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Thursday, March 4, 2021

You Deserve to Drink Better Puerh

72 Hours from white2tea
an excellent puerh if you picked it up

The whole endeavor of drinking puerh tea and building a collection is really about my best teas. My truly excellent teas define my collection, not the average drinkers or worse garbage I really need to toss out. I want to focus my collection on the best teas, because this is worth the time and money. In this blog post I am going to address the idea of fine drinking, because Chinese teas, let's face it, are the best in the world at reaching the sublime and puerh is really king of the pile. This blog post is addressed to the puerh snobs and tea whores and yes, the connoisseur. If you cannot handle that, please run along elsewhere, there is a group for you someplace else today. 

The truly fine puerh teas.

What is this level of connoisseur puerh tea drinking? More than anyone else, Mr. Max Falkowitz tried to bring the connoisseur puerh experience into the world of fine food and drink during his time at Saveur magazine. Max Falkowitz suggests that "flavor and aroma are only the beginning. Taste is fleeting. But the way the aftertaste manifests in your throat or down your gullet, how the tea makes you feel, where the qi activates--these are lasting hallmarks of quality for which connoisseurs pay dearly. Some of my favorite teas don't taste like much at all. The drama happens from the neck down." [I'll post a reference to Mr. Falkowitz's quote below rather than a link because the link brings up a PDF file] He's not done yet, he writes at least 2-3 published magazine articles a year on tea, mainly puerh. Barely anyone in the puerh tea community has heard of him and yet he was on the finalists for a James Beard award in 2019. I have a fortunate memory of taking tea with Mr. Falkowitz and I brought what I had at that time as my best tea. 

In many respects, his work has shown me that the western food world receives ideas of connoisseur-level puerh more readily than western puerh communities. No one wants to ask themselves: are my teas and drinking all about the best possible experience for my money? It causes pain, ego bruising and very often defensive posturing. But in honestly evaluating my collection, facts must be faced. If whatever I am drinking is not at the experience level described here, then I am in truth drinking downward in my collection. Any defensiveness on my part about this assessment can lead to closing myself off to trying better teas and having sublime tea sessions.

Frequently puerh discourse focuses on a practical mundane level of owning tea which gets turned into a non-drinking aesthetic experience. Tea reviews in blogs function at a mundane data level when describing the number of steeps, the provenance, the cost per gram as virtues. All this data certainly assists in the purchasing decision of a tea. But people think describing all ten steepings of a tea is an aesthetic end in itself, rather than the pleasure they experience, if any. So too are posts about the nuts and bolts of storage. Tea nerdism in the details, but aesthetic pleasure of fine puerh is in the bodily drinking experience. Did I really enjoy the tea or did I just get my caffeinated storage worth?

"Excuse me," Falkowitz writes in the same piece above. "No one tells you this when you start drinking Chinese teas, but the good ones make you burp. There's an idea in tea drinking called qi, which literally translates to 'breath' or 'energy flow,' and refers to the somatic effects that sometimes accompany a quality brew. It's a rare thing--the vast majority of teas aren't powerful enough to summon it--and a personal one, but the feelings are hard to ignore. Think sudden sweat on your palms. Tingling along the back of your neck. A wave of relaxation down your spine, like the relief of a well-placed acupuncture needle. The more tea you drink, the more qi squirrels its way around your body. Eventually, all that breath needs somewhere to go. So you burp."

Can we agree that an excellent puerh tea has the qualities of the finest aesthetic experience in the body, ranging from the aroma to the mouth to the gullet to the body sensations? It's worth the investment to find such teas, and to do so we need sources of conversation at this level. Instead, much day-to-day puerh discourse aspires to what we could consider "office tea drinking," which is satisfied by caffeinated barely drinkable puerh tea with garbage storage.

Vendor and blogger Wilson is fortunate to belong to a group of puerh enthusiasts who, in pre-Covid times, met at least once a year to drink and consider puerh tea at the highest level they can acquire. His latest blog post "short" illustrates the difference between office type drinking and a serious connoisseur session. For practical purposes, he describes brewing up to 5 cups of oolong or puerh at one time to take to his computer, so he does not need to get up for more tea while busy. When buying tea, he pragmatically brews up a thermos of a sample to sip on while running errands, pondering whether or not to buy that tea. 

But then he hints that his more serious sessions are quite apart from practical office drinking. "Readers will know me that I do not describe a tea by each and every infusion but rather by initial and ending thoughts. I enjoy the complications of a tea, the aging results of storage and pleasant sensations after finishing a tea session." He is sitting together with the tea rather than needing to record data on every steep. My experience of Wilson is that he talks equally about easily acquired satisfying teas as well as teas which are more rare and costly. He knows he has readers interested in both. He has sent me many a sample just because he thought I should try something. A couple of my most memorable teas are purchased from his collection. 

The best tea is gonna cost.

