; Cwyn's Death By Tea: 2017 ;

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What a Puerh Lover Learns from a Fruitcake

This year I decided to bake a fruitcake. I have made fruitcakes before, and even have a recipe I developed back in my vegan days using beans. For this year’s fruitcake, however, I wanted to make a rather boozy version along the lines of a fruitcake I picked up during a trip to the UK a few years ago, what was called a “Christmas cake” with frosting. This cake tasted very unlike the fruitcakes I avoid here in the States. 

Many Americans dislike fruitcakes, mainly because of mass production of this confection in the mid-twentieth century with nuclear green candied fruit. I learned from my English fruitcake that many US mass produced versions are mistakes, but what I did not know until this year is that a quality fruitcake "matures" in a rather similar fashion to our puerh cakes. That is, if looked after properly, a fruitcake and puerh over time will develop sought-after complex flavors.

For my fruitcake, I hoped to use up much of the dried fruit accumulated in my kitchen cupboards over many years. Alas, one large fruitcake made only a small dent in the number of packages of prunes, apricots, dried cranberries, figs and the like that somehow ended up in my house. Where did all this dried fruit come from? I like dried fruit, but really! Apparently I do not eat any of it, and neither does anyone else in the house. I guess I ate it to stay regular, but now in recent years I need only brew up a drain cleaner puerh for this purpose. 

Fruitcakes are part of my family history. My aunt Alvina baked fruitcakes every year. She developed a family tradition during World War II when my uncle Leonard fought as an infantry soldier. Aunt Alvina sent him care packages at Christmas time with fruitcakes and frosted cookies packed into a huge box full of plain popped popcorn. The box arrived with most of the cookies broken, but the popcorn and broken cookies eaten together were a huge hit with my uncle’s infantry unit. So Alvina continued mailing out Christmas boxes to her brothers, my father included. Dad was the only one in my family who ate the fruitcakes. They remained in the refrigerator wrapped in tin foil well into the following summer (I found out the tin foil actually has a rationale for maturing fruitcakes). 

I remember asking my dad one July whether I should toss the leftover fruitcake.

“No, no don’t throw that out, it is still good.” 

He’d hack off a chunk, eating it in front of me to show he still planned to finish the cake. One could never be certain of food facts from my father. This was a guy who ate lettuce and pasta out of the sink drain, and saved soups in pots out in the garage for weeks.  

So really, in terms of fruitcake knowledge, I am on my own here. Although I have plenty of fruitcake recipes in my kitchen already, I am intrigued by a BBC recipe. Sort of following the recipe, I cook up prunes, apricots, cranberries and figs into spiced rum (I am not a brandy fan) and then fold them into the cake portion of the recipe. I did not have fresh lemons, so I use a chopped preserved lemon. I cannot bother to go buy one orange just for the zest, so I toss in some fruit punch instead. I slow bake the lot in the oven and the cake turns out all right.

My fruitcake
Now, this is when the OCD kicks in. I have some notion that a fruitcake needs to mature with some alcohol in it, but not much idea of how to do this because all the fruitcakes of my past were ready to eat. How much booze do I use? How often should I add some to the cake? Do I just pour it on, or brush it on? How long should the cake sit, weeks or months? I turn to the internet for information.

Let me tell you that every single fruitcake article on the internet for the past seven years is repetitive and blatantly plagiarized from the same sources without attribution. I am ashamed at all the blog posts I read on fruitcakes that repeat the same tropes over and over as if they are original to the author. A typical fruitcake article has the following:

--a trope on ancient Roman fruitcakes
--a trope on Filipino fruitcakes
--a Johnny Carson joke
--a Jay Leno joke
--a trope on American fruitcake nuclear green tutti frutti (even I repeat that one here)
--the American designated day for fruitcake toss games.
--the 106 year old fruitcake found in Antarctica, still edible.

Finding useful and apparently obscure information on “maturing” fruitcakes takes no fewer than eight pages into a Google Search, and I ended up scouring more than twenty search pages.

