; Cwyn's Death By Tea: February 2017 ;

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Tea Scum

More lovely samples of Chen Yuan Hao await my discovery, and today I plan to drink a 2016 Yiwu tea. The sample is courtesy of a tea friend, who labeled the tea Yiwu, so I am guessing the sample is the 2016 Chen Yi Zi Hao aka Yiwu Chawang here from Teapals.

I own plenty of Yiwu teas and while the best ones have a grape top note and honey base, Yiwu teas are fairly diverse in the finer points, including leaf size and aging potential. In fact, Yiwu varietal teas extend south of the Yunnan China border into Laos where they cannot “properly” be called puerh tea even though the trees themselves do not know this political requirement. I should not necessarily generalize about a Yiwu tea before actually trying it, because the smaller distinctions make a huge difference in price.

Before I try this tea, however, please note this image of a pristine porcelain gaiwan.

Gaiwan by Inge Nielsen, Etsy
While of course this is a fairly new 65 ml gaiwan made by potter Inge Nielsen (@i.n.clay on Instagram), I tend to keep my all my tea ware on the clean side. Now I’m all for Patina, but we have Real patina and Fake patina. Patina is a dark stain left behind on tea ware from years and years of use. This patina is often shiny and a muted tea color which indicates aging, very pleasing on Yixing and other clay teapots. Patina is so desirable it is often faked to make teapots look older.  Thus, Patina is the new riche for tea heads. So much so in fact that some people must get that patina going at all costs by never wiping or cleaning off the tea ware. So you see tea gear that looks something like this.

Tea Scum
I am reluctant to share the source of this disgraceful tea ware, after all I am only poking a little bit of gentle (I hope) fun. However, the owner does have a registered government non-profit organization so I feel not at all guilty leaving off an attribution. And to be clear this org has not replied to any of my two year’s worth of emails pleading for help getting  acceptance of SNAP benefits at Yunnan Sourcing and other expensive puerh dealers because food stamps do, after all, cover tea and coffee. No one works harder than Old Cwyn on behalf of tea people for real issues despite the fact that I don’t have 501c tax-free status myself. Any complaints regarding all this can be directed to the contact form on the right hand side of this page.

Because the truth is this type of tea staining is not Patina, but Tea Scum. Tea Scum is the result of tea trapped beneath a combination of oils and minerals in water which eventually form a crust. Rather like this:

"How to remove hard water stains"
Over time bacteria gets trapped in mineral crusts. I mean really, do you let your tea ware resemble your toilet bowl? Well maybe some do. I know puerh hoarding and trouble with cleaning go hand in hand. In the toilet bowl level one can perhaps understand this, assuming the stats are really true and 85% of puerh readers are male, so they don’t need to sit down constantly like women to do their business except after a particularly nasty shou goes south which no respectable tea collector ever drinks. Personally, I don’t keep my toilet looking like this but of course tea ware is more important than the toilet bowl. Right?

For educational purposes, going beyond the focus of my blog which is mostly confined to Tea Filth, let me show you what Real Patina is.

Two years of use produces a very light patina
Lin's Ceramics cream color cup
Any stain that does not scrape off with a fingernail is Real Patina. That which scrapes off with a fingernail is Tea Scum. Just so you know. You can pay me to try a questionable shou but not in the tea ware in the photo above. The Midwest where I live is known for the adage “cleanliness is next to godliness,” and this is not mere regional stereotyping. Cleanliness is godliness. Alas, Tea Scum lurks within the best company and not just vendors, and boiling temperatures do not kill off bacteria on Venus, something for man to dwell upon.

My advice, always travel with your own gaiwan and cup as a backup contingency. Inspect all tea ware carefully before using anyone else’s. Having a wet wipe in your wallet is certainly worth a thought if you don’t want to insult the host by insisting on using your own tea ware. You can pretend to inspect the “beauty” of the piece by holding it at a distance far below the level of the table while applying a discreet wipe, and remind the host of properly warming the wares with boiling water afterward, prior to brewing.

