; Cwyn's Death By Tea: 2022 ;

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Puerh Personalities


Recently I found myself reading along in the social blogger-sphere and somebody has the idea to consider the puerh hobby as a personality type. This is probably accurate and I am only glad to be part of such a club, even if I am the last to be picked for dodgeball. Only problem is, the concept as a whole needs some fleshing out in subtypes. I am happy to do that today, now that I am at least nine cups in, I may have lost count. Anyway, here goes:


Peacocks 


These puerh people only buy special editions and socially desirable long-sold-out teas. Their tea is all about the wrapper. They own shrink wrap machines to preserve a beeng all costs. Aging is mostly a secondary concern and not as important as visual integrity. 


Pretty on the shelf is as pretty does in my book. But hey, a market for everyone, right? Somebody has to buy the limited-edition teas, even when the tea is exactly the same as every other production the factory puts out. 


I also include the wrapper buyers in the western vendor scene. In this latter case price-and-pretty wins all day long, no matter the tea. Very likely the person doesn't know much about the actual tea. Like I said, something for everyone. We cannot be too harsh knowing that their tea is bug-bite-free, mint condition; the pets get nowhere near the goods. They care....and it, well, shows. In fact, this person is the best type to buy tea from secondhand, and maybe the most willing to entertain a sale.


Brick Bitch 


Pry my 7581 out of my cold, dead hands. The most straightforward group, and you gotta respect the simplicity of nothing more to say. 

Water Sportsters 


Get a whiff of this one.


These folks drink wet-stored on purpose. 


(On behalf of this group I reject the term Hong Kong storage, under the reasoning that we have puerh people in Hong Kong storing in situations ranging from the basement to the penthouse and every floor in between.) 


Here is the extreme where if it isn’t wet enough, just add more, maybe with an installed humidity system. Close to compost is how these guys like it. Wrappers are immaterial and unrecognizable, the more bug bites, tea-and-water stains the better. They store their tongs in a box. Never rotated. Critters welcomed. On the plus side, you don’t need a puerh knife but a dust pan is very handy.


Tong Johns 


These are people who think a beeng is only a sample and complain about the Stamp Collectors. Their theory is you don’t know the tea until you drink the whole tong. Don’t ask them what they think about this year’s puerh. They have no idea because they are still drinking 2006, and 2007 is up next. I was gonna say still drinking the last century but I really doubt this group owns any last century. If they did they wouldn’t be drinking it, because at this point they only have one left. Mid-age drinkers all the way, purchased in bulk tong, factory-direct or bargain shopping. On the plus side, they are not tea snobs if you hate that sort of person. Happy drinking!


Stamp Collectors


Contrary to popular belief, these are not the people who buy one of everything. Let’s be real, no puerh personality is truly tong-less. These are the nerd collector people who buy puerh books and catalogs to obsess over. They pore over the catalog details with a magnifying glass to convince themselves that anything in their collection older than, say, the 2011 Dayi Gold they probably own is the Real Deal, and not a fake. It’s like the crypto folks who say "hold forever!" but they check the market obsessively anyway and chain-email auction catalog links. Although they are not selling, you could probably befriend one and weasel a sample, if you can garner their curiosity over your own ambiguous tea.


Boo-teeks (boutiques)


The perfect puerh club member willing to buy sight unseen whatever their vendor of choice manages to acquire. Ultimate puerh snob unwilling to drink whatever the riff-raff are quaffing. They won’t be bringing a factory drinker to a tea gathering unless they plan to foist it off in trade, and probably not in tea. If you want a taste of what they got, bring along a stinky cheese or a bottle of maple syrup, wine is just insulting although a single-malt peaty barrel-aged whiskey might be acceptable. 


The Crazies


The true hoarders. These are people who own tea instead of guns. They cosplay at tea gatherings, and spend hours perfecting their rituals. They buy tea when under stress and comment incoherently on social media after having a few, and maybe write tea blogs. They probably have an ex living in China. The house is a fire trap. I think they own cats although they probably resent the expense that could be more comfortably spent on teapot #175. Expect to move the tea before sitting down, assuming you get let in at all. The relatives gave up long ago and it's now down to fire code inspections to determine how long they keep going. 


Happily, I am likely in this group and I prefer my vendors are too. Assuming a vendor in this group can actually bring themselves to sell. 


Grandpas


These are the folks in happy thermos-ing mode, drop in some tea and add hot water. No need to rinse, just add more water as needed. Grandpas are not up for gongfu, might be too much for the stomach and anyway, who are you to tell them how to brew their tea? They have unwashed tea-stained cups to prove their longevity. Also, they have no interest in discussing puerh, or trying new editions. Any talk of the puerh scene yields a befuddled look that is not from the tea they are drinking. It's just that they have no knowledge of any puerh past maybe 2007. Ask them what they are drinking and they are not sure. At this point they no longer know what they have, nor what they paid, nor how long they have owned it. 


The Students

Original woodcut by Leland Struebig
defaced in a safe, non-binary manner
by the author.

