Friday, March 23, 2018

An Argument for Iron Bings/ Hydraulic Pressed Bings & Bricks

Are iron pressed bings and bricks better?

I know it almost seems illogical the way perfectly beautiful, intact, and absolutely delicious leaves are pressed oh so unnaturally, almost cruelly, by a machine press.  The pressure alone makes freeing any leaves from the bing such an annoying and impossible task.  What you do manage to stubbornly pry from the grips of an iron bing is sure to look anything but beautiful.  This exercise will almost certainly result in broken leaves, lots of tea dust, and end in an overly bitter brew- there is nothing good about an iron bing…

How could a vendor do that?  Are they insane?  Why would they waste such beautiful leaves?  Who actually buys these things?

I think iron pressed puerh cakes really get a bad wrap in the West and I don’t think it’s really fair.  This is partly because people don’t get the iron bing.  Many people drinking puerh nowadays don’t have a long experience in storing and aging puerh.  Experience with these things leads to an understanding that puerh that is pressed tight or stored in close proximity and even in a closed environment with other puerh will result in more of that original puerh essence, taste, qi and especially odour being preserved.  This is compared to puerh that is pressed less compactly such as loose mao cha or looser stone pressed puerh or puerh that is stored in open air or separated from other puerh.  These types expose more surface area of dry leaf to the environment.

Looser puerh ages more quickly and its qi and essence is more influenced by the humidity or storage.  However, a tradeoff to quick aging is the fact that more of the puerh’s original essence is lost.  The slower aging of an iron bing results in more preserved original essence and qi while still undergoing the slower and more minimal influence of environment.  Roughly this same idea can also be applied to wetter vs drier stored puerh. In fact, such close quarters and the extreme process of hydraulic machine pressing actually makes the puerh almost oxidize rather than ferment so the chemical process of the iron bing is in some ways different that a standard machine or stone pressed cake.  Iron bings and bricks are really quite special for this reason as they represent an extreme in puerh aging where the material itself, and not as much of the environment, dictate the end result.

I seem to think that traditionally tight machine pressed bricks and iron bings were used deliberately for three reasons.  First, was to preserve the raw material in unfavorable aging conditions.  Second, was to try to preserve subtleties of maocha that was maybe lacking them in the first place.  Thirdly, was to slow the aging down to the slowest rate possible

The first point is a good enough reason for the humble tea drinker in the West to seek out an iron bing or tight machine pressing. The tight compression was virtually designed to age in almost any environment.  So, in the West, where conditions are a lot less favorable, it makes a lot of sense.

The second reason is due to the fact that tight machine pressed bricks are sometimes used to press autumn material.  Autumn mao cha tends to have less high notes, fragrance, and intense qi than spring so pressing that material tight was a way to preserve what was there. 

The third point is playing on the theory of aging puerh where the slower the aging occurs, the more favorable the outcome. The adages “good things come to those that wait.” and “slow and steady wins the race” come to mind.  Alternatively this is also the same reason why some people are turned off the tight compression because they feel they won’t live long enough to enjoy it.

I think not very many westerners have much experience with iron bings.  This is espically true for those newer puerh drinkers that have mainly been exposed to fresh young puerh pressed by the western vendors.  Have you ever tried an iron bing?  Out of those who have sampled an iron bing even fewer have tried an aged one, never mind a quality aged one.  Things seem to be changing these days with some of the larger western puerh vendors offering machine pressings of their own brand.

Scott at Yunnan Sourcing has machine pressed some his higher quality, more fragrant, 250g spring cakes this year.  Some of these such as the 2017 Jing Mai and 2017 Yi Bang I had sampled in the blind tasting event and were quite light and fragrant and great candidates for more compressed storage.

Paul at white2tea is also starting to lean more towards tighter compression.  2016 Post Truth and 2016 We Go High (and maybe others?) have experimented with very tight compression on teas that have a lighter more fragrant feel.  It is also suspected that We Go High contains at least some autumnal material so to me the very tight compression here makes a lot of sense.
In the future, I think we are going to see a lot more of the tight compression puerh cakes.  I, at least, welcome this direction.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Trying to Lower Your Standards In Puerh Is Not Easy These Days

This year I essentially entered into an exercise of lowering my puerh tastes.  I needed to restock puerh which, I found out, has gotten quite expensive during the many years I was away from the puerh scene.  At first, I tried to just restock some of the cakes that I have consumed but they were either worth billions and zillions of dollars or were no longer on the market or turned out to be waning with age.  I managed to nab some nice puerh that I missed out on way back in 2006 but even that has managed to increase 30% in only 6 months!

