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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Steaming Apart a Puerh Beeng


When a machine compressed puerh tea is too tight for a knife or pick, I risk injury to my fingers and hands. A pair of pliers will break off chunks, but this breaks the tea leaves too, and sometimes I want loose, whole leaves rather than a chunk. Steaming apart the compressed tea is the only answer, but we rightly worry over subjecting our dear teas to any process. Today I steamed apart a heavily compressed beeng of red tea, and I will show some photos of the process I used.

This cake is 2013 Drunk on Red by Yunnan Sourcing, a very inexpensive 100g black/red tea. Unfortunately this tea is sold out, except for one production with snow chrysanthemum added. I hope YS will do this production again someday. I paid around $4 for it, and the tea is so compressed that I cannot remove any tea. I want to use this tea in my new Teforia machine so I need actual leaves and not chunks, and I plan to tin up the leaves to drink over a month or so.

Steaming a tea is very simple using a strainer and a bit of water underneath in a pot. I made sure the water did not touch the strainer.



Once the water boils, I just need to let it steam a couple of minutes. Keep in mind a lid is needed to start the steaming, but drops of condensation off the lid will drop down through the tea. I don’t want too much dripping or basically I will have drip-brewed tea water.


I turned out the beeng onto a plate. The leaves are hot and steaming, but not drippy wet.


Now the beeng is very loose around the edges, so I can pry it apart with a fork. The middle of the beeng is still mostly dry, however I can break apart some of the chunks with my fingers or just leave them chunk-y if I wish.

Finally I spread the tea out onto a flat pan and set it out to dry. The tea will be dry later in the evening so I can tin it up.



No one needs a guide on how to steam apart tea, but sometimes looking at photos helps with making a decision on whether to steam. I imagine most of us would not want to do this with precious tea, but with hardy teas like bricks or tuos, or teas of ordinary quality, steaming is certainly an option. The tea can go into a caddy and rest until brewing time.



Addenda 

I want to congratulate two puerh writers for their recognition in recent days. Max Falkowitz received a 2018 James Beard Award for his Saveur magazine article “The Pu-erh Brokers of Yunnan Province.”

I was lucky to meet Mr. Falkowitz in 2016 in NYC during the Saveur Blog Awards, and I am grateful for his support of puerh writing.

Congratulations also to MarshalN for his nomination this week for Blog of the Year by the 2018 WorldTea Expo’s World Tea Awards. MarshalN’s “A Tea Addict’s Journal” is one of the longest-running puerh blogs in English. 

If you are new to tea, I highly recommend reading his blog from start to finish. This is the first year that a Tea Industry business association is recognizing puerh blogging, long overdue.

Cups up, friends, and cheers to both of these incredible writers!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Three Vendors you probably never heard of


How lucky we tea fiends are these days with all the possible vendors servicing our fix. We need every single vendor because each week we see another article online telling the world about how hot puerh tea is. Lordy, but the hoards just keep horning in on our exclusive territory with no end in sight, which just raises prices for the rest of us. We can’t shush up these articles online but maybe we can steer traffic a little bit. Here are a few websites you can bookmark, especially if you are new to tea.


Here is a very general website with inexpensive prices. The teas offered are basic, decent and won’t break the bank for those on a budget. Carts $60+ ship for free in the US, and they take Paypal. Not really a site for great puerh, but the reviewers are real people so we can read some feedback on teas the shop has carried for a long time. Tea ware is the real bargain. I have liked everything I bought from this shop. The Yixing is not so great, but it’s good enough to test whether or not you really want to sink a couple hundred of your hard-earned dollars into a real Yixing. When you are starting out, buying inexpensive will help to appreciate better things down the road. Some items such as an aroma cup are just as useful costing $3 here as $20 and up from someplace else. What about that $1.98 glass teapot sale going on right now? No? How about the “Mini Luck” tea set for $6 from the Top Sellers list?


Here is a Malaysian shop to bookmark. The link above should go right to the Taetea products, probably what people want to see. This is a licensed Taetea shop that takes Paypal, full stop. Stuff sells out fast, like the Gold Dayi they had last month. I suspect that many inventory items never make it into the online shop because they sell out locally first.