We always make room for our scholastic friends trying to get a degree done, and who have puerh on the brain with not much money to support their obsession. Every year I get a few emails from broke students looking for leftover samples. You gotta adore the youthful idealism, "where can I get a tea from my birthday year?" And "how can I get some 1960s puerh?" It’s so endearing how they get offended when you suggest a sensible shou.


___________________



Hopefully this post covers almost everyone. In fact, I venture to add that if you are not in any of these personality types, you really are not a puerh person. You, my friend, are a taster, a wanna-be, and do run along back to your assam tea bags. Come back someday when you fit in more. 







Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Hobby of the Loner

A tea colored car.
Actually it belongs to my ex
who lives in Guangzhou.

I still have puerh on the brain after all these years and my recent storm disaster is not enough to knock it out of me. Especially when I discover teas in my house I apparently forgot about. I find myself thinking more about the puerh beginner after my last post. What a world they have yet to discover! Most of what you discover about tea is for your appreciation and probably yours alone. 

This weekend I am thoroughly worn out from storm cleanup and days spent on the phone with insurance companies, disaster reports, roofers and auto repair shops. I put in two 20-hour days this week on all this, but one of them was spent on my cats. Both cats fell into stress events after the storm, leaving one cat with some sort of allergy/stress eye reaction where his eyes rolled up and sideways and he insisted on staying in my lap an entire night before I hauled him to the vet, yet another bill I did not need (however, the vet is also missing part of his roof, so it was an informative visit in more ways than one). My other cat went into irritable bowel diarrhea mode, which leaves him hungry and frantic. He got up on the kitchen counter and knocked the butter dish onto the floor and ate up all the butter. That led to two more days of bowel issues I don't even want to recall, and more cleanup I did not need.

But my cat thought he had discovered something wonderful with that butter, so I had to come up with a new butter storage quick. I have a ceramic French butter crock which I adore for butter. I bought it on Etsy years ago, and it's genius. You pack the butter into the lid, and then add some cool water to the crock which keeps the butter fresh longer in warm weather. Unfortunately this brilliant little crock did not go over well with my son, he just could not handle the butter and dealing with the water etc. I did not think our Mr. B. would want to cope with such fussiness either, so I retired the crock very quickly in favor of a vintage plastic butter dish. 

French-style butter crock

Now, however, we need a butter dish the cat can't get into, and so I remembered I had this crock. I thought okay, I can use this crock upside down and skip the water. Oof, a bit dusty and after cleaning it off, lo and behold I discover I have puerh in the thing. I tend to stuff bits of puerh into teapots, cups, tins, caddies, even wood boxes. Whatever I can find. Any object in my house might have tea in it. After doing this for some years, you tend to forget what you stashed and why. I started making little paper slips with the name of the tea on it. But I guess I didn't do that in this case. The tea is loose, not a chunk of anything, and I would guess at least five years or maybe even as long as seven years since I bought this butter crock and retired it. Who knows how long I have left a sample in here? It's got to be something I decided was too good to throw out. 

Well, I need this butter crock now so time to drink up the seven grams or so of whatever tea this is. I decided to go maybe 3 grams into the Kamjove with no regard to parameters just to be rid of it. The tea will probably be watery for my taste, but with everything going on, who cares? It's just tea at this point. Except the tea is astonishing. I was expecting something rather harsh or dried out or faded, just whatever. But it was absolute bliss. The first mouthful an explosion of fruit, florals, bitter greens and chicory. Omg my stress reaction is palpable, whatever this tea is suddenly seems miles and away better that anything I have had in a very long time. My overtired brain cannot even remember tea this good, though of course that is most definitely not the case, I drink great tea all the time. 

Maybe it's the disaster going on. I started on this tea yesterday when I hit a wall physically, I was so exhausted I felt ill, and so ill I actually took a Covid test just to rule that out. Today I started on the second set of leaves from the sample after taking an aspirin. And now this tea has put me right as rain. I get that this is a northern tea of some sort, actually it reminds me somewhat of white2tea's 72 Hours but that could be overly optimistic given my hysteria from the storm. 

The soup is pudding-like, but it has a structure to it, the leaves almost seem like I could overcook them in the Kamjove, but they aren't overcooking because they are thick and strong. They are green with a bit of age, yet they speak to me of a strong lineage, older trees, no new plantation here. I taste roots deep in soil beneath an almost white-tea tippy-ness. I am over-dousing with too much boiling water, but they resist torture, almost telling me "bring it on, we can take it and we have more to give." Lesser teas buckle under torture and turn into a cloudy mush. Some puerh teas that are just okay are finicky, to get the best of them you have to discover what the brewing parameters are. This one is almost a royal personage whom you can subject to anything, they never lose their dignity and give back just the same. It's a forgiving tea. As I stew over whether I need to cut down the beautiful old tree in my yard to keep it from damaging my house, I need forgiveness. I need support. This tea holds itself up to me with its strength when I need it as I need it now.

