; Cwyn's Death By Tea: January 2021 ;

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Yeah...Whatever, Vendor

"Whatever 98" Green Stamp

Back in 2017 I bought a tea called "Whatever 1998" from Bitterleaf Teas, which I happened to see on their site when buying their 2017 Mansa. This Whatever tea came in a CNNP wrapper covered with another wrapper designed by Bitterleaf as a "raw puer from a private collector." The tea cost $0.55/g and was around $200 all in. I wrote about this tea and completed two sessions, one in porcelain and one in a clay teapot. While I referred to it as a CNNP Green Stamp because of the wrapper, the tea was not marketed as a CNNP Green Stamp. In the listing, Bitterleaf expressed an appropriate level of skepticism of the tea's story from the "somewhat eccentric private collector." Bitterleaf doesn't have the listing on their site anymore, but I found it on the Wayback Machine.

A year ago in February 2020 I had the idea that I might drink up this tea and maybe write about it again after storing it for several years. Before doing this I emailed Jonah at Bitterleaf Teas to ask more about the tea, and especially the private collector. "Anything about him," I said, because I'd offered my Tindr link to this guy in my blog post. Jonah emailed back that "he has a shop in one of the tea markets, looks just like all the others. Honestly, I don't know if we would stop in if browsing the market, but then again they all look the same and it's either that you know someone or fate that you step into a shop with something interesting."

I kept that email for a year now. When Bitterleaf started out selling, they weren't especially known as experienced in puerh tea. To their credit the Whatever tea was sold as a skeptical tea and not as anything in particular, but there is a world of difference between a source who is purely a collector and a person who is a tea shop vendor. Perhaps that's too fine a point for some vendors to appreciate, but for consumers this is a massively different bit of information to know where a tea comes from, a private collection or another vendor. This no-name tea was definitely sold by Bitterleaf as a "private collection" tea in the listing, and on their wrapper, without the additional bit that the guy is a tea vendor with a shop. 

Vendors purchase from other vendors all the time, that's where most get their factory teas unless from, well, the factory. Nothing wrong with this, but then the tea should be sold without any additional embellishments. Perhaps you might disagree on the definition of a vendor. I suppose I consider a "vendor" to be anybody of course with a shop of some kind, but also I consider as a puerh vendor someone who won't tell you where a tea comes from. I suppose Bitterleaf can also come back to say that the tea shop guy sold the tea from his private collection and not from the store shelves, and herein lies a difference for them. Kinda like being a little bit pregnant. I just don't think most tea buyers would primarily view the selling situation as an "eccentric collector" if he is also a tea vendor. I certainly don't.

All I can say is I am glad I am not a collector looking for specific factory teas. Obviously I'm not, because nobody looking for specific factory teas will spend money on something called Whatever with literally no provenance. However, buying factory teas outside of the factory really is buying tea with no provenance because nobody who is a vendor will tell you exactly where the tea comes from. They won't give up sources. So unless you buy the tea from the factory yourself, you are forced to accept "Whatever" the vendor tells you when you buy the tea.

This post is not intended as a huge call-out because honestly there is nothing to learn here, tea-wise. The tea itself is and was of almost no value other than whether it's good or not for drinking, it was priced and sold as a no-information older factory tea. Only people with extra money to blow and who don't care about the wherewithal buys a tea like this. I'm a writer looking for interesting teas to write about, so that gives me a big motivation to buy tea I don't especially need merely because it's a strange tea.

My main message here is not really about Bitterleaf, but rather this: if you have questions about a tea, contact the vendor. You may not find out anything at all, but maybe you will. I was certainly surprised to get additional information that contradicted the listing, whatever Whatever. Of course you may be in a situation where you want a refund too, I don't know. 

Actually, my other intention here is to get around to talking about the tea because I have had it for nearly 4 years and I want to see if it has changed any since I bought it. I thought the tea had a very nice dry storage character but it still had some ways to go. I definitely felt like it was younger than the stated '98, I never believed that any more than Bitterleaf did, and it seemed more like 2003 or some such in my original post just based on the progress at the time. Today I am going to brew the tea in clay, and I am really feeling glad about having a blog just now, because I have photos along with my notes to compare. In my original post I brewed the tea in both clay and porcelain, and now I can use the same teapot as I did then. 

