; Cwyn's Death By Tea: The Doctor is Naka-erd ;

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Doctor is Naka-erd

Chasing a good tea sometimes feels a little like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football. For those of you not familiar with American comic strips, Charles M. Schulz's "Peanuts" main character Charlie, a bit of an everyman-oaf, tries to kick an American football held by his neighbor Lucy. At the last second, however, Lucy pulls the football away, causing Charlie Brown to miss and fall flat on his back. Yet like Sisyphus perpetually trying to roll a rock up a mountain, Charlie Brown never learns. He continues to try and kick that football, and soon we know Lucy will pull it out of reach every time. If puerh drinkers are forever chasing the Incredible Tea Cake that must be out there someplace, then perhaps we are a bit like Charlie Brown always trying to get that football. Then I have to ask, who is Lucy?

Schultz offers another Sisyphean motif. In this recurring scenario, Lucy sets up a booth with a sign saying "Psychiatric Help 5¢ The Doctor is In." And Charlie always pays the nickel and Lucy gives cheap and often pithy advice every time. The message is that someone is always willing to dispense cheap advice, and always an idiot around who will fall for it. Sometimes Lucy isn't even there and Charlie Brown pays the nickel anyway. So, if puerh buying is a bit like forever trying to kick the football, or like putting a nickel in the jar hoping for advice that changes everything, then we are all Charlie Brown in a sense. And Lucy is the expert with an opinion for a nickel.

In a Relativist universe of tea, everyone has an opinion and no one's opinion is better than anyone else's. In that universe, we should all set up a Paypal link for people to pay a nickel. But if tea drinking is not an entirely relative experience, does this mean it's possible to be an expert? I've noticed how many people in the tea world stop short of using the word "expert." The idea of "expert" assumes that there is an objective set of criteria with which a person can become familiar, up to the point of claiming expertise. Perhaps expertise is something to read, like volumes of tea science, or philosophy, written by someone like a Thomas Aquinas with his forty volumes, and an expert is the person who knows those volumes inside and out, and has written a thesis and successfully defended a premise in a jury of peers who have also read the same forty volumes.

But what do we do in a Post-objectivist Puerh Universe if we don't have those forty volumes? Or if we do have those forty volumes, what happens when Thomas Aquinas wakes up one day after a bad bout of pneumonia and calls his own forty volumes "rubbish," as he most certainly did? What happened to Thomas is that a Vision of the most sublime kind convinced him that a Divine Experience reigned supreme over any rational proofs that he could devise. In fact, one could argue that familiarity equals experience, and an expert is someone who has simply consumed more divine tea than anyone else. At that point, wisdom or expertise becomes a function of time, and thus of age. Or, at the most wishful, an experience of luck, of Divine Intervention. If experience, age, and Divine Experience are the criteria for expertise, then I've got a nickel booth to sell.

My nickel booth most certainly is about Age, and my tea buying criteria has everything to do with my age. The main reason I will choose one tea over another is because I don't have as much time left as you young people. I want teas I can drink now. I can't wait for a hoard of plantation cakes to hopefully age into something drinkable.

To be completely honest, I'm mostly looking to get wasted on tea.

One of the reasons I love puerh tea is sometimes I get so utterly tea drunk that I think I'm 20 again. For an old lady like me, nothing beats a nap and 8 quick steeps to forget, at least for a little while, that physically I've turned the corner. I hoard any tea that gets me so completely delusional as to forget my white head of hair, the ridiculous number of medications I have to take, and my occasional incontinence. Some teas work better than others, and in this I might possibly have a suggestion. A couple of teas recently have got me stoned, high, dry-mouthed, and left with the munchies. Drinking this stuff isn't for pleasant company, it's for lying around and avoiding. Like any other addict, I don't want my supply compromised. I fear a run on these teas once the word gets too far.

Twodog2's 3rd tenet about tea is if you find something you like, then you better move and buy it in bulk quick, before the stash is gone forever. This is wise advice, but the problem is one of the cakes I like requires the sale of my first born. So I've been trying to pawn off my First Born on everybody I run into, including the plumbers working on my house last week, but so far no takers. The most promising possibility has been "if you'd asked back in May, we'd have taken him." So I'm stuck with wanting to buy more of a tea that I can't afford. However, my couple of months of research did yield me a few possible substitutes.

