; Cwyn's Death By Tea: August 2015 ;

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Revisiting Storage of Puerh Teas

The weather this week in Wisconsin is expected to be warm and humid, unlike the cold, dry and then rainy weather of the past two weeks. So I open up all my crocks and the pumidor for what may well be one of the last very warm weeks of summer. And after a summer of ideal conditions for fermenting puerh on my three-season porch, I'm assessing teas in their best state for this year. Soon enough, the fall season will mean cooler and drier weather, and I will need to add warmth or humidity myself.

One of my storage containers I've been impressed with is the red clay Frankoma honey pot, and I am using other crocks from Frankoma as well. Over the past year, my honey pot has held a sample of 2013 Bada Shan from camellia-sinensis.com. I haven't tasted this tea until now, I just tossed it in the pot. More than any other tea I've been storing, the tea in this pot has smelled malty and sweet when I've checked it over the past year and a half. Camellia Sinensis has brought back the tea again for 2015, this time in 100g cakes for $44 and change. Fairly pricey stuff for what appears to be mostly huang pian. I don't see much evidence in this of 800 year old trees, but I do see what is probably autumn tea.

2013 Bada Shan by camellia-sinensis.com

My crock has clearly pushed this tea as far as it can go in a short term experiment, based on the browning you see in my photo. No mold or humid storage, but the tea smells like beer. Soup is surprisingly thick. The brew is mildly bitter, nice warm throat effect and I break a sweat after tasting four cups. But no real punch to the tea. It's a pleasant and mild cake meant for western tea drinkers with very little experience in puerh, if you want to pay the price tag. I like the thickness, but not much flavor here for us who are well-braced puerh drinkers.

First steep after two rinses.
However, I can think of a handful of western-shipping vendors selling 250g bricks of huang pian with more punch than this has. In fact I'd rather buy one from an eBay vendor, a brick that might have a nasty edge and some spank to it, if I am going to the direction of buying huang pian. And to be frank, I'd probably prefer huang pian from Chawangshop or similar vendor, because I know I'd get a tea that holds up in storage in Asia, rather than a pleasant drinker for tea shops in the west.

Third steeping.
We still know so little about long term aging of sheng puerh outside of Asia. Though over the past year I'm encouraged by the wealth of discussion amongst collectors in English. More and more I see people sharing details and photos of what they are doing to keep their tea. Yet all of this, and even the '88 Qing Bing, remain anecdotes of successes amidst a growing body of tales of tea dug up from warehouse corners, under floorboards, or a hoarder who passed away before he drank it all in some forgotten home in Asia, and behold, a gem of a cake emerges. And even when as much of the story behind the cake is verified as possible, the proliferation of fake aged cakes means the best anecdotes get consigned to the dustbin of myth rather than added to a systematic body of knowledge. But then I suppose we westerners like our systems of knowledge.

One anecdote I see repeated occasionally is the 6-6-6 rule or the 7-7-7 rule (take your pick). This rule suggests that raw puerh changes in years 6, 12, and 18. Or 7, 14, 21 if you like the other "rule" better. To me this is a real anecdote. Is there some sort of coding in the DNA of all raw Yunnan leaf, that can be applied to every sheng puerh? For one, we know that highly compressed shapes like tuos, mushrooms, gourds and balls remain dry on the interior even when steeped. Many of us tried the white2tea Poundcake gourd, or the Planet Jingmai sheng ball by Crimson Lotus, and after multiple soakings and steamings we had steeped out the exterior leaves, and picked apart the interior only to find it bone dry.

So a highly compressed tea can sit in a puddle for days and still remain dry on the inside. We all know that iron cakes and compressed shapes were developed for very humid climates and for very long term storage. I don't really believe a 6-6-6 rule is going to apply equally and consistently to a tuo or iron cake, compared to loose maocha or even a stone-pressed cake. And most of us know that even tea leaves are not equal, sweet leaves from the north of Yunnan peak far sooner than the bitter teas of the more southern counties. I'm happy to consign rules like 6-6-6 to the anecdotal basket.

And then I wonder whether we in the west have any business even buying tuos or iron cakes unless we live in Florida or somewhere near the equator. Unless of course these teas have already spent considerable time aging elsewhere, and we are buying on the back end rather than the front end. More and more lately I find myself tasting teas and judging how they will be after two years in MY storage, rather than thinking about how they taste now. And I definitely have zero thoughts of "this will be worth money someday." The best I can hope for is to drink what I have.

Steeped leaves,  I went 5 steeps on this.
When I buy tea for my climate, I have to face what few facts exist, and they are all related to my climate and storage solution unless I plan to drink up the tea right away. One of the most difficult facts for a collector to face is this:

If we really want to age tea in a drier climate, we need to break up the cake and add humidity.

