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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

2016 Into the Mystic

white2tea usually sends a sample with a purchase
I received a sample of 2016 “Into the Mystic” from white2tea this past spring when I purchased 2016 We Go High, a tea I wanted to buy and subsequently wrote about. Over the summer I completely forgot about this sample, until last week when I found it amongst some tea ware on a shelf. The bag held a couple of small chunks and a lot of loose leaf which had gone a bit dry and lost much of its odor. I emptied the bag into a gaiwan and wiped the inner lid with a damp paper towel and let the moisture work its way into the tea for a week. The tea woke up nicely and rewarded me with a floral and fruity nose.

With this tea, white2tea continues a literary theme of mysticism which points to an oft-asked question about tea, and puerh especially. That is, does tea enhance meditation or mystical experiences? For me, I distinguish meditation from contemplation. Meditation is an exercise of observing the self and the breath and any sensation as a practice toward deepening ones attention to anything that might arise in the sitting state. The goal is a stripping of one’s senses. We have neuro-image brain scans of Buddhist monks in a meditation state. Areas of the brain active during meditation are in the back right side of the brain, completely separate from the logical reasoning left hemisphere, and divorced from awareness of bodily sensation. The whole point is to move away from logic and reasoning and sensory experiences such as aesthetic appreciation.

Even before modern neuro-imaging, ancient mystics like John of the Cross in 16th century had already discovered that union with the divine lies well apart from physical sensation, and he emphasized strongly the dulling of the senses in his poem Dark Night of the Soul: “In darkness and concealment, my house is now at rest…with his gentle hand he wounded my neck and caused all my senses to be suspended.” John repeats the phrase “house at rest,” quite often, meaning he was free of emotional situations or other necessary activity. Our Buddhist brothers found much in common with Carmelite and Cistercian monks in the 20th century in sharing meditation practices. Widespread agreement exists among contemplative monks about the nature of meditation, and people interested in such practice seek out experienced teachers.

I think that between centuries of practice around the world, and today’s modern brain images, we have a fairly good idea of what a human mystical experience is not. The real thing is not about taking any substance to influence the senses, but rather the opposite experience of emptiness and sensory rest. This explains why the logical reasoning of science is in one part of the brain, and mystical experiences occur in a different part of the brain. Although one may be aware of the other, they do not cross (apparently Einstein’s intact brain is said the contain a greater than normal amount of connective brain tissue, leading a theory that he had more access than most people between pure experience and logical reasoning). Alas, so many people place all their marbles in only one type of human experience and debunk the other, and this is just missing out, in my opinion. I can only think of how much more a fly sees than I can see, and how much more a dog smells to know that my poor senses are nowhere near to perceiving true reality, inasmuch as we need to agree a table is a table simply to get by in the basic rubrics of living.

Contemplation, on the other hand, is a focused attention of the senses on some aspect of the holy, of nature or of an experience with the goal of uplifting the senses. Contemplation goes well beyond flavor notes of “this tastes like corn” into a deeper understanding of how things grow, cells and sunshine, human labor, life etc. We think beyond mere appearances to the nature of how things come to be, how a tea arrives at our door. For this I apply my reasoning to appreciate a greater whole, this is a higher order thinking skill indeed, but thinking is contemplation and not mystical experience, an exercise and work rather than a state of rest.

Tea is a beverage, so I feel aesthetics are the proper approach, because I want to experience all the sensory pleasures a tea offers. Instead of resting my senses, I fully engage with them. If some want to use the word contemplation, I might offer that contemplation is what follows after an aesthetic moment, when I think about the tastes and body sensations I have had, when I reflect on what is going on with a tea experience. This is why I cannot agree with the notion that tea is somehow divine, or part of the goddess etc., because I distinguish aesthetic pleasures of tea drinking from the thinking activity of contemplation, as well as from mystical experience which has nothing whatsoever to do with sensation or thinking. One can drink tea with aesthetic and sensory pleasure and this suffices, at least for me. In fact, I want to experience tea with the fullest sensory pleasure possible.

Thus I take the name and wrapper design chosen by white2tea as a literary notion rather than a statement about the tea. While indeed the tea may convey various bodily sensations, and it does, and perhaps give me enough of a tea “high” to feel a pseudo moment of mystical indwelling, all this is sheer folly, or more positively, an aesthetic pleasure. I am not fooled that a tea high equals mystical experience, because a substance has acted upon me and my senses are engaged rather than at rest. Of course, I cannot speak for TwoDog, but he is a trained artist and works with various themes in blending and naming his teas, so at minimum I take the name of this tea in a literary manner rather than as a fact about the tea itself.

