; Cwyn's Death By Tea: 2018 ;

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Sunday, June 3, 2018

2015 Quanjihao Manzhuan Cha Gao



2015 Quanjihao Manzuan Cha gao 


Cha gao paste is often viewed as the Nescafe or Sanka of puerh tea. Meant as a portable form of puerh, all you need is a bit of boiling water and you can have your puerh with no messy leaves to dispose of. Usually cha gao is rather inexpensive, and just as Nescafe is not really the same as fresh brewed coffee, cha gao too falls short of the real puerh session. Nevertheless, last year I spotted this 2015 Quanjihao (tea house) Manzhuan raw puerh paste in Chawangshop and grew fixated on acquiring some. Part of my fixation is due to this product’s entirely homemade origin.

How Cha Gao is made

Cha gao is a decoction of tea leaves and sticks which are boiled, and probably mashed and strained, before cooking down the entire decoction into a syrup. With most decoctions, one cooks leaves, roots or stems til soft, strains out the tea material and sets aside the cooking water. Then, mash the material with a wood or marble pestle until pulverized, boil again in new water and strain, adding the new water to the original pot. One can repeat the boiling/mashing process, but after mashing you get cloudy water, so for a nice clear liquid either do only one mashing or you need a method of straining like slow drip rather than simple cheesecloth.

All the cutting of bamboo pieces, folding, beautiful
Cha gao often comes cut into candy-shaped pieces in candy-like wrappers which suggests an industrial conveyor belt production. This 2015 Manzhuan paste, on the other hand, is made by one man, a tea shop owner in his 60s who started cooking in his kitchen back in the early 2000s, trying to learn how to make chagao. I like the homemade part, and I can relate.

When I was a kid, my family produced maple syrup in the spring. Either we did it ourselves or relatives made it. The sap runs in maple trees when the snow is melting and daytime temperatures get above freezing. A good maple year is when the snow melts slowly, and the frozen nights are crisp with clear skies. Maple sap is clear and very watery, if we get too much rain or the ground loses frost too fast, we get a very watery sap that produces syrup with less flavor, rather like a rain on puerh leaves during harvest produces a water-logged  beeng and weaker tea, and like rain before a ganja harvest produces weaker buds. Watery maple sap means cooking far longer to get that sap into a syrup consistency.

The block takes on texture from the bamboo.
Maple syrup requires a lot of sap just to get one nice bottle of syrup. Strictly speaking, maple syrup is not a decoction in the sense of mashing and boiling plant material, because the tree provides a clear liquid on its own. We get to skip the mashing. But the boiling down part is the same. We used huge 10 gallon pots burning on woodfire stoves for days. Every morning at 5 a.m. we went out to collect sap.

The long process of making syrup inevitably led to long afternoon beer drinking sessions on the part of the adults, who got progressively drunker and consequently forgot about the syrup. We ended up with dark, slightly burnt syrup. Maple syrup is graded on color and flavor, with the lighter, more golden syrups receiving Grade A, and darker, more burnt syrups getting B or even C grade. I think my family syrup is more of a C grade, and maybe a D, but D doesn’t exist. I grew accustomed to darker syrup, and I buy B or C grade to this day. The best maple syrup I ever had was my uncle’s B grade which he kept in a massive oak barrel with a tap, and the oak imparted a lovely nuance.

Cooking Maple Syrup, by Ohiofarmgirl
photo credit
Most maple candy is cooked to a very light golden soft ball or soft crack stage. You can see how the colors vary quite a bit. I have noticed that cha gao tea paste varies in color as well, from very burnt liquid or hard crack cooked, like peanut brittle. In Chawangshop’s photo of the brewed cha gao, I see a pink color. Is the brew of this tea really pink? I wanted to find out.

 Now, some of you think I meander on and on through my memories. But the truth is maple syrup and this cha gao both are all about a man standing over a large cooking pot of sap. Cha gao requires ratios of water to leaf at minimum 1:10. Mr. Quan used 1:18 for this tea…wasn’t 2015 a wet year for puerh, or just this Manzhuan? By comparison, maple syrup is usually a 1:40 ratio, so who stands over that boiling pot longer? I meander over my memories because from one part of the world to another, boiling sap from tree products is the same activity. You need a large soup pot, a lot of time on your hands, and maybe alcohol to drink. To get the best end result, you tread a fine line between making hard candy and burning the sap, between exquisite flavor and carbon dust.

Maple syrup taffy of different colors, Canada
photo: travelbliss.com
 While we make maple candy here by pouring sap over snow, Mr. Quan poured his tea paste into folded bamboo pieces. I love the little boxes, I can see all the cutting and origami-like folding, along with the elastic “hair tie” closure, the glued-on label which says Six Big Ancient Tea Mountains, Raw Puerh Tea Paste, and the name of the tea shop which you can also see in the photos on the Chawangshop listing. We put our maple syrup in canning jars, with a label for the year, and decorate the lid with a piece of patterned cloth and tie with a ribbon.

I meander over my memories because I see myself standing over the syrup pot and wood fire just as Mr. Quan stands over his tea syrup pot. We stir and stir and stir, with patience giving way to impatience and back again. Did he turn down the heat at night to sleep and resume the next day, as we do over our syrup? Or did he really stay up for three days continuously stirring, keeping himself awake with tea and maybe the radio?