Without breaking up the cake, we are likely to end up with fading tea on the outside, and hardly any aging on the interior. For any consistency, the cake needs to be broken up. Because even soaking it for hours and hours is going to leave the interior dry.

Most of us who hoard puerh tea get attached to the shape, the wrapper. Like a vinyl collectible figurine we want to save the box, wrapper and papers and keep it intact. In other words, we are seduced by aesthetics that might better be applied to collecting tea ware rather than tea. But the person serious about fermenting and aging tea has to do what must be done to treat the tea as a plant product meant for fermentation and consumption. Collecting and storage are very different tasks and should guide our purchases at the start. Few of us think this way. And vendors with self-interest prefer that we continue to hoard cakes as things, because as soon as we take fermentation seriously, we truly realize some teas are impossible and the wrappers are unnecessary.

My puerh buying seems to fall into these categories.

1) Fine fresh sheng for drinking over the summer, to rid myself of excess water and cool my body.

2) 10 years old+ with some humid storage.

3) Heicha, partly oxidized and pile fermented teas that may have golden flowers fungi, something tangy as a change to shou puerh.

Because of my storage experiments, I can taste storage more and more. And I've become more aware of how truly undrinkable sheng is from 2-10 years of age due to fermentation and changes from wok charring in particular which gives the tea a sour dry quality until it is worked into the tea. For me, years 2-10 are the survival years for sheng. The tea either comes out of this heading toward a decent drink, or it dies from dry storage, bad leaf quality at the start, or too much char that needed really humid storage to work out.

2015 version of the same tea. Photo camellia-sinensis.com
As for my 2013 Bada Shan sample, I really need to toss it out or drink it up. I've done what I can do with it, and know that it is a short term drinker and not a long term storage tea. The tea hasn't made my feet cold, as a fresh sheng would, and won't improve much more except to fade because the old orange leaves have limited strength. So that is my evaluation of a tea I've stored for a little while.

In upcoming posts, I will continue to discuss more aspects of storage, so stay tuned!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

2014 Autumn Zhang Ping Shui Xian

9-10 gram size squares

Picked up a 5-pack of these little 9-10 gram Autumn tea pillows with my spring sheng order from Chawangshop.com. I'd been eyeing these for a few months, and shortly after I got mine the stock had sold out. Seems Chawangshop sells these every so often, but they don't last long. The eight step process of making this tea involves picking parameters in September/October, light oxidation, light charcoal roasting, and pressing. This "water sprite" tea is known for its floral scent, narcissus or daffodil are common comparisons. In reality, this tea gives a bit of the best of both green and roasted oolong teas.

This cloth bag came with the order, probably for my bladder pads. 
The weather has been far too hot for me to even consider oolong or shou over the past few months. But today we have an overcast and unseasonably cool day, in between summer and fall.

I went a bit heavy on the tea/water ratio, but I didn't want to break up the leaves. Sometimes I found as many as 4 leaves on a stem as I dug around in my teapot. The scents alternate between the familiar plummy charcoal roast and then the grassy notes of green oolong. The brew is long-legged down to the stomach. The charcoal roast is just enough and it stays around the edges of the mouth, while the grassy citric notes cling to the tongue. Very cooling on the throat which is surprising. A bit of sourness throughout, I suppose to be expected, the tradeoff for the incredible floral aroma which is the real hallmark of the tea.

Tea for a dreamy afternoon.

And as usual I drank too much. The main event is over at 5 pots of tea, at this point the roast begins to dissipate along with the heavenly floral scent. I squeezed out 7 pots before calling it a day, and probably could have got a bit more. The caffeine packs a punch compared to the Pu I normally drink. I'm a bit jittery in my stomach now. I can feel the need for a large meal coming on.

Light oxidizing and roasting gives these leaves a lacy appearance.

At $5.50 or so for 5 tea cakes, this works out to just over a dollar a session. Half the price of a candy bar nowadays and nothing on the hips. For me it was a no-brainer adding a pack of these to a puerh order. I'll save the remaining 4 for a special afternoon like today, when the cooler, cloudy weather calls me to treat myself to a little inspiration.

Requiescat in Pace.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Extreme Prejudice

This week I've been graced by the presence of a former tenant of mine that I haven't seen in awhile. I've written about him a little, a retired 65 year old country singer who is occasionally mentally ill and most of the time alcoholic. Now as a tea head, I get all too immersed in the endlessly fascinating life of tea cakes and tea ware hoarding, and forget what the rest of world really is. The tea-totalling universe is alcoholic, and I've forgotten how boring booze really is.