Where have I been lately, I missed the opening of this shop by puerh collector AllanK. This seller is a boon for shou lovers. I am rather fond of Allan as he shares many traits I have such as too much tea, difficulty parting with any and please don’t visit in person. Probably unbeknownst to you all (and maybe Allan too) he has inspired several of my cartoons over the years, such as this one called Forklift Tea. Now is my turn to thank him for the delightful person he is.


A few years ago, Allan sent round blind tasting samples of his storage to other puerh drinkers. He had two years stored on a tea in three conditions: open storage, plastic wrapped storage, and pumidor storage. Without exception all the puerh drinkers picked out the pumidor storage sample as lively and in good condition. I have had several other samples from Allan over the years, including a memorable 2013 Hai Lang shou brick.

Like other collectors selling tea, I do not expect this new shop to sell the best teas Allan owns. No one wants to part with those. But he has amassed a number of sold out teas, as well as buys from Taobao and he’s selling a few of these. Do some comparison shopping and look for the stuff you cannot find elsewhere. I will be keeping an eye on his shop. Allan tells me he has sold some high sums already to other collectors, and I know he has more to list. Kudos go out to any collector willing parting with some teas, even if to make room for more.

Every tea vendor out there has pluses and minuses. A savvy buyer learns where to buy particular things, and a few lucky people get a deal once in awhile. The best I can say is most vendors will email personally with anyone and work out problems as they arise. Try and use PayPal or some other payment service with a no-hassle refund as a last resort. Have fun shopping!



Friday, May 4, 2018

The Final Fantasy of Buying Puerh


This spring we confront our realities with an armored wallet. While the puerh harvest ahead appears bountiful, according to early reports, prices are headed nowhere but up. I have viewed some pre-order price lists which always show a bit of a discount for people willing to fund a vendor’s season in advance. But if you expect to buy even decent drinker quality puerh this year, your wallet is going to hurt.

The final fantasy of a puerh drinker is expressed on tea chats every day: “how can I buy X tea, or something like it, for the same price or less?” He wants whatever sample or cake he tried last year, but the production is sold out or marked up higher. She hopes Shop Y will offer the same tea as last year, at last year’s prices. Everyone wants a clue from somebody on where to buy some miraculous puerh, preferably for nothing. Oh yes I do have this final fantasy and I am certain if I post it on a tea forum asking people what tea to buy and where, I just might get the perfect answer and no one will laugh!

People ask me if I think we are in a puerh bubble. I do not. In 2007-8 puerh prices took a huge tumble, a bit of history everyone knows. Back then people complained about a 357g beeng costing $30. Now those teas sell for over $100 at half the size. Factory teas are not immune. If you want a spring production, even a 7542 recipe pushes the $50 mark, with Taetea special productions over $100 at retail, if you manage to snag them at all.

The difference between 2008 and today is that we have far more people with lots of money willing to pay even higher prices, and we are nowhere near the ceiling yet. This is partly due to the scarcity of very fine tea, but I think mainly the wealth gap between the top and bottom is so much wider. Wealthy people are richer than ever, and they want puerh. For a wealthy person, what is a few extra hundred dollars, or euros, or marks, or yen or yuan? A few extra thousand? Not much of a dent; such a person probably has those extras in cash and three more large bills from the wallet is not a problem.

Recently I watched some Gold Dayi from a licensed shop fly out of the Malaysian web store, in tongs. People who live paycheck to paycheck could buy tea as a treat back in 2008, now these folks are out of the game of collecting price value. People try and take comfort in the idea that maybe their low end teas will turn into something spectacular through time and storage. A miracle is needed for the teas on the low end to turn into future gold. Expecting affordable teas to appreciate hugely in value, we are living in a fantasy or awaiting a storage miracle. The big difference today is a company like Xiaguan will produce many more tuos now than in the past, such that everyone has them. Lots of lower value summer tea around to press into bitter jincha and meet demand on the low end. You can buy a compressed tea anywhere and even these budget options cost more than ten years ago. But the demand is not the same as for much better tea. Old tuos selling for big bucks now are from a time of smaller productions and bigger nostalgia.