I brewed 11g of tea in just under 120g of water, but
used a larger pot to allow for expansion.
The beeng is stone-pressed, a format that white2tea appears to be getting away from lately in favor of heavier machine pressing. I went heavy with 11g in about 120 ml of water boiled in a clay kettle. Based on the wet leaf smell, I detect a blend of both southern and northern teas. The description in the catalogue is an “out there blend,” and this is fairly obvious. I notice bud fuzz in the first cup and the brew is very oily thick and grape-y smelling, surely they wouldn’t add in camellia taliensis…would they? Surely not.

Second steeping on a sunny Sunday.
My bamboo tea tables are all cracked,
hence the cutting board.
This thought brings up a sort of puerh collector paranoia about white2tea that enough of us are having these days, so I might as well just say it. I think the lack of description about the provenance of the tea leaves made a fine statement about the puerh market two years ago, and yes, we get it that the market is all lies. But nowadays, alas, the lack of information on white2tea’s puerh cakes really works against the teas rather than for them. The notion of trusting the vendor has limits, and while I do trust this vendor, any creeping in of doubt is not the fault of the customer. Even I am having a more difficult time than ever selecting a tea from the catalog, because I cannot tell if I am getting something similar to what I already own or a unique experience. Every year we find more places to spend tea dollars and let us face it, those teas with more information are more likely to get the money if any doubt creeps in. We need a bit more information, especially when collections grow larger and tea vendors have more and more choices with little to distinguish between them.

This is really why I did not buy 2016 Into the Mystic blind, and also why so many of us are sitting around waiting for somebody else to try the 2017 offerings before spending a lot of money with this vendor. We have to wait for “word of mouth,” and even the bloggers seem to be waiting lately. The only real way to know what you might get from white2tea is by making tea friends with more money to spend who buy the cakes or samples and they can hopefully tell you what they think. I am not ashamed to say white2tea is one of the best blenders with the finest leaf quality I can buy, and one of my favorite places to browse and shop. But it is getting tougher for me to figure out what to buy from one of my favorite vendors. An upside is the teas are usually better a year later, such as this tea probably is, so I can save up.  

A thick porcelain teapot holds heat well
and does not cost a fortune.
Celadon teapot by camelliasinensis.com
About 36 USD
I hear the naysayers though, and I am truly not among them. I think to appreciate the best factory teas, a puerh collector needs to try better leaf and better processing and white2tea is all about the aesthetics of the leaf. “Into the Mystic” is definitely a literary statement about leaf aesthetics. This tea is as cleanly processed as you can possibly find, an interesting blend spanning the whole of Yunnan province. The tea has a heavy body feel, and best not to have any other caffeine in your system when you drink this, for the tea is very strong. I appreciate the florals but also the tea’s bitterness, powerful stuff, no insipid watery third rate leaf. You need a strong constitution not merely because of the bitterness. The whole of the tea is equal to an effect of moonshine on the body. I am certain I can put this tea into my car’s gas tank and it would run.

My first steeping has some notes of oatmeal cookie, then subsequent steepings are fruity and floral with darker apricot notes, the blend of regions is hard to miss. This cake is likely to age the florals first, and fade these while the bitter leaves turn over a longer period to sweetness. I am tea stoned on the fourth steeping and walked off to try and find my cat outside, and left the tea in the teapot, my brain is gone.

Over an hour later as I am typing all this I still feel it. I notice a bit of sour aftertaste that I think is my fault for allowing the loose tea dry out in the bag for too many months. Samples in bags are never the best way to evaluate a tea compared to drinking from the cake, and normally I prefer to buy the entire cake. I understand the budgetary need to buy samples, but samples in a bag are not representative of the full beeng.

Astringency creeps in, but when I am tea high I just want more. I left my fifth cup to go cold while typing this post, and quaffing the tea fast the cup is bitter, punishingly bitter, a quality in its favor. I know for a fact in my gut and brain this tea is better now than it probably was a year ago when pressed. I really do not want to like this tea, or more accurately my wallet does not want to like an ouch $149/200g, but YES I like it, way too much and the script in my head gets highlighter pen on lines like “all the crap tea you have had lately old girl yes you have, many good teas out there for less money, but admit it, none of those can hold a candle to leaf like this.” I suppose I can remain happy with cheaper teas but it’s worth it to remind myself that better tea is out there and white2tea has it. One must drink the so-so stuff to appreciate good tea, and keep drinking that tuition before dropping money on the better teas.

Because this is one strong tea, enjoy the first 3-4 steepings and ease up. Maybe refrigerate the leaves for another day.. This is not an everyday drinker tea and frankly I do not feel many stomachs could or should drink Mystic very often. This is the bottle of expensive cognac you want to pour a small glass from on occasion and drink up the cake slowly. Save a good chunk of it for long term, years down the road.

