Friday, November 28, 2014

Taco Tea Series 1 - 05 Yiwu Song Pin Xing

Back when the Yiwu Zhengshan Tea Company was getting off the ground, they first printed under the Yi Cheng(易盛) brand as well as the more obscure Song Pin Xing(宋聘興) label before they launched the wildly successful premium Douji brand in 2006.  Song Pin Xing appears to have had just a short one year run in 2005.  This wrapper looks similar to the Yi Cheng(易盛) which had been more readily available on the internet in years past- a frenzy started between MarshalN/Hobbes when they were still collaboratingto help us find better teas.

If you are a Douji fan and have never seen this one before, don't get too hot and bothered. There's good reason why I consider this a taco tea.  Seeing as how many times Yiwu Zhengshan is slathered on the wrapper,  is this round cake way more Yiwu than the Yi Cheng?  Lets brew!

This red label being an autumnal production is not the most captivating Yiwu to be had.  How do I know it's guhua?  My test involves popping most of the stems apart afterwards- fibrous stems are a sure sign as spring productions are much more juicy and give with out much effort.  Actually you can tell how woody the stems are on the raw cake without having to brew it up. The muted taste and weaker huigan of course complete the picture but I've also got that extra dry storage thing going on... But if you've got a sheng intolerance and you can glug it down, it's gotta be autumnal.

By Douji standards, these leaves are a mess. There's more burnt black edges and stems. Compared to the '05 Yiwu Montain Bamboo, these leaves went through some rough handling.

This Song Pin Xing entered my house summer of 2006 having been procured by a friend in Meliandao for about 10 bucks.   I would have preferred the spring pick purple label but beggars can't be choosers.  I know you youngsters absolutely hate it when I keep repeating that sodas were just a nickel back in the day.  Ironically back in 2006, on a Sanzui post on this particular tea, a forum member called this an expensive tea for 70 yuan(!).

Regardless of what these teas have become due to label and age premiums,   I relegate this particular Yiwu in my pile of taco teas- tasty enough for the cost.  It's mild enough that I can enjoy it anytime as my budget Yiwu option.  If I had paid today's high price on this baby, I'd be disappointed. But at $10, it's all good.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Following the Crowd

I went through a twenty day cycle of embracing weak teas and I snagged a few shengs that would be gentler on my body- a Guangzhou stored 2006 Changtai 65th Anniversary Ancient Tree and a 2005 Mengku Spring Tips.  Actually, Red Lantern Tea kindly sent me the 65 gratis after the unfortunate feather incident. They are both amiable easy teas.  The Changtai is not unlike the Douji Dayeqingbing full of long stemmed mature leaves. "Ancient tree" probably indicates older plantation and the mostly large leaves have no bites left.  However, they are both refreshing and probably can be served to unsuspecting lucha drinkers.   The two teas pose very little burden on the body but when you get what you want, it's not exactly what you wanted at all.

In a fit of feeling sorry for myself that I was stuck with such wussy teas, I swung the other direction and bought four samples from white2tea which arrived Monday.  My husband who has a cold and can barely smell gave me the hairy eyeball for having the radioactive White Whale(still inside an open plastic bag) on our breakfast table yesterday morning.  When wet stored cakes arrive in a plastic bag- you need to give 'em a few days or weeks to breathe out as the storage aroma intensifies into something more shocking during the journey from China.

This morning after a night of coughing fits,  I'm slightly delirious but want to brew up.  I only have myself to blame for getting this sick. My husband kept offering me preventative zinc and elderberry tablets all weekend and because the zinc completely numbs the palate and I wanted to taste my teas, I refused what was good for me.  Now that I'm sick, I can't taste that much.

The sheepish whale on the wrapping can win any frosty heart including mine.  This mini brick is cute enough for any Japanese school girl but not for what lurks beneath.  First off this little guy is tight- XG tight.  It does not want to give it up. It feels slightly wrong to be wrangling such a tiny brick as I hear tiny squeaks of "No don't hurt me!"  I'm only able to flake off mouse nibble bits for a tiny pot brew.

