; Cwyn's Death By Tea: January 2024 ;

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Late 80s Tian Jian, 2022 W2T Laochatou and 2024 Stash Goal


Welcome to 2024, and the Year of the Dragon! I hope for an auspicious year for you of tea enjoyment, tea shopping, if you are doing any, and cooperative storage. The new year naturally turns our thoughts to our puerh tea blessings, and I for one have much to thank the tea gods, tea factories, tea vendors and the people of Yunnan for their hard work. Know that your tea is enjoyed around around the world, and where it is not, then all the more for me, and I appreciate you. May everyone on holiday find the comforts of home wherever you are. 

I am now in the habit of taking a bit of stock of my teas, come the New Year. More specifically this year, teas I have written about on this blog, whether or not I still own any and how they are doing in storage. Most years I have tea samples to organize, but this year I really need to deal with the under-200g storage situation. I have too many small quantities of tea stored in various jars, tins, small crockery, even samples stashed in tea pots. Now mind you, some of these are exceptional teas that I never had a large amount of, but they are a lucky tasting situation, or something special from a vendor. Maybe bits of tea club boxes as well. 

The problem with small storage tins, jars and crocks is they make a dusty shelf that I have to clean. Also, they look like witchery and I am getting to the age where people start questioning your state of mind, or whether you are safe or scary. My jars on the bookshelf and living room shelves have an alchemy look about them. And of course I feel an urge to de-clutter the especially small quantities. 

Look, if I took the trouble to save something, I had a reason. This isn't cleaning out crap, some of these bits are teas that are a crime to simply throw away. Leftovers of beengcha I broke up and crocked, vendor gifts and samples, maybe a tea that needed airing or time to develop more. 

What do you do with small quantities of tea? If you are a disciplined sort of drinker, maybe you drink up a beeng and move to the next one. Over the years of having a blog, however, at least several times a year I am trying new things so I don't stick to one thing for long. 

I really dislike loose tea in my storage unless I can jar it up. I think I can make some progress this year clearing out at least a few things. So, my 2024 goal is drink up smaller amounts of "tinned" or small "crocked" tea, or at least check progress. 

First up is the late 1980s Hunan Tian Jian heicha from Chawangshop that I last wrote about in 2016. This tea was a 25g quantity in a plastic bag sold in a small box. This zippy little tea had appreciable humidity, but some strength to the leaves, a true pot boiler at the end. 

80s Hunan Tian Jian Heicha

Initially I stored this in a vintage silver-lined pearwood caddy in the hopes of airing out the humidity from the plastic bag storage. But then I moved the tea from the caddy when I wanted the caddy for some old, random laochatou I accidentally molded over. My estimate is the Hunan heicha tea has had possibly 5 years in a porcelain tenmoku glazed tea jar. 

The glazed tea caddy did nothing to dissipate the humidity in the tea. Still a good tea underneath the basement flavors. It was a tough call to make putting it in glazed porcelain because this is a more preserving type of jar than an airing jar. For simple airing, a clay jar would have been better, but the fear is the clay either sucking out too much flavor and aroma, or imparting a clay taste. Sigh, so I went with a drier, more preservationist solution which I think many of you would choose for an 80s tea. Err on the side of caution. 

My son joined me on the session, and he said the basement humidity was too much for his enjoyment. Really the tea hasn't aired much at all, clearly the jar is too conservative. All right, so if I want any point of progress this year on the remaining tea, I am going aggressive. 

So, I baked the tea at 250F (120C) for about 10 minutes in a small oven on a metal sheet pan. I have discussed this low-heat method in other posts in the past as a way to deal rather swiftly with bringing humidity levels down. A second session with the tea was much better balanced with the humidity still there but not overwhelmingly so. I have photo'd the tea before, not much to see with dark shou color to the brew.

These leaves are stronger than any other heicha I have, culminating with a final boil in a pan, if you like. I might do 3g sessions on the maybe 15g I have left. It's an 80s tea, you can't toss it, and it is just a must to keep as a learning experience. Back in the jar it goes. No stash progress, per se, but I have attended to the tea, enjoyed a bit more of it, so it now has a bit of hot love.

Last summer I ordered white2tea's new 2022 Five Pile Laochatou, remembering the excellent batch they had back in...wait, in 2014? Wow, that long ago! That chatou was insane, which is why the new batches last year are a must-try. 

I discontinued my w2t tea club early last fall after piling up 3 unopened club boxes. Instead, I placed an order for this lao cha tou and a new Arbor Red hongcha beeng. I like the tea club and would love to keep it going, which keeps my temptation to tea shop in check but it is just irresponsible to let boxes pile up. Probably will resub in spring for a taste of the new teas. Instead, I will just tea shop and get a couple of things I know I want, and the Arbor Red was a re-up. 

After I made the purchase, I asked Mr. Murray about the cha tou. "Nothing like the 2014," he said. "This one doesn't have any of the same leaves as before." 