2016 Chen Yuan Hao "Yiwu"
 Using my pristine (for now) gaiwan, I can truly give the 2016 CYH Yiwu the attention and aesthetic it deserves. For this tea costs 1200 MYR for a full beeng which rings up at $270. Not the most expensive Yiwu out there, the Last Thoughts cake comes to mind, but well past any budget Yiwu. I have a most generous sample thanks to my friend, and so many sessions available to me.

Steep 3
The initial nose is an acrid smoke in a vegetal base which reflects in the flavor of the first two cups after a rinse, and thankfully washes away after three brews. The gold color of the brew is surprisingly dark for a tea less than a year old, but perhaps the bit of char lends some color in the early steeps. My photo appears consistent with the Teapals photo. I get more bitterness than usual for many boutique Yiwu teas. A very heavy body qi after about three small 60 ml cups causes me to pass out early in the day. 

This tea also possesses a strong throat feel that lingers long after drinking, like a ball in the throat you know the tea is there. The flavor range is representative but somewhat narrow, a single octave like G below middle C to G above. None of the thickness of more premium Yiwu teas but of course that may improve and the tea is not even out of the first year yet. This one brews long, past ten brews and thickens a bit in steeps eight to ten.

I notice how small the leaves are compared to other productions, rather like the 2002 Yong Pin Hao Red which is also a first flush spring tea. A well-cultivated garden behind these teas, and both have dry storage. The 2002 YPH is now up to $260 a cake, just $10 behind this CYH but of course you’re paying for the age in the former, and the label premium in the latter. Ah, my white wrapper 1999 Yiwu, were that tea still available, seems like bargain now at $330-ish before it sold out.

The tea has some durability in steeping, I went ten steeps and the brew still had strength, however I noticed some disintegration of the leaves. Doing a strength test by rubbing the leaves between my fingers, some turned to mush but others did not. 

Steep 9
Cloudy brew from disintegrating leaves
This affected the soup, the disintegration lent a sour vegetal flavor. This tea is still young, so one must subtract the months-old tea as a variable to some extent until the leaves tighten up more. The durability of the brew is encouraging for the long term and I’d like to try this again some months from now.

This tea is definitely a better experience than a plain drinker and really one’s collection is a determining factor. Do you want yet another Yiwu in your stash? If you don’t have a decent Yiwu tea this is a good consideration. Or if you’ve tried the YQH teas and don’t care for the Taiwanese heavier storage, this tea is a new one you can try your hand at storing dry. This is where I think the tea has the most merit for me, the opportunity to age and retain more of the top notes. Quite honestly, the leaves themselves interest me more than drinking the tea they make, just for observing changes over time. This could be one of those long-drinking Yiwu cakes as long as it doesn’t sour along the way. Care is everything and the storage challenge is intriguing.

Leaves after steep 10 when I stopped
Otherwise, the price is off-putting for anyone new to puerh tea and more appealing to those with some experience of labels. Most puerh folks need to convince themselves with personal trial and error what tier of tea various amounts of money will get. A writer telling you all this really means nothing otherwise. I can say the tea is properly situated in price tier between other teas, whether or not you feel the tiers as a whole should drop down a clean hundred bills, well that is not likely to happen. This tea will hit the $400 mark within five years, I’m sure. On the upside, this production is yearly so when last year sells out you can likely expect another offering in 2017 with give or take roughly the same price.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Clay, and 2016 CYH Mahei

Our February this year is a confusing mix of warmer spring-type weather, think April, alternating back to winter. Best to ignore the weather now and fold myself into my puerh hobby. If you have a lot of puerh tea, free time spent in the company of your teas is time between worlds, somewhere between the places of home and work. I imagine our tea hobby is somewhat comparable to greenhouse gardening of orchids or roses when paying attention only to the plants and what they are saying to us. 