Truly fine puerh leaves can take punishment and almost any parameters. You can even drink the brew cold and the soup is not drastically worse. A truly fine puerh makes you feel much better physically, not sick or ill. People in Yunnan drink the best leaves green and suffer no ill effects from it, even when stuffed in bamboo tubes and dried over a fire. 

My who-knows-what-it-is tea.

So here I am, by myself, drinking a truly fine tea. Most tea shops don't have puerh this good. A few people may be lucky enough to live with maybe one other person who appreciates puerh, but probably not as you do. If you have fallen down the rabbit hole of the puerh hobby, it's a form of insanity that only you will ever know and understand while the rest of the world revolves around you in complete ignorance of puerh bliss. 

I don't find puerh forums much fun anymore. Sure, we can share something with fellow puerh heads, but most puerh discourse lately is juvenile with a lot of judgy people who think whatever you are drinking is utter trash. I might even think that. How helpful or fun is this? Maybe helpful on the information level of finding good teas to buy, or bad teas to avoid, but nobody loves your tea better than you do. And nobody else ever will. Wine people can attend tastings in nearly every small city, but the puerh person? Drinking alone at home today. And tomorrow too.

If anything, the attitude of other puerh drinkers can lead one to paranoia. Keep your shit to yourself if you don't like my tea, even though you never ever tasted my tea, or my storage, it's amazing how you think you know something about it. You don't. The amount of gaslighting in puerh forums can make people question their taste, temper their well-earned enthusiasm, and darken the glow of discovery. The vast majority of puerh people on forums are not collectors, they are drinkers. They are not buying tea for the marketplace or for other people, it's for themselves to enjoy. Keep that in mind. 

In the realm of environmental disaster, and anything else horrible going on, it's a comfort to know I have things to drink. I don't even know what the hell it is I am drinking, but I know it is wonderful. I just brought my body back to life with a beautiful tea, and nobody needs to believe that except me. 



Monday, June 20, 2022

Beginning Puerh with $100

My roof 

This week an EF-2 strength tornado ripped an eight mile long swath through my small town at 90 mph. It ripped out trees, branches and other debris, caving in roofs and damaging vehicles, including my house and car. I have a lot of damage to contend with, and am awaiting the insurance adjuster to come out and take a look. In the meantime we have patched the roof and boarded up a broken window. The incoming water doesn't seem to have done much damage. I am fortunate to have old growth wood in my house structure, as well as plaster board. The weather turned dry after the storm, and dried up the water quickly. Naturally when under stress my thoughts turn to tea shopping like an anxious fancy lady thinks of Harrods. I decided to sweat out the urges as best I could. After all, I have an insurance deductible to meet. 

But I recalled my earliest days reading tea forums and a post by someone who lost their entire tea collection in a basement apartment flooding situation. I don't remember how that person stored their tea or how much flooding it was, the photos posted were more after the fact. But this person had to start all over with their tea collection. Luckily tea friends came to the rescue and mailed boxes full of teas. True, these teas likely did not replace exactly what they had, and probably the owners felt happy to part with these teas, just not their best collections. Still, I wonder how I would start again, if starting from scratch today. My own teas are fine, by the way. Storing teas in big-ass crocks or old metal fridges is probably the best you can do to protect your tea in the event of disaster. Cardboard boxes on the floor, maybe not so much.

I feel like the question of "where would I start?" with puerh is the most common question people ask, with storage or maybe tea gear as the next questions. If I truly needed to start over now, how would I go about buying tea? How much would it cost me? Yikes, I stare at tea listings once in awhile and even in my last post I noted how new prices have gone so far up on teas I own that are still available to buy. I cannot replace everything I own because obviously teas sell out and then the only option is buy from a collector and pay the new prices not only for the tea, but new prices on shipping as well. 

But "where would I start?" is a two-part type of question. Where I would start is not where a total beginner might start. Obviously no one will recommend a complete beginner start out with a $500/beeng tea, when that beginner is not even sure if they like puerh. So the beginner has one question, whereas the experienced drinker starting over has questions more about replacement. 

In this post I will post things a brand new beginner might consider. Thus the experienced drinker already knowing what they like will find nothing to look at here, except some of the accessories might be of note for the future. For the true beginner, we need to keep the cost investment low in case the person turns out to hate puerh tea, we don't want people regretting too hard at the start. Likely the person already enjoys tea, so hopefully the gear can find use with non-puerh teas as well. 

To be quite honest with you, I would do exactly the same as I did when I first bought puerh in 2009. That is, I would buy the same teas, but because of my $100 start price I would pick other harvest years to stay within that budget. If you are familiar with this entire blog, nothing here will be much of a surprise. Yes, you are correct that this is tea shopping without tea shopping, entirely a cognitive strategy for me to stop me from actual stress shopping (heh). I will list per tea vendor what to get, with $100 per vendor as the goal. Obviously you don't need everything. 

Note: all photos are the property of the vendors whose items are linked.

