Friday, October 31, 2014

Rainy Day 2004 Wet vs Dry Update

These two factory teas are about the same age- or purportedly from 2004 and potentially with some wild tree content.  Your eyes might pop out at the ever so light straw colored brew and green green leaves on the left but this tuo has been drying away with me in Berkeley since Feb of 2006.  Even back in 2006 and in comparison with the 2004-2006 versions of this cake, I had no doubt as to the age of this tuo plus it had a convincing factory stamp.    Which brew do you think is more bitter? 

The humid stored brew on the right still holds onto an obvious plantation bitterness while the barely aging wild tree tuo on the left is smooth to drink now as it was in its youth.    

Behold the '04 Changtai Brick with a Menghai Brick Tea  猛海茶磚  label:

I recognized this brick on ebay from an old forum post where Tehahlia from Indonesia provides some intriguing information:
"This brick is going for about SIN$5, isn't it? There are fake ones in the market, so be careful when you hunt for it, the similarities between the real and the fake are hard to tell.

The first production from Chang Tai's new factory in Jinghong city, using a blend of old abandoned leaves and cultivated ones. Most of these bricks were snapped up by a Hongkong tea vendor."
At SIN$5, it probably wasn't the finest Banna brick and this one certainly tastes like that kind of cheap plantation brick; it must have been a tongue scraper back then and such tea demands humid storage.   I brewed up so little that I wasn't able to differentiate two set of leaves to confirm a blend of older leaves with taidi cha.

I was surprised anyone would even bother to forge such a low end brick but I remembered back then you could get an entire 6 FTM beeng or a Lao Tong Zhi for just a few bucks.  You can see the Changtai wrapper is quite bug eaten and one whiff lets you know this cake enjoyed humid/light wet storage although it has no visible signs of surface mold.   I'm assuming the 401 means 2004 first batch.   The specimen I have compares to other 10 year olds. I would be okay to buy this for $16 with shipping- the Changtai part really doesn't matter to me that much. The cheapest deal on ebay is $16 with shipping but I wasn't diligent so I paid a tenner more.   It's not the best, it's not the worst. I don't have that many humid stored examples yet so it's okay to fill out.

Next. This age defying tuo is the '04 Xiaguan Wild Tree.  It smelled incredible when it arrived- it emanates the fragrance I associate with fermenting overripe blackberries when I pick them later in the season.  The intensity of the scent on this tuo fluctuates with the seasons being most subdued during the winter.   Like it's XG beeng counterpart,  this tuo is a mellow brew without the usual XG mouth drying powers.  You can see a fair amount of huangpin and older leaves which must be the old tree part.  And is customary with XG style- the leaves are all chopped up and the compression so tight, you need to sweat and bleed to get some flakes.  

This XG tuo is aging much slower than my 2004 plantation tribute melon of the same size -250g with equal or greater compression.  My melon has been progressing respectably and is entirely drinkable now even for me so it's more leaf composition rather than compression or storage which keeps this XG evergreen. The excess carbon in the huangpin and the older leaves make it extremely slow to ferment.

(My husband cracked up in telling me last month that while sleep talking with my eyes fully closed,  I said, "Hey do you want to see my melons."  He didn't realize that melon was actually a puerh form but I whipped them out for him to clear up any confusion.)

Because the heady fragrance of this tuo is so lovely- I shudder at the thought of this scent being contaminated with a shicang aroma.  I don't mind this tuo is never to age. I've easily gotten a thousand huffs out of this tuo and the fragrance alone makes this worth holding it young forever. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Paying Up for Guangzhou Storage

I've been aging sheng for nine years and on bad days I curse with both fists the lameness of natural Berkeley storage.  Just think- if Bay Area storage was anything special- that David Hoffman would be making hand over fist right now. His hoard of "last millennium" sheng aged in his Marin hideaway would be in great demand.  In drinking several 90's sheng from Kunming,  Kunming storage does not seem to me that much better either.  Some drinkers may hold onto the fantasy of extra dry storage and slow aging producing more interesting teas.  I've gotten over such wishful notions and now have to deal with the implications.