Haven't seen much of my friend Mr. Grumps over the past year. He's been doing god only knows what and I mostly don't want to hear it. Lately he's up to his ears in traffic tickets and (oops) a disorderly conduct charge (again) for walking barefoot into a restaurant thinking he'd entertain the patrons with a guitar and singing. He thought wrong and they called the cops. He can't afford to fix his vehicle brake lights...well he could do, but that would involve not buying alcohol, and the cops are fed up as usual. I get advance notice when Grumps will be arriving at my house because his court papers start showing up in the mails, he often uses my address when he gets arrested. In his view, having a clinical PhD friend's address is ideal for serving warrants.

So I agree to my (mostly) regret that he can park in the yard until his traffic court date next week, and then the following week's preliminary hearing on the "Disorderly Conduct for Playing a Guitar Barefoot in a Restaurant" beef. Let's take a look at what alcohol does to your recreational vehicle.

Case in point.

"I'm an entertainer and this is a rolling side show," Old Grumps says.

"More like a rolling ghetto," I quip back.

Luckily he is drunk enough to think that's funny. I'm not always so lucky.

All alcoholics, without exception, think they are entertainers. Sixty-five years of it just means accumulating more bad jokes.

"You know why all the girls broke up with me?" Grumps waits for me to say  no. "Because I'm one less mouth to feed. They didn't need to buy toilet paper."

Not Wanted in 7 states and 5 counties.
Laughed hysterically at my Pu t-shirt.
Actually that's kinda funny. One of the better ones. I've had plenty of these jokers in my extended family who consistently thought their rambling monologues edifying and hilarious, but mostly they are repetitive and tedious. Luckily these days it is socially acceptable to hide your boredom in a smart phone, but years ago we weren't so conveniently endowed. Dad's slurred speeches began and ended with "I can still dive deeper, swim farther and come up drier than the average sonofabitch." The rest of the speech was equally repetitive and made absolutely no sense. He couldn't make it to the bathroom much less swim anywhere.

Through the course of history, real drunks are probably responsible for most of wars as well as hitting people with cars. Have you ever heard of a Tea Drunk running over small children while driving? Didn't think so. That's because it doesn't happen. Tea drunks sit at home quietly with their cups and cats and flower arrangements and quartz crystals and think they are divining. They aren't, but at least nobody else dies because of it, and they pass out unobtrusively without needing to puke all over the bathroom. Let's face it, tea drunks are just cleaner people and have ten million more brain cells. The worst you can claim about us is hoarding, and it is not our fault they wrap the tea cakes in flimsy paper after all, so if the fire department has a problem with the hoarding we can just say stuff it. At least we aren't falling asleep with a cigarette like the other drunks, which has a greater chance by far of causing havoc in more ways than one.

Old Grumps bangs on the house door all day long after expressly promising not to, and he does it every 45 minutes because he thinks I want to hear a repetition of overly embellished stories he's told a million times that nobody can possibly verify. Like driving Naomi Judd's tour bus into Dolly Parton's front yard. Thing is, with a real booze drunk, I can actually believe stuff like this happens. The only time a Tea Drunk might inadvertently drive into someone's front yard is if we see a garage sale and they are selling tea pots. But seriously, how often does it happen? Okay once in awhile but nowhere near the frequency that a real liquor drunk claims to have done something that made him famous at someone else's expense. No, I come home with my tea ware quietly, the only noise you hear me making is something falling off the shelf where I'm trying to make room.

The brain cells an alcoholic requires are the ones he's going to lose on a daily basis. Tea on the other hand, requires brain cells that actually work, such as when you're trying to decide whether the new pink gaiwan at camellia-sinensis.com is real famille or transfer-ware. Is a booze drunk capable of that kind of deep scrutiny? Let's see...

"Look here, I got a record of honky tonk piano songs from the 1960s and it only cost me 15 cents at St. Vinnie's," Grumps says.

He must've bought it for the girl.
On the label it says "Pops," which doesn't mean Daddy, it means "easy listening" string arrangements which "Daddy" is actually going to hate once he comes round to listening to it. That is, if it survives the deshabille of his rolling ghetto interior, which it probably won't. Okay, fair enough, I might break a tea pot but I won't wake up one morning and wonder what the hell I was thinking when I bought it. Err... still, in my case there is always eBay for my tea drunk mistakes, I don't think that musty old easy listening LP is going anywhere except the impound lot, that same impound lot I had to rescue Grumps' cat out from just two weeks ago because that cat's daddy was stuck in jail.

Haven't seen much of Grumps over the past year, he didn't even know I've escalated my tea habit into a blog format. Last year he showed up briefly to bring me a bag of ancient herbs supposedly from a flea market and destined to cure my various physical illnesses. But the bag was so coated with cooking grease I threw it out immediately. I suppose it's the half-baked thought that counts, but you know what? I'd rather have a fully baked thought and make myself a pan of brownies because I'm sober enough to actually do it. And I'd rather be dead from tea than wonder why my kids don't call, and my friends won't open the door, and why the cops are here yet again (twice just today) to tell him "when the post office asks you to leave, you need to leave."

