Monday, March 18, 2013

Grocery Bulk Puerh

Out of curiosity I looked in the bulk tea section of Rainbow- a gourmet vegetarian grocery store in San Francisco. Yes- there is such a thing as a vegetarian grocery store and I embarrassed myself thoroughly a decade ago asking for the bacon section. I now go there to get chocolate and coffee for which they have a pretty good selection.

You can see that their puerh options are way expensive. $69/lb for sticky rice tuocha and $49/lb for camel's breath! That's way more than the 2012 Golden Needle White Lotus (~$37). I have a friend who works in their produce department. Perhaps I should mention something to him instead of putting it so publicly. But it's their suppliers Silk Road/Two Hills who have perpetrated the original up-charge.

I also checked our neighborhood Berkeley Bowl and they have one loose puerh for $17.99. I snagged $0.18 worth to brew tonight just for kicks. I can just see some of the hard core mavens just shaking their heads wondering why I stoop so low when teas friends have taken pains to send me such fine teas to educate my palate.

Since I go to Berkeley Bowl weekly, I have laid eyes on these tea dispensers more than 780 times. It would be a shame if it turned out to be pretty good tea and I was too much a snob to even try it. So is it good tea?

It tastes like loose shu alright- tad bit pondy but not offensive. I cannot will myself to drink too much.  I don't mind paying $0.18 to confirm the grocery store shu is nothing I'm missing. But  I sadly pay with heartburn to boot- often the real price for cheap shu.  


  1. If it was any good they wouldn't be storing it in those plastic light-sensitive containers in the first place.

    1. Not so hasty if you please. Their blacks- Earl Grey and Ceylons are pretty good for the price and beat most bagged versions. If a vendor has rapid turnover which BB West does, plastic containers matter very little as it's really a small percentage of the outer leaves which are exposed to rather dim artificial light.

  2. Its weird that I had never come across bulk tea sold by the oz. in a grocery store. But just after reading your post I happen to come across some at a place called The Outpost natural foods, in Milwaukee this morning.
    It was mostly Rishi tea products, and the only one that looked decent to me was the shui xian. But I did not get any as I have some good quality already.

    Maybe I had come across it before but never noticed until it was fresh in my thoughts.
    Hope all is well H.


  3. Emmett,

    Can there be good China tea hiding in the bulk section of a grocery store? It's not an impossibility. That's where I come by my assams, Darjeelings, and Ceylons but I've been too sniffy to try any greens.

    I hope you are holding up in the Illinois winter. I keep waiting for a snowy bonsai shot but do the little guys live indoors for the winter?


    1. Anonymous9:04 PM

      I don't think so. But there can be good (for the price) tea hiding in (Chinese) grocery stores, sometimes. Usually some black or oolong that someone has forgotten about it and has been left to age and mellow out the overly burnt roasting on most of those cheaper products. At least with mostly oxidized teas it is actually possible for this to occur; greens don't keep well, though.

  4. The bonsai are all outside, but hidden underneath the tables covered with snow and surrounded by burlap and chicken wire. As a few years ago a d@mn rabbit came by in the middle of winter and ate the bark off of some of my most prized trees. Destroying years of work. So I rather not enjoy them for a few months than forever. I still get upset when I think of it. Just waiting for actual spring weather to start to bring the trees out.
    Maybe the next time I see some bulk tea I will get a little shui xian to try. I think it was around $4 an oz. Or maybe some of the blacks.