; Cwyn's Death By Tea: July 2018 ;

Thursday, July 26, 2018

There Oughta Be a Law

Really, I don’t know what these tea people are on about. Now, I am a person, well okay I’ve only been drinking puerh a few months, but I bought all the teas they tell me I should get and you know what, I just don’t like them. Still I know my taste and for a fact I can buy teas a lot cheaper than that Hype cake for $38 at white2tea, just look at Yunnan Sourcing you will find puerh teas that cost a lot less than that. I just can’t find any right now but I know there are some, true fact.

Quite honestly I am so tired of Yiwu and all those sweet teas that guess what, they are hongcha and oolong!!!! They are all made into oolong!!! If they are not oolong, then they just taste like wood and dirty leaf pile. Supposedly they have fruit notes and spice notes and flower notes and lemon notes and probably cliff notes (no what thet’s yancha), and who wants cliff notes I don’t know, but I really don’t like the wood and leaf profile. They better be for real super aged like the teas I bought on Amazon last year which still taste like something and cost me a lot less!!

Otherwise, if you want to tell me about other teas I will have to demand proof. I don’t mean proof like bloggers posts, because bloggers either lie or they all get free tea or paid to write and anybody can blog. I mean objective proof. Seriously I’m a STEM and that means show me the research because yes, we are going to science the fuck (thank you Greek lady) out of this puerh tea or else it’s just all made up, all hype, yes HYPE and you will pay $38 for a mere 200g for the privilege of posting on Twitter just how cool you are with the foodies telling you where to go to eat spaghetti. And you will pay $25 for that plate of spaghetti, I’d rather buy the sauce and eat it on a potato. If you haven’t done that, try it sometime.

Show me the research and I mean links, and more links because it’s up to YOU to prove me wrong. Also I want shou that isn’t Bulang and tastes like brown mud because this is what I bought so far based on everyone else telling me what to get. (Does NOT taste like chocolate.) I am happy to try what you suggest and I will do it right away and tell you whether I like it or not. I am doing the same with 2018 because all the teas I tried so far just are not good and I don’t see any reason to try them again at this point. I have made up my mind by now. Maybe I can get a refund. If you want samples I have plenty which I can sell to you because I don’t want them, and even some supposed old ones because they just are not aged enough. And don't believe the whole qi thing, there is no qi in any teas, smoke weed like I do if you want qi.

Bottom line, I really cannot find any better puerh than what I bought a long time ago and it has been fine in my plastic takeout tubs at least six months now. Unless you can prove to me differently I don’t see the reason to spend any more money at this point, though maybe I will if I can find something under $30, which I probably can and it will be a lot better than the teas people keep chatting about. Waiting 20 years is just dumb. Stupid Hype people, be smart like I am and save your money, or better yet buy coffee if you feel as done with puerh tea as I do.

Sent from my iPad

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Taobao Puerh Group Buying

Just over a month ago I participated in a friendly Taobao group buy with some tea friends. We all paid $27 for a bunch of samples, basically beengcha purchases divided between a lot of people. This is a small amount of money to get in on some tea fun. One person usually does the work of selecting teas, ordering, collecting money via Paypal, and then dividing and mailing out the packets of tea. Usually it's fair for the person doing the work to get a little more tea from the dividing if s/he is not charging any fee. A little extra tea is the payment.

Trying to find good tea on Taobao is something of a fool’s errand, so doing a group buy like this is a good way to go rather than wasting a lot of one’s own money. If I lived in China, I would probably constantly buy off Taobao, playing the tea lottery, random beengs like scratch-off instant win tickets, except that scratch-off tickets are mostly instant-lose. How do people with a tea problem manage to live in China and still have furniture? Maybe that’s the point in a puerh collector's life when you need to open a tea shop and rent a warehouse. Otherwise, for those of us living outside of China, while some Taobao shops are starting to ship overseas, most are still only shipping within China and you need to pay an agent to order, and double shipping costs. Splitting these costs among a large group of people makes sense. 

With a Taobao cheap tea, brown and not gray is good.
This sample is labeled 2002 Mahei. I know nothing about it. Probably everyone in the group buy discussed it and I didn’t read any of the information. The leaf looks a bit autumn to me with long stemmy leaves. I decide to use a Lin’s Purion cup to mitigate…whatever needs mitigating. The chunk weighs 14g so I might as well brew the whole thing up, going with my guess that the tea is autumn. I used my 125 ml gaiwan. Three rinses, one to open up the chunk and two more, I notice the brew is on the soapy/foamy side.

