; Cwyn's Death By Tea: March 2015 ;

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

Friday, March 27, 2015

Untanned Yak Butt 1994 Ya'an Kang Zhuan

1994 Brick Heicha
Brick heicha is tea for the brave, or the crazy, of which I'm definitely one, and crazier than usual. What was I thinking when I ordered nearly a half kilo brick of 1994 Sichuan Ya'an Kang Zhuan from Chawangshop?? Someplace on my bucket list I can now cross off the "to-do" experience of tea stored in untanned yak hide. Apparently I thought I needed to try this. Maybe I'm just naughty and contrary, reacting somehow to all the lovely tea websites and blogs which feature serene, meditation quality photos of tea leaves and heavenly gong fu, where even the tea cups seem to be levitating on a sea of spiritual ether. Something in me wants a slap of reality. Perhaps it is the former nun in me who knows the tendency of people to romanticize monastic life, when I know darn good and well that the monks in Lhasa, Tibet aren't drinking tea from levitating cups. They aren't even drinking the lovely things I get from places like white2tea or Yunnan Sourcing. In fact, they are drinking tea hauled up the mountain in untanned yak hide.

Here we have a brick tea meant for Tibetan consumption and thank god places like Chawangshop exist to allow people in the west to purchase the real nasty stuff. This brick is sold for $55, and interestingly enough Chawangshop also has a 1993 brick of what appears to be the same tea, but sold for twice the price at $108, apparently because it tastes better than the 1994 brick I bought. I have a feeling I know why, because my 1994 brick heicha has the real yak butt flavor. Just so you know what you're getting if you end up perusing the Heicha side of the Chawangshop catalog. This tea was made by the Yingjing Tea Factory in Ya'an City, Sichuan Province, and represents the Sichuan heicha tradition. The 1994 brick that I have also has the book article in the listing about how this tea is packaged up in such a way that three gams per side on that yak yields a balanced load. The fun bit is how the craftsmen sew up these bricks into untanned, soaked yak hides which then harden up around the tea to protect it from all sorts of weather on the way up to Tibet.

Looks like what I raked up last fall in the yard, but these leaves have Tibetan neipaio
This tea is meant to be boiled down to a rather thick syrup which can be left to cool, and then reheated as needed with yak butter and salt, and finally churned together into a froth. I debated with myself whether I should boil the tea, and then decided instead that boiling rinses might suffice and I'll just gong fu for the first time. The brick looks looser than it is, in fact the tea is quite compressed and my plans to break up the entire thing for storage changed quickly to just chipping off some to jar up for drinking in the short term. I had trouble even getting a sharp knife into this brick after taking off some of the loose tea around the exterior. I tossed the yellow paper and instead wrapped the remaining brick up in an old beeng wrapper.

The leaves are on the thin and papery side, the edges of the brick remind me of Wisconsin tree leaves that have sat on the sidewalk against the house all winter long. When you try and brush them away, they are stuck together in a flat pancake. I didn't weigh out my tea because my scale tends to be a bit inaccurate when I am trying to weigh lighter leaf teas such as this one, and such as Tai Ping Hou Kou, the scale just isn't sensitive enough to detect when I've added more. And the flat "chunks" I chipped off were too wide for my presentation dish and I need that dish when I weigh tea.

Brewed the tea in Yixing. I did four rinses, because I can definitely smell the funk here, what must be something like untanned leather, hence the yak butt. After the fourth rinse, most of the smell seemed to be gone. Poured myself a cup, which to my surprise tasted like...well...heicha. That black-tea-plus-shou flavor I've had in other heicha. This one had a spicy start and then, RAISINS. Yum, gave my leg a slap in glee. Tastes like mincemeat with a side of lard, or that cup of coffee after gutting a deer. I didn't just say that. I know the Buddhist vegans are falling over in a faint by now, certainly the ones in Madison who threw tomatoes at me when I wore vintage mink coats. Yet I wonder just how much fun the cuisine on that fantasy Lhasa retreat now appeals to those still dreaming of that type of vacation. Yessiree, how 'bout that boiled barley dough rolled up in a cuppa this untanned yak butt brick?? Heheheh.

A lovely cup from one unattractive brick. Yum.
I happened to have a can of evaporated whole milk open in the fridge which I use for coffee and decided to try that in my second cup of this heicha. However, by gong fu brewing this tea I didn't have a strong enough brew to handle the flavor of the whole milk, and it overwhelmed the delicate flavors of raisins and mincemeat I was getting out of the cup. I would need to really boil up a large amount of this tea down to a super concentrate before adding any milk fat products if I expect to taste anything of the tea.

Overall the tea is incredibly warming and yang. Three cups of this and I was sweating and had to remove my sweatshirt down to a t-shirt. But I am a cold weather person already, this tea is a good choice for cold weather like the Himalayas and Wisconsin. People here start wearing shorts and t-shirts outside when the temp crosses over 0 degrees C. Anyway, I only needed about 3 cups of this heicha to get overly warm. It still tasted of that "side of leather" after 5 cups, and started to thin out after 7 cups and believe me I didn't need any more at that point. I've noticed with other heicha that the first four cups or so are the best. Then again, I did four rinses and all those rinses wash away some of the tea at the start.

