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The Very Limited T-Shirt for Cwyn's Tea Fund

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Puerh Tea Vendors

Most people who purchase anything online are accustomed to the faceless and communication-devoid nature of the transaction. The best transactions usually are those when the product simply arrives as expected. So anyone new to buying puerh tea surely does not expect the type of communication possible and often expected by long-time collectors and buyers. The fact that puerh tea lovers enjoy discussing tea vendors is no big secret. Puerh tea is unique in that customer service very often includes communication with tea vendors and even over time developing a buying relationship with that vendor. 

But how do people get to know tea vendors? I decided to present a little bio on vendors and agents that I know. By “bio” I mean just some small bits of info to help you distinguish one vendor from another, and perhaps to make reaching out a little less daunting. First, a bit of explanation about the list of people here: obviously I cannot list every single great vendor or agent. The ones in this article are mostly people who:

1)      Do puerh full time. Or most of the time. Really that means 24/7 and they do not sleep.
2)      Are approachable for beginners.
3)      Answer messages promptly and enjoying discussing puerh.
4)      Are people I have had some communication with OR many people have.
5)      People who will handle special requests with personal service.
6)      People generous enough to forgive if I get any info incorrect.

The Madmen of Puerh

Mr. Wilson has lived in Yunnan for almost two decades, and now at least for part of the year when he is not traveling for business to other tea regions. He has fluent language abilities. He has described his businesses to me as “a family business, my wife, some relatives and a handful of others.”

My first experience communicating with Mr. Wilson was well before I started this blog, and memorable to me because of a purchase of a teapot with a special design to celebrate my son’s college graduation. I was also in search of tea gifts for Son’s professors in thanks for their mentoring, and selecting teas for the graduation party. I emailed with Mr. Wilson over my choices, and he was very patient and helpful.

Our family celebration of my son’s graduation was one of the most profound family events we have ever had. We shared tea, food and because my son was a Music major, we had classical musicians sit down to play for the family. I still remember the warm haze of the day from sunshine, food, tea and loving friends. This day carried our family forward when my mother died the following morning. Without that day, I do not think I would have survived the coming months myself. Of course I have purchased a lot of tea and tea ware from Yunnan Sourcing since then, but this experience of personal assistance at a key family time is memorable for me.

I have a persistent fantasy of raiding the YS dumpster in Bend, OR.
Imagine all the half steeped tea leaves in there.
Scott Wilson is active on Instagram, Twitter and also YouTube where he makes podcasts on various tea topics, and always while brewing tea. His Doberman Lucy is under special acting contract in his videos. I am continually astounded at the strength and amount of tea Mr. Wilson can consume. He enjoys friendly email chat anytime with just about anyone who messages him. He accepts special order requests.

Mr. Murray is one of the more shy puerh vendors in person and online, as he prefers not to show any photos of himself. This is truly due to shyness, and it is no big secret I attend his tea tastings and look forward to meeting up with him and his wife Karen once a year.

Paul left  the US for China shortly after finishing his art and languages degree more than a decade ago. He began a love affair with puerh tea while working a job in another career area. He reportedly accumulated a very large collection during those years, and found his tastes moving into higher quality teas. As a result, white2tea was born in 2012 to share teas that he feels are the best he can find. People archly make much over his wrapper designs, but keep in mind his background training is in art; it’s not just marketing with him but creative expressions of his personal views on tea. Every wrapper has something he wants to say, not merely decoration to sell tea. And they are the truth as he sees it through art, so he probably does want to have sex with the Bosch lady.

This fantasy is of the new Guangzhou warehouse with two-headed guard dog.
Now based in Guangzhou for the good tea climate, Paul travels to Yunnan every year for several months in spring and autumn and has developed relationships with tea growers. He maintains Instagram and Twitter accounts daily, keeps a blog, and occasionally does live podcasts of tea tastings via SnapChat. White2tea accepts special private order requests for aged factory teas, in addition to their own productions.

Peter Stanik, pu-erh.sk

I have not communicated much with Mr. Stanik although I have ordered plenty of tea and tea ware. Other buyers I know enjoy their relationship with him, as he focuses mainly on gushu puerh tea and high end tea ware. His website is in Slovakia, so you may need to hit the language button options to access his blog and some areas of the website. On Facebook, he describes starting out on green tea and oolongs before a trip to Yunnan took him into a lifetime relationship with puerh tea. He opened a business in 2010.

Pu-erh.sk offers samples of nearly all of their teas and has earned a reputation of selling some of the best puerh teas accessible to those who try to respect their budgets. Just because you can’t afford a whole cake, no reason to miss out on great teas when pu-erh.sk offers sample sizes. The site also offers extremely fine tea ware, including Japanese hand forged tetsubin and a specialty of creations from European potters. This makes pu-erh.sk a great resource when you are ready to bump up to investment quality teas and tea kettles. You can find Peter on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube under Pu-erh.sk.

Honza Brož, chawangshop.com

Mr. Brož lives in Yunnan with his wife where he maintains a tea shop and web business, but is originally from the Czech Republic. I can admit Chawangshop is a website that causes me a certain amount of awe and mental illness, because I adore the teas so much. This site is unique in many ways, such as the selection of vintage tea wares at low prices, and craft products like rougher heicha that I cannot find anywhere else, and Chaozhou clay teapots.

2016 Yibang by Chawangshop
As with so many vendors, the Chawangshop selection derives from the experience and philosophy of the vendor. Mr. Brož shared with me recently that he began drinking puerh teas in the early 2000s back home in the Czech Republic, brick teas with no provenance which were still nevertheless “very tasty.” He saved a piece from each tea he drank back in those days, putting it away to age further so he could see how they changed over time. He describes learning a great deal about puerh by drinking deeply into his teas over many years. His shop is a way to replicate this same approach for puerh drinkers, because there is no substitute for long experience in learning how to drink tea. His teas are geared toward providing this experience over a period of years. He encourages people to put teas away into storage and continue to drink them over time.

Mr. Brož is active on Instagram and Facebook, as well as many tea websites and discussion forums such as Teachat. He offers special ordering and will track down teas or tea ware for private customers.

The Couples

Eugene Chew and Belle Sun, teaurchin.com

This husband and wife tea team is based in Shanghai, China. Eugene moved to China from Australia and stayed after meeting his wife who is a government accredited tea grader and tea ceremony expert. They founded Tea Urchin in 2011, and they design some of the most beautiful tea wrappers, as well as pressing their own teas and sourcing factory teas. Their teas are usually single origin, and they offer some tea ware as well. You can find them on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

I have had a few Tea Urchin teas, they are a regretted omission from my blog, not for any reason other than my money runs out too fast. But I have liked everything I’ve tasted from teas sent to me from tea friends and from traveling tea boxes.

David Collen and Yingxi Chen, essenceoftea.com

Essence of Tea hit the western puerh tea drinking world by storm in 2008-2009. If you don’t believe me, read the back pages of the Sheng of the Day forum on badgerandblade.com, a puerh discussion topic that dates back well before most western facing vendors got their start. People who had access only to factory teas got their first tastes of truly fine fresh puerh teas with cleaner processing than people were accustomed to. The Half-Dipper blog has extensive coverage of this company’s teas over the years.

