; Cwyn's Death By Tea ;

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The Failed Endeavor of Charles Buell Anderson

Charles Buell Anderson
Photo findagrave.com

This is one of those stories I have to get down. I am divesting myself of the shit that happens that you cannot make up. In this rather bewildering story, I managed to meet a worldwide cult leader and walked away mostly unawares. Wisconsin is full of cult-y people; actually the whole world is, and has ever been so since Adam said hello to the snake and decided to listen to it. I run into weirdos like this all the time, and the story is mostly the same.

Back around 1993 or so I had a part time job in social work, not full-time because my son was a toddler. I was awfully broke and needed money, and saw a job ad in the newspaper looking for a "Set Painter." You just don't see art jobs in the paper ever. I was volunteering in various theatres doing set painting for free but mainly for the cast party invites, which guaranteed free food and drink every week for at least a couple of months while a show was on. 

The Set Painter job posting required dropping off a vita and an example of one's work. At the time, I was doing my own art work of illuminated manuscripts in a gothic French Anjou style, something I picked up after growing disillusioned with abstract expressionism, an effort to start over my shit painting life and copy the art history I refused to do back in college. Now, I had most recently made a large manuscript for a friend, a secular piece of Henry II with some quote by him, because my friend had just acted that historical figure in the play “The Lion in Winter." So I brought in this manuscript as part of my application. 

The man looking to hire worked out of one of those early mid-century modern decaying offices with plywood paneling, where you will often see a pair of deer antlers hanging on the wall. I poked fun at these places with a drawing of the "Elk Motel" in my Sommelier story. I can't remember the business title at this office, something home-related, heating or inspections. The office sharing the building was an insurance agent. I left my art work and got a call about an hour later, asking if I could come back for an interview. I could. 

At the plywood office, I met a man in his late 30s wearing a white, long-sleeved dress shirt without a jacket. He told me that my art work was very impressive and wanted to show me the job. We left the 60s building and went to another building on the next block which more recently became a dance school for kids. It is a decent sized space that looks a bit black box theatre-like. 

The guy said he wanted some backdrops made for some furniture he planned to photograph and sell, nothing to do with his office business. I saw furniture in the space which resembled the kind of stuff the Bombay Company sold back then, British colonial fantasy. I said I could easily paint hanging backdrops, if he had rolls of canvas, or even bed sheets or wood. We went back to his office so I could retrieve my art work. He asked me a bit about my background. 

"Why don't you come and have dinner with my family, and we can talk some more?" he said. I wish I could remember his name. 

I said I had to pick up my son, that his dad was working a moonlight teaching job. 

"Oh, just bring him along." Well, okay. Seemed like I had the job, so why not? 

Picked up my kid and we drove back to the guy's office. 

"We will just go in my car, you can leave yours here. Parking is an issue." In a city it certainly is.

I had the impression he lived nearby, so I got into his black 4 x 4 vehicle, which was a little “extra” back then. So far this guy added up in my mind as a B-level striver, with the cheap office, no suit jacket, 1980’s Bombay fantasy furniture and tastefully hormonal car. 

But then he started driving on the freeway out of the city.

"Where are we going?" I was feeling a little apprehensive, though not too much. After all I worked with people with psychiatric illnesses all day long, the severe kind, people seriously dangerous. This guy didn't exactly add up to that, but still we were heading out of the city which is not a good a thing. 

"Oh, it's not too far, we will be there shortly. I called my wife and she knows you will be with us for dinner." 

We kept going and going, and nearly 40 nervous miles later he turned off the freeway and soon we were driving into forest, and then a gravel road. I could now understand the 4 x 4. 

"We are almost there. By the way, the house we are renting belonged to two Catholic priests before." 

Now that was certainly a strange thing to say. We literally were in the woods. Two priests renting a house in the middle of nowhere is dodgy. 

The house surprisingly was a modern loft style house, a rather suburban professional look, better than his office, but again that B-level striver, or so I told myself. I don't mean to judge people but sheesh, it's not a moral thing so much as hoping the guy driving me and my kid into the dark forest isn't a serial killer. I also didn’t particularly understand B-level strivers, only because I worked entirely in non-profit service.

I met the wife, who seemed like a normal person and they had a 10 year old son who was watching Wheel of Fortune or something on the TV. The meal was ready to go, and the man said a prayer at the table which was not a formal one, but a spontaneous one. Okay, maybe Pentecostal or Evangelical, I thought to myself. We were only a few years post-Reagan back then, so it didn’t seem too weird.

Over dinner I tried to discuss ideas I had for his backdrops. I was thinking instead of the big canvas maybe more like a shoji screen, this would be cheaper and go with the furniture better than tacky canvas theatre drops. He just said "hm" to all that, and suddenly did not seem so interested in the project I was expecting to do. 

I was asked more about my background etc., and he wanted to talk about the importance of his faith. He had already given away where he was with religion, and I tailor my responses to people asking. Most people like to ask about the nun stuff, but they usually want a very simple and easy to understand answer about it all. Too much and people literally glaze over in the eyeballs. So, depending on who asks I will answer in different ways. 

