; Cwyn's Death By Tea: 2015 ;

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

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Yorkshire Tea


Nearly a kilo??
Every so often I see a request on a tea forum from someone looking for Yorkshire tea. This sort of tea is rather difficult to find in the US. In fact I personally don’t know of anywhere to find it. But now I’m the proud owner of an obscenely large amount of it, courtesy of my friend Rob in England. Rob is a rather well-known Role Playing video gamer, and in the world of Final Fantasy gaming, one of the best known in the English speaking world. As FF12Grandmaster, he is credited for cracking the random number generator in Final Fantasy XII, and I got to watch him figure it out. I have to tell you about all that, because in the eight years or so we’ve been friends and gamer pals, I’ve managed to see some bits of gaming history doing nothing but watch him play and enjoy my tea and diet soda. I suppose drinking Yorkshire Tea and writing about my friend Rob is particularly appropriate on Boxing Day, though he wouldn’t necessarily agree (“Holidays are pagan, I don’t celebrate them”).

Originally I met Rob (“it’s Rob, not Bob and don’t call me Robert”) after stumbling on one of his FFXII experiments posted in an online gaming forum, which he called “The Danjuro Experiment,”where he was credited for demonstrating the most efficient method for obtaining a dagger in the game called the Danjuro. This was so impressive I had to send him a message. I had never really thought before about working on something like methods for farming rare items. 


Photo of the Danjuro dagger
finalfantasy.wikia.com

Final Fantasy games are packed full of references to history and mythology, and in this case the Danjuro is an honorific family name given to actors in the history of Kabuki theatre. Interestingly, the great Kabuki actor Danjuro IX is known for an experiment incorporating western styles of acting and playwriting into Kabuki in Japan, with the intent on “modernizing” the Kabuki style, in plays known as “short-cropped,” which refers to short western men’s hairstyles. In particular at that time during the 1890s, an Englishman named Spencer brought hot air ballooning into Japan, astounding Tokyo by flying thousands of feet above the city to large crowds. This technology surprised the Japanese public, and the excitement spread into the theatre as well.

Fast forward into the future of Final Fantasy XII gaming, Japanese players were well known in video circles to spend hours and hours hunting seemingly impossible to get rare items from treasure chests. Things with chances like 1:1000 or even 1:10,000. Japanese games are full of these types of challenges which players enjoy cracking or at least beating the odds. Rob took a bit of information found on Japanese forums about un-equipping a weapon and having the character hit itself, leading to a combination of extra hits. With this information, he was able to work out changes in the random number generator to obtain the rarest items from treasure chests in various parts of the game. I happened to be watching Rob work this out while he streamed live on Ustream early in 2009, sitting back enjoying my Cheetos while he talked himself through what he saw in the game. So I can say I witnessed it first-hand, him doing this a full month before any Japanese player did. He made a video of the Five Hit Combo pattern using the Japanese International Version of  FFXII, and even published a written guide a few months later, demonstrating how he could obtain the rare Zodiac Spear every time.


Image credit.

Rob's video astounded the gaming community in Japan every bit as much as Spencer’s hot air balloon. First off, Japanese gamers had the opinion back then that English players were not even capable of playing Japanese games. I ran into this many times while playing Shirokishi Monogatari: Hikari to Yami no Kakusei 白騎士物語 -光と闇の覚醒 (White Knight Chronicles II), many players online said to me they couldn’t believe it that English and American people were capable of playing games in Japanese. Of course, English speaking gamers play games in Japanese all the time, always have, but folks in Japan don’t necessarily know about it. People came into our gaming room just to stare at us playing Shirokishi. Then there’s the opinion that Japanese gamers are better players than their western counterparts, an opinion that’s mostly true in my view. Just compare videos of gamers playing the same games and witness the difference in just speed of execution of commands alone. The difference in speed is something I find absolutely nerve-wracking playing on Japan servers, along with getting my kanji correct, and the most rewarding when I manage to succeed in blending in with a crowd of players.

But all that came later. When Rob made that video showing he cracked the Square Enix RNG in FFXII, the fact that an Englishman had done it was equally as amazing as the fact that anyone accomplished it at all. The best part, Rob is someone my age, not some whippersnapper kid. In fact he is a couple years older than I am. Let the world know the best of the best in RPG video gaming are not the kids anywhere in the world, but a proud old English fart in the west midlands fighting heart disease on a juice diet. So too does Spencer live on, lurking in the wings of Kabuki theatre in the play “Riding the Famous Hot Air Balloon.” Incidentally, the short English speech delivered in the play, the first ever in Japan, was penned by Imaizumi Hidetaro 今泉秀太郎, a cartoonist who, on April 27, 1891, was the first ever to use the word “manga” to refer to what we call “caricature.” Now maybe I am making a bit much of these little snippets of history, and droning on overlong. But you can say whatever you want, because behind great art forms of Kabuki and manga and modern video games lurks a pesky Englishman. Wish it away if you will, but from now on you’ll think of it when you crack open your manga collection or when the HD version of FFXII gets released, if it ever does.