Essence of Tea started out in England but now they are based in Malaysia, so the teas have access to what is probably one of the best storage climates in the world. Their teas also sell out quick due to the enthusiastic fan base. This tea business is a good resource for the real-deal vintage Yixing tea pot. I mean the real Yixing mud and vintage factory tea pots. When you are ready to go past your first $30 Yixing purchase into an investment tea pot, their site is the first one to try when you are looking for assistance with this big purchase. Essence of Tea maintains a Facebook and Twitter presence, and they answer emails promptly.

Glen and Lamu Bowers, crimsonlotustea.com

Mr. and Mrs. Bowers have a truly inspiring story. They live in Seattle, WA and spend at least three months a year in Yunnan. Glen described himself as an avid coffee drinker for many years. After his engagement to his wife Lamu, he quite accidentally tried shou puerh while on a business trip to California. He felt so impressed by this tea immediately and talked to his wife-to-be, who happens to be from Yunnan, China. “Of course I know about puerh tea, I just assumed everyone did,” is a paraphrase of her response to him. I’m amazed to think that Glen and Lamu were engaged to be married well before Glen even started drinking puerh, I can only describe this as a spiritual connection. Glen and Lamu offer a unique service in Seattle: they hold tea tastings for married/partnered couples and sell tea sets designed for newly married people.

When in Yunnan, they live with Lamu’s family where they are able to commission Jian Shui teapots and genuine silver tea ware. Glen and Lamu also work closely with their tea farmers, investing time and money to help these farmers improve their processing and purchase equipment with the goal of cleaner tea. CrimsonLotus tea is active on Instagram, Reddit, Facebook and Steepster and they accept private email order requests for tea and tea ware as well as wedding sets. Glen is always available to help new puerh drinkers and answer questions.

Jonah Snyder, bitterleafteas.com

Mr. Snyder is relatively new to the puerh scene, and lives with his wife and her family in Yunnan. He has an advantage of living in Yunnan full time with a father-in-law who likes to drink puerh in the traditional Yunnan way of green and fresh. Thus he has an expert puerh taster in his family. Bitterleaf Tea has only been around for two years or so, but their specially commissioned white and wood-fired Jian Shui zitao tea wares, and vintage cat tea pets, are a big hit with social media puerh folks. I see them everywhere now, and their wares sell out fast. The website has gorgeous photos if you are in the mood to just browse.

Bitterleaf's 2016 Yiwu
The teas pressed by Bitterleaf are fresh and cleanly processed. They are starting to venture into offering more aged teas as they meet collectors in Yunnan. I recently purchased an aged tea they acquired from a collector and I’ve got my eye on their selection which, with their local connections, will likely continue to improve. Bitterleaf accepts private order commissions for tea ware, and their Instagram tea lifestyle posts are so lovely and cheer up my day whenever I see one.

John Hou, kingteamall.com

Mr. Hou is based in hot and muggy Shanghai, China and began selling puerh teas on Aliexpress in 2014. At the end of 2016, Aliexpress prohibited vendors from selling tea on their platform, an unfortunate decision on the part of Aliexpress that led to Mr. Hou opening a website. I’m certain he does not regret escaping all those fees he once paid to Aliexpress, but having a website requires a lot more outreach to buyers. He offers a large selection of Taetea and other factory teas, aged and new. He also sells tea ware, and you can often find puerh factory tea ware. If you want a gaiwan with a Taetea logo he might have it in stock.

King Tea Mall's 1996 Dayi Laochatou
This tea company wins my personal award for most fragrant tea package. I once ordered a tin of Taetea shou cakes from him which arrived at my house not only bubble wrapped, but the entire cardboard shipping box was wrapped in bubble wrap too. Despite all this extra wrapping and the tea cakes in a tin, this tea literally stank in the best possible way a very fragrant shou puerh can. I couldn’t believe how overpoweringly wonderful the box smelled. Must be the Shanghai storage.

Mr. Hou offers the best customer service. Not only will he accept private order requests, he offers repeat customer discounts anywhere from 5-20% for repeat purchases. He emails tracking updates on your packages so you don’t have to wonder where your tea is. If anything arrives damaged, you can expect a refund or a future coupon or a replacement. He is a very friendly person to chat with, one of the few vendors who will do live chat. He has started a blog on his website, and recently I noticed he opened an Instagram account. Mr. Hou will track down pretty much any factory tea you might want. If it’s out there, he will find it.

Puerh Obsessives servicing tea community

Jay Khilnani, tealifehk.com

Mr. Khilnani is a go-to person for traditional Hong Kong storage teas and heicha. He grew up in Hong Kong and moved back there after college. He has been drinking tea his entire life, and went down the rabbit hole of puerh collecting before deciding to sell tea online. In addition to his selection of teas entirely stored in Hong Kong, he has a selection of teas which underwent Kunming dry storage for most of the tea’s life, but then a year or two in his storage to open them up more. 

This selection will continue to grow, as Jay acquires more dry stored tea which will then have 1-2 years spent in humid conditions, something rather unusual online. Usually what you see are teas either with many years of Hong Kong storage, or teas with all drier Kunming storage. Jay’s selection includes the wetter teas, but is unique in that you can get teas with some benefit of humid storage for a short time, but without the overly musty, cooked-out flavors.

Jay is active on teachat.com, Steepster and other social media platforms. He accepts special order requests for puerh teas coming from anywhere in China. He will do the work of tracking down what you want, but a sample of his own teas will be well worth it. I hope to try his Fuzhuan bricks someday, as I imagine his will be full of golden flowers just the way I like and better than what I can do with my drier storage.

Emmett Guzman,  @emmett_guzman_iv

Mr. Guzman is an important person to know because he is a liaison for Taiwan producer Yan(g) Qing Hao premium puerh teas. He coordinates monthly tea buys of this brand via Steepster and Facebook. Yang Qing Hao is a often-faked tea brand, so Emmett is the person who has access to the real tea from the company.

Also, he has recently started a courtesy of selling premium puerh tea for private collectors. That is, if you have a premium collection he can coordinate discrete anonymous sales, collector-to-collector for a small fee. By premium collection I mean teas that are $500/beeng and up. So, in other words this is not the person to contact to sell your EBay teas, but a good way to buy or sell the best of the best to people who can afford to buy.

If you want to venture into trying the really, really pricey stuff, Emmett’s group buys are a good way to start. He can also track down special tea requests. I expect that the longer he continues to coordinate premium tea buys, he will acquire more and more connections with very private collectors. For something truly special, it might be worth contacting him with your requests so he can keep you in mind when he obtains a unique opportunity to buy. The best way to contact him is message Emmett on Steepster, @emmett_guzman_iv  on Instagram, or check out his Facebook page.