My house is on average 55-65%RH and it's perfectly comfortable for humans.  It's moist enough to cause mold problems in some of my antique rosewood and teak furniture but it's not enough for sheng to happily ferment. It's more of the double whammy of cold and dry as it rarely breaks over 75F.  For a while, I held onto that last refuge that my teas were in the "awkward phase" between youth and age where they can go a bit flat and quiet.  I've got my tweens and also the 90's samples from Phoenix Collection Emmett sent me so I know it's not going to magically get that much better in the next five years.

I've been surprised by lower quality leaf that a little humid storage has made into something more interesting.  I have high quality leaf that has just flattened out or has barely aged here.  I initially did not appreciate mildly wet stored/humid stored cakes because I was used to drinking dry stored. I've come around as the livelier mouth feel and depth of humid storage is superior to dry climate dry storage.

I am following Plan B- get more mid-range cakes that have had 5+ years in a humid zone.  I really kick myself for holding out for so long.  The most affordable humid stored cakes available to me currently are the ebay vendors out of Guangzhou and prices appear to have leapt double in the last two years.

In browsing through pre 2006 sheng for the most reputable Guangzhou ebay vendors Red Lantern Tea and RJ Teahouse carry mostly big factory goods with no shortage of overpriced Dayi;  Red Lantern Tea which has a better selection does not do samples.  I get a sample of  the truly gentle beeng- 2006 Mengku Gu Hua- double whammy of autumnal and weakened by humid storage.

More gentler is the 2005 Mengku Spring Tips for $67.80.  There's nothing more galling than seeing the ebay purchase history with some lucky dog buying this for $29.50 back in Nov. 2011. I remember this very beeng going around $16(probably cheaper) back in 2006.   I used to have an unjustified prejudice against Lincang sweetness in sheng back then and so did not bother even with a sample beeng.

It would make better sense to get a twin of something I already have.  However I can't quite force myself to spend 4x for a mediocre plantation factory tea I already dislike and none of my good cakes are even listed.  After much deliberation, I settle on a 2006 Changtai Lao Chen Nannuo from the Old "Man" Chen series.  Don't groan, I have my reasons:

  • vendor description says "floral and soft" - "soft" is vendor speak for weak-assed and I apparently love the gentle caresses of a mild mannered tea.  Probably this is why I am drawn to Nannuos in the first place. 
  • see how a mediocre factory tea improves with 8+ years humid storage.
  • compare against my supposed old tree Nannuos from 2004-2006
  • compare against my other Changtai cakes
Lao Chen is supposed to be named after Changtai board chairman and really for $9.50-$11 a beeng for the 2005 versions I paid, it's decent.

I just bought a few starter humid stored cakes to see if I should ramp it up. I'm also looking at a few Guangzhou aged shu wondering if it's worth sinking yet more money into shu.

(It will take at least a week for these teas to arrive.  )

Saturday, October 25, 2014

7452 601 vs 901 Red Ribbon Party

Yes the tea closet has become a shu closet.  Instead of the over-exposed oft-blogged about Dayi classic- the 7542,  we transpose the center digits to end up with the humble shu cousin 7452.  The wodui process was invented in 1973 so you can see this early recipe from '74 was good enough survive four decades.  Lightly fermented recipes like 7452 technically leave a little more hope for improvement in aging and if you have to hoard shu- they can be a better way to go.  In the eight years I've held the 601 cake, it's become a few notches more interesting but not so compelling that I seriously regret not hoarding a tong.

Two pointers for Menghai shu noobs:
1. Batch numbers indicate year and release, i.e. 601= 1st batch release of 2006 (although could also be for 1996,1986... with the decade inferred) and 901=2009 first release. Of course the first batch has higher collectible value but whether or not it potentially indicates slightly higher quality leaves is not always clear.  I've never had a side by side tasting of different batches for the same year so I cannot say but I've had first, second and third batches which seem to have that consistent Menghai quality.  The 601 was released in May of 2006 while the 901 was released relatively late in October.
2. 7542 is not a recipe made consistently every year.  The red ribbon here just denotes that it was re-released after a hiatus(sometimes as brief as a year) and that it is the first batch of that year.  Given the puerh boom and difficulty in getting decent maocha for even sheng, I'm not surprised Dayi did not release a 2008 version.  Does the red ribbon in your cake count for more than an extra special feeling?  As with anything in puerh, a red ribbon alone cannot be trusted as a absolute mark of quality.  I've had pretty good cakes that do not boast that special red ribbon and red ribbon cakes which are not that exciting. Sadly the 901 currently belongs that latter group.