Looking a bit better today than when he arrived.
Well, okay, I admit had that little bit of a scuffle with a tea shop recently over that kettle I was absolutely planning to pay for, but because I'm sober I don't cause a public fuss like Grumps does. I'm able to walk away with my goods intact most of the time. No, I have nothing whatsoever in common with alcoholics and I am by far the superior creature.

Now this might seem like a case of extreme prejudice, but I'm not entirely a tea snob. I can enjoy a glass of Porto port on occasion and appreciate the qualities of aged wood casks, or take a shot of Jameson's and pretend I'm Irish even though there is no way on God's green earth a Polish Hungarian Jew can even begin to pass for one. And I fully enjoy the contact sport between California sparkling wines and defenders of the Champagne grape as much as the next person. Despite all that, you will never hear of a puerh wife-beater, at least not unless she tries to hide the credit cards. But this is truly preventable with enough education on her part of the disappearing tendencies of high end maocha pressed into "burgers," because if you read websites like puerh.fr long enough you'll begin to see the logic of tea patties dated 1910 with perfectly white neifei that cost a thousand dollars or more. And a Tea Head will never max out your credit cards, spend the kids' college fund, bankrupt the home equity line, break the cheap Yixing in a drunken rage, fall asleep during sex or pee the bed.  Never.

I'm drinking Hekai gushu on the left.
Well, I best get going now. Grumps needs me to type his Not Guilty plea to drop off at City Hall by tomorrow. He doesn't like my advice to take the tickets on the chin and plea for mercy on the fines, and doesn't agree that the cops have him on those traffic tickets. That's his right, though. With any luck, maybe he'll fix my broken lawnmower in exchange.

Requiescat in Pace.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

I'm All Wet (and So Are You)

Currently I'm in a state of suffering in a heat wave of +40s C with high dew points. Now this sort of weather is very common in many parts of the world, but not in snow country where I live. And we're not adapted for heat. I do have a window AC unit, but it barely keeps up when the weather gets this hot. My medications don't help, at least two of them have sun or heat warning labels. Even drinking tea can be difficult, and I only manage to work in a cup or two at night. So I spend more time thinking about tea than actually drinking it. Luckily sheng still makes the cut for me, because nothing is better than fresh, green sheng puerh with its yin qualities to drive out the water that my body is forced to hoard. This brings up some of the issues with drinking a fresh sheng. Some people cannot take fresh green tea, it bothers their stomach or they feel too cold afterward. In that case, aged puerh is the way to go alternating with aged oolong or oxidized red tea. But if you are able to drink fresh sheng, paying attention to brewing parameters is just as important to get the best from your tea as your careful decisions when you purchased the tea.

This past week, my friend and blogger OolongOwl demonstrated her mastery of brewing technique in her blogged brew of white2tea's 2015 "If You're Reading This" cake. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who has purchased this cake needs to read her blog post, and at least try her parameters. Of particular note are the temps she used for her water, aiming for 195F-205F at the very top means let the water cool after a boil for at least 5-10 minutes. She correctly assessed that a fresh green tea needs a lower temp to get the best flavors from the tea. If your tea turns to mush after a number of steeps, you know that the tea is all wet and so are you.

We have heard a bit about the unusual rains in Yunnan during the first part of April. Not only is fresh puerh on the wet side anyway after pressing, but any tea picked after rains will be even more so. Brewing temps are one way to control the flavor and retain leaf integrity. Check the dates on your tea cakes, if you see pressing dates after April 1, this isn't a sure conclusion that the tea got rain, but at least some probability exists for this in 2015. You can let the tea rest for several months before trying it out. But brew temps are one way to drink your new tea without killing it prematurely.

I've been working with another little technique on my fresh teas. When I reach a point where the tea doesn't seem to be giving much, the leaves are fairly opened and I'm brewing closer to 2 minute steeps, I stop brewing and dry out the leaves. I spread them out on a tray and let them dry out overnight or longer. If you have at least some AC going in your house, drying your tea is very easy to do. Then I can start over with steeping the tea and get several more steeps back at a 30 second steep time. In my observation, the tea develops an equilibrium with the water and no longer releases any more essence, however plenty of essence still is in the leaf. By removing the tea from the water and drying it back to just leaf, I can extract more tea from those dry leaves. This has been very successful for me with teas like 72 Hours and Last Thoughts, and with older teas that seem to need a rest. By the way, I dried out the 1960s sheng leaves that I drank with TwoDog a month ago, and I still have them. They are like dried out leather and nowhere near ready to quit.

