; Cwyn's Death By Tea ;

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Function of the Wrapper in Puerh Collecting

In my reading about collecting lately, I’ve tried to find some comparisons between our puerh hobby and other forms of collecting. As I noted in my previous piece, I struggled to find adequate comparisons collecting the raw tea product that we consume and care for, and quite frankly, other people. Maybe that is a bit too broad a brush stroke. If so, then I need to narrow the focus just a bit. The puerh wrapper itself serves many functions and is a key component of our collections, just as a label is for a record collector. I spent some time thinking about the wrapper, and how difficult “going loose” for puerh tea is, aside from the obvious space issues in our storage. Wrappers have so much to say to us.

Historical and Cultural Context of Wrapper Content

The most obvious information on the wrapper is the factory, the wording, marketing, and perhaps time and place. We might know more about the tea than the wrapper tells us, because we know the story behind the tea enclosed in that wrapper. Cultural and linguistic folks along with tea historians deconstruct wrappers over time, and many collectors know facts like when date stamping began, or what CNNP really means in any given year based on the history of this label.

These are large topics requiring books to really get into specifics. I’m interested in the end user, the person with a collection. We are aware of historical and cultural aspects related specifically to the information on the label. Or lack of it, in the case of modern trends of labels as art rather than as indicative of the product inside. Whether or not the wrapper has Chinese characters, or merely a picture or art, we can look at the function of wrapper as descriptive, as part of the tea object.

Wrapper Defines the Tea as Object

To me, this is when the wrapper coalesces with the object of the tea so they function as one. The wrapper is not merely information about the tea, but is a part of the tea. For example, here is a tea where the wrapper and tea-as-an-object function together.

Photo: Grandness China Tea Co. on Aliexpress
Most puerh fans need only see the crane and tuo shape to know this is a Xiaguan tuo. The yellow box tells us it’s the gold ribbon tuo, but the tuo alone with the wrapper tells us what “it” is, the “it” is Xiaguan tuo. The shape and the wrapper image are a singular identity. When I own one of these, I hold in my hand a Xiaguan tuo, wrapper and tea together. And the box if you're savvy.

Some teas are very special to a collector. Maybe the person saved money for a long time to afford their desired puerh tea. Or spent years seeking out a particular production. Finally when the tea arrives, the collector can hold it in their hands and think “It’s mine, I have it now.” The wanting behind the tea eventually is satisfied when holding the cake with the wrapper in hand.

The wrapper is one with the coveted tea. Very quickly, of course, the tea in our possession moves from coveted object to tea object in storage, where the focus changes from looking and touching to smelling and worrying. The object of the tea in the wrapper takes on the object relations of success or failure in storage. We’ve moved from merely having, or owning, to ideas about the progress of the tea. Or we are moving on to drinking the tea and reaching the point where it no longer exists in our collection, it is object of consumption. Once consumed, we begin to form our ideas about the tea. This moves the tea from an object with wrapper to ideas which encompass much, much more.

Wrapper as Narrative and Consensus

To illustrate this point, let’s look at some teas which we can agree have some historical consensus behind them.

Tea Classico's offering of 2012 7542 teaclassico.com
if anyone is still home over there.
This wrapper indicates much more than the design on the paper, and more than an object to hold. The 7542 recipe contains decades of historical consensus among tea drinkers as one of the older puerh teas to reliably age into a decent drinking tea. Historical consensus is the heart of puerh collecting, it is the narrative of all tea drinkers who converge upon certain teas as worthy. Not everyone likes a 7542, and we are still in the relative, subjective nature of taste. Among other factors, certainly the year matters and storage is important, and where the tea comes from, who owns it, what we call provenance in collecting, the whole story behind the particular cake. Nevertheless the 7542 stands as a tea with historical consensus behind it. The wrapper has more meaning because of the consensus.

As a general idea of “good tea,” we look at the 7542 or the Grand Red Mark in a way that a record collector looks at a Sun Records label of a Johnny Cash song. In the book Contemporary Collecting: Objects, Practices and the Fate of Things, editor K. Moist makes a point about record labels which I think applies rather well to puerh wrappers too. “Many of these labels’ releases, by their very existence, but also through their creative and detailed presentation, call attention to various (mostly unstated) assumptions that underlie consensus musical history (Moist and Banach 2013, p. 241).” This is what I mean about the label, or wrapper in our case, plus the owned object itself representing the consensus narrative behind it. With puerh, the consensus is stated, as opposed to simply inferred, because many puerh drinkers have opined on the tea.

Historical consensus is truly a fun aspect of owning puerh tea, apart from just buying and collecting. People discuss teas at all stages of development. Sometimes consensus changes as a tea takes on age, and perhaps does not live up to early promise. Or maybe a tea sits around in collections for a long time before rediscovery and the consensus moves the tea into a desirable category.

Blue Mark Lan Yin 1990s by white2tea.
Or was, until a sole person went ahead
and bought up all this very fine tea. Son,
I don't fault you for having the money and
the desire to own this production. But seriously,
how many tongs of this $650 cake do you need?
You couldn't leave just a few for the rest of us
saving pennies in a plastic yellow piggy bank?
Really? No, apparently you had to buy it all.
Oy. If you can't pay the mortgage, you know
who to call to relieve you of one of these.
Consensus isn’t always favorable for a tea, and perhaps the image of the wrapper implies a somewhat negative impression. Going back to the Xiaguan tuo, some people love these tuos, others think “smoky, dirt, wood” and wouldn’t drink one even though the historical consensus is that these tuos age well and taste amazing when fully and properly aged.