YunnanSourcing.us

Xiaguan sheng minis at yunnansourcing.us

These Xiaguan 2019 sheng mini tuos are 200g for $12. This is probably the bottom end in terms of puerh. I think tasting Xiaguan's house flavor is a good idea for a beginner. You can really separate the chaff from the wheat of puerh drinking in terms of whether someone is going to like puerh tea or not. If you can enjoy tuos like these, even green, you can feel more confident buying tuos in general, or other Xiaguan teas in the future. If not, then your investment is small and you can foist them off on beginners who show up at your house and give them the same test. If they hate the tuos you will know not to waste your better tea on them. Minis also are easy to take on a trip with you. I can tell you traveling with a beeng or even a quarter beeng is a messy affair in your purse compared to tuos like these. 

More importantly, you need to build a palate for puerh. Xiaguan makes many teas, knowing their house flavor is helpful as a baseline benchmark to step up to other things. They represent a more northern Yunnan style of tea.

2019 1901 Taetea at yunnansourcing.us

This 2019 1901 Taetea 7572 Ripe Shou is also a benchmark starter tea. Taetea represents southern Yunnan plantation tea. Even more, it is one of the cleanest, basic shou teas you can start with. I started with the 2009 7572 and that tea is still around but horribly pricey now. This tea is still pricey at $66, it's the name and import costs you are paying for, otherwise it's probably more around $40. I notice King Tea Mall is selling it for $55, but then you have higher shipping cost to add on. (Yunnan Sourcing.US ships free to the lower 48 at the $100 mark.) If you like it, then you can feel confident trying other shou teas in the future. Keep a piece of it and try it every year to see how it tastes as it mellows. Break up the beeng and put it in a crock. It will fade if left in a cardboard box, as I found out. 

2008 Song Pin Hao at yunnansourcing.us

2008 Song Pin Hao Yiwu Taiwan-stored sheng/raw puerh costs $11.90 for a 25g sample, enough for 3-5 sessions. With this sample, you can get an idea if you like aged tea, if you like Taiwan-stored tea, and if you like Yiwu area tea. That's three questions answered by one tea. The information you gain from such a small investment will help you parse other aged teas stored in Taiwan. 

Coconut shell strainer by yunnansourcing.us

I love this coconut shell strainer for $8. It's natural, it's cheap and you do need a strainer to get out the odd bits that slip past you when pouring. I like to use a strainer to see how many particles of black burnt tea bits I find in a tea, a processing issue that affects the storage and taste of a tea down the road. More bits you need hotter and humid storage conditions to get past the flavor. You can also find metal strainers I suppose, but if you hate puerh and toss the strainer it won't be in the landfill for a thousand years or more. 

King Tea Mall

This outfit is located in Guangzhou, China so you are looking at shipping costs and shipping time. But the owner John is excellent with customer service and dealing with lost packages or shipping damage. You will get emails with tracking progress on your package, something few other shops offer, making this shop a safe beginner bet.  

2015 1501 Taetea 7542 at kingteamall.com

2015 1501 Taetea 7542 at $75 is an opportunity to try one of the most basic sheng puerh recipes, and one of the oldest recipes. It's a must for beginners to try a very traditional southern tea like this and to recognize the Taetea house flavor. Now historians will quickly chime in that the processing has changed since 2011 or even earlier, and how the tea itself is not the same as the old days, but you can say this about any tea now. Older examples of 7542 cost used-car amounts of money, so why recommend that to a beginner? Even the past two years the 7542 is selling at crazy speculator pricing, it's insane. But 2015 was a wet year, not so desirable for crazy collector types, which is why it is relatively affordable. And it has 7 years age on it in a very humid location. The 7542 is also probably the most faked tea. I don't think anyone is going to bother faking the 2015, so try the real deal for educational purposes. 

2014 Xiaguan Jiaji at kingteamall.com

2014 Xiaguan Golden Ribbon (Jiaji) tuo at $18.99, yet another Xiaguan? Think of the yellow ribbon in this tuo as the canary in your storage gold mine. This is the best tea I know of as a test of puerh storage, because nothing will kill this tea. You don't need to drink it to use it as a test. If you have overly humid and hot conditions, it will mold and you can scrape it right off. The tea will recover. It is compressed to survive rainy and hot traveling conditions. The compression is such that you can float it in water and the water will not penetrate into the tuo. Does the tuo lack a tea odor when checking your storage? Then you know your storage is too dry. Once you start experimenting with storage, and you will, it's not enough to simply check hygrometers and boveda packs, and you can't possibly taste every tea you own every month or so. This tuo serves a purpose without tearing up your entire storage. 

Digital Scale from kingteamall.com

This Digital Scale is only $5.99, an add-on to your King Tea Mall order. I don't think you can find a cheaper one anywhere. 

Puerh paper from kingteamall.com

Handmade Cotton Puerh Wrappers at $0.99, might as well toss a few of these in your cart. These papers hold up to a 500g beeng size, so you can trim them for smaller chunks. Puerh wrappers once opened on a beeng start wearing out quickly. Aged teas often come in wrappers with bug bites or other damage and require replacing. If you fall in love with a wrapper, save it and use one of these instead.

