; Cwyn's Death By Tea: October 2014 ;

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Teavana, Just what the Doctor Didn't Order

If you are familiar with the capitol city of Wisconsin, then you probably know the Beltline Highway in Madison, a stretch of 6-lane highway that never seems to get better. I can confirm it's worse, and I nearly take out the bottom on my car today as I drive to my doctor's appointment. Takes about twenty minutes to a half hour from east to west, and halfway getting nigh on 4 p.m. I get the thought I could sure do with a cuppa. I've been a VERY good girl leading up to my doctor's appointment, dutifully drinking my Liu Bao every night for the past three nights and staying away from tea drunkeness. Instead I've been watching videos of tea drunks on YouTube. But then halfway along the Beltline I remember the west side mall now has a Teavana.

Now, I've never actually been to a Teavana. Certainly I've read a lot about these shops and know what to expect. I rationalize stopping for tea on the grounds that well, I have a tea blog and this would be informational. Another justification is to see what the hype is all about, the hue and cry anyway. Never mind that I might blow my blood pressure test, and a Sephora shop looms close to the Teavana location which is yet another slippery slope of addiction. The final rationalization and the best one of all is I'm gonna be dead soon enough anyway, so drink all the tea I can right now. That particular thought always works when staring at tea cakes online. Another mile on the Beltline and no way am I not stopping, crazy old tea drunk.

The shop is surprisingly small, for some reason I expected a bigger place like a coffee shop with tables and so on. Get in, get out, buy that tea as quick as you can. The shop girl helped me with my late mother's IPhone so I could take a photo of the tea canister wall to prove I was actually there. I know there's something wrong with me when my elderly mother had a better phone than I've got and knew how to use it. I'm still in the clamshell flip phone universe. Okay, let's see if I can get this photo to show up on here:

Tea or paint cans?
"What have you got that's aged?" I inquire.

The girl shows me a Yunnan gold tips black tea of some sort. Looks dirty in the can, the thing would really need a good rinse.

"Okay, have you got any sejak?" my next request. "Korean," when I got a blank look in return. They have a Jeju Island green tea, the manager taking me over now because I am clearly going to be a tough customer. Even though I use a tea word she doesn't know, she needs to explain that a Korean tea is "between a China tea and a Japan tea."

"Does it have that marine, salty sea air on the first steep?" I ask. Actually I love me a Korean sejak with a minerally salt taste, crave the stuff, but I can't seem to find any to order lately that I'm certain will have that saltiness. No, the tea has a citrusy flavor, the manager says. She shows me a gyokuro instead.

"No thanks, I don't care for the spinach-y flavor," which causes the brewing girl to laugh. Looking over the canister wall, the rest of the teas seem to be flavored things which don't interest me much. Clearly the choice boils down to whether I want cold feet (green tea) or warm feet (the aged Yunnan).

"All right, I'll take the aged Yunnan black," I say while looking at the Famous Brown Rock Sugar, scary looking stuff. I've heard it's good but it looks dusty in the jars.

"I'm guessing you don't want sugar or milk," the brewing girl says, the one who helped me with the IPhone. "You guess right." Smart girl, knows her tea drunks from the casuals. "Straight up" and "neat" would be the way to put it.

So I painfully watch the long, long, long brew of a tea that is meant to be gong-fu brewed. Noting the shop has no gong fu supplies whatsoever, the closest thing being a covered cup with an infuser. That tea really needs rinsing, the question now burning in my brain, Are you Really Going to Drink That?

Whiff of the steam seems a bit fishy, and the tea brew is reddish like a shou. I don't dare open the lid and peek in, for I saw the cloudy tea well enough during the steep. Don't even want to sip it, maybe let it cool a bit. Fortunately the whole process takes long enough that now I don't have time to go into Sephora. Console myself with the thought that I can always order from them online and I really don't need to torture myself with Koh Gen Do just today. Besides I'm gonna be late for the doctor.

Barely make it in time for a quick pee. I start drinking the tea while awaiting my flu shot. It tastes like, Lipton. Something has been added to this, like a weird sweet taste. Maybe it's residue from a previous brew. It tastes like the mall. Actually it tastes like rubber Band-aids, adhesive strips used to cover small skin cuts. Well, I didn't expect to like the tea, it's the experience of it and crazy behavior on my part to have paid $3 and change for the cup. Suffer and offer it up for the sake of the blog.

Drinking the tea raises my heart rate about 6 beats per minute, but my blood pressure is just fine. Which is good considering all the drugs I take for it and even better knowing how much tea I consume in a day that I'm not telling the doctor about. Turns out she's been called up for federal jury duty so that's on her mind instead of asking me pertinent health questions that could expose my bad habits. My cholesterol levels have not lowered one iota. So much for puerh's cholesterol lowering properties.

Satisfied now that the only reason to drink tea is to get as drunk and silly as possible, I get back in the car and head home. Tea cakes, here I come.

Requiescat in Pace.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tea Storage in Europe is a Glorious Crock

Stig Lindberg poster at Etsy
Since the first installment of "Puerh Storage is a Crock," I have had a number of people write to me about storage in Europe and the UK. Folks are looking around to augment their current storage systems. Anyone bringing up the topic of European ceramics is like asking an old lady "how are you feeling today" because I'll start talking and never shut up. If I move to Europe or the UK, I'd be storing tea quite stylishly in vintage ceramics. I'll share with you a few of my favorite vintage ceramics. Lest you fear we are gonna get too far away from gongfu tea, consider this vintage Veckla series piece by Sweden's Stig Lindberg (1916-1982).
Veckla Series by Stig Lindberg
Is this what we think it is? Not convinced? How about another one:

More Stig Lindberg Veckla which means "fold"
Not all Stig Lindberg is serious, a tea cup isn't storage but worth a look.