So, a fruitcake “matures” over time with periodic “feedings” of booze. The skins of the fruits break down, releasing the tannins. The flavors of the tannins reduce the sugary sweetness, balancing it out and creating flavor nuances. In this sense, fruitcakes are more akin to wine maturation than puerh fermentation.

97 year old Australian fruitcake. It's still good.
A fruitcake does not mold, or should not mold, assuming the cake has a much higher proportion of fruit to cake. One reason the cake should not mold is the amount of alcohol which is preserved by wrapping the cake up in layers of plastic and tin foil. If the cake is to be kept for long term, people wrap the cake in muslin soaked with booze, and then cover the thing in plastic and tin foil. Another reason the cake does not mold is because of the high sugar content. Apparently, sugars are resistant to molds, the butter and flour are susceptible to mold rather than the sugars.

A light bulb goes on in my head. Over time, puerh tea breaks down its cell walls to release the bitter juices which are converted to sugar via Rhizopus yeast which uses carbons from bacteria as food. As the tea sweetens with more and more plant sugars, the molds present in the tea decline over time until they die off at the end of decades of fermentation. A fully fermented puerh tea should have almost no bacteria or mold, because these are consumed by fermentation and replaced by plant sugars. Thus the puerh tea is safe to drink, and sweet rather than bitter.

I learned more about the nature of sugars in fruitcakes. Apparently, sugars with their crystalline structure are very hard, and hold water. If the fruitcake is appropriately moist, the structure of the sugars is loosened. But if the fruitcake dries out, the sugars want to return to hard crystals. Should a fruitcake dry out and harden, the sugars in their crystalline structure can be induced to release water and return to a moist state. To do this, one can heat the fruitcake in a dry low heat oven.


Wait...so, a dry, hard fruitcake actually returns to a moist fruitcake by heating in an oven, without adding more moisture? Apparently so, and this is because the sugars are holding the moisture.

I start to think about the overly-humid stored puerh cakes that get dried out like old autumn leaves. Of course vegetal matter has simple sugars, whereas a tighter sucrose sugar has an extra carbon and a more complex crystalline structure that holds water molecules. I did add about ¾ cup dark brown sugar to my fruitcake. 

But I wonder if added heat does more to reconstitute a dried out puerh cake than added humidity. Not to mention the musty mildew odor that can disappear with added heat. I have that dried out humid eBay fake tea donation from July…should’ve thrown it away, but didn’t. 

eBay Fake, from this post
Into the oven it goes.

I am not expecting this tea to turn into something miraculous, it is a health hazard more than anything else. However, I am curious to find out what changes, if anything, after an oven-bake. To reconstitute a fruitcake, a scientist recommends 140F (60C) for 10 minutes. I have a small oven to use (no way am I gonna fire up my expensive gas oven for a piece of crap) that has a lowest temp of 150F (65C), but tends to the cold side when using it for cooking. Close enough.

A rack seems like a good idea.
After ten minutes of bake time, I get a wafting odor of basement from the oven. I went twelve minutes, doubting whether this is enough time for the heat to completely penetrate the tea cake. Come to think of it, a dried out fruitcake is likely equally dense if not more so. I am going to try the outer leaves anyway, not the innards. I fire up the kettle.

Oven view.
The tea does not look any different in appearance after the oven, so I did not take another photo. As for my previous testing of this tea, I used 8g and the same Yixing pot. I threw away the first three rinses as before. I still smell some mildew basement in the Yixing, but much less than I remember.

Could be worse...
The brew is light and actually sweet. Not that unpleasant really. I still feel just a slight tongue numbing but if I can get past that, the tea is still a bit lively. Now the wet storage is at more of a perfect level: when a wetter stored tea has one part woodiness and one part humidity, to me that is just the right touch. 

I cannot discern whether the tea is actually made sweeter by the heating, or if the basement humidity is reduced enough to taste the sweetness which was already in the tea, but previously obscured. I do not recall seeing green in the leaves the last time, but perhaps I did not look closely enough in the sunlight to see. Maybe the cake is not quite dead.

