; Cwyn's Death By Tea: May 2015 ;

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

Friday, May 29, 2015

Taking Care of Your Shous. Puerh Airing and Storage

I am approaching the time in my life when shou puerh is one of the more comfortable teas for Old Lady digestion. A gong fu session with shou puerh is always enjoyable, and I also find a pinch of shou brewed western style in a mug is a good way to settle my gut and help me relax. Shou puerh helps balance out sheng days. However, I have yet to order any shou that arrives without needing something. Either the shou will need further aging, or airing, or both.

My eventual goal of treatment for a newly arrived shou puerh is to tin the tea for storing and consumption.

Checklist:

1. Does the shou have Heavy, Medium or Light fermentation?

Hopefully the seller discloses the level of fermentation. Vendors such as  Yunnan Sourcing generally describe the level of fermentation in their listings. Other vendors like those on EBay might not be so clear. We need to know what type of shou the cake is in order to figure out how to treat it.

Heavy: the cake is mostly dark brown. The leaves will seem like dried dark leather or dried tobacco. When brewed, the tea soup is very sweet and reddish, and the leaves look very black in the gaiwan. Often Heavy puerh contains lots of sticks.

Medium: this shou often shows flecks of golden or lighter colored tea leaves on the surface of the cake. The best shou factory puerh cakes seem to have an even distribution of more lightly fermented leaves, or unfermented leaves scattered across the surface. This is a beautiful aesthetic, and I always stop to appreciate cakes where such care is taken in the presentation. When brewed, the gaiwan will have some of the heavier, dark and leathery leaf, and then some lighter green pieces. Sometimes the green pieces aren't noticeable until a few steeps in and the tea soup fades.

Light: Even more greener pieces of tea, and a lighter colored soup. More bitterness in the cup, can taste sour fermented flavor because it still has years to go.

2. Taste the tea to check for condition too. Withhold judgement on the quality.

Here I am looking for things that need fixing, such as humid or dirt-smelling storage which will need to be aired. Or sour flavors which means the tea got dried out and will need a bit more humidity to wake up and work out.

Every shou will need something, either airing or more fermentation time. Shou will not be at its best when you first get it. So I just look for problems and really decide on the tea in a few months.

3. Break up all Heavy fermentation teas and any Light/Mediums that have humid storage odors on top of any wo dui odors.

This step might be difficult for some to part with the intact cake. As for Heavy fermentation, scad tons of this tea are produced in China every year. China has a many years back-load of shou which they are trying to figure out how to market and sell. Heavy fermentation cakes have no great value and will never have value except for drinking. Break it up.

In theory, Light/Mediums might retain value with further storage based on the fact that retailers bump the price every year. But in reality, where are you gonna sell them? Again, China produces tons of shou every year. A sensible strategy is break up the ones that arrive with musty humid storage and plan to tin these. For drier storage cakes you don't plan to drink for a few years, hang on to them intact if you want.

4. Place the tea in the correct storage solution.

The correct solution depends upon the level of fermentation and any problems.

Overview of storage solutions.

Heavy vs. Light Fermentation: Heavy needs airing and finally long term tinning. Light has essentially the same storage issues as for sheng. The advantage of lighter fermentation is more complexity developing in the tea over time, mimicking sheng puerh more closely than Heavy does. Since Light fermentation is essentially going to be similar to sheng, and must be stored separately from sheng, you will need two separate storage plans for sheng and Light/Medium shou. Yep, double the space in your house.

Any of these solutions can also be used for Heicha, Liu Bao, Liu An and Fu Zhuan.

Yixing, duan-ni and other unglazed ceramics. These ceramics are great for Heavy shou puerh for short and long term storage. The lack of glazing allows the tea to air and rid itself of humid storage odors. There is no further aging which needs to be done. All you need is to work out any odors from warehousing, or paper wrappers or bamboo. You can use the lids with unglazed ceramics because the whole thing will breathe even when covered. These ceramics are expensive to buy. If you like them and have the money, go ahead.

Crockware. Inexpensive crockware can be used for airing and storage. Leave lids off to air and cover the top of the crock with a paper towel or cotton fabric and secure with a rubber band. Replace the lid when you notice any odors have vanished. Crockware can be used to wake up a drier shou if it has lost the nice smell, keep the lid on to bring back the fresher smell.

Porcelain or Ceramic. Fine for airing and storage of all shou types. Leave the lid off for airing Heavy fermented tea until you notice any off odors have vanished. Then replace the lid. Keep it on for lighter fermentation cakes.

Cupboards. Fine for whole cake shous. You will want to add a bowl of water for Light/Medium fermented shous. Make sure you dedicate the cupboard for shou, but you can also store tins or sealed bags of other teas in there too, just not sheng.

Pumidor. Great for Light/Medium fermented shous. Unnecessary for Heavy fermented shous.

Tins. Use after you've finished any airing or aging. Break up the cake and tin it. I like to cut out a piece of the wrapper and tape or glue to the tin. You can also use Dry mount spray to make a decoupage of the tea wrapper around the tin.

Jars. These are fine for long term storage of finished and aired shou. Decorate like jam jars with colored cloth and string or ribbons.

Vintage shou, and my homemade on the right.

5. Brewing and tasting Shou Puerh.

Shou should lose most storage odors and flavors after six months of airing. A shou can taste markedly different six months later from when you bought it, so reserving your judgement on it is a good idea. I've hated some shou puerh on day one that six months later is awesome. Even so, you might find a few odors or flavors linger.

--soak shou pieces in cold water 5-10 mins. to help remove any remaining odors/flavors including musty or fishy smells. Guangxi Liu Bao and Hubei Heicha bricks benefit from cold water soaking to open them up.

--do at least 2 boiling water quick rinses on shou. Some Heicha fade quickly but often have off-smells and still smell funny after 3 rinses. And then you might only get 3-4 good steeps before the heicha fades. This is normal because heicha is not usually a Yunnan leaf varietal. Heicha is a unique tea group though it is pile fermented like shou. Fermented teas aren't consistent between teas and steep parameters are thus a new exploration with every tea you purchase.

