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Monday, January 9, 2017

Causes for Sour Flavors in Puerh Tea

Recently I tried a tea recommended by a friend which I found to be very sour, to the point where I didn’t want to continue drinking it. I’m not a stranger to sour tea. But of course I feel bad when I think a tea is sour because I know the reasons why. The question is whether the tea is a loss or still has hope of further transformation. I’d like to recommend reading as much as you can about fermentation in general, along with puerh fermentation articles when you come across them. Using a very informative book published last year, Modernization of Traditional Food Processes and Products, (A. McElhatton and M. El Idrissi, eds. Springer, 2016), I will attempt to apply the fermentation concepts described in this book, and explain sourness in a more approachable manner in the context of puerh storage. Hopefully then I can pick out a cause for what I taste in my friend’s tea.

Sour flavors in puerh tea are due to acids which are secretions, or by-products, of bacteria and enzymes. In any fermentation process of vegetable matter, acid formations are normal and an important stage toward getting the finished product you want. A mild sourness is indicative of a desirable stage in slow-aging sheng puerh. Acid formations provide a favorable environment for growth of fungi like Aspergillus niger and Penicillum, but also provide an unfavorable environment for putrefactive bacteria so that the product does not spoil or rot.

Fermentation, to put it simply, is a three-stage process of bacteria->to acid-> to yeast in which all three are in enough of a balance that the correct bacteria and yeast will grow at each stage. Gallic acid, among others, is the primary compound responsible for a mild sour flavor when puerh is aging well. Aspergillus fungi such as niger, foetidus and Penicillum also produce a mild gluconic acid as the result of fermenting glucose sugars. In the middle of fermentation, a mild sourness is normal.

However, other acid products are produced during fermentation as well. When acids get overly abundant, beneficial bacteria and fungi cannot continue to develop and the next stage of fermentation cannot progress. Either the tea doesn’t make it to the stages responsible for breaking down bitterness and developing flavor, or the tea ferments too fast and breaks down before the good yeasts get a chance to add flavor. So, we can end up with tea that has too many acids and didn’t properly progress to the next microbial stage. Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities for overabundance of acids.

Too High Heat and Humidity

Several organisms can grow out of balance when tea is stored or fermented in too hot conditions. The enzyme Rhyzopus is active at temps of 32-40C and is important in breaking down the starchy cell walls and pectin in the tea. This will allow for an effective release of tea juices into an infusion, and add fragrance. So this enzyme Rhyzopus is important in fermentation of puerh tea. Rhyzopus secretes fumaric acid, lactic acid and succinic acid. While breaking down the cell walls of the tea leaf is the desired function, an overabundance of Rhyzopus will break open the structure of the tea completely. In a high-heat situation with too much Rhyzopus, your tea cake will develop mushy, melded spots because the leaves are breaking down into wet globs.

Too-wet tea that arrived moldy.
The globbing of the leaves is evident near the neifei
Unfortunately, this is how poorly controlled fast fermentation with high heat can result in a sour tea product. This is true regardless of the length of time the tea is kept in a too-high heat situation. The longer the high heat continues, the more Rhyzopus breaks down the tea making backtracking impossible. The tea will taste sour because it is browned and too broken down, and the brew is muddy or dirty looking. However, if the high heat conditions were for a shorter period of time, the tea may be able to rebalance as long as it’s not broken down too much. Alas my friend’s tea suffered from too much breakdown so I don’t think it has anywhere to go from its sour state.

Too Cold and Dry

Lactic acid is an important part of fermentation because it creates positive conditions for beneficial yeasts like Aspergillus niger. Aspergillus niger is a carbon source of food for Saccharomyces yeasts which are responsible for transforming the bitterness in tea into sweet and mellow flavors. As long as the acid environment is under control, in late-stage fermentation the Saccaronmyces yeasts will get their opportunity to convert the bitterness in the tea into nuanced flavors. This is because Rhyzopus has done its job to break open the cell walls and make the plants juices available to this yeast. But when a tea is too cold and dry at the start, Rhyzopus may not sufficiently grow to break down the cells of the tea. Fermentation cannot progress and the tea appears green and young.

Both Rhyzopus and Saccharomyces need sufficient heat and humidity to grow. A too-dry and too-cool environment means the tea is stuck in a state where the earlier yeasts and bacteria produced the correct acids, but fermentation stopped there. If kept in this state for too long Aspergillus and Rhyzopus will die out, and their waste carbon products needed for Sacchronmyces food are no longer available. Thus the Sacchromyces yeasts will never get their chance to develop those lovely flavors from the bitter plant juices. In addition, our friends Sacchromyces are responsible for clarifying the juices from cloudy to clear. The tea will remain bitter and acid sour, and the brew will be cloudy. Fragrance too is gone.

This is what produces the familiar “dry storage sour,” but unlike the too-high heat situation, if the tea is not cold and dry for too long, then heat and humidity can be applied to correct the stuck tea and get fermentation moving again. When puerh collectors complain about “too dry and cold” conditions in the west, they are referring to the possibility that western collectors cannot provide enough heat and humidity. Thus their tea will remain sour and dry until it passes a point of no return when all the microbes are killed off. The tea tastes flat in addition to dry and sour.

Charred Leaves in Chaqing

Another cause of dry storage sour is char produced by the wok in processing the maocha. Burnt smoky tea is an addition to the puerh cake that is not intrinsic to it. The tea is altered by the addition of burnt carbon. Heat and humidity can speed up the usage of this carbon by yeasts, but the fragrance and flavor produced by the char may overpower the subtle flavors produced by Saccahromyces. In my experience, char is the most common cause of bad flavor in puerh tea because it’s an addition to the tea that will not go away by the normal slow fermentation process. It requires a correction of high heat and humidity for the perfect amount of time, and the perfect time is rarely achieved. 

Puerh collectors are accustomed to accepting this processing flaw as “ordinary” when in fact it is not. “Retired smoke” is not caused by improper fermentation, but a condition imposed on the tea leaf during the wok process of chaqing used to stop the oxidation of the tea leaves prior to pressing. Another cause for smokiness is when chaqing is performed in a closed, smoky room such that the odors from wood burning permeate the leaves. I feel sad when I taste this, because a fine leaf may never get a chance to be what it is meant to be. Poor leaf, well, nothing lost and nothing gained. Yet many collectors are so accustomed to char or smoky flavors that it is accepted as a normal condition. Indeed, many people have learned to like it. Once in awhile I like it too, even though I think it is a flaw.