The storage on this smells nice, the tea obviously had some very aggressive storage early on, based on the browning and reddish cast to the liquor, but then stored in dry conditions, leaving behind an old wood/hay smell which definitely takes time to achieve. One mark in favor of the stated age. My fear with Taobao teas is overly wet, moldy flavor and luckily none of that here.

First steep has mild bitterness and some old wood flavor, but not much else. I toss and move on to the next two steeps. The tea has more mouth-coating mild bitterness, fairly thin, smoked meat with a touch of floral. For steeps five and six I extend the brew time from flash to sitting another 10 seconds, but aside from the bit of bitterness, I just don’t taste much in this. The next two steepings are thinning out more and I brew these in my glass cup. The Lin’s cup has a floral aroma when empty. I need to make sure this isn’t due to build-up of other teas, and change to a glass cup. But my glass cup and the cha hai don’t have any residual aroma, so my Lin’s cup is now leeching other teas in. That’s actually a desirable quality of clay teaware, but not so much when evaluating one tea.

Steep 7, I didn't use a camera filter either. Picked up the red more, I guess.
After eight steepings, I am feeling the astringency now. But overall the tea just lacks flavor other than mild bitterness. At 14g/125ml I expect the tea to hit me with whatever it has to offer, just unfortunately not much here. I kinda think this is autumn tea, aged wet early on and just not holding up after that. Mahei is Yiwu-ish, less aggressive than perhaps other areas, but I remember that beautiful 2016 Chen Yuan Hao Mahei with the rare pink color, like nipples. Never mind, it’s an unfair comparison.

If you want to get in on group lottery buys, places like Steepster or even Reddit may be a good way to meet people. Just post a topic and ask, usually somebody can steer you to someone else. Who knows, you might a tea that fits your taste. After a few rounds of group buying, saving the money toward a really nice tea is probably a better plan.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Puer Aeterna, Naka in 2018

2018 Naka tea ball from Bitterleaf Teas

I feel hesitant writing about Naka puerh now. Back in the early days of my blog I wrote about white2tea’s 2005 Naka white label tea, and that post has followed me ever since. Naka became a meme for tea drunk puerh. I get direct messages from random people asking “are you drinking Naka???” I assume these messages mean white2tea’s Naka, of which I own two beengs. Perhaps surprisingly while it is one of my favorite teas, I have not tried it in a couple of years. I suppose I am hoarding it, even though white2tea has reassured me that they have a nice supply if I need more. 

Back then my blog post also included a discussion of the long-sold-out 2007 bamboo Naka from Chawangshop, which is a traditional preparation of Naka leaf. The tiny leaves for which the region is known are stuffed raw into bamboo tubes then heated to set the tea. This rough bamboo Naka I own is not as potent as the white2tea beeng, and the difference in price reflects the quality and preparation. I’m not the only person who has tried both the white2tea and bamboo Nakas from Chawangshop, and the Chawangshop teas sold out fast years ago. I think we generally agreed the 2007 had more body feels than the 2012 bamboo, but all this is a memory now, long gone in old discussions.

The difficulty with the white2tea beeng is the cash outlay, today you need $369 for a 357g tea. You can buy a 25g sample, which is nice, and when people talk to me about this tea, they usually have purchased the sample and not the entire beeng. I hear again and again “I wish I could buy the whole tea.” After the Chawangshop teas sold out, I bought a couple of random cheap Naka teas from Taobao and eBay, mainly to answer a question to myself of whether or not we can just “buy” Naka easily. The answer very quickly emerged as a no, and I stopped wasting money after that. Naka has older small leaf tea which I like, and modern tea gardens too which are not the same as the small leaf. So, I cannot say for certain that my cheap buys are not Naka, since they could contain modern tea from Naka. But I can say for certain they are not the small leaf variety, and they are unremarkable.

In a recent purchase box from Bitterleaf Teas, I got a Naka ball as a free sample. Let me say that this is not a blogger premium because I know non-blogger tea heads who also received the same sample with a purchase. We are lucky that Bitterleaf generously gives these samples and I imagine they are limited. My tea ball weighed 6g, with 1g water loss as they sell at 7g weight.

