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.


  1. This does my heart such good knowing I'm not the only one to displace the china in my china cabinet with reams of tea cakes. Definitely going to look into those basswood "cremains" boxes (cremains??). Also nice to look at the chart and recognize the ever-growing proportion of shu to sheng. I've got the poor husband now building me a massive puer storage cabinet, which I think he's agreed to because he can't imagine I'll be buying anymore tea given that I have enough now for several lifetimes (little does he know..).

    1. Dear Radishes,

      A "puer storage cabinet"! That is a true labor of love on your husband's part. What type of wood are you using? Will you varnish it at all?

      I of course showed your comment to my poor husband who did not volunteer at once... Actually he took out the ceiling of the dining room recently to make library shelves above so I dare not even ask him to do anything this year.

      I'll posts a report when my cremains box comes this week. I just want to make sure there is no off smell to the box and it's strictly basswood (and not treated with any weird preservatives).


    2. I've been taking pictures of the project along the way and hope to post them soon. We lined the interior with food grade plastic as that seemed to the most neutral-scent approach (although I'm liking your comment about how the basswood gets infused with the tea scent). Picked up a good humidifier unit with a fan system, but it's all experimentation, you know. But I'm sure the tea nazis will be all over this one ;)