; Cwyn's Death By Tea: 2018 ;

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Personal Puerh Aesthetic: Considering the What in Drinking Puerh Tea

What is a puerh lover? I look in the mirror and know how I got here, a fairly straight path through green teas on a health quest. None of this explains how one acquires so much puerh, beyond that of what I reasonably drink. Puerh lends itself to a constant grail search, the dream of the divine disk transporting me into a state of bliss and youthful glow, dripping with complex spices and fruits, all I need is the golden sofa and grapes. In the case of puerh, the more aged the tea the younger I hope to feel.

What is this magical Yunnan leaf tea I drink? Usually the reader wants a treasure map, a list of names of teas, prices, places to run to and buy wonderful tea. Quite honestly, reviewers provide these lists all year long. Still, the reader is left less than satisfied, or perhaps merely hesitant, thinking that this or that tea is not quite the one. The truth is, if we line up ten collectors of puerh tea along with their current favorites, each person will have a different group of teas to swear by. With my personal puerh aesthetic of who-what-where-why, I divide my “Whats” into drinkers, stunners and untouchables.


Drinker teas are daily consumption teas that require little thought to enjoy. From bricks to tuos, this group is mostly in the lower end of the price list, under $200. I would list nearly all factory teas into this category. Sure a few older factory teas reach a legendary status, but the truth is virtually all of these teas today are likely to leave one satisfied if somewhat disappointed. 

Storages matter here too, I consider flawed storage teas to be drinkers, and that includes wetter stored teas. Wet storage is a flaw, and while such tea is perhaps drinkable, it will never be great tea. I spend a great deal of time on my blog writing about drinkers because so many beginners are looking for drinkers, even though I have plenty of these teas and need no more of them.


These teas today generally are going to hurt your wallet, costing $200 or more, regardless of the size of the beeng. I say beeng because any tuo or brick costing more than this is iffy, I would generally not pay that much for a tuo or brick that to me is just drinker even if well aged. A tuo or brick just is not going to blow me away. A stunner is generally a beeng or loose puerh tea. A stunner will not have processing flaws like burnt leaves, oxidized leaves, or anything other than tea leaves, a quality control issue. 

A stunner is dry stored or lightly wet stored, very light. The clue here is price, assuming the tea is priced by someone skilled in evaluating tea. People continually try and find stunners by looking in cheap tea joints, the truth is you won’t find any. A real stunner sticks out with longevity, thickness, mouth and body feel, just to name a few qualities. I might be in the market for a stunner tea if I think the aging potential is there, some uncommon strength to survive the long twenty year haul.


Untouchable teas are frequently unmentionables, alas. Very often a friend or vendor sends me an untouchable, or shares a session, with the caveat that I do not mention the tea on my blog. Sometimes to ensure I do not discuss the tea, I am not told what the tea is. The person does not want others to know of this possession. Blogging does lend itself to more opportunities to drink or acquire this level of tea, along with a very, very healthy wallet. But blogging does not work in the way you might think. People share tea with me almost from a negative contingency. Rather than saying “oh here is a tea you might love,” the impression is “I will give you a tea that is better than what you have,” a bit of a dig suggesting my taste isn’t quite what the person thinks I possess at this stage, and a failure to appreciate on my part will prove a negative point. Perhaps my statements that I will drink anything lend itself to some collectors feeling challenged to send me a tea with grail potential.

Untouchable teas are those without real price, or undetermined price, or so high that, well, don’t ask. The teas are one of a kind, or few of a kind. You need to know someone. For certain these teas cost well over $1000 a beeng, and probably much more. Not all are completely inaccessible, however. TeaDB just reviewed a XiZhiHao this week that is probably attainable, assuming you have the cash and can find a collector willing to sell. But in the case of the review, a friend provided a single session of the tea which in itself is a generous gift. I am always on the hunt for untouchable teas.

How does one get to a place of owning better teas? Aside from the necessary disposable cash, you need to get to know tea people. You won’t find the best teas on your own, even if you travel to Yunnan. Over time you may acquire sufficient stunner teas to trade for a session of really decent tea.

Puerh Across Its Lifespan

My puerh aesthetic is all about drinking teas at various stages during the aging process to appreciate the current condition of the tea. I can taste the differences along the way, and make adjustments as needed to my crocks or move a tea out. I might decide to plastic-wrap a twenty year old tea to slow it down and preserve its current state. Others I acquired with a little dampness might need airing, which I also check. I enjoy tasting how tea changes the longer I have it in my possession. Occasionally I experiment and sometimes end up tossing a tea. All this for me is an important part of appreciating puerh tea.