Is there a logical color coded scheme to reflect fermentation levels on the Menghai shus?  Lighter recipes like the 7452 appear to be wrapped in a burnt umber cover. However supposedly moderately cooked recipes like 7572 came in a dark chestnut brown cover in 2006 but now have a raw umber print. What to make of the yellow wrapper for the 901?  Does this indicate a lighter fermentation than previous years?  On visual inspection, the 901 pictured left is noticeably lighter that the 601 but three years is not a significant amount of time to transform.  But the post mortem does not confirm my hypothesis.

901 is an initial disappointment-somewhat flat and quiet; I may need to condition it inside a ceramic canister for a month or even let it rest a few years.  The 601 back in the day was not terribly impressive either and that is why I didn't buy more.  I brew up the 601 today and immediately the more lively mouth feel makes me feel I might do well to have a few more 7452s on hand.  I'm on the fence now whether to buy more 901s but I need not worry as someone has already bought the last 20+ cakes from YS as Scott had maintained an unusually low price of $27. You snooze you loose in the world of puerh.  The 601s go for $65+ with high risk of fakes so I'm not tempted.
Despite the pending dangers of missing out, My husband gave me a stern stern talking to about not pre-buying more tea to fill up the new cabinets he is building over the winter. My desk is always unusable but it's become an eyesore with Kunming Post boxes piled high. The photo shows about 10 days of shipments. I can't get any more until I clear this backlog some how...  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mediocre Sheng Conundrum

I was amused to come across this 2011 teachat poll:

"Would you rather ... under extreme circumstances, have a relatively mediocre tea, or none at all. "

By very definition, most of us are drinking mediocre tea most of the time. Of course what one considers mediocre tea particularly for puerh will vary enormously.  At one extreme end is MarshalN who calls most stuff available in the West as mediocre crap tea and at the other end is Cywn who doubts the existence of crap tea since mediocre puerh is still outstanding.

Those of us forced to rely on the internet to procure our tea supply,  I'm talking about decent even moderately good sheng that is not bad but is not exactly so good that you clamor to buy more.  There's nothing wrong with drinking average teas as long as you didn't overpay for it.  Mediocre teas are necessary when you are first starting out since everything is new to you and you need to establish reference points.  If you insist on avoiding mediocre teas,  hedonic adaptation inevitably kicks in and even above average teas can become contemptuously mediocre to you.

I love puerh. But for someone like me with a sheng intolerance and tea closet crammed to the gills with decent teas bought for a song in a climate known to flatten out tea,  it becomes ever harder to find above average newborn sheng that bypasses pain receptors and stoke the hoarding impulse.  Even if I bought something which is a notch above average, it costs easily 4-20 times as much as my old stuff and it's rarely even 1.5x as good. My current solution like so many is to not seek out newborn sheng.  Why risk the triple whammy of over-priced undrinkable mediocre (or soon to age mediocre) sheng?   But even so, given how much ho-hum stuff pervades my collection, I'd better embrace that mediocrity somehow.

Behold the 2003 Dadugang Eiabora Mansa which might even struggle to be uplifted into the mediocre category.  Plenty of people were bashing Dadugang aging potential even back in 2006. Even during the massive puerh boom- Dadugang Factory hasn't distinguished itself.   The still state owned firm appears to be  churning out mass factory tea but their new stuff isn't worthwhile enough to make it out to the Western market.  I bought this $12 cake for the ridiculous name alone and it's a milquetoast of a tea.

