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Monday, March 19, 2018

2006 Guoyan Lao Ban Zhang

2006 Guoyan LBZ
Recently I purchased Wilson’s 2006 Guoyan LBZ, a tea I might have missed entirely but for a heads-up from another collector. This tea is stored in Malaysia under a brilliant strategy and network of tea friends and tea shops. When you already have too much tea, a good way to acquire more is by storing with your network. In this way, the wife will not know you have more tea until you bring it home with the quip “this is heading right back out the door.” Of course any tea that does not sell, well then…when enough packages are gone already, what’s another cake in the already full closet? Nobody will notice a thing.

I like very much the 2005 Autumn Guoyan I bought from Yunnan Sourcing last year at twice the price. This new beeng is an excellent deal for a 12 year old Malaysian stored anything, and only $10 shipping. (I have purchased old Liu Bao before just for the Malaysian storage.) The tea arrived with a nice aroma however I let it sit in storage a couple of weeks to relax. I decided on porcelain gaiwan to enjoy the storage notes fully.

Nice oily appearance
The tea indeed does not disappoint with the early obvious Malaysian storage, a woody, old-book type of flavor. The color of the tea is nice, but the soup shows some cloudiness which could be storage aggression or some other issue. I need to see if this clears up in later steeps.

On a hot boil the tea is not bitter, I can feel my mouth prepping for the bitterness, but as Wilson notes in the listing the youthful bitter edge is definitely off of the tea. As the tea cools, the bitterness is more marked, although not hair raising bitterness like the recent 03 Pink Dayi, nor hair balding bitterness like Wilson’s 08 Haiwan LBZ. Steeps 6-8 have a bit of a sour note, which suggests fermentation and this clears a bit more on steep 9. What is remarkable so far is the “sweet vapor” that comes up into the throat from the esophagus. 

First steeping, bit of cloudiness
Many teas give that returning sweetness on the throat or in the mouth, this tea is definitely more sweetness on a vapor cloud, a quality many people look for in an aged tea. The nice floral top notes are evident after steep 8 when all the storage is off and the tea clears, underneath is a more aggressive whiskey Menghai-ish flavor.

Third steep, deeper color, reddish aging early for 12-year old
The tea is not smoky and I did not see much for char in the strainer. I did see some powdery wet filaments which can contribute to clouding, for the tea has plentiful buds.

Leaves are plushy, decent thickness
I think we have a mix here of teas from regions around the Banzhang area. The tea is relaxing, but not much qi to speak of. Its real enjoyment is the full flavor profile ranging from floral to aged oak barrel booze. I can tell I have had a number of one-note teas lately when a full range profile sticks out at me. 

Steep 6
The soup gets thicker in later steeps, a light hand on the steep time will give a yellow brew, adding some 30 seconds gives a more reddish brown stronger tea which I prefer. Controlling the bitterness, if you need to with this tea, is all about short steep times as well as brewing on the boil and drinking as hot as possible.

Leaves are green with evident browning, having turned from youth
In comparing this 06 Guoyan with the 05 Autumn beeng, I think the 05 Autumn with the long leaves and pronounced qi may be the better experience, and the 06 is a bit more of a pedestrian factory blend of area teas. The 05 Autumn was also twice the price. When I think of where prices are going now, I feel as though the $92 price point for 357g is actually a bit on the low side given the 12 year storage, full flavor profile, the sweet vapor. Someone already owning excellent examples of LBZ teas may prefer to chase a more premium experience at this point in their collecting. But for a new collector stretching a budget, this tea is a good opportunity to grab a nice tea below that $100 mark, a point where aged teas overall are quite frankly rare.

Bud plus one leaf common
This tea is a bit rough on the gut if taken on an empty stomach because it is still very green, and I feel I can do something with the cloudiness via more storage. It needs 5-10 years, worth trying once to check the current state, but not one to drink regularly at this time. Wetter storage would surely work on that green, but at the risk of the floral notes I tasted in the middle of the session. I like where this tea is at because I can play with the storage on it, the good start is all I need.

Steep 9 with pretty leaves picked out

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Sup at Yunnan Sourcing

Some days of the week I feel like drinking a gallon of puerh and usually my craving comes after the medications, and the Rolaids following the medications, a time when I cannot dump my favorite beverage down my gullet instantly as I prefer to do. At these times I must resort to window shopping. The other day I was browsing at Yunnan Sourcing and perhaps you are like me, struggling with the new website and interface. I do not know why I cannot view all the Menghai flavored teas in one window. Musing over this conundrum brought me to the odd feeling that something is familiar about the new website, specifically the new logo. In case you need a refresher, here it is.