The cake I really like is white2tea's 2005 Naka. Now this tea is described on the website as providing "an uncommon body response of deep calm." No, I'm not going to help you by providing a link, go find it yourself. Or better yet, don't go. Leave that tea alone. TwoDog2 wrote me a short letter saying "this tea should come with a note saying 'don't operate heavy machinery.' The tea is pure drugs." And it most certainly is. In fact, I'd recommend it for writing your Essay on Human Understanding, which none of you really want to write, do you? Turning into a babbling idiot on purpose is wasted on anyone with lesser intentions, myself included. However, for writing something of lesser import, such as beginning a tea blog, it's a great tea to start anyone out.
2005 Naka by white2tea

With the experience of tea being entirely relative, with some possible Objective Universal Criteria floating out there in a foggy bog, I don't expect anyone to believe me, at least not without some kind of "objective" research. I've had at least 5 sessions with this 2005 Naka cake, and I've got an extra cake, just to make sure I have a stash put by. My sessions have been the usual 8 grams with 125 ml water, but I'm thinking of cutting back these parameters so the tea lasts longer. After all, a good 10 steeps is a good 10 steeps whether in a small teapot or a large one.
Front of cake, white2tea 2005 Naka
To get another opinion, I mailed a sample of this tea to someone else, somebody whose palate and tea writing I respect. And who is less of a stoner than I am. He was able to confirm the experience of being buzzed via email. In the next email he complained about the munchies. After that he went strangely silent. I suspect he passed out, though he hasn't admitted it yet. I am not going to say who this expert is, in part to avoid any potential Embarrassment that might be had in exchanging tea with The Likes of Me, but also because he might decide to review this tea himself someday. Now two people don't constitute a Large Sample, but more than one person brings us outside of the relativist universe.
Reverse view, white2tea 2005 Naka
What do I mean by stoned? I mean face and head buzz, woozy eyeballs, incoherent babbling, a dizzy feeling of unreality, and mild vertigo. I do know what I mean by stoned from my younger days actually spent stoned. Back in grad school I was quite a heavy cannabis user hanging around a lot of other cannabis users. Seems to be a requisite grad school experience, and lacking experience in such key areas of life I joined right in. I remember going to my graduate statistics classes completely baked, and the feeling of heady awareness spreading from my right brain over to the left when I experienced a full, and yet nuanced, understanding of linear regression analysis from a particularly fine aged professor combined with a young sinsemilla.
First steep, 2005 Naka by white2tea
So what's up with this tea equivalent of pot brownies? The fact that it has some humid storage early on makes for more aged leaf than the cake should have at just shy of 10 years, and a nicer tasting brew. (Though with these effects, who cares how it tastes?) But the effect is likely due to the source material. Naka village has at least two types of leaf on the market. We know that the Lahu people have been tending tall, old trees up on the mountain. At the same time, there are terraced tea gardens further down that are sold to the market. People are also tending tea plants in their personal gardens, which consist of young trees, probably plantation cuttings, alongside maybe an old tree in the yard too. All this tea gets sold to the market, some mixed together with other regions, and some of course probably outright faked.

The mountain old trees in the area produce a smaller, more yellowish leaf than the terraced teas below. That mountain stuff is likely the tea that produces the psychoactive effect, supposedly Age and Experience in tea trees produces the ability to repel nasty insect invaders and this bug repellent produces the tea drunk. Of course it's always possible that terrace tea pesticides are getting me stoned, which is fine by me since I don't have future unborn children to think of. Or possible too that somebody is growing cannabis in their tea garden. Maybe a particular insect chews on the tea leaving behind a sort of saliva. Or, tea experience might be entirely relative or I am completely full of hogwash and you should consult an "expert." But who can tell whether one cake will get you completely Naka-erd and another will not? I have read enough tea reviews of Naka teas in which nobody has mentioned feeling stoned. But I'll make an effort to do some comparison testing, for no better reason than to sound more Objective. What I'm looking for is tea with smaller leaves. Might be difficult to tell chop from small leaves, but the surface of the cake, for once, might actually tell us something.

So too might the processing technique. Chawangshop carries Naka produced the old fashioned Lahu way. Lahu folks cut bamboo stalks at least one year old, but not too old because the sticks need to be a bit damp. Tea is stuffed into the bamboo and then the whole thing is steam/roasted. Once the leaves are wilted down, more tea can be stuffed in until the whole thing is packed tight. The tea can be aged in the bamboo or removed at this point and wrapped in paper. To me this sounds like a great home technique for dealing with that big tea tree in your yard without needing any special equipment. The Mason jar of Naka.