James Schergan, TeaDB.org

Mr. Schergan is not a tea seller, but he has an educational tea website along with Denny Chapin. James is avidly interested in helping puerh tea folks via his videos, and he will assist people with navigating the waters of puerh tea buying, especially with TaoBao buying. He can also hook you up with names of Taobao agents, these are people who will buy off TaoBao for you for a fee. Every week TeaDB has videos and articles geared to puerh tea drinking and buying. It’s worth going through their back catalog of materials to learn as much as you can. TeaDB has their videos on YouTube and maintains a presence on Instagram as well. 

As the dot org suggests, TeaDB is a good resource for any quick questions you have, because you will get an honest and up-front answer to any question with no BS. They will tell you straight-like, “that is a good tea,” or “don’t buy that tea pot.”

Andrew Richardsen, LiquidProustTeas.com

I have written about Mr. LP already. He devotes much time to puerh beginners and is active on Reddit and Steepster. He does a lot of service in puerh tea though his own tea website is about teas other than puerh. LP coordinates tea group buys and will help people with Taobao.

This year he is commissioning fresh puerh tea. He claims he is “getting out of tea” because he is getting married and starting graduate school. Riiight…we’ll see. :D

I hope you enjoyed this list of vendors and straight up obsessive people who are good resources for puerh tea. I know there are many more I could list, but I feel these people are the most approachable, especially for persons new to puerh tea.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

2005 CNNP Big Yellow Mark

2005 CNNP Big Yellow Mark from Yunnan Sourcing
in ragg paper (uncut edges)
Back off the tea wagon, I resumed my puerh tea habits with a mostly healed up lower back. Tax return time flushed my wallet so I can spend a little bit on tea. One cake I spied during my down time is this 2005 CNNP Big Yellow Mark over at Yunnan Sourcing. I noticed the US site had 20 cakes available and I held my breath nearly a month hoping to score one of these before they sold out. At that time the China site did not have this tea, but I notice that it is available there now too for $2 less, and with more photos than the US site. I tried finding this tea on Taobao before buying, and while Taobao has a number of mark teas I could not find this exact one at the time.

The good news is Yunnan Sourcing’s US site now offers Free Shipping for orders over $75. With this tea at $68, I can easily find something else to toss into my cart to reach that free shipping mark. Recently I noted that white2tea has reduced their flat rate shipping from $14.99 to $9.99. So all the online griping over shipping costs seems to have had some effect on at least two vendors.

My cake arrived during the first hot and muggy spell of the summer. Of the two teas I ordered together, this is the one that stank up the box with minty incense. The beeng is 357 grams with machine compression. Mr. Wilson describes the storage on this tea as “dry Guangdong,” which is more humid than a dry-stored Kunming. I found my cake is definitely on the dry side of humid storage with no off odors and I welcome the bug bites on the wrapper. Overall my cake is drier than, say, the 2006 Chang Tai I bought last year from Yunnan Sourcing. The material in this tea is a spring blend of Bulang and Nannuo leaf with a mix of buds and larger leaves.

No mushy spots on mine.
I leaf this heavy in an early 2000s zisha clay pot, and gave two rinses and tossed the first steeping as it was still too light. The tea smells slightly medicinal, with wood and chicory notes. Viscosity is quite decent with a thick pour and a few small bubbles that do not pop. Early steeps have a slightly sour fermentation note which disappears over subsequent steepings. This is a very actively aging tea, but definitely over the hump of youth as Mr. Wilson states. Leaves are still green but they are turning a pale brown. Liquor is a dark orange and remains so as I steep.

A Bulang/Nannuo mix of buds with larger leaves.
Early flash steeps are bitter with a quick throat and mouth huigan, and the cup retains a floral smell. I am using a brand new cup made by potter pal Inge Nielsen, so no other tea can produce this nose. I taste woody florals, slight medicine, some sour fruit, and the chicory note which increases in later steepings. Some qi and astringency are present with a slight delay. I down six steepings and then went to fold laundry when I got hit with the qi in my eyes and in the middle of my back. After my folding the astringency hit and I coughed a dry mouth and went for a drink of water.

This tea performs very well in zisha/Yixing clay.
The smell of the tea liquid in the cha hai keeps drawing me in. This has just the smell I want in an aging tea, floral and chicory leather like grandpa’s 1940s home office with a big wood desk, dark leather chairs and vintage letter writing set. He has an empty container of pipe tobacco open and the wood pipe long unused in the ashtray. He does not smoke it any more but still likes to chew the mouthpiece a little. Steeps 8-10 I need to extend the brew time a little. This is not a mega steeper but a very pleasant drinker tea that lingers sweet in the mouth for more than an hour.

I agree with Mr. Wilson’s assessment that this tea will be really nice in 8-10 years. The lack of any date stamp knocks the collectors off the buyer list for this tea, leaving it for those of us with a storage hobby. While the price is entry level for a semi-aged tea, I really hope that the storage fiends are the people who go for this. I consider this a tea to put away for that full duration as Mr. Wilson suggests, so you can have a very nicely aged puerh tea in just a short decade, or maybe less if you live in one of those more humid places. This tea has the best possible start and yet is dry enough that I cannot consider it wet stored at all. If someone says to me “oh well this tea did not ‘do’ it for me,” then I think you are missing something. 

Tea is still green but with pale brown aging started.
This is not a tea to drink right now. It is actively fermenting and I taste where the tea is currently going, but it is not yet at the final destination. While the low price might draw some people new to puerh, I think some prior experience in assessing semi-aged teas helps to really appreciate where this tea is at today. Perhaps experienced storage folks probably do not need another drinker tea. But if you do, well here is one to consider with a fine start. If you lack storage assessment experience, perhaps you can give this a try while telling yourself “this is a tea I must put away rather than drink today, a trial cup is merely a test of where it is at.”

Yunnan Sourcing US showed 18 cakes left today, but now it will show at most 17, because I bought another. I cannot tell how many are available on the new China site, and you know what is going to happen. Because the tea lacks a date stamp, Mr. Wilson has somewhat under-priced this little gem and he will figure that out all too soon. A 2005 tea for $66/68? I do not expect this price to stay so low for long.

New spring teas are on the horizon! I notice that Bitterleaf Teas are first out of the gate with 2017 spring puerh tea already. Unexpectedly I received a couple of samples today which I will try next time. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Puerh Tea Headlines Spring 2017 Edition

Puerh Tea Harvest Confirmed for 2017

Yunnan tea farmers are proud to report a new harvest at hand for 2017. As reported on social media, the harvest is later than usual.

“Something about the weather, or climate change but we don’t know what,” said a vendor on his Instagram page. “The teas are just budding now and it is already mid May!”

Meanwhile, tourists are flooding Yunnan with very little to see yet.

“It’s okay,” said one tourist in the crowded hostel bar next to his Chanel-clad girlfriend. “I just drink the hooch.”

His girlfriend who appeared a bit glum responded to prodding for a comment.

“I’m waiting,” she said. “He promised me.”

