Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Evicting Sheng Duds

In the next two weeks, an immoderate amount of tea is to arrive at my doorstep.   I need to serve eviction notices for cakes which do not hold my favor.  The pickier part of me says I should start swapping out with more stellar examples of their genre but the retentive part of me has all sorts of creative reasons not to let go.

What are these despised duds wantonly taking up precious tea real estate?  

Back in early 2006, I saw the 2004 Changtai 16 Cake Set for a ridiculously dirt cheap price (~$80). I asked my husband if I should buy it as a learning tool and he said to me without any sense of future irony, "Hmmm. That's a lot of tea. What are you going to do with that much tea!" So I didn't get it and then it promptly sold out.

This 2 kilo 4 beeng Xiaguan Big G Set was the rebound purchase.  As you can imagine, it really did not make me feel better. I know the 2004 Changtai tasting set came under scrutiny and accusations flew that some cakes were not truly single origin due to lax oversight but I don't think I would have regretted that purchase- definitely not for $80.  Changtai beengs are sometimes known to have a wee bit extra oxidation but still, I would of had a lot more fun with that set than this Big G one which the vendor description indicates is all the same blend.   All same inside. All same (head hung low...)

"The four cakes are all the same blend of leaf: Orange Wrapper - Xiaguan Feng (Xiaguan Wind) Blue Wrapper - Er Hai Yue (Er Hai Lake Moon) Red Wrapper - Shangguan Hua (Shangguan Flower) Green Wrapper - Cangshan Xue (Cangshan Snow)"

Cangshan is the snow capped mountain range west of Dali with Erhai lake(ear shaped lake) sandwiched in between. Xiaguan is based in Dali and it's all a naming theme with no relation to the tea source. The vendor also described this Xiaguan collector's box as being the best quality Xiaguan produced that year. It has lost that sweet Xiaguan spring tea smell leaving that signature Xiaguan smoky leathery fragrance.  

For the first time in my life, I am able to break a Xiaguan product with by bare hands. I'm going to optimistically claim victory in Berkeley aging. My husband brewed it up tonight for the first time in 7 years and I am breathtakingly awaiting a report.  

Every collection must include some Xiaguan if not for reference and what's wrong with this best Xiaguan?  Every time I look at this box I sigh.  The ChangTai that got away caused me to overcompensate and buy all sorts of subsequent tea I should not have.  These 2003 Xiaguans are not a dud because there is something inherently wrong with them besides the chopped plantation leaves.  They just give me pangs and twinges of collector's remorse that I can't seem to dispel.

Second up is the 2005 6 FTM Yinji Series.  A friend moving back from Beijing proudly and cheerfully exclaimed on 7 cakes bundled in a bamboo basket(Ban Zhang, Yi Wu, You Le, Bang Wei, Nan Nuo,Yi Bang plus bonus Spring Cake), "Can you believe it! This was only $20!"  Yinji or "Spirit of XXX" series is 6FTM's lowest entry level offering which blends a very small percentage of mountain in question.   I desperately wish I had just wired some money to her but it's tricky letting a non-puerh drinker to buy pu-erh at Meliandao. I am hugely grateful she brought some pretty nice Doujis as well.

I was rereading Ethan Thompson's 26 Mountains, Fifty Cakes on the Leaf. He reviews the instructive Jing Mei Tang 50 Cake Set which he contrasts to his Changtai set. Ethan talks about "market-floor garbage" and "garbage cakes". I'm pretty sure at least this pile of 6FTMs could be a poster child for  "market-floor garbage".  But is this any reason to kick these poor cakes to the door especially since they came into the house as gifts.  I actually have never cracked open any of these FTMs because I always had better to drink.  

More and more,  I'm coming to the conclusion that factory plantation teas have a time and a place in my collection. While one shouldn't go out of their way to fill out a collection with them, if they happen to already be part of your collection, there are many good reasons to keep them around. Here are my top 5 reasons to keep my early mistakes:

1. I apparently like cheap tea.

I've been enjoying aged cheap quality shu recently. Even though I am forced to pay dearly for them now, those bricks must have been a few yuans back in the day with leaf quality to match. You can only imagine the hygiene of communist tea factory floors.   (Probably better if you don't).

All my dud cakes are much higher leaf quality than those filthy bricks and will probably end up being as good as or if not better than those shus.

2. Reference tea. You need big factory teas to make you really appreciate your small batch artisanal teas.

It's good to have special teas for special occasions. The single mountain teas tend to require attentiveness. I don't want to be drinking high end single varietals all the time because some days you just need a tea to get the job done.  

3. I need aging sheng to give away to beginner drinkers who need to broaden their palates with these kinds of factory offerings.

4. I need experimentation material.
I need ready material I'm willing to use for experiments with aging.  Why buy new when there is already this available supply.

5.  These guys have been aging with me and are part of the tea family.
Sounds ridiculous I know and such sentiments are common to those who exhibit hoarding symptoms. These teas have been with me for some of the hardest years of my life and the bitterness in life is best swallowed in tea.

And so you can see with logic like this, I have never evicted any cake from my collection.


  1. If you want to let go of some of those factory cakes I am interested in the xiaguan.

  2. I am a pu'er beginner. I've only tried a few shus (can't really say I've formed an opinion yet) and never any shengs, aged or otherwise. If truly want to clean your shelves, and you have anything you think a noob can handle/appreciate, I'd be interested in helping out.

    1. Dear Aaron,

      Please start a tea blog. I'll try to send you something if you are not internationally located and you pay for shipping.


    2. I only discovered this small tea blogging community a few months ago and hadn't really put much thought into starting a blog. I suppose it's a good way to keep track of tea thoughts and taking part in the conversation, instead of just reading it, isn't a horrible idea.... Oh and I'm about 400 miles to your south in Long Beach.

  3. I finally started a blog thanks Hster for the push.