--Gong fu brew heavy leaf to water ratio, 8-10 g/100 ml or higher. For a western-style steep you can use much less. But you aren't going to get a full experience of your shou with 3-4 grams and then tossing the lot after 5 steeps. If you have a good shou puerh, 10-12 g of tea will steep for days and sometimes taste better on day 2 than on day 1. Put the gaiwan in the fridge if you need to, take it back out to re-aclimate before adding water. Clay pots should not be refrigerated.

--Boil leaves in a pot for 5 minutes after they seem steeped out for yet another flavor profile.



My Favorite Shous

2014 Lao Cha Tou by white2tea
2000s "Chocolate" Shou by white2tea
2009 Lao Cha Tou Sheng Yun by Yunnan Sourcing
Golden Melon Shou by white2tea (brew all 20g at once, doesn't quit)
7572 recipes by Taetea and CNNP
Guanxi Three Cranes Liu Bao brick (heicha) by Chawangshop
2008 Bulang Old Tree brick by Crimson Lotus Tea



Thanks for Stopping By!


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

2015 Chawangpu Lao Yun

Could be this year's.
Although I've finished up testing my new 2015 Chawangpu cakes, a sample of the Lao Yun was included in my package. I can't quite make out the date on the bag, it looks like 2013, or 2015? Not sure. But I wanted to give this a try because Chawangshop has 2013-2015 versions of this cake available. Ringing in this year at a mere $12 for a 200g beeng, this is the lowest priced budget cake of the house label teas. That means just $60 a tong for this one. The Lao Yun has been reviewed elsewhere on other tea review and blog sites so definitely take a look around at other reviews if you are considering a purchase. I initially passed on this cake because from the photo I thought I could see some uneven processing and decided that perhaps some burnt leaves might be the cause of the low price tag.

Can't quite make out the year.
This tea is made by a group of old women for their own consumption. When looking at the leaves I couldn't help but think a few of those gals might need reading glasses but just don't want to wear them. My own grandmother refused to get her own set of readers, and instead borrowed my grandfather's pair for 30 years. My grandfather continued to work well into his 80s, so that meant my grandmother waited all day until he got home to borrow his glasses. I needed bifocals when I hit 46 or so, but since I already had worn glasses since age 10, this change in my eye sight didn't bother me so much. When you see resistance to reader lenses, it's always in people who had perfect eyesight all along, and perhaps still have perfect distance vision. They are proud of their eyesight and don't want to break down and admit they can't see up close any longer. As for me, I didn't want to break down and sell the handheld video games.

Turns out those ladies might see just fine, and at the same time I wasn't too far off about the tea. As soon as the hot water hit the tea, the straight up smell of campfire hits my nose. When we taste smoke in a sheng puerh, very often it is referred to as a tobacco flavor or scent. Or we see a lot of char in the strainer. In this case, I don't see much if any char, rather the whole cake has been infused with wood smoke. So I guess those old ladies can see just fine, but they are doing a kill green just over a very smoky wood fire. Some of this dissipates within a few steeps, but I can definitely smell it within what is otherwise a good quality champagne grape start to the tea and then the descent into straight up bitterness.

I kept my brew temps at a 208F, just off the boil. Going lower on the temps might have mellowed the bitter flavor in later steeps, but honestly this is a tea for aging and it's too much for me to drink this young. One reviewer at We Rate Teas reported a stomach ache from this, well that's what you get drinking a bitter young tea like this. No, this is one for the crocks.

Might be interesting to see how the campfire smoke integrates or dissipates. I am reminded of the wood furnace my dad bought, stoking it in the middle of the night with more wood. At home I never really noticed much of the wood smoke, but outside the house my clothes certainly smelled like it. Although I enjoyed the fireplaces and wood furnace, in my early adulthood whenever I got a cold, I'd end up with bronchitis every time. This tendency disappeared eventually, but I read someplace that problems like this are common when you grow up with wood fires in the house. And that big furnace was in the room right next to where I slept. The scent on this tea takes me back to that basement bedroom of mine near the wood furnace.

Second Steep
The tea soup is a really bright yellow, and has a bit of body by the third steep. Leaves are a nice mix of small and large, a few buds, and some older brown leaves indicating some age. I made it through three steeps and then stopped drinking for the sake of my system. Overall the tea has a high quality taste that is infused with the wood smoke, and this justifies Chawangshop's classification of the cake as a "Craft" or farm product tea, and the price tier. The cakes start at $12 and then go up by $2-3 after a year.

Bifocals, anyone?

Personally I appreciate the classification of "craft" tea, and I like some of the craft Heicha teas that Chawangshop also sells which are much easier to drink. I've seen plenty of sheng out there that really should be classified as "craft" due to the rough processing, but all too often the tea is sold for premium prices. I don't think sellers should shy away from offering a tea like this in their shop. The low price and unique experience justify picking up a cake. If you're into tea aging experiments, this cake is worth tossing into your cart to learn whatever you can, while you can.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Nice-a Cool Glass-a Eliminate



I'm sending out another poke to the Marx Brothers fans to come up with the movie title for the Chico Marx "lemonade" pun above. Can you guess it? No googling!

Yes, it's an easy question. Politics and marketing are all a form of Duck Soup, and of course the tea world is not exempt. Now for you widely-read blog readers, here is one for you.

What do you get when you combine pesticides with Tea?

A dog with two heads. arf arf.

Okay okay, but listen. If you think vendors and tea buyers have problems when it comes to pesticides, I guarantee you none of that compares with what Old Cwyn's got. I still need to figure out what to do with the can of DDT out in my shed.

Everybody thinks I must enjoy writing loads of crap, and you can think that all day long but I still have a problem. I acquired a DDT can a few years back when I bought a large box of cleaning supplies at the flea market. I'm inconsistent when it comes to money. I'll pay $400 for the best gushu tea cake, but then turn around and refuse to pay more than 50 cents for a bottle of household cleaner. And while I might want my tea clean and chemical free, I am going to bomb the hell of out any bedbugs that I bring home from an $800 a night hotel room in Chicago. People have told me that bedbugs are immune to DDT, but I doubt they will survive my can of DDT plus roach killer doused in gasoline all lit up with a kitchen match. And I will feel perfectly happy to sleep on top of that burning pyre as opposed to an organic mattress full of bedbugs.