Lindberg tea cup, photo by Fiona Martin, Pinterest
Oh yes, I think some recovering teaware addict just lost six months of therapy progess. Mid-century modern Scandinavian ceramic artists took a whole lot of inspiration from tea. And it doesn't get any better than Stig Lindberg, so here's some more.

Black earthenware by Stig Lindberg
Porcelain or earthenware canisters with large cork or teak wood lids are easy vintage pieces to look for.
Lindberg Berså Wood Lid Canister

Living in a small space with no room? Hang a few crocks on the wall.
Stig Lindberg Berså hanging ceramic canisters
Don't buy those, I'm saving up the $167-and-change for the pair. And if I had just one or two cakes at a time to save space at home, I'd consider this crock/teapot/cup combination from Stig Lindberg's Von Ming line. That's right, I said Ming. No guesswork needed about where Lindberg looked for inspiration. 
Lindberg's ceramic Von Ming Teapot/infuser/cup combination
Ah, now one of my old loves, pieces from Sweden's Gustavsberg workshop. 
Carl Harry Stalhåne (1920-1990) for Rörstrand
The Gustavsberg workshop produced some of my favorite porcelain and earthenware of all time. I don't dare post the sublime green Argenta Art Deco pieces embellished with silver mermaids, or I might yearn for the tea cups I used to own in that pattern. And I'd better stay away from Gunnar Nylund's (1904-1997) work which was the real reason I got into repairing chipped ceramics to begin with, a slippery slope of addiction for me. Like lounging in a wet, rumpled bed with an old lover I haven't seen in awhile, back to a time when I had more hair with actual color. Many of the same Gustavsberg artists like Nylund worked for the Rörstrand workshop too. And they worked for Upsala-Ekeby.
Berit Turnell for Upsala-Ekeby
Can't go wrong with Kaj Franck storage jars from Finland for under €30. 
Kaj Franck canisters at allmodern.com
These jars have been in continuous production with improvements over time since 1953, over 60 years of experience speaks for itself. And I can't resist Franck's 1970s crock-y teapot with infuser from Arabia of Finland.
Arabia Finland Ruska Franck Teapot
Take twenty years off me and I could be combing vintage shops for as much of this pattern as possible. So modern, and yet also timeless. On Etsy.com I see at least five pages of gorgeous stuff by Kaj Franck. Can't handle going through them all because it's so hard to believe most of it is under $100. I've paid more than that for some of my Jian Shui teapots.

In Norway, I think I'd be crocking my 2005 Naka in Figgjo Flint, some of these covered bowls go for €30 or less! My only worry would be some idiot friend of mine might confuse my maocha with tobacco and try to smoke it.
1960s Flint casserole dish
Belgium lard crocks are now used as garden pieces, apparently.  If I were there myself, I'd rescue and boil these for my tea storage. 
Vintage Belgian earthenware crock
In Denmark, I'd be a complete hoarder of tea storage pieces without even trying.
Pot by Karen Margrethe Karberg, retropottery.net
Yep, I'd have no problem crocking up my tuos in Denmark because 1960s Soholm pieces are enough to make me swoon. I did own a vase at one point and sold it, alas. Don't click on the link without smelling salts, seriously.
Lidded crock by Maria Philippi
See, now I warned you not to click on that. Nor this next one neither unless you're prepared to hop a plane to the Netherlands. Can we guess which tea this Dutch artist probably drinks?
Carla Vrijer, Holland
In Germany, fermentation is a science unrivaled anywhere, and crocks with a built-in seal are my choice for oolong and shou puerh. The quality of Nik Schmitt's fermentation crocks, for example, easily rivals that of the former Hausch workshop. (warning, hide your wallet before you click on their website).
Cute Schmitt tea canister, but I'd buy me one of these crocks instead
Now I'm a good part Polish myself, and something about the gorgeously painted fermentation crocks from Poland tells me that these are forever purchases. France is about the most gorgeous tea with shops like Nina's and Mariage, the sublime first flush of everything tea, and food containers for every possible delicacy.  I've seen a lot of French lidded crocks in orange glazes, and I'd be hunting these down everywhere. Nobody has to speak French like a native to say Le Creuset.

Le Creuset stoneware 4.5L Bean pot at macys.com
Don't have to go too far over the border to find decent stoneware, I can't resist this 1870s made-in-Canada crock to hold a bunch of cakes.
1870s Ontario, cobalt glaze hand thrown Huron Pottery crock, Ebay
I'm told by a reader in the UK that "utility crocks" can easily be found in charity and junk shops. One choice for me would be 19th century vintage crocks by Doulton and Co., and I've seen big ones with lids for less than £20 on Ebay.uk. Only purple periwinkles could get my personal Hyacinth Bucket on better than this.
Doulton & Co. South Canterbury Museum
My own beat-up old farm crocks now seem rather sad after such a glorious look at European ceramics. Maybe I should aspire to something more pretty. Back in the US, Molly Kite Spadone makes fermentation crocks to order with transfers of pretty designs like these pine cones. 
Made to order fermentation crock by Molly Kite Spadone
Thanks to all of you who emailed me, I've now taken to my bed with Stendhal Syndrome, a ancient malady of fainting caused by looking at the finest art. It's been a few years for me since I've revisited some of these vintage ceramics I love so much. The prices have come down quite a bit in the past few years, making so many pieces very affordable. Compared to just five years ago, the market in vintage mid-century ceramics now favors the buyer over the seller in Europe much as it does in my US location. Economics have brought vintage retail prices down a bit for all of us.