I sampled the rinse this time. The tea still has the aroma of dry, dusty book storage which I rather like, personally I like this better than humid soil, just a preference, and also it is harder to fake. The first flash steeping was a bit too light when I tasted it, so I dumped it and let the tea sit in the water for about 20 seconds. Early notes are the powdery old books along with Mexican coffee notes, like freeze-dried coffee powder with cinnamon added. The tea then opens up with more fruity floral top notes along with a slight bitterness and the coffee powder.

Third steeping

This tea has smoothed out quite a bit since I last tried it. No doubt the clay teapot helps with that. The tea has quite a nice throatiness, very warming. I get a bit of plum and honey along with the fruit and continuing dusty books, along with a grassy/hay note. I have to add more seconds to the steep time with every brew. I tend to err on the too light with brew times because I'm accustomed to much heftier teas than this that instill the fear of tea gods in me.

Ninth steeping

It's been awhile since I drank a more old-fashioned factory tea which is pleasant and soothing to drink, like memories. The tea is much less bitter than it was four years ago, it wasn't heavily bitter then either but my notes indicate it still had bitterness and I'm only getting hints of that now. The soup is much darker brown than it was in my first review, you can see in the photo of the clay session a clear difference. I have to really push the tea because of age and also because it's a fairly stemmy tea, something I noted in my original post. You can't squeeze much flavor out of stems. The tea is warming and gives me the sweats, but that along with a bit less astringency reminds me that my medication suite now is different than 4 years ago. I'm taking a pill that has sweating as a side effect, so I have to ignore that. The tea has some mild qi, mainly just a spinal feeling of well-being and caffeine.

I went about 10 steeps, last time I did 15 and it seems like pushing to get there now, mainly because of stems this time. The leaves are a bit browner than before, but still green too. I like this tea as it is, so I am not tempted to push the storage on it. But it is also not terribly exciting to drink. Just a nice comfort tea of the old time factory sort with no real unpleasantness about it. I know a lot of people settle into a routine puerh drinking where they like a basic comfort factory tea, I guess it's more of a once in awhile trip for me. I just prefer something more engaging. Still, I imagine I will probably drink this up but for now it can sit a few more years. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Yunnan Sourcing 2014 Autumn Bingdao

2014 Autumn Bingdao by Yunnan Sourcing

I bought this tea back in the good old days of 2018 when puerh was cheaper and I really really really had hopes that Yunnan Sourcing would open their drive-thru puerh restaurant I had every reason to believe in.  Just think if Yunnan Sourcing had followed through and built that drive-thru, what with this pandemic now the puerh tea business would be boom times. By now their Drive-Thru Gong-Fu would be fully franchised with a location in my home town for my convenience. I am so very weary of the pandemic, but even more weary of pour after pour after pour burning my fingers and spilling tea everywhere. Doing my own gongfu really is a first world problem I fully believed Trump would have solved before leaving office. Just goes to show how brainwashed I am by social media, politicians and tea shopping. Well today is a new day and I reluctantly return to dealing with my own wrappers on teas I have not yet tried and puerh prices higher no matter who your government is. 

To wit, when I bought this tea back in 2018, this 2014 Autumn Bingdao 400g Whopper cost only $92 on the US site. I had over 3000 Loyalty points to spend which knocked off a further $30, leaving me with a total cost of $62. Today the same tea costs $157 on the US site and just a few dollars less on the .com. At the time I had a plan to compare this particular tea with a more recent spring version. The prices for the spring release of the same tea in 2018 had ballooned well over $200 by 2018 and now it's over $300. But then the 2019 and 2020 spring releases shrunk in size to 250g and 200g respectively. The price per gram of the spring offering hasn't decreased any, but the price of entry is a bit lower as of last year, and one can always get a sample if you cannot afford the full spring beeng. 

On the other hand, the more recent Autumn Bingdaos right now are all within $5 or so of the 2014 and still are the same 400g size. So for this autumn tea the price has not gone up at all really. I guess the market action is concentrated on the spring release. The tea is from a single origin around the Bingdao old village area, not the super expensive new village and the trees used are younger than the more famous old trees in the region. 