The size of a dime 
The ball is not as tight as other tea balls I have tried in the past, probably because of the recent pressing and because the size is small. It opened up with a bit of steaming in the gaiwan.

The first three steepings contain a considerable caffeine punch, which is a difference from the semi-aged Nakas I own, obviously they have diminished in caffeine over time. This new Naka has wonderful feel into the stomach and chest, I can feel the tea for a good thirty minutes after a couple of steepings. As a new tea, the processing is clean with very little char in the strainer, no smokiness and I don’t see many red edges, but obviously my sample is quite small and not the actual 100g beeng. The tea is already past green brew into a more yellow tea, a nice sign, and I had let the tea rest for a few weeks outside in my hot, humid porch. A small amount of tea like this firms up fast.

Steeps 5 and 6
I feel relaxed after a few steeps, not the babbling incoherent crazy woman from my other Naka teas but I’m sure my son doesn’t want to see that person very often. The chest feels from this tea clearly set it apart as a better tea than the 2018 Laoman-e, but at $1.28/g (beeng price) compared to $0.38/g I expect the Naka to be a vast improvement. Both teas have a nice floral top note, and are not especially sweet, but I control bitterness by flash steeping and drinking hot. Of the two, the Laoman-e is much more bitter when allowed to sit or cool. The more expensive $1/g Laoman-e has the best leaf quality of any of these teas, in terms of the plucking and processing, but this Naka definitely offers more body experience, if less strong in flavor than Bitterleaf Laoman-e.

But alas, you pay for body experience and more money every year. I find this Naka tea fairly durable for 10-12 brews but the young leaves are still somewhat mushy when rubbed. The floral notes fade and I think the body experience is likely to endure longer in this tea than the top notes will over time. One of my LBZ teas is like this, the tea flavor is quite muted but the physical effects are still there. The only way to get that incense note in teas like this is to wood smoke process them. The white2tea Naka has more retired smoke which contributes to some depth, but it required more humid aging to get that worked in.

Definitely the small leaf. Any red in the leaves is my fault,
I sessioned this tea over several days, during which it
oxidized somewhat.
Price-wise, the Bitterleaf 100g beeng is $1.28/g. By comparison, white2tea Naka is $1.04/g but you will need $369 to buy a 357g beeng, as opposed to $128 for 100g at Bitterleaf. In this case, the semi-aged tea is actually less expensive per gram. The same is true for sampling: 21g of Naka balls costs $29 (3 balls), and white2tea offers 25g Naka samples for $29.90. In the first case, you may lose a few grams due to water loss, in the second case a chipped off sample of aged tea will naturally result in some tea dust and loose leaf in the baggie. Most people cannot afford the $369 outlay for white2tea, a few more can likely afford the $128 for 100g, even though white2tea’s beeng is a better value. 

Really, anyone considering this is likely to think wallet pain first, and then whether they prefer young green versus older factory. I could say I’d like a beeng of this new tea from Bitterleaf, but am torn because of what I already own. Bottom line, if we want Naka, we are gonna pay a lot of money, no way around it. Luckily, both vendors make smaller samples available to folks who are content with a few sessions worth.

As long as I keep writing about tea, I suppose Naka will be my “puer (a) aeterna,” distinguishing my tastes for some people. In Latin, puer is the word for “boy,” my eternal boy. I prefer the English transliteration puerh, rather than puer, because it distinguishes the two cultures, my own Latin-based language and Chinese. I guess I prefer the Chinese characters more and more anyway, especially 熟普 for shou, because the “cooked” character has representations of cooking flames, or heat from composting. I suppose my point is that I appreciate tea more widely than just the Naka people associate with me from the blog. I can tolerate myself as a puera aeterna of Naka. The eternal Naka girl. But if you feel inclined to ask me if I’m drinking a dime-sized Naka at the moment, think of the prices. My answer is probably, alas, “no.” Same as anyone else. A lot of heartaches for a dime. 

Telecaster, anyone?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

2018 The Bitter End (a Tea)

2018 The Bitter End beeng, and loose leaf high grade

This year our weather morphed from winter into hot summer within four weeks. I took this photo in mid-April before shoveling out of this snowstorm.