Western Vendor Found Bloated in Bedroom

Reports arrived from Yunnan concerning a tea vendor found in his hotel room, allegedly bloated from drinking too much fresh maocha. After failing to emerge from his room for many days, the hotel called the local military to accompany them in checking the room when a foul odor garnered complaints from other residents.

“He looked just like Blueberry Boy from Willy Wonka, except green,” said the Proprietor.

“We found an empty Tide bottle, but apparently he didn’t use it, or couldn’t,” added the local captain.
 “Hard know what he ate, I guess his kidneys couldn’t take it.”

A scientist from the Yunnan Tea Institute had this to say:

“In most cases puerh tea has a diuretic effect. I must stress how strong Yunnan tea leaves are, and outsiders simply don’t have the digestive capability of locals who have adapted over centuries to drinking the tea. You can’t force nature.”

A herbalist was called for an enema, and the man is recovering at a local clinic. He plans to return to drinking tea, according to a clinic staff member speaking on condition of anonymity due to medical regulations.

“He says this little setback won’t stop him,” the herbalist confirmed.

Tourists Kill Ancient Puerh Tree with Too Many Photos

Recent news articles from the region are that a puerh tree died after one too many cell phone pics. Even though the tree was cordoned off from the reach of passers-by, the presence of too many phones managed to kill a tree reported to be at least 1200 years old despite local efforts to keep the tree in place on an embankment.

“I don’t know what happened,” a hysterical female tourist from Beijing told reporters. “I have the latest IPhone.”

Locals had another view of the matter.

“We done our best to keep ‘er propped up,” said a local resident referring to the ropes keeping the mostly hollowed out tree from falling down the hillside. He referred this writer to his grandmother, who verified the age of the old puerh tree, saying it was growing there since she was a teenager.

“See here all them phones, it starts gov’ment surveillance,” she said, speaking with us anonymously on a condition of fear of losing a pension. “The more phones we got here, the more gov’ment radiation. We never had this problem until kids started buying those contraptions. Phones rot the brain just like that tree there.”

“They should’ve used thicker rope,” agreed her grandson, looking up from Angry Birds on an IPad.

When queried about the use of any insecticides on this tree, the local council was quick to issue a denial.

“No chemicals were used, ever, on that hillside. Nature has its way with those old trees.”

The tree did not respond to requests for comment.

Husband Finally Divorces Tea Blogger

“I’m fed up,” Michael said as he delivered yet another box of wedding dishes to his soon-to-be ex-wife. Although the couple had lived separately for more than twenty years, apparently the overwhelming tea hobby provided the final straw in a marriage already on shaky ground.

“Our kid is grown, and I’ve lived apart just to give her more room for tea ware,” said the husband. “I wish her well, but I paid my dues.”

Local county courts ordered the man to pay health insurance for the blogger until the final judgment. The couple was also told they could not sell anything in the meantime.

“This means her tea is going nowhere,” Michael said. “I only worked that damn job to give her health insurance, and I deserve to split assets in exchange. I tried to tell the judge her tea is worth thousands, but he thinks it’s a beverage.”

“It’s a beverage,” Carrie said shortly before hanging up the phone on a reporter seeking comment.

Michael plans to move to Anhui to work for a Canadian school, and pursue a relationship with a woman he met from there.

“I don’t know why he just doesn’t go ahead and drink my Anhui heicha logs,” said Carrie. “It would be a hellava lot cheaper.”

Puerh Tea Hobby Impresses Parole Officer

Puerh tea appears to promote a positive view of persons currently in community-based corrections programs. A local parole officer conducting home visits to verify the rooming situation of a local felon found him renting from a lady with a significant puerh tea hobby. The officer reported her impressions of the visit.

“I’ve never heard of puerh tea before. Apparently it’s a strong pressed cake of tea that must be aged for twenty years. I asked if it had any psychedelic properties because my client has a sobriety requirement. The landlady strongly denied the tea has any discernible effects.”

The tea ware was equally impressive.

“This landlady had a stone tea table and tea ware. I think the table was by somebody named Randova. I’ve never heard of it, but we have a lot of Polish landladies around here.”

The visit reportedly lasted for three minutes during which the paroled felon unlocked his room for the officer to view.

“I passed,” was all he said.

When we reached the landlady for confirmation of the story, she added a correction.

“Randová is not Polish.”

Puerh Collectors Lament Fewer Factory Cakes to Buy

Recently a group of puerh collectors complained about the trend of boutique tea cakes on the western market, fearing a downward spiral in availability of factory productions.

“Those new teas, they have no collector value,” said a man reported to have at least three hundred kilos in his collection. “They go flat in a year, and they don’t have famous wrappers.”

A woman in the collector group explained the value of factory productions.

“The tea needs to be chopped as finely as possible. If you can’t get leaves stuck in a spout, then we have a problem. Also, we need a strong tobacco flavor since none of us smoke anymore, which those new boutique teas mostly don’t have. All those florals really make me sick.”

“I especially appreciate the holographic stickers on factory cakes,” added a long time collector. “I bought a black light to verify I have the real deal. No one who owns those new cakes can say that.”

Another collector referred to the possibility of treasures found within factory cakes, something rarely seen in the “newer” style of smaller house productions.

“I find hairs, corn, insects, pods, strings, ribbons and especially prized are used cigarette butts. These are ways we know factory workers truly handled the tea, as opposed to some westerner who doesn’t know puerh from a Darjeeling,” he said.

We reached out to Menghai Tea Factory and Xiaguan for comment on the situation.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” said the Taetea Factory Rep, scratching his head. “We maintain all of our old recipes in rotation, and we introduce literally dozens of new ones each year, thousands upon thousands of beengcha. We had to start our annual production as early as before New Year just to keep up with the demand. But these tea collectors on tourist visas are crazy. They camp here, too. Every day I arrive at work, I find them blocking the door trying to get in. They demand Lao Ban Zhang and I have to tell them we don’t make anything near that level.”

“My compatriot is sadly correct,” said the Xiaguan rep, referring to his colleague’s comments over at Taetea. “We have the same issue with the collectors. They say, ‘I want purple box’ when I have no purple box. I’d send them to Tibet but I might lose my job. Yet, how is it our fault we have the best tuos? Success has its drawbacks, is what I tell the Board.”

A representative of the Haiwan (Old Comrade) Tea Company heard about our visit to the other two factories, and wanted to issue a statement also.

“We at Old Comrade welcome the tourists, but it does get a bit overwhelming. For example, we have this guy who flies over from Singapore each year to haul home a box of tongs. His wife calls ahead to tell us not to sell him any more tea, but what can we do? His credit card goes through every time.”

Friday, April 14, 2017

2016 Red Monkey Yunnan Sourcing

Old Cwyn jumped off the wagon briefly one day this week for a puerh quickie in Madison, Wisconsin at Macha Tea Company. I had to travel there to the sheriff’s department to serve my ex-husband, so I planned ahead and went off my aspirin therapy the day before. Macha Tea Company provided some incentive via their Instagram posting of new puerh orders in from Yunnan Sourcing. They also sell white2tea, so basically this lone Wisconsin tea house has the good stuff, tea drugs for the chronically theanine addicted like myself. Luckily, my sheriff’s visit went quickly so I could get over there and into my cups without much to-do, my car helped along by the school spring break week reducing the amount of traffic downtown.

