; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Tea Scum ;

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Tea Scum

More lovely samples of Chen Yuan Hao await my discovery, and today I plan to drink a 2016 Yiwu tea. The sample is courtesy of a tea friend, who labeled the tea Yiwu, so I am guessing the sample is the 2016 Chen Yi Zi Hao aka Yiwu Chawang here from Teapals.

I own plenty of Yiwu teas and while the best ones have a grape top note and honey base, Yiwu teas are fairly diverse in the finer points, including leaf size and aging potential. In fact, Yiwu varietal teas extend south of the Yunnan China border into Laos where they cannot “properly” be called puerh tea even though the trees themselves do not know this political requirement. I should not necessarily generalize about a Yiwu tea before actually trying it, because the smaller distinctions make a huge difference in price.

Before I try this tea, however, please note this image of a pristine porcelain gaiwan.

Gaiwan by Inge Nielsen, Etsy
While of course this is a fairly new 65 ml gaiwan made by potter Inge Nielsen (@i.n.clay on Instagram), I tend to keep my all my tea ware on the clean side. Now I’m all for Patina, but we have Real patina and Fake patina. Patina is a dark stain left behind on tea ware from years and years of use. This patina is often shiny and a muted tea color which indicates aging, very pleasing on Yixing and other clay teapots. Patina is so desirable it is often faked to make teapots look older.  Thus, Patina is the new riche for tea heads. So much so in fact that some people must get that patina going at all costs by never wiping or cleaning off the tea ware. So you see tea gear that looks something like this.

Tea Scum
I am reluctant to share the source of this disgraceful tea ware, after all I am only poking a little bit of gentle (I hope) fun. However, the owner does have a registered government non-profit organization so I feel not at all guilty leaving off an attribution. And to be clear this org has not replied to any of my two year’s worth of emails pleading for help getting  acceptance of SNAP benefits at Yunnan Sourcing and other expensive puerh dealers because food stamps do, after all, cover tea and coffee. No one works harder than Old Cwyn on behalf of tea people for real issues despite the fact that I don’t have 501c tax-free status myself. Any complaints regarding all this can be directed to the contact form on the right hand side of this page.

Because the truth is this type of tea staining is not Patina, but Tea Scum. Tea Scum is the result of tea trapped beneath a combination of oils and minerals in water which eventually form a crust. Rather like this:

"How to remove hard water stains"
Over time bacteria gets trapped in mineral crusts. I mean really, do you let your tea ware resemble your toilet bowl? Well maybe some do. I know puerh hoarding and trouble with cleaning go hand in hand. In the toilet bowl level one can perhaps understand this, assuming the stats are really true and 85% of puerh readers are male, so they don’t need to sit down constantly like women to do their business except after a particularly nasty shou goes south which no respectable tea collector ever drinks. Personally, I don’t keep my toilet looking like this but of course tea ware is more important than the toilet bowl. Right?

For educational purposes, going beyond the focus of my blog which is mostly confined to Tea Filth, let me show you what Real Patina is.

Two years of use produces a very light patina
Lin's Ceramics cream color cup
Any stain that does not scrape off with a fingernail is Real Patina. That which scrapes off with a fingernail is Tea Scum. Just so you know. You can pay me to try a questionable shou but not in the tea ware in the photo above. The Midwest where I live is known for the adage “cleanliness is next to godliness,” and this is not mere regional stereotyping. Cleanliness is godliness. Alas, Tea Scum lurks within the best company and not just vendors, and boiling temperatures do not kill off bacteria on Venus, something for man to dwell upon.

My advice, always travel with your own gaiwan and cup as a backup contingency. Inspect all tea ware carefully before using anyone else’s. Having a wet wipe in your wallet is certainly worth a thought if you don’t want to insult the host by insisting on using your own tea ware. You can pretend to inspect the “beauty” of the piece by holding it at a distance far below the level of the table while applying a discreet wipe, and remind the host of properly warming the wares with boiling water afterward, prior to brewing.

