; Cwyn's Death By Tea: January 2017 ;

Monday, January 23, 2017

2017 Realistic Tea Goals

Everyone has a list of tea goals for the New Year, all with the best of intentions. Old Cwyn has no room to fail because the horde in the background waits to pounce and raid the stash. She fends off potential visitors regularly and the list of suitors grows longer by the month. Of course the son who will not leave home is looking for the opportunity to throw out mother’s tea. All these threats to my tea existence mean I too must set some goals for the year, even if just for show.

I will lose 20 lbs this year because I drink puerh.

People keep right on telling me that sheng puerh promotes weight loss, so it must be true. This year my efforts to drink puerh tea for my health will pay off big time and I will get right back into that Size 4 St. John suit I put on layaway the day I started my doctorate and paid off the day I deposited my dissertation. If not I can mail that suit to my shou-drinking sister and check this goal off either way and make the Dear Son happy in getting rid of something on my own.

I will spend at least $100 on tea from some lying, cheating, money-grubbing son of a gun.

Normally I spend more than that but this year I will surely spend less. Everyone says so in every list of tea goals, “I will spend less.” But then more topics spring up on Steepster or Reddit thanking the likes of Mei Leaf and Verdant with more photos of huge tea orders. How do we continue to order against all that learned logic we keep buying again and again with our student loan payments? Oh, but we have reasons. I remember how obnoxiously loud OxyClean mail order commercials were back in the day, but now you can buy this detergent booster in every grocery store in the US. Tacky and tasteless sell, and lies sell even better. Failing the tacky, we still have Facebook to thank for super premium collector sales that nobody with a credit card can resist, and everybody is already selling their WMD Mansa one year in.

Think you won’t fall prey to social marketing? We have an orange wig and a flag to show you.

Someone will find the 2000 year old tree and sell it by the kilo.

1800 never struck me as a nice stable number, we need to round up. Puerh needs to be at least as old as Jesus to sell in the west like pieces of the True Cross which are more than two miles long when all laid out in a line.

Yunnan Sourcing will have at least one 12% off sale.

I can check this goal off already.

I will mold at least one of my puerh experiments.

Ditto this goal. Done and gone. I learn more from mold than anything else. Menghai tea recovers well, by the way, and nasty old Xiaguan best of all. Keep your northerners dry, they don’t experiment well.

An as-yet-un-named Tea Entity will determine the correct spelling for puerh 普洱茶

Now, I’ve written this before probably but my friend Rob and I are still carrying on the same English argument ten years on. He lives in the UK, and I live in the US, and the chat goes something like this:

Him: Everything you do over there is wrong. You Yanks are butchering our language.

Me: No, we are cleaning it up. And I’m Polish Hungarian Jew. In no American universe will I ever be considered a Yank.

Him: It’s spelled flavour, not flavor. And you’re a Yank.

Me: We are clearing out all the extraneous vowels you cling to that nobody pronounces. The French vowels, and the Latin, and German, and the Welsh. The ones Microsoft Word corrects, which we invented.

Him: I drive my Ford on the correct side of the road, the same side horses rode for centuries.

Me: We invented Ford too, and nobody jousts anymore. They tweet.

Him: What you people play is not football.

Me: The people own the Packers, not some rich guy. We dumped your tea overboard for a reason. It was bad tea.

Him: Just let me know when you need more Yorkshire tea bags.

I’m really wondering, is your Paedophile somehow less odious than my Pedophile? Because if someone says to me “So sorry about your diarrhoea” I am happy he cares even though nobody pronounces the “o” and there is no reason for that letter to be in the word whatsoever unless it suggests—well, never mind. The point is, nobody pronounces these extra letters and no one wants to remember how to spell them.

Which suggests that puer is better than puerh. But I really doubt the apostrophe in pu’er is gonna stick because it will not. No one will use it, neither will they use the dash for pu-er or pu-erh. In fact, I think Puer is a good way for English to distinguish the city in China from the beverage puerh. And as of now, despite babelcarp’s best efforts to promote the Chinese word bingwo, I bet my entire collection that beenghole will stick.

