; Cwyn's Death By Tea: June 2017 ;

Sunday, June 25, 2017

How can I afford this hobby? Puerh teas on a budget.

The most common question I get as a puerh tea writer is “did you really drink that?” The answer is, yes I did. The second most common question I get as a tea writer is “how can I afford to buy good puerh tea?” Mostly this second question comes from young people who are in some stage of schooling. These are young people of intelligence, sensibility and very good tea aesthetics who quickly realize their taste buds have outgrown their wallet. These same qualities apply to people who are older and perhaps have young children, a potential spouse or goals like buying a house that preclude spending lots of money on tea. They realize the truth of tea drinking, which is that once you start, your taste develops and the tea that made you happy last year does not satisfy any longer. It is true that the more you drink tea, the more you start to appreciate better and better tea.

First, a few facts. The people who buy and drink premium and super premium puerh teas are mostly, from what I can tell, over forty years old, many over fifty years old. These people are at the top of their professional earnings, their kids are grown, retirement fully funded, and of course their housing is covered. Sure, there are younger buyers with excellent salaries who might buy premium tea. But many younger people I know with good salaries are sensible, and they would rather put their money into that house fund, or pay off student loans or start a retirement savings instead of sinking that salary into super expensive tea. They don’t need to drink super premium tea because very tasty and cheaper alternatives are available.

Next fact: if you are a young person, time is mostly on your side. You can buy a very inexpensive factory tea now and hope to arrive at the day when that tea ages out. Not all factory teas are bad and anyone who says they are bad isn’t holding old tea. Young people can play the long game with puerh tea, and should.

A third fact: puerh tea isn’t a beverage you need to drink every day. If you are a young person, a good session once or twice a week is not only realistic, but better for the health. Other days of the week may consist of black/red tea, oolong and herbal tonic teas. When children are in your future, you need a varied diet to keep in good shape to bear and subsequently chase after those young children when they run into the street. I was in top physical condition when I had my son, and I am exhausted now. In any case, even if your stomach is all you need to care for, then all the more reason to drink a variety of teas and keep your puerh sessions for the weekend. In this way, if you can only afford a little fine tea, drink it on your days off when you have time to appreciate it, as opposed to running off to work.

The good news is that by drinking puerh once a week, at 5g a session, a single 250g cake will mostly get you through a year. A single 357g beeng will last even longer. A sensible buying strategy is one factory cake a year to put away for the long term, and then one reasonably priced drinker tea for the current year. Most puerh vendors carry long haul puerh teas, as well as decent drinker teas.

For long haul teas, look for pungent and highly bitter teas such as 7542 recipe teas, or teas that tell you in the description that they are bitter or meant for aging. For drinker teas, expect to spend a little more. If new, green puerh is not to your liking, then look for semi-aged tea or traditionally stored wetter tea. Even better, look for a decent drinker in the $20-50 range and spend another $20-40 on black teas or darker oolong teas.

You know what? There is nothing wrong with tea bags. Yeah, yeah factory fannings and all that, but people all over the world drink them every day. I drink tea bags too. I start my day with a tea bag and milk because I need to swallow harsh pills. Why should I waste good tea washing down meds when I can save that good tea for later, more pleasant hours of the day? Those pills affect the palate at the back of my mouth and in my stomach too for some hours. I want to get rid of those pills digestively, and save my palate for teas that deserve my aesthetic senses.

Don’t tell me you can’t afford tea bags, because anyone with a SNAP card can buy tea bags at the grocery store and look better at the checkout than the people buying sugared soda, about whom the newspapers are always complaining. Most tea bags in my opinion are fine, just never buy Uncle Lee’s at Walmart or anywhere else. Even better, most groceries carry gunpowder tea for about $5 a box if you need a step up. Nothing wrong with English Breakfast bags too. Student life is about living on a budget and let's face it, tea is something to skimp on now to build more money for later.

The $50 challenge.

People still complain about tea prices even when they can afford to buy. It's always fashionable to rant about the prices of tea and this is true every year. Really, to fit in well with tea social circles, developing a rant-type of vocabulary is a necessity. A rant on tea prices will instantly draw an audience. "If Bingdao isn't bad enough already to acquire, now they are starting in on Mengku. What on earth will be next?" Add some exasperation in your tone. Everyone will nod in agreement and add their favorite epithet before getting down the real business of what to buy. You will go home feeling completely justified in paying less even if your wallet is the reality.

I will look at my favorite puerh vendors and see what I can get for about $50 that will make me happy. Keep in mind I will buy tea bags during the year too.

Yunnan Sourcing

2012 Impression Raw Tea $29, or $26.10 on sale now (long haul tea).

2012 Silver Needle (processed as puerh, not as silver needle white) $11, or $9.90 on sale now.

Or any of the Wuyi oolong teas $7-11.