Misty Peaks 2016 100g cake--my photo.
Misty Peaks tea is a stark example of a newer puerh tea which has a dual consensus emerging thus far. To some, the tea wrapper which also has a plastic “wax” seal indicates a pleasant single-origin tea of Yiwu-ish sweetness. To others, the marketing of this label represents overstatement or maybe outright fraud because of the “spring tea” claims challenged over the past year. The tea and wrapper represent a dual opinion, a divided opinion. Saying nothing at all about the tea quality, achieving any sort of consensus is the result of much buzz and conversation. On the sole achievement of acquiring any consensus at all, Misty Peaks is relatively successful.

A new trend of puerh wrappers as art, or in the case of white2tea using Drake songs, I notice that the song reference carries little meaning after a time, because drinker consensus about the tea takes over its original identity. I don’t need to know what “Untitled 2” means, even though the cake is based on a song I haven’t heard of and don’t plan to listen to. The tea and the wrapper have an emerging consensus that interests me based on people drinking it and talking about it. I’m encouraged to look at YS 2015 Year of the Goat shou and recognize the wrapper because enough people have mentioned it as a decent ripe for my attention and credit card to give it a try.

What other teas can you think of that have some historical consensus among collectors? Here is another one I’d propose, though the wrapper maybe a tougher one for new puerh drinkers to identify.

Consensus, with only word of mouth provenance.
All this is food for thought for vendors, especially ones who might think about saving money on the wrapper and using a small stamp instead, or a plain white wrapper with nothing on it. So how much do wrapper-less puerh cakes tell us? What do you get from looking at this?

A cake.
Compared to this:

Same cake as above, but with wrapper.
Real or fake, this wrapper has huge narrative behind these photos, online and published in books. To me, this suggests that spending time on a unique wrapper, regardless of what design you choose, is worth the effort at creating the possibility for narrative and consensus. I think people want the pressed tea and the wrapper too because the ownership as an object and the consensus together bring status to a collection, or the feeling of good taste by the owners, of having chosen well.

I suggest that the “rabbit hole” behind buying puerh tea, and trying to stop but you can’t is in large part due to how the object and wrapper function as one identity, symbolic of historical narrative and consensus. Sometimes it’s possible to hate the tea but still need to keep it, to own it even when someone offers you a better price than you paid. You don’t want to let go of a tea that has developed meaning. You might even keep a scrapbook of neifei or save the wrappers of teas you’ve drunk to remind you that you owned it, to tell the story of your personal taste.

All my musings about the wrapper here really stemmed back from the idea of “mainstream puerh,” asking myself what it takes for something like puerh tea to become more popular than it is now. Mainstreaming involves more than simply changing the factory wrappers with characters to fancy art and design. Puerh obtains narrative and identity through consensus, through people talking. Yes, we still need those stereotypical people with apparently nothing better to do except obsess over sessions and post online, or write blogs and books. Talking is fun, so let’s keep sharing and see what happens, which teas shake out of collections as truly remarkable.


Moist, Kevin M., and David C Banash. Contemporary Collecting: Objects, Practices and the Fate of Things. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press Inc, 2013.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Us Puerh Collectors, Why We are Different

What defines my living space.
Over the past week I spent some time reading about collecting in general, hoping for some common ground between myself and the rest of collecting humanity. Aside from a few snippets of observed behavior, I must conclude that I am, in fact, different from other collecting people. And I’ve known this all along these past seven years since I started buying puerh. Living with my tea taught me why.

In a general sense, collectors as a whole spend time acquiring and preserving a collection of items. Collecting is a distinct activity from hoarding, which a survival type of activity viewed negatively in the mainstream collecting. As opposed to hoarding, the collector goes after specific items with a set of criteria which define the collector’s taste and discerning eye. Or in our case, discerning mouth feel, and body feel. All this is where commonality with other collectors starts and stops because puerh drinkers and collectors have one aspect of the hobby to deal with that no one else has, which is the development and aging of a raw, unfinished product.

We collectors share in the act of drinking our collection with other beverage collectors. We can discuss nuances in flavor. In our situation, the body effect is a factor in judging the aesthetic qualities of the tea. Other beverage people do not discuss body feel because a true taster in wine or whiskey will spit to remove the euphoric effect of the alcohol when judging the merits of the beverage. I can set aside body effect as merely an aspect of a tea, but not necessarily the most important single trait to seek out. But I cannot set aside the Art and Science of Fermentation. Unlike every other collector, Puerh Tea Collectors have a maintenance requirement that goes beyond mere preservation. We are collecting a raw, unfinished product in the case of sheng puerh which is not in its ideal finished form when we acquire it. Even shou puerh is not technically finished. More than this, we are collecting a living product. Puerh Tea is alive.

Like the whiskey or wine drinker, we can, in theory, acquire a finished puerh tea product at thirty years old and then preserve it in a similar manner as a bottle of thirty-year old whiskey. I say “in theory” because no real market exists in which people can buy thirty-year old puerh unless you get lucky at Sotheby’s or Asian tea auction and have thousands of dollars to spend. Even if you can afford to buy at this level, we simply have no more highly aged tea left to buy that is not already in the hands of collectors. The vast majority of puerh collectors are buying a younger, raw product that needs development, and so our activity as collectors after buying is that of fermenting a living product.

A thirty-year journey
This “living product” is why I got a bit upset at the Wine Sommelier declaring a fine raw puerh tea as Soapy Artichoke Water. A crucial bit of information is missing here, that the tea is not finished, the tea is not yet what it is meant to be. The wine or whiskey collector tastes a finished product, not the mash. Wine makers taste the grapes and the mash, but the Sommelier probably doesn’t. Yet we drink our “mash” in the form of the raw product, and while we might enjoy the raw product in its new and unfinished state, we are also drinking for the future, what the tea will become. We are drinking to test the progress of our collection, and to judge our care in the meantime.

