Thursday, December 24, 2015

A lot of fraud out there...

I work in an industry rife with false hype to the tune of billions of dollars so I am unsure as to why I still get hot under the collar about false marketing in the puerh world.  Tea fraud is a never ending evil and we are lucky we have champions to fight the cause.  The end of this year has seen all sorts of misdeeds in the tea industry and elsewhere.

  1. Verdant Tea - For reals?  Again? Their claims of 1800 year old tea are so above board outrageous, it forced the usually calm and unexcitable Scott Wilson to show his fighting muscles.  I totally ooh'ed and aah'ed over how Scott picked apart Lily Duckler's defense by exposing her photo proof as fraudulently representing their Qianjiazhai source tree when the said tree is a known famous ancient tea tree sited in Fengqing 300km away.  I'm sure Scott could not have survived and succeeded 12 years in Yunnan and in the Chinese tea industry without balls of steel aplenty.   Will this scandal have any impact on Verdant Tea's suspect marketing practices? Marshaln states more diplomatically it's more likely Verdant tea is the knowing perpetrator.  I myself would not be surprised if such shenanigans reoccurred in three more years although I don't know how you can out do selling 1800 year old tea.  
  2. BBC tea picker exploitation scandal - we collectively knew Indian tea pickers suffered low wages but we didn't know it was this terrible.  Ironically I picked this story up from the Verdant Tea blog. Inhumane lack of access to toilets is terrible for so many reasons the least of which is pooping in the tea bushes. Nothing ruins the luxury image for Harrods or Fortnum and Mason tea quicker than BBC publishing raw photos of insanitary clogged toilets on their source tea estate. The conditions are so shockingly appalling to send the tea drinker's mind instantly into denial.  I predict the British as well as the rest of the world will continue drinking black tea as usual.   
  3. Mast Brothers chocolate scandal- Even though they remelted and resold industrial chocolate in the early years- Mast brothers insist they are 100% bean to bar.  To me the real scandal is how they peddle such subpar bars for top dollar with slick marketing and beautifully designed Italian wrappers.  I've rarely run across a terrible bar above $5 price point but I was shocked at how stale and unacceptably bland tasting their Papua New Guinea bar was at $12.  I was wholly satisfied they were finally being called out.  Actually the original investigator Scott Craig of who outed the Mast brothers had done a similar expose on the now defunct NOKA Chocolate for ridiculous upcharging of remelted Bonnat couverture.  It was none other than Craig's NOKA reporting which inspired me to be more investigative in my blogging leading to my original expose on Verdant Tea.
  4. The most intriguing scandal for me this year involves the med tech startup Theranos for misrepresenting the effectiveness of their technology which allows blood testing based on a tiny prick of blood.  Lest they come after this dinky blog for libel, I'll just say no more.

I recently went back to visit my family home back east.  I had such fond memories walking the Washington Cherry Blossom Parade with Princess Pale Moon in elementary school that I looked her up to see if she was still a fixture for the parade.  It turns out she was neither an American Indian nor a Princess. 

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Fengqing Dragon Pearl

Production of certain teas can wend their way deep into a region's history and dianhong- the malty Yunnan red tea - was surprisingly born out of WWII necessity.  As the Japanese controlled the black tea producing regions of eastern China,  a tea company sent the able Mr. Feng Shaoqiu west to Yunnan to develop a new base for black tea production.  According to the Yunnan gov't site, black tea was critical for the Nationalist Chinese government/KMT to get the much needed foreign cash from the Western export market to fight against the Japanese invasion.  The first shipment of dianhong was sold to  England via Hong Kong as the middlemen for an astounding $8/lb.  Life in a Teacup also has an interesting take on dianhong's origin story but omits the "dianhong=export $$$=guns against Japanese" angle.   Regardless of where the tea revenue went, dianhong was a huge boost to the war torn economy not only to the region but the nation.  Mr. Feng and his crew indisputably introduced a delicious new tea to the world and served the nation in one go.  
I wonder if those tea vendors that label their high-end dianhong "imperial" know it doesn't apply to the Chinese end.  The only Chinese emperor who could have drunk dianhong was the last unfortunate Puyi who obviously would not have been gifted dianhong during his tenure as a Japanese puppet nor as communist persona non grata.  However dianhong was a gift for the Western royals including Queen Elizabeth II so the imperial designation as a marketing term has some validity.  For imperial grade, I expect the golden tips to shimmer with a fine thick fuzz of golden hairs.

Most of the dianhong comes from Fengqing as the original region Mr. Feng chose supposedly for producing the highest quality leaf.  I would have thought Mr. Feng more sensibly chose the region with the best roads and steady mass production over absolute best leaf but this source indicates he did choose an area for the impressive tea forest which had poor road access and facilities.  His mandate was to produce the highest quality tea to fetch the highest market price.  Still, there's no reason why you can't have dianhong made from tea grown anywhere in Yunnan as dianhong 滇紅 means red tea from Yunnan ( "Dian/" =short name for Yunnan and hong/=red tea).  I've had dianhong from nearby Simao as well as the high altitude dianhong YS gets from Wuliang as well as supposed wild tree dianhong.  Most are satisfying to pretty good but it's very rare I find magical dianhong.  To those more in love with the wild mood swings of puerh,  dianhong lacks such dynamism and behaves much more like pumpkin pie.  About 8 years ago I had a compressed dianhong from YS that had a lovely smoky flavor and it was the closest any tea could come to tasting like bacon. 

To rev up a sleepy Saturday afternoon, I brewed up one of the Teavivre samples Emmett included for me.  Less than a decade ago I used to chug dianhong by the gallons.  At first, imperial Yunnan gold used to be a special treat for me as I procured dianhong overpriced from western outfits like Adagio and Rishi. Then I found budgetlicious China prices on ebay and YS- I started glugging more dianhong than water.  But familiarity led to contempt and I ran against a hongcha wall where for a few years I simply could not swallow any more Yunnan gold.  It taught me if you really love a particular tea- don't drink your fill even if you can.

