; Cwyn's Death By Tea: November 2016 ;

Monday, November 21, 2016

Best Tea Gifts 2016

Hard to believe, but holiday shopping is upon us along with the agony of selecting gifts for other people. Really the whole point of holiday shopping is to buy things for ourselves under the cover of altruism. Or to turn the non-tea lover onto the hobby of tea hoarding, and failing that we can borrow the gift back later on. In case you need a break from the hard work of thinking about others this season, I've put together a list of must-haves if you are building a wish list, and for the most part I've tried to go budget this year.

Tea Ware

We all know the point of tea ware is to share photos on social media and inspire envy in others. Tea pets are a staple of tea tables world wide. The problem is they constantly fall off the tea table. A new trend which I predict will be the next big thing is the tea pet right in the cup. 

Imagine these little faces peeking out of a bath of warm brew.

Tea Pet Cups will go viral real soon.
 $15.89 inc. shipping, Aliexpress
This bone china cup comes with a matching lid and spoon.
 The idea is you can be the first to show off the new trend on Instagram before everybody else. We all have cats, and now you can have your tea pet cat right on the cup. Aren't these just too cute?
Image result for 3D cat coffee mug
These cat mugs include a choice of cup color.
$8.52 incl. shipping, Aliexpress.
And then we have this tea pet cup for the differently alerted.
3D mugs and cups novelty ceramic coffer cup up yours middle finger tea water mug creative gift drinkware(China (Mainland))
My personal pick 
$10.40 incl. shipping, Aliexpress
Tea Gifts

Sometimes people expect me to give tea, and even want me to give tea. But in truth I don't give away my good stuff, and even if I did nobody would like it anyway. So that leaves me looking around for tea that I know others will like while still preserving a shred of the appearance of good taste. These 1.5 kg Dahongpao tea disks really show how much you care.

Image result for lucky chicken dahongpao big red robe
A whopping 1.5 kg 
$93.10 incl. shipping, Aliexpress
These disks are table top size which makes them super practical. All you need to do is add wooden legs and cover with a doily and the roast can rest away for a really, really long time. If you don't like the chicken design, others are available too. This lucky sheep is a nice choice for that friend who is more of a follower than a leader.

Image result for lucky sheep dahongpao big red robe
Lucky sheep pattern.
Price same as above, Aliexpress

And then we also can get a Lucky Cow, except in this case I believe this one is mislabeled or transgendered. This one is my favorite.

Image result for 1.5kg lucky cow chinese tea
1.5 kg Lucky Cow
Price as above, Aliexpress.
This wooden barrel of puerh tea in a bag has a Swiss Colony look, and takes me back to the days of salt barrel sardines. You can thoughtfully personalize this gift by handwriting a set of brewing instructions starting with "Rinse in cold water to remove any fishy flavors." 

Puerh in a Barrel
$2.15,+ shipping., St. John Enterprises LLC
Tea Brewing

People new to tea often complain they don't have anything to brew tea in. You're in a position to help with that. The hot gifts this year include US Political designs, such as this tea pot.

Trump Tea Pot
Design by AmericanUniqueFinds
You can also get the same teapot for the opposing side of the political aisle. Both of these tea pots come in a choice of Small size of 11 oz and a much larger Medium size of 44 oz. Medium will cost $11.20 more. 

Trump and Lincoln Teapot
Design by TheBigApple
$33.75 for small size
These teapots are both the same apart from the design, however Lincoln costs quite a bit more. Political differences are really painful this year. In fact, I'm hearing that people are cancelling holiday dinner plans with relatives who voted the opposing party, whatever the vote. But in case your family agrees to set differences aside, then you need to plan ahead to serve a crowd. Or just yourself on a personal bender. 

Glass Infuser Tea Dispenser
$24.50 ships free to store.
Interestingly, this glass dispenser had one review posted of 4/5 stars that got removed after one day. The reviewer stated that the infuser works well, but the spout dispenses tea at a trickle. I'm not sure why she considered that a flaw, anything that discourages others from drinking my tea is a plus. The reviewer stated her husband could likely drill a wider hole to compensate after the relatives go home. I concur with this idea.


I hear stories from puerh hoarder spouses who complain about unsightly puerh cakes and crocks taking over the house. The best options for puerh are those your partner thinks are for the benefit of the family. Here is an attractive portable bamboo laundry hamper.

Bamboo Folding Laundry Hamper
24 inches tall
$26.70 incl. shipping.
The time to buy this hamper is before you need a new one. Explain to the spouse you need an extra one in your closet. This hamper will fit two seven-cake tongs of puerh, covered thoughtfully with a rumpled clean t-shirt. None the wiser. At this price you can afford two. I'm sure you already have humidity packs to use with a hamper like this.