My plan of doing some comparisons by year hit a snag when this 2014 Autumn tea arrived back in August 2018. I opened the wrapper and to my chagrin the beeng was bright green. It had virtually no signs of aging, despite the fact that it was already 4 years old. At the very least I expected to see some early oxidation which is common in the first couple of years after pressing. I had no idea how long this tea might have been stored in Oregon. 

My winter light outdoors is a little bluish,
and I did not filter the photos to compensate.

I could not go ahead and write about this tea until I took time to see if it had some processing issues or if it would ferment properly. I decided to remain optimistic that it was an Oregon-storage-middle-of-the-tong situation. Because it was August at the time, I left the beeng out on the three-season porch to take advantage of the summer heat and humidity, and as I recall I left it out there for five weeks or so before moving it to crock storage. Now here we are 2 1/2 years later and it's time to try this tea. 

Looking at the beeng it is definitely still green-ish, but is definitely not as green as it was, which is a bit of a relief. Although it's not really a huge deal either way since it only cost me $62, which I realize is a full tea budget for some folks but is pocket change for the crazy amounts I spend on puerh tea. I chipped off 12g and decided to leaf heavy with 100 ml of water gongfu. Now if I had that drive-thru I surely could have the perfect brew instead of the lazy one I now embarked on.

The tea opens with a beautiful floral and cotton candy bouquet on the nose, with a bit of dried grass underneath and bark-like stems. An autumn puerh tends to be a little bit longer in the leaf with more stem, but the leaves actually are on the smaller side. Overall I enjoy the floral and white grape notes, with a bit of warm pepper and turmeric underneath, that autumn spice that honestly I probably would miss had I not known ahead of time this is a fall tea. 

Steep 2

My over-leafing starts to punish me on third brew with increasing bitterness and some drying. I notice the color of the soup is not quite as bright yellow as the photo on the tea listing at Yunnan Sourcing, mine is darker golden. So hopefully this is a sign of the oxidation I can see on the dry tea. I finally start to see that brighter yellow color more around steep 7. In the meantime steeps 4-6 are extremely bitter, but not painfully so. I normally don't regret over-leafing, but in this case with a lovely floral tea like this I'm doing an injustice to these higher notes by pounding my tongue with bitterness. Qi is rather mild, just a bit of buzzing around my ears and slightly relaxing. Really I am bombarding my palate, and next time I will go more like 7-8g per 100ml. I can feel the tea in my throat and stomach and make it through about 6 steeps before stopping for the day.

I was unable to continue the session the following day, and resumed the day after that. The tea steeps up nicely with the floral and grape profile and a bit less bitter than before. I am still mainly flash steeping around 9 steepings when I finally need to add 20 seconds or so. When you over-leaf like this a tea goes for many more steepings than when using a lower tea/water ratio. But now the soup is a bit cloudy from the wet leaves sitting in the gaiwan for two days.

Steep 7

Overall the tea really is quite pleasant. The flavor profile is not terribly complex, just a straight up floral and grape with a bit of green-y spiciness early on. I'm reminded of some of the white2tea house teas, which probably share a similar northern origin though probably not the same village, as Yunnan Sourcing seems to have a single farmer for this production. 

The tea has a somewhat singular profile and I can imagine it would benefit from blending. At the same time, here is an opportunity to try an unblended Bingdao-area tea for a reasonable price. The older trees are well beyond the reach of any western vendor, so if you see Bingdao! Bingdao! hollered elsewhere, approach with skepticism all around. 

I feel like my 2014 beeng here is a few years behind where it should be in terms of aging. I do not feel my storage was able to "catch up" the tea. Looking at the leaves, they are processed perfectly with no signs of redness or overcooking. The issue really is likely a middle-of-the-tong combined with dry storing. I believe it will continue to age, but it will be very very slow. I think it will do better in a higher heat situation, but of course the risk is losing the lovely florals. 