The mere buyer of puerh tea can acquire tea at any age, and keep it in the bag or wrapper and store it in whatever manner they wish, but the tea has a high probability of failure to turn into greatness. The serious collector, however, provides conditions for the tea for its optimal development. The art and science of fermentation and storage of puerh tea is a difficult task, reducing the likelihood of failure only by degrees unknown even today. We hope to reduce failure in our task of storing and fermenting, but we face the prospect of failure every day in the form of unwanted mold or dryness which kills the living tea over time.

What other form of food or beverage collecting has a thirty-year time span? What other beverage has such stringent requirements for storage with such high prospects for mediocrity or failure? Most beverages are finished when people buy them. Wine bottles that shatter in the cellar or whiskies that develop sludge are not the fault of the collector, necessarily. Virtually all of the work going into wine or whiskey is done by professionals before the buyer acquires them. Likewise, foods like aged cheese get their aging work done by professionals before the cheese is ever put up for sale. Puerh success or failure, on the other hand, is entirely due to the amateur collector today and what that amateur collector does with the tea.

We don’t have aged wood barrels to help us, we have nothing whatsoever provided to us except the raw material to guarantee our success. So we must know just what we taste in this raw material we are given, and in this tasting the Wine Sommelier failed. I myself tasted what she did, and it is a great raw leaf. Will it turn into the best aged puerh? If so, then we know an amateur succeeded because right now 100% of the exact tea she and I tasted is in the hands of amateurs.

I’m tempted to throw out all comparisons to collectors of beverages and food and compare puerh tea with champion horse rearing. Horse buyers assess young stallions or mares for their potential, and know the work involved in turning that young horse into a champion. But unlike puerh tea, horse buyers then turn over the development to a professional, and that professional finishes their work in a few short years. In the thirty-year time span needed for puerh tea, the horse trainer has eight generations done and gone.

Is it done yet? Probably not.
All of this is what makes puerh tea difficult to mainstream. Sure, anyone can buy a puerh tea and drink it at any time. The tea is both good and bad every single day until thirty years pass. How many people buying puerh tea will actually reach that end date? And when that end date arrives, many teas may not be worth drinking. I feel a little sorry for the Wine Sommelier because she will not get the opportunity to taste old tea, as I have, unless she manages to find a collector with such a tea willing to share. I hope she seeks out puerh greatness, because without any experience I fear she will miss out, not understanding what she is drinking. She will not get why I dried steeped fifty year old leaves and reused them over and over because they are just so damn good.

Puerh tea collectors are different from every other collector because we have Mold and Bacteria for friends. We commit to decades of time pondering storage and fermentation. We have a living collection that must develop and ferment over half a human lifetime. We can discuss tea culture and history, language, semiotics or collecting as luxury at any point. But at the end of the day, all this is nothing against the reality of success or failure of puerh tea fermentation and storage. As for me, I will die before I ever fully appreciate what’s mine. That’s what makes me different.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Normal Puerh People

A socially acceptable statement?

Yesterday afternoon I left Milwaukee to return to my home in west central Wisconsin. First I needed to stop in Madison for my annual physical with the doctor I haven’t seen in two years. She is going to stop prescribing my medications unless I show up for labs and a check up, and this is my opportunity to find out how much worse my health is. I also decided to fess up about the amount of tea I drink. My sister thought I looked horrible returning from New York and she banned me from tea for the evening and put me on detox with glycerin suppositories, vitamins, charcoal and magnesium oil spray.

After a whole day with no tea and facing a doctor’s appointment, I made a beeline for Macha Tea Company in Madison. I consumed more than a liter of puerh tea, trying 2009 and 2015 Hai Lang Hao sheng. Oddly I enjoyed the 2015 much more than the 2009 which tasted more like ordinary puerh tea. The 2015 had some notes of cardamom with the florals. The tea house was busy with patrons coming in for matcha and other teas. Conversations about puerh tea, however, repeated a point I had heard more than once in New York: “we need to normalize puerh drinking, mainstream it, and get away from this obsessive stereotypical puerh drinker.” Presumably then more people will start drinking puerh tea.

I’m not sure how I feel about this notion. A bit defensive maybe, because I’m one of the obsessive puerh types, and so are many of the people I chat with. I’m also very fond of my even more obsessive and hoarding friends, and bristle at the idea of a culture that sidelines and defines and separates the oddballs from so-called normals. Watching all the people coming into the tea house for matcha I really wonder if puerh will develop more amongst so-called Normal People. I think puerh people as stereotyped and not “normal” are, nevertheless, “okay.” Whether one is normal and mainstream seems less important in my mind than feeling okay. First of all, what is a normal person drinking puerh tea, aside from the patrons of a dim sum restaurant?

Maybe a normal person will pick up a single cake of puerh tea that he or she doesn’t need to bother storing and drinks it up, and then buys another one. This person likes the tea and maybe drinks it for health, as a change from matcha perhaps. One big downside is that puerh isn’t easy to travel with, forget the cute canister at the office. No one has invented the portable, breathable beeng tin yet. Sheng puerh also doesn’t thermos well, the flavor changes as it sits.

The distinguishing characteristic of the puerh drinker as serious hobbyist is really all about the storage aspect. The fact that the tea is living and breathing and needs care means the puerh owner develops an interest in learning more about fermentation, the microbes involved and how they interact with air and the environment. The real puerh hobbyist is more than just a buyer who reads reviews and decides what teas to buy that will give a nice tea buzz. The puerh person is interested in tasting changes in the tea, not just drinking the tea up but in trying this tea in six months, six years and twenty-six years. The gasp of “ahh” and the wow factor of puerh, the surprises are how the tea continually changes.