This is not exactly a religious snobbery thing, it's actually the opposite. Mostly people are mildly curious, yet I could say some things about religious and clerical life that can seriously disturb them. (Just for starters, they had not clearly thought their house in the deep woods rented by priests to be the dark flag I thought it was.) It's like trying to explain your puerh hobby to people who say they have a tea collection too, and upon inquiry they have boxes of tea bags. It's not a puerh snobbery to avoid the details, it's that people glaze over and then feel like they don't know something about tea that they should know, and who needs that discomfort? They don't want it. It's just polite not to overdo.

I continued to try and engage this guy on the art work as he loaded the dishwasher after dinner. He said I could go into their formal living room, that two people were coming over to meet me. 

The couple who then arrived were an older couple, looking around 70-ish. This was the man I later recognized as Charles Buell Anderson. I didn't know til later he had recently opened a church school in the Dells nearby called Endeavor Academy which is supposed to to teach the The Course on Miracles, a 1970s New Age-y book I considered trendy, the way theosophy was back in the 1930s. But Charles also allegedly thought he was Jesus in the flesh, and claimed to have already resurrected before actually dying. 

They sat down and said how happy they were to meet with me, and how fortunate I am because a great opportunity awaited me. They seemed very vague. I was struck by how this man and, I supposed his wife, were sitting. They sat on the sofa like my mother's parents from Chicago did, this very 1950s city way of sitting with knees tight together at the edge of the cushion, leaning forward to chat. A social posture that has mostly gone. My generation on down you see local men sit more spread open and leaning back with a confident and nonchalant machismo. My mother actually sat the same way on furniture as these people. I got the impression they were retired urban business people who were decently well off. I thought they must have gone to a lot of clubs and cocktail lounges in the old days, business socializing. That was the vibe.

Overall, these people were definitely better off than I at that point. I didn't have a dishwasher or a loft house. My Corolla car would never have made it on that dirt road. But apart from that, they seemed rather simple business people, at least in terms of religion mixing with business. By "simple" religion, I mean they probably didn’t have troves of lawyers fighting thousands of cases of child abuse while pretending it never happened and raking in millions in donations to support mansions in Italy. They asked me more about the religion stuff and I just kept up with very basic responses with my eye on my young son playing with the 10 year old who wanted to lend us a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles VHS tape. These people probably didn't have any interest in the details of a woman like me once attending diocesan deanery meetings. 

I just couldn't figure out what these two older people really wanted. They said they were in business with this guy I met, and looked forward to working with me. They didn't exactly say right out what this meant. I assumed the younger man was their protege' maybe from a mutual church, and they were investing in the younger man’s business, or doing stock buys together, or maybe a pyramid scheme. 

It was time to go back to the city and the older couple decided to ride along. We were told my son could borrow the Turtles tape. 

On the way to the city, I sat in the back with the older couple. The job seemed like it was evaporating quickly, and I tried to check that. 

"So, it looks like I will be doing this job, do you think?" 

The woman just looked out the window with that vague expression again, and replied, "absolutely, he will take very good care of you," and something about the opportunity I had at hand. I can't tell you how many times in my life people have said things like this and it turns into nothing, like college professors saying they will write letters for me, or maybe that restaurant people think is the best ever and we should really go there. Nothing that people promise you like this ends up happening.

Back to my car, serial killers averted. In the coming days I waited for a phone call as to when I would start the new job, and of course I hear nothing but crickets. So I phoned the number in the newspaper ad and asked.

"Hi, I was just calling to follow up about the painting job. Also, shall I return the videotape to you?"

"Oh, don't worry about the videotape, I will call you back."

Never heard from him again. Drove by that office a few times over the years, and the building changed hands and then got torn down at some point and condos put up instead. 

Clearly I had done or said something wrong. For awhile I thought that maybe the videotape had been some kind of test, because I never returned it. Were they testing me to see if I stole, or something? 

Oh god, and then years later I see the photo of Charles Buell Anderson on the internet. He died in 2005, apparently not having resurrected beforehand. New Jesus died in his chair while watching television.

Did a lot of reading about the Endeavor cult. I found a photo of the cultists on the internet, one guy looks like the guy who interviewed me and invited me to dinner, but without a name in the picture. The Endeavor people all wear white shirts. Charles/Jesus reportedly screamed and hit his followers and reached down the shirts of the females. They were supposed to recognize him as God, and without this recognition he said they were lacking in their ability to see. 

Charles Buell Anderson was a real estate broker in Chicago, a recovered alcoholic who attended AA meetings. Indeed, his church still offers a space for local AA meetings today. I guess I wasn't that far off with the similarity to my grandparents, as my grandfather in Chicago was in sales too. My grandparents were into theosophy, faith healings, psychic stuff, the Christian Science Monitor, trendy spiritual things. Like this cult does. 

The Endeavor School offers classes in art, theatre and music. At one point they tried to start up business giving talks at religious conventions along with performing a theatrical play and live music, all to recruit or ask for donations. I am guessing they took a look at me and thought religious person combined with art and theatre. Maybe Charles expected or hoped a former nun would recognize him as Jesus and I disappointed. 

People sell everything they have for Endeavor. They leave their families to live with and be in this cult. I read online that they donate their furniture directly to the cult when they join, which would explain the "job" in the paper, and the building where it was all stored. I think this guy with the office was preparing to sell the furniture and then join the cult too. The whole scam was the reason they didn't reveal anything, and why I probably didn't get called back to work on selling the furniture. 

