Saturday, July 14, 2012

Feel Good Tea Blogs and Other Random Musings

Just as in your tea consumption, you need a varied diet when reading tea blogs.

If you need the cold hard truth and real thinking- you head straight over to MarshalN because he is tirelessly challenging us to drink better teas, think for ourselves and not lapse into complacency.  

But sometimes you don't want to think critically about all the mediocre tea you've bought.  You just want to feel good about puerh in general.  That's when you head over to read sunny blogs like Wilson's Traveling Teapot.  Wilson exudes the most overwhelming aura of positivity. You can tell straightaway from the title font of his blog that he will provide you a cheerful experience and it's rare he meets a beeng he does not like.  He's mostly a shu drinker and he always manages to focus on the positive.  (I had not been too keen on my Haiwan and Menghai shus but he fixed that for me and I'm excited to retry them. Thank you Wilson!) 

However, when making a purchasing decision based on blog reviews- you might weigh the blogger's hit ratio compared to your own. It's difficult not to be biased by other reviewers especially when their blogs are your daily comfort food. Wednesday night I was really struggling  with the Hengli Chang.  Despite such high praise from so many bloggers, my palate was giving me an alternate opinion which I have to save for another post.

In our family, we are always brutally honest about restaurants.  My mother will dish out a pithy analysis like "MSG and sugar covers up cheap ingredients. Let's never come here again." Some families don't think it polite to state negative opinions so they end up going the same mediocre restaurants over and over again even when there is definitely better food out there. While it's easy to never patronize an establishment, it's harder to avoid a bad beeng you just bought and it's better to think kinder things of it because most likely you are going to be drinking it for days to come.

It's near impossible to avoid mediocre teas.  The very definition of mediocrity would dictate that's what fills most of our shelves.  Pu-erh is the only category of tea where plantation leaves are held in  disdain.  It's all plantation for almost every other type of tea out there. I actually don't want to be drinking mind-blowing off-the-charts-cha-qi-sweat-inducing old tree teas every day.  I just have to find a good balance.

(The above photo is taken from the Hayward Shoreline. Those of you who live in the Bay Area may be surprised that a city with as much industrial and trailer park charm as Hayward could hide such a natural gem. It is by far the loveliest bay trail bicycling in the East Bay with a surprising diversity from salt pans, grasslands, to pickleweed marshes- but best of all you can still enjoy the industrial landscape on the other side. I love drossscapes and I think the contrast is what makes it doubly enjoyable for me. )


  1. Anonymous4:51 PM

    Well, you may know, that wild tea trees exist for other types of tea and in other regions--dan cong and wuyi teas being prime examples--I suspect the difference is due to geography and cultural history--in those areas (Guangdong and Fujian), there is a long history of dense Han Chinese settlement that has long since stripped away almost everything that is wild, whereas Yunnan is relative hinterlands comprising daunting mountains, thick and ancient forests, and large percentage of minority populations who, relative to Han Chinese, are typically less business-minded and concerned with increasing yield. Wild tea trees still exist in more settled areas (i.e. 正 "authentic" ), but the price is insanely high, I am guessing due mainly due to relative scarcity combined with much more complex and costly processing methods for oolong teas.

    Since puerh is very minimally processed compared to many other highly regarded tea types, the power of great puerh really is highly dependent on the source material. I think plantation teas can only reach a high level of respect in an environment where you have the resources and knowledge to craft them into something special, (i.e. any good oolong). If you have well preserved, wild trees, then you can enjoy a deep and complex taste without too much processing. My understanding is that compressed teas were proliferated partially by nomads and other such types because they were relatively easy to prepare and to pack. I think there is some truth to the idea that those who live a more wild life are more likely to appreciate or cultivate a wild product. If you want specially crafted products built on knowledge, techniques, art, etc. then you need a greater measure of society/culture to support that.

    I mainly avoid buying any mediocre teas by a combined policy of 1) demanding to sample from vendors or tea shops that are new to me, and 2) establishing vendors that are trustworthy and I know price accurately relative to quality. Though I am fairly sure I can not see myself buying anywhere near the amount of tea you have any time soon strictly due to financial constraints :)

    Along the Oakland hills there is some amazing bike riding to be had, with superb views and cutting along some state parks..but it is not for the casual rider, or at least one who doesn't mind some gnarly hills (but you will really appreciate the views when you get to the top, instead of just taking a car to the Chabot Center).

    1. Nick,

      Dancongs and yanchas are semi-wild and perhaps more carefully cultivated in some sense than their taidi counterparts since their yield is so valuable. Most of the wild material for puerh comes also from either plantation tea trees gone feral over time or those allowed to grow in more natural tea garden conditions.

      I think truly wild tea trees are not as reliable in taste and can even make you sick. I tried a ye sheng bao which was supposedly from a true wild tree. Besides being totally weird tasting, it gave me a terrible stomach cramps all day. I should whip it out to see how it's aging.

      My husband casually rides up the East Bay hills every week as do many of our friends- they all have serious calf development. I haven't done so in a while as the continuous car traffic peppered with reckless drivers makes the ride a bit nerve-wracking for me. But the hills are a sweet ride during a weekday.


    2. It is interesting to see the different vocabulary/parameters that get used in products (tea) of various locations that are supposed to be indicators of what is supposed to be good (or maybe just valuable). In the puer world, it is "wild," and age of the trees. In the Taiwanese world, it is the height of the mountain, quality of the soil, the freshness and care of the harvesting..but, when it comes down to it, a great tea is great through many different combinations of variables, as where X factors don't necessarily indicate a great tea, even if that's the prevailing logic--ecosystems are just so complex!

      I have had a couple of the so called genuine old bush Dan Congs from Imen Shan of Tea Habitat. They are truly magnificent. The feeling is deep, wonderful, and they last forever. When I drank them, I thought, "this is the original taste of tea." There's a real purity to them.
      I've had similar feelings of depth about some puerh I've drank, as well as some high mountain Taiwanese oolongs (more rarely, of the Chinese variety), that are minimally processed compared to some oolongs so as to reveal the natural excellent growing and environmental conditions that have created a deep taste in the leaves, but none yet that match the price of some of those Dan Congs. I'm undecided as to whether that price is truly worth it (i.e. starting at $30/ounce), but man, if that wasn't possibly the most memorable ounce of tea I've drunk!

  2. Hmm, it appears I can comment using my wordpress account but not subscribe with it. Ok then.