And while I'm at it, I plan to fill myself up as much pesticide as possible. This is not an activity for a mother preparing her body for childbirth. It's an activity for an old lady preparing for the mausoleum. In the old days, you could only hope to achieve sainthood with huge efforts, moral behavior, charitable works and zero masturbation. If you did all that correctly, then your holiness was rewarded with an incorruptible corpse on Display at the Vatican. Unfortunately, the traditional method of sainthood is closed to me because I know I've been Bad. However, I live in the 21st Century and appearances are far more achievable. The plan is to load up on pesticides so that when I'm all laid out, no bugs, worms or other rot dare come anywhere near my sweetly preserved flesh in the cemetery of Our Lady of Unspellable Surnames where 5 consonants or more are required to buy in. Then I will rise on the last day ready for a cuppa from one of the handy urns I've set up in advance, and be off for a late lunch at the meat shop currently located a quarter mile from the cemetery.


So I really do have a can of DDT. Actually it has pictures of roses on it and is labeled as "Rose Dust." And it came from the big box of stuff I got at the flea market, sold by some elderly people who probably didn't even know what the can really is. That, or they were fodding it off on someone else to deal with. And alas, this isn't the first time Old Cwyn has to be The One to take care of a DDT problem.

The first time was my very first weekend at the convent, of all places. Freshly moved into the Associate House (a residence for postulants), our schedule included a weekend at a cabin on a lake to get a fast course on the Liturgy of the Hours. This is the round-the-clock cycle of prayer performed by nuns, monks and priests, and the book which is used for this prayer is a complicated manual full of page turns from front to back. One has to learn to keep the book straight via a system of ribbon markers and holy cards. It's not really possible to learn the whole thing in a weekend, but we needed at least some basic starting competence at the cycle of prayer used within the community. Previously on my blog, I actually posted a photo of the book we studied at that cabin, here it is again.

Book of Prayer is the one.
This lake cabin belonged to the community and was used either for meetings or for retreats, little get-aways for prayer and contemplation. While poking around, I opened up a cabinet which had a few items arranged neatly along the edge of the shelf like amenities at a hotel. And here was a small paper can of DDT like a trial size of body powder, and a yellowed note with antique handwriting from the 1940s, saying "Please sprinkle this before you leave in order to control bugs for the next Sister."

I mentioned the can to my Director and she didn't appear worried. In fact, she seemed more concerned that I had my book ribbons in the right place than about the potential to bomb the local food chain with two-headed dogs for the next fifty breeding cycles. Or that we Virgins were placing our nubile young flesh on beds of toxic waste. Even worse, I couldn't deal with the problem and remove the can myself. Community Property is free to use, but rules are that one cannot dispose of Community Property without permission. So that meant I had to sleep out the weekend on 40 years of contamination and seek permission from the higher ups to dispose of the remains.


On the following week, I went to see Sister Marlene. She was the manager of the Motherhouse. Now,  note that I didn't immediately seek out the Mother General for a small problem like a can of DDT, no I went to a person of lower authority first, even though her authority did not extend beyond keeping the scheduling calendar for the cabin. She didn't really have the authority for permission to dispose of Community Property, but at least if a brand new postulant is going to stick her neck out and make waves, I showed respect for the levels of command by working my way up the food chain one rung at a time. And I was on the lowest possible rung of all, leaving me a long ways to climb. Unfortunately, Sister Marlene gave me a look which said everything along the lines of "this is hardly my concern."

So with all the bravado of youth I went to the office of the Mother General. Now Sister Patricia was a kind and regal woman whose most distinguishing trait was Grace, something she tried her best to teach me. Sister Patricia refused to accept any gestures from sisters which showed traditional respect for her office and her fine character which got her elected. For example, she never sat with her friends or other higher ups in the refectory. Instead she made a point of finding a table with the least amenable sisters, the most repulsive eaters, the sisters with nothing to say, the most irascible and uptight. In other words, she led by example.

However, it just wasn't her day to lead by example when Young Cwyn knocked on her door armed with a load of facts on the half-life of DDT, or she had concerns far more important than the local food chain. She expressed zero concern for that little can, and did not give me any particular permission to deal with the problem. A lowly postulant in her first week? I don't think so. She was pleasant enough while ushering me to the door and to her credit didn't tell me to find a toothbrush and bit of floor to scrub. Though to be fair, if she had done that I might still be there today. Their opinion later about me was they were far too lenient, and I can't exactly argue that point about the women who spoiled me rotten.

But at least I showed some respect of what they had in terms of authority, even though I made the decision to defy it. I removed the can of DDT myself. Obedience was always my problem and not the celibacy people think is the real problem with nuns and priests. It's Obedience, people, the most difficult vow of all, even with priests who bugger boys. Had they been Obedient, they would have told themselves NO, and listened, and that would prevent hundreds of years of problems. In the old days, those sisters might have just told me NO on the DDT just to test whether I could be obedient to authority, just as St. Teresa of Avila tested her novice by telling her to plant a fully grown cucumber so it could grow and the obedient novice did so without question. But St. Teresa wanted to demonstrate she'd rather have the novice who applied some common sense instead of the blindly obedient mule. Maybe Sister Patricia had this old story in mind herself, but I'll never know because just a few short years after finishing her tenure as Mother General and President, she suddenly died of brain cancer.

I put the can of DDT into a plastic store bag and brought it to the Department of Chemistry at our college next door to the convent. The professor there placed the can into a vacuum container which looked like a drink thermos and kindly assured me he would see to it that the container got taken along with other hazardous waste from the lab. I didn't tell him where I got the can so as not to embarrass the nuns and draw attention to myself stealing Community Property in case someone raised a fuss.

