; Cwyn's Death By Tea: February 2016 ;

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Ruyao Ru Kiln Teapot Repairs

Oh dear, lately I’ve had terrible luck with ordering tea ware, which is really telling me I should stop buying. Since December 1, four different tea pots arrived broken in the mail. One was very expensive so I mailed it back for a refund. Another wasn’t so expensive, and the seller preferred to ship me a new one rather than refund my money. As for the two pots I’m repairing in this blog post, the sellers refunded my money but did not require a return. In all cases, the sellers did the right thing for the customer in making good on the broken purchase. But in all these cases, such accidents can be prevented in the first place by proper packaging.

 I’ve been selling online all kinds of vintage USA-made items for more than a decade, shipping to countries I can’t even spell. I can say I’ve shipped everywhere except Antarctica. My shipping mistakes taught me a lot over the years, and often buyers gave me excellent suggestions for various types of items, such as the best way to pack cast iron items. In general, 4 Rules of Shipping Fragile Items apply:

1.      WRAP copious amounts of bubble wrap and layers of tape around the item.
2.     Double box the wrapped item. If you don’t have a little box that fits, create one using strips of corrugated cardboard and tape the strips around the wrapped tea pot.
3.      Pack the boxed item in a larger box with at least 3 inches of foam peanuts. Don’t use newspaper, it adds extra weight which adds money, tends to compact down in shipping, and you are risking a break. The USPS mail service will not accept insurance claims with less than 3 inches of packing material around the item.
4.      Shake the finished package, and then drop it at least one meter to the floor. You should feel no shaking of the items inside, and a one meter drop should not hurt anything. This means the postal workers can toss the box and it will not break.

Broken beauties.
The two broken teapots here failed one or more of the above. For the green Ruyao pot, the seller shipped the teapot in an envelope. Seriously. Yes, it had bubble wrap taped around the pot, but traveling from China no way can a tea pot survive shipped in an envelope. I was furious when it arrived. The red teapot was wrapped and double boxed, but it was loose inside the first box, so this left the pot floating around and the heavy handle broke into three pieces, thus failing the shake test. I’m at the point now where I shake packages before I open them to see if the item is floating around. If it fails the shake test, only luck will mean an intact tea pot is inside.

But now both of these teapots are free for me, because I got a refund and the sellers didn’t want me to ship them back. These pots might not be worth the trouble to repair, and in fact the red one is fine the way it is to use. You might remember my repairs of “Chip,” a clay pot I repaired last year. Repairs buy me a little more time with pots I’m fond of. Doing repairs like this is relaxing, and a challenge, so I’m going to repair these just for fun and maybe you’ll find a tip or two for use in the future.

With cured weld compound, prior to painting.

The broken handle on the red pot is not a difficult fix, and the paint job even easier, because the teapot has a mottled paint with several colors. Here is the finished work, the painting took all of ten minutes. 
Finished repairs and painting, prior to clear acrylic coat on the spots.
Because the handle is heavy and so the pot is too, even before adding water and tea, I don’t expect the handle repairs to last forever. If it falls apart again, I will grind down the stubs of the handle and just cover the spots. 

Pot with weld, prior to sanding.
On the other hand, the green Ruyao piece is much more of a challenge, because the single glaze color means I have to match the color as closely as possible. This piece mainly has a big chip, but this is not what will cause the pot to fail. On the other side of the spout I have a hairline crack that actually runs through to the inside of the pot. This weak point will fail well before my chip repair.

After sanding. Also you can see the hairline crack and chipped spout.
For both pots, I use JB Weld which is welding compound that holds even metal. You must mix together equal amounts from the two tubes. The weld takes a full 24 hours to cure, but the result will hold up to water and is stronger than the clay of the pot. For a very thick chip, you may need to build up layers of compound, letting each layer dry for a day before adding the next layer. I needed two layers for both teapots. For the hairline crack on the green pot, I used my finger to push some compound into the crack on the outside of the pot only, wiping off the rest. The inside I left clean, except for another trick which I’ll use later to help that crack. If you need more information on JB Weld used in this fashion, see my post linked above for "Chip."