I am definitely not amenable to cults or ecstatic religious groups. I was thoroughly worked over in such a way by the nuns, I cannot undo it even if I want to at this point. Whatever Charles is or was certainly went past me in a fog. They all wanted to talk religion and I just didn't oblige enough, or I didn't show the sort of enthusiasm that could withstand the scrutiny once I figured out what they were up to. Or I just blew it, the best opportunity ever! 

If you are in the Endeavor church, or any group that asks you to donate your finances and leave your family, call someone, anyone, to pick you up. Let me offer some hope. You can start over no matter what you have done for that religion. I had to give my furniture back to the nuns when I left, and I slept on the floor for a long time. Eventually you can afford better tea. 





Saturday, December 31, 2022

Burial Plans


By coincidence we are on the last day of 2022, but I have to get real. Plans have to be made for disposal of the tea collection. For a few years now I’ve been comforted by the plan I had of a tea vendor to pick up my tea etc in the event of my demise. Offer my son a few dollars, he will be glad to be rid of it all in one UHaul. 

But this is all starting to feel a bit personal hygiene. Nobody is going to want my lovingly tea stained puerh ware. Let’s face it, because that’s what it is. It’s akin to one’s underwear. Anyone who hoards, and I’m not saying that’s me, or you, but the fact is we don’t want anyone messing about in our tea…stuff. The idea of it is completely repellant. 

We all know the realistic advice is always to drink it down while you can, but really we are tea obese here. Drinking down is not possible, and for a sensible variety of reasons including, but not limited to: year of tea, current aging cycle, remediation of various storage conditions, the weather and one’s current physical capacity to consume different stages of the aging cycle. This is just the start. A person like this is as incapable as the relatives will be, the ones who come over to throw it all out. We either are or know someone deserving of support for the active stages of de-collecting.

Our friend blogger Wilson Lim wrote in his summary of tea world chatter Back to the Future, “ 2.  The profile of Chinese tea buyers in China - There are less younger tea drinkers. The younger generation prefer to drink coffee at fancy establishment like Starbucks or prefer to drink bubble tea instead.”

Well, fk ‘em those young ones. Some of those lucky ones could have inherited granddaddy and grandmaw’s tea, but guess what, the only way is to bury it with you. The sole completely hygienic way for the tea, and the specially stained tea ware, to go is in the grave with the rest of your ashes. 

So this is the burial option. I’d be fine really if my son dug a hole in the yard and saved the expense. Unless he can really sell it or get anything for it. The shovel is the cheapest option, and then I can leave behind a pile of ceramics in the dirt for the future generations to dig up and wonder about. 



Monday, December 5, 2022

Pure Air Sanitorium, Bayfield

The back facade windows all faced Lake Superior.

One of the projects I always intended to get to in my life is doing something with a set of photos I took in high school. For more than 50 years, I have hauled around a set of film negatives that I took of Pure Air Sanitorium in Bayfield, Wisconsin. The building no longer exists, the moldering remains finally demolished in the early 1990s. I felt moved to get these photos posted after seeing only one or two photos online, even the one posted by the Wisconsin Historical Society is small and barely representative of the atmosphere of the building. 

This sanitorium was built in 1922 to house mainly Ojibwe Indians with tuberculosis, but was quickly expanded with an additional wing in 1923 to house war veterans with TB or other rehab issues. The building continued to house TB patients until it was closed in 1975. I first saw the building in 1976 or so. 

Bayfield sits on the shores of Lake Superior, with a ferry to Madeline Island, and the surrounding area populated by two Indian reservations. Mainly the small towns surrounding Lake Superior are tourist attractions and boating for people mainly from Minneapolis. The Bad River Tribe keeps the wild rice beds around the Ashland area. 

My father purchased a boat about a half mile down the railroad tracks at Port Superior, a full service marina, with the intention of deep sea fishing on the lake. We spent some months there every year for nearly 20 years. My brother earned his captain's license which served him well, he recently did a decade-long stint on the Atlantic as a private deep sea fishing captain. My brother has a sixth sense for fish. 

Port Superior in the distance.
Below, what’s left of the sewage plant
after the demolition of the sanitorium.

While he was busy fishing with my father, I had time to run around with my step-sister and we both had boyfriends in the area, sort of. One of things we loved to do was walk up the railroad tracks to visit Pure Air Sanitorium, which was for sale for a number of years. The windows were often open to keep the building aired out, because the lakeside location meant the air was always damp. 

We were very much at that teen age where one is fascinated by creepy things like ghosts, vampires and haunted houses, and we were convinced the old San was absolutely haunted. Once inside an open window, we crept through the dark hallways and any old noise inside the building made us run away screaming. 

After getting into the basement windows, we noted the kitchen area in the basement was completely covered in green mold inches thick. We saw an ancient box of donuts that must have been purchased on the final work day. One donut no longer had any original organic matter left to it, it was entirely a donut-shaped ring of green mold. 

The X-ray room.

The next two floors up were bedrooms. During the active years, patients at the sanitorium were almost entirely confined to their rooms. The building had no dining room, because meals were taken on trays to the bedrooms. 

Patients were taken from their rooms to "air" outdoors, even in cold winter weather. In the early days of tuberculosis treatment, the population of people at the sanitorium either died in two years or less, or they got better and able to go home. Most met one of those two fates within 6 months of arriving. Very rarely were people there longer than two years. 

The San had a dentist office.
Not sure what this was.