Why does everyone assume that different spellings of a word automatically mean taking offence? Or offense. English spelling has never been uniform, even Shakespeare himself spelled the same words differently and so did Ben Franklin. No one cared all through the Middle Ages nor the Renaissance to spell any word the same every time. Why should we start now? The English and American people have spelled the same words differently from one another for over two centuries and will go right on doing so. As long as they keep exporting Christmas and we keep exporting movies I’m sure we will all stay friends.

I will find one beengcha in my stash that I could not find last year.

Highly unlikely. But the other goals are achievable, so I can fail this one.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

2015 Chen Yuan Hao Mansong Yibang

Recently I received an incredibly generous gift from a tea friend, a group of about ten huge samples of ChenYuan Hao puerh teas. I expected a couple of samples and got a haul that stunned me when I opened the package. So, this blog post begins a series on CYH teas that will likely take some months to complete. I plan to intersperse reviews of these teas in with other posts so they don’t get too monotonous for readers.

ChenYuan Hao (CYH) teas are super-premium grade puerh teas made by a Taiwanese group. You can buy them online from a Malaysian company TeaPals. CYH has been around for more than a decade and the quality of their teas has increased steadily during that time. My last opportunity to try a CYH tea consisted of a fairly dried out and powder-y swap sample that didn’t impress me much. The teas are a whole ‘nuther experience now, and you’re darn right I will get out my very best tea ware to enjoy this tea, as my friend will surely want me to do.

Photo Teapals.com
This CYH Mansong Yibang was reviewed by James at TeaDB in October 2015, not long after pressing. It comes in cake form and tins of loose leaf were available in limited quantity. The cake is sold out now. The final price listed at TeaPals for this tea was 4800 MYR, or $1005-1173 depending on the conversion calculator you use. That’s right, $1005.00 for one cake, 357g. I quadruple-checked it because I could not believe what I saw in the calculator. This is a sale price, for the original retail price was 6500 MYR or about $1400, and around $3 per gram. Malaysian Ringgit currency fluctuates against the dollar quite a bit, the price I’m quoting you here is actually about $70 less for the full cake than it was a few days ago. A sample size tin of 70-80g cost $246 and is long gone. Perhaps politics are adding some volatility to currencies lately. I’ll get into more of the painful price later on.

Sample divided into two sessions
The samples I received are from a different friend than supplied TeaDB with their samples. My friend lives outside the US. All of the samples I have are in very fine condition, carefully double wrapped to protect the leaf integrity. In total, I received 8 grams of this tea, and I separated the sample into two sessions of 4 grams each. I used a 60 ml porcelain gaiwan, a Lin’s Ceramics cup, fragrance cup and also a Lin’s clay boiler to treat my water. No strainer. You chew tea this good if you have to.

This CYH tea has one of the most impressive aroma profiles I have ever experienced. The tea in the drinking cup and in the fragrance cup smells like gardenia, what is sometimes referred to as “orchid” and rather like grandma’s bath powder. After using the fragrance cup, I allowed some tea to dry out within it, and kept it near my bed for several days. Exhaling slightly into the dried fragrance cup completely revives the aroma, so I can enjoy it day after day. I feel like my friend gave me a bouquet of flowers, and am humbled at the beauty of this singular olfactory experience.

Tea ware worthy of the tea
I am familiar with the light Yibang profile and recognize it here, as more fruity than floral. The first three steeps contain some acrid-tasting char, visible in the cup. In this my sample differs from TeaDB as I’m brewing a chunk rather than loose leaf. James did not find any char in the loose leaf, likely because loose leaves will allow char to flake and fall off of the tea. The char isn’t much, however, but it contributes to a Chinese medicine under taste.

This tea is about eighteen months post-pressing, and of course is very young. The leaves and buds are on the small side and some buds are barely developed. The soup is golden with a ring of pink around the edges, a mark of quality, starts out a bit thin. However, the bubbles don’t pop which suggests this tea will thicken up with more aging.

I managed to capture the unique color of the brew,
a tinge of pink in the first few cups.
After around four steeps and just approaching the 200 ml mark my head goes foggy. An “I can’t do math right now” sort of foggy, and “I need to go to bed” foggy. I note tension around my ears, very much an internal brain feeling rather than concentrated face melting. It’s the feeling you get when out in the extreme cold for some time, or after swimming in cold water, back indoors and then a relaxed need to nap. The mind and body are still and drop away into sleep. Maybe I’m just getting old and sliding into the grave, whereas younger people might party all night on this stuff.