Tea table hose from kingteamall.com

Balloon drainage hose at  $1.99? Hello this is the first time I have seen a tea tray replacement drainage hose to buy, and look how little it costs to replace if you have a drainage tea table. Sure you can get hose from the hardware store, but you will pay much more than this. Not anything a beginner needs, but I spotted it and it's worth listing here for anyone needing it and you happen to be ordering from King Tea Mall already.

Taiwan Sourcing

This outfit is owned by Scott at Yunnan Sourcing and was originally for selling Taiwan oolong teas and accessories. Recently the site offers Taiwan-stored puerh teas, no doubt in response to customer demand. But before you order any teas, be sure to check Yunnan Sourcing's US site first as many of their puerh and oolong teas are already imported over to the US onto yunnansourcing.us. But the accessories are unique to the Taiwan site. 

A beautiful gaiwan from taiwanoolongs.com
(taiwan sourcing)

Anta "Sheep Fat" Gaiwan 140 ml $79 is really pricey for a beginner. Porcelain is the best material for testing the storage and flavor of a tea. If you are determined to gongfu your puerh tea, learn how to use a gaiwan. A small porcelain teapot can also work, but teapots can cook young puerh leaves faster than a gaiwan that opens up to the air quickly. Sheep fat is the porcelain color name, there is no sheep fat in it.

Sure you can go cheaper (see below), but hear me out on this one. First of all, it's awesome and I want it, I've been looking at it for years but I don't need another gaiwan. It has several things apart from the aesthetics that I like. First, it has a notch in the foot so that the gaiwan doesn't get suctioned onto the plate. This is a hazard of gaiwans, especially for the beginner. When lifting a gaiwan to pour, sometimes the plate lifts with it, and then falls off the gaiwan onto your tea table. That means breakage, a mess, and maybe a boiling water injury. 

Secondly, the 140 ml is a good size to start with for several reasons. One is you can solo the gaiwan with it only half full. Using 70 ml or half the capacity is just right for one person using 5 g or so of tea. More importantly, the gaiwan won't be so full that you burn your fingers on the lid, something that can happen a lot when starting out with gongfu. As you improve your pouring, you can then use the gaiwan fully to serve two people. I have some cup ideas below that will work well for a two-person session with this gaiwan, but of course you can get matching cups if you want. 

If you are looking at a cheaper gaiwan to start, take note of the low height of the button top on top of this piece. In other words, the button at the top is close to the lid. You can find cheap gaiwans but be careful that they don't have a tall button which is much harder to pour from for a beginner, look for low button tops like this piece has. 

You get one of these per order, not all five
Aroma cup from taiwanoolongs.com

A Fine Porcelain Aroma Set, single cup plus bowl $42. This is not an absolute must, but I can vouch for the beauties of the shape of an aroma cup for really getting the full aroma experience from a very fine tea. I have one from Taetea that only cost me maybe $10, so you can go cheap, but why not have a nice one? It is useful with other teas as well and I trust Taiwan Sourcing to properly pack it as opposed to a Taobao outfit. Also makes a nice gift idea for a tea lover. Never buy tea for a tea lover, ever. You cannot possibly pick a tea that your friend will like, but they will surely appreciate this set as a gift. 

Camellia Sinensis, Montreal

I love this tea shop but their puerh is what I would call a bit dodgy, their descriptions need work and I can't recommend any of the puerh teas currently. Once in awhile they get something factory that might be worth the splurge, but just saying. They are, however, a great source for accessories and some non-puerh teas like:

2012 "Aged" Bai Mu Dan
from camellia-sinensis.com

2012 "Aged" Bai Mu Dan $7 for 10g and up, this is a white tea beeng, not puerh. If you are going puerh, might as well try aged white tea too and get it over with. You either like it or you don't. The quotes around "aged" are my editorial because who knows?

Lin's Ceramics cup from camellia-sinensis.com

Lin's Ceramics cup 60 ml $21.38, the odd prices here are reflecting the current Canadian-to-US exchange rate. This Lin's Ceramics cup is the best cup, period, full stop. It's the shape and maybe even the thickness of the clay. If you have truly flavorful puerh, the cup will deposit the tea into your mouth in a ball of liquid which will explode with flavor. You can really distinguish mouth feel and a lot of characteristics with this cup. I never knew a cup mattered until I bought one of these. 

Also, the inside of the cup is a bone-white color. You want that color to see the color of the brew of the tea, something a darker cup will not give you, and it's much more visible in photos too. Clear glass cups are great for Instagram photos, but I'm sure everyone is tired of seeing my boring clear glass cups.

And finally, the size of this cup will work well with a 140 ml gaiwan when half full for a solo, or with two cups when the gaiwan is used for two people. At least 10 ml of water is needed to warm each of the tea cups prior to pouring, and you have that extra with the 140 ml gaiwan. Later on if you decide to buy tiny teapots the cup will be ideal for these. Lin's clay replicates very well the experience of expensive Yixing, so consider their teapots for a starter budget.