I notice now the leaves still have some green.
One thing is certain to me now. If I have a tea with storage that I feel is a bit too much, I will definitely put the tea in the oven for ten minutes. After all, most rather wet teas are on the less expensive side, so I am not potentially risking a very fine tea. I will also consider the idea of using the oven to reduce any accidental white fuzz on tea. In fact, if tea is not yet a loss I might rehabilitate an experiment “gone too far” by oven heating. At such a low oven temp, I am not risking burning the tea. 

So, what did I learn from fruitcake that I can apply to tea? A fruitcake is actually more akin to wine, but has a maturation process fed by moisture. High sugar content and alcohol inhibit mold, and once tannins are released from the fruit, a complex balance of flavors emerge. This too happens with aged puerh as it converts bitter tannic juices to sugars. Those of us with a craving for complexity might find a fruitcake hobby satisfying, and certainly more rewarding in the short term as we wait years for our tea to mature. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Puerh Rescue Dot Org

As we approach the end of 2017, now is the time to turn to the dark side of collecting and storing puerh tea and ask for your aid, dear friends. During this holiday season I cannot help but think of all the neglected, harassed and abused puerh tea in the world. A problem of this proportion surely merits the full-time attention of dedicated volunteers, and I am here to be just that: a volunteer on behalf of the silently suffering puerh teas at the mercy of abusive owners.

The real nature of this problem is hardly exposed at all to date. In fact, most discussions are so careful to avoid offending others that abusers go free amongst most well-meaning puerh tea forums. People are quick to jump on anyone viewed as too “aggressive” or “direct.” In this type of passive tea audience, puerh tea suffers abuses of all kinds every single day. Let us look at some of abuses going on right now.


A puerh tea is a living thing, and it has feelings. How would you feel left to dry and suffer in a too-cold and too-dry environment? Or overheated and literally composting, unable to breathe, in conditions too hot, too stifling and without air or water? Everywhere teas are left to slowly die in cardboard boxes and paper bags. All of these things are happening on a daily basis around the world by abusers out of sheer neglect.


Verbal abuse toward puerh tea is all too common. Factory teas are insulted constantly by comparison to so-called “boutique teas.” Profiling is rife amongst harassers. The very nature of factory teas is insulted with words like “chopped,” “funky, “charred” or “smoky” even when puerh tea cannot possibly smoke! I have even heard factory tea called “too highly compressed” of all things, when everyone knows most puerh teas when treated appropriately and with respect in the storage workplace turn out just fine, and even become valuable teas fifty years on.

Boutique teas are also subject to inappropriate and humiliating harassment every single day. Common aggressive insults like “blended,”or “single estate” insult the very hometowns these teas come from. The worst insults relate to a puerh’s color, a quality it perhaps cannot help, with derogatory terms like “purple tea,” and “oolonged.” Can you imagine a human being referred to as “oolonged?” Well then, imagine how the tea feels.


This almost unmentionable behavior is when people handle puerh teas with rough, dirty hands, tearing off the wrapper and assaulting the tea. Naked teas are humiliated every day in tea social circles where they are mercilessly unwrapped, passed around, wo/manhandled, and sniffed by everyone in a tea group. This is called social groping and group abuse. Can you believe these people do all these things just to show off, or to take a photograph? Gropers showcase naked puerh for no better reason than to get little heart “likes” on places like Facebook and Instagram. They pick at the leaves and stick their noses in and pick at the beeng hole. They call it "tea porn."

Puerh tea exposed just
for the sake of a photo.
Teas that need airing and rescue might for a brief moment benefit from unwrapping, such as to change out a dirty wrapper. But these people are not changing a dirty wrapper. They put that same wrapper right back on. Then they wedge the tea into a tight, dark space with other teas, packed in like refugees in an enclosed truck bed.