Most of my picks for tea gifts this year are on the budget side, but I save the best for last. Here is the high-end pick of the year for the tea lover who already has everything.

Japanese style gongfu teacup bathtub
Price: if you have to ask, you can't afford it.

Happy Shopping!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Get God on the Phone

Untitled 2 by white2tea
I did not intend to write today, and I did not intend to drink Untitled 2 on November 9, 2016. This season’s teas are still very green and I expect this tea is green also. Many of my friends are frightened and in despair today. I can’t stop it, one half of my friends or another half, one country or another country. And I don’t think I can Get God on the Phone but I can certainly leaf it heavy.

In my blog I do not address politics or other worldly issues because we all look to our tea hobby for something of a refuge. Our choice of tea and tea ware evokes an aesthetic that we surround ourselves with like a blanket, moments in a world beyond that which we deal with every day. I too have my reasons for losing myself in tea, in my tea rituals. If you look at the very first post of this blog, you should see utter despair. I started writing about tea just months after my mother died a horrific death, the details of which I am still unable to completely face. When my mother died, for many days all I could do was stand at the kitchen counter and grip my cup, and just keep drinking. The meaning for me in my tea ritual was not in the setting up, the pouring out nor even the slurping, but oddly in the rinsing out and cleaning up of my tea tray and cups. I think at that point I regained a kind of sanity, I had found a place of comfort. Rituals are ways to cope through their very repetition, like prayers on a string of beads, in familiar routine our mind can fly forth to another place and return refreshed to go on another day.

In Lamar’s Untitled 2 song, he tries to place himself in religion to find a place of goodness, only to hear of yet another friend who is killed. Spiritual comfort sought because of no other alternative, because there are two cups before us. We can choose one cup or the other. We can drink good tea or bad tea, and yet another’s good and bad teas are his wine just as mine are to me. I can go with a friend to drink his champagne which turns out to be California sparkling wine. I can share his enjoyment, or I can tell him it’s not really champagne. Does that help any, or is it better to enjoy inexpensive hongcha as well as a fine puerh and have a good day either way?
Hongcha in a tea cup with good, and bad painting.
Given a cup of good tea and bad tea, I know one truth. A full cup will always accept another drop, always. What do you fill your cup with? Will you fill it with fear and despair, because I can guarantee you that cup will always take one more drop just as the good tea cup will. Rudrananda said to consume all as fuel, the good fuel and bad fuel. But we choose our nourishment, don’t we? The important thing is the act of choosing, the person behind the choice, the one observing and seeing which cup s/he fills. If you hate platitudes, look at your cup again and tell me what is in it. I will drink it without a dare, your cup, as long as you know what you just served me. Those of you deleting the friend of your friend, think on this before you toss his leaves. The one who created this cake for us, and the songwriter too, feel very bad and yet then very good, but the bad still happens as does the good, so which will you pick? Who is so very fussy? 

I really don’t mind if you buy this type of puerh or not. In fact this year one of the best teas I drank is a cheap aged brick, thick as syrup, and probably cost only a few dollars nearly twenty years ago. Who knows what will come to be, in our tea and the world too? Brick tea is sometimes better than we think. I wish I had more time for bricks, but I don’t, so I got a cake of this Untitled a few months ago.

Some long leaves in this one.
I went 9 grams and compared my brew with that of other reviewers, and I’m getting a golden yellow so the tea is settled somewhat. Yes, I am drinking it thick. This is a very bassy tea with a solar plexus type of feel, radiating qi spots in the middle of the back and in the front stomach. James at TeaDB called it “diaphragmatic,” something like that, and I can echo this, meaning I feel my diaphragm. I also get the face melting that OolongOwl wrote about too, and visual acuity. The tea is bitter and somewhat spicy, like chewing on a peppered sumac stick beneath a floral top note. This tea coats the mouth with long returning sweetness and a mineral flavor in a soft texture. My heavy leaf ratio means the cup is probably unnecessarily bitter and I realize I’m wasting leaf, but today is a good day to waste leaf. And bake a pan of chocolate something.

A bit of green but settling down nicely.
I remember when my dream was to talk with people in countries around the world. I used to dream of the idea of chatting with people from China, Russia, Japan, Germany, Africa, Indonesia, or Chile. This was in the days before the internet when a pen pal meant hand writing on onion skin paper. Yet today and every day now I can look on my Instagram and see photos of tea with text in a dozen different languages. I never could have guessed that I might type characters in real time, and instantly speak with people around the world, day or night. I thought Captain Kirk’s flip top communicator calling the Enterprise was everything that could ever be and maybe not in my lifetime of two tin cans and a string and tea bags too. Now I can touch a screen with my finger to my friends in China and Japan at this very moment.