A suggestive representation.
Now, it occurs to me that I have seen this before. Is it all the Dayi on the page? Well, maybe, but a bell went off in my brain suddenly and I know why the new logo looks familiar.

Ding Xing!
Back in college I took a class that was supposed to be Sociology, but instead turned into a class on the professor’s main interest of marketing and advertising. I learned why restaurant logos usually have red, orange and yellow colors. Apparently in color psychology research, these colors stimulate a person to feel hungry and thirsty. When used on food signs, these colors are more likely to get customers to feel hungry (or thirsty) out of nowhere and then buy something right away to satiate the craving

Personally, I don’t need orange, red and yellow colors to start craving puerh. I taste Menghai in a conference room without any stimulus whatsoever. Suddenly I need aged Yiwu and find my throat full of kuwei during a long commute. I can spit Xiaguan any time at my neighbor’s dogs that never, ever stop barking. I would rather drink puerh than sleep quite honestly, and the medications are the only things in my way. As soon as I have a spare dollar in my wallet I find every reason to spend $149 more at some puerh vendor without any suggestion at all. But that is not how everyone is. If you read those so-called “pragmatic” people who say that it’s possible not to spend any money on tea, well I sympathize with such puritan ideals but frankly those are not my reality.

What I really want is to drink puerh tea all day and all night, and so I finally understand what is going on with Yunnan Sourcing, and the direction they are heading to help people like me.

Ain't it just purty?
I must say, I highly approve. When I need my tea, I want it hot and fast and I want it now. Why should I wait until I get home for some special hour of the day? Who needs a tea table and special clothes and tea pets when a drive-thru is so much more convenient?

Just think of all the shuttered fast food restaurants out there waiting for a new puerh tea franchise. These places have huge, sealed and lined built-in coolers which are perfect for storing puerh pies and they don’t even need to be turned on. Plop in a box fan and you’re all set. “I misted the cooler today, boss” is what every puerh manager needs to hear to add ten cents more to that worker’s paycheck. Such a franchise is every worker’s dream when he can choose to completely anesthetize the customer who is not sure what they want. For fussy people and infants we have things like marshmallows and rice pearls or whatever those things are people put in Boba to make it taste like something.

I could use a fast food puerh place where I live. Right now the closest puerh tea shop is in Madison on E. Johnson St. where I have to find someplace to park (not easy), then walk in and sit at the puerh bar. It’s a great spot to go, but it’s an hour drive and honestly a fast puerh place is no competition because Macha Tea Company is at Norris Court and I used to leave there drunk I don’t know how many times because my friend John lived there. (You should really move back now, you left too soon.) But Macha cannot help me now when I live so far away and need my own local establishment such as Yunnan Sourcing will provide.

The World Tea Expo is likely to announce yet again this year that tea is expanded in the global market another 1000x more than the previous year, and likely to expand again. Every vendor out there is trying to think of a way to serve tea to the western market, and we have only one model that works and it’s a drive-thru.

Personally I really like the new direction that Yunnan Sourcing is going. I don’t need to burn down my house falling asleep waiting for the kettle to boil on the stove when someone else can make tea for me. I don’t need to wait six weeks for some slow boat when we have Grub Hub and Lyft Food and Uber Lunch. I can order on my cell phone and some nice looking dude or dude-ette will show up at my door with all the goodies. What could be better?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Two Blogger Samples: 2003 Pink Dayi and 2006 Taetea 7452

This past week I set myself the task of trying two teas sent to me from bloggers. I have had these samples for some time, and perhaps the bloggers told me not to write about them and I am forgetting whether that is the case. Pretty much everybody sending me tea says not to write. This is a downside to writing a blog, when nobody wants their teas in print. But the teas sent to me are perfectly fine, so why not.

The first tea is Wilson’s 2003 Pink Dayi, a tea he surely has a lot of pride in owning since it is rather tough to come by. He is selling bits of it on his new website, you can acquire 50g for the tiny price of $20, and I recommend you do so especially if you are ordering any of his other fine teas. I got a smaller, single session sample, since it was a gift during a bad health phase, when a tea like this will either permanently put me out of my misery or revive me into a bionic woman.

