Oh dear, yes I’ve been tea shopping when I have no business even looking at online tea shops. I know I’m out of control when I start getting auto-emails from tea businesses looking for reviews for teas I must have purchased, but now have no memory whatsoever of buying and no idea where I might have put the tea. Fortunately I’m at the age no one can expect me to spend money wisely, and while I might send absurd amounts to China, it’s not Nigeria and I’m getting something in return most of the time. In fact, I can place the blame squarely on the Chinese New Year for the two weeks of no shipping that forces me to buy tea in America.
All is not lost, however, as I did indeed go shou shopping in America and in the process I picked up a cake of sheng, this time the 2014 Gua Feng Zhai “Ancient Tree” from puerhshop.com. Now I seem to recall a bit of business with this particular retailer some years back, maybe 2011, when folks on Teachat questioned the authenticity of a few Dayi cakes, and you can track all those discussions down if you wish. However, I’m not in the market for Dayi myself. I either want to buy the best tea possible or heicha trash tea, and very rarely do I find anything in the middle worth the money. But despite that general trend, I continue to buy middle teas anyway and yes from controversial shops sometimes.
Hey, I have lower expectations buying tea and maybe it’s because of this I’m not often disappointed. With all due respect to my fellow tea heads and bloggers, I have zero expectation or hope of transparency within the tea industry this year or at any time in the future. Because the truth for me is that puerh is not a tea party, it’s a circus. And asking the puerh industry for transparency is rather like asking the bearded lady to shave. She is not going to give up her god-given right to be something she isn’t when her entire livelihood depends on it. Now a circus is not the most edifying form of entertainment, but if I’m in the middle of it, does this mean I should spend my time complaining? A circus is what it is. Should I deny myself a bag of mini donuts and a corn dog, even at the absurd prices they are charging? If I don’t like it, then I don’t need to be here.
Instead, I can take the kid to the science museum and pay their absurd prices for a gluten-free sprout salad and Pellegrino and think I’m superior. But I’m guessing the kid would prefer the corn dog so at some point I gotta give, or else the kid will spend his life eating corn dogs because he grew up eating too many health foods. Reality is gray and messy, and I prefer to spend my morality points on the really big decisions than give them away so readily for lesser life quests. In terms of tea, if I’ve spent $400 on a tea cake I will definitely whine if it doesn’t meet expectations. But when I’m buying something in the $20-30 range, this is circus pricing, so if the vendor hasn’t changed the oil in awhile then yes, the fries will be greasy and somebody else got a better batch that day, it just wasn’t me. Go home and forget about it. Do you really think that boycotting the science museum or the circus will lower the prices and lead to pesticide testing, or prevent a teensy weensy bit of gluten from sneaking into your salad? Okay I’m over the top now, and I’m not trying to insult anyone, truly. If anything, I want to promote enjoying your tea hobby for what it really entails, everything. Enjoy the damn circus if you go, this is all I’m saying. If not, then stay home because there are definitely far more worthy things to spend money on and you can always find tea bags at the grocery store.
So, puerhshop is an American vendor which really cuts down on the shipping cost, and shipping time, if you can find something to buy. And yes you’re probably gambling on that Dayi, but I’m in for the carnival glass and willing to toss a few quarters to try and win a cheap prize. And while $35.98 for 200g certainly ain’t carnival cheap, well I pay a lot more for better tea, so what the hell. Actually I was looking for some really funky shou which is mainly what I bought in this shopping trip, and the 2014 Gua Feng Zhai was an afterthought at best. Actually the full title of the tea is “Gua Feng Zhai Ancient Tree,” right, so yes there’s the bearded lady again. I just ignore all that, myself. Laocangjia seems to be one of those small factory companies either exporting a few Yiwu teas or selling through wholesalers. Again, I keep my expectations low.
The paper on the cake looks somewhat water damaged, as if the tea cake got wrapped up wet because the bottom and sides show some crinkling, while the top is smooth. So I imagine the steamy wetness going with gravity. But now the cake seems a bit dry, which is probably my fault because I’ve had the tea sitting out in the house and we just had a very cold dry spell. The cake appears a bit brown for a 2014. I picked off 9 grams to brew, deciding to go heavy in case we have either some aged tea in here, some huangpian (which looks to be the case), or some autumn leaf mixed in.
Got my usual 125 ml clear cup in the photos and I fill it less than full, so I suppose I’m brewing in the 100 ml to 120 ml range. The way I brew is I fill the pot just to cover the leaves, they start out shriveled so my early steeps take less water and then as the leaves open up, I continue adding just enough water almost to the top of the leaves so they remain on the bottom of the pot and don’t float at all.
My first impression is a top of nose of stone fruit, and no smoky or storage odors. This tea is very clean. I rinsed twice and tossed half the first cup because not much to taste yet. The third and fourth steeps show respectable thickness, and the brew is an orange/yellow. Flavor-wise, this is a rather light tea with a bit of bitterness, confirming the huangpian or fall tea with a bit of spring mixed in. Not the green flavor but more like the 2014 Manzhuan of white2tea without the punch. Enough astringency to clean my teeth, but today I’ve got a bit of sinus drainage so the throat feel escapes me. Nice legs into the stomach, I feel my seven cups so far well into my blog post, and I start sweating and feeling warm and fuzzy in my face, and I double check that I took my blood pressure pills to rule out a med error.
Bassy stone fruits and a bit of whiskey barrel twigginess dominate the tea, confirming that the “ancient leaf” really means the older leaves on the bush.
What do you expect for $35 for 200g? Real gushu? Real Guafengzhai? Well maybe, can’t really say, we have a bit of Banna in here, but for sure you’re not getting the top quality leaf at this price. In fact, you won’t find top quality at all for Gua Feng Zhai, nobody will, and definitely no one we can buy from. Maybe Two Dog can dig up a bit for us now and again, he does his best, but since Guafengzhai is one of his favorites, he should know.
I steeped the eighth far too long trying to get this photo, at least 3 minutes. That gave me one intense cup, and so steep nine didn’t have much to taste. Had I brewed normally I might be at a minute steep time and got a good ten brews for sure and maybe a couple more. But now I need a leaf shot for you all so that means picking out the gaiwan.
This tea is really very enjoyable. I can recommend it for people who:
1. Want to drink their puerh right now.
2. Have no interest in storage.
3. Hate smoky teas.
4. Willing to spend a bit more, since you can probably get a satisfying cup at a better bargain for 357g with Yunnan Sourcing’s Simao offerings.
5. Like to tea shop and can’t stop.
And after that heavy eighth steep I definitely have the munchies. Fortunately I have a brand new bag of cheese balls.
I pay $35.98 for 200g of tea but I won’t pay more than a buck and a quarter for cheese balls. Does this make any sense to you? I don’t think anyone who buys puerh tea as a repeat buyer has any logic whatsoever. If I’m this crazy as a buyer, how can I expect my vendors to be rational people? Maybe it’s just me, so fine. Just for the record, my office is located in Baraboo, WI which is the home of Ringling Bros. circus and fried cheese balls.