Saturday, June 30, 2012


I casually mentioned to my husband that I was planning to trade off my LBZs for some older pu-erh and he uncharacteristically got possessive and staked a claim, "Don't give that away.  I'm going to drink that."   My husband is in the league of coffee drinkers but will dutifully drink the sheng I line up for him for his afternoon stimulation.  There is a steady growing queue of poorly aging tea he is slated to enjoy for at least the next few years.

That box of LBZ cakes have been untouched for seven years so I tried to call his bluff and threatened to brew it up for him Friday afternoon. But he was all game.  So we'll see if anyone in this household has a taste for LBZ.  Our friend Stickman also stopped by as he was in the neighborhood and without too much arm twisting, he braved his very first cup of shengpu- a "legendary" LBZ no less. LBZ was tea of choice to make tribute tea for Chairman Mao- a "tea maniac" according to this useful post by Hojotea which also explains how Chen Sheng Tea Factory moved in to control LBZ mao cha prices.  Is all the fuss about this LBZ warranted?  We were all about to answer for ourselves.

The last time I brewed this cake seven years ago, I got so jacked on a few tablespoons, I had to flush out my body with a gallon of water. The yang in this tea is undeniably strong and deserving of the reputation of possessing the greatest force of cha qi in the world.  Is it record breaching levels of theanine(as Nick helpfully informs me) and caffeine or even some other compound the Western world needs to get on. The Banzhang complexity I cannot attest to as I am not able to down enough of it to say. I guess if you want to get jacked legally, this is a good way to go.  

The cake is pleasingly furry and it's tea fragrance makes you wish the whole world could smell like this. The brew is still straw colored.  Two tiny thimblefuls burn a hole in my stomach immediately and so I know this cake is still going strong.  I barely get a chance to register that the brew still has a taste of that Banzhang bitterness- very different from the polite Douji LBZ of the same year. (I may have to compare my autumn Mengku LBZ with the Douji if it was a matter of seasons. ) I could have brewed up in a Yixing pot to soften it up but lately I just like to peep in on the leaves with a glass teapot.  Plus used Yixing pots smell so fragrant already, I like to sniff the unadulterated version.

I just keep on watching longingly as my tea partners imbibe cup after cup.  They are not men that talk about tea floridly. (Not yet at any rate.)  Both were getting suitably buzzed. "Oh yeah. Oh yeah. It's rocket fuel!" They tell me the buzz is different from caffeine, less jittery more productive.

I definitely find advertised burnt leaves to indicate "human handling" in the kill-green process.  I'll include the Hai Lang description taken off of YS:
" In the strainer you might notice some slightly burnt leaf edges that separate during brewing (This attests to its hand-process kill-green process). "

The head cook(*) in our house dry-fries greens in the wok all the time, and I have watched plenty of videos of the kill-green process.  Personally I think you are frying way too much at one time and not flipping enough if you get burnt leaves. IMMHO.   (* This morning, I took a brief break to whisk my hot chocolate bars in almond milk when I noticed someone had changed the "I" on my edit screen to "my husband". While I used to dry fry a lot for many many years, this task has been taken up by my more mindful husband who does not get too many burnt edges except when he controls it for intentionally for extra flavor.  He has been teasing me mercilessly all morning on this account so I flipped "my husband" to "head cook".  This morning I also had to resort to cheering myself up with a mug of hot chocolate to accompany my bacon and pancake breakfast after a disappointing bout with a pressed pure golden bud dianhong. The beeng smelled amazing but tasted rather plain.)

I also notice various levels of oxidation in the larger leaves. I'm stretching my walnut wondering if this cake is aging or it this is original oxidation from the extra loving fry during the kill-green. It looks too uneven to be aging and with the burnt edges I would do best to assume a less favorable cause.

This here cake was $37 in late 2006- a ridiculously piddly sum by today's levels. But back then - it was considered to be on the high end for Yunnan Sourcing offerings whose been prices were more commonly in the $10-$25 range.  I don't regret buying this cake.  Apparently my husband likes it and it is the only few tradable things in my collection. But I cannot imagine paying real money for an LBZ now.

Later I suffer my first tea induced headache along with the uncomfortable jittery LBZ feeling so no more LBZ for me. I still have the autumn Mengku LBZ to try out, an LBZ spring brick, and a blend but I will wait another few years.  I had hoped to acquaint myself with the Lao Man 'Es but now I realize that corner of Bulang is a dangerous road for me. More masculine than a Lao Banzhang,  I have heard cakes from Lao Man 'E can sprout chest hair spontaneously.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Birthday Beeng Contenders

Thank you everyone for all your input as you have saved me probably hundreds of hours in fruitless research. Back in 2008, I simply suffered from PPP(Puerh Purchase Paralysis).

It's clear that I have to send away for samples to make a final decision. Wise considering the financial outlay of such exalted cakes.

I've ordered the recommendations by price just to see the range ($205-$30). I'm heartened that there are sub $50 cakes which are considered worthy.

1. YS 2010 Hai Lang Hao Chawang Yiwu $205, $9 for 10g (Jakub)

  • Jakub says it "Enthralled me" (+30). Who doesn't want to be enthralled. 
  • But the HLH price to quality ratio has been declining in the last few years according to T. (-10)
  • $205 for a 2010 cake?  Wow. (---)
Conclusion- Definitely worth paying a $9 ticket to enthrallment.  My Indian lamb gobi gosht dinner tonight with all you can drink chai was $8.95. 10g of top tea gets you days of enjoyment if not more.

2. EoT 1997 Heng Li Chang $184(£118) or ~$6.20 for 10g (Matt) 

  • Love Mattcha blog. +20
  • Hobbes says this tea has real "trousers".  (+20 since none of my teas appear to have even bloomers.)
  • It's aged (+20 so I can drink without worry.)
  • Sample appears not to be available (-20)
  • EoT is a controversial vendor but I should find out for myself.
Conclusion-  It definitely would have been worth the entry the see what trousers on a tea tastes like. Since only the whole cake appears to be available, I have to write EoT to see if the sample is really unavailable or it's a case of some a web UI glitch.

3. Hou De's 2005 Chen-Guang-He Tang "MengHai Yieh Sheng" $165 (MarshalN)

  • MarshalN has the most particular pu-erh palate in the blogosphere (+25).
  • Ten bucks cheaper than the Chen-Guang-He Banzhang (+2)
  • No sample, must commit. (-20)
  • Heard Chen Zhitong lecture in Pasadena seven years ago which was awkwardly translated every few minutes. Could not keep awake. (No points.  Just saying. A man's pu-erh blend has no correlation to his public speaking skills.)
Conclusion - Too much of a risk to commit for now. Must think on it.