Eight Steeps and not even fully opened.
As long as I can I will keep making pictures of tea, and hopefully you will too. I don’t know how long steeping out nine grams of Untitled 2 will take, but I will keep at it. I think the teas this year are still a bit green, and this one is settling down nicely, we should really keep them a bit longer and withhold on our strong opinions. I can say the same thing about friends.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Budget, Black Friday and the Tea Shopping Forecast

Here is my shopping forecast for the remainder of 2017. I wish the news is better, but it’s looking dire out there.

The cakes are getting even smaller, people.

You’d have to live under a rock to avoid the Great Shrinking. Down from 500g to 400g to 357g to 250g and then 200g. Now we are at 100g cakes. Yes, ma’am nearly every tea vendor has a 100g, check Bitterleaf, Misty Peaks, Denong Tea,white2tea, Crimson Lotus. While white2tea’s Treachery, Bitterleaf’s WMD Mansa at $88/100g teas are pricey, now we have Denong Bulang at $97/100g and Wymm Tea…well never mind you get the idea.

And then there are the small squares which have of course been around awhile at places like Taetea, but not at these prices we are seeing on top shelf tea named after cats or dogs. White, black and puerh teas are shrunk from turkey platter size down to teacup saucers. Tiny teacup saucers. You can bet your sweet caffeinated arse that we will be getting tea balls soon for $30.

The bottom line reality is that high end puerh tea costs go up every year, not down. Top quality tea you want to own is exempt from tea market bubbles. Not enough top tier tea exists for the prices to fall. More demand every year and less tea to satiate. Actually, there is a lot of tea around, just not the really fine stuff. I expect more sticks for the money and I can always buy charred medicine chop, but I just can’t drink that stuff anymore. So, buying the really good shit takes three hand jobs at the truck stop instead of just one, and I ain’t getting any younger.

I know tea bloggers have bitched for years about the prices, “I won’t pay more than $8 a cake they are charging $36 for.” Today we can just add another zero onto those numbers for the same gripe. The only upside to all this is I think the leaf we can get today is far superior, as is the processing. I will give the boutique vendors a huge amount of credit for upping the overall quality of what we are buying, assuming of course you want to pay the asking price. Teas are regularly selling out which suggests that yes people want the good stuff and they will pay.

We also have more mainstream people entering the buying experience who don’t want the commitment of storing puerh tea. Maybe they aren’t even sure they like puerh tea. Buying small, like 100g, is a way to give it a convenient college try. That’s yet another reason why I expect $30 tea balls. Someone will put top shelf tea into a single session for even less commitment, in just a matter of time.

More people loving their factory tea.

This is inevitable. Nobody wants to hear otherwise. Yes, truth is relative.

Online tea sites will continue to have annoying landing pages.

Why do tea vendors think a landing page with a photo, or worse a video is the best way to sell me lots of tea? They don’t seem to realize I might need to shop with a level of frantic anxiety on my phone. Zhentea.ca has a single tea on a landing page that I must click on in order to get to anything remotely resembling a menu. Bitterleaf Teas has a landing page, but when I click on teas I get a new page of meaningless symbols which are supposed to represent different puerh cakes. I was aghast when white2tea added a new landing page with a rain coat I can’t even buy, and then the sheng puerh can only be viewed by year rather than the option to see the whole raw lot. Wymm Tea…well never mind, you get the point.

These fancy sites share a design trend of the buying experience starting on a minimum of the third page we click on. Annoying landing pages mean that I will get busted at work for tea shopping on company time. Or the baby starts crying, or the kitten tears into the curtains and my data allowance is gone before I purchase anything. By the time I get to filling up a doom cart some guy from Taiwan with a mega wallet will buy it all up. I don’t want tea vendor hallucinatory design visions, I want the actual goods.

Sorry to direct you to a classic, but look at Yunnan Sourcing. Or even Chawangshop. I get a quick view of any new products, a helpful menu of links on the landing page that go directly to the tea I need, and a search box at the top. By the time I get to three pages I’ve viewed at least one tea I sought out for myself with reviews in three or more languages. Yunnan Sourcing will load on any browser including my clamshell phone which doesn’t have internet.

I need a landing page that goes directly to the tea I want to buy. I need a page called New Products or the option to sort Newly Listed.  If I can’t load your site in a war zone, we have a problem. Fix this shit now.

