; Cwyn's Death By Tea ;

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Shelf Stash Update #2

Example of shelf stashing.

This year my stash goal is to deal with the little bits and bobs of tea I have stored on my tea shelves, in every sort of container imaginable, including inside teapots and other teaware. These are mainly remainders of samples, the last bits of a beeng, or abused tea experiments. My stash behavior is a form of squirreling that I need to get in check. I am tired of the crowded shelves and the dusting work. Some experiments were left to sit and need checking on, like teas I deliberately composted and brought back from Mold City. 

I need to get a handle on the behavior and reduce the number of tea samples not in bags, but in containers, little micro-biomes. What will in fact happen is that I will likely shuffle things, drink up a few, and probably stash a few more. The big mental hang-up with most of these squirreled teas is that I saved them for a reason. This thought prevents me from just dumping all of them out. That sample could be a thousands of $$$ tea I can never afford in a million years. Or it could be something humid and I was testing the container material for storage, the 3 or 4 Inge Nielsen sample clay jars are one such experiment. 

To add further complexity to the matter, I didn't always label the stashes. I would say maybe 50% of the time I put a slip of paper in with the tea, or I cut out a label or logo from a wrapper or baggie. But I have many that I didn't label, instead I thought "oh I will remember what that is," with the notion of checking on it in 6 months or a year and I never did, and now it's years too late to even know what it is. If I IG'd the tea or blogged it, well then I can try and find it. These are the teas I will be sure to mention. 

I felt so enthused in January starting off tackling the top shelf. I put maybe 4 teas on the radiators with some moisture to wake them up. And then I got the CSH box in the mail, and my nerve injury, and gut issues from the nsaids which stopped my project and most tea drinking for 6 weeks. Now I am varied by the day with either one or two doses of nsaids, but this is not nearly as bad as every 4-6 hours. I have been able to finish a bunch of samples/projects.

Okay, so the first sample of note is the left jar in the above photo. The jars are where, in 2018, I put two samples sent to me by blogger Wilson from his own collection. I tried one of the samples and put something on IG maybe, but did not try the other, so this is the one I targeted first. It is a Green Mark 7542 recipe, but I don't know what year, and not sure he told me. Maybe early oughts, but I am not a jerk to ask someone their tea secrets. I think he trolled me by saying I should try an aged 7542, but really turns out to be "taste the storage." :P

Wilson's Green Mark ??

The storage on this tea is perfection. First steepings have a slight humid note that is mostly mineral but not too much, a small TCM whiff, but not too much, these will go to a powdery note the longer they sit. So, this tea had some brief heat and humidity years and years ago (leather texture), and then natural dry storage after that. This tea is completely changed, it just needs long storage to get that ancient-shelf little bit floral dustiness. So I covered it with paper toweling for air circulation and to prevent mold, it could also be wrapped in plastic to preserve it now. It's really done, and in the best possible way. 

First steep

So at the start, first steep the mustiness whiff and TCM, the next few steepings note of root beer, wood, a little bit plummy. The taidi tea leaves are chopped, but more sturdy than we see now in similar factory teas. Really a very mild tea that anyone can drink. 

Steep 5

When cooled, the mineral note is little tending toward bitter but never gets there, the stage is passed. I couldn't push it past 8 steeps, it really fell off. With the leathery texture, sometimes you can rest it a day or two, or do a boil and get more out of it, but I did not do so. I congratulate Wilson yet again on his storage.

Steep 8

Next, I found a 2016 Hekai from Chawangshop, in a cloth bag from same. I have written about this tea a lot for its diuretic effect. I switched prescription diuretics in maybe 2019, so I stopped drinking this so often. I owned a tong plus one, and have 2 1/2 cakes left. This is a half I kept in the bag, uh...in a linen closet shelf. Soooo.....

2016 Chawangshop Hekai

My photos are bad, but it was winter when I took them. 

The tea is quite brown compared to fresh spanking green in 2016. I didn't photograph the session because orange-y yellow is orange-y yellow and I have written about this tea plenty. The big change is Steeps 1-5 are now rather sweet and honey/floral. Where is the daisy/tomato vine I used to love, the kidney clean-erator? It is still there, at steep 5 the sweetness is off the top and I get the green savory notes back that I like. Note to self to get cracking on the Hekai habit again, the aging is well and good, but in this one case I'd rather drink this green. The vendor should feel pleased at the changes on the tea. The remaining two whole beengs from the tong are in a tin, which is good for what I want, in not aging it much more.

Then I found a tin of loose shou puerh from an American vendor called Leaf and Spoon. I tracked an old url for them and they are now mainly a coffee company with a new name and logo. They were a company that some of us on Steepster tried to support with an order. As I recall, I bought green teas from them that I drank up, and this tin was either free or I tacked it on my cart to get free shipping, or something just extra. It was just under half full. 

Tiny gong ting leaves brew crazy amount.

Well, this turns out to be a gong ting shou, the tiny spring tips of puerh tea. Just amazing to think this was considered just a basic tea then. Today a good gong ting will cost you, and the vendor knows this is what they have and charge accordingly. 

I did 15 steepings of this tea, and the tin had 3 sessions left in it, so drinking this up took nsaid February. And 15 steepings wasn't enough, the tea still was going and easily could be boiled after 20 steeps. Unreal to think a meh ordinary vendor shou more than 10 years ago is this good. Juicy cherry with a little dusty fermentation flavor. 

One more session of note that I did not photograph was the remains of a sample of white2tea's 2015 72 Hours. This was a sample I squirreled in a gaiwan and drank to test the aging of the one intact beeng I have left. Like the Hekai, I have written about this tea quite a bit, and will do so again when I crack into the last beeng. The tea blend is supposed to mature in 6 years, and we are well past that. I don't remember what I thought of it other than the same as last time, there is something of a white2tea house flavor, some leaves that get in other teas as well. 

