Thursday, December 13, 2018

2008 Menghai “Big Classic”, Oldish, and Kinda Drinkable

I have a history with this cake from years ago.  My puerh drinking buddy in Victoria, once brought this one over for us to drink in 2010, I think.  He was looking for a suitable cheap everyday drinker puerh and wanted to know what I thought about it.  After the session, I convinced him to buy a tong of the famous 2001 (aka 90s) Ding Xing  through the original Taobao dealer.  I think the Ding Xing was $40.00 a cake back then and this "Big Classic" cake was around $25.00? I paid $38.00 ($0.11/gr) from Tuo Cha Tea last year (it also had 10% discount applied for bulk orders on top of that) the price has gone up to $45.00 ($0.13/g).  Years back my rationale was that the 2001 Ding Xing is just a much better value so why bother with this Menghai.  He agreed a bought a tong for everyday drinking.  At that time this Menghai "Big Classic" was not quite ready to drink even.

An interesting thing about the 2008 Big Classic is that everyone still has this cake sitting around (and the famous Ding Xiang is hard to track down these days)!  … Tuo Cha Tea, Puerhshop, Yunnan Sourcing, King Tea Mall… they all have it.  That really says a lot.  If it was good, surely there wouldn’t be any left… would there?

From what I’ve read about this one is that Menghai used a blend of older leaves to make this recipe. That means that some of the actual tea material is older than the date stamp. I read somewhere that the average leaf grade in this recipe is “3” but I can't remember where I read that.  Seems like a Menghai factory tea that is truly ready to drink.  So let’s crush this one with a meditative mind…

The dry leaves smell of sweet plum and slight malted sweetness.

First infusion is a warming broth of heavier, grounding mellow tastes.  It has a soft full feeling.  There are woody slightly cinnamon tastes that greet the mouth initially then slowly traverse into a creamy barely sweetness and coolness.  This tea has a complete, round, fullish, mellow feeling right off the bat.  A nice slight sweet cinnamon tastes lingers on the breath.

The second infusion presents more now with a sweet round deep wood and slight cinnamon taste.  The taste is such that it pushes saliva onto the tongue.  This infusion has a pronounced returning sweet coolness.  This tea has a complete taste and is ready to drink now semi-aged without a need to age further.  It has a nice warming comforting feeling that I used to get from 10 years old Menghai factory tea that was more humidly stored than this very dry Kunming stored one.  However this tea almost lacks everything else which would identify it as Menghai Factory.  However, this tea is also sufficiently alerting as well, it has that typical and welcome factory Qi.

The third infusion presents now with a more woody-slightly malty raison taste.  The wood taste extends itself into the mid-profile and aftertaste.  The sweetness and cinnamon taste is much less here as the mouthfeel fills out and is just barely drying on the tongue.  The taste of this puerh is not exciting nor complex but rather stable, round, and reassuring.  The qi pushed me into a high state now- I feel like I am a tiny tiny bit floating here.  The qi is quite a relaxing, in the head type qi but also is sufficiently alerting.  I like the Qi of this tea for the price, even if a bit typical, at least it has some gas in this aspect.

The fourth infusion flattens out a bit more with the wood note now predominating and the sweeter notes of raison and cinnamon now being delegated to the aftertaste or breath.  The taste is comforting on this very cloudy morning but lacks anything interesting or complex.  The simple tastes are enjoyed.

The fifth infusion has resorted back to that more balanced creamy sweet raisin wood taste.  The sweetness feels more rounded here now.  The mouthfeel remains just a touch dry and the throatfeel is open but not significantly stimulating.

The sixth infusion is a nice smooth mix of slightly sweet creamier notes and deeper woody notes over a nice full slightly drying mouthfeel.  Different fruit notes of watermelon pop up on the breath in this infusion which I enjoy.

The seventh infusion feels a bit more watered down now but still flavours exist.  There is still a mild cooling in the aftertaste and still a sweet creamy edge on the mainly woody taste.

The eighth starts to flatten out but still significant flavors are still there echoing the earlier infusion.

The ninth and tenth still have a nice slightly cool finish and woody slightly sweetness to them.