My favorite Manzhuan tea developed some flavor from char.
Breaking up the cake into a clay jar for a few months
corrected the problem, and I no longer taste it.
Setting aside a char factor, let us return to the main causes for sour tea during storage. A very mild sourness is normal when puerh tea is young and in a fermentation state under the correct conditions. But sourness can get out of control in two ways.  One way is too much heat and humidity, causing too high levels of acid by-products that will not allow late stage fungi to develop flavor, and the tea gets too broken down to retrieve it from the acidic condition. The other way to get sour tea is by slowing fermentation via too cold and too dry conditions, leaving acid by-products unavailable for further fermentation, cutting off the process mid-stage.

My friend’s tea suffered from the overly hot and humid wet storage condition. The tea has no remaining green and is not likely to change much after some airing. You will know when that sour problem can be corrected and when you have a loss on your hands. I have had many opportunities to experience these problems and it is always a learning experience to recognize them. Tasting your tea regularly is the best way to assess its progress. As long as you maintain your tea for as much of the year as possible at 68-80F (18-26C), and RH 60-70%, you will avoid a permanent storage-related sourness assuming you purchased good quality raw tea with excellent processing at the start.





Friday, January 6, 2017

Bang Dong and Balls: Sheng Olympics 2017

This year’s Sheng Olympics by LiquidProust Teas in conjunction with various tea vendors is an exciting opportunity to sample a variety of sheng puerh teas for not a lot of money. I missed out on Sheng Olympics last year to my abiding regret, mainly after a couple of bad group buys soured me on shared tea buying. Half the fun, of course, is drinking and sharing the same teas with a number of people at the same time. It's not a bad deal money-wise.

Sheng Olympics puerh sampler
The package includes anywhere from 10-12g of each tea plus a really cool Yunnan sticker. You get Bitterleaf Teas 2016 Alter Ego Mansa Huang Pian, and 2016 Autumn Straight Bulang No Chaser. From Crimson Lotus Teas we get a Midas Touch tea ball. From Yunnan Sourcing we get the Hi-Tech Dragon Tea ball,  and both 2010 and 2015 Autumn Bang Dong. From Tea Urchin we have 2012 Bang Dong to compare to the YS offerings. Finally we get an exclusive white2tea 2016 Tuhao as Fk tea ball, which isn’t in my group tea photo here because I’d already consumed it. I have the wrapper though.

All this cost $25, or $20 if you got the recent discount, and shipping to my address cost just $3 or so. To order all these samples separately from each of the tea companies would cost so much more just for shipping than for this whole package. Spreading out the cost among dozens of people makes this buy possible. Otherwise a tea package like this is, well, frankly impossible to acquire. Unfortunately as of this writing, the package seems to have sold out.

Wrapper from 2016 Tuhao as Fk exclusive tea ball
LiquidProust is probably best known on Reddit tea forums for offering free puerh samples to newbies, an effort which has cost him a lot of money and to which many puerh heads have donated excess tea. His blog is well worth a read though. As his name implies, his efforts in tea are directed toward a theme: can a tea experience resemble good literature, such as if Proust turned into liquid tea, what would this tea taste like? One of his recent blog posts in pursuit of this theme created a “Narnia” tea, which is a white tea wrapped in silver leaf. Not sure what that tastes like, but I found the post interesting and the tea rather beautiful and tweeted it in case any foodies out there are looking for a themed tea.

The puerh tea world is rather devoid of well-read, literary people in the US, where for some reason tea attracts science types more often than literary folks. LiquidProust states his inspiration around Proust was his read of what I assume is the entirety of In Search of Lost Time. My own reading of Proust began and ended with Vol. V, The Prisoner, perhaps an unfortunate choice. I’m certain Proust is back in vogue now after years of firmly out until someone “out-ed” Proust, and his Albertine as very likely a disguised Albert. 

Knowing this intrigues me further when someone names his straight avatar LiquidProust, winning more admiration last year when I checked out his other social media. I found a rather frank journey from a conservative Christian background to exploring other faiths, including one rather impromptu visit to a synagogue’s Sabbath service, an adventure he defended later among the inebriated friends who joined him. The young man has a lot more going on with his inner journey than just a narrow obsession with tea, displaying expansiveness in his thinking, To wit, tea is a point from which to explore and find common experiences with other people. While tea-as-literature adds a layer of thinking beyond what the tea itself presents, this theme is indeed a point of view lending toward open discussion rather than closed debate, and a theme which LiquidProust takes on with more than a little enthusiasm. 

I am certain he won’t feel comfortable with my musings here, or the fact that I’ve read a lot of his past social posts even back in his college years. Just to clarify, I read a great deal on people whose thinking I find interesting. I’ve read tea blogs in their entirety front to back, and tea forums with hundreds of pages. I only take the time to do this when I find intelligent people. In LiquidProust’s energetic postings I find themes of spiritual searching, literature, tea, sex, work, and what the ancient Greeks called koinonia, in communion or community with others. I have tried chatting with Mr. LiquidProust in sentences which include all of these themes in a rather compressed fashion, but my efforts mostly evoke a bit of paranoia from him, wondering if I am criticizing. Not my intention at all. Perhaps I am a bit fumbling and not so socially graceful, adding too many layers into what I try to say, perhaps poorly, obscuring my intention to pay the highest compliment I feel I can give to anyone, to address the entirety of pure intelligence. For he is a rare person.

Might not look like a lot of leaf,
but this is a 200 ml gaiwan.
Had to move the tea from the teapot above.
Anyway, on to the tea! The Tuhao as FK teaball is a highlight for me, as I own the 2015 cake but have not yet tried the 2016. Those of us participating in Sheng Olympics were to drink it on Christmas Eve, but I fell asleep early and slept through the entire evening. I finally got down to the tea a few days later. This tea ball is a LOT of Tuhao, much more I than I would use in a session. Tuhao as Fk is not a wimpy tea.

Thick stems
However, I wish I’d waited a year or two because the tea ball is still very green and due to the compression is not yet out of the green tea stage. You can see from my photos the greenish tint to the brew. The 2016 version is every bit as durable as last year. I needed five days and about 26 steeps and the tea still isn’t done yet. 