Once the weld is cured, I sand until it is smooth against the pot using a 150 grit foam sanding block. Use 150 or higher grit; the finer grits won’t scratch glaze. Sand until your finger rubbed against the repair feels smooth and you can’t feel the repaired area. I didn’t bother sanding the red pot much because the handle is rough anyway and the welds won’t show.

The real challenge on the green pot is the paint, matching the colors and also trying to keep something of the translucent look. I don’t expect I will be perfect, but trying to duplicate the color is interesting because of the colors it takes to do so.

Color palate. Natural pigments well worth the money.
As I noted in my repairs on Chip, the teapot I repaired last year (still holding), glazes are generally made from natural mineral sources, and so you want natural mineral pigment acrylic paints. You can make nearly every natural color under the sun if you invest in the proper pigments. Don’t try and buy a paint color that matches because it won’t be as good as what you can mix.

Pigments, and a bracing cup of 2015 Tuhao as Fk by white2tea.
Here, I am using Titanium White, Phythalocyanine Green, Raw Sienna, and Raw Umber. I added a tube of Cadmium Red to this palette when painting the red Ruyao pot.

First layer, a dark under-painting to cover the gray.
I start by covering the gray weld with a mix of Sienna, Umber and a bit of white. I want to create an illusion of depth by layering the colors. Nothing on this green pot is gray on the clay so I use the dark under-painting simply to cover that gray and add visual depth.

First layer of light, the paint mix is at the top, to the right of the dark umber.
Next, I need to lighten the chip slowly. The clay on this teapot is actually best matched by a mix of the White, Sienna, and Umber. I water down the colors by dipping my brush into a bowl of water. Thus we have thin layers of color wash. These will look more like clay than one matte color.

A few layers in...

Light enough now, so I add in the brownish- ring along the rim.
I use a bit more Raw Umber and Raw Sienna into white paint with water to make the ring along the rim. It’s tempting to think the ring is pink, but it isn’t, these colors are really what makes that color.

For the green, interestingly enough I need to mix all four colors! Not just green and white. The Raw Sienna added a bit of yellowing, tempered with Raw Umber, in tiny amounts adjusts the green perfectly.

Green added, paint is damp. You want a slighly lighter hue, darkens as it dries.
Don’t worry if you mess up with the paint, you can wipe it all off with a damp paper towel before it dries and start again.

To finish the piece, I need to buff the paint with a paper towel once it dries, and then add a layer of clear acrylic to keep it from washing off. But before I do that, I want to try and buy myself some time with that hairline crack. I pushed a little weld into it, but didn’t bother with the paint. I’m not bothered by the looks of the crack, just as I’m not bothered by the “flea bite” chip on the spout. The real problem is the crack goes through the pot, eventually this will leak, if not break.

To get a little more time, I need to seal the inside with something food-safe. Obviously I don’t want to use glue on the interior where my tea will brew. So, I’m creating a sort of glue using a potato.

Microwave-cooked potato.
My son can eat the other half.

The idea is to mash cooked potato into hot water which will soak into the crack. Left to dry, this will fill in the crack, at least for a little while.

Mashing the hot potato water.
This works with rice too, just use some rice water taken from the pot while the rice is cooking. But the weather here is too cold for eating rice, so potatoes are what we eat here in winter and tubers keep the body much warmer.

Soaking potato water to fill in crack. Paint is done minus the
finishing clear acrylic I'll add once the pot dries out. 
I let the potato water sit in the teapot until it cools, and then dump it out. I need to let the pot dry now for a few days so the potato seals up the crack. I use the water also on a Ruyao cup I own that has a massive crack in the glaze and now leaks when I use it. Again, this measure will not last forever, and I might taste the potato a little at first. But it buys me some more time with a cracked piece of tea ware.

Now that my green pot is drying out from the potato water, I must wait several days to finish up the final paint and acrylic. I will be sure and use it in a future blog post so you can see it in action. Hopefully my repairs will give me a year or so with this teapot before it finally breaks and I am forced to toss it. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

2014 Gua Feng Zhai "Ancient Tree"

2014 Gua Feng Zhai "Ancient Tree"
Oh dear, yes I’ve been tea shopping when I have no business even looking at online tea shops. I know I’m out of control when I start getting auto-emails from tea businesses looking for reviews for teas I must have purchased, but now have no memory whatsoever of buying and no idea where I might have put the tea. Fortunately I’m at the age no one can expect me to spend money wisely, and while I might send absurd amounts to China, it’s not Nigeria and I’m getting something in return most of the time. In fact, I can place the blame squarely on the Chinese New Year for the two weeks of no shipping that forces me to buy tea in America.