Notice the large leaf at the top left of the photo,
it is not even unfurled yet after six steepings.
My photo of the leaves shows they did not even fully open, so I kept them until day two. Saving leaves will not work in warm and humid weather, but we have a crisp and dry autumn day and no worries for me the tea will turn to smelly mush. I kept the tea for three days and went on steeping, I increased steep time starting about steep eight, and well past ten the tea is still going, the bitterness less intense. The florals in the empty cup are nice to sniff.

Mystic is worth the money, damn my wallet. Fk what anything else thinks, fk u w2t a million thanks keep at it please-please-please and god bless.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

It ain't done yet...

People send me their trash and their treasures. I get boxes from people who really wanna get rid of tea less than ten years old. Hell, less than twenty years old! Then I will find another box in the mail with guess what, the same brand ten years older, just a small tiny chunk, because this person is sending me their treasure. From Dayi to Xiaguan, I get the gamut in the mail of teas one person rejects yet another peep somewhere else in the world has found the same teas age just beautifully.

A ten year old or younger tea is not aged, nowhere near done with its cycle of fermentation. Sheng puerh requires a very long time investment and patience to turn into something nice. How many samples and cakes have I received that are so young? The tea is “flat,” they say. Yet it is merely sleeping, in a stage or a stage-between-stages. I can wake it up quite readily with a little heat and humidity and it says “hello” to me. Or I get packages with a tuo someone says “I will never drink this, take it for your crocks,” and the next week I get a similar tiny tuo chunk from someone else who says “this is so good,” and it is a twenty year-plus aged tuo, darkened to a lovely chocolate color, a red ringed cup that fades to a smooth honey and I think what a good job this person did in choosing and in preserving what was probably a $2 investment. That person might happily take the reject tuos I got last week because they know good tea is all about the wait.

For all the focus we put on “drinking your teas,” we need to put an equal or greater focus on fermentation, on aging, on waiting it out. I am at the point now where I know I will not drink everything I own, and I am fine with that. I am aware that this tea is not just for me, somewhere down the line somebody else will drink this. As with owning a house, I am a temporary caretaker because this tea will endure long past my lifespan as an older person now. 

Quite honestly the fun I have with sheng puerh lately is more about the process of fermentation and aging than with drinking. As for drinking, I feel more like the guy checking the whiskey barrels with a hammer and tap, giving the brew a taste here and there to see how it is coming along. Perhaps for those of you who send me teas, your expectation is that I will drink them and yet the reality is I will merely taste them, because I cannot know what they will be in twenty more years. Everything you send is too young, minus the rare submission of a completely dead, soaked to the bone overly wet tea that is one step away from compost.

How can anyone know what a tea will be in twenty years when it is younger than ten? I am here to take the pressure off you. Everyone is so anxious about a process that will take two or three decades. If your tea is less than ten years old, you have no idea what will happen and yet the tea itself is far more resilient than you think. A little mold here, a little dry air there, a bit of everything will happen to each tea, even those in so-called ”ideal” conditions. Most of us will not see the final result of our teas, but then most of us will not get to see our great-grandchildren either, unless we started early with both endeavors. Both our teas and our grandchildren need to survive, that is the important thing. Anything we have done to ensure the survival of these, then we have done our job and the next gen needs to take over.

My grandfather died a very wealthy man who grew disgusted with his one remaining child and her children, and he left his fortune to a charity. One can say well, a man can do what he chooses with his wealth, and indeed he may. But would he change his mind now that he has great-grandchildren who have grown and graduated college and started lucrative careers? Of course they did this mainly with his seminal contribution and not much more, but really grandfather gave up too early on his efforts. It isn’t about the investment he might have made but rather the vote of confidence, the nod to endurance, the passing of the baton. Make plans for one’s children and one’s tea, in that order. Even if all you have is a plan and crossed fingers, we cannot know how everything will turn out, only that we can give the best possible start. Today’s “tuition” is tomorrow’s success.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

2017 Best Tea Books

Tea chatting online is a daunting activity, with puerh fanatics known to lurk for years before saying hello. You can avoid the awkwardness of speaking up about your favorite tuos with this clever guide. Before sticking yourself out there in the minefield, read this book for tips on sounding erudite about bricks while avoiding tea trolls. Full explanations of Simplified vs. Complicated Yun will appeal to beginners as well as experienced fanatics, as will the chat applications available on Ubuntu. Probably the most useful chapter is Google-ready tea phrases in a variety of languages, including apology texts in Japanese. 

Finally a breath of fresh air in the field of seemingly endless gender studies, this time focusing on tea from the male perspective. No doubt the chapter called Down Town Abbey which focuses on tea, politics and London men's clubs will result in at least one well-attended forum at this year's MLA conference. Sorry ladies, but you are sooo last decade. It's time to step aside and finally allow men their day on top of the tea world. Surely they have more to say.