As of now I have four more orphan squirreled teas sitting ready to try. I am in for a long project.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Stop It

Nothing is worse than a well-endowed whinge. We are even more repulsed when such a whinge is a boring repeat of a topic covered ad nauseum on blogs and forums. The following has been said 10 million times already, but I'm now fed up and I am just saying it.

For the most part, I have stayed away from discussing puerh factory blends and processing along the lines of so-called "modern" puerh teas. Why is that? Well, I get it. Everything the factories sell must appeal to someone, because otherwise why would they sell these teas? Nobody persists in selling what does not sell, so clearly I don't fully know the market that buys "modern processing." I do not want to berate anyone's personal taste in tea, so if you are happily buying new factory productions every year AND drinking them up, I will still love you. I suggest you go tuck in with a cuppa and click right out of here.

Now, I understand a very salient fact of puerh tea, and that is the vast majority of puerh teas do not last to the 20 year mark. This is probably one of the major observations on the part of factories. You just cannot easily buy 20 year+ puerh tea simply because there is little of it, and what remains and manages to get to market somehow is horrifically expensive. So, the factories need not look very far to conclude that puerh is a short-term product that is either consumed or destroyed before 20 years, except for obsessive puerh hoarders. 

Thus, the factories have chosen to market to this reality, that people are likely to consume their tea in the short term rather than the long term. Puerh of course is a difficult drink when new, harsh on the body, yada yada, so anything they can do to appeal with that first sip, well...they are doing it. They know young puerh is a turnoff for new customers, and growth depends upon the new customer. This means you may be getting a production meant to be consumed now, or consumed earlier, rather than stored and aged. 

Factories do all kinds of things to favor the front end experience of the tea, starting with propogation and ending with the wok and pressing. To figure out exactly how a particular tea gets tweaked, you need to drink it multiple times and even then, the full result is a company secret. We can pick out obvious things like oxidation, improper sha qing like browned edges, sun-drying, "wild" leaves, etc. but we won't know what propogation happened, or exactly how long the tea leaves wilted in the basket after picking. 

I don't know who buys and enjoys factory modern blends, but I do know where the market is here. They miscalculated the west. We were to be the "new" customer turned on by tweaked tea blends that don't age, don't need to be stored and aged, but we are not. We were to be the new market for shou puerh, and by and large, we are not. At least, not shou in a tea bag. 

The market here is exactly like that of Asia, in that puerh obsessives control the aftermarket, and these are overwhelmingly people who prefer aged, raw puerh. Tell me someone you know who doesn't prefer aged raw puerh over green, and over shou too. Pretty much nobody drinks green puerh, other than to test it. Everyone wants aged raw puerh if they prefer puerh tea at all. What we see here in the west is people would rather have a poorer quality drinker tea leaf, just as long as it is aged, even aged badly, over a fine young tea. Everyone wants it aged and preferably cheap, yes, the full oxymoronic puerh market is the same everywhere. You can't really buy what you want.

Thus, the anticipated "new" customer is not controlling the factory tea market here. No, it is the puerh obsessives who are doing it. They want to buy either an already-aged raw puerh, because they only drink aged, or they will buy new for home storage with the intention of aging it themselves. The drinking crowd wants to drink aged puerh on a daily basis, and thus they don't mind buying inexpensive hot-storage teas from Asia, even if a bit musty and not the best leaf.

But the home storage enthusiast is the ONLY customer who is going to buy new and not drink it. We are looking for qualities that are suited for long aging. We are looking for leaf strength, and intensity and body feel, or mouth feel. We are looking for bitter more than floral. Florals are lovely, but they won't survive storage for long. We want the tea meant to survive the rains, the cold, the heat and are easy to store, thus pressed rather than loose.

Specifically, home storage customers want the recipe teas. The teas processed and proven to age. I am especially referring to the 7542 recipe. This tea recipe is the basic, and the starting basis of almost anyone's collection. Now, this is not to say we don't have much finer teas in our collections, but everyone has basic recipe teas in their storage somewhere. That means teas dated before 2010 or so. 

You factories have messed with the recipes to your peril. I need to see actual figures to really believe any western customers buy the newer tweaked teas, beyond one or two examples. I drank up my 09s early, and that wasn't difficult. But it should be impossible to stand to drink those until aged. We want our taidi-cha, thank you very much, and we want it to transform!

Just stop it. Stop whatever it is you factories are calling the recipe teas these days. I don't want any more special productions that don't age. Stop the tweaking. 

Now, I know I can buy some taidi tuos and call it a day. The factories do serve the customer drinking puerh for dietary reasons, so we can get teas designed to age, if we are willing to buy tuos and tolerate large leaf bricks and productions with lots of twigs, because these teas are boiled by the consumer to extract the twigs. Cheap means you get large leaf, chopped leaf and twigs. So yes, we can still buy these. But this is the lowest grade, and not the recipe teas. 

We cannot expect all the tweaked productions to go away, because someone is buying them. But we can and must advocate for the recipe teas, even if just the 7542, to retain its aging properties. Sadly, we have already advocated non-stop over this for the past 20 years and every year is worse with more tweaking. I will take a tea stuffed in bamboo and roasted rather than a 7542 now. And that should never happen.

I know the leaf itself has changed, the mixes no longer include buying random arbor tea from farmers and throwing it in. Trees and bushes are over-picked. These realities cannot dial themselves back. We will never really buy arbor tea cheap or even white label again, that boat is long sailed and the best tea is hoarded off the top instead of the bottom, it is contracted for a lifetime or more into the future. But the recipe still stands. 

This is all said every single day on tea forums in English, and probably in every language elsewhere as well. By the stereotypical puerh obsessives you pros cannot stand. We are saying stop it, and the wallet follows.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

2022 CSH Emperor 霸王青饼

 My thanks to Chen Sheng Hao for sending over their latest sampler pack, the 2022 Yi Pen box. 