All is not lost, however, as I did indeed go shou shopping in America and in the process I picked up a cake of sheng, this time the 2014 Gua Feng Zhai “Ancient Tree” from puerhshop.com. Now I seem to recall a bit of business with this particular retailer some years back, maybe 2011, when folks on Teachat questioned the authenticity of a few Dayi cakes, and you can track all those discussions down if you wish. However, I’m not in the market for Dayi myself. I either want to buy the best tea possible or heicha trash tea, and very rarely do I find anything in the middle worth the money. But despite that general trend, I continue to buy middle teas anyway and yes from controversial shops sometimes.

Hey, I have lower expectations buying tea and maybe it’s because of this I’m not often disappointed. With all due respect to my fellow tea heads and bloggers, I have zero expectation or hope of transparency within the tea industry this year or at any time in the future. Because the truth for me is that puerh is not a tea party, it’s a circus. And asking the puerh industry for transparency is rather like asking the bearded lady to shave. She is not going to give up her god-given right to be something she isn’t when her entire livelihood depends on it. Now a circus is not the most edifying form of entertainment, but if I’m in the middle of it, does this mean I should spend my time complaining? A circus is what it is. Should I deny myself a bag of mini donuts and a corn dog, even at the absurd prices they are charging? If I don’t like it, then I don’t need to be here.

Instead, I can take the kid to the science museum and pay their absurd prices for a gluten-free sprout salad and Pellegrino and think I’m superior. But I’m guessing the kid would prefer the corn dog so at some point I gotta give, or else the kid will spend his life eating corn dogs because he grew up eating too many health foods. Reality is gray and messy, and I prefer to spend my morality points on the really big decisions than give them away so readily for lesser life quests. In terms of tea, if I’ve spent $400 on a tea cake I will definitely whine if it doesn’t meet expectations. But when I’m buying something in the $20-30 range, this is circus pricing, so if the vendor hasn’t changed the oil in awhile then yes, the fries will be greasy and somebody else got a better batch that day, it just wasn’t me. Go home and forget about it. Do you really think that boycotting the science museum or the circus will lower the prices and lead to pesticide testing, or prevent a teensy weensy bit of gluten from sneaking into your salad? Okay I’m over the top now, and I’m not trying to insult anyone, truly. If anything, I want to promote enjoying your tea hobby for what it really entails, everything. Enjoy the damn circus if you go, this is all I’m saying. If not, then stay home because there are definitely far more worthy things to spend money on and you can always find tea bags at the grocery store.

So, puerhshop is an American vendor which really cuts down on the shipping cost, and shipping time, if you can find something to buy. And yes you’re probably gambling on that Dayi, but I’m in for the carnival glass and willing to toss a few quarters to try and win a cheap prize. And while $35.98 for 200g certainly ain’t carnival cheap, well I pay a lot more for better tea, so what the hell. Actually I was looking for some really funky shou which is mainly what I bought in this shopping trip, and the 2014 Gua Feng Zhai was an afterthought at best. Actually the full title of the tea is “Gua Feng Zhai Ancient Tree,” right, so yes there’s the bearded lady again. I just ignore all that, myself. Laocangjia seems to be one of those small factory companies either exporting a few Yiwu teas or selling through wholesalers. Again, I keep my expectations low.

This cake did some sweating, I think.
The paper on the cake looks somewhat water damaged, as if the tea cake got wrapped up wet because the bottom and sides show some crinkling, while the top is smooth. So I imagine the steamy wetness going with gravity. But now the cake seems a bit dry, which is probably my fault because I’ve had the tea sitting out in the house and we just had a very cold dry spell. The cake appears a bit brown for a 2014. I picked off 9 grams to brew, deciding to go heavy in case we have either some aged tea in here, some huangpian (which looks to be the case), or some autumn leaf mixed in.