Use a vessel much bigger than the dry tea so it can expand.
Now I have the problem of storing the brick for further drinking. Luckily I have a couple of vintage Belgian jars, in the short term I can keep some loose tea without needing a skill saw. Maybe I can get Chawangshop to send me some untanned yak leather with my next order.

Vintage Belgian jars.
For $55 I think I got a deal in the 1994, the one year older $108 1993 brick would have to be damned stunning for me to pay twice over, but this rural gal is not gonna pay that much for heicha. I'd rather have a better beeng for $108. However, I do like my heicha because it is soothing for Old Ladies on Medication like myself, and $55 for about a half kilo with a little yak flavor suits me fine. Will definitely be drinking this up.

Requiescat in Pace.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

When Crock Puerh Storage works TOO well

Jar on the left is the culprit.
Today I discovered one of my storage jars seemed to be developing a touch of mold on top of the tea and I decided to pour out the loose tea into a larger vessel. To my shock as I poured out the tea, it had not only gone to shou but gone past that into compost!

Ack.

This tea is a 2004 Jian Shen 100g tuo from white2tea, a very inexpensive tuo at $9.90 fortunately. These tuos, when purchased new, exhibit dry storage and are fairly green. Originally I bought a pack of 5, so 500g (half a kilo!) of tea total for around $50.

Two months ago I decided to break up one of the green tuos and put the loose tea into the jar shown above. We are still in winter and at the time my household RH was around 24%. I added no additional moisture to the tea. Now, two months later I have compost.

Rather shocking considering how DRY the house is. But the good news is that the original crock where I'm storing these tuos is working far better than I thought!

Frankoma Crock where the rest of the tuos are.
I haven't added any additional moisture to the crock of tuos all winter. No clay shards, no pouch buttons. The lid on the crock is a bit loose, it moves around. Back in January, I thought perhaps the tuos must be getting dry, even though I can smell the tea. Now I've learned the Frankoma crock is working just fine. Last fall when I started posting on crock storage, I felt that a 2013 Bada Shan sample stored in Frankoma had the best progress of any of the crock types. Frankoma is a red ware clay.

Obviously too I had overstuffed the small storage jar with the Jian Shen tea. But with no additional moisture added, and an RH around 24% in the house, the ONLY way the Jian Shen tea obtained enough moisture in it to rot like this is because of the PREVIOUS moisture the tuo back from 6 months or more in the Frankoma crock. Here is another Jian Shen tuo from the Frankoma, as of today.

A current Jian Shen tuo, unwrapped for the photo from the Frankoma crock.
You can see it is browning nicely, but is dry enough and not moldy anywhere. So I got some good data from this accident.

1. Don't overstuff the crocks.

2. I can leave the wrappers on.

3. I may not need to add additional moisture to wrapped and crocked tea even when the house is exceptionally dry.

4. Frankoma red clay pottery is still my #1.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Wymm-en Puerh

Wymm Tea sampler sachets
I tried to refuse this week's tea sampling. When Wymm Tea contacted me about trying some of their puerh, I took a look and saw green, green, green. This isn't puerh for Old People. It's puerh for young wymmen. I'm old wimmin, that "y" chromosome is no longer anywhere near my general direction. I even said "the teas we are looking for are already aged like we are, since we do not have the years left for long term storage. Thus I don't review many newer sheng teas unless my son wants them." Wymm Tea responded to all that with "we will take that as a challenge." Sigh. Okay, then I yam what I yam and that's where the y comes in.

The y also comes in again with the packaging for the tea is wrapped in fancy soft paper, thread and leather tag. Unfortunately, the paper is scented with something. Whyyyy??? I can't tell if these samples are bath sachets or something I'm supposed to drink. Even worse, the delightful vendor enclosed a typed letter to me in a 4 POINT font. I can't read anything smaller than 12 point and preferably 14 or even 16 point. My old age would be even more depressing but for the miracle of e-books. I refuse to read what gets printed as Large Print in the US, mostly romances and biographies of Jackie Kennedy. At least with an IPad or e-reader I can set the text size to what I want, allowing me to read almost any book. Anyway, can you read this?? My 24 year old son couldn't read it either, sadly, so I let the cat eat it.

This is what a 4 point font looks like to this old lady.
The packaging and marketing of Wymm Puerh tea is geared toward a type of female consumer who is super hot right now. The Obsessive. She can be seen in film and on TV. She is Gillian Anderson in "The Fall." Robin Wright in "House of Cards," Maggie Gyllenhaal in "An Honourable Woman," or Claire Danes in "Homeland." In real life perhaps the Duchess of Cambridge. A recent piece in the Telegraph attempted to describe this type of woman as wearing "clean lines" clothing, high end labels, more specifically "businesswomen whose dress sense was as sharp as their brain power." The article tries to focus on the career role these characters play as the reason why the clothing is fascinating. But the author got it wrong. It's not just the clothes we are fascinated with, nor the career, we are looking at a woman who has a specific type of Control. For she:

1. Doesn't eat.
2. Smells fresh.
3. Is thin.
4. Has perfect teeth.
5. Doesn't eat.
6. Never spills.
7. Can wear heels all day.
8. Is immune to clutter.
9. Has perfect skin.
10. Doesn't eat.

She has, in other words, the perfection that all eating disorders seek to achieve. It's not even solely about being thin, it is about the Control. Her anorexia is so perfect she doesn't menstruate so no mess on those clothes.