This tea is not terribly bitter, with notes of the flowers and fruit, honey and incense. The best of the aroma and floral lasts about eight steepings. Then the tea flavor mainly fades into honey notes, with the touch of char still present. These leaves are extremely durable for as small as they are, like leather, and they continue to give tea well past a dozen steeps. At that point the flavor is productive with some astringency, but the tea develops concerning sourness in the brew. The foggy tea “high” is still present but muted. I could have continued steeping past fifteen steeps, but the flavor continues to present a sourness that needs to change over.

Overall the first 8-10 steeps are glorious. I definitely get the experience of a superior tea and the leaf quality and durability are obvious. This tea is wonderful to drink now for the incredible fruity florals. Later down the decades the floral will probably decline, and the medicine and leather profile will develop more. The tea will require a warm and humid climate to develop properly which presents the question of whether I can provide such a climate, if I owned a cake. The sourness at the back end of the session, when the tea could provide so much more yet, poses a concern. One cannot blame storage conditions at this young stage, but storage will be crucial to move that sour along.

Realistically this cake needs serious babysitting to age properly. My friend’s tea arrived in a slightly humid-smelling box, so I’m not worried about his storage conditions. I can probably service a couple of tongs of tea like this, but any more and I would need a major vault setup for storage. Otherwise, the tea is going to suffer from my dry climate and end up forever sour. The leaves are tough and require heat and humidity to break down. Teapals is located in Malaysia which is ideal for aging, but for tea this young it hardly matters where the retail selling point is. Teapals could make more money storing half their stock for ten years to benefit from the climate, and then sell it to people in climates like mine. But of course they have plenty of buyers at the outset. I’m at the point of seriously considering a warehouse in Malaysia. Anyone else in?

Now we are back to price. I need to clarify that this tea is not similar to teas like The Treachery of Storytelling. The region is completely different. Treachery consists of large leaves probably of northern origins. One cannot really compare these teas aesthetically because of the difference in the leaf growth style. In price, this CYH Mansong Yibang is three times as expensive as Treachery. One cannot really ask: “Are we getting 3x better tea?” Some might debate storage, whether teas like CYH store better in the long run, but the truth is we really don’t know that yet. 

Small leaves
Teas at this caliber are carefully cultivated both in the garden and in the business relations required to procure this tier of tea two years or more in a row. You are paying a premium for business relations that you cannot possibly develop yourself. Premium puerh tea buyers know this. They know the difficulties of procuring these teas change vastly from one year to the next, with ever-changing variables involved. They do not balk about the premium cost because they have no idea what transpires each year to even get this type of tea. One can talk about wanting lower cost teas, and the market has plenty to choose from. This is not the tier of tea for complaints. Complaint tea is another vendor, in fact many vendors are available to adequately service the complainers. 

Still, I feel more comfortable with this tea in the $500-700 range. If it truly cost $500-ish as James mentioned in his review over a year ago, that would be a steal. But then with tea at this level, the people who can afford it will not consider a $300 price difference as terribly significant. If $300 differences in puerh cake cost is significant to you, then this tea is out of your price range. It’s out of my price range.

Along with paying this price tag, I have to think about how to drink this, because with this tier a cake is indeed just a sample. I would want to drink it young to experience the florals at different stages. 
Then I would want to drink it aged too. But a 357g beeng will likely get drunk up in seven years. A person really needs a minimum of two cakes and ideally an unbroken tong plus one taster cake. This is about $6000 in investment tea. I also need to know I can provide the proper storage. One big advantage of this tea over the currently available YQH is that this CYH tea is not yet overstored, there is no wet storage killing off some of the character, and not so much char needing that masking wet storage.

I could, of course, consider buying a sample tin next year. But a tin sets me back $300 just to drink this as “young” tea only. If all I want is a tea high, I can find that for less. It’s the difference between buying a whiskey already in the bottle and buying the whiskey still in the barrel. Or buying into wine before the grapes are picked. This tea really is best purchased by the tong. Or maybe two tongs in case you get divorced, because splitting a tong in court is a painful consideration. Two tongs cost the same as a car, and you can’t split a car either. If I lived in a city where I don’t need a car, buying two tongs is a good idea for a married couple, along with a clear pre-nup.

