; Cwyn's Death By Tea: March 2017 ;

Thursday, March 30, 2017

One for the Stomach

For the past week I have not consumed any puerh whatsoever. Unfortunately, my back went out and most of my time is spent recovering from one of the occasional bouts of pain from a former injury. Bad days do not come often, but when the back goes out I spend a week or two taking either aspirin or ibuprofen, or both, in as low a dose as I possibly can. The idea is to slowly reduce the inflammation over a period of weeks as the medicines build up a level in the blood. This is not a quick pain fix, but it works. One needs to be patient.

One also needs to be mindful of the stomach. Aspirin causes stomach bleeding, and thins the blood which can cause bleeding or easy bruising in other parts of the body, including the gums. I thank the gods for ibuprofen, a miracle pain reliever that came out while I was in college, and a life-changer for women’s menstrual pain. Yet this medicine too, along with naproxen sodium, now causes some stomach distress for me especially when taking generic forms. As a result, I am not drinking any puerh during this medicine course, but instead taking some roasted oolong and yancha teas.

2016 Hoplite Yancha by white2tea
Free shipping this weekend April 1-2! :P
For those new to puerh tea, a caution when drinking this beverage is in order. While I like to guzzle puerh as much as any other tea head, the truth is very green puerh can be harsh on the stomach. Aged puerh and shou puerh are easier to take, yet even these can still have green, un-aged tea. While some say twenty and thirty year old puerh are “safe,” I cannot say this will be the case for those with stomach issues.

Puerh is called the “whiskey of teas” for a reason, and not just because of the myriad of flavors. Whiskey is a hard beverage, and puerh is hard tea. It is no different than taking a shot of whiskey. Ask yourself, under what conditions will I take a shot of whiskey? Can I do so in the morning, or on an empty stomach? While a hard core drinker might, he cannot do so forever. Hard beverages can and will catch up with you. You pay the piper eventually somewhere in your body, and very often the stomach is first to complain.

I never take any form of puerh first thing in the morning. I have medications to take, and so I drink hongcha with milk to ease into the day. Generally I prefer my puerh in the evening, an hour after supper, just as I would any other shot or digestif. In fact, I think puerh is best taken an hour or so after the largest meal of the day, so that the stomach is protected. For some folks, any green puerh at all might not be digestible without distress. Yunnan broad leaf tea is that strong, people.

Fortunately, I do not have any problem drinking green puerh tea, although it is not the only form of tea I drink in a day, and I do not always drink puerh every day either. I would guzzle it all day long, but instead I drink other teas too, most of which I do not write about because I get email complaints when I do. My tea avatar certainly drinks puerh non-stop, but she is an avatar, after all, and not this writer in full reality. She is wishful thinking. She is the person at work all day wishing she could drink tea instead of doing her duty. For the sake of your stomach, creating a puerh avatar is helpful so she can go tea shopping instead of cooking dinner for the family.

When I starting drinking puerh years ago, I found some blogs to read which gave me real information and experience on the cautionary aspects of puerh tea, blogs such as Tea Closet, A Tea Addict’s JournalThe Half-Dipper and TeaDB. The authors of these blogs are honest about the stomach effects of puerh tea, both in general terms and very specifically about teas they cover. These authors have found a way to write honestly about puerh teas, even when they are drinking samples provided by others. If that tea bothered the stomach, you can be sure they will say so. They cover stomach effects quite clearly.

Some tea vendors will say that a person can drink a very fine quality puerh at any time in its life, whether green, or teenage, or highly aged. The idea is that perhaps Gushu tea is safe. On the other hand, harsh “factory” teas made from plantation leaf, younger trees, and/or those grown with agro-chemicals, are the teas responsible for stomach distress. I say that no generalization will apply to everyone about puerh tea, just as I will say no generalization applies to whiskey or any other alcoholic beverages. These are “at your risk” beverages every single time you swallow one. Just as you can find a ninety year old geezer surviving just fine on his whiskey and cigars, you can find another one dead of the same at fifty. Likewise, you can find an old fart like me drinking puerh tea, and a twenty year old whose stomach cannot take it at all. 