I won’t be able to drink all my tea. I made plans for it when I am gone. This is the best I can do, and I am okay with what I choose to drink and stopped punishing myself for what I am not drinking up. I am also expanding my palate into drinking more white and red teas, and some oolong teas I have stored for some years. The What is a journey into my collection and beyond, and I don’t expect to find the grail.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Personal Puerh Aesthetic: a Who-What-Where-Why Consideration

Puerh collecting is a rabbit hole of a hobby, whose lemming-like labyrinthine paths toward tea greatness are never-ending tunnels in which we lose ourselves, emerging only to check the position of the sun in late winter to anticipate the coming Yunnan spring tea picking season. Oh, then we find ourselves thirsty thinking of all the rich nutrients in spring tea, or so we hope, and such cravings empty the wallet quickly. Before I know it boxes will arrive at the door, and I wonder what the heck I bought and why, asking “what were you thinking?” knowing full well craving is not the same as thinking. I think, I am puerh collector, and so I am. Perhaps considering more deeply who I am as a collector will not only inform my buying, but perhaps inform not buying, not allowing my cravings to take over my wallet. A Who-What-Where-Why Strategy is a good way for me to flush my hoarder self out into the light of day well before the first signs of spring. This post will consider who I am as a person/collector. What aspects about me personally affect my behaviors with puerh, my aesthetics, if you will?

Who: A Embarrassment of Riches

My own personal aesthetics on puerh drinking definitely have roots in my childhood food and beverage experiences. Specifically, how I approach puerh now probably relates to my father’s foodie tendencies. One might forgive him his approach. Dad attended a seminary school on a poor boy’s scholarship not long after the great War. He starved his way through eight years of seminary and then three years of law school. His stories were filled with bad food, too little food, stealing sugar and ketchup packets from the cafeterias to fill in his stomach beyond the one meal a day he received for years.

Understandably then, my father was obsessed with food. He spent money on little else, and he spent riches. Dad would not accept a meal of a casserole, or something cooked by a child, no, it needed to be rich meat, and the best meat. Not t-bone steaks, but filet minon tenderloins, individually wrapped and ordered from specialty food companies. Not pork chops or lamp chops, but whole pigs and lambs purchased from farm children at the local fair and Dad made sure to overpay so those kids had money in their pockets for college.

Toward his food efforts, Dad bought a fishing boat on Lake Superior, and a hobby farm for growing acres of fresh vegetables and fruit trees. He stopped his car next to canning factory fields and ran us in to grab up armfuls of pea and bean vines filled with pods. He stopped food semi-truck drivers at the bar. Not Maine lobsters, but rock lobster tails ordered from South Africa. Not Gulf crab, but King Crab from Alaska. Not chicken, but duck and goose. Never carp or cod, but fresh Lake Superior Lake Trout and wild-caught salmon. He left behind guns and fishing poles.

“Your dad didn’t own much stuff,” my stepmother said after his death. “He spent his money on food.” Well, and drink too, we cannot forget that. Both killed him early.

All this of course affected me in ways that are not socially acceptable to discuss, really. Who wants to say they grew up dining on lobster tails and filet minon? Who should say that I had enough of steak at age eighteen never to want to eat it ever again? I sound ungrateful if I say I went from a childhood of rich food to preferring simple vegan food for many years, and an interest in world cuisines just to balance out what I grew up eating, when anyone might give their left arm to dine as I did as a child. Even as a nun I could not get away. Dad called me up.

“Go down to Reinhart’s Foods, there is a box for you,” Dad said.

The box contained more special order filet minons and lobster tails, and crab. None of the nuns knew how to cook these things, and they were so pleased and ignored my embarrassment. We were supposed to be poor and eat simply. Dad even sent a microwave to every convent house I lived in. I swallowed my embarrassment because I knew Dad thought I might starve as he had done. He did all that because of his Who-What-Where-Why, and who in their right minds wouldn’t want the best of the best?

So of course this carries over into my puerh collecting. I want to know what the best puerh tea leaf is. I will pay ridiculous sums for the best tea, and yet at the same time I appreciate a craft product, stemming back to the vegetable and canning days Dad put us through, just to make sure we had plenty of the fresh stuff. Dinner started out early with hors d’oeuvres of fresh caught same-day fish filets and fresh veggies, and then we ate a large meal at seven. I was pairing food and drinks and learned the beverage order before I learned algebra, and bought alcohol starting at age ten. What are kids for, after all? We always had guests too.

I approach puerh as a digestif, probably a substitute for the cognac and single malt after-dinner drink set. Green tea started out for me as a way to keep my kidneys running, but so very natural to migrate on to the single malts of puerh tea as a way to end a fine day, and the occasional bender over night, because what else did I see growing up? Drunk people on the rug, passed out from too much good food. A reader told me “you seem to have farm and city sophistication, but you really can’t have both.” That person didn’t know my dad, because he had both and I got both. He was a farm boy, after all.

I had an embarrassment of riches growing up, and so today I am embarrassed at the riches of my tea collection. I am definitely the after-dinner drinker like my father, and he passed on his aesthetic to me. In the next post, I will consider the What of my tea drinking, that is, what I prefer to drink. Perhaps you may wish to reflect along, and consider how you formed your own approach to drinking puerh tea.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Notable Teas

As Black Friday approaches, I push myself to brew up a few teas I purchased this year, but didn't have time to write up before. Hopefully, a couple of quick jottings will suffice, for these teas are well worth the attention.