The storage and fermentation process of the puerh hobby are endless conversations, and are a big part of social media discussions. This is what differentiates us from other tea drinkers. We spend far more time discussing what happens with the tea we already own.We aren’t merely online tea buyers, consumers of the tea industry whose relationship with tea ends with the purchase and immediate consumption. Puerh is a time-consuming type of tea, a hobby for many. How many hobbies like this can a person undertake? If one has a garden, house upkeep, children, animals, guns, all these things cannot be neglected and neither can puerh tea. Unless of course you are a normal person who buys one cake and drinks it up, never buying another until the one at home is gone. Does the tea industry want this type of buyer more than the one who buys obsessively or collects yearly productions? Is the media more interested in the occasional buyer of the $30 tea cake, or the one who spends thousands of dollars a year, which is serious money? 

In the past couple of weeks I've received messages from worried puerh collectors about how much promotion of puerh I might do while in New York. They fret over tea selling out to people who don't appreciate it and probably won't buy ever again. But I’m not certain that outside of a restaurant or tea house experience how many normal consumers we can expect. I do know that the key to normal consumption lies in convenience and ease. Will someone invent a puerh storage device for people outside of Asia that is simple and convenient, a stylish mini pumidor one shows off to the neighbors and friends, perhaps like a wine cooler? Storing puerh correctly is currently not easy and requires a great deal of attention. Until someone invents storage that makes owning puerh convenient and hip, I think we’re back to oddball hobbyists who are working out creative solutions to home storage. Nobody else will want to bother, doesn’t matter how many puerh events are arranged, how many tea houses offer the tea, or how much press the tea gets.

As for me, I drank my liter at the wonderful tea house and headed off to the doctor’s office where I posted the lowest blood pressure reading in a decade of 110/78. Of course this is achieved with medications too. My doctor focused on my blood pressure, although I’d also filled out the depression survey choosing all the extreme answers and why I want to jump off a bridge most of the time, symptoms she apparently doesn’t find worrying. My big tea confession I obsessed over also failed to get a reaction.

“Who cares? Your blood pressure is down,” she said.

“I still smoke cigars.”

“I don’t want to hear that.”


“I didn’t hear that,” she said.

She thought my New York trip and the Saveur events sounded swell. I have to be careful talking about food-related topics with my doctor, one time she got all worked up over a discussion of cookbooks during an internal exam and let go of the speculum for nearly five minutes.

"I'm from New York. I'd never go back there," she said.

"Why not?"

"Things like nature. Just yesterday we had two cranes in the parking lot, you'll never see that in New York."

"Well, you have mutant pigeons, we don't have those here."

"That poop on my arm. No thanks," she said.

I guess people have their reasons for preferring Wisconsin, things the native born probably can't appreciate. My general living situation otherwise also didn’t concern her, the fact that my agency went belly up and I can't find work, that my car has a dodgy transmission and no brakes right now.  And I didn't get much support when complaining about my son, my troubles applying for food stamps when he makes too much money yet won't spend any on food. 

“Why don’t you write about tea for money? Everyone is drinking tea. I hear about tea all day long."

"It pays in samples, those are expensive."

"What’s it called? How do you spell that tea you’re drinking?”

The big answer to the mainstreaming of puerh is someone needs to change the name, not even a medical doctor can get it unaided. No one agrees on the English spelling anyway. Who wants to tell their friends “I drink pu?” The oddball obsessive types like me, not the ninja crowd at the gym. No one in the locker room will use your shower after a confession like that.

All right, I get it. People are tired of the stereotypes. I will never write about obsessive puerh hoarding ever again. My doctor doesn't care how much tea I drink, and she thinks I'm normal even though I know something is seriously wrong with me and I have to emergency brake my car at stoplights. So I’m gonna go check my crocks now, and when someone changes the name and invents the best storage device ever, I will be first in line to buy it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Blog Awards Day 2, or My Teeth are Floating

Today I reached a milestone of puerh decadence consuming the most tea in a 36 hour period ever. Yesterday's post documented my drinking truce with boychik2989, where I learned that two Puerh heads can seriously put away some tea, and need for photos will stop the insanity. Today continued the tea festivities starting with lunch at Saveur magazine offices. Here is the wine I didn't drink. 

After all one doesn't want to ruin one's palate for an upcoming session. I know that a lot of you enjoy wine and other beverages and many puerh drinkers find parallels in the complex notes of single-malt whiskies with aged tea. I certainly don't disagree but I've mostly given up alcohol. This brings up that Munchies.vice.com article which turned into a topic on Reddit r/tea and has certainly got much attention online in the tea community. Both the Munchies article and the Reddit discussion came up today both at Saveur and later on at a session with In Pursuit of Tea. The Munchies article details a session held by  TwoDog from white2tea when he served puerh tea at an event with Wine Sommeliers, in between six champagne wines and single malt scotches. One of the Wine people described the 2016 Treachery of Storytelling cake as "soapy artichoke water." This resulted in a discussion of expectations of flavor when drinking old arbor puerh and how wine or alcohol people expect a lot of up front mouth flavor and specifically spit not to experience the alcohol effect. By contrast, old arbor tea is entirely about swallowing and drinking with the body.