“I wish you could meet Mr. Quan, he is really a tea master,” Honza of Chawangshop writes to me.

Oh, that I could! I would bring him a gift of maple syrup and make him pancakes, and maybe he could make the tea. I would bring a box of maple sugar candy, and I would show him a picture of the sugar maple tree in my yard. I know he would see the parallels. This is crystalline structure, it is sugar, both puerh tea and maple sap. Fermented puerh tea is breaking down the leaf structure to release the sugars which change and mature via fungi, yeasts, mold and bacteria.

Cha gao is proof of sugars in the puerh tree. I meander over my memories because we all make things from the trees around us. Only later will this process become mystified, because puerh is from China, but cha gao is no more mysterious than maple sugar. Maple syrup is a good source of manganese and other trace minerals, and likewise trace minerals are found in cha gao too.

Breaking off pieces, hold the pick firmly in hand,
use a stabby-stabby motion like chopping ice.
I will admit that I licked the brick a little, which tasted like bamboo puerh and horehound candy. The next problem is how to get a piece of tea off the brick. Honza suggested 0.5g of tea for a small cup. This is a teeny, tiny piece which lends a view of the cost ratio. For puerh tea, this brick is expensive, 100g at $50. But at ½ gram per cup of this strong stuff, we have 200 sessions here, give or take, depending upon dust loss. The brick of tea is like hard candy and I use a tea pick to break off a little corner.


The tea dust on my tongue tastes like smoky puerh in bamboo and is very bitter.

How to brew Cha Gao

“Brew it by pouring boiling water over a strainer,” Honza says. His photo shows pouring the water into a fairness cup. I don’t own an actual fairness cup. I have similar vessels in my house which are made for…guess it…maple syrup.

Brewing in a vintage maple syrup pitcher,
circa early 1960s, by Syracuse "China"
This is like water dripping on a spoon with a sugar cube into a glass of absinthe. Only the sugar cube is a chunk of cha gao this time. I pour the water very slowly over the chunk into my little maple syrup pitcher. The tea dissolves leaving tiny bits of dark leaves. The tea is sweet, tasting of bamboo and…maple syrup…no I’m projecting, surely. Sticky, astringent, like dark sugar, with mineral after taste. The empty pitcher smells amazing, like syrup or dark honey. I feel like I used a bit too much water on the first go, I want more flavor.

You must use a metal strainer with fine mesh,
such as this one by teaware.house
 Unexpectedly, I get some qi or buzzing around my face and in my ears, and with summer weather now a hot tea gets me sweating fast. Fifteen minutes after finishing my little pitcher of tea, it all hits. The caffeine in this tea is very strong, as is the astringency. I guess maybe cha gao is indeed concentrated puerh in more ways than just the sugars.

I “brew” the tea again using bottled Nature’s Source spring water, which is a Wisconsin brand, rather than my tap water. The top notes of florals, horehound, incense and bamboo are a bit more noticeable this time.


 Cha Gao Storage

Honza states in the tea listing that the tea improves in flavor after several years. I notice that my tea liquor is browner than the pink brew in his photo. This cha gao is 3 years old already which may explain the differences in the photos. How can I best store this tea?  For me to determine the storage, I need to figure out how humidity/water affects this tea paste.

I found a photo on Yunnan Sourcing with the idea of using 1/2g of their Jingmai raw cha gao in a bottle of water on the go, rather clever. The idea of mineral water made with a chunk of cha gao is appealing to me. I decided to give it a go and put a chunk of this cha gao in a bottle of spring water. Unfortunately, it did not dissolve. However, rubbing the wet chunk between my fingers afterward pushed some brown liquid off of it.

I attempt to dissolve a chunk in cold water.
The tea did not dissolve, however.
The reason why this cha gao does not dissolve in cold water is because it is cooked past hard crack stage to the brown liquid stage, or 170C. When boiling candy sugars, you can test the stages by using a glass of ice water. Drop in a few drops of the liquid. When you remove the drops from the glass, a “firm ball” drop will make a caramel at room temperature. A “hard ball” can be pulled to make molasses taffy.

“Hard crack candy” is most of the clear hard candies wrapped in plastic you can buy at the store, and also peanut brittle. “Hard crack” is used for very hard candies that dissolve in water slowly and have a very long shelf life, such as jawbreakers, Inferno Jawbreakers (hot cinnamon) and Wonka’s “Everlasting Gobstoppers.” Pushing the heat past the hard crack stage, the sugar liquid will turn permanently brown, so you cannot color it red or green or whatever you want. Many cha gao like this one are brown to black.

Sugared candy has a storage shelf life. Humidity melts all but hard crack candy into a sticky glob. I read that temps of 35 centigrade on clear hard candy for six weeks is equivalent to six months of room temperature shelf life. I stored the cha gao on my three season porch during 30C temps and 70% RH overnight and it was not sticky in the slightest. When I put a chunk in my cold water bottle and it didn’t dissolve, I am now sure that this cha gao is probably past hard crack. This means the shelf life is pretty much indefinite, but from now on it won’t change much, it is very cooked.

