; Cwyn's Death By Tea: August 2017 ;

Monday, August 28, 2017

2007 Liming Golden Peacock Qi Zi

2007 Liming Factory "Golden Peacock Qi zi Bingcha"
Here is a tea I bought last spring. Back when I purchased the 2005 Yellow Mark from Yunnan Sourcing, I needed $7 more to qualify for free shipping, which amply justifies adding another $31 beeng to the order. The Liming factory located in the Menghai region is known as a plantation tea factory, and the reputation for quality tea declined somewhat among collectors after 2004, I suppose a rumor stemming from the overpicking in the years that followed. Yet I cannot help but wonder if such a rumor is premature, after all any tea produced over the past decade or so is still a young tea. Can we decide now and forever that a factory produces lesser quality tea? Maybe we need several decades to make such a determination.

This 2007 Golden Peacock refers to a tea which has more buds in it than usual. Back in the early 2000s, farmers had trouble selling their puerh leaves apart from just tea buds, they got paid only for the buds. The surface of the cake shows a generous sprinkling, though not so much on the underside, rather typical of a factory offering in a lower price range. Yet today a bud tea may price for more new, given all the puerh hype going on. The wrapper bears a blue 2007 date stamp on the back. Alas, just within the past few days the price of this tea increased on the US site to $34, and remains $32 on the China site. I was hoping Mr. Wilson would not notice the US site tea cost $1 less, but he caught it. The tea is still in the budget price range, however.

Nice clean storage.
The cake underwent nearly a decade in Guangdong storage which is good news for people who want a little moister aging, but the tea aired for three months in my possession has no storage odors and qualifies easily for Guangdong “dry” storage classification. The heat and humidity are just enough to loosen the edges of this machine-pressed cake and allow some tea to collect inside the wrapper. This is definitely one tough long-haul production, despite ten years in Guangdong storage the beeng still appears rather green to me. I keep my expectations low for a budget tea.

Surface shows lots of buds.
I brew 8g in 80-100 ml, mostly I collected up the loose leaves from the wrapper and pried a few loose leaves off the edge of the beeng. When you find a lot of loose tea in a beeng, sometimes it is best to just scoop all that out, dump the dust clean off the wrapper and re-wrap for storage. This tea makes a good sample for tasting but loose leaves will give off everything they have early on. Indeed I am rewarded with a hefty and bitter drink.

Underside not quite so pretty, but ok.
A Menghai production like this has the whiskey barrel profile, with strong bitterness, sour mash, aged oak barrel, caramel and a bit of incense. This profile is good for people who do not want any floral bizness in their puerh. We rest assured that we have a traditional Menghai beeng for our money, and rather clean with not much char. I see a bit of cloudiness from what appears to be bud fuzz small enough to go through my fine mesh strainer. One steeping removes all that to reveal a clean drink.

First steeping showing the storage color and clarity.
The storage shows a bit of turning with a red ring to the cup, so I know this tea is fermenting quite nicely. One cannot really drink this tea fully as it is in the middle of fermentation and tastes like half done whiskey mash but the oak barrel is already developing. I get a bit of tea qi behind the eyes and a relaxed body feeling, nothing very intense but I mostly taste and swallow maybe twice with each cup, just to see where the tea goes. Again, this is not really a drinker right now. I stopped at six steepings with the tea hardly opened up yet. The leaves show a long way to go before steeping out, but I am satisfied with the strength and the developing fermentation. Also, the brew thickened noticeably after the third steep.

Third steeping shows a nice clarity.
We are fortunate to find budget teas like this in the Yunnan Sourcing catalog, of course it is a product of the Liming tea factory and not a Yunnan Sourcing production. Thus we know nothing about any testing for pesticides, and I doubt Liming really tested anything. Yet I recall a couple of years ago white2tea’s Liming 7542 from the late 1990s, now that tea retailed for over $1100 a beeng and sold out too. Nobody who bought that tea needed to know more. The college student of today should snap this Liming up for the future and then can say “I bought this for 30-odd back in the day.” When a brand new Menghai 7542 costs $40 to import, we have a somewhat upside-down market in factory teas.