This timely publication is a straightforward how-to from soup to nuts on pressing your own puerh without ever leaving your sofa. Contains necessary information like bulk mailing producers and disguising third party Lincang sources. The book has a 200 page chapter on designing your own wrappers and nei fei, and examples of date stamp fonts and holostrips that rival even Taetea's best fakers. Real or pretend, you can do it yourself and cut out the middleman. This book will pay for itself in no time once you start emailing friends and selling tea on Instagram like the other big guys do.

A typical tell-all confessional from the perspective of the child dealing with a parent's puerh hobby. You might need to skip past the whiny chapters on the author's therapy experience and 12-Step co-dependency groups. The book contains a surprisingly sensitive distinction between puerh collecting and actual hoarding, but also some rather alarming advice on selling beengs without mother noticing they are gone. I stopped drinking for one day after finishing this.

A software application does not really qualify as a book, but nobody really reads anymore and this app is so timely. The features are simply amazing. The app is a browser .EXT that reverts Yunnan Sourcing back to its classic design, so you don't need to bother with the new catalog format!

I like the Doom Cart feature. All I do is type in the cake I want and the app finds it with the current price and adds it to the Doom Cart with an ongoing price tally, and any applicable buyer points. Whenever I load my browser, my Cart automatically updates with price increases or discounts.

To your desktop you can add on optional credit card interest calculators, savings planners and current vouchers. I haven't tried the new Bitcoin wallet bots yet, these might out-date themselves rather quickly but they are a cool idea for earning free money to buy tea. This fully automated language translation app works with Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, GSA, FxiOS, Maxthon, CriOS, Mobile and SamsungBrowser.

Finding good tea books to review is a daunting task, and I hope you enjoyed this year's review because I might not have another for next year.

Monday, August 28, 2017

2007 Liming Golden Peacock Qi Zi

2007 Liming Factory "Golden Peacock Qi zi Bingcha"
Here is a tea I bought last spring. Back when I purchased the 2005 Yellow Mark from Yunnan Sourcing, I needed $7 more to qualify for free shipping, which amply justifies adding another $31 beeng to the order. The Liming factory located in the Menghai region is known as a plantation tea factory, and the reputation for quality tea declined somewhat among collectors after 2004, I suppose a rumor stemming from the overpicking in the years that followed. Yet I cannot help but wonder if such a rumor is premature, after all any tea produced over the past decade or so is still a young tea. Can we decide now and forever that a factory produces lesser quality tea? Maybe we need several decades to make such a determination.

This 2007 Golden Peacock refers to a tea which has more buds in it than usual. Back in the early 2000s, farmers had trouble selling their puerh leaves apart from just tea buds, they got paid only for the buds. The surface of the cake shows a generous sprinkling, though not so much on the underside, rather typical of a factory offering in a lower price range. Yet today a bud tea may price for more new, given all the puerh hype going on. The wrapper bears a blue 2007 date stamp on the back. Alas, just within the past few days the price of this tea increased on the US site to $34, and remains $32 on the China site. I was hoping Mr. Wilson would not notice the US site tea cost $1 less, but he caught it. The tea is still in the budget price range, however.

Nice clean storage.
The cake underwent nearly a decade in Guangdong storage which is good news for people who want a little moister aging, but the tea aired for three months in my possession has no storage odors and qualifies easily for Guangdong “dry” storage classification. The heat and humidity are just enough to loosen the edges of this machine-pressed cake and allow some tea to collect inside the wrapper. This is definitely one tough long-haul production, despite ten years in Guangdong storage the beeng still appears rather green to me. I keep my expectations low for a budget tea.

Surface shows lots of buds.
I brew 8g in 80-100 ml, mostly I collected up the loose leaves from the wrapper and pried a few loose leaves off the edge of the beeng. When you find a lot of loose tea in a beeng, sometimes it is best to just scoop all that out, dump the dust clean off the wrapper and re-wrap for storage. This tea makes a good sample for tasting but loose leaves will give off everything they have early on. Indeed I am rewarded with a hefty and bitter drink.

Underside not quite so pretty, but ok.
A Menghai production like this has the whiskey barrel profile, with strong bitterness, sour mash, aged oak barrel, caramel and a bit of incense. This profile is good for people who do not want any floral bizness in their puerh. We rest assured that we have a traditional Menghai beeng for our money, and rather clean with not much char. I see a bit of cloudiness from what appears to be bud fuzz small enough to go through my fine mesh strainer. One steeping removes all that to reveal a clean drink.