2017 Nannuo Mini-Mushrooms by Crimson Lotus Tea

I purchased these earlier in the year, probably 6-7 months ago and stored them in a vintage Ball jar. Every so often I gave them a sniff. They are four grams each, making a nice size for those tiny teapots everyone has. I started with a cold rinse and two quick boiling rinses.

Nannuo Mini-Mushroom, my own Ball Jar with sticker
The material here is notable in that multiple years of tea were combined, some vintage tea included is apparently as old as twenty. The vintage material is what attracted me to the tea, as I like my shou older than ten if possible. I brewed in a Lin's Ceramics blue glazed teapot. 

This tea is nothing short of a revelation. Brewing hard and thick, the first 5-6 steepings taste like candy nuggets were soaked in vanilla and rolled in cocoa. I don't often find the chocolate and vanilla notes that others taste in shou, but here these flavors are unmistakable. Pile notes are only slight, this tea is as sweet as cake, and sits in the heart chakra with happiness. I must be truly happy, because I picked up the crusty soaking meatloaf pan on the stove I was avoiding til later and scrubbed it right up.

Early steeps have a slight astringency which turns to juicy when the vanilla begins to fade. Then I can taste the storage, a whiff of old buildings, reminding me of the old tunnels under the convent. The presence of ancient Illuminati confirmed. The tea starts to die out around ten steepings, but what a session! The mushrooms can be had at about a dozen for under $20. Not cheap shou, but affordable in small quantity. I should never publish these words, I should hoard this tea to which in the offing, virgins with lamps lit run.

Bulk starting at $17.99/50g crimsonlotustea.com

2015 Poundcake 2 Unreleased by white2tea

Remember the long-sold-out 2015 Poundcake, with its floral candy-like sweetness? Yes, the one we got in tea club in butt-plug form. This year, white2tea released a second version of this tea on the down-low, to tea shops only. You cannot buy it on the white2tea website, although I cannot vouch for whether bribing the owner will get you one. I do know that Macha Tea Company in Madison, WI has it, and will ship by the ounce or whole beeng. 

Poundcake 2 Unreleased
photo by machateacompany.com
I got to try this in the shop over the summer, at a delightful session with tea blogger Rambling Butterfly, who opted for another tea of her choice while I manned my own gongfu teapot. Poundcake 2 has a more traditional wood smoke processing, rather like Chawangshop's campfire version of the Lao Yu teas. Consequently the tea has a darker, more smoky incense quality and I have to say I like it better than the original Poundcake. The flavor profile has a fuller bass note that the fresher, more spring-like original lacks. 

I can see why white2tea did not offer this on the website, the original Poundcake was a popular seller, and people who liked that tea might be disappointed at a traditional version. However, people preferring a traditional olde tyme factory religion Yiwu will like this. 

Bulk by the ounce, or $80/200g + shipping, Macha Tea Company machateaco@gmail.com, Phone (01) 608.283.9286

Guangxi-Style Liu Bao by Essence of Tea

People ask me where to buy good heicha, and Essence of Tea has the most intriguing selection at the moment. EoT sources in Malaysia and currently offers not one, but two 1950s aged Liu Bao teas. While these antique teas will set my wallet back into the Dark Ages, EoT has some less expensive  "younger" offerings such as 1990s, and a curious "Betel Nut" which will give anyone new to Liu Bao a taste of the nutty flavor prized in this type of tea.

First steeping
Liu Bao is first briefly oxidized like red tea, and then pile fermented for about ten days or so. After that, the loose tea is traditionally packed in baskets for aging, or pressed into bricks such as the Three Cranes brand does. This tea I own was passed to me by a tea friend. It has the usual flavors of red tea, shou, betel nut and a tangy zip on the tongue that a lively Liu Bao gives, and settles the stomach after a heavy meal. The chunk in the photo forms during piling or later in the basket. This Liu Bao is on the youngish side still, with dry storage. I got five good steepings, which is typical. 

While aged Liu Bao isn't cheap, the prices are a bargain compared to similarly aged puerh, and a good way to get a taste of antique tea for me of modest means. 

Selections of Liu Bao, bulk prices starting at $5,Three-Leaf Liu Bao $5.40, essenceoftea.com

Monday, November 19, 2018

Haiwan Spa

Green tea fads are surpassing the ridiculous. Many I do not understand. Green tea beer, anyone? Adding green tea to cosmetic type products has of course been around awhile now. What I really don’t understand about adding green tea to nearly every product in life we consume is the actual green tea. What sort of tea are these people using? Take this product, for instance:

This is a Korean beauty item called Patting Water. Dump a capful of this in a large bowl of water, and then pat your face with the water. I kind of wanted to buy this just to find out what sort of tea might be in it, as I saw a photo on eBay with what suspiciously looked like Korean tea leaf. Who would use a good sejak in soapy water? I bought the yellow one without the green tea instead.

