; Cwyn's Death By Tea: 2019 ;

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Puerh Trends: how did we fare in 2019?

Earlier this year I posted a topic called "Puerh Trends We Need to Thrive in 2019." This post exceeded the view count of all my other posts this year by far, and continues to show as one of my top ten posts every week. I am not certain where all this traffic comes from, are puerh drinkers reading this post, or maybe vendors looking for information? Is Google showing this post someplace? I have no idea. But given the amount of attention, I should at least revisit a few of the statements I made as guesses for the year and discuss how the year turned out.

What we need: more $100 and under options.

What we will get: more tiny tongs.

Given the recent frenzy for white2tea's Snoozefest on Black Friday, a sell-out within hours, it seems to me price is as much a factor as tea quality, if not more so. Getting our fix for the least amount of money possible might outweigh saving for a special production. In puerh discussions I see price discussed more often than the specific production. In other words, people ask questions and advice about buying a tea attractive because of the price, rather than because of traits of the specific tea. The identity of the tea might be called letter U, but U is not as important as the cost of U. This sort of observation can lead to a preferences survey and subsequent factor analysis and I'd bet my boots that price is the number one factor to emerge from a potential preferences survey. Here I think the $100 is just a random number I pulled out of my arse and just represents what (gasp) is a low price for puerh these days. This price business is issue number one.

Number two here is whether or not people bought tiny amounts of tea. Based on my observations of social media, this year I saw far more photos of tiny puerh balls and discs containing 10g or less of tea, that is, a single serving of tea. These small puerh servings are not new to market, but they are usually marketed as a convenience item. I wonder though if people are buying these not just as a convenience to storage and drinking, but because they don't want to pay for the full size tea. Again, is price the issue rather than the size?

What we need: more semi-aged teas in vendor shops.

What we will get: more buyer-led group buys.

I am not sure how well this call-out turned out in 2019, personally I don't feel we saw more semi-aged teas offered by vendors this past year. Recently I noticed more white label teas on Yunnan Sourcing. I wonder whether buyers are attracted to the idea of white label teas. Personally some of the best teas I own are white label teas, teas that have little to no provenance but are good or even excellent drinkers. These teas have no collector value, as such, but might generate a temporary word of mouth. I haven't read anything about Yunnan Sourcing's white label teas. But I applaud such options if price is really the main factor driving purchase decisions these days.

At the same time, the group-led buys focused on tea auctions such as those on Facebook or for Taobao buys seem more about getting semi-aged tea again, for the best price, with quality quite variable. Facebook auctions do seem more production-focused than Taobao, on Taiwan productions by reputation with little information on storage but at least the production matters as much as the price. Whereas Taobao is the perennial search for a diamond in the rough with a success rate low enough to discourage the activity for most people after a few tries. 

What we need: teas with body feels.

What we will get: weed in tea, teas with body feels.

This actually happened, I saw a few tea vendors in Portland offering CBD-laced tea. Not quite the same as weed since CBD is not THC, we are getting close to pot tea meaning more than the teapot. My state is not weed-legal so I don't have access to even CBD tea although I can get CBD tinctures. I am not necessarily tempted to add CBD to my tea. I am not sure body feel is really all that important to puerh drinkers even we really should be drinking with our bodies, the concept seemed less important than price was this year. 

What we need: premium shou.

What we will get: premium shou.

Yeah. More people are drinking shou and calling it puerh. Did you notice this in general social media as I did? Shou is all over and I see people posting about shou puerh and I can tell they don't know the difference between cooked and raw, or that sheng even exists. Shou is puerh, and puerh is shou. Shou puerh hit mainstream big time this year...just as a an example, check out Peet's Coffee because yes, they are selling shou puerh as puerh. 

I also noticed western vendors offering even more shou productions, possibly as a response to yet higher prices for raw maocha. Are puerh drinkers drinking more shou this past year? If they ordered more shou from western vendors, this means paying a premium which sort of shoots beyond the price factor theory, because those of us around the block awhile are probably more likely to pick up much less expensive shou from a Chinese factory label than from a western label. 

What we need: affordable sheng.

What we will get: white tea and red tea.

This is 100% true, and add in oolong and other types of tea as well. Here I do think the higher prices for maocha in 2019 led to vendors taking some less expensive maocha and turning out other types of tea to pad the catalog. Or, to put it more nicely, perhaps a puerh vendor turned more general tea vendor. 

The question is whether buyers followed. Did you pick up red tea, white tea or oolong from a puerh vendor this year? I don't count teas like Liu Bao since these are also post-fermented and more likely bought from wholesale rather than vendor-produced, since some of these post-fermented teas are made by factories in areas of China other than Yunnan. I wonder whether buyers followed here or as in the past chose to buy other types of tea from vendors who don't specialize in puerh (such as vendors selling tea from India or Taiwan or some such). I buy a little bit here and there from puerh vendors but the bulk of my non-puerh purchases are from vendors who don't specialize in puerh. 