4. Tea Urchin's 2012 Miles Birthday Blend   $129, $12 (discipleofthetealeaf)

  • Lovely idea. Wouldn't they have done the very best for their only son Miles? (+25)
  • However sentiment does not always translate into excellence. (No points.)
  • Miles Davis (allusion to the trumpet on this wrapper) was an extremely talented musician but a terrible wife beater.  (Conversation killer...)
Conclusion: Worth a sample.
  • The "Last century production" designation Lee Hoffman uses in his pu-erh list is a bit much for pre-2000 cakes.(-10).  
  • But I guess it shows some degree of restraint as he could have gone whole hog with "Last Millenium"(+2).  
  • His middleman upcharge on mini-tuo's($60 a pound) and Youzi cha is kind of high(-10). 
  • XiGuan Fu Lu Shou Xi bricks are common so I could probably find it for cheaper through other sources. (-5).
Conclusion: Whew.  I'll have to have another entry to make fun of the venerated Lee Hoffman and his suspicious pu-erh list. Thank you Emmet for pointing me towards this treasure trove of late night humor.  I'm not sure what kind of person would giggle at the Phoenix Collection pu-erh list but I guess I'm one of them. If Lee Hoffman is a hero of yours, I'm indeed so very sorry.   Sorry.  Sorry.  So sorry. I can't help myself... (I really did try to watch "All in This Tea" twice on netflix but I keep nodding off...)

6. 2004 Shi Kun Mu Yibang $85@chawangshop (Jakub) 

  • Jakub wrote in T "This is a good, pleasant tea, although I think that those not too well versed in puerh would get similar enjoyment from much cheaper and ordinary cakes." 
Conclusion: I want Jakub's "entralling" selection of the HLH. This tea needs concentration and I am too often absent minded.

7. Spring Lao Man E from Tea Urchin  $68.00, sample $7 (Emmet)

  • Vendor says cake is "accessible to non masochists" (-10). 
Conclusion: I like inflicting myself on a beeng but feel I must get educated with Lao Man E sooner or later.

8. Tea Urchin's Gua Feng Zhai Autumn $97.00,$9 for 30g (discipleofthetealeaf)

  • Interestingly, this is the only autumnal selection in this list.  Autumnal teas tend to poop out too early for me so it would not be my top choice for a special treat. Autum teas are fun to try when someone else has it but otherwise can be too much of a risk. 

9. 2010 YS Yibang $48, $8 for 25g (Jakub) 

  • It's  a way good looking cake! (+5) Did Scott cherry pick those brewed leaves or are they really so whole and plump.
Conclusion: Will order a sample in my next YS order.

10. 2003 changda hao yiwu zheng shan yuan bing $46@chawangshop

  • Not all arbor, mixed with plantation and is reflected in the lower price
Conclusion: I already have  a few 03-06 Yiwu Zheng Shan Ancient Tree already so I'll pass.

11. Chawangshop 2002 Yibang Cha Wang Yuan Cha Raw $38 (Petr) 

Conclusion: Reasonable enough price I can just get  a beeng for fun.

12. Chawangshop 2012 Chawangpu Jingmai Gu Shu Xiao Bing Cha $30 (Petr)

Conclusion: As a budget minded pu-erh buyer- I really need to give this Chawangshop a whirl.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Call for Amazing Available Young Shengs

I was going to buy myself a birthday beeng back in February of 2008 but I never did because I simply couldn't make up my mind. But I'm ready now to find that special belated birthday beeng with some help from you.  All this month I have been diligently studying the vast repository of reviews from Hobbes et al. I'm grateful I have so many evenings of fun left but all the hot cakes no longer appear to be available. I think a flashmob appears whenever a tea blogger praises a cake too highly or even moderately.

If you had to buy just one special youngish sheng this year, what would it be?  Don't worry I won't hold you to it. What is that dream cake in your buy list that you are going to reward yourself with?  Or maybe you already have it and it exceeds even your wildest dreams.

What is that thing assaulting your very eyes?!?!   If I had to show you the most "amazing" anything from ebay that surpassed all expectations- it's this massive maple burl we have in the dining room.  (As you may have guessed, I also have a small burl collection. Cough. Cough.)  This burl is a force of nature unto itself providing endless hours of visual enjoyment during meals. And it was way way cheaper than the price of most Xi Zhi Hao cakes.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hoarding vs Collecting

Since I suffer from congenital pack ratting, I rather hesitate to write this post.  Clinical descriptions of compulsive hoarding(a.k.a. pathological collecting) on the surface appear to safely exclude the pu-erh collector.  After all we are collecting specific valuable things, not just piles of useless random stuff no one wants.  But when the sheer growing volume of your collection interferes with the organization of your life, one is still at risk for dysfunction as I am now.

My father is an economist and he's all about data collection to shed light on a situation.  In the early years,  I had a shu stuffed pomelo, some offensive mini-tuos, and a smoky Zhongcha cake which really launched my foray into sheng.   In the first three months of 2006, I went into a frenzy of ebay buy-it-now gratification.  The spurts in acquisition reflect the unfortunate budgetary fact that shipping costs from China are best minimized with a bulk order.  I am certain if shipping was not a factor, I would have fallen to a much slower and more thoughtful pattern of collecting.
Most readers of this blog probably own a pu-erh collection definitely north of a few cakes.  You start by tucking beengs away in various corners of your house. Once you have more than a dozen cakes, you have inventory that needs to be managed.  Then you have to start dedicate certain parts of the house officially for pu-erh as well as some sort of spreadsheet or software to remind you what you have.  You get to a certain critical point where you have a lot of unopened cakes and barely remember you even have them.  This is where the line becomes blurred.
My desk has become nigh unusable recently. It's just piled high with boxes of tea that had not found an official home.  With my china cabinet already crammed to the gills with tea,  I need to do something before the next 5 kilos of tea arrive on a slow boat from China.   I had already evicted some of the family china in the last round so I am left with the prospect of having tea boxes simply out in the dining room.

The largest basswood boxes I could find under $20  turned out to be a 9x8x8 "Cremains Box" which will now become a "Beeng Box". (What pray tell is a cremains box you ask? It is exactly what you think it is but I ordered the unassembled version so there is no chance of anyone having tested it for actual use.)  Even inside my cabinet, I prefer to use enclosed basswood boxes because sheng appear to hold their fragrance better.  Basswood has little scent and a cheap Xiaguan tuo can effectively blast the wood to smell like sheng.  But for those concerned with aesthetics, a basswood box is visually more acceptable than a cardboard box with Kunming Post stickers all over it.

I actually don't want this much tea but am at a loss on how to prune the collection. I would rather have 30 well chosen cakes rather than the current collection which holds a lot of gratuitous fillers. But I still don't know what's going to age well and hence I am stuck in a "Mediocre Sheng Conundrum".  I want as many reference points as possible so I am compelled to keep my major factory cakes (CNNP, Menghai, Xiaguan, Changtai, Haiwan, Douji, 6FTM) along with the few small presses and wild trees of various mountains.   I can come up with so many good reasons to keep holding onto the many dubious cakes clogging up my collection that I never kick out anything.

Yes I know. That is a distinct hallmark of a hoarder- can't dispose of anything.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wane of 2005 DeHong Wild Tree Purple Leaf

Ah yes. Who doesn't know this famous purple leaf sheng now controlled exclusively by Yunnan Sourcing.  It's a tea catapulted out of obscurity by the Internet.  Geraldo termed it "excellent" on Cha Dao.  Mike Petro plugged it in his recommendations which undoubtedly boosted Scott's nascent ebay business.  It circulated around Live Journal on various must try lists.   
 Vendors on the whole are not shy to employ superlatives more casually than warranted but this brick I tell you now was special in it's youth.  Do a search on "excellent" on YS,  you can determine for yourself if the 62 results accurately reflect the gems in his inventory.  Search on "great" yields 78 entries which include a great many mini-tuos designated a "great drink for a dry throat or an upset stomach, or just for enjoyment alone".    But this humble bamboo wrapped brick remains the only cake on YS with the " fantastic" designation. Actually not just fantastic mind you but "incredibly fantastic" .

