; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Put Up Wet ;

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Put Up Wet

This year I’ve certainly enjoyed all of the 2015 puerh offerings I can cram into a gaiwan, working in between my budget and generous tea pals sending me samples of their favorites.  I seem to have developed a well-deserved reputation of the “gal who will drink anything for the sake of the blog.” However, I still very much feel that anything is better than what I drank for tea back in the previous century. In fact I have the same feeling about video games today, grateful for the incredible things I can play now because it ain’t a sprite running through trees, and I can tune out young people like my son complaining of pop-in as mere whiners. Of course an overall feeling of gratitude for any type of tea might render me a less than discriminating reviewer, but I’m okay with that. You can find picky in a million forums if that is what you require. Oddly enough, though, when I do get somewhat picky in my blog, a rare occasion, I need an umbrella aka email filter for the ensuing shit storm.

But after gratefully tasting a lot of teas this year, I don’t feel I’m too picky to say the tea is put up wet. A lot of vendors have told me that most of their buyers are drinking their teas right away instead of buying for the long haul, and so the western market focus may have shifted in the near and long term toward tea we drink right now as opposed to storing for later. And while I might be one of those short term buyers, given the few years I’ve got left to enjoy tea, I’m aware of the fact that an awful lot of puerh buyers sit back quietly acquiring tea for the long haul and aren’t posting their latest yum-yums on social media. And these folks have got to be thinking 2015 is one wet year. For unless you know a vendor who got in to Yunnan early, before the early April freak rains, and got their teas done in March, such as Crimson Lotus or Chawangshop, you’re probably storing up a few teas hoping they dry out and settle down before even thinking of trying them. And if you’re buying for the long haul, aside from a possible experimental tea like white2tea’s 72 Hours, long haul buyers might be sitting out 2015 altogether.

Looking back now at the drought years of 2013-2014, long haul buyers with a decent storage set-up might think these years are a bit more attractive than before. Especially if you look at what you can get now in aged teas, so many years are simply sold out. Last year I didn’t have much trouble finding a selection of ’01-’04, but I’m noticing just lately these years are getting tougher to find. What remains is a smattering of late ‘90s teas that have a reputation of being rather flat, perhaps just not aged in an ideal way, or perhaps the leaf wasn’t that great to begin with. The few tea cakes that are “known” collector buys like the last good years of ‘90s CNNP are crazy expensive. Then we find less and less available until the over-picked years 2005-2008, everyone seems to have a supply of these teas. Until something sticks out 10 years on, likely those years will still carry a bad rap associated with the puerh price bust.

Years 2009 and 2011 are tough to find decent sheng puerh available to buy anymore, though you can still find plenty of shou cakes, but even the decent Liu Bao from those years is already gone too. I know for a fact that the long haulers in puerh have already given up on sheng and are trying to dig up some overlooked Liu Bao or decent oolong. For others still at it, the only way I can see to go now is to take a look at the drought years 2013-2014 again while the teas are plentiful and still with reasonable prices.

You might say, well Cwyn, how do you know anything about 2013-14, because we don’t know anything about storage in the west and nobody outside of Malaysia can possibly store tea and expect anything decent from it? But you don’t know, either. No one does. So unless you have a buddy-buddy line to someone in Malaysia then you are in as good a position as anyone else to buy tea and store it yourself. Ten years from now we will see who is sitting on a good stash and decide then. I’m not convinced now that teas stored in the west bought from years 2004-2008 represent anywhere near a definitive opinion on western storage. And I don’t care who says otherwise, because I don’t see a decent sample stash of leaf that isn’t low grade factory crap. I am absolutely certain that the teas we can acquire in the west from the past two years are better quality leaf, period. So with sheng puerh buying and storage, in the west it is still anybody’s game.

So anyone new to the hobby who doesn’t know what to buy should feel as confident as anyone else at this juncture. The Newb and Long Hauler alike can look at the 2013-14 puerh teas in the $20-100 price range and make the same crapshoot with the same odds all around. At this point, one man’s unplugged refrigerator storage is as good as another man’s until we see otherwise, and in the end the whole decision may boil down to factors we simply cannot predict at the moment, except that leaf matters. And in this sense, I think the less rainy years of 2013-14 represent the best predictive variable that the long-hauler has right now with tea that is more concentrated and less wet when starting the storage process.

My slightly damaged wrapper cake.
My most recent jump-in was when Scott at Yunnan Sourcing put some 2014 Ai Lao mountain cakes up for sale with slightly damaged wrappers.To be honest, I’m certain I wouldn’t have noticed this tea but for the special due to the few damaged wrapper cakes. However, this tea has a bit of a storage track record already.