Basically, I part consciously and part unwillingly, employed the following two techniques with the end goal of lowering my tastes.  First, I went in search of my old friends, semiaged factory puerh.  Secondly, I did that from those old sketchy western puerh vendors (here and here) that were remnants of a time when vendors would actually stock questionable puerh.

At first, I thought I did pretty good at lowering my standards but then a few things happened that kind of blew that up…

First, I noticed that some of that dingy, lowly, but so awesomely delicious, factory teas are giving me some sketchy pesticide symptoms that, although often super super subtle, I am finding them harder to ignore these days.  As a result, I only slum it once in a while with the most questionable cakes.

Secondly, my wife likes puerh, we drink together every morning, and she simply won’t drink puerh under a certain standard.  I may be able to lower my own standard, but my wife’s is totally out of my control!

Thirdly, I am getting more concerned about what factory quality puerh can do to one’s health.  This is especially true when my family is consuming it (my whole family prefers puerh).  My health is one thing, my family’s is another.

Fourthly, I am finding myself continuing to drink from my dwindling stash of puerh I had amassed from 10 years ago as a result.


In the end I am content with having even more daily drinkers around- they are what they are.  This much, I knew when I started my search.   Especially at work where 1- I often have little time to mindfully drink puerh the way I used to 2- I crave the vigor of factory qi especially as it seems to harmoniously pair with my bustling work environment and 3- I am not sharing with loved ones when in ones place of work.  This is where a lot of these factory purchases have ended up and I am enjoying them, a lot in this environment.

I hope to prepare a drinking report of these everyday drinkers which I have accumulated over the past year soon.

From sampling some of 2017, I would guess, from what I tired, that you are paying around 3-4 times more for the same level of quality you would get in 2007 and remember those prices were just before the puerh bubble burst.  If there are any long term puerh drinkers out there, would you say that estimate is about right?

With a bunch of factory puerh everyday drinkers accumulated, I hope to change gears a bit and focus more on some higher quality puerh.

I hope that you will join me in this direction on the blog in the coming year?

Much Peace

Monday, March 12, 2018

“The Prices Are Rising, The Prices Are Rising”

“The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling”

I’m very nervous… actually quite scared.  I try not to think about it (take deep breaths I keep telling myself and this too will pass).

But I just can’t.  How could I? How could you? If you keep getting bombarded with emails over the last few days.  It seems like as soon as it’s out of my head then BOOM I see another email in my inbox!

Oh my God! …. It’s happening again…

The prices are rising! The prices are rising!

Depending which oracle or deity you consult- the end time is nearing.  We have days, just hours, to act! Doom’s Day will be either March 13th or 15th depending on which way you read your doomsday calendars.  

That’s right… Burger King and White Castle are raising their prices!  My friend Ted (who is actually an opening DJ for Ed Sheeran) told me to keep calm.  He said this happens every year… There are some Nostradamus people out there who will predict the end of days.  He says its best to focus on life 10 years ago, when things were good, cheap, life was more simple.  But I keep asking myself “How am I going to afford my regular fast food fix?”  He reassures me with graphs that the prices are not actually rising… But blog posts and emails from my favorite fast food restaurants tell me differently!  Spin me something relaxing DJ to calm my nerves please.

They say it can be predicted by the currency exchange and the markets, its in there the Chinese Yuan and the USD... its all in the cards man... perfectly explained... are you saying you know something about the markets????

Get this….White Castle is even raising their prices of their small fries and I don’t even like small fries!  But this has me really really concerned because just like the Beastie Boys say “White Castle fries only come in one size!”  Not only that, but their yearly promotion is ending… How will I get my $5.00 All Barbecue Chicken Meal… not until next year or maybe they won’t even be running that promotion next year… who knows how long I have to wait for a deal like that?