Slipping into the space of puerh tea is like raising a hooded cowl over my head, seeing neither sideways nor above, just a narrow focused meditation, the work of observation. I feel I am moving backwards in time, through my farming ancestors to the medieval times and even further in the human act of storing food in ceramics as I store my puerh in crockery. How much we have in common with all of humanity that has ever lived, observing our stored tea in the same fashion as herbs, vegetables and teas are through the centuries. We communicate faster than light now, my tea collection welcomes me back to earth from cyberspace. 

Lin's Ceramics Tea Ware
2016 CYH Mahei puerh tea in the cup
Last week I read an interesting article in  The New Yorker about ancient clay crockery (M. Bjornerud, 2017). You might have seen this article as it has appeared on a number of websites. Of course The New Yorker is not a scientific journal, but the ideas are interesting. Pieces of ancient crock jars are used in experiments to measure changes in the earth’s magnetic field. This field is what reflects back radiation from the sun and outer space. Apparently the magnetic field in the atmosphere varies from strong to weak, and we are currently in a weak cycle. When this happens, more Carbon 14 is available and shows up in clays which appear younger because of the extra carbon. But when the magnetic field is stronger, the clays appear older. Clay from ancient Judah bore tax stamps which allow for close dating even before the clay is analyzed. Clay pottery tells its story because the firing cycle of hot/cool locks in the iron oxide into a stable form.

Concentric incision on a jar handle
from Ramat Rahel, modern-day Israel
Photo courtesy Oded Lipschits
Reproduced in The New Yorker 13.2.2017
You may have seen this image as it appeared in most other articles on this topic, such as in the Daily Mail. I like this jar handle which reminds me of my clay teapots and redware crockery. In fact, somehow this handle evokes my Lin's clay boiler kettle in the photo above. I don’t know what effect, if any, variations in the magnetic field captured in clay might have on puerh tea, either stored tea or tea brewed in a clay teapot.

I wonder if pottery truly has a magnetic field and whether minerals in water interact with that field and have any effect on the flavor. Certainly my tea friends have explored mineral waters for brewing. Tea people think minerals in water add something to the flavor of the brew. But a potter has more hands-on insight into clays. I think of my potter friend Inge Nielsen who makes iron clay teapots that I like to hoard. I message her to ask if she saw any articles like the one above. and turns out she already has. “Like a tape recorder,” she says of the clay.

So with my hooded cowl I channel the buzzing magnetic field in my teapots. Good tea and bad does not get any worse, but I feel glad now for my crock storage. I wonder how my tea will taste someday when compared with a pumidor like the one I previously had, lined with plastic. Will my crock tea have a magnetic field that rocks the drinker off her feet? Maybe the field is linked to hoarding behavior. Perhaps my brain is affected by all this magnetism and I am inexorably drawn to buying more tea and clay tea ware. I am not right in the head to be sure. Now that I think of it, I really started hoarding after putting my tea in all these clay jars and crocks. I did not have big problem before. No, this cannot be, for I have plenty of hoarding friends with pumidors and nary a clay shard in the house. The tea is fully to blame.

Speaking of which, I just tried a bit of my sample of 2016 Chen Yuan Hao Mahei sent by a friend last month. This is a rather generous sample, so I still have half of it left after picking out 7g to drink. The leaves are long and pretty and not easy to carefully stuff into a taller teapot. I brewed my water in a Lin’s clay kettle to get an extra dose of earth's magnetism. Earth's magnetism will surely be linked to a longer life span and possibly greater sexual libido by some tea company very soon. 

Long Leaves are always a turn-on
Teapals is no such vendor and the 2016 CYH Mahei is still available for purchase by sample, cake and tong. The description states that the tea lacks any bitterness, and to get more qi one can “soak” the tea. This suggests that perhaps the tea dies out rather quickly. I did not rinse the tea, and am glad because the first fragrance is orchid-like and fruity, which dissipates quickly in subsequent steepings. The leaves look a bit oolonged on a few, with red edges, the description emphasizes the sun drying and lack of char, but I wonder if the chaqing was short to preserve the floral sweetness of these leaves. 

