; Cwyn's Death By Tea: February 2018 ;

Friday, February 9, 2018

3 Reasons to Make Shou at Home

Long time readers of this blog may remember the batch of shou I made back in 2015. Hard to believe three years have passed since I finished that shou. Over the first year I continued to taste the tea every six months. Later I sent a sample to a vendor who tried the tea, and sent me more maocha to make another batch. I have just completed one of these new batches, and still have maocha left over.

The super exciting part for me is recently trying the first batch again. When shou is freshly made, the brew will start out a little cloudy, requiring several steepings to clear. As my first batch is now at the 3-year mark, it shows clear on the second steeping, rather than on the 8th steep. I also noticed that the tea now smells like every factory shou I own that is younger than ten years, it smells like regular shou. In early months, the tea had a musty, funky smell. All that is now gone, and I cannot tell the difference between this shou and those I have purchased in the past. Let's review how the tea changed over the past three years.

You can see how cloudy the initial cup was after I finished the shou. I need to steep the tea eight times for it to clear.

Then, at six months, I needed to steep the tea six times for it to clear. 

Now today, my shou clears on the second steeping. 

At 3 years, the tea has cleared much and is a bit more brown.
My newest shou turned out a bit less cloudy than the first batch. The maocha is also different, and this time I do not know anything about the origin of the maocha. I was also told not to drink the maocha raw, perhaps the tea had some less than clean processing. 

Week 1 of new batch, just starting out.
Any bacteria in raw maocha from unclean hands or factory conditions will work itself out during fermentation and years of resting. In my first batch, I moistened the tea with a premium Yiwu brew, rather than just plain water, and that also accounted for some of the initial clouding, and I can taste a lively-in-the-tongue bitter edge to my first batch, indicating more aging potential.

After a few weeks, I could have stopped but felt the tea was
a bit uneven due to some spots drying faster than others.
For my current batch, I just used plain water to moisten the tea leaves. I do not want to drink my current batch yet, for it is too fresh and musty, but I brewed up a couple of steepings, and here is the tea after two rinses, with two brews poured in the same cup. 

At 9 weeks today, the tea is finished and much more evenly fermented.
Obviously I did not want to use much leaf just for the sake of photos, so I need to pour two steeps together to get a cup for the picture.

Today's first two brews of the tea in the last photo above.
Not bad looking at all! Smells musty though, so I
do not want to drink it yet, just a smell check.
I have learned so much about puerh tea from this process of making shou and resting it, which gives me the most important reason to make shou.

Deepen my understanding of puerh tea aging and fermentation.

This is the best reason to make shou. I get to smell this stuff and experience how funky and almost nasty smelling puerh tea is during the shou making process. I get to see what happens when I spray or pour more water into the batch to continue adding moisture, the water seeps a little liquid to the bottom of my crock bowl and I can check the color. This tells me when the shou is done, the liquid goes from a dirty yellow to reddish brown. I can watch tiny dots of white mold form on the tea. I turn my tea daily and work in the moisture evenly.

As the tea rests, I can check every six months to see how the rested tea tastes and looks in the cup. I can see how my first batch of shou tea clears first around steep eight, then six, and now just two steepings. My vendor friend assured me the tea would clear, and this has indeed happened.

Using up sheng I probably will not drink.

Making shou is a great idea for tea that I doubt I will drink and probably should not try to pawn off on someone else. Most of us have at least some tea that we either wish we had not bought, or maybe our tastes have changed. A bitter, smoky puerh in particular will make a decent shou. You can always steam apart a cake or brick to use in a shou batch.

Earning myself a decent drink after a few years!

This is the very last reason to make shou. Who cares if I drink it or not? The point is, I got my head further into the puerh I enjoy so much. I really do not think I can decide on the “quality” of my shou until the tea rests, and even now shou continues to improve with more years. I have learned that shou older than 10 years is the best. Hard to say if I will last out my current batch of shou, but I am okay with that.

Anyone can make shou. I really believe using some sort of crockery, glazed stoneware, makes the most sense for shou. We have all seen photos of shou on a cement factory floor covered with a browned tarp, so we know just about anything goes for shou. A small amount of tea can ferment in a glass jar with a cloth over the top. The main ingredients aside from the tea are water and heat.

I find the heat the tricky part. Right now we have very frigid cold weather, so my cast iron radiators are hot all the time and this provides the heat under the crock bowl. In Yunnan, the weather is warm and muggy during the summer. For me, summer is not ideal because we get high heat and then cooldowns for a day or two, I cannot guarantee the conditions for the 2-10 weeks required for making shou. In winter, my radiators provide the conditions much more reliably.

Aside from the heat, we also have dry air. I run a humidifier and use pans of water on each radiator. Despite this, my shou batch will dry out within a few days and so I need to check it. I also need to turn the tea and mix it, I usually find some dry spots and some wet spots. In the crock bowl, the tea on the bottom can compost quickly. Turning the tea prevents that. I use plastic gloves on my hands to turn the tea.

If you start a shou batch and do not turn it often enough, you will first notice blue/green mold and affected tea must be tossed. Dots of white mold are normal and okay, and these will seem to disappear when turning the tea. Turning the tea and airing it a little daily, or as often as I want to, allows me to look and smell the situation. Shou smells funky and musty, all that will eventually clear out.

Remember, if you make your own shou, taste and spit for the first six months. Your sense of smell will tell you when to drink it. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

2017 Mansong New Company Yiwu Mountain Tea

YiwuMountainTea sample packs
I received some unsolicited samples from a new company in Yunnan called Yiwu Mountain Tea. The owner emailed asking if I wanted some samples (no, not really) but then I got talked into it. I am glad I did! Yiwu Mountain Tea has a retail website, but the owner stated they mostly do wholesaling, with some purchases direct from small time farmers and some of their retail offerings appear to be factory label teas.

While my kettle boiled I opened up the 2017 Mansong and started brewing before checking the website to find out this tea is already sold out. I went ahead anyway since I had already opened the packet, although I prefer to try teas that are still available to buy. On the plus side, I have a fairly recent memory of an excellent Chen Yuan Hao Mansong for mental reference, and the prices on Yiwu Mountain Tea approach the high premiums we would pay for CYH.

2017 Mansong
This still-green Mansong hits all the right notes for me in what I want in a premium tea. Hits like a truck with full sweating, full body qi, hot flashes, some thickness in early steeps, yun, and bitter as hell as it cools. Mansong is a bit on the north side of Yiwu, but recently the prices of this small area are high. I notice the leaves are definitely first flush, mainly younger trees. I am tea drunk enough to give a fast thumbs up on this sample.

I had planned to try the other samples before posting this, but I notice the prices of full cakes are steep for what most people reading my post here are likely to afford. Most of the 2017 are not available to buy in full size teas. The good news is a sample pack is available for $31.64 that contains a total of 8 teas, 120g. The website also says that “free gushu samples” are sent with any order over $30. As a comparison, a 2016 CYH Yiwu Chawang at Teapals sells for around $70 for 75g sample pack.

Second steep
This seems like a fairly decent deal and probably limited in availability. If you are like me, we are priced out of the premium market now so opportunities to try teas like this are scarce unless you know someone willing to share. I am not sure what I think of the factory teas on the site, but the sample pack is certainly attractive.