; Cwyn's Death By Tea: November 2023 ;

Wednesday, November 15, 2023


Lately I don't really have a tea drinking strategy. I start with a ragged impulse coming from my core of tea neediness, a craving of whatever puerh caffeine buzz I can get, stumbling to shelves, crocks and boxes to find something. A random sampling of teas, a bit of new tea, a wtf is this tea, or nope, I just drank that a week ago. Or something closer to desperation, because I am unraveling, or already cooked, taken apart, or she took me apart in a sentence, my provincial superior. Oh, yes, you can guess, and this relates to my Letters to the Prioress set of posts, the most recent one, for those curious. In the mists I am, and I lose track of time for days at a time, letting random thoughts flow until after dinner when I need that cuppa. 

Usually the need is partly specific. One day recently I really wanted a sheng for the ragged edges of my sanity, and I saw an envelope from my white2tea club boxes. Oh good, I will have this, it is a 2022 Lich Tears sample. I don't know anything about this tea nor why I have it. Club box? Something I ordered? I open the envelope, oops it's a shou, do I go back and start over with choosing a tea? Never mind, I will just drink it, who cares. Pulled out 9g off the chunks. 

The first three steepings after two rinses (young shou or dodgy shou I rinse twice) are a little cloudy. Okay, so the shou is not completely done, it's not totally fermented, and some bacteria has the upper hand currently. What is going on here, so I look up the tea on the website and just about fall over at the price. $225 for a 200g shou? Get outta town. 

A sheng price for shou, okay...so just in the interest of investigating the price tag I will drink through it, but this tea needs more time. Long time readers might remember my shou-making series of posts, as I have made two batches of shou now with only a little bit remaining of my first batch. 

I see on the listing that the fermentation effort here is meant to be a lighter fermentation with fresh leaves added at the end. By "lighter," I mean the tea is pulled from the pile fermentation a bit early with still some green left in the tea. The intent is to add more depth and dimension in flavor by natural aging the remaining green and hopefully get a more nuanced shou. As you know, a fully fermented shou is a bit one-dimensional, comforting as a beverage, but nothing to grab the attention.

Steep 3

So, the cloudiness is to be expected at this stage. My first batch of shou finished up much more cloudy than this, and completely cleared in two years. Fermentation is like a bit of a battle between types of bacteria and fungi. A lot of cloudiness means a bacteria has the upper hand in the fight at the moment, and perhaps bacteria you don't want is introduced when turning the pile or even present at the start in the maocha. My first three steepings with the cloudiness have a sour edge consistent with the microbe battle going on inside the leaves. 

Okay, so the tea clears up after steep three or so, and steeps three to six have some thickness to the brew, but still sour. Steeps 5 and 6 were fairly bitter. Once I start on steep 7, not much sour left and a sweet bit of cherry emerges. The tea tastes more like shou now, a little bit funky, not overboard though. For a light fermentation, this tea is on the edge of "okay to sell." And that mostly explains the price tag. I like the thickness of the liquor and where this tea is at. The caffeine level is okay, I did not get much of a qi sensation from the session, however. But that could be me and shou...

Steep 6, lookin good, hon

I think the price here is Paul not wanting to sell this really, except to people who know what they are getting with light fermentation. The tea will have stages to go through to get a fully fermented shou. Essentially, you are finishing the tea yourself through slower storage. But of course that is what we are doing with sheng, too. So, this isn't for the newbie tea customer. In fact, the newbie is going to howl with complaints over this level of unfinished ferment. The early cups will turn off a new person, but maybe intrigue someone with more experience. So, he is looking to avoid those newbs. Also, he clearly likes something about this tea, partly because he participated in watching and turning the tea over the few weeks it sat piled and covered. 

I got nine decent steepings, and the tenth I had to let the brewing go for several minutes just to get a good cup. I tried an eleventh, but it just was too light a cup, lightly colored water. I debated drinking the sample up completely, because I now have maybe two smaller sessions left in the bag. I guess given the price tag I need to be fair to the tea and store it another year and then see what I think of it. 

If I have to decide on whether to recommend the tea, I say keep on walking, son, if you are new. I can recommend a sample of it, and I am fairly sure Paul would prefer you just buy a sample. Anyone rather new to puerh looking to try a light fermentation shou, you can find these at less expensive prices like at Yunnan Sourcing or Chawangshop. In fact, comparing this one to a less expensive tea is a good way to judge for yourself. 

For my next session, I really needed that sheng, and some edema relief, so I decided to have a session of the 2016 Hekai from Chawangshop, because it really takes the edge off calcium channel blocker edema, and I have not had this tea at all this year. I keep this cake in its wrapper and then in a burlap beeng bag that Chawangshop included with an order. (Beeng bag being puerh nation code knock on the bathroom stall, recognize your fellow sheng addict from afar and salud to you, mate.)

This half-consumed beeng has darkened considerably since I last had it. I might have two others in storage someplace. You can still get it from Chawangshop for $48 for 200g, I think. Most of the darkening is oxidation, because I let this sit out in its beeng bag. I don't care how much it ages, or if it ages. The tea is medicinal for edema, as I have written before, and I didn't measure the grams, dump into the gaiwan.