Bionic tea
Wilson writes that this tea is one of the “strongest” teas he has ever tried, and he is not kidding. Though I have to say it stops short of the pure pain of his 2008 Haiwan LBZ, which opens up the scalp pores causing hair to fall out, likely due to the addition of some Laoman-e in the blend. Nevertheless, the Pink Dayi, a re-wrapped tea sold originally to a Taiwanese collector, has plenty of torture on its own.

As you can see in the listing, the tea is shrink-wrapped which has protected it from the perils of Taiwan storage, and in fact the tea differs from Wilson’s own storage in that the tea is far greener than it would be without the shrink wrap. I think the decision to shrink wrap here is wise, because the early steeps have a strong orchid top note, that lovely floral we find in the best teas. Underneath that is burly bitter pain. The tea delivers this pain through its oily texture, the oil coats my entire mouth and makes certain the bitterness is trapped such that water will not wash it away and I remain in pleasurable agony for a good hour. This tea sits in every organ and probably works as well as any antibiotic to detox what ails me, producing profuse sweating (which I’m prone to anyway) like a session of hatha yoga.

Fourth steep shows drier storage just turning
With bitterness like this, and so much youth left in the tea, I would feel tempted to really push the moisture in storage but doing so risks losing that lovely orchid top note. No doubt prior owners had the same thinking, and in the end keeping the tea wrapped is probably the best idea given the humid climates it has lived in so far. This tea is already 15 years old and still needs another 20 years at least, just crazy. 

Tea looks much younger than it is due to shrink wrapping.
I enjoyed the pleasure and pain, and I inquired about purchasing an entire cake, and this request was pointedly ignored. Wilson’s blog is one of my favorites for his dry wit, and I interpreted his lack of response along the lines of his blog humor, and chuckled to myself. Who would want to let go of a tea like this? Nobody. We are lucky he is letting go of sample sizes. I have seen “this” tea offered elsewhere, cannot remember where just now, but I doubt the other vendor has the real deal like Wilson does.

The next tea is a sample sent to me by Hster some years ago, a 2006 Taetea 7452 601 ripe. Her blog is another favorite of mine, she is probably the longest term puerh blogger in English, as she started in 2003 and has written consistently since about 2006. The samples she sent me a few years back consisted of shou teas she enjoys, along with a concern that her northern California climate is too dry, something she writes about. I recommend reading her blog from start to finish. If you cannot manage that, at least read 2012 onward.

Based on her samples sent to me, Hster seems to enjoy shou teas that have what I call a cognac/wine/mushroom profile, in other words she likes them strong. As do I. One of her samples was the 2009 Lao Cha Tou brick from Yunnan Sourcing, and after trying her sample of that tea I snagged one of the bricks before they sold out.

Tasty looking chunk
I have had the 7452 sample stored in the bag for a couple of years, then I kept it in a gaiwan for a couple more, so the tea sample is likely a bit more dry than the entire cake at this point. Today I decided to give this tea a try.

Shou for what ails you.
I do not find the tea to have lost flavor, except that the wo dui has of course faded some after 13 years since the tea was originally fermented. This tea still has some green leaves, and more time to go. I like the strong mushroom and wine profile, and as with Wilson’s tea I sweated profusely after a few cups. I notice a dry storage sour in the first few brews, but that can easily work itself out in a crock with a bit of added moisture since we still have green here. Making shou myself has taught me a good deal about the stages before hitting heavy fermentation, so I know I could work this tea hard if I had a cake.

Inspecting the leaves shows some green tea left to age.
The 7452 recipe is strong and more flavorful than a 7572, and the leaves are sturdy. Luckily, the tea is available for sale at Yunnan Sourcing if you want to give it a try, although at $65 for a full cake we are paying for age at this point. For a more budget-friendly strategy, buy a 7452 every year when they are new and much less expensive and put them away for a few years. That is, if you can take the blend, otherwise the more evenly fermented 7572 is a gentler choice needing only half the time in storage to clear. Otherwise, I need to change my shirt because I have sweated completely through the one I put on after my shower today.

Much thanks and tea love _/|\_ to both Hster and Wilson for the pleasure of their blogs, and the immense enjoyment I got from trying their teas.

Friday, February 9, 2018

3 Reasons to Make Shou at Home

Long time readers of this blog may remember the batch of shou I made back in 2015. Hard to believe three years have passed since I finished that shou. Over the first year I continued to taste the tea every six months. Later I sent a sample to a vendor who tried the tea, and sent me more maocha to make another batch. I have just completed one of these new batches, and still have maocha left over.