Lots of buds, and still fairly green.
Yes, the discussions go on about pesticides in plantation teas, mostly by people who surely rely on others for food production and are not yet out skinning their own muskrats. I always just think to myself well, some puerh heads with fully outfitted, survivalist tea storage caves are trying to scare off the new buyers because they want more for themselves. I guess I am firmly in this camp: more tea in the shop means more for me. After all, I have a dirt floor in-ground storage garage for when the world ends and I need a tea to drink on the way out.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Teabook Puerh

Over the past few weeks my puerh consumption fell off the grid as I went through a dietary elimination to discover a source of GI distress. This turned out to be a medication which recently went from exclusive patent to generic. I have been taking this medication for some years and so did not recognize it as a problem until the new pill lost the protective coating that is apparently exclusive to the original manufacturer. GI distress is tiring and a symptom of so many possible conditions, the only way to figure out the issue is through dietary elimination, including tea. After identifying the pill as the culprit and adjusting dosage issues, I added teas back to my diet.

Teabook is a fairly new company based in Washington State, similar to EverydayTeas in that both companies share a marketing philosophy of less expensive teas. I received a cake of their 2017 “Raw Puerh Lincang” unsolicited from the company, a 100g beeng sells for $10.95. At $0.11/g this is certainly a budget tea. Teabook also sells Denong teas, and a “limited selection” of pricey teas but these are separate categories on their website. I requested a sample of the pricier “Agarwood Ripe” tea, which was reviewed by LazyLiteratus last year. I paid for the shipping on the Agarwood sample.

The 100g 2017 Lincang by Teabook.
Before I discuss these two teas, I must mention that I received an odd marketing email last week from Teabook saying that all their teas are now “permanently 50% off.” I am not sure if this is true because the website is still showing regular prices for everything. The website contains slick marketing features,  messages like “someone from San Francisco just purchased this tea” and banners like “Free Denong mini ripe tuocha with purchase” along with a countdown time clock for the promotion. All these features are designed to get you to hurry up and buy. I do not know whether any of these marketing promotions are “for real,” so I will assume the tea price listed on the website is the price to pay. Okay, on to the teas..

The 2017 Lincang 100g cake is very basic, and the description is that the leaves are from “50-100 years old,” marketing speak for plantation farm tea. This sort of tea may be a good low-commitment introduction for someone new to puerh tea, or perhaps a daily drinker for folks on a budget.

Leaf mix contains larger leaves and a few buds.
I steeped 8g starting with 60ml water and increasing from there to 100 ml or so. The leaves show a mix from larger leaves to some buds. They are surprisingly strong to the finger rub test in early steeps. The company claims the tea will go 25 cups or so. This tea is very new, and brews up as green tea currently. It needs a year to tighten up and begin enzyme activity.

A 2017 tea like this is likely to still be "green" now.
For 11 cents a gram tea, not much complaint here, I find the typical floral Lincang profile with clean processing, but it remains to be seen if the tea will age. The tea has a sour flavor note at the moment. Perhaps this will work itself out over the next year. Teabook advises brewing the tea at 85-90C, but I used boiling temps to push the tea. I consumed about four steepings, the tea is too green and sour to continue on. I will try it again in a year and see if it changes.

Some fairly strong leaves here.
Teabook advises using a few leaves in their travel infuser, basically grandpa style. This is probably the best way to take this tea, a few leaves at a time. People who want to add some puerh to their life as “green tea” can do so with this easy and clean cake. But there is nothing special about 11 cents a gram tea, I do not expect special at a low price tag. Teabook carries a few more premium teas that might interest me more. I ordered the sample of the Agarwood Shou Puerh and explained to Teabook that many of the readers of this blog are looking for unique teas, not necessarily basic teas. Many readers already have their collections filled in with daily teas, and only open the wallet for something different. This tea certainly is unique, as agarwood teas are very difficult to find in the west.

A new experience, shou and agarwood.
Agarwood in essential oil form is known as “oud” or Oudh in Arabic. Also known as Aloeswood, agarwood is a sticky, resinous woody growth on trees of the genus Aquilaria, a growth produced similar to the way chaga mushrooms form on birch trees in Russia and Canada. Agarwood is used as a medicinal herb, and as a fragrance for incense and perfumery. Oud is a very masculine scent.