More opaque wrappers with questionable inks.

I’m seeing more thick paper that can’t possibly let in moisture. And I really wonder about all the inks, are they food grade? Maybe we need to start talking about removing the wrapper and storing it somewhere else. I don’t know about you but I’m seeing some bleed in my storage that isn’t the tea.

Puerh Tea Collectors eschew child bearing.

With tea prices skyrocketing, children are simply un-affordable now. I can buy a decent drinker for the price of a box of Pampers, and sheesh the buggers keep on costing and costing and costing. I know parents of young ones have plenty to grip about, but I have some bad news for you all. I’m still not rid of my grown one who expects me to pay the full utility bill every month and never buys me any tea whatsoever.

Nowadays you need to figure on the kid costing you well past the drinking age. You are bleeding out until he’s age thirty or over. This is how long you will wait before you can buy any tea. No good reason to pay for actual children when I can PayPal Tea Urchin instead. Forget that snuggly warm queen bed this winter and invest in single beds and preferably separate rooms if you hope to afford any tea in the future.

On Black Friday and 11/11, no vendor will have an actual sale.

Prove me wrong, please.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

CNNP Duoteli Yellow Box Super and Premium Heicha Dark Teas

Heicha time
The weather is turning cooler here. Well, sort of. We are still getting unusually warm weather for early November and in fact have not yet had a killing frost. The meteorologists are talking about breaking late frost records as old as sixty or seventy years. I’m sure the cold will hit any day now, and so I’m dusting off and rinsing out my clay teapots in anticipation of adding darker teas to my sheng routine. Yes, that means heicha, dark oolong and shou puerh teas.

Reverse view of the boxes
Luckily I have some new teas to try. Early last summer I noticed Chawangshop adding new heicha teas and more seem to appear in the shop every month. Chawangshop has the largest inventory of heicha that I trust for clarity and for the best flavor, although I am also hearing about some good heicha over at Yunnan Sourcing that I need to try too. Last June, I purchased these Liu Pao/Bao teas at Chawangshop and they arrived when the weather was too warm for me to drink them. Now I can give these a try without overheating too much.

This tea comes in a bag with two small punched holes at the top of the bag. The reason for this is because of its five year warehouse storage combined with the fact that this tea is not yet fully aged. The Tian Jian grade is due to the smaller, tippy leaves and the tea power they contain, unlike some liu pao heicha which are made of larger, lower grade leaves. Liu Pao is first oxidized slightly, like red (black) tea, and then fermented like shou for a few weeks. Then it is stored for several years packed in bamboo baskets and finally pressed or boxed for sale. The Yellow Box Liu Pao is a 1970s packaging design which hasn’t changed much.

Super Grade Yellow Box, note the tiny leaves.
Opening the bag I get a whiff of a fine musty warehouse, and the dry tea is exceptionally clean. This means the warehouse storage is already done for me, and I in the west can simply store this in my drier climate with a good chance this will age beautifully without a lot of work on my part. But I also need to work out some of the musty odor. Loose leaf heicha like this tends to give up its “money steeps” in the first five brews, unlike puerh which requires numerous brews to work off the storage. I need to get this tea in a condition where a single very quick rinse leads to excellent steepings right away. So, my session with this tea is as assessment of its current state and contemplation on where I think the tea might go in the future with a bit of storage.

I brewed a good heaping tablespoon of leaves and just enough water to cover them in my Jian Shui teapot which I reserve for dark heicha and wetter shou puerh teas because the clay tempers the storage a bit and rounds out the sweetness. I use boiling water for all steeps. Need to be quick on the rinse and the pouring of this type of tea, because it brews up strong very quickly.

Clarity is evident in the view of the spotty glaze on my cup.
Halfway through the first cup, the body heat hits like a truck. I’m an overly warm Slavic person and heicha like this makes me sweat and my feet swell up like a touring camel. This is a tea to drink in winter after a meal of roast beast. I need to be freezing cold to drink this, as are the folks in colder climate areas of Asia who use black heicha teas with milk or butter to supplement their meat diets and add calories in winter.

Surprisingly, this tea is still quite bitter despite the six years in damp storage, and well caffeinated. It is very powerful in the mouth with bitterness and hints of tangy dark fruits beneath the storage character. The tangy, metallic bitterness lingers in the mouth for about an hour or so, as well as the stomach and I feel hungry. Heicha like this is meant to supplement and digest a heavy meat diet. By “digest” I mean it gets the food moving through my digestive system, getting rid of that overly full feeling from a heavy meal. Drunk an hour after a meat meal, this will help remove the sluggishness and get mouth and stomach juices going with a bit of astringency. The storage character gets a bit minty after about three brews.