Ms. Zhang's Aurora gaiwan
camellia-sinensis.com

Aurora Porcelain Gaiwan 150 ml $28.78. Here is the less expensive gaiwan I promised. I have the matching pitcher for this, so I can say the porcelain is thick and able to tolerate the boiling water temps puerh requires without burning yourself quickly on the lid. It's a really lovely piece for the price and less prone to breakage than thin gaiwans more suited for other teas. It also has a low button for beginners.

Japanese-style porcelain cup
camellia-sinensis.com

Japanese Porcelain Cup 150 ml $17.27. Okay, it's pretty, absolutely Insta-pretty. That's about all. But it is 150 ml and will work with the gaiwan sizes above if you want to drink the whole thing at once, and still see the color of the tea.

Summary

Obviously if you buy everything I have posted here this is quite a bit of money, but no one needs everything on this page all at once, you probably already have cups and maybe a teapot or gaiwan. Each shop may have a shipping threshold for free shipping, and some things posted here are items you can add to a cart anytime to reach the threshold. None of the items above are likely to sell out too soon, many have been on the sites for years now. I tried to hit about $100 per shop, which is a very reasonable tea shop order for most people and most shops (vendors get grumpy with $20 orders). 

Quite honestly ONE beeng of a really nice puerh will cost the same as everything put together on this post!




Tuesday, May 31, 2022

w2t 2019 If You are Reading This, 2021 Bringer


This month I am finally getting around to a few more of the sample teas sent by white2tea back in January. The weather here was bizarre this month, alternating 30-40 deg C in temperature. I literally turned off the heating and installed the summer AC on the same day. We got some 30+ C degree days followed by 0 degree days and I refused to turn the gas heat back on. This made selecting teas more challenging, on a few hot and muggy mornings I started on a tin of green tea, followed by a frantic digging for scraps of Fu brick the next day when the house was freezing cold. The two teas I drank for this post really reflect the crazy up/down of the temps. Green teas have a cooling effect on the body, whereas a shou or Fu brick are better for cold days when I want my body to feel warm.


*Just a bit of housekeeping first. I will no longer be posting notices of a new blog entry on Instagram and Twitter. I plan to keep these apps and use them from time to time, but the reality is I no longer use them daily. I am very frustrated by the number of ads and algorithmic posts designed to grab my attention that it's now at the point where I cannot even get to the posts from people I want to see, because the feeds are so clogged with garbage. I know several dozen people visit the blog directly from these apps, and I am sorry/not sorry but I don't want to add more ads to barely functional sites that need less of them. And I don't know about you, but the new Instagram app freezes when I use it twice in a row, it's too annoying in more ways than one. 

Okay on to the teas. I have always wanted to try the 2015 If You are Reading This, after seeing that tea featured on the American talk show The Tonight Show with Stephen Colbert, a known tea aficionado who used to feature a tea drinking segment on his Tuesday night show. I don't think he knew anything about puerh tea, and you gotta hand it to TwoDog having the cajones to send it in to Colbert. The 2015 then sold out, and TwoDog brought it back in 2019, so I assume that the 7g mini he sent me is from the newer batch. 

My session with 2019 If You are Reading This, It's Too Late was definitely inspired by the publication of tea blogger Nicole Wilson's new book this month, The Tea Recipe Book. All of the different beverages she made for the book got me thirsty, especially for the idea of iced tea. So I used my 7g mini to do a hot session for the first few brews, and then a pitcher of iced tea. 

I have never made a pitcher of iced tea from green puerh before. But I have to admit at the outset that my first three hot brews were mighty fine. The tea has a bitter/sweet start, and a very peppery warming finish with a lingering presence in the stomach and throat. I feel like this $67 a 200g beeng tea is a bit "old school" nowadays getting three layers of complexity at this price. 

I brewed the tea hot first using a brand-new insulated French Press style stainless coffee pot by Stanley, a company known for making hard-working coffee thermoses. After pouring off my hot cups, I filled the 48 oz pot (1420 ml) with boiling water and let it sit. I expected the tea to be so strong I would need to add water to dilute it, but that didn't happen. In fact, the strength of the 7g of tea was just perfect poured over ice. I drank the tea over the course of a full day.

One interesting thing about drinking the green puerh tea cold is I noticed it developed some oxidation which turned the brew darker orange and gave it a red tea (black tea) note. As a result, the iced tea tasted like regular iced tea! Since I have never done this before, I don't know how common it is for green puerh to taste more like red tea the longer it sits. But it made a very refreshing beverage on our first hot day of the summer. I have to admit though, the complexity of the hot brews got lost in the iced tea version and I prefer the tea hot if I am honoring the tea. However, it is good to know a budget tea like this has the flexibility to make a layered hot tea and then turn around into a good iced tea. This is the kind of tea that budget-conscious folks might want to consider tonging, it's good all summer long any way you like it. 