I don’t know about you, but I am mostly priced out of the really fine tea. I hear from a few people who really do possess the funds to keep up. But I hear from far more who do not. The truth is wages are not keeping up with food, rent, utilities and all the other things we need to pay for. More of our paychecks go to basics, leaving less disposable income at the worst possible time when we really need more and more money than ever to buy important things like tea.

Sometimes people suggest buying semi-aged tea. I see fewer and fewer older teas available except for very wet stored or ripe. Most of the semi-aged teas you can buy are the low end, not the high end. The really fine teas are not sold at a bargain basement price. They sell for even more than an average new tea. Disposable income is again a problem if you manage to find a collector willing to part with something good, you need the money up front and fast to have a chance.

My blog is not really about tea reviews, never has been. I enjoy writing about new teas when I have some, but I did not get many teas last year and I expect this year is more of the same. I simply cannot afford to buy all the teas anymore that I once could. Buying a vendor’s entire season for $300 or even $500 is a fantasy now. A single tea costs that much, and my income has not kept up. Even the tea ware I bought a few years ago costs so much more. The vendors who need reviews are new to the selling game, and they are the folks who contact bloggers. Established vendors do not need or even want reviews. Most bloggers who review puerh have invested their own money or rely on samples sent in by readers. A lack of reviews also impacts the budget buyer’s struggle to find “word of mouth” before investing the bit of money she has.

Right now my final fantasy is to keep writing until I drop and my son puts a note on the blog that I am gone. I have not lost hope. I still pretend miracle teas costing less than $10 will show up somewhere and end up in my house without selling the house. For young collectors leaving school and getting started, you will need to find a very lucrative career to fund your tea habit, so choose wisely.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

$1000 Teforia Wedding

New Teforia with 1960s Mushroom lamp

The toughest thing about giving up coffee in the morning for me was the convenience of a coffee machine, of pushing a button and pouring a ready-made pot in ten minutes or so. I am at the point where I need a maid or a partner. Since winter this year, my back and hips feel all the worse when waking up from sleep. I must spend a few minutes of stretching in bed just to get up. After all that, as soon as I leave my room I am assaulted by cats and house mates who want something even before I can manage to go to the bathroom, which is never by myself since my cats insist on busting open the door. Then I have to heat up water for tea, wait around, and by then somebody else needs something. I just want to get back to my room and enjoy my tea.

As far as I am concerned, the main reason to have a partner in life is to have someone wait on me hand and foot, but for whatever reason nobody seems to understand this very simple idea. Any sort of human partnership at my age is an annoyance at best since they usually disapprove of large tea collections. Also a real human partner generally expects taking care of, and I am too busy with my tea to bother taking care of other people. Can I just get a cup of tea in the morning without doing any work??

Last year I looked at some of the new Gourmia tea makers after deciding I miss my morning coffee maker (which is now appropriated by a house mate with French Roast). I talked with the Gourmia reps at the World Tea Expo after one of them emailed me, unsolicited, at the hotel offering a free tea machine for listening to a sales pitch at their booth. OolongOwl got the same email and we went together and spent more than a few minutes listening to the pitch and looking over the machines. While I might be happy to consider reviewing a free machine, the Gourmia offer evaporated after the Expo.

I deserve the $1000 wedding and new Teforia for a partner. I won’t pay that kind of money and luckily I found one on eBay for $140. Now, this machine is not for ME to brew sheng puerh, I have a gaiwan and a gazillion little teapots for that. I need something for hongcha in the morning and maybe green tea during the day. After spending some serious time with this machine, I am glad now I waited for this thing because it is really awesome. I don’t care if I lose every reader of this blog, at least I have some “body” to make me tea.

Before this purchase, I spent a couple of months using a Kamjove Gravity Steeper, and I tried to like it. It makes decent enough hongcha, but is a pain to clean out. The Kamjove strainer is dome shaped, and leaves get packed down around the strainer and won’t tap out over the garbage. Even when using a spoon the leaves are tough to get out without damaging the strainer, and worse the plastic rod connected to the button pops out when trying to scoop out the tea. Using a Kamjove I rinsed a lot of tea leaves down the drain.