First steeping showing the storage color and clarity.
The storage shows a bit of turning with a red ring to the cup, so I know this tea is fermenting quite nicely. One cannot really drink this tea fully as it is in the middle of fermentation and tastes like half done whiskey mash but the oak barrel is already developing. I get a bit of tea qi behind the eyes and a relaxed body feeling, nothing very intense but I mostly taste and swallow maybe twice with each cup, just to see where the tea goes. Again, this is not really a drinker right now. I stopped at six steepings with the tea hardly opened up yet. The leaves show a long way to go before steeping out, but I am satisfied with the strength and the developing fermentation. Also, the brew thickened noticeably after the third steep.

Third steeping shows a nice clarity.
We are fortunate to find budget teas like this in the Yunnan Sourcing catalog, of course it is a product of the Liming tea factory and not a Yunnan Sourcing production. Thus we know nothing about any testing for pesticides, and I doubt Liming really tested anything. Yet I recall a couple of years ago white2tea’s Liming 7542 from the late 1990s, now that tea retailed for over $1100 a beeng and sold out too. Nobody who bought that tea needed to know more. The college student of today should snap this Liming up for the future and then can say “I bought this for 30-odd back in the day.” When a brand new Menghai 7542 costs $40 to import, we have a somewhat upside-down market in factory teas.

Lots of buds, and still fairly green.
Yes, the discussions go on about pesticides in plantation teas, mostly by people who surely rely on others for food production and are not yet out skinning their own muskrats. I always just think to myself well, some puerh heads with fully outfitted, survivalist tea storage caves are trying to scare off the new buyers because they want more for themselves. I guess I am firmly in this camp: more tea in the shop means more for me. After all, I have a dirt floor in-ground storage garage for when the world ends and I need a tea to drink on the way out.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Teabook Puerh

Over the past few weeks my puerh consumption fell off the grid as I went through a dietary elimination to discover a source of GI distress. This turned out to be a medication which recently went from exclusive patent to generic. I have been taking this medication for some years and so did not recognize it as a problem until the new pill lost the protective coating that is apparently exclusive to the original manufacturer. GI distress is tiring and a symptom of so many possible conditions, the only way to figure out the issue is through dietary elimination, including tea. After identifying the pill as the culprit and adjusting dosage issues, I added teas back to my diet.

Teabook is a fairly new company based in Washington State, similar to EverydayTeas in that both companies share a marketing philosophy of less expensive teas. I received a cake of their 2017 “Raw Puerh Lincang” unsolicited from the company, a 100g beeng sells for $10.95. At $0.11/g this is certainly a budget tea. Teabook also sells Denong teas, and a “limited selection” of pricey teas but these are separate categories on their website. I requested a sample of the pricier “Agarwood Ripe” tea, which was reviewed by LazyLiteratus last year. I paid for the shipping on the Agarwood sample.

The 100g 2017 Lincang by Teabook.
Before I discuss these two teas, I must mention that I received an odd marketing email last week from Teabook saying that all their teas are now “permanently 50% off.” I am not sure if this is true because the website is still showing regular prices for everything. The website contains slick marketing features,  messages like “someone from San Francisco just purchased this tea” and banners like “Free Denong mini ripe tuocha with purchase” along with a countdown time clock for the promotion. All these features are designed to get you to hurry up and buy. I do not know whether any of these marketing promotions are “for real,” so I will assume the tea price listed on the website is the price to pay. Okay, on to the teas..

The 2017 Lincang 100g cake is very basic, and the description is that the leaves are from “50-100 years old,” marketing speak for plantation farm tea. This sort of tea may be a good low-commitment introduction for someone new to puerh tea, or perhaps a daily drinker for folks on a budget.

Leaf mix contains larger leaves and a few buds.
I steeped 8g starting with 60ml water and increasing from there to 100 ml or so. The leaves show a mix from larger leaves to some buds. They are surprisingly strong to the finger rub test in early steeps. The company claims the tea will go 25 cups or so. This tea is very new, and brews up as green tea currently. It needs a year to tighten up and begin enzyme activity.

A 2017 tea like this is likely to still be "green" now.
For 11 cents a gram tea, not much complaint here, I find the typical floral Lincang profile with clean processing, but it remains to be seen if the tea will age. The tea has a sour flavor note at the moment. Perhaps this will work itself out over the next year. Teabook advises brewing the tea at 85-90C, but I used boiling temps to push the tea. I consumed about four steepings, the tea is too green and sour to continue on. I will try it again in a year and see if it changes.

Some fairly strong leaves here.
Teabook advises using a few leaves in their travel infuser, basically grandpa style. This is probably the best way to take this tea, a few leaves at a time. People who want to add some puerh to their life as “green tea” can do so with this easy and clean cake. But there is nothing special about 11 cents a gram tea, I do not expect special at a low price tag. Teabook carries a few more premium teas that might interest me more. I ordered the sample of the Agarwood Shou Puerh and explained to Teabook that many of the readers of this blog are looking for unique teas, not necessarily basic teas. Many readers already have their collections filled in with daily teas, and only open the wallet for something different. This tea certainly is unique, as agarwood teas are very difficult to find in the west.

