; Cwyn's Death By Tea: July 2016 ;

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Puerh is Alive

Recently in the heat of our Midwestern summer, one of our tea friends discovered some moldy cakes in her collection. Her tea was stored mostly in plastic bins which she had forgotten to open and air. I think the tea will be fine eventually, but the episode caused some anxiety with a number of other tea friends. I am reminded how puerh is a living food.

All stored food is alive, except for things like dried peas or true canning. Even these have a shelf life, a time when they taste best. But fermenting foods like puerh tea are indeed truly alive, and the organisms within are living creatures. We can’t see those living creatures without the aid of a microscope, but they are very much alive.

Puerh is a living food, we cannot store and ignore.

Anxiety around puerh storage is largely justified if a person wants to store it and ignore it. Some people do this, but you are playing a crap shoot. You can put several bushels of potatoes or apples in your basement for a month or two. When you go back to check on them, you are likely to find some spoiled or moldy apples and potatoes which you need to remove. Perhaps you can identify the reasons behind why a particular apple spoils, maybe it had a bruise, or maybe you can’t figure out what happened. But you know that even potatoes from the same harvest will have a few that go bad for no particular reason. 

Maybe you like to make wine. You store a dozen bottles, and two turn to vinegar, one explodes and the other nine are drinkable. You may learn something about the bottles that went bad, but to some extent you also accept loss as part of the hobby. We are still trying to fully understand why some wines and whiskies turn out better than others. The same is true of puerh tea, we are only learning why some cakes turn out better than others.

If you enjoy flowers, you might decide to start a garden of sorts. Orchids and roses are beautiful, but are like babies requiring daily care. Do you want to spend the time? If you find caring for your orchids relaxing and engaging, then these flowers will bloom under your mothering. One cannot ignore orchids, and knowing this you might wisely decide to plant day lilies instead which need little or no care and are beautiful in their own right.

Do you want to spend the time with storage?

I prefer cats to dogs. I love dogs, but I believe that dogs need to run, or at minimum vigorously walked more than once a day. Do I want to spend the time walking the dog? If I have a large property where the dog can run, maybe it can go without me. But then I’ll still need to check it for ticks and burrs or other wounds. And like it as not, that dog will still prefer to sleep in my bed than outside, so I’ll need to pay a great deal of attention to this dog. I don’t have much interest in doing what really should be done for a dog and I cannot bear it when I see dogs neglected. So I have cats. My cats are still a lot of work, but I enjoy doing what they need.

Personally I love checking my tea daily or at least every other day. I find it relaxing to spend time sniffing crocks, testing my samples, making adjustments. I’m sure I spend more time than most. Plenty of people say “I keep my tea in New York, or Kuala Lumpur, I ignore it and it turns out fine.” Then you are lucky. But very likely you’ll have a cake or tuo in there that didn’t turn out so well. You can accept the few losses because for the most part your tea is fine. But even tea tossed into the corner of a hot humid warehouse is a crap shoot unless you are paying careful attention.

Can I do what it takes to maintain a large collection?

Puerh shopping is fun, and most of us know how easy it is to click and buy and watch the tea pile up. But do you have a storage solution for your tea? How much tea do you drink every day? Can you consume most of your collection within a few years? If not, then you need to find a way to store the tea so it continues to mature.

If I don’t enjoy puerh storage, then perhaps I need to keep my collection small to a series of drinkers that I will consume within a few years. Or maybe I should spend my money on truly fine aged puerh teas. I could buy one of the 1990s Liming for $1300 and focus my attention on drinking this one fine tea, rather than spend the same amount of money on brand new puerh teas only to lose them to fading and drying. Ah, the idealism and purity of this! For all our aspirations to stop with one cake, not many of us manage to avoid the slippery slope of buying more.

You hereby invited to the hobby of puerh storage.

Sheng puerh ferments in ideal conditions of at least 70-85 degrees F, or about 20-30C with relative humidity of 65-75%. When temperatures are a little lower, the microbial activity slows accordingly. When humidity is lower, then the tea begins to get dry. To maintain and preserve your tea “as is,” you will need room temperature and 50-60% humidity as minimum parameters. Lower than these numbers and the tea begins to dry, and the microbial activity will slow. If your numbers are higher, then you must provide air circulation for the tea, and babysit for mold.

Regardless of how or where you store your tea, checking the tea is important if you want to maintain fermentation conditions. You won’t lose your entire collection overnight. You’ll get warning signs. Too cold and dry, your tea will lack odor, it will not have any tea smell. Too hot and wet and you’ll see signs of mold, well before your entire collection is affected.