In the late 1940s, the first antibiotic was developed that worked on some tuberculosis cases. Then a second antibiotic was added, which helped a few more cases. Finally in the late 1950s, a three-antibiotic regime was developed that became the standard today. The care of patients changed dramatically after that. People got cured to be sure, but also some people developed resistances to the antibiotics. 

The shortest course of treatment was still about six months, but now some patients lingered much longer. I found one testimonial online by a person who said her mother was in Pure Air for nearly 13 years, having a highly resistant case. I tried to find out if people were kept housed at Pure Air for other reasons, like mental illness, other behavioral problems or rehabilitation issues, or even racial issues, but I could not find any evidence of this. 

The room that had a pool table at one point.
Behind the curtains is a blocked window.

On the second floor, at opposite ends of the building were two larger group rooms. One was used as an occupational therapy room. I saw party supplies left from the last days the place was open, and Bingo tokens scattered. The opposite room was more of a recreational room and had a pool table which we messed around with, though most of the balls were missing. I tried to figure out what the little curtained "puppet stage" was used for. Behind the curtain was a window that opened. I think the little stage was used for church services, and the window was used to observe the patients and pass medicine or treats through without the staff coming into much contact with the patients in the room. This was probably the one area people met with their family, apart from their bedroom.

The lab.

The building also had a locked laboratory, except that the window was open in the lab which made it easy for us to sort of sneak in there. I took some photos of the sputum slides which were used to determine if a patient was responding to treatment and ready to leave. 

Because the building was so creepy, we didn't dare remove or touch anything apart from the pool table. We mostly sat around smoking cigarettes or pot. One regret I have is the tiny room with a medallion window, which was reached by a metal ladder and ran alongside the elevator shaft.

Medallion window.

Behind this window in a crawl space we found a cardboard box filled with mimeographed newsletters that were produced within the building for the patients. They contained things like messages and greetings between patients who were confined to their rooms. The messages lined up with old postcards we found in some of the bedrooms with messages like "Merry Christmas to you from Mary in room 209." I left the newsletters, but always regretted that I didn't simply remove them. What a treasure they would be now for the historical society. 

More stuff in the lab.

Another curious space was a junk pile outdoors in the woods just off the grounds. We found all kinds of things ranging from glass syringes to old bottles, tins and even religious items. Again nothing really that we wanted to have or keep, but just adding to the creepiness. 

One of the staff houses.

Also the grounds had two brick residences, one for nurses and another for doctors, used as offices and sleeping quarters for overnight. These also had a kitchen and living space, so the professional staff maintained themselves away from the contagious patients. We wandered through these as well, but they really contained nothing much. 

The drive-way view.

I visited the property year after year. The grounds had a sewage treatment system with operating sewage ponds, which served other properties in the area and has since been updated. This treatment system was of interest to my family as it served the Port Superior complex. So my father followed the fate of the sanitorium. He heard that an offer was made on the building by a local "cult," of sorts. One of the doctors in Washburn who stitched up my face after a fall belonged to the cult, it was said. The offer on the building was declined. With the mold and crumbling plaster walls, the entire place was not livable. It would have needed a full gut job down to the bricks. 

Creepy ivy covered door.
Probably held grounds-keeping 
equipment 

The building finally got torn down in the early 1990s, I think. I visited it shortly before it was torn down. By then nearly all of the windows were broken. I took my photos in 1980 or 1981 before all that vandalism. With all the years we spent in the area, almost nowhere else is as familiar to my memory as the lake shore here, the forests, the damp. I still know when the smelt is running, and when the maple sap season begins. I am glad to know that the Ojibwe have reclaimed some of Madeline Island, which was once a place of governance by the tribes. I know how it feels to be there, I would love to see it all again, but the touristy nature of the entire area means you need reservations years in advance to even stay, and it's not cheap.  

If you want more information, you might find something at the Bayfield Heritage Association. I know they used to do live exhibits for the school children on the Sanitorium, but I am not sure if they still do those presentations. But they may have more photos or records. 

The window is just left open, oh if I could go back.


Wednesday, November 30, 2022

2022 CSH Jiang Xin Sample Box


I just cannot say no to free tea. Nobody teaches a puerh tea lover this skill, and whatever about tea drinking is supposed to teach moderation, well this lesson has thus far escaped me. Really I am not planning to continue tea reviewing, but when CSH messaged me on Instagram asking if I want their new sample box, what I managed to type was "thank you for thinking of me." And left it at that. Next I got an email with a shipping number. 

CSH offered this sample box free to 500 people back in September. After reaching 500, the sample box was to sell another few hundred at around $5 and then increase to $9.99. Right now I see the price for it is marked down to $4.99 with the regular price at $35. But you can still get it for free if you are a new customer to Chen Sheng Hao by signing up for the newsletter. Got all that? 

The sample box is cute and comes with a complimentary cotton shopping bag, which can double as tea storage if you are running out of room on the sofa. The tea arrived in mid-October for me after the harvest shipping vacation passed. You get two puerh samples, raw and cooked, along with samples of black (red) tea. 


First I tried the black (red) which is 1-2g of tea in a pyramid style tea bag. They really need to up this by a gram, I did not feel I got much strength out of this to consider buying 100 tea bags for $100. The tea has the malty chocolate profile typical of Feng Qing area teas. If you need tea for the office where you cannot properly gongfu loose tea, this might be an option. But in purely terroir terms, Yunnan Sourcing offers the same origin tea for a fraction of the cost. It's just okay. 