2022 Yi Pen Chen Sheng sampler

Also, my apologies for the long delay in getting something posted about this box. I have been out of commission with sheng drinking again due to health issues. 

The Yi Pen Cheng Sheng sampler box is a fairly good deal considering you get 7 x 28g mini beengcha, ready to break into four sessions. For $75, this is 196g of tea, not bad at all considering the price of a full size of each of these teas, some of which are not available on the site anyway. CSH samplers are beautifully packaged sessions, and samples really are a must if you are thinking of investing in any of their teas. If this sampler doesn't interest you, the company seems to add 2-3 samplers a year so keep your bookmark ready to check back sometime after spring harvest.

Looking through the description of the teas, the only one offering any bitter profile is the Emperor, therefore the only sample that interests me. This is a recipe the company has been doing since 2008 or so, looking to perfect the idea of an aroma-forward tea. What this means, in terms of the tea, is a company secret; all we know is that blending is disclosed as part of this annual production. 

My session with this tea started in February when I tried to sneak in a 7g session in between high doses of NSAIDs. I managed to finish only two steepings, and was awake with a stomach ache the rest of the night. Green puerh does not mix with ibuprofen, even in between doses. I know that, but it's annoying to be off my tea so I did it anyway and paid for it.

My little beeng is very green, if I didn't have the stomach issue I would have brewed the whole thing in one go, a 9-day binge novena is more my speed. Especially since I don't want to keep these broken pieces in a gaiwan on the shelf; I am trying to get away from this behavior. Also, breaking apart the 7g quarters just cracks the leaves into bits. But, in we go, 7g into my 120 ml gaiwan. I do more like 60 ml steeps. The brew has a beautiful pink undertone in the first steeping, my photo looks a little too orange, but the brew is a little deep, the leaves might have some brown edges. 

The aroma of the brew is almost dizzying, very floral Mengsong/Hekai-ish, with the more acrid and savory tomato vine, that I prefer, muted and underneath. Bitterness does not disappoint, the huigan is so quick, usually such an asset in a tea. I only took two steepings, that is not enough for me to even feel the caffiene nor any unusual qi. The cup floral aroma lingers.

After this, I let the tea dry out in the gaiwan for two weeks. The tea oxidized black along the top. Normally I am fine with that in my own tea, but I considered starting over with a new session because the tea is different now, I honged it a little. To be totally fair to the tea, I should have started again, but my dodgy stomach decided just two more steeps would be better to get this blog post out sooner by steeping further instead. Both of these steepings still strongly floral with a bit more of the daisy stem than before. I am glad this is bitter, because the floral is just so Disney for me. Almost garish, and cartoon, like those neon colors you know are probably not from nature. 

So I accept that blending is a factor, but aroma-forward tea like this has to also be a result of 17 years they have been working on this tea. Is it all nature only? Or have some of these leaves been propagated for aroma? The processing is also a factor, this could be one of those ever-green teas that are meant to be consumed like it is now rather than aged. 

I dried out the leaves again, and had two more sessions, so 5 and 6. This time the heavy floral is worked off, leaving the weedy/vine savory notes that I much prefer. Still plenty bitter, the quick huigan is impressive. 

But I am overwhelmed by Disney-ish over-the-top everything, the green, the heavy floral, bitter yes but quick get that converted, the huigan like a skater showing off a triple quad. Who is this tea for? Emperor implies a type of tribute, or showcase tea, and this tea shows off the factory more than anything, I can see a table of 8-10 people who can together easily share cups of the first two steepings to appreciate the skill of the factory. Executive tea. This would be great for a teahouse experience. 

I wasn't able to finish all of this session. My stomach didn't hurt exactly, because I'm now down to 12 hr spaced doses of nsaids, but it didn't feel great. This tea isn't for me, a home storage enthusiast. The leaves are translucent like tissue, very young trees. I have more to say on that subject, but I will leave it for another post, on another day. The tea had maybe two more sessions left in which I would expect the bitterness to remain, but the floral is mostly gone along with the aroma in the cup. I just can't finish this out.

Again, my apologies for taking so long to review the box, and I appreciate the opportunity, Next year I need to make a better effort to steer away from accepting more samples, my health is too unreliable now. When I can drink tea, I would rather drink what I have now. I prefer the Jin Xiang series over the Emperor, sure the Jin Xiang is a little twiggy but the stems are thick, the leaves are more substantial and processed for home storage. I am certain this tea will not keep the aroma in very warm/humid storage conditions, which limits it for many collectors who store tea.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Letter to a Provincial

 November 3, 2023

Dear [Provincial]

What a wonderful lunch we had on Sunday, I appreciate very much the time I spent with you and the others at the table. I hope such an event will not be the last; indeed, I have this thought each time I visit even if the next thought to myself is that I cannot count on it.

Small point of business: I find myself still thinking of the question you asked about the dishes. Since you have something in writing, be it your own notes or a letter of mine, or from [my former nun cousin], I am compelled to clear this up. I do not know what D. may have borrowed, but [our family] can take care of this. As I said, I am fairly certain I bought a simple 4-piece Corelle-ware set from KMart. I see that a similar 4-piece set of Corelle-ware in Winter White sells for $37.92 at Home Depot. With 5.5% sales tax the total retail will be $40. I enclose a check herewith. 

Yesterday I had a lovely 82 minute phone conversation with [motherhouse archivist]. She indicated to me that [your sibling] spoke with her. Please thank your sister for me…and tell her that if she feels inclined to finish her busy career in adjudication, I will be happy to come on down and we can start a jazz band...