Physical abuse

Now this is the worst of all and I can only begin to imagine all the scenarios. Right off the top, I bravely try to picture things like physically damaging living tea with a sharp knife and destroying the integrity of the leaves. Or brewing the tea in too-cold water where the flavors cannot and will not emerge and leave themselves in the mouth for very long afterwards, a practice so “objectively” bad it deserves a full treatise on its own. How can we treat puerh tea this way? Yet abusers do exactly this.

Humping emoji commonly
used on sexy puerh tea chat.
Then we have people conducting experiments upon tea, set to destroy it with mold or kill it on purpose or scent it with chicken curry by leaving it in the kitchen. They keep tea under or even IN their beds! They actually have pets like cats and dogs and mice and ferrets that leave odors and hairs everywhere, even fleas to get into the tea left in open areas for animal waste to prey upon. Filthy, filthy people and the things they do to their teas.

A Call to Action

I get harassed by folks who say I go on and on in my blog posts, but I am a big girl with a huge degree so I am willing to do something. We need to expose puerh neglect and abusers. More importantly, we need to rescue neglected, abandoned and abused puerh teas.

To this end we will organize lists of Adoptable Teas. If you know of any teas that need rescue and adoption, use the Contact Form near the top of this blog, or contact TeaDB.org with your tax-free, deductible donation and anonymous information. Send us these teas and we will make sure they get rehabilitation and find new “forever” homes.

The take-away here is we need to remember puerh tea has feelings too. I hope you spread the word far and wide, hashtag #MyTeaToo

Adoptable Teas

Currently None.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Little Bit of Dayi

Recently at the Black Friday sale I picked up a 2016 Menghai “Yun Shui Zhen” from Yunnan Sourcing’s US shop. With the BF sale, I paid $31 instead of $36 for this 357g “throat feel” tea. Mr. Wilson writes that this is one of the few Dayi teas he feels “excited” about, a quite surprising description. Unless you enjoy your tea bitter (well I do), Dayi teas are not good to drink young, and at this price point most of them are harsh at best.

2016 Menghai Tea Factory Yun Shui Zhen
I am going a cautious 5g/100ml water to give this a try. Some of the tea had flaked off the edge so I pick off a few small chunks to accompany the loose stuff in the wrapper. The cake is firm, machine pressed, so I end up getting tea all over my kitchen counter in the process of chipping. Two rinses open up the usual Dayi “house” scent, but not as strongly as in teas like the more pungent 7542 recipe. With boiling water, the tea hedges on too bitter to drink, but backing off to just under boiling temps with my light tea/water ratio, the bitterness is just under control.

Even though this is last year’s production, the tea is still clearly green in the cup and has not fully settled. No doubt the machine pressing and Oregon storage keep the tea fresher than might be the case if ordered from China. I drink four steepings and note the usual Dayi house flavor but somewhat muted, and the tea is surprisingly thick and oily. The mouthfeel is creamy, and the brew lingers quite nicely in the throat with the promised yun and stretches its legs down into the stomach. The tea tastes a bit fruity on top of freshly-cut hay.

I sweat profusely after the first four cups, and note some qi around my ears, and I suppose I am little tea drunk because I found myself listening to campy 1990s music on YouTube. This Dayi is all about the throat and mouth coat, however, and not a heavy hitter like so many other productions, fully yin because I shiver with cold once the sweats die down. A cold yin is a big reason why people tell you not to drink young factory tea.

Some nice leaf here.
Later during the night I sneak another cup or two. This is a darn nice little tea. After six steepings, the Dayi house flavor fades and I get a bit of grape that better teas usually have in early steepings, along with some honey. The tea easily goes nine brews with thirty second steep times at the end. If I had used a more typical ratio of 8g/100ml, I am certain a session could go twelve steepings easily. The leaves are clearly from younger trees, but with respectable integrity considering my fiasco at chipping off a chunk.