I recommend reading the above blogs from front to back. Most people don’t like to read much, or even search the internet for information on puerh. But if you take up puerh as a serious hobby, really you need to read and keep up on the reading as more information comes out. We are just learning more and more every year about how puerh tea ferments. Reading blogs from the beginning to today will require reading from the bottom of the pages on up, a tedious task, but this is worth doing. You will see those authors travel a journey with some wonderful teas, and also some gut-wrenching moments. In some cases, you will read years of gut-wrenching moments as the authors learned what teas they can drink and which ones they cannot.

My blog is about the worst one you can read, for my avatar is not in reality whatsoever. Even more blogs get started every year that mainly wax eloquently about wonderful teas with no dose of reality anywhere. I call my blog Tea Fluff, or Tea Filth. It is entertainment for puerh drinkers and me, but nothing more. You won’t find much tea education here. I worry that with puerh tea hitting a new mainstream hype, the cautionary tales long recorded on blogs will get lost in the excitement of new people taking up the hobby. Nowhere in the new articles on NPR and elsewhere do I see a realistic perspective on puerh tea. I can’t promise anything different myself, but I feel as though other authors such as those I cited above have done a good job. They continue to write honestly and informatively about puerh tea. Because of their work, somebody like me has the luxury of entertaining and drawing filthy tea cartoons as opposed to educating.

I think most mature tea drinkers drink a variety of teas. They know how to pair oolong with dessert, or hongcha with breakfast. They know how long to hold yancha and longjing, and how to detect a sour roast. They know how well heicha settles a heavy meal. All this is part of the tea drinking experience, and drinking widely amongst teas, not just puerh, is the best way for the body to enjoy tea. When a person takes medications, as I do, even more self-knowledge is required to continue enjoying tea and not wreck myself further in the process. The whole point of drinking tea is for enjoyment, and I want to continue to enjoy all of my teas as long as I can.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

On the Lake

On Pike Lake in northern Wisconsin where I grew up, nearly all of the houses were built high above the water. To reach the lake, you had to get down thirty or more feet of embankment covered with oak and birch trees, and numerous plants including poison ivy. Homeowners put in long flights of stairs made of wood or brick, or carved out winding dirt paths. A neighbor’s house, however, was the only home built right on the water, on a small peninsula that I can only describe as a bit of fairy land.

In this house dwelt a reclusive old timer somewhere in his seventies or eighties. Although the neighborhood, while still forest-y in most places, was largely residential, at one point this old timer small-farmed his property. To reach the road, he had to go up a quarter mile or so, and on the way he had forest on the right hand, and bits of open field on the left and up near his square brick garage which held an old car he drove once in awhile to the store. I surmised he must have farmed a bit because he sold part of his property to my father which included a “boathouse,” in actuality a small animal barn.

In the back of the barn was a dried out old chicken coop with tiered wood nesting areas, ancient brown straw and rusty chicken wire. The barn’s attic must have served as a hay mow, because the ceiling inside had a square opening with no ladder and the front of the attic had a large door into which farmers usually pitchfork up hay or straw. My guess is the farmer grew straw for his chickens and pitched it up into the mow, because although he had enough room for a cow or two, he would not have had sufficient pasture to support these. He must have stopped farming sometime in the 1940s or 1950s. My father used the small barn alternatively as a boathouse, tentatively as a party spot with an old wood bar, and a garden house when he put in a vegetable garden for a few years. Later on we made a playhouse there.

But the old man’s property is still with me now, because we played there so often. His very plain old farmhouse looked a bit like this.

Many an early 20th century farmhouse looked like this.
photo of Dane County 1910 house
by Joann M. Ringelstetter
Imagine this house on a small peninsula jutting out on the water surrounded by lake and forest. He had a small, rickety red dock on one side over the lily pads and another larger boat dock at the end of the peninsula where the water had a sandy bottom instead of muddy weeds. The grass around his house was a soft sort of grass that didn’t need mowing. And a small patch of what I can only call fairy grass always grew down by the water, with a moss edging at the start of the forest. This grass felt lovely on bare feet.

