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Thursday, February 18, 2021

1997 Menghai Shui Lan Yin "Water-Blue Stamp"


Recently I ordered a sample of this 1997 Menghai Shui Lan Yin tea from Houde Fine Tea. Most puerh drinkers online recognize this Houston-based tea vendor who has been selling from a personal collection teashop for well over a decade now. Houde is one of the few vendors back in the oughts selling well-known factory and Taiwan boutique teas from a US location, well covered in puerh blogs. This is the first tea I have tried from Houde. In years past whenever new Houde teas got posted, selections of any interest to me sold out immediately. I do have another factory beeng from Houde in my collection, but it is much younger and I have not tried it because it needs more aging. 

I keep thinking of Houde today though because of the catastrophic weather disaster occurring in Houston, Texas and all over this state. Texas is undergoing an extended period of bitter cold temperatures for which homes and state infrastructure are woefully unprepared. The temps have fallen below -10C at night for more than a week now, with snow and ice storm events. Homes are not equipped for these kinds of temperatures and people are dealing with loss of electricity, heating and water. Houston is currently struggling to keep electricity on and is under a boil water order. Water pipes are likely frozen and burst in homes. Unlike up north where I live, Texas houses have water pipes running along the outside of the home because the weather rarely gets cold enough for them to freeze. Fireplaces and wood stoves are not common in Texas, leaving people with few heating options when the power grid is out.


It is difficult to overstate the human tragedy that is happening. We do not know the scope of this yet. I expect that more loss of life will be found in coming days. Food and water shortages are common. Stores are running out of food and trucks cannot get food delivered because the state roads are snow and ice covered. Farmers are dumping milk they cannot deliver to dairy. Farm animals are dead or at risk of running out of feed. Vegetable and fruit crops are lost. Restaurants are closed or limited because of no water and food deliveries. I have two friends in Houston that I have been unable to get news of. 

Houde has stored his tea collection in an outdoor garage. Normally the warm and humid Texas weather provides ideal puerh storage conditions. I am guessing the tea had to be moved into a house to avoid freezing, but then when the power went out in Houston, keeping tea warm is not a priority or even a possibility. One can only hope Houde and his family are getting by at home, or at a hotel, or have left the state for a time as some people have done. My understanding today is that power has been restored to most people in the Houston area, but the city is still under a boil water order and the power grid is still fragile state-wide. I would guess the food and water shortages are daily life here as well. If Houde is still at home, he has much to deal with just with daily living. 

After this event ends, no doubt he will evaluate the state of his tea collection. One favorable side to his collection is the number of aged teas which, if dry enough, might be okay. Another favorable aspect is the durability of heavily compressed teas like iron-pressings, tuos or bricks, these tend to survive weather events very well. The biggest risk to tea along with the cold is condensation from thawing temperatures. That is aside from any water issues in the home. Of course a tea collection fades in importance to family and home, yet a collection is an investment one might turn to in times when home repairs need funds. I hope we are all ready to buy up some tea if we see any posted in coming days. Right now any teas ordered from Houde are likely to need understanding for delayed shipping. I am not sure of the state of postal services, trucking and flights from Texas.


This 1997 Menghai Shui Lan Yin is a rather famous tea in collector circles. Houde provided an auction link along with his photos, I am unsure if this is provided for information or if he bought the tea from this auction because he does not say how he came to acquire the tea or how long he has owned it. Many of his other teas came from trips to Taiwan. Unfortunately I don't see a photo of the full open beeng on the listing. An important fact about this tea is that few examples of it exist, and it is very likely that the few that surface such as at the 2019 auction are coming from Hong Kong provenance. He had 7 packages of 15g samples to sell for $90 apiece. This puts the full beeng price at $2142 or $6/g. I wish the photos had included full pics of the open uncut beeng, but the close ups are nice.

I bought my sample and noticed one other sample had sold the same day. Then the remaining five samples sat for a couple of weeks, and then only in the past few days I noticed the rest had sold. I don't know if it will be restocked.

I decided that given the cost of the tea, I would brew in 3g increments, which is not my ideal ratio. I often feel I cannot get a full taste of the tea brewing less than 5g even when I keep the water proportionate. The tea does not have the fullest flavor and it cashes out quickly just brewing a few grams. But I can at least get some idea of the tea and brew more later.

While getting the tea ready to brew, I had the chunk photo done and was busy pouring out a rinse when the phone rang. A friend from the Midland area of western Texas called up. We have been talking daily. He lives by himself in an apartment building and is dealing with all of the issues I wrote above like other Texans. Over the phone we decided to complete a food stamps application for him together, and I drank the tea while working on the application and talking on the phone. Consequently I lost track of the number of steeps. 


I noticed the tea has a very nice aged aroma of traditional storage, in that the storage has been done some time ago and now smells earthy and basement-like, but not moldy in any way. The tea has what I would consider a well-done Hong Kong type profile, the leaves are definitely of an older tea in that they are thicker and more plushy than the thin tissue paper-like plantation factory leaves we see nowadays. 

The brew is very warming and brandy-ish brewed in a Ruyao glaze gaiwan. Next time I will brew in clay to mitigate the storage some. The tea has a tangy fruit profile and a mineral finish, unfortunately heavily affected by the wet storage which has mostly obliterated the tea. If you like this type of storage, you will find the tea very pleasant. The caffeine level is still high, the qi is moderately good with some facial numbing and body warming. I get a nice sweetness on the back of the tongue. The tea shows some green yet in the leaves but has no remaining bitterness.


I just kept pouring out the brews while talking with my friend and working on the application. I know I pushed well past 10 steepings just out of the 3g of leaf which is impressive. The tea is pleasant enough but the storage does not dissipate and remains a dominant note. No doubt the price of the tea is fair given the collector and historical cache. I do not think finding this exact tea with drier storage is possible. However this is a lot of money to pay for a tea sample and you have to decide if the experience is worthwhile. I would guess that mainly for tea historians this is an experience not to be missed, but those who simply like the factory and storage profile, obviously you can find satisfying teas for much less. 


The qi is good enough for me to stash the remaining sample and see if I can air out the storage some more. I had thought about giving the sample to a tea friend given what it is, but with the heavier storage it's probably not the best tea trade.  I do not think this is an example of Houde's storage because it was done before he acquired it. My other tea is likely a better example when I try that someday, and I hope to find more teas of interest to order from Houde in coming days. 





4 comments:

  1. I am having very sad thoughts. Like when you're gone, how many decades it will take for someone else to enter this realm with equally balanced senses for tea and humanity. But maybe your experiences cannot be replicated. I am comparing you to clyde Lewis of tea musings. There is Joe rupe but it is like 1st we heroes and 2nd, it is not the same. Maybe peace between wars is what nurtures generations. Thank you for being you. You and oolongowl should be cloned and repopulate one of those planets where tea is like ocean and butterflies are dolphins. The planet huston with tea hedges to protect it from calamities.

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  2. Cwyn N,

    This is a heartwarmingly human post. It goes to show how we are all connected and how there is more important things, real human things, that are worth interrupting even some of the rarest and pricist of tea sessions.

    We are all interconnected. It was announced a few days ago that Saskpower, whose Post Modern head quarters I walk past daily on the way to work started exporting 175 magawatts of power to the grid that powers the grid in Texas.

    Beacause others can’t... we drink tea.

    Peace

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    1. I just read a story in WaPo about a H.E.B. Grocery in Texas where the power went out where at least 20 people were in line to pay. The card readers couldn’t be used for people to pay. The clerks waved everyone through with their groceries free. Then in the parking lot these people began helping each other load their cars and push them out of the snow.

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