By contrast, Yunnan Sourcing’s Jingmai cha gao raw is a lighter color with a taffy appearance. This is probably soft or hard crack stage cooked, and thus it will dissolve in cold water more readily. The cooking stage explains why their cha gao paste dissolves in a bottle of cold water. I also noticed the foil wrap on Yunnan Sourcing’s Jingmai. Foil is used to wrap candy with a shorter shelf life. For example, chocolate is foil wrapped. The foil will preserve candy much longer than plastic wrappers.

I am thinking that any bacteria, fungi etc. are killed off from days of boiling, and the plant juices and minerals are locked in a crystalline sugar structure. At three years henceforth since this tea was made, I do not think this tea will change much from this point. Perhaps the tea may mellow a bit more, especially the astringency which is still strong, but right now it is quite sweet and an interesting drink.

Mulling over the above, storage of this cha gao means that humidity is less useful than time in general. I am also concerned about ants or other insects chomping on my cha gao. I decided to go with a tin for these two boxes of cha gao, for dry tin storage. After a day in the tin, my two packages smelled nice when I lifted the lid. By contrast, leaving the tea out it seemed to lose scent. I expect tinning will preserve a sugar form product better than humidity will. I would like some mellowing but I don’t think I will like the tea to stale as fast as it will if I use high humidity and temps. This isn’t likely anytime soon with how cooked to nearly burnt this product is, but eventually it could go stale, unlike the decades we can expect for regular puerh leaves.

My second brewing attempt,
tea is slightly cloudy, but sweet
Reasons to try Cha Gao

After three brewings, I am now interested to compare some other cha gao products, Prior to seeing this product I really had no interest in cha gao. Why would I want a candied version of puerh tea when I can just brew the leaves? Travel is an obvious reason, several grams of cha gao fit in a tiny baggie in one’s luggage and only require boiling water and no special tea ware. This cha gao packs a caffeine punch and is better than tea bags.

Chawangshop sells an interesting selection of homemade, local craft products such as this cha gao and many of their heicha teas. Honza has a good eye for teas that local artisans produce, and I hope he will continue to feature craft teas. Chawangshop products don’t go on discount, so if you want this pick one up before it sells out. Half the production is only maybe 20 little 100g boxes or so, not much to go round. Yunnan Sourcing's Jingmai is about $10 less for 100g, if you want another option.


Thursday, May 24, 2018

Why Don't People Understand Puerh Fermentation?



The so-called “mystery” of puerh fermentation keeps cropping up on forums. Why do people not understand how vegetable plant matter is fermented? Fermented foods are basic farm science, not rocket science. Puerh fermentation is a two step process. In the first step, the cell walls of the leaf must break open to release the bitter leaf juices, and this work is primarily done by Aspergillis Niger. Next, the bitter juices are sweetened by a new set of microbes, primarily Rhizopus, which use the carbon waste matter from Aspergillis as food. The process requires heat and sufficient humidity to keep the microbes alive.

While I am simplifying the process for the sake of discussion, this is not an inaccurate description. The most common remark that I see is “we don’t have enough research.” Yes, we do. Puerh has fermented again and again for hundreds of years supplying peoples in regions of China with necessary dietary microbes to supplement a meat diet. Not only puerh, but Hunan brick, FuZhuan brick teas, all of these teas have a long history of production, storage and consumption in areas like Tibet and Mongolia, more recently in Taiwan and Malaysia.

How much research do you need? Taetea and Xiaguan understand exactly how to produce teas that store and ferment properly and provide people with a dietary supplement. They’ve been doing it for decades. Even during times of war, China has made sure tea bricks are produced and transported to the people who need them. This is no more a mystery in China than how milk cartons get to school children in the US.

Okay, so some people need “research,” here is one article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4918958/

I like this article for several reasons: the quantitative analysis, the demonstration that aged sheng and shou puerh have virtually identical microbial communities, and finally, a sound analysis for throwing out the first rinse of your tea.

This is just one article. I can find many books and journal articles with the science behind fermented puerh tea. People who complain about a lack of research are either too lazy to do a search or too lazy to read, because the research is all out there for anyone to find.

If I gave a class on fermenting puerh tea to women in my local community, Amish and farm women with no more than a high school education, I would merely need three minutes to show and explain what a Yunnan Leaf tea is. I would not need to explain fermentation because these women ferment vegetables and beverages every year. These women can go right out the door and age puerh tea without any instruction whatsoever. I doubt I would need to give them the parameters, even.

I think the “Problem” is not a lack of scientific research, the problem is many urban people do not know the origins of their food. They don’t grow, harvest, ferment, kill, butcher or cure. They don't store food over a long period of time.  Food and beverage processes are a mystery when people buy everything from a store ready-made, or depend on restaurants to eat.

Taetea and Xiaguan are two factories which produce proven teas. Their jincha, beengcha, tuos and iron cakes are proven to store and age well. Their shou puerh teas are proven to contain the necessary microbes for consumption, they are shipped to peoples all over who need these teas. If you want a guaranteed tea to age or ferment well, these companies have the proper and safe products for you to buy. A nice bitter, smoky Xiaguan tuo costs about $10 and in 20 years properly kept that tuo will taste as intended.