One reason for why I buy elsewhere is that puerh vendor teas cost quite a bit more. Again, if people are buying more non-puerh teas from puerh vendors this shoots the price theory to shreds. If buyers are truly looking for low prices for puerh, why would they buy hongcha and pay far more from the puerh vendor than elsewhere? Or is it about reaching a free shipping threshold? Or is the non-puerh tea bought from puerh vendors overall so much better? 

(I might be overthinking because I'm facing a sad few weeks ahead as I contemplate a tin of Trader Joe's cinnamon red tea for my tea machine, a gift well overdue for drinking up and I must hold my nose on this one.)

Here is another thought, do you consider yourself a puerh head because you buy non-puerh tea from a puerh vendor? Who the hell is a puerh head today? Does the ordinary puerh head spend as much time drinking other types of tea? Another rabbit hole for another day.

What we need: Taetea collector prices to fall.

What we will get: more Taetea special productions.

Well, I don't think Taetea prices fell this year. I did see more people asking about 7542 and what this sort of puerh tastes like. The entry level for puerh now is not through the 7542 anymore. I can safely say that only a specific type of puerh collector is seriously buying up the numbered productions for collector value. I think we can all agree that if the numbered productions have any value in the future, it will be the rare example that survives storage and we won't see many '88 Qing Bings emerging from the worldwide sales of recipe numbers. I think we have put to bed the idea that buying rough numbered recipes is a financial investment for the future. Special productions are where the money is probably at, and like a used car the special productions by and large don't retain value, they lose value after you buy until and unless they sell out or a few decades pass and a nostalgia factor kicks in. 

The only real value in owning a collection now is having bought for less in the past, as Hster recently suggested. Starting up now costs whiskey-level prices rather than ordinary tea-level prices. People starting up now don't know anything about that 2011 Taetea special production and don't care what the "current value" is. They don't know what a 7542 is much less the century production from that year. Those who have collections should stay in holding because you won't find knowledgeable buyers so much as people just wanting a cheap deal. Or maybe people are just buying to drink rather than hold. I think the collector market is not really in the west anyway and we will never develop real nostalgia for productions of recipes beyond a wedding beeng or some such.

Does any of this hit the mark or not? Obviously I'm working off anecdotes because we don't have real hard data about puerh buyer behavior. We know what prices are but not what goes on in people's heads beyond the cheapest deal for the best tea. If I come up with any thoughts for next year, I will certainly try and post another predictions topic just for fun.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Never Too Soon

I tell myself the question is not how much tea I own, but rather how much I drink. In fact, the first question people ask me when trying to track me down these days (I'm around) is how much tea I am drinking. Oh, I drink plenty. I'm still officially "off" coffee, using my tea brewing machine in the morning to make a cup of whatever. Mostly for my a.m. cuppa I am trying to work my way through a variety of teas that I really should have consumed by now. For example:

This photo of a bag of Korean high mountain balhyocha is by Jeon Jae Yeun and the sticker reads 40g, but the bag is really 40g x 5, or maybe x 6. I have written about this tea before on my blog, as it is quite one of my favorites, imported by Morning Crane Tea. The bag here is about 3 years old at this point, an example of my hoarding as I felt I needed nearly a half kilo, and then proceeded not to drink any of it. Downside to hoarding the tea sits and the bag was not vacuum sealed when I got it.

While this tea is certainly still tasty enough, I notice it developed a malty flavor, somewhat like a Yunnan hongcha, and a slightly sour note. I kept it too long, and I don't mind drinking it now in the a.m. with its light chocolate and rosy sweetness, but a wiser lady than myself might own a vacuum sealer to keep the tea fresh. Even better if I had divvied up the tea into smaller bags before vacuum sealing. My tendencies toward hoarding and/or laziness are probably better suited to puerh.

I also collected a bit of oolong over the past five years and recently dug out this specimen from Taiwan Tea Crafts, a very reputable source for oolong and a frequent holder of sales although I have not ordered anything from there recently.

When did I get this 1999 oolong? Probably about five years ago. I recently brewed up 12g and I can tell the tea got a re-roast, and I'm not entirely sure the tea is 1999, but the color of the dry leaf is a faded brown, and it smells like an old pantry shelf so maybe the date is legit.

Again, the problem here is a bag with no vacuum sealing. I can taste the roast faded to a lovely light touch, but so too the rest of the tea has lost most of whatever other flavors. I should have consumed this tea right after I bought it, not five years later.

The oolong is still a little green but with brown edge.
I am on safer ground with puerh tea, assuming I am keeping my collection in decent condition. One of my recent teas finding its way into my cup is a cake of Bitterleaf Teas' 2016 Mansa, another tea I've written about previously. I own a couple of cakes and now am down to one after oops, drinking up all but this last piece I am somewhat hoarding for another day.