Honestly, if I have only $30 I can make do with the 2002 HLH and Drunk on Red. Next semester I can buy a long haul tea and another black tea. I am not forgetting YS also sends a sample in the box. I can look at Yunnan Sourcing all day long coming up with $50 combinations that are truly enticing for me.


2016 Prolaxicorvatin $32 (long haul tea)

2016 Daily Drinker $19

Don’t have $50 to spend plus shipping? Then I’d buy the 2017 Nightlife white tea for $35 and call it a day. Remember you get a nice sample too in your box.


Take your pick.

2005 Nannuoshan TF Menghai Raw $39 (long term)

2008 Yong Pin Hao Yiwu Zhen Shan Spring Raw brick $25

2012 Xiaguan FT Flame Mushroom Raw $14 (long term)

2010 Wuzhou TF Large Leaves 05307 Liubao 1000g $30. That’s right, impress your roommates with 1 kilo drinker tea, buy this and the Mushroom and you’ve spent only $44! Seven years of age on this Liubao, air it out and should be good. Won’t need tea bags. Wash out a used large popcorn tin to keep the tea dry and protected.

2016 Chawangshop Hekai $38 (my personal favorite, but for older people who need what it does.)

I can shop at Chawangshop all night long looking for $50 combos. What I want is the $50 Manzhuan cha gao paste. Yes. I do.

Bitterleaf Teas

2016 Year of the Monkey Spring Mengku Raw 357g $28.50 (long haul)

2016 Fall Maocha Party Mix Tasting Set $19 (for the dorm)

Beautiful Taiwan Teas

This US-based shop is a good choice if you want to save on shipping.

2010 Mengku Raw 357g $29 (long haul)

Also pick up a sample of one of their 1990s aged puerh teas, $5-10 each.

Berylleb King Tea, eBay

I’m not a snob. On Berylleb, just expect what you pay is going to be the quality.

2013 Xiaguan Gold ribbon Raw $11.99 with free shipping (long haul). You can’t kill this tea. I’ve tried.

2014 Gu Se Dr. Pu’er Bulang Ancient Tree Ripe $29.99. Ignore the description. But Dr. Pu’er makes an all right daily drinker fully fermented shou.


During your student years is a great time to build a palate drinking budget teas and saving money for the wonderful adventures you plan to have in your life after school. Along the way you can pick up teas for storage. You probably noticed I recommended very bitter long haul teas. These teas can survive in a plastic bag in your dorm for five years with no problem. Think of it as a dowry for the future.

When you get to better housing, you can think about buying a crock. Or, you can keep your eyes open for broken mini fridges while in college that you can get for free to start a pumidor later. Just take that fridge back to your parents’ garage and promise them you will pick it up. No doubt any parent will feel proud at their child for making concrete plans to settle down. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

2004 CNNP Yiwu Arbor Brick Royal Tea New York

While at the World Tea Expo, I tried to scout out everything puerh and confined my activities to products and companies of interest to the readers of this blog. This means I turned down many opportunities to try some fabulous teas: green teas, black teas, senchas and so on. I realized that my press invitation from the Expo is a privilege, and also I did not want to waste the time of vendors who need to make industry contacts lucrative for them. When I got flagged down with samples, I tasted politely and then hastened a quick exit to make room for more appropriate customers.

Royal Tea New York is a wholesale importer and retail supplier of teas with a serious puerh underbelly. I introduced myself to Ravi Kroesen who politely mentioned he reads this blog. Royal Tea New York primarily operates out of New Jersey which is a very traditional New York story. But this company sources and presses three puerh beeng productions per year along with a wide variety of other teas. I have a feeling that Mr. Kroesen handles the puerh side of the business, given his high enthusiasm for puerh tea. In fact, as soon as Oolong Owl and I started asking about the puerh teas, he got out the “under the counter” good stuff likely from his personal collection. Ravi said he attended a tea fair in China last year and managed to score a few cakes himself from under the counter of other vendors. He cites Henry Trading Co. as an example of a favorite source for finding aged, traditionally stored puerh teas.

RTNY serving 8582 at the World Tea Expo
Ravi treated us to a full session of a vintage 8582, which showed off some excellent storage, dry with that “old book” flavor. This is probably the equivalent of a fine cognac to people who drink spirits. We enjoyed at least seven steepings of the storage until the tea revealed itself with a mead-like honey. I tried to tell people stopping by that Ravi was pouring a very fine tea, but most people appeared content to just browse, oblivious to the fact that Royal Tea New York was serving up probably one of the finest and most expensive teas in the entire Expo. I can visualize in another ten years a booth like RTNY will be packed with people who know exactly what they are drinking, but as yet puerh still remains a mystery even within the larger tea industry. While that benefits those of us who love puerh, we must know our days under the radar are numbered.