Good tea is certainly subjective and aesthetic and I will own my opinion as a personal one if it makes you feel content, or maybe less mad about the things I write. But really, you deserve to drink better tea, not just cheap tea. When I consider what excellent tea costs, it's not cheap. It's more like $200 and up per piece. By "piece" I mean the unit such as a beeng of any size for consensus-level fine puerh.

At a connoisseur level of tea, apart from sampling we are not talking about buying grams, or price per gram. Anyone buying in grams has a financial limitation and is probably drinking downward rather than drinking better. That's just the truth of it. In wine we have plenty of popular discourses directed at finding the $9.99 bottle of wine that tastes like a $50 bottle of wine, but no one seriously considers either of those prices as representative of a connoisseur level of wine drinking. It's the dinner-beverage level of wine drinking. 

Any time I'm drinking tea that costs me less than $200 a piece today, I am drinking downward in my puerh collection, not up. I am doing office drinking or I am accepting storage that ruined a tea. It is true that not every tea costing $200 a piece and up is a worthy connoisseur tea--we do have cultural preferences and collecting quirks and outright scams to sort through. But I can guarantee you that a piece of puerh tea costing less than $200 today is not going to be an aspiration tea. It's downward drinking every time. It's settling for average ordinary tea or worse. 

The very fine level of puerh tea is simply quite costly today, and the best pieces may be out of reach of many of us. Nevertheless I can still buy tea at a fairly top level of quality if I save the money, and am ready when the real opportunities of buying aspiration teas arrive. Keep in mind I have spent salary money, inheritance money, investment money and retirement money on puerh tea. And at my age, food becomes less important a pursuit. It's very possible to make friends who share tea with you if your taste is truly refined, or start your own blog. The money is a real gateway but the opportunity after that is fairly equal if you cultivate sources, which you really should be doing in any connoisseur hobby. If you do not know people, at least start there. 

Cheap tea is not top quality tea.

Office tea drinking and its discourse is not really aesthetic so much as a kind of puritan moralizing. This moralizing celebrates paying as little as possible for a piece of puerh tea and tries to extol some good traits about it because you paid so little. It's not an aesthetic aspiration but a financial limitation and trying to feel better about it. Or trying to feel better about the office, but the office is not about drinking great tea. The office is about a virtue of getting work done and not really your tea. It extols productivity and thrift, and opposes sloth and waste. This is the opposite of the connoisseur and aesthete. 

Drinking downward and not upward in my collection is also the case when I cannot afford aged teas and instead try to pretend hotter or wetter fast storage is my version of "aged." We have a level of tea discourse which tries to pretend office tea prices can acquire old or fine tea, such as on Taobao, and this is simply a falsehood despite the desperation to believe it. There is a reason many teas are so cheap and it's because the aesthetic quality is poor, the body experience is non-existent and it is base drinking at best. 

I can accept a time and place for such drinking, but it is not an aspiration nor a connoisseur level of tea drinking. If my stomach really requires such teas, I suggest that drinking downward is the cause of the distress, and drinking better quality tea is a level where the tea is comforting rather than distressing. If you don't believe that, I will suggest you have never really consumed the fine level of puerh tea, the finest that it is capable of. In other words, you deserve better than that shit tea. 

I can think of a few other reasons why a person might want to aspire to better puerh tea experiences.

Really fine puerh tea is still possible to buy.

The environment in Yunnan is not completely wrecked yet by global warming, or chemicals or farming practices, any and all things that could someday result in a massive loss of tea. China is also still open to the idea of selling puerh tea to people outside of Yunnan. Sure, we have levels of puerh tea accessible only to a few insiders, but we still can buy some excellent puerh teas even from our remote spots on earth. If the post will deliver, we can still get our hands on some good stuff if you have the money to do so. We also have more collector sellers. But we cannot take for granted the tea available now will be so in five years time. The market is changing fast and prices keep on going up. If you think I am pessimistic, others are far more blunt in saying the boat to great tea is sailed and gone, if you want to look around for more opinions.

The puerh hobby is a bother.

Why bother with puerh tea if I am not going for the best I can get? Puerh tea is a pain in the ass to research, buy and store. I am not in a hobby where I put bottles on a rack, leave them to sit and dust them off someday. I either have to pay someone to store the tea, or pay extra for the existing storage as a reality. Any type of storage ranging from a constructed tea vault to shelf storage requires work on my part to check the tea. I give my tea all sorts of mothering for more years than a child takes to raise. 

Given that, why waste my time with all the effort involved just for office quality tea? I can buy a tong of office tea from any factory or vendor or another collector when I need something to drink, and buy the next one when I run out. I personally cannot be arsed to spend my little bit of time remaining on anything less than the best I can get. It's too much trouble. I might as well just buy some hongcha or shou or gunpowder tea, something that doesn't require the elaborate care and storage that raw puerh does.

The storage is not really a worry for the best tea.

