; Cwyn's Death By Tea: June 2016 ;

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Upside to a Late Season

Really I just don’t know what’s taking so long. Now, I know we’ve had blah blah blah excuses as to why so few puerh cakes are released thus far in 2016. But I’m at the end of my tether. Getting new puerh is so slow I’m watching the summer ticks crawl. By the time I get any fresh tea, the hot weather will be gone and I will no longer require any. Not to mention the fact that my tax refund is spent and gone, and this brings up an important point. Puerh season is timed with tax season for a reason, when people have money to spend and yes that means me and mine which is what puerh season is all about for everyone.

I know, I know. Blah blah about the winter season this year and blah blah the old trees are late, but think about this, people. Aren’t we told that “old” tree tea really isn’t old tree anyway, and that labels are a bunch of lies? Okay, so hurry up with my plantation already. Really, can’t somebody water the bushes? What about those elephants supposedly wandering old trails into tea gardens, haven’t they peed enough to make up for a shortfall? We’ve been watching videos of bamboo tea tossing for months. Even Dayi has cakes out, and the World Tea Expo is over. I’ve stopped “liking” IG photos of fresh puerh tea, I’m worn out on the heart button already.

As for “factory time,” how much money does one of those stone press rocks cost, along with a pair of flip flops, an empty coffee can and travel stove? Old Cwyn can get the job done with tools found at home and Walgreens. As for wrappers, got that covered. My Art Studio app has no fewer than 10 wrapper designs saved all the time, I can crank a dozen in an hour or less. As for folding, I started origami at 6 years old when my mother was only on her first marriage. I folded my way through John Montroll having skipped his easy courses because my aunt sent me books and paper from Japan. I was reverse folding when many tea vendors today had grandparents in high school. I can wrap those beengcha in a jif. As for the bamboo, might as well skip it.

Tea vendors are spending their time drinking is the real reason, along with the conspiracy to withhold tea from the market in an attempt to derail the “early” vendors marketing winter tea for spring and appearing more legit, more “Old Tea,” like Southern Democrats trying to turn out the carpetbaggers and we all know how that turned out. But this is an ill-conceived move. Tea drinkers who haven’t spent their money on huge group buys or the Tea Urchin $700 Club are running a campaign of “no tea buying until Black Friday,” and puerh people are joining in droves. This is a serious trend of anorexia that we are seeing across rich people everywhere in television shows.

Today’s trend is all about self denial in order to appear less guilty of misappropriation when one spends money, in an era when a huge gap exists between rich and poor. The mark of class right now  is buy nothing, no clutter, eat nothing, empty white white white no value furniture, minimalist clothing and blank tea wrappers, tiny dogs, all the things antithesis to what tea hoarding is about. These puerh hoarders think they are following a trendy austerity plan to convince significant others and society as a whole they won’t buy anything. No one is fooled at such behavior, although we have no way of knowing the kinds of straitjackets they are in behind closed doors. Still, vendors might want to hurry. Try and remember your customers living in a country that had no qualms whatsoever about dumping tea in the harbor for far less personal reasons than a late puerh season. We can revert back at any time, and coffee shops with designer foams are right here, right now to pick up the slack and they have their Christmas cup designs already on waitlist.

Not that any of this applies to me. I shouldn’t really complain because in the end, especially with the No Tea Buying campaign circulating the forums, this just leaves more for me. I can relax this year and buy up what I want in a leisurely fashion with my weekly benefit checks while the other suckers try and hold out their credit cards until November, even though Black Friday won’t have deals anyway. Do you really want to wait for a free 25g sample along with your order? I can guarantee the shipping won’t be free. In the meantime, the obsession continues for sensible buyers like me, so I’m just buying aged stuff.

Like this one from Yunnan Sourcing for $36/38 (China/US sites) for 357g. 

Yunnan Sourcing's 2006 Chang Tai Hao
This is 2006 Chang Tai Hao "Tian Xia Tong An" sheng. How does Bulang in Guangdong storage sound to you? How about bug-bit wrappers? Enough to break a sweat for most of us and hit Buy, especially when Old Cwyn is gonna say this one ain’t bad.

Nice bug bites.
This 2006 CTH shows the browning of wetter storage, but arrives fairly dry and the edges are flaky. No real odor of mustiness, in fact not much odor to the cake at all except a whiff of minerals. I gave the cake a good week in my warm and humid summer three season porch just to see if I could get it to open up more. 