My wrappers end up like this anyway, it seems, wedged in the fridge.
Scott at Yunnan Sourcing confirmed that he has sold this blend from 2009 onward, and you can certainly purchase any of the past three years to compare them. This cake is a “blend” of varietals, and I thought I spotted the Taliensis varietal after having tried the 2013 Jinggu Taliensis over the summer (remember when my old mother in law was visiting?). The fuzzy buds are a giveaway and used here to add body to the tea, though Scott didn't confirm this observation on my part. Jingdong County borders the Wuliang region where Yunnan Sourcing gets a number of other cakes made. Both regions have teas which are characterized as strongly floral and fruity. This Ai Lao cake is no exception, the "white camellia" aroma sets it apart from Menghai teas.

Can you spot a red tea seed pod?
One of the main criticisms of floral/fruity teas from these areas is that they don’t hold up with age, that they are more “drink now” teas. But I wonder where this idea came from, is it likely that this idea came from a more humid climate, where teas will need to be strongly bitter to withstand the effects of high heat humidity? Or, do we know how the teas are stored at all? Are there Wuliang region teas stored in the west that have not been properly stored, with attention paid to humidity in drier regions? I really question such blanket generalizations when I read that people are indeed storing these teas in the west with a decent set up. 

The fuzzy buds and bits of older leaf show the blend used.
You can read reviews of the Ai Lao cakes on Steepster and see people like mrmopar, with his decent set up, who is storing the 2011 Ai Lao and he is not losing the floral and fruity quality of the tea at all. This tea can be purchased from the Yunnan Sourcing US site for $32, or $27 if you don't mind a damaged wrapper. MrMopar would have bought his back in 2011 for around $17. This tea costs more now, but not that much. And certainly worth the $27 for a bit more education and 400g worth of experimentation on my part. Worth the effort too to buy a cake that others have purchased and see how mine will stack up against the storage of someone else, and start to develop a record of conversation and data.

Certificate of pesticide testing is in the wrapper.
The 2014 version is plenty strong, in my opinion, at least in the astringency department and I pushed 11 grams here to make sure I could taste how bitter this is in addition to the very nice floral notes. I noticed that after two cups of 11 grams my heart rate increased dramatically and I backed off continuing that first session until later on. After a half hour or so, my heart rate slowed and I had a strong salivation effect in my mouth. This tea is plenty strong. Of course if you want to store Bulang and get a very bitter tea sweet by pushing humidity, then by all means. But why would anyone want to push a nice floral tea, when simply providing a decent storage of 60-70% humidity will keep the cake as it is, and age it more slowly to work out the astringency and bitterness without destroying the subtleties in the leaf with constant, intense basement-type  humidity?

Such pretty leaf.

Perhaps different leaf is appropriate for different climates. We need bitter teas for places like Hong Kong and Thailand where high humidity works on the tea and retains flavor. More delicate teas perhaps won’t hold up to such treatment. This is not to say that a highly humid climate is “better” overall. Instead, it seems like common sense to me to consider each tea for what it is, and give each tea the treatment that is required.

Thick first steep, not much char in the gaiwan.
Fuzz on the buds will turn to dust when removing tea,
and show in the cup as a bit cloudy.
So, check your teas that you bought this year and see if you find additional water in the leaf and then taste what happens over the course of the year. Revisiting 2013-2014 for strong age-r’s is worth doing now while the prices are favorable and these teas are now rested. Many people are setting up storage solutions, and taking each tea into consideration is one factor when determining how to store the tea. I am going to consider purchasing a few more teas that my friends have bought to continue a longer term conversation about storage and add to the notes we already have.


  1. There is a lot of aged Wuliang out there, Kunming stored, Guangzhou stored, etc. For example. For example, the EoT 2007 QiShengGu is a good example of how I think Wuliang teas age, that I know you can buy straight off. They tend to be perfectly fine for mere drinking, but I generally will have no fun drinking these teas, because frankly, most of the Wuliang acreage was developed for green teas. More or less the same species as teas further south, but everything there selected for good greens.

    There's a reason most people like Bulang and Yiwu. And of course, a nice sweet-leaf Hekai will appeal to you, as I've heard about your love of the chawangshop tea.

    1. I like the way you say that, sweet leaf Hekai. It is so...Atlanta...only a few can make Pu sound sexy. ;)

    2. I really wish I could send you some puersom Hekai. That stuff was all honey. Made for ultimately boring tea for me, but schuweeeeeet.