Ah, I did not have a chance to visit with Sister S., nor even ask the state of her health. I never viewed her woodwork as a “hobby,” but rather an extension of her efforts to restore to rural Wisconsin parishes the loss of their liturgical heritage when Vatican II took so much away and did not replace that with enough better. She worked hard starting with St. Joseph’s [my home parish], but her efforts required 500 more of herself and we just didn’t have the people to help. She knew this. Wood was her way to literally and figuratively “rebuild the church” for disappointed white rural Catholics, and reach as many as she could. That is your Franciscan, right there. 

Sister S's efforts lingered in my mind when your sister and I discussed the reliquary at St. Rose, while examining the archives. [Your sister] expressed the fear that what I would call “disappointed white Catholics” might wish to scoop up the relics. I am glad she sees what I see. Indeed, a few of these disappointed Catholics might wish for the demise of the [the order], at least going by what I see online. (Some call themselves Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, and one doesn’t need to look too deeply to see where they are. For example, check out the adult parish education video series used by the Ashland Parish Cluster in the past year, including at [the tribal parish]. Check who publishes that video series, then check the parent company which will take you to evangelical Protestant political donors.) But why not give bits of the reliquary to these people who might treasure it? We missed an opportunity when Sister S. could have embedded them into artwork, rebuild the Church. 

(I read somewhere that two monasteries in Europe each claim to have Jesus’ foreskin. Well now, that is a problem of another magnitude!)

I am unable to find anyone with any working familiarity with the WPA Project [FDR 1936-1940] contents. In it, I found evidence of pressure (gas lighting) on traditional beliefs in Sister M.'s edits (for example, changing phrases like “Indian Beliefs” to “Superstitions”) and this is after 1909 when such pressure to give up traditional beliefs was deemed no longer the policy of the Indian Bureau, and a directive against such pressure was issued. I saw evidence of shielding on the part of the tribal staff, such as in Chief Scott’s essay on drumming as a way to defend against whites.

I feel an urgency of history here in favor of the future, and I will be around awhile. The Ojibwe are re-establishing their seat at La Pointe on Madeline Island, something I never thought I would see in my lifetime! My family [lived] in the Chaquamegon Bay area in the 1970s, and my father built the marina in Washburn with a couple of investors, as well as blocks of condominiums. [My family] saw the poverty of most locals, it was like stepping back 10 years in time from the rest of society. [My family] saw the impact of tourists, and felt a sad resignation thinking the area’s ecology will be lost to overbuilding and tourism pollution some day if the locals do not have the strength to fight it. 

But now I am encouraged, rather than discouraged. People need to work together to responsibly administer the Lake Superior Watershed, a unique ecosystem. We cannot stress enough how important the Lake Superior Watershed is not only to the people there, but to the entire system of water in the state of Wisconsin. I am aware that if not for the Ojibwe wild rice beds, we may have lost the Bay watershed. I read somewhere that Lake Superior requires 500 years to entirely replace the water it holds. Every drop will be there for a very long time. 

Oh Sister, you were the best ombudsman I have ever known, and I have known many at the state level. I do not have a problem saying that we had Sisters at Odanah who may have had a personality problem, a mental health problem, and/or a drinking problem, we can’t determine which, and wielded the stick of corporal punishment beyond the norm of the time, rising to the level of child abuse. I see no future value whatsoever in defending personal visions of heroic education and conversion of savages in the name of so-called Franciscan ideals that we know today were wrong, just so I can die a personally contented (former) nun. The Watershed is far more important. 

Rather, I will say accept the full story of the school, as well as acknowledging the disappointed white Catholics amongst whom Sister M. had a culture of fundraising which amplified tensions between the peoples, a tension that lingers today. I remember all too well the first day I arrived in St. Joseph’s in [P]: that first day, locals told me the [P.] town sign (population 100 or whatever it was) sat exactly on the Menominee Reservation line, and that locals and Indians still had occasional shoot-outs on that line. This was in the late 1980s! The people in [P.] were of French descent, and had been there many generations. 

My point is, we need to preserve the Watershed. I fear if I can no longer find the lady slipper flower where I used to find it, then we might feel that old feeling of doom for the area once more. Wisconsin needs a strong Ojibwe and strong locals. 

I promise you that I will not burden frail sisters at [the motherhouse] with my views any further. I had my meeting of due diligence and am grateful to you and [your sibling], as well as Sister T. [my classmate], and for your forbearance. I will never stop missing you all deeply.


November 17 - 2023

Dear [Cwyn],

I received your letter in early November, as well as a check for $40.

I don't recall that I questioned you about dishes or that I received any letter from you or from [your cousin] about dishes. Therefore, I am returning the the check. You or [your cousin] do not owe us anything. Consider the issue closed.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I hope that you and all of us can discover the goodness of our lives and be grateful.


S. [former Provincial]

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Late 80s Tian Jian, 2022 W2T Laochatou and 2024 Stash Goal


Welcome to 2024, and the Year of the Dragon! I hope for an auspicious year for you of tea enjoyment, tea shopping, if you are doing any, and cooperative storage. The new year naturally turns our thoughts to our puerh tea blessings, and I for one have much to thank the tea gods, tea factories, tea vendors and the people of Yunnan for their hard work. Know that your tea is enjoyed around around the world, and where it is not, then all the more for me, and I appreciate you. May everyone on holiday find the comforts of home wherever you are. 

I am now in the habit of taking a bit of stock of my teas, come the New Year. More specifically this year, teas I have written about on this blog, whether or not I still own any and how they are doing in storage. Most years I have tea samples to organize, but this year I really need to deal with the under-200g storage situation. I have too many small quantities of tea stored in various jars, tins, small crockery, even samples stashed in tea pots. Now mind you, some of these are exceptional teas that I never had a large amount of, but they are a lucky tasting situation, or something special from a vendor. Maybe bits of tea club boxes as well. 