I purchased two of these bricks back in January of '06 for $17.95- my very first purchase with Scott.  I love blood red Moro oranges.  My favorite tomatoes are the Crimean and Siberian varieties, Black Krim and Black Prince.   So this cake comprised mostly of purple leaf that's chock full of anthocyanins was right up my flavor alley. (Actually my flavor alley is suspiciously wide mainly due to my wholesale love of pork products).

When I tasted this tea in 2006, it really was "incredibly fantastic".  Complex and lively, this tea was  surprisingly smooth and drinkable for a wild tree.   This DeHong also possessed  intense cha qi enough to induce forehead sweat after each session.  But after only a year, I noticed troubling signs that the flavor profile of this purple leaf as well as it's strength was waning as time passed. Was this to be the first warning sign that my other favorite drinkable cakes could also morph into future disappointments?  It troubled my mind greatly then as it does now.

So this tea and I have a date this Saturday morning. I'm willing to suffer a day of belly aches to revisit one of my favorite shengs. I'm a bit nervous because I don't want to give up on an old flame.  And the session starts off inauspiciously.  The rustic and handmade looks of this cake belie the inhuman compression of this brick.  Xiaguan could learn a thing or two about real iron compression from this DeHong producer.   I really struggle with a crab pick and bits of broken leaf fly all over the table. This brick does not want to give it up.

You can see how dark the brick looks but the brew is still pale and golden like an acacia honey.  The first few brews are problematic, I'm getting an unexpected bancha taste.  I switch pots, I up the dosage.  I have to brew it up 4 times stronger than normal almost to the point of bitterness to tease out a modest performance.  The brew smells of roasted sweet potato more than anything.  Let's just say the tea yielded only a sweetness with not even bare hints of it's former self.  It's a pleasant enough encounter but this tea is definitely not that gush-worthy cake I used to love.  I'm depressed.  I leave the rest of the brew for my husband to enjoy as his cold afternoon tea and he enjoys it.  But I want more out of this tea dang it!   I'm just too demoralized to take photos and arrange the leaf shots.

This brick has let go of that dusky mouthwatering juiciness of purple leaf- that barely smoky savoury deliciousness I love so much.  But this is not a case of a luscious lady who with the ravages of time has become now softer and rounder and whose charms are now harder to discern.  The DeHong has sadly lost the complexity,  strength, and stamina that I remembered in the youngster.  Then what's left?  Now I have to queue up my other purple leaf's to check on their aging to see if it's the purple leaf that doesn't age well or it's smooth drinkable teas that won't.   Or is it that oft-talked about "awkward" stage of sheng.  Can qi go into hiding?  Since the fortitude of my Banzhangs and other wild trees remain unabated, I'm leaning towards the conclusion that this cake really is meant more for immediate consumption.  Despite the vendor assurance, "the quality of the leaves and the meticulous processing ensures excellent storage and aging potential",  I would have to respectfully disagree unless someone comes forward with a different conclusion on this 2005 version.

What really is the case with aging those smooth drinkable pu-erhs?  Rough does not equate to strength but this DeHong possessed wild tree strength in abundance in it's youth.  I have another 2002 Wild tree which was moderately drinkable to start and is on it's way to be a fine respectable elder.   However Mr. Zhou Bing Liang can have the last laugh if it's the tongue scraping plantation Haiwan Lao Tong Zhi which prove to be the only decent aged cake in my collection.

What else to do after such disappointments but to drown my sorrows in a plate of trotters. But I don't know who to trust. Surely a skin-tight leopard shirt points to some indication of higher pork quality.

Hahaha.  If I were only so lucky to have such world-class choices. My closest option is the Pacific East Mall in Richmond which still provides a delicious satisfactory example.  I'm happy again and I have forgotten for the moment my precarious situation of badly aging shengs.

Note: I have been ever so gently reprimanded by the master of the house on my apparent neglect on household matters in favor of tea pursuits.  I have gravely promised (a la Mr. Toad) to reform my addictive ways as well as stop interrogating the master on what he thought of particular shengs he tasted seven years ago.   The head gardener however was inclined to show no such mercy and more roundly rebuked me on multiple occasions finding fault with my indiscriminate watering of the tomato patch. I apparently broke the careful system of dams built with mounds of compost.  I may have to take a small break from blogging this week to amend this deteriorating situation.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Final Update to the Fake 1998 7542

On a shrewd business move on his part,  Jim has updated his listing on the 1998 CNNP 7542 to mention the controversy and include both my discussions:
I completely stand by my assertion that his cake is no older than 2006 in comparison to my numerous dry-aged cakes from the same era.  The said cake is neither old or good.  It's clear if you want to patronize, you have to work hard to sort out duds and still pay a Western vendor premium.  The 2oz sample of this 7542 is $15.88 which can still eat up your precious tea funds just for trying.  In 2006,  I would have had to suck it up and keep on being a puerhshop customer because there were so few vendors who carried decent pu-erh at all.  Seven years later,  I'm happy I can just pass on puerhshop because there is no shortage of good competition from Asian vendors.

There will be no more posts regarding this vendor or crackdowns in general as I want to move onto more wholesome tea doings.  Hopefully there will be a new sheriff in town to sort these types of things out.   While I had great fun deconstructing the "scamdalous" pu-erh inventory of Verdant Tea,  I need to concentrate on finding the vendors who are worth supporting. Thanks for all your support and input.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Madeira and Puerh - Fraternal Twins

Dear readers, I have sent a strongly worded letter to Jim of puerhshop and am giving him time to respond. I have decided to take a brief break from my investigative efforts to delve into something more pleasurable.

I have a confession to make. In my real closet underneath my numerous trench coats and hats, you will not find a box of pu-erh but rather a homely collection of Madeira.  You will see that our favorite tea has many many similarities with this fortified wine from a Portuguese island.  I have been meaning to tie these two brethren together for years I apologise for the lack of a side by side photo shoot and you are left with a finch nest next to a tuo.

The beverage of choice for pirates and American founding fathers alike, Madeira is a wine pu-erh lovers can appreciate either in spirit or in the flesh.  Unlike other wines which spoiled with exposure to heat and air,  Madeira benefited from a long hot humid trans-Atlantic crossing making it the beverage of choice for pirates and American founding fathers alike.   The intense heat and tumbling in the seas transformed young Madeira into something mellow and delicious.  No one need gasp "Tea Horse Road".  You can imagine if we had to trot our pu-erh around in addition to the heat for serious aging! 

Producers now simulate this long ocean voyage through the tropics with a process called "estufagem" which applies some form of heating to age the wine and sometimes simulated motion.  Top-end Madeira is heated only by the sun and can take a decade to even a century to age.  I have only had the pleasure to try fifteen year olds.  Mass producers use heat coils to crank out Madeira in 90 days, but even a low-end Madeira produced in this artificial way could be quite pleasing and tasty. 