This tea is long steeped and pushes out another few infusions of woody raison notes.  This tea has decent stamina and tastes good for a longer time.  But the flavors are a bit muted throughout.

My overall thoughts on this tea are much more favorable than my run in with this tea years before.  It has seemed to improve with a bit more age.  Years before I had previously thought this tea to be too typical puerh taste and too weak with not enough vitality.  Years later it hasn’t really gained strength or that much interesting depth but it is easy enough to drink.

There is something about the way this one feels that I quite like but can’t really put a finger on it.  It's like factory Menghai Qi that is curbed down a notch.  I am quite found of the storage of this tea which shows signs that the older material was aged in more humid Xishuangbana for the first few years before being pressed into a cake.  Then it undergone drier Kunming storage for 9 years.  This tea has this storage feeling and really feels like a dry stored tea that has had its sourness and harshness chopped right off.

Due to the above reasons and because the price at Tuo Cha tea is really low (remember that you are getting 2005ish material here),  I can recommend this tea for its simplicity and easiness to drink.  It is not terribly exciting tea but nor is it offensive in any way.  There is some beauty in its simplicity but nobody finds the mundane worth it, really.  Its possible that I would be buying more of these as easy everyday drinkers if it weren't for the fact that I have another handful of Menghai Factory cakes from this order (link).  This is my favorite, by far, out of the order but only due to the fact that it is really the only one out of the bunch that is actually ready to drink.  I ended up drinking the whole cake up already.  That at least says something.

However, I have learned from recent orders that if it wasn't good enough for you to buy then you probably shouldn't buy it now, at least not in any sort of volume.  The simplicity of this cake and easiness to drink also reminds me of this 2010 Fangmingyuan 0842 Anniversary (which is $0.11/g)  in its mild hay drinkable Menghai charms.  They are both around the same price and both pretty easy, don't think too much about it, kind of puerh.

Early reviews of this tea by other bloggers include this review from Hobbes of the Half-Dipper.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

When Puerh Vendors Offer Free Shipping...

You should always consider the cost of shipping into the price of tea per gram but most of us don't.  No bloggers include shipping in the $/g but we probably should.  I guess it could be confusing to some.  I like to pay less per gram so I prefer China Ground Shipping if I'm paying for it.  This is because I like to pay less for my tea.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Storage Issues: “Shelf Fatigue”

Recently, James of TeaDB published an excellent article on storage comparisons.  He compared 3 of the same Yang Qing Hao cakes from different storage conditions.  One of his findings is something that is already well understood among puerh drinkers.  It’s something I refer to as “shelf fatigue”.

“Shelf Fatigue” refers to a cake that decreases in quality as it sits on the shelf waiting to be consumed, usually alone in a sealed plastic Ziploc/ Mylar bag or in the open air out of its regular storage conditions.  Many people will have some other more intricate storage system for larger qualities of puerh that is not always super easy or convenient to access but that keeps the puerh much better.  So for convenience, they bring a few cakes of puerh out of this deeper storage into a more accessible drinking storage set up close to their tea table.  The most common are in a tea caddy, ziplock/ mylar, or open shelf storage.

Of course, one way to prevent this in the first place is to limit how long your drinker puerh is exposed to shelf storage.   You can do this two ways.  The first way is to have less cakes available to drink at once.  For me I don’t like this option because I feel that “variety is the spice of life” and I commonly have 5 or 6 cakes going at once.  The second method is to just take smaller portions of puerh from the deeper storage.  This has its downside as well as it as it takes more time and energy to access my deeper stored puerh and it is pretty inconvenient for me.  Also, it exposes the deeper stored puerh to the natural climate on a more frequent basis which is not the purpose of most storage setups.

I have found that tea caddies are the best way to prevent shelf fatigue in puerh.  I remember trying experiments from teamasters in Korea using Korean ceramics comparing shelf, ceramic tea caddy (see some beauties here and here), and Ziplock bags.  The tea caddy was the clear winner in that climate and I believe it would also be a possible good solution in Western climates.  I think it’s also a beautiful esthetic that adds to the tea drinking experience.  The clay reconnects the qi of the leaf to the earth once again… So harmonious... Wilson also is a fan of the tea caddy for this purpose .