Sample from the World Tea Expo booth
I received a sample of a 2004 CNNP Yiwu Arbor brick tea to take home. RTNY presses 100g cakes geared to small retailers and tea shops with customers new to tea. Last year’s pressings included a Bulang, a Nannuo and an Ai Lao. Ravi explained the company hopes to expand on these offerings in the future, and I may get some samples later this year. I managed to get a nice photo of the brick sample which looks like a bakery brownie and good enough to eat.

Looks good enough for breakfast.
At home, I brewed up a chunk of the Yiwu tea which also exhibits mainly dry storage. The initial nose is some incense and minerals, and the tea brews up a nice light brown indicating it has turned just past the early days well into the teen years. The leaves are still green underneath the storage. I note the thickness of the brew and quick huigan which is characteristic of Yiwu teas, but the brick also has a strong Menghai base which pushes this tea into the powerhouse whiskey type of puerh I enjoy from tuos and bricks of the early 2000s.

You know the type of whiskey puerh drunk I am talking about. Do you notice the moment when the normal protein/lipid/water on your eyeballs gets replaced by puerh tea? The hazy glaze of every day vision sharpens from 20/20 to a witcher-y amber 20/10. I not only smell the scents of the summer night air, I can see those scents hovering in vapor trails. The ideal state of a puerh tea body is when all fluids become puerh. Saliva, replaced by tea. Perspiration, replaced by tea. Gall bladder juices, replaced by tea. Urine output, replaced by tea. If I drink long enough, I get bowel contents replaced by tea and that’s usually when the regret starts. In the meantime I type out wild hussy Mae West-at-the-saloon emails to people, a behavior I really must learn to control, before finally passing out. We all love our tea, for sure, but if yours does not make you bark like a dog for at least a half hour now and then, something is indeed missing.

Fourth steeping. Leaves are leathery and strong.
I giggle in hysterics at myself which surely Mr. B. out in the living room can hear. He is trying to stay on the booze wagon for his parole officer and I really must shut it so he doesn’t feel tempted. What am I saying, it’s not my fault he has a booze problem. No more than it’s my fault I have a tea problem. I try and keep my sessions confined to late night after he has gone up to his room, although I don’t know why I wait. He will fall off the wagon someday, just as soon as he sheds that parole officer. Mark my words I will be locking him out again by next year. Pass out time for old Cwyn, I am almost there and still in the tea happy zone with just one more cup to the 300 ml finish line.

Now it’s time for a puerh nerd moment, the likes of which you have not seen here before. Here we get a chance to take a look at professional puerh tea storage courtesy of Royal Tea New York. Take a look at these shelves and the mylar walls.

Puerh storage room, photo courtesy of Royal Tea New York.
If I didn’t know better, I’d think this a grow room. Well, it is a grow room in a way, but growing puerh enzymes and fungus and mold to produce teas like those I drank from Ravi.

Puerh teas in storage,
photo courtesy of Royal Tea New York
The ceiling of this room is built with air vents which can be opened in the summer to let in the New Jersey humidity. The room has a reverse osmosis filtration system for the humidifier.  

The humidifier of my dreams.
photo courtesy of Royal Tea New York
Some control teas are also stored in an ambient outdoor warehouse more subject to humidity fluctuations so a comparison can be made between this room’s storage and the warehouse with just temperature control. Royal Tea New York also plans to continue pressings with the single farmers they are buying from now in order to follow not only the storage, but year-to-year production comparisons.

Soup to nuts electrical set-up for you engineers.
Photo courtesy of Royal Tea New York.
But here is the best part I have saved for last, a generous sharing of sample data of humidity from the puerh room over the past twelve months!

Puerh storage room data over 12 months.
Courtesy of Royal Tea New York.
I puerh nerd ‘gasmed over this data for two days and in fact I have not replied yet to Ravi’s last email because oh my loord I’m still freaking over this fabulous chart. Plus I have a tea hangover from the ‘04 CNNP and that’s not my fault. You can really see what dry US storage looks like in data form. The humidity is clearly set for a 78% RH and then gets modified in the summer with the open ceiling vents, and in the winter the system struggles to keep the humidity high enough. I suspect that the variation could decrease and the winter months gain more humidity were the room completely filled with puerh tea which would hold humidity like a large sponge, releasing it more slowly.

The numerical data show the 100% value as the top attainable number, but I am uncertain if a calibration issue produces the over 100% data points, or if it is a software calculation. But oh my goodness, Royal Tea New York clearly shows their commitment to puerh and the storage issues too. This is well beyond the cigar vault storage of other retailers, and a serious equipment investment. Ravi says he checks the room daily, and enjoys the complex smells of tea, soil, tobacco and cane sugar that their puerh tea puts out in these conditions. I suppose one must make sure to close those vents when it rains, which is something I have to think about in the summer because a hard rain can cause my three season porch ceiling to leak a little.