So, what is the real mystery here?

The real mystery is not the “how” of fermenting puerh tea, but rather the why behind great teas. Why is a 7542 a great recipe? Why do some teas turn out great, and some don’t, when stored in exactly the same warehouse, storehouse, basement, etc.? Can we predict which teas will turn out well? Or rather, why can’t I predict whether my tea will be great? 

Well, we already know that a Xiaguan tuo will turn out just fine, great even, every year. For other teas, we have a hundred theories not only related to storage, but about blends, climate, over-picking, the soil, and who knows maybe even the wrapper. One big reason value grows for older puerh is because so few teas survive to 20 years or longer. Just surviving is a major additive value on a puerh tea. 

Tea lasting past 20 years is one big problem in the mystery of predicting great teas, for reasons more than storage parameters. We just don’t get too many teas surviving past that 20 year mark. The vast majority of teas are consumed or disposed of past the 20 year mark. Keep in mind that a 357g beeng is a small amount of tea. In parts of the world where puerh is consumed regularly, a 357g beeng is 2-4 weeks or less  of tea for a family of 3-4 people. This is not much tea; even if a family holds their tea in storage for 20 years, they can consume a tong quickly. 

Why do you not have 30 year old dried cranberries? Does your beef jerky last you ten years? How many 30 year+ bottles of wine do you have stored up? People consume their good stuff and toss what goes bad. People move. Houses get flooded. People need money, people get bored. People need to drink the tea so they drink it. Or they give it away. If you manage to put away a bottle of wine or puerh tea and still have it at the 20 year mark, this alone is worth money. 

The Vendor Problem

We have many vendors nowadays who are not interested in aging. They are interested in what sells, not necessarily what might age well. Given the cost of tea, this is not surprising. A vendor must sell a tea whether or not it is processed correctly. This is because their cash investment is up front, not on the back end like clothing retail or crops like corn for which money is borrowed at the start of the season and paid back with interest when the product sells. A vendor who buys maocha must sell it whether or not it is processed properly for aging. Vendors also have the problem of consumers with too little experience, who expect the tea to taste good now, rather than in 20 years. This is an incentive to process the tea to maintain its fresh shelf taste, because the customer will try and drink the fresh tea and complain if it tastes bad or harsh. 

The realities of selling tea, in addition to the problems of urban food consumers with understanding food, all contribute to confusion in how to ferment raw tea. Making a batch of shou is very informative and I wish people would do that, but few will. People want guarantees without the work involved.

A 100% Guarantee

Guess what, we DO have guarantees. We have Xiaguan tuos and jincha, we have Fu Zhuan, we have Hunan brick, and we have Taetea 7542. I can 100% guarantee you that these products will ferment properly given room temperature storage and 60% relative humidity. These products have and will keep people alive and well. 

This is such a sure thing, we even have an old expression in American English, “I will bet you all the tea in China that…” Fill in the blank, because China has people and tea factories that know damn well how to make proper tea that will ferment, such that I can bet it all and win that bet. If you can get the proper storage conditions on these teas, whether in a plastic bag or cabinet or crock, wherever, the tea will age eventually.

Of course, we still have unknowns when buying new tea other than the ones I mentioned. Aside from proven products, any other tea you buy is a best guess for the future. Your teas will indeed ferment, but whether or not they turn out good or great involves a number of variables, the greatest of which is simply keeping the tea out of the dumpster.



Thursday, May 17, 2018

Steaming Apart a Puerh Beeng


When a machine compressed puerh tea is too tight for a knife or pick, I risk injury to my fingers and hands. A pair of pliers will break off chunks, but this breaks the tea leaves too, and sometimes I want loose, whole leaves rather than a chunk. Steaming apart the compressed tea is the only answer, but we rightly worry over subjecting our dear teas to any process. Today I steamed apart a heavily compressed beeng of red tea, and I will show some photos of the process I used.

This cake is 2013 Drunk on Red by Yunnan Sourcing, a very inexpensive 100g black/red tea. Unfortunately this tea is sold out, except for one production with snow chrysanthemum added. I hope YS will do this production again someday. I paid around $4 for it, and the tea is so compressed that I cannot remove any tea. I want to use this tea in my new Teforia machine so I need actual leaves and not chunks, and I plan to tin up the leaves to drink over a month or so.

Steaming a tea is very simple using a strainer and a bit of water underneath in a pot. I made sure the water did not touch the strainer.



Once the water boils, I just need to let it steam a couple of minutes. Keep in mind a lid is needed to start the steaming, but drops of condensation off the lid will drop down through the tea. I don’t want too much dripping or basically I will have drip-brewed tea water.


I turned out the beeng onto a plate. The leaves are hot and steaming, but not drippy wet.


Now the beeng is very loose around the edges, so I can pry it apart with a fork. The middle of the beeng is still mostly dry, however I can break apart some of the chunks with my fingers or just leave them chunk-y if I wish.

Finally I spread the tea out onto a flat pan and set it out to dry. The tea will be dry later in the evening so I can tin it up.