And then she has a particular type of house. The immunity to clutter is of course paramount. The house is the sort we see on every makeover on HGTV. Open concept. White kitchens and bathrooms. Marble countertops. Stainless steel appliances. Apron sink. Glass showers. Dark wood floors, no matter that dark floors show dirt and are difficult to keep clean but she DOES keep them clean, and that is the achievement of these floors. The kitchen is never a mess because she never cooks. The fridge is empty except for bottles of water, or maybe a half drunk bottle of fine wine a'la Carrie Matheson.

In this type of environment a customer like Claire Underwood welcomes scented rice paper wrapped tea samples tied with string. No loose tea to *oops* drop down into the bra or heaven forbid into the bed. Probably best to brew outside, unless the sachet is dropped directly into the bathtub. The tea is completely controlled. At least until we find the stray pubic hair in the cake.

I'm exaggerating and I didn't find any pubic hair this time. But what many women and marketers don't realize is that what we admire is television, and television is scripted and set-designed and then edited. Television is theatre, not real life and not even a mirror of real life. Reality is the cats are on the countertop when I'm not looking and I'm sweeping up cat hair. And I'm a normal woman so I'm messy. I spill. I drip. I splat. My hair gets greasy and guess what my tits aren't the same size so those expensive bras won't fit anyway.

How many women are going to admit they prefer bug bit wrappers? "Guess what, Lindsey, I just got a new tea cake. Yep it is full of bug bites!" You can imagine the horror. Not to mention "omg the mold, it's awesome." But I digress because the real point to remember here is not about the packaging or the image. It's about the Control.

Puerh tea is never going to be the product for women who admire Control. Initially they might be attracted to the idea of the "slimming" prospects of puerh tea, however most of these women are already thin. And truthfully, the Puerh Hobby is too Messy. You will have spills. The tea erodes the finish on your furniture and floors. Loose tea flies around and gets into everything. You can package your Pu any way you want, and she might buy it once, but the Controlled Woman cannot ultimately handle the realities of storage. Her cakes will be dry because there is no storage solution clean enough and she doesn't like humidity and fears mold. For these women, even the best puerh smells wrong. It's the smell she is trying to get rid of by douching.

Sachets are single-session. Laohuangpian.

The smell I really need to get rid of is the scented paper. I chose the Laohuangpian, which is sold in a bamboo-wrapped brick for $58 Canadian. Unfortunately the website has no information on where this tea comes from, so we don't have any origin on this tea. The samples are enough for a single session.

Soup is the usual light lemon and the flavor is white grape rather than apricot which is a good sign. First three steeps have the bitterness we are looking for in an ager. After six steeps I'm adding time, and past eight steeps I'm squeezing out a cup. But hey, it's huangpian, the old leaf at the bottom of the tree. 

Second steep.

The real story behind Wymm Tea is the price of some of their other teas. While the huangpian is one of the least expensive options, they also have a 2013 Autumn Bingdao 200g for $998 Canadian! I think about Yunnan Sourcing's 2013 Autumn Bingdao which is $58 for 400g by comparison, also claiming to hail from 100-200 year old trees. Wonder if Wymm Tea did their comparison marketing research. Even if their version is far and away the better tea, I'm having a hard time imagining how tea buyers are going to see the value in paying nearly a grand for half the tea that Yunnan Sourcing is selling. I mean, you can't taste online after all. Unless the tea is well, meant for the tub.

Some bigger leaves and even buds in this.
Or maybe the Wymm customer isn't looking at Yunnan Sourcing late at night instead of sleeping, as many tea drunks might do because they won't get caught by their partners who trip over tongs on the way to the loo. I get it that Wymmen don't want bug bit wrappers, but what nags at me is puerh buyers are largely men. Look at badgerandblade "sheng of the day" forum. These guys are straight razor, Scotch whiskey drinking Brit chaps and they are not gonna want scented puerh wrappers anywhere except on their girlfriends. Aside from that, I'm grateful for the samples and wish Wymm all the best in their endeavors.

Requiescat in Pace.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Wilson and William



Wilson's 2009 Haiwan No. 1 Shou
Recently some tea samples arrived in the mail from tea blogger Wilson, making me a grateful recipient of tea that I surely have no chance of trying otherwise. Wilson's tea blog travellingteapot (see my list on the right--->) is one of my favorites, what I might call a Tea-se Blog. Wilson lives in Singapore, and traveling to China for tea buying is a day's trip by train for him. Consequently I can live vicariously through his tea buying tours and see the lovely tea ware and BOXES of tongs he hauls home. His blog is a bit of a tease though because the entries are all too short and spare. Very often we get photos of amazing cakes and I get all worked up, only to discover that nope, he is not going to unwrap that cake and show me the goodies. His beauties hold their bling in tight chastity belts of bamboo and holographic stick-on's. Initially I thought to myself, perhaps he didn't have time to finish the post. Then I began to think he does it on purpose, yes that's right, except with no opportunity to hold up another dollar bill to keep the dance flowing. My Distress increased further when Wilson posted photos of 1998 Xiaguan tuos in the BAG that never opened.