Red is a complementary color of green,
so any green visually appears brighter.
The brew starts out floral and rather bitter, and only at steep 13 or so honey notes emerge. Yet even after 18 steeps a bit too long on the brew time and I’m rewarded with punishing bitterness. My last steep at 26 still had the bitterness and honey note, the tea is lighter at that point, yet nowhere near done. Leaves are mostly a bud plus two leaves, with thick stems. This tea is huge on huigan, Tuhao is just a big Las Vegas of a tea, and well worth the money to buy and store away.

Steep 24, green brew mellows somewhat to a honey color.
Tea balls seem like a great travel option, but in fact they are challenging to brew and require far more time than a chunk from a beeng. Tuhao is a glorious tea, as wonderful an opportunity as this custom pressing is, at the same time it’s a waste of tea. Tea balls made from such fine tea are really a waste for me because I can’t break up the tea ball and drink less. From what I can tell, others drinking this Tuhao tea ball finished up with it in one evening. I rather doubt they drank 20 steeps, but if sharing with other people, then perhaps one evening is feasible. I think I understand now why mini teas use so-so tea so that you don’t feel guilty drinking some of it and then tossing it out.

Such leaf quality for a tea ball!
Regretfully I tossed those fine leaves after steep 26 and brewed up the 2010 Autumn Bang Dong by Yunnan Sourcing. This tea is available for $56 from the China site for 400g. The leaves are tiny and the tea brews up with a spicy, pecan pie scent. My first two brews left my gaiwan stuck to the plate with sticky tea. The sugars are emerging from the cell walls within, and I expect this tea to develop more stickiness because the aging is coming along nicely. Comparing my gaiwan of leaves with the photos on the listing the aging is obvious, my tea is browning while the original photo shows a very bright green.

2010 Bang Dong aging apparent when comparing the listing on YS.
I leafed this tea heavy with 7g in 60ml gaiwan, and my heavy hand is punished with a bitter, yet medium thick brew with vanilla and spicy nuts. The tea thickens noticeably around steeps 4-6, and slowly thins from there. Spicy notes are typical of many autumn puerh teas, and this one tastes rather traditional with hay, spices and vanilla. This is one of those puerh teas that approaches a barrel whiskey type experience, albeit a fairly comfortable brew compared to actual liquor. I've learned that Yunnan Sourcing productions are best leafed heavy, especially after TeaDB found out how heavy Mr. Wilson himself leafs a gaiwan. To know what he sees in a tea, I feel I must also go heavy. This 2010 is a nice value drinker, a huge 400g cake costs the same as many cakes half this size. 

Steep 4
I plan to get to the other Bang Dong teas later. While the idea of a comparison between these teas is a great idea, I don’t expect the teas to truly compare, and not simply because of differences in storage or age. Tea terroir has changed a great deal in the past seven years, and Bang Dong area yields a variety of tea and quality too. I’m not sure a 2010 or 2012 tea even from the same trees is the same in 2015. I'm guessing the Bang Dong + Balls is more about the implied pun in this tea sampler. 

Bitterleaf’s Alter Ego is comprised of the huang pian from their spring production of WMD Mansa, a tea which sold out early and packs quite a tea high. I’ve heard from other tea drinkers that this same tea high experience is in the huang pian brick. Price-wise, the tea costs the same as white2tea’s Fade, $24.50 for a 200g brick. Tea chatters debate which tea is the better one, with some preferring Alter Ego to Fade. I haven’t had a chance to try Alter Ego yet, but when I do I will post some notes on Steepster.

Looks like the Sheng Olympics might sell out, I hope you didn't miss out on picking up this sample pack from LiquidProust, It's fun to share tea with other people drinking at the same time, and I will look forward to trying the rest of the teas at some point. This week I received a generous package of samples of CYH teas and I will get into these next. I seem to drink tea more slowly than many bloggers, I apologize for that, but I try and steep them out as much as possible or drink more than one session!






Saturday, December 31, 2016

Tea and Dehydration

Right now I’m exhausted. Three days ago my healthy eight month old kitten suddenly fell ill with a fever, very ill. A quick trip to the vet for fluids and an antibiotic shot, and I stayed up all night feeding basic hydration solution every hour or two with a small medicine dropper. He kept trying to get up and move, and getting him back in his bed wasn’t easy. Along with that I hardly had time to pay attention to my tea. I drank a lot of it just to stay awake, and found myself thinking about dehydration. First off, a recipe for a base re-hydration solution:

Basic Hydration Solution

1 quart water (946 ml)

1 tablespoon white sugar (12.5g)

 1 tsp table salt (6g)

Shake or stir and decant into a bottle. Keep refrigerated. Daily, a cat requires liquid at about ¼ cup or 60 ml per 5 lbs (2.26 kilos) of body weight. So that means about 2 tsp (20 ml) dose every hour or two for my 10 lb kitten (yes he’s a big boy at 8 months).  I used a small medicine dropper and put a bit at a time inside his cheek so he could lap and swallow without choking. Anyway, this is a basic recipe and no different from Pedialyte at the stores, but without the preservatives and cherry flavoring. I tasted it myself and didn’t taste much of anything. It works for people too, you can add a bit of fruit juice to make it taste like something.

Green Tea and Dehydration

People turn to green tea as an addition to a healthy lifestyle, and this can include copious amounts of exercise. Drinking a lot of green tea and sweating can dehydrate a person of minerals. Some of the sheng puerh teas I drink cause profuse sweating.

I’ve noticed that I’m somewhat dehydrated when I wake up and my back hurts. Drinking a bit of water before getting up helps put some fluid around my spine and I feel much better. Tea is a diuretic, and along with a prescription diuretic I might need to replace minerals.

Potassium

This is one of the first minerals lost in dehydration. Stores have so many “energy” drinks today, as well as “electrolyte” replacement drinks, but so few have any potassium. The best way to get this is from foods like

1.      Avocado—the highest potassium food item.
2.      Sweet potato—next in line.
3.      Spinach.

Avocado and sweet potato yam
are good for potassium replacement.
I’m not big on avocado myself. Avocados don’t grow in my climate so any we get here tend to be small, hard and yellow. Bananas and potatoes are further down the list, even behind cow’s milk for potassium. Sweet potato is an easy choice.

Sweet potato Fries

1 large sweet potato (serves 2)

1 teaspoon of olive oil (about 5 ml)

Salt and pepper to taste.

Scrub the potato, peel if desired and slice into small long julienne “fries” about 1 cm or ¼ inch in width.