Who out there will reassure me?  I’m begging you people.  I can even meet you at Macha Tea Company near by for some tea… its actually not on Norris Court at all but in a new lot by the Freeway and is Open all night long for those who are will to step out of their comfort zone.  I know It’s not the same now that John went away but I’m beginning to like it more…. Nah there’s no time for that…

I was getting real weak so I went to White Castle for the $5.00 meal but they sold out! Ahhhh….

Ok, scrap that idea… run to your closest Burger King or White Castle- drive through is fastest.  Now is your only time to act.  So don’t hesitate and act now... Take out your wallet or puerhse and follow the links. 

Don’t miss out! Don’t miss out! Don’t miss out!


Friday, March 9, 2018

Storage Lessons Comparing 1997 & 1999 Teamasters’ Menghai Factory 7542

Out of any tea from the 90s, I have consumed the 7542 more than all others combined (here and here and here).  This classic recipe from Menghai Factory is by far the most popular and famous of all 90s puerh.  In Korea in the mid 2000s every tea shop that sold puerh pretty much had some.  Inevitably I drank a lot of it at the tea tables all those years back.

In fact it was so abundant that, it is a guarantee that many must have been fakes.  Either way, they all tasted fairly aged and delicious- some more than others.  The quality of these cakes depended mainly on the storage and whether they were true Menghai factory vs. fake.  Sometimes a fake could even taste better than a cake that seemed real.  So even early on in my puerh tea education I learned that the taste of a long session of tea rarely lies.

These 7542 sample recipes came included in a recent order from Stephane of Teamasters.  If you are looking to avoid the fakes altogether the first thing would be to find a very reputable vendor, Teamasters is one such vendor.

Well, as I said there is only one way to know if these guys are the super delicious 7542s or just the normally delicious 7542s.  Let crush these samples with some gong fu and deep meditation…

Earlier this week received a few feet of snow, it is a blizzard out there today, the whole family is out of the house so I ‘m breaking out this sample and having a great tea session… Sigh… I forgot I broke my old small, cheap shui ping pot… and my other small volume David Louveau pot is at work… well this will be a first aged puerh in this Korean ceramic pot … with no other great option in mind…. Let’s do it!  It is actually perfect volume for all the sample!

The dry leaves smell of dry wood with a very faint odour of distant fruit that is overwhelmed by a dusty odour.  As the leaves hit the warm tea pot woody notes and cherry almost orangy notes emerge.  The leaves seem medium-higher humidity stored with decent humidity exposure likely Taiwanese stored.

First infusion has a smooth velvety creamy woody slight orangy taste.  The taste is deep, rich, and coats the tongue, mouth, and throat with a slightly simulating, but thick coating.  It opens the mid throat nicely.  There is a nice cooling menthol aftertaste present along with deeper dried cherries, orange peel, and wood.  This tea imparts an immediate warming penetrating qi and makes the mind release into immediate reassuring calm.

The second infusion starts to show that this is Menghai Factory because even with significant age it still has an edge.  It opens with chalky almost talc cherry fruits and old dry wood, like that of an old library.  It has both a viscus feeling in the mouth as well as a slight astringency.  The astringency is enough to push a gob of saliva up into the throat to entrap all the aged flavours of aged camphor and oak, slight cream, distant cherry and talc.  They sound simple in writing but deep in the mouth.

The third infusion returns to a denser, richer presentation with the more astringent aspects dropping slightly.  The rich profile gives us deep layer, nuanced aged wood taste, very slightly creamy edge, with cherry talc distant tastes and a slight orange peel taste distant in the throat that follows aged wood and slight menthol.  The mouth and throat feel are spot on for Menghai Factory of this age.

The fourth infusion has a lighter fruity burst initially that was shrouded deep in richer wood tastes in the previous infusions.  The wood tastes are drier and more astringent in this infusion.  This astringency seems to capture more fruity tastes in the mouth.  The fruit tastes are distant, almost like dried cherries, orange peel, and pomegranate.  The shift in profile could have been due to me fetching new water as well.

