; Cwyn's Death By Tea: 2018 ;

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

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.


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.

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.