Amber first steeping.
The brew is pudding thick and sweet with not much astringency. I get a bit of qi along the back, and increased visual acuity but I drank on an empty stomach which magnifies tea effects. The flavor is all top note floral and fruity, with not much underneath. This is a grassy tea, and to be fair is still less than a year old. After the fifth steep the tea died out markedly in flavor. I “soaked” the tea as recommended and got some sweet/sour bitterness. The brew looks right with the golden color, but this seems like a prime loose leaf green at this stage and skews vegetal after the initial beautifully floral nose.

Some reddish leaves in the pile.
Again, reserving some thought that the tea is less than a year old and perhaps still needs to settle in, I worry about my ability to store this sort of tea. My conditions are on the drier side which could easily fade this tea or turn it sour. On the other hand, too much humidity will kill it. You can find lots of examples of Mahei Yiwu teas on the market, such as from Wymm Tea or puerh.sk of varying quality. This CYH is certainly a decent leaf, but at the outset I am missing some lower notes. The leaf might do better in a blended cake, giving the drinker something to enjoy now in the somewhat oolonged Mahei leaf, and then something else from a different leaf down the road that ages well, yet more darkly bitter when young. CYH has a history of offering Mahei in blends in the past. I need to try this again in another year perhaps. Certainly my storage will speak to me at that point. I will either have a sour brew on my hands or the tea will steep out longer than five steeps as it settles.

You can get a 75g sample of this tea for about $40, and a 357g cake is about $180, making this tea one of the less expensive options in Chen Yuan Hao. Looking at the other CYH teas from last year, the high end teas like the LBZ and Guafengzhai, and even the Mansong are long gone. The fan base for these productions will jump on the good stuff early, and they have the money to spend. This Mahei tea falls clearly in the middle drinker range and probably is not what the typical CYH buyer is after. But as an example of a nice fresh Yiwu, you can do a lot worse.

Early 2017 spring greens are already showing up on sites like Yunnan Sourcing. The season is right around the corner. This reminds me I need to tackle my sample stash, and soon before the samples dry out. I will try and post any interesting ones I find.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Re-tastes, and Re-tasting

I just received a complaint today. Yes, I know a week has passed since my last post. Okay, more than a week. How is a person supposed to keep track of time while drinking puerh tea? Truthfully I have been drinking a lot of tea lately, more than usual. Instead of confining my puerh time to the evenings, I now start drinking earlier in the day. Most of my attention lately is on re-tasting teas from my collection. One needs to do this regularly as a way to check on the storage because measuring devices for humidity or temperature do not tell us anything about how the tea tastes. Also, I like to check on my new cakes to discover changes that occur in the first year when puerh tea settles from processing. More changes occur in the first year than in any other time span.

Tasting in the First Year

I taste each tea I buy when I get it, but then I wait another six months or more before sampling the tea again. This applies to fresh, new puerh tea but also aged tea I have ordered. Fresh tea needs time for settling, and aged needs time to acclimate and perhaps air out any storage odors. I might review the tea, but I try and confine myself to talking about the leaf quality and flavors without a big judgment on the tea.

This brings up something that is bothering me over the past year. I see more and more people buying new puerh especially, and then writing scathing reviews at first taste. I do not understand how a person can judge a puerh tea immediately after pressing on any aspect except leaf quality. We can notice much about the thickness of stems, the durability of leaf, whether the cake is poorly processed with too much or too little chaqing. But we cannot judge the quality of the tea brew straight off the steamers! We cannot know how well a tea will age when the tea just came out of the cotton bag!

Yet I see folks posting reviews on Steepster or blogs or Reddit with damning judgments on the flavors of brand new tea. Or reviews of aged tea straight out of the mailing box. Yet how many more reviews are posted over years and years when the writer says something like “I hated this tea at first, what a night and day difference six months (a year, two years, five years) makes.” I have tea friends writing some of these judgments too or posting them in photo form on social media.

I can discern fine leaf quality and clean processing at first taste when I receive a new or aged tea. An aged tea also has a storage quality that I can judge, dry/wet etc. My views of leaf quality, processing and any storage issues are not likely to change. My opinions on the brew, however, will change because the tea is going through stages of change.

