Friday, October 26, 2012

Hoffman's 1999 Xiaguan Raw and the Nature of Desire

I don't like it too wet, I don't like it too dry.  I've come to the conclusion that some natural or humid storage early in a tea's life with dry storage afterwards is the happy medium for me.  My stated preference would indicate that I should do well to buy youngish beengs which were stored in South Asia then I can dry it up in Berkeley to my heart's content.
I brewed up the Hoffman 1999 Xiaguan Raw Beeng sent to me by Emmett which has undergone some early stage of humid storage.   This cake is leaps more interesting than Puerhshop's 1998 7542, but still I'm not running for my credit card to get this beeng for a budget friendly $60.

The mouth feel of this tea is still too drying for me.  There's storage conditions but there's also the inherent characteristics of the underlying leaf- this beeng definitely has that noted XG power of tongue desertification.  What am I even looking for? 

The examples of aged puerh I've thus far enjoyed really held my attention through a series of transformations during brews with repercussions of the tea session throughout the day.  Some have short circuited my logical brain and just made me just relax and enjoy the moment.   The aged cakes that I would buy again given the chance- I've probably made my mind up about it in the first few brews.  It takes puerh numerous brewings to really reveal itself and no other tea could overturn first impressions as much as puerh.  But somehow I have to admit my preferences have more closely followed Malcolm Gladwell's pop theories of rapid cognition.  

It's easier to know what one doesn't want more than what one does want if you don't know already.  A concrete tea is easy to reject but a fantasy tea is hard to construct if you don't have models.  I've somehow fallen into a cycle of one of the following 9 states with aged puerh-

1. You don't know what you want, hence fill your time with interim tea.
2. You know what you want, and are in pursuit.
3. You know what you want, but can't get it, and hence must make do.
4. You thought you knew what you wanted, but it's not it at all so you are back to 1.
5. A weak variation on 3 - you think you know what you want but since you can't get it, you really can't know- can you?
6. The perversion of 2 & 3- because you can't have what you want, you convince yourself  you really want what you already have or what you can readily get.
7. You know you only want the wanting of something hence purposely deny yourself the fulfillment of the want.
8. Negation state. Advanced stages of 3 and 6, you reject the very thing you want because you know you can't have it or attempting to get it leads only to frustration.
9. Confusion state. You want it, you don't want it, you don't know any more.

Despite variations, 2 is ever the desired state- like being in love. 

(Those of you who grow apples know the above photo represents a real no-no. Every manual commands the fruit grower to pinch blossoms and early fruit to hold only one or two fruits per cluster. I've followed this commandment faithfully for years.  Because Berkeley grocery stores carry an excellent and dizzying array of heirloom apples,  the primary purpose of my apples is not to be eaten but to welcome guests with a feeling of abundance. )


  1. Of the few Hoffman teas I have this one is probably the better aging example from him, all the rest are extremely dry. I have been trying other vendors around 10 years aged sheng and did find a few good ones. I do prefer the slight humid then dry storage also, it gives a more layered profile I think.

    I also have not found that tea that I have to get a full tong of. I just have one piece of the ones I like, maybe two if I really like it.
    I do know I like Xiaguan though, thats what I always go back to when I need a good fix.
    But I think I am still in an experimental stage wanting to try new shengs.
    I have stopped strolling the vendor sites for some time now and just randomly look at the new products. I already know what I want to get next, but on to the Christmas list they go.

    1. Dear Emmett,

      I'm ever grateful that I was able to get the samples from you since Hoffman doesn't sell samples. It's too bad I didn't fall in love with them because he's within 45 minute driving distance from me and I go past that part of Marin regularly to get to the beach.

      I don't know that much about Hoffman's caves but judging by the other dry samples- I don't think they age tea. Perhaps the cold weather is a factor. Also I don't think he's released the interesting tea yet in the Phoenix Collection.


  2. I think you summed up the pursuit of good aged Pu'erh nicely.. and aging..and the search of that perfect cup. Its a fickle funny beast. A slippery and shifting shadowy thing. Finding a good tea.. and getting it to brew perfectly. Even within the midst of different parts of certain tea bricks and my own mood seem to shift those shadowy variables all over the place. Some teas seem straightforward enough and I don't have trouble with them but they are always just satisfactory in nature.. Maybe that's why we like good Pu'erh? It has a certain ephemeral, complex and elusive nature. At the same time it seems to directly fuse into your senses and burn an impression in your mind that is unforgettable.

  3. Dear Mighty Tea Monster,

    What is an unforgettable tea for you? I want to know and hunt them down!


    1. My favorite so far was a very good GuaFengZhai 2010 that Yunnansourcing had. I bought a few cakes when it first came out. However, they sold out pretty quickly. In the short period of time I've been storing it.. its since gone flat. I blame the overly dry storage. That one was rather good when it first came out. I still have a few tea cakes stored away and I am hoping (in vain I think) that they will improve. So far they have not. It was sweet silky and almost buttery. The smell was amazing when it was fresh. I am still on the prowl myself for another one like it. I am sticking to samples from now on I think. I have had some other aged samples that have been memorable but that one burned into my brain..but today I just can't get it taste like it did before. I'll let you know if I find one. I am currently trying to get through my current stock of stale cakes so I can buy more tea.

    2. Dear Tea Monster,

      Have you tried to revive just a few pieces under high humidity before you drink it?

      The idea of drinking stale cakes make me feel sad. I worry if my teas have dried out so much that bioactivity has ceased but I notice that I can revive the smell with just a little higher humidity.


    3. I'll try it. Although I think this one is dead. Tried some this morning and could get nothing from it. I mean it was ok.. but going from brain searingly amazing to just "ok" is a big difference.

      I'll try your technique of putting it under a large glass dish with some water in a cup and see what happens. I think I killed this one though. I think as long as I am in the dry mountain air of Colorado I will be stuck with samples and skip aging really good teas until I figure out a storage technique that works here..

  4. I like how precisely you can put your desire for new tea into words. What you explained in Point 1-9 is exactly how I feel when I'm looking for Pu Erh. But as a beginner I still have the excuse that I have to learn about the most common sorts. It worries me though that finding your tea make take so much time (and Money).