Then, even more inexplicable is this:

Here we have a package of baby wipes. Now, I really must ask you parents of infants: do you wipe your baby’s ass with green tea? I wonder what green tea does on the ass (not gonna bring up the cucumber). I am somewhat deprived in terms of baby wipes because my own son’s ass broke out in a rash at every commercial baby wipe and I had to make wipes myself by sawing a roll of paper towels in half, removing the core and dumping warm water with baby bath and sensitive lotion over it. I didn’t get to enjoy regular baby wipes except now I buy them for myself and they don’t replace Preparation H.

But my singular puerh perspective asks, if I am gonna use green tea on my ass, wouldn’t I want the strongest possible green tea? If green tea has such benefits my ass can’t do without, then I don’t think cheap tea bags will cut it. Why would I buy cheap tea bags for such a purpose when I have more puerh than I can drink in a lifetime? The only difficulty is which puerh to use. Do I use the crap tea I really don’t want to drink, or the best tea I have, considering the importance of my own ass and the need to sit upon it?

I have seen ads for the Jingmai puerh spa and this of course makes perfect sense to me. And I know for a fact that Wilson goes to the Haiwan Spa every year because he sort of admits to it and I can see through those photos of tea ware and tongs he brings home. At a certain age, we all get the same troubles. I know exactly what the Dalai Lama means when he says a good day is a good dump, even if the disappointed young journalist in London looking for rarified wisdom missed the fact he was given some. I don’t know if His Holiness drinks green tea, probably not puerh, but my pu logic dictates that if I really need green tea on or in my ass, stronger is better. If the green tea fad has raised any sort of awareness, the young journalist today might say “oh well I use Dehong for that.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

2018 Lucy by Yunnan Sourcing

After last year’s excellent Year of the Rooster ripe, I have high expectations for this year’s ripes from Yunnan Sourcing. This vendor has two house shou teas so far this year, the Year of the Dog 357g tea for $35, and the “Lucy” 250g for $25, both teas at $0.10/g. Year of the Dog is a blend of shou teas from 2013, and 2015 and so is not made of this year’s tea. Most people know that Lucy is the name of Scott Wilson’s Doberman dog, so I figure this tea is probably the house favorite and so I went ahead and bought Lucy as my choice for 2018.

Lucy is a very firmly compressed beeng comprised of a blend of Menghai and Lincang sourced leaf, according to the description. The wrapping includes a cloth like inner wrapper, a nice touch I usually find on more expensive teas. Visually the cake is impressive too, the leaves are tippy and small, again a quality I find on more expensive shou teas, a mark of a “premium” shou for which I have paid 2x and even 3x more from other sources. In every way this tea rivals the tribute style from more traditional factories, and the Empress in question is of course Lucy the Doberman.

I pick off 6g to sample, and do two rinses. The tea is thick and brown, slightly cloudy but I expect this to clear in another year or so. The first six or so brews are still heavy with pile flavor, and very lively in the mouth and on the tongue, stone fruit-ish and sweet, just a touch of bitterness. Brews 8-10 are well worth the wait, with a mushroom/wine reward. The caffeine is on the mild side for me. The later steeps sit more in the throat and belly. Not a particularly strong qi experience for me, but perhaps my tolerance is high. Still, tippy small leaf puerh like this usually has many steepings to offer, and this still has more to give after ten. I go twelve on my initial session, and I am at about a 30 second steep time at this point. Something about Yunnan Sourcing ripe teas flips my addiction switch, I turn into a drunk who can’t stop. Thankfully I don’t drive after tea!

Every so often I receive emails from people looking to drink shou daily in the morning and they need to get a stockpile of tea going. The challenge is the initial outlay, given a 250g tea is going to last about a month at 8-10g pot per day. Shou should ideally rest a couple of years, so getting ahead of your stockpile is a goal, but the cost to do so is on the high side. Lucy is a tea to consider for this purpose, because a tong of 7 costs $175 from the China website, or $194 from the US site. Unless you feel like shopping more widely, two tongs of Lucy plus one of Year of the Rooster to drink now will give you a good start, and Lucy can rest while you work your way through the Rooster tong. Sure, you can go a bit cheaper with tuos, but Lucy is a premium leaf quality for such a tiny price.

I forgot to take a picture of the wet leaf.
It's the usual dark, small leaves though.
 I can’t think how you can go wrong if you let her sit for a bit. Once you get ahead of your stockpile, you can buy 1-2 tongs per year and that reduces the budget outlay. As long as you can sidestep a sheng addiction, your tea spending here is quite reasonable. Don't forget loyalty points, I had $5 worth to coupon on this purchase, bringing my cost down to $22 on the US site. Mr. Wilson is crazy to sell this leaf quality for half what it normally costs. I would love to try the more expensive Golden Bud production too, but of course it costs more. 

This year a trend is certainly evident with vendors doing more ripe and white teas as a way to reduce costs to consumers, given the yet higher prices of maocha. I feel like I am not missing anything, as vendors are offering such excellent shou, white and red teas using Yunnan leaf. What do you think of this trend?

