; Cwyn's Death By Tea: July 2015 ;

Monday, July 27, 2015

2004 Lao Ban Zhang Bamboo puerh-sk

A bit warm for aged puerh these days.
In spring I picked up a sample of this tea from puerh-sk after purchasing a teapot. I have no business visiting puerh-sk except that my friends on Instagram egg me on with photos of Novak and Bero teaware and eventually I am worn down enough to buy something. I have already written about the decent Sejak I also bought at the same time, a nice find. And as I recently tasted a fine leaf quality LBZ during a session with TwoDog, I think now is a good time to compare my earlier purchase of tea from the same region. Currently you can get a 25g sample of this for 9.2€, or 3.10 if you only want a single session, but I like to get at least a couple sessions from samples.

This tea is a local craft bamboo stuffed tea, so as with other bamboo stored teas the leaves are highly compressed. Dry storage on this one, and the tea arrived with a nice sweet-dry fragrance exhibiting the appropriate humidity levels. I don't smell any bamboo storage odors or anything dusty, so puerh-sk's storage is very attentive. Not too often I get an aged tea that doesn't need airing. Selected 6 grams for brewing, mostly the loose tea to save the bigger chunks for later.

Tea steep >5 with the storage poured off.
Initial impressions: tea is very smoky, in fact I'd think this is a Xiaguan if I didn't know better because the taste is very similar. Flavor-wise, most of this pours off after two rinses and a couple steeps, still can smell it in the tea leaf. I tasted the first cup and dumped the rest on my tea pets to keep moving on the steeps. Two cups later and I had a very similar stoned feeling to my eyes and forehead that I got with the LBZ from TwoDog, but here I also get the sweats.

This tea has lots of warmth in the throat and stomach. I get the same warmth from older made-for-Tibet teas, and older Xiaguan before 2006. It's more than just aging, I think tea leaves are just different now. Flavor-wise, however, I'm not noticing much huigan. The bitterness in the tea itself is changing over, but right now the stage of fermentation combined with the smokiness is just at a sour point. It is in-between the bitter young years and sweeter aged years. Which means this is a good tea for me to work on with my crocks, I can rely on the body effects being there because the tea is not flat and dead, all I have to do is work out the smoke which takes a year or so and then wait for the leaves to continue to ferment. Perhaps this tea will be nice and sweet, well on its way now. I will revisit this sample in a year to see if I've worked out the smoke. The leaves show promise with a few thicker stems, and small, but plushy leaves.

I can't say this is a great tea right now nor recommend everyone run and pick some up. Or that it will ever be a great tea. Or that it is worth the premium price tag to just to have Lao Ban Zhang in the name. Still, if you're visiting puerh-sk on a teaware hoarding mission and want to add something to your cart, a sample of this might fit the bill.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Parched, de-CoN-ed and w/o Tea

Summer hasn't really been hot enough for me, so to change things up I spent this week at the local air field doing mass disaster training with the National Guards, Air Force and emergency medical units. The call for help promised to include opportunities for GIs to carry me to a safe location, cut off my clothes and hose me down. How could I possibly resist all this? After all, it beats what I've been doing lately at the truck stop for my tea budget, and if I truly must confess, lately the tea world leaves me so parched, what with all that Zen meditation, hushed reverence and vanilla roiboos, I swear to god some days enough with the bamboo, boots on the ground are what I need. And I'm going to get up at 3 a.m. to find them.

Volk Field

Approximately 99 people answer the call to duty +1 who leaves her teacakes behind. After a long security clearance and waiting in line for chemical burn make-up, I am handed my "acting" instruction card for the day. Reads too good to be true.

Early a.m. check-in
At the Scene

You are screaming in pain, hysterical. Hot and shallow breathing.

At the Hospital

Conscious, semi-conscious, fading in and out. Rapid, shallow breaths and fainting. Thirsty.

Actually, the Hospital description sounds like me most of the time. I keep a fainting couch and hoard tea for just these reasons. Our own event commander tells us the general scenario.

Distance capture of the rubble staging area, Volk Field.
"You are going to a rubble pile where a train de-railed onto a building which fell over onto a stadium full of people leaving chemical burns on everyone left alive. The soldiers will lead you out of the disaster area to a hospital where you will have your clothes cut off, and you will be showered down. When you are finished, get in line and do it again."

Blood and dirt effects.
So off we went to sit on a massive pile of broken concrete, pipes and twisted metal. Eventually the GIs arrive in hasmat suits yelling to get us up off the pile. The "fading in and out" bit easily gets me a soldier or two to help me to the hospital. I make sure a cute GI is nearby when I get to the fainting part, so that I have someone's arms to fall into with a swoon.

"I'm so very thirsty, I need tea," I moan with some realism. Really, Method Acting is so easy to do when you have a huge store of Reality banked up to draw from.