I'm guessing Lahu folk sell their maocha loose, but perhaps the bamboo stuff is what they keep under the floorboards. I have a hard time believing anyone will go to all the trouble to stuff tea chop into bamboo when whole leaves are so much faster, and easier to deal with. And I can't figure out why the Lahu people would want to sell their bamboo-ed mountain tea leaves. If I were one of them I'd be putting it all under the floorboards for myself and telling the tea buyers to bugger off. But maybe a few people actually sell it, and maybe Chwangshop has it.

Chawangshop makes no claims about their Naka village tea, but they have a 2007 spring and a 2012 autumn, as well as a boxed 2010. Any bamboo gets removed for cheaper shipping and apparently to help avoid customs issues. The spring 2007 version seems like something of a ballpark comparison with my 2005, and the description says it's the high mountain stuff. And no, you're not getting a link for this one either.
2007 Naka Qiao Mu Bamboo Raw, from Chawangshop
When mine arrives, the tea is tube shaped and wrapped in paper. It appears to have the smaller leaf. However, all of it is incredibly dry and green. For a 7 year old tea, this seems to have little to no age. And it's very compressed, giving me visions of gory puerh pick injuries. I put it into a ceramic glazed jar with a lid and add some humidity for a couple of weeks until it turns a little more brown, and starts to smell sweet and malty. Enough loose tea came with the package for a session, so I decide to go ahead and drink that. Got about 5 grams of loose into about 100 ml water. Liquor comes out orange with apricot scent.
First steep, 2007 Naka from Chawangshop
Reluctantly, I must say, a minor psychoactive effect is confirmed. Not as intense as the 2005 Naka from white2tea, but definitely there. So too the dry mouth and munchies. Now at $7.50 per 100 grams, this is cheaper than weed. But it's so green yet, I wish the bamboo storage device had been included with the purchase.

I investigate other Naka possibilities on Taobao and Ebay, just to see if I can find more cheap Naka with the same effect. At this point I either want to compare a plantation/terrace tea or find a lucky mountain tea. Both would be interesting to compare with the two I've tried so far. I find some decent-looking teas on Taobao varying in price from $5-29, but the real kicker with Taobao is shipping cost, plus any fees from a broker. These costs add so much to the price of a cake, I'd be halfway to buying another cake from white2tea. I leave the Taobaos in my cart for now and check Ebay. Ebay cakes usually include free shipping, and luckily I find a 2005 "Naka" cake for $21.99 from a store called fengyuan-teashop.
2005 Naka by fengyuan-teashop
This beeng cake is unusual at 370 grams. The leaves look big, even though the listing claims the tea is the mountain type. I don't believe listings, wrappers or even the cake appearance until I try it. Storage is claimed to be dry, but the tea ships from Hong Kong so I hope for at least some humidity. Optimistically I stock up on Old Dutch Cheesy Puffcorn. (A cheese popcorn substitute, hulls are hell on 'roids.)
Front of cake, 2005 Naka from fengyuan-teashop
When the cake arrives in shrink wrap, the completely dry storage is clear. Just a light dusty sweet odor and the leaves are lightly brownish-green and black. A side-by-side comparison with the same age white2tea Naka makes it difficult to discern any difference between the front of the cakes, but back sides are telling, and the difference is even more obvious once brewed.
Knot hole in the Ebay cake is off-center
 The Ebay cake brews up light orange and peachy, and within a few brews starts tending toward yellow. This tea also tastes smoky, something that a more humid storage would either mask or have worked out of the taste. Some char in the gaiwan with this one.
First steep, 2005 Naka from fengyuan-teashop
I get a pleasant feeling of relaxation usual when drinking puerh, but nothing like the first two teas. Also, the differences in the leaf size are far more obvious in the gaiwan than on the cake. You can see the larger leaf here, and I find a few big honkers in the Ebay cake, rather than the small leaf of the other two Nakas. Well, what do you expect? It's Ebay! Still, as a drinker tea, I could do worse for $21.99. It's not bad, after the first few sourish steeps the tea tastes a little like many of the factory tuos I've tried. But this old Doctor isn't Naka-erd this time. Even though it's a little less money than the bamboo Naka, the Chwangshop tea wins the cheap Naka contest in leaf quality, taste and stoner effect, though neither entirely rival the white2tea 2005 Naka.