Time for a recovery cuppa...Good luck with storage and let me know what you find! 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Myth of the Taiwan Businessman

Sometimes online dating sites really pay off. I have a date with a Taiwanese businessman! 

Female for Male

Age: 55-75

Tea Drunk looking for Businessman in Taiwan for random absurd romping.

You: collecting tea cakes since 1980s minimum, private commissions etc. Older just tastes better. Looks not important. Loose preferred over tight, but it's more about how good it's stored. Stash required.

Me: I'm a lover of all things tea. Smart, lighthearted, let's go anytime attitude. Into numbers like 7542, 2469 and 8241, will 8582. Wife OK, not looking for husband, just wanna get into your stash and see what you have. No I'm not an escort, you got the tea, then honey I got the time.

Holy cow, I got 73 responses!

Had no idea that so many Taiwanese businessmen with private commission tea cakes even exist.

The only problem is sorting out the real ones from the blokes just looking for a way to get a green card. Not that I object to such goals. But how will I know I'm getting the real deal, the guy with the stash? The guy who really did commission his own cakes, the guy with so much money to spend on tea that he maybe forgot to pick up his tea orders from Hong Kong? Or Guangdong. Or Kunming. This is the guy I want to find and Is He Real?

Via emails and messaging I figure out which ones know a Red Mark from a Yellow Mark, so right at the get-go I weed out quite a few fakers and idiots, bringing my list down to 54 candidates. Next, I discuss aging. I can hit a two-fer with this topic: old tea and by extension, dating really old women like myself. Wow, that plan hits 'em out of the park and now I'm down to just 27. I suspect that some of these remaining guys might be trying to sell me something, you know, cheap cell phone cases or maybe even fake tea in hugely expensive wrappers. Gotta ask, how many of you have bought a tea cake in packaging that includes Yellow Satin? Sure enough, now I'm down to just 8 candidates, an auspicious number and a much easier list to deal with specifics about each individual. I suggest moving the discussion of where-to-meet in real life off the dating site and over to one of the social websites, hoping to find out more.

Turns out they all have their own websites, tea blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Steepster, Teachat, Tumblr, Twitter, and a few more I need to run through a translator on Chrome past my 3rd grade level kanji. Some of these guys even have alternate avatars to reply "off the record" to all of the above, doubling or tripling the amount of reading I have to do. How can I possibly weed out who the True Taiwanese Businessman really is?

I ask for photos. Not of him, of the stash. After all, the whole point of owning expensive tea cakes is the show-off factor. The only issue at play here is that show-off photos are meant for men. Like around here where I live, they post photos of their black Ford F-150 or white Avalanche like a pheasant with tail feathers in the way that women post photos of their Murakami cherry blossom Louis Vuittons, but who wants to look at those? Never mind. The point is tea photos are the male locker room which isn't prepared to admit women. I try and be respectful even though I know, and they know, that I'm a greedy tea drunk woman at the core, so if they got the real goods then I'll likely be impressed. So what's to lose?

Lo and behold, they all have Menghai Red Mark cakes. Cause everyone needs to have at least one Maserati. Cloud can help me out with the Tea Criteria. At least five of the eight guys have Simplified Characters, their 7542 paper is Thick and Rough, their backsides are Hand Stamped, and their Junior has a Green Mark. Oh baby. But people, I hate to say it, the mark of the Real Man is gonna come down to his Tuos. Yes it does. Sticks and pods? So long. New papers? See ya. White wrapping? Can't be bothered to put on my dress. No wrapping? Not at my age. Bamboo straps? Now we're talking...

The only problem is, all eight guys have ALL of the above. How can this be? Sure enough, they say in all earnestness and most definitely they left that stash in Hong Kong, Guangdong AND Kunming. All three places. They'll send me whatever, whenever, at no cost. Well one guy tries to give me a Paypal address anyway. I just can't believe there can be this much private commission, no-label tea floating around, not to mention all those Red, Green, Yellow, Blue and probably Magenta Marks too. I'm sitting here Ready and Waiting to 3rd Tenet tea, lord I need me a cuppa and what's a girl gonna do?

Seems the best idea might be to sample widely, very appealing at my age. I can also pour me another round and wait for something better to come along. But then I remember the age-old wisdom which I'll call the Advice of the Old Tea Whore. Turn off the lights, hold your nose and try not to swallow.

Requiescat in Pace

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Fungus Amongus

Right away all you Smart Tea Drinkers know what I'm talking about here. Yep, it's fungus cake time. Now I've eschewed Heicha thus far in the interests of my time and money. I just don't feel I have the time or the money to spend on certain grades of tea. When life gets shorter, the bucket list of teas to be consumed tends to weigh in far more on premium experiences rather than wasted on lower grades of tea. But something medicinal about heicha caught my attention recently.