Darn tootin' I dried these out.
One thing that bugs the crap out of me is when I read about a tea head who has brewed his $20-200 cake for 5 steeps and quit. Yes, I mean you. I am going to show up at your building with a 5 gallon bucket and dumpster-dive your trash can for those leaves you threw out.

5 steeps or less and I'm coming for yours.
I'll never need to buy tea again if I went around to all the houses of people who throw out tea leaves they paid good money for and then brew them halfway or less. I get it that you have to watch your stomach or your caffeine, but all the more reason to hang on to those leaves and dry them out. Next time you'll get not only less caffeine, but MORE flavors, more subtle flavors. You drank off any storage flavors, you're just getting to the real tea at 5 steeps. Throwing the tea out at five steeps is like taking a bite out of a steak and tossing it all to the dog.

So, a few pointers about Drinking new sheng:

1. Consider resting it for a couple of months.
2. Brew at lower temps than you would for aged tea.
3. Dry out the leaves when they seem fatigued and save them for another session.
4. Try and discover what the vendor sees in the new tea. Most western-selling vendors have excellent palates and they picked that tea for a reason. Change up your gram amounts and water ratio.


You need to know YOUR geographical area and indoor climate. Any advice you read online may not be appropriate for you or where you live. When you are seriously getting into sheng, you must develop storage solutions.

If you plan to drink your new sheng in <1 year, storing in a plastic bag is fine since you will be drinking it all up soon.

Can you store new tea with older tea? A variety of opinions are out there on this subject and no proof exists on any of them. Mine is this, I consider the profile of the new tea cake. If it has a floral or sweet quality, then I like to keep this profile and I store the tea by itself or with other similar teas like Yiwu. On the other hand, with bitter teas like Menghai or Bulang, I store these with older, aged teas under the theory that microbes in the older tea will migrate to newer tea. I feel like my bitter teas can take it and need all the help they can get to start fermenting. For smoky tuos or mushrooms, these are similar and I crock store them together. I discovered that bamboo wrappings in a pumidor can get moldy so I won't leave any tea in them anymore.

Crocks are inexpensive when purchased secondhand.
If you don't have a storage solution yet, you can leave the tea in a plastic bag for 1 year or less until you've explored storage solutions. Any more than that and you're risking the tea going flat and drying out if your climate has a dry winter season to contend with. But really, if you're stuck on storage, just get a plastic drinks cooler to use until you find something else. It's not the best option, but as long as you wash it out, give it a sun airing to remove any plastic odors, a cooler can be a decent enough solution if you're on the move or heading to school for the fall. Add a small jar of water in the cooler come winter, and the cooler doubles as a seat and you can still use it for ice and beer while you lock up your tea into a safe for the party.

Enjoy your fresh tea! The fun of owning and drinking has just begun. And take anything I say with a grain of salt, because my sheng shower got me all wet.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

2015 Bosch White2Tea

2015 Bosch white2tea

My week of fainting in the arms of the National Guard got me the funds to purchase my very own cake of Bosch, something I've been looking forward to since white2tea released their 2015 house label teas. The description for the Bosch cake insists this tea is for the "experienced" puerh drinker, and of course Old Cwyn thinks she should be at the head of the line in this category. So to shut her up, I had to go ahead and order it. She really wants two cakes, but I also wanted another Poundcake ever since I drank up my entire 100g gourd from May's tea club. When two highly fragrant fresh sheng cakes like Bosch and Poundcake arrive together in a plastic bag in hot weather, they emerge from the box smelling like my Polish aunt's bathroom after she's used it. That's the aunt with hot pink fur wallpaper bathroom and too many perfumes.

Read it at your own risk.
The story on the wrapper of sex with an old Hungarian lady apparently has something to do with a  reincarnation as a Flemish painter. I'm not entirely certain what all this is supposed to evoke, but trust me and disregard this business on the wrapper. I have extensive experience in ignoring old Hungarian women such as my own mother, who also believed in reincarnation.

"I'm reincarnated from a Mexican Indian," we grew up hearing all too often.

"And how do you figure on that, Mom?"

"Oh well it's my gypsy heritage," she'd say.

"Mom. Your heritage is devout Hungarian Orthodox Judaism. The chances of you being related to any other ethnic group are virtually nil."

She never bothered to really look into who Gypsies are, content in her view that it's all about lifestyle and choices and not a history of isolation and oppression and forced wandering. Undeterred, she moved to southern Arizona so she could visit the land of her chosen heritage more often, mostly a dentist because Mexican dentists are cheaper. But still she did stalk a Mexican lawyer in Mazatlan for two years she felt destined to wed, even while married to her own third husband. And just before her death she kept herself busy chasing a Volkswagon dealer in Tucson of Mexican heritage, a second candidate for the destined fourth marriage but thankfully at least she was widowed by that point.