Man is this tea bitter. I like dandelion greens bitter not arsenic bitter.  I had resisted putting in an order to white2tea mainly because of Hobbes.  The man tends to like strong punchy bitter teas. He also likes 'em drank(dank and rank) and sweaty.  While reading about them is great fun, my unwilling stomach cowers before such leaf.  Cwyn did warned me but the WW is a tolerable stomach burner.  

Am I that "empty husk of a man subsisting on hatred and bitterness alone" that can't quite enjoy this tea?  Me? Drats. The overriding bitterness with the not entirely desirable storage taste coating my upper palate puts me on the fence.  I may or may not like it better after I give it a week to air out more and my proper palate returns after I rid of this dreadful cold.  Plenty of others will champion this tea and so Paul will need not worry about one oddly picky reviewer.  (Sorry Paul...) I look forward to brewing up the other white2tea samples and his Yiwu was quite lovely and worth getting if not for my budget minded ways. 

The White Whale is one of the must-try aged samples like the Hengli Chang just to get a sense of reference points for other bloggers.  You can predict with micrometer accuracy what MarshalN will say of this White Whale.  Nobody fork it over to him- I don't want us to get yet another brow beating.

Can a true tea wraith get joy out of looking at such cupcakes? Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cheap Taco Syndrome and the Trouble with Expensive Sheng

I love Mexican food and eat tacos at least twice a week if not more. At the low end, there is the truck taco selling for less than $2 a taco. Because of the genre as a fast food- there is a 3x price ceiling on tacos and $12 is really as much as you can charge for plate of 2 tacos in the Bay Area.  At the higher end, I enjoyed two calamari tacos for $12 at Padrecito in Cole Valley where probably 75% went straight into to paying their exhorbitant SF rent.   Although a taco truck might employ lesser grades of meat,  even a truck taco is highly satisfying and quite tasty.

I eat out several hundred times a year from $4~$75 per head but because cheap tacos are so satisfying, it's becoming harder for me to enjoy expensive dinners.  I've had many a meal this year at $40+ that was only a hair better than my usual neighborhood $3.75 taco on a hand made tortilla. In hind sight I would have done better to save those thousands of dollars for tea. 

This kind of cost analysis is constantly disrupting my tea sessions since my tea closet if full of cheap taco tea.  Today I tried to enjoy an expensive aged Yiwu and it was good- the huigan lasted over an hour.   But because it was the most expensive Yiwu I've sampled,  my expectations cast a shadow over the brewing.  At a certain price point, i.e. over $300 a beeng,  I wrongly expect miracles in the mouth.  I am not the person to drop thousands on a beeng although I might drop a hundo on the right sample.  The current price of serious aged teas is such that it's an extravagant luxury in the province of rich businessmen.   Really, I don't mind drinking my less than stellar genres of tea which are often times as satisfying as the best tacos.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

90s XG Tuo And The Triangle Theory of Shengpu Premiums

In my younger days, Hugo my indomitable father would try to impress upon me various life lessons with a diagram only an ex-military economist could draw.  Foremost was Hugo's triangle theory of life where one's life was principally composed of
  • intellectual side- including work life
  • emotional side- love, friendship, family life, home life
  • muscle side
You had to secure at least two sides out of three before your life got wobbly and fell over.  Hugo has squeezed my unsuspecting husband's biceps and chided my man for neglecting his muscle side.   There was a time when all three sides of my life were teetering and my life did predictably fall to utter chaos.  The triangle pattern runs deep in my psyche for all sorts of things so I present to you the triangle theory of sheng purchase premiums.

