Thursday, June 22, 2017

Which one is Ddok Cha? Which Is Puerh?

I was just long steeping both a 2008 Korean ddok cha and a 2007 Mengsong puerh when it occurred to me how similar they were.  In fact, the leaves look so familiar that I doubt you can tell the difference between them? Any guesses just for fun?

In that moment I had to think long and hard and actually sniffed them to tell them apart.  I definiately think even a seasoned puerh drinker could get tricked.  I thought that even the taste of ddok cha this aged resembles puerh and could even pass as puerh after many infusions.

I feel that the ddok cha is actually much better and complex tasting too.  However, there would be a huge price difference between the two so probably not a fair comparison but an interesting one.  Apples to oranges.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Stoner Qi" and 2006 Mengku Shuangjiang Wild Arbour King Brick

This was my first panicked purchase after realizing the puerh stash was dwindling.   When the shock wore off I immediately thought to myself, “Who has the most accessible selection of semi-aged puerh out there?”  Yunnan Sourcing came immediately to mind.  Upon searching their old site to replace some of the cakes I drank through, I came across this tea for which I have a long history.

I distinctly remember my first run-in with this burley brick back in 2007.  It was in a teahouse in Korea and the owner kindly steeped up some tea from a brick that was not for sale.  We at the tea table were mesmerized by the unique heavy but delicate tastes of this puerh at the time and, although I never consumed any in the 10 years that followed, that tea left a positive impression on me. 

Back then nobody, I mean nobody, was talking about BingDao (“Ice Island”) puerh.  At the tea table we had many discussions about what kind of raw material could give out such a unique taste.  But, at that time, we didn’t even know that BingDao even existed- almost nobody did.  The location of the material of these early Mengku Shuangjiang Wild Arbour King (“Qiao Mu Wang”) claims to be from BingDao and contain at least some of this old arbour material.

So when I came across this tea I was both excited, curious, and relieved.  I always thought to myself that this tea would be a great example of a full, fragrant Lincang that would be great for aging.  Now, at 11 years aged and most of its life in Kunming storage, I guessed that this tea would have a nice leg up at the ageing process while probably ready to consume right now.  The nostalgic red and yellow colors of Scott’s old site was comforting and familiar to me- a space I could trust and had a familiarity navigating.  When it showed that there were only 6 of these 1KG bricks left in stock for $140.00 a piece (only 0.14/gram) all six bricks, six whopping KG of puerh immediately jumped into the cart.  China ground shipping took the full amount of time to arrive and 3 months later a heavy box of these giant bricks arrive at my door step. 

Please sit down, take some time out of your busy day, relax and join me for this special tea…

Dry leaves smell of soft deep, if not slightly distant, floral with a very nice tropical fruit odours embedded deeply into the leaves.  These leaves are liberally packed into the pot.

The first infusion opens up with full deep creamy malted sweet medicinal tastes and a nice fresh strong returning coolness that dips into the throat.  There are undernotes of slight hidden fruit and a slight metallic taste at the end.  The mouthfeel has a nice powdery fullness and it descends slightly into the throat nicely.  The tastes are bold and strong so I remove some leaf from the pot.

The second opens up with distinct florals in a deep pungent base of slightly citrus fruity puerh cloaked by a malty middle aged syrupy sweetness.  The aftertaste is a cool metallic floral sweetness.  The mouthfeel is a significant chalky fullness.  The leaves have clogged up my little tea pot so I move them to a larger pot and add the leaves I had taken out.  It is apparent that this tea needs very little leaf.  The qi of this tea really stays in the head giving you a very profoundly relaxed even euphoric high.  A new tea term that I see lots of lately is “stoner tea” to describe cha qi.  This tea has a relatively strong “stoner tea” effect.

The third infusion has a creamy banana sweetness that lingers into a soft sweat floral tastes.  There is a full bouquet of malted slightly sweet but very distinct fruit tastes that are revealed when this tea is steeped more lightly.  It finishes with a very metallic taste.