I don’t remember much about the old timer, except he used to visit the apple tree that he had put in, or my father did, right on the edge of the property. One day he brought up a stool and picked up fallen apples from the ground. My brother and I spotted him sitting under the apple tree. I was four or five years old and my brother three, perhaps. The old man cracked acorns from the red oak trees on my father’s property just below. He beckoned us over.

“These are good to eat,” he said, cracking open a few acorns.

We tried the acorns which were so bitter we ran, spitting them out and laughing. The old man laughed too, but continued to eat them himself. Later on when I broke open green acorns and pinched the nuts sometimes they broke apart into powder. I read about how people made flour from acorns back in the old days, and that idea made sense to me when remembering the old man eating from the oak trees.

“Oh that never happened,” my father said years later, when I told him about the old man feeding us acorns.

“It did too happen,” I insisted. He shook his head.

After all, I had tried nearly every plant possible that grew in the forest, right down to the stems of the water lilies. I even tried some poisonous plants, like the sumac, though I wasn’t stupid enough to eat the berries or the leaves. But sumac branches can be peeled and split open, the spongy core inside is pleasant to chew like gum. I know the acorn story is true because I could just as easily have tried eating the acorns on my own, and surely I would remember learning for myself how they taste. I didn’t need to make up a story about the old timer living in the house below us, feeding acorns to me and my brother.

But the real lure of his property was the truly fairy quality of the water, the grass and the forest. I imagine he worked out a rural living during the Depression and war years on his chickens, maybe a goat, acorns and berries. Ducks laid eggs in the woods near the water, and fish were easy to catch right from the shore, or on the ice in winter. With a bit of coffee, salt, flour and butter I bet that old man got by just fine with his eggs, some squirrels, duck, fish and maybe a deer or two. I remember water and sewer lines were put in all down his driveway when I was about seven or so, after the old timer died and a wealthy family from Madison bought his property to use as a summer house. I shudder to think what the old man did for sewer before that.

In winter, my brother and I used the long dirt ruts of the driveway as a sledding track. When the snow packed just right, we could sled all way down and around to the water, so fast we ended up well out onto the lake ice. A long walk back up and down again we flew. One magical winter the Madison family children visited their summer home, they were young adults and joined in on the sledding at night, turning on the outdoor lights, grabbing one of us little kids and jumping onto the sled. The family didn’t visit often.

So in summer time, the rest of the property was our playground. We found beds of moss covered with canopies of bushes that became imaginary houses. We found an old tree house in the woods, not much left except the sturdy platform and a few beams, maybe a deer stand rather than a playhouse. We went into the old man’s garage and looked at his car, and later the boat kept there by the Madison family. I don't remember what kind of car the old man had, but it was big and old, not like my dad's blue Chevy.

I dressed up in long dresses and ran barefoot over the soft grass, imagining I was a princess. The house faced the lake to the northwest, and only in summer could the sun reach the house. In the late summer afternoon, the sun shone golden on the peninsula and shimmered along the dock.

My brother pulled out fish after fish off the old man’s dock every time it rained. We lost our lures in the pine trees on the shore. Huge bull frogs lived in the lily pads around the peninsula, until we fished them all out for the legs my dad enjoyed frying up. Bullhead fish with stingers nested near shore and we caught them, for dad knew how to cook those too. Big sunfish and northern pike roamed the shoreline and huge snapping turtles, all of which we caught, cleaned and ate, sometimes in huge neighborhood turtle roast parties. I found wintergreen berries in winter and chewed the leaves. Yes, I am certain the old man got along just fine, back when he was the only one living on that land.