Only one chunk left of this cake.
I wrote a bit about the body feels behind this tea, but what I notice now is the large floral presence which just blossoms in the mouth, a huge flavor burst. We usually think of puerh as a tea that will always improve, but this Mansa might be an example of whether hanging on to teas for the future is always the best idea. I assume that puerh improves over time if something other than this beautiful floral must reside in this tea to emerge later on, and I can only guess whether or not that is true. I have a better idea of highly bitter and smoky puerh teas, that something more develops, but my Mansa tea is going to lose its best floral qualities due to normal aging, and I am not sure it has anything else to develop. Maybe it does, but really I just don't know.

What I do know is the tea is so good now, and enough people probably own one of Bitterleaf's Mansa cakes to form some collective idea of whether we should drink this now or hang on to it, hoping for more. I own maybe one more of the 2016 shown here, and also one of the 2017 which I did not like as much but I have not tried it recently. The 2016 though is really an excellent tea and rivals the far more expensive ChenYuanHao teas of the same year.

With so many unknowns with aging puerh tea, I can say that it is never too soon to dig into my collection and drink a tea and depending upon the tea it can indeed get too late. Puerh is more forgiving than, say, the Korean balyhocha in terms of sitting a couple of years. Had the TTC oolong received a vacuum sealing, it might be good almost indefinitely. Many puerh teas are undrinkable young, and speak for themselves that more aging is needed. But I think this Mansa is probably at its best now, and risks fading in the future, and perhaps drinking up highly floral teas sooner rather than later is a good idea.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

No One Cares What's In Your Closet

Your puerh closet, that is.

I don’t enjoy bringing you the bad news, but no one gives a flying fart what sort of puerh collection you have. Or what sort of puerh collection I have. Too many tea collectors lately fall headfirst into what I consider social media “envy,” or what researchers have dubbed “Facebook envy.” I can adapt some of the research questions used to measure Facebook envy to tea, and let’s see how we puerh collectors fare. I lifted these statements from the peer-reviewed journal Computers in Human Behavior 43(139-46) and adapted them for my use. Do you ever feel any of the following?

My Tea Collection generally feels inferior to others.

It’s so frustrating to see some people always have good tea.

It somehow doesn’t seem fair that some people seem to have the good tea connections.

I wish I could purchase the teas that some of my friends do.

Many of my tea friends have better tea than me.

Many of my tea friends are happier with their tea collection than me.

My tea collection is better than that of my friends.

Chances are, if you spent any time looking at tea photos or time on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or tea chat forums or blogs, either you or others display some of the feelings behind these statements. How many times did you wish you had more money to spend on tea, or that others seem to have more “prestigious” teas, or give the impression they are drinking better tea than what you possess? Or conversely, do you find yourself snorting when some newbie presents a proud photo of a newly acquired Xiaguan tuo and you feel glad because you would never do any of that?

Do you see a culture arising of terms used to judge the tea collections of others? Are you one of the tong people, or stamp collectors? I like to write about tong people in jest, but now terms like this are used to determine whether you are serious, whether you have tongs of drinkers or stamps of single stellar teas. Tongs display your wealth more than stamps. Tongs display how much of a tea you think you will drink.

Are you developing thoughts that special tea buying groups exist that leave you out? At the extreme, we have some idea of “tea masonry” developing, secret clubs for people with money and connections. I am shocked how many people buy into this idea. First off, no one in the west has access to the tiers of tea kept in China, and even at the millionaire level, hell at any buying level, someone is laughing all the way to the bank.

Social media creates foolishness at every level. On the surface, nothing is wrong with enjoying beautiful photos of tea, but any time spent thinking and drawing conclusions from forums, blogs and tea photos that relate to your collection vis-à-vis those of others is time and energy wasted on illusions. Facebook is not a collection of happy people in happier relationships with well-adjusted children taking expensive vacations, they are people in relationships with children on vacation period. Chats and blogs and photos are well-crafted affairs, constructed truth, not real truth. The real truth is people buy tongs they will never finish, tea ware they wish they’d never bought, and people own single teas they try to sell on forums at a loss to raise money. For every tong someone buys, another person is trying to sell that same tea. In other words, people spend at least as much energy unhappy with their tea as they spend in happy moments with their tea. Everyone has teas they are happy to own, and teas that really should be tossed.

More truth: there is always more tea. There will always be more opportunities to buy tea at every level. How much do you wanna spend? The truth is, you can learn just as much putting away a piece of every tea you drink and storing that piece to see how it changes, just as you can from drinking tongs of factory tea. The truth is people posting tea photos of fabulous tea today will post again tomorrow. You can choose to think about those updates, or instead spend time with your own tea collection enjoying the changes. The truth is, the vast majority will never own a 1950s Red Mark. The truth is, at least one tea you own right now will be very nice to drink tomorrow.