But this tea possesses in abundance one redeeming quality that I did not forsee back when I was greedily buying up young sheng.  The tea is just feeble enough that it is one of the few shengs my body tolerates and brings about the right amount of focus and attention without making me jittery.   Sigh. I'm the anti-Hobbes and need totally weak ass tea to make my session right.  Let me just put a blanket over my head and contemplate the sad facts.

I spent 3 hours in the ER today with my husband who needed a few stitches. The entire process could have taken fifteen minutes but because he answered that he wasn't in much pain, we were plum forgotten about.  The almost dying should have priority but I vow to have my own suture kit and lidocaine ready.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Revisiting Lao Cha Tou

Even amongst my gardening friends, I am considered a serious composter with 4 separate bins.  Every season, I hand sift the black gold for worms to put back to work and I am quite familiar with clumps that can form at the bottom of a compost pile.  I've manually busted up hundreds of such compost nuggets to spread in my vegetable patch.  So when I first read about lao cha tou- "old tea heads" from Corax on cha dao so long ago, I didn't jump on that wagon as I just didn't want to be reminded I was essentially relegated to drinking compost.

Although considered a waste product that's been up-marketed during the puerh boom, pu drinkers need not be so snobby about lao cha tou. Like every thing else in shu, there's delicious lao cha tou and atrocious disgusting lao cha tou(I'm looking at you 2009 CNNP LCT) and everything in between. The genre itself does not automatically discount quality.  But smaller cha tous are to be preferred over larger coarser tea heads.

 I tried my first lao cha tou two years ago on the recommendation of fellow shu drinker Jon Grebe who called them "silky".  I disastrously started with the 2009 CNNP Lao Cha Tou which was so disgusting, I've segregated the canister to the highest shelf in my kitchen.  Really I would never buy new CNNP except that it was convenient to include it with my order from a certain factory certified vendor (ahem..) that generally has tasteful cakes- I did not dream he could carry something so shockingly heinous. But to my consolation, it was only $6.50.

Lucky for me I kept looking and found the YS 2009 Cha Tou Sheng Yun brick - and it remains the only shu form(brick/beeng/tuo/melon) I have ever finished in my entire life.  This particular cha tou brick has a rich complex fermented fragrance that none of my other shu's have- the smell is more akin to wine than wodui and I regularly whip it out just to breath it in.  The brew is mellow sweet and lovely but not as incredible as it smells.  I've tried a few other specimens even the 2011 YS version but nothing stokes my fancy as the 2009 version pressed with nuggets fermented in 2007.     Scott claims you can brew his brick 25+ times and I've never taken him up on this challenge as I get shu-ed out after 12 brews.  To brew lao cha tou, Ira instructed me to soak them in cold water for 5+ minutes and it really helps loosen up the tight heads.

In puerh- one cannot be discouraged by traumatic experiences.  One also has to make the most of a shu demotion and I for one am happy to find something I look forward to drinking. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Flashback with Samovar's 50s Vintage Sheng

About ten years ago, I took my husband for his birthday to Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco to try their 50s aged puerh.  Their menu confidently proclaimed:
"1950 Vintage- Ancient and amazing. Complex for each of the 7 infusions you will enjoy. This is the end, as we purchased the last existing 10 pounds of this unparalleled brew. Green processed, this is the old stuff, the good stuff. Not for beginners"
We were dubious but curious.  They also listed a puerh from the 30's:
"1930 Vintage- Truly archaic. Camphor, minerals, molasses. Taste Mother Earth. Sip, and time-travel to 1930 China. Where were your grandparents? Where were you?"
Probably their menu wins the cake for cringe-worthy copywriting. ( I'll include more highlights at the end just for late night humor. ) The owner Jesse Jacobs most likely handcrafted those very words and if you have ever seen him speak, you will not be surprised by such flashy confrontational descriptions.   Samovar Tea Lounge is a brick and mortar SF tea cafe serving a wide spectrum of teas- oolongs, sencha, lucha, assams, ceylons, rooibos, yerba mate, herbal tisanes, and puerh alongside light fare.   They used to list 8 puerh selections on their teahouse menu back then compared to the 3 loose shu Imperial Tea Court served.  Now Samovar Teas has pared down their puerh selections to serve three loose shus with two of them being blended with cacao, yerba mate, essential oils and such. They call their unadulterated loose shu "Maiden's Ecstasy"; I wonder what Hong Kong grandpa would think about that.  I don't know any maidens that would go into ecstasy over a cuppa of loose shu.