People talk about selling tea later on in life, and most of the teas we can buy online are not the kind that you can expect to sell well above market value. Teas like CYH or YQH are teas that you can invest in and probably sell for more down the road, assuming you can find collectors who will double your money and pay $24,000 for two tongs. That’s a big if. A better guarantee is buy the two tongs and forgo having children.

But oh, this tea, it’s truly fine, my friends, at least the early steeps are. When I think a firm “no” on the price, even with a sour back end I can’t forget how good those early steeps are. I think if I were twenty years old I might forget about getting married and put every last dime into this. Never buy a single handbag. One can better afford a Quonset hut with tea like this.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Causes for Sour Flavors in Puerh Tea

Recently I tried a tea recommended by a friend which I found to be very sour, to the point where I didn’t want to continue drinking it. I’m not a stranger to sour tea. But of course I feel bad when I think a tea is sour because I know the reasons why. The question is whether the tea is a loss or still has hope of further transformation. I’d like to recommend reading as much as you can about fermentation in general, along with puerh fermentation articles when you come across them. Using a very informative book published last year, Modernization of Traditional Food Processes and Products, (A. McElhatton and M. El Idrissi, eds. Springer, 2016), I will attempt to apply the fermentation concepts described in this book, and explain sourness in a more approachable manner in the context of puerh storage. Hopefully then I can pick out a cause for what I taste in my friend’s tea.

Sour flavors in puerh tea are due to acids which are secretions, or by-products, of bacteria and enzymes. In any fermentation process of vegetable matter, acid formations are normal and an important stage toward getting the finished product you want. A mild sourness is indicative of a desirable stage in slow-aging sheng puerh. Acid formations provide a favorable environment for growth of fungi like Aspergillus niger and Penicillum, but also provide an unfavorable environment for putrefactive bacteria so that the product does not spoil or rot.

Fermentation, to put it simply, is a three-stage process of bacteria->to acid-> to yeast in which all three are in enough of a balance that the correct bacteria and yeast will grow at each stage. Gallic acid, among others, is the primary compound responsible for a mild sour flavor when puerh is aging well. Aspergillus fungi such as niger, foetidus and Penicillum also produce a mild gluconic acid as the result of fermenting glucose sugars. In the middle of fermentation, a mild sourness is normal.

However, other acid products are produced during fermentation as well. When acids get overly abundant, beneficial bacteria and fungi cannot continue to develop and the next stage of fermentation cannot progress. Either the tea doesn’t make it to the stages responsible for breaking down bitterness and developing flavor, or the tea ferments too fast and breaks down before the good yeasts get a chance to add flavor. So, we can end up with tea that has too many acids and didn’t properly progress to the next microbial stage. Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities for overabundance of acids.

Too High Heat and Humidity

Several organisms can grow out of balance when tea is stored or fermented in too hot conditions. The enzyme Rhyzopus is active at temps of 32-40C and is important in breaking down the starchy cell walls and pectin in the tea. This will allow for an effective release of tea juices into an infusion, and add fragrance. So this enzyme Rhyzopus is important in fermentation of puerh tea. Rhyzopus secretes fumaric acid, lactic acid and succinic acid. While breaking down the cell walls of the tea leaf is the desired function, an overabundance of Rhyzopus will break open the structure of the tea completely. In a high-heat situation with too much Rhyzopus, your tea cake will develop mushy, melded spots because the leaves are breaking down into wet globs.

Too-wet tea that arrived moldy.
The globbing of the leaves is evident near the neifei
Unfortunately, this is how poorly controlled fast fermentation with high heat can result in a sour tea product. This is true regardless of the length of time the tea is kept in a too-high heat situation. The longer the high heat continues, the more Rhyzopus breaks down the tea making backtracking impossible. The tea will taste sour because it is browned and too broken down, and the brew is muddy or dirty looking. However, if the high heat conditions were for a shorter period of time, the tea may be able to rebalance as long as it’s not broken down too much. Alas my friend’s tea suffered from too much breakdown so I don’t think it has anywhere to go from its sour state.