A few years ago I started drinking dianhong again- the lengthy hiatus made me appreciate dianhong's reliable malty goodness again.  This sample is hand rolled into pearls.  I brewed it in a glass teapot so I can peep in but I shouldn't have. It's not unlike seeing a lady's tight hair bun unravel in a messy way. The tea is comforting- solid and robust in the classic hongcha way. Thanks to Emmett.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Brewing Fannings

What to do about the pesky bits of tea crumb that are unfit for teapot brewing?  Like taxes in life, you simply cannot avoid fannings in puerh.  Even if your whole leaf cake arrived in pristine unmolested condition, careful excavation for a session will still generate crumbs. You think you can steam your way out of it, but still somehow fannings were hiding in the cake originally.  Tuos and bricks tend to have lots of chop so you are guaranteed fannings.  Puerh samples by their very nature produce abundant fannings.  Fannings simply indicate broken up leaf but fannings and dust have specific grades- I'm talking about leaves broken up smaller than the size rice grains that can seriously clog up your teapots.  While I will brew the larger broken leaves for initial tastings,  I rarely brew up the smaller fannings because I always have bigger leaf to brew.

I brewed up the fannings of a ho-hum 90's sheng yesterday for kicks. This stone pressed aged beeng was almost a quarter fannings- completely battered by the boat journey from China.  I was just tired of seeing the half cup of fannings in the wrapper continually degrading into yet smaller pieces every time I handled this beeng that I resolved to drink it up once and for all.  I tend to keep larger amounts of fannings with the original cake and the smaller amounts I toss in separate canisters- one for sheng one for shu.  I've brewed up shu fannings with regret- life is too short for that.

Fannings are graded inferior to whole leaf and I've often seen whole leaf tea vendors dismiss fannings as producing a bitter harsher brew. With other types of non-ageable teas, freshness could be a big issue with fannings but how about puerh.  Fannings with greater surface area leach more quickly so it's a lot easier to overbrew than whole leaf but is the taste significantly inferior?  Puerh fannings definitely should age faster and I'll empirically agree that they definitely oxidize faster.

You can gather dust and fannings up in a teabag and determine for yourself.  I brew fannings in a sieve for convenience. Flash brewing control is the key- no teapot I have drains fast enough for crumbs even if clogging were not an issue.  My sieve yields a decent enough cup that was not too different from the whole leaf session of this tea. However this aged sheng is like peanut butter- mediocre at it's best and worst.   I tend not to get the best puerh brew from a sieve I'm guessing from lack of heat retention in my setup.  I often employ a sieve when traveling and for me it beats brewing grandpa style.  Tea sieve is definitely more grandma style.

I'm sipping shu while waiting for the kiddies to come knocking any minute as tonight is the favored American holiday where adults are forced to distribute free candy to anyone knocking. For years I tried to hand out healthier nut/raisin packs/granola bars but kids were so damn unappreciative that I went back to conventional sugar bombs.  I got some "Cry Baby" sour balls for good pranking fun.  Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

03 Menghai Crab's Claw

Feasting on the sweet ample flesh of Dungeness crabs is one of the true luxuries of living in the Bay Area.  In an attempt to share this seafood goodness with my east coast family,  I used to fly with a cooler full of live crabs on JetBlue. But the hairy eyeballs I would get from flight agents was enough deterrent that I stopped doing it after a few occasions.  This year, I'm not sure if I will indulge in a full crab feast as there's been massive toxic algae blooms on this side of the Pacific due to the warmer waters. Yesterday I really had a hankering for a crab and I had to make do with canned crab claw meat from Sri Lanka.   

Post Saturday crab omelette brunch, I wanted to pick out a tea to settle our laden bellies. I got lazy and unimaginative and pulled out the 2003 Menghai Crab's Claw.  Crab's claw or crab's feet (螃蟹脚/pang xie jiao/Viscum Articulatum Burmanum) is a parasitic vine - a type of leafless mistletoe growing among the older tea trees. Crab's claw is blessed with a long long list of purported medicinal healing properties ranging from spleen re-invigoration, hypertension, to joint pain.  Indeed I bought it back in '06 to help cure my husband's persistent cough. I could not attribute it's dubious efficacy to the low dosage or lack of shelf life but I enjoyed the tea for itself.

The underlying tea was quite gentle even back then and it was one sheng I could drink without burden. A light bulb should have gone off in my brain that I should stick to older cakes but my clueless younger self did not quite fit the pieces of the puzzle.

It's been almost ten years I've brewed this puppy and I am pleasantly surprised the taste is still refreshing and light- completely smooth and soft in the mouth. It didn't get weaker nor did it get stronger. I got almost excited that I sniffed a tiny whiff of camphor scent in the teapot.  There's only a wee bit of claw sprinkled on top so the taste and fragrance is really the underlying tea.   I do find that the crab's claw can soften the taste of a brew when I add some of the Jingmai crab's claw Ira gave me previously to sheng.

The verdict many come to is that crab's claw is one of the novelty fringe tea gimmicks you might try once or twice.  Since you can get just pure crab's claw from YS and other outfits to enhance your sheng of choice,  it's definitely not worth buying pre-sprinkled beeng. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Yan Qing Hao Gushu Shroom

Autumn is a season that is often tinged with regret especially more so in years when the first half of the year you struggled and struggled against life's forces without reprieve.  One's sorrows can be even harder to bear in the long days of winter.  But I pump both my fists up in the air and vow to enjoy the last warm days of fall and to regret nothing.

This Friday, I was the happy and grateful recipient of a tea box from Cha Kung Fu's Emmett. His wife recently gave birth to a lovely daughter so I feel even more grateful and surprised he could squeeze me in.  I've only done auntie duty but I know how precious even one free minute can be when you are taking care of newborn.  Congratulations Emmett!

Emmett procured some quality Yanqing Hao with a group purchase from a Taiwanese supplier last fall.  Not sure what I was doing that I would miss out on such a plum opportunity but through Emmett's generosity I still get to try.  I brewed the '07 Gushu Jincha this morning.    The more believable gushus I've had tended to be gentle on the body and yet potent - like a really good acupressure massage.  And so it was partly so with this YQH.

Every genre has it's cliches and sorry I had to pull a "gentle yet powerful" on you dear reader.  Those words are applied more commonly to colon cleansers than it is to puerh although some sheng can boast both applications.  But what do I mean exactly? Because the "gentle" adjective on puerh rides a fine line between pleasantly mellow and outright weak, the tea needs to manifest some energy on your body not to be dismissed simply as feeble.  My husband's friend had swung by to help with some physical labor and even with the few thimblefuls of this YQH I served them- they told me they were able to power through thanks to the tea.