The sample box contains yet another pyramid tea bag of raw puerh. I passed on this, the leaves looked rather finely chopped which may be fine for a tea bag. But I just cannot bring myself to try this. If anyone has done, feel free to drop a comment on it. Maybe I passed on something good, I don't know, but I binned it. 

Moving on, the star of the sample box is the 2022 Jiang Xin raw (kinda passing by the shou sample). I was not in the mood to like this after passing up the tea bag, but the tea is a decent one. The leaves are very green and this tea might be too much on the stomach for some. I didn't bother weighing the chunk and probably should have, but I assumed this would be a one and dump at first. 


The tea is listed as Bulang large leaf, but also as "mixed," or blended material. The blend may contain other years as my soup had something of an orange tone. The blend is obvious immediately with the first few brews, the hay-like Bulang large leaves mixed with what tasted and smelled like a more floral northern tea. The brew has a touch of smokiness, evidenced by the little pieces of blackened leaves (char) in the strainer, but it's just right and not too much. 


For those of you new to factory puerh, this tea is one of many series "editions," and should properly be understood as an edition. This means the factory has created a series that is likely to remain fairly consistent in the blend from year to year. Factories create many of these blends, and even more in the past 5 years. The "recipes" don't have numbers in the way the state factories had decades ago, like the 7542. This Jiang Xin, translated as "craftsmanship" is thus the Craftsmanship edition recipe, and the series seems to be new in 2021, so we have two years available to purchase. The 2022 retails for $249 for a 357g beeng. This compares to the higher end 2022 Lao Ban Zhang at over $900 a beeng, and thus the Craftsmanship edition is among the budget offerings, although the Zodiac series in the $50-75 range is the least expensive CSH tea. 


In the first 3 brews, the blend is very obvious. I can easily pick out the floral leaves. But the Bulang large leaves overpower the brew quickly. This tea is a bitter goalie kick to the face, especially as the tea cools, and I'm here for it. Reading the tea description, the tea is to have decent huigan (returning sweetness) and the tea made a real effort in my mouth. The bitterness is fully mouth coating and long lasting, pulling hard at my taste buds in the back of my mouth, but didn't quite convert. My cup had a lingering floral aroma that dispelled after three brews. 


As I said, I was not prepared to like this tea, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The tea lacks any of the subtlety of the more pricey Naka and LBZ teas. But it is a powerful tea nevertheless. I got a nice buzz in my face which might be the blood rush to my mouth to cope with the intense bitterness. Oh hell yeah. This is the type of tea I crave in early summer, a bitter strong punch of puerh. 

This tea illustrates why puerh tea is the king of green teas. It's why Chinese tea, Yunnan puerh in particular, is one of the world's most powerful natural things you can consume. I think of malt whiskey or chili peppers as comparisons in terms of strength. This tea makes coffee taste like brown water, and regular green tea taste like weak Kool Aid. Teas like this are why tea drinkers so often settle on puerh as their tea of choice. Really no tea compares with raw puerh, once you get into it. 

I forgot to take a photo of the brew.
It was orange/yellow, as usual. 

Looking at aging potential, we have the strong grade 8-ish Bulang leaves, and the blended leaves. Will the blended leaves age out or get overwhelmed over time by the Bulang tea, which really requires some heat and humidity to age. The difficulty with all these factory edition teas is figuring out which of them will turn into anything decent after 20 years, assuming the tea is well-cared for. And whether shelling out $249 for a decently bitter tea, albeit a blend, is a wise purchase or whether one should should go cheaper if bitterness is really all you want. 

I think if you live in a hot and humid climate which can really care for this tea, it's worthwhile to pick it up, maybe the 2021 since this 2022 year is considered a wetter year. The caveat here is we don't know what the blend is, and there may be some older tea blended in. 

Here is what I suggest. Pick up the sample box for $4.99. Get a taste of this now. If you are in puerh for the long haul, put the Jiang Xin series on your mental list and look out for it in 10 years. A well-stored version in the reseller market from places like Taiwan or Malaysia won't cost less, but decent storage on this tea even at $400 a beeng might be an excellent quarter-beeng split situation with friends. 

CSH seems to be paying close attention to tea chatter in the west. I think they are well aware that the market for the higher end is just not here in the west, and they are trying to promote the more budget side of their offerings. I continue to wish them success because we are fortunate they are marketing directly to us, offering loyalty points and sample boxes. Factory direct doesn't get more accessible than this. 



Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Brewing Blind

The end of the line on this blog is closer now. I am not quite there yet, but I can see the end of Old Cwyn and her tea insanity. Nature, and probably poor nuture combined, are having their way with me slowly but surely. While I have no immediate plans to end our tea writing, we are getting to where plans must be made going forward. At the beginning of this blog, in the very first entry, I wrote that I planned to drink tea to my death, and I will do everything I can to accomplish this goal. But days are coming where I know I will be stuck and need to ease myself into sliding out of writing.

My health condition is stable, currently. However, I received a diagnosis of macular degeneration about a year ago. I mentioned this in the Prioress letter earlier this year on the blog, but I did not really explain much. I got this eye diagnosis a year ago, and I was told back then I have 5 years or so of eyesight, now it will be 4 years. There is no treatment other than to hope for the best.