No one cares what is in my puerh closet except for me. I clean my own closet and I don’t worry about everyone else.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

You Ain't Going Nowhere

Over the past year I stopped buying tea, mainly because I am out of storage space and am happy with the teas I already own. Since purchasing white2tea’s Bamboo Shou back in January, I have not bought any other tea until I decided to hit cart on “Road2Nowhere.” I am a good girl in other ways, I spend less time looking at tea shopping in general. Not that my interest in tea diminishes, in fact I find I enjoy reading blogs and tea chat more. Vicariously I delight in the tea purchased by others. I am readdicted to tea videos and photos too, just not my own photos so much. Hence, I produce less tea content which has resulted in a few readers messaging me to get back to blogging. “Write anything,” they said. So here I am. Also, I wanted to support white2tea with a single purchase this year, and went for Road2Nowhere, a limited production of twenty-five cakes, not counting the five the company choose to keep. I probably know a third of the people who purchased this tea, and in a way this post is for tea friends.

The wrapper is blurry, not my photo
I will admit few of this year’s teas sparked much interest in me until this one. I suppose the limited run is part of it, also I like the description which suggested a bit of complexity in the profile and some “body feels.” The price too is mid-range for white2tea. Last year I went for the cheaper Splendid, but I also bought a couple of Arbor Red, so this single purchase is already less than I spent last year. This tea did not have a sample offered, and the tea sold out in a couple of hours. Normally I do not like to write about unavailable teas, but this is probably one of the few posts I will write this year on new tea.

The dark green of new tea
The wrapper and name of the tea are meaningless, as far as I am concerned, like most white2tea names the intentions behind the nomenclature go right past me. The name Road2Nowhere simply reminds of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” a song he wrote while recovering from a motorcycle accident and lent to The Byrds for their Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, which of course is the one Byrds album Gram Parsons had a hand in, as well as the still-missed guitar virtuoso Clarence White who died in a freak car accident a few years later. Gram is likewise missing from this performance (hence the lower register harmony is missing too), but you can see Clarence on his B-Bender Telecaster, an instrument owned today by Marty Stuart who claims he paid only $1000 for it. None of this is important except that it strikes me tea costs more now than that guitar did, although the guitar is worth far more, priceless really, but funny how really good tea is the price of a new Telecaster guitar. I used to play a Telecaster myself, but now the instrument is too heavy for me.

After I bought the tea, I kept watching this Byrds’ video. I find something mesmerizing in it even though Roger McGuinn messed up the lyrics. I see people dancing in a way people just don’t today. Do you see people dancing like this? Maybe I live in the wrong place. Everyone wants to be “woke” now, which translates into more self-conscious dancing and which ain’t dancing. People don’t dance like this anymore. They don’t even dance together. They stand and hold their phones to watch others, rather like I watch other people drinking tea. The Byrds video makes me feel a bit ill of today, or ill of myself today, though I suppose age is my excuse if I trot out any reasoning. People dancing without phones! Can we drink tea without photos? I like photos, and I like videos, a vicious cycle of consuming content and hating myself at the same time. Can I let go...

Road2Nowhere is a machine-pressed tea which is difficult to break into, I managed to get 3g off from two pick points. The “plus” here is the beeng won’t break up in storage so easily. I find the first few steepings somewhat gasoline-like which is common in some new teas for me, along with some fruity peach notes over a caramel base. The tea has a strong bitter and sweet mouthcoat and a mineral finish. The much-discussed “saline” note from the description on white2tea seems to me a finish from the cup I notice when slurping the cooler bottom, the mineral note is slightly saline-mineral at the last swallow from the cup where the tea is cooler. I don’t think the note is enough to bother about if you can’t find it.

Steep 4
As for the qi, my face turned to rubber after several cups of the tea, my eyes dried out. This effect lasted about fifteen minutes, but the mouthcoat lasted far longer and is still present a couple of hours later as I write now. I gave the tea six steepings and it seemed tired at that point, like I would have to really start pushing the tea. My cup retained a fruity aroma.

The leaves are small, like Naka-small, and chopped because of the difficulty I had chipping off some tea. My biggest plus I can find here is the leaves pass a finger rub test. I’m impressed with the durability of the leaves physically, yet at the same time the tea needs pushing. I only drank a 3g amount in about 40ml water, I expect a larger session of twice the tea leaf might give me at least ten steepings before the tea tires, but I don’t see the point in wasting so much leaf this early. The tea was pressed not much more than a month ago. I get the impression the small production of Road2Nowhere is perhaps the effort of a single farmer selling a small amount of tea to white2tea. The dots on the leaf in my photo suggest insect or weather effects, so I wonder if this is rather untended tea without much spraying or farm control.