Bit of bleed on the neifei :P

Now don't get me wrong, my mother was a tootsie but I did love her. (A tootsie is someone who wears mini skirts well into her 70s). And I was rather proud of her flagrant and confident sexuality, that unlike other kids I had a Mom who didn't bequeath uptight hang-ups and explained anything sexual to a five-year-old in the most blunt language possible. But when you have a Hungarian parent with no boundaries whatsoever, you need to find the Off Button and press it frequently. If my mother saw the Bosch wrapper, she'd think it is all about her, even though she wouldn't have a clue who a Flemish painter is, nor know a Bosch triptych from a Van Gogh, or a gypsy from a Jew.

Long leaves characterize this cake.

Ignoring the wrapper, therefore, I allowed the tea to air out for several days in case the Poundcake had added to the fragrance. Also, given the rains in Yunnan this year I weighed the tea as well, and got a cool 200g reading on my scale. The tea has bled into the neifei, juicy and full leaves come apart easily. No trouble getting 8 grams into my gaiwan to start my experience.

Normally my Maine Coon isn't interested in my tea.
Overall, I drank the session tea over three consecutive days, usually in three cups of around 100-125ml, less at first and more as the tea expanded. Eventually I transferred the tea to a larger gaiwan to accommodate the expansion.

The color here is that of older trees.
The first three steeps after a single rinse smelled rather similar to a Menghai profile, that acrid apricot. Those first three cups also were the most bitter and astringent of the session, and in fact my eyeballs dried out from the astringency. Take that statement lightly, because I have medications that cause dry mouth and also remove excess liquid from the body. I also got very tea stoned in my face, and sweaty. I promptly passed out, partly from the tea and partly from fatigue. After the nap I went back at it with another three cups, less bitter than before. My cup smells honey floral, in contrast to the bitter lemon of the tea.

Steep number three.
One quality of the early steeps is feeling the tea well into the stomach. These steeps are very yang, something similar to border teas I've had before. While I experience a really good sheng through the throat and into the stomach, this one lingers full and warm in the belly for up to an hour, while cool in the throat and esophagus. This belly quality means that Bosch is drunk with the entire body, not just in the mouth, and in fact more so in the body than mouth.

Steep number six.
This belly sensation produced a kind of disequilibrium for me that I had to reach back into long-dormant knowledge from younger days in meditation classes. When I drink sheng, normally a belly sensation might be a sign of getting a stomach ache from rather bad tea, but that is not the case here. Still the body memory of stomach and tea together led my mind to interpret that a stomach ache might be coming, but this is a memory and not reality. So, the key is to observe. Some people, depending upon their type, may pass out during meditation, or during some types of deep body work like Rolfing. This has less to do with the body work than with hitting emotional memories and the tension that touch begins to release. Some people who are very physical in their type have repressed emotional memories in muscles, or an energy if you are a meditation person. I'm actually the opposite, more of an intellect/feeling person, and my issue of disquiet is more around the physical sensations that my mind cannot make logical sense of. The experience of pregnancy was 9 months of complete disequilibrium for me, where my brain had no clue what my body was up to.

Now, in meditation work, this is the point where you begin to observe more closely, when you hit a disequilibrium. You observe this, and see what it is saying. So my stomach is not really saying "stomach ache," as in feeling sick, it is simply saying "sensations." Thus the observation is merely to experience it as it is, rather than impose an interpretation or course of action.

Certain drug experiences also have a bit of a belly effect, I've never taken psilocybin mushrooms, but I understand these can have a disequilibrium effect in the stomach at first.

Now I'm probably making too much of this, such that anyone reading this is going to conclude too strongly that the belly effect is unpleasant, and my post hoc over-analysis is perhaps a bit much. The effect is actually pleasant and warming if you are a less nervous type than I am. I got a bit of the Woody Allen thing going, certain I have a brain tumor or some such if I have a twitch in my scalp and I find doctors reassuring when they roll their eyes as mine does. If you are a physically vigorous person, you'll truck along with this tea and have a great time. Keep in mind I don't like alcohol much, that explains a lot about my type. Your type might be vastly the opposite, hopefully. I'm someone who has to meditate and observe in order to understand, and I needed to observe the effects of this tea. And I'm someone who'd rather live without the whole business that goes on below the rib cage and above the pelvis, anything tummy and I run. Thus I'm in my non-comfort zone when I think of my digestion, and this is an issue dealt with squarely, long-term in meditation practice.

So the belly effect is quite warming, perhaps more so than I need in the summer and I look forward to drinking this again in the fall during cooler weather. I also noted a bit of char in the strainer and I definitely taste it in the first few steeps. This is something I will need to work out of the tea in a crock because after a year it will taste sour in the dry storage of my geographical area. I just recently crocked up my 2014 Manzhuan for this reason, the char in the tea had started to turn a bit acrid. A year in a crock will get rid of that.