I had asked my husband if we should try the tea from the 30's but he stoically insisted the 50's tea was good enough for him.  I vaguely remember the price was something like $23 vs $38.  The waitress brought out a yixing teapot crammed full of tea leaves.  It was aged loose leaf sheng and the brew out-lasted more than a gallon of water despite the specific "7 infusions" listed on the menu.  My husband asked the waitress to put the spent leaves in a to-go cup and brewed it continuously the next day as well.

50's vintage it certainly was not but it was a good robust tea- very mineral tasting like licking a limestone cave.   Of course I knew squat about puerh 10 years ago so I can only guess that it was a twenty year old if that.  The tea was clean and bright tasting- no traditional storage mustiness at all and it was probably a sheng.  Shus normally don't possess that kind of endurance but I didn't know the leaf rub test back then.

I have always wondered what the supposed 30's tea was about but they removed it from the menu shortly after my visit so I never got the opportunity.  If you per chance did try this tea back then- please fill us in!

As promised, some over the top tea Samovar menu descriptions just for late night giggles:

Creamy Oolong- Velvet and warm milk. Downy, seraphic caresses for your tongue. A most memorable gustatory journey with each unfurling leaf
Oriental Beauty- Ambrosial, sweet, dark, and so complete. This brew will assuage your worries and float you to the elysian ether. A haunting flavor with an evolving complexity

(I really should hold a contest for the most ridiculous tea advertisement.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Aged Pomelo Stuffed Oolong and Puerh

What am I doing with such an assortment of stuffed pomelos?  The first fat death star of a pomelo I got ten years ago from Samovar Tea for $65- a princely sum for tea back then.  But my husband had a persistent cough and I read on the internet with some hope that these were a natural cure.   Samovar Tea advertised the vintage as 1993 which could be up for debate. I also drunk a loose leaf puerh advertised on their menu as being "1950 Vintage Ancient and Amazing" at Samovar back in 2005- a story for another time. 

These pomelo skins were hollowed out, stuffed with steamed oolong and licorice and then charcoal fired to oblivion.  It's pretty cheap grade oolong judging by the broken leaves and stems. Why would anyone use top grade leaf for something you're going to flavor and bake to death. The brewed tea leaves are carbonized jet black.  I've read Hakka tea farmers in Taiwan commonly make this type tea for medicinal purposes but I'm suspecting the versions I have is bottom grade Wuyishan yancha.

The Samovar version was misadvertised as being stuffed with puerh and it's definitely oolong.  This tea did little to cure my husband's cough but it was tasty enough for me to search for more.  Lightly smoky, the comforting citrus notes of this tea is just the thing to warm you up on cold rainy days. The next speciment I found was dated 2001 from Seven Cups but the tea proved still too astringent to drink even in 2006 which made me wonder if the Seven Cups version was either potentially younger than advertised or such pomelos require at least eight years to reach drinkability.  The type of astringency is what I've often experienced with young roasted yancha.  I would estimate the Samovar 1993 version was at least five years old when I got it in 2004 making it at least as old as 1999.  

Two pomelos were not enough to satiate me and I bought three more from Holy Mountain Tea. They are the youngest at 2003 and I have yet to even crack them open.

Do you see the odd man out in the above photo? The gaudy hot pink wiggly ribbon should tell you there is something more exciting going on.  I went on one last pomelo rampage in February of 2006 and got two puerh stuffed you zi cha(2002) from YS. These appear not to be baked but sun dried and were advertised as being "Pomelo Sweated Puerh".  The citrus taste can definitely overpower the gong ting loose shu.  You can sometimes lighten and perk up other boring shu with tiny pieces of pomelo skin. I generally prefer my teas naked but a marriage of citrus and tea can be a fruitful one.