I have noticed my central vision blurring for a few years already, especially during night driving. I also noticed I could no longer read lines on the television. Last year I managed to finish a video game 100% without being able to read any of the text on screen. Now I have a much larger TV and can read a bit again, but with my IPad I sometimes need to use the magnifying glass. It’s annoying because my main activity of enjoyment, along with tea, is reading. I stopped driving a car at night, and mostly I let others drive now even during the day.

Anyway, I have had one year to notice a bit more deterioration and grow accustomed to the idea of losing more of my sight. To be completely honest, I was told back in my 20s by my childhood optometrist that I would probably lose my sight in old age. I guess I had some markers he recognized. For most people who need glasses, eyesight tends to stabilize in a person’s 20s and 30s and mine never did. I needed a new prescription every year or so. Which is why I didn’t think anything untoward over my blurry vision these past few years, because in my life I always needed new glasses at any given time. But here we are.

After the bad news, the first thing I thought of was naturally my tea, because I probably love my tea more than my son and cats combined. Well, at least part of me does, the part I named Old Cwyn and gave this obsessively selfish pig voice so she could get it out.

I read someplace that when bad things happen in England, the “power grid people” can see the electricity spike as folks around the country simultaneously fire up electric tea kettles. I relate to that most endearing trait. So, of course of all the things to worry about, puerh is up there at #1 or damn close. I can get in an aide to help me shower, but who is out there to hire to check my puerh collection?

This is a real worry.. We have mold to watch for, insects and god only knows what else that can happen in puerh storage. Fortunately, my tea is lidded in crocks and various other places. Containers. Tea cups and tea pots. Okay a few other places and some is sitting out. Well, it is still a bit summer here, so I have things on the porch for the heat. Yeah, some fu bricks out there also. Dear god. I am mostly adept at smelling any problems in the tea, but soon enough I could be drinking small insects and not know it.

Even worse is the issue of how to brew tea if I am blind, or mostly blind. I cannot possibly rely on anybody else to know how to brew a puerh tea. Would you? Would your spouse even know how to brew your puerhs, much less find the one you want to drink when you ask them to look? I suppose one could write English on the wrappers, but I hesitate to add inks to my wrappers, that seems dodgy although I know people do it. I worry about ink and how it might bleed into the tea. Even if I label things so I can get somebody to find the tea I want, the issue of how to brew puerh is not something that just any fool can do.

There is a huge difference between someone who is blind from birth, or childhood, and someone who develops blindness later in life, in terms of getting around problems of how to do things. My eyesight has been lousy most of my life, so I got accustomed early on to functioning in my living space at night without lights on. I keep things in the same places for years on end so I can find stuff in the dark. But brewing puerh tea is another matter: we are dealing with boiling hot water, gongfu tea/water ratios, bitty teapots and tiny cups. I can use a mug instead of a cup. Some of you might say “just grandpa that shit” but no way. Shou okay, but I would rather give away all my sheng than spend my days drinking grandpa sheng. Forget that.

I thought that after a year of hearing this news I would figure out what to do about my tea, and about brewing blind, but I really don’t have any answers yet. Denial works for me most days, but I need to keep thinking ahead even if I don’t want to. I did some preliminary research into some possible brewing options. For example, here is a Braille infuser photo I found online.



Then we have Braille objects like this one.



My thoughts on these items were that I could buy them early, get accustomed to using them and I would be all set. I even found some potential amusements already.



But I have two problems here. One, none of these products in these photos are for purchase. They are prototypes available for sale and manufacture. To order something like this, you need to place an order for a minimum number of units. Think about how many units of tea kettles, brewing devices and such that a vendor purchases wholesale to sell. I cannot think of any tea vendor who has more than a handful of any brewing item to sell to anyone. A place like Walmart orders hundreds of electric kettles, but how many Braille items are needed in the general marketplace? Surely people need these devices, but the population of customers is so small that I don’t think Walmart would even consider the volume sufficient to order a Braille mug to sell.

Another problem, I don’t know Braille. My friend DW decided to help me on that, and he called up our friend Marty for me, a teacher recently retired from the Wisconsin School for the Blind.

“Marty says it’s not that easy,” DW phoned me back. “He said adults mostly are unable to learn Braille if you didn’t learn it when you were a kid.”

I know Braille books are out of the question anyway. Most libraries stock popular trash that even the large print collection has nothing I would want to read. Braille library books are probably worn down to the point that only a very skilled person could decipher the dots. Braille teapots just don’t seem practical for someone like me, even if I found one to buy and bought it early to learn the buttons while I can still see.

You know what would be so perfect? That damned Teforia tea machine that crapped out on me. 

The Teaforia had an app I ran on my IPad. I could voice-command that app to brew my shit. The Teforia had a double-walled brewing globe and double-walled carafe, no risk of burning myself on the water, nor the tea, and I had a mug that held all the tea from the carafe. I could easily fill the water basket at the sink and replace it onto the machine without needing any eyesight whatsoever. But then, the stupid sensor for the globe stopped sensing it was locked on. Even though the machine worked perfectly well I could no longer get it to start up with the sensor error because the stupid “smart” device lacked a basic ON button. 

Supposedly a new Teforia is in the works, but every time I check on when it will be released the date gets pushed back another six months. Probably supply chain issues and no financing. I have given up on it ever being released.

