; Cwyn's Death By Tea: September 2017 ;

Friday, September 29, 2017


Hard to believe another year’s gone by, yet here I am back at the doctor’s office for the dreaded annual check-up. Yes, my blood pressure this year is just fine. I sailed through the usual exam questions, successfully avoiding an internal for yet another year and no, I really do not need the squished boobie test nor that third vial of blood draw because, guess what, I am protected from all that. Yes doctor I drink--and no, not that stuff, I drink Puerh Tea, that is puer not puerh remember, it is in my file look-it UP.

Check-up day is oppressively hot for late September, but I leave the hospital thirsty and fully justified in stopping at the grocery store to buy a nice cold lemonade, dutifully eschewing the latest gleaming bottles of things they call iced tea. Lordy, but they sure find ways to bottle and package what knowing people like me and you can make at home with a simple gaiwan, not really sure who actually buys those things, chilled tea with added god only knows what else in it. That which we ferment at home in crocks and pumidors, glass jars, shoe boxes, plastic bags, Rubbermaid tubs, back patios, rock caves and old socks are the Keys of the Kingdom, my friends.

Driving home took forever, I don’t know what-the-hell-farmer thinks it a good idea to clog the road with a huge tractor going 20 mph backing up cars on a rural road at rush hour. I barely get back in the door to sniff my tea enjoying the warm day on the porch when my Safelink obamafone rings. That’s the phone for old people with 50 free minutes a month, because otherwise no way am I gonna pay a smartphone plan with 2017 teas yet to buy. As long as my out of date browser IPad works, I am good. People can email rather than call. But I have a new doctor now instead of the one I had before for twenty-five years, and the new, younger one has a lot to learn, although I managed to get a full six months prescription of benzos out of her instead of the one month-only scripts I had to call the old doc for every frigging month. So now I can drink puerh all night long and not worry about waking up in time to call the clinic, and my obama minutes last forever. My new doctor just needs to learn to email instead of phoning.

Doctor says, we got your A1-C and you are three points into diabetes. Wut. Yes, you need to do something about that, maybe look at your diet and come back in a month. Those are not my test results, I reassure her. Sorry but I think they are, she says.

How can this be? The urine and blood samples I turn in consist mostly of tea. I make sure of that. We need our doctor appointments and tests to accurately reflect our situation. After I quit lying about all the tea, given how good my blood pressure is, I go in fully stoked on green pu because really, this is mostly why I need to pee anyway. I have confidence now. Yet according to said doctor (PA not MD this time) I must do a half/day self-examination of what can possibly go wrong here. We all know puerh tea completely prevents diabetes (source, pretty much anybody you ask and google it).

No worries, because I got it figured out. First of all, I have a different condition. I have what is called


This is what actors get paid to say on television and are famous for. I am not dumb, and I hear you people with your chit chat and fancy yakking and I lurk at all the sh*t on Face-Book and Red-It, yes I do sometimes. Everyone will tell me this so I might as well say it: it’s the tea and I am drinking the wrong tea. My tea is OOLONGED. It’s the fake puerh with the red around the leaves which turns the tea sweet and nice to drink because the sugars get brought out at the start and the crap doesn’t age. 

Tea like this:

And this:

Not proper puerh, like this:

For sure, yeah I been drinking from booteeks and not from the factories. If you are not finding sufficient numbers of hair, corn, seeds and cigarette butts in your beengs, and if your green tea is even remotely sweet and possible to swallow, you got the wrong puerh tea, friend. The tried and true claims about puerh tea really are not verified for the boutique puerhs, only the factory puerhs, fact, that chop and ashtray are therapeutic effects for real. The proof is you get Diabeetus. See? I listen.

But I am back at you because there is a huge difference between you and me. For now I got Diabeetus and not the real disease of real people, because I am drinking misty mountain, not licking ash tray like the rest of yas. Actually I drink both and I don’t pay much mind as to which is which not because I can’t, but because who the f**k cares??? Well apparently now me because I have to care and do something about Diabeetus and the only possible change I can see the need to make in my life is going from boutique to factory.