This shou-chunk tea is from 5 piles of varying shou batches ranging from light fermentation to full fermentation, with the batches ranging from 2016-2020. The tea costs $33 for $250g. White2tea has a slightly less expensive cha tou batch, 2021 Wood Chip which purports to risk the odd detritus that didn't get sorted out, and is a different tea. 

By further contrast, Yunnan Sourcing has 2014 Taetea laochatou 100g brick, two of these will set you back $38 plus China shipping. Yunnan Sourcing's own 2014 200g brick is priced $51.25. You can still get their 2012 if you want to pay $61.50, and choices from other factories including a super cute, but pricey batch sold in a clay tea jar, 3 jars of 60g each is 180g for $90 or so, and risking jar breakage. Wouldn't stop me, but I am not exactly a practical buyer. You can go cheaper than Taetea as well with other choices at Yunnan Sourcing. 

In general, cha tou tea is easy-going to brew, easy on the caffeine buzz. It ships well, travels in luggage neatly, and is optimal for precision dosing. One can gongfu or throw a couple chunks in a large mug and just keep topping up the water. Honestly if I travel again, I am taking a small lozenge tin with a few chunks of cha tou. 

So, Mr. Murray's Five Pile is decidedly mid-range in pricing, you are paying more elsewhere for further aged versions. With some light 2020 fermentation here we have something to age, the question is does anyone last long with saving cha tou? Mostly this style is fermented to the point of leathery leaves and that is the case here. Fully fermented with chunks of more slimy green. That sounds bad, but this is one of the softest brews I have had in awhile. 

Cha tou takes time to release the juices, but once opening up with hot boiling water, they go on forever. I did a cold rinse first, then a hot rinse, brewing in my black Jian Shui clay pot from Crimson Lotus Tea, but nothing fishy or cloudy or challenging anywhere in this tea. Nothing tricky to brew around. Steeps 1-3 the tea isn't at full strength, even if you steam the leaves in-between. Four through six were the money steepings. The profile is the opposite of a straight up Bulang, this tea is not punchy but just subtle shou. It's not even funky. 

All the brews look like this.

Now, with five batches in here, a single session is probably not representative of the tea as a whole. I didn't measure the grams. But lord these things brewed a week for me. The tea has a deceiving color, dark brown and thick, but rather mild overall. No port wine or mushroom. I drank 3 brews at once in a much larger cup. The tea has some action on the tongue, 3 brews is very mild caffeine for me. I had to go 6 steepings to get a puerh buzz on.

This is wonderful grandma tummy tea. I would serve this without hesitation to 85 year old frail nuns. The tea has full color and thickness, but not much strong flavor after brew six, just a mineral finish, and a bit of bitter, a teabag of hong is more acrid than this. I kind of want more strength, but I under-leafed a bit for the pot, or over-watered. The color of the brew looks heavier than the tea actually is to drink. I would want a salty crisp rice snack to accompany this, or maybe a crisp flatbread with a bit of aged hard cheese. 

Great tea for an all-nighter like this blog writing session, keeps me in the zone without curdling my stomach after it wears off. An easy office brew, dump in the boiling water and good to go mild caffeine without being tea-drunk for a meeting. Been awhile since I have had a tea that I could easily recommend to beginners or sensitive stomach people. Most everything I drink is tea only a puerh person doing storage would like, and not for newbie guests. Like, I have no guests...but to a point.

Twelve steepings and a few days in, the tea is brewing dark, but needs pushing for flavor. I really feel I could go up to fifteen steepings for sure, maybe more. Some of the nuggets didn't open. One chunk is so rubbery and firm it doesn't separate, I can't hand-pry it apart. You know what that means, another pot boiler. 

I went with a high water ratio in the enamel pan, can this tea put out enough? Yes it can, quite easily after five minutes of boiling. While I waited, I thought about re-recommending an enamel-coated pan for tea boiling. This is superior, in my mind, over boiling tea in any form of bare metal. Enamel adds no mineral or metallic properties. 

This is the water before boiling.

Get thyself an enamel pan. I amused myself while awaiting the boiled tea by checking eBay, might as well go vintage on enamel pans. OH STOPPPP, look at these cute choices! 

Made an offer on the first Japanese one. I went $30. I don't need it, the seller hasn't responded, so you can snipe it on a BIN or lower offer if you want. I did not scroll down further into the cuteness of enamel pans, as clearly we have a danger zone.

After the pan boil.

My tea turned out stronger than I needed it to be, the tang is back on the tongue, and the bottom of the cup gets a slight bitter edge. Fully rolling now on caffeine and theanine. Also, pour out your pan tea over the sink so you don't splash everywhere. Drank up the whole pan, the tea is good cold, has a hongcha note. Again, nothing off-putting whatsoever. I boiled too early, should have gongfu'd longer. 

After pan boil one, wet smears
show still more in it.

Awesome tea for the budget and sensitive folks, I am keeping this for my dodgy tummy days, and I must do another boil. Next up I have another planned tea review for you. And then throughout this year I hope to bring back a few older blog teas and update any progress.