I read someplace about the "golden flower" fungus having a property that reduces heat in the body, specifically around the heart. I do have heart disease, which is controlled by medications, but a ticking time bomb nevertheless. My odds aren't great, assuming none of the existing plagues manage to take me out (and I am worried about that too). Another issue is menopause and the heat it generates, waking me in the middle of the night. Long story short, I could do with a bit less heat any way I can get it. And I can deal with drinking a not-so-swell tea for the sake of a little health benefit. In the world of herbal tisanes and Chinese medicine, I've drunk far worse tasting stuff to be sure.

My first purchase of Liu Bao is this Three Cranes Guangxi 250g brick I found on Ebay. As it happens, I have $17-and-change built up in free Ebay Bucks to spend, so might as well pick up some scratch as any tea drunk would do when given free money.
2011 Three Cranes Liu Bao
As of now, I don't have any particular reason for choosing Guangxi over Hunan or Shaanxi, except for shallow reasons based on no experience with heicha. Yet I have a few very nice shallow reasons. For one, I have Ebay Bucks to spend and my choices of heicha are fairly limited on Ebay. Two, I could easily choose Shaanxi because the Planet Shaanxi is the site of a decisive video game battle between the Turians and Humans in the Mass Effect universe. I'm definitely in love with a Turian named Garrus Vakarian. This is as shallow a reason, or as good a reason, to choose any heicha.
Wanna play Insanity with me??      photo credit
After all, this isn't high-end Yiwu we're talking about. This is sticks and scraps black tea. What's to debate about sticks and chop? Is one compost pile better medicine than another? If so, then please send expensive samples free of charge immediately and perhaps I'll change my mind.

The Ebay 2011 Guangxi brick (of summer 2010 material) catches my attention after sorting through the 2008 and 2009 bricks on Chawangshop. Seems like these things sell out of various years and I don't see another brick quite like this Ebay cake anywhere, unless I want eschew the Ebay Bucks to pay more for shipping someplace else. Another advantage is that this brick has been in Florida for a couple of years, so am hoping for at least some moisture in the cake. I haggle with the seller for a week over the offer price, paying less than you see on the sticker, and it is mine.
My hopes for moisture in the cake get dashed immediately. The words "iron compression" are an understatement. This thing is tough and dry. I could use it to break a few windows. And it smells like...nothing. Where did they keep this cake, in a freezer? How can it possibly get so dry in Florida of all places? The poor thing will need serious crock storage with additional moisture to loosen up. And I am aware that full golden flowers can take 5 years or more to completely develop. The cake appears to have dusty evidence of humidity at one point and possibly spores.

No way am I going to take a puerh pick to this cake in its current condition. In my younger days, I once gouged my finger real good trying to use a nail scissors to pry up some offensively girlish bows stapled onto a perfectly good pair of leather pumps, resulting in about ten stitches and a scar I still have to this day. Using a Dremel tool instead, I cut 2 mm depth guidelines which allow me to break off pieces by hand. But I break two ceramic cutting wheels just making those lines on the cake. You can see the mess I'm making in the process.
My cutting gives me some neat squares to send out to friends, and the brick now fits nicely in this vintage ceramic dish, augmented with a terra cotta shard soaked in water for moisture.
circa 1950s bird pipe dish, Hoenig of California #102
 I let the squares rest in a separate crock with a pouch button overnight. Got them out today, about 24 hours later, to mail off two. Holy Moly!! One night in the crock storage and golden flowers already, and the cake now smells like something! Check out the tiny flowers:
One night of crock storage and pouch button
The mess on the cutting board, about 7 grams of loose tea, sat out all night in the presentation cup and didn't develop flowers. Might as well drink that up. 125 ml water in the gaiwan, one rinse.
First steep the tea gives up a lot of its essence right away, deep color more brown than red. A bit of bitterness and black tea flavor along with a bit of the shou funk. Second steep just about as dark, this time I can taste the stems, a kind of woody paper flavor, but very smooth and slightly sweet. Third steep I'm increasing the time to a minute. I get minerals in my mouth, very full, like a salt flavor when licking my lips. Also a bit more pondy, reminds me of the smell of tree branches that have gone soft in the lake after sitting through the winter under ice. Not necessarily like wet storage though, just more like shou. The strainer catches all but the littlest bit of powder and the tea is clear and clean now.
First steeping
The tea starts to lighten at 5 steeps, I add a couple of minutes to brew times. Now I'm getting an interesting mushroom flavor and less of the woody pond. Not sure it's the "betel nut" flavor. Brewing a chunk would be a longer steeping experience, the loose tea here really gave itself on those first three steeps, around ten steeps nothing remains. Flavor-wise, initially I might go thicker and reduce the amount of water or increase the amount of tea leaf. Doesn't seem very bitter or strong, and too watery won't taste like much. Next time I'll add another gram or two.

This stuff is surprisingly GOOD. Got the qi sensation in the middle of my upper back. The flavor isn't so much about yum yum, though I do like minerally, salty tea, it's more about satisfying what a tea jones really is. How I crave this deep satisfaction, not just relaxation, but something in tea satisfies a hunger and thirst at the same time. My body needs whatever it is in aged tea, a physical aspect, like eating all my spinach or a chili cheese hot dog. A feeling like from balsamic vinegar on beef, or soy sauce on sauteed vegetables, melted cheese on toast, freshly roasted warm nuts, turkey with bread stuffing and sage, onions cooked with fish. It's not about the immediate flavors as about deep flavor and the body experience from certain types of food. I've read before that oral physical satisfactions behind food or smoking or drinking are about a deep yearning for love, about filling an essential emptiness. This Liu Bao, like many other teas I've had, is really bringing it even though I'm only experiencing a dry mess of leaves and sticks, not the fully developed cake as it should be.