The problem with small storage tins, jars and crocks is they make a dusty shelf that I have to clean. Also, they look like witchery and I am getting to the age where people start questioning your state of mind, or whether you are safe or scary. My jars on the bookshelf and living room shelves have an alchemy look about them. And of course I feel an urge to de-clutter the especially small quantities. 

Look, if I took the trouble to save something, I had a reason. This isn't cleaning out crap, some of these bits are teas that are a crime to simply throw away. Leftovers of beengcha I broke up and crocked, vendor gifts and samples, maybe a tea that needed airing or time to develop more. 

What do you do with small quantities of tea? If you are a disciplined sort of drinker, maybe you drink up a beeng and move to the next one. Over the years of having a blog, however, at least several times a year I am trying new things so I don't stick to one thing for long. 

I really dislike loose tea in my storage unless I can jar it up. I think I can make some progress this year clearing out at least a few things. So, my 2024 goal is drink up smaller amounts of "tinned" or small "crocked" tea, or at least check progress. 

First up is the late 1980s Hunan Tian Jian heicha from Chawangshop that I last wrote about in 2016. This tea was a 25g quantity in a plastic bag sold in a small box. This zippy little tea had appreciable humidity, but some strength to the leaves, a true pot boiler at the end. 

80s Hunan Tian Jian Heicha

Initially I stored this in a vintage silver-lined pearwood caddy in the hopes of airing out the humidity from the plastic bag storage. But then I moved the tea from the caddy when I wanted the caddy for some old, random laochatou I accidentally molded over. My estimate is the Hunan heicha tea has had possibly 5 years in a porcelain tenmoku glazed tea jar. 

The glazed tea caddy did nothing to dissipate the humidity in the tea. Still a good tea underneath the basement flavors. It was a tough call to make putting it in glazed porcelain because this is a more preserving type of jar than an airing jar. For simple airing, a clay jar would have been better, but the fear is the clay either sucking out too much flavor and aroma, or imparting a clay taste. Sigh, so I went with a drier, more preservationist solution which I think many of you would choose for an 80s tea. Err on the side of caution. 

My son joined me on the session, and he said the basement humidity was too much for his enjoyment. Really the tea hasn't aired much at all, clearly the jar is too conservative. All right, so if I want any point of progress this year on the remaining tea, I am going aggressive. 

So, I baked the tea at 250F (120C) for about 10 minutes in a small oven on a metal sheet pan. I have discussed this low-heat method in other posts in the past as a way to deal rather swiftly with bringing humidity levels down. A second session with the tea was much better balanced with the humidity still there but not overwhelmingly so. I have photo'd the tea before, not much to see with dark shou color to the brew.

These leaves are stronger than any other heicha I have, culminating with a final boil in a pan, if you like. I might do 3g sessions on the maybe 15g I have left. It's an 80s tea, you can't toss it, and it is just a must to keep as a learning experience. Back in the jar it goes. No stash progress, per se, but I have attended to the tea, enjoyed a bit more of it, so it now has a bit of hot love.

Last summer I ordered white2tea's new 2022 Five Pile Laochatou, remembering the excellent batch they had back in...wait, in 2014? Wow, that long ago! That chatou was insane, which is why the new batches last year are a must-try. 

I discontinued my w2t tea club early last fall after piling up 3 unopened club boxes. Instead, I placed an order for this lao cha tou and a new Arbor Red hongcha beeng. I like the tea club and would love to keep it going, which keeps my temptation to tea shop in check but it is just irresponsible to let boxes pile up. Probably will resub in spring for a taste of the new teas. Instead, I will just tea shop and get a couple of things I know I want, and the Arbor Red was a re-up. 

After I made the purchase, I asked Mr. Murray about the cha tou. "Nothing like the 2014," he said. "This one doesn't have any of the same leaves as before." 

This shou-chunk tea is from 5 piles of varying shou batches ranging from light fermentation to full fermentation, with the batches ranging from 2016-2020. The tea costs $33 for $250g. White2tea has a slightly less expensive cha tou batch, 2021 Wood Chip which purports to risk the odd detritus that didn't get sorted out, and is a different tea. 

By further contrast, Yunnan Sourcing has 2014 Taetea laochatou 100g brick, two of these will set you back $38 plus China shipping. Yunnan Sourcing's own 2014 200g brick is priced $51.25. You can still get their 2012 if you want to pay $61.50, and choices from other factories including a super cute, but pricey batch sold in a clay tea jar, 3 jars of 60g each is 180g for $90 or so, and risking jar breakage. Wouldn't stop me, but I am not exactly a practical buyer. You can go cheaper than Taetea as well with other choices at Yunnan Sourcing. 

In general, cha tou tea is easy-going to brew, easy on the caffeine buzz. It ships well, travels in luggage neatly, and is optimal for precision dosing. One can gongfu or throw a couple chunks in a large mug and just keep topping up the water. Honestly if I travel again, I am taking a small lozenge tin with a few chunks of cha tou. 

So, Mr. Murray's Five Pile is decidedly mid-range in pricing, you are paying more elsewhere for further aged versions. With some light 2020 fermentation here we have something to age, the question is does anyone last long with saving cha tou? Mostly this style is fermented to the point of leathery leaves and that is the case here. Fully fermented with chunks of more slimy green. That sounds bad, but this is one of the softest brews I have had in awhile. 

Cha tou takes time to release the juices, but once opening up with hot boiling water, they go on forever. I did a cold rinse first, then a hot rinse, brewing in my black Jian Shui clay pot from Crimson Lotus Tea, but nothing fishy or cloudy or challenging anywhere in this tea. Nothing tricky to brew around. Steeps 1-3 the tea isn't at full strength, even if you steam the leaves in-between. Four through six were the money steepings. The profile is the opposite of a straight up Bulang, this tea is not punchy but just subtle shou. It's not even funky. 

All the brews look like this.