The Teforia machine tries to mimic gongfu in a similar way to the Kamjove in that the small chamber for leaves must be infused three times and quickly expressed into the carafe. Unlike the Kamjove, the machine heats the water and expresses the tea forcefully, pushing liquid out of the tea rather than dripping it through. I found I only need 1-3g of leaves rather than the 4-6g hongcha I use in a gaiwan or the Kamjove, because the machine extracts the water with more force.

Unlike the Kamjove, the Teforia infuser and carafe are double-wall insulated. The interior layer is glass. The exterior is plastic to prevent breakage, but only the glass touches the hot tea. All I need to do is fill the back chamber with water which lifts out of the machine with a carrying handle, and add a couple grams of tea leaves.

The machine is run by a Bluetooth app, which requires a paired device like a phone or tablet, but does not require internet once set up. The app has a list of tea types, which matches the teas originally sold by Teforia (now sold by Adagio teas). Since I am using my own tea, I can ignore the names of the teas. I just pick one of the tea types from the list.

From what I can tell, the brewing temps are based on the coder (perceived) caffeine level of the tea, which is how differing types of green and black/oolong teas are distinguished in the app (low, medium, high). I can also adjust the strength which lengthens the amount of time the leaves spend in the water.

The cool part is starting up the machine from my bed. I reach for my IPad or phone, pull up the app and press the button. Most of the teas take 5-7 minutes. I don’t need to leave my room which will trigger the cats and people in the house, although I expect the cats and people will eventually figure out the machine is triggering Mother to get up. I also like that the carafe and infuser lock tight in the machine, so no chance the animals will swat them onto the floor. One of my cats in particular has learned to knock over my tea ware when wanting attention fast.

Teforia, for all the crazy hype, really makes excellent hongcha and green tea. My biggest surprise is green oolong, a tea type I do not own very much of, and in the past I apparently over-brewed with boiling water baths. I have a few green oolong teas to use up, and they come out with honey sweet after-tastes. Yunnan large leaf red teas are great for the first machine brew, but I can get more from these by gaiwan in subsequent infusions because I steep them longer than the app will.

The machine has a setting for sheng puerh, but I have not tried that. I cannot see that brewing sheng in the machine will save me time because of the boiling rinses which must be tossed. Sheng needs hand brewing to tweak the best from it, though perhaps the setting might be useful for fresh sheng, essentially brewing it as a green tea. But again I didn’t buy the machine for puerh. I plan to try Korean teas as well during the summer when I get a craving.

Best of all, the Teforia has a self-cleaning cycle. I don’t even need to clean it! The leaves mostly dump right out, and then the carafe and infuser globe just need rinsing. I won’t need to do vinegar cleaning as with a coffee machine, since the machine will clean with a press of an app button. I also got a microfiber cloth cover in the box to protect it in the kitchen or use as a towel to wipe any tea drips. Really the only downside is the app rather than manual buttons, but why would I want a manual button if I must get out of bed to press it? The whole point is tea without work, orthodox Saturday every day if I program it by the clock ahead of time.

I absolutely love this thing, it’s my new spouse. This is the best tea machine, period. I know a few of you have bought it for puerh and are disappointed, but we don’t need it for puerh. I drink plenty of other teas and having my tea made in the morning for me is well worth the $140 price. I plan to buy an extra carafe and infuser globe from Adagio while they are still for sale, just in case I need replacements. If you want one, try Best Offer on eBay and get the best price you can. I notice that Teforia is planning to start up business again next year with a new $249 model, which compares with the smart Breville currently selling at $250. If the new Teforia also delivers tea from the kitchen to my bed, I’m sold for another.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

wtf is this??

