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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Puer Aeterna, Naka in 2018

2018 Naka tea ball from Bitterleaf Teas

I feel hesitant writing about Naka puerh now. Back in the early days of my blog I wrote about white2tea’s 2005 Naka white label tea, and that post has followed me ever since. Naka became a meme for tea drunk puerh. I get direct messages from random people asking “are you drinking Naka???” I assume these messages mean white2tea’s Naka, of which I own two beengs. Perhaps surprisingly while it is one of my favorite teas, I have not tried it in a couple of years. I suppose I am hoarding it, even though white2tea has reassured me that they have a nice supply if I need more. 

Back then my blog post also included a discussion of the long-sold-out 2007 bamboo Naka from Chawangshop, which is a traditional preparation of Naka leaf. The tiny leaves for which the region is known are stuffed raw into bamboo tubes then heated to set the tea. This rough bamboo Naka I own is not as potent as the white2tea beeng, and the difference in price reflects the quality and preparation. I’m not the only person who has tried both the white2tea and bamboo Nakas from Chawangshop, and the Chawangshop teas sold out fast years ago. I think we generally agreed the 2007 had more body feels than the 2012 bamboo, but all this is a memory now, long gone in old discussions.

The difficulty with the white2tea beeng is the cash outlay, today you need $369 for a 357g tea. You can buy a 25g sample, which is nice, and when people talk to me about this tea, they usually have purchased the sample and not the entire beeng. I hear again and again “I wish I could buy the whole tea.” After the Chawangshop teas sold out, I bought a couple of random cheap Naka teas from Taobao and eBay, mainly to answer a question to myself of whether or not we can just “buy” Naka easily. The answer very quickly emerged as a no, and I stopped wasting money after that. Naka has older small leaf tea which I like, and modern tea gardens too which are not the same as the small leaf. So, I cannot say for certain that my cheap buys are not Naka, since they could contain modern tea from Naka. But I can say for certain they are not the small leaf variety, and they are unremarkable.

In a recent purchase box from Bitterleaf Teas, I got a Naka ball as a free sample. Let me say that this is not a blogger premium because I know non-blogger tea heads who also received the same sample with a purchase. We are lucky that Bitterleaf generously gives these samples and I imagine they are limited. My tea ball weighed 6g, with 1g water loss as they sell at 7g weight.

The size of a dime 
The ball is not as tight as other tea balls I have tried in the past, probably because of the recent pressing and because the size is small. It opened up with a bit of steaming in the gaiwan.

The first three steepings contain a considerable caffeine punch, which is a difference from the semi-aged Nakas I own, obviously they have diminished in caffeine over time. This new Naka has wonderful feel into the stomach and chest, I can feel the tea for a good thirty minutes after a couple of steepings. As a new tea, the processing is clean with very little char in the strainer, no smokiness and I don’t see many red edges, but obviously my sample is quite small and not the actual 100g beeng. The tea is already past green brew into a more yellow tea, a nice sign, and I had let the tea rest for a few weeks outside in my hot, humid porch. A small amount of tea like this firms up fast.

Steeps 5 and 6
I feel relaxed after a few steeps, not the babbling incoherent crazy woman from my other Naka teas but I’m sure my son doesn’t want to see that person very often. The chest feels from this tea clearly set it apart as a better tea than the 2018 Laoman-e, but at $1.28/g (beeng price) compared to $0.38/g I expect the Naka to be a vast improvement. Both teas have a nice floral top note, and are not especially sweet, but I control bitterness by flash steeping and drinking hot. Of the two, the Laoman-e is much more bitter when allowed to sit or cool. The more expensive $1/g Laoman-e has the best leaf quality of any of these teas, in terms of the plucking and processing, but this Naka definitely offers more body experience, if less strong in flavor than Bitterleaf Laoman-e.

But alas, you pay for body experience and more money every year. I find this Naka tea fairly durable for 10-12 brews but the young leaves are still somewhat mushy when rubbed. The floral notes fade and I think the body experience is likely to endure longer in this tea than the top notes will over time. One of my LBZ teas is like this, the tea flavor is quite muted but the physical effects are still there. The only way to get that incense note in teas like this is to wood smoke process them. The white2tea Naka has more retired smoke which contributes to some depth, but it required more humid aging to get that worked in.

Definitely the small leaf. Any red in the leaves is my fault,
I sessioned this tea over several days, during which it
oxidized somewhat.
Price-wise, the Bitterleaf 100g beeng is $1.28/g. By comparison, white2tea Naka is $1.04/g but you will need $369 to buy a 357g beeng, as opposed to $128 for 100g at Bitterleaf. In this case, the semi-aged tea is actually less expensive per gram. The same is true for sampling: 21g of Naka balls costs $29 (3 balls), and white2tea offers 25g Naka samples for $29.90. In the first case, you may lose a few grams due to water loss, in the second case a chipped off sample of aged tea will naturally result in some tea dust and loose leaf in the baggie. Most people cannot afford the $369 outlay for white2tea, a few more can likely afford the $128 for 100g, even though white2tea’s beeng is a better value. 

Really, anyone considering this is likely to think wallet pain first, and then whether they prefer young green versus older factory. I could say I’d like a beeng of this new tea from Bitterleaf, but am torn because of what I already own. Bottom line, if we want Naka, we are gonna pay a lot of money, no way around it. Luckily, both vendors make smaller samples available to folks who are content with a few sessions worth.

As long as I keep writing about tea, I suppose Naka will be my “puer (a) aeterna,” distinguishing my tastes for some people. In Latin, puer is the word for “boy,” my eternal boy. I prefer the English transliteration puerh, rather than puer, because it distinguishes the two cultures, my own Latin-based language and Chinese. I guess I prefer the Chinese characters more and more anyway, especially 熟普 for shou, because the “cooked” character has representations of cooking flames, or heat from composting. I suppose my point is that I appreciate tea more widely than just the Naka people associate with me from the blog. I can tolerate myself as a puera aeterna of Naka. The eternal Naka girl. But if you feel inclined to ask me if I’m drinking a dime-sized Naka at the moment, think of the prices. My answer is probably, alas, “no.” Same as anyone else. A lot of heartaches for a dime. 

Telecaster, anyone?


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