"We'll help you ma'am, just hang in there ma'am," as they haul me up on a gurney, stripped off my clothes and rolled me into a warm shower.

These dummies are not so lucky. But they don't require tea.
A gurney is momentarily restful, but honestly at my age I'm not supposed to get off one of those things on my own and nowadays they are a bit too tall for a lady of an older generation. So I revise my fainting routine and restrict it to just before the shower to try and get my clothes cut off me and help with the shower as often as possible. Because you try and act like you're feeling too well, the soldiers will try and skip all that, even though we were promised at least the stripping part. 

Can't tell what he's supposed to be doing.
The only real downside to the first day is the porta-potties didn't arrive at our base camp until close to the end of the day. This meant walking a quarter mile to the closest location. I gave up on that in favor of peeing in the woods and complain loudly on behalf of the other older people in the group who are less adventurous in the bush, though I will go on to pay in wood ticks and chiggers no doubt. Complaining seems to work and the military vets in charge of handling us start to remember me as the porta-potty lady, which isn't that far off from my filthy tea blog anyway. So we continue with the shower scenarios meant to remove decontamination in the case of a mass disaster, soaking ourselves for hours and keeping hydrated with water and salt snacks.

Old cargo plane.
Early the next morning, we are informed that the military generals and local politicians are doing an inspection and visit of the entire DeCon operation along with the news media. So that means I need to be on my best fainting behavior for the camera. And the showers last two minutes instead of just one and we get a lot more water, a welcome respite from the high heat and humidity outside. With my medications and the intense heat and no tea, I actually stop peeing and swell up instead. On the first day, I dealt with that using a bit of Hekai gushu steeped at home and brought in a steel water bottle, but on day two I can't be bothered to make the tea ahead. I'm lucky to make it out of bed at 3 a.m. But we get plenty of water, soda and gatorade, and the Salvation Army and Red Cross also have beverages to hand out. So lo and behold, I drink no tea during the day for the next two whole days and rely instead on the rehydration beverages.

Heat and shade on the tarmac. De-con showers ahead.
Day 3 got tougher still, when the exercises move from continuous de-Con to a new search and rescue scenario, and when the rations reduced to just water. Here we try and keep in the shade underneath the wings of an old cargo plane on the tarmac while the showers sit unused just a few feet away.

Overheated people awaiting the staging ground in the distance.
We get water but no re-hydration fluids during the exercises, but I am grateful for the Salvation Army disaster response trucks and volunteers who give me Gatorade for real when I beg. Today our job is to hide in a staging area that eerily reminds me of the Koresh Compound of the Branch Davidians.

Top: staging at Volk Field. Bottom: Branch Davidian comp., Waco, TX 
For those too young to remember, the Branch Davidians were a cult in Waco, Texas waiting for the end of days and having children with the cult leader. They held a stand-off with the FBI for 53 days in 1993, resulting in an invasion and getting burnt to the ground which killed most of the cult members, including women and children along with the cult leader. I recall the story to my son when I get home, as he was only two at the time and has no memory of how that all went down on the news media. In fact, I'm convinced that the "positive engagement" techniques used now by the National Guard in today's exercises seem at least somewhat a development over time based on disasters like the Branch Davidians, an intervention with cultists gone bad.

Air National Guard 
The National Guard is a volunteer home guard militia of each state whose purpose to rescue and assist people of the state, and protect from a hostile invasion. They work on natural disasters and anything stateside, very often helping other states during wildfires or hurricanes, and in peace-keeping duties. Lately, however, many units have been deployed overseas in foreign wars, something that most guard members didn't sign on for, but the guard can be called up even though they are separate from the Regular army. Unlike the career military, guard members are mostly professionals working civilian jobs but serve on-call duty, and train a weekend a month and for several weeks in the summer. I've had many guard members and regular army pros in my family over the years, and I might have followed suit but chose clergy/religious which is the other traditional path in my family.

Hiding in the bunkers.
Today I get a mix of both hiding from the Guard in the metal buildings and bunkers. We are supposed to act hostile or non-cooperative, which over the past few days many guard officers assured us is more typical of disaster situations. They see much more resistance and paranoia doing rescue work and disaster aid than people willing to get help. Our job is to hide and Guard units rotated in to take turns finding the hidden civilians. Half our group hides in the forest, and half in the bunker grounds.

On our last drill, when the heat of the day is at its height, a group of us barricades into a bunker with wood barricades. I find a broomstick to go with my hat to play the old lady who expects the soldiers to be scared. 

Oddly enough, nobody searches our building, even though we are in one of the first and most accessible buildings. I find a chair and hide behind an open door. Several other civilians outside do a good job distracting the soldiers which allowed others to remain unseen.