As for cooling the body, and reducing heart heat, well, I don't know about that. I'm not feeling cooled at the moment. Maybe I need to give the tea a chance to work over time. Or maybe I need a nap. Waking up from a nap will be a nice little test, as I usually wake up overly warm. Hopefully I can grow out the flowers more in the tea cake and really develop that mushroomy flavor. Will try to remember to update this post with more photos later on. That's assuming I don't drink this cake up quick, which I just might.

Requiescat in Pace.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Obsessed by Tea and How to Know

Under your bed is a box of tea that nobody knows about.

You've calculated in grams how long your stash will last.

You smell sheng at the office.

Your co-workers smell sheng at the office.

The kitchen canisters are full of samples.

At least one item in the kitchen is made from cherry bark.

More than one item is made with bamboo.

Your monthly VAT exceeds your pre-tax retirement deduction.

More than half your Facebook friends are tea drinkers.

Another third are tea dealers.

Baking soda is a friend.

You agree to eat at a nice Asian restaurant, but you're worried about the tea.

A tea ceremony doesn't include food.

You've gong fu brewed coffee and it works.

When cleaning the fridge you find a bag of sencha from last year.

Old teapots are sexy.

The living room lamp sits on a puerh fridge.

And the puerh fridge is full.

You can't remember if you emptied your tea table.

More than one saved Ebay search contains the word "gaiwan."

The wife takes your dry cleaning to Harney & Sons.

Your tea table has three pots of steeped leaves you can't throw out yet.

Someone drinks from your forgiveness cup.

You drank too much and now you can't sleep.

The holidays are coming up and you're afraid people will give you tea.

The holidays arrive and people do give you tea.

You pour shou into your sheng cup.

When the cats want your attention, they knock over your tea pets.

The leftover rice has tea leaves in it.

That kung fu movie had no tea leaves in it.

Kung fu is really about needing that stone tea table.

More than half your Bookmarks are tea shops.

A cake is just a sample.
The mailman starts delivering the neighbor's packages to your door, and doesn't bother to get your signature.

Your partner un-friends Yunnan Sourcing from your Facebook.

The backseat of your car has more than one tea thermos.

And the front seat has tea stains.

All your cups have tea stains.

The kitchen counter has tea stains.

The kitchen sink has tea stains.

The bathtub has tea stains.

The computer desk has tea stains.

So does the the bedside table.

And the kids' shirts.

You insist that mold is drinkable, and so is fungus.

No one else drinks water from your bamboo charcoal carafe.

That cake is a fake, but you buy it anyway.
It's not a fake, it's a tiepai.

Good news deserves a cuppa.

Bad news can wait until after the cuppa.

You've seriously considered the puerh.sk t-shirt.

When friends say "let's get drunk" you put the kettle on.

The kettle has an international plug adapter.

You're saving for Black Friday tea sales.

Teadb.org is a possible tax shelter.

More than one package is in Customs right now.

What she thought was a condom is really an oolong.

You see a white wrapper Tuo from White2Tea at the corner shop, and then realize it's a ham and cheese on a bun.

When you're honest with yourself, you know you'll never drink it all.

You do know the real final fantasy avatar Cloud is a puerh blogger.
Last Thoughts is what you drank before bed.

Being objective about tea is an idea you take seriously.

Five or more of these statements applied to you.

But more than ten are likely.

And you probably need to pee now.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Scams against Old Ladies like me are notorious in this part of the US. One of the most common scams is a letter or phone call telling the Old Lady she has won $10,000, and all she needs to do is remit her bank account number to the address listed. I've always been rather surprised how many old ladies fall for this and give out their bank number which results in a lot of work for their kids to remedy the situation and press charges. Except I just went ahead and gave mine up to white2tea for their new monthly tea subscription.

Now I know that Dear Son is going to read this and start yelling at me. But I couldn't help it. I'm smart to every trick except when I get an email from something labeled white2tea along the lines of: "Wisconsin Boy will send you his Private Stash every month for the small sum of..." well, all I can say is the world's scammers might be more successful if they start using the white2tea logo on their letterheads. An entire nation of Old Ladies will be lifting their financial skirts up high over their head.

Child, I'm gonna get Private Stash tea every month! I asked white2tea to please call Mauston Plumbers for me and Ask for Charlie to explain the situation, and why I won't be paying my plumbing bill every month anymore. Why should I have to pay for new plumbing for a toilet upstairs that I don't even use?? My own personal toilet is just fine. The cats have numerous litter boxes. My Housemate has a potty in his motorhome that he can go to. Dear Son is 24 years old and is surely old enough now to pee in the yard by himself. Seems to me if those guys want a working toilet they can pay for it so Mother can have her tea. And why do I need a plumber when I can have drain cleaner shipped monthly right to my door?