As far as the decade old taste goes, this jincha was a tasty brew that made me regret not having tried it when it was a youngish sheng-  it must have been a sparkle in the mouth as a newborn.  From Yan Qing Hao's facebook page, I found their album for this '07 Jincha but not much description:
As any useful Yanqing Hao data on the web was scarce, I ended up clicking through Mr. Yan's Yunnan trip photos on houde.  I'm surprised how young and plump-faced he looked a decade ago. I'm also surprised how similar vendor photos of Yunnan maocha buying trips tend to be. You can check a box for the following types of photos all with the tea vendor looking sweaty:

  • shot holding a sack of precious maocha
  • shot of bamboo pan with sun dried macha
  • shot in front of the wok full of dry-fried maocha
  • shots with native tea picking grandmas or better yet maidens
  • shots with village kids...
(I was too lazy to make a photo collage...)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Autumnal Brew

To properly celebrate the autumnal equinox in Berkeley, I rely on pumpkins to signal the end of summer.  Because the seasons can be ambiguous and inconsistent in the Bay Area, we have to make a special effort to denote the seasons. 
Warty squashes thankfully have their admirers and if I had my way, I would fill up my house with dozens of misshapen varieties. Once I had a tower of blue triambles as our Christmas tree.  This year I settled on the blue Marina di Chioggia being more mindful of their culinary ends while my husband chose the peachy Galeuse d'Eysines.  Supposedly sugars leaching through the skin is what causes these peanut skin like protrusions so this beauty must be quite the sweet bomb. We have about six months to keep it so I may not split it open until next year.

In cooler weather, I find the darker roasted brews more appealing- roasted oolongs and yanchas fitting the bill. I find I've become less finicky and I tend to brew what's within easy reach. I've been going through leftover Wuyi Star yanchas from my rock bottom yancha phase.  While I would not bother to buy their De Hong Pao again, it's quite alright on a autumn Sunday afternoon for some warm cozy feels.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Tea Haiku

This clever haiku by a nine year old and made the twitter rounds a while back.

So naturally my mind started syllable counting numbers I know.

Nineteen ninety nine
Seven out of ten

Sunday, August 30, 2015

2010 Douji Feng Huang You

Here in Shulandia, we plod on taking joy even in the minutest difference in the shus of this earth. While some might think life is too short to drink shu, I'm in the camp that life is too long not to drink shu.  I still have quite a few random unopened beengs waiting to underwhelm me and I finally gave this 2010 Douji Phoenix Tour a whirl.

Douji's foray into shu must not have been a wild success as the Feng Huang You(Phoenix Tour) beengs boast no tea expo awards of any kind.  Douji appear to have had only a brief stint with making shu (2009 to 2013).  My records show I bought this beeng for $12.99 now to be had for $74.99 from the same vendor making it my best investment from 2012.  After the buckets of ducats I lost last week in the market crash, it's half an ounce of comfort.

The beeng itself isn't the highest quality of leaf with a smattering of token golden buds on top. As with most Douji beengs, the compression is loose and the edges are starting to fray already. I can't imagine they bothered with stone pressing shu and the pneumatic presser was probably adjusted.  The scent of the brewed leaves was a tad more enticing and softly sweet than the actual brewed tea. I've already forgotten the particulars as it left such a non-impression.  When I can't get into a tea, I aways do a test brew alongside with a tea I know well so I know my tastebuds are not at fault. With shu, I normally brew up either the '06 Menghais or the YS 2009 Cha Tou Sheng Yuas the comparison. I brewed up the Lao Cha Tou today and immediately the reference tea is leaps more livelier in the mouth leaving a licorice mouthfeel. I regret having torn open that prim pleated Douji wrapping.

What to do with such a snoozer of a shu- inoffensive and mild.  Shu cola?

I mixed it for kicks but even the pep of CO2 cannot revive this genteel tea.  The tea is decent enough to chill out and relax my mind with my current favorite app- a 3D jellyfish simulator.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Matcha Snow Two Ways

I took a brief break in Los Angeles to visit a dear friend. L.A. for a food loving Korean is a giant candy store.  I am particularly fond of a red bean iced treat called ppatbingsu.  Koreans enjoy this concoction of shaved ice, red bean, milk and mochi in the heat of summer with friends and family. The serving size is such that one never eats a bowl by oneself and indeed I have never eaten ppatbingsu solo.  You can enjoy the usual variations ranging from coffee to roast grain but I had a hankering for matcha this trip.
The version above is from Sul and Beans- a chain from Korea producing the most advanced bingsu I have enjoyed. They produce a special milk snow which is rich but so light in the mouth, it's magical. If you can try only one dessert in L.A., go for it.   The generous dusting of matcha is good but nothing special- it's a nice food grade matcha. I preferred their injulmi bingsu more which had a unique nuttiness. Injulmi is a roasted grain rice cake and their house specialty.

The second matcha version I enjoyed is at Okrumong famous for their red beans which they roast in the old fashion way in giant cast iron pots. They mixed the matcha into the ice so the ice was quite green all the way through and was a tad bitter.

What Okrumong excel in is not ppatbingsu- the ice lumped in the usual way slushies do- but a red bean cake called chapsalltuk. If you are a kpop Big Bang fan, this is the cake they are singing about in Bae Bae. Their version is really the best I've ever enjoyed- it's a novel variation with a breaded cover. The chewiness was perfect and the above photo does not do justice to it's deliciousness. I could eat these all day long and kick myself for only buying 10 of these.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Neutralizing Sheng's Acidity

Peter Menzel is my favorite portrait photographer whose books I go through multiple times a year.  His work is so rich that I see new details or understand something new each time.  Last week, I noticed a curious detail on this portrait of a Bhutanese family (the Namgays of Shingkhey village) in Hungry Planet- a most excellent book which shows families around the world with their week's worth of food.

On the bottom left of the tangerines, I spied a small packet of baking soda leaned up against two sheng mushroom cakes(looks like XG Bao Yan Holy Flame). According the the text, the baking soda is "used to neutralize the acid in tea".  You would think the yak butter would be enough to fulfill that role. The cost of the teas is listed as "$0.76" which also includes the Red Label black tea for "guests only". I squinted quite a few times and finally decided it must be sheng as it wasn't dark enough to be shu. For about $0.25 per mushroom, you can imagine the kind of gut wrenching sheng they drink.

I've long known Southerners to add a tiny pinch of baking soda to sweetened iced tea to get rid of the bitterness of the tannins but I've never thought of applying it to sheng.  Such adulteration is not for puerh purists but I'm all game.  It's one thing if I was unknowingly served such smoothed out sheng at a tea house but I'll totally dope my own tea if it makes it better.

What would I do first if I had a magical powder to take the rough edge off a sheng? Can I really finally drink the Jin Dayi?  Should I? Should I do it? I don't want to take the risk just yet as I am just getting over a weekend bout of food poisoning so I'll just bring out a less punchy but plenty rough and face puckering plantation 2004 Xiaguan tuo to test.  (I don't have a XG sheng mushroom, only a shu to reproduce.)