The super exciting part for me is recently trying the first batch again. When shou is freshly made, the brew will start out a little cloudy, requiring several steepings to clear. As my first batch is now at the 3-year mark, it shows clear on the second steeping, rather than on the 8th steep. I also noticed that the tea now smells like every factory shou I own that is younger than ten years, it smells like regular shou. In early months, the tea had a musty, funky smell. All that is now gone, and I cannot tell the difference between this shou and those I have purchased in the past. Let's review how the tea changed over the past three years.

You can see how cloudy the initial cup was after I finished the shou. I need to steep the tea eight times for it to clear.

Then, at six months, I needed to steep the tea six times for it to clear. 

Now today, my shou clears on the second steeping. 

At 3 years, the tea has cleared much and is a bit more brown.
My newest shou turned out a bit less cloudy than the first batch. The maocha is also different, and this time I do not know anything about the origin of the maocha. I was also told not to drink the maocha raw, perhaps the tea had some less than clean processing. 

Week 1 of new batch, just starting out.
Any bacteria in raw maocha from unclean hands or factory conditions will work itself out during fermentation and years of resting. In my first batch, I moistened the tea with a premium Yiwu brew, rather than just plain water, and that also accounted for some of the initial clouding, and I can taste a lively-in-the-tongue bitter edge to my first batch, indicating more aging potential.

After a few weeks, I could have stopped but felt the tea was
a bit uneven due to some spots drying faster than others.
For my current batch, I just used plain water to moisten the tea leaves. I do not want to drink my current batch yet, for it is too fresh and musty, but I brewed up a couple of steepings, and here is the tea after two rinses, with two brews poured in the same cup. 

At 9 weeks today, the tea is finished and much more evenly fermented.
Obviously I did not want to use much leaf just for the sake of photos, so I need to pour two steeps together to get a cup for the picture.

Today's first two brews of the tea in the last photo above.
Not bad looking at all! Smells musty though, so I
do not want to drink it yet, just a smell check.
I have learned so much about puerh tea from this process of making shou and resting it, which gives me the most important reason to make shou.

Deepen my understanding of puerh tea aging and fermentation.

This is the best reason to make shou. I get to smell this stuff and experience how funky and almost nasty smelling puerh tea is during the shou making process. I get to see what happens when I spray or pour more water into the batch to continue adding moisture, the water seeps a little liquid to the bottom of my crock bowl and I can check the color. This tells me when the shou is done, the liquid goes from a dirty yellow to reddish brown. I can watch tiny dots of white mold form on the tea. I turn my tea daily and work in the moisture evenly.

As the tea rests, I can check every six months to see how the rested tea tastes and looks in the cup. I can see how my first batch of shou tea clears first around steep eight, then six, and now just two steepings. My vendor friend assured me the tea would clear, and this has indeed happened.

Using up sheng I probably will not drink.

Making shou is a great idea for tea that I doubt I will drink and probably should not try to pawn off on someone else. Most of us have at least some tea that we either wish we had not bought, or maybe our tastes have changed. A bitter, smoky puerh in particular will make a decent shou. You can always steam apart a cake or brick to use in a shou batch.

Earning myself a decent drink after a few years!

This is the very last reason to make shou. Who cares if I drink it or not? The point is, I got my head further into the puerh I enjoy so much. I really do not think I can decide on the “quality” of my shou until the tea rests, and even now shou continues to improve with more years. I have learned that shou older than 10 years is the best. Hard to say if I will last out my current batch of shou, but I am okay with that.

Anyone can make shou. I really believe using some sort of crockery, glazed stoneware, makes the most sense for shou. We have all seen photos of shou on a cement factory floor covered with a browned tarp, so we know just about anything goes for shou. A small amount of tea can ferment in a glass jar with a cloth over the top. The main ingredients aside from the tea are water and heat.

I find the heat the tricky part. Right now we have very frigid cold weather, so my cast iron radiators are hot all the time and this provides the heat under the crock bowl. In Yunnan, the weather is warm and muggy during the summer. For me, summer is not ideal because we get high heat and then cooldowns for a day or two, I cannot guarantee the conditions for the 2-10 weeks required for making shou. In winter, my radiators provide the conditions much more reliably.