So, bottom line this changes my shopping list somewhat for this year. I will need to look for the chopped and dusty-musty rather than the fresh and floral. I am in the market for body hairs and bamboo and plastic strap chunks to boil into what will surely bring me health and longevity and the size 4 body to fit the clothes in my closet. If you don’t believe all this well I can send you my lab tests and we can have a real before and after type scenario next year. Because all this is gonna change once I focus on the true Puerh. Really.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

2016 Into the Mystic

white2tea usually sends a sample with a purchase
I received a sample of 2016 “Into the Mystic” from white2tea this past spring when I purchased 2016 We Go High, a tea I wanted to buy and subsequently wrote about. Over the summer I completely forgot about this sample, until last week when I found it amongst some tea ware on a shelf. The bag held a couple of small chunks and a lot of loose leaf which had gone a bit dry and lost much of its odor. I emptied the bag into a gaiwan and wiped the inner lid with a damp paper towel and let the moisture work its way into the tea for a week. The tea woke up nicely and rewarded me with a floral and fruity nose.

With this tea, white2tea continues a literary theme of mysticism which points to an oft-asked question about tea, and puerh especially. That is, does tea enhance meditation or mystical experiences? For me, I distinguish meditation from contemplation. Meditation is an exercise of observing the self and the breath and any sensation as a practice toward deepening ones attention to anything that might arise in the sitting state. The goal is a stripping of one’s senses. We have neuro-image brain scans of Buddhist monks in a meditation state. Areas of the brain active during meditation are in the back right side of the brain, completely separate from the logical reasoning left hemisphere, and divorced from awareness of bodily sensation. The whole point is to move away from logic and reasoning and sensory experiences such as aesthetic appreciation.

Even before modern neuro-imaging, ancient mystics like John of the Cross in 16th century had already discovered that union with the divine lies well apart from physical sensation, and he emphasized strongly the dulling of the senses in his poem Dark Night of the Soul: “In darkness and concealment, my house is now at rest…with his gentle hand he wounded my neck and caused all my senses to be suspended.” John repeats the phrase “house at rest,” quite often, meaning he was free of emotional situations or other necessary activity. Our Buddhist brothers found much in common with Carmelite and Cistercian monks in the 20th century in sharing meditation practices. Widespread agreement exists among contemplative monks about the nature of meditation, and people interested in such practice seek out experienced teachers.

I think that between centuries of practice around the world, and today’s modern brain images, we have a fairly good idea of what a human mystical experience is not. The real thing is not about taking any substance to influence the senses, but rather the opposite experience of emptiness and sensory rest. This explains why the logical reasoning of science is in one part of the brain, and mystical experiences occur in a different part of the brain. Although one may be aware of the other, they do not cross (apparently Einstein’s intact brain is said the contain a greater than normal amount of connective brain tissue, leading a theory that he had more access than most people between pure experience and logical reasoning). Alas, so many people place all their marbles in only one type of human experience and debunk the other, and this is just missing out, in my opinion. I can only think of how much more a fly sees than I can see, and how much more a dog smells to know that my poor senses are nowhere near to perceiving true reality, inasmuch as we need to agree a table is a table simply to get by in the basic rubrics of living.

Contemplation, on the other hand, is a focused attention of the senses on some aspect of the holy, of nature or of an experience with the goal of uplifting the senses. Contemplation goes well beyond flavor notes of “this tastes like corn” into a deeper understanding of how things grow, cells and sunshine, human labor, life etc. We think beyond mere appearances to the nature of how things come to be, how a tea arrives at our door. For this I apply my reasoning to appreciate a greater whole, this is a higher order thinking skill indeed, but thinking is contemplation and not mystical experience, an exercise and work rather than a state of rest.

Tea is a beverage, so I feel aesthetics are the proper approach, because I want to experience all the sensory pleasures a tea offers. Instead of resting my senses, I fully engage with them. If some want to use the word contemplation, I might offer that contemplation is what follows after an aesthetic moment, when I think about the tastes and body sensations I have had, when I reflect on what is going on with a tea experience. This is why I cannot agree with the notion that tea is somehow divine, or part of the goddess etc., because I distinguish aesthetic pleasures of tea drinking from the thinking activity of contemplation, as well as from mystical experience which has nothing whatsoever to do with sensation or thinking. One can drink tea with aesthetic and sensory pleasure and this suffices, at least for me. In fact, I want to experience tea with the fullest sensory pleasure possible.