Luckily I got a small sample of that Xiaguan which I'm saving for another day. Today I'm going to try a 2009 Haiwan Lao Tong Zhi 901 Ripe, which we actually got to see earlier this year. You can read about this tea and also a story about how Wilson bought 8 tongs at Haiwan Tea Shop in China. The chunk I got reminds me of chocolate, chunka-chunka buffalo on my vintage cafeteria ware.


Nine grams of this and I notice the wonderful quality of the leaf, this is one pretty cake. Opens quite easily with hot water. I notice the buttered toast scent which isn't as powerful as the Lao Cha Tou I've been drinking lately, but the tea is very smooth. I'm impressed at the dry storage Wilson manages in Singapore. Eight tongs, eh? Maybe he has tongs instead of furniture, then again eight tongs hold a tabletop, don't they? Tea soup here swirls crimson and coffee colors.


Wilson isn't the only traveling tea pot these days, we also have William. Prince William, Duke of Cambridge that is. ABC News in the US reports on The Royal Duke's trip to China this week, which supposedly focuses on football and other cultural missions. Then we read of the plan for Wednesday this week.
Anyone else spy the covered cups/gaiwans on the table? Photo and story ABC

"On Wednesday, his China trip winds up in Xishuangbanna in Yunnan province near the Myanmar border, where he will visit an elephant sanctuary and a nature reserve." 

Okay, let us deconstruct this...Banna...in late March...a nature reserve. Any tea drunk fully in their cups sees right through this one. Elephants? Uh huh. Sure. We know the real story here and it looks like gushu. I can see the Daily Mail headline now: "The Prince Drinks Pu." I should send him a t-shirt.

Anyone up for a wager? Whose spring trip will finish up with the better tea, Wilson or William? 

My money is on Wilson. 


Requiescat in Pace.

Update to Original Post later in the day on 17 March

Received email from Wilson who writes he is in Guangzhou right now. 

"Wish u were here... No need to drink water ... The tea intake more than daily water requirements. Just had a tea session from 10am - 6 pm. One of the teas was the famous 88 Qing bing. Same 88 cake as the famous Hong Kong but thus cake was kept by a Guangzhou tea collector."


My little tea wager is a No Contest from the start! Unless the Duke of Cambridge can come up with a 1950s Red Mark. But I think Wilson already has one. I rest my case.

Cwyn

Friday, March 13, 2015

mr. mopar's Puerh Storage


My friend mr. mopar aka mrmopu might be familiar to many of you who hang out on tea forums like Teachat and Steepster. He offers encouragement to new puerh drinkers, promotes discussion on puerh, and hooks up people with similar tastes in tea. He has a remarkable black cat known as "Chairman Meow" who has an odd interest in puerh tea cakes, and "picks" teas by putting her paw on a different cake every day. Very often mr. mopar will choose to drink the cake picked out by the "Chairman." I find it reassuring that I'm not the only odd puerh person of a Certain Age, and that the world holds so many of us. Anyway, mr. mopar sent me some tea recently when I developed a fixation on trying the 2011 Dayi "100 Year" Tribute Ripe cake, but didn't want to pay the $70 for a full beeng which is the current price at Berylleb. He generously sent me a massive sample of that cake and then some other teas to try. When I opened up a sample of a 2005 CNNP Nannuo, I couldn't believe how fresh and fragrant this tea is. The other teas he sent are also equally fragrant and very well preserved. Right away I wanted to share with others what he is doing for storage, because he is clearly doing something right.

To set the context, mr. mopar lives in Virginia, USA, which is generally a humid state in the summer time, but can be drier in the winter with house heating. I asked for a copy of the photo above so you can see the hygrometer settings which show Fahrenheit temp and humidity percentage. The fans he is using for air circulation might be important in the summer for him compared to the northern state where I live. I asked more questions about his storage.

1. Tell me about your set up!
Oh, I got a fridge, and mini fridge, and a wine cooler full with 4 puerh bags with 7 cakes each, and a stack of boxes and bins of samples. I catch grief about it everyday! 
I am using an old refrigerator with cigar humidifiers, electric ones and keeping moisture levels between 70 and 72%. That picture of the pumidor is one of three I have set up. That one is mainly white2tea and Hai Lang Hao and Yunnan Sourcing. I have another for Dayi, Xiaguan, Haiwan and CNNP.
2. How long have you been storing tea with humidity control?
I have been using them for about 2 years now.
3. What other solutions did you try?
I tried the [absorbent] beads but found out they give off ammonia as an after-effect. I do have separate areas for sheng and shou. Never mixed. Shou in the big area of the fridge and sheng in the freezer part. I do also have a mini fridge with just sheng and the humidifier with the computer fans. The fans move 1000cfm so 30 minutes run time gives me lots of circulation in the storage areas.
4. Do you do anything special in the summer?
Summer I just keep a watch and run the fans in the storage area twice a week instead of once a week in the winter, at least 30 minutes at a time.
5. How often do you rotate cakes?
I try to rotate at least once a month. The puerh storage bags make it easy. Pull out a bag, mix them up, and put it all back in. It does seem the fuller they [the fridges] are, the better the aroma, may be the microbes interacting with each other.
6. Are you collecting for the long haul, or mainly storing drinkers?
Oh I just have a small collection...I have some for now and some for the long haul. The newer shengs are aging away from 2008 forward. I do have some older stuff I keep in the same conditions as the stuff I'm aging. My guess is in my older years I will be a tea seller.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Puerh Crock Fermentation Report--Final

Day 35
When I wet down the tea on day 39 using Last Thoughts brew, I noted dark syrup drips from the fermenting tea leaves. You could see this in the above photo from day 35 on my last report. I just don't feel this tea has anywhere left to go. It has changed over to shou puerh. 