Aside from the heat, we also have dry air. I run a humidifier and use pans of water on each radiator. Despite this, my shou batch will dry out within a few days and so I need to check it. I also need to turn the tea and mix it, I usually find some dry spots and some wet spots. In the crock bowl, the tea on the bottom can compost quickly. Turning the tea prevents that. I use plastic gloves on my hands to turn the tea.

If you start a shou batch and do not turn it often enough, you will first notice blue/green mold and affected tea must be tossed. Dots of white mold are normal and okay, and these will seem to disappear when turning the tea. Turning the tea and airing it a little daily, or as often as I want to, allows me to look and smell the situation. Shou smells funky and musty, all that will eventually clear out.

Remember, if you make your own shou, taste and spit for the first six months. Your sense of smell will tell you when to drink it. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

2017 Mansong New Company Yiwu Mountain Tea

YiwuMountainTea sample packs
I received some unsolicited samples from a new company in Yunnan called Yiwu Mountain Tea. The owner emailed asking if I wanted some samples (no, not really) but then I got talked into it. I am glad I did! Yiwu Mountain Tea has a retail website, but the owner stated they mostly do wholesaling, with some purchases direct from small time farmers and some of their retail offerings appear to be factory label teas.

While my kettle boiled I opened up the 2017 Mansong and started brewing before checking the website to find out this tea is already sold out. I went ahead anyway since I had already opened the packet, although I prefer to try teas that are still available to buy. On the plus side, I have a fairly recent memory of an excellent Chen Yuan Hao Mansong for mental reference, and the prices on Yiwu Mountain Tea approach the high premiums we would pay for CYH.

2017 Mansong
This still-green Mansong hits all the right notes for me in what I want in a premium tea. Hits like a truck with full sweating, full body qi, hot flashes, some thickness in early steeps, yun, and bitter as hell as it cools. Mansong is a bit on the north side of Yiwu, but recently the prices of this small area are high. I notice the leaves are definitely first flush, mainly younger trees. I am tea drunk enough to give a fast thumbs up on this sample.

I had planned to try the other samples before posting this, but I notice the prices of full cakes are steep for what most people reading my post here are likely to afford. Most of the 2017 are not available to buy in full size teas. The good news is a sample pack is available for $31.64 that contains a total of 8 teas, 120g. The website also says that “free gushu samples” are sent with any order over $30. As a comparison, a 2016 CYH Yiwu Chawang at Teapals sells for around $70 for 75g sample pack.

Second steep
This seems like a fairly decent deal and probably limited in availability. If you are like me, we are priced out of the premium market now so opportunities to try teas like this are scarce unless you know someone willing to share. I am not sure what I think of the factory teas on the site, but the sample pack is certainly attractive. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

When Tea Gets Ugly, and other 2018 Puerh Predictions.

The online tea world just gets nastier every year. I look back to a couple of years ago and the conflicts in the puerh world seem warm and fuzzy by comparison to what is going on lately. We are well past the point now of joking over 1800 year old tea and all the great things puerh will do for your diabetes. What is new is a consumer backlash, in my opinion. This backlash has a number of elements, some of which have more to do with the consumer than with tea or tea vendors. The biggest factors in play right now are: 1) shift in marketing preferences by consumers; 2) increase in puerh tea prices, coupled with 3) continuing stagnant purchasing power of consumers.

Marketing Shift

For the past decade or more, tea marketing has focused on health/wellness side of tea drinking in hopes of converting coffee drinkers and selling a lifestyle image. Largely this wellness marketing focus has aimed for and appealed to financially well-off persons over the age of forty. These people are primarily responsible for the success of gyms, spas, and high tech devices. Aging always drives spending money in staying healthy and youthful, and lines the pockets of wellness gurus worldwide. Now we have a younger buying cohort who is not yet preoccupied with aging, and has less purchasing power per person and prefers lower tech living. Consequently we see gyms on the decline, and high priced tea brewing devices fail.

Along with this, the wellness marketing trope feels tired. It smacks of privilege not felt, along the lines of wishful thinking rather than reality. The consumer is aware that tea with a Zen lifestyle is not provided by hard working, benevolent vendors. These are experiences consumers create for themselves. Tea is an ingredient of experience in the daily actions of the buyer, but not the entire experience bought in one huge package.

With a more “ingredient,” nuts and bolts focus, people are impatient when they feel someone is trying to sell them an image or lifestyle when really the purchase is tea. I consistently read consumer complaints over marketing which includes “image” based tea labels, with no real information on the actual tea. This scheme is all the more obvious when accompanied with tea photos taken from a wholesaler stock catalog and the consumer recognizes the repeated usage from one vendor to another. 