Still a bit green tea-ish
The 2016 Yun Shui Zhen is a better than average factory tea for people who are new to Taetea and want to recognize their house flavor. For this $36 price point one cannot find many teas that also instruct us in yun, that throat feel we all look for in more premium teas, along with a decent mouth coat. Just go easy on the ratio to keep the bitterness at bay. I can see myself tong-ing this, but with only nine cakes left on the US site, maybe someone else in the US wants to pick one up to take advantage of local shipping.

Using a light clay teapot, such as this one
by Inge Nielsen, takes the edge off
a harsh new factory tea.
Collectors or storage people might want to look at this year’s 7542. I recently read a follower comment on one of Wilson Lim’s IG posts, noting that Korean puerh drinkers are discussing the 2017 7542 as more pungent than in recent years. A rather curious observation and worth keeping in mind as well.

Some darn nice leaf here for the price!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

2017 WMD Mansa

Over a year ago I very much enjoyed Bitterleaf’s 2016 WMD Mansa, and I added a 2017 version of this tea into an order I placed last spring. At that time, my attention was primarily focused on Bitterleaf’s collector/hoarder “late 1990s” CNNP, a well-stored tea I am still somewhat obsessed with. When ordering teas, my interest is often laser-ed in on one tea and other teas are add-ons mainly to take advantage of shipping. In the case of Bitterleaf Tea ordering, once you hit the $100 purchase mark you will get free shipping. I was well past the free shipping mark with the CNNP tea so I decided to get the Mansa now rather than order it later and pay the shipping too.
Dark wrapper this year.
Bitterleaf Teas continues to impress followers with their unique artisan tea wares, many of which sell out immediately. So you must follow their Instagram feed or email ahead if you hope to snag a particular piece. While Jonah Snyder primarily answers email inquiries, his wife’s professional-level photography skills make their website stand out from virtually all other tea vendor sites. In my youth I took old-school black and white photography courses, but with cell phone cameras and an “everybody is a photographer” mentality today, I appreciate here that professional skill and know-how are still obviously superior. I must cover my eyes to avoid tea ware temptation, and quickly navigate to the teas on the Bitterleaf website.
The neifei got rather buried in this cake.
My cake of 2017 WMD Mansa got a full summer of warm and humid weather to settle down and now nearly six months have passed since it arrived. The price of the tea is the same as last year, a hefty $0.88/g so $88 for 100g. I re-read my post from last year and further prepared for this year's session by not drinking any sheng two days in advance, so that the full effects of this tea might affect me all more strongly. As I recall, last year’s tea had some serious stoner effects for me. I tried to go lighter on the parameters with a small 60 ml gaiwan, but chipped off 5g so what the hell, steep it hard.
This is a 100g beengcha
The smell and appearance of the wet leaves under boiling water immediately seem to me a different tea than last year, something I have heard from other buyers. This tea does not have the strong florals as last year, although I do smell a bit of floral in the cup, but also an ordinary Menghai note which is new. The leaves for the most part are also much smaller.
Initial steeps have a custard-smooth and thick quality to the brew, some bitterness and a mild Menghai fruit flavor. The tea has some residual lingering in the throat down to the stomach. After four cups I broke a sweat and felt some stoner effects in my face, not so much as I recall from last year, but of course we are never the same on any given day. As the leaves open up, I find one or two that have the thicker stems as last year’s tea, but this year’s beeng is a bit more tip-py with small buds and small leaves.

Steep 4
After eight quick brews I need to push the tea with longer steeping time. The next three steeps are sour/bitter with a touch of fruity floral, very astringent and mouth drying but still decently thick. Yet I’m hitting green tea now and the leaves are forced into a stewed veggie condition. Last year I remember thick leaves steeping for days, easily past fifteen brews. The mix of leaves appears to consist of some of the larger leaves I remember from last year, and much younger/smaller leaves that smush under the finger rub test. The larger leaves are more sturdy and do not break when rubbed.