Your tea will pick up any odors from its surroundings, so choose its company carefully. I found my tea picked up cardboard box odors. Kitchen storage is a bad idea because of cooking odors. Wood too can impart odors if the wood is fragrant, or contains oils as cedar wood does.

If your climate is dry, then porous containers like clay jars will be far too drying. If your climate is hot and humid, on the other hand, then clay jars might be a fine idea. But you still need to check the tea! Bugs and rodents like tea as much as you do, and can get into your collection unless you watch out.

When choosing storage, check with people who have the same climate as you have. Don’t blindly copy storage conditions in Asia unless your climate is the same as Asia. Feel free to experiment! Check out traditional storage methods where you live. In my part of the world, people traditionally used glazed thick clay crocks for vegetable fermentation and food storage. I found these local crocks are ideal for storing puerh tea, but I still need to add humidity much of the year. In summer, however, my tea can enjoy the local hot and humid climate.

My blog has a number of ongoing articles on crock storage as an option
I know my tea is doing well when I can smell the fragrance, and when I check samples by brewing. I purchase or set aside a control sample of any cakes or tongs I want to leave intact, and test that control sample to see how the cake is doing. And I still check the cake inside the wrapper regularly.

Store puerh tea with love.

Check your tea because you love it! Check it not in a panic nor worry about losing your collection. You know what? There is always more tea. Tea will be your friend for many years. You can baby your most precious cakes, and with others you can always start over. Sniffing the tea and brewing up a bit is the pleasure we have, like gardeners who taste their bounty in a salad. When I get home from a long day, or am feeling my body’s aging and fatigue, I get a lift from heading to my crocks and checking a well-loved cake of puerh tea.

Stages of puerh fermentation
Do you want to miss out?
Puerh tea




Happy Molds

Tea Friends


Long Life

Requiescat in Pace

Sunday, July 24, 2016

2016 Head and Teadontlie white2tea

This week didn’t quite go as planned for me. My scheme to check on Mr. B vanished in thin air after I took a fall last weekend, resulting in leg and foot injuries that kept me in bed for several days and then hobbling around on a cane. On top of that I was subjected to various lectures all week from Dear Son about my fragile elderly state, which left a clear impression of his annoyances. Sigh. What else to do except drink tea? Son helped me around the house, but alas his assistance did not extend to getting Mother a cuppa. And, I couldn’t get myself out to the porch to my stash. Luckily I still had Treachery in a Teapot as my puerh novel of choice, my session from the previous Friday. If you are elderly and plan to fall down and injure yourself, make sure you have a mega steeper in the teapot to go. In fact, the best mega steeper in your collection, because Treachery brewed out 23 steeps over five days. You can get through a rough patch from your bed with a fine puerh in the pot, as it were.

I managed to collaborate with the post office to get my shipment of tea from Wilson the Blogger, and brewed up a pot of his 2008 Haiwan LBZ, an excellent tea steeping in the “so bitter it’s painful” and “hurts so good” spectrum. Anyone who got one of those cakes is a lucky tea head. I reviewed that cake on Steepster in case you're curious.

Finally by the end of the week I got back on my feet, more or less, and had the ability to try the more savory mid-priced teas from white2tea. Many of white2tea’s offerings this year tend toward the sweet side. As I get older I’m more into savory, at least in food and drink, a salt-n-grease person as opposed to sweet. 2016 Head is listed as a more bitter tea, so I ordered that cake and in the box was a sample of 2016 teadontlie (Tea Don’t Lie). Head got to rest for the week in baking hot conditions on the porch, and teadontlie got a few days of that treatment too before I brewed it up.

This tea is advertised as astringent in early steeps and sweetish later on. The leaves are nice and long, and I notice some are a bit brown already, suggesting perhaps a blend with some older leaf. I brewed up 7g of tea in water ranging from 80 ml to about 120 ml, increasing the water as the tea opened up more.

Yes, the early steeps are incredibly astringent. Things you don’t want to do while drinking this tea.

1.      Sing.
2.      Read your child a story.
3.      Talk to your boss on the phone.
4.      Lick frozen metal.
5.      Make out with your partner.
6.      Give head.
7.      Receive head from anyone else drinking this.

Mainly I wanted to nurse my cotton mouth which I did for about 4 hours. The astringency disappears after about five steeps, falling off completely past six or seven steeps.