After an hour in that sweltering building, I am about to die of heat stroke. At this point I'm done with the idea of getting carried out. Walking quickly to get to the water and subsequent ice bath is more on my mind. Finally a group of three soldiers plus the unit Commander searches the building.

The Commander is forced and determined to get his lame-ass recruits through the exercise. He sees me behind the door while the soldiers are getting out the three other people in the building.

"Is the building clear?" he asks.

"It's clear, sir."

"I am assured there one more person in the building!"

Still nobody saw the old lady in a chair and straw hat behind the door.

Finally the Commander grabs a recruit who looks younger than my son, and bodily turns him around, and then shoving him at me. I wave my broken broomstick weakly.

"I'm thirsty..." So much for religious resistance, a bit too much hardship and I break down for tea. People can be glad I'm not the one defending the country.

But even though these days have been too much for me physically at this point in my life, I have to admit I loved it. Listening to the stories of the veterans who also signed on, I recall my own history of crisis work in mental health street clinics, homeless shelters and schools from Harlem to New Mexico, and a stint in disaster counseling with the Red Cross after 9/11. I realize how much of an endorphin rush that crisis work was for me. And the extent to which I probably am looking for the same thing from tea. All the jokes I make about myself as a tea drunk are a new point to consider, as I begin to understand the experiences of some soldiers returning from wars who turn to alcohol or drugs. Even though my drug of choice is tea, maybe I haven't escaped so well from my career in human services. The tea I planned to get with the pay takes on a new perspective, and the tiny thought enters my brain that maybe I don't need so much tea after all.

For a half a minute anyway. Or, at least until I see my fermentation crocks. I still need a hobby.

Requiescat in Pace

Friday, July 17, 2015

You Know How I Worry

I recently surprised a friend by saying I don't spend much time chatting with tea vendors. Given the constant mixing of vendors and tea drinkers on social media these days, one hardly knows where tea drinker stops and vendor starts. Very often these people are one and the same. In the case of less scrupulous vendors, having a troll avatar to bash the competition lends even more confusion to the tea nerd. On social media, I already have plenty of tea hoarding buddies, but what I really require is my tea vendor to be a Vendor because I'm tea needy, tea hoarding-level needy. I don't think people understand puerh hoarding tendencies, not even tea vendors, so let me explain because you need to see how completely rational tea hoarding really is.

We must accept that Tea Need is a boundary created by worry. Vendors might try to soothe the anxious customer dealing with a sell-out by saying "there will always be more tea," but a tea hoarder knows better. Principle of Puerh Worry #1 is There Won't be more tea. The best tea available sells out and quickly. And it is gone forever. Say that again. Forever. And no, there won't be another tea cake like that one. It rained this year so we don't have the drought-strengthened tea we had for the past two years. And then we know puerh was over picked anyway, and over-chemical-ized too and isn't the same today as it was 15 years ago. Puerh leaves are like eyebrows. Anyone who overplucked in the 90s is bald faced in 2015. So too the good tea tree is sold out and empty. Your best investment nowadays for a decent sheng collection along with copious teaware is to buy a shotgun.

Far worse, people actually drink up their good tea. They don't save it and age it and think to send me some. They hoard their cakes with good reason, and knowing this fact means I must hoard too. I could offer a tea hoarder 10x what a tea is worth, and we all know he will never sell. Ever. Not even the moldy stuff. Fire fighters can break down the door and the landlord can terminate the lease, but that hoarder will hold out and even then rent a storage unit rather than give up that gone-forever Apple Scruffs. I know for a fact the TV show "Hoarders" is a set-up, with an ultimate goal of targeting tea people. They are creating a facade of general hoarding interests, but you know what? People don't care about watching folks who can't throw away worthless junk like plastic bags and clothing, and the producers know it. We are being lulled into complacency, they have their eyes on us tea hoarders because we have the real stash. The only choices are a storage locker or you drink up. Take your pick, bottom line once it sells out, the tea is just gone, people.

The truly worrying thought is, what happens if the tea vendor decides to stop selling? Throws in the towel because too many idiots are buying cheap Dayi that lasts 8 steeps at best instead of the good stuff that leaves you crawling on the floor and passed out under the table. I've sold online and I know what a pain in the ass shipping is, just that tedious task alone is enough to send most sane people applying for a real job. Even the ones who stick with it are still worrisome, what with the mandatory two or three extended vacation times a year when they actually close the store. Do these vendors think they are teachers who get summers off? I don't care that the postal is closed for the New Year, deal with it and stay open like a normal KMart on Thanksgiving. I can just feel the people out there buying and the rising panic when website quantities don't get updated on a daily basis. Recently I survived an extended panic when white2tea took a vacation. They graciously agreed to visit me, otherwise I might have done the Unthinkable and actually ordered from someone with free shipping.