The fourth offers very clean fruity notes of banana and tropical fruits as well as interesting citrus in a crisp slightly powdery metallic finish.  The qi profoundly relaxes and euphorically pushes the mind as if it has escaped my body, floating above it somehow.  Really great head qi in this puerh.  It doesn’t really linger in the body as much at all- it just says right in the head.

The fifth and sixth continue to push out an interesting array of fruity flavours in a fairly full mouthfeel.  A coolness is retained in the throat.

The seventh and eighth are long steeped and bring out slight camphor wood notes with fruity florals underneath.

The ninth is left for a few hours and is now mainly woody with a bit of faint fruit.

This tea is quite versatile in taste and quite stable in Qi.  When brewed lightly with less leaf and shorted steeping times you get a very fragrant, fruity, floral tea that still has some power to it.  With a heavier hand you will get deeper more syrupy and thicker medicinal notes like I have gotten above.  One thing is stable throughout- its heavier sedating head qi. 

Do I regret the rather spontaneous 6 Kg purchase of this tea?  Not at all, but for someone whose favorite profile is not the Lincang character I think I would have been just as satisfied with 2 or 3 KG.  For those that are interested Scott has restocked this tea and is still selling them for $140.00 for a hefty 1 KG of puerh.  I have to admit that I have a hard time knowing what is truly a “deal” these days because of both the increased price of puerh and the fact that I have not sampled a wide range of Lincang semi-aged puerh.  However, this tea definitely falls in to my category of “Good Tea” and for the storage, age, and price I consider it as such.  I think it will continue to age into something interesting but is great to drink now.  I have not encountered too many puerh that were this inexpensive with such strong relaxing qi. 


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Menghai, Douji, and Mengku -Trifecta of Factory Puerh/ Reliable Old Friends

When things go off the rails in life who do you go to?

Your oldest best friends of course!

So recently when I realized that my puerh stash will soon be gone, I did what I know is a sure bet and called on my reliable old friends to get me out of this situation fast… factory puerh.

These friends are not the overly flashy types, they are a little rough around the edges, and to be honest they can be a little cheap but there is an honesty, a reliability, and a familiarity to them.  It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you last met, a true friend will be there in a time of need.

If you have been drinking puerh tea since the early/ mid 2000s it is inevitable that you have a spot in your heart for big factory puerh.   If you look at the old school puerh bloggers Hobbes, Marshal’N, Bears they all still hold them in some kind of respect.  You never hear these puerh drinkers entrenching themselves in the debate of factory vs. boutique because they are wise enough to see value in both.

Back in the day there was pretty much just the Zhong Cha wrapped mystery stuff, CNNP, and big factory puerh.  There were smaller factory pressings as well but in Korea these were rarities.  So this is what you drank back then.  All the puerh drinkers in Korea knew that fresh puerh is not good for your health so quite naturally we would drink a lot of stuff from the 1990s 10-20 year aged stuff even 80s stuff at the tea table.

At this time there were three big factories that were generating lots of excitement amongst my puerh drinking buddies and tea shop owners.  A trifecta of factory puerh if you will…

1-      Douji in 2006 really lit up the puerh drinking universe.  Their 2006 offerings were especially epic and turned the puerh drinking universe on their head.   They were based in Yiwu and the cakes they offered from that region were absolutely delicious and they brought with them a new style of processing that made their puerh very delicious to drink now as well or to age for later.  I remember trying this stuff and really feeling like it is something special.  I remember that by the time I decided that I needed a tong of this stuff in 2006, no dealer or friends would sell any to me.  It was so delicious I think I drank through a 2006 cake of Douji Yiwu in one year.  No big deal, everyone was expecting their 2007 offerng to surpass their 2006 stuff so I picked up a tong of the 2007 Yiwu which turned out to be noticeably in superior to the 2006 line up.