So, I dried the tea in the sun for 5 afternoons. From my reading, shou is either dried quickly in a hot dryer or is allowed to dry in the sun until <20% humidity remains in the tea. We have incredibly dry weather at the moment so drying the tea is not a problem. I am surprised how the fermenting odors left the tea. Now it smells like nothing, except maybe like minerals, graphite. The tea is dark brown with some nice Cha Tou.

Sun-drying my shou
Now that the tea has dried out, I have transferred it to a vintage stoneware vessel. The tea must rest for 6 months to remove any funk, reduce any bacteria to baseline, and to bring forward any flavor in the leaf out as the fermenting smells decrease. Will all this occur? I don't know, sometime in mid-September I can find out whether this tea is worth drinking. In the meantime, I brewed up a quick cup to check the color.

Single steep of the shou leaf.  (10 March 2015)
This seems like a nice brown to me, I only used a few grams. You can see the tea is somewhat cloudy. Shou can take years to completely clarify. The leftover leaves show they have more to give.

I used maybe a bit over a teaspoon of dried leaf.
I tasted the brew twice and spit. The only flavor I can detect at this point is a minerally taste. I smell a slightly fruity scent but it doesn't translate into the cup. Since this is gushu and dashu base, either the sweet will return with time or I killed it. Could go either way, this leaf tasted rather mild to me when I started. I can now appreciate why summer tea and a more bitter tea yields a strong flavor shou.

"Before" photo of the tea, what a change eh? (25 Jan. 2015)
 The purpose of this experiment was to show the fermentation process in vintage American crock ware, and the potential of crock ware for storage in a very dry North American climate. I changed sheng over to heavily fermented shou in 35-40 days by wetting the tea and covering with a wooden lid. Occasionally I put the crock on a warm radiator for a day or two at a time to increase the heat. I turned the tea on an average of every two days. 

The amount of time needed to change the tea is similar to the time needed for sauerkraut, a traditional food produced in crock ware in my cold climate for Vitamin C supplementation. Sauerkraut is a necessary food in cold northern latitudes when fruits are unavailable. The only other substantial source of this vitamin in North American winters is whale skin. Due to refrigeration, we have lost knowledge of crock fermentation and food storage. The crocks are now found in barns, garages and antique shops. I believe this type of storage is a viable method for storing and fermenting puerh tea without using plastic wrap or plastic-lined refrigerators. I need more crocks for my growing tea collection.

Until then, I will look forward to mid-September when I can give my shou a good tasting. Hopefully a good rest over the summer will bring out more flavors and clarify the brew. Come autumn, I also plan to steam this batch and press it into a brick, or beeng shape. I need to figure out what to use as a weight, and that will determine the final shape.

Requiescat in Pace.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Why I won't order spring tea


The post office has lost yet another tea package, a swap sent by a friend. And so I'm reminded why my spring tea purchases this year won't include Dragonwell. Nor any other fresh tea. Last year my Dragonwell tea got stuck in customs and sat there...and sat there. I live in a small town, and fortunately the post office is right behind my house. This was incredibly convenient back when I was powerselling on EBay, ten years ago. Of course the location is still convenient when I have tea packages, and the small town means the postal people know me and half the time don't even bother getting my signature when they can just open my porch door and drop the packages inside. In fact, I often get the neighbor's packages at my house too; the post office sees the street address and just assumes the package must be mine.

However, just because the postal staff knows me doesn't mean I get special treatment. I'll write out what happened last year when I inquired about my lost Dragonwell, a scene from a rural cow town to be sure. I wrote it all down verbatim when I got home, so I'm am NOT making this up.

Cwyn: I have a stuck package I need help with.

Postmaster: Well…we haven’t seen YOU in awhile.

Cwyn: So I have this stuck package in the Chicago Postal Facility.

Postmaster: That’s because you are a suspicious character.

Cwyn: It’s fresh green tea from China. I realize it’s a commodity...

Postmaster: Yup, well, they put something ELSE in your package.

Cwyn: It’s GREEN TEA.

Postmaster: They put something in someone else’s package then, so customs is now checking all their packages.

Cwyn: I have friends who order from this company, and their packages haven’t got stuck.

Postmaster: I know a guy who mailed some cheese up to Canada. Customs held it for 30 days and then they marked it “return to sender.”

Cwyn: Yeah. I get your point. It’s not cheese.

Postmaster: If it's customs, there is nothing we can do.

Cwyn: I suppose it could be worse.

Postmaster: So far it’s only been a few days, that’s not too bad. You can rest assured you’ll probably drink that tea sometime this fall.

Cwyn: It’s just that it’s spring tea and it’s deteriorating as we speak. Won’t be as good.

Postmaster: I can guarantee you that’s not the case. You can go down the street to Festival Foods. Those teas have been sitting there for years and you can still buy them.

Cwyn: Okay. Thanks for the help.

------------

I have to admit I was standing there laughing as he was talking. Our postmaster is a young guy in his late 30s, who manages to have that perfect expression of helpfulness combined with mild annoyance and it all trips out rather lightly.