I hope to taste more of Royal Tea New York’s puerh productions sometime this year. Those of you with small tea businesses might want to check out their website and consider their products for retail because right now we customers cannot make small orders from this import company. I want to thank Ravi Kroesen for sharing the photos and puerh room data for all of us, and for their commitment to bringing puerh tea stateside and investing in the proper storage facilities as well.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Mojun Fucha Fu Zhuan

Over the past week, I attended the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada. After reading OolongOwl’s travelogues of various expos in her blog over last few years, I decided to put this trip on my bucket list. When I received an offer of a press pass to the Expo from Aaron Kiel and investigated the costs, I allotted the remainder of my tax refund to cover the trip. One additional very attractive reason to go was for the weather. My climate has experienced unseasonable rain and humidity for some months now, and I seriously needed to air my skin and dry out my sinuses. Two days of Vegas weather and all of that cleared up for me. A day spent in the resort pool and riding the monorail before the Expo left me feeling fairly fabulous.

At the Tea Expo, I recognized OolongOwl right away standing at a puerh tea booth. All I had to do was observe the faces of everyone standing around trying the teas. An experienced puerh tea drunk is easy to spot amongst a crowd of hesitant puerh newbies. I couldn’t get close to the booth with the crowd, so I waited for her. She allowed me to tag along for some of the exhibits and I learned a great deal watching her at work. I met a number of other bloggers and learned that

1.      My blog is thoroughly tasteless and inappropriate.

2.      I lack business cards. Everyone seemed to want one, and it never occurred to me to get blogger business cards.

3.      I really, really like puerh and brick tea.

4.      The tea industry is impressive and full of friendly people who care about forming a community.

OolongOwl and I found a tea booth fairly early on that obsessed us for much of the remaining days at the Expo, Mojun Fucha tea, a Shaanxi-based company that researches and produces Fu Zhuan brick tea. When we spied the booth with a huge 1 kg brick chipped open to expose the golden flowers, we got enthused right away.

“Golden flowers Fu Brick!” Oh goodness, my mouth waters.

Two men at the booth lit up with surprised expressions.

“You know golden flowers? Americans do not know Fu brick.”

“Oh yes we do,” I said. “I own quite a bit of Fu brick tea, and we discuss vintages as well.”

I thought of our heicha discussion topics on Teachat. I tried to start a conversation about the difficulties of growing the flowers in a drier climate. But I had trouble conveying understanding with the language differences, though the Mojun Tea representatives were more than competent in English. The booth had 1 kg and 2 kg bricks of green Hubei style heicha, and boxes of tea bags with darker Anhua style tea.

2 kg Fu brick
OolongOwl and I kept our initial visit at this booth short and sampled a few small cups of dark Anhua style heicha. After all, we had a good acre of other tea vendors to cover. But just around the corner this tea hit me full on with a head tea stone. I started feeling oddly woozy like I’d smoked a joint. Strange for a heicha. This tea was my first of the day and I think Owl’s second tea sample. We got to drink a good amount of a vintage 8582 from another vendor I shall cover in another piece, but after this I had to admit I was thoroughly baked, and that crazy heicha from Mojun Tea was the reason. We both sat down just wondering over this tea. I passed out at the hotel after a bowl of soup.

The next day, I had to get to the bottom of this heicha we drank. I returned to the booth and told the reps I was willing to become their vendor and sell east of the Mississippi and I felt pretty sure that Owl could handle the west. But please gimme more to drink. This time I drank one of the green Hubei style teas. The rep introduced himself as Xiangdong Zhou.

“You and the other lady understand Fu brick,” he said. “Many people come by and taste our tea. They say ‘okay’ and ‘very nice’ but I feel they do not understand.”

I felt determined to drink as much tea as possible and not leave until I bought whatever we had yesterday. At first, Zhou did not want to sell me any tea, so I decided to get more information and asked about the displays at the booth showing maps and information about Xixian New Area in Shaanxi.

Booth display
“Xixian New Area?” I asked pointing at the maps posted on the back of the booth.

“Yes, Xixian New Area. We have new district at the top of the city. This is where the factory is, we have our research and cultural committee. You should visit our factory!”

You can check out this company's website at mojunfucha.com. 西咸新区金叶茯茶有限公司-西咸新区金叶茯茶有限公司. Zhou told me about the Fucha Park and the hopes that their company can reach out to western customers with Fu brick teas. He also introduced me to an American friend of his, a man who said he has known Zhou for sixteen years.

I managed to purchase a box of tea which Zhou said was the tea we had on day 1. I was surprised to find out this Anhua dark style tea was actually brewed from tea bags! He agreed to sell me a box for $50 but then also gave me an additional box of a different tea and a large cello bag full of samples

The kilo bricks retail for around $85 or so. The Hubei style tea of day 2 also produced a heavy stoner sensation that I began wonder if the Mojun Tea company has a mission to get the country tea drunk. The tea was brewed very lightly too, I didn’t feel I got a full taste of the brew despite the fact that I had dry mouth and munchies and needed to pass out again. Once back home I planned to brew the tea more to my preferred strength. Zhou is a delightful person and I really enjoyed meeting him and heck yeah, I would love to tour the factory.