Like many of his fellow colonists, Thomas Jefferson initially loved Madeira though later in life he disavowed Madeira in favor of French wines after touring the wine growing regions of France.  Although Jefferson is considered America's first wine conossieur, he may also a been the first great wine bore as pointed out deliciously in this New Yorker article.

“There was, as usual, a dissertation upon wines,” John Quincy Adams noted in his diary after dining with Jefferson in 1807. “Not very edifying.”

By 1815, Jefferson complained to his wine merchant, "Besides the exorbitance of price to which Madeira is got, it is a wine which I do not drink, being entirely too powerful." Cranky words coming from a man who ordered 4400 bottles of Madeira during his presidential term.  He is stil my FFF - favorite founding father.  (This is an aside, but I grew up in Virginia where the founding fathers are legend. When I moved to California, the natives thought it strange I would even ask them about their FFF. It is one of those questions which can reveal something unexpected about someone's character and bring American history lovers out of the closet. Unfortunately it appears  any questions about our colonial past does not to work too well outside of the Eastern seaboard.  Most Californians lamentably think Benji Franklin is the only interesting FF worth considering, but his woeful neglect and treatment of his wife puts him firmly out of my FFF list.)

Madeiras are said to exhibit surprising vitality and freshness even after a century.  I hope to gain a first hand opinion  by my sixtieth birthday.  Since Madeira is not bothered by oxidation,  you can enjoy an open bottle for years. In my pantry next to my honey jars sit my open bottles of Madeira.  The bottles look kind of all same and the risk is that one's husband can easily and wrongly use a cherished bottle for cooking pot roast. Repeatedly.

Just like a bit of shu, you  have to air out Madeira for a day before you drink it.  And since I don't remember I want it until the afternoon, I end up sipping a lot of Madeira for breakfast.  And like a good shu,  Madeira makes pork taste even more delicious if that's even possible.  There is a pleasure in enjoying things which have gained nuance through aging.  Lucky for me and you the world holds a treasure trove of such lovely aged edibles and imbibables.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Plot Thickens with Fake 1998 7542

We have a friend who is a hard-core investigative journalist. He went to Afghanistan to document CIA's unsavory practice of extraordinary rendition by interviewing tortured detainees. He uncovered race based kills taking place during Hurricane Katrina and triggered a federal Grand Jury investigation.   In another Frontline documentary, he brought to light incompetent coroners who wrongly convicted parents of infanticide.

Me, I'm just an enthusiastic tea drinker with a blog trying to find some interesting aged pu-erh for a reasonable price.  So I asked my hard-hitting journalist friend what I should do about this vendor who sold me a fake 1998 CNNP 7542.  Because I had already opened this cake, I cannot get a refund.  

He pointed me towards state anti-fraud laws. He also mentioned "Federal prosecutors could use wire fraud and telecom laws -- essentially using the internet to perpetrate fraud -- to prosecute. " Heavy duty!  I actually don't want to prosecute this vendor.  I just want him to sell good pu-erh and not mislead clueless buyers with false advertising.

My friend also recommended that I gather more information on my blog. Several people have come forward on my previous entry as having been fooled by this very cake. Thank you for this public service.  Two mentioned they buy samples first to prevent this kind of thing. One commentor said he would never buy from Jim again.  I understand his disgust and I'm not sure why Jim would sell a cake that would generate such a negative backlash. is one of the largest North American vendors with 156 pu-erh selections. Admittedly small compared to Yunnan Sourcing's 1000 pu-erh selections, but puerhshop is big for a Western vendor.  They press their own American Hao brand cakes and their 904 has gotten a favorable taste review from Hobbes despite the kerfuffle with the misleading labeling.   I ordered the American Hao Chocolate Bar. It's good- they somehow managed to Americanize shu so it tastes more like roast coffee than pu-erh.  It's the perfect  beginner's shu that I was looking for to convert some of my friends for which the Menghai flavor is too much of a leap.  I really want PuerhShop to succeed and create more of a market for pu-erh in the states.

I would consider PuerhShop as being responsive and having good customer service. One of the dianhong packets were torn in transit and they promptly gave me a refund.  So when I wrote Jim regarding this delicate matter, he inexplicably forwarded me to a taobao item which he says is the "same tea cake where I got mine". Even a brief glance at the wrapper(taobao on the left, puerhshop on the right) indicate these cakes are not the same. 

The character spacing on Jim's cake is highly unusual and does not match any of the CNNP wrappers I see in books, magazines, or on the web. The wrapper is also unusually thick.  But I don't care about the wrapper or authenticity or some other cake in China.  Is the cake he sent me old and if not, is it good?  This particular beeng I received  is young and boring- two strikes. If it was old and bad or young and good, I would not bother complaining so publicly at all.

Think of the delicate ecosystem of the world pu-erh market from tea farmer all the way to the drinker.   This web includes countless middle men and middle women you never see.  Maybe this cake went through various inflations in price and age. Maybe it changed hands 4 times and gained a few years each time. Abuse of the system exists because the lack of verifiable information.  But you have to think, here's a cake with no identifying date, it's supposedly 15+ years old and who knows where it's been.  Who can really vouch for an age of a twentieth century sheng except by taste and experience.  This is where the premium for a vendor's experience comes in-  you pay for the fact they tasted and sorted out the fakes and duds for you.

Despite appearances, I did not buy this cake to do an exposé.  I was pathologically driven by curiosity to buy this cake.  Why would such a big vendor risk his reputation by selling something so questionable?  I intentionally bought a whole cake knowing it was a fake because I thought I would have need to send out samples to various parties to confirm this is no 1998. But it was so so beyond the pale of a doubt that it's a youngster, I really don't need further confirmation. If I can tell so readily as other buyers did, then Jim must know this cake is no 16 year old.  I also thought the 7542 would be a more interesting fake than just another weak-ass subpar sheng.  This 7542 makes my other boring sheng(FTMs et al) look good. To boot, I actually don't think this 7542 is even a legitimate CNNP.

The statue on the left is the infamous Getty kuoroi.  Forgeries abound in the art world and even prestigious institutions like the Getty get taken for a ride.  There was enough controversy that they had to revise the label- "Greek, about 530 B.C., or modern forgery".  I guess if Jim had put in a caveat, I would not have even been interested.   Would people buy a cake of dubious provenance?  

At a certain point when buying aged cakes, it's based on vendor trust.  Should I support a vendor who knowingly puts cakes of questionable origin for sale?  Do I have to be weary of any other cake that I might buy from them.  This isn't some shady Chinese backstore without a return policy. This is the United States dang it with consumer protection laws!  I won't be looking for justice through Judge Judy although the thought of making her inspect different cakes and do an aged sheng tasting does fuel a brief comic fantasy.  For now I think I'll pass and begin my evaluation through other Asian vendors.  It really is too bad as I like the spirit of their operation and love 2 day shipping. Sigh.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

06 Douji Lao Banzhang

I was packing up some samples to send and I could not resist. There is something trustworthy and enticing about Douji cakes.  A friend who was doing a Fulbright in Beijing brought me 4 Douji cakes back in 2006 when the Yiwu Zheng Shan Tea Company was getting the Douji brand off the ground.  This here cake is one of their earlier attempts. I thought I had already opened it years before but here it is unmolested  with a sticker securing the most prim pleats imaginable and now thanks to Jerry of China Cha Dao, you can see exactly how such a thing came to be folded.  There is no good way to peel such a sticker off for mere mortals like me despite this video.