2014 Huang Pian tea drugs.
I used a red clay Chaozhou to boil my water,
so my brew is a little more reddish.
Wtf is this?? I am drinking white2tea’s 2014 Huang Pian from their Basics set. I own a couple of these small cakes. Why didn’t you people get me to try this sooner? Normally huang pian is a gentle drink which gives hints of what the better leaves on the tree taste like, but this tea is a bomb of flavor and potency. This is stronger than some straight up Menghai teas I have had lately, and not the tea drunk, I mean the tea. Seriously I am glad this is just the huang pian because if it were the buds and small leaves it would get me pregnant.

Pungent fruit wood with a touch of smokiness, thick brew, most remarkable is a delayed huigan fifteen minutes after drinking, slightly licorice-root like. Huang pian for wicked people. I tend to hoard my white2teas and cup my daily drinkers, all too often when I return to one of my white2teas, I really wonder why I am drinking whatever my normal choices are at the moment.

Oh crap, the Basics set is sold out... Of course it is.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Questions I get asked about Puerh Storage

Big old crock.

Over the past few years I have received quite a few emails about tea storage, usually a few every month. Most of the questions boil down to one of two possibilities, “is this storage solution okay?” or “help!” I can hardly say enough how important my storage fails from 2009-2014 were for me to begin to learn what to do with my tea, and how to deal with my climate and the types of puerh I am storing. My storage failure consisted of copying the cardboard box method advocated by Cloud and a few other very early online posters. This method, even with a bowl of water in the box, left my tea too dry, flat and flavorless. While I managed to recover some flavor by moving the teas to crock storage, luckily I have consumed most of them now.

My climate in the house is far too dry to leave tea in the open, unless the tea arrives with years of wetter storage under its belt. Fortunately, I have a 3 season porch which is enclosed with glass windows. In the summertime, this porch gets very hot and humid, and I have a large ceiling fan to circulate the air. My tea enjoys the summer months fully awake, and the porch smells of tea when I walk in. But during the winter, I experience very dry, desert-like conditions and this is when I need some sort of storage solution to preserve the progress made during summer. I settled on traditional farm crock storage used in this part of my country. I have so many teas now that some are stored in almost every other type of container you can think of. Most of these extras are samples or small amounts of tea, and many are experiments of various kinds. Others are bits of Liu Bao or small packages of oolong teas.

Here are some of the common issues I get emailed about.

My tea has mold, what should I do?

This means your storage is too wet. If the mold is white or grey looking, this is okay, brush it off and adjust the humidity or add air flow. Keep your tea in the open for awhile or cover with a cloth or use a cloth bag for a time. If you have green mold, you must throw this tea out, or at least take off the affected chunks.

People who report mold to me are mainly doing one of two things. One, they are trying to replicate Hong Kong storage parameters, with 70% RH and warmer than room temperatures. This is very risky to do in a small storage situation, because you do not have much space and air flow to keep mold from forming. I prefer a more conservative set of parameters, such as 60-65% RH at room temperature or slightly cooler.

I do not feel that high parameters in small storage areas will age tea much faster. A tea that needs 20-30 years will still need 20-30 years whether at 70% RH or 60% RH. Honestly, if I want wetter tea, why not order it already stored wet? Wet teas are far less expensive to buy than dry stored, and then all I need to do is provide dry storage for a few years.

People who want to try 70% RH or higher will need to babysit their tea. This type of storage is a daily hobby, not a “store it and leave it” situation.

The other mold situation is storage of puerh tea in plastic containers, such as plastic tubs. Plastic has no ability to breathe. There is no air flow, no cracks or anything porous. Plastic is a temporary solution for students or people moving to a new residence. Because I write a blog I must be as conservative as possible. You might see online that people are storing in plastic and report their teas are doing well. That is well for them, but I cannot recommend it, especially for people who do not watch their tea carefully.

Recently I stuck a couple of 20 year wetter samples
in small food jars to air before consuming.
My tea is too dry.

Then it does not have access to sufficient humidity. This is easy to solve. However, it takes several years for tea to really die off, 3-4 years at least. A few months of dry is nothing to panic over, but people email me panicked after a month of dry. Keep observing the tea.

Adding a new tea.