We are probably going to drink our best puerh teas well before they hit 20 years. How many of you out there, right now, are drinking tea older than 20? Anyone? You cannot buy genuine 90s teas easily anymore, if at all, so if you are drinking tea that old then you stored it yourself. But I am guessing that all of you drinking "aged" tea are actually drinking somewhere in 10-20 years, and the tea is still greenish, and your finest teas have a bunch of bite marks in them because you've been dipping in all along. In a way the pressure of storage is actually off of us because truly good leaf, kept at least decently well, retains its good qualities. Hard core storage is more of a worry for people collecting wrappers to sell, or on trying to heat mostly mediocre tea to turn it drinkable, and for that the tea needs storage strategies.

The best tea leads to the highest level of aesthetic appreciation. 

Does my tea inspire me on a poetic and gastronomic level? Anyone who thinks tea writing is flowery crap is drinking office tea. Or moralizing on why paying so little for tea is a virtue. Or trying to dump bad tea. I have bad teas in my collection too. But I also have excellent ones that define my collection. The best tea is physically memorable and truly will make a person sing or babble like a baby or strike one dumb in silence. This is the level of tea we truly deserve. I hope you can go where that tea is. I know the best is what I need to drink before my time runs out.


Reference

Falkowitz, Max, "What Drinking Tea Taught Me about Drinking Everything Else," Imbibe Magazine, imbibemagazine.com, Nov/Dec 2018, p. 94.



Thursday, February 18, 2021

1997 Menghai Shui Lan Yin "Water-Blue Stamp"


Recently I ordered a sample of this 1997 Menghai Shui Lan Yin tea from Houde Fine Tea. Most puerh drinkers online recognize this Houston-based tea vendor who has been selling from a personal collection teashop for well over a decade now. Houde is one of the few vendors back in the oughts selling well-known factory and Taiwan boutique teas from a US location, well covered in puerh blogs. This is the first tea I have tried from Houde. In years past whenever new Houde teas got posted, selections of any interest to me sold out immediately. I do have another factory beeng from Houde in my collection, but it is much younger and I have not tried it because it needs more aging. 

I keep thinking of Houde today though because of the catastrophic weather disaster occurring in Houston, Texas and all over this state. Texas is undergoing an extended period of bitter cold temperatures for which homes and state infrastructure are woefully unprepared. The temps have fallen below -10C at night for more than a week now, with snow and ice storm events. Homes are not equipped for these kinds of temperatures and people are dealing with loss of electricity, heating and water. Houston is currently struggling to keep electricity on and is under a boil water order. Water pipes are likely frozen and burst in homes. Unlike up north where I live, Texas houses have water pipes running along the outside of the home because the weather rarely gets cold enough for them to freeze. Fireplaces and wood stoves are not common in Texas, leaving people with few heating options when the power grid is out.


It is difficult to overstate the human tragedy that is happening. We do not know the scope of this yet. I expect that more loss of life will be found in coming days. Food and water shortages are common. Stores are running out of food and trucks cannot get food delivered because the state roads are snow and ice covered. Farmers are dumping milk they cannot deliver to dairy. Farm animals are dead or at risk of running out of feed. Vegetable and fruit crops are lost. Restaurants are closed or limited because of no water and food deliveries. I have two friends in Houston that I have been unable to get news of. 

Houde has stored his tea collection in an outdoor garage. Normally the warm and humid Texas weather provides ideal puerh storage conditions. I am guessing the tea had to be moved into a house to avoid freezing, but then when the power went out in Houston, keeping tea warm is not a priority or even a possibility. One can only hope Houde and his family are getting by at home, or at a hotel, or have left the state for a time as some people have done. My understanding today is that power has been restored to most people in the Houston area, but the city is still under a boil water order and the power grid is still fragile state-wide. I would guess the food and water shortages are daily life here as well. If Houde is still at home, he has much to deal with just with daily living. 

After this event ends, no doubt he will evaluate the state of his tea collection. One favorable side to his collection is the number of aged teas which, if dry enough, might be okay. Another favorable aspect is the durability of heavily compressed teas like iron-pressings, tuos or bricks, these tend to survive weather events very well. The biggest risk to tea along with the cold is condensation from thawing temperatures. That is aside from any water issues in the home. Of course a tea collection fades in importance to family and home, yet a collection is an investment one might turn to in times when home repairs need funds. I hope we are all ready to buy up some tea if we see any posted in coming days. Right now any teas ordered from Houde are likely to need understanding for delayed shipping. I am not sure of the state of postal services, trucking and flights from Texas.


This 1997 Menghai Shui Lan Yin is a rather famous tea in collector circles. Houde provided an auction link along with his photos, I am unsure if this is provided for information or if he bought the tea from this auction because he does not say how he came to acquire the tea or how long he has owned it. Many of his other teas came from trips to Taiwan. Unfortunately I don't see a photo of the full open beeng on the listing. An important fact about this tea is that few examples of it exist, and it is very likely that the few that surface such as at the 2019 auction are coming from Hong Kong provenance. He had 7 packages of 15g samples to sell for $90 apiece. This puts the full beeng price at $2142 or $6/g. I wish the photos had included full pics of the open uncut beeng, but the close ups are nice.