Now, with five batches in here, a single session is probably not representative of the tea as a whole. I didn't measure the grams. But lord these things brewed a week for me. The tea has a deceiving color, dark brown and thick, but rather mild overall. No port wine or mushroom. I drank 3 brews at once in a much larger cup. The tea has some action on the tongue, 3 brews is very mild caffeine for me. I had to go 6 steepings to get a puerh buzz on.

This is wonderful grandma tummy tea. I would serve this without hesitation to 85 year old frail nuns. The tea has full color and thickness, but not much strong flavor after brew six, just a mineral finish, and a bit of bitter, a teabag of hong is more acrid than this. I kind of want more strength, but I under-leafed a bit for the pot, or over-watered. The color of the brew looks heavier than the tea actually is to drink. I would want a salty crisp rice snack to accompany this, or maybe a crisp flatbread with a bit of aged hard cheese. 

Great tea for an all-nighter like this blog writing session, keeps me in the zone without curdling my stomach after it wears off. An easy office brew, dump in the boiling water and good to go mild caffeine without being tea-drunk for a meeting. Been awhile since I have had a tea that I could easily recommend to beginners or sensitive stomach people. Most everything I drink is tea only a puerh person doing storage would like, and not for newbie guests. Like, I have no guests...but to a point.

Twelve steepings and a few days in, the tea is brewing dark, but needs pushing for flavor. I really feel I could go up to fifteen steepings for sure, maybe more. Some of the nuggets didn't open. One chunk is so rubbery and firm it doesn't separate, I can't hand-pry it apart. You know what that means, another pot boiler. 

I went with a high water ratio in the enamel pan, can this tea put out enough? Yes it can, quite easily after five minutes of boiling. While I waited, I thought about re-recommending an enamel-coated pan for tea boiling. This is superior, in my mind, over boiling tea in any form of bare metal. Enamel adds no mineral or metallic properties. 

This is the water before boiling.

Get thyself an enamel pan. I amused myself while awaiting the boiled tea by checking eBay, might as well go vintage on enamel pans. OH STOPPPP, look at these cute choices! 

Made an offer on the first Japanese one. I went $30. I don't need it, the seller hasn't responded, so you can snipe it on a BIN or lower offer if you want. I did not scroll down further into the cuteness of enamel pans, as clearly we have a danger zone.

After the pan boil.

My tea turned out stronger than I needed it to be, the tang is back on the tongue, and the bottom of the cup gets a slight bitter edge. Fully rolling now on caffeine and theanine. Also, pour out your pan tea over the sink so you don't splash everywhere. Drank up the whole pan, the tea is good cold, has a hongcha note. Again, nothing off-putting whatsoever. I boiled too early, should have gongfu'd longer. 

After pan boil one, wet smears
show still more in it.

Awesome tea for the budget and sensitive folks, I am keeping this for my dodgy tummy days, and I must do another boil. Next up I have another planned tea review for you. And then throughout this year I hope to bring back a few older blog teas and update any progress. 

Friday, December 29, 2023

Pu-erh Nation

original map by chinatouristmaps.com

A loose leaf tea fan eventually discovers puerh tea, this is inevitable. People who last past that first gongfu invariably start an online search to learn more about this type of tea, and eventually they fall headlong into the rabbit hole of the hobby. The rabbit holes are full of enthusiasts, elite gamers of paper wrapped camellia sinensis assamica x assamica discs, with the goal of sticking a landing, and placing a trophy into one’s personal home storage. We fill forums with shipping problems, brewing problems, lying asshole sellers, fomo, rumors and snotty hubris. 

Beyond the shopping is another warren of puerh-only groundhog trails, running through countries around the world for even more privately-held elite tea, in an unending cycle of spring harvests and shou piles. Heavily sated with buying, we turn to storage matters in another flurry of watering holes filled with members of our kind. We side-eye someone knowingly when they order tea in a shop and sigh over the choices. If you catch a sideways glance, then you just know, like a tap tap under a bathroom stall of mold, pubic hair, corn kernels and plastic ties. Takes a particular breed of tea-human willing to brush all that off and swallow it anyway, all the while complaining about the fungal hoarding stigma, wafting like a wad of wet tissue on the shoe of the tea social sphere, flopping behind us as we wet-knee walk. 

Yeah, we get it. We are insufferable to live with, in our houses full of broken refrigerators, coolers and crocks, with the crunch of tea leaves underfoot requiring one to wear slippers and pick up chunks larger than a dime. Our pets choose our tea, it’s lame, we know that. Complain about the stereotypes all you like. Sorta like Janet sings, so we are one Pu-erh Nation, irrespective of national boundaries, looking for a better way of tea life. In truth, all the tunnels of the earth lead back to Yunnan, because digging a hole to China is, in fact, a real thing. 

Blah, blah they always say, but we are in a golden age of Puerh tea. Because we are all still here, from the early internet pioneer tea writers and forum humpers, and the vendors too, gods bless us everyone. 

At the tip of the spear is our Hero, our very first hero, David Lee Hoffman, who is still defending his cave storage puerh hoard from the Evils of the local city and county governments trying to take his property, and demolish his incredible, fully self-sustaining and waste recycling home facility, including water recycling. He is the first of us to have a Wikipedia entry and a decade of press behind his struggle to prevent the hoard from the horde. I bet half of you never heard of him, and the other half doesn’t know he is still selling tea and has 8 pages of listings! Get over there to his website, support our Brother and try his storage, buy something from him, okay? He has plenty of old stuff in that list. (Don’t be a dick about it either, don’t ask about the stuff he isn’t selling, that is just rude.) Thoughts and prayers and dollars are better. 

We still have so many of the early vendors, apart from the great factories of course. Houde is still adding teas. I know that some like Scott at Yunnan Sourcing and probably Cloud would love to retire, but how do you retire from tea? No one has. People seem to make and sell tea until they drop. Give your favorite vendor some love instead of complaints for a change, put up some of their tea on your socials that you particularly like and help out so their families can rest a little. 