In recent years, my order of nuns adopted Environmental Protection as a community motto in keeping with the Franciscan heritage of concern for Mother Earth and Sister Sky. I've been astounded at how much they are now willing to pay to protest the Environment, especially after I was told the community could never afford to pay for my generation's retirement. A few years ago while in the city I decided to swing by the Motherhouse and saw a fleet of Toyota Prius cars parked in the nuns-only parking spaces, each car costing to the tune of some $35-grand in a system that vows Poverty. There's my retirement, I thought. And I wondered if it crosses the minds of the dear sisters that while a Toyota Prius takes less gas, the electricity they are using to charge the cars burns more coal. Might not the message of "take the bus" (just like real poor people) promote public transport, and reduce carbon emissions far more? Instead of parking and going in, I turned around my 20 year old rusty Corolla with the manual transmission and left town.

The karma people are correct and things keep coming right back around. Nowadays I think of my DDT cans when I'm faced with all kinds of  inconsistencies. Such as in Madison when I'm wearing a vintage mink jacket and get pelted with tomatoes by people wearing PVC shoes. The DDT just keeps on getting larger like a value-size can of Barkeeper's Friend. And instead of a convenient walk next door to a chemistry lab, I must drive for several hours to reach the closest proper disposal facility. Maybe that DDT is just fine where it is out in the shed, after all dear Son has a desperate fear of insects. I don't think he'll mind emptying that can onto his mother's corpse in the hopes of keeping bugs away, at least during the funeral. In the meantime, I won't have to worry about pesticide-fearing Tea Drunks showing up at my house to raid my stash. And you can safely conclude that if Old Cwyn still has a can of DDT, she probably isn't too worried about pesticides in her tea within the standard EU limits.

 Memorial Weekend 2015

Friday, May 22, 2015

Lots More on Puerh Storage

An article on puerh storage caught my attention this week when tea blogger Nicole Martin tweeted it from her blog teaformeplease. What I like about Ms. Martin's blog and Tweets is that they reflect her wide reading in everything about tea, which means I don't need to read. And she has a way of picking out the must-knows, so that I don't have to think. I can rely on her for all this instead of making any effort of my own. I'm not the only lazy tea head. Her recent win of a World Tea Expo award for Best Social Media is well-done, and exposes all of us who can't help peeking at what she digs up. This week her sifting dredged up a Fresh Cup magazine article called "House-Aged Puerh: The Whole Leaf." This article is accompanied by what appears to be a photo of Rishi mini tuos, and instructs you everything you need to know about aging more than half a leaf at a time. Except it leaves out a most crucial thing. THE most important thing.



Now before you get all excited about the prospect of Cwyn skewering an article, I'm actually not going to do that. We're talking only about one point, after all. And when I get worked up, I'm not a fighter. Or a self-mutilator. I'm a graffiti person and so I just draw bad cartoons with my permanently tea-stained index finger. That's right.


Getting on with it already, the most important factor to consider with puerh storage is

YOUR
LOCAL
CLIMATE.

Now, to be fair the article mentions things like RH factors and temperatures, but this is confusing for people because these can also refer to the conditions you need in your storage solution. The article covers possible storage solutions, but doesn't really help anyone with how to decide what storage solutions are needed, based on

WHERE
YOU
LIVE.

Write it down.

The problems we run into with information on puerh storage and fermentation  is that so many early articles on the net focused only on how puerh is stored in southeast Asia, where the climate is hot and humid. Places where it rains for three months or more a year, and I'm not talking about the oozy rain of the northwest US. I'm talking about torrential monsoonal downpours on a daily basis. This is why people in these climates stored their tea either just in the bamboo out in the open or in unglazed clay jars which breathe, and use fans to circulate whatever air is available during all this rain and hot weather. In this type of climate, circulating the air is a huge concern. Even with good circulation I'm sure people are fighting 6 inch thick mold even with the closest attention to their tea. But I have a theory that people in these types of climates don't notice musty tastes and smells as keenly as people in drier climates simply because everything smells this way all of the time. So "traditional" storage tea is musty and nobody tastes it because it reminds people of home.

I think the focus on southeast Asian storage has been repeated so often that everyone assumes the way tea is stored in Asia works willy-nilly everywhere else in the world where the climate isn't hot, humid and rainy. This makes absolutely no sense. When you live in a really dry climate, which is mostly every place which boasts a RH factor of less than 60% and temperatures lower than 78F/25.5C, you are going to need a storage solution that is NOT an unglazed clay jar. The only reason to use an unglazed jar is if you bought yourself a tea cake that was stored in a humid climate for a number of years, and all it needs is airing out before you drink it, or you bought a shou with pile fermentation odors and flavors.

So, the very FIRST thing you need to do when storing your tea is take a look at your climate and where you live. My house, this past winter, reached a temp of 62F/16.6C and boasted a RH of 24%. Yes, that's right, a cold desert. In fact, when I check my local ecosystem online, my area of Wisconsin is classified as "prairie" and "oak savanna." Savanna means really, really dry.

We need to think storage from the Outside-In, rather than Inside-Out. Start with climate outside, and then your house, and then pick the correct solution. Analyze what will be outside the tea storage and then pick the storage. When we do this, we pick the storage that matches the climate factors around the tea. But if we work from inside-out, choosing the storage before looking at the climate around the tea can mean making a choice that doesn't work.

What about you? If you don't know what the ecosystem is where you live, check on Wikipedia. This is important to know because your house is affected by degrees from the outside climate. Also helpful is knowing when the outside weather can help the tea, so on humid days you can expose the tea to the free boost. And then when the weather is dry or cooler, you can close your puerh away from the adverse climate.

Still not sure about your ecosystem? Go to your local drugstore and check the hairspray aisle. If the store primarily sells sprays to control fly-aways, your climate is dry. If the store sells mostly anti-frizz, your climate is humid. I can't guarantee this method is any better than 75% accurate. However, I have been to the middle of England in the West Midlands, and I had to buy anti-frizz hairspray which is pretty much all I saw in Boots. Also, I've seen the rubber seals on the high efficiency washing machines in that part of the world, and I tried to scrub one with bleach to no avail. Needless to say mine does not look like THAT, and I haven't used the Boots hairspray since. So, unless one lives in an island sort of place, I and probably you too will need some sort of storage solution that creates a separate micro-climate that is favorable for puerh.

Okay, so here is something of a checklist on When to Use which storage solution.