Cut fries in bite size sticks.
Toss in a bowl with a spoon or generous splash of olive oil until they are covered. 

Don't skimp on the oil, you need it for browning.
Place on baking sheet so the fries don’t touch one another. Sprinkle salt or other seasoning. 

The key to great baked fries is don't  let them touch another fry.
Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees (200C). Turn each of the fries at 15 minutes. A tea tongs works nicely for turning fries! They should have a brown and crispy exterior. You can toss with cinnamon and drizzle with maple syrup at breakfast. Here I’ve served with scrambled eggs and a bit of kimchee. My son likes ketchup with his fries.

I don't like food photos myself.
Plate for Dear Son.
Magnesium

Magnesium is lost through sweating or diuretics. This is one of the few minerals which is absorbed effectively through skin. My sister turned me on to magnesium oil spray. It’s easy to apply after a shower, and she taught me to spray it on the front of my lower calves (legs).

Magnesium Oil Spray
www.skinwell.com
My kitten scampered off with the sprayer top.
If you are short on magnesium, you will feel a stinging for a few minutes. The oil is a nice moisturizer, and I'm glad that this is one mineral I can replace without swallowing anything.

Of course I didn’t put any of this on my kitten. I didn’t find out what caused his high fever. He wrestles hard with my big Maine Coon cat, so maybe he got an injury or had a virus. Luckily after just 24 hours, my kitten got up and his fever broke.

Iron

Iron is not necessarily lost through dehydration or green tea, but I mention it because tea pots are one way to supplement trace amounts of iron. This is very important for women, so I want to write a little here.

A century ago before iron-rich foods were readily available, women struggled with persistent anemia. Anemia is one of the first diagnoses and tests doctors performed back then. Doctors checked for and assumed anemia in menstruating women because most women had it. Nowadays with the food distribution system, doctors no longer even think to test women. My doctor found I had persistent anemia from a blood panel when she wasn’t even looking for anemia. Doctors don’t think of it when they see what appears to be a healthy young woman in the office. Yet actress Brittany Murphy died at age 28 or so from a cold and walking pneumonia. She wasn’t taking large doses of medication, but the autopsy found anemia. Her blood and body had no strength to fight the infection.

Iron-rich foods are ever more expensive, and many people are foregoing red meat for either health or philosophical reasons. Women at both sides of the economic spectrum might not get the iron they need, either because they can’t afford iron-rich foods or choose to not eat them. I did not care for red meat much in my younger days after growing up on a heavy red meat diet, so clearly I wasn’t getting enough iron in my diet when I got an anemia diagnosis. An iron supplement was an easy fix.

A tea pot like this one from potter Inge Nielsen is made with iron-rich clay. The interior is not glazed. 

Tenmoku glaze iron-grog clay pot
by Inge Nielsen, Etsy
Tea will leach tiny trace amounts of iron from this teapot over time. Along with a healthy diet, a tea pot like this is a great idea for women. Men on the other hand do not need to worry so much about supplements as they will generally get all they need via diet or using cast iron cooking pans. Therefore men will not necessarily benefit from using an iron clay tea pot.

My kitten started eating again and drinking water. He thinks he’s well enough to play hard, but he’s still a little wobbly on his back legs. I stayed up with him another night to hand feed him wet food and make sure he was drinking water on his own before I slept. Now I’m very tired and somewhat dehydrated myself! He wants to be on my lap all the time now, he is just so happy to feel better. I’m $100 poorer, but at least I have my healthy kitten back.

Winston
Yes, those are tea crocks behind him.
Green tea is not a hydration liquid but is often sold as an exercise drink or healthy drink. While green tea has some antioxidants, it is not a substitute for plain water when the body is thirsty, nor is tea a source of rehydration from sweating, or during exercise. Enjoy your tea this New Year’s season and drink your water too!




Thursday, December 22, 2016

Weighing the Tea

Weighing tea toward ideal parameters is a no-brainer for most puerh tea drinkers. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but now I wonder how much I actually learn from pre-measuring tea. Maybe I learn more when I don’t. With the risk of over-thinking, I want to explore this idea of pros and cons of weighing out tea.


When I read tea reviews it’s usually helpful to know how the person brewed the tea, or at least somewhat helpful by a process of deduction. For example, I have a number of friends who report their common parameters as 1g/20ml and some others go a bit lighter with 3g/80ml. First off, I wonder if the notion of a “common parameter,” a single weight to water ratio is really the best idea for every tea. Of course it’s a jumping point for some teas. But what about people who use what I might consider “light” gram-age of 3g/80ml and then report a tea as “woody,” or “hay-like?” I begin to wonder if their assessment of the tea itself is really more about their choice of parameters. I wonder if the tea might have more body and character going heavier on the leaf. But I won’t know unless I buy the tea.

The assessment goes the other way with heavier leafing when someone reports a tea as unbearably bitter. Then I think to myself, is this tea really punishing? Maybe he needs to lighten the leaf rather than judge the character of the tea at this stage. Or let the tea age for twenty years and see what happens to that bitter tea. Characteristics like smokiness are not so affected by gram to liquid ratios. But certainly traits like viscosity, bitterness, maybe even huigan or qi are simply not noticeable in some teas if going too light on the leaf. As a reader, I end up trying to deduce whether I might like the tea regardless of the writer’s opinion. Someone describing a tea as super bitter while using very light parameters is a very good tea to me, the tea is probably powerful and maybe a good buy depending upon the price, even when the reviewer says she hated it.

I got to thinking about this after seeing a spate of what I consider really light parameters on various social media. I am surprised how light a lot of people go on tea and then describe the tea as woody or something bland. This becomes their assessment of the tea when at a heavier parameter someone else might like it. Lately I’ve been doing more guess work when leafing a new tea because I learn something. I don’t want to judge a tea if I’ve gone too light, I won’t know what I’m missing. Going heavy might result in a tough to drink tea, but I’d rather learn why than miss key traits entirely.

Perhaps the ideal ratio for some teas varies a lot more than I realized before. By using a “common parameter,” the only real variable I’m truly testing is my parameter! This is okay as a starting point, but only a starting point. I can say X tea tastes one way at a common parameter, while Tea Z is different. If I’m tempted to conclude one tea is better than another without testing any other parameters, then I’m probably in error.