One early summer when I was a young teenager, I walked around the mossy woods above the old man’s house and saw asparagus, a huge patch of stalks eighteen inches tall and some even taller. I never saw asparagus there before. I know that asparagus can return year after year, but who planted it, and when? I ran back to the house and coaxed my father to come look. After some convincing, he walked out there and sure enough, we cut down a lot of asparagus that day. The stalks looked like magic staves coming up from the weedy green forest floor, wielded by the wizardly tall birch trees. I peeled their paper and cut plaque fungus for carving, wondering what else I could make from birch bark. I knew about Chippewa canoes, but only later seeing Russian birch bark basket art did I understand fully possibilities I could only intuit as a child.

The old man never invited us into his house, and we didn’t dare go close when we saw him about. But later on when playing near his house, long after it became a summer home, we noticed two small doors at ground level. We opened these, and they clearly held yard tools in a space under the house. But we were small enough to play in there, under the trellis-covered open spots beneath the house. One day, while playing under the house we found an old iron key. Indeed it was a key to the house. Finally we could see the inside of the house we only imagined before, the house on the fairy peninsula. The key opened one of the doors, and in we went.

To our surprise, the inside of the house had yellow, pine wood paneled walls, and plain tweed furniture, like maybe early 1960s small couches, chairs, lots of very basic places to sit. We saw a tiny kitchen and even tinier bedrooms. At this point the house was just an ordinary summer cabin, like so many others on lakes in Wisconsin at that time. The fancy new owners clearly hadn’t done much of anything to improve the place. It looked like the old man still lived there with an old coffee can and not much else. We didn’t take or touch anything, but we kept the key to the fairy house, which was just an ordinary wood farm house after all.

Yet the fairy peninsula was everything, still is everything, all of my religious vocation, the spiritual pursuits, the soft grasses and mosses and herbs, the chicken coop, the trees and the asparagus. Thinking of it brings me a timeless peace, for the land there never flooded and the house still stands even after more than a century. In my mind’s eye I still stand on the grass beneath the trees there in the summer sun during the moments of greatest duress, in moments of violence and human horror, bare feet on damp moss in a place of no fear. Often I have wondered what people do without this, though I suppose in a city children may find secret places of repose. I know people speak of Central Park this way, even in the middle of New York City.

In a moment’s flash of memory, I may stand near the two doors where the yard tools were, where we found the key and now I have a fresh, new puerh cake in my hand, still in the wrapper, still yet to be opened and known. I buy my tea with the same fairy promise, in the moment before using the key. I can hold the cake now open in the wrapper, me in my long dress, the old man up above with his acorns. The acorns and the house look like magic, but inside they are plain and bitter. The tea itself chids me for believing the wrapper, for getting lost in the trees and the white lilies. “Use the key,” it says, because now the chicken coop helps me more than the lake does.

I should find a photo of the place, I think to myself, for all that it meant to me, still my mind’s spot to lose myself. Looking around on the net, oh, I find one! The property was sold not long ago.

photo WoodburyRealtors property listing
The house has gained many sections, owners adding onto the original house, obscuring it. Now the house is huge, I suppose as large as most people want today. But it takes over the peninsula, dominates it, rather than merely sitting upon it, letting the bit of land be the nature’s miracle it is. Yet, vestiges of what I recall remain. I see the soft patch of ever green grass on the far left, as it always was, and the lily pads still growing on the lake. The trees still jut from the shore, and the forest is actually denser. Despite the haphazard additions to the house, obviously the owners see something of the magic by their choice of adding cathedral windows to better enjoy the lake views. The style doesn’t fit the plain old farm house, but a bit of church and castle in their choices reassures me that they feel what I felt. The previous inhabitants honor the forest magic in their own way, even if the overly large house tries to suck all of it out from the peninsula.

I feel certain now the wood paneling inside is long gone, and the interior matches the promises outdoors. The house probably has an amazing bath and fancy kitchen. Surely this is so, for the photo is from a real estate listing which says the property sold for $399,000. The old man probably never imagined this kind of money. Or maybe he knew all along, as we did, that what he held onto for so many years, so plain and ordinary for him, is someday worth so much more.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Raw and the Cooked: 2017 Puerh Predictions

Last year I enjoyed writing an article about puerh season predictions. Some of them came true. So this year I assembled a few more, just for the fun of speculating off the top of my head. After all, my tea hobby is mostly speculation, brewing and stewing anyway. 

