; Cwyn's Death By Tea: A Clover Experiment ;

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.


  1. Replies
    1. Old tea and old age means I can't be held responsible for any of it,

  2. Thank you very much for another informative article. Just a question please, which humidity level have you got in the humidor? Many thanks. Rui

    1. The best I can do in my humidor without any summer weather is 64-65%. In the summer, I can open the door to expose to higher temps and humidity. Using a crock, on the other hand, I can get much higher humidity, over 70%. But you see it is very dry here much of the year.

    2. Thank you very much Cwyn. Then I am not too far, in my humidor I am getting 68-69% and I was worried it could be a bit too high and it could start some mould formation. Looking forward to your next article.

    3. Cwyn!

      I've never met a nun and I can't believe many of them have extended knowledge of retro video games. Something is a little fishy (and it's not the pu) but I don't care because you've helped me out as a tea drinker immensely.

      I've been using your crock method in super-dry Texas and I'm achieving 74 percent humidity on a good day.

      If you're about to buy more buttons, you might check out Blimpies. They're cheaper and have more mass, which means more water absorption, which means less soaking in the long run. You can buy them at those head shops where derelicts buy devices for smoking marijuana. Or here:


      Thanks again for all your hard work. You're an amazing blogger!


  3. Rui,
    I wouldn't worry about mold until closer to 80% RH and above. 70% - 75% RH and around 70°F is still in the dry storage spectrum by south east asian standards

    1. Agreed, I have to push humidity rather high and reduce air circulation quite a bit more using crocks to get mold to form, or even a musty odor. And even when I've done this, backing off on the humidity For a few days returns the smell to normal. I've brushed mold off experimental tuos during push experiments and backed off and again the dry air returns the tea to its usual fragrance. Mold spores just don't survive long in the 60s humidity.

    2. Thank you both for the information. Although I haven't got any expensive teas I would hate seeing any of the teas going to waste over mold.


    3. Can you give a little bit more information about the "air circulation"? I just started a crock-like storage system a few weeks ago and have the humidity around 71%, 70F... but the lid is fairly well closed at the moment. Is that bad? I have about 2kg or more of tea in there right now. (pretty much all the puerh I own so far.)

  4. She is the mad scientist of the pu world!

  5. Hahha, that's awesome, I'm curious how it turns out! Unfortunately with this bad California drought and water restrictions, my lawn is all dirt and ants. No clover for me.

    My stored SoCal pu'er probably has some nice smog, desert, and broken hollywood dreams taste though!