Days when nobody is Running the Store and willing to Ship puts me in a serious bind. By contrast, if I'm a smoker trying to quit I can always go across the street and hunt the parking lot for half-smoked butts. But I can't just walk into the Kwik Trip looking thirsty and expect them to have my top tier puerh pie in stock. And then if I complain that one of the hundreds of beverages they sell aren't going to do it for me, they will simply call the doggie wagon. People say I should feel sorry for marijuana users instead because weed is illegal, but why? If I want weed I can start knocking on doors down the block and eventually I will find some. But puerh tea can't be manufactured with a couple of grow lights in the basement, it comes from Overseas and only from Yunnan, China where nobody will give you any, no matter how much Wild Turkey you bought in the duty-free.

On top of the realities of tea leaves, tea buying and vendor vacations, we have our own families to deal with who constantly reinforce the need to buy tea. Now while I've verbally beaten my own son into submission, I realize not all tea people are as successful or so fortunate with their own families. In fact, I've been considering opening a Counseling Business to help fellow tea hoarders with their problem families, because I feel deeply, deeply, deeply for you people. I can only imagine what it is like to have a spouse looking at the hoard giving you the tear-filled eyes, and oh god the questions "How are we going to pay for Junior's college?" or "How will my mother/cousin/sister/brother/uncle ever get out of Mexico?" And even if they don't say anything and the kids are all done and paid for, next it's the Italian Vacation and the wife-beater car they aren't grateful for anymore, the Edison bulbs they think they need, and your tea collection is always there to blame.

Now this is a form of passive discrimination and abuse of the tea drinker race, but clearly our society has a long ways to go on these issues and we'll all be in the grave before any of it changes. What the loved ones don't realize is that the constant implicit criticism of any tea buying just grates to the point of needing to buy more. Because regardless of how the family feels about it, that cake is going to sell out either way and In is always better than Out. We can't control market forces, or tea vendor vacations, but we can still hit Buy and this is the ultimate way of feeling better, especially when a family turns stubborn.

The truth they need to understand is the same with any addiction, the tea hoarder simply does not care. At the core, I don't care what you think about my tea addiction, and you can choose to get that and be grateful that I'm not like the alcoholics down the street. At least a tea addict can still give you a grope now and again, and will stay with you as long as you accept the fact that if the credit card has any room on it whatsoever, that money will be spent on more tea. A productive family goal is to save money on lawyers and buy more teaware. Yes, every single April can be a time of joy and a ray of hope to the family who Accepts first flush, instead of the misery that tea season all too often is for one's co-dependents.

But all this is why I really need the tea vendor to be a vendor. Tea drinkers have social media covered, to quell all the sell-out worries which beset us and to promote teaware hoarding. We'll worry about how to brew the tea. In return, I need my tea vendors to keep paying off tea farmers and packing the boxes. And I need my family to respect the reasons behind why I have a post office box for my bills and to keep away from my crocks. Because I'm simply too busy with the problems of tea selling out and competition with other pesky buyers who have more to spend and hog two tongs instead of just one, and no real way of getting rid of those people. Then I have storage to think about, how to work less and drink more, that second mortgage paperwork, and whether tea vendors will start accepting SNAP sometime soon so I can dump Paypal.

I hope I've clarified tea hoarding because my job is to hoard. A vendor's job is to ship the hoard and my family's task is to say "good job Momma" when the postal forklift arrives. In this context, whether or not I actually drink any of those teas matters very little because it's about the shopping and how much room I have under the bed, and not at all about tea drinking. Once you really take the time to think about it, hoarding puerh makes more sense every passing day, and a truly proficient hoarder plans ahead. Do you all think Last Thoughts and Chawang Bulang will sell out anytime soon? Cuz you know how I worry...

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Three Days

Summer of Sheng

On these hot days I'm sleeping out on my three season porch with my tea, while my ex mother-in-law enjoys the comforts of my air conditioned bedroom. Aside from the hot weather effects on myself, no complaints on sleeping with my pu. After all, you never know when some local enterprising meth head might learn something about puerh and decide to raid my stash. I like to keep the porch door open too, to welcome more air circulation through the screened door.

Wisconsin has three months of weather in the summer time with the potential to mimic Hong Kong storage. Unfortunately for my tea, not every single day is hot and muggy. Some summers we do get incredibly hot and muggy weather, but this year we've had a wet summer with cooler temps, and now we have smog from Canadian wildfires drifting over our region, leaving the sun in a haze. Canadian breezes also provide relief from the heat on occasion when a high pressure gradient slips down bringing more glacial air, and this year the smog too. Other US states get humid weather daily, but Wisconsin isn't Virginia or Mississippi or even Missouri.