Back at home, I start to read about Xixian New District. It is, of course, one of several economic projects in the area, but I see now how special it is. Can you imagine a Fucha Park dedicated to Fu tea culture? The website says “The Fu Tea Culture Industry Park has established a cultural industry chain centered on Fu tea, with tea production, research and development, experience and cultural shows, to drive the economic and tourism development in neighboring towns. The Fucha town is planned with low-density housing and business and a simple and unsophisticated style thanks to a blending of tea culture and Guanzhong folk and life culture in its construction.”

That sounds wonderful to me. I wanted to tell Zhou about my state of Wisconsin with our history of agricultural projects, and how we too develop economic research and factories in new areas of towns, even the small town where I live, and how we both live in areas that try to put the modern housing areas away from the older, cultural sections of town. His area has historical buildings and artifacts from centuries ago that are saved for cultural appreciation. My town too has kept the 150 year old area of town for the appreciation of tourists and city people, and built the newer housing and technical college further away. I could not say any of that because it would take too long to explain and is somewhat off track from the purpose of Zhou’s work at the Expo.

At home, when browsing the Mojun website, I found a download file with a small article on the tea. In it, if you click on the blue link for “Fu Brick” you go to Baidu, the Chinese wiki article for Fu brick tea.

We know that raw green/yellow tea material for Fu brick comes from Hubei and then the dark black tea component is from Anhua, Hunan or Fujian areas. The tea materials were historically shipped in bamboo baskets to Shaanxi for processing into Fu brick. The Hubei material historically made part of its journey via water transport through Wuhan. After that, bricks journeyed south to the Xiamen area for water transport westward.  

On Baidu, I read that during the Second Sino War after the Fall of Wuhan, all Hunan material was diverted over to Shaanxi and special efforts made to continue making brick tea by opening a People’s factory there. The tea must keep shipping even during a horrible time for the people who need this dietary component in the far west. So the tea then went west from Shaanxi instead of southward for sea shipping. After the war ended, the production was then handed back to Hunan, but as Zhou explained to me, the golden flowers germ did not grow as well on the bricks as it had in Shaanxi, which is partly what led to the creation of the Xixian New Area.

I put together a map to help me imagine the journey of the tea over the last century.

Journey by various types of tea.
I have shaded the Wuhan area to
show how the tea would have
crossed the war zone area
The Fall of Wuhan affected the movement of the raw material tea to Shaanxi, yet materials would make it there to the People’s factory, so Fu brick teas continued to be made away from the war areas. As I read these lines in Baidu, the Fall of Wuhan, and the Wuchang uprising flashed before me, the river floods where the yellow tea might have crossed. If my heart is like a house, the subfloor falls out from under me and I am free falling, floating.

The Baidu articles refer to the decisions to do everything possible to continue making brick tea as  “an act of love." This is indeed the best metaphor possible for everything that was done by the people of China, keeping this tea in production during that whole time of war. What a great effort this must have been with human lives as the cost on all ends from leaf to brick to tea, human lives in the making, and human lives on the line too if the tea was not made. And I visualize tracks in a mud road, the same tracks used by the nuns of my own order in Wuchang, the paths of the students and the tea. I have written all this, several years ago in my post about Sister Rosa teaching me of those years in the Wuhan area.

Now, I am a rational person, and not completely an idealist nor a historical romantic. I know the layers of great complexity around human events that we cannot wholly simplify. But when I see historical connections, I will not deny them. The fact is, Zhou’s profession today in the Shaanxi Xixian New Area rests on the history of war years in Wuhan, on pivotal decisions made then to divert tea materials to Shaanxi to the People’s factory there. Likewise, my profession as a teacher and a tea blogger today rests on the nuns of my order in Wuhan at that same time, from Sister Liu and Sister Chen, and Sister Leclare from Wuchang. I doubt either of us would have met attending a Tea Expo in 2017 without all this history.

Like I said, I don’t go looking for these connections but I cannot “unsee” them. My life has many of these. Indeed, what else can we do except to marvel? I stopped reading and researching Mojun tea at this point. I tried to do other, non-related tea reading but my subfloor is gone. The pictures of the war years in Wuhan and the stories of Sister Rosa just will not leave my mind. I see Zhou standing before me when he tracked me down elsewhere on the exhibit floor to give me yet another box of tea. I needed to think and cry a little for another day, in a good way, before resuming my research and tea drinking.

Anhua dark style Fucha, "Cherish Red" by Mojun Fucha
I purchased about 200g of brick teas in tea bag form but the ones I purchased are new, dated April 2017 and not up on their website yet. I could not justify buying a whole 1 kg or 2 kg brick when I already own 1 kg bricks of heicha at home. As I found at the Expo, the tea bags we were served there gave me the same tea stoned feeling at home. I did some experimenting with the parameters. First, I took one of the 3g bags of dark Anhua style heicha called “Cherish Red,” and tried the tea in a 100 ml Jian Shui teapot. I used the whole 100 ml capacity because this tea has strong effects on me.

