Thursday, September 20, 2012

Numi's Organic Puerh From 500 Year Old Trees

This morning, I had the surprise of my life. Puerh from 500 year old trees waiting at my desk!

"Numi's Organic Puerh comes from 500-year-old, wild, organic tea trees grown in China's pristine Yunnan Mountains."

Actually I almost fell out of my chair I burst out laughing so hard. You can see from the picture that these words refer to a rather humble shu brick.  How did I get my hot hands on such a brick? One of our I.T. guys casually mentioned that he was interested in puerh.  You can only imagine how my ears perked up.   He had his start with this Numi brick and I've vowed to introduce him to some proper pu-erh since.  We started easy last week with a mellow YS lao cha tou brick and an MGH shu brick.  He was kind and brave enough to bring his Numi brick in for me.

Numi - a San Francisco Bay Area tea company started by a brother and sister team, is known for their strong social values and commitment to community.  How is their pu-erh?

Drats. Am I the kind of guy that's going to diss tea from a feel-good fair trade organic tea company that provides jobs to the learning disabled?  Numi started a "Puerh to the People" marketing campaign and I'll all for pushing pu-erh to a wider audience.  But I think this brick may actually turn drinkers away.

I brewed it up tonight and as my husband says, "That's awful. That's just terrible. Throw that away."  I tried to take a few sips of all four brews but could not do much more. My top reasons why this Numi brick is not palatable:
  1. Leaves are so finely chopped(CTC style) and the compression so tight, you can't really rinse any of the wodui flavor out. So the resulting barnyard brew is quite frankly not something you want to drink. Probably they took whatever they were going to use for their bagged puerh teas and pressed it instead of pressing direct from leaf. 
  2. This here brick is a young 'un.  Shu needs a few years to mellow out.  Current year or even last year's shu is not really ready for drinking. Numi misleadingly calls this "Aged puerh tea brick".   The wodui cooking process of shu is not considered "aging". 
  3. The crashed high expectations promised by the "superior tasting tea"of a 500 year old tree adds to the bad flavor.  Note to marketing department- supply of maocha from such ancient trees is so tight that none ever end up in shu let alone mass market shus like this one. 
I am not a shu snob and I enjoy cheap shu quite regularly. I think the Numi people should definitely give Jim at Puershop a call and have him help press their bricks.  He sells a non-organic non-fair-trade but smoother and actually drinkable Menghai Lincang blend-  2010 MGH Brick for 6.95.  I'm not a fan of puerhshop since I spent $180 and was burned by their high end offerings.   However their American Hao brick is a good deal and tasty too - the only one of my purchases I didn't regret and wished I had one more of... You can tell from the image below that Jim manages to include golden bud tips.

It's not just about price but does fair trade organic tea company with a social mission have to resort to misleading marketing and sell an inferior product to boot?   I'm an enlightened Berkeley citizen and support no shortage of organic fair trade businesses.  I could have just ignored this tea as I've done on other shus.  But I want Numi to get honest feedback from actual puerh drinkers so they can improve on future teas.  Whole leaf pressing should be one place to start.  Currently, this brick does a disservice to the tea that we love and obsess about. 


  1. What's really scary is, unlike whole leaves that entwine together and so don't need anything, Numi's tea needs some kind of agent to bind them together. What that is, which you drink by the way, is anybody's guess, and may contribute to the "terrible" factor.

    That's why gongyicha (artisan tea) in puerh is not meant for drinking - the type that are so hard pressed you can form shapes from it. They're for display only.

    1. Their ingredients list does not mention anything about binders although it looks unnaturally shiny. Despite the barnyard brew, the brick itself does not smell like much.

      I wrote their marketing department about this 500 year old claim and the misuse of the word "aged" and we'll see if they respond. I work only a few blocks from their HQ so I might show up in person to ask them why they have such a bad example of puerh- it's really a disservice.

    2. Anonymous3:18 PM

      This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    3. Posted by Psychanaut:

      I suspect your reply will be something like that of a recently opened tea shop to me, who, before I was hired to teach at a school at the last minute, was one of a number of other options I was investigating since I knew they were looking for staff. In short, I talked passionately about tea with the owner, and told him I had spent time living in China and Taiwan investigating it, and so probably knew more about it than most of their potential customers, and even politely corrected some of the his misperceptions about puer, since, like me, his mainstay is oolong. Later, I sent him an email reiterating my passion for tea and tea education, and asked if he would be interested in bringing me on. HIs polite reply was essentially,"We are serving the lowest common denominator right now (focusing on bubble tea and fruit tea drinks), and don't really need someone who actually knows about tea, only people who can operate machines and follow orders."

      That is, I am guessing Numi HQ damn well knows you are an outlier of an outlier, and they couldn't care less about what you have to say, because their market is the relatively ignorant. I could be wrong, but that's what I'm guessing..

    4. Nick,

      (I had to delete your original message to remove only my name. Anonymity is still important to me.)

      Numi's marketing would indicate they care about quality of tea. I've gone to the Numi tea garden years ago which is now only a few blocks from my new place of work. I remember their tea was ho-hum but they had a pretty good cheese plate.

      Will report... I wrote them but of course no one responded.


  2. Adjectives like "aged", "pristine", "500 year old" are used quite liberally nowadays, as well as "fair trade", "artisan", etc. Expect from one who uses the later, to also use the former.

  3. Glad that you found at least one tea from Puerh Shop that you enjoyed. I've never had any problems with him but I'm more of a casual cheap shu drinker myself but I am fussy about what I will buy as Jim tends to focus upon cheaper teas that taste good for their price range. So if you want to buy mainly upper end puerh from major factories Puerh Shop is likely not the best place for you to shop. Although personally I am not that overly fond of the American Hao shu. While I admit that the American Hao shu is good quality I do not like the mini brick sheets that he has them compressed into as I find that they have problems opening up right in brewing and need to be further broken up which defeats the purpose in my opinion. Now if they were compressed into larger bricks or cakes than I would be buying them in large amounts.

    1. John,

      I chose American Hao because I was trying to compare like for like. I definitely have better and cheaper shu from China but new drinkers who may go for Numi- trying the American Hao is not much of a stretch.


    2. Makes sense, when it comes to those two choices the American Hao would be the clear winner. Although you do have a point that most more seasoned drinkers are more likely to order direct from China once they get a better handle upon what they want, but generally need to work up the courage with more beginner friendly American vendors first.