Douji was definitely my Yiwu factory go to but even before I completely checked out, Douji was demanding very high prices.  Personally, I think they somewhat deserve these prices (Okay maybe not that high).  This comes from someone who has tested the resiliency of Douji puerh and has found that it ages brilliantly even in the face of unideal and varying aging conditions.

Unfortunately, the West is pretty mute these days about Douji.  Even the once active China Cha Dao has stopped marketing new Douji puerh (although it would be likely they could special order anything).  Last time I extensively sampled Douji was at a time when I was not paying much attention to the puerh world- during a blogger China Cha Dao tasting event hosted by Hobbes of Half-Dipper.  We didn’t sample much from YiWu in that event and my favorite was not even from Yiwu.  Douji is definitely a case of being priced out of the market.  I kind of feel like my old friend ditched me and is now hanging out with a wealthy group of friends, the popular crowd… not cool… but that’s what success does.

So I am currently in the hunt for a solid YiWu that is priced more accessibly.  Any suggestions?

2-      Mengku RongShi Shuang Jiang Tea Company was another factory that was doing really exciting things in the mid- 2000s.  Many of my puerh drinking friends and the tea shops we frequented gravitated to the very fresh, clean, crisp and pure examples of Lincang such as their Big Snow Mountain (Da Xue Shan) and Wild ArborKing (Qiao Mu Wang).  Something I never knew at the time and learned recently from reading Yunnan Souring website, is that it could have something to do with their processing which takes place right on the mountain in portable huts.  Did I also mention they never shy away from big, bold, chunky cakes?  Often enough they were the only Lincang teas in these shops and left us with a pretty impressionable picture of Licang puerh.  As a result Mengku is my Lincang factory of choice.

Unlike Douji, there is still lots of accessible Mengku Shuang Jiang out there.  I think this is because of its general location outside of the more traditional and popular Xishuangbanna.  I too have much less Lincang because of my preference for Xishuangbanna.  You will be sure to see lots of reviews on these teas in the coming months.  I hope our relationship will be as fresh, unique and enjoyable as I remember!  What are some of your favorite Menku Shuang Jiang puerh?

3-      Menghai Dayi Tea Factory is an old classic.  Ten years ago I would drink a lot of aged 80sand 90s Dayi hanging out in tea shops.  It was so popular that when I first started learning about puerh tea I thought that “Mengahai” meant “Menghai Dayi Tea Factory” and was unaware that it could be referring to a tea producing area.  That really sums up Dayi’s dominance and presence during this time.  Dayi = Menghai!  I remember there were some shops that would deal exclusively in Menghai Dayi puerh.  I didn’t spend too much time at these shops that were mainly ran by more traditional, conservative, less open minded to the changes in the puerh tea industry kind of people (maybe I would love these now… hahaha).  They were usually older men dressed in traditional Korean clothes in the old district of town.

For me Dayi is really the classic aged puerh tea taste.  It’s familiar, it’s home.  It’s your reliable and wise friend that is a little harsh but has the experience to back his reputation up.  Despite me being so chummy with Dayi I have never purchased a cake.  Mainly my puerh drinking friends and I thought that the stuff being produced in the mid 2000s was somehow not of the same quality recipes they once were.  Besides, there were more interesting and exciting things happening with other factories like the ones mentioned above.

Cakes that I tried or simply passed by when they were young years ago are now on their way from China.  I guess we will be exploring the ins and outs of the 2006-2008 line.  I wonder if they will even be close to the 10 years aged 1990s stuff I would drink regularly oh so long ago?  What are some of your favorite Menghai Dayi puerh?

Friends change and you change too - so is life.  I wonder if my relationship between these old friends will be much the same or completely different?


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Ground Shipping China Post Puerh is the New Tea Horse Road

One of the things I really enjoyed reading about upon my return to puerh was all the lively discussion on shipping.  This article on shipping fees is especially interesting.  I had never seen shipping fees under the microscope like they are currently.  A recent post by Cwyn suggested that consumer pressure by puerh drinkers has even amounted to change- lowing the threshold for free shipping.

