; Cwyn's Death By Tea: December 2014 ;

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tung Ching Tonight

Still working my way through the various boxes sent to me by friends. For the past few days I've been sessioning Tea Classico's 1997 Tung Ching Hao-Chi Chang. So far I've had two sessions, one in my porcelain gaiwan and the second in my Origins Tea 1980s Yixing pot, the latter I recommend to moderate the storage and bring out the flavor on this tea.
I've had one session already.
Neil was kind enough to send me a good size sample of this, which is more than lucky because he isn't currently offering sample sizes of this tea. You have to spring for the entire 357 beeng at $189 or so. I'm guessing he probably has only a few cakes of this and that is the reason for not offering samples. I believe James of Teadb has covered this tea in his recent mature puerh report.
This is about half the sample.
The tea is rather loosely compressed, but this could be due to the humid storage and also because of the number of sticks in the cake. There are quite a few sticks and I notice huang pian, those colored older leaves as well. I suspect given the flavor and maturity of the tea that this is an autumn production cake, but there is no way of being certain. The label on the cake, well I don't think any of you puerh freaks need an opinion on that, you can see for yourself. The tea is what it is, and the cup says it all in the end.
I did pick out some of the sticks before brewing, a few are okay but I don't want the old wood flavor to take over the tea. If I were younger, I'd keep all those sticks and boil them good for a completely different cup. But who has time for that? I can just picture my son having to clean out my tea collection after I'm gone and finding small baggies of tea twigs, and him thinking I went completely demented in my final years. In case I do start saving twigs, I'll need to prepare him for this behavior by showing him how to brew kukicha tea. Never mind, let's hope I don't go there.

Did three rinses on the tea which worked rather well to work off some of that humid storage. First few cups had a bit of tang, I thought, almost sour but not really, just tangy. Leather and wood. Later cups pay off with peppery notes on the throat along with the leather and still a bit of that tanginess which turns sweet. I like this better than the Apple Green tuo, a bit more to taste here. Not superbly thick, but I don't really expect that because the tea is completely mature and aged out, red and brown in the cup, smooth, there is nowhere to go with more storage on this, it's a drink-now kind of tea. More subtle than punchy, which is why I suspect this might be an autumn production of unknown leftovers. The best leaves went into higher premium cakes and the rest got pressed into these. The good news is the tea is still quite clean.
Fourth steep
So Neil is getting good at picking Tea for Old People, this is yet another of those Drink It Now cakes. Save it for too long and you'll lose the tang and warm pepper and just be left with a bit of smooth leather and wood. Got a good 10 steeps out of this with really packing the leaf into my teapot. Then while typing I let it steep and did get a bit of bitterness and slightly thicker brew, very dark red. Nothing to complain about here.

Generationtea.com has what appears to be the same cake for $29 less. The page for the cake shows the neifei and also that the beeng has been in their catalog since 2007. I would imagine their cake has had more years of very dry storage, but hard to know for sure. The lighter neifei suggests, at best, that the tea might have been aged loose and then pressed after the humid storage period. You can decide for yourself. Since I know what I'm getting with Neil's tea, I'd be more inclined to just spend the extra $20. It's a decent aged tea for daily drinking, and I'd feel confident letting puerh newbies try this because all the flavors are easy to pick out, there is nothing obscure that only a trained palate will find.

The only issue for many of us is, do we have too much tea? A sample is an easy decision, if it were available. Many of us are looking for aged tea and unique experiences, and I'd say this is more than worth a sampling. I'll hang on to the rest of this for a swap so someone else can give it a go.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ring Ting Tinkling Too

Honestly, life would be hell without tea. Especially holidays. Fortunately, I've had some time alone to spend with my tea and nobody gave me any new tea too horrible to drink. In fact I still have last year's gift Trader Joe's Cinnamon tea bags unopened. And my friends have been so incredibly generous, sending me boxes of fantastic puerh samples, always a welcome sight.