Today during the wine talk at Saveur, I kept thinking of the phrase "soapy artichoke water." Back in August I attended a tea tasting with TwoDog where Treachery was sessioned. I haven't written much about this session. Treachery was the third tea, following Mengsong tea club balls and the old arbor Mengsong 100g from the August club. The fourth tea was the 2002 Jiaji cake from white2tea. Then TwoDog asked the group to show hands to indicate which tea they liked the best. The majority chose the Jiaji. Now, I'm not sure whether the preference may simply have been about the more aged offering. The Jiaji is very tippy, and nicely aged with the old book flavor I like. But it's nowhere in the league of Treachery, which is a once in a lifetime tea as far as I'm concerned. When tasting with my body, the Treachery is a serious tea to sit with, not taste and spit. The body is the judge. But when the group preferred the Jiaji, I decided right then to stop blogging. I couldn't write about that session. I couldn't keep going as a blogger in that moment. 

Obviously I haven't stopped writing. I confirmed with Saveur that the Wine Sommelier speaking today isn't the Soapy Artichoke Lady. I just watched the other bloggers. Many didn't try the wines mainly because they were served before lunch and the bloggers obviously did not want to consume the wine before getting some food going. But then the wines were removed from the tables before the meal because other wines were planned for the food. And I noted that the Sommelier had a spit glass and she spit her wine, and the bloggers did not have spit glasses. Some were disappointed to lose the wines before trying them but no one said anything. More than anything else I did not have a loss, because I wanted to save myself, my body, for the tea I planned to drink very soon.
I am fortunate that my friend Lew Perin of Babelcarp.org arranged a tea session at In Pursuit of Tea. Lew writes the best Twitter feed. If Tweets can be food, his are like petit fours, little treats for the tea drinker's day. Snippets of puerh obsessions. I managed to find my way to In Pursuit of Tea from the Saveur offices, skipping the desserts and afternoon talks. I have not heard of In Pursuit of Tea because apparently I live under a rock or am buried under a mound of tongs. But I looked up their site in advance. We began a round robin of musical puerh chairs, taking turns brewing the teas each of session participants brought. I of course had my 1998 Yiwu cake from white2tea. Lew brought some 1990s Hong Kong natural storage teas. In Pursuit of Tea provided first flush Darjeeling for starters, then a 2015 Jingmai and a 1990s Orange Mark with natural dry storage. 

In Pursuit of Tea stores puerh in bamboo dim sum steamers.

We discussed the drinking with the body, and I cannot drink teas such as we had today without feeling my body. The entire experience is the body, and sitting together with other people sharing the same awareness. Each tea offers something unique. My Yiwu has that old book flavor I love. The Jingmai is a young tea with a floral flavor profile and excellent processing. Mr. Perin's Hong Kong storage teas contrasted the drier storage teas with sweetness, dark and sticky. The Orange Mark is a tour-de-force of a tea that I can only describe as the perfume of one's grandmother in her drawer of notions, like pieces of cloth stored in wood drawers with sachets. Thick, medicinal with that old lady powder, or my own grandmother's lingering scent of Adorn hairspray on her braids wound around her head. 

Ten or more steeps on every tea, my body in a place between worlds. All sorts of things look interesting when tea drunk, such as the teaware and storage jars at In Pursuit of Tea.

No, puerh tea isn't merely about the body effects, but neither is the tea merely about flavor. It's all of it, the whole experience. The long legs sitting in the belly, the medicine in the throat, the florals on the tongue. The black pepper notes that require nine steeps merely to bring forth such a tang from the leaves. We agreed that no matter what tea a person prefers, our preferences are colored by our own experience, this is the starting point. I do believe that time and experience shapes one's preferences, such that I know what makes the Orange Mark special, but I also know what makes excellently aired Hong Kong storage so wonderful, and why a dry stored Yiwu is splendid, and a first flush Darjeeling is a prize to be savored in the early months after harvest. And I know why the Treachery of Storytelling is a very important tea, but that doesn't mean I am not enjoying a Jingmai too. Not every tea needs a decision or judgement of "would I buy this?" The session trumps the need for a conclusion, it is the session itself which matters.

Lew put me on a subway train to get back to Brooklyn for the next Blog awards event. I got out of the subway but I was too tea drunk to find my hotel. I wandered around and found a deli and then this Orthodox Church. 

I completely missed seeing the cop car and saw it later in the photo. Whoops. Luckily no one has invented the puerh breathalyzer yet because I'd be in the can right now, except with my groceries and cane I can pass as a homeless bag lady stumbling around on a 24 oz beer buzz. I found a bench to sit on, and eventually the presence of mind to reorient myself with the sun's direction to find my hotel. 

The Blog Awards ceremony featured fine gourmet hors d'ouvres and my favorite, traditionally air cured hard salami. I avoided the raw tuna and scallops. I didn't win my category, the sourdough blog won it. One of the Obsessive category bloggers told me, "I don't know why I'm listed in the Obsessives category, I'm just detail-oriented." Yup. 

My tea started wearing off and the food resulted in a case of heartburn that I cured with a mint. One must be careful with food mixed together, some combinations just don't sit well. Just to be clear it wasn't the liters of tea, not at all. 

In fact, I really needed more tea and asked Saveur's Digital Editor Max Falkowitz if he wanted to share a session of my Yiwu. He did. We went through fifteen plus rounds and he told me about a trip he is planning to Yunnan this weekend to document autumn tea with white2tea, so we have this to look forward to in the coming months. "I just want to continue to raise awareness about this type of tea," he said. Here are the steeped out leaves.

I'm incredibly grateful to all the people who made this trip possible for me, my sister, my son, my Steepster, Instagram and SlackChat pals, all the readers who contributed to the crowdfunding and t-shirts, and every one of you folks who read tea blogs and drink tea. They say blogging is a dying art. I'm grateful for the folks at Saveur for continuing to promote tea, the art of blogging, and for inviting an incontinent old tea lady to New York City to celebrate the best of food and drink. I still have part of tomorrow to enjoy the city before flying back to Wisconsin just in time for my annual physical. I'm working on the phrase "Doctor, I've been drinking a bit of tea..." We will see if I can get it out of my mouth this time.