It's been a long while I've done a controlled study that is lab worthy but today I'm just going for a rough conclusion. Is baking soda an enhancer worth considering like salt on corn on the cob?  Milk and sugar are the universal tea enhancers but since they impact the fundamental taste too much, I would love to get my hands on a more invisible agent.

While brewing up the XG, some questions cropped up:
  1. How much should I sprinkle in? A smidgen, a pinch or a dash? In situations where proper dosage is unknown, the standard protocol is to start with the smallest amount and then add in increments. A smidgen did almost nothing so I kept progressively adding more until the taste of baking soda just about ruined the tea. My 04 XG was so plenty bitter than even an eighth teaspoon in a tablespoon of tea did not erase the bitterness. Once you add too much, you get that weird slippery coating in your mouth like you just swallowed swimming pool water.  
  2. Should I add the baking soda to the brew or to the leaves? I added it to the brew so I can control it more.
  3. Does it just merely taste smoother or is it better for your stomach as well? Given people take baking soda for acid reflux, heartburn, and other stomach woes, I might do well to take a baking soda tonic(one teaspoon per cup) after a sheng session anyway. 
When you add baking soda to acidic liquids such as lemon juice- it fizzes. The sodium bicarbonate(baking soda) reacts with the citric acid of the lemon to produces sodium citrate and carbon dioxide bubbling up. When I added the baking soda to the sheng brew- no such fireworks took place in my teacup, but the color did deepen.  I've read that Tibetans and Northern Indians add baking soda more to deepen the color of tea but I'm not sensitive to tint- I'm only after taste enhancement.  I could dig deeper into the chemistry of sheng but that won't change the face that I didn't quite get results I was hoping for.

The baking soda didn't dampen the bitterness much but subsequent sips did give a sweeter mouthfeel.  It still doesn't make me want to brew up this XG more or drink it more.  I thought perhaps the tea in the photo was shu not sheng so I also whipped out my XG shu mushroom but the baking soda made the taste worse. The Bhutanese family in the portrait are subsistence farmers and cash being scarce- they would not purchase anything regularly unless they perceived baking soda added value.  For me I leave the baking soda for the other 101 uses.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Sheng And The Seaside Do Not Mix

I opted for a seaside retreat last week to officially welcome the summer.  The first thing my husband noted when we set foot inside our cabin- "This house smells like puerh. Wet storage." Spoken like a true puerh spouse.

Strangely enough the mustiness of the cabin smelled exactly like a Guangzhou stored cake that needs a bit of airing. The cabin had such spectacular views of the Pacific, I decided to not be bothered.  But being constantly assaulted by smell of (mildly) trad stored sheng dear reader is no way enjoy your precious vacation nor to whet your appetite for an aged sheng session. We had all the windows open.  Summer in Northern California is a chilly affair requiring a goodly amount of fleece and I rarely peeled off except to dunk in the hot tub.

I've tried a few times unsuccessfully to enjoy a sheng session by the sea. Perhaps the tea's interior mountain origin does not meld with the salty seaside air. Perhaps the blustery winds and white noise of the waves are too distracting. Most likely I was not used to the chemistry of the bottled water provided. Whatever the cause, teas I know I enjoyed somewhat just fell flat so I did not bother to brew up the last of the Hai Lang Hao Chawang Yiwu I brought to celebrate.

I am going to give up on taking puerh to the seaside and stick with oolong and hongchas on such trips from now on.  Sheng sessions are finicky as it is on home turf so the force of the ocean is just too much.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Twenty Dollar Tong

I've been progressively decluttering the house this month in an attempt to bring material order to my chaotic life. I've disposed of three boxes of books and now turn my attention to pruning the tea closet(yet again). I can win some battles but I concede I am losing the war. It's clear I need a radically different approach.

I've been researching the various schools of minimalism and organization. The most offbeat novel approach I tried was the konmari method named after Japanese tidiness guru Marie Kondo. She advises putting all the items of a single type you own in one giant pile on the floor, touching them one by one and getting rid of anything that does not "spark joy".  If the item in question does not do it for you, you are supposed to thank the object and respectfully send it on it's way. Arigato gozaimasu '06 Haiwan LTZ (with deep bows).

You can only imagine how it all went down. Being a tactile creature, holding and touching the furry leaves of unworthy cakes made me want to hold on to them even more- I can't turn away these lost puppies.  I'm not holding on to these mediocre decade old cakes because I'm deluding myself that they are going to get that much better with age. I keep them because the role of tea in my life fluctuates. I used to treat sheng mostly as a special session tea.  But now that these budget beengs have reached or gone past the decade mark finally becoming a tad more drinkable,  I want to down such sheng with my dried seaweed and squid snacks.  I'm totally holding onto my lifetime supply of casual consumption sheng. 

Old time readers might recognize my 2005 Liuda Cha Shan sampler tong brought back by a friend doing her Beijing Fulbright back in 2006. She bought it for 180 yuan or about ~$24(back then) from an official 6 FTM Tea Company store in Meliandao. She chuckled quite amused that tea could be so "dirt cheap".  Anyone who's ever bought a bag of sterilized potting soil knows that dirt is not necessarily cheap but this tong is still disturbingly cheap. But I add that this really was the price back in the day and no one bothered to fake low end things like these.

Not all cakes in this tong are valued equally- the Yiwu, Banzhang and the Spring Tips(first flush Menghai plantation) are probably $5 and the others less than $2 a piece.  The Banzhang is Xin Banzhang with random Bulang mixed in.  Each cake proudly proclaims to be 野生  yěshēng/wild or forest tea but so does more than half the big factory cakes in my collection.   I used to harbor terrible mixed feelings about this tong because I didn't send my friend a thick wad of cash for something better.  But now I'm even grateful she didn't get me the '06 FTM or a tong of Haiwan LTZ.

 I originally held onto this tong to act as a reference set despite misgivings.  This "Spirit of the Six Famous Mountain Yinji" series as an acknowledged low-end plantation blend provides a useful benchmark against other boutique cakes touting single mountain wild tree origin. I've only cracked open the Yiwu for such a study.  This Yiwu is pretty decent for what it is- it tastes like Yiwu. I brewed it up today and I like it more each time. The huigan is blatantly obvious- there's something gratifying about a beeng that doesn't pussyfoot around.  Despite missing the beguiling delicacy of higher end Yiwus, it's tasty enough that I'm glad this tong survived multiple tea purges.  