One of my favorite books of all time is Post Office by Charles Bukowski, a drunk who actually did work at the US post office and wrote novels too. I gave a copy to my local p.o. for everyone to share, but one lady took it home and never brought it back. And she didn't even read it. She and everyone else missed gems about life as a postal carrier, like this one.

-------------

Chapter 9.

Every route has its traps and only the regular carriers knew of them. Each day it was another god damned thing, and you were always ready for a rape, murder, dogs or insanity of some sort. The regulars wouldn't tell you their little secrets. That was the only advantage they had--except knowing their case by heart. It was gung ho for a new man, especially one who drank all night, went to bed at 2 a.m., rose at 4:30 a.m. after screwing and singing all night long, and, almost, getting away with it.

One day I was out on the street and the route was going well, though it was a new one, and I thought, Jesus Christ, maybe for the first time in two years I'll be able to eat lunch.

I had a terrible hangover, but still all went well until I came to this handful of mail addressed to a church. The address had no street number, just the name of the church, and the boulevard it faced. I walked, hungover, up the steps. I couldn't find a mailbox in there and no people in there. Some candles burning. Little bowls to dip your fingers in. And the empty pulpit looking at me, and all the statues, pale red and blue and yellow, the transoms shut, a stinking hot morning.

Oh, Jesus Christ, I thought.

And walked out.

I went around the side of the church and found a stairway going down. I went in through an open door. Do you know what I saw? A row of toilets. And showers. But it was dark. All the lights were out. How in the hell can they expect a man to find a mailbox in the dark? Then I saw a light switch. I threw the thing and the lights in the church went on, inside and out. I walked into the next room and there were priests' robes spread out on a table. There was a bottle of wine.

For Christ's sake, I thought, who in the hell but me would ever get caught in a scene like this?

I picked up the bottle of wine, had a good drag, left the letters on the robes, and walked back to the showers and toilets. I turned off the lights and took a shit in the dark and smoked a cigarette. I thought about taking a shower but I could see the headlines: MAILMAN CAUGHT DRINKING THE BLOOD OF GOD AND TAKING A SHOWER NAKED, IN ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH.

So, finally, I didn't have time for lunch and when I got in Jonstone wrote me up for being 23 minutes off schedule.

I found out later that mail for the church was delivered to the parish house around the corner. But now, of course, I'll know where to shit and shower when I'm down and out.

Post Office, by Charles Bukowski. Copyright 1971.

-------------

I've received several emails from people asking if I've read various authors, and usually the answer is no, not because I don't do a lot of reading. I just don't read much science fiction. But in case a few folks are still wondering about what I might consider reference reading, well now you know an example. Reading Bukowski again today, I think I write better. Then again, I'm a tea drunk, not a drunk drunk, and tea drunks retain more brain cells overall. Also drunk drunks have nothing to drink around the house, and tea drunks usually have altogether too much. Bottom line, we can keep right on drinking and nobody has yet died of tea. That we know of. Unfortunately Bukowski died of his type of drunk.

And you also know why I won't be ordering any fresh spring tea this year.


Requiescat in Pace.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

1996 CNNP 7532 and Nugs

Recently I received a 10g sample of the 1996 CNNP "Green in Orange" 7532 with my paid order from white2tea. Always a lucky event to get an "aged" sample in a tea order! My order included the new 2014 Lao Cha Tou ripe nuggets and so I'm juggling two gaiwans to continue drinking both teas, thus causing and curing cold feet at the same time. I cannot help but feel grateful to have such good teas available to me, and given the long steeping of the ripe nuggets, they will be perfect for the moment I take the plunge and begin bathing in puerh.

As unreservedly swell as I feel about white2tea's ripe nuggets production, the opposite is true for any label tea. We puerh hoarders have our favorites, the teas that get us to push that Buy button every time. Even when we can agree on taste, the decision to purchase remains subjective, or at least highly variable in the factors we consider. I've talked a great deal about my age and health as large factors in my tea purchasing decisions. As a result, I never feel in a position to judge another tea drunk for what he chooses to purchase, because  splaying out across the bar in the tea tavern equalizes one tea drunk with another. And my cup rises for the fellow tea drunk who thinks he's got the time to wait out the aging of a tea cake, especially when that tea cake is wrapped in a Factory Label.

For me, Label Teas carry too much expectation. I get into an odd obsessive-compulsive frame of mind about label teas. Instead of focusing on the buds in this CNNP 7532, and there are some in my cup, I pick out and stare at the sticks. I second guess myself not only on the leaf quality, which here is rather chopped, but I'm staring at the sticks feeling a kind of bother that I never apply to white label teas. Truthfully, my frame of mind with label teas contains a Whole World of Bother in which I question authenticity: the Label, the Year, the Leaf, the Storage, my ability to discern quality, etc. But for the reader wanting some info on this tea, I'm getting a little ahead of myself here.