However, there are many practical considerations which prevents me from using this type of everyday/accessible storage.  First, is a space consideration, those caddies do take up a lot of surface space (x6) which I don’t have in my modest living space.  Second, is a price consideration, as these caddies can be a bit pricey.  The third consideration is that I keep the puerh on the cake and pry it off just before consuming it.  Others like to break up a whole cake or portion of a puerh cake for consumption, the caddy would be maybe better fit for them.  In the desolate climate I age puerh in nowadays, I am more uncertain about the benefits of a tea caddy.  This is the reason why I don’t own a large enough one to store puerh.  Some people in very very humid and warm climates might find open shelf storage adequate but most in the west will find this to be the worst for shelf fatigue.

I choose to go the route of the Ziplock/ Mylar bag.  This method works for the above reasons also because the sealed storage of the Ziplock works along with theory that sealed storage is superior.  However, shelf fatigue in this type of drinker storage is common as evidence by James’ findings.  I postulate that shelf fatigue of puerh is due to two possible factors. 

The first possible theory of shelf fatigue is that, with repeated opening and closing of the Ziplock/ Mylar, the puerh cake eventually loses moisture and dries out.  The dried out puerh tastes less dynamic compared to the more humidly stored puerh.  To remedy this, I have experimented with just wiping the plastic ziplock with a moist cloth or paper towel.  This seems to help a bit but I find it not as effective as using the steam from the kettle to add warm moisture to the bag.  I have experimented with actually holding the paper wrapped cakes over the steam at a distance as well, this works alright because really it is just the paper wrapping that gets hit with the steam but I have settled with steaming the bag instead these days.  I have been doing this for a few years now and think it is the most effective way of maintaining the puerh when in shelf storage.

I usually put my hand a few feet above the steam of the kettle so that the steam is not scalding and will not melt the plastic but is just warm.  Then I tip the bag on its side and let the steam collect in the Ziplock.  It will fog up the plastic. Then I press out the air and seal up the zipper seal on the bag.  Use caution here people, and air on the side of safety else you will get a steam burn or melt the plastic.  This technique adds both humidity and a touch of heat and doesn’t add any plastic smells if the steam is cool enough.

The second possible theory of shelf fatigue is that, as a puerh cake is consumed in a bag and the bing gets smaller and smaller, more surface area is exposed to air and less to other puerh.  The idea is that puerh tastes better when aged with other puerh.  To remedy this I suppose you could put the puerh in increasingly smaller Ziplock bags.  I tired that but didn’t notice as much difference in maintaining the puerh and it was a little annoying to me to have all these little baggies around.  What I do, and seems to work much better, is that when my puerh cake is about 1/3 to 1/4 consumed, I throw it in with a bunch of other puerh that are about 1/3 or more consumed.
I wonder if you have ever experienced shelf fatigue and I wonder what you do to remedy this storage issue? I hope these little tips help you in consuming better tasting puerh.  After all, what is the point of all the storage fuss if you end up consuming less optional puerh in the end?


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Storage Issues: Maintaining Optimal Aging of a Humidly Stored Semi Aged Sheng Puerh

I think, one of the biggest challenges to storing puerh in the West is this: How can we advance the aging of a semi-aged more humidly stored sheng?

I have noticed, through personal experience and through the shared information of others, that it is quite difficult to effectively and optimally advance the aging of more humidly stored sheng puerh.  All efforts I’ve tried and heard about by Westerners seem to only preserve or only slowly advance the aging of humid stored cakes that came from Malaysia, Guangdong, Taiwan, or Hong Kong.  None can seem to effectively continue on the trajectory of aging the cake in this manner and little funny things seem to happen to my cakes that, although not rendering them undrinkable, make them not as good as the cakes that I re-order from the same source years later.  I’m sure many of you have had this same issue whether or not you’d like to admit it.  This is kind of the elephant in the room for people who buy more puerh than they drink.

This has been an issue of mine since coming back to purchasing puerh a year or so ago because I have focused on mainly acquiring semi-aged/ aged puerh.  It is the more humidly stored stuff that seems to be more readily available and more popular and trendy and cheaper in the West these days.  There are many reasons for this that I should dedicate a whole post to but I think part of the popularity is because it emulates a type of aging that we cannot produce ourselves yet, in most locations in the West.  It is human nature to want what we cannot easily acquire.  But once we acquire it, then what?