On the plus side, if anyone is concerned about the early storage of the 2014 in the US, the solution is to buy a younger beeng of this same tea. There is no financial disincentive in doing so, for the autumn version only has a couple dollars price difference off the 2014. The US and regular YS website have only small price differences between them, but the shipping (free in the US) will cost far more from China. Very worth a sample to try Yunnan Sourcing's Bingdao teas, if only to familiarize yourself with the profile. I am not sure we will continue to have such an opportunity with issues like the environment, prices and politics which all could affect our chances of obtaining teas like this in the future. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Wellness Tea, Herbal Tisane Review--AD

The Wellness Tea

Okay this tea got me at a moment of weakness. I don't accept much tea anymore for review and certainly this isn't the type of tea readers of this blog are looking for. But I suppose we all could use a couple of herbals in the cupboard and mine is especially bare in this regard. I have one box of elderberry tea I purchased at the beginning of the pandemic, and then I have a couple of mint teas for tummy issues. I used to have an extensive herbal collection in my younger days, but fell away from using herbs when I attempted to treat a medical condition and ended up far worse as a result. In proper quantities, herbs can indeed be powerful, but in general they fall far short of modern medical interventions. 

Let me tell you how I got this Wellness Tea. At the end of November my state had the worst coronavirus statistics in the nation for at least two months. One of my childhood friends named Darren is an emergency medical technician who told me how dire the situation was. Darren is actually a birthday buddy to me. We were born on the same day, same year in the same small town hospital. My dad liked to joke he took home the prettier one. Darren's dad joked he took home the smarter one. We grew up on the same street and so I've known him longer than I have known my own siblings. Anyway, he now works in the same hospital that we were born in. He spends time on Facebook using humor and other tactics to push against our high school classmates, many of whom are virus deniers, anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers. 

Just before Thanksgiving Darren said that all the hospitals on the north central part of the state were full. All the hospitals in the nearby Twin Cities of Minnesota were full. He had a patient lying in a helicopter on the tarmac in full heart failure with nowhere to send this guy for help. After six hours during which time the man could have died, Darren finally found a bed in Duluth, MN, a three hours drive away and flew the patient there. 

The next week I got an email from someone at The Wellness Tea asking if I wanted a package of their tea for review. Normally that would be a no, but I took a look. I noticed this tea contains herbs to address inflammation and congestion, as well as generally comforting tonic type spices and roots. So hey, I was offered a free bag and I took it. All I have to do is review the tea. If you're not interested, certainly feel free to X out of the post now. 

For any degree of effectiveness, generally herbs need to be in therapeutic quantities, and there is no way a teaspoon size portion of herbs will treat anything. At best this tea will be a soothing tonic. On the plus side, the tea is made in the USA and is certified USDA Organic. The ingredients of interest are Ashwagandha Root and Astragalus. Ashwagandha root is an evergreen type shrub used as an anti-inflammatory among other things. Astragalus can be used for upper respiratory infections and asthma. You can buy quantities of these herbs plain, but I don't suggest that because Astragalus grown in the US can contain selenium, and it can also upset the stomach if taking too much. This Wellness Tea contains a small amount of the herb, and also chamomile and ginger would negate any tummy effect. 

The rest of the ingredients in the tea are mainly tonic herbs, except for elderberry which can work as an anti-viral, it binds to viruses preventing attachment onto cells. I keep elderberry for this reason. It can't hurt and a tea made from it is pleasant. 

I brewed one teabag in the suggested 8 ounces of boiling water (236 ml) for five minutes. Generally chamomile and lemon balm are steeped in boiling water, but the roots in this preparation really should be boiled to extract the benefits. If I were sick and taking this I'd probably boil the teabag on the second steeping. 

The tea tastes strongly of chamomile along with cinnamon and turmeric. Dandelion root is a little acrid and I can taste that. The turmeric is probably responsible for the slightly cloudy brew. I added a dash of maple syrup to cover the acrid dandelion root and overall make the tea a bit more pleasant, but it's not bad. Anyone disliking herbal tea however will probably not find anything to like in terms of flavor. 

Overall the tea is comforting and produces warmth in the chest and throat. It would be very soothing for anyone recovering from coronavirus or another chest cold. The herbs are positive for the immune system which may not help if yours is in overdrive. I can't see any reason to drink this as a regular tonic because the roots are fairly selective and you don't need them as a daily supplement although some herb heads might argue that. 