A new experience, shou and agarwood.
Agarwood in essential oil form is known as “oud” or Oudh in Arabic. Also known as Aloeswood, agarwood is a sticky, resinous woody growth on trees of the genus Aquilaria, a growth produced similar to the way chaga mushrooms form on birch trees in Russia and Canada. Agarwood is used as a medicinal herb, and as a fragrance for incense and perfumery. Oud is a very masculine scent.

In the early 1980s, I bought a vial of essential oil of Oud mixed with genuine deer musk at a meditation center. This tiny vial cost me $20 then, a rather large sum for a tiny vial amongst other scents costing less than half as much. But the essential oil was powerful, and the vial dispensed only a very tiny brown drop at a time which I applied to pressure points, a single drop was enough to use around my body. Oud is one of my favorite scents ever, and I had that vial for at least twenty years, losing it to a leakage in the jewelry box during a move. I wore that oil so often, and never did I smell it on anyone else in my mostly patchouli-scented hippie neighborhood. After many years of wearing this oil, oud is a strong memory scent for me.

3g of this is a sufficient session. One must be
careful with very strong teas containing added herbs.
Today, genuine Oud is more expensive than gold, with agarwood succumbing to overharvesting and increasing scarcity. Agarwood takes a number of years to grow and needs those years to develop depth and potency. But people harvest it too early just as they do with ginseng and many other natural herbs because of the prices on the market. If you see Oud anywhere, chances are it is either synthetic or a very weak version of the real deal. My vial purchased long ago no doubt would now cost several hundred dollars at least. Oh, how I wish I had that vial back again! I know my vial would still be at least half full now except for that spillage.

Second steep, a plummy shou with oud fragrance.
The price for a 100g cake of agarwood puerh is a staggering $490, making this one of the most expensive puerh teas per gram at $4.90/g. So I wanted a bit of memory lane in Teabook’s Agarwood ripe puerh tea. I know I will recognize the scent, if it is really in the tea. The cake has tiny, rather crumbly ripe puerh leaves, because agarwood is small woody chips that will not stay in a pressed cake if the leaves are too large. My sample is 6g which is available for $24.95. One only needs 3g for a session in a 60-80 ml gaiwan or tiny teapot. Needless to say, a rinse is money down the drain.

The agarwood tends to escape the teapot
and float in the strainer.
Despite the crumbly tiny ripe leaves, the shou is a good quality wild growth tea. As you probably know, wild teas do not make for powerful, long duration shou, but the plummy, cherry flavor compliments the agarwood nicely. I smelled the agarwood at once in my clay teapot after pouring out my first cups and here I got my memory lane’s worth.

Agarwood consumed as an herb is a strong hypnotic, and the tea does not disappoint in this regard. Two cups and I felt the tea buzzing in my face and behind the eyes. The full experience is the scent of the wet leaves while experiencing the hypnotic effect, rather like sinsemilla marijuana. This is a lovely tea for an evening between two lovers, more sensual than wine. My memories take me back to those days of celibacy at the meditation center and the chime of a brass bowl on a pillow during our hours of sitting. Meditation is never dry or sterile, one should bring all the sensuality one has just as lovers do when together.

Dried leaves, the agarwood bits look like small wood chips.
The ripe puerh in the tea lasts for only about six steepings before giving out. One should boil the tea after this, because any woody herb needs to be boiled to extract the essential oil. If you prefer, you may wish to take a 6 gram sample purchase and steep in 80 proof or higher vodka or moonshine alcohol for at least six weeks, then decant and store in a dropper bottle to add to cocktails or other beverages.

Without a strainer, the agarwood floats to the top.
Easier to pour them back into the teapot this way.
With the $490 price tag, I think this is overpriced for a full cake. The sample is too, but more accessible. One can argue that the cost of the agarwood justifies the expense, but are we selling in the agarwood market or to tea people? Tea people do not especially care about the agarwood market, they are paying for merits in tea and we can find hypnotic tea for much less. The shou is nice, but not special nor aged nor durable. On the other hand, I can see myself springing for a sample. For $24.95 I get two sessions: one can have a 3g session split between two people, so about $12.50 for a romantic evening. A bottle of wine for such an occasion usually costs much more.