People tell me constantly, "I can't be bothered with crock storage, it takes too much time." But when my climate has so few really muggy and hot days, crock storage is a way to make the most of the best tea fermentation weather. Opening up the crocks takes less time than watering a vegetable garden. If I use one big crock, I only need a few seconds to open the lid. And I'm getting too old to bend down and mess with an unplugged fridge. My crocks sitting on a table are more like the clay flower pots that normal people have.

My Pu sure loves the warm, muggy days, tuos and bricks start to loosen up and release their fragrance. I can use baskets or unglazed vessels to take advantage of the humid air. And when the weather dries up again for a cool day, I can close up the tea to let the moisture from previous days soak on in. This is the time of year when I want to see how all my teas are coming along. Hopefully you've already purchased your fresh sheng for the year too, because hot summer days call for a cuppa the raw, and the fresher, the better. Shou is for winter warmth.

Sheng, on the other hand, is cooling on the body. I take a number of pills which cause a side effect of fluid retention, and then another pill to rid me of excess water. Still, the hot weather rules over the efforts of my pills, and I retain a massive amount of water. Some days this gets a bit much, and I feel tired from it and take a nap which helps my body loosen some of the excess. Sheng helps a great deal with the rest. Yin people look for warmth everywhere and probably drink shou in the summer time, but I'm constantly chasing the cold. Even my mother-in-law complains about the heat.

"I'll never move to Florida like other old people," she says, referring pointedly to her brother, and my siblings too. "I like the cold since I don't have to go out in it."

That last part is key. When you stay in the house all day and never go out if you can possibly help it, who cares what the weather is?

For my condition, I find that fresh sheng works the best. Any problems I get from sheng puerh stem from drinking in the middle of fermentation, so anything between 2-10 years old tends to give me issues. I have no problem with fresh tea when the leaf is excellent quality, and no problem with aged teas. Since this year's fresh teas are coming in a bit higher in water content, I can just drink more.

And I should be drinking more. Originally I started increasing my green tea consumption back in the late 1990s to help prevent a non-stop cycle of kidney infections that increasingly grew resistant to antibiotics. The infections tended to hit following days of extreme weather, high heat and humidity in the summer, or extreme subzero temps in the winter. Several days of these extremes and driving in my car for work and so on, my kidneys couldn't take it. When I started to run through antibiotics, I realized I needed to make lifestyle changes, among them spending less time in my car. I also greatly increased my consumption of green tea and started buying better quality tea leaves, eventually progressing to shou and then sheng puerh starting in 2009. I have felt lucky that I haven't had an infection for about 8 years.

However, the combination of high heat, sleeping on the porch, cleaning up the bathroom after my mother-in-law and sometimes avoiding the bathroom altogether when she had recently used it, this all added up on me a few weeks ago. I drank a small cup of sheng in the evenings but the weather felt too hot for more. Three days of all these factors and I got hit with a bladder infection. Luckily I called the doctor and nipped the infection with only three days of Cipro, the only antibiotic left short of an injection that works. Eight years is a long time and now these infections are far more exhausting than before. And I needed to rest to make sure it didn't spread to the kidneys as it has so often in years past.

"Three days that I dread to see arrive," wrote Faron Young before he shot himself, words in a song Willie Nelson later recorded in a favor returned for "Hello Walls." "And it does no good to wish these days would end, 'cause the same three days start over again."

Hot Stuff Faron Young eyes a Drake.  
Dammit. I thought I was past it, over a sort of crucial hurdle. But no, I'm three days away at any time. Enough physical stress and too little tea, and back in the cooker I go. I have the emotional constitution of a rhino, but physically I'm a worm. So no more thinking that a single 100 ml cup will do, I need to be at the 1-2 litres of tea daily. And I've found that I really need the green sheng in the hot weather, black tea doesn't seem to have the same effects. And decades back I went through the whole juice and cranberry extracts regime that does not work and led to even more stubborn infections. Puerh is stronger by far to cranberries.

All this has led me to pay even deeper attention to my sheng puerh. Reaching for the cure when my legs and ankles swell and I feel tired. Much of this would improve if I stopped the nifedipine which produces some of the edema. But I can't do that right now.

72 Hours by white2tea (my photo)

Instead, I reach for the sample of new puerh, the 72 Hours cake from white2tea, the bit I have in a bag as a gift from TwoDog. It's handy at the moment, and effective. This is very fresh leaf with mild bitterness, a slight body relaxation after the first two, nothing terribly heavy. Very thick stems indicate a lot of age in those limbs. I pump three small cups of this, maybe 100 ml each, and put my feet up. Maybe doze off a little to help my body out.