So here I am. After a full year mulling on these issues, I have no answers whatsoever as to how I will care for my puerh teas, and how I will choose one to brew except at random, and how I will brew them properly without burning myself. I have zero ideas and nobody to help me and I know I am too fussy about tea to ever accept that anybody can brew puerh to my perfect taste. Even I don’t always brew well. You know how it is, at any given time puerh tea goes through changes and whatever worked last time to brew the tea now needs brewing around.

I have a few non-tea-related posts of things I want to put up on this blog. They are mostly some old photos and a few Wisconsin historical things I fell into that I want to post someplace. I don’t have anywhere else suitable for them on the web to post, it’s not worth starting another blog for non-tea-related stuff. I apologize ahead for the non-tea content that may not interest anyone. But the end is not here yet, and I still have plenty more to write about concerning tea. The puerh tea scene certainly remains sufficiently insane to provide a never-ending trove of silly trips and tripes to get me started.


Friday, September 30, 2022

Before the Fall

The last day of September is here already, and in my part of the world autumn is arriving. We went from turning off the air conditioning earlier this week and turning on the heating the following day. No lazy days with the windows hanging open this year. I am more tired nowadays, getting hard to find the energy to sit down and write as the basics of daily living take more effort at my age. I have so many unfinished drafts. But I can appreciate the start of cooler days more as I slow down, especially the turnover of teas I reach for. Over the warm summer, greens and shengs clutter up my countertop. Between those I reached for coffee sometimes, and many days it was just too hot to drink any hot beverage. Instead I had a lot more water, sparkling water and diet cola. 

This summer I planned to brew up iced teas, but I gave up after a few tries. I have to admit once and for all I just do not like iced tea. I don't mind slurping up the remains a cold cup of a tea that starts out hot, but a finishing swig is not the same as a full tall glass of iced tea. I tried a big bottle of that unsweetened iced tea you can find at the grocery store, you know the one, it has a green label and green top on the bottle. It was so terrible I tossed half of it out. Mainly I wanted the container, thinking I would refill it with cold tea, and I still have the bottle. And I made an effort with my new Stanley French Press, doing some grandpa green sheng teas with it and pouring them over ice. Then the weather got too hot and with no A/C in my bedroom, I started out my day too warm to bother brewing hot tea and waiting for it for cool off, and ended the day still trying to cool off. 

So, with some relief I set aside my iced tea efforts now and turn to my darker teas. I need to get the Fu bricks off the porch. This week I pulled out my  2018 Arbor Red from white2tea, the last cake I have. After a year or more drinking Fu brick, I have not yet dipped back into my hongcha with any determination, and I have forgotten how good Arbor Red is. The tea is ridiculous in how long it brews. With 4g of tea, I can brew two steepings a day  poured into a mug and the leaves are still just opening up 5 days later. I am not a fan of the sweet and malty Yunnan gold style hongcha teas. I prefer something more astringent and savory that packs a punch of caffeine. 

Arbor Red leaves after 5 days

Arbor Red for me fits with my night owl self, it's a hefty snifter of tea energy. I don't wake up in the morning feeling perky like many people do. I feel like a sack of shit. I forced myself up in the morning back in the convent days, but ended up in the bathroom so many times just feeling nauseous for no reason other than the hour of the day seemed unholy to me. As a kid I used to think about all the executions at dawn in WW1, like Edith Cavell, that's the level of dark morning is for me. In the summer, early mornings are not so bad and I enjoy them more. But fall and winter, my body nopes out. I am the perfect night shift person, and took as many late shift and weekend shifts as I could in my clinical days. By 10:00 pm I feel stellar. Give me a heavy caffeinated beverage and I can rock out the night getting so much done. I thought I might turn around in old age, but instead I am just more of what I always was. My family hates it.

As hongcha teas go, Arbor Red is not a light floral tea, I like it for the robust astringency like chewing grape skins. It's an easy transition if you like English-style assams. If budget is a serious issue, I'd recommend looking at Yunnan Sourcing's Feng Qing hongs, or their purple leaf blacks. But Arbor Red is a better value than it seems with the initial outlay, simply because of the longevity of the leaves. I can get 5-6 days out of 4g of tea, with doing two steepings. So for me, a 200g disk lasts nearly 200 days. That brings my cost down to more like 25 cents a steeping. 

Day 6 on the same leaves, hardly see the bottom yet.

I really loved beautiful hong teas from places like Joseph Wesley (whatever happened to that vendor??), but the cost for those teas was around $10 or $20 for a small amount of tea that lasted maybe a few weeks at best. So while $85-95 initial cost for Arbor Red seems steep, it's a better value for the longevity than some of the gourmet red teas I have enjoyed in the past. 

So I re-upped on Arbor Red yesterday, and the mail can take 3 months if it does and I'm good for awhile. I need to dig out what I have left of aged Shui Xian pillows and the roasted oolongs I have been hoarding for years. Not to mention checking out the more aged puerh teas I own. I won't think about winter until it hits, but at least I have teas to look forward to trying again. 