2017 is a Rooster.

The other word doesn’t work in English without tittering unless you want to use the word beenghole or Bacon Log in the same sentence. We are barely a month out of Chinese New Year and the jokes are old already. I am loving 2018 Dog right about now.

The Trees are one year older.

This means adding 100 years in retail marketing. With evidence too, so we expect more photos of trees full of leaves no one is allowed to pick, and plenty of grandmas willing to swear on their betel leaf that those trees were around before the flood. Likewise, I am fairly certain my Dear Son will happily testify under oath that my tea collection is ten years older than it really is. He can probably find a Tea Sommelier to certify stamp a piece of paper for him for $50 or less, a small fee to pay to add thousands of dollars to the worth of my collection. Business is booming all around the tea industry, and I haven’t a thing to wear.

The Tea Harvest will Happen.

Yes, the forecast is optimistic we will have new tea this year.

The Great Shrinking gets dodgier.

Last year we started seeing more and more 100g and even smaller beengcha, with better material than in the past. I continue to see these small cakes as dodgy buys at best. While this small cake might be an opportunity to taste a higher quality of tea in a very few cases (and I mean few), it’s not a good size for future hoarding. To clarify, I’m not here to represent the sensible buyer and most readers of this blog know that by now.

We want as much good tea as possible. I see the 100g and smaller cake size as a trial size for people who are new to puerh and don’t know what they are getting into. Otherwise, why would I want a cake of maybe 12 sessions? If the tea is good, then I regret the small size and want more. A good eighth will flake off a cake in normal conditions anyway, especially when the wrapper gives out which we all know it will. If I want a sample, I will order a sample and it arrives in a bag.

Also, small cakes are clutter in the storage. Forget your nice stacks of 357s, the small ones fall all over in a messy way. I feel like buying a reliable 357g every year such as a good old boring Menghai is a better move in the long run than futzing with tiny cakes until you grow weary, and drink them up quickly just to be done with the tediousness of caring for that small size. Keep in mind tea vendors are thinking about selling tea, and this is why they make these small sizes. We buyers are storing, and for storage and long term relationships with our tea cakes, the bigger size wins for my investment.

Somebody will invent the Pumidor.

Old fridges and unplugged wine coolers are reaching a social peak, and yet anxiety abounds amongst tea heads huddled over hygrometers showing >1 SD variability in humidity levels. This situation is ripe for the next huckster to crowd fund the perfect puerh storage cabinet to bilk worried collectors out of the price of a premium tong. Barring that, we have an opening in the western puerh market for Florida homesteaders to rent a warehouse and start charging for long distance storage. This could unleash yet more market opportunities for things like chartered flights to visit their Pu and blocks of hotel rooms serving continental breakfast boba. I can’t wait.

Someone else will discover Bug Shit tea.

Yet another blog post waiting to happen and you know it’s inevitable. Funny how we never seem to see consistent reviews year after year by the same blogger of this season’s new BS tea, with nuances in flavor and such.

The term Boutique will lose all meaning.

So, what exactly is “boutique” nowadays? Does Chen Yuan Hao qualify as boutique? After all, it is a brand sourced by a single entity. For some, “boutique” means northern tea, or what gets called “oolong” tea which presumes that tea cakes made by small entities won’t age, even though none of the so-called “boutiques” have existed even ten years at this point. To others, “boutique” refers to (mostly) white people traveling to Yunnan to make tea cakes. Oddly too many of those making such a proclamation about aging have not even tried the teas fresh or aged.