Kabuki's Spencer, the tokyo files
After Rob’s RNG cracking, players further expanded upon his work and found that by casting a heal spell, the values of the Cure varied in pattern. With a lot of trial and error, players worked out what today is known as “the Cure Method.” This works by casting a Cure and looking up the numbers on a spreadsheet which then gives the player an idea of where the random number pattern happens to be at that moment, and then count the number of movements until the pattern will land on the spot needed for a rare item. Players didn’t seem to understand the self-hit method as well as they understood the easy business looking up a number on a spreadsheet. Personally I found the spreadsheet a lot harder to follow than looking for a five-hit combo, but whatever. Most people don’t even bother with this type of experimentation today, people just bust open the code on a disc, use Codebreaker and call it a day. I think a person needs a particular kind of head for numbers and patterns and that is what Rob’s got. At any rate, his guide covers both.

Unfortunately, he deleted most of his videos in a huff at YouTube, but he still has a few on Veoh. I personally miss the video of fist fighting Zodiark, which had some of the finest English cussing I’ve ever heard. The dates on the guides I linked to above speak for themselves. However, you might enjoy a different video that still exists showing and narrating the method for obtaining the invisible Seitengrate bow (odds 1:10,000), not his personal discovery but his video makes it easy for English players to follow. In case the video code doesn't work right, here is the link.



Watch FFXII IZJS Seitengrate in Tech & Gaming  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

If you're still having a problem with the link, try a Google search for "Seitengrate Veoh."

Over the years, FF12Grandmaster has become a good friend, through years of video streaming, moderating a gaming forum called fftogether.com, yakking on Skype and playing several games together either in online co-op fashion or just chatting away while each of us plays at whatever we’re playing at the moment. What I’m most grateful for is the motivating effect he has on me to become a better player and stretch my abilities. Many of us seek out friends who always affirm and soothe, but Rob is one of the few people who motivates me through challenge. I’ve become a better player through our divergence in opinions, and even the bits of misogyny he tosses around, not entirely directed at me, but rather like the boys of my neighborhood did when I was a kid. ”Women are meant to stay home, raise kids, cook and clean.” Eye-rollers like that I take as a personal challenge. The best persons you can ever know are not the ones who are there to approve or baby you along the way, but the ones who dish it out just enough to spur one to become better. I socked many a boy back in my childhood for remarks like those I’ve heard from him. And I’ve grown more confident by far playing alongside tough customers who will tell me my gear is shit than I would by playing with someone who might hand me an easy win.

In 2011, my sister gave me a frequent flyer ticket to head over to England and stay a bit in Milton Keynes to visit with Rob and another then-mutual friend of ours. Instead of doing a whole lot of sightseeing, I guess we fired up the Playstation 3 and ordered English pizza, which I can assure you is not recognizable by any American. Not much has changed over the years. Last fall we revisited Square Enix’s “The Last Remnant,” this time on PC and on Hard Mode. I got through some stressful days at work by coming home and jumping on Skype and firing up the game while yakking for 5 hours with my overseas gamer pal. During all this we covered a lot of topics, like what’s in the news, differences in our cultures (mine being the inferior), religions (mine leading to hell), world events (“can’t be arsed,”), and just stuff. Somewhere in the midst of the Hard Mode on “Last Remnant,” we did a tea swap. I sent puerh and some fine black teas, and he sent me enough Yorkshire tea to brew one for my entire town if I wish, a quantity which Rob assures me “is enough for a typical English family for about a month.”


Comparison with American tea box.

He sent a set of instructions with the tea.



Most of us gong-fu brewers worry over the idea of letting a tea sit in the water for 4-6 minutes, but okay I’ll “be a sport” and “give it a go.” For no better reason than Rob likes to say I’m a “Yank,” when there is no way in hell a Polack Hungarian Jew American will ever qualify as a Yank. Apparently we’re all Yanks. I don’t get it, but this idea rankles enough for me to give the tea a long steep as he suggests, and play Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans,” a tune I hear plenty in my head when he gets going on what’s wrong with America, and this tune is just half long enough to steep a Yorkshire tea. I can actually play this song through twice while (“it’s WHILST, you people have butchered our language”) the tea bag steeps, recounting the resounding 1814 victory of the Americans over the British (“I’m English, not British, don’t ever call me British!”). Here’s to a proud history of butchering the language:




I feel better now. Dunno about this tea, but I’m definitely thirsty (“I’ve got a mouth like a Turkish wrestler’s jock strap”). Now I have to add milk. I normally don’t sugar any teas at all. I’d rather have a doughnut to go. Never mind, I’ll try it without sugar first. His ears must have been ringing because my Skype buzzed before I got started. So, Rob talked me through the anxiety of letting a tea sit for five minutes.