No one needs a guide on how to steam apart tea, but sometimes looking at photos helps with making a decision on whether to steam. I imagine most of us would not want to do this with precious tea, but with hardy teas like bricks or tuos, or teas of ordinary quality, steaming is certainly an option. The tea can go into a caddy and rest until brewing time.



Addenda 

I want to congratulate two puerh writers for their recognition in recent days. Max Falkowitz received a 2018 James Beard Award for his Saveur magazine article “The Pu-erh Brokers of Yunnan Province.”

I was lucky to meet Mr. Falkowitz in 2016 in NYC during the Saveur Blog Awards, and I am grateful for his support of puerh writing.

Congratulations also to MarshalN for his nomination this week for Blog of the Year by the 2018 WorldTea Expo’s World Tea Awards. MarshalN’s “A Tea Addict’s Journal” is one of the longest-running puerh blogs in English. 

If you are new to tea, I highly recommend reading his blog from start to finish. This is the first year that a Tea Industry business association is recognizing puerh blogging, long overdue.

Cups up, friends, and cheers to both of these incredible writers!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Three Vendors you probably never heard of


How lucky we tea fiends are these days with all the possible vendors servicing our fix. We need every single vendor because each week we see another article online telling the world about how hot puerh tea is. Lordy, but the hoards just keep horning in on our exclusive territory with no end in sight, which just raises prices for the rest of us. We can’t shush up these articles online but maybe we can steer traffic a little bit. Here are a few websites you can bookmark, especially if you are new to tea.


Here is a very general website with inexpensive prices. The teas offered are basic, decent and won’t break the bank for those on a budget. Carts $60+ ship for free in the US, and they take Paypal. Not really a site for great puerh, but the reviewers are real people so we can read some feedback on teas the shop has carried for a long time. Tea ware is the real bargain. I have liked everything I bought from this shop. The Yixing is not so great, but it’s good enough to test whether or not you really want to sink a couple hundred of your hard-earned dollars into a real Yixing. When you are starting out, buying inexpensive will help to appreciate better things down the road. Some items such as an aroma cup are just as useful costing $3 here as $20 and up from someplace else. What about that $1.98 glass teapot sale going on right now? No? How about the “Mini Luck” tea set for $6 from the Top Sellers list?


Here is a Malaysian shop to bookmark. The link above should go right to the Taetea products, probably what people want to see. This is a licensed Taetea shop that takes Paypal, full stop. Stuff sells out fast, like the Gold Dayi they had last month. I suspect that many inventory items never make it into the online shop because they sell out locally first.


Where have I been lately, I missed the opening of this shop by puerh collector AllanK. This seller is a boon for shou lovers. I am rather fond of Allan as he shares many traits I have such as too much tea, difficulty parting with any and please don’t visit in person. Probably unbeknownst to you all (and maybe Allan too) he has inspired several of my cartoons over the years, such as this one called Forklift Tea. Now is my turn to thank him for the delightful person he is.


A few years ago, Allan sent round blind tasting samples of his storage to other puerh drinkers. He had two years stored on a tea in three conditions: open storage, plastic wrapped storage, and pumidor storage. Without exception all the puerh drinkers picked out the pumidor storage sample as lively and in good condition. I have had several other samples from Allan over the years, including a memorable 2013 Hai Lang shou brick.

Like other collectors selling tea, I do not expect this new shop to sell the best teas Allan owns. No one wants to part with those. But he has amassed a number of sold out teas, as well as buys from Taobao and he’s selling a few of these. Do some comparison shopping and look for the stuff you cannot find elsewhere. I will be keeping an eye on his shop. Allan tells me he has sold some high sums already to other collectors, and I know he has more to list. Kudos go out to any collector willing parting with some teas, even if to make room for more.

Every tea vendor out there has pluses and minuses. A savvy buyer learns where to buy particular things, and a few lucky people get a deal once in awhile. The best I can say is most vendors will email personally with anyone and work out problems as they arise. Try and use PayPal or some other payment service with a no-hassle refund as a last resort. Have fun shopping!



Friday, May 4, 2018

The Final Fantasy of Buying Puerh


This spring we confront our realities with an armored wallet. While the puerh harvest ahead appears bountiful, according to early reports, prices are headed nowhere but up. I have viewed some pre-order price lists which always show a bit of a discount for people willing to fund a vendor’s season in advance. But if you expect to buy even decent drinker quality puerh this year, your wallet is going to hurt.

The final fantasy of a puerh drinker is expressed on tea chats every day: “how can I buy X tea, or something like it, for the same price or less?” He wants whatever sample or cake he tried last year, but the production is sold out or marked up higher. She hopes Shop Y will offer the same tea as last year, at last year’s prices. Everyone wants a clue from somebody on where to buy some miraculous puerh, preferably for nothing. Oh yes I do have this final fantasy and I am certain if I post it on a tea forum asking people what tea to buy and where, I just might get the perfect answer and no one will laugh!

People ask me if I think we are in a puerh bubble. I do not. In 2007-8 puerh prices took a huge tumble, a bit of history everyone knows. Back then people complained about a 357g beeng costing $30. Now those teas sell for over $100 at half the size. Factory teas are not immune. If you want a spring production, even a 7542 recipe pushes the $50 mark, with Taetea special productions over $100 at retail, if you manage to snag them at all.