The Need for Re-tasting

My dears, we need to keep looking, and keep tasting. Otherwise, we merely look upon a painting and comment upon the image alone, without seeing the layers of paint and how the effect we admire, or not, is created. Some tea writers will say “my tastes have changed,” but the truth is the tea is changing as fast as you are. Who is to say that you might store a tea very well, and find you have a nice one on your hands a few years down the road that you can appreciate all the more?

Perhaps tea reviews give the impression of a constant buying of tea, or constant sampling of new teas and not enough time spent re-visiting stored teas. I suppose blog posts of re-visiting teas are not as exciting to write or read as are posts about brand new teas, when everyone is eager for information. Yet I hope we are as eager to know about teas we are all storing. Now that we have tea clubs, more people together are storing the same teas, in different locales, using different storage methods. We have more opportunity than ever to generate consensus about teas.

2016 Head by white2tea

I first reviewed this tea last summer, and noted that the tea fresh out of the steamer was very green. I and many others noted a vegetal, almost sweet green pepper flavor to the tea. When tea is this new and green, we can note the strength of the leaves and the clean processing but we can hardly judge the brew at this point. I believe I noted that on my post back in July.

I am surprised now to remember from reading my post how Head arrived smelling like a hot tomato vine during a period of very steamy summer weather. For 2016 Head smells nothing like tomato vine today.  2016 Head has changed vastly from when I tasted it nearly seven months ago. I brewed up a pot of this tea and my clumsy fingers spilled tea all over the kitchen counter. From this mess wafted up a smell of a lily of the valley garden patch, and I was stunned at the florals and how sticky my fingers got while cleaning up the spills. The brew is now more golden yellow rather than green, indicating the tea has settled from the “green” tea stage to now a puerh ready to begin slow fermentation.

In the cup, the florals are now at the forefront, and the savory aspect deeper, more of a lower note. Also, the cup aroma after drinking is heavily floral which makes the tea seem more expensive than it is. I normally find the strong cup aroma after drinking in more expensive teas than Head.  I went ten steeps easily and the tea has more to go. I forgot to take a photo.

Afterward, I emailed TwoDog and mentioned the changes in Head. He replied “I know the material well enough to know they should age better than they are…” But even he had not re-tasted Head in awhile. So this confirms to me that teas often change drastically long after first pressing. If you purchased Head last summer, give it a re-taste now. Otherwise, this tea is still only $69.

2011 Xiao Jin Gua Sheng by Verdant Tea

Yes, you all griped about this one that I reviewed last spring, and bought two of. This is an autumn 2010 production. I noticed that Verdant is now selling a 2016 Xiao Jin Gua, which consists (supposedly) of both spring and autumn material. Seeing a new pressing of this production, I decided to re-taste the more aged version. Back then I really liked the storage on this, and I still like it now.

Around 10 steeps. I used a lot of leaf.
This tea was stored by the owner/presser and he sold all but ten of the melons to Verdant. He wanted ten for himself. This storage is what I would love for all my teas, that perfect humidity that pushes the tea a bit but still keeps that “dry storage” aspect lacking in mustiness. The tea brews brown in the early steeps, a color that takes many brews to fade back to a darker golden yellow. I also like the spiciness of this tea. I have tried this tea maybe three times now and I still like it. Apparently so do other folks because Verdant commissioned a new pressing in 2016. 

I cannot vouch for the new pressing because I have not tried it, and part of what I like about the melons I own is the storage so far. I am glad I bought two because I am certain I will drink up one within the next couple of years. Also I am glad I didn't need to spend an entire month's salary to get a drinker tea, but a low $38, and the new pressing is on sale. As always, when buying from Verdant just ignore the photos of anything except the actual tea cake. Their marketing is dodgy but the tea might be fine enough. 