After about 5 minutes.

And how much milk to put in.



Second attempt at the photo, the first didn't pass approval.
This tea by our standards of puerh consumption is extremely mild, even after a five minute brew. The leaves are of course rather powdery in the bag, as they are with standard tea bags. I get a little bit of tannin on the finish. I will likely need two bags to approach anything like a strong tea. Yorkshire Tea is inoffensive enough, though one wonders about the growing conditions after all the hoopla on the BBC last year about tea picker working conditions in India.

This tea is enough in quantity for me to give up my a.m. coffee and drink this box up instead. Most of my teas are too strong to take with my a.m. meds, so that’s why I drink coffee and milk instead as my first beverage, at least normally I do. But I can take my pills with this Yorkshire tea and milk. As for gaming, I finished up what I wanted to do on “The Last Remnant” about six weeks ago, and have been playing Mass Effect 1 on the PC. He’s still at it on Last Remnant, dunno if we’ll be playing the same game again anytime soon, could be years from now if ever. But whatever he plays I’m interested in watching, so as long as he streams it I’ll eat chips and watch. (“It’s crisps, not chips. Chips are for fish.”) Maybe I’ll get back to England and attend a home team soccer game by the Milton Keynes Dons. “The entire world calls football, football except you people.”

See? Oh, I have good reason to head over to Merry Olde England talking like a Polack. That’s an occasion that can’t be missed.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Daddy's Drinking Up Our Christmas

This one is dedicated to Hobbes the Half Dipper, and the rest a' ya's too.


Let us review the literature. Nowhere is it written that parents are required to buy the children anything at Christmas. Or on Boxing Day, for that matter. The Commandment reads "honor thy father and mother," which means the whole purpose of the holidays is for the children to buy me tea. Failing that, the holidays are a perfect opportunity to acquire tea for myself while the children watch me check out on Paypal, and for the children to brew up because Mother is tired.

Take a look at the Black Friday tea sales topic on Steepster. Do you readers see any indication that holiday shopping sales are about buying presents for other people? You don't. Some of the best tea authorities and bloggers in the world posted on that topic and not just people wondering how to drink food grade matcha. In fact, the entire first page of the forum is about tea sales and what people bought for themselves. I have an Instagram account with dozens of tea heads posting recent acquisitions who wouldn't dream of buying anything for the wives who aren't required to clean the tea ware anyhow.

Unwashed tea ware by TeaDB
I spent my years in the academy choking on too much Derrida and Foucault, and the idea we construct our own reality. It was all bullshit, but I wasn't dumb. I knew how to listen and how to pretend. One term struck me as worth keeping, which is "discursive regime." This means when Daddy talks, children listen, and what I say goes. And it's Doctor, not Muther or Mummy or Mumsie or Mom or whatever else the kids want to call me. It's Doctor, and what temperature would I like the water for this one? And for the record, the child having a birthday near the holidays is not an indication of any special treatment. It wasn't my fault the kid was born this time of year and certainly not my fault I got pregnant to start with. In a discursive regime, nothing I call reality is up for discussion and the result of my regime is their own personal stability.

All this is why alcoholics invented taverns, so they could get away from the mess and drink in peace.


 


We tea drunks need to own for ourselves what the alcoholics have got, because after all our tea is as strong, if not stronger, than what they are drinking and we only beat the kids maybe half the time. The problem we tea drinkers have, though, is that we are burdened with an entire tea drinking culture affected by religion, and annoying peaceful religions at that, like Zen or Dao despite the fact that the real religious figures like Buddha are grossly and blissfully overweight and appear to be enjoying themselves as I fully intend to do. Or like Jesus bar Joseph, whose birthday we've decided to celebrate in many countries. When Rabbi Jesus went to a party he made sure to order more wine and command bread and fish to appear from nowhere. Bring us another round. He taught me that the glory isn't in suffering, but in drinking to the very end and on a sponge if I have to. My only problem is I was just born too early for the future of puerh tea houses yet to come.




Yes, the holidays are for brown paper bags of tea.


I did do this.

And for drinking tea with abandon and glorious incontinence which other people will clean up.


Did this too.

And for spending the end of the year bonus on anything except for the kids.


I did NOT do that. Wait, I might have.

I bought my family underwear and they will feel grateful. If not, I have plenty of holiday whining music to play in the background that they can hate on while Mother finishes the gaiwan. Because I've got a good ten steeps left.




Happy Holidays!







Monday, December 21, 2015

2007 Colds and Flu


2007 Clouds and Fog factory cake
2007 Clouds and Fog cake by Bonanshan Mountain Tea Co. has been around awhile with a low price attractive to buyers on a budget. I’ve seen this cake reviewed in a number of places, and you can still find it at Yunnan Sourcing US and also at Mandala Tea, both likely from the same batch. This factory tea went through some wetness early on and then storage in the Lincang area before Yunnan Sourcing shipped it over to the US. Mandala is currently running a 20% off sale, with $5 flat rate shipping, which brings their $34 price tag more in line with YS $24 price for 357g and shipping extra. Depending upon where you live, the Mandala deal might be the better one because of the flat rate shipping cost, especially so for Canadians. I’m always interested in picking up inexpensive tea with a history of a bit of wet storage, and then seeing where it goes. After all, I don’t want to mess around doing storage experiments with my more expensive cakes.


