; Cwyn's Death By Tea: January 2016 ;

Saturday, January 23, 2016


Winter is the time to whine, and Old Cwyn got a slew of complaints from Pu heads over the previous post about Shui Xian tea. I don’t know why anyone would read a blog written by a person who used to brew green tea bags in a drip coffee maker. How objective can I be when any leaf tea tastes darn good compared to what used to be available? Even the green tea bags were a cultural improvement in the US compared to plucking plantain from the yard which I was doing back in the ‘80s. Serve me up a cup o’ Misty Peaks because I don’t wanna go back to Wisconsin forest herbs and I don’t feel like driving to Madison to scour the rare tin of English Earl Grey which I must stretch out for years if I’m to have any tea other than Lipton iced tea powder. Because that is all we had, people.

So the complaints are that I’m supposed to write about puerh, but I’ve got complaints of my own which are more important by far. Most discouraging is the persistent spreading of misinformation about storing puerh in dry North American winter heating climates. Now if you live in Georgia or Florida or Louisiana, you can store your puerh in open air by doing a book test in the summer. Just put a few books in your un-air conditioned room for a few months. If those books grow mold, you have a climate where tea can age without any special microclimate. Just scrape the mold off and you’re all set.


You’ll likely need to keep the tea in air conditioning, but if you are checking the RH in your house in a humid state, the air is probably still more humid than a house with winter heating such as mine where the RH is running in the 20s right now. We’re actually in a warm spell now, temps outdoors just below 0 degrees C, so my house RH has risen by a few percentage points.

Downright muggy now I have wet laundry hanging around. Temp 68F, RH 29.

Let’s take a look at what RH 20's% does in the house. Check out the duct tape on my ceiling tiles in my bedroom.

Over my head. Sure feels nice...
You can see the strips, which have been there for about 18 months and now starting to loosen from dry air. This repair job is the result of some leaky hundred year old plumbing I needed replaced in the upstairs bathroom. I got the plumbing replaced, but the ceiling tiles are difficult to line up, requiring the application of duct tape. I fully expect these tiles to collapse at any moment onto my bed while I’m sleeping in shower of mouse droppings and asbestos. Of course I could replace the tiles, but why I would do that when Petr Novak is having his winter gallery sale? Once I recover financially from the teapot gorge to my wallet, we’ll be into the spring tea buying season. The cheaper solution is to leave those tiles where they are, and spend the money as needed on tea ware and tea cakes. If you are complaining that puerh storage is too expensive and too much bother, I hope you have better ceiling tiles than I do.

Next, consider the wood radiator cover I have near the front door.

Originally one planed board.
This cover is a nice seat for putting on shoes and a place for empty boxes from white2tea. One can argue that this seat is nearly 100 years old, but over time the dry air and heating split the wood right down the middle. I could repair this board with some wood glue but oddly the design of the cover in its original state is such that it wouldn’t stay propped open all the way to expose the radiator. But it does stay open now that half of it is split. And wood glue costs money I don’t have right now after ordering a new bamboo tea strainer and some “30 year old” Tieguanyin from Verdant Tea that only cost a surprising $12 for 25g, I can’t imagine a deal such as this anywhere else, and certainly not anytime soon after it sells out, which it will. But there goes my wood glue budget, and so I can’t see any real reason to repair the wood lid. Nevertheless, we have an example of how woodwork splits in the dry weather. Any idea what this dry air in my house will do to bamboo tongs?

Bamboo is meant for transport of tea, and for storing tea in humid climates. Yes, we get attached to our bamboo wrappings, but the truth is if I’m going to need a microclimate storage solution I have to get rid of the bamboo. I found out in a bad way mold can form under the bamboo, and probably starts there before it works its way into the tea. Western facing vendors should really skip the bamboo and just strop the tea with plastic for shipping since no one except mrmopar is going to bother with storage.

I digress. The intent of this post is to address complaints. Now that I have the important ones out of the way, I can return to puerh tea. In fact, here is the best idea I can come up with for the people who really don’t want the trouble of storing tea cakes or thinking of storage solutions. Instead of drinking the stuff, you might as well just smoke it.

Here we have shou puerh conveniently rolled into cigarettes.

Shou ciggies
Of course these are advertised as “weight loss solution” on Aliexpress. The good news, these only cost $4.90 a pack, which is far less than that Dayi cake you’ve got your eye on. And you don’t need to worry about how to store this shou, because the cigarettes arrive already so dried out that they will smoke and spark their way down to the filter in about 2 minutes, thereby relieving your mind of any long term considerations.

Recommendation: smoke outside.
I took a couple of puffs off one of these, and while the smoke was somewhat smooth, I started coughing after two puffs. Overlooking the fast burning paper and dried out tea, I smell the unmistakable odor of cloves. Takes me back to the early 1990s in Madison, when bars started banning cigarettes and for five minutes we had cigar bars cropping up where you could still smoke cigars, and clove cigarettes were also allowed at least initially. I tried clove cigarettes for maybe three of those five minutes, they were fashionable amongst theatre people who eventually returned to their Marlboros and weed when the cigar bars disappeared within a couple of years. This period of time was an in-between phase after which smoking got banned from bars entirely, resulting in a new sidewalk bar culture.