The next tea is 2021 Bringer, another sample in my January box. I thought this was a raw puerh, and of course it's a hot day and lo and behold the tea is actually a shou. I looked it up and just about fainted over the price, $179 for 200g. White2tea claims the shou is comprised of "qualities nobody would dare ferment," claiming it's one of their more complex shou teas. 

I brewed 12g of the tea in my Kamjove gravity steeper so I got a lot of tea. The tea is certainly good, it has a bit of fermentation which is not offensive considering it's less than a year old. I really like shou better after this is gone in 10 years, but it didn't bother me much. I did not find any chocolate notes myself but a bit of a Nannuo-ish vanilla. The qi is quite good with buzzing around the ears and visual clarity. I like this shou a lot and it reminds me of Crimson Lotus Tea's long-sold-out Black Gold, which was half the price of this. The shou is closer to a 7572 style clear red rather than a thick brown Bulang. It's a mix of fermentation styles, I see some greener leaves mixed in with darker, more fermented leaves and some sticks. 

This is a very enjoyable shou, but oh man the price! I just can't see springing for this myself, but maybe the way to go is get the 25g sample for $26 and see what you think.  

But I have to talk about prices here. I haven't looked at the tea sites much lately, because well I have a tea shopping problem and looking at teas is a slippery slope I fall down easily. I read white2tea's spring tea blog post and clicked on the link for "give me the best" and landed on a $700+ 200g  beeng. Looking at the site the prices on the top end are really insane. I'm astounded that the 2016 Last Thoughts now sells for $200 more a beeng than I paid for it. Head is $20 more, and We Go High is $40 more. I know this reflects the market and prices will only get worse. The reality too is shipping costs a ton more than it did over 2 years ago. 

As a result, finding budget offerings for puerh is getting harder and harder. The only bubble here is gonna be on the cheap end, because fine puerh is exiting the range of affordable. I never thought I would be glad to get the teas I have at the prices I paid, but I am sure glad now I got what I did, when I did. 



Saturday, April 30, 2022

The What of Tea Rituals

 


This post is mostly a companion to the previous post, which was another in the series of letters that I write each year to a prioress friend living in a monastery in the US. I know the letter posts are not really related to tea, but over the years I get emails from people saying they find the posts interesting. Also, as I noted above, I really feel monastic life especially needs demystification given the issues with accountability and abuse. I can continue that process here in a more tea blog-specific post, adding in a bit more about qi and tea rituals. But I didn’t want to force the prioress letter when people land on the blog, which is why I’m back-to-back posting. If you are interested in the prioress letter, scroll down and read that first. Otherwise, I can proceed on the what of tea rituals.

Plenty has been written about the concept of qi because it is not part of western culture, and we seek to understand it, if it exists on its own, or whether the experience of caffeine, theanine and maybe “old” trace substances are to a large extent well understood and scientifically explained. But with the qi experience we have the tea ritual, and for some this is an avenue they are using as a personal spiritual search, even traveling to learn formal tea rituals in Japan or elsewhere along with the language.

I read a lot of grumbling online about people who approach tea rituals this way. This isn’t just westerners traveling east, I’ve covered before in this blog articles of western high tea lessons in China packed with students. Everyone wants to learn how tea is done around the world for various reasons, including spirituality and aesthetics.

Because of my background, I can empathize with people who do this type of inner searching. This was very much a consuming obsession for me. Despite this, I have always tried to keep the notion of a spiritual existence as purely a brain experience that perhaps served humankind at a point in our evolution but is no longer necessary with advances in science. We know part of the brain is dedicated to spiritual experience, and we perhaps evolved that way because the shamen and women of the past had so many children and the explanations of how the world works were served well enough by them for millennia.

I don’t rule anything out. I think all of this is the same open question it ever was. I can have this exact thought at the very same time while participating in religious rituals. Catholic spiritual writers have called this the “discursive mind.” This is the part of the mind that talks to itself continuously in the form of thoughts, like clouds floating by. It does so alongside of anything else we may be experiencing. The discursive mind cannot follow whatever other spiritual experiences are going on in the brain, the “cloud of unknowing." Discernment and observation are processes in which we note the appearance of thoughts without dwelling on them or paying much attention, distinguishing them from any genuine spiritual experience. With practice we detach from the discursive mind altogether and make choices free of its influence.

Every religion or spiritual school in the world has essentially the same way of describing this phenomenon. The same instructions are issued to the aspirant to focus on the breath or the parts of the ritual or the spiritual image or phrase as a way of focusing attention. Catholic nuns refer to this as the act of contemplation.

Rituals are an effective way to open the mind. They work through repetition, embedding themselves in the culture so that a group understanding of the ritual emerges, and the ritual is done in unison with others all focusing on the same actions and thoughts. Children are taught these rituals young, and so your childhood-learned rituals especially become the “key” to your “door,” having the most emotive power to help you relax and open your mind. We can find new keys, of course, but for rituals to have an effect, they need to be deeply embedded in meaning for you.