Warped from wet. Winter sun a bit bright.
At first glance, the cake visually exhibits the wet quality, and based on the photos from the two vendors, I seem to have acquired a wetter example. Hard to see the slightly warped shape of the cake, but you can see the spots where the tea leaves mush together. The cake is tightly compressed, yet I note the leaves flaking away at the edges where wetness permeated and lifted the tea out of shape. So, I expect somewhat of a degree of variability between the cakes, more or less wet. Thus if you have this tea, yours may differ from mine a bit.


Mushy leaves on the bottom
I like to see individual cakes like this which now have a decent collection of qualitative impressions online, such as on the Yunnan Sourcing listing and on Steepster.  We are lacking data on tea in the US, in fact we are only getting started. What we need are teas which converge online among puerh heads, with this data later on we will develop more understanding of the future of this cake in the hands of collectors in the US and Canada. No doubt many other tea cakes now have a lot of impressions online as well, so let’s keep on writing!


12 grams today in 150 ml
In general, I don’t drink many teas with 2-10 years of age. With all the storage experiments I’ve been doing, I can taste fermentation and storage to the point where it screams at me and obliterates the subtleties for me at first. So few teas are drinkable during years 2-10, and I’m not sure it is entirely healthy to drink them either. I prefer fresh tea or it needs to be older than 10 years. Despite my distaste, I need a baseline check on the tea when I first get hold of it, so 12 grams and off I go for the kettle.


Clouds and Fog are what I see in fermented tea. Steeps 4 and 5.
Martini size tea cup by teaware.house
Other reviewers noted the antique/Chinese medicine character to the tea and wow, it hits in the nose on the first 7 steeps. This seems to be a combination of the usual smoky/acrid character which I often find in Menghai not-so-high-end leaf, along with an incredible amount of camphor. In fact, this tea is one of the more camphorated cakes I’ve ever had. Intuitively it feels like this cake got so wet in a single event that the camphor oil escaped the leaves, congealed, and then dried out. The soup is intensely cooling in the throat and esophagus, like a spicy cough drop, and remained cool for well over an hour as I wrote this post. Luckily the cake didn’t sit in wetness to the point of developing a mildew-y, musty odor. In fact it has a dry/wet combination smell to it. I definitely get the dryness in the first few steeps so I think the tea has stayed dry for quite some time since the initial wet event.


Leaves after 11 steeps
Tea leaves need to have a strong integrity to survive a wet event and continue to age on. This leaf just doesn’t have the power once I get past the Chinese medicine and camphor. I am really after leaf quality for drinking, and the buds and leaves in this tea are from young bushes and now feel like tissue paper. They crumble easily wet and dry. Some reviewers noted a floral, rose quality and maybe you will too. I’m looking for bitterness, or sour juicy fruit and this leaf hasn’t got it. The tea is rather smooth with very little flavor. Still, the caffeine is quite strong, I got jittery after 7 steeps and yes I brewed big pots so I drank a lot of liquid. My son drank the 6th steep and said nothing much except “it’s good.” I brewed the pot past steep 9, but I didn’t drink the remaining steeps, simply because I’d had enough caffeine. By steep 11, I got nothing much but color in the cup.

So, what is the character here? I can imagine this tea will continue fading but will keep the camphor, the smooth storage, and a bit of caffeine. This tea has that old Chinese medicine flavor, and down the line should remain warming. My sinuses cleared out from the camphor, quite honestly though, I don’t taste much of anything else. I can’t imagine wanting to drink this for a nice cuppa. Yet, I am interested in herbal characteristics, and if I had an herbal shop, I’d put this tea away for another ten years and then see what effects remain. So, anyone lacking an example of camphorated puerh or medicine tea in their collection might want to pick this up for their colds and flu. I won’t worry about the storage, I will ziploc plastic bag it and call it a day. No point in clogging up my storage with a tea that won’t benefit much from optimal conditions.

Clouds and Fog, and Colds and Flu are all we have to show in
Wisconsin December this year. 
Normally we'd have snow and not this green grass!

Requiescat in Pace

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Dog Gone Mad

Today the pu heads of the world officially received notice that white2tea has a new tea ware shop called teaware.house. All week I’ve been in a constant state of anxiety in anticipation of the “announcement,” steeling myself against whatever else might hit my hoarding tendencies. As if I don’t have enough problems already defending myself from over-shopping the likes of white2tea puerh and Chawangshop heicha, which have become borderline obsessions. Now, I can admit the exact nature of my mental illnesses around everything regarding tea because I don’t see any shame whatsoever in buying as much tea and tea ware as I can possibly afford. Perhaps this could be my advanced age where I don’t give a rat’s arse anymore. Or, as I’ve suspected all along, TwoDog is one sick puppy.