I bought my sample and noticed one other sample had sold the same day. Then the remaining five samples sat for a couple of weeks, and then only in the past few days I noticed the rest had sold. I don't know if it will be restocked.

I decided that given the cost of the tea, I would brew in 3g increments, which is not my ideal ratio. I often feel I cannot get a full taste of the tea brewing less than 5g even when I keep the water proportionate. The tea does not have the fullest flavor and it cashes out quickly just brewing a few grams. But I can at least get some idea of the tea and brew more later.

While getting the tea ready to brew, I had the chunk photo done and was busy pouring out a rinse when the phone rang. A friend from the Midland area of western Texas called up. We have been talking daily. He lives by himself in an apartment building and is dealing with all of the issues I wrote above like other Texans. Over the phone we decided to complete a food stamps application for him together, and I drank the tea while working on the application and talking on the phone. Consequently I lost track of the number of steeps. 


I noticed the tea has a very nice aged aroma of traditional storage, in that the storage has been done some time ago and now smells earthy and basement-like, but not moldy in any way. The tea has what I would consider a well-done Hong Kong type profile, the leaves are definitely of an older tea in that they are thicker and more plushy than the thin tissue paper-like plantation factory leaves we see nowadays. 

The brew is very warming and brandy-ish brewed in a Ruyao glaze gaiwan. Next time I will brew in clay to mitigate the storage some. The tea has a tangy fruit profile and a mineral finish, unfortunately heavily affected by the wet storage which has mostly obliterated the tea. If you like this type of storage, you will find the tea very pleasant. The caffeine level is still high, the qi is moderately good with some facial numbing and body warming. I get a nice sweetness on the back of the tongue. The tea shows some green yet in the leaves but has no remaining bitterness.


I just kept pouring out the brews while talking with my friend and working on the application. I know I pushed well past 10 steepings just out of the 3g of leaf which is impressive. The tea is pleasant enough but the storage does not dissipate and remains a dominant note. No doubt the price of the tea is fair given the collector and historical cache. I do not think finding this exact tea with drier storage is possible. However this is a lot of money to pay for a tea sample and you have to decide if the experience is worthwhile. I would guess that mainly for tea historians this is an experience not to be missed, but those who simply like the factory and storage profile, obviously you can find satisfying teas for much less. 


The qi is good enough for me to stash the remaining sample and see if I can air out the storage some more. I had thought about giving the sample to a tea friend given what it is, but with the heavier storage it's probably not the best tea trade.  I do not think this is an example of Houde's storage because it was done before he acquired it. My other tea is likely a better example when I try that someday, and I hope to find more teas of interest to order from Houde in coming days. 





Sunday, February 7, 2021

2013 Guafengzhai by Wymm Tea



Remember Wymm Tea? Been awhile since I thought of this vendor, and you probably never have. Wymm is on nobody's radar and just as well. In fact if a puerh tea doesn't fit your $10 wallet and cellar-ed taste, do feel free to run along now but maybe check out their mulberry puerh wrappers because Wymm Tea is one of the only places I know of in North America to buy thick puerh paper wrappers. I tossed a 15g sample of the 2013 Guafengzhai in my cart along with a re-up on puerh paper.


The last time I wrote about Wymm Tea their website conjured up for me an image of a female customer with nothing in her house and who never eats. Let's see where she is now, because the pandemic has done a number on her with gym closures. Her Botox has long worn off and she lets her hair go silver at the roots. She probably went back to Wymm not for the tea but for the music playlists to download and she can dream of traveling again later this year. Stuck in her house on Zoom calls she longs for a moment of a park bench with a masked stranger and maybe a remote controlled vibrator, as good as it gets anymore, unless she has a husband on a Peloton who mainly drinks coffee which he makes because he doesn't trust anyone with his equipment. Thank the stars for meditation and a hot shower because it works if nothing else. 


I think of her because she more than anyone needs this tea and 8 full grams of it. The sample, like her face in February, is a little dry but nothing a day in a steam room won't open up, if only just. Tea with a middle-aged Yiwu-ish bent is a gentle lull which requires shoving but of course she is pushy. Takes awhile to get going too but she is used to that. Wymm Teas don't offend with acrid factory dirt, never allowed in the house, not even from the dog. 


Five chocolate covered apricot steeps in are enough to melt the Westman Atelier foundation off her face and onto her lap where it oozes to the floor. She watches her lipstick liquify with some fascination, maybe the bitter cold outside adds to the dizziness of the tea except her mouth is finally hungry amidst a fifth steep of intense salivating. She doesn't remember eating except at Thanksgiving, so she nibbles a bit of cracker and fish which will ruin her palate for a few steeps. 