The difference between 2008 and today is that we have far more people with lots of money willing to pay even higher prices, and we are nowhere near the ceiling yet. This is partly due to the scarcity of very fine tea, but I think mainly the wealth gap between the top and bottom is so much wider. Wealthy people are richer than ever, and they want puerh. For a wealthy person, what is a few extra hundred dollars, or euros, or marks, or yen or yuan? A few extra thousand? Not much of a dent; such a person probably has those extras in cash and three more large bills from the wallet is not a problem.

Recently I watched some Gold Dayi from a licensed shop fly out of the Malaysian web store, in tongs. People who live paycheck to paycheck could buy tea as a treat back in 2008, now these folks are out of the game of collecting price value. People try and take comfort in the idea that maybe their low end teas will turn into something spectacular through time and storage. A miracle is needed for the teas on the low end to turn into future gold. Expecting affordable teas to appreciate hugely in value, we are living in a fantasy or awaiting a storage miracle. The big difference today is a company like Xiaguan will produce many more tuos now than in the past, such that everyone has them. Lots of lower value summer tea around to press into bitter jincha and meet demand on the low end. You can buy a compressed tea anywhere and even these budget options cost more than ten years ago. But the demand is not the same as for much better tea. Old tuos selling for big bucks now are from a time of smaller productions and bigger nostalgia.

I don’t know about you, but I am mostly priced out of the really fine tea. I hear from a few people who really do possess the funds to keep up. But I hear from far more who do not. The truth is wages are not keeping up with food, rent, utilities and all the other things we need to pay for. More of our paychecks go to basics, leaving less disposable income at the worst possible time when we really need more and more money than ever to buy important things like tea.

Sometimes people suggest buying semi-aged tea. I see fewer and fewer older teas available except for very wet stored or ripe. Most of the semi-aged teas you can buy are the low end, not the high end. The really fine teas are not sold at a bargain basement price. They sell for even more than an average new tea. Disposable income is again a problem if you manage to find a collector willing to part with something good, you need the money up front and fast to have a chance.

My blog is not really about tea reviews, never has been. I enjoy writing about new teas when I have some, but I did not get many teas last year and I expect this year is more of the same. I simply cannot afford to buy all the teas anymore that I once could. Buying a vendor’s entire season for $300 or even $500 is a fantasy now. A single tea costs that much, and my income has not kept up. Even the tea ware I bought a few years ago costs so much more. The vendors who need reviews are new to the selling game, and they are the folks who contact bloggers. Established vendors do not need or even want reviews. Most bloggers who review puerh have invested their own money or rely on samples sent in by readers. A lack of reviews also impacts the budget buyer’s struggle to find “word of mouth” before investing the bit of money she has.

Right now my final fantasy is to keep writing until I drop and my son puts a note on the blog that I am gone. I have not lost hope. I still pretend miracle teas costing less than $10 will show up somewhere and end up in my house without selling the house. For young collectors leaving school and getting started, you will need to find a very lucrative career to fund your tea habit, so choose wisely.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

$1000 Teforia Wedding

New Teforia with 1960s Mushroom lamp

The toughest thing about giving up coffee in the morning for me was the convenience of a coffee machine, of pushing a button and pouring a ready-made pot in ten minutes or so. I am at the point where I need a maid or a partner. Since winter this year, my back and hips feel all the worse when waking up from sleep. I must spend a few minutes of stretching in bed just to get up. After all that, as soon as I leave my room I am assaulted by cats and house mates who want something even before I can manage to go to the bathroom, which is never by myself since my cats insist on busting open the door. Then I have to heat up water for tea, wait around, and by then somebody else needs something. I just want to get back to my room and enjoy my tea.

As far as I am concerned, the main reason to have a partner in life is to have someone wait on me hand and foot, but for whatever reason nobody seems to understand this very simple idea. Any sort of human partnership at my age is an annoyance at best since they usually disapprove of large tea collections. Also a real human partner generally expects taking care of, and I am too busy with my tea to bother taking care of other people. Can I just get a cup of tea in the morning without doing any work??

Last year I looked at some of the new Gourmia tea makers after deciding I miss my morning coffee maker (which is now appropriated by a house mate with French Roast). I talked with the Gourmia reps at the World Tea Expo after one of them emailed me, unsolicited, at the hotel offering a free tea machine for listening to a sales pitch at their booth. OolongOwl got the same email and we went together and spent more than a few minutes listening to the pitch and looking over the machines. While I might be happy to consider reviewing a free machine, the Gourmia offer evaporated after the Expo.

I deserve the $1000 wedding and new Teforia for a partner. I won’t pay that kind of money and luckily I found one on eBay for $140. Now, this machine is not for ME to brew sheng puerh, I have a gaiwan and a gazillion little teapots for that. I need something for hongcha in the morning and maybe green tea during the day. After spending some serious time with this machine, I am glad now I waited for this thing because it is really awesome. I don’t care if I lose every reader of this blog, at least I have some “body” to make me tea.