The date shows this is a recent production.
This 3g/100 ml is nevertheless stronger than what we were served at the Expo for sampling. Here I can really taste the dominant flavors of red/black tea along with betel nut. The early steeps have a red wine nose and slightly plummy flavor. The tea is rather fine in the tea bag and some comes through my teapot into my strainer, but this mostly stops once the tea fully expands in the water. I got about eight flash steeps before the tea weakened. I noted a mineral taste contributed by the tea pot and then decided the tea pot and gong fu method are unnecessary for this tea after passing out again on my bed.

Gongfu style in Jian Shui
Next, I steeped the Cherish Red tea bag western style using a Kamjove tea pot with the filter top. The top actually has a super fine filter and I could empty the tea bag into it, but just decided not to bother and mostly use the Kamjove as a pitcher and brewed the tea in it. I used about 4 minutes of steep time and then took my huge pitcher of tea with me to play a video game. I enjoyed the relaxation this tea gives, more diluted, rather than passing out. The tea is also very good cold when steeped western style. In fact, it would make an interesting alcohol tea cocktail. We had some tea/wine cocktails at the Tea Expo served sangria style with fruit. I’d say double the tea drunk if you use these teas for cocktails.

"Blue Dancers," by Ed Martinez
Mid-century art on my floor of
the Westgate Resort, and the old
gold hallway wallpaper.
 Mostly I drink puerh that a real puerh fiend would enjoy, yet this dark Fu tea bag might appeal to people who prefer red/black tea, or who can’t stomach puerh and yet want some of the heady enjoyment that puerh tea brings. Many heicha teas can be a bit skanky with storage issues that must be aired out, or rough with sticks. This tea is clean enough for a spa crowd, in my opinion.

Western steeping in Kamjove brewer sans the lid.
Because of Mojun’s research as a government initiative to introduce a fine heicha product to western tea drinkers, I contacted a couple of western puerh vendors with the information to check out these teas and consider offering them for sale. While the company has a website and Taobao, ordering is much more accessible with western facing vendors. With any luck, we will see these products soon in a favorite online store.
I have more to cover from the Tea Expo in coming days

Sunday, June 4, 2017

1998 CNNP Green Stamp "Whatever 98"

Finally my tax refund shows up and like a horse wrangler after a dry, two week drive I head to the puerh bar and start buying rounds, with no intention on stopping until I fall the floor or lose it all in a hand of poker. First in from the mails is this CNNP “Whatever 1998” 357g beeng that I just had to have for some reason. I think what got me is the idea that Bitterleaf’s Jonah Snyder pried it out of the sticky fingers of a so-called “eccentric” collector in the Kunming area. I figure whatever it is that Bitterleaf dug up in Kunming, it will be dry at the very least. After that, nobody knows what this tea might be. We can always assume the worst and wait for any pleasant surprise.

Outer wrapper provided by Bitterleaf for protection.
Here is a scenario I can believe. Some puerh collector buys a few tongs of CNNP back in the day for a couple of dollars a cake. Fast forward nearly twenty years, an American guy shows up and offers $100 a cake, so maybe $700/tong. The collector sells a jian and suddenly has a cool fat wallet of nearly $3000 and laughs his way off to buy a nice used car, or tickets to Disney World. Haven’t we heard these stories before? So then Bitterleaf  turns around and sells for $200/beeng. But I don’t know what they paid the eccentric collector, I am just making up numbers.

Inside is the original wrapper, with a few welcome bug bites.
Not much of a clue to origins with this kind of wrapper.
Sometimes these teas got a "whatever" wrapper back in the day.
In short, this tea does not really line up with my experience of CNNP teas from the early ‘oughts. Plenty of Green Stamp teas around, but the others I have had are wet-stored, vastly different in character and much weaker than this tea. Overall it lacks the balance and smoothness that the recipe teas like 7542 would have at this point. On the plus side, the storage is dry and genuinely aged, the browning on this tea with absolutely no wet notes cannot be faked. The tea is more similar to late 1990s CNNP brick teas with the bitter start and sour middle, but the leaves are larger and more intact, suggesting a spring/summer mix, maybe more summer than spring and definitely Menghai origins.

I struggled with lighting to capture the leaves without the neifei looking
whiter than it actually is in person. The details are important, and
the neifei is a bit darker than this to the naked eye.
This is one powerful tea that requires wrangling and wrestling, and is definitely a cowboy tea, not one for the gentle teahouse types. The tea takes many brews to get to the actual leaves, and the tea has more strength than I’m used to from generic CNNPs. I spent a week drinking this tea, and did two sessions for 15+ steeps each, one in a porcelain gaiwan and one in clay. I don’t normally need to take many notes on a tea, simply because there isn’t a whole lot to write that I can’t keep in my head, but I took a lot of notes this time because I needed to, and because I feel certain most puerh drinkers would want more and the tea deserves some attention.