Steep nine outdoors, the cup reflecting the clouds.
I let the leaves sit after 6 steeps until the following day and start up again with what now seems to be a completely different tea. Gone is the early bitterness, the tea tastes mostly sweet with nutmeg and deeper spicy notes. I think the older tea leaves in the mix are in the forefront now, drowned out yesterday by the younger bitter buds. Still some of the belly warmth present, lasting nearly an hour, and tea stoned feeling in the face, but much less pronounced than yesterday. Drank a total of nine steeps over the course of the second day, bringing myself up to steep 15 here now on day 3, when I transfer the leaves to a larger gaiwan and steeping around 2 minutes. I'm still getting plenty of flavor and color too, but the tea is lighter now, more like green tea. As of this writing, the tea is at steep 16 and I have no plans to dump the leaves yet. I expect the remaining brews to lighten and remain at a pleasant cup of green tea.

Steep number twelve.
Overall this tea is an experience of looking, tasting and feeling. I can see why TwoDog is trying to steer away newbies from this tea. They might just taste the bitter and astringent qualities of the early steeps and turn away from the tea, and not even notice the long effects of the tea in the body which distinguishes this from other tea cakes. They might miss the spicy and sweet notes of later steeps.

Steep fifteen and the leaves are really open now.
Also too, this tea is slamming me up against my weakness of mind-body disconnection, my meditation subtype and continued practice. Someone who is much more grounded as a physical type, someone who maybe is a muscle athlete or with more energetic gusto, will find nothing disturbing in this tea whatsoever. A bout of weightlifting or yard work, a roll in the hay would give more of a rush, and tea like this is but a dribble in a much larger blast furnace than what I myself possess. You know your type, and I hope I've provided enough info in this sense to help you decide on your teas.

Same photo as at the start above, steep sixteen.

I've spent some time with sessions of 72 Hours, a tea which is a more straight-up sweet experience. Still the 72 Hours has a bit of the same tea stoned in the face, relaxation quality, but not the changing flavors and subtlety of the Bosch. Flavor-wise, for a great tasting cup the 72 Hours wins. The Bosch is for the inner life, the person who has the time and a particular inclination. I'm glad to have it in my collection. But I plan to throw away the wrapper.

Requiescat in Pace.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Tea Shop Day Trips

Time on my hands and many day trips to be had. Visiting shops is an important activity as a tea hoarder, and the haul you can get for a little bit of work on your part is well worth the time spent. My job as an older tea blogger is to share my accumulated wisdom with the readers and so I hope my tips for tea trips won't disappoint.

Of course I always carry a large purse because one never knows when an opportunity might arise to help oneself to free samples and tea ware. If you think you're a tea ware hoarder, you need to see what some of these tea vendors are holding. They have way too much tea ware, and I'm certain nobody will actually buy it. Also, because there are so many pieces just lying around, one or two simply won't be missed. At least not for awhile. Everyone is all about Impressions and Looks these days, so it helps that I'm just a little old lady with a big purse and nobody pays the slightest attention to me. In fact, if you're on the young-ish side of life, you can look forward to your wisdom years when tea ware hoarding turns into a full time job.

Some tea shops like Yunnan Sourcing keep big dogs around like Dobermans. These dogs are most definitely trained to look out for hostile activity, and you need to plan ahead and go cautiously.

Hazards like Yunnan Sourcing's dog require preparations.
photo courtesy of TeaDB.org
Those dogs scrutinize every visitor who walks in the door. But they seem to like me better than regular people. I keep dogs busy by not wearing my usual bladder aids and by eating raw broccoli the night before. A discreet little cough usually does the trick. And if I have an additional treat for the dog on my way out, why that dog is positively thrilled to see me the next time.

When you get to the tea shop, the first thing to do is order a sampler tasting of the best tea they have. Usually this means the most expensive. Here your superior knowledge about tea really comes in handy, because when you order the best tea in the shop and then turn up your nose and start scouring the tea wall again, they know you mean serious business. They surmise correctly that you are looking for some unknown criteria which they cannot possibly guess and this initiates a cycle of staff confusion. Then you'll get two workers helping you and not just one. Very often a second worker comes over because they think the person waiting on you is out of their depth and needs some help from one who has more experience. But don't worry, that experienced person trying to take you on is just as easy to fool as the first one by saying things like "I think the AliShan is just a bit watery this year compared to last," or "I prefer Ruyao in the traditional blue rather than the green, don't you?"