When to Use:

Cardboard Boxes and Paper Bags--When you are airing shou puerh or humid-stored musty sheng of unwanted odors. But don't do it for long. I've already tested this for you. I stored a shou puerh in a cardboard box for 5 years. And it tasted like cardboard box.

Plastic wrap and plastic bags--temporary until you develop something better. In the long term, my climate is too dry for plastic wrap, it just dries out and becomes brittle, and then so does the tea. Puerh needs heat and humid air to age, plastic does not survive cold, heat and dry air over the long haul. And do you truly want plastics all over your vegan, organic, BPA-free, lactose-free and gluten-free tea for thirty years?

Presentation Boxes---when you give a gift. Really.

Shelves--good for humid climates and storing out in the open.

Wood boxes/drawers--put the bras back in, ladies. Wood has too many variables like oils, odors absorbed from the air especially at the humidity levels you need for the tea. A large enamel pot with a lid is better, wipe the inside of the lid with a damp cloth for moisture if needed, and leave the lid slightly ajar.

Cupboards--semi-humid climates only, and not in the kitchen.

Yixing and other Unglazed Jars--only if you live in tropical and humid climates. You sweat constantly. These jars are good for airing shou puerh that has wo dui fermentation smells. Can air out any aged sheng for a SHORT time after you receive a package from China. Then move to regular storage. If your jar doesn't have a lid, you can cover it with either a china plate or cover with a cotton cloth/paper towel secured with a rubber band or string.

Glazed Stoneware crocks---anywhere Yixing Jars are not appropriate, anywhere less than humid, hot and muggy. Add tobacco pouch buttons as needed or shards of soaked terra cotta clay pots. These create a micro climate when stuffed full of tea cakes and tuos.

Porcelain jars--somewhat humid climates. The TeaDB folks are reporting some results on ceramic and porcelain jars in Seattle. I would think covered casserole dishes might be an option too for storing whole puerh cakes.

Old unplugged refrigerator--ugly but works. Add a jar of water or humidity device purchased from a tobacco store. Make sure the device doesn't smell of store tobacco. Keep a RH and temp device in there and watch it like a hawk, fridges are cold and can get dry if you aren't careful. Open the door every so often to air out. If you smell lovely tea smells, you're probably okay.

Wine Cooler--a stylish investment.

Custom storage vault--now we're talking. And I'm on my way over.

Objections:

1. But it's ugly.

Get creative, an old radiator cover that doubles as seating with a couple coolers inside.

Use black spray paint on the exterior of a few coolers or ice chests. Or use square baskets for humid climates. Toss a few colorful pillows on top. Lift the lid when you need to check everything. I keep my best cakes in an old dorm fridge which doubles as a side table in the living room in winter, and on the porch in summer.

2. I don't have any room.

Empty out your wife's walk-in California closet. Appropriate the shelving.


Maybe all of these ideas still leave you scratching your head. Go back to your local climate. Ask a few old timers what people in your area did to preserve food prior to the age of refrigeration. If nobody lived in your area prior to refrigeration, then you need to call a realtor right now. Or else you're facing the cost of an outbuilding with custom solar panels, a drip system, sodium halide light fixtures and an off-grid security system to watch out for cops. At that point, growing something other than tea mold is a more lucrative hobby for you. Then buy all the China-stored tea you want and throw it out when it goes flat. I'm considering this idea myself. It beats out what I've been doing at the truck stop lately to afford the new spring bings.

Now, a person doesn't need to store every single bit of tea you own in a custom storage solution. Teas you are actively drinking, for example, can be stored anywhere you darn well please. Like in your bed. Or in that pretty porcelain caddy you found at the dollar store. Pouches and baggies are great for small amounts of tea you plan to get to any day now, as long as that "any day now" happens in the next month or two. The teas you really want to find a solution for are the ones that need more time to turn into that fantastic sheng to sell for thousands of dollars at Sotheby's someday. Because if that's your plan, you'll be needing the best storage solution you can get. Unless you are old-like-Cwyn and plan to have "Dead Blogger" labeling large in the auction catalogue. In that case, well, bathroom storage is just fine.


Requiescat in Pace when you git 'er done. Don't end up like me 5 years on with a cardboard box going "oops."

*And if you have any more questions, really you needn't call me. Go to Steepster.com and message mrmopar. That is "m-r-m-o-p-a-r" all small letters. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2015 Chawangpu Mengsong Old Tree and 2015 Menghai Cheng Shuang

Oh yeah, more tea.

This posting will conclude my round up of reviews of Chawangshop's 2015 collection that I chose to try. The last two new 2015 Chawangpu cakes I ordered recently represent the more budget end of the price spectrum compared to the finer 2015 Hekai Gushu and aged 2015 (2005) Bulang Old Tree. With the better Chawangpu cakes at already crazy low prices in the $30-odd range, the budget side ends up at half that again, just in case you're buying tea from your penny jar instead of your credit card.

200g cake
I've had Mengsong tea before, and in fact one of the teas used for my fermentation experiment last winter was a Mengsong gushu, and I found the straight up spring bud rather on the light side, taste-wise. So here in this 2015 Mengsong Old Tree I welcome a blend of larger and older leaves from the tea tree to round out the cake with a bit more flavor, and am not disappointed. I brewed this up on the strong side at 10 grams per 100 ml and the tea kept going after 10 steeps. I think I went 12 before I gave out on it, and the tea still had more to give. Brewing this heavy on the leaf side gave the tea more body as well, the tea isn't exactly thin but I like the thicker body when I can get it. Some teas will never get thicker when you add more leaf, and some, like this one, will offer a bit more reward by going heavy. I could still taste the long kuwei nearly two hours after a cup. Again, we're talking about a budget offering.

Leaf variety visible here.
The tea cup is light yellow and pleasantly bitter, and more so than I expected. This is a healthy blend for aging, and while the fruity Hekai gushu is more enjoyable fresh, the Mengsong is a choice for storing away. I find myself wanting a bit of humidity in this. The processing is impressive again with very little char and no smokiness in the tea. In fact, both of the budget teas I'm trying here have much better processing than similar priced teas that many of my tea buddies are buying on EBay.