This is a guy who, standing on my ex-husband’s patio this summer, told me absolutely straight faced, after very thoughtfully handing me a “cha hai” he bought that day in a secondhand thrift charity shop: “You shouldn’t spend money on tea ware. You can buy stuff like this at the thrift shops and sell it for a ton online,” he says. Why would I do that when I can buy Mirka Randova and Petr Novak instead? But, whatever… so he is by far more reasonable with his money than I am, to each person their own, right?


Manganese glaze "cha hai," gift from TwoDog. Found at a charity shop.
Photographed white2tea style by Cwyn. Shadows....
Likely a souvenir from Old World Wisconsin, in Eagle, WI  a re-enactment historical
tourist destination. Though this exact pitcher can also be found
at Historic Jamestowne, VA. American historical tourist sites have an odd uniformity
in souvenirs, even when the sites are supposed to be 100 years apart in era.
Yet it gets worse. During the same tea session he says, “You really shouldn’t spend money on tea,” causing me something of a panic because I’d already been banned from spending money at white2tea since late 2014 and was hoping to work my way around to asking him to lift the ban. Now, does it make any sense to you, at all, that a tea vendor tells someone not to buy any tea? Or bar them from their shop? Last year I was banned with an email which said “If you buy anything I will refund your money in a blind rage.”

TwoDog isn’t the only tea vendor who has banned me from buying and likely won’t be the last. I’ve been banned for all kinds of reasons. For instance, I don’t think I’m allowed near the Yunnan Sourcing dumpster any time soon.  But the white2tea ban of 2014-2015 was most worrying, as my tea friends can testify, what with all the anxious emails I sent over this past year, wondering if I dared try to buy anything. This summer, with anxiety mounting over the new 2015 teas, and whether I will actually be able to buy any of them, I was brave and asked anyway if he would lift the ban. “Well, I’ll just send you some tea,” was the answer.

Sweet, but I don’t understand. Where am I supposed to buy tea? I might be banned from Bend, Oregon, but at least I can still order online from Yunnan Sourcing, and a friend of mine just moved to Medford so I have another inroad to Bend anyhow. Cutting the online vein full of needle sticks doesn’t cure the heroin addict, and won’t help the puerh hoarder either. Even more puzzling, TwoDog said something like “I have 3 metric tons of puerh stored in two countries.”

Can I order from the storage garage then?



Despite the ambiguity, in late July I bravely placed a Bosch cake in the cart and checked out. I kept looking at my emails nervously for a few days, wondering if I would need to get James at TeaDB to order it for me. But the Bosch arrived, and you may have seen that review. Then I successfully managed to get a 72 Hours, crossing my fingers and hoping that K. at white2tea might pack it up and ship it before TwoDog caught wind of it. Sure enough, that order arrived as well. “I’m in the clear,” I thought. So it seemed, until a tea ware package arrived this week. What is this??  


Partial glaze teapot from teaware.house.

“I have too much tea ware,” he says, I rented a storage unit.”

TwoDog is a hoarder. 

Yes, all the weirdness starts to make sense. Or so I thought. I mean, I was absolutely certain I finally understood the nature of the odd relationship I have with this vendor because I have plenty of tea hoarder friends and they all start babbling nonsense when I suggest I’m on my way over. You can diagnose a hoarder when a perfectly rational person rambles incoherently when you hit on their items of choice. Just listen for the normally logical person to lose it like an Alzheimer’s patient lurking by the locked door in the nursing facility. Sudden lapses in reasoning are your clues, and I completely missed it. A guy that supposedly is selling tea, but then won't sell it? It’s a hoarding issue!!! Yes!! Finally figured it all out, or merely saw the obvious that I failed to see all along.

Until I found this postcard in the box TwoDog sent me this week. Oh, I was wrong. Well not entirely wrong, but really, really clueless.


Double blacked out, you tea heads are not getting MY code

I get it now.

So I sent the following email:

Receiving this [postcard] on a slightly off tilt day, I can understand completely your feelings for me because I knew at once that I'm the old Hungarian lady on the Bosch cake, and I have known all along what you are trying to say. In a way I can somewhat say it is reciprocal, you and your lady friend are very cute indeed, especially if you have another 30-40 lbs each on your frames just because you are both a bit skinny, but I can certainly fix that. Aside from this, I'm sure you can tell that being the pansexual I am, I can more or less go any way without preference, although I'm slightly more favoring women only because physically men become more difficult due to my own age-related hormonal loss.

Setting that issue aside, okay, I can certainly meet you in your location of choice, though I will admit that while you have indeed walked through my dreams, it has been more of an amorphous kind of connection as opposed to purely amorous, but hey, I'm truly and honestly flexible and I was, after all, raised by a tootsie for a mother.