In the winter, I drink tea three times a day. Once before the Nap, once after the Nap, and again later on to balance out the other two sessions. From the title of this post, you can guess where I end up after all this tea. Yessiree, lots of water means lots of...

Which brings me to water, an oft discussed topic amongst tea drinkers. My water isn't bad, I don't have scale on the bottom of my teapot, no off tastes, etc. Really if we are going to discuss the effects of water on tea ratings, we all need to be drinking the same water, to eliminate it as a variable. So if we are really going to decide if the Apple Green tuo is a "good" puerh, and try to be anything but Relative, we all need to go out and buy a bottle of Poland Spring and THEN see if we can agree on the tea.

The topic of water and a nice glass of eliminate...then I have my Nap and dream about my friend the late actor Donald Hotton. He too was obsessed with water.

Like me, Don was born and raised in Wisconsin. After college he went to New York as so many actors do, and eventually made his Broadway debut playing opposite Anne Bancroft in "Mother Courage and Her Children" in 1963, playing a Colonel and Soldier. By coincidence, he played a colonel in one of his last films, "Dances with Wolves," you can see him in the opening scenes on a horse, telling Kevin Costner what a remarkable young man he is. Don is probably better known for his film "Brainstorm," and also for playing a scientist in "The China Syndrome." Don moved to Madison when he retired, hoping Wisconsin would be a less expensive place to live than California on retirement money. He and I worked on a few shows together, and I liked to hang out at his studio apartment near the university. Don always had a bowl filled and a bottle of water ready at a chair when I arrived.

"The water is lowering the IQ of people in Wisconsin, everyone is an idiot here," he used to say. "It's the fluoride. I got a dozen homeopathic articles to show you why. You do know I'm a self-taught homeopathist, don't you?"

Don's brilliance as an actor got marred occasionally by bouts of untreated bipolar disorder. No doubt I dreamt of him recently because of my housemate's untreated illness that we've been suffering through around here for months. When Don's bipolar illness got bad, he became more obsessed with fluoride in the water. He was convinced this is the reason the actors are so awful in Madison, and why people in Wisconsin are so stupid, and why he didn't have many friends. Looking down on people is not really the best way to make friends, and at some point nobody cares what Hollywood films you made, sorry to say to all my formerly famous friends. Unlike my housemate, Don did have some awareness about his mental illness.

"At some point I began to realize that if I started running naked in the streets in Hollywood and the cops tossed me in a hospital, that is the sign that I'm getting bad."

Ya think? But like my housemate, he eschewed meds. His method involved locking himself into his apartment to prevent running around naked.

"I've learned I can't go out when I'm like this," he told me, instead preferring to drink vodka and smoke weed until it all went away. "As long as I stay home and avoid cops." My housemate needs to learn this much.

But untreated mental illness, whether it's depression or mania, all of this made it impossible for Don to make many friends. He kept alienating the people he needed most, the actors and other theatre people in Madison. I tried to visit when I could, and we spent several Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays together. He wasn't a boyfriend or anything, but both of us were people who had actually read nineteenth century Russian novels, not just people who talked about reading them someday.

At one point we tried writing a play together, it was supposed to be a debate about the manifesto of Ted Kaczynski, with Don taking the part of defending the manifesto, and I taking the part of opposing it. Actually Don wrote the play, but the final result was something of an unplayable mess. I have it someplace, but all I can remember is how he got more and more manic as our discussion of the material went on, which made me more and more sad. He tried to douse me with natrum muriacticum, which is nothing more than sugar and salt tablets. And he complained the fluoride in the water was ruining my brain. I kept remembering my dad's old saying "It's better to be average," and thought I could probably benefit from a few more glasses of fluoride.