I can literally feel my body cooling down after about twenty minutes or so, despite the hot tea. Stiffness leaving my ankles as I begin to shed the excess fluid. The tea is slightly astringent for me but nothing mouth-puckering, with honey notes and a strong honey scent to the cup afterward. Once I'm past the half litre mark I feel rather transformed from overheated, bloated and sluggish.  I lose the excess water, and my sharp faculties return so I can once again focus on reading or writing.
Somewheres past 10 steeps.
72 Hours is also Three Days, "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow." This tea is apparently one that is lightly bitter the first year, but sweetens up rather rapidly within the first five years, according to TwoDog. So to get the best from it, a person must plan to store the cake for 1-5 years. I had every intention of saving this sample in a small crock to see what happens. But I can't stop drinking this stuff. Now I call it Three Days tea, it's the time I have without tea before my body will break down.

What I've learned this summer is I can't stop with sheng, and I can't skimp. I must drink the quantities and I need to buy the best leaf available to me. This isn't about collecting or storage, it's also about what I can actually drink right now. For me this means top quality sheng, or at least the best I can buy, and my shopping list must have tea less than a year old, or it must be older than ten years. Sheng does not bother my stomach if it is fresh and high quality, or it must be well-fermented. That middle fermentation stage is where the trouble lies, just as no one would eat partially fermented sauerkraut, we must wait until the microbes have done their job. Or we eat the cabbage fresh. Milk too is perfectly fine when very fresh, or it needs to be properly fermented into yogurt. Partially fermented milk is only edible in baked goods, such as a sourdough starter or muffins. Fresh or fully fermented. This isn't true for everyone, alas. One of my friends on Steepster got a tummy ache just today from a very mild, fresh sheng. I'm glad I can drink sheng because it is literally keeping my kidneys afloat. If there is a tea jaundice, I surely have it because when I don't drink tea I'm in trouble.

Hopefully by now you've got your own collection of 2015 fresh tea if you are able to take fresh tea. Or you have a decent stash of fully aged or fermented tea like shou or liu bao if that is what you need. I've got my eye on a few more fresh and aged teas yet this summer, so stay tuned for more reviews. I'll keep doing them as long as I can hold out! But now everyone best get out of my way on a beeline to the WC.

Requiescat in Pace.

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Clover Experiment

Nothing like summer in Cow Country to get inspired on tea fermentation. This time, I've been duly influenced by my recent get-together with white2tea. I needed to get my storage evaluated and so I brought along a few cakes purchased from TwoDog so he'd have his own reference points on those same teas from selling them. I just asked him to please sniff, and his general initial remarks were "sweeter," and "you worked out the smokiness." Now the stored teas had either been kept in a pumidor, crocks or both for at least one year. Although we didn't taste those teas, at least I got some feedback on the positive side and of course I've sent samples of my teas around to a number of people, but most of them have been tea drunks like me who will drink anything, in other words a rather skewed group.

TwoDog shared a few other impressions he has of tea storage, and says he can identify at least a half dozen different storage locations in Asia by taste alone. I didn't ask more about this because that information could involve tricks of the trade with tea buying that perhaps he wants to keep to himself. I hope he chooses to write more about regional storages someday. But one other bit of information piqued my interest. He talked about the effects of storage beyond simple metrics like temperature and humidity, such as air particles of particular places like pollens and plants. I mentioned that my tea in crocks can be completely in a microclimate apart from the outside air as is the case in winter, but in the summer I do indeed open them up to the outside air to benefit from additional heat and humidity. TwoDog said he hoped to describe Wisconsin storage someday and actually taste the qualities associated with this terroir, as he can do with teas stored in Asia.

Now this crosses my area of interest, since I've been trying to find methods that work here in Wisconsin. From my own results, I'm absolutely convinced that crock storage is viable and in fact more humid and just plain better than pumidor storage, avoiding the dry air of winter with simple controls. But pollen brings up local plants, flowers and trees, all of which permeate the air here, especially now in the summertime. This is very interesting and I began to think about the types of plants and pollens in Wisconsin. I wonder whether a bad ragweed year will mean sneezing when I drink my tea. Even more thought-provoking is the idea of taking advantage of local pollens to see how they affect tea.

Two major plants come to my mind with Wisconsin. One of the big reasons our state makes such excellent dairy products at the volume that we do is because of what the cows eat. Cows eat a diet of alfalfa and forage, along with other supplements, various feeds and grass hay. Farmers improve cow guts and milk by fermenting silage, a product composed of corn, grass, alfalfa and often red clover as well as other ingredients. Our cheese and milk products are viewed as particularly sweet due to local red clover which grows wild all over the place, and cultivated alfalfa, a high protein plant. Farmers grow this in fields all around this area along with corn and soybeans. Cows get their red clover as forage, eating out in the pasture during the growing season, and clover makes its way into alfalfa fields too. Some cheeses, such as Edam are best when the cows are fed a diet high in red clover. Seems to me red clover is as good a plant as any to work with in an experiment with tea.