Thank you so much to everyone for stopping by my nickel booth! I really appreciate the fellow tea writers and drinkers taking the time to read or comment. And I especially appreciate the folks in my age group who have dropped me an email, those of you in the same position as I am who have turned the corner and are dealing with progressive health issues, who are aging faster than your tea, or who want to get into puerh tea and find things you can drink right now. I am so with you...(pssst, you guys try the white2tea Naka, sample it, it's the better tea, leave the cakes for me).  `

Requiescat in Pace


  1. A monster of a post calls for a monster of a comment:

    First of all, I'd recommend picking up a much smaller gaiwan/teapot. I got a 60ml gaiwan recently and I've been LOVING (!!!) it. Love how 10g samples aren't a problem for me anymore. Dragon Tea House sells some 50-60ml ones, but they're expensive. You can probably pick up some horrible pu'erh along with it.

    Second, Cha Qi is a crazy thing. My first experience with Cha Qi was me, stoned out of my mind, rocking back and forth in an office chair, cheesy grin on my face, staring out the window, watching the steam come from my gaiwan. I'm sure I had red eyes too. Not sure if pot brownies are an adequate descriptor for some insane Cha Qi - maybe dabs?

    Third: That anonymous tea drinker specifically told me about how good W2T's Naka is. I really need to try it.

    Fourth: Our budget is the Lucy in the case of us not being able to get that perfect tea. We could find it if we had a bottomless wallet, constantly ordering, traveling, tasting, etc.

    Fifth: I could see you waking up your son with the smell of 2005 Naka and the sounds of Phish. "Damnit, is Mom drinking White2Tea's 2005 Naka again?". He's probably planning an intervention at the very moment.

    1. Hi Jake, thanks for writing! I do have smaller Yixing and Jian Shui
      teapots which I normally use for puerh tea. But these larger gaiwans
      are easier to see in photos, which is one reason I use them. Also, my
      clay pots make puerh taste better, and a gaiwan removes any variables
      such as minerals or previous teas which might affect the taste of
      something I'm trying to sample.

      I can understand the budget issue, we all have that to some extent.
      Thankfully most vendors offer samples which make teas a little more
      affordable. And as always, spending money appropriately with regard to
      one's family is righteousness. I'm at the bucket list time of life, so
      it's a now or never for me. My health isn't the best for travel, alas.

      And yes, my son does look at me funny. Recently he made the comment
      over the mails "more tea??" He's taken to suspiciously checking for
      packages on the steps now. Luckily much of what arrives lately are
      sample swaps. I do hope you get the chance to taste one of the Naka
      teas at some point :)

  2. I didn't know you could actually feel 'stoned' when drinking pu-erh tea. I recently placed an order with Chawangshop, and, had I read your post before paying for and finalizing the order, I would have ordered some of this tea!

    On a related note, I did buy their 08 Duo Wei Xiang Raw Bamboo Tea in a previous order, and it actually came in the bamboo tube, although their website said it wouldn't. It is REALLY hard to get the tea out, and so far I have been digging it out with my pu-erh pick, and then mostly really small pieces come out.

    After reading this, I decided to brew it up again. It has a very unusual flavor (and aroma), which I am guessing is the "sticky rice" flavor. I don't care for it, but then again, there are a number of teas I didn't like at first but grew to appreciate. Perhaps this will be one.

    I really enjoy reading your blog!

    1. Have you tried cutting open the tube? I guess if the tea is stubborn I'd clamp it and take my Dremel tool with a cutting blade to it.

    2. I haven't tried cutting it, yet. I don't have a tool to cut it with; although, now that I think of it, I could take it to a friends house with a cutting tool.

      btw, I am thinking of placing another order with Chawang teashop, and if I do I will buy some of the tea you referenced in this blog. I found a few teas so far I have liked from my first order that was almost all samples. Amongst other things, I bought a few cakes and bricks in my latest order. By chance, are there any other (relatively inexpensive) teas you recommend buying from them?

  3. Hi Cwyn,
    very interesting article once again. While I haven't tried the w2t Naka, I got the two Naka bamboo teas, and was very surprised when I compared the two: While the 2007 tea had a rather yellowish liquor and did really taste quite young, the 2012 is much darker and has almost chocolate-like qualities. I've been wondering whether they confused the two? So, did you try the 2012 bamboo naka yet? I'd be interested whether the one you got is much darker, too.

    And hi, SimpliciTEA. I really like Chawangshop and while it may be a bit late for you question, I found it really worthwhile to try their other Heichas - they got a lot of very good liubaos, for example. The older Liu-Ans are also great.

    Best regards! Michael