Requiescat in Pace.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Saveur Blog Awards Day 1

1998 Yiwu by white2tea
A long journey to tea heaven started yesterday in my death trap of a car driving to Milwaukee to stay overnight with my sister and catch the plane to NYC the following morning. Now, my car is exactly 22 years old, what hasn't rusted and fallen off is now caving in from the roof. Cracked manifold, corroded radiator, power steering squealing and not just in cold weather, and last night some sort of horrible high pitched squeaking from the back axle somewhere that I convinced myself is due to all the rain we've had lately. But as least I know where my car is. Our nephew called last night after I arrived.

"Auntie, I can't find my car. I was just buying drinks for everyone at the bar, and I don't know why these cops gave me a ticket and drove me around for an hour. They put me on a bus going north." 

As far as I know, he's still looking. He doesn't drink tea, is why.

The Saveur events started this evening at the William Vale hotel with a cocktail party.  Was starved not having eaten all day, and the munchies offered at the cocktail party consisted of a veiny cheese, some sort of bread pieces the size of a thumb, grapes, and some very nice people. I'm a quarter century older than everything and everyone. I can be a talker but I'm self-conscious as a person socially because I spill food on myself, pee when I laugh and I don't get the blissful effect from alcohol that most others get. But I'm a sport. I hydrated with orange juice and seltzer and I repeated the same same conversation five times with different groups of people. 

Me: "Hi, nice to meet you."

Others: "So, are you one of the bloggers then?" 

Me: "Yes." 

Others: "And what kind of blog do you write?" 

Me: "Tea, pu--"

Others: "Tea! Oh that's wonderful, I drink a bit of tea. Mostly coffee." 

Me: "Well, a particular kind of tea, I just write about one kind of tea. Puerh tea." 

Others: "It's called what?" 

Me: "Puerh. Fermented tea cakes." 

One other: "Oh, you mean those disk type things? I've seen those around. Haven't tried it myself." 

Me: "It produces hoarding behavior." 

That usually ends the conversation.

Had a nice chat with a waiter holding a tray of wine glasses. She suggested I go upstairs and check out the bathroom, but so many stairs I'd need a lot of tea beforehand. And I needed food. Hadn't eaten since breakfast. 

Then I found a rescue message from boychik2989 on Instagram. Thank god, she's coming over and bringing teaware. Now if you use Instagram, and you drink puerh, you probably follow her feed. She and I have been playing an evil game for a year or so now. Both of us have a teaware problem which has got worse due to one another. We take turns looking for enticing, heavenly pieces of teaware on IG, tag each other and see who cracks and buys something. I didn't have a teaware problem myself until she came along, but now I have no available surface left on my dresser or anywhere else in my room for that matter. According to her it's my fault she has no drawers in the kitchen for utensils but I really don't think anyone will believe that story. 

Boychik brought puerh-sk's 2015 Gushu Naka to go with my 1998 Yiwu from white2tea. We drank both teas at the same time out on the deck, the Gushu Naka in her cups and the Yiwu in my cups, which she noticed to my immense satisfaction are Lin's Ceramics cups. We debated whether or not we really have a teaware problem and agreed the thing to do is blame it on our kids. I lost count on the steeps after ten rounds of each of the teas and then I think we doubled that. There is no way I can drink past her. We stopped at a point of mutual agreement to take photos. You'll have to check her feed for the tea and teaware. I contented myself by photographing a glass we used for the rinse.

The 2015 Gushu Naka is a tea with presence. Strongly bitter with thick stems and sturdy leaves, this tea has an incredibly long huigan. It doesn't leave the mouth and has strong legs extending into the chest and belly. Boychik noted the full mouth action, this tea coats everything it touches and lingers almost numbing the tongue with intensity. Chasing each cup of the Naka with the 1998 Yiwu made the Yiwu taste incredibly sweet by comparison. We didn't come close to brewing out either tea in three hours of drinking, so she took the leaves home. I'm so thrilled I got the chance to meet this lovely lady and after all that tea to feel like myself again. Hanging around a tea buddy like her, I don't feel awkward and I don't have to explain. In fact, I can feel normal which of course is true all along. What the tea does is not my fault. 

All this means I'm in fine form all set for tomorrow!

I'm incredibly grateful to my readers and friends who made this trip possible for me. Thank you so much to everyone. I promise I'll make an effort tomorrow at the other events and will steer people away from the tea on Black Friday lists.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

2014 Xigui Ball

2014 "Xigui" tea ball 250 g
I’ve been busy getting ready for the upcoming trip to NYC for the Saveur Blog awards. I want to thank everyone who participated in the crowd funding at GoFundMe, the trip fund is now at $1210/1400. There are no words to express my gratitude at this opportunity to go and get away from my son for a few days, and attend an event like this. Right now I’m cooking away trying to get some meals in the freezer for when I’m gone so there are no more complaints. Next week I’ll post some updates to my blog while I’m at the events, so stay tuned! The fund is still open until it reaches $1400, if anyone else wishes to participate. Until I leave I’m also still mailing t-shirts and tea samples from the crocks to those who wish to get a shirt, see link above right.

My real plan for the trip is to bring along some puerh tea and see how many people are willing to give it a try. I’m going big with a super nice tea too. Why not drink the good stuff, right? So I’m bringing my 1990s Yiwu from white2tea for brew heaven instead of cocktails. We will see how many brave foodies there are in NYC.