Getting a new beeng or tong in the mail is exciting but anything new added to your storage will affect the humidity balance. If too dry, the tea will suck up all the moisture in the storage unless you have a large room for storage. If a tea is new and fresh, it might add too much moisture and you will need to remove any Boveda packs or back off on adding moisture for awhile. That new cake is a water-filled sponge.

Can I store shou and sheng together?

I would not.

Can I store old tea with new tea?

There are two schools of thought. One is that old tea adds microbes, and these microbes may be beneficial. The other school of thought pertains to perhaps poorly stored tea that might add unwanted odors.

20 yr Yiwu stored by itself in a crockery bowl
with a lid. The wrapper was too worn.
I currently store old tea with new tea, in part because I am out of space. I also am interested especially in how well-stored teas, such as from Malaysia, might positively impact my younger teas. I am currently storing Malaysian-stored Liu Bao with young Liu Bao to pursue this idea because this type of tea will show me some results sooner than sheng.

How do I get started with storage?

The best way is to experiment using pungent factory teas, such as Dayi and Xiaguan. Xiaguan tuos are in the $10 range. Even non-descript brick teas are ok. Factory teas like these are very forgiving if they mold, you can brush off the mold and the tea will recover nicely. When too dry, you can recover the tea quickly. They also are compressed firmly so the interior is not likely to be affected by experiments.

Buying inexpensive teas, not too many, but maybe a handful, is the best way to get started with puerh tea. People use the words “tuition tea” as a pejorative or cautionary tale, but in reality these teas are the least painful on the wallet and the best teas to learn storage. No one wants to lose pricey tea to an experiment gone south. My bad storage years were done on teas like 7542 sheng and 7572 shou. I learned what went wrong on teas that cost under $30 apiece. Nothing prevents these teas from turning out nicely when treated well too.

Relax.

Are we puerh people? Yes we are. Will dusty/dirty put any of us off? Not really. Do we brush off the mold and keep right on drinking? Of course. Do we love our tea more than our children? Probably. We can always have more children, but we cannot get back that old Dayi. So watch your tea like a hawk.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Puerh Man



 An old lady woke at 2 a.m. and turned over to stretch her aching hip. Some dream about a flooded kitchen and trying to get to the bathroom. The reason for the dream, she had to go, and padded to the toilet, popping a couple bubbles of dinner gas along the way. With business done, the only thing left on her mind is a hot cup of tea. She puts the kettle on.

As she passes by the window on her way to her tea crock, she feels a draft from the back door. She checks the door lock to try and remember if she let the cat back in. She had. Time to chip a chunk off the tea cake and slip it into a tiny teapot. She wonders if the teapot is too big, a thought she has quite often. She drinks less as she gets older, but the tea affects her more. When the kettle steams, she gives the tea two rinses because of the humid storage smell. With the third pour from the kettle, she decides the tea is ready and refills the tea pot and cup to return to her room. Just then she feels a chill.

She sets the tea down next to the bed and pours a cup. One down, then another for the warmth. Lying back onto the pillows, she glances up and sees in the doorway the shape of what must be a man. He is thin with long draping arms like the branches of a tree, and tea leaves for hands. A tall and slender man wears an attractive dark suit. His head is a round tea cake, the ghastly face with a beeng hole in the middle. Oh yes.


I am here, oh western lady, I hear you calling, you need the thrills, the chills, the thumping thumping don’t stop til the sweet sweet drops, yes yes that and more, here, from Asia. Oh yeah I got what you need and then I am gonna kill you.





Please, she says, just a little bit more. Suddenly that hip pops. She must sit up. All is well, she can flip him, her turn now. She knows that deep down he is here just for her and no one else, maybe he is enough to satisfy. His face is a dark well of oily leaves. She tries to sink into it, but she cannot.


His long arms reach up to circle her, like tendrils, and leaves flutter down in a cloud of steam. After this, only darkness.

The next day she stops by the clinic.

“A blood pressure episode,” the doctor pronounces. “You really need to stop drinking all that tea, mark my words it will do bad things to you Wisconsin girls.”

She goes home and finds a tea wrapper on her bed. She sniffs it. Nothing too remarkable, the dream itself was better. She throws the wrapper in the trash.