I didn't notice the insert fell out until I took the photo
After a week or so, I took off 7g from the reverse side of the cake for about 100 ml. I gave the leaves 3 rinses, mainly because the tea gave off a darker color at the outset and I didn’t feel like tasting someone’s warehouse. 

So my session started on the fourth pour.

The nose initially is a bit of wood and medicine along with minerals. The medicine/camphor is not that noticeable in the cup, however. Storage here is perfect, at least the kind of storage I love. 

This tea has that old book flavor I’m always looking for. Initial steepings are brandy brown with a red ring, however the tea is by no means completely sweated out. This is Bulang, and bitterness is still very apparent in the first four cups I drank. Along with this is a bit of sour lemon and minerals around the mouth, indicating to me that the tea has fermenting left to go. Processing on these leaves is excellent which is really what tempers that medicine taste in the end, not much char.

Second steep (fourth pour). Tea takes awhile to open up.
Despite the aging left to go, the tea is warming and I sweat like a dog on the Sunday I started drinking. Three steeps were enough, the tea is warm in the stomach. I continued again yesterday with another four steeps. I notice some astringency, tongue drying and plaque cleaning off my teeth. The old book and wood flavor carries along on Monday’s steepings. The tea still wasn’t done yet and so on Tuesday I fired up the kettle again. I needed to add steep time but the tea is still brewing up golden brown. After a total of 10 steeps, the green is now showing on the leaves, and they smell somewhat like menthol and old books.

Ten steeps for the green to emerge.
I feel like this tea has very distinct flavors which have not yet blended together fully. The lemony bitterness will turn sweeter over the next few years and the potential is there for deeper bass notes along with a bit more thickness from the remaining green cellulose. But the excellent storage on this means all I need to do is to maintain the current condition, and this is the sort of tea we in drier climates should look out for. If you missed out on Chawangshop’s 2005 Old Bada with the wetter storage from last year, this cake from Yunnan Sourcing is a more than adequate choice at a similar price. You can find about 2 dozen cakes on the US site, and another 65 cakes or so on the China site.

So the upside to a late season is finding an aged tea I might have overlooked had I focused all my attention on new spring teas. And I confess I found other teas and teaware during this time as well, and managed to hide most of it from my son. The one other thing I bought that I couldn’t hide though, is the orphaned shelter kitten.


Thursday, June 9, 2016

Best New Tea Books of 2016

576 pp. Complete with 494 page chapter on Drake! The classical section is a bit sparse at 3 pages, but what's there is good. It's the only chapter I read. Outhouse country completely omitted. But maybe some will enjoy the book anyway.

Yet another dissertation, this one by U of Ole Miss, so that makes it something of an update. Chapters on changing nappies 'neath the wild arbor, My favorite chapter: "Daddy Dreams of Concrete."

We need to know the pubic hair in the cake has meaning, and this book gives it a full treatment.

Pamphlet. Off-repeated advice about joining tea forums for tea swaps, proven and usable stories on financial hardship to obtain free tea samples. Might be useful for newbies. But my advice is, if you can't afford to hoard, get out of the hobby.

196 pages. Classic whodunit. I guess they couldn't find 4 more pages of the story to break an even 200. Help Shale follow the clues to who battered her tea break buddy. You guessed it: follow the wrappers. Notable though for the attempt to explain why coders in particular tend to take up tea.

More volumes in press
1064 pages. Finally we have a scholarly tome on every tea sale ever held by Yunnan Sourcing. You know how it is on tea forums, better get your facts straight. Dates, percent-off retail, full coverage of Black Fridays, what sold out and more!

Still a bit fuzzy in concept, but it's the book of the year.


Saturday, June 4, 2016

2004/2009 Jin Hao Feng Huang Ripe

As a tea drinker, I’m fortunate to have tea friends with a variety of tastes. While I have settled my preferences into mostly puerh, I do drink a number of different teas and I’m always exploring. Tea friends are explorers too, and I can count on them to recommend teas that I would never find on my own. While tea forums receive a fair share of hate from tea heads, still they are the best place to find tea friends. Every day I enjoy chatting with people about what they are drinking, and more often than not I make a purchase based on a recommendation from a friend. I keep my friends in mind too when I’m writing. My blog is most often inspired by tea friends, topics we’ve discussed or they’ve posted, or just things people say in passing. Or I might say something that ends up turning into a post that would never be written except for the conversation. If you are a blogger and feel blocked on what to write, a tea friend will unclog your mental tea pot every time.