Second steep.
Seriously people, I know... "good" stuff on EBay, or at least so you might believe, but take a step up. I can understand budget issues that mean you can't get into the real expensive puerh but the good news here is you don't have to.

A few buds, combos and big leaf picked out on the left.
This isn't tea that will knock your socks off and leave you wondering where you put your shoes, but it is quality leaf and deft hands at the wok, and the steam can wasn't left to sit on the heat too long. What you get on EBay, in general, is poor processing more than anything else. Or bad storage that you have to hope you can fix. Why gamble when you can spend your budget right the first time and control the aging yourself?

Not convinced? Okay. So you don't want the $22 cake I just mentioned?? Which comes in at just over $100 a tong? How about this $18 cake which only totals $90 for a tong. One full kg of tea for under a hundred bucks, and that's what this 2015 Menghai Cheng Shuang gives you. 

Menghai the Old Standby
You can fit 5 of these cakes into a $5 stoneware bean pot from the thrift store and have an entire tong of tea plus a fully portable aging set-up for under $100. At $18 per cake, this Menghai area tea is exactly half the cost of the Hekai gushu and again another one for aging.

Blend of two villages.
The tea is described as a combined two village harvest prior to the first week of April 2015. The cake is certainly pretty enough. But when the hot water hits the gaiwan, I can smell some dry storage and wonder if a handful of autumn leaves are in here. Some of them seem to be puckered and dried out just a little. 


Maybe at two months post harvest, it's conceivable the villages might have picked some older leaves in March and kept them on hand for buyers and that explains the dry storage I need 3 rinses to pour off. After that, the leaves are opened back up to their fresh appearance. I notice some older reddish leaf, and I like the leaf combination here, big leaves, buds, 1 bud and two leaf combinations, all different colors of leaf. The tea has more fruity and floral aroma than the other teas I've tried so far, and the usual Menghai bitterness. 9 grams is plenty per 100 ml.

Third steep.
I sort of am getting that regular ordinary Menghai taste, and if I bought this from Dayi I can certainly get the same experience, but instead of getting these pretty leaves I'd have a pile of chop to celebrate my 2015 spring. And that brings me back to my point earlier. I started drinking puerh in 2009, and I own exactly one Xiaguan that I bought for myself, and one Dayi. I also own a massive pile of samples of these factories, samples sent to me from tea buddies either to test their storage or just as part of a simple exchange. None of my Chawangpu teas were provided free for my review, I receive no samples from Chawangshop aside from the usual one in the box. I don't know Honza and I've never exchanged any correspondence with him.

I enjoy picking out a full variety of leaf.
The only real criticism I have of Chawangpu's house teas is the wrapper. I love the design, of course, but again this year the entire collection has the same wrapper, varying only with the couple of Chinese characters. I'm not suggesting at all to design separate wrappers for each tea, but if an online merchant is selling worldwide, it helps if the wrapper is friendly to people all over the world. In my tea storage I've been struggling with small pieces of paper to try and distinguish one Chawangpu cake from another and I'm sitting here again this year feeling like I can't throw away the plastic baggie or I have to cut out the sticker. Do I tape it to the cake? I could buy my own separate rubber stamps, I suppose, to try and differentiate the cakes, but then I worry about choosing ink, and ink bleeding into my teas. I could try and keep track of pieces of paper yet again. But other vendors create different wrappers for each cake which is the easiest way for me to differentiate my teas. Often vendors also label teas with the year in Arabic numerals someplace on the wrapper front or on the back flap. Why not just make it easy for the customer to enjoy the product year after year, and use a different color of stamp for each tea when the wrapper must be the same for each cake.

Otherwise, all I can say right now is that I can't see any reason to invest any of my money into regular factory label teas. I've put thousands of my dollars into house teas from excellent curators, taking full advantage of the palates of the people at Chawangshop, Yunnan Sourcing, white2tea, Crimson Lotus Tea and yes even Misty Peaks, and there are several others I could certainly choose to try in Europe if my dollar held up better against the currencies than it does. But my conclusion is that the house teas from the companies I've mentioned above are superior, by far, to anything I can buy from any regular factory. And if I really must buy aged factory teas, those chosen by the above companies are superior to those I can choose for myself.

While I might be a tea blogger with a little experience in puerh, I have no trouble proudly acknowledging that the palates of good tea vendors are so much better than mine. I can't see the need to waste my money, and what's left of my time, trying to figure out which teas to buy on my own. Chawangshop's 2015 collection demonstrates yet again that budget is no excuse to order factory teas anymore. I'm not trying to criticize my friends who choose to do so, and I enjoy the fun of blind tea shopping as much as anyone. But look at the photos, see the leaf quality and processing. Make up your own mind. I'm fairly certain that once you try even the most low budget of cakes from one of the curators above, they will surpass anything you can find on your own.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Tong People



I'm moving my puerh collection out to the three season porch for the summer humidity season, and testing many of my teas to see how they are coming along. It's tiring moving tea around to preserve a beeng of one tea and half a brick of another merely to keep them tasting their best. Dear Son says my tea habit is out of control, but of course he is just wrong. Today I looked at him and realize I have no idea where he came from. He can't possibly be related to me in any way. And now, I'm fairly certain those humans in all my family photos are not really my parents. That's right. I think I'm one of the Tong People.


Tea vendors keep talking about the Tong People so I know they exist. They are a tribe who buys tea in Tongs only. Tong People are supposedly from someplace in Eastern Europe or maybe Russia. As a matter of fact, I do look rather Eastern European with my olive type skin, and my silver hair used to be dark brown. And I already have a Polish name which no one can possibly be expected to spell. My mother muttered something about Jewish and Hungary once, so I know the people who raised me were covering up something Unacceptable with a story that no one can possibly check out. Other clues: my sister maintains a house in Milwaukee that she doesn't live in, and my brother left on a fishing boat to Bermuda two years ago and never came back. So they clearly must've felt it too. On the Trucker's Radio Network people are calling in to report alien sightings, which leads me to conclude it won't be long now before the Tong People come to get me. On that day, a Brave New World of possibilities will open up.