Second steep, one rinse only.
This tea is a blend of leaves that distinguish themselves rather markedly in the early days of wetness and newness. The cake contains some young, sweetish buds and leaves that contribute to thickness in early brews. These are very floral and honey-like in early steeps, and steep out rather quickly in the first six steeps or so. I began to think that I like this tea more in the $49 range rather than the $69 range, but then the rest of blend opened up after about steep six. I noted some brown, drier and more wrinkled up leaves in the blend in early steeps, and these leaves take longer to open. The flavor here is more Menghai-ish, apricot, warm brandy, oak. In fact the liquor which started out a light yellow turned more orange, which suggests to me that the blend is not only a different region but some leaves are perhaps not this year’s tea, maybe last year’s. I don’t know for certain, of course, since we don’t have much information on origins this year. But I’m guessing the intent here is a blend of floral top notes with more bassy brandy, designed to come together as the cake ages. Right now the drinking experience is definitely more interesting with the bassy leaf coming into play in later steeps, gives me something to stay interested in brewing out the tea.

Vastly different coloring in later steeps.
I also noted a balance in the mouth, with the florals up front and the bassy more peppery notes in the back of the throat. This tea is definitely one to age and explore more as it settles. I got twelve steeps with increasing steep time to two minutes at the end, and might have squeezed out a bit more with even longer steeping time. Not bad for a wet tea. The leaves show some thick stems and 1 bud/1 leaf combos. I decided with these later steeps that I like the tea enough to buy a cake, I’m interested to discover how the blend comes together. If the tea had merely contained the sweeter top notes, I would have lost interest otherwise. So I went ahead and ordered a cake.

Gotta love the leaf.
2016 Head

This tea arrived in wet rage after shipping and delivery in super hot weather. The cake continued to smell up my trays of cakes with tomato vine and ripe veggies after over 100 degrees F and high humidity days. The cake is rather tightly compressed and I note how much smaller the leaves are than in the teadontlie cake. I think Head might be the trailer trash plantation cousin, ringing in at the same $69 price of the prettier teadontlie. I decided to punish myself going 8g heavy on the leaf for around 100 ml of water.

The leaf is consistent here in the small size, and early steeps are bitter to me only as the tea cools. This tea is definitely on the more savory side, no heavy sweetness here, but not exactly what I consider really bitter at all. A savory drinker, like celery juice with just a touch of honey. The tea hits a nice medium for those who don’t like heavy sweet teas, but don’t want painful bitterness either. First steeps have a bit of green in the color of the tea, suggesting this is still in the green tea stage and hasn’t begun any fermentation. Bitterness primarily on the tongue and warm on the throat which cools quickly, the tongue action returns fairly long lasting sweetness, but not the flavor bomb of course that Treachery is, not by a long shot.

Camo cousin.
Right now at this very early stage, Head is a decent savory drinker with medium huigan that I can see myself drinking up rather than hoarding. I’m liking the teadontlie a bit more for hoarding and storing, but I need to spend more time with both teas over the next year.

Smaller leaf than teadontlie
If a person wants to maximize the puerh experience for the same dollars, pony up for the Tuhao as Fk if you don’t have a cake of that from last year. I don’t know how this year compares, but the price of Head plus teadontlie equals one Tuhao. If you don’t have a Tuhao, really you should get one of those.

Tea is still a bit green.
If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, Head is savory and teadontlie a bit more sweet, with some complexity. Both have about the same number of steeps at this stage, and are a bit better than average with clean processing and no char.

Savory drinker
I might pick up another cake or two from white2tea later this year, depending upon my budget. Overall the Treachery is the cake to own for me, and these cakes I will probably drink up as well. Regardless of where you stand on the marketing this year, white2tea delivers very cleanly processed cakes with unique profiles at a variety of budget points. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

2016 The Treachery of Storytelling Pt. 2

2016 The Treachery of Storytelling Pt. 2
These days I’m watching my back. Yes, it’s that time of year again. Most of us have at least one crazy person in our life who really needs those meds and just won’t take them. My crazy person goes off every summer, and is right here just when I need someone to show up at my house with a heavy piece of plumbing and threaten to kill me. In between those days he might sneak onto my property randomly to use my garden hose for an improvised shower or yell through my open windows. I can usually smell his vehicle from half a mile away and prepare by closing up the house. Fortunately for me, Mr. B  has no interest in tea so I don’t need to worry about my stash.