If you are wondering, age appears not to make the tea any more wonderful.  Being baked to death, there is no more transformation besides mellowing out. It may wrongly appear I drink a lot of this tea but in reality, I gave most of the missing chunks away. I hoard this tea mostly because of the lovely pomelo scent that relaxes me.  It's too expensive to put out as potpourri so I bring out the storage boxes to sniff them from time to time.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dry 2001 7542 vs the Lucifuge 90s CNNP

To ease my mind from encroaching ebola fears, I thought I would take my diversion in tea this afternoon.  Up first is a random CNNP brick from ebay.    You can see there is generous white frost on the surface and stems inside. After all my adventures in mold, I actually did not bat an eyelash when I opened this brick. The storage of this brick was advertised as:
"Clean, Ventilating, Lucifuge, Dry, No Srange Smell And Pollution"

I have some vague notions about what this "Lucifuge" condition is about. To regurgitate wikipedia, lucifuge comes from "lux" latin word for light plus fuigio meaning to flee.  "He who flees the light"!  Lucifuge surely must be storage under dark conditions. But if it also means Lucifuge-the demon in charge of Hell's government oversaw the aging of this cake, I'm down with that too.  Most likely it would have been one of his minions as I'm sure the real Lucifuge is crazy busy with weightier matters.

I must have graduated from wet storage 101 because I can drink it without gagging. That is something. The brick must have dried out for many years as it does not smell so bad and the brew is lighter brown so the wet storage was not too overdone.   That moldy shicang flavor has finally grown on me.   I've drunk this tea multiple occasions without ill-effects and I'm curious how such a brick will dry out here in Berkeley. The slightly wet 90s Ding Xing is doing so much better so I'm keen to load up on more slightly wet cakes.

The ebay listing photos did not show any signs of mold so I wrote the vendor who kindly will send me a dryer version.   Is this brick really 15 years old to merit the 90s designation?  At least 8-10 years I would guess and I should get some younger trad stored cakes to compare.

As an antidote, I finally open up the 2001 7542 sample Jakub sent me that started the whole Luke Skywalker dry storage meme.  It's like eating a slice of English cheddar after being assaulted with a ripe morbier.  This 7542 is a pricey chunk of pu from Sampletea and I'm happy he sent it to me instead of another dry storage hater.  I was saving it for a dry vs. super dry comparison but I went for it today.  

Compared to the 2003 7542 MarshalN sent me,  the 2001 version is rather of ho-hum but still a pleasant aged experience. It's not terribly exciting but it's drinkable which is more than what my cakes are now.  But if I had to pay triple digits for something like this now, I would be kind of upset.  I'm glad I didn't splurge on too many expensive shengs back then only to see them hollow out like this.   However if my ten dollar ten year olds start tasting like this in a few years, I would not mind at all.  

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Red Dayi 2000 or Not

After multiple shu giveaways, I am now reduced to about 40+ different shus including some premium Dayi that I rarely bother to drink. I have dozens of shu samples that I haven't even bothered to brew. Why I even spent precious tea money on more shu - an aged Dayi of dubious authenticity- does not make logical sense.

However like any jaded tea buyer, I just want me a little excitement and mystery now and then.  Truth be told, I'm not even a Dayi fan but I sprung $75 to satisfy my curiosity about this cake.  I knew this wrapper looked suspicious because of the BEENCHA being smooshed into one word. However it was the very same wrapper at Vancouver's Chinese  Tea Shop that really egged on my interest.

When I received this cake, I had one final chance to still back out.  I knew even as I tore in that it was a fake but I still wanted to know if a tasty aged shu was masquerading behind that facade.

The beeng was a lumpy dirty mess- hairs, plastic strings, miscellaneous fibers; I do not think this cake is Menghai quality even at their worst.  Dayi is the most faked cake in the world and this is the first one I have knowingly encountered.  I'm never deterred by something so benign as hair or string so I brewed it up straight away.

Judging by the number of stems present, this tea was made with grade 9 leaves or as advertised-  "thick bold leaves".   If it were a Dayi, it would be a 7592 or a 8592 recipe which are fine mellow recipes.  However the brew has latent muddy undertones but otherwise is a shu shu- woody and earthy.