For me, then I have to weigh acquiring a more humidly stored semi-aged or aged puerh in quantity at a lower price but knowing it will not taste better than tea that has had continuous storage at the source vs buying only what I’ll drink immediately and paying more down the road but knowing that the cake will taste better.  The caveat here is that we have no way of knowing if a certain production will sell out, become unavailable, not be available in that exact storage or sky-rocket in value to the point that it would have been worth it to just store it in the West rather than pay the exorbitant current costs.

The most promising answer to this problem so far is this experiment by Marco of Late Steeps where he takes 2 identical, newly shipped puerh cakes that were stored in more humid Taiwan storage for their first 9 years and puts them into storage of different temperatures (low temp vs high temp) for one year then tests them.  His results for the cooler stored cake sound a lot like some of the issues I have after acquiring a more humidly stored cake.

It’s a good thing I ordered 4 of these hot boxes from Marco when he first announced his experiment publically (hahaha..) because I am putting them to use with some of the everyday drinker, more humidly stored puerh I have purchased over the last year or so. 

To me, it seems like the only solution to this problem so far... so I’m going with it…


Friday, November 30, 2018

2013 Shuangjiang Mengku “Yi Pin Quan” 1 KG & Good Mengku vs Bad Mengku

I purchased this sample along with this tong of 2008 ShuangjiangMenku Arbour King  from Yunnan Sourcing about a year and a half ago.  I took a few other Shuangjiang Mengku samples along for the ride on the order as well.  I ended up purchasing a quite a bit of Shuangjiang Mengku while it was quite cheap at this time.  Without a desire to purchase more, I didn’t try this one which now goes for $210.00 for 1KG cake ($0.21/g)… a big one!

Dry leaves smell of mushrooms, honey, distant floral, slight pungent odour, sweet overall.

First infusion has a soft peachy and honey approach with soft wood underneath there is a soft cooling returning sweetness with pungency.  The mouthfeel is soft but tingling on the lips.

The second infusion has a nice soft honey approach with suggestions of peach and even butter scotch underneath.  There is a nice long pungency and a soft sticky tingling mouthfeel feeling especially on the lips.  The menthol aftertaste reaches deeper into the throat along with sweet butterscotch and suggestions of peach.  The mouthfeel is quite nice.  I can start to feel the qi softly in the head and warming on the cheeks.  The odour from the leaves are an interesting grainy aroma.

The third infusion has a licorice and wood taste along with butterscotch sweetness.  The initial taste has mild astringency and a touch of bitterness.  There is a leathery note in the aftertaste that overtakes the long cooling sensation.  I was getting real excited about this puerh until I hit this steeping.

The fourth infusion is more of this woody/ leathery taste which dominates now.  There are hints of peach in the returning aftertaste along with menthol and butterscotch.  The bitterness and astringency is enough to beat at the digestion a sign that this one still needs a bit of aging left to be enjoyed.  The Qi of this tea is of that very strong/ almost jittery factory style.  It is nicely warming in the body and makes the head feel wobbly and light but the mind is like a chattering monkey.

The fifth is this licorice/ leathery barely sweet, somewhat medicinal with edges of sweet malt, grain, licorice, almost floral, butterscotch.  The bitter astringency and licorice/ leather dominate.  These notes are a sign of much less exciting Mengku material.  That common leathery and licorice profile is what I consider less desirable Menkgu.  The high notes of butterscotch and almost floral sweetness and vibrant expanding tastes are more desirable Mengku qualities.  This tea seems to have more of the former.

The sixth infusion is much the same tastes.  The mouthfeel is now an almost dry and slightly grainy texture along with tingling lips sensation.  It is moving more toward dry and slightly sandy with each resulting infusion.

The seventh infusion is a bitter more creamy and sweet throughout less bitter woods and leathers more long butterscotch and menthol in the returning sweetness.

The eighth is kind of a balance of the leather/ woody astringency and the creamier sweeter butterscotch slightly sour with a sandy mouthfeeling astringent returning tastes.