I reported on my crazy friend Mr. B  last summer, a first installment on my blog. So here I am with Storytelling Part 2. This year Mr B seems worse than previous years. Normally his episodes run their course in ten weeks, but now we’re at twelve with no end in sight. The whole town is equally annoyed, and someone posted a photo of his vehicles on Facebook.

Keep your kids away from this guy. Supposedly he has a mental issue and entices young women and children to his camper. Be aware.

Messaged it to my crazy friend's Cousin Greg. We’ve known each other for fifteen years in dealing with old man Mr. B. About ten years in, Cousin Greg says one day:

“You know, he’s not really my cousin.”

“What? He’s told me forever that you’re his cousin,” I couldn’t believe it.

“Well yeah, but he’s no relation. I don’t know why he says I’m his cousin.”

“He said your grandma was his grandpa’s mistress, that you’re half cousins,” I says.

“Nope,” Greg says.

If you pretend something long enough it might just become real, and in fact we all still refer to Greg as Mr. B’s cousin. A bit handy when Mr. B lands in jail. So, Greg calls me the other day.

“I got something to report. He was up at my house,” Greg says.

“He shouldn’t be in that county. At all," I says.

Mr B gets jumped by the cops immediately in too many towns in this state.

“He says he came down because I wasn’t answering his calls. But he calls me ten times a day, and it’s mostly singing.”


“So he gets here, and he’s mostly filthy. Took a shower in our basement but then he put those dirty clothes right back on.”


“Have you smelled that motorhome?”

“Oh yah.”

“You can’t even get in it, the whole back is filled with junk.”

“Been like that a year at least,” I says.

“He says they’re antiques,” Greg says. “Got mad when I told him it’s junk.”


“He’s got jars of urine in there.”

“Oh yah.”

“So he raids our refrigerator and took almost all our food. I don’t care about the food because I can tell he’s hungry. Then he stole beer from the basement.”

“He must be out of money,” I says.

“Didn’t ask me for money.”

“But you gave him some.”

“Well, yeah. The cops told him to drive to the county line and he was out of gas. So I gave him fifty bucks for gas.”

“So, the cops were there?”

“Yep, they showed up right after he pulled in out front. I told him he could stay overnight but has to leave tomorrow. So today I had to go to work, and we got security footage showing he spent a half hour trying to get into our garage.”

“Oh, geez.”

“So then he goes to the Shell on the corner to gas up, and the cops pull in. He blows .09, just under the alcohol limit. At 1:00 in the afternoon.”

“Was he arrested?” I ask.

“No, but they wouldn’t let him drive. If he drove, they’d have arrested him. I had to leave work to go all the way over and drive the motorhome out of the gas station. Did you know the motorhome has no brakes and the tail lights don't work?”

"I let him park in my driveway this spring to install a new back brake. What happened to that?"

"He says the back brakes only are 10% of the brakes, the front ones are the 90%. I don't how he even drives that thing. If the cops saw it's got no brakes and tail lights, they wouldn't let him drive it."

“I can’t believe they didn’t arrest him. Usually they throw him in the tank for nothing.”

“I talked them out of it,” Greg says. “Told them on the phone not to arrest him, he has enough problems already.”

“So he’s still there?” I ask.

“Nope, cops drove him to the county line. I made him promise me he’d go back to the junkyard up north.”

Mr. B has been parking at an empty farmhouse where the acreage is full of junk cars. He gets electricity in exchange for helping the owner clean up the acreage.

“I’m really pissed about that Facebook post,” Greg says. “You know he’s no child molester.”

“I don’t think many people saw it.”

“He shoulda stayed up at the junkyard. He needs to hunker down.”

“Yah, and clean out that motorhome, the state is supposed to be coming out to assess him for incompetency. Tell him to get rid of those urine jars.”

“I told him,” Greg says. “He said not to talk to you. So I’m violating his orders because I talked to you.”

“Why’s that? He calls me all the time.”

“He says you’re holding on to his hit record. He is planning a world tour with his hit records and he says you won’t email the MP3s to anyone.”

This crazy part is actually true.

I recently acquired an old recording of Mr. B singing which took me fifteen years to track down, including five years of begging the one person in the world who happens to own a copy. The recordings are an A side and B side of a single record produced by BMI in 1975. Mr. B was younger then, and not crazy. The recording is actually a phenomenal example of the California hippie country rock era. He lost all his copies of this recording session and everything else he ever recorded. I’ve tracked down everything he recorded over the years, but this last one was a stickler for all but the tenacious. Out of the blue, the guy in California I’d been begging emailed a digital copy along with the labels. I phoned Mr. B the day I got them. I played it over the phone to him and hung up. So he knows I have those songs.