When I buy tea, my analytical mind automatically tries to deconstruct the tea price roughly into three areas:
  • leaf quality
  • aging/storage
  • processing - including brand premium and I'm going to sloppily include the vendor premium here so I don't have to go quadrangle and mess up the analogy.
In the last few months, I've been mostly paying out an aging premium over so so leaf made by so so factories because that's what is basically available within my price points.  This morning after trying the 90s XG tuo,  I realize I need to break out of this rut as I've probably gotten enough of such ho-hum aged teas.

Yesterday I was pathologically compelled to almost buy a suspicious 90s XG tuo on ebay even though I have pounds of decade old high-end XG I wont' drink.  Then I remembered I already had a sample in my ebay kit so I brewed the tuo sample up this morning.  This 90s tea tastes like it could be even as young as ~2003 and whether or not it's really XG is moot. Even after a decade, this tuo reproduces with high fidelity the XG signature astringency but it's probably not that hard to replicate the northern plantation summer leaf taste.

What I've always appreciated about run on the mill XG tuos is that they are no nonsense teas not aspiring for imperial tribute designation or rare old tree cachet. Plantation blend and proud of it.  At their best, the sand paper roughness and astringency can give way to leave only the trademark XG smoke and leather which is unabashedly masculine.  XG tuos are a taciturn northerner and it seems wrong to talk too much about it.   But I'm glad I didn't clutter up my collection with yet more tea I won't drink.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

90s CNNP Storage Learning Kit

After some deliberation, I contacted the ebay seller about this moldy CNNP brick which was advertised as being dry "Lucifuge" stored.  To my happy surprise, he promptly shipped me another replacement.  His reassuring words exactly "Hi, Friend, So sorry. May be stored close to the ground. The ground is so wet. Don't worry. I will resend. Before sending, I will carefully check."  And carefully check he did as the second brick showed absolutely no signs of mold.  I'm assuming he sniffed up the replacement brick as the original wrapping was unmolested.  Actually it doesn't take a hound dog and I personally needed only one continuous whiff between the two bricks to differentiate that moldy shicang "wet storage" smell.  

You can imagine inside a storage warehouse crammed full of massive amounts of tea- not everything gets evenly rotated. So even in the same lot of tea from the same vendor we have this kind of disparity.  The original brick with shipping cost me ~$48 which is too steep for what it is.  But I am inadvertently the lucky recipient of a storage learning kit.  Probably this nothing special brick was no more than a yuan when it was newborn.  At $24 each, it's a palatable price for drinkable albeit mindless undemanding sheng and I will be comparing it against that famous White Whale in a week or so.

When I brewed these two examples side by side, I surprise myself by enjoying the furry version more. The "wet stored" version conjures up a more dynamic taste compared(!) to the drier brick. But as the brews progress- the two more or less become more similar.  But drinking the teas cooled amplifies the storage taste- I cannot stomach the furry brick once cold.  Drinking teas cold is also how I gauge quality in shu- a good shu you can drink cold as the heat can mask the storage flavors.  A shu that you thought was not so bad can be gross at room temperature.

In the search for last of the cheap aged sheng, I probably am scraping bottom in 2014.  I have mixed feelings about drinking (originally) cheap bricks like this one - I would not stoop to buying a newborn CNNP brick now.  But the spectre of a continually shrinking pool of aged tea combined with ever inflating prices makes me grasp at these last chances. I've been buying at today's fool's prices because even in a few years from now I would have been a fool not to.

We're lucky that most Chinese puerh investors appear not to have much interest in this moldy tea. That shicang smell and flavor- it really can be instinctively off-putting at first- your brain can send all sorts of pre-wired warning signals not to drink it.  It took well over a year before I went over the hump.  It's more likely that there will be increasing market demand for such traditionally stored tea and not less. Whether it's worth investing $300+ on a better aged cake instead of a $50 brick, I've sent away for more samples to investigate.  I'm working through aged samples tea friends have sent me, and I'm leaning towards having a representative range from low to high.  I'm not obsessed with having only top end cakes because for me I mostly want daily enjoyment of easy sheng I can drink. Knowing what you want even for the present is really a big step alone.