I personally doubt she can take more than five steeps of a tea like this, only the puerh fiend can go further for another five and more cranial novocaine. From one freak to another I ask you, do you merely enjoy your slurps or do you want something more from your tea? Yes, I do think about where I put $20 and I have a whole menu of things to drink here at my house. This is a gentle tea but not for fools. In fact, only the starkly minimal women of my imagination should drink this anyway, for nothing else except to float away a grey frigid dirty sick winter of small hopes in a Harrods bag. She certainly doesn't have better teas than this. I have, but at a higher price point still. How much will people pay to release tears? Then again, maybe she'd rather not or you would rather not. It depends on coping with cracks, or not cracking.


I will leave it for her to decide. 15g for $19, or 200g for $168. Wymm currently ships only to Canada and the US.





Thursday, January 28, 2021

Yeah...Whatever, Vendor

"Whatever 98" Green Stamp

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Third steeping

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

Ninth steeping

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


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





Thursday, January 21, 2021

Yunnan Sourcing 2014 Autumn Bingdao

2014 Autumn Bingdao by Yunnan Sourcing

I bought this tea back in the good old days of 2018 when puerh was cheaper and I really really really had hopes that Yunnan Sourcing would open their drive-thru puerh restaurant I had every reason to believe in.  Just think if Yunnan Sourcing had followed through and built that drive-thru, what with this pandemic now the puerh tea business would be boom times. By now their Drive-Thru Gong-Fu would be fully franchised with a location in my home town for my convenience. I am so very weary of the pandemic, but even more weary of pour after pour after pour burning my fingers and spilling tea everywhere. Doing my own gongfu really is a first world problem I fully believed Trump would have solved before leaving office. Just goes to show how brainwashed I am by social media, politicians and tea shopping. Well today is a new day and I reluctantly return to dealing with my own wrappers on teas I have not yet tried and puerh prices higher no matter who your government is. 

To wit, when I bought this tea back in 2018, this 2014 Autumn Bingdao 400g Whopper cost only $92 on the US site. I had over 3000 Loyalty points to spend which knocked off a further $30, leaving me with a total cost of $62. Today the same tea costs $157 on the US site and just a few dollars less on the .com. At the time I had a plan to compare this particular tea with a more recent spring version. The prices for the spring release of the same tea in 2018 had ballooned well over $200 by 2018 and now it's over $300. But then the 2019 and 2020 spring releases shrunk in size to 250g and 200g respectively. The price per gram of the spring offering hasn't decreased any, but the price of entry is a bit lower as of last year, and one can always get a sample if you cannot afford the full spring beeng. 

On the other hand, the more recent Autumn Bingdaos right now are all within $5 or so of the 2014 and still are the same 400g size. So for this autumn tea the price has not gone up at all really. I guess the market action is concentrated on the spring release. The tea is from a single origin around the Bingdao old village area, not the super expensive new village and the trees used are younger than the more famous old trees in the region. 

My plan of doing some comparisons by year hit a snag when this 2014 Autumn tea arrived back in August 2018. I opened the wrapper and to my chagrin the beeng was bright green. It had virtually no signs of aging, despite the fact that it was already 4 years old. At the very least I expected to see some early oxidation which is common in the first couple of years after pressing. I had no idea how long this tea might have been stored in Oregon. 

My winter light outdoors is a little bluish,
and I did not filter the photos to compensate.

I could not go ahead and write about this tea until I took time to see if it had some processing issues or if it would ferment properly. I decided to remain optimistic that it was an Oregon-storage-middle-of-the-tong situation. Because it was August at the time, I left the beeng out on the three-season porch to take advantage of the summer heat and humidity, and as I recall I left it out there for five weeks or so before moving it to crock storage. Now here we are 2 1/2 years later and it's time to try this tea. 

Looking at the beeng it is definitely still green-ish, but is definitely not as green as it was, which is a bit of a relief. Although it's not really a huge deal either way since it only cost me $62, which I realize is a full tea budget for some folks but is pocket change for the crazy amounts I spend on puerh tea. I chipped off 12g and decided to leaf heavy with 100 ml of water gongfu. Now if I had that drive-thru I surely could have the perfect brew instead of the lazy one I now embarked on.


The tea opens with a beautiful floral and cotton candy bouquet on the nose, with a bit of dried grass underneath and bark-like stems. An autumn puerh tends to be a little bit longer in the leaf with more stem, but the leaves actually are on the smaller side. Overall I enjoy the floral and white grape notes, with a bit of warm pepper and turmeric underneath, that autumn spice that honestly I probably would miss had I not known ahead of time this is a fall tea. 