But the water, or the mental illness, finally got to him and Don decided to leave Wisconsin and return to California. Not before writing his own manifesto on fluoride to the local liberal news rag. He sent me a couple of letters in late 1998, including a copy of his medical marijuana prescription, yet another reason to return to California. I lost track of him with my busy life and then finally in 2001 managed to find out he had passed away in April 1999. I called the Humboldt County Courthouse to find out what happened, since he was only 66 years old. The clerk wanted $11 before she'd tell me, and I couldn't bring myself to send it, nor to know what had finally happened. California law doesn't require published obituaries, so I had to dig to even know he'd passed. Last year I noticed the imDB film database website had the wrong Donald Hotton listed, so I got that changed at least with a long letter to them.

In my dream the other day, I'm sending him off on a theatre bus, $25 for the bus ride and a ticket to an Equity show. Guess the dream must be about my housemate, Don, my mother, yet other people in my life I've lost all too early because they won't go see a doctor, they have untreated illnesses and crazy ideas about health and illness. Crazy ideas that went wrong and blew them up prematurely.

If it's really about the water, knowing the truth means we can eliminate it as a variable, just as going to the doctor and getting a blood test means we can eliminate diabetes or mental illness as health problems. We can move on from thinking the problem is one thing, because we've tested it and know that in fact the problem is something else. If water is a problem for determining a good tea, then we can in fact eliminate it as a variable by drinking the same water every time. If everybody tests a tea with the same water, then any differences in opinion are due to yet unknown factors. I have a feeling that the remaining unknown variables are too many and too large, and tea opinions are far more relative than we think. Statistically, our one fact we can know is that water can be eliminated as a variable in order to test if differences still remain.

Aside from this, my only view on water leads right back to Don, to craziness, and to the truth that badly wrong theories lead to horribly wrong conclusions. The correct response is not to stop drinking the water, nor to stop recommending tea and thinking the problem is solved. But rather to examine how to rule out variables systematically and keep an open mind to other solutions. Shutting the door on all possibilities due to only one variable is usually called hasty generalization, and down that path there be dragons.

Now that I've spoken my piece on water, I'm gonna go have me a nice glass of eliminate.

Requiescat in Pace

Friday, December 19, 2014

Little Green Apples

Been on a bit of a puerh hiatus lately. The truth of aged sheng is the caffeine is aged out, and I need the boost so I've been drinking a good deal of black tea instead. And I've had my reasons.

My roommate is a psychopathic maniac with an alcohol problem. He's out of meds and won't go get any more. I just can't manage to chop up a tuo with any appreciation when he's drunk and calling the cops who don't quite believe me when I say I only have a tea problem myself. I wish I were the crazy one making jokes, because the truth just seems made up. But I really do share a household with a person with a severe mental illness and it's been a bad year for him and consequently it just cuts into my tea hobby, especially when I'm chopping up the front door frame with a chisel to install a yet another deadbolt instead of sniffing my tea collection which I'd rather be doing. Right now I'm trying to type whilst said roommate is obsessively vacuuming, something of a conciliation on his part because I caught him drinking mouthwash this morning. At least the vacuum drowns out his singing.

To the rescue, my tea friends have been so very generous and I don't know what I'd do without you all. Managed to sneak out of the house today to the post office to pick up a very generous, unsolicited sample package from Neil over at Teaclassico.com. Cracked it open to try the 1998 CNNP Apple Green tuo cha, I recall reading Hobbes' review on this tea back in August and I think Teadb covered it as well.
I'd get stopped at airport security traveling with this baggie.
Aged tea is difficult to come by, and this tuo confirms further my belief that if we older people want to buy some tea with a bit of age on it already, we need to look out for examples like this. The tuo has had a year or two of Hong Kong aging, so it has that touch of humid storage which works out the smoke and bit of char I see in the strainer. The bitterness too is basically gone, making this a reasonably priced example of tea with a little age that is drinkable now. I get a bit of tingle in the mouth from this, and a bit of dry mouth which as I've said before can be triggered by medications I take.
These tight tuo leaves open up quite a bit over multiple steeps.
My sample seems to be completely aged out. In the 10 or so steeps I got out of this, all were fairly brown and smooth. Gives out the darker brews early in the first 4 steeps. The leaves are larger and have a leathery dried look, I'm not seeing any green here. No work needed on my part to age this further, the humid storage lingered in the steeps but I didn't air the sample. All the tea needs now is just airing and no special storage.
Second steep. I find brushing my tea pets a calming ritual.
Is it mind-blowing, life-changing sheng? No, but a nice daily drinker for those with a taste for aged tea.