Gambled and lost.  I think fake Dayi stories rarely have a happy ending.  I had actually bought a second cake to give to Ira just in case but the vendor let me return it right away and credited me shipping charges.  Actually, the cake's not terrible and it is definitely aged over 12+ years.  It's just not good for $75. What is ever going on with Daniel Lui's 7262?

In corresponding with the state side vendor of my cake- he told me the difficulties of stocking puerh through middle-men in China.  Among other mishaps, he's been sent a jian of tea which tastes nothing like the original sample and is fit only for compost.  My middle-men in China don't always pan out for me either- reputable or otherwise but I only buy less than two cakes at a time.  It's all worked in as my tuition for the year.   Originally I thought I would find last month's gamble from my Hong Kong ebay vendor to be riskier-  I'm actually enjoying my dodgy aged cakes more than expected even though one of them is obviously wet stored.  It's also because I felt somehow satisfied with the ebay purchase that I rolled the dice once more this year.

More and more I've noticed shu prices have inflated outrageously even for cakes I bought only two years ago:

2010 Douji "Phoenix Tour" Ripe selling for $59.99 (bought $12.99 in 6/2012)
2011 Douji "Phoenix Tour" Ripe selling for $42.99 (bought $11.99 in 6/2012)
2011 "63" Ripe from 6 FTM selling for $24 at teaclassico (bought 2008 version for $8.90 in 6/2012)

Actually I didn't even bother trying the "63" or the 2011 Douji and just gave both away.  I'm conjecturing shu prices have gone up due to a lot of sheng collectors and drinkers can't drink sheng anymore and so they are forced into buying up shu.  After all this, I'm feeling paying more than $30 for a shu is not worth my while and I should just hunker down with my now inflated shu collection which will probably last me two decades at my present rate.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Hunt for Red Dayi Part I

(Sorry could not make October work in any way to the theme, Dayoctober, Taetaeoctober, Octaetaeber, Octaetaedayiber...)

I had browsed a particular vendor's site for years, being on the fence on whether to buy. Last week, Ira mentioned she got one of the best deals on Golden Needle White Lotus ever from this vendor.  So I gave them another look.  My eyes needed only three milliseconds to zoom in on this deal.  I was really curious what kind of 2000 Red Label Dayi goes for only $74.

Shu of course. But if it is what it says it is, it's a mouthwatering discount even as a shu. The vendor had only that tiny little image of the wrapped beeng.

Of course being a bargain shu hunter, I immediately had a Pavlovian response to that particular shade of background tan, there is only one place I need to head to solve the mystery.

Late late last night, after some fun with the way back machine, I produce this bit of evidence from 2006:

Yup. That shade of tan could only belong to my supplier of dirt-cheap legit factory shus. When you click on the description, I see that it was going for $10.4 a beeng or $69 a tong! Where was I back in 2006?  I only turned to tuochatea in August 2007 after I was no longer able to drink sheng and Yunnan Sourcing's shu's were getting too pricey for me by which point these goodies were long sold out.  

You can see in 2006 that tuochatea did not have a vintage specified or even a recipe number. What totally excited me about the description was the phrase "deep red orange infusion" which could indicate a lesser fermented shu.  But by late 2007, tuochatea had labeled the vintage of this Red Dayi as being 2000 and even changed the description altogether.

BTW,  that 2004 Haiwan LTZ on the left I forked over $19.60 back then(and how indignant I was at paying such prices for shu) is now going for $69 at teaclassico. Their version is a more humid Guangdong stored version- does shu need or get more interesting with further humid storage? 

Gone is the promising "deep red orange infusion" in 2006, we're downgraded to 

"A fine aged Menghai Dayi Pu-erh cake, made from thick bold leaves that can easily be broken off of the cake for servings, Suitable for drinking now or putting away for further aging."

Yup it's copied word for word on the vendor site.

Tuochatea is a pretty legit business, and I've gotten authentic Dayi shus from them.  There's some circumstantial evidence to indicate that this other vendor's Dayi is from tuochatea.  Although when I called them this morning, the vendor mentioned that this cake was bought from Yunnan Sourcing. So if that is the case, then it's also highly likely this is real Dayi.