Steep 2

My over-leafing starts to punish me on third brew with increasing bitterness and some drying. I notice the color of the soup is not quite as bright yellow as the photo on the tea listing at Yunnan Sourcing, mine is darker golden. So hopefully this is a sign of the oxidation I can see on the dry tea. I finally start to see that brighter yellow color more around steep 7. In the meantime steeps 4-6 are extremely bitter, but not painfully so. I normally don't regret over-leafing, but in this case with a lovely floral tea like this I'm doing an injustice to these higher notes by pounding my tongue with bitterness. Qi is rather mild, just a bit of buzzing around my ears and slightly relaxing. Really I am bombarding my palate, and next time I will go more like 7-8g per 100ml. I can feel the tea in my throat and stomach and make it through about 6 steeps before stopping for the day.

I was unable to continue the session the following day, and resumed the day after that. The tea steeps up nicely with the floral and grape profile and a bit less bitter than before. I am still mainly flash steeping around 9 steepings when I finally need to add 20 seconds or so. When you over-leaf like this a tea goes for many more steepings than when using a lower tea/water ratio. But now the soup is a bit cloudy from the wet leaves sitting in the gaiwan for two days.

Steep 7

Overall the tea really is quite pleasant. The flavor profile is not terribly complex, just a straight up floral and grape with a bit of green-y spiciness early on. I'm reminded of some of the white2tea house teas, which probably share a similar northern origin though probably not the same village, as Yunnan Sourcing seems to have a single farmer for this production. 

The tea has a somewhat singular profile and I can imagine it would benefit from blending. At the same time, here is an opportunity to try an unblended Bingdao-area tea for a reasonable price. The older trees are well beyond the reach of any western vendor, so if you see Bingdao! Bingdao! hollered elsewhere, approach with skepticism all around. 


I feel like my 2014 beeng here is a few years behind where it should be in terms of aging. I do not feel my storage was able to "catch up" the tea. Looking at the leaves, they are processed perfectly with no signs of redness or overcooking. The issue really is likely a middle-of-the-tong combined with dry storing. I believe it will continue to age, but it will be very very slow. I think it will do better in a higher heat situation, but of course the risk is losing the lovely florals. 

On the plus side, if anyone is concerned about the early storage of the 2014 in the US, the solution is to buy a younger beeng of this same tea. There is no financial disincentive in doing so, for the autumn version only has a couple dollars price difference off the 2014. The US and regular YS website have only small price differences between them, but the shipping (free in the US) will cost far more from China. Very worth a sample to try Yunnan Sourcing's Bingdao teas, if only to familiarize yourself with the profile. I am not sure we will continue to have such an opportunity with issues like the environment, prices and politics which all could affect our chances of obtaining teas like this in the future. 




Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Wellness Tea, Herbal Tisane Review--AD

The Wellness Tea

Okay this tea got me at a moment of weakness. I don't accept much tea anymore for review and certainly this isn't the type of tea readers of this blog are looking for. But I suppose we all could use a couple of herbals in the cupboard and mine is especially bare in this regard. I have one box of elderberry tea I purchased at the beginning of the pandemic, and then I have a couple of mint teas for tummy issues. I used to have an extensive herbal collection in my younger days, but fell away from using herbs when I attempted to treat a medical condition and ended up far worse as a result. In proper quantities, herbs can indeed be powerful, but in general they fall far short of modern medical interventions. 

Let me tell you how I got this Wellness Tea. At the end of November my state had the worst coronavirus statistics in the nation for at least two months. One of my childhood friends named Darren is an emergency medical technician who told me how dire the situation was. Darren is actually a birthday buddy to me. We were born on the same day, same year in the same small town hospital. My dad liked to joke he took home the prettier one. Darren's dad joked he took home the smarter one. We grew up on the same street and so I've known him longer than I have known my own siblings. Anyway, he now works in the same hospital that we were born in. He spends time on Facebook using humor and other tactics to push against our high school classmates, many of whom are virus deniers, anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers. 

Just before Thanksgiving Darren said that all the hospitals on the north central part of the state were full. All the hospitals in the nearby Twin Cities of Minnesota were full. He had a patient lying in a helicopter on the tarmac in full heart failure with nowhere to send this guy for help. After six hours during which time the man could have died, Darren finally found a bed in Duluth, MN, a three hours drive away and flew the patient there. 

The next week I got an email from someone at The Wellness Tea asking if I wanted a package of their tea for review. Normally that would be a no, but I took a look. I noticed this tea contains herbs to address inflammation and congestion, as well as generally comforting tonic type spices and roots. So hey, I was offered a free bag and I took it. All I have to do is review the tea. If you're not interested, certainly feel free to X out of the post now. 


For any degree of effectiveness, generally herbs need to be in therapeutic quantities, and there is no way a teaspoon size portion of herbs will treat anything. At best this tea will be a soothing tonic. On the plus side, the tea is made in the USA and is certified USDA Organic. The ingredients of interest are Ashwagandha Root and Astragalus. Ashwagandha root is an evergreen type shrub used as an anti-inflammatory among other things. Astragalus can be used for upper respiratory infections and asthma. You can buy quantities of these herbs plain, but I don't suggest that because Astragalus grown in the US can contain selenium, and it can also upset the stomach if taking too much. This Wellness Tea contains a small amount of the herb, and also chamomile and ginger would negate any tummy effect. 