Now, this tea sells for $93 at Teaclassico.com for a 250g tuo. USA-based Tea shoppers might want to take a look at what is likely the same tuo at Generationtea.com. I've heard that these two online sellers buy from the same distributer in Taiwan. Generation Tea also calls this tuo "Apple Green" and overall tends to charge a bit more for puerh, in this case $100 for what they are saying is a 230g tuo. At Generation Tea, differences of $7 in price and maybe 20g of tea (shaved off for samples, maybe?) might be offset when comparing the shipping cost from Teaclassico. Currency exchange rates might be a factor for other buyers as well.

The question comes down to this, do I have the time to age newer tuos and hope to live long enough to drink them at this level of age? Can I be bothered to deal with years and years of storage? For some, the answer might be "yes," and young people can likely pick up the latest $20 Dayi tuo for much less cash and hope to drink the results in years to come. If you are older though, and money is less of an issue, it might be worth paying an extra $70-ish for aged tea you can drink right now. The Apple Green tuo is worth considering if you are in the aged category as I am. Either way, if you can get ahold of a tuo with a year or two of Hong Kong aging under its belt, I think this is one of the best ways to guarantee a good tea down the road. Your years of dry storage following a humid start to a tea is likely to be a good bet if you live in the west. When I brew this again, I think I'll use an Yixing to add a bit of that mineral taste and tone down the storage flavor.

If you decide to pick this up, plan on airing the tea and drinking it fairly soon. It's ready now.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Auld Lang Chai

At the end of the year, we all wax nostalgic and get more honest with ourselves. As far as holidays go, tea drunks don't send out holiday greeting cards. We're too busy emailing tea vendors to possibly think of other people, like friends or relatives. Email written 1 December 2014:

<cwyntea@gmail.com>    Mon, Dec 1, 2014 at 5:42 PM
To: "YogiTea.CustomerService@yogiproducts.com" <YogiTea.CustomerService@yogiproducts.com>

Hello, I'm an old lady with a tea blog. I am so old that I remember the days of the original Yogi teas, the numbered 8 herb, 16 herb, 22 herb etc. that we used to get in bulk at the meditation center where I studied. I remember buying this tea in bulk from food co-operatives until sometime in the mid-90's, I think. The holidays have me waxing nostalgic. Do you still produce those old chai recipes in loose, bulk form? Not the tea bag. I suspect you might, but I am not lucky enough in joy searches to track this down, so thought I'd ask. My tea blog is http://deathbytea.blogspot.com in case anyone wants to check.

Cheers, Cwyn

Sent from my iPad

Ten minutes later I'm tapping my fingers, awaiting a response. They are located in Oregon, which is behind my time zone by two hours. And at nearly 4:00 in the afternoon, surely they have nothing better left to do than reply to my email. After all, it is Cyber Monday, and the shopping money meant for myself is just as good as that of people who are actually buying gifts for other people. Let's be honest once more, instead of buying socks for Daddy we're taking advantage of the tea sales and planning how much we'll be spending before the end of December. A chai is perfect for the holidays and winter, full of cinnamon bark, peppercorns, and other aromatic roots and seeds. Buying some now sounds like a great idea for December.