For a "coronvirus tea" I certainly can't find anything more specific than this at my local grocery, and I don't have access to an herbal apothecary. So it's a welcome addition to my cupboard just in case. I haven't been sick this year except for a couple of mild colds. I'm hoping I can hold out until the vaccine. At the end of December, my friend Darren posted a photo of himself getting the vaccine, and honestly I cried a little. We're older and I am just glad to know the virus won't take him, and he will continue to work at the hospital where we were born.

The Wellness Tea is a little pricey at $29 for 30 teabags, but if you don't have anything like this on hand for colds and so forth, it might be worth a look. You can get 20% off with code TWT20. 

Friday, January 1, 2021

Monitoring My Purchases 1 Kilo 2012 CNNP Fu Brick

Happy New Year! 

With a new year ahead of us, in a burst of probably short-lived optimism I am going big with my tea drinking. Actually this is less about optimism and more about realism at this stage of my life. Facing up to my considerable tea collection I have a need to really monitor past and future tea purchases and focus on exactly how much tea I am drinking, to enjoy what I own and gird myself in the event of tempting new teas dropping in my favorite shops. Right now I am confident in my ability to enjoy what I own, but less so facing the event of a whole year of tea releases without buying something. One way to get real is to focus on drinking up things like this 1 Kilo 2012 CNNP Fu Brick I bought back in 2016, and wrote about briefly at the end of that year. 

I really need to get honest with myself about how long it takes to drink up teas like this, and the only way to do it is make myself drink it every day until it is gone. Now, in the mornings I usually enjoy a large mug of tea with my first set of meds for the day. The teas I drink in the morning are not sheng pu, but rather things like hongcha or oolong. In December, however, I decided to drink up all the excellent Mojun Fu brick tea I purchased at the World Tea Expo in 2017 as a morning tea, even though I normally think of fu brick as an after-dinner digestif. But in December I discovered Fu brick is quite agreeable and comfortable to drink in the morning when the tea has a few years aging in it. I feel confident in committing myself to taking a few months to drink up a full kilo.

Drinking up a full kilo, mathematically speaking, depends upon how much tea I brew per day. I plan to use my Teforia machine for brewing, and I often like to use the same set of leaves for two days in a row if I can because I am lazy and don't want to rinse out the leaves every day. Determining how long it will take me to drink up this brick depends on whether I go two days on my teas or just one day, because obviously going two days means twice as long to drink up this brick. Right now, the math on 1 kilo of tea drinking 7g per day means I would finish the brick sometime in late May. If I go two days on 7g of tea, I'm looking at drinking this brick until mid-October this year. 

This is a sobering reality and why I am going to do this. Once you get past 55 years of age, thinking about how long teas take to drink is quite a different dimension than when one is under 40, for example. If 1 kilo of tea is going to take the better part of a year, which it looks like it will, I need to think about just how many of these years I have left in my life. Now I can certainly drink my sheng and other teas later in the day, and this 1 kilo of tea is just my morning beverage. But how many years do I have left to enjoy teas?

Thinking this way puts a different spin on tea buying. Committing to nearly a year on a kilo limits me on drinking something else. It also challenges popular "wisdom" in tea circles which suggests that you need a tong (jian) or more of a tea to really "know" that tea. But if that tong will take you a year or more to drink, how does it feel after age 50 to think you maybe only have enough time left for 20 jians of tea? My parents died earlier than that and I have health problems, not to mention this pandemic. Do I want to spend more than one year on any single tea, or would I rather enjoy as much as I can of the many teas I own and have a nice variety on my tea menu?

I am suggesting to myself, rather strongly, that the idea of buying tongs after age 40 is probably not a good idea, even when the tea is excellent, either in value or in quality. A tea needs holding and storing for at least 10 years. Some people might plan to sell their teas after a certain point, but I don't plan on doing that. Realistically one cannot expect or possibly even want to spend a whole year or more on a single tea when you only have 10-30 of those years left. Do you want to limit your life to only 10 more teas? 