In the early 1980s, I bought a vial of essential oil of Oud mixed with genuine deer musk at a meditation center. This tiny vial cost me $20 then, a rather large sum for a tiny vial amongst other scents costing less than half as much. But the essential oil was powerful, and the vial dispensed only a very tiny brown drop at a time which I applied to pressure points, a single drop was enough to use around my body. Oud is one of my favorite scents ever, and I had that vial for at least twenty years, losing it to a leakage in the jewelry box during a move. I wore that oil so often, and never did I smell it on anyone else in my mostly patchouli-scented hippie neighborhood. After many years of wearing this oil, oud is a strong memory scent for me.

3g of this is a sufficient session. One must be
careful with very strong teas containing added herbs.
Today, genuine Oud is more expensive than gold, with agarwood succumbing to overharvesting and increasing scarcity. Agarwood takes a number of years to grow and needs those years to develop depth and potency. But people harvest it too early just as they do with ginseng and many other natural herbs because of the prices on the market. If you see Oud anywhere, chances are it is either synthetic or a very weak version of the real deal. My vial purchased long ago no doubt would now cost several hundred dollars at least. Oh, how I wish I had that vial back again! I know my vial would still be at least half full now except for that spillage.

Second steep, a plummy shou with oud fragrance.
The price for a 100g cake of agarwood puerh is a staggering $490, making this one of the most expensive puerh teas per gram at $4.90/g. So I wanted a bit of memory lane in Teabook’s Agarwood ripe puerh tea. I know I will recognize the scent, if it is really in the tea. The cake has tiny, rather crumbly ripe puerh leaves, because agarwood is small woody chips that will not stay in a pressed cake if the leaves are too large. My sample is 6g which is available for $24.95. One only needs 3g for a session in a 60-80 ml gaiwan or tiny teapot. Needless to say, a rinse is money down the drain.

The agarwood tends to escape the teapot
and float in the strainer.
Despite the crumbly tiny ripe leaves, the shou is a good quality wild growth tea. As you probably know, wild teas do not make for powerful, long duration shou, but the plummy, cherry flavor compliments the agarwood nicely. I smelled the agarwood at once in my clay teapot after pouring out my first cups and here I got my memory lane’s worth.

Agarwood consumed as an herb is a strong hypnotic, and the tea does not disappoint in this regard. Two cups and I felt the tea buzzing in my face and behind the eyes. The full experience is the scent of the wet leaves while experiencing the hypnotic effect, rather like sinsemilla marijuana. This is a lovely tea for an evening between two lovers, more sensual than wine. My memories take me back to those days of celibacy at the meditation center and the chime of a brass bowl on a pillow during our hours of sitting. Meditation is never dry or sterile, one should bring all the sensuality one has just as lovers do when together.

Dried leaves, the agarwood bits look like small wood chips.
The ripe puerh in the tea lasts for only about six steepings before giving out. One should boil the tea after this, because any woody herb needs to be boiled to extract the essential oil. If you prefer, you may wish to take a 6 gram sample purchase and steep in 80 proof or higher vodka or moonshine alcohol for at least six weeks, then decant and store in a dropper bottle to add to cocktails or other beverages.

Without a strainer, the agarwood floats to the top.
Easier to pour them back into the teapot this way.
With the $490 price tag, I think this is overpriced for a full cake. The sample is too, but more accessible. One can argue that the cost of the agarwood justifies the expense, but are we selling in the agarwood market or to tea people? Tea people do not especially care about the agarwood market, they are paying for merits in tea and we can find hypnotic tea for much less. The shou is nice, but not special nor aged nor durable. On the other hand, I can see myself springing for a sample. For $24.95 I get two sessions: one can have a 3g session split between two people, so about $12.50 for a romantic evening. A bottle of wine for such an occasion usually costs much more.

The Denong selection at Teabook is worth keeping an eye on for more offerings, and their travel tea infuser has had some good reviews in the past. We are seeing more small vendors dip into the puerh realm, and the story is usually the companies start out with a very basic offering and then try and source some higher end teas. With as much press as puerh has received in the “foodie” world over the past year, these companies are well positioned to take advantage of new adventurer customers in the US with lower shipping costs, minus the confusion of buying from Asia. This is great for new folks. Those of us looking more widely for teas around the world can thank these newer vendors who might catch on with new buyers, and keep them captive.