The fermentation of red clover has been thoroughly studied, and generally posts a rather acidic pH during the fermenting process, the upper fours like 4.6 or 4.7. You can read about the composition of acids in fermenting clover in studies by the University of Wisconsin here. But I'm not really planning on fermenting the clover, seems like I can just take advantage of the pollen and moisture from the flowers, along with the fragrance and see what happens.

So I dropped TwoDog an email about a red clover experiment and off I went to get me some red clover. Fortunately I found a bunch growing down the street in an abandoned lot. Quite a bit of clover in fact, and a smart rabbit had found the same spot and dug himself a nice house in the dirt there. Saw the stash while I was on my way to the Senior Center anyway to return a shower bar I'd borrowed for my ex-mother-in-law to use during her visit. Luckily nobody important seemed to notice my shirt pocket stuffed to the bursting with red clover blossoms. When I got home, I washed the flowers and sterilized the crock.

I count myself lucky to have found the clover now, because some blossoms are already turning brown. We've had a lot of rain this year and weeds and plants are just going crazy and so the clover headed out much earlier than usual. Some of the plants had a few small buds left so I can check back again. I'll need a bit more to last me until next July. My plan is to use a single blossom as a moisture source in the crock rather than clay shards or pouch buttons. As drier weather approaches in autumn and winter, I'll take out a blossom from the freezer and throw it in with the tea.

Haeger pot with white2tea 2015 mushroom sheng
For the tea, I figure a Menghai profile tea is easily recognizable for its scent and flavor of acrid apricots. As it happens, the Super Mario mushroom in the latest white2tea club box has just this profile. Perhaps this tea is a bit strong and might overpower the blossoms, but I can keep up the blossoms and see if the pollen has any effect at all. One thing's for sure, this tea is freshly pressed and this year is a wet one. I'll need to watch the tea like a hawk until it dries so it doesn't compost out.

I can taste the money.
Yeah. I know what you're thinking. Crazier than usual. Maybe the experiment will come to nothing. Or maybe it's Genius and this tea will sell for Thousands someday. After all, most people have this same thought about the Dayi they buy every year, isn't that more crazy than what I'm doing? Okay equally crazy. At best. Then too I'm probably a zombie for my favorite Tea Pimp. He did drug me with tea.

If you're reading this, just promise me one thing. Don't write the County. I got enough problems.

Don't you wish you'd thought of it?
Requiescat in Pace.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I Shaved my Face for This

Tuesday's Tea with TwoDog

When an old Tea Whore like me catches up with a Tea Pimp, I get a bit of old tyme religion. For a whole day in advance I take a personal inventory of all the bad tea I've been drinking, along with nursing a desire to confess. Then I need to get my storage checked, and administer any needed remedies to the dry climate of Wisconsin. But mostly, how lucky I am to sit down with TwoDog of white2tea and Companion for an afternoon of amazing tea.

When I got word that TwoDog is hosting two tea tastings in Madison this week, and that he could be in town early for a tea session with Old Cwyn, what do you think I'm gonna do? Not difficult to guess.

Of course, I had to offer the trip to my mother-in-law who is looking rather antsy lately about getting out of my house and back home in the MadCity. So when I suggested to her we might take a trip to meet up with TwoDog back at her house, and she could thereby get home 6 days early, why she was so positively happy to be rid of the likes of me she actually drank a cup of my own celebratory sheng last night.

Stove by Mirka Randova
So today we hosted tea on the back deck at her house, and I brought along my kettle warmer and teaware. You all won't see a photo of TwoDog here, and some might say "pic or it didn't happen," but we are all notoriously shy of selfies, because someplace in Wisconsin a beatdown surely exists for souls oversharing on social media. Nevertheless, I have a photo to offer of a teacake that isn't out yet on white2tea.com.

As yet unreleased 2015, white2tea.com
We start with this yet-unannounced new 2015 tea. This tea has a citrus top note, and long huigan, very strong in the mouth. We all get a decent tea drunk on and mostly steep out the tea, I lost count but at least 8-10 steeps. I really don't think it is steeped out yet, and I got to save the leaves which I plan to brew again tomorrow. This tea is apparently one to put away for just a few years because it will sweeten up in a short time. I got a lucky bit to take home in addition to the steeped leaves. We can all watch for it to appear on the site.

From there we move on to Lao Ban Zhang leaf, which smelled rather like incense, and TwoDog thought maybe "baby powder." He had stored the tea is this teapot for two years in Wisconsin. Bring it on and I get even drunker.