Big and brown
Got my usual 125 ml clear cup in the photos and I fill it less than full, so I suppose I’m brewing in the 100 ml to 120 ml range. The way I brew is I fill the pot just to cover the leaves, they start out shriveled so my early steeps take less water and then as the leaves open up, I continue adding just enough water almost to the top of the leaves so they remain on the bottom of the pot and don’t float at all.

I suppose I'm a sucker for messy teas.
My first impression is a top of nose of stone fruit, and no smoky or storage odors. This tea is very clean. I rinsed twice and tossed half the first cup because not much to taste yet. The third and fourth steeps show respectable thickness, and the brew is an orange/yellow. Flavor-wise, this is a rather light tea with a bit of bitterness, confirming the huangpian or fall tea with a bit of spring mixed in. Not the green flavor but more like the 2014 Manzhuan of white2tea without the punch. Enough astringency to clean my teeth, but today I’ve got a bit of sinus drainage so the throat feel escapes me. Nice legs into the stomach, I feel my seven cups so far well into my blog post, and I start sweating and feeling warm and fuzzy in my face, and I double check that I took my blood pressure pills to rule out a med error.

Call me Bozo the Clown.
Bassy stone fruits and a bit of whiskey barrel twigginess dominate the tea, confirming that the “ancient leaf” really means the older leaves on the bush. 

Some decent thickness in this third steep.
What do you expect for $35 for 200g? Real gushu? Real Guafengzhai? Well maybe, can’t really say, we have a bit of Banna in here, but for sure you’re not getting the top quality leaf at this price. In fact, you won’t find top quality at all for Gua Feng Zhai, nobody will, and definitely no one we can buy from. Maybe Two Dog can dig up a bit for us now and again, he does his best, but since Guafengzhai is one of his favorites, he should know.

Overbrewed just for you.
I steeped the eighth far too long trying to get this photo, at least 3 minutes. That gave me one intense cup, and so steep nine didn’t have much to taste. Had I brewed normally I might be at a minute steep time and got a good ten brews for sure and maybe a couple more. But now I need a leaf shot for you all so that means picking out the gaiwan.

I tried to capture the larger brown leaf.
This tea is really very enjoyable. I can recommend it for people who:

1.      Want to drink their puerh right now.

2.      Have no interest in storage.

3.       Hate smoky teas.

4.      Willing to spend a bit more, since you can probably get a satisfying cup at a better bargain for 357g with Yunnan Sourcing’s Simao offerings.

5.      Like to tea shop and can’t stop.

And after that heavy eighth steep I definitely have the munchies. Fortunately I have a brand new bag of cheese balls.

Can you see the price tag? 

I pay $35.98 for 200g of tea but I won’t pay more than a buck and a quarter for cheese balls. Does this make any sense to you? I don’t think anyone who buys puerh tea as a repeat buyer has any logic whatsoever. If I’m this crazy as a buyer, how can I expect my vendors to be rational people? Maybe it’s just me, so fine. Just for the record, my office is located in Baraboo, WI which is the home of Ringling Bros. circus and fried cheese balls. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

2014 Fujian Fuding Bai Mu Dan

2014 Fujian Fuding Bai Mu Dan
On Friday, a colleague at work asked what I had planned for Valentine’s Day over the weekend. “I plan to drink tea and eat candy hearts all weekend,” was my reply. “How about a glass of wine?” she suggested, as if my tea doesn’t really qualify as a drug or a relaxer or even a reward, despite the fact that my tea costs more than most bottles of wine and certainly more than what she probably spent on hers. Not to mention that my tea will make me drunker than any glass of wine, should I choose it to do so. But of course the issue isn’t really the tea or wine, is it? “Don’t you have anyone to buy you a drink this weekend?” Now here is the real issue behind the beverage.

People sometimes ask me why I don’t date anyone. That’s because I know where it goes. And right now my bed contains no fewer than two laptops, an IPad, two cakes of sheng, a Ruyao gaiwan, two tea tables, an empty ramen bowl, ziploc bags, a couple batteries, a fork, a pen, a very large tea pet, a 500g brick of shou in a tin, corn pillow, pot holder, scissors, two dirty handkerchiefs and my meds. Where in all this am I going to put another person? They’d have to sleep upstairs. Yes, this is all disgusting and no one in their right mind would want to be around any of it. I’m waiting for my son to hurry up and move out so I have one fewer person to bother me. Normally I don’t feel I need to offer people an explanation of how or why I lack a “significant other” because I’m already sleeping with my tea which doesn’t require me to sleep on chux, and my tea doesn’t need to try and find a sexy way to undo sticky tabs.