I don’t know about you, but I see small buyers/producers of puerh tea coming and going from the retail scene, maybe more coming in than going out. But not enough time has elapsed anywhere to determine which teas will age into anything good. We are talking 10-20 years here, and that presumes such tea will even survive the storage years, either getting wrecked or drunk up by the owner well before any Judgment Day arrives. As for wrecking in storage, at this point I know several people storing tea longer than five years in the west, people who own both “boutique” and factory teas and I will bet money their tea survives quite nicely. I am not counting myself in that handful of people either. I plan to drink up or wreck mine. Anything left will be placed next to my urn in an unmarked location.

Despite all that, Social Media will break into all-out war over Factory vs. Boutique.

More than a few grumblings and rumblings are poking themselves into my blog comment section lately, and louder still around the forums. Right now, Factory is winning. I don’t know if factory tea is really and truly better or if this reflects a desire for aged tea, and we just don’t have any aged house tea from small boutique producers. I was surprised last year at a tea tasting when alongside some truly fine new teas, the group vote overwhelmingly chose an aged factory tea as the best one served that day. I do not know if this was simply a preference for aged tea over fresh. But the new teas were far and away super premium leaf, unspoiled by poor processing and yet most folks wanted the grungy old cake that had no real depth of character except for the fact that it was fifteen years old.

So in lacking other aged alternatives people buy older factory teas, paying huge mortgage-sized sums in a few cases, putting up with very wet storage and retired smoke. On some level, the flavors in older factory teas are what people are accustomed to. On the other hand, some older teas do pack a punch and I respect the stomach enough to know that aged teas are better to drink. I hope that we don’t always need to settle for dusty old brick simply because it’s aged, or pay out the child’s college fund merely to drink decent aged tea.

I also hope that as people get more heated in debates over tea preferences, we remember to respect the drink of our fellow men and women. In the remains of a long day we all need our tea, and punching someone’s enjoyment steals peace from the tea table. Disrupting the tea table is the bigger faux pas, and a huge rudeness in the end. The reality is in a moment of thirst we all will gladly drink that dusty old brick if it’s the only thing we have rather than a jasmine oolong, though I suspect many of us might quaff the oolong too. After all nobody is going back to coffee.
To wit, the “Taobao Tea Melee.”

Tea heads are not the only ones duking it out. I rejoiced to see this headline in translation on puer.cn. I envision Taobao store owners engaging in hand to hand combat with girls in candy colored swimsuits walking around with numbered placards for each round, and clowns flinging puerh discs like Frisbees to eager outstretched hands. It’s about time puerh tea gets more fun because really the whole scene is far too serious.

Actually, the article is referring to the quick buck made by Taobao sellers of fake old tea, mostly “wet warehouse” designed to jump-age the tea artificially. The author points out that people are fooled once, maybe twice, but eventually customers catch on to the game. He advocates for “small profit” tea selling of the genuine brand. I like that, but it’s a pipe dream. What I really glean from these articles and around the net is a continuing down trend of highly wet stored tea in the consumer palate. A bit of humidity is good for buyers in the west, but more than 3-5 years humid storage is a risky buy, whether on Taobao or anywhere else. Stick to dry unless you are certain you like overcooked tea.

Yunnan Sourcing will make a Jinggu cake.

In a tea world of such contention and climate change, some things in the puerh tea world are reassuringly reliable. As my post here goes to press, Yunnan Sourcing has announced they will be rolling out a new website format in the next few weeks. Apparently the old site is straining under an antiquated architecture. I glanced at the new site, and the look is quite different. I am sure the new site will be serviceable, but I will miss the reassuring feeling of tea shopping with the gold and red colors of the old site. I want to thank Scott Wilson for giving us so many wonderful years with the former site, and I look forward to testing the new one.

Well, now you have my predictions. Do you have any predictions for this year?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

On Drinking Shou, a 7581.

The winter is nearly over, and I realize I did not drink much shou this year. In part, my edema just is more noticeable and I find sheng gives me a bit of relief whilst shou seems to exacerbate the feeling of too much water in my arms and legs. Also I’ve had more than my share of gut bomb shous over the past year, teas that are likely to age out well because they are so strong, but not so wise to drink young. Yes, I do well in buying shou but not so well in waiting to drink them. All too easily I get entranced at the idea of well-aged shou, a delicious drink, and keep buying what I think will turn out well with some years on it. I delude myself that my son and sister will continue drinking my collection after I’m gone, even though I know my son will happily call a tea vendor and tell him to come get Mother’s tea.