2016 Chen Yuan Hao "Yiwu"
 Using my pristine (for now) gaiwan, I can truly give the 2016 CYH Yiwu the attention and aesthetic it deserves. For this tea costs 1200 MYR for a full beeng which rings up at $270. Not the most expensive Yiwu out there, the Last Thoughts cake comes to mind, but well past any budget Yiwu. I have a most generous sample thanks to my friend, and so many sessions available to me.

Steep 3
The initial nose is an acrid smoke in a vegetal base which reflects in the flavor of the first two cups after a rinse, and thankfully washes away after three brews. The gold color of the brew is surprisingly dark for a tea less than a year old, but perhaps the bit of char lends some color in the early steeps. My photo appears consistent with the Teapals photo. I get more bitterness than usual for many boutique Yiwu teas. A very heavy body qi after about three small 60 ml cups causes me to pass out early in the day. 

This tea also possesses a strong throat feel that lingers long after drinking, like a ball in the throat you know the tea is there. The flavor range is representative but somewhat narrow, a single octave like G below middle C to G above. None of the thickness of more premium Yiwu teas but of course that may improve and the tea is not even out of the first year yet. This one brews long, past ten brews and thickens a bit in steeps eight to ten.

I notice how small the leaves are compared to other productions, rather like the 2002 Yong Pin Hao Red which is also a first flush spring tea. A well-cultivated garden behind these teas, and both have dry storage. The 2002 YPH is now up to $260 a cake, just $10 behind this CYH but of course you’re paying for the age in the former, and the label premium in the latter. Ah, my white wrapper 1999 Yiwu, were that tea still available, seems like bargain now at $330-ish before it sold out.

The tea has some durability in steeping, I went ten steeps and the brew still had strength, however I noticed some disintegration of the leaves. Doing a strength test by rubbing the leaves between my fingers, some turned to mush but others did not. 

Steep 9
Cloudy brew from disintegrating leaves
This affected the soup, the disintegration lent a sour vegetal flavor. This tea is still young, so one must subtract the months-old tea as a variable to some extent until the leaves tighten up more. The durability of the brew is encouraging for the long term and I’d like to try this again some months from now.

This tea is definitely a better experience than a plain drinker and really one’s collection is a determining factor. Do you want yet another Yiwu in your stash? If you don’t have a decent Yiwu tea this is a good consideration. Or if you’ve tried the YQH teas and don’t care for the Taiwanese heavier storage, this tea is a new one you can try your hand at storing dry. This is where I think the tea has the most merit for me, the opportunity to age and retain more of the top notes. Quite honestly, the leaves themselves interest me more than drinking the tea they make, just for observing changes over time. This could be one of those long-drinking Yiwu cakes as long as it doesn’t sour along the way. Care is everything and the storage challenge is intriguing.

Leaves after steep 10 when I stopped
Otherwise, the price is off-putting for anyone new to puerh tea and more appealing to those with some experience of labels. Most puerh folks need to convince themselves with personal trial and error what tier of tea various amounts of money will get. A writer telling you all this really means nothing otherwise. I can say the tea is properly situated in price tier between other teas, whether or not you feel the tiers as a whole should drop down a clean hundred bills, well that is not likely to happen. This tea will hit the $400 mark within five years, I’m sure. On the upside, this production is yearly so when last year sells out you can likely expect another offering in 2017 with give or take roughly the same price.



  1. As far as I *currently* understand things, the best teas are all to the *west* of Guafengzhai village. There will be stands up to and over the border, just from self-seeding, but quality varies.

    1. Phongsaly has the Yiwu varietal, more east. Of course whether or not it is "best" is probably hard to generalize. I just find Yiwu is easy to generalize while talking but really the teas end up more diverse in reality.

  2. what js the best way to clean tea scum from clay teaware?

