; Cwyn's Death By Tea: December 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.