Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hydration before Sealed Storage

For those living in cooler drier climes, there's a persistent and real threat of poorly aged flat-tasting near-dead puerh.  How far do you want to go to give those young shengs what they need? As far as I can tell, pumidors appear to be a time-bomb for mold incubation- not to be attempted by someone as absent minded as me. (Last month I hired a cricket chorus as pets then completely forgot to water them one hectic week.  They only last a few months so I couldn't tell if they had come to a natural end or I did them in.  I only console myself that they lived a nicer month in a well-appointed terrarium than if they had gone to feed a hungry reptile. )

I spent all weekend sniffing and sampling a few decade old teas. Results are not terrible but not great either.  The sheng is definitely aging here in Berkeley albeit slowly- but it lacks depth compared to cakes aged in the hot and humid places of the world.  I'm definitely not buying any more new born sheng to age. It was all fun and games to stockpile them when they were ~$10 a beeng eight years ago but the stakes are too high now. Where to next?

Despite the various controversies over sealed storage, I'm coming to the conclusion that sealed storage works better for my particular situation.   After contrasting teas that have been stored in varying degrees of air tightness (mylar bag, plastic bag, tin, looser fitting basswood boxes, ceramic jars and chipped teapots), it doesn't appear that the sealed teas are aging any less than those unprotected inside my enclosed cabinet.  I think the water content of the tea before entering their sealed state is the more critical factor.  The sealed teas definitely retain more of their volatile tea fragrance and liveliness; my nose being the organ most suited to appreciating puerh these days tells me sealing is the way to go.

I had been using a glass cake dome as a conditioning chamber which I dubbed spa sheng therapy.  When Israel generously shared with me his  EoT samples from cold dry Montana, I did not smell anything off these chunks for over a year.  I had tried to revive them two years ago but either it was too cold in October and/or I gave them too brief a stint under the dome.  I recently started re-hydrating them for weeks at a time and sealing them back up in a plastic bag- the fragrance has happily returned and has remained.  Despite the reading on the hygrometer showing 70% relative humidity, it fluctuates under the dome to go even as high as 80%.  I've been able to almost beat the smoke out of the cigarette beeng under this dome.


I had been pondering over what to do about my storage situation when Cwyn of the newly minted deathbytea blog wrote me to say he has had some positive results in Wisconsin with ceramic storage.  I've been curious ever since I saw Petr's lovely unglazed storage jars and Gero's terracotta setup. I've tasted shus improved with such storage but I have not attempted to do so with shengs. ( I squirrel away tea anywhere with a lid including broken teapots.  That's some trad stored pu hiding in the sugar bowl I inherited from a friend's grandmother. I bet her grandma never imagined such smelly gnary shu would be living in her precious Spode.)

In maintaining a humid environment inside a jar, I would still have to fret and obsess about mold.  Temporary boost in hydration before sealing up the tea is the lazier way to go.  For now I just need more hydration chambers. I ran out today and managed to find two cheap ceramic casserole dishes at a thrift store.  I know what you are thinking. The ugliness of these pots can deter the tea from absorbing moisture properly.  I have no shortage of desiccated tea to experiment with and any hit of humidity is better than nothing. I'm loading up this 2004 golden melon which has been living in a puzzle tin. It actually smells more aged than those stored open on the shelf and the taste while not praiseworthy is aged enough not to give me gullet trouble. That teensy bit of progress actually made me feel hopeful all weekend. 




Friday, August 29, 2014

Predictions on 2005 XG Ancient Wild Tree

Back in the day when I had just had one overpriced beeng and a few tuos to my name, I stumbled upon Mike Petro's site and his over-the-top multi-page stash of tea.  If you look through Mike Petro's collection, you can see a time-capsule of most all internet teas available circa 2005-2007.  As his collection appears to be almost indiscriminately complete, I'd be curious to know what he passed over.

His site led me to start buying direct from Yunnan via eBay instead of being ripped off by local vendors for which I should be eternally grateful. I followed his recommendation on my first purchase from Yunnan Sourcing which included this '05 XG. Mike confidently proclaimed this XG's aging potential so I sprung for a few. He certainly had the bit about old tree being better material for aging right but how did this Big Factory old tree fare after all these years?  You can also read the live-journal review re-iterating the optimistic aging potential of this cake back in 2006. Vendors still shamelessly make such predictions but experienced tea bloggers now take more care; we've had no shortage of cruel disappointments evident only after a few years.

This XG beeng looks much darker than my other iron beengs but enhanced aging is not exactly reflected in the taste. The greenish hue is an artifact of my ipad camera and in natural light- the cake is much darker than its counterparts. This beeng isn't really going anywhere fast due to the dry climes of my house.  Even after almost decade, it's still not ready- it brews up amber and causes residual heartburn.  It's XG charms are lost on me as I've developed immunity. Perhaps someone with better aging conditions with this cake could comment.

Mike's recommendation for the 2004 Dadugang 1336th Dai Calendar was perhaps his best call. It's an enjoyable tea by all accounts and at $2.50 a brick back then, you couldn't lose either way.

After facing the sad spectre of dry home storage,  I went to brunch at Quince which is next to a shop selling ethnic crafts.  I prefer to get my folk art in the country of origin but I haven't been able to travel since January and am reduced to buying retail.  I was mesmerized by this wall of carved canoe prows from Papua New Guinea.  These are from the middle Sepik where crocodiles are the common motif. The canoes last less than a decade after which the canoer will often cut the prow to sell.  There's some anthropological discussion about whether or not these crocodiles were carved for protective intent but I would worry such carvings act as a decoy and maybe invite a dim-sighted amorous croc.