I'm not normally tempted by tea subscriptions. In fact I don't have any others. Most tea subscriptions contain a variety of teas, which usually are things like cacao papaya mint lemongrass hibiscus apple pie rooibos teas. But a tea subscription consisting of puerh, oolong and black tea is a no-miss as far as my tastes are concerned. I'm halfway to a tea subscription anyway. With my regular orders, sometimes I get lucky samples of off-the-shelf stuff. For example, if you checked out a few of the photos on my previous post, you might have seen this 1992 Big Tao Hong Mark.
(I almost typed something else along the lines of a Big Zhong, a byproduct of menopausal vivid dreams. Son probably thinks I'm halfway to senile old ladyhood screaming obscenities behind a locked and barred ward door. Check #2 for "danger to self." Lock me up, okay, just let me have my Xbox like you promised.)

Didn't I just have a 1992 tea recently? Sure enough, my post "Old Lady Tea" (September 2014, can't be bothered to be helpful and link it) featured a 1990s Menghai Red Star from Tea Classico which was labeled 1990s on the sample packaging, but the website says 1992. What's up with 1992, why am I seeing this particular year cropping up twice in a row? I don't remember anything about 1992 because Dear Son was only a baby, and I was probably psychotic that year from a lack of REM sleep. No wait, I do remember finishing my master's thesis that year in a dingy hotel in Milwaukee. On an Apple IIc. Aside from that, I have no clues to add and the 1992 Big Tao Hong Mark isn't up on the site at white2tea at the moment to help me out with where it came from. It's a loosely compressed mix of leaves, huang pian, sticks and a couple of pods like the one I found recently in a 7542.
[Okay. Did I just agree to regular payments to white2tea? I think I might have. Yes, I took Friday a.m. pills, I checked the empty med box.]

Up off my doughnut to boil the kettle which has a hole in the enamel because yes, I forgot it on the stove. Checkmark #3 for danger to self. I'm more than halfway committed at this point, certainly to the tea anyway. Ow, back on the doughnut and triancinolone ointment.
First steep of the Big Honger
Loose compression is good because they will soon take away my puerh pick I've stashed beneath my mattress. Pushing the whole sample gives me a nice dark brew with only a touch of traditional storage, mostly washed away by two rinses. Wow, strong stuff, bitter cuz I pushed it but that means plenty of aging time left in this one. Very cooling on the finish, that camphor effect I guess, gotta watch out for that at my age, because of what people might think. I'm not quaffing the Nyquil again, I stopped doing that last month. (Nyquil is an American liquid cold/cough menthol medicine with copious amounts of alcohol that produces a sound sleep, and children can easily buy it at any store without an ID check).
Mother is drinking the compost again.
Two cups of the Big Honger and I'm feeling rather energized, doesn't seem like qi, more like caffeine sweating. Okay save those leaves for later, a bit of sausage and cheese and I'm ready for my downer cup of shou. Here is another white2tea that I'm assured will be available soon, called "chocolate mini shu," circa 2000.
Bulk "chocolate mini shu" by white2tea
 Not sure what the "chocolate" is supposed to refer to, actual chocolate in the tea, or chocolate "notes" in the flavor? I don't see any chocolate in this, if the little bricks had any, it's probably long gone by now. The bricks range from 4 grams to 8 grams. I got a sample of this shu recently and ordered me a double. Like I said, I don't know when they will take away my pick so when that happens, I'm all set with these little squares.
Lu Yu, is that your shou or are you happy to see me?
I think this is a bitty benchmark of tea history because of the cooling finish and all-over tongue buzz. This mini brick comes from the days when shu was still a bit wild. In any case, this dry-stored shu has a hint of old paper smell, perhaps from previous paper wrappers or box storage, I can easily air that out. The soup is brown and very clean, slight fermentation smell left probably due to the tight compression of these squares. I still don't taste any chocolate but maybe that refers to the color of the soup rather than actual chocolate. Or maybe the sausage ruined my palate for today. Little bricks like this will come in handy for me when I travel to visit my sister.

Cuz I found a real surprise in the bag with these minis. Full-on evidence of the honey trap to lure Old Ladies.
A little love in the chocolate minis.
That's IT!

I'm really looking forward to my new tea subscription :)

The pet food company is after me too.

Requiescat in Pace.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Puerh Storage is a Crock

Recently I read an old comment in a tea forum discussion along the lines of "because I live in North America, I'm not in a position to talk about storage." We've got to stop that mentality. For one, we have to store our teas. And two, in an age of refrigeration, we are forgetting that less than a century ago people  here were in the business of storing and fermenting food and beverage items at home. Had they not, we wouldn't be here. Therefore, a more accurate statement would be "20 years ago we didn't have Puerh Shopping over the Internet." But we most certainly had storage and fermentation, as anyone from a farm family can tell you. My puerh storage has more in common with midwestern cabbage than all the tea in China. I will invite people to participate in a North American Storage Experiment using samples we all have lying around.

My storage is based entirely upon my local climate. What people do in China to age puerh is of little to no use to me in Wisconsin, this is my starting point. The climate I'm living in has been compared to Siberia, a climate of extremes, hot in the summer and ghastly cold and snowy in the winter. In summertime, we're baking in humidity and hot sun, which is great for my tea cakes. Next month I expect the temps to fall below -20 C, requiring heat in my house which will take the humidity levels to 38% or lower. At best, home humidifiers might get me to 42%. Nothing remotely like southern Asia.