The term I see more and more on tea forums is “marketing schtick.” Consumer backlash is increasing against teas sold via images or lifestyles, rather than a description of what the product is, “objectively,” origins and so forth. Consumer discussions continue for months along these lines, for example the Mei Leaf 1000 year tea discussion on Steepster. Consumers also see through the schtick of vendors who “name drop” on labels, naming conventions like “Little Bingdao” on teas that are about as close to Bingdao as Milwaukee is to Chicago. 

Online discussions stemming from a "disconnect" between vendors and consumers now get really ugly. An example of the worst might be one about a monthly tea subscription company selling lifestyle when the teas do not measure up to expectation, and consumers taking to social media to complain, resulting in threats by the vendor to sue. Even bloggers are starting to hear threats of lawsuits for negative reviews of teas, an unlikely scenario but certainly not pleasant tea meditation. Another ugly discussion continued for days over the alt online names of a tea vendor presumably anonymously self-promoting teas and bashing the competition.

All the disillusioned discussions online point to a decline or shift in social marketing of tea, with too many tea companies using social media in the exact same way. Too many tea companies focusing on image, lifestyle or boasting a guru lead inevitably to consumer weariness, whether via photos, blogs or podcasts. Tea marketing is in a sort of reductionist phase, the thing rather than the image of the thing. But we have a few more factors at play in 2018, the picture is not quite so simplistic.

Increase in (Puerh) Tea Prices

Tea is more expensive in large part because more people are demanding a premium product, and the amount of premium tea available cannot possibly meet the demand. In addition, weather plays a role in how much premium tea is available in a given year, and the past few years were affected by unusual climate events. Governmental policies such as in Taiwan have made high mountain oolong more scarce as well.

In the past four years the cost of a nice puerh tea has literally doubled, and that is not including the increases in puerh tea costs before or even after the big bubble of 2008. Ghastly price increases are coming at a bad time too, because on the one hand long-time collectors have plenty of tea and are not likely to open the wallet except for increasingly rare tea experiences, and people new to collecting are priced out before they even start. Over the past year, one of my blog posts has consistently remained in my top six “most read” posts, the post called “How Can I Afford this Hobby?”  I suspect that the people finding this post are new to puerh. They are dealing with sticker shock and want recommendations. The same can be said about oolong and many other premium teas as well. Buying premium tea is increasingly out of reach for most of us, myself included. We can still find decent budget teas, as I wrote about in that post, but decent is not the same as premium.

Continued Stagnant Purchasing Power

Premium tea was once an affordable treat, but while teas are increasing in price and scarcity, the consumer is ever more aware of how little their money buys. Crypto currency is a huge topic right now, in part because people are frustrated with how little cash they have and how little their cash can buy. I think this is the real anger in the ugliness of the tea scene. How dare vendors pitch “schtick,” lie about tea, sell lifestyle tropes, mark up prices more than 10% a year, use social marketing to find customers when the reality on the ground of the consumer is so damned painful?

Along with this pain is the realization that change is not going to happen anytime soon. The whole notion of “change” is political, and politics are more stagnant than a wet pile of shou. Consumer anger peaked over the past year or so and now people are onto what they hope are solutions, whether it is crypto currency or changing buying habits. I propose a few concepts that will be key in this year’s puerh buying.


Budget teas rumored to have good quality will sell out quick. Yes, they always sell out quick but we have more buyers now than four years ago. More people are seriously looking for decent budget teas. The high end collector side is likely to remain stable with a few people able to afford the best of the best. I believe the successful vendor to the western market will either focus on the budget end or scale back significantly and cater to a small group of high end collectors. The middle tiers will be slower to sell, especially and unless “better” drinkers are vastly different year after year, which for the most part they are not, so the middle may be the most stable price-wise, and perhaps the toughest sell.

Chinese Factory Teas

Western ignorance of the Chinese language and myths about Chinese politics favor factory teas more this year, with budget so much of a factor. People cannot read the wrappers, so they are essentially “empty” of marketing imagery for the western buyer. Even if the wrappers are all about the tired health and wellness tropes, people cannot read them. Even if the wrappers lie, anyone who cannot read Chinese will not know.