Now I can certainly escalate my communication with you to several times a day and you can only imagine how hurt I would be if you change your mind on all this, but I am certain that you won't, even though I will start checking in with you several times a day, just to be certain, and so you can see where we'll end up. I'm not particularly the jealous type anymore but I can imagine it, given a young man as cute as yourself.

So, do you see where this might go if you send this out to a dozen other old ladies like me? I think you snapped your cap. This is what I mean by restraining orders and while K and your other younger ladies might not be familiar with restraining orders, I'm sure they can appreciate the concept.

I want to say that I did take my meds this morning, and will again this evening. Unless you think I shouldn't.

All the best and thanks so much, truly and most willingly I remain,

Your unrequited Love,

Cwyn

P.S. You did really send the tea, right? And I can still order tea, correct? Just checking. I will check again tomorrow too.

P.P.S. Thank you so much, I have a hard time receiving gifts and I hope you can accept the humor and forgive.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Up Cloud Mountain





Recent discussions on Steepster and reddit about vendor representation of leaf age have left me rather thoughtful lately. For many people who posted in these discussions raised larger themes about puerh, reminding me that drinking tea is more than just the leaf. Now, I’m not talking about those of you dear puerh drinkers currently contemplating the particular qualities of the leaf in your gaiwan at this very moment. You folks can return to your cups and your appreciation of the leaf in your gaiwan just now, because this bit of scribble from me is not for you.

Tea is a difficult product to sell, and maybe old tea like puerh is the most difficult of all, not discounting masterful techniques like Famous Teas leaf processing, charcoal roasting and so on. The customer for puerh tea very often has more than just an interest in the leaf itself, more than mere flavor, qualities for aging or whatnot. Tea customers often approach teas with hopes and dreams. So when I say tea is a difficult product to sell, I mean it ain’t like selling penny nails. or a replacement gasket for a leaky faucet. No, selling tea means dealing with customer expectations that run the gamut between the mundane and the sublime. And between the wok and the prayer book, because purchasing tea is about desire, ideas of objective and subjective taste, whole notions of “value” that may vary across countries and even individuals. Buying tea for some customers may be about seeking something beyond their day-to-day lives, customers as seekers, perhaps even the vendor as a seeker, ideas about China or India that reflect the desire of the customer rather reality. A tea vendor is confronted with wishes, fantasies, miseries of individual lives, hard earned cash, sacrifice, customer stress that has nothing whatsoever to do with the vendor or the tea, but lies at the heart of the entire universe and meaning of life, spirituality and religion.

I can envision a massive range of desire and the burden of wish fulfillment that vendors have when dealing with tea buyers.  From what I can see, western tea vendors I know got into the business because of some level of seeking, quite obviously because they are interested in a product that doesn’t grow where they live, but all the way around the world, grown and sold by people whose relationship with tea may be more ordinary daily reality, and not one filled with hopes, dreams, or aesthetics, but more similar to the penny nail, and who could care less about the all the “thinking” of the end consumer. Bottom line, we know for a fact that vendors are confronted with all these ideas and realities every single day they stay in this business, in addition to whatever personal reasons behind why they continue to sell tea.

On the other hand, we tea buyers might spend some time reflecting on our wish fulfillment in the transaction. What do I expect when I buy tea? From recent discussions, some might say “honesty” is the only necessity, but upon reading a little deeper the larger themes of wish fulfillment are obvious. Again, I urge those of you well into your gaiwan contemplating a particular leaf to return to your cups. For these thoughts are not yours at the moment. You are in the bliss of a session, remain there if you can.

Spirituality and religion are about the seeker and the one who can be found. Do you have hopes and dreams in spirituality and religion? Are you seeking something or someone who can effect a change you need? Do you have these yearnings? If so, these might be part of your wish fulfillment when buying tea. These feelings are very powerful, and as often as I like to joke about puerh hoarding, behind some collectors might lay intense spiritual yearnings. Along with those yearnings may be the feeling of a mundane daily life, a desire for escape, for romance or love. I know I have all these wishes, because at night they find me in dreams. I know myself to have intense emotions that I don’t, or can’t, easily or casually express in my daily life such as it is. Do I project them onto my tea buying? I cannot help but admit that I do. To some extent, buying tea or tea ware is an expression of those deep feelings of desire on many levels. Tea buying is the little tunnel into which all those feelings get to squeeze, if they are allowed out at all. So it is no surprise if I feel either contentment or extreme disappointment in a tea purchase. And no wonder if I find myself a critic, perhaps even critical of criticizers, because I’m sensitive to the notion of the hopes and dreams behind my tea hobby and those of others.