Readers can deduce or glean some information with a given ratio, such as ruling out some traits they don’t want, like processing problems or mold or overly sweet/bitter. But that’s not really a whole lot of information if the tea is going to take a few hundred dollars out of my wallet. Even if I tell you my leafing parameters, you still won’t get any idea about whether the tea is amazing at some other parameter. Issues like leaf quality are easy to distinguish as are undesirable traits, but maybe the way to go with a new tea is heavy and then back off the leaf as needed.

Ratios are more of an issue with medium and low tier teas. Some of the truly astonishing teas, unless served truly super watery, are still obvious as really good tea despite a brewing error. No mistaking good leaf quality, at least for me. But at 25-50 cents a gram price range we have a lot of teas to pick from and people really debate teas that are all about the same quality. At this point it will come down to finding those brewing parameters. For example, if someone says “If You are Reading This” is better than “Poundcake,” give me the ratios you brewed at so at least we are making the same comparison. I shouldn’t be shocked to find out the person who loved Poundcake has been grandpa brewing it all along, or the person preferring the Reading cake steeped 10g/100ml because these brew ratios might be a “never” for me.

Really great tea you love and really awful tea you hate might not improve with changing the ratios. But we have to question everything, like amount of time you aged or aired that tea, how you brewed it etc. Maybe the way to go with a new tea is leaf the gaiwan as heavy as possible. Stuff it full, and see what happens. Does the tea have power? A $200 beeng with heavy leaf to water ratios I should get some serious power. A known and proven tea, such as an expensive sample of aged puerh I get from a friend with some advice to go along, perhaps then I might go 3g/80ml and feel like I’m prudent and still getting a good cup.

I’d rather get smacked across the face from too-strong tea than feel like I’m really pushing a tea to get a decent cup out of it. I’d rather have too-strong than too-weak, especially if I’m thinking of buying a $200 tea. Even better is a smack in the face again after going lighter. A common response to strength in tea is to cool the temperature, and in truth I will get a drinkable cup from many teas by going cooler. At this point, I believe I will learn more trusting my gut instead of meticulously weighing and hoping the scale and the same parameters with each and every tea is a gold standard. Go heavy or go home, at least as long as my system holds up.



Tuesday, December 13, 2016

2015 Pin

2015 Pin by white2tea
I have many teas in my collection yet to sample, and 2015 Pin from white2tea is one of these. This tea is still available for purchase, and was sent as part of last year’s tea club. The club box included a memo on the tea which recommended waiting for the tea to settle down. When a vendor suggests waiting on tea, I listen to this kind of advice. Our puerh hobby is all about waiting anyway, a span of years and decades, so what then is a few months’ wait? No time at all, really. So here I am at one year later now trying the Pin for the first time.

Breakfast, or dinner?
This tea is a blend of 2013, 2014 and 2015 leaf. You might remember last year was one of those wetter years, and the two prior years were drier in Yunnan. Pin benefits from the blend of years, I think. I brewed up 7 grams of tea in about 100-120 ml water, increasing the water as the leaf expanded.

On first brewing, the leaves appear to consist of a mix of very large leaves, some younger buds, and some yellow older leaves or perhaps these were processed at a higher temperature as is often the case for autumn leaf. I’m not sure whether the blend has autumn or spring tea or both as the description doesn’t indicate anything aside from some leaves stored in Menghai. Prior to their move to Guangdong, white2tea maintained storage in both Beijing and Menghai, and I believe the Beijing tea is now completely moved south which is likely to benefit the tea stores.

Shore purty.
The first couple of steepings are quite sweet, indicative of northern tea leaf. The third and fourth steepings are a little bit sour, and then the tea sweetens up again for the remainder of the session, which for me stretched out over several days. I got more than fifteen steeps from the 7g of tea, and the tea benefits from resting after every third steep and the tea still isn’t done. These leaves are very sturdy which you can check for yourself by rubbing the wet leaves between your fingers. They don’t turn to mush or tear apart. Sturdy leaves like these take time to open and sometimes a bit of rest to let them resoak and release more flavor.

Check the clarity. I do strain.
Overall I think this cake benefits from the blend of years, it holds up much better than last year’s Poundcake after a year of storage. The longevity is impressive for the price point of about $0.25/g. Also, the tea tastes quite nice cold. Many cups went cold for me as we are now in subzero weather, my cups of tea cool off all too fast. Sometimes sheng gets bitter or sour when allowed to go cold. Yet this one doesn’t change character, but rather maintains the floral notes which are also evident in the aroma of the empty cup.

It’s a drinker tea without a whole lot of complexity, but the brew is clear and the processing excellent as is usually the case with white2tea. Nothing gets in the way of enjoying this pretty floral leaf. I remember last year this tea was supposedly rather astringent. I’m not noticing much astringency now, and with my drying medications I will usually notice astringency more than some people might.

The leaves open and the brew turns more golden.
I’m glad I waited the year to drink this tea, and this brings up a trend among buyers that I find rather regrettable. I see people drinking teas as soon as they arrive in the mail without any consideration for the teas needing a rest, either because the tea is freshly pressed, or because the tea has had some wet storage and travel issues. I can understand wanting to try a new purchase, but then people do give a tea a poor review simply because they didn’t wait. A freshly pressed tea from any company will need time to rest and tighten up. A sheng puerh changes more in the first year than in any other year of its storage life.

People say “for $50 [or whatever price] the tea should be decent enough I can try it right away.” Any tea is drink-able right out of the mails, but then why judge it when that tea will change more in the next few months? Even an aged tea needs time to open. A drier aged tea will need to return to storage for a time, and a humid aged tea needs time to air. Pin is one of those teas which is probably more comfortable for sheng newbies to drink, and a good choice for a club tea box to please the most number of people. Yet it got a lot of flak from club folk who tried it early, even when the note in the box said “Please wait.” I can understand people won’t like every tea, personal taste is certainly subjective. But I wonder if the “pouncer pronouncer” rushing out an opinion on Steepster or other social media is really in touch with the idea that drinking a sheng cake is a ten, or twenty-year-long tea session.

When people ask me “will I like sheng puerh,” my question back is not “what other teas do you like,” but rather, “what kind of fermented foods do you like?” For if sheng puerh is the King of Teas, it is also certainly the Princess of Fermented Vegetables. Yunnan varietal tea leaf is a distinctly evolved large and bitter leaf. It has very little in common taste-wise with tea leaves from anywhere else. It evolved in a direction completely different from all other sorts of camellia sinensis. If Gyokuro is like unto spinach or lettuce, then Yunnan sheng is like unto cabbage, a sturdy and more strongly flavored cousin.