2017 Mansa leaves
The problem for me is this tea has the same name on the wrapper two years in a row. I am somewhat stuck. I cannot help comparing last year’s production, my expectations are set in advance due to the name. I cannot explain the reason for these differences between the two productions because too many explanations are possible. Had Bitterleaf simply used a different name for the tea, I would not have the same expectations. The truth may well be that these leaves are from the same trees as last year, and the weather or time of picking may explain the differences. But I could just as easily believe the tea is not from the same trees as last year, or that the large leaves are the same but another younger batch of leaves has been added in. Maybe the quantity of the harvest was lower and the production required boosting with another tea.

2016 Mansa leaves on the same plate as above.
Overall the brew is not terribly complex, but then neither was last year’s tea. Certainly the tea is still fairly fresh and may change more in the next six months. Comparing the tea to an inexpensive drinker, the quality of the experience is definitely better than average but the sour late brews and lack of longevity are concerning at this price range. At this point, I am stuck because I know 2017 teas overall are more expensive. So, “this year’s prices” may well fit in with reality. What stood out about last year’s production was leaf quality and longevity, and the drinking experience was also better than the average drinker. If an “average drinker tea” of lesser quality costs more this year, then I could say 2017 WMD Mansa is right in line with other 2017 teas.
So if I buy 200g of this tea at $176, this falls in the higher price range of other vendors, for example white2tea’s 2016 Untitled 2. However I think I prefer a bit more complexity at this price range, and for the money a good alternative, theoretically speaking, is a much less expensive but sold out w2t Bosch. At the same time, not many teas offer similar drinking experiences with the body effects, and we will generally need to pay a hefty price tag for teas that do offer such effects.
I have heard second-hand that vendors are saying they could not make the same productions this year for the same cost as the past two years. I am left wondering about 2017 overall. Because I have not bought any other teas from this year’s harvest, I do not have a good comparison. One can do much worse buying a drinker quality, and this tea is a somewhat better experience. To decide for your own self how much better this tea is than other teas, I suggest sampling first. Honestly with this year’s prices so high across the board, buying samples before committing your wallet is likely the best strategy.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Making Decisions on Buying Tea Ware

Making decisions about tea ware is quite personal and can turn into an obsession rather quickly, whether a person is just starting out or has already built up an obscenely large collection. My recent post on clay kettles brought a number of emails regarding tea ware and other accessories. The vast majority of questions I get can be summed up as:

Should I buy X?

Where X = you name it, everything from Yixing, burners, boilers, to “where did you get that strainer, should I buy one?”

Well, here is my version of the truth summed up as decision-tree type pointers, take it or leave it.

We are alone out there.

No one else can open my wallet and make the decision. No one else can try my water and decide what makes my tea taste the best.

The answer is always No.

This is where to start with any decision-making process regarding tea ware. There is a possible exception in the situation of a Petr Novak club sale, during which we have maybe sixty seconds to decide. Unless one is willing to un-sub from the club emails, then I might as well just click and buy. Get it over with.

A spouse will always say no.

Hopefully you have not pursued this dead end for some time. I suppose if one is truly waffling on a buy, a spouse can tip the scales toward no. At best, a weary indifference means the spouse is unreliable for an objective opinion and we need to ask elsewhere for opinions. Luckily I do not have anyone to object to my purchases that I cannot bully or cajole. These skills are invaluable.

Tea Heads and B/Vloggers are not good to ask.

Most puerh tea collectors already know this. However, a certain obsessive trait usually leads people to continue asking others for advice, even when the buyer’s mind is already made up to go ahead. By exploring this rung of the tea chain I am mostly past the No answer already, and heading toward a Yes. Am I really interested in the opinion, or am I seeking to confirm a decision I have already made? In that case, I might as well skip time-consuming messages for several reasons:

Many tea heads and bloggers have far more tea and tea ware than they really need and another purchase is even less justified. So their initial gut instinct is No. Or maybe they like to buy and need to fortify their shopping defenses against you. No matter the reason, the sheer fact of knowing one has too much already is enough to bias this type of person, and prevent them from objectively considering the item I wish to purchase.