In the meantime, I’m moving my puerh collection off the porch with the flooding rains we are having. Humidity is great but then seven inches of rain is a bit too much, remnants of Hurricane Paine. Now, I live on the opposite side of the continent from hurricanes but this one is actually drifting up to my area in the form of torrential rain. This is an unfortunate event for the farmers here trying to get corn and soybeans dried down to harvest. Even when the rain stops, which is not likely for another week at least, the ground is too muddy for combining crops. The machinery will get stuck in the fields. Prices for grain are so low now too, just adding to more to Hurricane Paine.

While moving my puerh, I came across a tea ball I purchased last spring on EBay and decided to crack it open. This is a 2014 “Xigui” tea that I’ve had on my Watch list for well over a year. The tea arrived last May during a hot spell smelling like wet daisies and green tomato vines. So I let it enjoy the summer heat until now to air out. I bought this tea because I have several friends who like Xigui tea, assuming it is real Xigui, and I have a friend obsessed with tea balls.

2014 "Xigui" 250g tea ball
This tea is made by Gu-Zi-Qin, which I understand to be a wholesale brand. I’ve seen this brand on Alibaba and a few other places. For awhile I was watching a 2012 Xigui, but that was fairly pricy at $149/357g so I didn’t buy that before it sold out. This tea ball is 250g for $34 including free shipping. I’m assuming the tea ball is the same tea as the 357g 2014 Xigui beengcha the same shop sells.

Surprisingly, the tea ball is less expensive at 14 cents/gram than the beencha, which sells for $68, or 19 cents a gram. You’d get a better value buying two of the tea balls and get 500g for $70. My expectations are always low for EBay and for wholesale puerh brands. Having a list of cheaper teas though can help one avoid buying more expensive teas when trying to stick to a budget. Since I’ve been watching the Xigui productions from this wholesale label for nearly two years, I can say they do sell out eventually just like tea anywhere else. The EBay seller of the tea ball also has a 2016 label in stock.

The "hole" is more of a nipple.
My opinion thus far is that this tea is likely autumn tea. The tea ball is hand compressed, which means hand formed by twisting a cloth full of steamed leaves and pressing the tea together. So the tea leaves separate easily from the tea ball into large, long leaves with minimal breakage. No worries for tea pick injuries! Also, this is good news for storage as more heavily compressed tuos are harder to age in my climate. And if this is indeed Xigui tea, the tea should be consumed within 5-10 years at the latest since it is likely to fade.

Top side of the ball.
Initial steeping shows the tea has tightened up, though still green of course. The soup is a clear and dark yellow gold, with some respectable thickness. Processing is remarkably clean with minimal char, unexpected for a wholesale brand. 

Nice long leaves, minimal breakage.
This tea has floral and honey notes with a light bitter finish. A very pleasant cup, and I’m of the opinion this is definitely northern tea. It doesn’t have the punch of a spring tea picking of course, but enjoyable to drink now or let sit for a few years. This tea wasn’t done after eight steepings before I moved on to something more pungent. I’m certain it’s good for at least 10-12 brews.

Second steeping
The wrapper is a cloth-like paper tied with a ribbon so the tea ball is easily retied into its wrapper for storage. This tea is a nice stocking stuffer for your puerh loving friends in real life, which of course are many. I’m kidding. But I know some of you participate in Secret Santas with your online tea buddies, and I’m sure that any puerh lover or puerh newbie will enjoy this as a treat regardless of their taste in puerh. I forgot to take a photo of the wet leaves, but picture green and wet.

Next week I’ll write from New York, stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Puerh Madness

Fundraiser Getting Close!

I want to thank everyone who has generously donated to my Saveur Blog Awards NYC trip fund. As of right now, looks like I’m going to be able to go. The fund is at $900/1400, with only $500 left to raise. I’m hoping to raise the remainder by September 20. I will leave the GoFundMe going until just before the trip. I am very humbled by the support of the tea community, and grateful to everyone who reads this blog. I'm so grateful for the nomination for the Saveur Magazine Blog Awards 2016. You can contribute to the trip fund here, or purchase a t-shirt at the link in the upper right of this page and I will add a nice tea sample from my crocks to the package. Thanks everyone!

Puerh Madness

In the year 2020, one morning at the local community mental health center….

Therapist. Good morning! I’m glad to see everyone here today taking the first step in dealing with your problem.

Betty. Is this the Tea group?

Jeff. I don’t have a problem.

Therapist. The first step in making positive changes in our lives is recognizing the issues and the symptoms which lead to difficulties.

Ray. My probation officer sent me here.

Betty. My husband says I have a tea problem. I’ve been thinking about it, but really he wants to throw out my cakes which is a bigger issue.

Therapist. What cakes are these? Like chocolate cake?

Betty. No. My puerh cakes.

Therapist. Your pu errr cakes…I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a pu errr cake before.  

Betty. Of course not.

Therapist. Well, this group is for tea addiction. The Sugar group meets at eleven.

Ray. I don’t think she knows what a puerh cake is.

Tom. I’m guessing not.

Ray. Lady, a puerh cake is a type of tea.

Betty. Yes, they have certain recipes.

Therapist. So you do bake them?

Ray. No, she orders them. Online.

Therapist. So a…pu errr cake has a recipe?

Tom. It’s spelled puer-h.

Ray. No, it isn’t. It’s puer.

Jennifer. I think it’s pu’er actually.

Tom. Pu-er cha, Are we going to argue the pinyin? Because if we are really gonna I have Pleco on my phone.

Jennifer. Well, I have Babelcarp on my Twitter feed.

Therapist. You are supposed to turn off your phone for group. Now, I’m guessing that pu errr is really a type of tea you are talking about?

Ray. No.

Betty. Yes it is. My spouse thinks I have too much.

Therapist. So what does the recipe you are talking about have to do with it?

Fred. An example would be a Xiaguan 8653. Starts with an X.

