; Cwyn's Death By Tea: September 2015 ;

Thursday, September 24, 2015

2015 Shou Fermentation Update

Photo of the finished shou from March 12.
On January 27 of this year, I started an experiment of fermenting shou from raw puerh maocha in a stoneware crock bowl. The purpose of this experiment was mainly to demonstrate the viability of crock storage for long term fermentation of puerh tea. To show this in the short term, pushing tea from raw to ripe is the only possible way to get quick results. Fortunately, I had a couple of bags of loose raw puerh on hand. I wet the tea with water and twice with 2014 Last Thoughts infusion, covered the crock with a wooden lid as you would for sauerkraut, and added heat as needed using my cast iron radiators in my home. I turned the tea every few days. At about the six week mark, on March 12 I stopped fermenting the tea as it had appeared to have changed over.

Sept 14 photo of the same shou. 5g
After drying the tea, it appeared fairly dark and had a rather funky smell as most ripe teas do when young. I did a sip-n-spit at the time, and then put the tea away into a stoneware container to rest for six months. Now in mid-September, six months have passed and it is time to try the tea again.

Over the summer, I occasionally turned the tea in the container, gave it a sniff, and allowed it to sit out on the enclosed three season porch for the hot, humid summer season. At some point I noticed the funky smell had gone from the tea. Now it smells a bit minerally in dry form. The tea seems a bit too dry now, and a little crumbly, possibly because I left the lid off the container all summer in order to air it out, so the tea may be drier now than it should be. But I decided to brew up five grams.

Steep 6.
The good news is the tea is not funky tasting or smelling in any way. I poured off three rinses out of paranoia, tasted the next three, and then started drinking whole cups. The aroma from the leaves is incredibly good, still has that cherry chocolate scent. I don't taste much of that nice smell in the cup though. Mainly the tea is rather mild in flavor, a bit of minerals and just a bit of ripe flavor. Also, I noted still a little bitterness in the tea, so perhaps it is not as heavily fermented as I thought, and needs more time yet to age. The color has cleared up a good deal, but because the tea is a bit crumbly I had more powdery tea in the sieve than I do when brewing up chunks picked off of pressed cakes. I needed to rinse out the sieve a couple of times during the brewing.

Still have "powder" at steep 6.
Altogether I drank about nine steeps, and the tea was not yet ready to quit and I was still flash brewing. I am wanting more flavor in this, and am hoping the bitterness remaining in the tea translates into that flavor. Of course it is not going to be a stellar shou or anywhere near the best teas I've had. But I am understanding more now the reasons why shou is allowed to rest and age. It really does change and is not a fully finished tea, like other red/black teas are. Another six months of storage will surely tell me more. Like whether I want to keep drinking it or if I've killed it.

Washing tea pets in the rinse.

Back into the storage crock for another six months! I'll return to this tea at its one year anniversary on March 12, 2016, the gods be willing.

Requiescat in Pace.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

2011 Hunan Heicha "Zhu Xiang Ji"

Old lady tea.
After a long summer, I am finally breaking into darker and more fermented teas. Because of the high heat and humidity this year, I drank no shou over the summer and really no Liu Bao either, on hot days such teas just add to body heat and are more suited for cooler weather. I regret not trying the 2011 Hunan Heicha "Zhu Xiang Ji" sooner, as several people have asked whether I have had a chance to try it. Unfortunately, I waited too long to write about this tea, as it recently sold out at Chawangshop. One friend of mine told me he'd bought one in China, and then ordered four more when he arrived home. But the listing is still available on Chawangshop, so perhaps they are planning to re-stock it.

Dunno why I want to preserve the wrapper. Hoarding...

This tea, like many heicha, is a local craft tea. In this case we have a farm product from Zhulinxi, Jiangan town, Anhua county. The tea is woked, then fermented lightly, smoked and finally stuffed into bamboo shoot shells which are tied by hand. The photo of the old lady hand-tying the tea shells on the front sold me. She died in 2008 at the age of 106. While I don't expect to live so long, her family attributes at least some of her old age to drinking tea. She belonged to the Huang family, the most famous member of which was Qing dynasty calligrapher and industrialist Huang Zi Yuan and he gave the tea its name. The old lady on the wrapper was a child bride to Zi Yuan's grandnephew. Calculating from her age, the craft has been passed down in the family since the 1800s at the very latest.