Too Cold and Dry

Lactic acid is an important part of fermentation because it creates positive conditions for beneficial yeasts like Aspergillus niger. Aspergillus niger is a carbon source of food for Saccharomyces yeasts which are responsible for transforming the bitterness in tea into sweet and mellow flavors. As long as the acid environment is under control, in late-stage fermentation the Saccaronmyces yeasts will get their opportunity to convert the bitterness in the tea into nuanced flavors. This is because Rhyzopus has done its job to break open the cell walls and make the plants juices available to this yeast. But when a tea is too cold and dry at the start, Rhyzopus may not sufficiently grow to break down the cells of the tea. Fermentation cannot progress and the tea appears green and young.

Both Rhyzopus and Saccharomyces need sufficient heat and humidity to grow. A too-dry and too-cool environment means the tea is stuck in a state where the earlier yeasts and bacteria produced the correct acids, but fermentation stopped there. If kept in this state for too long Aspergillus and Rhyzopus will die out, and their waste carbon products needed for Sacchronmyces food are no longer available. Thus the Sacchromyces yeasts will never get their chance to develop those lovely flavors from the bitter plant juices. In addition, our friends Sacchromyces are responsible for clarifying the juices from cloudy to clear. The tea will remain bitter and acid sour, and the brew will be cloudy. Fragrance too is gone.

This is what produces the familiar “dry storage sour,” but unlike the too-high heat situation, if the tea is not cold and dry for too long, then heat and humidity can be applied to correct the stuck tea and get fermentation moving again. When puerh collectors complain about “too dry and cold” conditions in the west, they are referring to the possibility that western collectors cannot provide enough heat and humidity. Thus their tea will remain sour and dry until it passes a point of no return when all the microbes are killed off. The tea tastes flat in addition to dry and sour.

Charred Leaves in Chaqing

Another cause of dry storage sour is char produced by the wok in processing the maocha. Burnt smoky tea is an addition to the puerh cake that is not intrinsic to it. The tea is altered by the addition of burnt carbon. Heat and humidity can speed up the usage of this carbon by yeasts, but the fragrance and flavor produced by the char may overpower the subtle flavors produced by Saccahromyces. In my experience, char is the most common cause of bad flavor in puerh tea because it’s an addition to the tea that will not go away by the normal slow fermentation process. It requires a correction of high heat and humidity for the perfect amount of time, and the perfect time is rarely achieved. 

Puerh collectors are accustomed to accepting this processing flaw as “ordinary” when in fact it is not. “Retired smoke” is not caused by improper fermentation, but a condition imposed on the tea leaf during the wok process of chaqing used to stop the oxidation of the tea leaves prior to pressing. Another cause for smokiness is when chaqing is performed in a closed, smoky room such that the odors from wood burning permeate the leaves. I feel sad when I taste this, because a fine leaf may never get a chance to be what it is meant to be. Poor leaf, well, nothing lost and nothing gained. Yet many collectors are so accustomed to char or smoky flavors that it is accepted as a normal condition. Indeed, many people have learned to like it. Once in awhile I like it too, even though I think it is a flaw.

My favorite Manzhuan tea developed some flavor from char.
Breaking up the cake into a clay jar for a few months
corrected the problem, and I no longer taste it.
Setting aside a char factor, let us return to the main causes for sour tea during storage. A very mild sourness is normal when puerh tea is young and in a fermentation state under the correct conditions. But sourness can get out of control in two ways.  One way is too much heat and humidity, causing too high levels of acid by-products that will not allow late stage fungi to develop flavor, and the tea gets too broken down to retrieve it from the acidic condition. The other way to get sour tea is by slowing fermentation via too cold and too dry conditions, leaving acid by-products unavailable for further fermentation, cutting off the process mid-stage.

My friend’s tea suffered from the overly hot and humid wet storage condition. The tea has no remaining green and is not likely to change much after some airing. You will know when that sour problem can be corrected and when you have a loss on your hands. I have had many opportunities to experience these problems and it is always a learning experience to recognize them. Tasting your tea regularly is the best way to assess its progress. As long as you maintain your tea for as much of the year as possible at 68-80F (18-26C), and RH 60-70%, you will avoid a permanent storage-related sourness assuming you purchased good quality raw tea with excellent processing at the start.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Bang Dong and Balls: Sheng Olympics 2017

This year’s Sheng Olympics by LiquidProust Teas in conjunction with various tea vendors is an exciting opportunity to sample a variety of sheng puerh teas for not a lot of money. I missed out on Sheng Olympics last year to my abiding regret, mainly after a couple of bad group buys soured me on shared tea buying. Half the fun, of course, is drinking and sharing the same teas with a number of people at the same time. It's not a bad deal money-wise.