For me, a tea ritual is not a method of enlightenment because of my tradition. A tea ritual for me is like incense duty in a convent prayer ritual. The steps are formal with lighting the charcoal early to get it fully lit by the time the incense is needed. Then spooning in the incense from a box (3 spoonsful), lowering the censor lid after the first cloud. Finally, the carrying in the procession, the swings over the participants (1 large, 2 small) each followed by a bow before handing off the censor or removing it from the ceremony. I got incense duty because I was young and could physically manage it. You don’t want to be 80 years old with clouds of incense in your face.

But my tea ritual every night in the kitchen after my mother passed away served me much comfort mainly due to daily repetition over time. Memorized prayers have the same calming effect which is why they are taught to children and continue to “work” throughout life. My mother also turned on a stream of water to get me to pee, and it works to this day, like a switch.

Rituals like keys are an easy fix when we have a lot of anxiety. I wonder about all the stories of kids anxious from the pandemic and know that the children who have rituals in place, well before the stress happens, can benefit from them in a time of need. Music that is perceived to be calming, will thus be so. Rituals are tools we can use, with or without devotion to a deity or any particular program.

I think the experience of qi includes the positive repetition of a ritual, especially in company with others who are in appreciation of it, who contemplate it, together with all the chemical compounds in the tea, or the frankincense and myrrh in incense blends.

But a monastery, anywhere in the world, includes more than the repetition of rituals. Monasteries have a program which is designed to break down your personality and re-form it in accordance with the virtues held by that monastery. The program uses various forms of sensory deprivation along with repetition and gentle guidance from a mentor who embodies these virtues and who is skilled in working with people on an emotional level.

This type of treatment is a very effective part of any monastic program or cult, and even the military. People undertake breakdown programs in the hope of attaining whatever their goals are. While going through this process, repetitive rituals, prayers and exercises in comradery instill desired virtues while quelling the incredible anxiety during the emotional breakdowns. You are going to emotionally burn through everything that ever happened to you in your life. It will all come up to be understood, torn down and your personality scripts re-formed. You will do physical work in the process. You need to have a very strong sense of self to break down. When you finish and re-form, you have sorely tested yourself. You will have honed the virtues and skills and you now have more emotional strength than before.

Very often the experience will relax and lift the lid on repressed memories. Some people may remember childhood abuses that they hadn’t before, and this can break people in a permanent way as well. Anyone with severe mental illness cannot undertake a breakdown process, because the illness itself interferes with personality boundaries and breaks the sense of what’s real versus mind. The medical treatment needed is not more of the same, but rather includes daily reinforcing of a firm and consistent boundary between mind and world.

Certain psychedelic drugs can also open the mind up, the downside to this being the break happening faster or more suddenly than the person can handle, especially if there is no experienced guide or the helps of familiar calming rituals.

The experienced guide or guru or psychologist knows when to apply praise and affirmation, and when to challenge, and to refer appropriate reading. The guide during a breakdown process must be someone you affirm and relate to positively, and yes, such people often have charismatic gifts as well.

I related to my directors positively, though I can’t say they had a charismatic quality for me. The second one tended to view herself as a perpetual student, an overseer rather than a guide, and she referred us out to others for direction. I ended up put into a program with a certified Sufi master to supplement everything else back at the motherhouse. When my second director got done with us, she embraced her student stance and went to live at a rural meditation community for a life of study and practice.

Nobody really needs to go to a monastery or the professional military unless you are looking for this type of program. Only if you find something you want to be and are willing to undergo the breakdown training for it. It is a full-time endeavor. I think in the process of preserving their methods and traditions, monasteries have failed to share enough of what they offer with people who aren’t full time monks. I think people want aspects of monastic life in their world without giving up everything for it until you die. On the flip side, monasteries and perhaps the military might say that to truly acquire the goals you really do need to be in it full time, at least through the training period, and there may be detriment or no effect with anything less.

Still, the monastic failure to share leaves people searching for things like tea rituals and hoping to find a path in it. Rituals have a strong place, performing them well is a service to others. Rituals are an appropriate exercise for someone who cannot for whatever reason undergo a breakdown program. Of course, some people are very gifted and are naturally open, but I’m certainly not and I wanted a program. Also, I liked having a thousand years or more of things to read along the way, and to read them with people who have also read them. And the singing. Really it depends on what you require. The result of sincerely looking for something is finding it.

We shouldn’t be too hard on our friends who find meaning in the tea ritual. They are likely to master the beauty of it. You won’t see slopped-over tea trays with careless tips of tea, or bamboo trays with traces of black mold. I lack the ability to do these things well, the convent kitchen looked upon me with horror and laughter, and they booted me out continually though I tried to convince them working there would be best for me. I’ve been well-marked as someone incapable of performing beautifully with food and beverages, someone as inept as I was a problem they didn’t need. So, if you ever master a tea ceremony ritual, you are then in position to criticize and boot out the inept.