I figure if I have something Mr. B wants, it’s less incentive for him to kill me. He kills me, he gets nothing. Actually, the recordings are technically mine, since the one person who owns the actual single record emailed them to me. I deal straight with Mr. B though. He’ll get his recordings, but he’s gotta come down from that mania and not hurt me in the meantime.

“I haven’t done anything with those recordings,” I says.

“Well, keep in touch,” Greg says. “And go easy on the bad news, okay?”

Greg had cancer a few years back. The cancer is mostly in remission, but he’s mindful. And he married his nurse from the hospital. I haven’t seen Greg in years. We just talk by phone or computer.

So that was Tuesday. Now today we are at Friday. I message again.

“Sorry, bad news. Mr. B charged with selling alcohol to a minor. Hope it’s not your beer.”

“He’s going down,” Greg types.

“Thirty days jail and $500 fine for first offense,” I type back.

“I just fought with Facebook for the past two days to take that post down and they will not do it,” Greg says. “Even threatened them with a lawsuit.”

“I doubt many people even saw it.”

I check the Facebook post: only eleven reactions, a few comments, a couple trolls, and…5889 shares.

“Look, she has seven kids," I type. "But maybe he should stay out of the county.”

“He should’ve stayed at the junkyard.”

“I’m going through that town on Monday,” I says. “On the way back I’ll just check if he’s there.”

I go back to the internet and look at Vinelink, the national jail website.

“Scratch that, he’s in jail. The charges are for a city ordinance, they must have jailed him for another reason.” Normally, you just get handed the ticket for a city fine.

“He should’ve stayed at the junkyard.”

Guessing at this point the cops either drunk tanked Mr. B or they are holding him pending the state evaluation this county ordered last month.

“Mom, you are not gonna help that guy,” my son says at dinner when I bring it up.

Dear Son has had enough, more than enough from my crazy friends.

“I wouldn’t just drive up,” I says. “I’m going through there anyway on Monday.”

“Mom, you have to stay away from that guy and not help him.”

“I’m not helping him, I happen to be going that way come Monday.”

“He’ll just come back here.”

“He won’t, that’s why I’m holding on to those recordings. Collateral. He hurts me, he gets nothing.”

I explain to my son that I’ve tried, yes, really tried over the years to make friends with normal people but for whatever reason the only friends that stick are insane. My son spies the tea.

“Did you buy that?”

“No. It’s not old arbor.”

So, if you don’t see me after Monday, you’ll know I got kilt. The question will be who done it. The tea, Mr. B, my son, or all three.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Flip Flops and a Rock: the Truth is Still Relative

Relativism continues to hold sway in the western facing puerh market in 2016. When I speak of relative truth, this is defined as a self-contained “narrative” or set of facts that only holds true in a single case or limited cases. So relativism in regard to tea facts means statements which are true to the person who espouses them, but not to anyone else. Furthermore, relative “truths” cannot be questioned, because the “narrative” cannot be understood to anyone outside of that reality. In recent US news media, racial experiences are front and center touting facts that supposedly anyone outside a group cannot understand. These narratives cannot be generalized outside of a particular group of people. In a similar fashion, we tea heads are faced with statements made by tea vendors defended by “you either get it or you don’t, but you can’t question something you don’t know.” Specifically, we get relative truths about puerh origins: that cake contains Menghai, but maybe only a few leaves sprinkled on top, the rest of the cake is of unknown or untold origin. Relativism is a case study you either understand or you miss out.

Unfortunately, puerh in 2016 continues to be rife with relative truths. Not that anyone is really surprised, in China the market is always full of narratives, and consumers have little ability to change that. Despite the spate of forum and blog posts toward western vendors where we might hope to exert change, truth seems to slip another notch yet this year. But change is in the air.

A few facts so far:

Misty Peaks sold a 200g brown cake as spring tea back in March, and a fresh green 100g cake after April.

It's green!
In addition, MP offered to former customers to “buy back” spring productions from previous years at twice the original selling price. They gave no reason for doing this, maybe just offering some kind of refund to unhappy customers? But I wonder if, based on this and the fact that their “real” early spring production is only 100g, this company might be getting a bit of a cut off from the farm, as it were. My best guess is the spring tea from the farm has risen significantly in price back in China. Truth is probably the most relative to MP itself, but the 100g cake is much better this year than the same tea last year, in my relative opinion.

