but what WORKS to keep us lively is the main consideration.

Tea vendors might be catering to younger drinkers, trying to bring new tea  lifers into the fold. That seems to be a sound business strategy. But dedicated tea drinkers already buying tea are growing older, not younger, and it will be up to us to make vendors aware of our needs as more western drinkers hit the upper middle age. Vendors have no idea how many of us are out here, how big our wallets are, and what we are looking for. Unless we have some idea of what we need, and express ourselves, we can't expect vendors to know. I suggest that tea pimps showcase some unique tea experiences, one-time chances to try something. Or maybe highlight teas with bodily effects that are relaxing or soothing, or that improve circulation. We need tea ware that is easy to handle, easy to clean and won't break by dropping. We need kettles that aren't iron-heavy to lift, and won't burn the house down by overheating.

Like every other tea drinker, I'm still hoping for that one-time amazing tea, probably an old tea that I will only have a single chance to try. No matter my age, I'll never have everything crossed off my bucket list of tea. I might be changing teaware and ditching some cakes in favor of others, but that unique tea is still the spark that keeps me going.

Now, if I can just crawl my way to the stove and get that kettle...

Requiescat in Pace.



















Saturday, November 15, 2014

Purple Haze

I'm having a mild panic attack at the moment. The kind a tea addict gets when faced with the prospect of a favorite tea selling out. Right now I'm still in the initial moment of sitting in frozen limbo, not yet at the place of forming a plan of what to do. People who drink loose leaf tea blends panic loudly on tea forums when a vendor discontinues a blend which has been available for several years. Or when a seasonal tea passes it's "season," like when pumpkin spice tea, or eggnog peppermint fruitcake chai sells out for good and the vendor won't be making any next year. Swap beggars hope that somebody is holding a stash, doesn't love the tea, and might be willing to part with a bit.

Puerh drinkers experience more tea panic, or less depending upon one's  perspective. Those with more panic have Yunnan Sourcing Facebook feeds on their cell phone, just in case new cakes come in, or when the 12 hour flash sale is announced. The ability to hit the Buy button immediately is the best way to keep the anxiety at bay. On the other hand, puerh drinkers might experience less tea panic because they are faced with the sold-out situation far more often, what psychologists consider an "exposure cure" for a person dealing with a phobia. A really good tea cake is incredibly limited to begin with, so "you snooze you lose" is a more common scenario than not for cake-ers, or tong-ers, depending upon your buying strategy. For the budget-minded, we employ strategies like filling up the shopping cart and then not quite checking out immediately as a way to deal with the problem, to put the anxiety at bay long enough to either steal from the kids' college fund or return to a rational perspective and log out.

This week I had planned to write up the purple Dehong leaf, a tea leaf much written about over the years. By coincidence, Yunnan Sourcing just announced their new monthly tea subscriptions. I'm guessing nearly everybody reading this already knows about the subscriptions. A tea addict who doesn't is really living under a rock. More likely all my friends here probably are the RSS feed type, this sort of announcement appearing on a cell phone could cause a person to miss a bus stop or fry a client's hair with perming solution. Adding to the allure are the various subscription types: one can get just puerh, or only black teas, or green and white teas. If you're a real drunk, then you're in for the Premium to get it all. It's amazing how our tea pimps devise more ways to make it easy to keep us staggering and babbling incoherently, while spending the wife's shoe money. In the case of Yunnan Sourcing, the tea subscription is an idea that is surprisingly overdue given how long YS has been around. But not surprising that the announcement follows White2Tea's lead last month in forming a new tea club. I expect a few other companies may not be far behind, because nobody wants to lose their tea addicts. We have a real dilemma on our hands if budget is a consideration.

However, it is Yunnan Sourcing's tea subscription causing my current tea anxiety. One of my favorite black teas at the moment is the Wild Dehong Purple Black tea because it is in TWO of subscription packages for this month. Even before this week's announcement, the US site only had 18 packages left of the Wild Dehong Black. I'm afraid to look at the China site. But I'm also sitting here looking at my baggie which is starting to run low.