Thus I take the name and wrapper design chosen by white2tea as a literary notion rather than a statement about the tea. While indeed the tea may convey various bodily sensations, and it does, and perhaps give me enough of a tea “high” to feel a pseudo moment of mystical indwelling, all this is sheer folly, or more positively, an aesthetic pleasure. I am not fooled that a tea high equals mystical experience, because a substance has acted upon me and my senses are engaged rather than at rest. Of course, I cannot speak for TwoDog, but he is a trained artist and works with various themes in blending and naming his teas, so at minimum I take the name of this tea in a literary manner rather than as a fact about the tea itself.

I brewed 11g of tea in just under 120g of water, but
used a larger pot to allow for expansion.
The beeng is stone-pressed, a format that white2tea appears to be getting away from lately in favor of heavier machine pressing. I went heavy with 11g in about 120 ml of water boiled in a clay kettle. Based on the wet leaf smell, I detect a blend of both southern and northern teas. The description in the catalogue is an “out there blend,” and this is fairly obvious. I notice bud fuzz in the first cup and the brew is very oily thick and grape-y smelling, surely they wouldn’t add in camellia taliensis…would they? Surely not.

Second steeping on a sunny Sunday.
My bamboo tea tables are all cracked,
hence the cutting board.
This thought brings up a sort of puerh collector paranoia about white2tea that enough of us are having these days, so I might as well just say it. I think the lack of description about the provenance of the tea leaves made a fine statement about the puerh market two years ago, and yes, we get it that the market is all lies. But nowadays, alas, the lack of information on white2tea’s puerh cakes really works against the teas rather than for them. The notion of trusting the vendor has limits, and while I do trust this vendor, any creeping in of doubt is not the fault of the customer. Even I am having a more difficult time than ever selecting a tea from the catalog, because I cannot tell if I am getting something similar to what I already own or a unique experience. Every year we find more places to spend tea dollars and let us face it, those teas with more information are more likely to get the money if any doubt creeps in. We need a bit more information, especially when collections grow larger and tea vendors have more and more choices with little to distinguish between them.

This is really why I did not buy 2016 Into the Mystic blind, and also why so many of us are sitting around waiting for somebody else to try the 2017 offerings before spending a lot of money with this vendor. We have to wait for “word of mouth,” and even the bloggers seem to be waiting lately. The only real way to know what you might get from white2tea is by making tea friends with more money to spend who buy the cakes or samples and they can hopefully tell you what they think. I am not ashamed to say white2tea is one of the best blenders with the finest leaf quality I can buy, and one of my favorite places to browse and shop. But it is getting tougher for me to figure out what to buy from one of my favorite vendors. An upside is the teas are usually better a year later, such as this tea probably is, so I can save up.  

A thick porcelain teapot holds heat well
and does not cost a fortune.
Celadon teapot by camelliasinensis.com
About 36 USD
I hear the naysayers though, and I am truly not among them. I think to appreciate the best factory teas, a puerh collector needs to try better leaf and better processing and white2tea is all about the aesthetics of the leaf. “Into the Mystic” is definitely a literary statement about leaf aesthetics. This tea is as cleanly processed as you can possibly find, an interesting blend spanning the whole of Yunnan province. The tea has a heavy body feel, and best not to have any other caffeine in your system when you drink this, for the tea is very strong. I appreciate the florals but also the tea’s bitterness, powerful stuff, no insipid watery third rate leaf. You need a strong constitution not merely because of the bitterness. The whole of the tea is equal to an effect of moonshine on the body. I am certain I can put this tea into my car’s gas tank and it would run.

My first steeping has some notes of oatmeal cookie, then subsequent steepings are fruity and floral with darker apricot notes, the blend of regions is hard to miss. This cake is likely to age the florals first, and fade these while the bitter leaves turn over a longer period to sweetness. I am tea stoned on the fourth steeping and walked off to try and find my cat outside, and left the tea in the teapot, my brain is gone.

