; Cwyn's Death By Tea: January 2019 ;

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.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Personal Puerh Aesthetic: the Why

Why do I drink puerh tea? I approached puerh tea via a long journey through green teas, over a period of years, for health reasons. I find green tea a helpful tonic, along with stress management, to keep my kidneys healthy. This alone is not a reason to spend $200 on a beeng. The Why behind drinking puerh tea, especially in the west where the tea is not easily accessible, is mostly a rabbit hole of reasons, none of which particularly justify the purchases from a financial point of view. Actually, I cannot think of any good reason to buy puerh for health reasons that less expensive forms of tea will not suit just as well, and perhaps better than puerh. The health claims behind puerh are mostly anecdotal, or involve stuffing mice with more puerh than any human can reasonably and comparatively drink. In fact, I could go back to buying gunpowder green tea at the grocery store and come out just as healthy.

Puerh tea also comes with social issues related to coffee and tea consumption in the west. Most people do not purchase large quantities of tea or coffee. They purchase a bag of loose leaf, or a box of tea bags, or a bag of coffee beans to consume and then refill the supply only when finished.  By contrast, most puerh drinkers will need to buy ahead of their drinking because of the aging and resting of the tea. A serious puerh drinker is buying ten or even twenty years ahead of time, and I don’t think anyone who purchased tea ten years ago is regretting it now, given how high prices are today. But the buying ahead comes with social explanations to partners and friends and family, why do you have so much tea? The stockpiling and aging process runs contrary to the more minimalist caffeine approach that most of western society takes with their beverages. Puerh is slow tea, not fast break pick up at the drive thru window.

For me, slow tea is one of the best explanations behind why I prefer puerh. Checking my storage and going through my collections is relaxation time, much in the way a gardener goes outside to check the plants, pull a weed or two, and in general enjoy the fruits of a long season of labor. Puerh tea involves work, which most people in the west don’t associate with a beverage. They get their shot of caffeine on the way to work, rather than take the time to gongfu brew in the morning. No one seems to have time for slow beverages. In my part of the US, slow mornings carry a tinge of lazy morality, not the get up and move common to my culture and associated with success.

One might turn to fellow pu heads for support and encouragement, but even here the urge to keep going is easily stifled. While one might share a common hobby with another pu head, all too often pu heads judge each other based on their own personal preferences. Sure, you drink puerh, but do you drink the right kind? Are you in the club of wet heads, drinking traditional stored puerh, who disdain young green sheng puerh? Are you a factory tea drinker trading Dayi and scouting Taobao, or god forbid do you buy teas from easily accessible online vendors? Do you spend $200 and even 4x that much on a beeng, or are you in the club of people singing the praises of buying a $20 beeng, no matter the quality, and bragging you won’t spend a penny more? Do you merely drink shou puerh, or are you gulping green 7542 without a wince?

Really puerh people seem to have an opinion on everything and certainly I do as well. With so many contrary opinions around, all we can do is have our opinion and feel brave enough to stick to it. In the end, perhaps all we can expect from fellow pu heads is maybe a tip or two on a decent buy, or a swap on occasion. Socialization is somewhat limited in the end if we are all busy criticizing and arguing over storage. I can’t say I am into puerh for the social aspects at all. While we can wax on about how great it is to share tea with others, the reality is we mostly drink alone and get together mainly on the gripes.

Still, something about the depth and complexity pulls at me, the long, deep throats, the custardy thick brews, body feels, whiskey finishes. I taste puerh randomly when I am out in the world, sitting at a stop light in the car, suddenly I feel like I just sipped an old Yiwu. The idea that no two sessions are ever quite alike appeals to me. The fact the my tea changes enough to surprise me puts puerh tea miles ahead of green teas that don’t change, but rather fade in a year or two. I can look forward to more every year from a production well kept.

Puerh is just the most excellent of teas. Can we drink to that?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Personal Puerh Aesthetic: Considering the Where in Drinking Puerh Tea

In considering the “Where” behind my tea drinking, I think about all aspects of my environment. While I do drink tea in the presence of others occasionally at a tea shop, the vast majority of my tea consumption is alone or with family consuming beverages other than tea. As a blogger, I spend much of my time testing teas that are either samples provided by others or my own collection to check storage. I constantly ask myself whether the tea I am drinking is worthy of writing about. These issues are obvious, but the “Where” is more about specifics.

While tea might lend itself to a meditation setting, I find my tea drinking setting is far more spare than a prayer type space. I had to give up incense and even body perfumes because scents go right up my nose and down the back of my throat. Do you find that you “taste” scents? Because strong essential oil products like incense and perfume just wreck my palate, worse than food. Constipation and indigestion also produce vapors that make their way up my palate. If I plan to enjoy a cigar, it must be after the tea and not before. I don’t smoke marijuana anymore, but I find that people who do often report an inability to experience chaqi.

One does not need to be terribly strict with any of these issues, especially with casual tea drinking, but I feel it’s only fair if I’m blogging to give a tea my best tasting. I should at least reserve some judgment and not say “this tea has no qi” if I’m a person smoking doobies every day. In that case, tea is an adjunct, not a main drug. I think for most bloggers tea is the main drug, or should be if they are reviewing, not all bloggers do reviews.

The “where” is also about storage, where is the tea stored? Storage encompasses all of my storage as well as all the many places around the world my tea comes from. Weather too affects my tea, and while I don’t need to dwell on the weather most of the year, I am aware of it and certainly weather impacts the teas I choose to drink, whether more warming or more cooling types of puerh. I find I cannot tolerate warming teas in the summer unless I want to lie awake all night sweating.

Even though I have several tea tables, numerous tea pillows and trays, most of my tea is prepared and consumed in my kitchen. I feel I am “working” or paying attention to food and beverages in my kitchen more so than anywhere else. I might enjoy tea outdoors in the summer, or on the patio, or in my sun room, but mostly I like to be near my hot water source and, well, the bathroom as needed. Tea gets all things moving along nicely.

In the kitchen I can get my head into the tea because I am not fussing with the tea setting as I would outdoors or somewhere fancy. My crocks are extensions of food preservation intrinsic to the farm community in which I live. I feel more local, and less odd or exotic drinking a beverage from the other side of the world. The tea is mine in my kitchen, and I carry my crocks from the next room to the countertop and check the progress. I usually make a mess when breaking tea off a beeng, and my tea mess is just easier to clean up in the kitchen. I get water everywhere too.

Many of my photos show a red laminated table, this is a 1950s cafĂ© table on a metal pedestal that is secured to the wall, the type of table you would see in a soda fountain shop sixty years ago. Think “Grease” the musical. I have an old 78 record on the wall above a yellow vintage hurricane mushroom lamp.

Then my bedroom is just off the kitchen and so if I overdose on tea, bed is just a few steps away. One never knows with a new tea how to judge the leafing until that first try. When the tea inspires a monologue I carry the cup to the computer and start typing. Everyone I live with ignores my tea drunk giggles and tea habit in general. I usually do not get sheng gut aches, but if I feel a little bit dodgy in the tummy I like products such as Life Saver’s Pep-o-Mints (the large ones), Nabisco Zesta soda crackers, and Icelandic Skyr. These products contain tummy soothing ingredients like peppermint, baking soda, milk and cultures.

So, the “where” is all about the conditions as well as the places of drinking tea. I can understand why some bloggers stop after awhile and just focus on enjoying tea because blogging does affect the entire process of drinking even when the tea is quite nice. In the next few weeks I hope to attend a tea tasting and enjoy tea with others and get outside my blogosphere for a day.