I took this photo on date April 18, 2018. 
Now we are sweltering in hot temps more akin to southeast Asia than close to Canada. The past two days the temps soared to over 100F (up to 43C) and dewpoints close to 80, giving my tea welcome Hong Kong-like storage conditions. While my tea is very happy, I am not so happy. My window AC units really cannot cope well with these high temps, the air is stagnant and barely tolerable as long as I do not move.

Everything hurts, I ache. I used to be an agile person, what happened to all that? I cannot stand to drink hot tea, much less write about it and I refuse to write about tea I am not drinking. Instead, I buy bags of ice and chug cold drinks all day long, when I am not sleeping that is. Wake me up come September. We lost a few degrees in what the weather people are calling a “cool off” which is short for “not much change.” I thought “I need to drink some tea and talk to myself on the blog.”

I recently purchased Bitterleaf Tea’s aptly named 2018 Bitter End, reportedly a Laoman-e 200g pressing selling for $77. Along with this, Bitterleaf offers baggies of “better” tea from the same farm, for over $1/g, or $11.50 for a 10g bag. I bought two of these baggies because one is not enough. This is a great opportunity to try two different quality grades of tea from the same farm. Laoman-e is tough to find nowadays, given this area is right next door to Lao Bhang Zhang and often substituted for LBZ in the past.

This is a close up of the loose leaf higher grade from the bags.
Laoman-e is known for bitterness along with the neighboring Bulang area. I like my teas bitter when young, so hit me dad. The teas arrived smelling slightly vine-y because they are just two months old. In fact, the tea was picked on the same days I had the above snowstorm. I gave the teas a two week rest in part for the tea, and in part because it’s too hot to drink tea most days. So, what is the real difference between these two teas?

The date on the wrapper is backwards, but it is dated April 18,
picked the same day as that crazy snowstorm photo above.
The cake consists of younger cultivated tea leaves, and brews up with a lovely floral scent, but don’t be fooled, the bitterness awaits me. Right now the tea looks green and under boiling water gets quite bitter from steeps 3-6. The cake is very, very clean, not a hint of smoke or charring. I expect the tea to thicken up during aging rather than when young.

This is a 200g beeng.
The bitterness lightens up after six steepings, so now the tea gives perhaps 8-10 decent strength brews, and may eventually produce more as it tightens up over time. The leaves appear a bit stewed at this point, although some of the leaves do not crumble when rubbed between the fingers. It’s a decent tea, and the price point seems right.

The brew is still fairly green, normal for a recent pressing.
The “better” Laoman-e sample is in loose form, and of course the leaves are lovely. Here is the main difference, the “better” tea adheres to the picking standard of 1 bud/2 leaves and I see more buds. The brew is stronger by far, tongue-punishing bitterness that lingers in the mouth for a good hour afterward. 

Brewed leaves from the beeng, I used a hefty amount.
Three cups of this is plenty to convince me that this is the better tea. The color and viscosity are the same with both teas at this stage, but one is a mild bitter hurt and the other is bitter pain.

Brewing of the higher grade loose leaf,
the color and viscosity are virtually identical.
But the loose leaf is quite strong.
For me, the main reason I carted these teas is for the opportunity they offer to try two different quality grades from the same tea farm. A few years ago, white2tea offered a similar comparison from the Mengsong area. Back then I found this comparison informative and fun. Not only am I able to refine my palate in tasting differences between tea grades, I gain more insight into how tea buyers taste teas. Even if I had my youthful agility back, a trip to Yunnan for this same experience would cost me thousands of dollars. Instead, I can get this experience at home for less than $100.

Here is the loose leaf, I used a lot less and
got punished harder. You can see the 1 bud/2 leaf, and
some double buds.
I feel a bit of hope with this offering from Bitterleaf , seeing a doorway for me contending with high prices for puerh. Maybe vendors will continue to offer a reasonably priced tea like the beeng here, and then also sell samples of better quality from the same farm. In addition, Bitterleaf sells a huangpian brick from this farm too for a reasonable $28. This is quite a nice line-up of options for the wallet. I can store away the affordable beeng, and yet still enjoy a bit of good tea too from the sample.

Bitterleaf states on the listing for the higher quality tea that they could consider doing a larger buy if enough people are interested in a purchase. I am guessing the offer may consist of a 100g pressing. In any case, I see the dilemma of the professional tea buyer, which is just like our own as amateur buyers, the uncertainty of whether to really spend for that high grade leaf.