But giving more thought to the issue behind avoiding shou, I remember now that I drank shou happily for years. In fact, I bought shou cakes and 7542 back in 2009 and dipped into my shou cakes regularly for years. So what happened? Suddenly I realize that I used to grandpa my shou, rather than gongfu brew. I never had a gut issue during those years. I also know that I tend to leaf heavy in the gaiwan, and probably my strong shou teas are just that, too strong for heavy leafing and probably tending toward medicinal strength. I admire strong sheng and shou puerh teas at what I consider to be medicinal strength because of my decades studying and using herbal tisanes as tonics and light medicines. In fact, these teas are stronger than so many tonic herbs, and as I am accustomed to caffeine and theanine, it is easy for me to take for granted how strong puerh teas really are.

So I find myself digging in the cupboard today to find a forgotten shou mug. After a couple of years drinking tea, I bought this Yixing mug specifically for shou. I liked the idea of not washing the mug, just a good rinse and wipe and all set to dry out for the next day. Also, shou stains regular mugs as you probably know. Confining my shou to one mug rather than muck up mugs others in the house wish to use is a good rationale to shop for tea ware.

Yixing tea mug with cover.
This Yixing mug is one I bought from Enjoying Tea for about $24, and isn’t the best Yixing as you can imagine. The clay is a bit muddy smelling at times, but is fine for heavy shou teas. Maybe the extra mud actually helps me digest the shou better. I need to remember how I used to brew shou, and try this old ritual again with a brick of 7581 shou.

Bricks like this are easy to find for about $10 with shipping incl.
I got this 250g 7581 brick over a year ago and cannot remember where, EBay or Aliexpress perhaps. I know I bought a couple of these and paid $9.99 and got free shipping. I know I was mentally ill at the time in my tea over-buying habits which is probably why memory is fuzzy on the details. In defense of my purchase, the 7581 brick is a favorite of many people. Our Steepster friend Yangchu once wrote something like “if you don’t like a 7581, them’s fightin’ words,” a rather…strong endorsement. Seems this tea is a staple in many puerh cupboards.

The bamboo is folded around the brick,
easy to put the tea back in and slide the ties on.
Back to recalling my old ritual. I chip off a bit of shou about the size of an American quarter coin and place it in a hand strainer. Then I rinse the tea in the strainer under cold water. This will remove any fishy or dusty dirt flavor without activating the tea and losing any brew. Then I dump the tea in the mug and do two boiling rinses and pour off the rinse into the strainer to catch any stray leaves. Sticks usually will float out readily and I can toss those. Then I fill the mug with boiling water and put the cover on.

Yes, yes this tea will make me lose tons of weight
lower my cholesterol and prevent diabetes,
as well as recover from hangovers and improve my sex life.
The first half of the mug is on the light side as the tea slowly releases itself. The second half gets sweeter and more densely flavored. This particular tea has a very sweet huigan, and also some astringency.

Rinse shou in cold water
using an ordinary kitchen strainer.
Then rinse with boiling water twice.
When about 1/3 of the brew remains, I refill the mug with boiling water and continue drinking. This 7581 has a nice chocolate smell. I usually go for yet another refill before discarding the leaves. My Yixing mug gets very hot to the touch, except for the handle, and nice for cold hands but not so much if you have small children around. This mug is good to keep at work. Nobody else is likely to borrow it.

Hey, it's not how we brew, but how much we enjoy.
I suppose if I return to drinking shou mostly by grandpa style, I will still need to assess a shou using a gaiwan. But whatever works for tea is all good, however we drink it. Bricks like this 7581 are very inexpensive and are not a huge commitment for someone just getting started with shou puerh. A regular ole coffee mug works just fine, no special equipment needed.