I've been ambivalent about traveling to PNG for my well-founded fear of sea water crocodiles.  I think nothing of sharks when I'm snorkeling even in shark rich waters but the mere thought of a cruising crocodile makes me avoid one of the richest regions. I guess if a larger creature with serious teeth were to tear my limbs, it should not matter that it's a crocodile or a shark.  I chose the subtlest simplest carving. You can see the dirt still caked on from use.  Although I bought it for my new studio, it's protecting my tea closet until the studio is finished. A girl can't ever have enough carved crocodiles so I'm looking for a few companions. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pretending with a Beeng

This here furry sliver tipped mini-beeng could almost pass.



But wait there is something different. It's like walking past a really well-done up tranny on the San Francisco streets.  Yup. This is no shengpu. It's actually an oolong in beeng form- an Oriental Beauty no less. Why? What form of abomination is this?  Maybe it's for tea drinker's like me that can't drink sheng anymore but still like to pretend...  It tastes nothing- nothing like sheng.  Let us not press this tranny metaphor further.


Oriental Beauty can definitely be aged and this is the main reason I got this pressed beeng. But perhaps the tea makers also needed to do something creative with those broken up leaves that can't be sold at top dollar.  Inspecting the brewed leaves confirms my suspicions.  Also it's not entirely clear the green leafhoppers have done their magic on these leaves as most of them look quite unbitten.  For those unaware- yes it is insect damage which forces oolong plants to produce antibodies that lead to that fruity taste. I've had leaf hopppers going rogue in my organic garden but they don't seem to work their magic on all edible plants.  

Is the vendor's price reduction from $27 to $22 an indication that this novelty pressing might be just a passing experiment?  The tea as it is now is good but nothing amazing.  Actually I think Scott's purple Dehong varietals have more sparkly fruity juicy mouth satisfaction than this.   I'll age this little OB for another few years. I've been slowly drinking through my oolong order.  The teas from this vendor are pretty reliable- their dong ding is good.  I'll most likely order more tea from them when I am forced to drink oolong which is my current sad state.

I sniffed through my sheng collection this afternoon and found half of the pre 2006 cakes have taken on a distinctly less sweet smell- a tad more closer to dry compost.   The colors are darkening considerably, some cakes more than others.  The 2006 Douji Big Leaf is the darkest of them all with serious staining on the wrapper. I need to give them a brew but I've somehow lost my masochistic inclinations. I'm hoping just a few more years and the sheng would have mellowed out enough for me to start up again. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hand Hewn

I have a particular fondness for rough hand hewn lumber nurtured  actively during my childhood years by Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods.  Laura's father "Pa" Ingalls  built many a log cabin for his family with only a hand ax.  I actually do not know many such men who could do this now- certainly not my own amiable father.  My own Pa Hugo is a man of multiple talents including enjoyment of delicious raw sea creatures but none of his abundant skills involve any form of sweat-inducing manual labor.

My sweet husband could build us a cosy hand hewn cabin if he had the will.  However, I dare not ask him to square raw logs by hand in this age of power tools and milled lumber.  I need him to spend his precious time on my custom desk, tea cabinetry, wiring, plumbing, tiling, grouting, cladding, decking, window and staircase installation and more.  Thankfully we can rely on reclaimed barn beams to bring back this bygone era of hand milling.   The above stack of century old tamarack beams came from a farm in Washington state. Of course holding up a barn means that these here beams saw plenty of live-stock action.  When you wash the mud off them, they smell of hay but nothing as offensive as a young ripe shu.

Such a structural piece once set cannot be readily undone so you really must be sure of yourself.  I actually picked out my beam from the stack in an instant.  All those decades of scrutinizing wood grains and hand cuts apparently paid off so I knew what I wanted.  Only if I had such confidence with my puerh selection.   We lugged this beauty home pleased as punch.  When there is only one readily-accessible purveyor of a desired good,  it's important to want what they have in hand.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Constructing Space for Tea


My little home has been under massive construction.  I have long desired a dedicated room for all things I love- tea, writing, and maps.  My tiny plot barely allows for a vegetable patch or two, but I've finally sacrificed the valuable gardening space. We had to prematurely pull two squash bushes and relocate herbs to make way. My dear husband will build custom tea cabinets so I can continue hoarding. It really must be hoarding. I pathologically bought a few pounds more tea last week and am too sheepish even to mention the contents. I'm itching to make another order.

Every day I come home and sit inside the new space fantasizing about the new organization scheme I can enforce. Currently, beengs and bricks are squished in any way they will fit which offends my sense of order.   Still grouping by style, shape, factory, region, and year is not always straight forward.  

I'll probably have to move teas gradually to determine storage worthiness . I'll move a few lesser beengs for a month and monitor moisture and to dim the smells of new construction. I have no shortage of such strong scented budget puerh to prep and saturate the boards.  I severely interrogated my poor husband during dinner about possibility of mold or mildew but he insists the insulation and vapor barrier would prevent such a disaster.  Still I'm a nervous nelly-  pu once ruined is ruined forever.


The plan is to put in a roof deck with an outdoor sink so I can have a new space to brew tea.  I love plans and even planning to brew in a novel setting makes me happy.