A leaf I found that did not break when rubbed
between my fingers.
All this is about as positive as I can say about the tea. What I suppose is regrettable is the price for the tea, in that apart from the stoner effect, the tea is not terribly complex. I think we are paying a premium nowadays for untended tea, and to consider more complex tea the price goes up astronomically from here. In other words, I can think of much better teas I’ve purchased over the past six years but to get better tea now I need to go up in price tier. I tend to prefer white2tea’s more expensive price tier. I am not unhappy with this tea for the price, but I do like a bit thicker brew and more complex profile and thus my customer preference is gonna run me into the $200+ for 200g. This tea at $120 seems about in line with prices now, it’s actually less than the 2016 Mansa from Bitterleaf which cost $80/100g. The Mansa offers the same physical effect but with a much more explosive mouthfeel and that tea is from three years ago.

So what do we have? This tea is not as heavily farmed as a regular plantation tea, and the leaves are decent quality for the price. Road2Nowhere is a step up from basic puerh tea in leaf quality, mouthcoat and qi. You need to know where you are as a customer. How do you drink your puerh? Are you looking for a basic drink that tastes nice, is comfortable etc.? You can go much lower to get that, and perhaps if you prefer some age on your tea the $120 here is best put elsewhere into a Taiwan-stored factory tea. If you want premium puerh of any age, you need to spend more. Road2Nowhere is the undecided middle, it seems to me. This purchase for me was to support the efforts of the owner, and the purchase is the “undecided middle” me. Were I in need of excellent tea, I would have gone higher and picked up one of the pricier options, but I don’t need more tea.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Why You Want Bloggers to Review Tea

All too often I read on social media that people think blogger reviews are unreliable sources of information for buying tea. People think bloggers lack in objectivity, even though tasting is an aesthetic, subjective activity. At best, tasters converge on opinion, yet even here opinions can still vary on tea, and so we can either start with the premise that bloggers are as reliable or as unreliable as anyone else. Aesthetic arguments aside, I can think of several reasons why you might want bloggers to try teas for you.

Bloggers spend their own money on the teas.

This is potentially the best reason. You get some information about an expensive tea for free. Before you go ahead and spend your own hard-earned money, why not let someone else spend money and give you a few adjectives that might match the qualities you are looking for? In many cases, bloggers buy very expensive teas that are serious buying decisions for you, and potentially an expensive mistake. Isn’t it better to get at least some information from anyone other than the vendor before diving in?

Even if the blogger gets the tea in PR, I can glean at least a flavor profile from the blog post even if I feel I must read past positives, and honestly I feel very few bloggers promote teas simply because they are free. We get too much tea, the free aspect wears thin. Most posts either are honest about the tea or the blogger won’t post at all on a tea they didn’t like. Very often vendors send teas without asking first, and too many unasked-for samples tends to remove any feeling that I must say something special. I’d rather not post at all if I don’t appreciate a tea. After all, no one is out to ruin a vendor.

Bloggers throw tea away so you don’t have to.

Making decisions to toss a tea is one of the most painful sides to the hobby, and few people I know can toss a tea no matter how bad. Even though a bad tea is probably not going to turn into a good tea someday, we hold out hope that the tea will improve enough to drink. Or maybe our tastes will change. The fact is, with the amount of tea many bloggers receive, unless we can drink it right away, we may need to decide to toss tea later that is either stale or less than cared for. We make the decisions to toss, so you don’t have to. Lest you think this is a small endeavor, may I mention that people have actually sent me tea they could not bear to throw out.

A secondary benefit here is the packaging also is tossed, and these include sample bags or other fancy packaging the teas arrive with. One person adding to the landfills rather than one hundred others over time should save you at least some small environmental impact. Let us do that rather than you.

Bloggers generally converge on the best teas.

Over the years, tea bloggers have completed blind tasting events where several choose to drink the same set of samples. Generally they converge on the same teas. I was surprised at the Yunnan Sourcing tasting we did in early 2018, how similar the opinions were. Not on every tea, of course, but I recognized my own experience when reading the notes of others.

The so-called “Blogger Effect” is bullcrap.

This is supposedly an effect where the vendor either raises prices or the stock depletes after a positive blog post goes up. First off, tying cause-and-effect with virtually no other variables is a statistically dodgy activity, but I see people doing it. I get blamed all the time for either stock depletion or the price increase. I’ve talked to several vendors about this. One vendor told me flat out he raises prices when the teas are close to sold out. The teas were already low stock by the time my post came out. In addition, most vendors do wholesale retail supply, that vendor may decide to send an order of the tea out to a tea shop or other online vendor, this is has no relationship whatsoever to the blog post.

Yet people watching the number of teas left see the stock go down and immediately assume the blog post is the reason. I’m sure bloggers sell a handful of teas, but the best teas have low stock to start out. Not unheard of either is a single buyer who purchases a large amount. (I still am stewing over a sold-out Blue Mark that a single buyer bought up before I could save the money. This purchase had nothing to do with blog posts either, the guy made his own decision.)

The truth is, no matter if a tea gets press or word of mouth, if you plan to wait until Black Friday every year, you risk teas selling out before you can get your hands on one.