As with any local craft product, I must adjust my expectations of the tea based on the price. At $21 for 200g, this is a bit on the higher side for a young-ish heicha, but in terms of fermented tea, obviously on the low end if you are comparing a shou puerh in price. I'm not a collector who chases highly aged Liu Bao or other heicha, and while I can appreciate the desire for the smoothness that age brings, I like to know something about the local people who make a tea, which I just don't get from a warehouse basket find. I like a few years of age on a heicha, time to settle and develop flavor, but I'm mainly looking for a change from shou puerh and heicha has a tanginess that shou puerh generally lacks.

Plushy and clean leaves.
This one is not all that compressed and once cut open, the tea is easy to flake from the log. The tea is leathery and dry even after a summer sitting in heat and humidity. I have to hit it hard with boiling water and give it a couple of rinses. Generally with heicha the Money Steeps are the first 1-4 steeps, after that it fades out. Also, many heicha like Fu brick or Guaanxi you have to really flash steep fast since the tea gives so quickly, but this tea required longer steeps of a minute or more to get a cup that I consider strong enough. But then I like mine strong.

More caffeine than I expected.

Early notes are the betel nut that we look for in some heicha, and bamboo flavor from the wrapping. Steep 2 in particular had the strongest flavor. I noticed the tea fading at steep 4, but prolonging the steeps got me a couple more decent cups. I drank this before dinner and got a bit jittery from the caffeine. Usually heicha lacks strong caffeine and I end up in a nap.

Mainly I noticed this is an extremely clean tea, none of the dirty or dusty/musty that may turn off folks who have looked at heicha in the past. I would feel comfortable serving this to anyone who likes black/red tea, and can recommend this brand to people curious about heicha. This is about as elegant as you can get with heicha. I'll be glad to hang on to this for guests, while I go dig out my golden-flower Fu teas for a little fungus action. I've definitely acquired a taste for the messy and more alive heicha teas.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Wisconsin Fermentation Fest Post #100

Wisconsin Fermentation Fest
This is Happy Post #100 for deathbytea, hard to believe I've yakked on this long already. And I have met some incredible people since I started this blog in August 2014, and together we have shared so much about aging and drinking Puerh Tea.

I am very excited to announce that I will be taking part in the Wisconsin Fermentation Fest: A Live Culture Convergence, coming up next month in Reedsburg, Wisconsin October 2-11, 2015. The festival is one part food and one part entertainment. As for the food:

"There's something brewing in the crocks, kettles and jugs...if it can be cultured or fermented, you'll sample it!"

Organizer and Sponsor for the Fermentation Fest

And then we have the "culture" as in arts. This is where Wisconsin Weirdness is on display with a self-guided 50 miles of rural road and farm art. And performances like "Clarinets in the Cows." That's right, pianos in the middle of a hayfield.

A Mennonite family enjoys the rural road art in 2014.
Some of the road art is done by local farmers, others by businesses or community groups or professional artists. Along the 50 mile rural route, you can find food stands and wine tastings amongst the art and performances.

Art from the 2014 Fest

My portion of the festival is a class on puerh tea called

"Aged Sheng: The Whiskey of Tea"
Sunday, October 4, 1-3 pm
Reedsburg, WI.
Cost: $25

The class will cover basics of puerh drinking and storage, specifically focusing on crock storage because my audience and the festival are focused on farm-style fermentation. During the class I will to do a full tea tasting of fresh, aged and post-fermented teas. Plan to leave somewhat tea drunk.

What's this? 2015 Samples from white2tea.com

I am really pleased to announce that teas I will serve, and take-home gift samples include teas provided by white2tea.com. Wisconsin is fortunate and proud that one of our own has one of the best online tea companies in the world.
Thanks so much, TwoDog!

If you are in the area, I hope you will consider attending the festival, you can find the entire schedule and map at fermentationfest.com

Crock-stored tea, coming up at the Fest and on the blog!

Unfortunately, my invite to speak is contingent on bringing the professor and leaving incontinent Old Cwyn at home. Don't worry, she is in charge of our Instagram, and you can find her over there.