My colleague wasn’t really asking about my sleeping arrangements. After you turn 50, nobody wants to hear about it anyway, the visuals alone are probably enough to put most people off. What she was really asking is “do you have anyone to treat you nice this weekend?” The truth is, with tea I have people treating me well almost every day. In fact, I have the extreme luxury of turning people down who would send me their nice tea just to try. And I can guarantee you that the offers of tea from my wonderful tea head friends are all about sessions costing far more than a single glass of wine. None of this reality gets explained to my dear colleague, at work no one wants to listen past ten words. The thought counts, and one is lucky enough to receive this much.

This weekend was all about cheering me up in the midst of record cold with an optimistic cake of white tea, in this case with the 2014 Fujian Fuding Bai Mu Dan from Chawangshop I ordered some time ago. I hadn’t actually planned to open up this tea, because I bought it purely to store. But recent white2tea club offerings included some excellent aged white tea, so I thought maybe I should review a currently available white tea. I shelved my reluctance to open up the wrapper for the sake of the Dear Reader, and of course this weekend now the 2014 Fuding is sold out. Here I am with the photos all done and the tea cannot be purchased now.

To me this says "steamy" and "weekend in bed."
This cake really needed some airing after it arrived, which is another reason why I waited as long as I did. It arrived in a plastic bag, and when I opened it to give it a sniff, I smelled a warehouse puerh odor that definitely did not originate with this tea, like a whiff of smoky Xiaguan. I pushed away my first thought of “oh no,” hoping that sniff is not indicative of the actual tea. So I left it on the bed for a week and then out to air in the main room with the rest of my tea crocks. This strategy seemed to pay off, because the odor was indeed confined to something the wrapper had picked up from general storage. This tea is beautifully wrapped with perfect 1.5 centimeter folds which I’ve wrecked now for almost no reason except done is done.

On the surface of the cake I spot some small furry leaves which are of course the fuzzy white tea buds and small leaves, but I wonder if some Taliensis varietal got mixed in to add thickness. I brewed about 2 grams of the tea, a small chunk in about 40 ml water and normally these parameters are not what I consider especially satisfying or even a decent session for puerh, but this is not puerh. I’m rewarded with a floral nose, this tea is heady indeed. Early steeps in the cup are thick like syrup, somewhat confirming my impression that we have a bit of Taliensis here. Along with this is a sour note of fermenting storage, and a look at the leaves indicates that perhaps some earlier stored tea was mixed into this lot to add some depth of flavor, or to cut the amount of fresh leaf used. These might be the browner leaves and more dried brown stems compared with the greener leaf and buds. So I am getting at least three distinct notes, the floral and fruit together which are rather like a pinot wine, and then this darker sour tone. Later the sour mellows into more of a tangy lemon but the floral also fades. Thickness and color in the cup continue well past 7 steeps, but the flavor is mostly gone.

To boychik "yes it is," and "yes I did." :D
Tea pot and cup by Petr Novak.
This tea tolerates boiling or under boiling for the first two or three steeps when the chunk is unfurling, but then suffers under hot water once fully opened. I may have killed the floral earlier than I might by continuing with the very hot water, because the leaves started to smell a bit cooked like watery asparagus. This would not be the case once this tea has fully aged and most of the green matter turned and dried. Anyone planning to drink this tea fresh is certainly rewarded by the floral notes, many of which are likely to be lost over time.

Storage for this cake represents a challenge and is my main interest for the purchase. The challenge is accepting the loss of floral notes, but the tea lacks the strength to survive very dry conditions or to turn into anything else. The idea is to find a way to mostly preserve the tea in its current state, to slow down the loss of flavor. This means getting the humidity just right. To simply preserve the tea, one would need humidity levels in the mid 50s-60s. Any lower and the tea will dry out and fade. Any higher and the water will muddy the cake and kill the top notes.