For one thing, I can finally be relieved of keeping up appearances amongst the local population by pretending that I drink coffee. I will be rid of all those sensible discretions like buying single tea cakes and ridiculous samples. Tong People never buy anything less than a Whole tong, preferably three or more and nobody calls it hoarding. Obviously, storage is simply not an issue. The Land of the Tong People must be a blessedly warm and humid place where people don't have to bother with tea fridges and pumidors, or make do with vintage stoneware crocks and underwear dresser drawers. They just pile tongs up in the living room right out in the open. So a Tong lifestyle gives new meaning to household furniture. I won't need to feel embarrassed anymore when sleeping with my tea, nor hide it from my psychiatrist. I can just place a wood slab right over tong legs and call it a table. Gone too are days living in fear that the Humane Society will take away my cat when he chews on the bamboo and licks the fishy mini shou tuos we all know are really just pet treats for Tong cats.


One reason Tong People buy so much tea is because they drink it all day long as a family. I can finally send out real paper invitations openly to the neighbors to come over for a bowl without worrying about the cops. Or about the landlord calling the fire department. Tongs have deeper reasons that only the Tong People understand. As proof, Honza recently
commented on TeaDB that tea heads really need to drink into a tong to understand a tea. Thus the Tong People have a deeper understanding of tea cakes than anyone else. While I can believe that a good tea is still excellent three cakes in, I don't think a crap tea gets any better the more of it I drink. But in the world of Tong People, money for tea is simply never a budgetary issue. In fact, I will get a tax write-off for my Bad Tea when I donate it to the Salvation Army for shut-ins. And then once a year they will invite me to a really big Chair-a-Tea fundraising event, where I can wear my best dress and show off to everyone how much money I spent on tea, and just how much I gave away this year. People will clap instead of calling my ex-husband.


So whether the tea is bad or good, online tea ordering is a community event with social caché. Nobody ever needs to leave work early in shame, hoping to catch the postman before the spouse sees yet another oversized box from China. Yes sir, that box can arrive openly in all its glory and the neighborhood will rejoice, for at some point everyone will be partaking in that tea order.


mrmopar's dream house.
Naturally this means one will go through tea at a lightning speed, necessitating some work-arounds like phoning instead of email ordering, and calling Tea Vendors in the middle of the night to check for new stock before it gets posted.  Fortunately, most of them appear at the local farmer's market where I can take my pick of sheng vegetables.


Allan's weekend errands.
Old people have a special place amongst Tong People. I will be sure to receive immediate appreciation for the tea stains on my fingers tips I can't seem to wash off. Not to mention all the in-home services available to elderly sheng addicts. Good looking young men in bamboo briefs will visit me at home every day to pour my tea and make sure my gaiwan is polished. And on the day when my end arrives, I will rest at peace receiving all the gods-given rites due a Pu Head, and look forward to frightening small children and would-be grave robbers who try and raid my stash.


Now that the days are here when the Tong People are coming to get me, I am making sure my tea ware is packed and all preparations in order. This didn't take too long since I stopped paying utilities awhile back. But I took the time to visit with my psychiatrist. I told her why I no longer need to take these medications. Sadly, she is jealous of my good fortune or she is just too greedy because she took all my puerh knives. Don't be too surprised, I saw her game all along. Right up to the end all that bitch wanted is to steal my Last Thoughts.



Requiescat in Pace.

Friday, May 15, 2015

2015 (2005) Chawangpu Bulang Shan Old Tree Xiao Bing

oops, unwrapped it before the photo
This Pu head Badger stuck her head out to look when she saw this new Bulang Chawangpu cake, pressed just a month ago now from "forgotten" warehoused 2005 maocha in Menghai. 200g of such stuff for the crazy low price of $32, sounds too good to be true, and lucky me the tea arrives in the mail within a week so I can check it out.
Brown leaves, very sexy.
The photos show a promising mix of buds and huang pian, I like a blend of leaf especially in Bulang-area tea which tends to pack a punch. Also, the brown color of the cake along with the rather olive-toned steeped leaf in the photos suggests more humid storage. All this seems to pan out when I sniff the cake. If this tea was forgotten in a warehouse, it certainly smells like it. I smell damp cement, damp wood and earthy soil. Not overpoweringly so, I've had far more stuffy smelling cakes than this before and I know from my crocked teas  that I can turn humid storage into a lovely mineral taste.
Looks like noodles
Even better, this is one of the first opportunities I have had to get a cake straight out of its initial humid storage. This gives me a baseline sample tea which got its start in a more humid setting in China, and then will finish in the west without any other unknown storage variables in between. This won't be the case a few months down the road, because I would then have Honza's storage to consider. His storage might be a good thing, but surely the tea would lose the odor and some of the characteristics it has right now.

Second Steep
This tea should be over the hump into teen years for sure, and I see promising signs of this stage in the brown and slightly cloudy brew on the first steep, with a ring of red around the cup. Top note of slightly musty hay, straight up bitter coating on the tongue. Cooling effect. The storage doesn't really seem terribly musty at all, I was expecting more. Bit of char in the strainer but the smoke is gone from the storage. Third and fourth steeps some peppercorn, hay is almost gone except in the nose, the bitterness overtaking the hay.

A real mix of leaf size and age.
Leaf seems rather variable in storage effects, as if it was piled or boxed and just left without any turning. Some leaves are blackened and dark brown, others olive toned, and still others a very light green. Of course, it's $32. Aside from the thicker buds I see in the cup, the leaf is on the thin side, this seems to be more of a farm craft cake of a day's unsorted picking: buds, large leaves, small leaves, huang pian. This is likely the justification for the lower price, the thin and rough leaf in places. Remember, it's $32. The tea isn't very thick, I started out with 9 g/100 ml and found myself lowering the water amount, this tea would be more like 12-14g/100 ml for my ideal ratio. That's cuz it's...$32.

Fourth steep.

Tea is lightening up and fading at steep 8, I wouldn't take it past 10. But I already own mega-steepers which are 10x this price. Sometimes I want something I can actually finish in a session instead of four days later. Tea that qualifies as a nice daily drinker for me will be, you guessed it, $32.