Leaves show some green left to age in the Yellow Box.
The storage flavor and bitterness still here means the tea is nowhere near its best yet. I remember the excellent 1980s Tian Jian I bought last spring, which is now also back in stock and one of the best heicha teas I’ve ever had, beneath a similar storage character where I found heavy sweet fruits and betel nut. This 2010 Duoteli Super Grade has the base material to develop deep fruit and a syrupy thickness in ten to twenty years. I got seven steeps before the flavor quit, even though the tea still had quite a bit of dark color. Maybe some aging will extend the brews to a couple more.

A dark Jian Shui teapot is a must for black, damp heicha and shou puerh.
By Crimson Lotus Teas who specializes in these.
You can get a 25g sample of this tea in a Wuzhou heicha sample set that Chawangshop is offering for $12. I highly suggest trying it in a sample first unless you already know you like wetter stored teas and you are prepared to let this age more. Of course it’s drinkable now, but I must be clear that it’s a tea for sampling at the moment and not something a tea beginner should run out and buy. It will not have the complex character of puerh, and I think only experienced drinkers know what I mean about tasting a heicha tea for further potential. Heicha is what it is, a quick digestif and, in my case, a good substitute for the shot of Jaegermeister I used to drink after heavy pasta. Yes, Jaeger might be gross, but a small shot is a good digestif and not the swilling beverage some people regret drinking too much of. My new Duoteli is a tea equivalent. I will store it in an unglazed clay jar to work off the storage over the winter.

This tea helpfully includes a can for storage, one of those with the second interior lid, making the can useful later on for storing oolong tea. The production date on the can is marked as 2010, Chawangshop states that the tea has “buds” from 2009 spring harvest, and the can also has 2011 on it.

Unboxing the Premium Grade Liu Pao.
I have a feeling the tea contains leaves from several years that were processed together, first oxidized lightly and then fermented like shou. After fermentation, the tea was packed into large bamboo baskets for three years before packing into this can and box for sale.

This type of can keeps tea dry
and is useful later for storing roasted oolong.
Visually the tea is not very different from the Yellow Box, but the storage is much lighter. Just a touch of basement on the wet leaves, quite perfect really. This tea is also much further along in fermentation without the green pieces of the Yellow Box tea. 

Premium grade has a little rougher leaf.
I notice this tea is a much thicker, more syrupy brew but I’m not sure thickness in heicha translates into more flavor. Liu Pao really isn’t a tea you drink for complexity anyway.

A reddish brew shows this one is more heavily fermented,
but still qualifies as medium/heavy.
Slightly tangy on the tongue, this tea is very smooth and ready to drink now although a bit more resting time might fade out the slight storage flavor. My dark Jian Shui teapot tempered this level of damp perfectly into a mineral flavor. The brew is reddish brown like shou and more typical of the Liu Pao teas I have in my collection. Very comfortable to drink but lacks the intensity of the more lightly fermented Yellow Box. This one fades out in five brews or so, again more typical of Liu Bao. It also lacks the lingering flavor in the mouth of the Yellow Box. But the tea is clean and I can easily feel comfortable suggesting it to a heicha newbie. However, of the two teas the aficionado is going to prefer the Yellow Box for value (50g more for the same price) and for the aging potential. The Yellow Box is the more intense tea by half, but the wetter storage justifies the lower price equal to the drier stored 8110.

I did not see any golden flowers  in, either of these teas, and I don’t know if they were inoculated to produce jin hua. Golden flowers called eurotium fungi are often grown using wheat as a base and then the wheat-grown spores are added to the tea, so something to consider for people of gluten sensitivity. Personally I love jin hua and crave that tangy flavor. My attempts to increase jin hua growth over the summer on my Fu Zhuan bricks produced a consistent growth of small flowers throughout, but not the huge flowers I see coming from more humid climates. I’m still chasing the fabulously crusted Fu from my friend in Washington, DC that I tasted last summer. My success in growing highly floral jin hua may be limited because of my drier climate but I plan to keep on trying.

Some bits of green, but mostly ready to drink.
Chawangshop now has nearly one hundred products listed in the heicha category. Browsing through them all now, I see many that I would love to try, such as the 1990s bricks that were added just recently. Highly aged puerh is out of the world price-wise for most of us, but border teas are low priced and still available from the 1980s and 1990s. Heicha is worth buying now while you can for an easy and comforting drink. For old people like me, heicha aids our slower digestion and irregularity. Heicha like these boxed teas are very warming to cold bones in the winter too, easy to store and convenient to brew up.