The Denong selection at Teabook is worth keeping an eye on for more offerings, and their travel tea infuser has had some good reviews in the past. We are seeing more small vendors dip into the puerh realm, and the story is usually the companies start out with a very basic offering and then try and source some higher end teas. With as much press as puerh has received in the “foodie” world over the past year, these companies are well positioned to take advantage of new adventurer customers in the US with lower shipping costs, minus the confusion of buying from Asia. This is great for new folks. Those of us looking more widely for teas around the world can thank these newer vendors who might catch on with new buyers, and keep them captive. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

An eBay Fake

This week I received a tea in the mail from a reader asking for an assessment of a tea he was not too sure about. With some queries, I discovered the tea was purchased on eBay from Fengyuan Teashop, an online retailer with obvious fakes. When you see 1990s teas selling for $40, of course these are too good to be true. Other tea bloggers have written extensively about puerh faking, and in this case I found a few flags. Personally, I have found some pasted teas may be decent enough to drink. So I can always approach a tea with at least a little hope of finding something drinkable.

I look nice for my age.
The tea was listed as a “1998 Menghai Tea Factory Zhangxiang” with Guangdong storage. The eBay seller offers a number of Hong Kong storage teas, so initially I expected very wet storage, however the reader still had the custom’s slip which stated Guangdong as the origin. The wrapper provided the first flag, which is that the ink seems rather new.

Another flag is the unattached neifei. Although certainly a neifei may detach on its own, this one has bug bites along the top. Now I’ve had many a bug-bit wrapper, but the actual wrapper has no bug bites which it should if the neifei looks like this. I suspect the neifei is faked or taken from a real tea consumed long ago, and subsequently added to this beeng. Or if you have a bug-laden warehouse, maybe all you need is to place a stack of fake neifeis in storage and eventually the stack is bit along one side. Steaming a bit of leaves is an easy way to attach a fake neifei. 

One bug-bit edge, but the nei piao looks much newer.
All the signs so far add up to “re-wrapping,” which is a no-provenance humid tea in a copied wrapper or even a real wrapper from a long gone tea. The nei piao appeared fresher and not bug-bit, again another flag. I noted the nei piao had a muddy smudge along the back corner as if someone had thumbed through a pile of them with dirty fingers.

Definitely some wet storage.
The leaves have evidence of wetter storage, but no mold and the tea has a graphite smell which is often the case of well-aired but more humid storage, in this case Guangdong dry, or what I’d classify as “traditional dry” if I had no information on the storage origin. The reader said the cake arrived in shrink wrap which is common with aged teas sold in China to keep out humidity, preserve the tea and keep the cake from falling apart. Shrink wrap on older tea has a certain caché, suggesting a high value tea, an easy illusion for a fake tea to convey. Really, the storage aroma is pleasant; I like the slightly humid and metallic odor.

More evidence of wetness, mushy spots.
Not quite as enticing are the human hairs in the tea. An occasional hair is not really a flaw in an older factory tea, but when I find three hairs I start feeling a dirty sloppiness in the tea, and more turned off from actually drinking it. Luckily I did not find any pubic hair, which is where I draw the line.

One hair at 11:00 position.

I brewed up 8g of tea using boiling hot water. I did not have the courage to use a gaiwan and instead picked Yixing and pre-heated the teapot as hot as possible. I rinsed twice and did a taste-and-spit of the two following brews. The next brew turned out much darker, but alas the tea completely lacks any flavor apart from a light tartness, which is a shame because the storage flavor is quite nice. I can see the tea had some very aggressive aging initially with at least a few years of drying. Unfortunately a slight chemical residue is present which numbs the tongue.

A little tough to see, reddish hair at 4:00 position.
I found a third hair in the tea I broke off.
Otherwise the tea simply lacks any flavor at all and little to no presence in the mouth aside from the numbing. I did not want to continue with the tea any further at this point, and chased my single cup with a Rolaids to sop up any unpleasantness. The wet leaves are larger and leathery and simply did not have enough bitter juices to survive the wet storage punishment and convert into an aged flavor. All I taste here is the fairly decent lightly wet storage.

The leaves don't look bad at all,
the proof is in the cup.
I did not suffer any after effects from the tea, but this one is a tosser. Perhaps the reader had the same thought, but tossing is difficult and sending the tea to me is a way to defer the decision to someone else. I will keep the tea for a bit in case the reader wants it back, but I cannot suggest drinking it. Hopefully my friend has better teas to drink instead.

The tea has a nice color, a shame really.
Looking at recent feedbacks for the online seller, I see that most recent customers have purchased newer teas. Perhaps not all teas sold by this vendor are bad, but real 1990s tea cannot be bought on eBay and certainly not at the $30-40 price point I see on many of the vendor’s “old” teas.