Dry Tea

Because the CNNP wrapper is thin and somewhat fragile, Bitterleaf Teas has added a heavy paper wrapper over the original and also a padded envelope packaging on top of all that. The CNNP wrapper shows a few bug bites, and the reverse side has no date stamp. The cake is uniformly brown with no odors except for perhaps a metallic smell, like a cold metal faucet, but not graphite as in wet teas. Leaves are on the larger side with some buds and a bit of huangpian. The mix has the occasional flavorless dark leaf, but not enough to concern me, and I scraped the dark leaves and found one that showed green in it, maybe just some old tea got added in to this cake.

A beenghole cannot hide what's in it.
The storage here is absolutely dry, but without loss due to dryness. No wet whatsoever here, and early steepings had a hint of florals. I really must congratulate Mr. Eccentric on his storage conditions; if it’s dry then you cannot do better than he has. One cannot fake this kind of brown and I can vouch for 14+ years on this tea. This is a very conservative estimate on my part of at least 2003, and I might believe older too. Again, the brown cannot be faked. Most CNNP teas you see still floating around are wet stored which makes dating very tough, and so this tea is a welcome cake that hides nothing.

Porcelain Session

First steep 8 grams/120ml porcelain gaiwan.

Leaves pry easily from cake, leaves on a chunk come apart with fingers. Smells of dry storage, wood, slight mushroom, some floral. No wet odors on my cake whatsoever. No medicine smells or flavors. Two rinses, and then taste/tossed first steep as it was a bit light.

Steeps 3-7 quite bitter, mouth coating type bitter, full yun in throat. On a Bitter scale of 1-10 with 10 being scalp-lifting, mouth punishing bitterness, such as Wilson’s 2008 Haiwan LBZ; white2tea’s New Amerykah more like 8-9, this CNNP tea is currently a 6 or so. This tea must have been undrinkable when young. These steeps 3-7 are still a little tough to drink with fairly bitter profile, and very mouth drying. The brew is orange with red brown starting, but plenty left to go. Viscosity is fairly decent, thick and oily going through the strainer. I really don’t see any char here in my strainer.

Around steep 10, storage off.
I poured an aroma cup on steep 3 and smelled nice floral nectar/honey lingering after I poured out the tea. The florals are not so noticeable in a drinking cup, I needed a tall narrow aroma cup to smell it at the bottom. Some humidity into this tea might open up the florals more, but too much might kill them too. A tiny bit of mushroom, but no Chinese medicine or incense, and no smokiness, just bitter wood, like peeling a sumac branch and chewing on the green wood beneath. Huigan is very slow, the bitterness seems to coat my mouth for more than an hour with hints of sweetness trying to come through.

Some qi after the first few cups, very light face melt and a bit in the spine but this isn’t a qi heavy tea. I personally do not feel this has terribly high caffeine either, maybe when younger but I hardly break a sweat and do not feel jittery myself. In fact, I could use a shot of caffeine because I decide to take a nap, not from the tea itself but because the tea isn’t keeping me awake.

Another note is dusty dirt, like a dirt road smell in early steepings and what seems like dusty dirt in the bottom of the cup. This comes through my very fine strainer and sinks to the bottom of the cup. I consider this an environmental addition I taste in long-stored teas. A person cannot put something away for fifteen years without it taking on at least some dusty dirt. Any tea in a closet will have a bit of this.

A bit of dusty dirt  at the bottom of early steeps that I poured into a tiny cup.
Steeps 7-10 after my nap, the bitterness is a bit less though still astringent, and I notice the dry storage sour in these steeps. With the bitterness fading and the storage not yet entirely off, my tongue has room to taste the sour dry ferment more. Leaves at steep 7 show some greener bits emerging. I get some stone fruit, but really nothing like hay, the tea has gone from hay to wood at this stage in its life.

Some of the leaves around steep 7. The leaves start off brown
and with continued steeping they show the green over time.
This tea is slow to open.
Some summer tea in here might also account for the bitterness and astringency. Leaves do not come apart with finger rubbing. At this point I decide I need to try this tea in clay to see how it performs. I feel tempted to toss the session at this point and start over in clay, but then having got through those early bitter and then sour steeps, I want to keep going and see what happens.

Steepings 10 and 11, I finally feel like I have the storage off, the bitterness is fading and the sour too, the reddish brew now turning more orange yellow. I get some incense, Chinese medicine but very faint. More spicy bass notes, peppery or grated woody spices

Day 3 on steep 12, what a shock and a surprise to resume the tea today and be greeted with a nectar honey of a cup. All that bitterness and the sour storage ferment punished me for two days just to get to this. I wouldn’t even recognize this tea had I not been drinking it all along. Maple syrup in oak, minerals like ice water melt. Right now I’m steeping about 30 seconds or a bit more simply to keep the thick viscosity as consistent as I can from steep to steep. Still rather drying in the mouth. Transferred the tea to a larger gaiwan as the leaves outgrew my 120 ml size.