Yunnan Sourcing continues to advertise 300-400 year old tree teas.

A bit of a stick in the craw of a lot of customers. Some wonder about the ages of YS trees ever since Scott Wilson went after Verdant and Misty Peaks so strenuously on public tea forums. And then I've heard other beefs regarding perceived overcharging on shipping and bad feelings about the tea club samples costing more than the full size. I myself got some blow-back on the 2006 Chang Tai wet storage cake I reviewed a couple of posts ago on the morality of shopping at YS, as opposed to actual steepage or whether the tea is decent. I don’t belong to the tea club so I can’t speak to that experience myself, and I don’t find the shipping charges out of bounds. But this stalwart of the puerh vendors is getting some serious challenges from buyers these days with questions that won’t quickly go away.

White2Tea eschews origins entirely this year.

While TwoDog writes quite clearly on his blog of the complete degradation in tea marketing with regard to lying about tea origins, this year he is going a step further and omitting even vague descriptions about regions. The Storytelling/Treachery cake is the most egregious, with the wrapper art stating “This is not old arbor tea” but with a price tag suggesting that it is. I think TwoDog is right on the money in his blog posts when he talks about the outright fakery so clearly. But a lot of tea heads are confused when approaching the 2016 lineup.

“How am I supposed to know what to buy?” complained more than one tea friend. “At least last year we got a general idea of the region.”

Does eliminating all information about the origin of the tea contribute anything to a more honest and transparent tea market, or does it just add to the confusion and reduce the idea of transparency yet another notch? White2tea appears to have embraced a fully relativist universe where you either get it, or you don’t. You drink the tea and believe in it despite the absence of any information, or you are missing the “truth” about it which is to accept knowing nothing.“Trust” is the strategy with white2tea and many other vendors. The customer buys on faith. The “trust” strategy is even more apparent at Essence of Tea this year.

Essence of Tea starts a $700 club.

This marketing is directed to the buyer who fully trusts the vendor, and is likely to purchase the vendor’s entire lineup regardless of what the tea is. The $700 gets the member most of the spring cakes, some loose maocha, and also a buy-in for autumn releases this year as well. Since I didn’t buy in myself, I can’t judge whether EoT’s Wuliang cake is any better than Yunnan Sourcing’s Wuliang offerings. But I’m sure we’ll find out. Or maybe we won’t, because a sincere comparison and critique may be painful for people who spent the $700. Maybe they don’t want to question this investment. The trust strategy is almost a no-fail for the vendor, no matter the tea. The customer is less likely to ask for an outright refund because doing so means admitting an expensive mistake. Not that EoT is more or less likely than any other pricey vendor to offer so-so tea, just that the $700 up-front buy is a leap of faith no other vendor is currently asking for.

By coincidence, the “trust strategy” employed by pricier vendors here is the same strategy in play at Amazon.com. Last week the New York Times reported Amazon's change in pricing, which requires total faith in the Amazon universe. Amazon is eliminating “list” prices on their site, the so-called “regular” price of items. According to the aptly named TruthInAdvertising.org, Amazon has faced numerous lawsuits when “list prices” were actually higher than the manufacturer retail price, in order to give the impression the buyer is getting the item on sale. But in fact customers paid the manufacturer’s price and didn’t get a deal at all. The lawsuits aren’t the reason Amazon is ditching list prices though. Amazon is ditching list prices because they have customers who buy from Amazon anyway, without comparing any prices. These customers are Prime, and Amazon is betting that they own shoppers in their retail “universe” and the “Prime” shopper won’t look elsewhere.

The same strategy holds at EoT or white2tea, where the customer is already “bought in” to the retailer in general. Like Amazon, these vendors are asking customers to trust in them or their vision or their connections, however you want to put it. The customers aren’t questioning the tea. Either you “get it” and are in the club, or you don’t. And price probably isn’t an issue for the customer in the “universe.” This is a risky strategy for the small vendors, because caveats can throw a wrench, such as when

Puerh Head Opens Website

Last time I mentioned blogger Wilson opening a website to reduce his stash of tea and tea ware. Jayinhk, a long time tea forum member living in Hong Kong has also opened a website. His situation of living in China already mirrors somewhat CrimsonLotusTea and BitterleafTeas, vendors who already have current family or lifestyle in China and used these to start up selling. Both Wilson and Jayinhk already live in Asia and collected tea for years. Now they are putting their advantageous locale and buying knowledge to work for them, or maybe just selling off excess stash. We also have newer re-sellers, like BeautifulTaiwanTea.com who sells a few white2tea teas with yet a higher mark up.