My first thought is purely to plastic wrap the thing, but after my friend Allan sent out samples of puerh stored in plastic last year, from the east coast area, I learned that plastic wrapper tea goes flat very quickly compared with pumidor storage in North American winter climates. Allan’s multi-year storage comparison experiment with samples taken from one cake taught me a great deal. So too did his sample of extremely funky brick pu. I have him to thank for a lot of learning from a single package he mailed me a year ago.

Bit 'o brown. Some of the leaves.
At this point, my best bet is to store the tea with fresh puerh in a pumidor setting with relative humidity in the 60s percentile range, but moderate temperature. I would not want the pumidor to have any humid storage puerh and definitely not strongly smoky puerh, all this would easily overwhelm a cake of white tea. Probably the safest would be purchasing white tea in a tong for the bamboo protection, and then a tong bag over the rest so the cotton bag can absorb any off odors.

In fact this will be my recommendation: if you are looking to get into some aging of white tea cakes, buy bamboo tongs and invest in a tong bag rather than messing about with exposed single cakes. Keep it drier than you might for bitter puerh which can take higher humidity and temps. Or, just plan to drink it up. I think my 2014 is past that point, however, the sour note coming from the older tea in the mix means it is beyond its prime fresh date, so I have no choice but to age it longer.

Checking around on the internet, I see that the $24 price is about middle of the range for white tea Fuding cakes. You can certainly find less expensive than this, with free shipping, on Ebay, and cakes which cost more as well. White tea is a hot investment at the moment, because aged puerh is bought out now and in the hands of collectors, as is aged oolong. Heicha is close on the heels, as each new “found” basket is going for higher prices than ever before. So, collectors are looking for new opportunities and white tea cakes are still relatively inexpensive. Let us hope our favorite online vendors like Chawangshop continue to hunt down white tea cakes for us to buy!

Valentine’s weekend 2016.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Verdant Tea 1800 Year Old

Finally, a tea older than Old Cwyn appears on her dirty tea table. In this case, Verdant’s 1800 Year arrives with its own nasty reputation, even worse than Old Cwyn’s. I don’t think I need to link the reader to the innumerable posts about this tea with its thorough debunking of the claimed origins to the King Tree, which is roped off and unavailable for harvest but for a single, yearly cake. Most puerh tea buyers declared they’ve been turned off Verdant for all time, but the selling out of the “1800” cake speaks for itself. Say what you will, controversy is one tactic that works. I’m certainly not immune to controversial teas and through the incredible generosity of tea pals on Steepster I acquired a sample with the exhortation to write a little bit about it.

A real tea pal measures the sample for you.
We have a fine puerh community on Steepster, growing every week, and from there we’ve branched out to daily socializing on Instagram and Slack Chat. Despite the constant complaints about the ratings on Steepster, the community has worked hard to remain open and positive and supporting of fellow tea heads. Yes, even tea baggers are welcome and people who drink things no one else will. Within this camaraderie, people buy and sell tea with each other, and sometimes group buys are the only way to gain access to teas which are otherwise unaffordable or unattainable. My friends liquidproust, Dr. Jim, cookies and a dozen other friends had already planned a group buy last fall to include a lot of puerh. In his administration of last fall’s “Sheng Olympics” group buy, Liquidproust purchased the Verdant cakes well before the controversy began. In fact the teas were already on route, prior to all the hoopla. Initially he chastised himself for buying into this tea, and I, for one, chimed in with several others to applaud the move. Actually, I wasn’t even participating in the group buy and so Dr. Jim and cookies volunteered generously to give up shares in the Verdant 1800 just so I could try it. Their sacrifice meant I got a larger than deserved chunk, so this post is for Dr. Jim, cookies and the indefatigable and brilliantly named LiquidProust.

Put up a lil wet in the can.
The 9 gram chunk has a tangy apricot nose, and immediately I can see this is a tiny leaf tea. Tiny leaf teas in my experience can be either very tasty, or the nasty sort found in bamboo tubes with charred, smoky processing. The two rinses didn’t yield up any odor of char or smoke, which is impressive at the start. But pouring in the first steep, as the water hit the chunk I could see this tea is one which will require significant coaxing to get a cup strong enough for my taste. I started with 30-40 second steeps on the first three, lowering the water ratio to about 70 ml for the 9 grams. The tea doesn’t like boiling water, the green steep turned yellow with the heat.