Before this purchase, I spent a couple of months using a Kamjove Gravity Steeper, and I tried to like it. It makes decent enough hongcha, but is a pain to clean out. The Kamjove strainer is dome shaped, and leaves get packed down around the strainer and won’t tap out over the garbage. Even when using a spoon the leaves are tough to get out without damaging the strainer, and worse the plastic rod connected to the button pops out when trying to scoop out the tea. Using a Kamjove I rinsed a lot of tea leaves down the drain.

The Teforia machine tries to mimic gongfu in a similar way to the Kamjove in that the small chamber for leaves must be infused three times and quickly expressed into the carafe. Unlike the Kamjove, the machine heats the water and expresses the tea forcefully, pushing liquid out of the tea rather than dripping it through. I found I only need 1-3g of leaves rather than the 4-6g hongcha I use in a gaiwan or the Kamjove, because the machine extracts the water with more force.

Unlike the Kamjove, the Teforia infuser and carafe are double-wall insulated. The interior layer is glass. The exterior is plastic to prevent breakage, but only the glass touches the hot tea. All I need to do is fill the back chamber with water which lifts out of the machine with a carrying handle, and add a couple grams of tea leaves.

The machine is run by a Bluetooth app, which requires a paired device like a phone or tablet, but does not require internet once set up. The app has a list of tea types, which matches the teas originally sold by Teforia (now sold by Adagio teas). Since I am using my own tea, I can ignore the names of the teas. I just pick one of the tea types from the list.

From what I can tell, the brewing temps are based on the coder (perceived) caffeine level of the tea, which is how differing types of green and black/oolong teas are distinguished in the app (low, medium, high). I can also adjust the strength which lengthens the amount of time the leaves spend in the water.

The cool part is starting up the machine from my bed. I reach for my IPad or phone, pull up the app and press the button. Most of the teas take 5-7 minutes. I don’t need to leave my room which will trigger the cats and people in the house, although I expect the cats and people will eventually figure out the machine is triggering Mother to get up. I also like that the carafe and infuser lock tight in the machine, so no chance the animals will swat them onto the floor. One of my cats in particular has learned to knock over my tea ware when wanting attention fast.

Teforia, for all the crazy hype, really makes excellent hongcha and green tea. My biggest surprise is green oolong, a tea type I do not own very much of, and in the past I apparently over-brewed with boiling water baths. I have a few green oolong teas to use up, and they come out with honey sweet after-tastes. Yunnan large leaf red teas are great for the first machine brew, but I can get more from these by gaiwan in subsequent infusions because I steep them longer than the app will.

The machine has a setting for sheng puerh, but I have not tried that. I cannot see that brewing sheng in the machine will save me time because of the boiling rinses which must be tossed. Sheng needs hand brewing to tweak the best from it, though perhaps the setting might be useful for fresh sheng, essentially brewing it as a green tea. But again I didn’t buy the machine for puerh. I plan to try Korean teas as well during the summer when I get a craving.

Best of all, the Teforia has a self-cleaning cycle. I don’t even need to clean it! The leaves mostly dump right out, and then the carafe and infuser globe just need rinsing. I won’t need to do vinegar cleaning as with a coffee machine, since the machine will clean with a press of an app button. I also got a microfiber cloth cover in the box to protect it in the kitchen or use as a towel to wipe any tea drips. Really the only downside is the app rather than manual buttons, but why would I want a manual button if I must get out of bed to press it? The whole point is tea without work, orthodox Saturday every day if I program it by the clock ahead of time.

I absolutely love this thing, it’s my new spouse. This is the best tea machine, period. I know a few of you have bought it for puerh and are disappointed, but we don’t need it for puerh. I drink plenty of other teas and having my tea made in the morning for me is well worth the $140 price. I plan to buy an extra carafe and infuser globe from Adagio while they are still for sale, just in case I need replacements. If you want one, try Best Offer on eBay and get the best price you can. I notice that Teforia is planning to start up business again next year with a new $249 model, which compares with the smart Breville currently selling at $250. If the new Teforia also delivers tea from the kitchen to my bed, I’m sold for another.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

wtf is this??

2014 Huang Pian tea drugs.
I used a red clay Chaozhou to boil my water,
so my brew is a little more reddish.
Wtf is this?? I am drinking white2tea’s 2014 Huang Pian from their Basics set. I own a couple of these small cakes. Why didn’t you people get me to try this sooner? Normally huang pian is a gentle drink which gives hints of what the better leaves on the tree taste like, but this tea is a bomb of flavor and potency. This is stronger than some straight up Menghai teas I have had lately, and not the tea drunk, I mean the tea. Seriously I am glad this is just the huang pian because if it were the buds and small leaves it would get me pregnant.

Pungent fruit wood with a touch of smokiness, thick brew, most remarkable is a delayed huigan fifteen minutes after drinking, slightly licorice-root like. Huang pian for wicked people. I tend to hoard my white2teas and cup my daily drinkers, all too often when I return to one of my white2teas, I really wonder why I am drinking whatever my normal choices are at the moment.

Oh crap, the Basics set is sold out... Of course it is.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Questions I get asked about Puerh Storage

Big old crock.