But if you’ve ever tried clove cigarettes, or hung about with people who smoke them (almost no one anymore), you never forget the odor. It’s a cloying smoky combination no matter whether the cloves are mixed with tea leaf or tobacco leaf. Cloves are rough on the sinuses, and stink up the room and clothing of everyone around you. These are not quite as strong as a true clove cigarette, in fact they smell a bit like Indian bindis, if you’ve ever tried those, I think some bindis have cloves too. I approve of these cigarettes for cultural reasons, maybe a ritual rather like a Native tent meditation. I can’t figure on what gets added to one’s meditation by smoking these, but perhaps I’m missing out on some essential instruction, like the part where the tea gets mixed with weed before smoking it. 

Dissected half cig
Dissecting the cigarette doesn’t suggest any weed got added, and for a good stoner I’ll take Last Thoughts any day over these but then again, one has to have a storage solution for Last Thoughts and all you need for a pack of shou cigarettes is a drawer. I don’t see any crumbs that look like shou at all. But what do I know? I’m the tea bag lady, remember?

The black bits burnt by me.

I also tried adding water to the crumbs, in case I might need to brew one of these in a pinch. Not much tea infusion though.

You can also find sheng cigarettes. These cost more, because sheng always costs more than shou right?? 

Sheng ciggies
This pack set me back $11.90, a not-so-economical alternative to real cigarettes for people even in the UK, but I suppose if you are trying to quit, maybe you can convince yourself that these are the real thing while you wean yourself from nicotine. Opening the pack I guess the smell is a bit like a real cigarette.

Vintage California pottery ashtray circa late 1960s
Hopes are dashed, however, with the smell of cloves once more. This cigarette is milder and smoother than the shou pack, as long as I don’t inhale and just puff it like a cigar, they aren’t too bad on the tongue. A little acrid sting on the front of the tongue, much like any cigar. A dissection shows the leaf is a bit greener than the shou cigarette, but not by much.

Again, some burned bits.
Adding water got me a slightly greenish liquid which isn’t very visible in the photo.

Kinda hard to see the soup.
I might be better off buying some tubes and a machine and rolling my own, since I have plenty of shou and sheng, well, just think of all the time I could save myself with storage if I smoked up my entire stash. But then I’ve devised a solution of stoneware crocks and a fridge and my Pu smells just fine. If you have yet to come up with a storage solution of your own, I’ve got some rolling papers to sell you.

Requiescat in Pace

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Bit More Shui Xian

Chawangshop 2015 Spring Charcoal Roast
Shui Xian

Last year I fell just a little bit in love with roasted Shui Xian, when I purchased an Autumn 2014 package of five squares from Chawangshop. Since then, I’m looking out for more Shui Xian to try, little pocket-sized squares of tea love. Unlike puerh, the money is in the first four steepings, but when I have four gaiwans sitting around full of mega steeper puerh teas, sometimes I want a bit of a change and the quick session Shui Xian offers brightens up the extreme cold winter days of January for me. In December, I took notice when clicking around on Joseph Wesley Teas, and hit the Buy button fairly quickly when I saw the limited edition Autumn tea is a Shui Xian. About the same time, I noticed Chawangshop had quietly added a Spring 2015 heavily roasted Shui Xian, which is not the usual time of year for this type of tea. I decided to compare these teas with the Autumn 2014 from Chawangshop that I already own.

Joseph Wesley 2015 Shui Xian
Joseph Wesley Teas is a small, but impressive online tea company, keeping things simple by focusing on just a few teas and sourcing the best possible quality for each one. The teas are packaged in rather generic cans and bags, earning a plus for no-fuss, no BS modesty in marketing, allowing the customer to decide. In a sea of online tea companies, I find the quality over quantity approach refreshing, especially when leaf quality is the issue after all. The Autumn 2015 Shui Xian comes in packages of 25g for $9.99, shipped in careful boxing with shredded paper, again a refreshing change from bags of tea stuffed in padded envelopes only to arrive crushed. Instead, my fairly mid-priced Shui Xian is treated with the same concern as a $200 tea cake.

Beautiful leaf
This tea is loose, unlike the traditional pressed square shape, hand rolled and roasted. Because the leaf is so pretty, I went a bit light in the gaiwan with my first session using only 4 grams or so. My parsimony resulted in a fairly disappointing watery cup, on that first session, but heading out for my son’s birthday dinner I grabbed this Shui Xian to bring for dessert. After all, my son was born on his father’s birthday, a feat for which I get entirely too little credit and not often enough, as it required 43 hours of labor on my part and a 12 inch scar for life. In my estimation, their birthday is my day far more than it is theirs, except I include my mother-in-law Hildegarde in the esteem of the day, since she did the work of producing the father. Now I haven’t seen her since last summer, when she spent the month of June at my house, something neither of us will likely repeat any time soon. But I miss her now, and looked forward to seeing her at the annual January 12 fete for our sons.