Still can buy here (official re-seller)

Our favorite factories and boutique purveyors are still around too, and more accessible than ever. I cannot complain when tea factories like Chen Sheng Hao open up in Canada and sell Lao Ban Zhang. I can order from stateside and overseas tea shops who are happy to ship. We don’t know if nations outside the Pu-erh Nation will survive which can change our situation at any moment, so I appreciate all that we have now.

A Liu Bao chocolate bar!
PLUS 50g bag white2tea laochatou,
oh, and the pretty cup, all here.

We know that once inside the Pu-erh Nation, there is no way out. Not if you expect to keep your tea intact. I have learned I cannot stop, not entirely. In this golden age, we still have all our writers with us, and our best forum chatters, and more camaraderie than ever before. We are making efforts amongst all of us to look up forums and articles in languages we don’t speak, to try and connect and use translation tools, because we have more respect for one another or we got more snobby or we got tossed out of home, or we want in on the group buys. Sing it, people.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023


Lately I don't really have a tea drinking strategy. I start with a ragged impulse coming from my core of tea neediness, a craving of whatever puerh caffeine buzz I can get, stumbling to shelves, crocks and boxes to find something. A random sampling of teas, a bit of new tea, a wtf is this tea, or nope, I just drank that a week ago. Or something closer to desperation, because I am unraveling, or already cooked, taken apart, or she took me apart in a sentence, my provincial superior. Oh, yes, you can guess, and this relates to my Letters to the Prioress set of posts, the most recent one, for those curious. In the mists I am, and I lose track of time for days at a time, letting random thoughts flow until after dinner when I need that cuppa. 

Usually the need is partly specific. One day recently I really wanted a sheng for the ragged edges of my sanity, and I saw an envelope from my white2tea club boxes. Oh good, I will have this, it is a 2022 Lich Tears sample. I don't know anything about this tea nor why I have it. Club box? Something I ordered? I open the envelope, oops it's a shou, do I go back and start over with choosing a tea? Never mind, I will just drink it, who cares. Pulled out 9g off the chunks. 

The first three steepings after two rinses (young shou or dodgy shou I rinse twice) are a little cloudy. Okay, so the shou is not completely done, it's not totally fermented, and some bacteria has the upper hand currently. What is going on here, so I look up the tea on the website and just about fall over at the price. $225 for a 200g shou? Get outta town. 

A sheng price for shou, okay...so just in the interest of investigating the price tag I will drink through it, but this tea needs more time. Long time readers might remember my shou-making series of posts, as I have made two batches of shou now with only a little bit remaining of my first batch. 

I see on the listing that the fermentation effort here is meant to be a lighter fermentation with fresh leaves added at the end. By "lighter," I mean the tea is pulled from the pile fermentation a bit early with still some green left in the tea. The intent is to add more depth and dimension in flavor by natural aging the remaining green and hopefully get a more nuanced shou. As you know, a fully fermented shou is a bit one-dimensional, comforting as a beverage, but nothing to grab the attention.

Steep 3

So, the cloudiness is to be expected at this stage. My first batch of shou finished up much more cloudy than this, and completely cleared in two years. Fermentation is like a bit of a battle between types of bacteria and fungi. A lot of cloudiness means a bacteria has the upper hand in the fight at the moment, and perhaps bacteria you don't want is introduced when turning the pile or even present at the start in the maocha. My first three steepings with the cloudiness have a sour edge consistent with the microbe battle going on inside the leaves. 

Okay, so the tea clears up after steep three or so, and steeps three to six have some thickness to the brew, but still sour. Steeps 5 and 6 were fairly bitter. Once I start on steep 7, not much sour left and a sweet bit of cherry emerges. The tea tastes more like shou now, a little bit funky, not overboard though. For a light fermentation, this tea is on the edge of "okay to sell." And that mostly explains the price tag. I like the thickness of the liquor and where this tea is at. The caffeine level is okay, I did not get much of a qi sensation from the session, however. But that could be me and shou...

Steep 6, lookin good, hon

I think the price here is Paul not wanting to sell this really, except to people who know what they are getting with light fermentation. The tea will have stages to go through to get a fully fermented shou. Essentially, you are finishing the tea yourself through slower storage. But of course that is what we are doing with sheng, too. So, this isn't for the newbie tea customer. In fact, the newbie is going to howl with complaints over this level of unfinished ferment. The early cups will turn off a new person, but maybe intrigue someone with more experience. So, he is looking to avoid those newbs. Also, he clearly likes something about this tea, partly because he participated in watching and turning the tea over the few weeks it sat piled and covered. 

I got nine decent steepings, and the tenth I had to let the brewing go for several minutes just to get a good cup. I tried an eleventh, but it just was too light a cup, lightly colored water. I debated drinking the sample up completely, because I now have maybe two smaller sessions left in the bag. I guess given the price tag I need to be fair to the tea and store it another year and then see what I think of it. 

If I have to decide on whether to recommend the tea, I say keep on walking, son, if you are new. I can recommend a sample of it, and I am fairly sure Paul would prefer you just buy a sample. Anyone rather new to puerh looking to try a light fermentation shou, you can find these at less expensive prices like at Yunnan Sourcing or Chawangshop. In fact, comparing this one to a less expensive tea is a good way to judge for yourself. 

For my next session, I really needed that sheng, and some edema relief, so I decided to have a session of the 2016 Hekai from Chawangshop, because it really takes the edge off calcium channel blocker edema, and I have not had this tea at all this year. I keep this cake in its wrapper and then in a burlap beeng bag that Chawangshop included with an order. (Beeng bag being puerh nation code knock on the bathroom stall, recognize your fellow sheng addict from afar and salud to you, mate.)