In China, Malaysia and other very humid southeast Asian countries, controlling mold and humidity naturally leads to using porous clay jars, baskets, and cardboard boxes. Or even blocking humidity altogether with vacuum sealing.  When I started aging shou puerh cakes in 2009, I dutifully followed Cloud's advice about storage in cardboard boxes. Fast forward four more years, I had shou that smelled and tasted like cardboard box. So not only did I have cakes that needed a rehab solution, also I starting buying really good tea that I need to preserve. Topics about storage on the internet tend to either focus on Asia or climates measurably more temperate and humid than mine. One common solution for many tea drinkers is a non-working refrigerator.

Some of my cakes are stored in a non-working dorm fridge from the 1970s, a small square thing that in no way resembles the dorm fridges of today which are much larger. This thing maintains 69-74 F/23C and 61% humidity without any added humidity. With a glass of water I can get around 63%, and adding a soaked clay shard I can get 64-66%. Okay, though somewhat dry and cool. I'm also concerned that the 40 year old dorm fridge has plastics in it that I know nothing about. Do you store your tea in plastic containers from the 1970s? Didn't think so. So I've spent the past 6 months experimenting with local crock storage, and based in my early results I plan to move all my cakes to vintage American stoneware crocks.
It's ugly, but unplugged it works.
One of the traditional means of storing small amounts of food in the Midwest has been the Crock. Glazed pots and crocks create a microclimate that resists  changes on the outside, maintaining an internal consistency. We have an abundance of brown glazed Crocks which are used to store fresh butter, cheese, pickled fish, sauerkraut, fruit preserves, honey and syrups of all kinds.  Even today we can still buy good old Wisconsin aged cheeses in little brown crocks, and empty ones are easily acquired in local secondhand (charity) shops.

My childhood memories include tripping over waist high salt glaze Crocks filled with green molding sauerkraut. Farming relatives collected a variety of ceramics, but I have no idea what happened to all the family sauerkraut crocks. A few years back I starting buying chipped crocks and urns at secondhand stores during a hobby period when I taught myself how to repair chipped pottery. I worked on lots of different ceramics before moving on to my target goal of repairing mid-century modern Scandinavian ceramics (particularly Rorstrand workshop pieces from Sweden). I sold all my fine pieces that I repaired, but I still have a lot of crocks sitting around that I worked on to learn to repair chips.

Crocks create a microclimate that is slower to react to changes in weather. The lids are loose enough to allow a bit of air in and out. To add humidity, I use a clay pouch button. A pouch button is normally used for keeping loose tobacco or weed at the proper humidity. It consists of a clay disc inside a metal case, you soak the button in water for a half hour or more until the clay inside is soaked, wipe it off and add it to your stash. The humidity lasts around 4-5 days.
This pouch button has some history, but I'll never tell.
I also use clay shards from red terra cotta flower pots. Talk about cheap. I just break them up with a hammer, clean and boil the shards and soak them in water. These last about 3-4 days because they don't have the metal case of a pouch button. In the case of a tea that has had traditional style wet storage already, then I will use a paper towel or napkin secured with a rubber band to allow more circulation than a lid. The paper also tells me that the tea is a humid storage tea in case I forget.
Clay shards, humidity on the cheap.
One thing I have found is that the humidity in crock storage and fridge storage does not penetrate bamboo tong wrappers or heavy paper wrappers very well. It's a wrenching decision whether to remove these even though I know I should based on the drier quality of compressed tuos especially.

This past summer, I started using unwrapped puerh samples acquired from my purchases to see what ceramics create the best change. Here are some photos of things I've got going. All of these will create a micro climate for either fermentation or preservation.

McCoy 1848-1990

McCoy pottery is a long standing US company and had many changes in ownership. The company mainly produced stoneware intended for sanitary food storage prior to widespread refrigeration. So incredibly practical were their pots that McCoy did not even stamp mark their pieces prior to 1930 or so. I use Brush McCoy and later McCoy pieces, which are differentiated by their glazes.
Brush McCoy pots. 2009 CNNP 7572 and circa 2000 "Ding Xing Hao"
Brush McCoy (circa 1910-1926) pots are recognizable with their heavy gloppy glaze, and often glaze "skips"-- places that are unglazed because the factory missed a few spots.  I've had good results airing out shou puerh and Hong Kong "wet" stored aged cakes in Brush McCoy. Again, the glaze keeps something of a microclimate in the pot to keep the tea from drying out too quickly. I keep a clean paper towel secured with a rubber band over the top to prevent dust from getting on the tea. The 2009 CNNP 7572 was kept in a cardboard box for 4 years and smelled like the box, and got too dried out. Sorry Cloud, but the Box doesn't work here in Wisconsin. After several months in a Brush McCoy pot, the cardboard smell is gone and the tea now smells sweet like a shou.
L, unmarked probably early Red Wing, R Brush McCoy
Both of these pots contain dzpuer's 2013 1 kilo shou brick, refer to my post "The New Soft Shou." The Brush McCoy covered with a paper towel is getting more air circulation because I intend to drink the contents first. The "Red Wing" covered brown crock is thick and heavy, maintains a cool temperature and is designed for long-term storage.