Unfortunately, living in the Great White North, Canada, many free shipping options are not available.  So, I feel a need to advocate for some free shipping to extend to your friendly neighbours up north!

I really love to select ground shipping using China Post when I order puerh.  First of all, there are some modest cost savings and I’m terribly cheap.  If you compare SAL to ground shipping you really only save a few bucks so if you are doing it purely for value, SAL which usually arrives in a few weeks makes more sense.  What really doesn’t make much sense is trying to rush a product that essentially gets better with age.  I think the fast shipping methods just really play into the modern, have it now, go faster and consume more mentality of the world.  This world view is actually opposite GongFu drinking of puerh tea which is a rather slow process.

What if you really like said sample or cake and wanted to order another but then it sells out in a few weeks leaving you totally missing out?  Yeah that is a possibility but there will be more puerh out there and the likely hood of this happening is slim anyways.  If you ship using ground shipping you really have to come to terms with this unlikely possibility.  In doing so you are challenging the Fear ofMissing Out (FOMO) puerh collecting mentality.  Ground shipping promotes the slow movement and way of life which I value.  I imagine few things slower than receiving a package from China using ground shipping.

There is also something natural about the slow method of receiving puerh.  I think this method mirrors the slow process of receiving tea from Yunnan the way it arrived thousands of years ago using the Tea Horse Road.  There is a slow and sustained building up of anticipation using this method, that I find priceless.  The feeling a child has waiting for Summer holidays to come or in counting down the days to Christmas.  There are not so many things in our life like this so I really enjoy this process.  I really try my hardest to use China Post Ground shipping for my orders.  And so here I am waiting as patiently as I can for my orders placed in March.

Then a moment of reality sets in as the only order that I used SAL arrives at my doorstep before all the others… and for a moment I reconsider… maybe ground shipping is not my favorite after all.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Recent Synergy Among Tea Bloggers

As of late I have noticed a real synergy amoung tea bloggers.  I could feel as if something was happening, a certain energy in the air.  For me this feeling started with a small resurgence of old tea bloggers that have long been absent.  For me, Bev of Listening to Leaves really seemed to be syncing ideas, feelings, and content themes.  Even posting and commenting on each others blogs at the exact same moment in real time.

When the old bloggers were blogging about tea years back there was never the energy feeding off of each other like there seems to be right now over the last month or so.  At the early years of tea blogging it felt like everyone was presenting a very different character in their tea blog- some small bit of specialized tea knowledge or slice of experience that strongly represented the teas they were drinking and learning about.  Back then there was much less selection of puerh and way fewer vendors available but most importantly there was so little knowledge and experience out there. The internet itself was a dessert of tea information back then.  Looking back the knowledge gap was specifically pronounced.  Because tea bloggers had so little knowledge and experience about puerh, how much could they really say with any certainty.

Now, I feel things have really changed in this regard.  There is tons of info out there and lots more experience to draw on.  The bloggers that are blogging now are doing so in a position of easy to access knowledge and even if some don't have too much experience, at least they can excess resources where people have shared their long experience.

The energy among tea bloggers is really coming from a lot of newer bloggers who are really putting out great content.  Blogs like James' TeaDB and Cwyn's Death By Tea are particularity well written and extraordinarily intelligent.  When I first encountered these two blogs a few months back I considered TeaDB to be the 'new' Half-Dipper and Cwyn's Death By Tea to be the 'new' (but much more hilarious and slightly deranged) A Tea Addicts Journal.  James has a very structured, analytical, and organized way of writing about tea that Hobbes also has.  Cwyn is more of a big idea person, less bogged down in reviewing which is similar to Marshal'N.  There are also two great tea review blogs Oolong Owl and Late Steeps which I am enjoying as well- they are also both quite different.  I wonder if I'm missing some others because blogs don't use the "Blog Roll" with links to other blogs as much anymore?

