; Cwyn's Death By Tea: October 2018 ;

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Xiaguany River, 2011 Grey Crane

Today is one of those golden autumn days, with the last of the silver maple leaves falling into the sunny window of my house. While the local kids go trick-or-treat-ing, I will treat myself to a bit of Xiaguan. This 2011 Grey Crane sample is from Virginia storage master mrmopar, sent to me several years ago. Over the past year the sample has served as a test for potter Inge Nielsen's new clay jar and the tea very much likes this new home, judging from the fragrance when I lift the lid. My old teapot Chip cried neglect as I perused which pot to pour, so he gets a day in the October sunshine. I notice his repairs are holding up.

My Halloween treat, 2011 Xiaguan Grey Crane
A few years ago I obsessed a little over buying a 2011 Grey Crane cake, originally not a very expensive production, and so mrmopar generously offered to send me a sample to help with the decision of whether to buy the tea. At the same time, I obsessed over 2011 Taetea Century Shou, and I got a sample of that tea in the package, such a large sample I did not feel the need to buy the tea. I ended up passing on the Grey Crane as well. As always, mrmopar quietly stores his tea in an excellent manner. When he decides to sell tea someday, I feel certain all his teas will have had a nice start.

Second steep after the rinse.
Xiaguan special productions are always worth a look, because they start out in the budget price range for the most part and appreciate in value over the years. They also tend to taste less harsh at the outset compared to tuos. The 2011 Grey Crane is an iron pressing, but like most Xiaguan iron pressings, the cake is thin enough that I can find a spot to break on my sample. I think of white2tea's Prolaxicorvatin and wonder if I should buy one just for the storage experience, because my other iron pressings preserve quite well.

First steeping on the boil and I am punished with full-on bitter, but the color of the tea is starting to brown a little which tempers the bitterness going forward. The tea is surprisingly thick already, at only seven years old. My pot Chip tempers the brew somewhat, and I enjoy spicy red clover honey notes amidst the Xiaguany house flavor, and that heavy vapor coming up from the stomach that we look for, and it lingers as I type along. Some very nice huigan, but the money steeps are 5-7 and the tea starts fading after that. I find a very old sheng leaf in my sample, brown and twisted. I almost think it shou, but no, it's just a very old leaf. Maybe that's the surprise in the Grey Crane.

Some brown developing, the old twisted leaf on the far left.
I am not tempted to trace down a cake of this, but anyone owning the tea already surely is pleased with it. Down the road I can imagine a bit of trading for it among collectors who own a tong. Drinkers can expect a mellow, sweet drink already with just a few more years of storage.


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Whatever Happened to Bad Tea? A Return to the Outlaw

"Outlaw" Banzhangy-Yiwu-ey--I ain't what I claim to be tea.
Hard to believe this blog is now in a fifth year, though as I predicted at the very beginning, health and medications take a toll on my tea drinking. Today I am glad for the chugging years, all too often now puerh gets replaced by hongcha in my daily cup, yet on the bright side I have some hongs that are worth getting up for. Poor old Lu Yu, he knows that the greatest pleasure on earth is tea drinking, he has no need of it now, but if he has any remaining consciousness I am certain he misses it. Looking back on my older posts, I decided to revisit one of the teas I wrote about very early on. Let’s see how it is doing.

My intention when buying this beeng on eBay was to try and find the worst possible tea, to acquire a bad tea for my collection because everything else I own is so good that surely I am missing out. I failed miserably on this attempt to buy a bad beengcha, others have acquitted themselves admirably in the same task. 

After my August 2014 blog post on this “Overlord Drunk” tea, I tossed this tea into crock storage not long after spending some time in a pumidor I had then. The problem with this tea is the double wrappers were made of rather inexpensive paper which did not stay wrapped up, as rag paper will. Very quickly the wrappers got messed and started shredding, and loose tea began to flake off the stone pressed disk. On top of this, I noticed a somewhat smoky quality to the processing and decided to try and work this out by breaking up the tea into a crock. Thus, this tea made of probably autumn material from 2008-2011 or thereabouts spent about 4 years in a Haeger stoneware “cookie jar.” I tried to get some photos. 


Somebody did not want to move, and hard to blame him given the last few warm summer days when I took these photos (mid-September).



Okay one more for the too-cute factor. 


Winston is my 2 ½ year old orphan kitten who still wants me to hand feed him on occasion. Despite that, he is quite the hunter with some astonishing kills on his CV. He doesn’t like petting beyond a head scritch or two, so I think the very occasional hand feeding is his way of getting some emotional interaction with me.

Here is the original photo of the beeng hole side back from 2014.



Today, the tea looks like this.

Broken up beeng from stoneware jar.
The first thing I notice is the oxidation or browning that has occurred during crock storage, especially on the buds which were silvery white before. This is a stage that happens with any tea stored well. Basically the tea begins to lose color just as fall leaves do, although this is not really much “change,” the chlorophyll simply dies out. Fully oxidized tea is of course hongcha. The cell walls of the tea are loosening up some on this Outlaw tea, which admittedly did have some oxidized leaves on the edges of the beeng to begin with. This explains somewhat the orange color the of the brew back in 2014, and now.

A chunk from the pile, starting to turn brown.
People sometimes confuse oxidation with solid state fermentation, equating the two. Oxidation is a stage that happens most visibly in the first few years in both wet and dry storage. Oxidation is also a problem prior to retail if the tea sat too long before chaqing, or the chaqing was under done (and of course the tea will be sold anyway). But solid state fermentation of puerh tea takes two decades, unless one wets down the tea and quick-ferments into shou. A year, or even four years of storage, no matter how you store the tea is just an oxidation phase, with the tea slowly loosening its walls. The actual fermentation of yeasts and much later the conversion of juices from bitter to sweet are very slow after that. The browning on my cake is really just the start of fifteen more years to go.

Another reason I chose to revisit this tea now is because the origins are similar, in my mind, to the Dark Forest and Yiwu Spotlight which I reviewed in the previous post. The flavor profile is virtually identical, and the color of the brew too. But the eBay tea is much less powerful than the others, a weaker sibling. I brewed this tea in Yixing to duplicate how I brewed it for the older post.

Second steeping, rather orange like the Yiwu-region teas from previous post.
Far from a “bad” tea, I notice how much more thick the brew is now, motor oil thick with fuzzies in the strainer from the buds. The profile is a bit monotonous, lightly bitter and the oiliness settles the bitterness firmly onto the tongue which takes fifteen minutes to resolve into sweetness. Pleasant enough light apricot yogurt. I have to push the tea from the start to get what I consider a nice strong cup, at least 20-30 seconds. I went six steepings and you can see from the leaves they are nowhere near unfurled yet. 

Sixth steep, this tea has nice thickness, but not a whole lot else.
Maybe I am unfair, but like before this guy just doesn’t have what it takes to satisfy me. The tea is basically an experiment and nothing I hope to turn into anything. 


Steeped leaves in 2014.
I cannot fail to note that while the leaves may be less powerful than I would like, the leaf quality is such that the tea would cost far more now. The tea is still available in sample bags, the beengcha have sold out. Of course the price is higher too, but not ridiculous.

Steeped leaves from today, my sunny window
surely washes out the color a little.
Perhaps I will check this one again someday. In the summer it gets the heat and humidity my three-season porch provides, and I remove the lid on hot days, and replace it for any cold or rainy weather. In winter, I wipe the inner lid with a damp paper towel to add a bit of moisture. In the past few years we have had hot, humid summers and humid autumn and spring too, so I have not added moisture quite as much. My teas are still holding quite a bit of moisture through the winter. Fingers crossed, as always.