2015 Autumn Bang Dong by Yunnan Sourcing via LiquidProust

This tea is from the Sheng Olympics box that LiquidProust put together. He aimed for depth in the box by including a 2012 version of this same production so that people can do deeper tasting. You get to try a younger version and a five year aged version. I wrote about the 2012 last month. I like the five year stored tea, seems to be aging along nicely. This newer tea is brewing past ten steeps for me, but it needs to rest after two steeps before it will give more. Like the autumn Xiao Jin Gua above, I taste that deeper spiciness. Autumn tea is a nice mild version of puerh that is growing on me, and the advice to try several years of a production more than once is sound advice indeed. The 2015 Bang Dong is a huge 400g cake of tea for $69, and the bargain of the three teas in this post. 

Some big leaves. Steeps nine and ten in one cup.
My teas in this post are all stored in a ten gallon vintage stoneware crock. They have remained fragrant in the crock without much additional moisture this winter, which I attribute to the milder and wetter year we have had. I air the crock about twice a week by lifting the lid. The crock is very full which helps keep the tea water content stable. I rotate the teas a few times a month mainly when I am looking for something so the cakes get naturally shuffled. 

I hope people will write about puerh teas they buy with at least some reservation in judgment until they have owned the teas for a time. I see a lot of flip flopping judgments going on. Deeper notes in puerh change over time, and I want to see writers noting these changes without needing to say “I don’t like the tea” fresh off the steamer, when you have no idea what it will taste like in a few months. Keep in mind other people are reading your notes. If you are flip flopping on your judgments, you either cannot discern leaf quality or you are not aware that sheng tea changes, and changes yet again. I believe that we can firmly judge the quality of the leaf, processing and storage of teas. But the flavor notes are ever-changing and on-going, and judgment of the brew itself is expected to evolve. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

2014 Hekai Ripe and 2013 Xigui Raw

This 2014 Hekai Ripe is one of those “what the h***?” teas I found in my stash recently, and then tracked down where I bought it from. I bought this cake from puerhshop.com during a period of insanity last year when I needed more ripe teas to store for my sister. I like Hekai tea in raw form, and hoped this cake might be as nice.

Puerhshop is one of those somewhat guilty shopping sites for me. Located in Troy, Michigan, the online tea store focuses on low markup, no-frills and mostly budget puerh teas. Given the location, you can expect the collection is kept in dry storage, however you can find plenty of humid teas on the site, as well as newer Menghai teas. Here you are getting the traditional “factory” experience teas. In a sense, the inventory is a bit like a Taobao or Aliexpress shopping experience without the shipping hassles. The downside for me is I can easily spend a lot of money very fast and indeed I have spent quite a bit both times I have placed an order. But I got a lot of teas for that money, all in the drinker category.

Puerhshop uses some sort of testing kit to test for pesticides on their teas. There is no way a single test kit can identify all the possible pesticides in teas because pesticides can drift over from other crops. So the kit probably identifies some of the major pesticides, but I do not view this as a guarantee you are getting “organic” tea. With factory teas, usually you are not getting organic, and with puerh, organic is not necessarily better tea. But collectors and drinkers who buy factory teas usually have a good idea of what they are buying and prefer the taste of recipe teas.

This ripe tea made by Yunnan Shunda Tea Co. and is supposedly is single-origin and premium smaller leaves, such as you might find in a Phoenix shou blend. The cake I got looks better in person than the photos on the website. I thought the tea might be a bargain because of the gram weight, a 400g cake. The extra grams are in the thickness rather than width, so the cake is the same width as a 357g. The $32.99 price is therefore $0.08 per gram.

I went heavy and brewed 15g in about 150ml of water using a Jian Shui teapot. I definitely recommend using a dark clay teapot dedicated to shou or heicha for this tea, such as Yixing or Jian Shui that holds heat and tempers heavy puerhs. The tea is heavily fermented. I noted a heavy fermentation smell to the leaves, and a dirt/soil smell. I rinsed the tea three tea times which got rid of most of the soil and fermentation odors. A cold rinse prior to the hot rinses might help speed the clearing without losing brew, and I will try that next time.