The brew is much thicker than I remember and far sweeter. I liked this tea for the savory, almost umami flavor. I don't recall the tea as very sweet and floral like the first few cups are in this session. Maybe it was, but I don't think so? I mainly liked it because it doesn't have any cloying nonsense, straight up green veggie style puerh. The tea gets there finally, at about steep 5. Now I am getting the tomato vine acrid flavor, the smell of a juicy daisy stem after picking. Why do I like that better than the floral sweetness? I guess the tomato/daisy just tastes like summer, in a fall season of regrets. 

The tea still does me fine on the edema, I stop feeling swollen in my feet after three cups. The brew goes from light orange to progressively more dark yellow. I did about five steepings and stopped for the day. 

Tea got more yellow with brewing.
What you see is oxidation.

On the next night, the green leaves darkened with oxidation which is okay, but the damp leaves have a mushiness to them. I take out a leaf and rub it, turns to mush. I know it will be a little cloudy for having sat out overnight, as green as it still is. But also, the leaves just don't have that strength or quality that you pay big money for. The tea is not money tea. That's not what Chawangshop goes for. Their stated goal is decent tea at more the low to mid-range price tier, and that is exactly what you get. This Hekai has a unique effect on me, so it hits the sweet spot in body and wallet. But I am okay with getting three to six decent steepings and just dumping it out of the gaiwan. 

Still need that sheng itch scratched, and of course I know I have been away from the blog for awhile, so I decide to find another tea to write about, along with the Hekai, so something I have written about previously, as an update on the tea. I require a sheng that will get under all the inner tension, that stirs up the bottom of my stew pot, so to speak. That means a dirty tuocha is in order. 

The 2005 Menghai tuo from Yunnan Sourcing has appeared in my blog off and on, and sits atop other tuos in storage because I tend to reach for it over all my other tuos when I need bar stool tea to do me a nasty. Big chunk with a heavy duty puerh pick, full on-compression starting to loosen a little at 18 years of age. I bought it at 8-9 years old. (I really need to try those 2009 Jin Hao Feng Huang phoenix shou tuos and see if they are starting to resemble that excellent 2004 version I would kill small children for.)

Anyway, load up the gaiwan with a too-bigga hunka-chunka and let's go! Oh yes this is a smoky tea, I remember that, and has darkened a bit more with age. I frown to myself at the wastage of tea with a compressed tuo when you break a piece off it, lots of dust and bits.

At least 9 steepings in, big chonk still.

For storage notes-to-self, the tuo sits loose in its well-torn wrapper in a crock with other similar tuos. The lid on this small crock isn't quite flush, so I have at least a 2 mm gap on one side of the crock lid. Thus air and light getting in to cause the dark oxidation this tuo now has. Doesn't really bother me, but if I wanted to avoid that quality, then I need to eliminate that light getting in and maybe cover the whole crock with a dark towel. I can't really shuffle the positioning of the tuos in there because they barely all fit, although better now that I took more off the 05 Menghai. The resulting oxidation is also what you see in a tong, the top beeng in the stack will have oxidation on its upper surface, while the bottom beeng will show the same on its underside, compared to the beengs in the tong's middle. 

First three steepings are smoke and stick kindling wood, by steep 5 I really get that pipe tobacco juiciness,  that tobacco-from-humidor-storage wood smell. The tea hits its stride in steeps 7-10, this is the point where the pipe tobacco eases off just enough that other dimensions shine through, like aged wood barrel, smoked ham and the minerally smell of rain on asphalt. This is exactly the stage where the flavors blend into something that most resembles aged scotch whiskey, I am reminded why I like this tea and return to it again and again. Bar stool sheng. I get to steep 8 and I am pleasantly tea drunk, the stage where I can't stop, where if I drank booze I am gonna get in trouble. 

And yes, I am in trouble because I am doomcart scrolling Yunnan Sourcing after typing in 2005 Menghai to see what comes up. Lots of teas. Yunnan Sourcing surfing is like that girl you will be stuck with if you take her home from the bar, when you wake up to find your wallet is gone. Trouble and more trouble, don't do it, I click out. 

Yeah... my beloved tuo settling in now providing a boozy warmth. Doing what I need and reminding me why puerh is the pinnacle of tea, and puerh people are the ones who understand it even if we cannot always explain. If someone doesn't get it, we don't care. ;)

I am reminded of how many random variables puerh tea has. Randomness starts with the picking and selection of leaves, yes they are graded, but who knows what gets mixed in, tossed in, a little autumnal, different leaves brought in by a couple of pickers thrown in the blend, or maybe just to stretch to get a last tong done, with two beengs hardly resembling the others. Randomness in the sha qing, somebody glancing at their phone and the heat goes a little too long, but never mind let's press it anyway. Randomness in what wrapper got put on, something left over from the 90s, another tea entirely. Randomness in where and how the tea is stored from start to finish, the microbes from anywhere and everywhere, including in my house. Randomness in when I add moisture, and how much. Randomness in whatever I ate that day and burp up along with the tea fumes. 

We pick and analyze every aspect of our tea as we store it, trying to find variables that explain why someone has a really good tea, so we can replicate it, but we mostly cannot. Even if our storage is good, a gazillion decisions conscious and unconscious have happened already to the tea before we got hold of it. Someone got just the right amount of wood smoke in that 05 tuo, somehow. And every year is a new year with different tea on top of everything else, and none of us puerh people know everything that happens in the garden.