Sheng Olympics puerh sampler
The package includes anywhere from 10-12g of each tea plus a really cool Yunnan sticker. You get Bitterleaf Teas 2016 Alter Ego Mansa Huang Pian, and 2016 Autumn Straight Bulang No Chaser. From Crimson Lotus Teas we get a Midas Touch tea ball. From Yunnan Sourcing we get the Hi-Tech Dragon Tea ball,  and both 2010 and 2015 Autumn Bang Dong. From Tea Urchin we have 2012 Bang Dong to compare to the YS offerings. Finally we get an exclusive white2tea 2016 Tuhao as Fk tea ball, which isn’t in my group tea photo here because I’d already consumed it. I have the wrapper though.

All this cost $25, or $20 if you got the recent discount, and shipping to my address cost just $3 or so. To order all these samples separately from each of the tea companies would cost so much more just for shipping than for this whole package. Spreading out the cost among dozens of people makes this buy possible. Otherwise a tea package like this is, well, frankly impossible to acquire. Unfortunately as of this writing, the package seems to have sold out.

Wrapper from 2016 Tuhao as Fk exclusive tea ball
LiquidProust is probably best known on Reddit tea forums for offering free puerh samples to newbies, an effort which has cost him a lot of money and to which many puerh heads have donated excess tea. His blog is well worth a read though. As his name implies, his efforts in tea are directed toward a theme: can a tea experience resemble good literature, such as if Proust turned into liquid tea, what would this tea taste like? One of his recent blog posts in pursuit of this theme created a “Narnia” tea, which is a white tea wrapped in silver leaf. Not sure what that tastes like, but I found the post interesting and the tea rather beautiful and tweeted it in case any foodies out there are looking for a themed tea.

The puerh tea world is rather devoid of well-read, literary people in the US, where for some reason tea attracts science types more often than literary folks. LiquidProust states his inspiration around Proust was his read of what I assume is the entirety of In Search of Lost Time. My own reading of Proust began and ended with Vol. V, The Prisoner, perhaps an unfortunate choice. I’m certain Proust is back in vogue now after years of firmly out until someone “out-ed” Proust, and his Albertine as very likely a disguised Albert. 

Knowing this intrigues me further when someone names his straight avatar LiquidProust, winning more admiration last year when I checked out his other social media. I found a rather frank journey from a conservative Christian background to exploring other faiths, including one rather impromptu visit to a synagogue’s Sabbath service, an adventure he defended later among the inebriated friends who joined him. The young man has a lot more going on with his inner journey than just a narrow obsession with tea, displaying expansiveness in his thinking, To wit, tea is a point from which to explore and find common experiences with other people. While tea-as-literature adds a layer of thinking beyond what the tea itself presents, this theme is indeed a point of view lending toward open discussion rather than closed debate, and a theme which LiquidProust takes on with more than a little enthusiasm. 

I am certain he won’t feel comfortable with my musings here, or the fact that I’ve read a lot of his past social posts even back in his college years. Just to clarify, I read a great deal on people whose thinking I find interesting. I’ve read tea blogs in their entirety front to back, and tea forums with hundreds of pages. I only take the time to do this when I find intelligent people. In LiquidProust’s energetic postings I find themes of spiritual searching, literature, tea, sex, work, and what the ancient Greeks called koinonia, in communion or community with others. I have tried chatting with Mr. LiquidProust in sentences which include all of these themes in a rather compressed fashion, but my efforts mostly evoke a bit of paranoia from him, wondering if I am criticizing. Not my intention at all. Perhaps I am a bit fumbling and not so socially graceful, adding too many layers into what I try to say, perhaps poorly, obscuring my intention to pay the highest compliment I feel I can give to anyone, to address the entirety of pure intelligence. For he is a rare person.

Might not look like a lot of leaf,
but this is a 200 ml gaiwan.
Had to move the tea from the teapot above.
Anyway, on to the tea! The Tuhao as FK teaball is a highlight for me, as I own the 2015 cake but have not yet tried the 2016. Those of us participating in Sheng Olympics were to drink it on Christmas Eve, but I fell asleep early and slept through the entire evening. I finally got down to the tea a few days later. This tea ball is a LOT of Tuhao, much more I than I would use in a session. Tuhao as Fk is not a wimpy tea.