Seventh steep with 30 seconds steep time.
As for storing, because of the thinner leaf I think the tea is gonna be good til 15 years tops and fade after that. So with a tong situation, under ideal storage conditions, I'd keep it in bamboo for a couple  years, then take the bamboo off for one or two and have me a daily drinker after that. Not that it can't be drunk up now, but a year of airing and relaxing would help get rid of that warehouse smell and bring out some possible hidden flavors. At the start of the warm and muggy summer here in Wisconsin, I've got the best time of year just ahead for working out old flavors and continuing to age pressed tea.

So, I think this is a tong for old people, tea for warm feet and just bitter enough to give you something in a couple years. Did I say it's $32? Thumbs up for the storage, thumbs up for the price, and one thumb up for flavor. My grandkids will never see this cake.

Requiescat in Pace

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

2015 Chawangpu Hekai Gushu Xiao Bing



Spring puerh cakes are coming in, and the prices favor the tea drunk this year, thank the gods. Chawangshop's entire spring line of 200g cakes can be sampled, in full cake form, for just under $200. I've been thirsty for some gushu, given I didn't order any other spring teas like longjing, saving my 2015 tea virginity for pu. With aged oolong years rapidly approaching for me, I realize have little time in life to actually drink really fresh tea. I plan to make the most of it while I can, so let's get right to it.
200g cake
This gushu puerh is described as hailing from Man Nan Lao Zhai, Hekai Mountain, Menghai County and is a ridiculously low $36.00 a cake, 5 cakes per tong. Stone compression comes apart easily giving me more leaf on my plate than I can brew in one session. I'm going with 9 grams and my usual 110 ml Celadon gaiwan. I hit this hard with boiling water and started digging in the leaf before even trying the tea.


Soup pours out light green, so the photos on Chawangshop are very accurate. Mine appears a little yellow because of the lighting. First two steeps are very sweet with that champagne grape profile of fresh gushu, no apricot here. The processing is very fine in my cake, almost no char my strainer and definitely no smokey flavor whatsoever.

Stone compression means a looser press
The tea coats my tongue in steeps 3 and 4 with a bittersweet flavor which lasts quite a long time. I'm not noticing a whole lot of astringency, and I'm on medications that tend to give me more dry mouth than normal. I tend not to rate astringency for this reason, but the fact that it has less than I normally get from tea means that most other people might not experience much, if any.

Second Steeping following two quick rinses
I'm getting an easy relaxation and some pressure around my ears but not a huge tea drunk. The relaxation helps when the mailman arrives and drops off a newsletter from my former convent of nuns. I know all four of these nuns in the Memoriam section. The photo farther below is the newsletter.

The sister in the upper right cameo photo was a cousin of mine, and the dearest friend I ever had. Sister Alice's brother married one of my paternal grandmother's nieces. We became close friends in the years before I left the community, and before the time when she served as what was once called the Mother General. Alice was a loving, happy person. Her gift to me was a lot of love and gentle attention to my sensitive shy side with cups of herbal tea. Without all this, instead of the tea drunk I am today, I would have become an alcoholic, or worse. Sister Alice had a stroke suddenly around age 62, which left her almost unable to talk. I visited her a few times and heard her frustration with losing speech and other functions that left her in a wheelchair and living in the convent nursing home much too early.

The photo below my cousin is a nun who was my first director in formation, a position once called the Director of Postulants.  Sister Leclare was also a nurse, and had been a missionary nun. When I lived with her, she had just started a clinic for Laotian and Thai refugees who were moving into our city at the time. A no-nonsense and energetic person with a large open heart, her gift to me was guts and some backbone. I lived with her at the time when I found myself in a school shooting situation. She listened with some sympathy in the days that followed, and eventually told me to stop moping and get on with it. I doubt I could have gone on to work in dangerous forensic mental health settings without the courage I got from Sister Leclare.

Sister Alice, upper right; Sister Leclare lower right. I knew the other two on this page, but not well.

These sisters passed away last fall, and I had asked to be informed when Sister Alice passed, but no one did and I missed her funeral. The tea I'm drinking helps me in a pensive moment like this, making me glad to be a tea drinker and not someone needing to drown my sorrows in booze. Because this would be one of those moments to do so. However, I've known of these deaths for some months now and today is more of a moment to think of the sisters fondly. I also notice in the newsletter that the community dropped the age to join the convent down to age 45 for the top end. They must have done that to make sure Old Cwyn doesn't come back. hehe Tea drunks probably shouldn't apply.

A few darker buds and one with a thick stem.
This interruption to my session leaves me with a bit of mental confusion so it takes awhile to get back on track and steeping the tea. The tea is still going strong at 8 steeps, and I'm getting more bitterness coating the tongue. This might be a good sign for some people who look for bitter teas to age, but I'm not going to recommend this for aging because I think it is a shame to let gushu like this dry out too much. In my opinion, I will treat it like a long jing, to enjoy gushu fresh. For aging I want something with a bit of big leaf, maybe a blend of summer and fall tea thrown in there for balance.

A happy pile of leaves.
This gushu doesn't develop the thick body in the soup, that engine oil type liquid I find in higher tier teas. Those folks willing to pay for the high end experience should look out for something more like white2tea's 2014 Last Thoughts. But if you have never tried gushu, at all, this is a chance to do so as a learning experience to get the flavor of that grape-y bud tea firmly ensconced in your memory bank. And it is almost inexcusable to pass up the chance at the price of $36, because buying a small sample of this, even if Honza offers it, is really not cost effective when a cake is this reasonable in price. This tea is going to be gone quickly, I think, because of the price.

In my realm of puerh, for me this is tea I will want to drink up before the drying air of winter returns. For me it is a cake that would be a shame to dry out and store. It is good to drink fresh and give as a gift to friends to drink right now. Sister Alice and I drank a lot of tea back when she lived in Woodruff, and I think I'll have some more of this gushu for them all, in memory of her.

Requiescat in Pace, my sisters. And thank you, because I would not be here right now, as I am, without you.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Real Cost of Tea

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Requiescat in Pace