Saving your Stomach

In my experience, testing teas for possible review is boring and rough on the system. Few teas are amazing enough to give me anything to talk about. A blogger sorts through literal garbage and puts their stomach and system at risk so you don’t need to.

In case none of the above is convincing enough to you to give a blogger the benefit of the doubt as to whether blog information is useful, I’m on a low buy this year. Or maybe a no-buy, except I cannot convince myself in all honesty that I will buy nothing. I have been buying puerh for a decade now, if I make it a full year without buying anything, I will be amazed. I bought less last year, but maybe I will pick up some samples. I cannot 100% say I won’t buy anything, because I’m an addict. Unless I can find another addiction.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Revisiting Misty Peaks

A few years ago, Misty Peaks puerh tea was all the talk rage on social media, mainly for the odd marketing campaigns touting the health miracles of puerh tea. Misty Peaks primarily sold puerh from a single farm somewhere in the Yiwu region, and at that time the prices seemed a bit on the high end. Despite this, most of the spring productions between 2013-2015 sold out. Aside from references to the odd email marketing campaigns in my blog posts, I did not comment much on the tea. I acquired a quantity of Misty Peaks puerh mainly through box swaps, round robin style, and a bit more since which I have been storing. Today I decided to taste a bit, as a few years have passed in my storage.

Nicholas at Misty Peaks claimed to acquire the tea due to a relationship with the farmer’s family, having spent time with them teaching English. The tea sold on the website between 2013-2015 seemed on the expensive side back then, falling into the $0.25-0.50/gram depending on autumn or spring production. But with today’s prices from 2017 forward, the tea now appears a bargain in hindsight with decent Yiwu tea starting at $1/g and that’s just for decent tea, the higher end Yiwu teas are double that or more. When Misty Peaks did not post any new puerh teas after 2016, I wondered if the tea prices are now simply too expensive to acquire for an American-side tea shop. On the other hand, Misty Peaks moved into wholesaling, claiming to sell teas in more than 500 locations worldwide, and the teas offered have expanded into other tea types, probably also wholesale, and not from the original farm. You can still buy a few autumn productions on the Misty Peaks site, but the prices have gone up considerably.

Even though I did not write a great deal about the tea, I do consider the tea a decent Yiwu area puerh. When the social marketing campaigns embarrassed puerh drinkers who had bought Misty Peaks, the teas ended up in swap boxes and sold in stash sales. Oddly, Misty Peaks posted an offer on Instagram to buy up any tea that people did not want. I don’t know how many took advantage of that offer. I acquired a quantity of free tea from swap boxes, and I purchased a ½ kilo brick from a collector and I paid $149 for that. I showed my canister of loose tea to a vendor who told me “This is decent puerh, better looking in person than the photos. The guy selling this needs to work on his pictures.” I also bought the so-called 2016 “spring” small 100g beeng which I didn’t think at the time was really spring tea because it was too browned already, maybe the “spring” pressing was a bit fishy. Fishy bothers me less when the tea is decent, and I can get it cheap.

I do know that I now have nearly a kilo of Misty Peaks puerh tea acquired on the cheap, and I’m fairly happy with it, considering where prices of similar quality tea are now. I spent about $180 all told for this kilo, having acquired some of it for free certainly helped my bottom line. No way is it possible to get Yiwu area tea like this for $180/kilo today. I store some of the loose tea in a vintage stoneware canister, a mix of autumn and spring tea. The leaves of the autumn tea are long and lovely.

Today I brewed up a bit, and am pleased that the tea is in excellent condition, still green of course, but the leaves are beginning to brown and a tinge of orange appears in my cup. Some Yiwu area teas brew up a little darker than others, which fades out to yellow in later steeps. The processing is good with no red leaves.

My tea is intensely tongue-coating bitter surrounded by a sweet finish, rather like a lemon drop coated in sugar. The tea has not yet lost any of its floral character, and has a vaporous return from my stomach. I’m surprised how much stronger this tea is compared to some of the Yiwu samples I have received from other vendors over the past couple of years. The qi is mild, and of course I have better examples, however these better teas are mortgage payment prices.

Misty Peaks is by far the stronger tea compared to at least a dozen other teas I have tried. I am not looking to acquire more tea, but here is an example of a way to get tea. Find teas which collectors are tired of, and offer to buy them up, or offer to swap in exchange for something you no longer want. In this way I acquired a range of Yiwu teas that today I could never afford.

Friday, March 1, 2019

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Enjoy My Tea

What shall I drink today? My old green Dayi looks good. Yes, I drank that last week. Last week, so I should really drink something else in my collection, maybe my Nakas or Nannuos or what about that Taiwan-stored Yiwu? No, no, no. No wet stuff, my digestion is a little bit off, or the meds are off, or I am just off.