Back to the idea of holding teas to sell, the idea of selling teas is nicer than the reality. I spent a decade selling stuff online, and I can't face doing the shipping any longer. It's easy to list stuff for sale online, but shipping is even worse today than it was when I quit doing it five years ago. Nowadays Amazon has spoiled consumers to expect fast shipping. If you don't get that package out in two days, people will be emailing looking for their tracking number, especially when they are spending $100 or more on a purchase. You cannot count on the same good health you enjoy at 40 when you reach 60 and beyond. Finding boxes, wrapping, printing shipping labels and driving to the post office takes a huge amount of effort when you are older and do not feel so good on some days. Afterward you get to deal with the eventual crop of unhappy customers, because that is a reality of doing business. All that will feel worse especially if you're fire-sale-ing your tea, which you probably will be unless you are sitting upon some extremely rare and desirable teas of the most excellent storage. 

Second brewing here, lighter than the first

Don't get me wrong, buying tongs at a young age is a nice idea if you really love the tea. You will have twenty years to age that tea before worrying about drinking it. But think about how many tongs of tea you actually want when it takes a year or two to drink that tong and you only have 20-30 years left. You're down to 15 tongs that you can reasonably drink assuming you can keep up 7g a day until age 70. Do you really want to commit the precious years you have to only 15 teas, or would you rather have a collection of many more single teas and enjoy as many tea experiences as possible? Of course if you have a family who also drinks with you then the metrics change a bit, but most of us in the west are single drinkers, not members of a four person family where everyone drinks tea. 

So, in the short term I am going to commit to drinking up this kilo brick as my morning tea. I brewed up 9g yesterday and it turned out rather stronger than I like. The Teforia I use because I am lazy expels the liquid forcefully through the leaves and completes 3 steepings per carafe. So, my first carafe is strong. I noted a fine nutty flavor, no storage notes to speak of and a pleasant feeling in the stomach. Today I brewed the same leaves again and got a much weaker cup. I am on the fence a little because I should optimally reduce the leaves down to more like 5g and change them every day, but I doubt I will. 

This 2012 Copco brick is fairly good, with a nutty flavor and only a few small sticks. I purchased it originally from a Hong Kong seller who since closed down his website and only sells on eBay now. Fu brick is fairly green until about 5 years or so when it starts to darken. In addition to my considerations on how long a kilo will take out of my life this year to drink, the reality of this brick in my collection is that I never found a decent storage solution for the tea. I had it in a plastic bag half open for the four years I have owned it. 

I feel bad that I bought a big brick like this when I had no room to store it properly. I am fortunate that the large size of the brick kept the interior with some golden flowers intact, but definitely not as much as I like to see on Fu tea. Someone in a more humid climate or someone who stored this tea decently should aspire to a fully encrusted brick of golden flowers. I can really taste the difference of a well-crusted fu brick, it has a tangy zip on the tongue that my brick is lacking. The tea is decently aged enough to drink, but less than optimal amounts of flowers. Fu is not a very expensive type of tea, so I don't feel as bad as I would storing a sheng tea badly, but that's why this brick is neglected, all my storage is stuffed full of sheng puerh. I need a separate solution for fu brick and just do not have it. Thus the tea is drier than it should be, though on the positive side any touch of Hong Kong, of which there was little to none anyway, is gone by now. 

So, I anticipate that my new project to drink up this brick will finish sometime between May and October, leaning more towards October at this point. I will post on Instagram at some point showing more progress on the brick. The project will be a success if I tire of this tea and convince myself that I have no business buying a full kilo or more of anything at this point in my life. 

If you want to buy Fu brick tea, I notice that Yunnan Sourcing has added more fu brick teas to their site, including on the US site. These teas are fairly expensive, and most are still green. To get an aged one you need to look at 5 years and older. You can find fu brick for about half those prices if you're willing to put up with eBay. I notice that the seller I bought from still has Copco Fu bricks on eBay, his name is tea8hk if you want to have a look at those, but I see plenty of cheaper $40/kilo bricks elsewhere on eBay. Heicha teas are more popular nowadays on western tea forums as people are looking at drinking options that cost less than sheng puerh with far shorter aging cycles. I hope more US sellers start to carry heicha teas, especially if they can find exceptionally clean examples.