There is no mistake that sheng lovers also tend to eat sauerkraut or kimchi, or pickles, or drink kombucha and beer or whiskey or bake sourdough bread. So, if you wonder whether you might like sheng, I will ask you, “what other intense foods do you enjoy?” If you can taste the sweetness in a pickle that at first tastes sour, then your tongue is likely to find the returning sweetness in a bitter sheng leaf. If you enjoy the tang of sourdough bread, plain yogurt, or kombucha, then your tongue is looking for fermentation. But if you need your tea sweet, and your yogurt with fruit you might want to explore other teas instead.

I read ratings from people who buy teas because I or another blogger recommend them, and then the buyer gives a poor rating because they don’t like sheng. I would be remiss if I drank a tea I don’t like and then give it a poor rating simply because I don’t like flavored oolong, or whatever. Yet I see people do this all the time with puerh. Even worse are the situations where people spend a ton of money of teas that I recommend, or someone else recommends, the high tier teas, and down-rate all of them. It’s not the fault of the reviewer that you went out and spent a ton of money on something you aren’t sure you will like.

If you are new to sheng, then buy a $20 cake, just one. It won’t be excellent tea, but you have to drink average tea to appreciate the better ones. There is no skipping of tiers. I might not enjoy a $15 Xiaguan tuo so much, but if that is the only sheng I have, then I can drink it and like it just fine. It’s cornflakes instead of oatmeal, but I can and will eat any cereal and I like many types of tea and bitter or sour fermented foods. I can guess that most sheng collectors today can pick up a new Dayi cake and drink it with at least some enjoyment, it is what it is, even though that collector might have other teas they prefer. I’m certain every sheng collector can pick out a dozen “drinker” teas easily that they can consume, as well as their top shelf stuff they aren’t admitting to hoarding.

Mix of leaf types, some yellow, some large and dark, some buds.
So, Pin is one of those teas that I think right now anyone can enjoy, but it has a $49/200g price point. If you are new to puerh, you might like this one, but this price point is still too high for a beginner. Buy samples or check out a $20-30 tea, every vendor sells at least one at a lower price point. And if you are a seasoned puerh drinker, then you already have an opinion on this type of tea, and know what you like, without reading what anyone else writes. If you are drinking factory teas regularly and enjoy them, this is a nice tea to check out for a step up in better processing and blending of northern tea. But above all, WAIT when that tea arrives. Give it some time at home in your storage before brewing it up. You have twenty years to make up your mind.




Saturday, December 3, 2016

Cwyn2

Hello it’s me, Cwyn. The real one, not that person who writes as me, the one who invented me and the one who is in charge, the genuine Cwyn article and today is my turn to talk. I need to tell you I’m sick of that bitch. For months now, she won’t let me do any tea or tea ware shopping. Normally I’m fine with letting her pick the tea as long as I get to pick the tea ware. But we mostly have a moratorium on shopping for all things tea, and it’s all her fault because she invented me and now I need to take over.

Actually she merely invented a new outfit for me when she started this blog. The only reason her sorry ass is still here is because I’ve been saving it since she was a little kid. I will tell you how. When she turned four years of age, her parents starting hosting drunken parties for political personages, and that’s when I was born. Some congressman came to the house and the Father said “You need to shake his hand.” Let me tell you, that girl shook in her saddle shoes. She is impossibly and annoyingly shy. So when the Father said “shake hands with the congressman” I appeared, smiling and confidently shaking hands with a firm grip. I passed the mustard that day and I make regular appearances to publicly represent the Writer because without me she can’t do anything.

This is where I have more than one objection. First of all, she subscribes to an outdated heuristics that regulates every bit of lifestyle, behavior and belief and by outdated, I mean centuries old like medieval. Heuristics is one of her words, and I’m hurling it at her like a molatov cocktail. If you don’t know what heuristics means, the important part is that it holds her back, and even more importantly holds me back. All of it is well and good when you are comfortable behind a brick fortress with three hearty meals a day cooked by someone else, but in the real world it sucks balls, or should I say that I am sucking balls on a daily basis because of this medieval bullshit. You can talk peace and enlightenment until you turn blue but at the end of the day the one who thrives, the one who prospers, the one who evolves the human race is the self-server with a large mirror. Yes, the ones with the bouffant, the bee hive and the orange hair. We are the ones who are the chosen, the ones who get elected to run the show despite short periods of intermission when briefly the audience thinks the quiet non-productive moments rest the mind, but in truth are all about reapplying lipstick for Act 3. I can tell you that Act 3 is nearly at a close and the fat lady either sings or we fail the Times.

As much as people probably admire the Writer, and I give her that she is smarter than I am, what everyone really wants is a dictator. They want someone large and in charge to fix things. I am mainly relegated to tea ware shopping at the moment and this is because the Writer is failing on every level. I plan to let her fail so that she knows she needs me, but I’m annoyed as hell at the cramp in my lifestyle on a daily basis lately. It’s bad enough that we must live in the Midwest for the stupid reason that she likes the food, which I admit is a perk but in reality we need to get the hell out of here along with anyone else with serious balls and forget this diet of oatmeal and cow’s milk which is for babies and not real women. I plan to leave and I’m taking her tea with me.

Sheng puerh is a cooling beverage, and the more cramped I get the more of it she has to drink to keep me in line, or at least anesthetized enough to forget where we are and how boring life really is. The Writer’s mother had the good sense to at least move to Arizona at age sixty instead of putting up with this harsh winter climate. Personally I can’t see myself sweltering away in the southwest but it’s better than Minnesota or here in Wisconsin and a step up too. Anywhere for god’s sake is better than four feet of snow and decades below zero temperatures and wearing the same sweater for days on end. The worst part is we start drinking shou or even hongcha instead of the blessed sheng puerh which we all know has far more social status but when the weather is too cold I don’t even get my one comfort in this bleak existence.

The only reason I’m complaining is because she invented me, and by rights that means she has to support me. Otherwise, I’m going to LA where I can barhop in West Hollywood as I am meant to do and smoke a bong in front of my outdoor fireplace with a sofa and pillows I don’t have to bring indoors. Did you know that she doesn’t even have a deck for the two months of the year it’s possible to sit outside? She has fancy ideas about a cell and contemplation of existence and observing the self which explains the entirety of her failure at least on my behalf. One of us is thoroughly secular and rational but unfortunately all too rarely in charge which means everyone is simply bored out of our skull.