Over the past few years I have received quite a few emails about tea storage, usually a few every month. Most of the questions boil down to one of two possibilities, “is this storage solution okay?” or “help!” I can hardly say enough how important my storage fails from 2009-2014 were for me to begin to learn what to do with my tea, and how to deal with my climate and the types of puerh I am storing. My storage failure consisted of copying the cardboard box method advocated by Cloud and a few other very early online posters. This method, even with a bowl of water in the box, left my tea too dry, flat and flavorless. While I managed to recover some flavor by moving the teas to crock storage, luckily I have consumed most of them now.

My climate in the house is far too dry to leave tea in the open, unless the tea arrives with years of wetter storage under its belt. Fortunately, I have a 3 season porch which is enclosed with glass windows. In the summertime, this porch gets very hot and humid, and I have a large ceiling fan to circulate the air. My tea enjoys the summer months fully awake, and the porch smells of tea when I walk in. But during the winter, I experience very dry, desert-like conditions and this is when I need some sort of storage solution to preserve the progress made during summer. I settled on traditional farm crock storage used in this part of my country. I have so many teas now that some are stored in almost every other type of container you can think of. Most of these extras are samples or small amounts of tea, and many are experiments of various kinds. Others are bits of Liu Bao or small packages of oolong teas.

Here are some of the common issues I get emailed about.

My tea has mold, what should I do?

This means your storage is too wet. If the mold is white or grey looking, this is okay, brush it off and adjust the humidity or add air flow. Keep your tea in the open for awhile or cover with a cloth or use a cloth bag for a time. If you have green mold, you must throw this tea out, or at least take off the affected chunks.

People who report mold to me are mainly doing one of two things. One, they are trying to replicate Hong Kong storage parameters, with 70% RH and warmer than room temperatures. This is very risky to do in a small storage situation, because you do not have much space and air flow to keep mold from forming. I prefer a more conservative set of parameters, such as 60-65% RH at room temperature or slightly cooler.

I do not feel that high parameters in small storage areas will age tea much faster. A tea that needs 20-30 years will still need 20-30 years whether at 70% RH or 60% RH. Honestly, if I want wetter tea, why not order it already stored wet? Wet teas are far less expensive to buy than dry stored, and then all I need to do is provide dry storage for a few years.

People who want to try 70% RH or higher will need to babysit their tea. This type of storage is a daily hobby, not a “store it and leave it” situation.

The other mold situation is storage of puerh tea in plastic containers, such as plastic tubs. Plastic has no ability to breathe. There is no air flow, no cracks or anything porous. Plastic is a temporary solution for students or people moving to a new residence. Because I write a blog I must be as conservative as possible. You might see online that people are storing in plastic and report their teas are doing well. That is well for them, but I cannot recommend it, especially for people who do not watch their tea carefully.

Recently I stuck a couple of 20 year wetter samples
in small food jars to air before consuming.
My tea is too dry.

Then it does not have access to sufficient humidity. This is easy to solve. However, it takes several years for tea to really die off, 3-4 years at least. A few months of dry is nothing to panic over, but people email me panicked after a month of dry. Keep observing the tea.

Adding a new tea.

Getting a new beeng or tong in the mail is exciting but anything new added to your storage will affect the humidity balance. If too dry, the tea will suck up all the moisture in the storage unless you have a large room for storage. If a tea is new and fresh, it might add too much moisture and you will need to remove any Boveda packs or back off on adding moisture for awhile. That new cake is a water-filled sponge.

Can I store shou and sheng together?

I would not.

Can I store old tea with new tea?

There are two schools of thought. One is that old tea adds microbes, and these microbes may be beneficial. The other school of thought pertains to perhaps poorly stored tea that might add unwanted odors.

20 yr Yiwu stored by itself in a crockery bowl
with a lid. The wrapper was too worn.
I currently store old tea with new tea, in part because I am out of space. I also am interested especially in how well-stored teas, such as from Malaysia, might positively impact my younger teas. I am currently storing Malaysian-stored Liu Bao with young Liu Bao to pursue this idea because this type of tea will show me some results sooner than sheng.

How do I get started with storage?

The best way is to experiment using pungent factory teas, such as Dayi and Xiaguan. Xiaguan tuos are in the $10 range. Even non-descript brick teas are ok. Factory teas like these are very forgiving if they mold, you can brush off the mold and the tea will recover nicely. When too dry, you can recover the tea quickly. They also are compressed firmly so the interior is not likely to be affected by experiments.

Buying inexpensive teas, not too many, but maybe a handful, is the best way to get started with puerh tea. People use the words “tuition tea” as a pejorative or cautionary tale, but in reality these teas are the least painful on the wallet and the best teas to learn storage. No one wants to lose pricey tea to an experiment gone south. My bad storage years were done on teas like 7542 sheng and 7572 shou. I learned what went wrong on teas that cost under $30 apiece. Nothing prevents these teas from turning out nicely when treated well too.

Relax.

Are we puerh people? Yes we are. Will dusty/dirty put any of us off? Not really. Do we brush off the mold and keep right on drinking? Of course. Do we love our tea more than our children? Probably. We can always have more children, but we cannot get back that old Dayi. So watch your tea like a hawk.