Over an hour later as I am typing all this I still feel it. I notice a bit of sour aftertaste that I think is my fault for allowing the loose tea dry out in the bag for too many months. Samples in bags are never the best way to evaluate a tea compared to drinking from the cake, and normally I prefer to buy the entire cake. I understand the budgetary need to buy samples, but samples in a bag are not representative of the full beeng.

Astringency creeps in, but when I am tea high I just want more. I left my fifth cup to go cold while typing this post, and quaffing the tea fast the cup is bitter, punishingly bitter, a quality in its favor. I know for a fact in my gut and brain this tea is better now than it probably was a year ago when pressed. I really do not want to like this tea, or more accurately my wallet does not want to like an ouch $149/200g, but YES I like it, way too much and the script in my head gets highlighter pen on lines like “all the crap tea you have had lately old girl yes you have, many good teas out there for less money, but admit it, none of those can hold a candle to leaf like this.” I suppose I can remain happy with cheaper teas but it’s worth it to remind myself that better tea is out there and white2tea has it. One must drink the so-so stuff to appreciate good tea, and keep drinking that tuition before dropping money on the better teas.

Because this is one strong tea, enjoy the first 3-4 steepings and ease up. Maybe refrigerate the leaves for another day.. This is not an everyday drinker tea and frankly I do not feel many stomachs could or should drink Mystic very often. This is the bottle of expensive cognac you want to pour a small glass from on occasion and drink up the cake slowly. Save a good chunk of it for long term, years down the road.

Notice the large leaf at the top left of the photo,
it is not even unfurled yet after six steepings.
My photo of the leaves shows they did not even fully open, so I kept them until day two. Saving leaves will not work in warm and humid weather, but we have a crisp and dry autumn day and no worries for me the tea will turn to smelly mush. I kept the tea for three days and went on steeping, I increased steep time starting about steep eight, and well past ten the tea is still going, the bitterness less intense. The florals in the empty cup are nice to sniff.

Mystic is worth the money, damn my wallet. Fk what anything else thinks, fk u w2t a million thanks keep at it please-please-please and god bless.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

It ain't done yet...

People send me their trash and their treasures. I get boxes from people who really wanna get rid of tea less than ten years old. Hell, less than twenty years old! Then I will find another box in the mail with guess what, the same brand ten years older, just a small tiny chunk, because this person is sending me their treasure. From Dayi to Xiaguan, I get the gamut in the mail of teas one person rejects yet another peep somewhere else in the world has found the same teas age just beautifully.

A ten year old or younger tea is not aged, nowhere near done with its cycle of fermentation. Sheng puerh requires a very long time investment and patience to turn into something nice. How many samples and cakes have I received that are so young? The tea is “flat,” they say. Yet it is merely sleeping, in a stage or a stage-between-stages. I can wake it up quite readily with a little heat and humidity and it says “hello” to me. Or I get packages with a tuo someone says “I will never drink this, take it for your crocks,” and the next week I get a similar tiny tuo chunk from someone else who says “this is so good,” and it is a twenty year-plus aged tuo, darkened to a lovely chocolate color, a red ringed cup that fades to a smooth honey and I think what a good job this person did in choosing and in preserving what was probably a $2 investment. That person might happily take the reject tuos I got last week because they know good tea is all about the wait.

For all the focus we put on “drinking your teas,” we need to put an equal or greater focus on fermentation, on aging, on waiting it out. I am at the point now where I know I will not drink everything I own, and I am fine with that. I am aware that this tea is not just for me, somewhere down the line somebody else will drink this. As with owning a house, I am a temporary caretaker because this tea will endure long past my lifespan as an older person now. 

Quite honestly the fun I have with sheng puerh lately is more about the process of fermentation and aging than with drinking. As for drinking, I feel more like the guy checking the whiskey barrels with a hammer and tap, giving the brew a taste here and there to see how it is coming along. Perhaps for those of you who send me teas, your expectation is that I will drink them and yet the reality is I will merely taste them, because I cannot know what they will be in twenty more years. Everything you send is too young, minus the rare submission of a completely dead, soaked to the bone overly wet tea that is one step away from compost.