TwoDog's Pot with Lao Ban Zhang
Finally the big treat, an aged puerh that is almost as old as Old Cwyn. At this point my ex MIL makes an appearance to deliver her remarks on drinking teabags. This just now as we've been drinking LBZ and about to drink what TwoDog refers to as "mortgage puerh." He very patiently talks to my MIL about fannings and pesticides, a delightful effort which I can see will go nowhere with her. He invites her to taste the mortgage puerh and she turns him down, thankfully. I would have bit back an objection to aged pu on a teabag lady when Old Cwyn isn't on the ground yet.

Full spread
The aged tea produces a profound silence with three people staring off into the trees. I'm definitely wasted now. But never done. What a relaxing afternoon in the cooler weather we have!

Blessings on TwoDog and friend for safe travels...

Left, white2tea cake, in Jian Shui aged, old Pu
And finally, I confess I drank up the rinse after you left. All two inches of it in the tea table.

Requiescat in Pace.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

2013 Jing Gu Old Arbor Yunnan Sourcing

Are you being served?

Recently I received this sample of Yunnan Sourcing's 2013 Jing Gu Old Arbor along with a purchase of other teas. Today I'm digging it out and when I check to see if the cake is still available, holy cow it is $59 already but luckily the cake itself rings in at a large 400g. This is a varietal called Camellia Taliensis, and is reportedly from a village cooperative tea garden with trees ranging from 60-350 years. According to Yunnan Sourcing, when the garden was affected by drought in recent years then the villagers water the bushes by hand. 

Which brings up a point to consider when buying this year's teas. Early reports are that puerh regions got quite a bit of rain in April this year which hasn't been the case over the past few years. What I'm seeing with tea cakes already is that the later picking dates are more wet this year than last year. The drier years seem to produce a stronger tea, so I'm looking at 2013-2014 teas with new eyes now.  

Photo Yunnan Sourcing

Camellia taliensis is more silvery in appearance when dry, like white tea. Scott at YS notes that the leaf is used in making white tea, and is often blended with Yiwu leaf to add thickness and a more attractive surface to the cake. Some researchers have found more catechins in the wild leaf than can be found in plantation Camellia assamica (see Gao, et. al 2008 for example, cited below), though that study compared plantation Lincang so maybe that mutes the results somewhat. I guess I got the luck of the draw in getting a sample of this with a purchase, because the sample is 25g or so. I pry off about 8 grams per 100 ml.

Initial nose is vegetal, hay, nothing special, but the base note is a light white peony that I associate with white teas. However, this is merely a note, as if the white peony got an invite to the garden party. What I mean is the tea is definitely leafy, not something like silver needle or processed white tea pressed into a cake form. But you can see it in the color of the tea, that darker yellow brew that white tea usually produces. I should stop saying white tea because it isn't Assamica, yet if you are someone who enjoys white tea and wish silver needle cakes had more punch, this is a tea to consider. 

Photo Yunnan Sourcing

The tea has a light bitterness and astringency and early steeps are noticeable in the throat, these can be minimized by going a bit lighter on the temps a few steeps in. Brew turns to a sugary sweetness around the lips. Thickness surprisingly throughout, I can definitely understand the reasoning behind using this leaf as a base blend to thicken up a tea. 

Fifth Steeping

Effects are a calming qi, not as much caffeine as I usually go for, but at least I'm not yelling at the neighbors. When I was younger, I liked to wear straight A-Line linen shift tunics down to the ankle and tied in the back. Every week I religiously ironed and starched those dresses and wore them all summer long. I still have a few of those tunics, but they are too small now. They are hard to let go of and I think of them sitting in the closet when drinking this tea. Back then, this tea would have fit all my poetics and I'd be all over this tea like a bumblebee. Now this old battleaxe needs a kick-start in the transmission. 

The tea is still going after ten steeps and I'm only doing about 20 seconds in the gaiwan. Light peony flavor is constant throughout. Quite a pleasant steeper. More importantly, Jing Gu is a page in the puerh compendium of knowledge so as to recognize the presence of this silvery leaf and its thick brew in puerh cakes. The cake appears to be all small leaf and buds, suggesting a single origin which is getting harder to find these days. 

Even better, these 400g cakes are only $59 currently, sitting among other Yunnan Sourcing house teas from 2013 priced over $100, making this Jing Gu cake quite the bargain. Surprisingly fresh still with not much dry storage to taste, just a tad at the beginning. Definitely worth picking up a 25g sample for $6 if you don't feel like springing for the entire cake. Either way, the tea with a touch of white peony is a rather different experience from the usual grape or apricot notes and every puerh fiend should try Camellia taliensis at least once. Yunnan Sourcing recently moved from Portland to Bend, Oregon. Let's hope the dry air of Bend isn't too harsh for the puerh stocks.

Requiescat in Pace.


Gao, D., Zhang, Y., Yang, C., Chen, K. & Jiang, H. (2008). "Phenolic antioxidants from green tea produced in Camellia taliensis. Journal of Food and Agricultural Chemistry, 56(16): 7517-21.