The rest of the ingredients in the tea are mainly tonic herbs, except for elderberry which can work as an anti-viral, it binds to viruses preventing attachment onto cells. I keep elderberry for this reason. It can't hurt and a tea made from it is pleasant. 


I brewed one teabag in the suggested 8 ounces of boiling water (236 ml) for five minutes. Generally chamomile and lemon balm are steeped in boiling water, but the roots in this preparation really should be boiled to extract the benefits. If I were sick and taking this I'd probably boil the teabag on the second steeping. 

The tea tastes strongly of chamomile along with cinnamon and turmeric. Dandelion root is a little acrid and I can taste that. The turmeric is probably responsible for the slightly cloudy brew. I added a dash of maple syrup to cover the acrid dandelion root and overall make the tea a bit more pleasant, but it's not bad. Anyone disliking herbal tea however will probably not find anything to like in terms of flavor. 


Overall the tea is comforting and produces warmth in the chest and throat. It would be very soothing for anyone recovering from coronavirus or another chest cold. The herbs are positive for the immune system which may not help if yours is in overdrive. I can't see any reason to drink this as a regular tonic because the roots are fairly selective and you don't need them as a daily supplement although some herb heads might argue that. 

For a "coronvirus tea" I certainly can't find anything more specific than this at my local grocery, and I don't have access to an herbal apothecary. So it's a welcome addition to my cupboard just in case. I haven't been sick this year except for a couple of mild colds. I'm hoping I can hold out until the vaccine. At the end of December, my friend Darren posted a photo of himself getting the vaccine, and honestly I cried a little. We're older and I am just glad to know the virus won't take him, and he will continue to work at the hospital where we were born.

The Wellness Tea is a little pricey at $29 for 30 teabags, but if you don't have anything like this on hand for colds and so forth, it might be worth a look. You can get 20% off with code TWT20. 




Friday, January 1, 2021

Monitoring My Purchases 1 Kilo 2012 CNNP Fu Brick

Happy New Year! 

With a new year ahead of us, in a burst of probably short-lived optimism I am going big with my tea drinking. Actually this is less about optimism and more about realism at this stage of my life. Facing up to my considerable tea collection I have a need to really monitor past and future tea purchases and focus on exactly how much tea I am drinking, to enjoy what I own and gird myself in the event of tempting new teas dropping in my favorite shops. Right now I am confident in my ability to enjoy what I own, but less so facing the event of a whole year of tea releases without buying something. One way to get real is to focus on drinking up things like this 1 Kilo 2012 CNNP Fu Brick I bought back in 2016, and wrote about briefly at the end of that year. 

I really need to get honest with myself about how long it takes to drink up teas like this, and the only way to do it is make myself drink it every day until it is gone. Now, in the mornings I usually enjoy a large mug of tea with my first set of meds for the day. The teas I drink in the morning are not sheng pu, but rather things like hongcha or oolong. In December, however, I decided to drink up all the excellent Mojun Fu brick tea I purchased at the World Tea Expo in 2017 as a morning tea, even though I normally think of fu brick as an after-dinner digestif. But in December I discovered Fu brick is quite agreeable and comfortable to drink in the morning when the tea has a few years aging in it. I feel confident in committing myself to taking a few months to drink up a full kilo.

Drinking up a full kilo, mathematically speaking, depends upon how much tea I brew per day. I plan to use my Teforia machine for brewing, and I often like to use the same set of leaves for two days in a row if I can because I am lazy and don't want to rinse out the leaves every day. Determining how long it will take me to drink up this brick depends on whether I go two days on my teas or just one day, because obviously going two days means twice as long to drink up this brick. Right now, the math on 1 kilo of tea drinking 7g per day means I would finish the brick sometime in late May. If I go two days on 7g of tea, I'm looking at drinking this brick until mid-October this year. 

This is a sobering reality and why I am going to do this. Once you get past 55 years of age, thinking about how long teas take to drink is quite a different dimension than when one is under 40, for example. If 1 kilo of tea is going to take the better part of a year, which it looks like it will, I need to think about just how many of these years I have left in my life. Now I can certainly drink my sheng and other teas later in the day, and this 1 kilo of tea is just my morning beverage. But how many years do I have left to enjoy teas?


Thinking this way puts a different spin on tea buying. Committing to nearly a year on a kilo limits me on drinking something else. It also challenges popular "wisdom" in tea circles which suggests that you need a tong (jian) or more of a tea to really "know" that tea. But if that tong will take you a year or more to drink, how does it feel after age 50 to think you maybe only have enough time left for 20 jians of tea? My parents died earlier than that and I have health problems, not to mention this pandemic. Do I want to spend more than one year on any single tea, or would I rather enjoy as much as I can of the many teas I own and have a nice variety on my tea menu?