Tuesday, August 30, 2022

2022 10th Anniversary and Liu Bao white2tea


No, I have not forgotten my blog. Still here with at least four blog posts in my head and a couple in actual draft. Here I have a few notes on teas held up because I just cannot find time lately to sit down for a decent tea session without any interruption. Mostly I am caffeine-on-the-go over the past month, grabbing a mug of something and trying to remember to drink it before it goes cold. Then I sit down and already the sun is gone for the day, and I am overtired, overheated and ready for bed. These are the usual excuses of a life that needs to slow down and get easier because I'm so ready for the shit to stop. 

This month I wanted to write about these two teas from white2tea's 2022 lineup. As usual for me these past few years, I try and buy a couple things from their new teas to support the shop and see what TwoDog is up to. I planned to buy the 10th Anniversary tea because I own the 5 year Anniversary beeng. TwoDog suggested the 2022 Liu Bao when I said I wanted something fresh to try. 

Mostly when you see Liu Bao for sale, the tea is aged already or has a head start either with pile fermentation or oxidized as pressed bricks. I really wanted the opportunity to try Liu Bao fresh, and un-pressed, so I can gauge its transformation over time. The leaf quality here is pristine. Most aged Liu Bao teas are broken leaves and dusty bits, so for me buying a fresh tea like this is worth the money. Liu Bao ages fairly quickly compared to puerh tea, and with proper humidity maintains itself for many years. But unlike factory Liu Bao, this tea has not undergone any pile aging or oxidation.

I drank this tea for over a week straight as my a.m. caffeine shot. It's not harsh like puerh, so I was fine with it on an empty stomach. The leaves are long which limits the amount I can pile into a brewing vessel. I used a gravity steeper and did 3 steepings per day, which means I got two mornings of tea out of each dose. The tea is reliable for a good six money steeps, which is fairly typical for Liu Bao.

This tea does not resemble puerh so much as a very fine green tea. It is lightly floral with a mild honey note, and very grassy which most green teas are. I find the sample well worth it for the experience of drinking Liu Bao fresh as I have wanted to for some time. I spent many years trying various incarnations of green tea processing and can finally add this to my experiences. If I were looking to age Liu Bao for myself, this is definitely the choice by far, although one advantage of factory Liu Bao is the handy storage basket which you can get from white2tea only if you buy a full 250g order. I'd much rather have this than broken dusty bits that most factory Liu Bao teas are. 

2022 10th Anniversary Beeng

I planned to buy this tea as my purchase for 2022, because I own the older anniversary beeng. I bought a full beeng plus a 25g sample too. Lately I have been doing this with teas I want to keep intact in the wrapper. I probably won't open the beeng any time soon, the point is to store it in Wisconsin and someday see how the tea does, he can have it back to compare with his storage in China. Hence the sample size to keep track of the tea without opening the beeng. I did the same with 72 Hours, tried the sample I had instead of opening the tea. As you all know, a loose beeng sheds tea in storage every time you shift things around.

This tea will only remain on offer for 2022, and then it will return to white2tea's storage. The older 5th Anniversary tea is now back on the catalog, but it is much more expensive, almost twice the price it once was. I have not opened the older tea, so I cannot compare it currently, but the two teas are not comparable. The 10th Anniversary tea contains a number of teas from 2017-2020, so not the same tea at all in the 5th Anniversary. I can imagine these anniversary teas are a memory lane trip for TwoDog of the teas he acquired during the intervening years. 

I brewed 6 grams of this tea in a porcelain gaiwan which started out as 7 grams and then I accidentally got a bit of wet cat food flung onto my tea. So I picked out about a gram to get rid of the cat food bit. 

The tea has the house floral-northern aroma many teas from white2tea have, and then a more pungent tomato vine note underneath. I did a very quick rinse of mostly clear liquid. The first steeping after that came out orange-yellow and then lightened up to a deep yellow on subsequent steepings. 

Hit with boiling water, the tea starts out very floral on the top note with a pungent, warm spicy core. I can definitely taste the different batches of tea in here. This tea is newly steamed and pressed after stored in bags for a few years. The orange color shows the oxidation on some of the older leaves in the mix. 

Subsequent steeps continue this dual note of floral fruity with a spicy base that is cooling on the throat and warm in the tummy. The blend is a good way to try a tea that has such a clear distinction between the notes. It's a strong tea, not a subtle creeper. Let the tea cool down to about 90-95C and it gets very bitter. So I feel the tea has something at the core that is maybe more 'banna-ish that will give substance after aging if the floral top notes fade. 

I noticed after steep 5 I needed to brew the tea longer than flash steeps. The tea leaves opened up quickly due to their recent steaming. I did three more brews going about a minute or so in the gaiwan. The tea still had a bit more, but the main notes now are the deeper spicy pepper ones and less of the floral/fruit. I feel like a good 10 steepings are reasonable to expect from the tea once a few years go by and the pressing sticks together more. Right now the pressing is just so recent the tea is giving more early on than it will down the road. 

The leaf examination yields some very firm leaves, a few buds but many larger leaves. I don't see any processing issues like reddened edges or char. The tea does not have off-odors at all. 

It's a good example of what white2tea offers all in one beeng with the contrast of teas. I'm not sure how this will gel together, but it will be interesting to see if it all melds in a different way over time, because right now the teas used in this blend are quite distinct. That makes it useful if you are hoping to learn more about detecting different notes in puerh teas, because the contrast is so obvious. At $98 for the 200g beeng I think it's a great choice if you are looking for a decent white2tea that is still coming in under $100.