We have two sides to cheap and cheerful factory cakes like these. MarshalN completely disses 6 FTMs as worthless crap to be avoided.  Don't even try to fob off such cakes to your friends. Hobbes however being more mindful of procuring our puerh on the internet has a more generous attitude towards the Six Machine as he calls them.  The common people including me need decent budget options.  I'd say don't go out of your way to fill up on such 6FTM now as you won't find rock bottom prices anymore but don't throw it out or feel bad if they are sleeping on your shelves.

After the konmari decluttering exercise, I did not get rid of much tea.  However I'm no longer conflicted about holding onto my decent low-grade factory productions.  I'm going to have the luxury of enjoying mediocre aged sheng alongside all manner of stinky provisions.  I plan on eating a lot of dried squid with peanuts so this twenty dollar tong may not last the next decade.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Persimmon Hongcha Kombucha

Our lovely friend L recently gifted me a kombucha starter called a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) so I can start brewing my very own.  Kombucha(紅茶菌)'s basic inputs are sugar and tea. Since I don't have cane sugar readily available in the house,  I used the diabetes inducing cans of Korean persimmon punch (soojungwa) I had procured for post earthquake refreshments.

Not sure if the resulting brew would be something worth drinking- I experimented with a nano batch only with the persimmon punch thinking the SCOBY would consume the sugar within days. The fermentation took a lot longer than expected- over two weeks.  I suspect this is because the antiseptic cinnamon oil probably is not friendly to SCOBYs and also they cannot really thrive without tea of the Camelia Sinensis variety. So after a week I added some random hongcha being the traditional tea type for kombucha - not the Indian and Ceylon teas.  As the cinnamon and persimmon flavors are so dominant,  the tea taste barely registers. The now much lighter beverage has a nice vinegary tang and I should do a picobatch of persimmon vinegar to see how they compare.  I harvested most of it tonight in another bottle to undergo secondary fermentation to get the fizz.

Green tea makes for the healthiest SCOBY and I naturally have sheng brews in mind once I grow enough SCOBY to play with. But first I must also get over my inability to buy a bag of sugar.  I would not be surprised if shu kombucha turns out gnarly and gross but according to Kombucha Brooklyn, both shu and sheng provides worthwhile kombuchas.  I got a tad suspicious when I saw they source from David Hoffman.  I guess I will just have to empirically determine the truth behind puerh kombuchas for myself.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Hoarding Water

It's come to this. Due to the continuing severe drought in California,  our water utility district EBMUD will be switching to a lesser quality source to improve conditions for spawning salmon.  The new water while safe to drink will unfortunately contain stinky organic compounds from algal blooms in the open reservoirs.

I already use a carbon water filter but I won't know until next Tuesday when the new water flows out of my tap what this means for my tea drinking.  My current filter might be strong enough. In the meanwhile I am refilling every water vessel in the house.  Hoarding water is a futile act since we will have to live with the new stinky water until end of the year when the rains return.

The shot above is not our new water supply but "Glass Beach" - a cove in the Berkeley Marina. The tides bring glass pieces from the bay to this tiny cove so the little bit of beach is strangely glittery.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Yiwu Outdoors

Before I bought my humble garden cottage,  I lived in an industrial loft space to give my husband more studio space.  I would take my tea on the cement rooftop garden with a few scraggly potted plants-  I vowed I would find a cosy home surrounded by leafy trees.  

When you drink a lot of ho-hum teas, natural surroundings are one of the ready ways to enhance your tea session.  The fact the tea happens to be kind of uneventful doesn't bother too much when one enjoys birdsong, greenery and dappled sunlight.  As most of us work indoors most of the day growing pale and sickly,  any time spent under an open sky is precious.

The tea in the first photo is 2011 EoT GFZ sent to me by Israel- a pretty fine Yiwu to be taken indoors or out.  But it's apparently still not magical enough for me to gushingly spout a full exclusive post.  This is unfair to this tea as I haven't felt motivated to dissect a tea for a proper review in quite a while.  This tea has one of the unique effects that I can taste the sweetness somehow in my teeth. It's hard to explain but more likely it coats my outer teeth with a sweetness.  I've noted better Yiwus stimulate various tastebuds on the roof of my mouth or under my tongue that I didn't know existed.   I alternate between wanting to hoard such Yiwus and accepting Yiwus don't natively match my preferences. Triggering hidden taste receptors alone does not always make for a compelling tea for me- a tea has to engage the mind.  My scattered brain stubbornly refuses to gather focus.

When I finally found a shoebox of a home on a tiny plot of land, I naively thought such a teensy patch of earth was one of the things in my life I could easily control.   Even a tiny garden can possess a mighty will of it's own and grow out of control within a single season. The house eater rose- the innocently pink bloomed Cecile Brunner spans fifty feet across encroaching half my backyard. While I give it weekly haircuts with pruning shears so no one's eye gets poked out, my husband battled it a few years ago  hacking away two truckloads of thorny canes before giving up.  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Cosmic Teapot From A Far

For a belated birthday present, I treated myself to one of Petr's lovely teapots.  When I first opened his box from Czech Republic, I was pleasantly taken aback by this teapot's daintiness-  it is perhaps the most delicate stoneware my hands have touched- nothing nothing like the chunky clunky bowls I made in college. The pot performs admirably in the ways I care about- pouring, heat retention, and ergonomics.

Aesthetics and form have a strong sway on my brewing as much as the functional aspects of a teapot. The severe form of a classical shuiping tends to make me more self-conscious and formal about the "gongfu" in my brewing.  But this teapot's relaxed shoulders nudge me to be natural in my session, to let things just happen.  

I posed this teapot with abalone shells as the layered blues of the flowing glaze reminded me of the deep ocean, but now while I'm tapping out this post, the opalescent milky glaze gives me a different head trip.  I'm seeing a helix nebula against the dark cosmos.  I love layered non-deterministic glazes like this because even the potter won't know exactly how the teapot will turn out till they open the kiln.  Hence no two pots can be exactly identical.  Such glaze patterns are unexpectedly more stunning and complex than what a human hand can actually paint.  

(Just an unrelated story only vaguely tied by pottery.)
Long long ago when I first came to California, I had a potter friend who invited me to go beach camping at Bolinas for a massive raku pit firing.  We were joined by a few of his friends. Soon after dinner, one of the other potter's ladyfriend simply peeled off all her clothes including her purple leg warmers and ran to the edge of the water to do an interpretive moon dance. Then her man watching her for a few minutes did the same.  It was by far the most Marin thing I have ever experienced. While I did not regret joining in on the impromptu naked moon dance,  I did regret not having a pot of my own to fire.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

California Canahua Champurrado

The many hardships of life can be softened by something as simple as a mug of thick chewy hot chocolate.  My current favorite preparation is loosely based on the Mexican champurrado which is traditionally made with masa or corn flour of some fashion.  You may also come across it as chocolate atole in some Mexican restaurants- atole being that lovely comforting genre of corn based hot beverages.