Therapist. Sha--Zee ahh…what?

Fred. Xiaguan 8653.

Therapist. I see you must know a lot about this pu errr tea.

Ray. Damn right!

Fred. Some guy told me on TeaChat back in the day that 05 Xiaguan 8653 sucks. Turned out his one is the last batch of the year...a thin, paper non ironcake.

Tom. Yup, no accounting for taste.

Fred. He paid 1/3 the price I paid, but the satisfaction is probably 1/10 or less.

Therapist. Okay, let’s get back to the topic. We are discussing tea addiction. Does anyone else want to share what kind of tea is your particular addiction?

Fred. There’s several different 2005 productions of that 8653, some with significant differences in quality and a large price variation.

Therapist. Anyone?

Betty. I have a little oolong in the cupboard someplace.

Therapist. Okay.

Jennifer. I used to drink matcha but now I think it tastes like dirt.

Fred. This is the list of 8653 made in ‘05. Jan/Feb 2005. Thick paper Traditional Fonts 8653 iron.

Tom. Got that one.

Fred. 2005 Thick paper Traditional Fonts 8653 non-iron.

Tom. Drank mine.

Therapist. Anyone else?

Fred. March 2005, Thick paper Simplified Fonts 8653 iron.

Tom. Buddy wanted to trade me for a bit of that. I said forget it.

Therapist. I mean, what other kinds of tea do you collect?

Betty. Never swap tea, heaven only knows where it’s been.

Fred. Then we have 2005 Thick paper Simplified Fonts 8653 non iron.

Betty. People and their dog hair, bedbugs, mold, cigarette smoking, pubic hair--

Therapist. Okay that's fine. What I want to focus on now is the harm caused by tea addiction. Ray, can you share your recent issue with housing?

Ray. Yeah, some cop arrested me after my neighbors complained about the stink from my apartment. I told ‘em it’s shou puerh and nothing to worry about. Landlord wanted in, I said ****off.

Fred. In July ‘05 we had Thin paper Simplified Fonts 8653 iron cakes.

Ray. So the landlord calls the fire inspector. Says I am a fire hazard, too much tea. Told him I was getting a pumidor, but Restore can’t deliver it for two weeks.

Tom. Wine cooler, or old fridge?

Ray. Old fridge. Kinda dorm-ish, but bigger. My goal was to clear off the sofa.

Jennifer. I just keep mine in the kitchen.

Betty. Oh, god, seriously?

Ray. Next thing you know, I get an eviction notice slapped on my door.  

Therapist. Thank you, Ray. Now here we have an example of the harm caused by what we call hoarding, a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Fred. Also in July 2005, we got Thin paper Simplified Fonts 8653.

Tom. Yeah I don’t think that one compares with the iron cake, but it’s arguable.

Ray. Hey I want you to know that landlord booted me because he could rent market rate to his cousin. I know that for a fact. Had nothing to do with my tea.

Therapist. I think your probation includes no tea shopping.

Jennifer. Geez, where are you living now?

Ray. In my storage garage. I got the rest of my collection in there.

Betty. Maybe you just need to keep your tea in the garage instead of at home.

Ray. Yeah, but what about the winter?

Therapist. So Ray is currently homeless and living with his tea. This is an extreme example, but hoarding can lead to homelessness and spousal problems.

Betty. Oh, that’s so true. My spouse is a huge problem.

Jennifer. I know, right?

Fred. FT also commissioned the "logo cakes" FT8653-5 iron and FT8653-5. FT means for the Taiwan market.

Tom. Taiwan storage sucks, I’m sorry.

Betty. I just keep mine in crocks like Cwyn does.

Tom. Cwyn doesn’t know shit.

Therapist. Language, please.

Fred. The difficulties with storage involve aerobic and anaerobic processes of fermentation. If you close up the tea you only get anaerobic. Need circulation.

Ray. See that’s why I got the fridge. Now I need to get it delivered to the storage garage.

Tom. A fridge is just as bad, all that plastic and rubber sealing.

Betty. But my tea smells real good.

Ray. You gotta own your home, otherwise the government’s gonna tell you what to do.

Fred. But the FT logo cakes are typically milder than the usual iron pressings for the Chinese market or the minority market.

Therapist. Fred, I need to stop you right here. We will not tolerate slurs against minorities at the mental health center.

Fred. I mean the Chinese minorities like the tribes in Mongolia or Tibet.

Therapist. I’m talking about people of color. And I need you to stop that right now. Does anyone else see a problem here?

Jennifer. I do. Can anyone tell me if the mail’s delivering, I got tea club stuck in customs.

Betty. Oh, I hate that.

Ray. Lady, do you know anything at all whatsoever about puerh tea? Because if not, I’m leaving.

Fred. Minorities is the correct term in China. But like I was saying, the Taiwan taste is somewhat milder than the Chinese market, hence the special pressings of the 8653-5 done back in 2005. So the 5 tells you what year and you can recognize the FT that way.

Tom. For most people FT is just a phase. Tuition tea.

Fred. Depends, sometimes the price structure is affected, but the good news is nobody fakes these.

Tom. True that.

Therapist. What steps can you take to begin to reduce tea hoarding and addiction?

Ray. Pray?

Jennifer. Oh god.

Betty. What?

Tom. Exactly.

Jennifer. Just got a tweet. White2Tea is having a Mystery Sale.

Therapist. One step you can take is to try and focus on the triggers that spur your need to collect. These triggers can include moments of stress, such as a bad day at work, or maybe a lack of sleep the night before. These are accompanied by a rise in blood pressure which can, for example, increase the need for dopamine response in the brain.

Let me share with you a brochure I have on triggers, I have a whole box right here if you need more.

Wait. Where did everyone go?