1996 CNNP 7532 shown at white2.tea
A 1990s CNNP 7532 surfaces every so often on tea websites and on forums, and has been sold as a 7542 but the cup doesn't lie in the end. We do know that the Orange Label from this era changed over several years so you might see more than one label type floating around. By coincidence, this week new puerh blogger VP happened to post photos of his 1990s Orange label, a rather humid cake in contrast to the one currently selling at white2tea. Comparing these two cakes, even with the explanation that labels can differ, I'm feeling the World of Bother already.
My lucky sample.
As for white2tea's available cake, the storage is fairly dry, which is something that cannot be faked. So I feel fairly comfortable in the Aging here, even if the Leaf Quality is isn't going to jolt me into liking that $390 beeng price tag. The cake wears its post-teens age quite well, and hasn't been forced. A collector won't like the green neifei, unless you don't mind spending the money for an oddball cake, but for most people this will be a pricey drinker as opposed to a collector's item. I brewed up 5 grams so that I will have a second session of another 5 grams with this tea.
5 grams dry stored
Most noticeable for me is the long sweet finish on the back of my tongue. Overall this isn't the thick mud I want it to be, and the 7532 lacks the wake-up punch of the 7542 recipe, but the first few cups give me a bit of caffeine jitter. I think the cake is perfect now, and while the leaves look a little green I'm just not seeing anywhere for them to go in aging except to fade out more as time goes on. After 8 steeps I'm lengthening steep times and past 10 the color actually fades before the flavor does. A pleasant enough cup, and if money isn't an object I wouldn't mind drinking up a cake of this, and I'd drink it up fairly quick too given my high tolerance levels.
First steep
But my brow is still knitted over this tea, even now writing about it, because I'm getting hit squarely in the face of my buyer preferences. I'm in a place where I question my own taste. I want to like Factory Label teas better than I actually do. I want to drink them free of the nagging thoughts. 

Fourth steep
Removing the label and considering the cake, I ask myself, would I buy this on a blind test? I don't think I would. Here's why:

As a buyer I'm not in a collector position, I'm in a drinker position where I want something unique. I'm also likely the Other Type of Buyer that white2tea gets, which is the one who prefers white2tea's own productions. The Other Type of tea buyer is the one who wants to feel like they "found" something, discovered something, a tea with no label, or no significant label, which is priced right based on the leaf quality and lack of provenance. When their 2002 White Whale cake generated some excitement last year, I believe the "discovery" factor is part of the reason so many people ordered that cake. We found a little cake with a little price, and big on flavor and potential for further aging. In other words, a small gem. I feel the same way now about the 2014 Bulang-material in the Lao Cha Tou nuggets currently selling for the very tiny price of $5.50 for 50 grams. This tea is a gem, and a bit of a discovery. Some of us got it in the tea club box, others by word of mouth.

These tea nuggets are insane. Insane. I actually posted a Twitter of my cup and old ladies should never be caught tweeting, it's like having my pants down. But after 15 steeps and two days these nuggets won't quit. And I'm informed I can boil them later to get yet more tea. 

2014 Lao Cha Tou ripe, also by white2tea
Just a few of these nugs and I am awake at 5 a.m. in a full-on tea drunk. I get some of the mushroom flavor I liked so much in Yunnan Sourcing's 2009 Lao Cha Tou I wrote about last month. The mushroom and port flavors are less intense in white2tea's production, but the number of steeps are also twice the total. I get chocolate flavors. Thus I have an unreserved enthusiasm for this production that I don't feel for the Orange Label, a happy feeling over a whole bag of tea that costs the same as a single sample of the aged factory tea. The tea nuggets leave me with a sense that I've found truth, as opposed to questioning my own taste and observation as I do when confronted with a label tea. If I take the LV logos off a Louis Vuitton bag, would I still like the purse? Probably not, LV is really rather ugly. The label is everything. In the end, I prefer the Emperor not to wear any clothes, because once I know who he is I can't say anything when he turns out to be boring in bed and comes too fast.

This is where the puerh industry puts us. We have a world of too many fakes, too many factory cakes, labels, leaf pretending to be better than it is, fake aging, and trying to find the honest purveyor in a sea of shysters. An experience like Nicolas Tang's box of 4 fake Dayi 7572 ripe tongs casts a long shadow over us all as we decide what tea we want to buy, guessing and second guessing. Even though the Orange Label isn't fake aged, and I trust white2tea, I can cut through all the bull of my own general doubting to a real tea when I don't have expectations and "discover" something with no name but superb flavor. Dunno what you'll decide about the 1996 CNNP, but I do hope at the very least you will buy yourself a bag of those 2014 Lao Cha Tou nuggets, because I know you'll feel happy.

Requiescat in Pace.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Puerh Storage Report: Still Crocking #3


"Before" photo of 2013 Zhanglang Gushu, and 2012 Spring Bada Dashu
 My maocha fermentation has reached Day 35 in the large vintage crock bowl. I haven't reported on the tea in awhile because no real visible differences were obvious enough to see in photographs. I wet the tea down once a week and turned it either every day or every other day depending upon whether I actually notice the bowl. After all, I'm usually busy brewing, drinking and muttering to myself, not wandering around the house actually noticing important things around me.


Day 35
At this point I am seeing some browning occurring throughout the sample, rather than just the wet, black pile of tea. Also, when water is added the "juice" that forms within the bowl is now a brown shou-type liquid, and this is now visible in the photo. Not seeing much mold forming any longer. The tea still has a musty smell, and I'm uncertain what type of smell is good versus not good. Anything fermenting is going to have some kind of odor to it, as I recall from tripping over sauerkraut crocks as a kid. Then I have the question of when the tea will be done. Fermentation times I've found online range from 10 days to a year. The Menghai factory has reported a 48 day period and a 6 week period for various teas.