Macha’s posting of a shipment of Yunnan Sourcing’s 2016 Red Monkey puerh cake was the goal at hand. This tea is a small 50g cake which sells for $4.50 at YS China website only, or at Macha Tea Company in Wisconsin. Click the blue link if you are having trouble navigating the new YS website. I know I had a moment of panic at the new, unhelpful side categories when I briefly couldn’t find the Yunnan Sourcing brand labels easily. Along with that we have lost all our past doom cart invoices on there, but I am certain with time passing I will have new ones and forget my old ones.

2016 Red Monkey, photo by Yunnan Sourcing
Macha is charging $11 for the 50g cake to recoup their shipping costs and also a small premium toward the tea shop. As of this writing, tea economics makes ordering this single cake from China too expensive by itself, because of the shipping costs. On the other hand, if you plan a big tea order already from Yunnan Sourcing, adding one or two of these cakes won’t add much if anything to the shipping you already will pay for your order as a whole. So, the opportunity to  buy just this one tea for $11 is actually a decent deal, since I can’t get it for that from China reasonably without buying anything else. Anthony confirmed that after posting an Instagram photo, five cakes “flew” out of the shop over the weekend. So I arrived just in time to score one, and enjoy some tea chat with him.

Behind the bar at Macha Tea Company.
“I just have one thing to ask you,” Anthony said as I sat down. “Who is Allan Keane?”

Never expected to chat about my friend Allan who probably has the largest tea collection of anyone I know. He is now one famous tea character on tea social media from his efforts, which inspired some of the cartoons I have drawn for my blog here. We talked about how puerh tea draws some very smart people into the hobby. I sipped a session of an autumn 2014 Yunnan Sourcing tea, and I didn’t write down which tea it was because my real reason for stopping in was the Red Monkey cake. Anthony served me a gaiwan to try, and I drank both at once. Why not, right?

Red Monkey is a retail cake which tea shops can purchase from Yunnan Sourcing and re-label if they choose, but the wrapper is cute on its own. The tea is a combination of autumn and spring Lincang teas. I much prefer this tea over the other one I sampled, because the Red Monkey opens up quickly to one punchy and astringent brew. Autumn leaves tend to taste smooth and mellow, however the addition of spring tea adds serious aging potential. The tea leaves used are Bang Dong, Xiao Hu Sai and Da Xue Shan plantation material, and cleared testing for 191 pesticides, according to Yunnan Sourcing.

Red Monkey brew.
I found this tea to have mouth-puckering astringency, followed by a quick sweet huigan. This is not terribly floral which I like. The tea requires at least six steeps to get to the salivary gland curdle sensation. We discussed the merits of this cake. It’s an excellent drinker tea, and a deal at the tea shop and even more so if you add one to an order from YS. The small size at a tea shop like this allows people to try puerh for the first time without a huge commitment. You can buy a small cake this like via Macha Tea Company and don’t need to place a massive order of tea you are not sure you will like. Try it once and tuck it away somewhere for a few years. A person can tell whether or not puerh tea is worth exploring, because you will know from this small cake whether or not you really like this sort of tea. Along with this, try a session of Macha’s stash of 2007 CNNP if you want some idea how a more aged tea will taste in a decade. Macha is well-appointed for people experienced and new to puerh tea. And if you don’t like the tea, well they serve other tea types too.

Double fisted gaiwans, Red Monkey at bottom.
In fact, Anthony wanted me to try roasted coffee leaves. I felt my stomach turn over but agreed to a small cup.

“It tastes like white tea, doesn’t it?” he said.

“Well, a bit of barnyard, yes. Would make a good iced drink, maybe.”

Err…not for me. Tastes a bit like white tea with Splenda, a gold/orange brew that looks something like what you would get if you run water through an empty Mr. Coffee basket. Here is a tip for you. Don’t mix puerh with roasted coffee leaves, ever.

Tilt. Tea drunk view from the floor.
After two-fisting two gaiwans for at least twelve steeps in a half hour, I needed to leave alas having barely opened up the teas. Mr. B. was out in the car by himself, having refused to join me in the tea shop and I couldn’t leave him out there for too long (he is a coffee person). He wanted to join me on the trip in case one of my car tires blew out, something that worries him lately. We were on our third day of cops and courts, with him working plea deals from all the cases he got up to last summer, and then my civil process trip today. All this gets tiring and I really needed a good tea drunk to forget everything. I teetered against the car as I stepped off the curb, with my cake of Red Monkey tucked away in my purse.

Macha Tea Company
823 E Johnson St, Madison. (Shenk’s Corners area)
Small batch baked goods, full dinner menu Friday p.m. and brunch Sundays.
Teas and accessories.
Online or phone orders accepted, will ship.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

One for the Stomach

For the past week I have not consumed any puerh whatsoever. Unfortunately, my back went out and most of my time is spent recovering from one of the occasional bouts of pain from a former injury. Bad days do not come often, but when the back goes out I spend a week or two taking either aspirin or ibuprofen, or both, in as low a dose as I possibly can. The idea is to slowly reduce the inflammation over a period of weeks as the medicines build up a level in the blood. This is not a quick pain fix, but it works. One needs to be patient.

One also needs to be mindful of the stomach. Aspirin causes stomach bleeding, and thins the blood which can cause bleeding or easy bruising in other parts of the body, including the gums. I thank the gods for ibuprofen, a miracle pain reliever that came out while I was in college, and a life-changer for women’s menstrual pain. Yet this medicine too, along with naproxen sodium, now causes some stomach distress for me especially when taking generic forms. As a result, I am not drinking any puerh during this medicine course, but instead taking some roasted oolong and yancha teas.

2016 Hoplite Yancha by white2tea
Free shipping this weekend April 1-2! :P
For those new to puerh tea, a caution when drinking this beverage is in order. While I like to guzzle puerh as much as any other tea head, the truth is very green puerh can be harsh on the stomach. Aged puerh and shou puerh are easier to take, yet even these can still have green, un-aged tea. While some say twenty and thirty year old puerh are “safe,” I cannot say this will be the case for those with stomach issues.

Puerh is called the “whiskey of teas” for a reason, and not just because of the myriad of flavors. Whiskey is a hard beverage, and puerh is hard tea. It is no different than taking a shot of whiskey. Ask yourself, under what conditions will I take a shot of whiskey? Can I do so in the morning, or on an empty stomach? While a hard core drinker might, he cannot do so forever. Hard beverages can and will catch up with you. You pay the piper eventually somewhere in your body, and very often the stomach is first to complain.

I never take any form of puerh first thing in the morning. I have medications to take, and so I drink hongcha with milk to ease into the day. Generally I prefer my puerh in the evening, an hour after supper, just as I would any other shot or digestif. In fact, I think puerh is best taken an hour or so after the largest meal of the day, so that the stomach is protected. For some folks, any green puerh at all might not be digestible without distress. Yunnan broad leaf tea is that strong, people.