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Affordable Tea Gifts for the Puerh Lover

The annual Chinese 11/11 retail sale is only a few days away, and I haven't put together a holiday wish list in awhile. Everyone has a wish list for tea and associated wares. Mine might be a little "off," but maybe someone else can find an idea or two.

Zojirushi kettles are in the $200 range and out of reach of many a wallet. Might be worth looking at a an outright knock-off.

Zojirushi kettle knock-off , Aliexpress. $36.22 on 11/11.
Here is a stocking stuffer idea. A Yerba Mate spoon works well for shou balls, stir and suck it up while filtering out any sticks or other funk. Costs less than the coins floating around inside the sofa.

Yerba Mate Spoon,
Aliexpress $0.43-1.27.
Maybe you were five seconds too late for the 30 Second Petr Novak autumn studio sale. Interesting Japanese-made set, fairness cup and five tea cups, from an impeccable seller. $79.

Japan houhin set, $79, Ebay

This is so cool, a lamp bedside table and matching accessories. At least I can find my teacup with this. Comes in several sizes. 

Blubble [sic] Lamps and vases, Aliexpress, $82-275
I will call this an"Oriental fantasy" Japanese Girls Having Tea doormat. Speaks for itself. 

Japanese Girls  Doormat, Aliexpress.
Various sizes, on 11/11 $11.34-18.84
What a great idea for making your own shou, or for the overzealous wet storage freak pushing the mold envelop. Let's face it, sometimes we need to throw a tea away, and we need an easy way to do it. This bucket has a removable charcoal filter in the lid to control odor.

Russian Compost bucket, Aliexpress, $12.79
Kim Hau Ceramics, Los Angeles cup shaped draining soap dish. I have two of these, and had another custom made for my sister. I could use one or two more. The artist is delightful to work with.

Soap dish, by Kim Hau Ceramics, Etsy
made to order, $30

Tuesday, November 6, 2018


I received a sample of white2tea's 2018 Lucky Puppy with one of my purchases over the summer. I count myself as lucky, and the Puppy no doubt refers to the Year of the Dog. This is one of white2tea's premium offerings this year, ringing in at a painful $228/200g, about $1/g. Understandably for a free sample, I got a beenghole along with some loose tea, and I pick out 3g of the loose tea to brew up in a tiny senchado pot. The dry leaf is dark green and likely has not settled down yet from pressing.

Early steeps have a sour note along with bitterness that is less apparent on the boil than at cooler temps. A vegetal profile confirms that the tea is still green tea, with cucumber rind and green pepper as the top notes. The star of this tea is the qi, as one might expect from white2tea, and qi is what we are paying for here. While the tea sticks to the mouth and tongue, the brew is on the thin side, although brewing only 3g is partly to blame, I expect the tea will thicken more eventually. Right now this is just so fresh, even after three months in the bag since arriving.

The qi is heady, with strong visual acuity, I literally get one eyeglass prescription better. Most of the time I notice I'm overdue for new glasses but all of a sudden the ones I am wearing are just swell. I can contrast this experience with 2018 Arbor Red tea, which has a more relaxing body feel for me.

My tea cashes out around twelve steeps. A regular session of more like 8g should go fifteen to twenty, I expect, but I don't want to waste the tea. I still notice a persistent sour note, although the later steepings give me a creeping huigan and hints of the sweetness that might take over in the future once this tea settles down. The processing is excellent with absolutely no oolonged leaves in my sample. Given the price point here, I think sampling is in order to make sure the purchase will satisfy anyone interested, the lucky puppy is a person who can detect a strong qi.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Xiaguany River, 2011 Grey Crane

Today is one of those golden autumn days, with the last of the silver maple leaves falling into the sunny window of my house. While the local kids go trick-or-treat-ing, I will treat myself to a bit of Xiaguan. This 2011 Grey Crane sample is from Virginia storage master mrmopar, sent to me several years ago. Over the past year the sample has served as a test for potter Inge Nielsen's new clay jar and the tea very much likes this new home, judging from the fragrance when I lift the lid. My old teapot Chip cried neglect as I perused which pot to pour, so he gets a day in the October sunshine. I notice his repairs are holding up.

My Halloween treat, 2011 Xiaguan Grey Crane
A few years ago I obsessed a little over buying a 2011 Grey Crane cake, originally not a very expensive production, and so mrmopar generously offered to send me a sample to help with the decision of whether to buy the tea. At the same time, I obsessed over 2011 Taetea Century Shou, and I got a sample of that tea in the package, such a large sample I did not feel the need to buy the tea. I ended up passing on the Grey Crane as well. As always, mrmopar quietly stores his tea in an excellent manner. When he decides to sell tea someday, I feel certain all his teas will have had a nice start.

Second steep after the rinse.
Xiaguan special productions are always worth a look, because they start out in the budget price range for the most part and appreciate in value over the years. They also tend to taste less harsh at the outset compared to tuos. The 2011 Grey Crane is an iron pressing, but like most Xiaguan iron pressings, the cake is thin enough that I can find a spot to break on my sample. I think of white2tea's Prolaxicorvatin and wonder if I should buy one just for the storage experience, because my other iron pressings preserve quite well.