Jerry specializes in Douji offerings in his China Chadao ebay store and provides some illuminating history of Douji listings.  YZSTC operate 8 pre-production facilities near each high mountain source to ensure quality.  I do vouch for Douji quality given their relatively low prices at the time and being such a big operation.

Although I have a small box of purportedly pure banzhang rocket fuel cakes,  I only partake in their fragrance from time to time.  Even though I'm not supposed to have any sheng and particularly not any Banzhang,  I pathologically cannot stop myself from brewing it up.  I only try to sip tiny thimblefuls which are surprisingly smooth and refined.   This is a very polite Banzhang I think to myself and even my stomach does not complain yet.

In comparison- a few sips of the 06 Hai Lang Hao Banzhang will induce immediate heart palpitations.  So I'm a bit suspicious that this Douji is not hitting me too hard.  But 15 minutes later,  my hands are shaking and I have trouble arranging tea leaves for a shoot.  By physiological effects alone,  I am going to consider this a bona fide Lao Banzhang cake.  The "rocket fuel" designation is not unwarranted but it does depend on whether or not you are already a hardened coffee or whiskey drinker.

You can see the tell-tale rust hue of oxidation on some of the leaves  but it's such a small portion that you can't tell in the brew.  Even after 6 years, this LBZ has not yielded any signs of aging.

Pure Lao Banzhang cakes are dangerous- it's like the 99% cacao bars that appear on the market.  Just handfuls of leaves should give a blend a taste of that LBZ unrestrained power but instead pure cakes become a legal alternative to methamphetamine. The jittery nervous feeling that Banzhang causes my system is not a pleasant one but their heady perfume in the box is enough for me to keep them around just for late night sniffing.

In the heart of my tiny house, I have about 15 kilos of sheng I am not supposed to partake until another good 10 years.  It's a bit maddening.  In the meanwhile, I bought some Douji ripe from China Chadao to tide me over in the intervening years. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Youngest Sixteen Year Old I've Ever Met....

Majority of you who guessed the age of this sheng put it in the 2003-2007 range but the mysterious Squaretooth knew something that others didn't.  Squaretooth put a direct arrow on 1998 which is the vendor advertised age for this CNNP 7542.  Even if this cake was reverse-aging in the Gobi since 1998, I would put this cake no older than 2006.   My house is extra dry storage so my cakes which have been with me since 2005 provide a reasonable comparison.  I went through my entire collection and found a twin from 2006. Most of my 2006 cakes look much much darker than the 7542 but this little Jingmai Ancient Forest was a close match.

Actually in better light,  even the Jingmai is a tad more aged than this 7542 but I don't have any sheng past 2006 to compare since my sheng buying stopped 7 years ago. This little mini-beeng should age relatively faster than my full size 2006 beengs but it is unexpectedly the least aged.  This confirms my suspicion that silver tips will slow down aging.     My 2003 Feng Hua Xue Yue Xiaguans which also has a generous inclusion of buds look younger than some of my non-budded 2005 Xiaguans which  share that world famous Xiaguan iron compression which also slows down aging.  Xiaguan leaves are compressed so tight even a North Korean agent would not be able to hide in it.

This tea tastes pleasant but is nothing special.  Boring CNNP's from mid decade are hardly news to anyone.  It's gets a bit sweetish- not surprising when you see a good smattering of furry silver tips. Would I buy this tea after tasting it for $68? No I wouldn't.  There are definitely more interesting newer wild teas in this price range.

Why pay tuition of $68 on a cake that I already knew was a fake?   I bought a full cake so I could share it with others and have an overwhelming consensus that this is definitively not a 1998.  I'm doing a full vendor evaluation and have bought a wide range from budget tea to the most expensive offering. I still like this vendor despite this cake clearly not delivering. Why am I so nice all of the sudden? What happened to my ball-busting style that I used to good effect on Verdant Tea?  I could have posted an incendiary "Vendor X is Selling Fakes".  I'll have to explain why I'm holding off in another post after I finish the entire order.

In the world of pu-erh, your biggest risk is overpaying whether it's a fantastic cake, mediocre cake or a regretful sub-par cake.  It's best not to have overpaid but it's better to have overpaid for a fantastic cake than anything less.  Quality of tea is a separate issue from authenticity.  The risk for fakes increases when you start paying for older or more expensive teas.  You could have paid big bucks for an authentic premium cake or an authentic aged cake and it could turn out to be just "meh".  If the tea doesn't deliver perceived value, does it matter that it was real if you purchased the cake strictly for your drinking pleasure?

Vendors can often be fooled by their middlemen and I have to think more about how to approach this case.    Fakes don't have to end unhappily. I have another fake I got on ebay long ago- the 2002 Menghai Wild Tree which is one of the most interesting shengs in my collection and cost me ~$20.  If this 7542 had been a little more lively and interesting, I would let all of this pass. But it is not dear reader so keep tuned or let me know what you think I should do.

Guess the Age of this Sheng

 I bought this cake fully knowing it was younger than advertised or even an imposter.  Fake cakes don't bother me as long as tea itself is good.

But even I was unprepared for how green it looked. But in the meanwhile,  feel free to put forth your best guess based on hue alone.

I brewed it up this morning and taste is unmistakeably young. Now my belly is groaning and I kick myself.

I'll wait by the end of the day to post the supposed age.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sutra Pot

This lovely bell-shaped pot holds sutra inscriptions on both sides which infuses any tea brewed within it with magical powers of meditation.   This beauty came from Hong Kong sourced by a very nice guy Kam who runs the funalliance but who is now on the teachat wall of shame.  He really had some wacky vintage pots back in the day.

Although I did not heed the old advice about not buying a teapot without seeing it pour, this pot nonetheless turned out to possess the most perfect dripless pour. As is the eventual sad fate of all my teapots, it suffered the indignity of a cracked spout.   I have given up buying anything truly special and have come to treat teapots as consumables.

If I were to have one super power on this earth, it would be the ability to heal cracks. I could mend the Liberty Bell with a wave of my hand.  There would be no shortage of people lined outside my door waiting days with broken hearts or a broken nose that can't be set right.  Maybe the state of California would hire me to take care of both Hayward faults. That would be a big job.  My services would be in high demand and I would have no time to upkeep my teablog even though my teapots would be  perfect and ready to serve.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Chinese Ingenuity

This pithy example of Chinese inventiveness was snapped by my friend D who had the pleasure of seeing the daily marvels and curiosities in various corners of China last month. (I woefully did not send him on any tea errands if you were wondering.)  How do they open a tea pot with a knobless lid? Maybe the curved pin on the bottom left is the answer.

I am enormously backed up on blog entries even though I've been diligent all last week. I have my roasting experiments to report on, a madeira vs shu analysis along with finding the best shu pairing for wild boar salami.  I also have a lovely Korean mountain mugwort tea to introduce.  But this pales all in comparison to my weekend discovery. News!  News! I have concrete proof that I can trust Berkeley aging compared against the 90's DingXing.  The game is back on!  