Fortunately, I do not have any problem drinking green puerh tea, although it is not the only form of tea I drink in a day, and I do not always drink puerh every day either. I would guzzle it all day long, but instead I drink other teas too, most of which I do not write about because I get email complaints when I do. My tea avatar certainly drinks puerh non-stop, but she is an avatar, after all, and not this writer in full reality. She is wishful thinking. She is the person at work all day wishing she could drink tea instead of doing her duty. For the sake of your stomach, creating a puerh avatar is helpful so she can go tea shopping instead of cooking dinner for the family.

When I starting drinking puerh years ago, I found some blogs to read which gave me real information and experience on the cautionary aspects of puerh tea, blogs such as Tea Closet, A Tea Addict’s JournalThe Half-Dipper and TeaDB. The authors of these blogs are honest about the stomach effects of puerh tea, both in general terms and very specifically about teas they cover. These authors have found a way to write honestly about puerh teas, even when they are drinking samples provided by others. If that tea bothered the stomach, you can be sure they will say so. They cover stomach effects quite clearly.

Some tea vendors will say that a person can drink a very fine quality puerh at any time in its life, whether green, or teenage, or highly aged. The idea is that perhaps Gushu tea is safe. On the other hand, harsh “factory” teas made from plantation leaf, younger trees, and/or those grown with agro-chemicals, are the teas responsible for stomach distress. I say that no generalization will apply to everyone about puerh tea, just as I will say no generalization applies to whiskey or any other alcoholic beverages. These are “at your risk” beverages every single time you swallow one. Just as you can find a ninety year old geezer surviving just fine on his whiskey and cigars, you can find another one dead of the same at fifty. Likewise, you can find an old fart like me drinking puerh tea, and a twenty year old whose stomach cannot take it at all. 

I recommend reading the above blogs from front to back. Most people don’t like to read much, or even search the internet for information on puerh. But if you take up puerh as a serious hobby, really you need to read and keep up on the reading as more information comes out. We are just learning more and more every year about how puerh tea ferments. Reading blogs from the beginning to today will require reading from the bottom of the pages on up, a tedious task, but this is worth doing. You will see those authors travel a journey with some wonderful teas, and also some gut-wrenching moments. In some cases, you will read years of gut-wrenching moments as the authors learned what teas they can drink and which ones they cannot.

My blog is about the worst one you can read, for my avatar is not in reality whatsoever. Even more blogs get started every year that mainly wax eloquently about wonderful teas with no dose of reality anywhere. I call my blog Tea Fluff, or Tea Filth. It is entertainment for puerh drinkers and me, but nothing more. You won’t find much tea education here. I worry that with puerh tea hitting a new mainstream hype, the cautionary tales long recorded on blogs will get lost in the excitement of new people taking up the hobby. Nowhere in the new articles on NPR and elsewhere do I see a realistic perspective on puerh tea. I can’t promise anything different myself, but I feel as though other authors such as those I cited above have done a good job. They continue to write honestly and informatively about puerh tea. Because of their work, somebody like me has the luxury of entertaining and drawing filthy tea cartoons as opposed to educating.

I think most mature tea drinkers drink a variety of teas. They know how to pair oolong with dessert, or hongcha with breakfast. They know how long to hold yancha and longjing, and how to detect a sour roast. They know how well heicha settles a heavy meal. All this is part of the tea drinking experience, and drinking widely amongst teas, not just puerh, is the best way for the body to enjoy tea. When a person takes medications, as I do, even more self-knowledge is required to continue enjoying tea and not wreck myself further in the process. The whole point of drinking tea is for enjoyment, and I want to continue to enjoy all of my teas as long as I can.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

On the Lake

On Pike Lake in northern Wisconsin where I grew up, nearly all of the houses were built high above the water. To reach the lake, you had to get down thirty or more feet of embankment covered with oak and birch trees, and numerous plants including poison ivy. Homeowners put in long flights of stairs made of wood or brick, or carved out winding dirt paths. A neighbor’s house, however, was the only home built right on the water, on a small peninsula that I can only describe as a bit of fairy land.

In this house dwelt a reclusive old timer somewhere in his seventies or eighties. Although the neighborhood, while still forest-y in most places, was largely residential, at one point this old timer small-farmed his property. To reach the road, he had to go up a quarter mile or so, and on the way he had forest on the right hand, and bits of open field on the left and up near his square brick garage which held an old car he drove once in awhile to the store. I surmised he must have farmed a bit because he sold part of his property to my father which included a “boathouse,” in actuality a small animal barn.

In the back of the barn was a dried out old chicken coop with tiered wood nesting areas, ancient brown straw and rusty chicken wire. The barn’s attic must have served as a hay mow, because the ceiling inside had a square opening with no ladder and the front of the attic had a large door into which farmers usually pitchfork up hay or straw. My guess is the farmer grew straw for his chickens and pitched it up into the mow, because although he had enough room for a cow or two, he would not have had sufficient pasture to support these. He must have stopped farming sometime in the 1940s or 1950s. My father used the small barn alternatively as a boathouse, tentatively as a party spot with an old wood bar, and a garden house when he put in a vegetable garden for a few years. Later on we made a playhouse there.

But the old man’s property is still with me now, because we played there so often. His very plain old farmhouse looked a bit like this.

Many an early 20th century farmhouse looked like this.
photo of Dane County 1910 house
by Joann M. Ringelstetter
Imagine this house on a small peninsula jutting out on the water surrounded by lake and forest. He had a small, rickety red dock on one side over the lily pads and another larger boat dock at the end of the peninsula where the water had a sandy bottom instead of muddy weeds. The grass around his house was a soft sort of grass that didn’t need mowing. And a small patch of what I can only call fairy grass always grew down by the water, with a moss edging at the start of the forest. This grass felt lovely on bare feet.

I don’t remember much about the old timer, except he used to visit the apple tree that he had put in, or my father did, right on the edge of the property. One day he brought up a stool and picked up fallen apples from the ground. My brother and I spotted him sitting under the apple tree. I was four or five years old and my brother three, perhaps. The old man cracked acorns from the red oak trees on my father’s property just below. He beckoned us over.

“These are good to eat,” he said, cracking open a few acorns.

We tried the acorns which were so bitter we ran, spitting them out and laughing. The old man laughed too, but continued to eat them himself. Later on when I broke open green acorns and pinched the nuts sometimes they broke apart into powder. I read about how people made flour from acorns back in the old days, and that idea made sense to me when remembering the old man eating from the oak trees.

“Oh that never happened,” my father said years later, when I told him about the old man feeding us acorns.

“It did too happen,” I insisted. He shook his head.

After all, I had tried nearly every plant possible that grew in the forest, right down to the stems of the water lilies. I even tried some poisonous plants, like the sumac, though I wasn’t stupid enough to eat the berries or the leaves. But sumac branches can be peeled and split open, the spongy core inside is pleasant to chew like gum. I know the acorn story is true because I could just as easily have tried eating the acorns on my own, and surely I would remember learning for myself how they taste. I didn’t need to make up a story about the old timer living in the house below us, feeding acorns to me and my brother.