They also are reluctant to suggest spending money to anyone because they do not want to be held responsible for buyer remorse. Or on the flip side, they may actually want the item I plan to buy and could snipe it out from under me. Is this what you want to risk? (By the way, this last bit is the type I am, a proud sniper).

Sellers are worse yet.

This is because the answer is mostly yes rather than no. A rare “no” should be interpreted as a yes in all instances. However, if the seller says “I’ve decided not to sell” and pulls the listing, then I probably missed out because s/he cannot let go of it. In this rare case, I will email and probably phone daily, possibly more often, to try and buy the item or tea.

Okay, so these are the main methods to get No out of the way. Passing all of these and still obsessing over a purchase means Yes is getting stronger by the minute. So now let us consider what else can go wrong before Yes is finalized. These are "strong stomach tests." We need a strong stomach when purchasing tea ware just as we need one for cheap puerh.

Shipping Breakage

No shipping method is 100% guaranteed against breakage. I think I have had a total of three broken tea ware purchases. Of course some sellers/artists are more reliable than others but no package is bomb proof, there is always a way to completely crush a box.

What Ass sat on your shipping box?
 photo by "alex" of Teafriends
reproduced with permission.
Can you return the item or get a refund? 

Broken tea ware may or may not be eligible for refund, depending on the seller. Sometimes it is not feasible to return tea ware. Earlier this year I bought a very pricey tea pot that had a lid at least 3 mm loose, from a rather famous tea ware artist (no, not Mr. Novak). This unacceptably loose lid was not disclosed in the sales listing. I simply assumed a fine artist of tea ware would not sell such an item. I was wrong.

The cost to return it was over $30 even before adding the necessary extra shipping insurance. The gallery and artist promised to refund the shipping and send a new pot only after I shipped it back. Thus the burden was placed on me to return the item intact. I could no longer afford to waste any more money on the purchase, and eat even more mistakes, so I just kept a gongfu teapot that is honestly not suitable for gongfu brewing.

The crazy part: I had already purchased a tea pot before this one that also had a loose lid. Not a 3 mm loose one, but more like 2 mm loose. Yet again this loose lid was not disclosed on the sale from the private collector. I emailed the collector questioning the non-disclosure. The seller replied that because the item was originally from a known vendor, the vendor reputation sufficed. Turns out the original vendor did not disclose the loose lid either. Wait...because an item is from a reputable seller that gives license not to disclose a flaw? Um…not really.

I could tell I was expected to accept what the collector and the original vendor did not realize is wrong about checking for flaws and disclosing them. “Tight lid” is what you want to see on a gongfu teapot listing, it was not there and I failed to ask, though maybe asking would not get me an answer anyway. So really I was stupid twice.

The opposite situation is with inexpensive tea ware that might cost triple its value to return, so a return actually more expensive than simply keeping the bad item. Ruyao teapots and gaiwans cost around $30, and return shipping is probably about that much. 

Can you stomach any mistake? Fortunately I have a strong stomach and rarely allow mistakes to get in the way of my Buy button.

Yixing Tea Ware

The above now informs my view on Yixing and any other clay tea ware. Most tea heads will tell people not to buy a cheap Yixing teapot for a number of good reasons ranging from poor performance to poor clay, etc. etc. But I say: buy a cheap Yixing or other clay teapot first. Decide whether I want or need Yixing clay before dropping $200+ on a decent one. Buy crap before buying the good stuff. Same thing for tea. I cannot know the difference from bad and good unless I start with the bad.  Also, this logic justifies buying more of the good stuff later on.

Factory 1 vintage new/old stock Yixing
photo and listing by Essence of Tea
I have a couple of Yixing tea pots, one for oolong and one for wet puerh. My water really does not require Yixing to add anything to the tea, but the clay is useful for tempering roast or wetter storage. If I lived in a city where the water is of poor quality, I may have a different view.