More importantly, Chinese puerh wrappers have the nostalgia factor politically. They project the old-time state owned factories with emotionless number recipes. The bland sameness of the old CNNP label suggests a society with no elites, when premium tea and bad tea shared the same wrapping. Now of course the old reality had elites, despite the “worker” philosophy. But for a customer with stagnant purchasing power, abandoned by the state, left to the mercy of corporations, essentially the customer in “capitalist” countries, a factory wrapper suggests a political change that needs to happen even if it does not. Chinese wrappers simply do not push the sore buttons, and one can find a lot of budget-friendly factory teas for under $50, full-size cakes too, not these bottle-cap sizes that we see more and more of.

More Auctions and Group Buys

The middleman is not responsible for the mess, and may carry an advantage of coordinating budget-friendly group tea buying. Personally I see this as an expensive way to buy tea in the long run, but in the short term might be the only option for folks who hope their current budget will change for the better in a few years.

Along with this, more and more people buying tea means more tuition tea, not merely bad tea. People need time to learn what they like in tea, and so the secondary market is not yet kicked in as much as it will be in a few years. More people will decide to sell teas they do not like in order to buy other teas. Right now this has not yet really started in the west, but it will and maybe 2018 is the year it really starts to increase. I bought some very good tea last year this way, and sold a few I knew I would never drink.

More Interest in Storage

Tea storage is rather low tech, as inexpensive as you like. I believe this is the real meat of the puerh hobby, and obsessing over storage rather than shopping is the healthy direction our hobby needs to go. I see more and more discussions of storage than ever before, and the ideas are grand. I applaud the failures too, because we learn more from failure in the short term than anything else. Long term storage is still anyone’s potential success story. I see far more marketing potential in storage than in lifestyle or wellness. Unfortunately I think the tea vendor world will continue marching along with the tired lifestyle stuff rather than stock up on storage solutions and custom thermoses.

Overall, I think 2018 is the year of the Testy Customer and I will be interested to see what emerges from this on the vendor end. Of course these are merely my own observations and predictions. Anything can happen and probably will.

Happy drinking!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Blind Sample Greek Puerh Tasting via Yunnan Sourcing

In November 2017, I was invited by Matt of mattchasblog to do a blind tasting of Yunnan Sourcing samples, in the manner of the old Half-Dipper blog posts where the samples are marked with Greek letters and the teas are revealed afterward. We were given a deadline of January 15, and I am a few days late in finishing up. My medications are wrecking my ability to drink puerh on many days. My gut is okay, not damaged or anything like that, but it is sensitive and I try to avoid provoking it. So I spread out the tastings and tried to get as close to the deadline as I could.

I decided to brew the teas in clay rather than the gaiwan, just for variety among the bloggers who I assumed would likely choose a porcelain gaiwan. I chose a light clay tea pot made by Inge Nielsen (Belgium) that I use for young sheng. I measured 7-8g of tea per 100/ml and ended up using less water than that for most of the teas, more like 80 ml.


A very green tea yet.
Young. Leaves are plump and attractive. Fruity/floral, pours with some thickness, has that YS “house” taste I find in a lot of YS teas. Not much bitterness, very yin and cold. After –taste a little sour, likely needs some heat/humidity. Might be better down the line after it settles more. 


Rather good.
Young tea but with some browning, small leaves, fragrant in the pouch. Decent thickness to the pour. This tea is more to my taste with darker notes of aged oak cask along with the fruity floral. More yang than Alpha sample. Warm, autumn peppery spices going down the throat. A bit of euphoric stoner qi in the face and torso, making me want to guzzle the way Menghai tuos do. Still very sweet, warm mead, some house flavor.

Nothing burly I’d want to age but a pleasant drink for people who like brandy, cognac or spiced rum and a fuller profile in a young tea they can drink now. Hell, yeah. Wasn’t gonna binge drink but I think I will.


Worth it for the throat feel.
Green, Menghai-ish aroma. Tippy, small plantation leaves. The sample consists of loose tea and a chunk that resembles a mini-cake. Third pour a bit thicker. Finally, we have a tea which is somewhat bitter. Some throat feel. Not bad, but nothing special.

Overall I am finding a disturbing lack of decent bitterness in the teas thus far, despite how green and young as they are.


Sidling up to the bar, can I get some puerh already? It is one of those days, life is a miserable affair and certainly not worth living and I need tea to make it all better. Days like today are why God made dirty tuos, the back alley tavern beverage of choice for the puerh snifter, this western puerh drinker, I am such a stereotype and caricature of everything I come from, preferring the heights of heaven and depths of hell even in my beverages while eschewing the mildly pleasant middle. Aristotle shakes a crooked finger at people like me, a nice way to put it, because the thinnest veneer of schooling lies between me, as I am now, and the bar brawler that nature evolved me to be.