But alas for tonight- I am still working on my day job on an international virtualization rollout.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

2006 Lucky 7581

I waited all Saturday for what hasn't happened since 2007- the arrival of a box chock full of pu-erh. My husband has mentioned that I am not a person who needs more tea, but I am not deterred by such logical statements of practicality.  Most readers of this blog probably have spouses or significant others who may have uttered such unheeded sentiments. Not everyone is lucky to have a wife like Hobbes who will fully indulge his mania even procuring boatload of beengs when traveling alone in China.

So let us see if my eight years of learning reflect any wisdom in my actions now or I am still that foolish seventy year-old man letting twenty something gold diggers take my heart and wallet again and again. You can decide for yourself which tired trout about Chinese belief in cycles versus the Western faith in linear progression applies here.

I actually woke up 6:30a.m. this morning trying to determine which of the shus to try first despite having bugged out my eyes until 1 a.m. trying to buy yet more tea.  Let us start with our first selection- the 2006 Lucky 7581 from Kunming Tea Factory composed of leaves from 1998.  According to the exuberant vendor, this "legendary" brick whose recipe represents the "crown jewel of pu-erh" is "one of the best shus" he has ever tasted.   I'm afraid I wasn't immune to such blatant overtures although I knew first hand such vendor descriptions can sometimes lead to a disappointing overpriced end.  I wanted to give this recommended U.S. vendor a try because in the end, vendors who press their own cakes and have somewhat reasonable prices on most things are a benefit overall to the tea drinking community here in the U.S.    But if this box ends badly, this may be the last time I bother ordering from any U.S. based vendor.  

Back to the 7581- by the virtue of having survived these last seven years in dusty warehouses, the vendor's stack of bricks have been uplifted to a more public internet existence than they could have possibly imagined while composting in giant heaps on the factory floor back in 1998.
After 15 years of various middle-men exchanges, this particular brick and it's siblings have been given a new life in America by a certain "Uncle Jim".  This here brick on the right finally was adopted into a hedonistic pork loving Berkeley home.  (I definitely see some comic strip potential here... Second digression-before China became a leader in baby export, it was none other than South Korea who held this dubious ranking.) 

Despite all the hype and potential for fakes with 7581s,  I'll just take this tea for what it is and my first encounter is positive.   Initially I was struck by light delicacy of this tea somewhat similar to the Golden Needle White Lotus.  Even with the pot half full of leaves, this brick brews up thinner than expected.  It's the lingering aftertaste that I am always chasing and I have a faint but noticeable sweet tail of this tea on my tongue and finally a little tickle on the throat while I write this entry. The brews started with wood roast coffee notes- a strange match for such an airy brew, tending towards caramel throughout the 6+ infusions.  When sniffing the leaves between brews, burnt sugar scent is overwhelming and heady.  I would venture to say this appears to be the real thing or it's good enough that I am happy to be fooled so then it's down to the matter of the pricing.

According to a baidu blog,  the Kunming Factory supposedly produced 30 tons of this 7581(my math says 120,000 bricks) with 20 tons for export differentiated by a yellow wrapper while the white wrapper represents the domestic batch.  (All from google translator with search terms "昆明茶厂 7581 2006" ). Product \  It really is amazing to me that something originally so cheap and mass produced can turn out to taste this interesting. Despite marketing and production of "premium" bricks in the last few years, bricks tend to represent the low end of pressed tea market comprised mostly chopped up low grade leaves.  At a going price tag of $33 for 250g, this 7581 is a moderately expensive shu and I'm not rushing to snap up rest of the vendor's stock.   I already have a closet full of gratuitously smooth and pleasant ripe beengs from 2000-2006 and this brick tastes just different and complex enough that I'm satisfied.   A taobao check reveals the same thing is going for $8-10 if indeed they are the real thing.  Somehow I do not feel ripped off at all.  Ever since the 900% mark up on Verdant Tea, everything else looks reasonable in comparison.  I'll just call this the "Duckler Effect" from now on.

(July 11th update- I brewed this up a couple more times and I definitely would not buy this tea again or recommend it to anyone. It's too expensive for what it is.)

This not a tea I would normally subject to a bacon breakfast but I had brewed up half a gallon for kicks.  I enjoy myself enormously with buckwheat coconut flour pancakes, a fried egg laid yesterday from my favorite clucker Bonkers accompanied by generous pieces of bacon.  When I sip the rest of it cold, it's mostly a pleasant ride and only once I did get an unpleasant bitter hint in the aftertaste.  Otherwise, this 7581 is definitely a more interesting shu than my 2006 Menghai cakes proving again that aging does matter even in world of shus. But how much you are willing to pay for the privilege is up to your wallet and youth.  Seven years ago when I was glugging young sheng, paying top dollar for an aged shu seemed to me a waste of perfectly good money.  Even paying more than $25 for a ripe beeng seemed excessive back then.  Now I'm willing to settle and pay more for interesting shus even if they are an echo of the real thing - a true aged sheng.

Friday, June 08, 2012

North Korean Tea to Make the Dear Leader Proud

Circa 2004, my friend Sof returned from Seoul with this azalea tea harvested from BaekDu Mountain - the birth place of none other than the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il. Yes the very same Dear Leader who is the revered inventor of "double bread with meat" and who is also continuing on in our collective virtual memories as the man who looked at things. (My personal favorite is DL looking at squid but I digress.)

In reading the stories on the web, it all started with an obsessive dream of a South Korean tea drinker named Nam Bong Oo(남봉우).  He illegally snuck into North Korea through the Chinese border risking his life evading North Korean soldiers even encountering a bear in search of the existence of this tea which he believed held the "fragrance of the nation".  True or not as related to a women's magazine, such efforts are many notches above vendors visiting tea farms.  However after the start of thawing relations between the two Koreas, Mr. Nam was able to commercialize tea production in 2000. And now you can be party to this tea through ( which processes and packages this tea(백산차) or through other Korean resellers which sell pu-erh as well. (This is an aside but you can see's Menghai cake prices are not that good.)

I had this azalea tea languishing in my tea closet for nine years and I brought it out for a brew. Could this be the very type of tea that the Dear Leader himself could have imbibed on occasion?   He is reputed to be more of a Hennessy XO man. Tea probably was not the drink of choice for his Pleasure Palace with the Joy Brigade.  Purported to help bronchitis, colds, skin diseases,  gastric ulcers,  and infertility, this azalea tea has fortitude that would make any comrade swell with pride. Don't let the light color of the brew fool you.  Extremely spicy with turpentine notes,  I feared for my liver and kidneys. This tea had not mellowed out one iota in 9 years and it took about 6 cups to tire out the leaves somewhat.

A little more research reveals the scientific name for the tea plant is Ledum palustre which is also known as Marsh Labrador Tea - a homeopathic remedy in the West. It also contains toxic terpenes that are not friendly to the central nervous system when taken in large doses. I have to admit I am feeling not well. I think I have to eat a big bowl of ice cream to neutralize the toxins.

Discourse on Honey and Puerh

Some nights when my tea selection turns out to be particularly boring (I'm looking at you Haiwan Peacock Quest...), I'll open up my honey drawer to cheer things up a bit.  Actually the photo below is a bit misleading as I also have 5 alternative locations where various honeys are stashed including two different desks at work.  Honeys last for an eternity so you can take tiny spoonfuls periodically for a decade and still not finish it off even when you hold official honey tasting parties and impromptu tastings when friends drop by.  Half of these honeys are older than a decade and the flavors are still quite lively. Some have developed more complex flavors as they liquify and ferment on top.