Tea Kettle Warmers/Burners

A burner heats water in a kettle or keeps a kettle warm after boiling. One can choose between charcoal burners, electric burners, infrared, alcohol and candle style. Does the burner have a cord, and will that electric cord work in my electrical socket? Can I accommodate the cord in my tea area, do I want that cord? If not, an alcohol or candle warmer may be better than an expensive hot plate.

Ovente Infrared burner, eBay
about $24
Charcoal burners are really for outdoor use. If you plan to take tea outside, that is the main reason to use charcoal. If you have little kids around or pets that get into everything, then no on burners. I nod off and forget about kettles on the stove, so I only own a charcoal burner for outdoors.

Cast Iron Kettle

Mostly made in Japan, this type of kettle is popular for tea water. Cheap, readily available rust-free cast iron kettles can be found with enamel coating. Expensive art ware kettles are not lined and one should plan to use it daily to keep rusting at a minimum, and rusting is considered safe in these kettles.

Fine Japanese cast iron kettle
photo and listing by pu-erh.sk
An important fact: the used market has many of both types of kettles, lined and unlined. It is not recommended to buy a used cast iron kettle because it can have cracks the seller may not be aware of, and such kettle may not be safe to use any longer. The only decent resale market is antique value only for certain artists. Thus, a cast iron kettle is a life purchase a person is stuck with it forever. Would I plan to use it daily? Anything less, might as well forget it or buy an enamel lined one for the looks. 

Here is one I have that can be used on any stove to actually heat water. Unfortunately, at $56 the price has doubled since I bought mine a few years ago.

Cast iron enamel lined "Silver Warriors"
$56 (usually includes free tea bags)
photo and listing by enjoyingtea.com
Did I mention cast iron kettles are heavy? Very, very heavy and they get super hot too. Might want to consider steel-toed boots and a decent potholder. I have this cheap kettle solely for the looks and it has an enameled lining. The kettle also holds up well on the charcoal stove, I can simply wipe off any charring.

Silver Tea Ware

These are very pricey products. The resale is nil except for Japanese silver kettles, a person will not get full money back from reselling. Before going ahead with this expensive purchase, try a silver plate creamer as a cha hai from an antique store or eBay first, you can get one for under $10. Next, consider buying a silver cup rather than a teapot or kettle. I have not bought any silver tea ware.

Tiny Teapots

Small is huge among tea ware people. They score high in cuteness but consider your tea, whether it will expand in the pot requiring one to move the leaves to a larger vessel. Perhaps a small gaiwan or shibo is a good way to determine whether you like small size or not before dropping $100  or more on an art piece.

Mini Porcelain Gaiwan 50 ml
photo and listing by teaware.house
I know some people who love small pots and also others who now find them gathering dust on shelves. I use small pots exclusively for highly expensive aged sheng, or very potent sheng, teas I may want only a miserly few grams at a time to brew. Otherwise I prefer 100ml or larger.

Tea Tables

Bamboo wood tables will crack eventually and may also get black mildew stains if not allowed to dry. But they are a good way to decide if I like wood before dropping $300+ on a better wood. Ceramic is heavy. Stone is not easily moved around. Trying a Pyrex bowl may help decide how often I like soaking a teapot during my tea ceremony before dumping good money on a table that gathers dust or might crack. I bought a vintage wood tea tray on eBay for $20 and it has inlays too.

Vintage Lacquer Wood Japanese Tray
A good tea table is a life purchase and I have one very good table, but I am glad I had some cheaper tables first to decide what I like for performance and clean up.

Small accessories

Items like strainers, tongs, presentation dishes etc. may well be useful and these are inexpensive and fairly risk-free purchases. Most people will want a puerh pick of some sort. I like replacement wrappers for beengcha.

The Real Truth

The real dope is tea people have virtually no logic at the time of purchasing anything and usually make up decent logic afterward to justify what they bought. While my item is on its way in the mail, I practice the excuses I plan to use when people ask me about tea ware. Try and remember I am a sniper before you email asking me anything. A savvy collector of unique puerh tea and wares will have only a very, very short list of people not to screw over when a valuable purchase is at stake.