It is only natural that many of the old blogs have gone into hibernation where others have started up new or have restarted started again- these are the cycles and rhythms of life.  There is also many "new school" or "evolved" multiple social media blogs out there which use a multiple social media platforms such as You Tube, Twitter, Snapchatt, Instagram, ect. - a very cleaver way to get the word out.  Some blogs have even changed to focus much more on puerh tea (like MattCha's).  I started reading the puerh posts of Tea for Me Please, a blog that is increasingly focusing more on puerh.

What is most interesting is how these bloggers are really pushing the narrative of puerh tea blogging.  I feel like a minor thyme, idea, or subtopic that is touched on in one post will be expanded on in an upcoming post of another blog who is best position to write on that new topic.  Or how things mentioned in one post will get support or expanded upon in another bloggers post.  Or maybe how another blogger will present a similar topic but with their own perspective or experience.  This was not being done to the same extent back in the day like it is now.  So I really think this is a magical time for blogging about puerh.

Thanks for all the tea bloggers out there for spending the time to advance this beautiful art of tea.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Xiao Binging of the Puerh Industry

One of the things that has really changed since 2011 is the overabundance of xiao bings (“small cakes”).  I am really unsure which vendors or factories started pressing all their cakes into xiao bings but it seems like all of them pretty much followed suite shortly thereafter.  When did this happen?  Why?

I was first exposed to xiao bings last year when I picked up 2 different xiao bings from O5Tea (this and this).  I have drank a lot of puerh in my life but never did I ever drink from a xiao bing- that is how rare they were about 10 years ago.  In fact, they were almost completely non-existent, novelty items.  The fact they are everywhere right now is actually quite shocking.

Why did this happen?  I guess that as the price of raw maocha increased exponentially over the last little while it got to the point that the price point for a regular 357g was hundreds and hundreds of dollars for the same quality of leaf.  To prevent sticker shock the vendors pressed a xiao bing instead of a full.  That seems like a logical explanation.  Essentially, the vendors are either 1- doing this for the benefit of the customer to make it easier/ or possible to purchase within their budget or 2- they are doing it to hide the actual cost per gram.  Due to the current popularity of the xiao bing, the customer must be happy with the move towards the xiao bing?

The xiao bing also offers something between a sample size and a full 357g bing which makes it possible (but not really that feasible) to age long term.  There is really no point to age samples because they are so small, really.  So the xiao bing offers an aging option.  This can also be played both ways to benefit the customer and the vendor.  Vendors sometimes complain about the nuisance of preparing samples and sometimes offer a much higher price per gram for the time of preparing them.  So selling a xiao bing can really benefit both.

Also something else needs to be said about the xiao bing.  There seems to be 2 sizes of xiao bing out there.  If you asked me how many grams are in a xiao bing I would say 200g of course.  Today there seems to be many 100g xiao bings (xiao xiao bings) out there as well- this is also new.  I don’t think I even remember ever seeing a 100g xiao bing online until recently.  Maybe things will continue to shrink?

Personally, I am not a fan of the xiao bing.  The popularity somehow bugs me but I don’t really know why.  Maybe it’s just me struggling to come to terms with the fact that you can’t get as much as you used to get for the same amount of money… or maybe its symbolism for the puerh world being increasingly micro-managed… I don’t really know… or maybe it’s because it does kind of hide the price per gram a little… I don’t know (must meditate on this more).

To me the xiao bing is really just a sample.  I even prefer to get a full size cake as a sample.  In that way you can choose to age it, drink it now, or banish it forever.  If you get a full cake as a sample and its good but the cake has sold out then at least you still have lots to enjoy.  If it’s not your favorite cake then maybe at least you might drink it years later if your puerh stash is ever dwindling (never again I keep telling myself).   It’s very easy for me to go for a full cake as a sample now because I am trying to restock.  It might be a completely different story when I’m up to my neck in puerh a few years from now.

