; Cwyn's Death By Tea: A Few Wrapper Metrics ;

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Few Wrapper Metrics

Ever since white2tea announced the decision to go region-free this year with their tea labels, I've been thinking about changes like this and how they will affect us as tea buyers. Leaving regions out of the labeling reflects the reality that tea cakes are usually a blend of teas and mostly not from the same village. It also signals a departure from the dishonesty that abounds in the tea business as a whole, where faking tea origins happens as a regular practice. In a sense, foregoing region labels altogether is a step toward more honesty because white2tea wants buyers to know that even vendors can't always be 100% sure of the tea they are buying. Tea leaf gets transported from less popular areas to villages that will get top dollar for that leaf. But region-free labeling is also a step away from transparency which is something that we tea drinkers need.

A completely honest teacake should look like this.

Budget Tier.

Maybe not so much.


Okay, so personal taste but at least we know, right?

Absolute transparency.

Tea drinkers always have cats, so a best seller might be:

My dad's Lhasa Apso Blossom actually had a credit card.
Just imagine the thousands of teacakes with names like this. Setting aside the far-fetched and not-so-far-fetched for the moment, let's consider what the market would be like if the tea business suddenly got honest. If you are looking at tea in 2020, how will you know which tea is worth your money?

Top Tier, no samples.
Surely you'd pay big bucks for any of these cakes. But the current tea cake market situation suggests you need to trust your vendor. Implicitly. Because you know they will do anything to sell you tea. Most tea heads buy from vendors whom they believe they can trust, but then trust is Relative to the individual, isn't it? We're in the Relativist Universe of tea. My friend George might buy his tea from his favorite EBay vendor that I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole, but he trusts his vendor and he is fine with what he's buying. If that vendor says the tea is 1980s, well then he pays the asking fee and believes he has 1980s tea. I met my Tea Pimp in person, but not everyone has that opportunity, and nothing I say can possibly convey to anyone else any sense of my experience. Unless you trust me implicitly.

Thus tea is word-of-mouth recommendation, and one reason why tea blogs, review sites and videos remain relevant. Recommendations become even more important when or if tea labels become cartoons and decorations rather than actual information. But tea vendors have tried real information in this world and failed, and now nobody knows what Truth really is anymore. Might as well buy the cute wrapper from now on and hope for the best.

But culture always swings from Relativism to Objectivism. Hang around long enough and you'll swing both ways and back a few times. In a way, I view our current phase as the Relativist extreme. Recipe teas were at one time by far more objective and rational than they are today with so much faking going on. Now it's all about reputation, marketing and labeling. Another factor to add on is that making your own label teas is becoming easier to do via the internet. If you think we have too many vendors right now,  just wait 'til next year. I expect to see even more.

So where do we go from here? Is there any possible way to introduce a new system of more Objective data about tea, so that nobody has to buy my cat wrapper? We need Metrics for tea buying. Can you think of any wrapper metrics you'd like to see?

1. Spring, or Autumn, or Blend.

Done. Every tea must be labeled with one of these three, no others. Anything else like "pre-rain" or "before May" is therefore "do you believe it?" and "you're a sucker" marketing. I think most experienced puerh drinkers can tell the difference between seasons and can therefore judge a metric like this.

I'm going to forgo a metric for leaf grade because this leaves too much room for fudging in the marketplace.

2. Fresh

Current calendar year tea. In addition to Spring, Autumn, Blend. Your tea is Fresh if picked 100% and sold in the current calendar year. Anything in that cake from another calendar year means you can't use Fresh. You can still use Spring, Autumn or Blend, but not Fresh. People don't need much puerh experience to distinguish fresh from even 1 year of age, we have green and brown. Shou is not Fresh, just to distinguish the raw.

3. Whole leaves vs chopped.

Imagine someone daring to get really honest about this.

4. Number of steeps.

Now this one may vary in a single tea cake from year to year, but the worst I can think of with this metric is the vendor might have to *gasp* dig through that garage and try the tea every year. A single number of steeps isn't realistic, but how about a range? 5-10, 10-15, etc. This wouldn't prevent vendors from lying about the tea and simply offering a refund to unhappy customers who scream SNAD (significantly not as described). But it would give at least some idea how the price is justified. A tea that is still at a high price with a lower number of steeps must have some other qualification which justifies the price.

5. Bitter.

Well yes, every tea is bitter at some point, but not Bitter. I don't think this is necessarily relative to the individual with Puerh since there is a big difference between "drink now" cakes and the undrinkable except for those folks who like pu-nishment. Bitter suggests a cake for aging.

6. Craft.

Craft is a local or farm product. Now whole foods type people might assume that Craft is better than factory, but we know from teas like the Chawangpu Lao Yun that craft means completely smoked by a wood fire. Another craft product is bamboo-stuffed. On the other hand, factory teas might be more consistent, or cleaner. Wouldn't you like to know what you're getting?

7. Herbal Blend.

Anything that is not tea in the tea cake.

Now, we also have some Metrics that Old Cwyn finds personally useful, but perhaps highly Relative.

1. Laxative.

Okay, does it juice the sluice or not? Some days I need sheng to do a number on the number 2 and on other days I need to avoid it like the plague. Yunnan Sourcing: please label Dehong Purple Raw with Laxative. Mark it with a toilet stamp please.

2. Aphrodisiac.

Self-explanatory. I'd add in some more drawings here, but the nuns have found my blog as of this week. I'm expecting a letter in the mail any day.

3. Sticks.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Sticks need to be boiled for at least 5 minutes to extract any flavor, and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably selling tea. These puppies can dislodge dentures.

4. Allan Keane (AK) Shou bricks above 500g.

We might as well just get this one added in honor of our friend. If you see a shou with these initials, it means store it away for the love of god and don't drink for ten years. After that, you'll have an exceptional shou.

Requiescat in Pace


  1. I am sooooo in favor of the toilet paper stamp, knowing in advance can save you from serving it to multiple people when you are a a one bathroom house! But since most of us have cats...well...they can share the litter box.

    1. My son is good about his litter box, thankfully. He was easy to litter train. The toilet took longer but he learned it by the time he started college.

    2. funny thing is....when you go to college, you start peeing in random things like litter boxes :-P

    3. See this is what happens when toilet training is forced too early.

  2. I predict in 2020 I'm reviewing pu'er cakes pressed with glitter or jelly beans with bling'd out pu'er wrappers.

    In all seriousness, at WTE I had a tea seller tell me that twice he dropped off his tea for cake pressing to come out they swapped the material for junk. Now he rolls and presses it himself. A good point that we have to trust the seller oversees the processing.

    1. Both white2tea and Crimson Lotus Tea posted vids and/or photos of their supervision of the pressing of their 2015 collections. There may be other vendors who have also done so that I'm not aware of.

  3. White2Tea had better sell a tea next year with the Cat Pu label...

    1. Seconding this. And anime girls, gotta have anime girls. Pu’Er suddenly famous in Japan.