Thick stems
However, I wish I’d waited a year or two because the tea ball is still very green and due to the compression is not yet out of the green tea stage. You can see from my photos the greenish tint to the brew. The 2016 version is every bit as durable as last year. I needed five days and about 26 steeps and the tea still isn’t done yet. 

Red is a complementary color of green,
so any green visually appears brighter.
The brew starts out floral and rather bitter, and only at steep 13 or so honey notes emerge. Yet even after 18 steeps a bit too long on the brew time and I’m rewarded with punishing bitterness. My last steep at 26 still had the bitterness and honey note, the tea is lighter at that point, yet nowhere near done. Leaves are mostly a bud plus two leaves, with thick stems. This tea is huge on huigan, Tuhao is just a big Las Vegas of a tea, and well worth the money to buy and store away.

Steep 24, green brew mellows somewhat to a honey color.
Tea balls seem like a great travel option, but in fact they are challenging to brew and require far more time than a chunk from a beeng. Tuhao is a glorious tea, as wonderful an opportunity as this custom pressing is, at the same time it’s a waste of tea. Tea balls made from such fine tea are really a waste for me because I can’t break up the tea ball and drink less. From what I can tell, others drinking this Tuhao tea ball finished up with it in one evening. I rather doubt they drank 20 steeps, but if sharing with other people, then perhaps one evening is feasible. I think I understand now why mini teas use so-so tea so that you don’t feel guilty drinking some of it and then tossing it out.

Such leaf quality for a tea ball!
Regretfully I tossed those fine leaves after steep 26 and brewed up the 2010 Autumn Bang Dong by Yunnan Sourcing. This tea is available for $56 from the China site for 400g. The leaves are tiny and the tea brews up with a spicy, pecan pie scent. My first two brews left my gaiwan stuck to the plate with sticky tea. The sugars are emerging from the cell walls within, and I expect this tea to develop more stickiness because the aging is coming along nicely. Comparing my gaiwan of leaves with the photos on the listing the aging is obvious, my tea is browning while the original photo shows a very bright green.

2010 Bang Dong aging apparent when comparing the listing on YS.
I leafed this tea heavy with 7g in 60ml gaiwan, and my heavy hand is punished with a bitter, yet medium thick brew with vanilla and spicy nuts. The tea thickens noticeably around steeps 4-6, and slowly thins from there. Spicy notes are typical of many autumn puerh teas, and this one tastes rather traditional with hay, spices and vanilla. This is one of those puerh teas that approaches a barrel whiskey type experience, albeit a fairly comfortable brew compared to actual liquor. I've learned that Yunnan Sourcing productions are best leafed heavy, especially after TeaDB found out how heavy Mr. Wilson himself leafs a gaiwan. To know what he sees in a tea, I feel I must also go heavy. This 2010 is a nice value drinker, a huge 400g cake costs the same as many cakes half this size. 

Steep 4
I plan to get to the other Bang Dong teas later. While the idea of a comparison between these teas is a great idea, I don’t expect the teas to truly compare, and not simply because of differences in storage or age. Tea terroir has changed a great deal in the past seven years, and Bang Dong area yields a variety of tea and quality too. I’m not sure a 2010 or 2012 tea even from the same trees is the same in 2015. I'm guessing the Bang Dong + Balls is more about the implied pun in this tea sampler. 

Bitterleaf’s Alter Ego is comprised of the huang pian from their spring production of WMD Mansa, a tea which sold out early and packs quite a tea high. I’ve heard from other tea drinkers that this same tea high experience is in the huang pian brick. Price-wise, the tea costs the same as white2tea’s Fade, $24.50 for a 200g brick. Tea chatters debate which tea is the better one, with some preferring Alter Ego to Fade. I haven’t had a chance to try Alter Ego yet, but when I do I will post some notes on Steepster.

Looks like the Sheng Olympics might sell out, I hope you didn't miss out on picking up this sample pack from LiquidProust, It's fun to share tea with other people drinking at the same time, and I will look forward to trying the rest of the teas at some point. This week I received a generous package of samples of CYH teas and I will get into these next. I seem to drink tea more slowly than many bloggers, I apologize for that, but I try and steep them out as much as possible or drink more than one session!