I even despise the xiao bing so much I considered an all-out boycott of any and all vendors which press them.  Then I realized that I would probably be left with no vendors to order from!  So maybe I’ll just boycott the actual buying of xiao bings.  Using the power of the wallet can impact change.

In fact, most of the cakes in my stash and that are currently on their way are 400g or larger.  I like the big, chunky, beefy, robust, old school feeling of these cakes and the industry that they represent.  The larger, the better!  1Kg, even 2Kg, cakes and bricks- "bring'em on" I say.  In fact, I challenge vendors to release one of these big guys in response to the xiao binging of the puerh industry.  People will buy- I’ll be the first one.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

White2Tea & The Post Truth Era of Puerh

Before I dropped off the radar you could count the number of Western puerh vendors on two hands.  On my return to puerh buying, there are so many more out there.  To me this is a good thing but a little overwhelming at first.  To be perfectly honest, I have mainly purchased all of my puerh either in person in Korea or on Taobao.  Essence of Tea and Yunnan Sourcing might be the only exceptions.

Even old, reliable sites like the classic red and gold Yunnan Sourcing website have recently made major changes (saw that one turn over recently).   Other sites like Puerhshop have really slowed down as well.  Change happens and more selection and competition is always welcome.

I’ve been trying to check out all the new vendors out there.  This article by James of TeaDB has really helped me out.  The new puerh vendors out there that I am finding the most interesting are two American puerh vendors Crimson Lotus Tea and White2Tea.  They are really taking the puerh market in different directions, no doubt, in response to past issues with buying puerh in the West.

I think Crimson Lotus is brilliant for marketing to and branding their puerh to the science fiction niche.  I have also noticed that many many people who drink puerh also enjoy science fiction- most of my puerh drinking buddies in Victoria and Korea fall into this category, I think.  Overall, it’s an interesting concept but, as always, it comes down to how good their tea is… puerh can’t lie no matter what planet it’s from!

It sounds like White2Tea is really shaking up the puerh tea world… Tea with no region, no explanation, no story, no background, no pictures of farmers, no context what so ever.  All these values line up squarely with my own tea philosophy- “A blog that is the tea’s”.  However philosophy and reality often don’t align and as I begin my search for puerh once again I find myself looking for regions, mountains, factories, producers, and vendors that I know and that have a certain characteristic, quality, profile, tack record and “house taste”.

With the White2Tea’s decision to go in this direction basically you have to either trust the brand, trust the curator TwoDog (Paul), trust others who have tried the tea and recommend it, or sample all the tea yourself and decide for yourself.  I find lots of problems with this system.

I find it eerily familiar that TwoDog has basically based his marketing of Puerh on a similar strategy as Donald Trump… has anyone else noticed this?

Firstly, he has picked up on the discontent/ dissatisfaction of many Western puerh drinkers.  Secondly, he has discredited the old system of selling puerh as basically dishonest.  Thirdly, he insists that everything that is claimed about the origin of puerh or even a singular quality of certain areas is a lie.  Forth, he is thriving off of the idea that “controversy is good for business”.  Fifth, and most importantly, he offers a solution to the problem- just simply trust his puerh.  I guess we really are living in the Post-Truth Era of puerh!

I think the only fair way to assess puerh in this Post-Truth Era would be to sample puerh from all vendors, factories, and areas blindly.  Then decide on purchase based on how much the tea was valued in the blind testing verses the actual price.  The problem is that that no one would have the time and energy and money for that type of extensive sampling.  So quite naturally we try to narrow it down to certain brands, areas, factories, and vendors from either past experiences, others recommendations, or from simply brand identification.

With all this being said, I am most compelled to try White2Tea’s young puerh over any other vendor … so I guess all this smart marketing works… I kind of feel like I want to support his vision for tea on its own merits.. I guess even if you identify the marketing strategy at hand that doesn’t always make you immune to its effects…

If we know only one thing to be true it is this- that old MattCha was probably GongFuing to Drake long before Paul (TwoDog) even knew who he was.