So after all this research,  I tried to buy up 4 cakes.  But he only had one more left which I bought up.  I haven't received it yet.  With these early undated Dayis,  the faded orangish red wrapper with the rounded tae tae symbol indicates it could be dated anywhere from 2000-2004.   I was scrutinizing tuochatea's unwrapped beeng shot from 2006 left and right yesterday for any hints of aging- I think the compression is unusually loose with the edges frayed for it to be only a 2004.  Only by some measure of taste, we might make a better guess.   Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 04, 2014

A Shu Party for Two

Last summer,  Ira and I were supposed to try the YS and China Cha Dao samples but at that time my body really could not tolerate most teas and certainly not brash young sheng so we sadly did not come together.   But today we happily reunite for a day of tea.

First we tried the 90s Tongchang Huangji aged sheng.  For seventy bucks including shipping, it's a decent cup that we can down without trouble. If you don't have it, you're not missing out terribly.  It's probably an early 2000 cake like the similarly billed nineties Ding Xing.  If you're tired of shus like me and your sheng is nowhere near ready to drink, it's good to have alternatives from time to time. But beware, the stuff is pretty dry stored but I think it's better for me to get used to it since my cakes may very well end up like that.

It turns out Ira now drinks almost all shus these days as newborn shengs are off limits.  So the tea party quickly became a shu party all around.  I think there is nearly not enough warning against over-consuming new sheng as it can wreak havoc on your stomach lining for certain body types. I know of enough drinkers who have developed such problems and was surprised that even MarshalN spoke of stomach troubles back in 2008.  I think if you start having even a little trouble- it's good to recognize you could be seriously damaging your stomach lining and immediately give your body a rest.

After restarting my blog in 2012,  I masochistically went on drinking newborn sheng although not as recklessly as I did in 2006.   This time around, my body started reacting violently towards any green tea even weak oolong and it took more than half a year of drinking herbal tisanes to work back up to just oolongs.  These days I'm not even tempted to even lay my eyes on any sheng younger than 2006. (Although my eyes briefly ogled the 2011 HLH Chawang 2 just to reel from the mighty price of $640.  $640!!! $640 for a 2011!!!  I really should have taken Jakub's Birthday Beeng advice on the 2010 Chawang which also has a 100% uptick )

Ira and I actually did not brew up the pictured over-the-top 2011 AK-47 Guevera Shu that she brought.  The wodui smell on it was still too much for me as I'm used to my completely aired out hoard of shus.  I brewed the 06 De Hong for her and she definitely agreed it was more lively and interesting than your average shu. She thought we could experiment more mixing little bits of sheng with shu.

Nice thing about shu is that you can lunch up with it.  After multiple days of restaurant over- indulgence this week, I unfairly served Ira simpler lunch fare- porkloin sandwiches on quinoa millet sourdough with a totally totally Berkeley style salad- a dandelion peach fennel feta salad with home made elderberry flower vinegar.  (I totally forgot to fry up the duck egg to put on top of the pork loin. Regret city.  Sorry Ira, sorry. )

When you are with a kindred tea spirit, it's fun and a special treat to chat exclusively and intensely about tea without the burden of burning  out your conversation partner. My husband's limit on tea talk is about 15 minutes a day on days he is receptive to tea talk.  I have been secretly trying to increase his tolerance daily but he's on to me so I'm exceedingly grateful for my time with Ira.

Friday, October 03, 2014


My dance card was full all week with a friends from the Dubai, Hong Kong, and London office visiting simultaneously. Each friend must be wined and dined separately as I want to give my full attention to each dear friend since I only see them but once a year. My friend Edmund from Hong Kong loves sea food, so we opted for a bucket 'of sea critters last night.

Edmund and I did some serious work in the trenches in Pusan which had some of the most excellent oysters I've ever enjoyed.  When you work such long grueling days, a plate of same day harvested oysters with a pure clean taste can become a magical gateway.
Somedays when I don't feel sprightly,  a few kumamotos on the half shell can boost my spirits. Because when you can still slurp oysters, life cannot be all bad.