Note the tiny leaves. My photos have a little washing out from winter sun.
Nose on the brew is grape-y, rather than the apricot of the leaves, and I note small buds among the tiny leaves. The tea is sweet, my efforts with the boiling hot kettle could not coax much bitterness. If I didn’t know better, the cup tastes very similar to the 2015 Chawangshop Hekai I’ve been drinking this year, definitely no hefty Menghai leaf here. Assuming the date is correct, the tea was picked end of May, and this was, after all, a wet year. Still, the tiny buds mean this is not first picking, but second picking or beyond. The tea is remarkably minty, cooling on the throat. Verdant has flavor scales and lists this tea as spicy foremost (not really), vegetal (maybe when brewed at a lower temp), vanilla (not for me), and fruity, lastly (much more so for me). I get this tangy, slightly sour fruit along with the mint and both linger well beyond the cup for a good hour or so. Qi barely there, this tea lacks strength for me to feel the caffeine. But the similarity to the Hekai gives me hope of a diuretic effect that I enjoyed so much from the Hekai.

First steeping at around 40 seconds.
We read about how puerh aids digestion, but nobody really details exactly what this means. Well, I can tell you. The digestive effects truly vary if you are a vegan or a meat eater. For a vegan, raw puerh is probably not necessary for digestion and you’re better off with an oxidized or roasted tea. Your diet is plenty yin and other fermented products like kimchi or kombucha might be a nice addition, but you can get by on matcha and skip puerh altogether for digestive reasons.  You are accustomed to broccoli, beans and cabbage, things are moving right along for you. For meat eaters, on the other hand, puerh really does reduce bloating, the feeling of over-fullness from a heavy, greasy meat meal. Your yak supper ain’t going anywhere fast. This is a very good thing in the heart of winter when you need to retain calories and brave extreme cold. Eskimos don’t eat salads for a reason. But what you really need to do is fart. This is one role that puerh tea may have, and the Verdant 1800 did the job and luckily my son stayed upstairs. Just an FYI, broccoli, beans and cabbage only truly bother the meat eater. Witness Ohgren and Sten, two men in need of the Pu.

I didn’t find a diuretic effect in the Verdant 1800, and I find myself applauding the Chawang Hekai even more, and Honza for getting out there in March to harvest well before the rains so that Old Yang Cwyn can pee when she needs to in order for her shoes to fit. The Verdant 1800 is a pleasant, albeit very light brew. I continued onward brewing at just a few degrees under boiling past the third steep. The tea improved my regularity the following day in a most pleasant manner helping my body deal with the natural casing weiner I ate the day before. Hey, it’s cold here. I try and balance out my son’s meat needs with oatmeal suppers for myself once in awhile, but even if I could return to purely vegan I’d still need to cook meat for him every day anyway. He took a look at a bean at six months old and said “nope” with a matter-of-factness that resulted in a note home from daycare and no change in the quarter century since.

Second steeping. I didn't continue with photos of the brew as they
mostly looked like this. A bit more orange-y with a longer steep time.
I’m steeping at 60 seconds on steep 5 to get myself a cuppa and am rewarded with a bit of apricot in the brew and a little more bitterness. Really this is quite a pleasant tea, especially if you don’t like bitter tea and want a sweeter sheng. The processing is top notch in my sample. I can’t think this tea cake will age into anything other than a general fading like an ashen blonde anorexic trust fund baby, the strength is just not there. If you bought this cake, plan to drink it up now. 

Tiny leaves, second flush most likely.
But the lack of strength is a minus when considering the price, in the $60 range for 200g. I can find plenty of stronger teas with this profile in the $30 range, though the minty quality does stand out. Juniper trees anyone? Still, I’m a sucker. I’d buy this even at the $60 price tag, though I doubt anyone else will even were the cake still available, which it isn't. But I’m willing to pay $60 for a drinker even if most of my puerh hoarding readers will not. I can squeak out 10 steeps and feel satisfied for what it is. If you’re looking for teas to put you under the table, look elsewhere. Just about anywhere. With any luck, the Chinese New Year will be over soon and China will hurry up and get back to shipping, which is really what we all are waiting for. 

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