I've been bending my noodle wondering if honey or pu-erh provide a wider range of flavors. I'm settling on honey because it's directly effected by the tremendous botanic availability of a particular area which can be a single varietal such as chestnut trees in bloom or an incalculable mix of florals. Even a single mountain can produce vastly different honeys within its micro-regions dependent on the season.  

You can see how extremely dark the Miel de Rangiroa is compared to the creamy multi-floral honey from Waimea on the left.  The Rangiroa honey is made by French bees taken to French Polynesia by a French beekeeper Meri Tuam and has a lovely dusky and uniquely sour flavor that is uniquely not french.  One day I will return to this atoll, swim over the Tiputa Pass, and then fill my suitcase with this dark wonder and my life will be complete.  This dark honey tastes very different from another dark varietal - Black Forest pine honey hiding in the back which has a dominant mineral profile. Can you imagine what comes out of the body of  bees who collect honeydew secreted by insects who live on the pine sap. A German friend brought back his uncle's pine honey which is now long gone and replaced by a supermarket jar which is also surprisingly good.  

The first left two honeys both exhibit an effervescent quality that I prize- it's the proverbial champagne on your tongue.  The Ratcliff's honey is an excellent summer multi-floral that I picked up for ~$3 in a chain grocery store in the Isle of Man after hiking around Cregneash. The Manx are so lucky to have such top notch honey and I wonder if they even know it. For the most part, you can expect excellent honey from islands and from the edges of the world.   It's a shame that blandly sweet clover honey dominates the world market.  

The last honey in the row(Lusern) I brought back from South Africa after a particularly grueling stint for work years ago but I love South Africa and the warm South Africans. This Lusern Heuning has a medicinal and unfamiliar herbal flavor which is one of the most sheng-like honey in my collection along with the arbutus honey.

When I think of my jars of hard-earned honey that were lugged home from the various corners of the earth or brought by friends, most jars have an abundance of memory attached to them.  I am a bit sad that I have purchased most of my puerh collection quite anonymously online. Even when a tea comes into your life without any more effort than a paypal payment, it does not diminish a power of a good tea.   Despite their pedestrian internet provenance, a tea can be loved and shared amongst friends. 

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Brick from Middle Earth - What would Frodo Drink?

I set myself to fold 4 loads of laundry tonight before my husband comes back from levitation class.  But you know who would rather be steeped in tea doings.  After MarshalN revealed that my 25yo mystery brick had been roasted multiple times,  the DIY in me wants to give it a go.  I realize the problem with experimenting with my current collection is that the price of failure is too high since I bought most of my stuff 6-7 years ago. Even the cheapest 2004 sheng brick which I bought for $2.50 is now mysteriously selling for $40.

No matter, I just need cheap raw material. I'm willing to spend 10 bucks on a science project.  I need some disposable shu bricks and to learn the secret to a good roast. I went to Oakland Chinatown and got a 3 dollar barnyard shu that I'm going to wetstore for a year and then roast.  Should roasting should be done in an oven, fry pan, or a popcorn popper which is the preferred home roaster for coffee hounds?  I'm going to try over the weekend pan roasting a little loose pu-erh and flaked brick samples to start.

In the meanwhile, I opened this brick up for a tasting. You could see from the neifei that this was the shu of choice for dwarves of Moria- what else would they drink after a hard day's work mining mithril?  When I take 4 brews of it, it's a muddy earthy pondy unpleasant shu - definitely meant for the orcs of Mordor- they probably put a lump of it in their leather water bag.

Let me entertain my hobbit loving friends and others on what teas Middle Earthlings would drink:
  • Smaug - no drinking, just hoarding all the vintage puerh of Middle Earth (Song Pin Hao, Tongchang Hao, Puqing Hao) which was simply in decrepit condition due to the dampness and awful dragon aroma
  • Gandalf - aged sheng from Smaug's lair after using his wizardry to remove mold and said offensive dragon aroma.
  • Bilbo Baggins -plain black tea before his "adventure".   After his return, keemun, yancha, and aged sheng which he split with Gandalf .  
  • Frodo - Golden Yunnan. Really prefers uncomplicated mellow brews after the whole ring incident. He really never could get into pu-erh so he gave Bilbo's stash of aged sheng away to Sam before leaving Middle Earth with the Elves. 
  • Hobbits - just plain black tea, don't go in for that foreigner brew.
  • Dwarves - Elder dwarves go for wet stored sheng, particularly pure Lao Banzhang which make beards grow woolier.  Younger elves go for the punchy new born sheng- all wild tree of course!
  • Aragorn - aged sheng only after reclaiming throne of Gondor. Just new Wild De Hong sheng during his days as a ranger.
  • Faramir- Aged sheng for special occasions after Gandalf introduces him to pu-erh. He's working off that tong of stone-pressed Yiwu young sheng that's a bit too fragrant for aging.
  • Elves of Rivendell - Oolong (floral Dong Dings of course!)
  • Elves of Lothlorien - Silver Needles
  • Saruman -  First generation De Hong Pao after he turned to the dark side. No need to ask. 
  • Riders of Rohan - Wet stored shu!  Barnyard earth flavors are prized by the Horse Lords of the Mark.
  • Ents - don't drink tea, kind of gross if you think about it...
  • Sauron - tough one...
(For those who are not Tolkien fans, this Middle Earth has nothing to do with the Middle Kingdom- 中国.)

Monday, June 04, 2012

Mystery Brick From The Past

The joy of being a packrat is that sometimes you refind a treasure you had completely forgotten about.  Once I found two crisp hundred dollar bills in my copy of the Wind in the Willows. I was happy for a few seconds, but then soon felt quite defeated knowing how many books I trade and donate. But this week, I was richly rewarded by my forgetful ways.

So let's continue on with this mystery from circa 2000. Even before I started drinking pu-erh, I used to order oolong from Taiwan.  In one shipment they had mysteriously included this brick for free.  It smelled so funky back then that I immediately wrapped it up in a brown paper bag but I couldn't force myself to throw it away.  I vaguely thought it was Tibetan tea and maybe I would be lucky enough to find yak butter someday to brew it up proper.  I wondered how the vendor thought this gnarly brick would fit into the delicate sensibilities of an oolong drinker but I am happy they did.  I stashed this brick away in various kitchen cabinets forgotten over a decade until this week. 

You can see the leaves are rough and twiggy and  that I had made serious inroads in drinking it last week.  There is a sticker on the wrapper which lists but I got this tea via a different vendor which I can no longer remember despite a diligent search. The wrapper definitely is new since it has verytea's phone number on it. I also tried taking the way back machine and looking through their website to even figure out if verytea ever sold this brick on their on-line catalog. No luck.  (This is an aside, but it's pretty fun to do time travel with the way back machine to check out pu-erh selections and prices from the past. I should do a post next week. But have a look at these sites that use static html-  tuochatea in 2005,  Holy Mountain in 2005.  Dang... I really missed some gems... )

Only in the very first brew I detected a subtle mold flavor which I recognize as wet storage, but it was not unpleasant.  Even with my summer allergies, I can tell there was something special going on. This twiggy brick had more layers of complexity, medicinal bark overtones, camphor than any other shu I've tasted which are from a narrow range of  Menghai, CNNP, Feng Qing, Haiwan, et al.  Unlike most of the shu's I tolerate, there really was a there there.  And it left a lovely sweetness on my tongue for an hour afterwards. I was so taken aback that this brick was so much better than I expected, I drank this tea four times during the weekend with different brew parameters to make sure.  You can brew it dark which brings out a roast coffee flavor.  Unfortunately this brick lasts only two steeps.