But the real lure of his property was the truly fairy quality of the water, the grass and the forest. I imagine he worked out a rural living during the Depression and war years on his chickens, maybe a goat, acorns and berries. Ducks laid eggs in the woods near the water, and fish were easy to catch right from the shore, or on the ice in winter. With a bit of coffee, salt, flour and butter I bet that old man got by just fine with his eggs, some squirrels, duck, fish and maybe a deer or two. I remember water and sewer lines were put in all down his driveway when I was about seven or so, after the old timer died and a wealthy family from Madison bought his property to use as a summer house. I shudder to think what the old man did for sewer before that.

In winter, my brother and I used the long dirt ruts of the driveway as a sledding track. When the snow packed just right, we could sled all way down and around to the water, so fast we ended up well out onto the lake ice. A long walk back up and down again we flew. One magical winter the Madison family children visited their summer home, they were young adults and joined in on the sledding at night, turning on the outdoor lights, grabbing one of us little kids and jumping onto the sled. The family didn’t visit often.

So in summer time, the rest of the property was our playground. We found beds of moss covered with canopies of bushes that became imaginary houses. We found an old tree house in the woods, not much left except the sturdy platform and a few beams, maybe a deer stand rather than a playhouse. We went into the old man’s garage and looked at his car, and later the boat kept there by the Madison family. I don't remember what kind of car the old man had, but it was big and old, not like my dad's blue Chevy.

I dressed up in long dresses and ran barefoot over the soft grass, imagining I was a princess. The house faced the lake to the northwest, and only in summer could the sun reach the house. In the late summer afternoon, the sun shone golden on the peninsula and shimmered along the dock.

My brother pulled out fish after fish off the old man’s dock every time it rained. We lost our lures in the pine trees on the shore. Huge bull frogs lived in the lily pads around the peninsula, until we fished them all out for the legs my dad enjoyed frying up. Bullhead fish with stingers nested near shore and we caught them, for dad knew how to cook those too. Big sunfish and northern pike roamed the shoreline and huge snapping turtles, all of which we caught, cleaned and ate, sometimes in huge neighborhood turtle roast parties. I found wintergreen berries in winter and chewed the leaves. Yes, I am certain the old man got along just fine, back when he was the only one living on that land.

One early summer when I was a young teenager, I walked around the mossy woods above the old man’s house and saw asparagus, a huge patch of stalks eighteen inches tall and some even taller. I never saw asparagus there before. I know that asparagus can return year after year, but who planted it, and when? I ran back to the house and coaxed my father to come look. After some convincing, he walked out there and sure enough, we cut down a lot of asparagus that day. The stalks looked like magic staves coming up from the weedy green forest floor, wielded by the wizardly tall birch trees. I peeled their paper and cut plaque fungus for carving, wondering what else I could make from birch bark. I knew about Chippewa canoes, but only later seeing Russian birch bark basket art did I understand fully possibilities I could only intuit as a child.

The old man never invited us into his house, and we didn’t dare go close when we saw him about. But later on when playing near his house, long after it became a summer home, we noticed two small doors at ground level. We opened these, and they clearly held yard tools in a space under the house. But we were small enough to play in there, under the trellis-covered open spots beneath the house. One day, while playing under the house we found an old iron key. Indeed it was a key to the house. Finally we could see the inside of the house we only imagined before, the house on the fairy peninsula. The key opened one of the doors, and in we went.

To our surprise, the inside of the house had yellow, pine wood paneled walls, and plain tweed furniture, like maybe early 1960s small couches, chairs, lots of very basic places to sit. We saw a tiny kitchen and even tinier bedrooms. At this point the house was just an ordinary summer cabin, like so many others on lakes in Wisconsin at that time. The fancy new owners clearly hadn’t done much of anything to improve the place. It looked like the old man still lived there with an old coffee can and not much else. We didn’t take or touch anything, but we kept the key to the fairy house, which was just an ordinary wood farm house after all.

Yet the fairy peninsula was everything, still is everything, all of my religious vocation, the spiritual pursuits, the soft grasses and mosses and herbs, the chicken coop, the trees and the asparagus. Thinking of it brings me a timeless peace, for the land there never flooded and the house still stands even after more than a century. In my mind’s eye I still stand on the grass beneath the trees there in the summer sun during the moments of greatest duress, in moments of violence and human horror, bare feet on damp moss in a place of no fear. Often I have wondered what people do without this, though I suppose in a city children may find secret places of repose. I know people speak of Central Park this way, even in the middle of New York City.

In a moment’s flash of memory, I may stand near the two doors where the yard tools were, where we found the key and now I have a fresh, new puerh cake in my hand, still in the wrapper, still yet to be opened and known. I buy my tea with the same fairy promise, in the moment before using the key. I can hold the cake now open in the wrapper, me in my long dress, the old man up above with his acorns. The acorns and the house look like magic, but inside they are plain and bitter. The tea itself chids me for believing the wrapper, for getting lost in the trees and the white lilies. “Use the key,” it says, because now the chicken coop helps me more than the lake does.

I should find a photo of the place, I think to myself, for all that it meant to me, still my mind’s spot to lose myself. Looking around on the net, oh, I find one! The property was sold not long ago.

photo WoodburyRealtors property listing
The house has gained many sections, owners adding onto the original house, obscuring it. Now the house is huge, I suppose as large as most people want today. But it takes over the peninsula, dominates it, rather than merely sitting upon it, letting the bit of land be the nature’s miracle it is. Yet, vestiges of what I recall remain. I see the soft patch of ever green grass on the far left, as it always was, and the lily pads still growing on the lake. The trees still jut from the shore, and the forest is actually denser. Despite the haphazard additions to the house, obviously the owners see something of the magic by their choice of adding cathedral windows to better enjoy the lake views. The style doesn’t fit the plain old farm house, but a bit of church and castle in their choices reassures me that they feel what I felt. The previous inhabitants honor the forest magic in their own way, even if the overly large house tries to suck all of it out from the peninsula.

I feel certain now the wood paneling inside is long gone, and the interior matches the promises outdoors. The house probably has an amazing bath and fancy kitchen. Surely this is so, for the photo is from a real estate listing which says the property sold for $399,000. The old man probably never imagined this kind of money. Or maybe he knew all along, as we did, that what he held onto for so many years, so plain and ordinary for him, is someday worth so much more.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Raw and the Cooked: 2017 Puerh Predictions

Last year I enjoyed writing an article about puerh season predictions. Some of them came true. So this year I assembled a few more, just for the fun of speculating off the top of my head. After all, my tea hobby is mostly speculation, brewing and stewing anyway. 

2017 is a Rooster.

The other word doesn’t work in English without tittering unless you want to use the word beenghole or Bacon Log in the same sentence. We are barely a month out of Chinese New Year and the jokes are old already. I am loving 2018 Dog right about now.