First steeping on the boil and I am punished with full-on bitter, but the color of the tea is starting to brown a little which tempers the bitterness going forward. The tea is surprisingly thick already, at only seven years old. My pot Chip tempers the brew somewhat, and I enjoy spicy red clover honey notes amidst the Xiaguany house flavor, and that heavy vapor coming up from the stomach that we look for, and it lingers as I type along. Some very nice huigan, but the money steeps are 5-7 and the tea starts fading after that. I find a very old sheng leaf in my sample, brown and twisted. I almost think it shou, but no, it's just a very old leaf. Maybe that's the surprise in the Grey Crane.

Some brown developing, the old twisted leaf on the far left.
I am not tempted to trace down a cake of this, but anyone owning the tea already surely is pleased with it. Down the road I can imagine a bit of trading for it among collectors who own a tong. Drinkers can expect a mellow, sweet drink already with just a few more years of storage.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Whatever Happened to Bad Tea? A Return to the Outlaw

"Outlaw" Banzhangy-Yiwu-ey--I ain't what I claim to be tea.
Hard to believe this blog is now in a fifth year, though as I predicted at the very beginning, health and medications take a toll on my tea drinking. Today I am glad for the chugging years, all too often now puerh gets replaced by hongcha in my daily cup, yet on the bright side I have some hongs that are worth getting up for. Poor old Lu Yu, he knows that the greatest pleasure on earth is tea drinking, he has no need of it now, but if he has any remaining consciousness I am certain he misses it. Looking back on my older posts, I decided to revisit one of the teas I wrote about very early on. Let’s see how it is doing.

My intention when buying this beeng on eBay was to try and find the worst possible tea, to acquire a bad tea for my collection because everything else I own is so good that surely I am missing out. I failed miserably on this attempt to buy a bad beengcha, others have acquitted themselves admirably in the same task. 

After my August 2014 blog post on this “Overlord Drunk” tea, I tossed this tea into crock storage not long after spending some time in a pumidor I had then. The problem with this tea is the double wrappers were made of rather inexpensive paper which did not stay wrapped up, as rag paper will. Very quickly the wrappers got messed and started shredding, and loose tea began to flake off the stone pressed disk. On top of this, I noticed a somewhat smoky quality to the processing and decided to try and work this out by breaking up the tea into a crock. Thus, this tea made of probably autumn material from 2008-2011 or thereabouts spent about 4 years in a Haeger stoneware “cookie jar.” I tried to get some photos. 

Somebody did not want to move, and hard to blame him given the last few warm summer days when I took these photos (mid-September).

Okay one more for the too-cute factor. 

Winston is my 2 ½ year old orphan kitten who still wants me to hand feed him on occasion. Despite that, he is quite the hunter with some astonishing kills on his CV. He doesn’t like petting beyond a head scritch or two, so I think the very occasional hand feeding is his way of getting some emotional interaction with me.

Here is the original photo of the beeng hole side back from 2014.

Today, the tea looks like this.

Broken up beeng from stoneware jar.
The first thing I notice is the oxidation or browning that has occurred during crock storage, especially on the buds which were silvery white before. This is a stage that happens with any tea stored well. Basically the tea begins to lose color just as fall leaves do, although this is not really much “change,” the chlorophyll simply dies out. Fully oxidized tea is of course hongcha. The cell walls of the tea are loosening up some on this Outlaw tea, which admittedly did have some oxidized leaves on the edges of the beeng to begin with. This explains somewhat the orange color the of the brew back in 2014, and now.

A chunk from the pile, starting to turn brown.
People sometimes confuse oxidation with solid state fermentation, equating the two. Oxidation is a stage that happens most visibly in the first few years in both wet and dry storage. Oxidation is also a problem prior to retail if the tea sat too long before chaqing, or the chaqing was under done (and of course the tea will be sold anyway). But solid state fermentation of puerh tea takes two decades, unless one wets down the tea and quick-ferments into shou. A year, or even four years of storage, no matter how you store the tea is just an oxidation phase, with the tea slowly loosening its walls. The actual fermentation of yeasts and much later the conversion of juices from bitter to sweet are very slow after that. The browning on my cake is really just the start of fifteen more years to go.

Another reason I chose to revisit this tea now is because the origins are similar, in my mind, to the Dark Forest and Yiwu Spotlight which I reviewed in the previous post. The flavor profile is virtually identical, and the color of the brew too. But the eBay tea is much less powerful than the others, a weaker sibling. I brewed this tea in Yixing to duplicate how I brewed it for the older post.