The Wild Purple Dehong Black has two different labels which is a little confusing when I'm already anxious. One is the "Light Roast," which oddly looks darker in the photo than the regular Wild Purple. Naturally I bought both last spring, but even stocking up ahead of time isn't enough. For me, this black tea is the best black tea I have ever tasted, and given my short time left on earth to drink tea, it might well be the best I will EVER taste. I've written maybe just one tea review on a vendor's site, and it was for this tea that I did so, because I wept the first time I drank it.

Wild Purple Dehong Black (regular roast)
This leaf is the xAssamica varietal which is naturally purple, grows wild, repelling bugs and sun on its own. I'm brewing it strong here, you know me, but even a small amount of this tea is lovely. Here I have 4 grams of this purple haze for my 125 ml cup, flash brewing in the gaiwan. My first brew was a little light, subsequent brews turned out darker, needs about a minute or so to brew.

First steep a little light, needed a good minute to brew
The real wonder of this tea is that the scent actually translates into the cup, so I can taste what I'm smelling. Not all teas do this, many darjeelings smell floral but you can't always taste it. This tea has that fragrance and taste which some call peony, or pea blossom. To me, I smell and taste roses. You can look at a rose and smell the fragrance, but can you taste the flower? One can even dry up and brew rose hips and petals which are actually sharp and sour, a rather nice flavor, but nothing like the scent of the rose. This Purple Haze actually tastes like roses. Stendhal Syndrome, overcome by celestial beauty of nature and art, fear of falling, I had it all.

The "Light Roast" looks no different from the regular roast when comparing the dry leaf. Both teas are first oxidized and then fermented for a month or so.

Light Roast, same leaf
Even in the cup they look similar.

Light Roast, steaming hot
Drinking both side-by-side with boiling water, and about a minute or so of steep time, I notice that the Light Roast produces a slightly more bitter brew. Both teas fill the mouth completely with a zing that is typical of the Dehong Purple Assamica varietal, the zing that says "bugs, stay away," and natural sunglasses for this leaf.

I get a good 4 steeps from the leaf before really increasing the steep time. Finally I let the leaf sit in water overnight and drank the cold brews in the a.m. I noticed the Light Roast had a tangy bitterness that the regular roast completely lacked, staying sweet despite having soaked all night.

These lovely teas and much history of online discussion persuaded me to purchase a few Dehong puerh bricks, despite my better judgement. By that I mean I don't usually want to buy teas that need a lot of aging before they are drinkable. However, the recent droughts in Yunnan have reportedly produced concentrated tea leaves, so even if the teas are strong they make a good buy for aging, and for leaving in my collection for my son to try in the future. I purchased a tong of five 2013 100g bricks for about $30, these are the small bricks. This has since sold out from the US site. You can find a 2008 Wild Purple 500g brick at the US site, or a 2011 500g brick on the China site. The tea is also available in 2014 beeng form, and other aged versions as well.

Tongs are the most reassuring form of tea
One big inspiration for me to break open this tong is a vintage 1950s Jadeite glass tea canister I found at a local charity shop.
Green glass known as Jade-ite
 This isn't exactly the best aging container for puerh, but it's not easy to find a container that will snugly fit these rectangle bricks. I really want to get this tea out of the bamboo, my goal is to keep the flavor of the leaf and avoid any additional bamboo taste.

Packin' a punch
And I now have an excuse to taste the tea.

Dehong brick puerh, easy to see similarities with the black tea versions
Went strong on this, about 8 grams rinsed three times. The result is an incredibly strong and bitter brew.
First steep 2013 Dehong puerh brick
My Yixing produces a slightly more orange brew than a gaiwan would, but I kinda need the softening from the pot. Because this tea is a gut bomb, unlike the gentle sweet leaf I've read about in years past going back to 2005. Lemme say that this brick + NSAID = drain cleaner. I drank probably 8 steeps of the tea and it was still going plenty strong. Awesome tea drunk.

Digging in the gaiwan I find at least three buds along with the older huang pian, a nice mix for the little price of around $6 a brick that I paid.
At least the bricks fit.
I paid hard the following day with cold feet and a complete cleanse. Aside from that, under the bitterness is that lovely floral 'n roses that I taste much more strongly in the black tea. I think this puerh needs to age in a better container, something stoneware. Right now it's safely tucked away until I find that perfect vessel.
Curved clay shard takes up remaining space
And...I'm in for a two day shou recovery session.

Oy.

Requiescat in Pace.