Fortunately, I was the one who raised the child and this is why he has a career and she doesn’t. In fact, I did such a good job with the boy that the Writer didn’t even reveal herself, not once, until the child was fourteen when she took him out for a snack at the American Table on Sherman and told him about the convent. He said, “Are you crazy? What happened to my mother?” The boy is blessedly rationalist because I carefully made sure he wasn’t saddled with the outdated medieval bullshit, and now because of me the damn heat bills get paid. Or don’t get paid because SHE doesn’t qualify for Energy Assistance, and definitely not because I shop for tea ware.

I will shut up now. I will shutup shutup Shut Up. You’re a bitch and aren’t fooling anyone with all that pacifist crap when you know I will never stop shooting that rapist in your bedroom who I will stab to death to protect your illusions of purity when you know what we’ve done, what I’ve done, and what I would do all over again and more of it too and more is better for the both of us, why don’t you just start, finally start, get up and wash that wig before we are done and can’t move and can’t drink sheng again. Please, you’re not that bad just let me take care of you for five minutes and I can make it all better. Yunnan Sourcing is having a sale, right?




Thursday, December 1, 2016

Random Notes on Decent Drinkers

Over the past year or so I’ve tried a number of teas that really are quite good, but they didn’t yield much creativity for me in terms of writing for this blog. Mostly I write on whatever I think is remarkable or a curiosity. But I’m sure you’ll agree that while we all want very good teas in our collection, we still have many which are more daily drinker teas. Some of these are very enjoyable and still worth noting, at least for myself to remember them.

2012 Yunnan Sourcing Da Qing

This cake is an annual production of “old arbor” gushu. Recent years have received mixed reviews. I had two sessions with this four year old production via mrmopar and like this tea very much. Fruity and floral, still quite green, with large leaves and stems. Rather expansive, not so much a tea high but a nice caffeine/theanine reaction, more than just a lift, expanding body awareness maybe. 2012 was a good year for puerh and it’s not easy finding the good teas from this growing season.

No dry storage issues, beautifully stored. I have had at least a dozen samples from mrmopar’s storage which I’ve covered here on this blog, and was also featured on TeaDB. Mr Mopar lives in Virginia and stores his teas packed into old fridge pumidors with an occasionally running fan and humidity packs as needed. He has been storing tea at least five years. Any doubters about storing tea properly in the west haven’t tried his tea yet. I know he’s invested in the best teas possible and will have a decent stash in the coming years when I plan to pitch a tent in his yard and never leave.

2008 Nannuo Loose Maocha Beautiful Taiwan Tea Company

Picked up a bag of this with a order earlier this year. The page for the listing said “more info coming soon,” but I see that info still wasn’t posted in October and now the tea is no longer on offer. This company is based in the US and sometimes resells white2tea and others. I think I paid $13 for about 50g.

No excuse storage.
As you can see, I have a storage problem. I am now out of storage and am using a vintage pig pitcher to store this tea. Back in the day, open pitchers like this were common in farm houses. Milk is brought to the house in a metal pail where the cream is allowed to rise and then skimmed off. I can buy milk in plastic bags here which are market as a way to take up less room in the landfill. So I could actually use this pitcher if I wanted, but the plastic bags can’t be recycled as plastic milk jugs are, so I just buy milk by the jug.


A big family could easily drink up the milk in this pitcher within a day, so it didn’t need a cover or a lid. I’m using a napkin and rubber band, and have no excuses for this behavior. I can’t recommend this storage option even though I normally recommend stoneware with covers for puerh in dry climates. Just do as I say and not as I do.
Still really green. Maybe it wasn't processed right.
Primarily a hay flavor, nice long leaves. The tea seemed a bit too dry and slightly flat.

Loose leaves were pretty though.
Not my favorite loose tea ever, the next one is more to my taste.

2015 Spring Mannuo Gushu Loose Maocha by Chawangshop

2015 Mannuo Loose
Mannuo area sheng is rather difficult to find as a single tea, so earlier this year I added a double order of this $15/50g to another larger tea order. The dry leaves are huge and this is one of those teas you need a larger gaiwan to appreciate unless you want to break up these lovely leaves, which you don’t.

Stoneware container I made in high school.
I’ve brewed up this tea about three times and just don’t have anything remarkable to say about it. It’s pleasant. The tea has notes of hay and flowers with a nice mouth coat. The tea is still rather green. Need to brew a lot of it to make up for the lack of compression. I combined my two bags into a large crock to preserve the long leaves.

Long leaves.
Loose tea is beautiful, but more than a little of it gets to be a storage issue since loose tea needs so much more space. I noticed that puerhsk now has a Mannuo as well, at a higher price point. Still, with few examples of Mannuo around, it’s worth picking up some this year along with an order.

Only a year in and this one seems to be settling well.
Chawangshop is one of my favorite places for decent drinkers and vintage tea ware at budget prices, and puerhsk usually has very fine tea and teaware for more discriminating tea ware hoarders. Don’t be fooled by the shipping in your cart at Chawangshop, it’s a quote and the final shipping won’t be tallied until the order is packed. The final total always comes in lower than the initial quote.

2015 Poundcake by white2tea

People thought I was either crazy or doing a stunt for the blog when I brewed up all 100g of the tea club butt plug last year. I wasn’t doing either, I simply couldn’t figure out a way to chip anything off of the highly compressed plug of tea without injuring myself. I found the early plug rather wet at the time, and it broke down after eight steeps. I purchased a cake of this and then served it at a tea class, which used up half the cake. This production is sold out now, but a 2016 version is available that I haven't tried.

Revisiting this tea now, the leaves have firmed up quite a bit in a year’s time, and the brew is now a thick golden yellow. I noted sourness in early steeps, probably similar to what Hobbes mentioned in his recent review. Either this tea is starting some sort of funky fermentation stage, or it doesn’t do well dry. I will crock up the tea and see if it is correctable.

Wisconsin workin' men
2015 72 Hours by white2tea

I first sampled this tea about two weeks from pressing in the summer of 2015, and drank it a couple more times during the summer that year. I liked it then, and like it even more now. The tea is now firm and brews up a thick yellow, still sweet but bitter when pushed, this has remarkable longevity. Lots of florals, some vanilla, likely a northern tea but one of the better examples.