In California, we're all about fusion so I make mine with polenta, canahua, almond milk, and coconut sugar.  The dark seed heads in the photo with the white curled tail is canahua- the supergrain from the Andes.  Canahua gets touted as the "Cadillac of grains" and you may recognize it as being similar to quinoa. Canahua apparently is quinoa's superior cousin since it lacks the maligned saponins in the seed coating.

The canahua adds little bits of pop in texture and if you've never had hot chocolate you can chew- you are missing out. Actually I make fermented porridge regularly composed of oatmeal, polenta, canahua, and millet and I add a spoonful of this porridge to jump start champurrado- otherwise it takes too long to cook the grains just for hot chocolate.  Sometimes I will just add a third of a chocolate bar to half a cup of porridge to make a quick and nutritious chocolate grain pudding. Porridge is a versatile food capable of being sweet and savory.  Smoked scallops, bacon, and cheddar cheese on top of porridge with a fried duck egg is my ultimate comfort breakfast. The fermentation refers to the pre-soaking over a day before cooking and is supposed to render the porridge more nutritious.

For those of you who listen to spotify (just like Pandora- free with ads), I spent many an hour to bring you a teacloset music mix to share:

I've not hidden any death metal in these mixes and both are safe to lull you to sleep.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Very Very Old Liu Bao

The best aged teas are time machines letting you taste memories at your throat- memories both joyous and sorrowful. The age of a tea isn't always a direct dial of a time knob but when you get the rare opportunity to partake an old old tea, you happily let the tea carry you to memories which predate your very existence.  Due to Su's incredible generosity, her tea transported me deeper into the past than any tea ever had.

Su procured this liu bao from a man who had held onto this tea from his grandparent's sundry shop which closed during the Japanese occupation. This puts the tea to early 1940s possibly late thirties. Great quantities of liu bao were originally imported to Malaysia for tin miners to drink all day long, brewed grandpa style in giant cauldrons.  Fermented and aged in woven bamboo baskets, not all liu bao turns out to be something amazing pending original source material and the vagaries of storage. However the decades of favorable Malaysian storage have transformed this particular specimen into something wonderful.  

Su has excellent taste in tea and many of her teas share the "jiang xiang" quality prized by collectors. Jiang xiang denotes the incense-like medicinal fragrance which itself can be quite varied. I've smelled and tasted a range of jiang xiang from more woody resiny juniper notes to more vegetal herbal notes through her teas.   Some of her puerh display a more prominent incense scent but present less so in taste but this liu bao had a more elusive jiang xiang fragrance but surprisingly prominent jiang xiang taste.   I brewed Su's liu bao for twenty infusions-  the quiet strength of the brews reminded me overwhelmingly of my dear maternal grandmother- so much so that tears fell away from my eyes. 

Before we deconstruct this tea any further,  I share with you my most treasured grandma story from this very era.  The 1940s was an unspeakably tragic time for my grandparents' generation and the entire nation of Korea.  But there is one happy family tale from these turbulent times which I cherish most because my mother(hence yours truly) would never have existed without the resourcefulness of my grandmother.

During the height of the Second World War,  Japanese soldiers dragged away my grandfather to a holding prison along with other unfortunate men in town as their names were chosen as the first wave to be sent to work the dreaded Sakhalin coal mines.  The working conditions in the mines were such that those men would have held no hope for return as countless simply perished after being brutally worked to exhaustion.  The unmarried able men were drafted into the army and the married family men such as my grandfather were reserved for forced labor but neither group enjoyed favorable odds.   Facing such a dire fate for her husband and the survival of her family, my grandmother sprung to action. 

My grandmother first hired a carpenter to fashion an exquisite cedar box.  She filled the box with emerald green mosses and laid on top the freshest fish of a kind prized by the Japanese.  Apparently it was a fish at the time exceedingly difficult to keep fresh.  She presented this box to the wife of the Japanese head of their prefecture and tearfully pleaded her case.  As a mother of four young children with the youngest still being weaned, my grandmother beseeched her to save them from destitution and undue hardship they would face without their father.  The wife must have been moved as my grandfather was spared from the mines. The Japanese head of the prefecture did not have the power to remove my grandfather's name entirely from the labor list, but he did have the power to assign men to their final destination and so my grandfather was instead allowed to work the stone quarry a few miles outside of town.  He and my grandmother went on to have have four more children, the eighth and final child being my mother.  (Actually seven years after this incident before my mother had yet the chance to be born, the North Koreans would drag away my grandfather again for forced labor but that is another story for another tea. I shudder thinking how many times I came close to non-existence but we are all side effects in an incredibly long chain of consequences. )

I have tried only one other liu bao before this occasion- a blind sample sent to me by Wilson. I had never tasted any other heicha and had mistook it for being a light shu.  So to taste such a venerable old liu bao without having hardly tasted liu baos at all- I have no reference points except for aged sheng.  I really did not know what to expect except a calming qi conveyed with a medicinal sweetness.  Starting the third and fourth brew, the tea presented the elegant long lasting smoothness with herbal incense overtones- the delicacy of the sweet aftertaste is lovely.   However, I was most intrigued by the later brews after the eleventh brew.  These lighter brews held a beguiling complex flavor akin to well water- the sides of my tongue and insides of my cheek swelled up in anticipation.  Hmm- that sounded a bit racier than intended.  The closest description I could find of such aged liu bao is of "rain water taste" on teachat.  When a tea captivates your mind and mouth taking you to the twentieth brew wanting more- well that's a great tea. 

Liu bao is currently undervalued in relation to puerh of the same age but of course good aged liu bao on-line is no means cheap- just relatively affordable compared to an outrageously priced aged puerh.  (Tea Disciple does this topic more justice) I went into a frenzy trying to buy some aged liu bao on the internet after this session but stopped myself at checkout. After tasting this aged liu bao, I'm probably setting myself up for disappointment to buy off the internet.   I've put myself in a curious tea buying limbo not only because of incredible tea gifts such as this one but because the care in which someone sent me tea has taken on greater meaning. When I drink aged puerha that I just bought off the internet (even after intense nights of agonizing and weeks of working hard to reward myself)- even good teas don't entirely satisfy because it's just one more beeng I've gotten for myself.  Perhaps this is a temporary reprieve but I've appeared to have come naturally to the end of my puerh collecting phase.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Lifting Shu with Sheng

Last Sunday to soothe a stomach ache, I chose the shu route and ended up brewing four different shus.  I also wanted to try some unloved shus in yixing before I finally give them up for adoption.  I was a tad hopeful as some wet stored aged sheng do perform better in yixing. But, but brewing shus you don't care for in a yixing pot really does not make it any better. White Tuo- I'm gonna find you a new loving home.