I probably did not give this tea a fair trial,
but could not bring myself to revisit it either.
This one has dark greenish black leaves, and smells of YS house teas. First two steeps show a touch of pink amber in the yellowish brew. Very pretty. Floral/fruity reminds me of the Alpha sample. I let it sit too long cooling. The cup then tastes sour. I have not had a single lick of food touch my palate yet today. Next…


This sample has green/black loose leaves, no chunks. I brew up 7g/100 ml and this is almost flavorless. Pushed with 80 ml water yields a more balanced and nicely bitter result that coats the tongue and provides a fast huigan. 

Not terrible, but not memorable.
Otherwise the experience is the same one note I find in most of the other samples, a mild fruity floral, all top note. The huigan reasserts in the throat ten minutes after the last sip, so double huigan, an initial one upon sipping and then another shortly afterward. Very clean tea overall, no storage notes perhaps because the tea is still young. Despite the promising start, the tea is cashed around steep 5, the loose leaves of course will give out sooner than a chunk. The session is like a highly anticipated erotic moment that finishes all too quickly.


This sample comes in a large mylar bag, the kind that Yunnan Sourcing once used for samples with a purchase but now buyers must pay for these. The bag contains large chunks of…shou. The shou appears to be on the young side, by the looks of it. I drink less shou now than I once did, and I prefer it older than ten years. I also use less leaf than I used to. But I will momma-up and donate the gut for today. Also, I must switch teapots from a sheng-dedicated clay and choose a thick porcelain to generate enough heat to separate the rather compressed sample.

A potent and rather tasty shou.
The tea brews up dark brown, and thicker with each steeping. I like it, this is a rather good shou, with a traditional Menghai factory flavor of soil, wood, vanilla, root beer, yeast bread, very tangy and lively. Some bitterness left shows some potential for age. This will one day get the sort of plummy flavor old shou tuos and bricks do at fifteen years, but likely to brew a lot longer. Right now the pile flavor is still very heavy in the tea. I take to the tea like a diabetic to a box of chocolates, my brain quickly forgetting any idea of caution on my gut. I feel a presence in the throat from the tea and a contented happiness flows.

Last year I bought a Year of the Goat shou cake from YS, and it is too young to drink now but I wonder if this sample is the same recipe, one of the Chinese year shous. If so, I will be happy I bought Goat. The sample is shou for days, brews a long time. I let water sit in the teapot to form a  thick cough syrup and the tea leaves are nowhere near done after six steepings, and can easily be boiled when they fade. One thing in favor of this tea, the flavor is similar to factory shou but so much more potent, a reminder to myself that Yunnan Sourcing, Crimson Lotus, or white2tea house shou puerh are a good value because the tea leaves are much stronger than traditional factory recipes, so I can use less tea and brew them longer.

Final Thoughts

A big thank you to Mattcha and also Yunnan Sourcing for the blind tasting experience.

Overall, with the exception of Beta, the sheng puerh teas have a similar flavor profile to other Yunnan Sourcing sheng puerh teas I have tasted in the past, and similar to the two or three I already own. If I intended to buy more YS sheng productions, the main factor for me is price. The year or name on the tea honestly will not matter much. I suggest to buyers looking at YS sheng productions to compare years for prices, the same teas year over year are likely to taste similar so whichever one costs less will be the best value. Beta is a tea I might consider as it stood out from the others with a fuller profile, deeper notes. The shou is good, but if it is a yearly production like Goat I will stay with what I own.  

I also am aware of personal subjective biases. These teas are clean and nice drinkers, but I want unique teas, something new or different than what I own. I already own plenty of drinkers. Nowadays I tend to look for very strong tea, either a strong burly and bitter tea, or intense mouth, throat feel, body effects, or qi. Or I am looking for storage and fine aging. This means I might not be the best person to try these teas. Someone new to puerh might offer a fresh perspective, and the teas are clean enough, and mild enough, to recommend them to anyone new to sheng puerh. 

After Note

 Since posting the above, I have now read some of the other blogger notes, and there seems to have been an expectation to either guess the region or production. I assume that many YS productions are blends, so it did not occur to me to try and guess where the leaves are from. And I am not familiar with the entire YS line, and thus not in a position to guess specific teas. Hopefully what I wrote will suffice.