72 Hours, or in my case, 96 Hours
I got 24 steeps in a recent session over a period of four days and could have coaxed out even more. This tea is damn good. It's well worth the money, when people write to me asking what to purchase from white2tea, this is one I recommend getting now. I expect it to deepen and develop more complexity. Also nice is the compression is lighter so the leaves are easy to separate intact, better to age in my crock style storage. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one pushes 30 steeps at least someday which makes the price per gram easier on the wallet. If I had extra dough I’d get me another one.


I received a sample of this tea, an odd pale colored chunk that brews up reddish. I think this tea got bamboo-stuffed quite wet and composted a bit, in other words, partially fermented. It’s a raw sheng that got part way to shou probably early on. I liked the smoothness of the early steeps, but after about four steeps, I started to feel a bit queasy. After two more steeps I couldn’t go on. The tea is still quite lively on the tongue. Maybe some humid storage might work out some of the in-between fermentation. I just don’t think it’s ready for me to drink now. I prefer the sold out WMD Mansa, or the WMD Mansa huang pian which is a nice bargain at $24.50.

Rummy Pu Shou by LiquidProust Teas

My friend LP sent me a few samples of his teas, this one among them. I’m not a fan of puerh stuffed in wooden booze kegs. This one smelled very strongly of rum right out of the baggie, which reminded me of my stepmother’s stale rum and coke glass the morning after, and thus nauseatingly of my childhood. I aired it for several months. When I brewed it, the tea retained a slight bit of rum scent which was a bit more pleasant. But the tea tasted mostly like cardboard and didn’t benefit from my airing. Maybe people who like boozy puerh would enjoy it more when fresh.

LP also sent me an old 1990s-ish puerh tea bag, a shou that smelled like my grandmother’s pantry. Brewed it up in an Eric Soule clay teapot. I rather enjoyed this warming drink after rinsing the tea bag well in cold water.

1990s Puerh tea bag, liquidprousttea.
A visiting Mr. B's coffee mug, I ain't claiming that as mine.
A cold water rinse will get rid of any off flavors in shou. The tea was quite strong for about four steeps and petered out, but I liked the powdery grandma smell that comes from long storage. You can fake a booze flavor, but you can’t fake-age granny’s closet. Still, gotta give props to LP, he’s sent out a lot of free tea this year to people new to puerh.

2012 CNNP ShouZhu Fu Zhuan Brick 1000g from tea8hk

Evidence of my insanity.
I don’t know what I was thinking when I bought a 1 kilo Fu Brick last spring. But I can blame jayinhk and Acupuncturist on Teachat for the idea. I purchased the tea from the seller’s website which is now shut down, but the seller still has items on EBay. The tea has two listings, one at 10% off here.

Good taste for crazy.
The tea arrived with nice golden flowers throughout already and I kept them up over the summer, but they didn’t grow as large as I wanted. I’m still trying to get a nice crusty Fu Brick and am likely to fail in my too-dry climate. 

tea8hk packaged this very well. The tea has the original box
and then a sealed heavy plastic bag. 
And I don’t have any decent storage option for a brick this large. But the tea has a lovely betel nut flavor, totally smooth and drinkable with a dark orange color, and more aging to go. Maybe I should store it in the bathroom.

2016 Misty Peaks

You can hate on me, I don’t let too many morals get in the way of good tea. I really like this single farm tea, it’s not bad at all. The cakes are now in the Great Shrinking and down to 100g this year. I speculated earlier this year that the farm’s tea may have jumped in value, and so Misty Peaks is getting less to sell. A recent marketing email seems to confirm this, as the company recently announced that it will branch out into other teas and tea ware. 

It's still good tea.
I now have three years of this Yiwu-ish tea stored together in the same vintage crock by itself as an experiment. This year’s is quite tasty and mild with not much bitterness, the empty cup has a strong floral and honey aroma. For experimental purposes this tea is ideal, because I am fairly sure this is a single estate tea and can track its development as a crocked tea without other variables interfering. The leaf is quite durable and can be pushed with warmth and humidity. It doesn’t break down in boiling water either.

1993 Zhongcha Menghai Orange Mark from inpursuitoftea.com

I got to taste this beauty in New York and am obsessing over it ever since. This is the most sticky and pungent of aged puerh teas I’ve ever had. By sticky I mean dark syrup and literally sticky on the fingers. Naturally they don’t have enough to sell. Most really aged teas I’ve had are either rather like dry leather, or humid stored. This one was perfect, and what a treat it was in good company. I got my eye on this company now as their website does have a few aged offerings. 

Various Puerh Teas Macha Tea Company, Madison WI.

Likewise, I have my eye on Macha Teahouse in Madison. Wisconsin finally has a puerh teahouse done right. Most people seem to buy matcha. But puerh is served on a bamboo tray with as many gaiwans and refillable hot water teapots as you need. You can sit on a barstool pub-style and knock 'em back, aged and young teas are available. This is exactly how a puerh tea drunk like me wants it. I can watch the matcha buyers drift in and out and they don't know what they are missing. So few tea houses let you do the brewing and make a mess over a bamboo tray. And if you aren't comfortable brewing yourself, Anthony will help you with the brewing.

I did drink all that.
The shop also sells teas from Yunnan Sourcing and white2tea. I got so tea drunk there I don't remember what the hell I drank or where I parked my car. A session is $13 no matter what tea you pick, and I can easily run up a tab. They also serve meat or vegan and gluten-free meals on Fridays and Sundays and bakery every day. I plan to go back and wish I could go there every day. I doubt you'll find a more agreeable puerh tea house in the midwest USA. Definitely check out the photos at the link above if you want to see a pub style tea house done right.

So these were several tea experiences I didn’t get much time to write about over the year. I haven’t yet formed any conclusions overall on the new teas this year, so many are still too green and wet. I also had a very wet summer where I live, unusually so and my teas are now in great condition. Over the winter I plan to continue drinking through my stash to check on various teas. In fact I still have teas I’ve never tried, like the 2015 Pin which many people say tastes quite good now. I’m betting on 2016 Head as one I will like when it settles. I also have some wet stored teas that required months of airing and need to be sampled as well. The delight of a puerh collection is tasting through and enjoying them like fine wine and whiskey in all stages of development.