This tea is like a bull in a ring that must be worn down through many steepings to finally get close to it. I realize how many tame and easy teas I’ve been drinking lately, mainly due to going easy with the stomach on medications. I have tried to stick to either gentle new teas or wetter stored teas, obviously reclining in a comfy, sleepy sofa with my tea sessions over the past few months. Now I am back on the hard bench with an order to sit up straight and stick out my knuckles. I went through some punishment in those early steepings and finally hit the pay day.

Most puerh teas will need 7-8 steepings just to get the storage off and begin to taste the actual tea. You really cannot judge cups 1, 2, 3 etc. of a semi-aged tea for much except for the storage and few early top notes. A puerh head will wait until after steep 8, and this tea is such a strong bitch it took 10 steeps to take off all those layers and get to the nectar beneath. But oh, she is so nice just now. She finally sits her arse down and lets me taste the innards. The brew is more yellow, the reddish orange is gone. Here’s where I’m finally down to the actual tea. Now ideally when this tea is completely aged, the early cups will have much more honey sweetness. The level of bitterness is what’s left to convert, and a good dose of humidity might move this along nicely.

I go fifteen steeps altogether and then I take a photo of the leaves. The leaves are plushy; they bounce in punishing boiling water like lily pads, without shredding in the waves from a gaiwan lid like insipid seaweed. I chewed the darker leaf bits to make sure they are not shou, they are flavorless and a bit like dried leather. Maybe some older tea got added.

Leaves at steep 15, quite a difference from the earlier photo above.
Some thick sticks amidst the leaves.
I am at about 40 seconds per steeping when I decide to start over with clay. The tea is now lighter and consistently sweet with not much else to taste. With a few longer steepings I could get 18-20 out of this tea. It might stretch for more brews down the line a few years when the remaining bitterness converts, but the main brews are done for now.

Clay Session

8g in 90s Yixing

Oh god, I’m starting over now. I really had to take that ibuprofen, should I dare put this tea in that medicated stomach? I need to beg the clay teapot for mercy. Need full-ish stomach as a buffer.

Rinsed twice, first seven steepings seem less bitter than the porcelain session, even though I am using the same parameters. The sourness is still there too, but muted somewhat. The downside to clay is I am missing the floral notes, the price to pay for muting of the more challenging flavors. I also had to deal with the Yixing clogging. Of course it’s normal to need a toothpick with a single-hole Yixing, but when dealing with a rather bitter tea I need to keep the steepings short, a problem when the spout clogs during a pour.

Yixing session, steep 6, a bit reddish early on that fades to yellow.
Overall the brew is much more balanced but mainly in tempering the bitterness and dry storage. I prefer the Yixing session purely for drinking purposes, but really if I am checking on the progress of a tea, I need the porcelain which will not hide anything, when clay adds a uniformity to the steepings across the session. However, the Yixing makes the tea more satisfying to drink, if a person wants to drink this tea now rather than waiting a few more years.

Photo from my Yixing session.
One of the old brown tea leaves found here and there in the mix.
They don't change much, and have a bit of a leather flavor when chewed.
Fifteen plus steepings is certainly respectable, and I figure that if this tea is treated correctly in storage, it may have even more to give someday.


The long session shows that although the tea starts out rather brown, beneath all that is still some green tea. Because of the dry but not overwhelmingly dry storage, I am very pleased with the condition of this tea. My hat is off to Mr. Eccentric Collector, he can have my phone number and Tindr link. This dry storage cannot be faked, and the tea has a semi-aged flavor. I wish the tea cost more in the $150 range, but this is a bit unfair when most CNNP teas available now are either wet stored or lack the longevity in the tea pot. I cannot blame Bitterleaf for recognizing they have a find here for those drinkers who want some power in an aged tea and drier storage too.

Now that the tea is in my hands, I plan to give it the summer’s heat and humidity here. When the summer is over, I will wrap the tea in plastic for the dry winter. I do not use plastic with any of my teas, save one cake which is wrapper-less and arrived in plastic, a cake I have saved intact with the plastic merely as an example.

I am concerned about retaining what remains of the top floral notes. The strong bitterness of the tea recommends it for a more humid climate, but the risk is losing those faint top notes in exchange for trying to push the bitterness along. The cake is worth the babysitting. Not many CNNP teas of this strength and dry storage left to buy these days. I think a name like "Whatever 98" is certainly appropriate because we just do not know much about the origins here. Yet I will look forward to tasting this again over the summer and again in the fall. What a pleasure this tea is!