I am suggesting to myself, rather strongly, that the idea of buying tongs after age 40 is probably not a good idea, even when the tea is excellent, either in value or in quality. A tea needs holding and storing for at least 10 years. Some people might plan to sell their teas after a certain point, but I don't plan on doing that. Realistically one cannot expect or possibly even want to spend a whole year or more on a single tea when you only have 10-30 of those years left. Do you want to limit your life to only 10 more teas? 

Back to the idea of holding teas to sell, the idea of selling teas is nicer than the reality. I spent a decade selling stuff online, and I can't face doing the shipping any longer. It's easy to list stuff for sale online, but shipping is even worse today than it was when I quit doing it five years ago. Nowadays Amazon has spoiled consumers to expect fast shipping. If you don't get that package out in two days, people will be emailing looking for their tracking number, especially when they are spending $100 or more on a purchase. You cannot count on the same good health you enjoy at 40 when you reach 60 and beyond. Finding boxes, wrapping, printing shipping labels and driving to the post office takes a huge amount of effort when you are older and do not feel so good on some days. Afterward you get to deal with the eventual crop of unhappy customers, because that is a reality of doing business. All that will feel worse especially if you're fire-sale-ing your tea, which you probably will be unless you are sitting upon some extremely rare and desirable teas of the most excellent storage. 

Second brewing here, lighter than the first

Don't get me wrong, buying tongs at a young age is a nice idea if you really love the tea. You will have twenty years to age that tea before worrying about drinking it. But think about how many tongs of tea you actually want when it takes a year or two to drink that tong and you only have 20-30 years left. You're down to 15 tongs that you can reasonably drink assuming you can keep up 7g a day until age 70. Do you really want to commit the precious years you have to only 15 teas, or would you rather have a collection of many more single teas and enjoy as many tea experiences as possible? Of course if you have a family who also drinks with you then the metrics change a bit, but most of us in the west are single drinkers, not members of a four person family where everyone drinks tea. 

So, in the short term I am going to commit to drinking up this kilo brick as my morning tea. I brewed up 9g yesterday and it turned out rather stronger than I like. The Teforia I use because I am lazy expels the liquid forcefully through the leaves and completes 3 steepings per carafe. So, my first carafe is strong. I noted a fine nutty flavor, no storage notes to speak of and a pleasant feeling in the stomach. Today I brewed the same leaves again and got a much weaker cup. I am on the fence a little because I should optimally reduce the leaves down to more like 5g and change them every day, but I doubt I will. 

This 2012 Copco brick is fairly good, with a nutty flavor and only a few small sticks. I purchased it originally from a Hong Kong seller who since closed down his website and only sells on eBay now. Fu brick is fairly green until about 5 years or so when it starts to darken. In addition to my considerations on how long a kilo will take out of my life this year to drink, the reality of this brick in my collection is that I never found a decent storage solution for the tea. I had it in a plastic bag half open for the four years I have owned it. 

I feel bad that I bought a big brick like this when I had no room to store it properly. I am fortunate that the large size of the brick kept the interior with some golden flowers intact, but definitely not as much as I like to see on Fu tea. Someone in a more humid climate or someone who stored this tea decently should aspire to a fully encrusted brick of golden flowers. I can really taste the difference of a well-crusted fu brick, it has a tangy zip on the tongue that my brick is lacking. The tea is decently aged enough to drink, but less than optimal amounts of flowers. Fu is not a very expensive type of tea, so I don't feel as bad as I would storing a sheng tea badly, but that's why this brick is neglected, all my storage is stuffed full of sheng puerh. I need a separate solution for fu brick and just do not have it. Thus the tea is drier than it should be, though on the positive side any touch of Hong Kong, of which there was little to none anyway, is gone by now. 

So, I anticipate that my new project to drink up this brick will finish sometime between May and October, leaning more towards October at this point. I will post on Instagram at some point showing more progress on the brick. The project will be a success if I tire of this tea and convince myself that I have no business buying a full kilo or more of anything at this point in my life. 

If you want to buy Fu brick tea, I notice that Yunnan Sourcing has added more fu brick teas to their site, including on the US site. These teas are fairly expensive, and most are still green. To get an aged one you need to look at 5 years and older. You can find fu brick for about half those prices if you're willing to put up with eBay. I notice that the seller I bought from still has Copco Fu bricks on eBay, his name is tea8hk if you want to have a look at those, but I see plenty of cheaper $40/kilo bricks elsewhere on eBay. Heicha teas are more popular nowadays on western tea forums as people are looking at drinking options that cost less than sheng puerh with far shorter aging cycles. I hope more US sellers start to carry heicha teas, especially if they can find exceptionally clean examples.