The Trees are one year older.

This means adding 100 years in retail marketing. With evidence too, so we expect more photos of trees full of leaves no one is allowed to pick, and plenty of grandmas willing to swear on their betel leaf that those trees were around before the flood. Likewise, I am fairly certain my Dear Son will happily testify under oath that my tea collection is ten years older than it really is. He can probably find a Tea Sommelier to certify stamp a piece of paper for him for $50 or less, a small fee to pay to add thousands of dollars to the worth of my collection. Business is booming all around the tea industry, and I haven’t a thing to wear.

The Tea Harvest will Happen.

Yes, the forecast is optimistic we will have new tea this year.

The Great Shrinking gets dodgier.

Last year we started seeing more and more 100g and even smaller beengcha, with better material than in the past. I continue to see these small cakes as dodgy buys at best. While this small cake might be an opportunity to taste a higher quality of tea in a very few cases (and I mean few), it’s not a good size for future hoarding. To clarify, I’m not here to represent the sensible buyer and most readers of this blog know that by now.

We want as much good tea as possible. I see the 100g and smaller cake size as a trial size for people who are new to puerh and don’t know what they are getting into. Otherwise, why would I want a cake of maybe 12 sessions? If the tea is good, then I regret the small size and want more. A good eighth will flake off a cake in normal conditions anyway, especially when the wrapper gives out which we all know it will. If I want a sample, I will order a sample and it arrives in a bag.

Also, small cakes are clutter in the storage. Forget your nice stacks of 357s, the small ones fall all over in a messy way. I feel like buying a reliable 357g every year such as a good old boring Menghai is a better move in the long run than futzing with tiny cakes until you grow weary, and drink them up quickly just to be done with the tediousness of caring for that small size. Keep in mind tea vendors are thinking about selling tea, and this is why they make these small sizes. We buyers are storing, and for storage and long term relationships with our tea cakes, the bigger size wins for my investment.

Somebody will invent the Pumidor.

Old fridges and unplugged wine coolers are reaching a social peak, and yet anxiety abounds amongst tea heads huddled over hygrometers showing >1 SD variability in humidity levels. This situation is ripe for the next huckster to crowd fund the perfect puerh storage cabinet to bilk worried collectors out of the price of a premium tong. Barring that, we have an opening in the western puerh market for Florida homesteaders to rent a warehouse and start charging for long distance storage. This could unleash yet more market opportunities for things like chartered flights to visit their Pu and blocks of hotel rooms serving continental breakfast boba. I can’t wait.

Someone else will discover Bug Shit tea.

Yet another blog post waiting to happen and you know it’s inevitable. Funny how we never seem to see consistent reviews year after year by the same blogger of this season’s new BS tea, with nuances in flavor and such.

The term Boutique will lose all meaning.

So, what exactly is “boutique” nowadays? Does Chen Yuan Hao qualify as boutique? After all, it is a brand sourced by a single entity. For some, “boutique” means northern tea, or what gets called “oolong” tea which presumes that tea cakes made by small entities won’t age, even though none of the so-called “boutiques” have existed even ten years at this point. To others, “boutique” refers to (mostly) white people traveling to Yunnan to make tea cakes. Oddly too many of those making such a proclamation about aging have not even tried the teas fresh or aged.

I don’t know about you, but I see small buyers/producers of puerh tea coming and going from the retail scene, maybe more coming in than going out. But not enough time has elapsed anywhere to determine which teas will age into anything good. We are talking 10-20 years here, and that presumes such tea will even survive the storage years, either getting wrecked or drunk up by the owner well before any Judgment Day arrives. As for wrecking in storage, at this point I know several people storing tea longer than five years in the west, people who own both “boutique” and factory teas and I will bet money their tea survives quite nicely. I am not counting myself in that handful of people either. I plan to drink up or wreck mine. Anything left will be placed next to my urn in an unmarked location.

Despite all that, Social Media will break into all-out war over Factory vs. Boutique.

More than a few grumblings and rumblings are poking themselves into my blog comment section lately, and louder still around the forums. Right now, Factory is winning. I don’t know if factory tea is really and truly better or if this reflects a desire for aged tea, and we just don’t have any aged house tea from small boutique producers. I was surprised last year at a tea tasting when alongside some truly fine new teas, the group vote overwhelmingly chose an aged factory tea as the best one served that day. I do not know if this was simply a preference for aged tea over fresh. But the new teas were far and away super premium leaf, unspoiled by poor processing and yet most folks wanted the grungy old cake that had no real depth of character except for the fact that it was fifteen years old.

So in lacking other aged alternatives people buy older factory teas, paying huge mortgage-sized sums in a few cases, putting up with very wet storage and retired smoke. On some level, the flavors in older factory teas are what people are accustomed to. On the other hand, some older teas do pack a punch and I respect the stomach enough to know that aged teas are better to drink. I hope that we don’t always need to settle for dusty old brick simply because it’s aged, or pay out the child’s college fund merely to drink decent aged tea.

I also hope that as people get more heated in debates over tea preferences, we remember to respect the drink of our fellow men and women. In the remains of a long day we all need our tea, and punching someone’s enjoyment steals peace from the tea table. Disrupting the tea table is the bigger faux pas, and a huge rudeness in the end. The reality is in a moment of thirst we all will gladly drink that dusty old brick if it’s the only thing we have rather than a jasmine oolong, though I suspect many of us might quaff the oolong too. After all nobody is going back to coffee.
To wit, the “Taobao Tea Melee.”

Tea heads are not the only ones duking it out. I rejoiced to see this headline in translation on puer.cn. I envision Taobao store owners engaging in hand to hand combat with girls in candy colored swimsuits walking around with numbered placards for each round, and clowns flinging puerh discs like Frisbees to eager outstretched hands. It’s about time puerh tea gets more fun because really the whole scene is far too serious.

Actually, the article is referring to the quick buck made by Taobao sellers of fake old tea, mostly “wet warehouse” designed to jump-age the tea artificially. The author points out that people are fooled once, maybe twice, but eventually customers catch on to the game. He advocates for “small profit” tea selling of the genuine brand. I like that, but it’s a pipe dream. What I really glean from these articles and around the net is a continuing down trend of highly wet stored tea in the consumer palate. A bit of humidity is good for buyers in the west, but more than 3-5 years humid storage is a risky buy, whether on Taobao or anywhere else. Stick to dry unless you are certain you like overcooked tea.

Yunnan Sourcing will make a Jinggu cake.

In a tea world of such contention and climate change, some things in the puerh tea world are reassuringly reliable. As my post here goes to press, Yunnan Sourcing has announced they will be rolling out a new website format in the next few weeks. Apparently the old site is straining under an antiquated architecture. I glanced at the new site, and the look is quite different. I am sure the new site will be serviceable, but I will miss the reassuring feeling of tea shopping with the gold and red colors of the old site. I want to thank Scott Wilson for giving us so many wonderful years with the former site, and I look forward to testing the new one.

Well, now you have my predictions. Do you have any predictions for this year?