You can consider these new and after-market sellers a picture of things to come. After all, bloggers and tea hoarders eventually quit collecting. Or maybe they’ve collected enough to hone their preferences and find some of their older teas less desirable now. I can't help but note that many people who bought back in 2006-2010 no longer buy anything. Maybe they bought enough tea back in those days, or don’t want to pay the higher prices of puerh today. Regardless, nearly everyone reaches a point when they have enough. I don’t have a huge collection, but surely I will stop at some point. Opening a website to sell off stash isn’t difficult, and an option we’re likely to see more people try. A whole potential exists out there for people buying tea to reduce the stash and open a website for a short time, even if the seller doesn’t intend to turn pro or make much of a profit.

If tea lovers get into the game in greater numbers, this spreads out the puerh dollars from new people just getting started with buying. Pro vendors might find their customers wandering over to new tea sites opened by bloggers or former customers. I wonder if Tea Heads as Vendors might be perceived as more transparent or honest because they share where they got the teas they are selling. Wilson marks his tea with the price he wants to get for it, and he definitely has a true story to offer about how he acquired his teas, and blog posts to back it up. How many people will decide to avoid the confusion of designer wrappers and clubs, and buy tea from fellow tea heads this year, or next year? Maybe the Tales of a Tea Collector are more attractive to some buyers than deciphering teas with characters or rap references.

Group Buys and Buddies proliferate.

The buddy system might just pay off this year. More and more tea heads on vacation trips are dragging home kilos of tea they tested and bought for friends back home, splitting the hoard and doing the shipping themselves. The forums are full of people now offering to do group buys from numerous sources, employing their own sets of connections. Social media among tea people is much more congenial than so many online social groups, people establish trust quickly and keep lists of reliable swappers.

Will people seeking truth and honesty turn away from actual vendors, and buy tea from friends instead? I'm not immune to this idea. I have a friend who wants more of a shou tea that is now sold out, and I happened to own more than a little bit. I offered to sell some of mine to this friend, simply because he wants more so badly. Mostly I’m not looking out to sell my stash, but I am in a position to help my friend. Since he is willing to pay, it’s a win-win for both of us.

So, a new wrench for vendors to contend with is non-professionals selling to peers, directing their tea budgets away from current vendors. Furthermore, the line between professional and re-sale is blurry. If honesty and truth are really what buyers want, the non-pros might have an advantage. And who knows when the day will come when tea farmers decide to get into the action themselves, and sell online to the highest bidder. I am certain at least some farmers or people with tea gardens will at least test the waters away from the factory/vendor buying system, as the farmers behind Misty Peaks are trying to do. Flip flops and a rock…

I think people are going to demand a story behind each and every tea, a story they can verify for themselves, as they did for the 1800 year old tree at Verdant. The real reason Misty Peaks gets so much flak for their marketing is not just because of the content, but the fact that the vendor has been entirely checked out by both buyers and vendors in China and the US. The secret behind a tea isn’t a secret any more than politicians in the US think they are hiding finances by withholding tax returns. You can count on the fact that enough people will talk to flush out a story. Customers might find that non-professionals offer more story and origin behind teas than the professionals. Certainly non-professional dealing will put pressure on pro vendors to offer more narrative, real or otherwise.

While truth might be as relative as ever in 2016, the demand for at least some notion of honesty and transparency won’t go away. I think the days of “private connections” and “secret sources” unique only to professional vendors are numbered. The fact is the world is getting smaller every year with non-professional tea heads living and traveling in Asia and opening their own shops, and with insta-news on social media.

Just keep your eyes open, people. The best way to find good tea and navigate sellers is by word of mouth. Hone your social media if you are buying and selling, because this is where the real action is. Make tea friends! This next year will be interesting.

Monday, July 4, 2016

2016 Spring Puerh News

Spring tea continues to dribble in slowly to online vendors. I recently got a couple of samples of early spring offerings by Chawangshop along with an order of other teas. Chawangshop put a warning on their Instagram about a month ago, telling followers to “stop asking” about spring teas, that they would be released later in the summer. I surmise that the few new teas on offer thus far are not representative of the rest of the collection yet to come.