Sixteen minutes later and nothing. Time is just getting added to the days my tea will spend in shipping. Never mind. I might still have some left over, real herb chai. If so, the tea will be old, and who knows where I got it? But one thing is certain, I wouldn't throw out a chai no matter how old it is. I check and nope, no bulk chai. Well maybe I do have some but it's not in the tin I expect. Instead, I dig around the kitchen and find a carton of Tazo ready-made chai in the back of a junk cupboard above the fridge, not in my usual tea cupboard which is probably why I forgot about it. Before posting a photo of this carton, I must warn you of the explicit images to come. For these are a head-on, "face the music" reality of tea hoarding, and flat, dried out tea leaves just don't have the hoarding impact of actual liquid tea soup.
Yucky carton. The price on the front says it all.
I have to wipe off the dried dusty gunk on the carton to see the dates. Manufactured 2006, expiration date June 2009. Whoops.
I probably ruined your holiday chai plans.
Should have tossed this years ago. And yeah, it's gross. We can see why puerh is a better tea for Mother to collect. For one, it's stored better than this, and growing old or forgetful about puerh is a good thing. Can I face my tea hoarding and try this stuff? I'm not preparing my body in vain for anything healthy so that suggests a yes.

Boiled it over a little.
1 part milk to 1 part liquid, boil about 2 minutes and serve. When boiling bulk herb chai, root herbs should be boiled for at least 5 minutes before adding the milk. Roots are very dry and solid, they take time to rehydrate and release their essence. But this liquid Tazo already has that work done for you, so you just need to add the milk and heat it to a boil.

Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Okay, this stuff contains a LOT of sugar. The spices are nice, the beverage isn't spoiled. Don't know if the milk did something to the mixture, but I'm getting a strange coating on the roof of my mouth. Not something a straight tea drinker like me is accustomed to. Of course this doesn't have caffeine, which means when the sugar high wears off I'll need a nap. Haven't had this much sugar in one dose recently. The spices are still plenty powerful. Hm, maybe I should have kept this carton for the day when our government sends out the police army with guns, as my friend Rob in England expects will happen to me any day now. Personally I don't believe that myself, but like Christmas shopping, it's hard not to get caught up in the group-think sometimes. I got me a big wood cane just in case.

Yogi Tea finally got back to me three days later. As you can see in their email, they have one vendor for the original Yogi recipe.

YogiTea CustomerService
<YogiTea.CustomerService@yogiproducts.com>    Thu, Dec 4, 2014 at 12:49 PM
To: Cwyn <cwyntea@gmail.com>

Hello Cwyn,

Thank you for contacting Yogi! It sounds like you might be referring to Yogi Original Cinnamon Spice. Although we are no longer producing this particular tea, it can still be ordered in loose leaf 1 lb. bags through Ancient Healing Ways. Please visit their website or contact them directly for pricing and ordering information:

Ancient Healing Ways
Website: www.a-healing.com/yogi-tea.html
Phone: 1-800-359-2940
Email: customerservice@a-healing.com

Yogi Classic India Spice tea is one of our current teas that would be closest in terms of flavor. However, at this time, all of our teas are packaged in individual tea bags as opposed to bulk, loose leaf form. Here is a link to more information about Classic India Spice on our website: http://www.yogiproducts.com/products/details/classic-india-spice/

We also have several chai tea varieties that you might be interested in trying:

Yogi Chai Rooibos

Yogi Chai Green

Yogi Chai Black

I hope this is helpful, and please let me know if you need any further information.
Thank you again & Be Well!


What's missing are the middle years when they added more herbs to the original recipe to create the bulk blends that I remember. Apparently those are discontinued, and out of company memory. I guess those of us who drank the blends in the early 1980s are like people who drank the original Coca Cola back when cocaine was in the recipe.

Oh well. I think I'll pass on the original Yogi blend, I can make that myself if I want. And the rest of the links are for tea bags. Actually that bit of Tazo put me off chai for now, rather like trying to face a fourth day of turkey leftovers.

Requiescat in Pace.