Second steeping, rather orange like the Yiwu-region teas from previous post.
Far from a “bad” tea, I notice how much more thick the brew is now, motor oil thick with fuzzies in the strainer from the buds. The profile is a bit monotonous, lightly bitter and the oiliness settles the bitterness firmly onto the tongue which takes fifteen minutes to resolve into sweetness. Pleasant enough light apricot yogurt. I have to push the tea from the start to get what I consider a nice strong cup, at least 20-30 seconds. I went six steepings and you can see from the leaves they are nowhere near unfurled yet. 

Sixth steep, this tea has nice thickness, but not a whole lot else.
Maybe I am unfair, but like before this guy just doesn’t have what it takes to satisfy me. The tea is basically an experiment and nothing I hope to turn into anything. 

Steeped leaves in 2014.
I cannot fail to note that while the leaves may be less powerful than I would like, the leaf quality is such that the tea would cost far more now. The tea is still available in sample bags, the beengcha have sold out. Of course the price is higher too, but not ridiculous.

Steeped leaves from today, my sunny window
surely washes out the color a little.
Perhaps I will check this one again someday. In the summer it gets the heat and humidity my three-season porch provides, and I remove the lid on hot days, and replace it for any cold or rainy weather. In winter, I wipe the inner lid with a damp paper towel to add a bit of moisture. In the past few years we have had hot, humid summers and humid autumn and spring too, so I have not added moisture quite as much. My teas are still holding quite a bit of moisture through the winter. Fingers crossed, as always.

Friday, September 21, 2018

2015 Dark Forest vs 2018 Yiwu Spotlight

2015 Dark Forest
Four years into puerh blogging and I am only getting round to Tea Urchin now. This feels like a bit of an oversight on my part, but no reason for it other than my tea dollars only stretch so far. Other teas are simply more in my face for various reasons, and with some regret, as I have had my eye on several Tea Urchin offerings. Although I have a few samples in my possession from Tea Urchin acquired mostly through swaps or tea friend donations, the 2015 Dark Forest beeng is my first purchase from this company. Waiting too long now has priced a few intriguing teas well beyond where they once were. For example, Tea Urchin still has a 2010 Chen Sheng Yi Hao tea, which is now just brushing $200 for a healthy 400g beeng, but was half that only a couple years ago. I rather liked the strength in that tea, but it is another animal altogether from Tea Urchin’s own Dark Forest offering.

Photographed next to a daylight-filled window.
Back in 2015, word of mouth on Dark Forest was a bit muted, and Mr. Tomek’s notes are similar to what I heard from other puerh fans. So I hesitated, and in the meantime nearly $20 got added onto the 200g beeng. Again, I have no excuse really because I certainly dropped cash on pricier teas since then, except perhaps that the opportunities to buy puerh have vastly expanded and some tend to grab more attention. What got me finally is a tea friend who bought Dark Forest a few years ago, recently tried it again and said she likes it far better now, that the tea has changed from a greener profile to deeper notes. Well, before the price goes over that $100 mark, which it will, I decided I should buy one. 

Definitely a traditional pressing.
I let my beeng sit a month in my hothouse summer porch setting, and maybe the recent rains added moisture because now the beeng is a bit big for its box, having swelled some. Tea Urchin is located in Shanghai, and assuming the teas are stored there, we have far more humid storage there than Kunming. My ex takes the train from Hefei to Shanghai regularly, and I envy what could have been my chance to maybe meet up with folks like Belle and Eugene for tea.

Have you noticed that everyone has a so-called “secret forest” tea lately? The garden nobody else seems to access or know about. I tend to take all this with a grain of salt, except that Belle is a professional in the Chinese tea industry. Tea Urchin is not an outfit of greenish westerners with backpacks on bikes. The only advice I give myself about secret gardens is to look at photos carefully, because if the trees look a bit picked over, it’s a clue for thought. I have a secret watermelon garden and still kids steal my melons. At any rate, the Dark Forest garden is supposedly between Bohetang and Wangong. Tea Urchin also produced a Gedeng tea in 2015, so thereabouts in the general region they found the leaf for this production.

Second steeping.
My tasting of this tea rather reminds me more of a spicy Youle profile, the nose is brown sugar and my first steeping of 6g in about 90 ml yields initial notes of orange chocolate, light apricots similar to Manzhuan, and a warm nutmeg finish in the throat which turns cooling a few steeps in. The leaves are a nice mix of larger leaf with small furry buds.

Two-leaf one bud picking.
The liquor is notable with an amber color, usually this is a rare color to see so early, but I notice a couple of leaves in the mix which look either a wild purple or outright oxidized, either of which could contribute to the color. Drinking as hot as possible off the boil gives me the chocolate and nutmeg notes before the bitterness kicks in. Cooling the tea leads to a very bitter profile that turns sweet and cool in the back of the mouth. The pour looks thicker than the sip feels.

The tea gives me more clarity of vision rather than a strong “body feel,” however the tea sits warm in the tummy for more than an hour afterward. After about four steepings the astringency kicks in for me. Maybe waiting a bit for the tea to settle in Shanghai was a good idea after all. I am glad for the bitterness and more traditional flavor as a base, over which I can find those spicy chocolate notes, the tea has strength which should hold up. This tea is far more cleanly processed than some factory teas I own with a similar profile. The yun is impressive even in late steepings, though some sourness shows up too, as can happen with Yiwu region teas after a few years. Plenty to give even after ten steepings, and just enough of the spice left to maintain some interest.