I may wish myself to be somewhere else, anywhere except for where I am right now. Have you ever wanted to visit China or India? Do you enjoy reading about religious temples, spiritual masters, martial artists, elegant poetry, or parchment? Do you think about the men or women in Asia you would want to meet? Do you have a fantasy about the Taiwan Businessman or the Japanese geisha or the Chinese woman waiting for you to appear? If you have a desire for a fantasy relationship or even a real relationship with someone from this part of the world, what does it consist of?

Perhaps you may yearn after a particular aesthetic like the clean minimal lines of a tea table, free of the clutter of daily existence. Anyone rinsing dirty diapers might survive this task with such thoughts, or the stress of a grey winter’s day, smog, clogged schedules, all may seem to melt away before a photo of bamboo and white cups. If so, then beauty is the yearning here, a feeling that one might relax and become our real self in the midst of notions of perfection. I know I wished it every single time I watched my young son playing classical bassoon during an orchestral performance. I wished I could keep him there forever in tuxedo, in the bliss of the moment of musical notes, a conductor and a meter, and never see him subject to any of what I and his father went through on a daily basis just to keep him there. Even now I want those feelings of the sublime aesthetic of the beautiful and pure, and yes, I want it when I drink tea.

I’m just scratching the surface of all the possible wishes, hopes and dreams a tea buyer might have when approaching a purchase decision. The simple answer to all this might be the thought of “go find a teacher/lover/guru/mystic/artist/god/goddess if this is what you need, because you won’t find it in tea.” But reality is not so simple, people are not so simple, and all the awareness and education in the world won’t touch people on the level of wish fulfillment. This is everything behind the reasons for living and, if we believe the religious people, not even death touches the yearning for the sublime. Embracing or rejecting the truth of human desire won’t change any of it, won’t change the customer or the vendor, and neither shall medications, nor the guru, the woman and alas, not even the leaf. This is the “pearl of great price, beyond all worth.” We humans will seek it until we can’t.

Lucky then are the friends of ours sitting contemplating their cups, their leaf and their tea soup in this very moment. I wave to those of you who feel blessedly free of any wish or desire beyond what you are drinking, those who are not conflicted, at this particular second in time, when you happen to be approaching your tea. You too are not exempt, but you are taking the moment while you can. We can join you as long as we leave the rest at the door, perhaps, or remain silent in a moment of mutual companionship over the drink, a break from everything else called reality to which we must return very shortly. Most of us believe in a dao of nothingness, a freedom from desire, a finish line to the very long haul of the self, but aside from hormonal diminishment or a good whack on the head, freedom from all thought is a moment to moment existence in which I personally prefer to drink tea while I can.

Then we have the leaf. Everyone wants to believe that the tea we are buying is the best tea for the money, ancient tea, and perfect for aging or drinking now, clean and free of pubic hairs. We all have ideas about the tea leaf that may or may not be augmented by any other desires or emotions beyond the “basics” of a good tea cake. We say “just tell me where the leaf is from, be honest about it, charge a reasonable price, tell me exactly what to expect,” things buyers consider “basics.” Yet these “basics” are complicated by language, the business practices in China and elsewhere, market issues, nothing but pure lies on every side. Even the experienced vendor navigates a complicated path littered with years of their own empty whiskey bottles and tummy tablets. You can do everything right and then leave your tea at the factory for pressing and find a bait and switch later. Experience helps, but every year is a do-over, and then on top of all that the weather is a force no one can control. And the truth is nobody wants to hear that their tea is crap, whether they bought it or sold it.

In a world of desire like this, I think anyone who gets into the puerh hobby needs to have money and tolerance for ambiguity and error. The error may be that of the vendor, or it may be our own bad purchase. Ambiguity lies in storage and aging. We need to also tolerate changing tastes, the tea which is a great idea now may be a bad idea a few years from now. We need to develop flexibility and allow for error in our choices. We can discover what we are looking for and yet I also believe that nobody should dwell overlong on our errors. Rather, we need to expect them. Because if you can’t tolerate any of this, you can always buy 100% oxidized tea or some other tea that is consistent. In fact, you should buy other tea so you have options on any given day. The vendor with terrible puerh may have a brilliant red tea after all, why miss out?

This sort of discussion never ends. And I’m glad of it, because I have a hobby that quite frankly is superior to other people’s hobbies. At the end of the year, I’m going to raise my cup of choice and thank the good gods I don’t have to collect wobblies or widgets and drink horrible coffee. At the end of the day, I won’t wake up with a hangover tomorrow or worry about the IRS and the cops and next world war. In fact, my house can burn down with my tea cakes in it, and I can rest assured I will buy more. I’ve been broke and unemployed and unfulfilled and yet none of this has stopped me from acquiring even more puerh tea. I’ve survived incredible odds with bad health and yet I live to drink another day. I don’t know with any certainty if I will see the face of the Divine, but if I ever do, I will simply change my shipping address to iCloud Mountain.