I’m feeling a bit less enthusiasm this year for diving into Chawangshop’s spring collection, and not because of the teas themselves. In fact, I found last year’s offerings quite lovely, especially the 2015 Hekai cake and the bitter age-r Mengsong. Chawangshop straddles the low/middle price point extremely well for unpretentious daily drinker teas, especially when each tea is really unique from the others, and often single origin. But their social media comments are a real turn-off lately. Along with the exasperated-sounding comment on IG telling people to stop asking about spring tea release dates, Chawangshop posted a bit of a scold on Facebook to people for drinking their teas now rather than storing them. A year ago a comment appeared on a blogger site from the same vendor criticizing western buyers for purchasing samples rather than whole tongs, and for judging teas from samples rather than drinking a full cake. Okay, then why send samples? Does the vendor not want people to try and buy? Maybe the comments are not meant as critical as they sound, especially if one credits the speaker whose English may be a second language. But still, if you are peddling huang pian, I wonder how much a vendor can afford to insult the customer, when it is nobody’s business what someone does with their purchase.

Spring Tea samples by Chawangshop
This first offering is a 2016 Manzhuan “gushu” huang pian, on sale now. I do like Manzhuan tea, which tends to have a sweetish Yiwu profile, but with a bit more bitter strength. Notably, white2tea’s 2014 Manzhuan is a prized tea in my collection, and I’m currently failing at my effort to store and save this tea. I keep dipping into it a couple times a year. So I’m inclined to view Manzhuan huang pian a bit more favorably. Because these 2016 teas are still rather new and wet, I took only 3g from my sample to try now, and will try the remaining tea later in the year.

At left, Manzhuan "gushu huangpian, on right, Myanmar Jingdong
This tea requires fairly lengthy steep times to get started. The leaves are greener than expected, and of course I don’t see any buds or small leaves as this is not premium leaf. I used 40-50ml of water and still got a fairly light cup. Again, the tea is rather fresh and may not be as concentrated now as might be in another six months. The profile is floral and fruity, a bit of teeth cleaning astringency and very lightly bitter. Pleasant enough tea that lingers in the mouth, died out in about 6 steeps. I noticed a bit of buzzing in my face from this tea, and it is worth revisiting later in the year, especially at $15 for a 200g cake, might be worth tossing one into my cart along with some heicha.

Fourth steep of the Manzhuan huangpian. I spilled the third on my chest.
Next up 3g of 2016 Myanmar Jingdong Xiao Bing Cha. Not rightly to be called puerh, this is a border tea from just outside Yunnan. I think most of us are aware that tea trees do not know borders, but of course tea from outside Yunnan will not claim the same high price. This tea brews up a much stronger cup than the previous huangpian, because we have the full range of leaf here. The tea is lightly bitter and astringent, with fruity qualities, a bit of minty-ness. Lingers much less in the mouth than the Manzhuan, and this tea is also very green. Right now this tea is literally just green tea, and has not yet coalesced into an enzymatic puerh-like tea cake. Like its partner above, this tea deserves another try later in the year, and at $12 a cake not much of a sacrifice on the wallet.

Third steep, Myanmar Jingdong brews up greenish because it's new
The tea surely grabbing the most attention right now from puerh heads is the new 2016 collection from White2Tea. You’d have to be living under a rock to not have noted the new teas. I’ve ordered a few already and will try and cover them soon. And I got a chance to ask TwoDog about the controversial “Storytelling” cake selling at $369 for only 200g.

“I don’t care if I sell it,” said TwoDog. “Anybody who buys this tea will either understand it, or aspire to understand it…It’s a tea that if nobody bought one gram, and I had the rest to myself until I shuffle off this mortal coil, I wouldn’t care one fucking bit.”

You can obsess over that now…

But the real headlines this week must also include the new tea store opened by longtime blogger Wilson, http://adventureineverycup.com. I about fainted dead away when I saw Wilson’s announcement today, what a shock when a puerh hoarder opens a shop to sell his stash! And many of his prices are on the low-ish side. Wilson’s tea travels are puerporn at its best, because he goes to the actual factories to buy his tea on vacation jaunts. He lives in Singapore, so his tea is stored in a hot and humid climate, and I can be sure that his teas are well taken care of. Offerings include aged CNNP and pre-2011 Dayi. He is even selling excess tea ware, including an unused 1980s Factory 1 Yixing pot with the sticker AND the box! So this means you better get over there. Quick.