This half-consumed beeng has darkened considerably since I last had it. I might have two others in storage someplace. You can still get it from Chawangshop for $48 for 200g, I think. Most of the darkening is oxidation, because I let this sit out in its beeng bag. I don't care how much it ages, or if it ages. The tea is medicinal for edema, as I have written before, and I didn't measure the grams, dump into the gaiwan.

The brew is much thicker than I remember and far sweeter. I liked this tea for the savory, almost umami flavor. I don't recall the tea as very sweet and floral like the first few cups are in this session. Maybe it was, but I don't think so? I mainly liked it because it doesn't have any cloying nonsense, straight up green veggie style puerh. The tea gets there finally, at about steep 5. Now I am getting the tomato vine acrid flavor, the smell of a juicy daisy stem after picking. Why do I like that better than the floral sweetness? I guess the tomato/daisy just tastes like summer, in a fall season of regrets. 

The tea still does me fine on the edema, I stop feeling swollen in my feet after three cups. The brew goes from light orange to progressively more dark yellow. I did about five steepings and stopped for the day. 

Tea got more yellow with brewing.
What you see is oxidation.

On the next night, the green leaves darkened with oxidation which is okay, but the damp leaves have a mushiness to them. I take out a leaf and rub it, turns to mush. I know it will be a little cloudy for having sat out overnight, as green as it still is. But also, the leaves just don't have that strength or quality that you pay big money for. The tea is not money tea. That's not what Chawangshop goes for. Their stated goal is decent tea at more the low to mid-range price tier, and that is exactly what you get. This Hekai has a unique effect on me, so it hits the sweet spot in body and wallet. But I am okay with getting three to six decent steepings and just dumping it out of the gaiwan. 

Still need that sheng itch scratched, and of course I know I have been away from the blog for awhile, so I decide to find another tea to write about, along with the Hekai, so something I have written about previously, as an update on the tea. I require a sheng that will get under all the inner tension, that stirs up the bottom of my stew pot, so to speak. That means a dirty tuocha is in order. 

The 2005 Menghai tuo from Yunnan Sourcing has appeared in my blog off and on, and sits atop other tuos in storage because I tend to reach for it over all my other tuos when I need bar stool tea to do me a nasty. Big chunk with a heavy duty puerh pick, full on-compression starting to loosen a little at 18 years of age. I bought it at 8-9 years old. (I really need to try those 2009 Jin Hao Feng Huang phoenix shou tuos and see if they are starting to resemble that excellent 2004 version I would kill small children for.)

Anyway, load up the gaiwan with a too-bigga hunka-chunka and let's go! Oh yes this is a smoky tea, I remember that, and has darkened a bit more with age. I frown to myself at the wastage of tea with a compressed tuo when you break a piece off it, lots of dust and bits.

At least 9 steepings in, big chonk still.

For storage notes-to-self, the tuo sits loose in its well-torn wrapper in a crock with other similar tuos. The lid on this small crock isn't quite flush, so I have at least a 2 mm gap on one side of the crock lid. Thus air and light getting in to cause the dark oxidation this tuo now has. Doesn't really bother me, but if I wanted to avoid that quality, then I need to eliminate that light getting in and maybe cover the whole crock with a dark towel. I can't really shuffle the positioning of the tuos in there because they barely all fit, although better now that I took more off the 05 Menghai. The resulting oxidation is also what you see in a tong, the top beeng in the stack will have oxidation on its upper surface, while the bottom beeng will show the same on its underside, compared to the beengs in the tong's middle. 

First three steepings are smoke and stick kindling wood, by steep 5 I really get that pipe tobacco juiciness,  that tobacco-from-humidor-storage wood smell. The tea hits its stride in steeps 7-10, this is the point where the pipe tobacco eases off just enough that other dimensions shine through, like aged wood barrel, smoked ham and the minerally smell of rain on asphalt. This is exactly the stage where the flavors blend into something that most resembles aged scotch whiskey, I am reminded why I like this tea and return to it again and again. Bar stool sheng. I get to steep 8 and I am pleasantly tea drunk, the stage where I can't stop, where if I drank booze I am gonna get in trouble. 

And yes, I am in trouble because I am doomcart scrolling Yunnan Sourcing after typing in 2005 Menghai to see what comes up. Lots of teas. Yunnan Sourcing surfing is like that girl you will be stuck with if you take her home from the bar, when you wake up to find your wallet is gone. Trouble and more trouble, don't do it, I click out. 

Yeah... my beloved tuo settling in now providing a boozy warmth. Doing what I need and reminding me why puerh is the pinnacle of tea, and puerh people are the ones who understand it even if we cannot always explain. If someone doesn't get it, we don't care. ;)

I am reminded of how many random variables puerh tea has. Randomness starts with the picking and selection of leaves, yes they are graded, but who knows what gets mixed in, tossed in, a little autumnal, different leaves brought in by a couple of pickers thrown in the blend, or maybe just to stretch to get a last tong done, with two beengs hardly resembling the others. Randomness in the sha qing, somebody glancing at their phone and the heat goes a little too long, but never mind let's press it anyway. Randomness in what wrapper got put on, something left over from the 90s, another tea entirely. Randomness in where and how the tea is stored from start to finish, the microbes from anywhere and everywhere, including in my house. Randomness in when I add moisture, and how much. Randomness in whatever I ate that day and burp up along with the tea fumes. 

We pick and analyze every aspect of our tea as we store it, trying to find variables that explain why someone has a really good tea, so we can replicate it, but we mostly cannot. Even if our storage is good, a gazillion decisions conscious and unconscious have happened already to the tea before we got hold of it. Someone got just the right amount of wood smoke in that 05 tuo, somehow. And every year is a new year with different tea on top of everything else, and none of us puerh people know everything that happens in the garden.