Requiescat in Pace








Sunday, December 13, 2015

2015 Best Gifts for the Pu Hoarder

Every year we see a plethora of articles and adverts with “gifts for the tea lover.” Let me repeat again this year: no one wants tea for Christmas or for Boxing Day. We won’t drink that gift tea box you're thinking about buying, and you can trust me on that because I still have gift tea in the cupboard with intact plastic (in)sanity wrap. And I don’t need a tea cup necklace or whatever you think I can wear aside from my own Cwyn’s “I drink pu” t- shirt which, if you are really stumped for ideas, you can buy right here off my site and fund my tea habit. On the high end, we don’t need a $600 pair of Ferragamo loafers and a set of teaware, unless of course I'm buying these for myself.

If you are really and truly shopping for the Pu Freak in your life, then I’ve got The List for you. In fact, any of these gift ideas will work year round, and you can buy in bulk and truly, bulk is always better. So here it is, Cwyn’s 2015 Best Tea Gifts for the Puerh Hoarder.

Mold Brush


Here we have a nice model from Taiwan with a pretty gift box that the Puerh Lover can use to brush his cakes. People send me moldy cakes every month in the mail simply because they lack a dedicated mold cleaning utensil. If you don’t want the gift box, and your budget is severely strained, you can find a plain pine wood mold brush down at the hardware store, and decorate it yourself.  Gifts are nicer with Characters on the package. They show you made an effort.

Water jacket


Water jacket from treehugger.com

Is your puerh stoner resentful because he can’t bring his gong fu to a tailgate party? This jacket doubles as a warmer and hot water holder to dispense right into the gaiwan.

BMW Water Reservoir


Check out this water reservoir from motorcyclistonline.com

She can brew the pu in advance and hop on the Harley with this thoughtful dispenser from BMW motors.

Apollo Super Tank 3.0


The puerh freak isn’t messing around. Forget those bamboo thermoses for traveling with hot water. He absolutely needs this 3.0 liter Super Tank, serious stainless steel tea ware here. He will perk right up when you say “It comes from Korea, baby.” This one will cost you too, big time. The 3.0 liter is $83. For a real honker, check out the Apollo 3000 model ringing in at $99.

The Tong Traveler


Puerh Tong holder

You absolutely can take it with you. This vintage Regal pie carrier will hold a decent tong of 9 inch 357g cakes with room to spare. If you like a bit of charm, you can find plenty of other pie tins painted with flowers and whatnot. Look for models that have the locking carry bar over the lid. Search for this model and others with keywords “vintage pie carrier” on eBay.com.

Medline Side Swing Arm Commode Chair


Available from walmart.com and activeforever.com,
just to name a few. On Medicaid? It's free for you.

Alas, what goes in very often comes out the other end. You can save yourself a mess on the floor with this commode chair. It has plenty of room at the side for a gaiwan and cup set-up.

Bariatric Extra Wide

Bariatric model from medidri.com.
Medicaid folks, just tell your doctor you need this.

If you live above Hwy 10 in Wisconsin, you’ll need a heftier model and Old Cwyn’s got you covered.

Clear Plastic PVC Hose


Various sizes available from embalmers.com

He’s had that tea tray for awhile now, and the plastic drainage hose looks brown, and a little scummy. Nothing wrong with that, but for some people scummy hose is a little embarrassing when the neighbors come over, even when they don’t want any tea, which they generally don’t. The real pu head doesn’t waste that $600/beeng rinse when tea drainage systems make a convenient enema. Buy replacement hoses extra long and cleanly snip off the used end! I recommend the Medline Swing Arm Commode as a companion gift.

Linen back pillow


Online shopping companion back pillow for a tea hoarder.

No worry about stains with natural linen, tea splatters just add to the charm. Look for handmade models if you want something special, like this one from etsy.com. Or search for “Che Guevaro linen pillow.” The pot heads don’t got nothing on us when it comes to freedom, man.

Outdoor Meat House


So she’s finally kicked you out, or at least told you to get that stinky pu outta here now. Maintain your presence on the property with this outdoor pu storage design. All you need are a few bricks. The water can be adjusted to any level around the central storage chamber. Top the thing off with a 3/8 inch ply sheet and a few heavy rocks and you’re all set. This is handy for that semester abroad, you won’t have to worry about topping off the humidor and hey, a few bugs are all good when it comes to wrappers.

Bathtub Gongfu Tray

Bamboo sliding bath tray, amazon.com

This is the sort of gift you can buy for your non-tea drinking spouse with a plan to use it yourself instead. The wineglass holder is the proof you were really thinking of him at the time. But the slats in the middle are genius while you are reading Steepster on your IPad. No catch tray needed, just dump the tea rinse through the slats directly into the tub. I recommend the Apollo 3.0 liter Super Tank to go with this.

Fu Yuan Chang Tong


$1.7 million tong, blog article at essenceoftea.com


Okay, if you really, really want to buy me tea, then we have this early 1900s era tong. It sells for about $1.7 million. If you truly love me, then this is what to get. Anything less, well don’t bother.