Nothing to taste here.
Real 1990s teas are at or well over $200 on the low end, and very scarce now. Luckily this particular tea is no longer for sale in the vendor shop, but I would not be surprised to see it "miraculously" appear for sale again someday.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

EverydayTeas, a vendor for bulk buyers

Some puerh drinkers like to have every-day teas on hand to consume whilst saving their very special teas for quiet moments. Weekends are often quieter with time to reflect and pay more attention to tea. Other folks need budget teas, and hopefully a new website everydayteas.net will fit the bill. A big complaint I get from tea folks in the US is the cost of shipping from China for drinker teas, and tongs especially. Luckily, everydayteas.net is located in the US with a variety of payment and shipping options available. Right now the site is offering a 10% sale on their inventory to celebrate their opening (code: everydayopen). Their headline "Fresh out of Coconut Oolong" might be an attempt at humor, or maybe serious, I just don't know.

Everyday Teas is a new vendor carrying the puerh line from Royal Tea New York, a wholesale enterprise in New Jersey I wrote about last month. RTNY has plans for 2017 puerh teas so keep an eye out for more options later this year on the Everyday Teas site. In addition to puerh tea, ET has a selection of yancha, oolong and other teas. I think most people can get on board with the stated mission of ET, which is “everyday drinking teas without breaking the bank.”

2016 Year of the Monkey teas by RTNY 
I received the three 100g beengs pressed by Royal Tea New York that I saw at the World Tea Expo but did not taste then. These teas are priced around $.20/g, but the most interesting aspect of these cakes and the other teas as well is that you can buy in bulk. In the case of the puerh teas, a tong is 10 cakes. That's a full kilo! Other teas can be purchased by the pound. Their Shui Xian looks rather nice and is $57/lb. Imagine buying a pound of that and only needing to pay a 1 lb postal rate in the US! With a heavier order, the company offers UPS and FedEx as well. Everyday Teas is serious about drinker quality teas, no longer do you need to order from overseas to get something in larger bulk sizes.

2016 Nannuo cake
I chose to try the 2016 Nannuo tea. I was surprised to see a Nannuo sell out very quickly this year from another vendor. I’m sure Nannuo varies a great deal in quality from the drinker level to the premium. Here is a drinker version that definitely doesn’t “break the bank.”

No chop here.
The leaves are easily separated from the beeng, the tea is actually more of a “tippy” tea with lots of buds. I sessioned 8g in 80-100 ml of water, increasing the water as the tea opened up.

Easy to break drinker.
I rinsed the tea three times for no reason except that I didn’t want a thin first brew. The first steep was surprisingly plummy and so was the nose on the wet tea. I dug around in the gaiwan for the reason, and found some larger red tipped leaves. It appears this cake is a mix of buds, bud/leaf combos and a few large leave that are “oolonged,” that is, they are allowed to oxidize slightly and kill off the enzymes. The reason this is done is to produce a cake of tea that is drinkable new, but the buds and leaf combos are left alone in their bitter state and processed normally. The entire cake will then taste smooth and slightly sweeter now, but those reddish large leaves will fade over time as the buds and other leaf combos ferment. If the entire cake was processed in the “oolong” fashion, I would be very disappointed, but I think this kind of compromise is common today to produce a “drinker” style tea.

Bud mix with redder large leaves intended to drink
and also age. I've brightened the photo a little to try and match
my view outdoors.
The buds and leaf combos are certainly bitter, and definitely so with the heavy leaf ratio I used. The plumminess of the tea changes over to a fruity bitterness around steep six or seven. Then I had to increase steep time around steep eight. At that point I went to do some housework and forgot about the tea in the gaiwan, and returned to an impossibly bitter brew.

The leaves do not pass the finger test and come apart when wet rubbed, but I expect that at this price point. Whether this tea will interest many long time puerh drinkers is probably doubtful, but maybe it will if you require an easy drinking young sheng and don’t want to pay a whole lot for it. The Bulang cake is described as bitter and for more long term aging, and I anticipate the Ai Lao to be on the sweet side similar to Yunnan Sourcing Ai Lao teas.

Full natural light in this photo shows the tippy mix.
The petite size of the beeng is a tiny commitment for new puerh drinkers, and quite honestly anyone new to puerh and other loose leaf teas, especially people in the US should consider this line of teas because of the small initial investment and local shipping. You can get a single cake of tea for under $30 including the shipping, or a package of another loose leaf tea shipped for under $15 total cost. This small amount of money is an excellent way to up your tea game, and the option is there to place a bulk order if you find something you enjoy. The site offers several payment types including ApplePay, which I am seeing more and more in stores. With a 10% off coupon, hard to argue with the prices here.

I think many of us long term tea drinkers are looking at prices this year with some trepidation. When the Great Benefits 7542 nearly doubles in price, we have reason to worry. This drought year may be a good time to buy a few things, but many of us might look to less expensive options this year and dip lightly at first into the pricey stuff to make sure we are getting the best teas. Much yet about this season has yet to sort itself out. In the meantime, keeping the pennies tight and sticking to our favorite drinkers sounds like a wise plan to me.