; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Yeah...Whatever, Vendor ;

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Yeah...Whatever, Vendor

"Whatever 98" Green Stamp

Back in 2017 I bought a tea called "Whatever 1998" from Bitterleaf Teas, which I happened to see on their site when buying their 2017 Mansa. This Whatever tea came in a CNNP wrapper covered with another wrapper designed by Bitterleaf as a "raw puer from a private collector." The tea cost $0.55/g and was around $200 all in. I wrote about this tea and completed two sessions, one in porcelain and one in a clay teapot. While I referred to it as a CNNP Green Stamp because of the wrapper, the tea was not marketed as a CNNP Green Stamp. In the listing, Bitterleaf expressed an appropriate level of skepticism of the tea's story from the "somewhat eccentric private collector." Bitterleaf doesn't have the listing on their site anymore, but I found it on the Wayback Machine.

A year ago in February 2020 I had the idea that I might drink up this tea and maybe write about it again after storing it for several years. Before doing this I emailed Jonah at Bitterleaf Teas to ask more about the tea, and especially the private collector. "Anything about him," I said, because I'd offered my Tindr link to this guy in my blog post. Jonah emailed back that "he has a shop in one of the tea markets, looks just like all the others. Honestly, I don't know if we would stop in if browsing the market, but then again they all look the same and it's either that you know someone or fate that you step into a shop with something interesting."

I kept that email for a year now. When Bitterleaf started out selling, they weren't especially known as experienced in puerh tea. To their credit the Whatever tea was sold as a skeptical tea and not as anything in particular, but there is a world of difference between a source who is purely a collector and a person who is a tea shop vendor. Perhaps that's too fine a point for some vendors to appreciate, but for consumers this is a massively different bit of information to know where a tea comes from, a private collection or another vendor. This no-name tea was definitely sold by Bitterleaf as a "private collection" tea in the listing, and on their wrapper, without the additional bit that the guy is a tea vendor with a shop. 

Vendors purchase from other vendors all the time, that's where most get their factory teas unless from, well, the factory. Nothing wrong with this, but then the tea should be sold without any additional embellishments. Perhaps you might disagree on the definition of a vendor. I suppose I consider a "vendor" to be anybody of course with a shop of some kind, but also I consider as a puerh vendor someone who won't tell you where a tea comes from. I suppose Bitterleaf can also come back to say that the tea shop guy sold the tea from his private collection and not from the store shelves, and herein lies a difference for them. Kinda like being a little bit pregnant. I just don't think most tea buyers would primarily view the selling situation as an "eccentric collector" if he is also a tea vendor. I certainly don't.

All I can say is I am glad I am not a collector looking for specific factory teas. Obviously I'm not, because nobody looking for specific factory teas will spend money on something called Whatever with literally no provenance. However, buying factory teas outside of the factory really is buying tea with no provenance because nobody who is a vendor will tell you exactly where the tea comes from. They won't give up sources. So unless you buy the tea from the factory yourself, you are forced to accept "Whatever" the vendor tells you when you buy the tea.

This post is not intended as a huge call-out because honestly there is nothing to learn here, tea-wise. The tea itself is and was of almost no value other than whether it's good or not for drinking, it was priced and sold as a no-information older factory tea. Only people with extra money to blow and who don't care about the wherewithal buys a tea like this. I'm a writer looking for interesting teas to write about, so that gives me a big motivation to buy tea I don't especially need merely because it's a strange tea.

My main message here is not really about Bitterleaf, but rather this: if you have questions about a tea, contact the vendor. You may not find out anything at all, but maybe you will. I was certainly surprised to get additional information that contradicted the listing, whatever Whatever. Of course you may be in a situation where you want a refund too, I don't know. 

Actually, my other intention here is to get around to talking about the tea because I have had it for nearly 4 years and I want to see if it has changed any since I bought it. I thought the tea had a very nice dry storage character but it still had some ways to go. I definitely felt like it was younger than the stated '98, I never believed that any more than Bitterleaf did, and it seemed more like 2003 or some such in my original post just based on the progress at the time. Today I am going to brew the tea in clay, and I am really feeling glad about having a blog just now, because I have photos along with my notes to compare. In my original post I brewed the tea in both clay and porcelain, and now I can use the same teapot as I did then. 

I sampled the rinse this time. The tea still has the aroma of dry, dusty book storage which I rather like, personally I like this better than humid soil, just a preference, and also it is harder to fake. The first flash steeping was a bit too light when I tasted it, so I dumped it and let the tea sit in the water for about 20 seconds. Early notes are the powdery old books along with Mexican coffee notes, like freeze-dried coffee powder with cinnamon added. The tea then opens up with more fruity floral top notes along with a slight bitterness and the coffee powder.

Third steeping

This tea has smoothed out quite a bit since I last tried it. No doubt the clay teapot helps with that. The tea has quite a nice throatiness, very warming. I get a bit of plum and honey along with the fruit and continuing dusty books, along with a grassy/hay note. I have to add more seconds to the steep time with every brew. I tend to err on the too light with brew times because I'm accustomed to much heftier teas than this that instill the fear of tea gods in me.

Ninth steeping

It's been awhile since I drank a more old-fashioned factory tea which is pleasant and soothing to drink, like memories. The tea is much less bitter than it was four years ago, it wasn't heavily bitter then either but my notes indicate it still had bitterness and I'm only getting hints of that now. The soup is much darker brown than it was in my first review, you can see in the photo of the clay session a clear difference. I have to really push the tea because of age and also because it's a fairly stemmy tea, something I noted in my original post. You can't squeeze much flavor out of stems. The tea is warming and gives me the sweats, but that along with a bit less astringency reminds me that my medication suite now is different than 4 years ago. I'm taking a pill that has sweating as a side effect, so I have to ignore that. The tea has some mild qi, mainly just a spinal feeling of well-being and caffeine.

I went about 10 steeps, last time I did 15 and it seems like pushing to get there now, mainly because of stems this time. The leaves are a bit browner than before, but still green too. I like this tea as it is, so I am not tempted to push the storage on it. But it is also not terribly exciting to drink. Just a nice comfort tea of the old time factory sort with no real unpleasantness about it. I know a lot of people settle into a routine puerh drinking where they like a basic comfort factory tea, I guess it's more of a once in awhile trip for me. I just prefer something more engaging. Still, I imagine I will probably drink this up but for now it can sit a few more years. 


  1. "Eccentric private collector" sounds a lot better than "$20 cake we grabbed from a random shop at the tea market that we're selling for $200".
    These small vendors are just about the hype and the story really.

  2. I may know an eccentric collector type.....

  3. "like memories. The tea is much less bitter than it was four years ago " well put - Time heals old wounds as well as lots of old bitter tea.

    The colour of the brew has me drooling a bit. 'Plum, honey and dusty old books with hay' is a favorite Pu profile.