The ninth again a balance of sweetness, leathery/wood even grainy wheat, with a butterscotch flavoring and longer menthol.  These last infusions are balanced and taste nice.

The tenth and eleventh infusion is a mild leather, wood, grains, and sweet buttery flavor and has a cool finish with a butterscotch finish.  The Qi is a big caffeinated factory qi experience.

The twelfth infusion turned out pretty sweet with a dominating soft buttery sweetness.

The thirteenth infusion was a bit more leathery and woody but sweet tastes still are the most dominant here.  The fourteenth takes a more bitter/ astringent turn but is still mildly buttery and sweet. The mouthfeel in these late infusions is a bit buttery.

15th is a more grainy sweetness the 16th is much the same under longer infusions with still a long cooling taste and slightly sweet bitterness.  This tea lasts much longer than I would expect.  It probably could keep going…

This tea has good stamina and is complex enough and has that strong robust Qi I often enjoy.  You can taste some Bang Dong or similar quality material in there but has too much of that common/ lower quality/ unexciting Mengku tastes especially in mid-profile.  This is not a bad tea for the price but neither is it a good tea.  Personally, I really dislike that common licorice/ leather low note in puerh teas.  There is definitely better Shuangjiang Mengku other there for a low enough price.

A few days later I decided to finish the remainder of the sample using less leaf and got a pretty soild drinking tea over the course of a day.  The sweetness is really pronounced and the qi is factory strong.  I enjoy this tea on some level, it has enough in it to be enjoyed for the price.  I just think I can find better…


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Storage Issues: Cheap Hygrometers

It’s a good idea to spend a bit of money on these things if you really want to know about humidity.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Aftermath: 2018 Black Friday/ Cyber Monday Were the Biggest Ever for Puerh Lovers!

I had a feeling and hinted before the sales that this year’s Black Friday/ Cyber Monday sales might surpass last year.  Then the sales were announced and most were significantly better than previous years.  In the following post I declared that, in fact, these sales were the best that Western puerh buyers have ever seen- ever.  It turns out, from what the vendors are telling us, that I was probably right and people were buying them up fast!

In my last post I declared Yunnan Sourcing’s sale the best one this year- 15% off everything!  Apparently, it really paid off for not only puerh buyers but for Yunnan Sourcing as well. I just got an email from Scott of Yunnan Sourcing which stated:

Wow! So many of you took advantage of the sales! We had many more orders than last year! Once again, we want to thank you all so much for your continued support. We also welcome all the new customers and look forward to getting to know you all better!

We got 10x more than our normal order volume during the 4 days of sales (Fri-Mon).  Being a small company with just 7 fulfillment staff (6 in China, and 1 in the USA) means that even working longer than normal hours, it could take us awhile to catch up.

I wasn’t planning on an order but like many of you couldn’t resist this sale and picked up some cakes I’ve been contemplating.  Great work Scott on a stellar sale.  Next year, 16% off Ok… hahaha…

I think the sale was also a big success for Paul of white2tea as well.  There was a promotion where white2tea was giving away a free tote bag for the first 50 orders of $200.00 or more.  He announced on social media 24 hours later that the bags were gone:

That means within 24 hours of Black Friday $200.00 x 50 = at least $10 000.00 sales were made.  Impressive!  Considering that white2tea’s sale was mainly just free shipping which actually targets smaller purchases not larger ones, you can imagine the sales volume.  Probably closer to $20,000 in 24hrs, would be my guess.  Good sale Paul, a step up from last year for sure.  Thanks in advance for drawing my order number for the 3 KG Qing bing giveaway, I appreciate that.

I think there were many cakes to completely sell out this year as well.  I ended up purchasing from 3 different vendors this year while managing to stay on budget.  Two cakes I purchased from two different vendors had quickly sold out.

I haven’t heard anything from the other vendors but I can imagine that everyone made off in good shape.

Thanks for an amazing sale and interesting marketing experience, you guys are the best.

For those of you that never got close to spending your allotted puerh budget this Black Friday/ Cyber Monday (yeah right), Tea Urchin is offering something different.  Tea Urchin, whose prices are already pretty reasonable, decided to skip Black Friday and do a December month long  10% off sale.  Nice.