Our day in Madison, WI included lunch at The Alchemy, a tavern which I frequented often in the decades past when it was Wonder’s Pub, a watering hole for local theatre people. I haven’t been there in probably 6 years or so, and since then the place changed ownership focusing on food as well as the drink. The place was packed on a Saturday afternoon, and I had a phenomenal Swiss and Cheddar cheese sandwich on grilled sourdough stuffed with vegetables inside the cheese, and dripping cilantro pesto. Afterward, we returned to the house. Hilde and I talked, and then napped, while the boys went out to see the new Star Wars movie in a few hours of male bonding time, and returned to the house later on for dessert. We had a chocolate raspberry cake and I brewed up Joseph Wesley’s Shui Xian, this time stuffing the large shibo with as much as I could fit in, about 7-8 grams which in loose leaf terms, is rather a lot.

Steeped out.
Going generous on the leaf paid off this time with a brilliant session, the Shui Xian complimented the raspberry flavor in the cake especially. I got a lovely contrast of sharp tangy charcoal roasting, for which no doubt the sweet chocolate prepared my mouth to receive. The sharp tangy roast lingered with the raspberry as aftertaste. Of course no one else particularly said anything about the tea, but my son’s father did ask for a second cup. Son was yawning away after the Star Wars movie, and the tea and sugar perked him up sufficiently to endure the ride home.

Last steeping, about 8
Desserts are wonderful of course, but what stayed with me is that tea. The sharp tangy roast setting off that raspberry was brilliant. I served five steeps from the overstuffed gaiwan, rather a surprise as usually Shui Xian starts to taper off after the first four steeps. I wedged the shibo carefully into my purse to take those leaves home to steep out and got two more steepings, and then a good long 10 minute steep to finish them off. My last cup went cold before I finished it, and I noticed how nice this tea is when cool, none of the usual bitter change that puerh or other tea has when allowed to cool. The leaves are plushy and long. I absolutely would order another package of this from Joseph Wesley, and I won’t forget the pairing with the chocolate raspberry cake any time soon. In fact, I recommend this with dessert.

No storage worries with this one.
Several days later my package from Chawangshop arrived. Frequently I hear tea drinkers complaining about the shipping costs from Chawangshop, but the key is to place a large order and get past the shopping cart stage. You don’t pay right away, the shopping cart is an estimate, and Honza emails you a corrected invoice, and the shipping is less expensive than the estimate. I have noticed that regardless of what I’ve ordered, so far my shipping has consistently rung in at $19. So, the idea is make a large order and get a big box for your money, or share an order with a friend.

Each square is individually packaged.

This time I placed a full order when I saw the Spring 2015 Heavy Roast Shui Xian, since I really loved the Autumn 2014 I bought last spring and it sold out. I wondered about the idea of a spring Shui Xian, since the usual time for this leaf is September to October. I also wondered about the heavy roast, which is indicated as appropriate for aging, because usually Shui Xian is a lighter roast. Chawangshop’s tea is the traditionally pressed, individually-wrapped and then vacuum packed square, which I brew with about 120-140 ml water. 

The square is traditional.
Square take a bit of time to open. If you brew red (black) or oolong tea, you can simply judge the brew times based on the color of the brew as the square opens up. 

Looks like a floating....well...you can guess.
Vintage 80s gaiwan also from Chawangshop.
I find it hard to judge this one, because while the tea is exceptionally smooth and not overly roasted, I didn’t get the sharp tang as I had with the Joseph Wesley tea. The cup is rather gentle, but the tea leaf is not as prominent as roast, though as I said the roast isn’t so much overpoweringly strong, but rather the leaf is not lending flavor. I wonder if the spring tea just doesn’t have the punch that late summer/early autumn tea leaf has. Maybe the reason this tea is made during the late season is to have that bitter strength from summer heat and sun.

First Steeping
Martini size cup by teaware.house
However, these thoughts may be pre-mature, the tea is heavily roasted, after all, and meant to be aged. Perhaps the tea needs a few years to settle. Normally Shui Xian doesn’t need aging time because of the lighter roast. In this case, I think the tea will benefit from some time to settle and perhaps then the flavor of the tea will emerge beneath the charcoal roasting. My purchase this time was based on the purely hoarding idea of tucking this tea away, because decent Shui Xian is not so easy to find, and it sells out fast. I know I won’t finish off this box any time soon, and will put it away as planned.

Fully opened leaves now.
In the meantime, try and score yourself either one of these teas. I especially recommend the Joseph Wesley leaf. He won’t have much of this, and probably not again next fall as his limited edition teas vary each year.

Requiescat in Pace, it's not all about the Pu.

Old Cwyn