Finding any kind of information online about pile fermentation is difficult. Most often I read how this process is a "carefully guarded secret," and "secret recipe" etc. But the more I think about this, I wonder what is so carefully guarded, when the process is simply a pile of tea moistened with water on a factory floor covered with a tarp? What is the secret, apart from sanitized conditions? Found a possible clue in a study by Hou, Jeng & Chen (2010), Journal of Food Science 75(1), H44-48.

In this study, the authors added a "tea extract" to the pile and compared an analysis of this sample with a sample fermented with water alone. The authors found statistically significant increases in levels of statin, GABA, gallic acid, DPPH scavenging and polyphenol oxidase (PPO) activities, whereas polyphenols and caffeine were decreased over 6 months. The authors also found qualitative differences of "enhanced flavor and taste." These changes were attributed to the increased population of A. niger and A. carbonarius at 6 months into fermentation. These are fungi which grow at 30 degrees C or above during the fermentation process. Even more important, once the teas were heat-dried, the authors found that the bacterial count in the tea extract sample returned to insignificant and safe levels.

I began to wonder about this "tea extract," whether this might be the so-called secret so carefully guarded by factories. Before now I had already concluded that factories are adding things to tea cakes, based on the large numbers of articles I read from the Journal of Yunnan University. All this research doesn't just happen in a university vacuum. Research is derived from observations of actual real life processes, and then university research in turn informs industry in a back and forth direction. In my blog previously, I have questioned whether it is even possible now for tea drinkers to isolate "regions" and "flavors" when drinking a tea cake. In fact, tea drinkers might be drinking flavors what the factories have intended for us to taste. And that this taste result is more than just a blend of leaves from various regions, but rather direct manipulation of the tea to enhance the flavors for a specific end taste. Some studies I've read identified the chemical compounds behind tea flavors, and manipulated tea to obtain these flavors, like "betel nut," or "plum."

Factories aren't disclosing whether or not the tea I'm drinking has been subjected to any sort of manipulation, unless the tea cake I'm buying is directly sourced by the vendor and raw, such as cakes produced under the supervision of Chawangshop, white2tea, Mandala Tea, Essence of Tea, Crimson Lotus Tea or Yunnan Sourcing, to name a few. Based on their first-hand reports, we know these vendors choose their tea leaves via tasting and then supervise the pressing of raw tea cakes. Often they may use small local or family-owned tea farms with woks, pressing stones and a few pieces of sorting equipment. In the cases of vendors like these, we know for certain how the tea is produced. Any manipulation of the tea is an expensive process that only factories are likely to engage in.

I also know from puercn articles that the government is asking directly what can be done to sell the large tonnage of leftover tea leaves, the ones that aren't gushu, and aren't particularly high end quality. One case in point is the still-leftover tonnage from 2008, one of the years most collectors try to avoid because of the over-harvested and weak leaf and because of a peak in pesticide and chemical fertilizer use at that time. An easy answer to dealing with leftover tonnage is to produce tea enhanced beyond its original flavor via processes like the addition of tea leaf extract. Another answer is to sell it to other companies who might manipulate the tea in more obvious ways, such as Teavana who might add flavorings, sugars etc and other herbs to create obvious blends.

But back to the extract and my own tea sample...I ask myself "what is a tea leaf extract?" A direct extract is pressing fresh tea leaves to squeeze out the natural fresh juice. This takes a lot of leaf. Anyone with a juicer knows how many vegetables you need to get a glass of fresh juice. Another extraction process is either a water extraction or alcohol distillation which is the method used in herbal medicines to obtain a tincture. Alcohol distillation is rather cumbersome, and expensive compared to either pressing fresh leaves or extracting the tea with water. If I had to guess, the least expensive method in real life which uses the smallest quantity of fresh leaf would be to simply brew up the fresh leaves in water. The idea here is then to use the tea soup to wet down the pile rather than just water alone.

I wish I'd done this with my sample from the beginning, since I've only been using water. Adding tea brew to my sample is easy enough to do, and why didn't I think of this sooner? But no reason I can't start now. So this past week I got out my freshest cake from 2014, and selected white2tea's Last Thoughts. By now plenty of loose tea has gathered in the cake wrapper from the couple of tastings I've done on that cake, so I scooped up some loose tea and brewed it up to add to my fermenting sample. Makes a lot of sense to me now to add fresh tea brew rather than just water to my pile. Adding anything which might control the bacteria and enhance the flavor, well why not? I've only had a few days now to observe any differences, which at this point are guesses at best. So far I have noticed the ferment-y odor starting to decrease in the pile.

At this point too, I think that time is still needed on the sample for further browning. A fermentation process eventually finishes out and I'm seeing the color fade. Looking at end-process pile photos online, I see that the finished tea is a lighter brown color when dried. Some of the pieces in my sample are at that point, but at least half the sample is not. Unless I start to see rapid change, I'm guessing my sample is around 50% fermented at best. Tea takes longer than sauerkraut.

Requiescat in Pace.

Source:

C. W. Hou, K. C. Jeng & Y. S. Chen (2010). Enhancement of Fermentation Process in Pu-Erh Tea by Tea-Leaf ExtractJournal of Food Science 75(1), H44-48.