If yixing is not going to improve a shu, well- we will have to resort to more direct means.  I'm a big fan of sheng/shu blends like the Dayi 7452 and the uber-cheap Dehong that TeaDB James had fun with.  But if you've got lots of shu which didn't get pressed with some token sheng, you can still do your own blending either in the teapot or even in the cup.  In the above photo, you will spot one lonely cup of sheng. Actually blog photos can be quite misleading- there's two more supporting teapots and many cups besides this tidy fish plate to get four brews going simultaneously. (Also that yixing gaiwan ended up being a fake yixing but it's a decent gaiwan so I won't start a fight.)

I sometimes keep a sheng brew around to lighten up a shu.   Ever since I get my kicks blending hongcha and oolong for my own Russian Caravan I've been more keen to experiment.  For me, it's more about enjoying the process rather than unlocking some magic combo.  Mostly, a smidgeon of sheng dynamism will make your shu a little lighter and tastier.    Just as you won't use the best oolong for Russian Caravan,  you can employ so-so shengs into good use.

The sheng pictured above is a Changtai 2006 65th Anniversary Beeng- a pretty decent beeng deserving of being brewed on it's own and no means a beeng which should be relegated to just shu lifting duty. I tend to use whatever sheng I brewed up earlier instead of overthinking the sheng selection as the sheng tends to get drowned out by shu.  I've tried mixing the tea leaves but you don't have as much control or flexibility to see how a shu will improve and to determine a working proportion.  Also you don't have to have a separate pot for the control brew without the sheng.  
Sometimes one can down more tea than intended and in some cases you don't know the potency of a tea until it's much too late.  I ended up loading on so much caffeine that running was the only viable way not to pop out of the roof.  There's reliable research that caffeine in-take(here and here) an hour before workout is beneficial and leads to decreased muscle fatigue.  The caffeine helped noticeably enough that I'm going to schedule running sessions after tea and drink to my hearts content without worrying about over doing it.

One of my favorite runs is on the Berkeley Marina where you have ready views to San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.  Early in the year we get green grasses and a profusion of invasive oxalis blooming yellow. But for most of the year, the grass is golden.

When one runs with the bay wind,  you can taste the momentary freedom from one's sorrows and burdens. Sometimes when tea does not carry you to the clouds, you have to carry the tea.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Happy belated Valentines dear reader. I hope that you enjoyed a few sparks mandated by such a holiday. If not, take solace that joyous moments of love tend to happen at un-appointed hours and such love need not be limited between mere romantic partners. I have a great many secret and not so secret loves and to love I've found to be altogether a fine human endeavor.

Of the more healthier and wholesome loves in the light side of my heart lives pears right next to hongchas and blue cheese.  Today while fruit shopping, I happily came upon a luscious pile of late late harvest Comice.  Out of the dozen pear varieties one often gets in California,  my heart literally races when I see Taylor's Gold- a variety so finicky to grow that you scarcely find this russeted brown beauty in the markets. Taylor's Gold's floral aromatics are utterly intoxicating and anyone whose had the pleasure of a ripe and juicy specimen are prone to senseless gushing. However there are some stoics like my husband who are strangely immune or even against such sensuous fruit and will go running back to their Bartletts and Boscs.  When you can't get a hold of this most magical variety,  your next best option is Doyenne du Comice which unsurprisingly gave mutation to Taylor's Gold.  

In deconstructing my love of pears,  I tried to brew up sheng today which matches closest to a Comice. The best Comice can exude a heady wine-like fragrance of complex fermentation. Peter Blackburne-Maze writes that the Doyenne du Comice is "most deliciously flavored and juicy to the point of indecency".   Such sensuality belongs more in the realm of oolongs than old man puerh but I try.

The 2006 Changtai 65th anniversary is all sugar and juice but no underlying complexity - more like a simple Anjou.  The 2004 Changtai Ancient teapot is more complex but tad too aged to conjure up ripe white flesh. It was a vain exercise then to connect two disparate loves.

I had meant to brew up the 1930's liu bao all week but was thwarted by a series of unfortunate events. First two of my tastebuds became simultaneously enflamed,  then my husband and I got stomach flu, and now it's allergies kicking up in high gear in the unseasonably warm weather.  I've been awaiting ideal conditions but I may just have to go for it.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Pair of Xiao Xiao Xi Shis

I've been searching high and low for a reasonable yixing to brew Su's teas.  Yixing teapot buying always fills me with a sense of dread. First I know with 100% certainty that I'll chip the spout or finial given time.  Second I fear I'll end up with something wonky, dribbly, or fake with my inability to spend more than two figures on a teapot.
To ease my shopping pain and fear or chipping, Su recommended a set of ten mini Xi Shis in a rainbow of yixing clays from a Malaysian shop that were beyond adorable.  If I smash a few, I'd be sad but  I'll have backups to last me at least a decade.  If my husband had gotten me something like this, I would be the happiest tea wife in the realm.

Out of all the classic forms, I am a huge fan of Xi Shis even before I knew it was fashioned after a famous beauty(Xi Shi)'s breast. No historical record exists of whether or not the teapot was modeled after her right breast or left breast but the bodacious Xi Shi probably was a creature of extreme symmetry. And most likely the potter did not have such privileged access anyway and had to just imagine it all.

Most of us started life happily suckling mother's milk and so it's natural such a shape should subconsciously evoke fond feelings.  I love natural shapes without hard edges so even without a boob and nipple motif, I would have chosen Xi Shis anyway.  The more I stared at Su's recommendation, I had a fuzzy sense of familiarity.  And in a most bizarre twist of coincidence, I actually had two of those very pots hiding in my tea closet- a dead match in size, silhouette, color, and potter's mark.

Long long ago I bought these mini Xi Shi teapots on my honeymoon in Korea.  They were about 5000W or ~$4 each. I remember being super excited because I'm always on the lookout for small token gifts for friends while traveling. I dragged my husband to pretty much every ceramics shop in Insadong trying to buy more of these but the two happened to be the only two in the entire area. (I was warmed by the thought at least I knew a good thing when I saw one and I don't have to regret that I didn't buy more.)  I thought back then they were not teapots but ink droppers for use in brush calligraphy because they dispense so little water.  