Something newer might be nice, how about that white2tea blend, or some CYH, except that stuff is in the big crock, such a hassle, no wait, I moved those, the old pumidor teas, except they aren’t all together anymore, I might need to search one by one. Of course the CYH is in experimental conditions so I really cannot touch those right now, wouldn’t be healthy, and not much difference to notice at this point anyway. What about the Hekai? Oh, I just had one not too long ago, I should save that for a diuretic day.

Okay, in the meantime, how about a teapot? I suppose a gaiwan, except that I use those for the blog, how boring, this is my chance to use an actual teapot if I’m not writing. Clay teapots are so nice. But they are not terribly appropriate for young teas, muddy up the nice fresh texture, much better for older teas that need something removed from the taste like wetness or something acrid. Stoneware is easy, for the most part, but naturally does not do much for older teas. I should decide on the tea before worrying about which teapot to use.

And we now know that the size of the teapot makes a difference in heat retention. If I use a young tea, I might have a larger amount in a session and therefore a larger pot might be okay, but if I dip into my older teas I need a tiny pot, gotta make those older teas last after all. Too much room in the teapot and the water just does not stay hot. And then we have the question of heat retention in clay versus porcelain, stoneware, etc. All these variables and so the size of the teapot really will depend upon which tea I am going to drink today.

Instead, how about the cups? Normally I use a clear cup for the blog or Instagram, should I take a photo today? If so, people want the color and a dark cup shows nothing but a black, inky abyss regardless of the tea. I haven’t posted on IG in awhile, I really should take a photo, but do I need a photo to ruin the experience of the tea. Some days I just prefer to drink alone, without the camera and dusting off the table and paw prints and keep my hands free, mouth free, lap free. I don’t think for the camera, the social moment, no one gives a rat’s arse what the hell I’m drinking anyway, and fool to think the world cares.

Oh, well. The green Dayi it is, then.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

2018 Bamboo Shou by white2tea

Last month I attended a tea tasting with white2tea at Macha Tea Company in Madison, where I had the opportunity to try this new bamboo-pressed shou puerh. If you have never attended a formal tasting, a session like this starts out with various sheng teas, and a shou puerh is served last to warm and balance the body. Sheng teas have a very cooling effect, and shou settles the tummy with warmth to counter bitterness and cold effect. I really enjoyed this shou tea and ordered it immediately when I got back home, and it took a month to arrive.

Many vendors carry bamboo tube teas, but often do not ship with the bamboo tube because the tea may be more likely to get stuck in customs as it may resemble contraband substances. The packaging is made for reusing, the tube has a sliding slat cut into it. One end is covered with cloth and held together with braided bamboo, and this is easy to put back on the tube. The tea is not as densely packed as might be expected, I can break off a piece using my fingers. For this session, however, I found some loose tea in the tube with a small chunk and decide it is enough to brew up.

This tea reminds me somewhat of the excellent Crimson Lotus Tea Nannuo shou mushrooms with a remarkable sweet character. While the CLT mushrooms have a strong vanilla note, this bamboo shou tastes like a Dr. Pepper crossed with shou, with notes of sarsaparilla, vanilla, and my mother's knitting basket (the bamboo). TwoDog stated he felt lucky back in November 2018 with this finished tea, as sometimes bamboo teas can turn out burnt or rough, and this one tastes so mellow. Bamboo pressing relies very heavily on the persons doing the work, and so the vendor has less control over the finished flavors than with a disk pressing.

I notice a fermentation flavor in the first couple of brews, along with a very clear liquor. The fermentation fades quickly into a more buttery vanilla, rather like the browned edges of a butter cookie. This character remains in subsequent brews while the bamboo note comes forward more. The leaves are small, and the chunk does not fall apart easily. If I had used more tea, the chunks might brew out longer than the eight to ten steeps I am getting today. This tea is a boiler, and would benefit from a pan boil on the stove after the session, but I do not have time to pan boil today.

This tea would pair exceptionally well with sweet bakery or even lunch, I could envision drinking this grandpa all day long. This is a nice tea for the office and for sharing with people who are not puerh drinkers. A weak cup can easily be taken to settle a stomach, it stays warm with me after a bout of shoveling snow.

Over the past year, I have had exceptional shou puerh teas from at least three western vendors. The idea of "waiting for shou to clear" seems more and more an idea from the past, from factory teas stored in dirty warehouse conditions. Western vendors still sell such teas, but I feel like their own house teas are superior to most factory high bulk productions. We don't need to settle for teas that need years and years to lose dirty flavors. 

Price-wise, this tea sells for $32 for a 200g tube. The bamboo packaging has pros and cons. The pro is that you don't need special storage, the tube can easily store in a desk drawer and the sliding slat is reusable. A pick can remove tea for brewing without too much fuss. One the other hand, the tube is long, about the size of a tennis racquet handle, and other than in a drawer I can't think of how else to store this. You could remove the tea from the bamboo, but then you lose the flavor benefits of the bamboo over time. Yet I cannot imagine most people storing this tea for long, 200g of yummy shou like this will go fast. Better hurry if you want one, TwoDog says they don't have many tubes left and his wife is drinking it all up on her own. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Puerh Trends We Need to Thrive in 2019

2019 promises another busy puerh year for most buyers, judging from the pure frenzy of Black Friday buying last fall. You need to be quick these days when contemplating a purchase, don’t think too long because whatever you’re staring at might be sold out within seconds. Last year’s buying certainly suggests some wishful ideas and perhaps stark reality. Let’s consider some trends we need versus the probable reality.