I also have a mid-century McCoy soup tureen which is a perfect size for this tong of 2014 Ban Payasi cakes.
Mid-century McCoy piece in my last post about 2014 Ban Payasi
Red Wing, Minnesota

The quintessential sauerkraut and fresh water stoneware pottery, Red Wing is a bit more collectible than McCoy because pieces are geared for specific types of storage, such as whisky jugs, water coolers and of course their fermentation  crock. Some of the more unique pieces can be pricey, but the market has honestly declined for collector value. People who buy Red Wing stoneware nowadays intend to use the pieces for food or beverage storage rather than just displaying them. Salt glaze crocks are popular here with "survivalist" people who think that Obama is going to usher in the end of days. The pottery is thick to really create a sterile microclimate and be practically bomb proof.
Red Wing, Minnesota canister
My Crock here is probably a flour canister, and rather sentimentally holding a number of Mandala Tea (Rochester, Minnesota) puerh cakes. A pouch button provides additional moisture. I got this piece for under $20 because of a 3 mm  clay split in the lid, a tiny factory flaw. I've given away a couple of Mandala cakes but haven't sampled them myself yet.


Right now I'm favoring Frankoma pottery based on the changes I've seen in my samples. Frankoma pottery is based in Oklahoma and used local clays. In 1953, they began using a brick red clay which is the type that I like. My teas in Frankoma pots seem to be the most fragrant and retain moisture well.

A 2013 Bada Shan sample I got from Camellia Sinensis was very fresh, similar to the photo here.
2013 Bada Shan retail photo by Camellia Sinesis Tea, currently out of stock
The cake is 100 g and magnified quite a bit. You can see it contains some huang pian, but overall the sample I got was very green and tasted very sour. Nothing pleasant about it, so I dumped it into a duani tea caddy for a couple of months, the caddy you see as my avatar photo and again further below. This is a porous clay. The tea did not change in two months, it continued to look green and smell sour, which isn't surprising since the duani caddy is meant for a more humid climate. I moved the sample to this Frankoma red clay honey pot.
Frankoma red clay "Prairie Green" honey pot
After several months in this pot, the tea smells sweet and very malty, yeasty. The color changed from green to brown within two weeks of this storage.
Dry and green 2013 Bada Shan browned and malty now.
Other glazes similar to the Prairie Green shown here include Plainsman and Desert Gold.
Smoky tuos stored in Frankoma 5W Prairie Green bean pot.
Other types of American pottery.
Various samples in small pots.
You know you're old when the pots you made in school qualify as vintage. Two of these are my own creations. Left to right: back left, unknown ceramic containing 2007 Chawangshop Naka ("The Doctor is Naka-erd");  front, white2tea 1992 Big Tao Hong Mark airing in my own pot; back, red Le Creuset stoneware airing wet stored Tea Classico 1980s Ying Ming Hao ("Old Lady Tea,"); front, Tea Classico 1990s Menghai Red Star in my own pot; back right, an abused 2014 Misty Peak spring sheng resting in a chipped gaiwan and recovering.

Santa Clara and Navajo

Santa Clara is a type of black fired clay pot from New Mexico. I stored the above mentioned 2014 spring Misty Peak sample in a Santa Clara pot for several months. However, the Santa Clara did not respond well to humidity. The clay smells like graphite when humid. Pueblo desert type of pottery won't smell like graphite when properly used in New Mexico to store grains. But Wisconsin, my poor Misty Peak tea sample picked up the graphite smell and lost its tea smell. After a month just sitting in a gaiwan it aired, and brought back the smell, but the tea is still very green. I'm holding it for another experiment soon. Navajo pots with glazed interior are usable, but unglazed smell dusty and sandy like the desert if they get moist.

Edith Heath

On the west coast you can find plenty of California pottery from the 1940s-1960s. One really great line to consider is Edith Heath stoneware. This company is still going very strong providing household ceramics and tiles to Arts and Crafts-era homes and businesses. Their prices, even for vintage, are higher than for most other types of American ceramics, but you can buy factory "seconds" for about the same as other vintage ceramics. Heath pieces are very modern and minimalist and I love them. But Edith Heath ceramics proved too porous for my locale. The tea did not retain its humidity and moisture. But this type of pottery might be great for west coast cities with lots of rain. Just enough protection from drier days, but breathable enough for the rainy days. 

Vintage crocks abound on Ebay. About ten years back they increased in value because of the WWII generation collecting what they remembered from childhood. But now this generation has quit collecting and the market has tanked, although many antiques dealers don't seem to see that. I refuse to pay more than $5-40 for these pieces, and reasonable or free shipping. I take advantage of chipped, cracked and glaze craze pieces that collectors don't want.   Still, that beats trying to import jars from Asia that won't work here anyway.

So far I have not had any mold issues, but again my challenge is more about keeping humidity in rather than overly wet. If my tea got very wet, I'd either leave the lids off, or change to another storage method like baskets or porous clay. However, if I wanted to push the humidity I can do so anytime. My Bada Shan sample, and the fragrance and tea texture of my other crocks-stored cakes show me that change is occurring at an acceptable rate, and humid stored teas are able to air without becoming bone dry.

North American Tea Storage Experiment!
Daily Drinkers: "Ding Xing Hao" loose L, at R Crimson Lotus Bulang shous in duani.
What can you do to experiment with tea samples? Nobody wants to ruin a fine cake, but we all have samples lying around from past purchases. Why not see what storage options you can find and use your samples to experiment? I think vintage American stoneware crocks are a real possibility for the long term without worrying about plastics or cardboard flavors in the tea. They create a micro environment which can be controlled with humidity-adding devices like pouch buttons or clay shards for little to no money.