I brought them out last week late at night and was giddy to discover they are surprisingly workable little pots.  You can not imagine how ecstatic I was that I almost woke up my soundly snoring husband.  The little guys are a bit fiddly in the way that most little pots tend to be if they have one unfiltered hole that can get easily clogged and let too much tea crumbs out. But if you are used to them like I am, they are alright.   So thanks to Su, I have rediscovered two yixing teapots in my closet.  I'm so glad I mistakenly thought they were decorative all these years because otherwise they would have been chipped and useless by now.

I've been cheerfully brewing with these teensy 45ml pots and I almost want to buy up the other eight colors- just to reunite the family so to speak.  They cost ten times as much now so I might save my money for an adult sized pot.  Su tells me 120ml is a good size to bring out the true flavor of puerh so my search still continues.  Also Su wisely advises me to brew the same tea in the same consistent way to gauge aging- same teapot, same water, same tea to water ratio.  I'll need multiples of the same teapot to carry me through a few decades once I find one I like.  The search continues...

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Blending Russian Caravan Tea

In the last pages of my favorite travelogue- Tent Life in Siberia, George Keenan writes his team's progress was much hindered for about 1000 miles as the road was clogged by endless horse caravans quarter of mile to a mile long carrying hundreds of hide-bound boxes of tea.  The China tea had journeyed across the Gobi- he writes such tea caravans left Irkutsk daily for Nizhni Novgorod.

"Russian Caravan" is a historic blend that was delivered by and named after such tea caravans from China to czarist Russia. The often cited camel caravans must have been for the segment of the journey across Mongolia - that would be the double humped Bactrian camel if you need a visual aid.  I had my first cup of Russian Caravan from a blue Twinings bag in college.  Only recently at work, I've gotten into the habit of blending my own Russian Caravan in the mornings. Drinking straight up Lapsang Souchong daily has dulled my palate and one needs variety. 

Commercially available Russian Caravan is not as consistent as Earl Grey and blends vary wildly by vendor.  Most often I've seen Lapsang Souchong added to other hongcha- often Keemun or Yunnan Gold and even Assam.  Although the maltiness of Assam pairs well with LS, it's the least authentic of the recipes as the Caravan teas were historically Chinese in origin.  Sometimes even oolong is added.  I've also seen blends where even LS is left out.  

As you well know, it's never a good idea to drink any LS - blend or otherwise- from a teabag or from any commercially mass available source.  The tar smoke will kill you.  You'd have to make own your blend if you wanted quality Zhengshan Xiaozhong in your Russian Caravan. The joy of pinching together a blend right before brewing allows one to match the blend to the exact mood.  Cold dark mornings- you can go for more maltier blend with lower grade LS and dian hong.  In the afternoons, I tend to add more oolong for a lighter sweeter taste to finer grade AA+ LS with quality Darjeeling. On the spot blending is super fun.

On the Northern California coast, you can visit the remnants of a Russian Settlement at Fort Ross.  The Russians were here to hunt otter- one of the few goods the Chinese coveted.  In order for Russians to trade for Chinese teas, porcelain and silk, the Pacific Northwest otter population was wiped out and still today you won't see otters north of Monterrey Bay.  It's sad but if you've ever touched an otter pelt, you will know why.  Even-though the idea of an otter pelt is evil as otters are an endangered species and impossibly cuddly- after caressing the sample pelt at the museum, I instantly wanted such a luxurious scrap of fur for myself.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tea Plans for a Seaside Journey

When one feels a bit run down in the winter, we Northern Californians often make a ready getaway to the raw beauty of the Pacific coast.  To chase away the January blues, my husband booked an airbnb beach house with a full kitchen so I enthusiastically stuffed a cooler full of sausages, duck eggs, salumi, pork loin, soft cheeses along with a hamper loaded with a full head of pineapple, ginger bread cookies, chocolate cookie, two kinds of dried figs, pistachios, various snackage kits, along with a half a dozen aged shengs and obligatory LS.  My head was massively plumped up with various eating and brewing plans.  What could be more romantic and relaxing than a pork laden picnic basket by the seaside?

My plans however received a cruel kick in the nuts from the gods of the sharing economy.  The rented house exuded a strong scent of mold, detergent, funk and  patchouli so unpleasant my husband and I had an immediate allergic reaction; it was clear neither of us could be inside the house without feeling ill.  Due to the cancellation policy, the owner was willing only to release $155 out of the $350 total bill.   Friends- I have to tell you that it was having to deal with various puerh vendors and tea mishaps and that gave me the mental reserve to push through and receive a full refund plus an airbnb voucher.  Actually in the back of my mind, I was secretly planning to funnel that money into my teaware fund if I was able to reclaim it since my husband had already given up on the $200. 

We hastily transferred to the only inn in town.  Although my husband procured the largest suite in the establishment, Captain Davenport's Retreat had three love seats but only one coffee maker and nary an icebox to keep my sausages chilled.  I was so stressed over the earlier incident I unpacked my magic eraser and spent a good twelve minutes scrubbing coffee smudges off the filter basket.  It's totally worth it to remove the coffee taste and odors- I was able to make many reasonable herbal dandelion brews without any coffee flavor.  Serious tea was not meant to be on the coffee maker only due to inadequate water temperature.  Next time, I won't be so woefully unprepared and will travel with my portable stove and teapot.

During breakfast next morning, I grudgingly ordered the standard English Breakfast which turned out to be a bag of Bigelow- at least the management truthfully labeled them as "Cut Leaf Teas" on the menu so I didn't have to get my hopes up.  After a few sips I was firmly in regret city- the tea tasted terrible. I noted the exact same unpleasant dried anchovy profile I suffered from using hard water last month in Virginia.  Can't do much about bad municipal water at the restaurant and vowed never to buy tea around these parts ever again.   So on the second morning even after my serious tirade about water hardness and poor tea quality the day before,  my husband confidently orders black tea while I give him all sorts of hairy eyeballs without effect.  After the waitress leaves, he says with no amount of sass, "I'm not a proprietor of a tea blog and this Earl Grey suits me just  fine".

Despite the tea plans left in a ditch, the seaside town of Davenport had much to offer. Although I didn't quite meet any hobbits in the woods,  those cypress groves gave you a most delicious Middle Earth feeling that I had to photoshop Bilbo in.