What we need: more $100 and under options.

What we will get: more tiny tongs.

What I see with these tiny tongs is that nobody actually wants a producer to make these, no one wants tiny tongs as the only affordable option. Yet when I look at social media and see pics of puerh hauls, the tiny tongs are everywhere. People tack them on to a purchase of something else, and honestly half the time the tiny tongs are not the main buying plan. But vendors benefit here, and they have smaller quantities of nice tea that will not fill out a full size production, so why not make minis when they sell well?

What we need: more semi-aged teas in vendor shops.

What we will get: more buyer-led group buys.

The fact is, semi-aged tea is barely worth the time of a profit vendor to scout out and sell. The profit margin just isn’t there. Any good tea is still pricey enough wholesale. Anyone who has a good tea usually knows what they have. So the vendor is not getting a decent enough steal to make the same margin as with newer, young tea. More and more people are going to rely on tea heads to middleman scout on Taobao and elsewhere. Still plenty of space for LP buys, Teas We Like, An Adventure in Every Cup etc. to bring semi-aged teas to buyers. The market is there, but the profits generally are not, the middleman does it for love.

What we need: teas with body feels.

What we will get: weed in tea, teas with body feels.

I think the goosh-only phase got a dose of reality over the past few years. Gushu gets slapped on a lot of teas that aren’t, and gushu doesn’t necessarily mean ethereal level tea anymore even when genuine. So much overpicking going on, and too few truly pristine, untouched tea areas accessible to any of us. We do have an abundance of cheap weed, according to a recent Vice report, Oregon is awash in cheap weed because of issuing a license to just about anybody wanting to grow. The next logical step is add that cheap weed to tea and amp up the tea crowd and the weed crowd. I wonder how many people would even notice bits of crumbled weed in a beengcha.

Having said that, I think vendors will deliver on the body feels even without the weed. White2tea certainly delivered in 2018 in Feng Qing Arbor Red and White, and for a price point under $100 such that you can buy your puerh and get your body feels too.

What we need: premium shou.

What we will get: premium shou.

Over the past few years we saw a few vendors hitting shops with 40 cents/g and up for tippy, premium shou tea. People like premium, they like clean shou and are willing to pay. While premium, gift quality shou has been around forever in China, western buyers are probably more receptive to western vendors due to cleanliness notions, meaning no funky off-flavors, no storage odors or flavors, tiny tippy leaves. Maybe premium shou will get downsized into tiny tongs rather than upsized, but the buyers are there for clean and pricey shou. Unlike sheng, shou is consumed quickly by comparison leaving the buyer hunting for refills. I think vendors are going to deliver on this trend.

What we need: affordable sheng.

What we will get: white tea and red tea.

I see these teas flying off shelves in part because they are beginner friendly in profile. White and red teas are also ways to sell less expensive maocha. Vendors are delivering on this trend and with pretty wrappers. I expect a lot more Yunnan whites and reds this year. I doubt maocha prices for the good sheng puerh teas will improve much, unless we have such an awful weather year the quality is poor.

What we need: Taetea collector prices to fall.

What we will get: more Taetea special productions.

The reason behind the price flurries of recent years is the real estate market in China has taken a bit of a nosedive. Real estate is one of the few investments middle class persons have for their cash. Collectibles pick up a bit when real estate falls, such as tea which can be unloaded quickly by comparison with real estate. I don’t know if the price will fall in the collector tea area this year, especially if real estate stays flat and currency flattens more. I am seeing more tongs up for trade though on Facebook, maybe people are getting nervous. 

In any collector market, a situation where everyone crazes over too many productions, eventually the best and most desirable bear the price falls of less desirable items. In order for the cream to rise to the top, the low end needs to drop out. Taetea has too many productions starting retail at over $100/beeng, and like used cars  leaving the dealer lot, the price drops to half in retail price cutting. The market gets confusing as to which productions are really worth not only their starting retail, but perhaps more as the run sells out. Right now we are in the midst of this confusion, and perhaps this is the year when we start to see a real distinction of low end from high end. Honestly, a lot of these beengs are the same old chopped tea with very little to distinguish one from another aside from the wrapper design.

I would be very, very wary of jumping into collector beengs that are not part of a drinking plan. Taetea is surely still on the boutique tea upswing, we will likely see more special productions starting in the over $100/beeng retail range as long as people continue to buy like crazy.

What we need: few predictions and more tea reality.

What we will get: more speculation.

You can count on this one.