The whole idea here is to use a method of Split and Divide on the staff. Hopefully you can get at least one worker into the back of the shop to rummage for special stock that isn't on the floor. In this way, you can eliminate scrutiny from at least one person while you're looking around. You should also suggest a tea cake online that you can't remember the name of, and see if they will look it up for you and check their stock.  Not only does this keep the counter person busy, but the computer is tied up too because you don't want anyone looking at the security cams until after you leave. If you find yourself at a loss, mention your cancer and all the nausea from chemo and that never fails to get them busy finding a whole pile of teas for you. But you definitely must avoid whipping out that Tea Sommelier certificate or mumbling about your blog, because you want to keep the staff moving and focused on the Big Sale. Your real expertise will just stop everyone to gape in awe and you don't want that.

Instead, you want to make sure the staff scurries to get tea bowls and tasting spoons and all the proper equipment needed for sampling in order to occupy themselves while you pursue your real goal with the tea ware displays. After all, tea shops don't have any tea you would seriously even consider drinking, much less buying. The real reason for your trip to an actual shop like this is therefore the new over-priced tetsubin you'd rather not pay shipping for, or the teapot you really need to show off on Imgur. Hopefully you've eyed up the stock on the way and zeroed in upon a target.

Dress inconspicuously and carry a large purse.
After you get the staff busy trying to please you, it's just a matter of helping yourself to the goodies. Now before you get all self-righteous here, let me remind you of something. These tea people are following Zen ideologies, or else they'd never bother with a tea shop. They'd sell online instead, with 24 hour shipping, like a real vendor should. So these people have ideologies to live out via a tea shop lifestyle which you can use to your advantage and remind them of their ideology as needed.

For example, the first rule a Zen tea geek follows is the Principle of Non-Attachment. This means they don't care a single thing about material goods. In fact, you're really and truly doing them a favor by relieving them of too much tea ware that no one is going to buy anyway. A Zen hanging on to tea ware is the same thing as a Christian with a gun. It's against their religion. The only difference between these two is the level of non-attachment, so you're better off trying to relieve a Zen of his tea ware than part the Christian from his gun. I'm certain this is completely logical to real hoarders because you are clearly far too intelligent to buy into baloney like non-attachment and non-violence when the reality in front of you is to have bigger hoard than anyone else no matter the cost. Luckily this is all a righteous act of plumbing by freeing up a tea shop from unnecessary material goods which only clog the way to enlightenment, and lord knows how many clogs life has already. This is how to best serve the younger generation in your old age after all.

Ideally you'll also have the chance to sample a half dozen teas for free. Under no circumstances should you use the bathroom, no matter how much tea you drink nor how badly you need to go. That makes your ploy all too obvious and amateurish: ducking into the bathroom in a retail establishment is a dead give-away. Far better to have a li'l accident whooops that sends the staff scurrying for the mop and fumigation because you can't possibly bend down yourself to clean it up, which isn't hard to pretend after you've slammed down a few too many green oolongs. At this point, they will be more than eager to see you gone.

I highly recommend having a change of clothing in the car, including a hat. This is especially important if you've had that accident in the tea shop I described above, in order to keep the seat clean. I don't really bother about it myself, but a wet seat can get on some people's tits if you need to share the car. But a disguise can't hurt, especially if the tea shop is located in your own town. Locals can be such busybodies.

When you get home I know you'll feel tempted, as I do, to immediately photograph and publish your new acquisitions online. But for obvious reasons, you might want to refrain from doing so, at least for a little while. It helps that pretty much everything you find in a tea shop these days is on Aliexpress by no fewer than 3 dozen sellers. Having a few "real" tea ware invoices printed out from there is a wise back-up measure. Printing the last twenty pages of orders will surely confuse anyone who happens to inquire, but the likelihood of this happening is fairly low if you've managed to get this far with your new stash.

Visiting tea shops is definitely lucrative and worth the time. If you have a buddy to go along for the gig, you can hit two places in one day and share expenses for paper towels, doggy biscuits and whatnot. Not to mention any impromptu necking inspired by all the tea excitement. And anything you don't need, go right ahead and mail it over to me. Just tell me what shop it's from, so I can cross that one off my list.

Requiescat in Pace.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Sexy Tea Names

People say you can't get everything you want in a tea. But that's not true. If the definition of Qi is the spiritual energy running through everything in the universe, then tea can be She, He and It.


Black buds. White Tuos. Gushu, Round Beeng. Mu Cha Raw. Dragon Pearls. Oriental Beauty. Flowering Jasmine. Peach of Immortality. Yin Cang Yu Er Ripe.


Long Jing. Big Blue Mark. Sheng Balls. Bangdong Black. Man Tang Shou. Wiry. Bamboo Log. Big Red Robe. Mo Li Long Zhu. Wild Arbor King. Purple Dehong. Fuding Bai Mu Dan. Man Nuo. Dong Ding.


Twisted leaf. Tie Guan Yin. Bug Shit. Duck Shit. Golden Monkey. Golden Horse. Monkey Picked. Thick veins. Hairy Crab.

Everyone Lao Yu.