    1. For glass, baking soda is okay. I cannot recommend baking soda for porcelain as it will scratch and dull the surface (and teeth, don't use it for toothpaste). I ruined the finish on a porcelain sink with baking soda, so save yourself my mistake. Barkeeper's Friend or another cleanser meant for dishware is fine. Even toothpaste is okay, I use Gleem toothpaste on yellowed vintage plastics with good results, works on yellowed car headlights too.

  3. Nice article Cwyn. A tip for anyone having trouble getting the tea scum off of their porcelain/glass/stainless steel teaware: place your teaware into a container and add just enough warm water to cover. Drop in a denture cleaning tablet or two and wait (15 minutes or overnight). Most of the scum will dissolve right off and the rest should wipe off very easily. This _might_ interfere with patina development but I don't know one way or the other.

    Alternatively, a paste of baking soda and water works great but requires a little elbow grease.

    Cwyn, could you elaborate a little on what your typical steep times look like for sheng? I typically do 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, and then I'll add a minute each time until the tea's done. Maybe I could be getting more out of my leaves?

    1. After the rinses my next two steepings are long, because the leaves are not open. Quick steeps too early give nothing but colored water, so forty seconds or so for the first steep, then thirty. Fourth steep is flash brewing which I continue until the tea fades, after which I start adding time to the flash brew. It is significant for me to note when this point arrives. Mega steepers will flash brew tens steeps before I start adding any time. A cheaper tea might be cashed out at that point and need two minute brews. Really depends on the tea. Liu Bao is a short steeper, the money brews are the first four.

  4. Oh that's interesting, never would've guessed. I'm going to give that a try with a pu I already know well.

    Also good tip above about baking soda scratching porcelain. Didn't realize that it would scratch it - guess I won't be cleaning my porcelain stuff that way anymore!

  5. Yes baking soda will scratch your porcelain (and develop a patina),glazed clay should not develop a patina with care (don't use the scrubby side of your dish pad, use the soft side or something soft like a damp paper towel). You need to do this http://www.ehow.com/how_5859235_make-washing-soda.html and use sodium carbonate aka Washing Soda. I heard that where you are they should sell washing soda in the supermarkets/grocery stores. Also hand towelettes are usually Isopropyl with some sort of buffer and scent so I wouldn't. Though Isopropyl (a type of alcohol) is good to clean other resinous "scum"/buildup on different kind of glassware.

    I personally dissolve 1/8 to 1/16 tsp. washing soda in a little amount of water and wipe with a paper towel that I reuse (it has developed an illustrious patina btw). And rinse. Though every once in a while tea ware should be sanitized.

    On another personal note, although expensive, I think you tasters and review/commentators should get together and decide on a water to use uniformly. Just a thought. ta ta

    1. Thanks for stopping by and for your comments. I have Borax but just don't think I need it for tea ware. Regular rinsing and wiping avoids any scum problems altogether. But if I needed anything really grainy I suppose salt works fine.

      As for water, such experiments have already been done. I recall a post by MarshalN when he sent tea samples round to several drinkers and all used the same water to brew them. I recall Poland Spring is one water that some view favorably for tea brewing. I am fortunate that my water has very little scale, so I don't have too much build up unlike other places I've lived in the past.

    2. Hey no problem! I just read your Tea Somm certificate, which was hilarious, bravo. Also I'm not too sure about borax (not sure if sardonic)(I think it's better for grease and not plant matter and tannic buildup, just a guess.) Also as I sure you are aware, wiping will still leave aromatics in the cup. I have Borax too but I've never used it on teaware just toilets, and I wouldn't really recommend it on teaware. Since washing soda breaks down pretty harmlessly and is dissociates pretty quickly in water. I prefer the Japanese take on teaware.

      I haven't tried Poland Springs yet, I'll pick up a bottle.

      Also do you know a good place to pick up medium-ish size clay that isn't exuberantly expensive? I want to do aging experiments in clay, but everywhere wants all my monies.


    3. eBay or thrift stores for inexpensive stoneware.