This tea must have been wet-stored even if briefly.  There were carbonized black hard leaves which Jason points out in his blog as evidence of wet-storage.  I did see a few white dots of mold just in one section.  What's making this tea so above my ho-hum shus?   The question begs to be asked, is it complexity from the wet storage or the decade in dry storage or both? I think the decade of dry storage definitely aired out that barnyard smell but the extra something special is definitely from the early wet storage because my 2001 FengQing does not have this special depth (for a shu).

But then I finally spend $15 to get the handwriting character plugin for Pleco on my ipad so I can figure out what the wrapper says. I spend a painful amount of time wiggling my fingers to draw the label text just get "Taipei City Rd."  But then the back wrapper says-  年份:十五年 (niánfèn- a particular year: 15 years). OMG, it was 15 years when it came to me (or maybe less if the vendor is not to be trusted.). It's now a 25 yr. old. OMG. It's not the most mind blowing tea but it was free and it sure beats all my other shu's hands down.

Wet storage on a shu seems kinda dangerous,  just a step away from compost.  I procured mostly high end Menghai shus and gong-ting tribute beengs but maybe I should have been slumming it with the cheap rough bricks with a Guangzhou past.   Now this gem has given a new path for my shu drinking.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

2006 Star of Bulang $156 on Verdant Tea is $17 on Taobao

In my previous post, I essentially claimed Verdant Tea was massively overcharging customers for a low end product- an eye-popping $156 for the Yong Ming 2006 "Star of Bulang".   To be clear, I support Western pu-erh vendors that provide interesting selections or even charge more for premiums  products. I'm mostly against Western vendors that charge arm and a leg for low-end stuff glorified with a story.

 I had confirmed with MarshalN my suspicions on Verdant Tea  but I wanted to also provide my readers with concrete proof and also a simple way you can do a sanity check on prices.  David Duckler wrote me and claimed "Our markup is extremely low."  You can now make up your own mind against the 900% markup compared to the Chinese price as shown below.

I don't know Chinese. Sometimes babelcarp has the desired terms in their glossary such as factory names, but I had to hunt for desired chinese characters provided by and the puerh wiki entry and used a translator to double check some things. I then went on  (ebay of China) and typed in 永明茶厂  布朗之星 :

布朗之星 = "Star of Bulang"   永明茶厂 = "Yong Ming Tea Factory"

We see that the supposed "ultra premium" Yong Ming Star of Bulang sheng is going for a mere 108 yuan which is about $17 taobao.

Update: 10-03-2012 Verdant Tea claimed that the "Star of Bulang" that they are selling is not the Star of Bulang but the Bulang Qing Bing.  However a taobao search for their Bulang (永明茶厂布朗山乔木青饼), we can see 2007 versions for less than $10 with the cheapest at $6.30:

As mentioned, selling a "Star of Bulang" which is not a Star of Bulang is misleading but this is still moot when the price of a 2007 version is going for as cheap as 40 yuan($6.30). Beengs from low-end factories like Yong Ming do not have a 2600%+ increase for the same cake released only a year apart ($6 to $156). Even cakes from high end factories don't have a 100% increase between years. Given the 2007 version goes for as low as $6.30, the 2006 Bulang Qing Bing should not be over $17 regardless.

Whether or not Verdant Tea was selling the Star of Bulang and switched to the Qing Bing, their markup is eyepopping. I would not consider this an "extremely low markup".

If Verdant Tea is in fact being scammed and mistakenly paying a really high price for this low-end tea and passing the blunder onto the customer, then I guess it's definitely one more argument against buying pu-erh from clueless Western vendors.  You will be essentially paying at least $100 more for his opinion and marketing stories around the tea than rather than actual value.   It's 3:30 am Sunday morning so you can see I really wanted to take great care in not putting negative feedback about a vendor unless I had reasonable cause.

One of the things I am trying to achieve in this blog is to make sure novice pu-erh drinkers benefit from whatever little I did learn the hard way.   I personally wasted not an insignificant sum of money on Western vendors who knew little about pu-erh but charged me outrageous prices for what ended up being less than mediocre sheng I could have gotten for tenth of the cost.  So by the time I figured out what was good, I had already blown my tea budget and was stuck with overpriced duds. If you do spend $150 on a 2006 beeng, you should make sure you found a premium beeng worthy of your hard earned money that really does hold aging potential.  Verdant Tea probably is not alone in the ridiculous up-charge but I am giving them specifically a hard time because their prices are above board outrageous and due to David Duckler's insistence on his supposed "expertise" in pu-erh and superior curation. Here are some other aspects of their business I find misleading to the consumer
  • David renames Yong Ming Factory to "Yong Ming Workshop" since Verdant Teas makes a big do about not dealing with big factories. He states of his source"Wang Yanxin has amassed the most unique and outstanding collection of pu’er we know of through dedicated work with small growers in stead of the large workshops. " on Why Verdant Tea is Different. But YongMing is a nothing special factory selling low end stuff.  Menghai Tiandiren Tea Factory is also a pretty big low-end factory that used to make cakes for CNNP.  
  • Verdant Tea also makes it hard to see what pu-erh you are really buying- i.e. the description seems be deliberately hiding the real factory names so you cannot do comparison shopping. "2004 Willow Grove Workshop?" MarshalN has kindly translated the factory 勐海楊記天緣茶廠 which literally means "Menghai Yang's Sky Serendipity Tea Factory" which he found for less than $10 for the 2005 version. Where does "Willow Grove Workshop" come from? Or where does "Peacock Village" from their Tiandiren shu come from?

David also wrote me how he carefully "curates" his selections and that he has been "training under a pu'er master, tasting 5-10 pu'ers a day for months". So when I read his recommended "Intro to Pu'er, An Investor Guide to Sheng", I am surprised he states:

"A brand-new sheng should exhibit three main characteristics if it is to become a great tea. It should be sweet, smooth, and have a flavor or interest that you could see developing into something amazing."

I need not stress that that is the kind of sheng he is selling. I highly recommend MarshalN's post on the futility of chasing taste.   There has been a trend in the last few years for factories to produce sweeter fragrant cakes with more buds and young leaves manipulated to be consumed now. There is enough empirical evidence that sweet smooth cakes have shown NOT to age well.  Just flip through the half-dipper.  No one really knows definitively what ages well but strength (cha qi) and presence of huigan and kuwei is often mentioned, as well as complexity from wild tree.   For a Western vendor trying to sell sheng to new pu-erh drinkers, they have to carry sheng that can be drunk now to beginners which is not necessarily the tea that will age best.

I want to spend time writing posts about the appreciation of tea and not being ripped off or being scammed.  It's unfortunate that the pu-erh market is filled with so many gaps in knowledge that the consumer can be taken for quite a ride. Good night!