How can anyone know what a tea will be in twenty years when it is younger than ten? I am here to take the pressure off you. Everyone is so anxious about a process that will take two or three decades. If your tea is less than ten years old, you have no idea what will happen and yet the tea itself is far more resilient than you think. A little mold here, a little dry air there, a bit of everything will happen to each tea, even those in so-called ”ideal” conditions. Most of us will not see the final result of our teas, but then most of us will not get to see our great-grandchildren either, unless we started early with both endeavors. Both our teas and our grandchildren need to survive, that is the important thing. Anything we have done to ensure the survival of these, then we have done our job and the next gen needs to take over.

My grandfather died a very wealthy man who grew disgusted with his one remaining child and her children, and he left his fortune to a charity. One can say well, a man can do what he chooses with his wealth, and indeed he may. But would he change his mind now that he has great-grandchildren who have grown and graduated college and started lucrative careers? Of course they did this mainly with his seminal contribution and not much more, but really grandfather gave up too early on his efforts. It isn’t about the investment he might have made but rather the vote of confidence, the nod to endurance, the passing of the baton. Make plans for one’s children and one’s tea, in that order. Even if all you have is a plan and crossed fingers, we cannot know how everything will turn out, only that we can give the best possible start. Today’s “tuition” is tomorrow’s success.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

2017 Best Tea Books

Tea chatting online is a daunting activity, with puerh fanatics known to lurk for years before saying hello. You can avoid the awkwardness of speaking up about your favorite tuos with this clever guide. Before sticking yourself out there in the minefield, read this book for tips on sounding erudite about bricks while avoiding tea trolls. Full explanations of Simplified vs. Complicated Yun will appeal to beginners as well as experienced fanatics, as will the chat applications available on Ubuntu. Probably the most useful chapter is Google-ready tea phrases in a variety of languages, including apology texts in Japanese. 

Finally a breath of fresh air in the field of seemingly endless gender studies, this time focusing on tea from the male perspective. No doubt the chapter called Down Town Abbey which focuses on tea, politics and London men's clubs will result in at least one well-attended forum at this year's MLA conference. Sorry ladies, but you are sooo last decade. It's time to step aside and finally allow men their day on top of the tea world. Surely they have more to say.

This timely publication is a straightforward how-to from soup to nuts on pressing your own puerh without ever leaving your sofa. Contains necessary information like bulk mailing producers and disguising third party Lincang sources. The book has a 200 page chapter on designing your own wrappers and nei fei, and examples of date stamp fonts and holostrips that rival even Taetea's best fakers. Real or pretend, you can do it yourself and cut out the middleman. This book will pay for itself in no time once you start emailing friends and selling tea on Instagram like the other big guys do.

A typical tell-all confessional from the perspective of the child dealing with a parent's puerh hobby. You might need to skip past the whiny chapters on the author's therapy experience and 12-Step co-dependency groups. The book contains a surprisingly sensitive distinction between puerh collecting and actual hoarding, but also some rather alarming advice on selling beengs without mother noticing they are gone. I stopped drinking for one day after finishing this.

A software application does not really qualify as a book, but nobody really reads anymore and this app is so timely. The features are simply amazing. The app is a browser .EXT that reverts Yunnan Sourcing back to its classic design, so you don't need to bother with the new catalog format!

I like the Doom Cart feature. All I do is type in the cake I want and the app finds it with the current price and adds it to the Doom Cart with an ongoing price tally, and any applicable buyer points. Whenever I load my browser, my Cart automatically updates with price increases or discounts.

To your desktop you can add on optional credit card interest calculators, savings planners and current vouchers. I haven't tried the new Bitcoin wallet bots yet, these might out-date themselves rather quickly but they are a cool idea for earning free money to buy tea. This fully automated language translation app works with Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, GSA, FxiOS, Maxthon, CriOS, Mobile and SamsungBrowser.

Finding good tea books to review is a daunting task, and I hope you enjoyed this year's review because I might not have another for next year.