This post is for my shou puerh drinking friends. I don’t know what I’d do without you all. I have a number of tea friends who either prefer shou puerh, or drink it because greener teas are too harsh for them. Shou puerh demands an experienced palate. When you drink primarily green tea, like sheng, shou is a big change to your palate. It blasts the palate in early steeps, and if you are accustomed to finding subtle flavors in tea, you will miss them in shou without consistent experience. And if you have friends who cannot tolerate green tea, finding the best shou puerh for them means relying on experienced palates for advice.

Lately I’ve been on a bit of a shou buying trip. I send my sister a box of tea several times a year. Now, my sister has some heavy physical conditions that affect her stomach, her breathing, and her digestion. She cannot tolerate green tea. She is also the opposite of her older Cwyn sister, she is a cool Yin to my overly warm Yang. Because of her health conditions, shou puerh is among the teas I send her. And I make sure that the tea is completely cleared of any wo dui fermentation funk, and cleared of any green leaves. In fact, most of shou puerh I send is at least 3 years stored by me. Recently I’ve been sending shou stored by me for seven years, a 7572 that is completely clear and she tolerates it well.

But now I need to plan ahead and make sure I’ve got shou in advance, because my supplies of clear tea are running on the low side. Sister and shou pals are on my mind as I write this, because I’ve been asking around with my tea friends what shou they might recommend. I buy shou for myself as well, and unlike my sister I drink the funk and strong flavor. So I have to sort out the teas I own now for ones that are candidates for her. That means I have two needs with regard to shou, teas for me and teas for sister.

Older sample on the left, 2009 sleeve on the right.
Recently I ordered a sleeve of shou tuos, 2009 Jin Hao Feng Huang 801 from Chawangshop. These 100g tuos cost only $6 a piece, so makes sense to me to order a full sleeve of five for $30. Now, along with my order, Chawangshop thoughtfully enclosed a sample of the very same tea, but a 2004 Jin Hao Feng Huang. This tea, at five years older, costs significantly more at $21 per tuo!  Of course older is usually better, justifying a price increase, but more than 3x price increase?? I wonder if any other reasons exist for such a price difference.

This tea recipe supposedly won an award in 2009, but not the teas in my possession. For one thing, my 2009 tuos are actually dated as packed in September 2010. So they probably weren’t ready for the 2009 competition. And we know that awards don’t say much anyway about the quality of the tea, so many factors are involved. One key feature of the recipe, however, is that it is a more “tippy” shou, younger and smaller tea leaves, a Phoenix golden buds type of tuo. I have a number of tea friends who like Dayi Phoenix Golden buds, but I haven’t tried that tea myself.

The tuo at the bottom right has a little weakness in the paper.
So I decide to use it as my control sample.
I aired out the 2004 sample for a couple of weeks and speculated with my friends which tea might be better for my sister.

“The older one, for sure,” said my friend Paxl13, who drinks primarily shou, and is a go-to tea friend when I need advice on comfortable teas for my sister. He might be right. But my 2009 tuos have seven years on them already, a decent amount of time for a tea to clear. I cannot tell which tea will be better until I drink them.

Not much visual difference between the two teas.
The two samples appear similar with lighter gold buds, and darker, more fermented tea making up the base. In fact I can't tell the difference in age just by looking. Breaking up the 2009 tuo, I notice that the younger tea is not difficult to pry apart with a pick. In fact the tea separates quite easily. By contrast, the 2004 chunk I received is extremely difficult to pick apart. I manage to break it into small chunks and decided brew the entire 11g I received, along with 11g of the younger tea. The chunks of the 2004 tea compared with loose leaf makes quite a difference when brewing, however. Chunky tea takes longer to open up, whereas loose leaf tea gives up more early on.

I used about 100 ml of water for each sample. Doing the two rinses I can smell a big difference between the teas. The older 2004 tuo has a strong nose of mushrooms and port wine, rather like Lao Cha Tou teas. I can smell a bit of this profile in the 2009 tea but nowhere near as intensely. On the other hand, the differences in the soup are minimal if any. I think maybe the 2004 is a tad bit more reddish, but as I brewed more steeps and tried to keep them as evenly steeped as possible, this difference disappeared. To get this similarity, I had to give a second or two longer to the chunkier 2004 to make up for the compression.