Four steep after three rinses
The tea brews up dark, and very thick with the parameters I used. The liquor is brown with a bit of a red ring, and the clarity is hard to see until later steeps. I should have gone lighter on the leafing to get a less heavy brew, but I like my tea heavy. In general I either brew shou very thick like this, or I use a pinch of leaves and grandpa my shou in an Yixing mug which will also produce a dark brew because the leaves stay in the mug.

The drop behind the fish dried thick like blood.
This tea really reminds me of white2tea’s White Tuo from a couple of years ago, long sold out now. The White Tuo had the same dirt/soil and required months of airing out before brewing, but that tea was also much older than this 2014 vintage, so the fermentation flavor had departed from the tuo. This one has something of an old sock odor, probably not the best fermentation. 

Probably best to read the Chinese and skip the English if you can.
At the same time, the tea is very powerful and I had a bile reaction (white stools) probably from overleafing. The reaction was two days in a row while drinking the tea and departed when I stopped. The tea had a lot left to go. A risky and medicinal strength shou.

Heavy fermentation.
2013 Xigui from Teavivre

Teavivre wanted to send me some puerh samples. I don’t get many vendors asking to send me samples. The few vendors who try offer teas I do not drink, and the vendors clearly have not read or looked at my blog. But this vendor offered puerh so I said okay. The initial offer included a stuffed mandarin which I cannot have so I asked if they could substitute their Hekai or possibly the Xigui instead from their catalog. I got both.

2013 Xigui sample from Teavivre
I used to buy non-puerh tea from Teavivre, but then stopped buying tea from them for two reasons. One was that for awhile their website had a hack and several Steepster people lost money on credit cards. The last time I attempted to purchase nearly two years ago my browser refused to complete the transfer to Paypal, claiming a malicious third party intercept. I also found a pubic hair in one of the puerh samples. I find hair all the time in puerh, but I draw the line at pubic hair. Not that the company has any control over such things, yet the experience left an impression. I know people order all the time from Teavivre so maybe the Paypal issue got fixed. In any case, if you order from them make sure to order via Paypal.

A nice sample chunk
Many people are interested in Xigui tea because the prices for this area have skyrocketed over the past couple of years. Puerh heads have speculated that white2tea continues to offer some form of premium Xigui ever since the 2014 Autumn Apple Scruffs which I still regret not buying. Teavivre sells a 357g cake for $90. The tea has been in their catalog for a few years, and some buyers have posted short reviews. I brewed up the entire sample of 8g. I cannot recommend their suggested 3-5 minute brew time, a gong fu brew suffices.

The 2013 Xigui has some suffering from sample packing, in that the brew seems a bit dry and muted. I don’t have any idea how long ago the tea sample was packed. I am not a fan of pre-packaged samples as very often the teas can be packed years ago, not the same as a sample freshly chipped from a cake. The tea seems much younger than four years old with no evidence of real aging.

Window shot on a rare sunny day in winter
I liked the floral aroma in the cup after the first three brews or so. The tea took awhile to open up and present with some thickness, which is better than getting all the thickness in early steeps. The leaves are small and broke down a little with boiling water in a porcelain teapot after nine steeps, which is a shame because the tea clearly had more to go. I would like to try the tea right from the cake. 

Not much aging here.
The price is fairly good and the tea has a Lincang profile, which is about all I can say about whether or not it is Xigui. The tea gave me some burps and a bit of a tea drunk. I wouldn’t mind trying a full cake, but the tea falls in that nether middle region of drinker tea. The price might be too high for some, but not considering the size of the cake, yet the price is higher than the Xigui tea ball I bought last year. Again, this is another tea to try at your own risk. I cannot say whether you will like it or whether it is a good buy.

Lately I am a creature of extremes with puerh. Sometimes I drink really cheap drinkers or I drink really great tea. That middle area of “okay” tea is the tricky nether zone for me. Some folks stay firmly in the cheap tea zone, or maybe in the mid-tier area of drinker tea and are content. I want to pony up the cash for tea I cannot live without, and anything less than that I will go cheap. The middle zone still leaves me scratching my head. Tea is subjective indeed and puerh is every man and woman for themselves. Unless you have $1k to spend.