Placing the tea in my interests, based on what I already own, and what is on the market, this one is probably a bit underpriced now. I forgo linking the tea for you so the vendor does not notice an uptick in specific traffic, and people start saying “blogger effect.” This tea really isn’t traditional honey and wood Yiwu, it leans more Youle/Manzhuan and appears honestly uncultivated. So, the tea is twice the price of a basic garden Yiwu. If one cannot buy into super premium Yiwu, and wants something rather better than the $40-50/200g tea garden beeng, this one has much more complexity and lingering body/throat presence.

If these leaves were new this year, I feel fairly certain the cake would cost more in the $150-200 range. As for aging, uncultivated tea is rather uncertain, but buying a cake is probably not an aging project. A 200g beeng is only 25-30 sessions and likely to get consumed unless one tongs it. Dark Forest has an oddball potential: it awaits a particular someone who likes the yun and knows what the tea would cost now, who falls in love with it and buys it all up. I guess that’s a way of saying someone with a more experienced taste and owns tea already will buy this up, someone who whimsy buys a whole harvest, as opposed to people relying on others for “what should I buy?”

2018 Yiwu “Spotlight” Maocha

Last year I accepted some teas from yiwumountaintea.com, and decided after trying them that the reasonably priced and rather generous Yiwu sampler pack was worth a consideration. That pack sold out. This company has more sampler packs this year, but they cost more and contain less tea. I did not get asked whether I wanted to try 2018 teas, the vendor emailed me that he’d already sent a box. Blogging does bring welcome teas along with a bit of hostage-taking.

Beautiful long leaves.
Who is this vendor? This is another married-couple-vendor situation where the wife is from Yunnan and whose father, you can guess, is the tea pro. The vendor claims to make connections via father-in-law and then chooses to pay a “premium price” to sources to prevent them from selling elsewhere. That premium price, and then more pricing, all get passed on to buyers. Some of the teas on the site are sticker-shock. The Tongqinghe wrappers are found on very fine and not-so-fine wholesale teas, which creates a question of where the tea comes from and how it differs, or maybe just how certain wrappers get on teas. Scrutinizing vendors nowadays goes into a rabbit hole of more questions than answers. Suffice to say, we now have three or four married couple vendors to choose from, with father-in-law involvement now a meme. I am not questioning this vendor as such, but I am aware that I have no way of checking on any details. The vendor is in Guangzhou, in case anyone is able to check via local selling.

I received one 2018 “Yiwu Spotlight gushu,” a 2012 “Yiwu gushu,” and a 2017 “Yiwu gushu ripe brick” sample. Obviously these are impressive titles, and for now I can try the 2018. If the other two stick out in a particular way, I might post them on Instagram. The yiwumountaintea site overall is super expensive, and likely to appeal only to a small group of buyers who can afford these prices. Most people who read this blog are looking for more affordable choices, but from what I gather this vendor sells more locally.

Second steeping.
The 2018 Spotlight Maocha sample is from a 2 kg total loose purchase and is sold in 50g increments for $18.86. This is comparable, price-wise, with the Dark Forest in 2015 puerh dollars. However you can only buy loose leaf which makes storage a bit of a challenge.  I brewed up the entire sample in one go so I didn’t need to worry about keeping it. The result was probably rather strong compared to how most people might choose to consume the tea. In fact, probably a western steep of a pinch of this tea is enough for most people.

The 8th steeping, tea much more yellow now.
Overall I found the tea is on point price-wise, if a bit overhyped in the description. The early steeps had a sour note, no doubt in part due to my keeping the tea in the bag for most of the summer. I noted a burnt brown sugar profile, and like the Dark Forest this tea steeped up dark early on but unlike Dark Forest the brew lightened up to a honey yellow later on. I got quite a caffeine bump from the tea, and it mainly sits in the stomach. Because of going heavy on the tea leaf I had quite a bitter cup of tea. I’m glad I kept going past the early sour brews to enjoy more of the brown sugar along with a tomato vine green tea flavor in later steeps. Thickness was not that impressive, but in a drinker quality tier I hope for a good 8-10 steepings and an enjoyable but not necessarily unique experience.

The reality with Yiwu area teas is that we have the choice of going super premium house-payment-priced teas and then…everything else. Most people have or want at least some Yiwu teas in their collection. Dark Forest sticks out a bit more from the crowd for me, but otherwise you can find decent drinking Yiwu from a number of vendors such as Bitterleaf’s much less expensive yearly Yiwu cake, or white2tea’s former Diving Duck production for example. One can easily acquire Bitterleaf’s Yiwu just as an add-on with a teaware purchase. I’m just not sure I can find reason to pay more for new Yiwu unless I want to really bump up higher to a much more premium quality elsewhere.