Early steeps on both tuos have a sourish aftertaste, evidence of dry storage. This is likely to fade with a bit of humidity to work out. These tuos haven’t had much, if any, wetter storage so that sour note in early steeps is what you get. The teas are both very clean in that the brew is clear when a strainer is used to catch the tiny bits and tea dust. I didn’t continue taking photos of the steeps because of little to no discernible visual difference in the cups.

2004 on the left. 2009 on the right.
The sourish taste disappeared after steep 3 or so. Overall the younger tea is much more lively on the tongue, it spreads throughout my mouth with zing and minerals, a touch of port wine flavor and mushrooms. The older tea is not as lively, but the mushroom wine profile is more pronounced. Further, the chunks in the older tea don’t break up on their own, they remain intact unless I want to separate them. Both teas have a slight pile flavor, typical shou taste. I got a good six steeps from the 2009 before the tea needed steep time. I continued brewing the 2009 until 8 steeps, when the tea needed even more time to brew. I figure a good 10 brews and maybe a little more from this one.

The 2009 tuo shows a number of still-green tea leaves in the gaiwan. This tea still has much more room to age. But will it turn into the chunky stronger profile of the 2004? The 2004 also has a few thick sticks, not many sticks at all in the 2009. I tossed the 2009 leaves to continue brewing on the 2004.  At steep 10, I’m brewing around 40 seconds and stirring the leaves with a spoon in the water. These leaves have a lot to give but they are sleepy, wakey wakey the spoon gets them moving to release more. I’m well caffeinated now after more than 1000 ml of tea in the afternoon.

2004 on the left is chunkier, more compressed than the '09 on the right.
The 2009 has more green leaves.
Later evening steeps on the 2004 have a more woody and old book flavor, and a bit more lively on the tongue now that I have the remaining wet pile flavor brewed out. Both teas are cooling on the throat, but incredibly heat-producing on my body. The weather now is not ideal for drinking shou, not for me, the temps are warm and a bit muggy outside. I turn into an overheated, bloated sponge after a day of drinking 1300 ml of shou. I’m so overly warm that I can’t sleep until well after 3 a.m. And these 2004 leaves aren’t done yet.

After dinner the following day I continue my Yang torture with the 2004. I really need to confine shou to the winter months, but I know my sister over in Milwaukee probably feels freezing cold right now. So I persist. The tea is woody, dark leather and still has two chunks that don’t want to separate unless I force the issue. You know what this means, right? This tea is a boiler. I can boil up these leaves when they stop producing flavor and get a whole pan of tea. I’m at 12 steeps and then a boil.

Boiling the tea sample brings back the mushrooms and port wine in the nose. Gotta boil them sticks. I don't mean steep in boiling water, I mean boil. At least five minutes or more.

Prego in  Tea Italian means puerh in my spaghetti jar
and no, you can't have any.
I easily got well over 3000 ml out of my 11g sample. I love puerh. I really do.

I think you can get an idea now of which tea is the better buy. At triple the price, I didn’t get triple the steeps but the 2004 is the better tea. Maybe I’m wrong, and perhaps the green left in the 2009 tuos means early days yet. I just don’t think the 2009 is going to turn into what I’m getting in the 2004, a much more powerful tea leaf. Years can differ, some years are rainy, a drier year produces a stronger tea. And we all know how over-picked puerh tea got after 2008, sapping the tea trees of strength. Still, do I want to pay $21 for a small 100g tuo?

Probably my puerh friends will prefer the 2004 for the stronger, more flavorful profile. Someone who plans to drink shou over a great number of years, looking to build a stockpile, has to consider prices across the board. Right now shou tuos from the 1990s are going well over $100. I’ve seen some over $200. Not that anyone wants to spend that much, but I’m sure around year 2020, any tuos pre-2005 are likely to get fairly pricey, most of these teas will be consumed and gone by then. This makes the $21 now seem like a decent price if you want add one to your collection.

As for my sister, I think the younger tea is better for her, once the green is aged out a few more years. A puerh lover will prefer the 2004 every time, but someone with my sister’s health issues might need a less intense brew. So, I think my $30 investment now will pay off in a few years when I can give her some pleasant and clean tuos that she can easily separate and brew without distress.  But I might pick up one of those aged and goopy 2004s for myself.