The fifth infusion is much the same as the fourth- dry wood, talic, distant dried cherry, old aged wood in the library taste.  Slight cooling even a mushroom like taste in the finish which I’ve never encountered before in 7442.  Has anyone out there ever tasted mushroom in 7542?  Mouthfeel and throatfeel remain full, slightly astringent.  The qi is big, nice, warming in the whole body, mind is very relaxed but sharp and present.  The strength is apparent as it still seems to nudge the digestion.  I rest the leaves for 30 minutes…

The sixth infusion has a robust layered wood taste that is very full in the mouth the high notes have again yielded to the aged wood.  The mouthfeel is not as astringent here more of a rich astringency.  A chalky feeling in the mouth with slight cooling in throat.

The seventh lightens up more than the sixth and is much the same.  I added 5 more seconds to the flash infusion here.

The eighth infusion 10 seconds is added to the flash infusion and it yields pretty much the same flavours as previous.  Of note is still the strong menthol aftertaste, full mouth- and throatfeeling.  There seems to be more fruit notes in the mid profile in this infusion.  I step away for an hour or so then I’m back to enjoy…

The ninth infusion tastes of wood and almost date fruit taste.  The sweeter fresher cherry taste is gone in this infusion. Everything is deeper and more coalescent.  Wood, slight dates, leather.  The cooling sensation is less.

The tenth infusion is of woody, leather, aged taste. slight cooling aftertaste in a full, slightly astringent/drying mouthfeel.  The taste beyond this point is just basically the above aged taste.  When makes it still enjoyable is the engaged mouthfeeling, almost sweetness as a counterpoint to the deeper, earthier woody aged tastes and traces of a cooling aftertaste in a simulating throat.  As a result it can play out for many many infusions much like this.

After a few more infusions I put this tea into long overnight steepings and I am greeted to dried fruity, leathery wood infusions the throat feel holds somewhat giving these longer infusions some depth.  I enjoy this tea for the next few mornings like this.

Overall, this 7542 has lost almost all traces of youth.  I would image that this tea had heavier humid storage for the first 10 years then it was direr stored.  It has suggestion that this came from a herbal medicine distributor in the 1990s with a slight aged herb feel- it is possible.  Nice tea for those who prefer their 7542 with deeper humid storage and more of an aged taste and feel.  This 7542 very much resembles the stuff I drank years ago in Korean Puerh Tea Houses.

The shear amount of snow has really slowed down a place that is used to having lots of snow.  The result is another perfect morning for a great tea session and just days from the 1997, I sample this 1999.

The dry leaves smell of creamy fairly intense sweetness with undertones of wood.  The creamy rich sweetness surprises me a bit.  The leaves are not as compressed as the 1997 and much much lighter and more vibrant.  This 1999 is much more dry stored Kunming or shrink wrapped or true dry storage.

The first infusion has a very creamy sweet initial taste with notes of fruity wood that descends into very mild and creamy wood almost talc like taste.  The mouthfeeling is light and thin creamy and talc.  The aftertaste is light on the breath with a very light cooling sweetness.

The second infusion’s initial taste dries the lips with creamy sweet slightly astringent fruity wood flavor.  The base taste is clean wood with a noticeable undercurrent of creamy sweetness throughout.  The vibrancy and creamy sweetness of this 7542 is quite nice. The cooling aftertaste is nice and strong the mildly astringent mouth and throat feel hold it there and keep it on the breath.

The third infusion starts with a creamy sweet more cohesive taste with the fruitier sweetness overtaking the creamy sweetness.  This infusion tastes more broth-like, more contained, more juice-like, with the fruit taste almost equal with wood tastes here.  The creaminess is still there too.  The dry wood tastes seems more intense as the astringency continues to grow here.  It’s not drying in the mouth or throat, its medium astringency.  A very noticeable classic Menghai note of pine wood or resin start to develop.

The fourth infusion has the woody pine like notes dominating now with the creamier sweet notes entrenched almost equally now.  The pine comes initially then greats the creamy sweet taste quickly.  The sweetness is long on the breath along with a bit of cooling.  This is a classic 7542 profile.  There is less talc and more cherry-plum sweetness in this infusion now.

The fifth infusion has a cohesiveness pulling all the tastes into one and they start to be more mild.  The aftertaste remains big with sweet creamy notes and an almost menthol like pine taste.  Overall the mouth and throat feeling are easy to ignore- they are still very full but not standoffish.  The mouth- and throatfeel have a full slightly powdery consistency with a medium astringency.  This infusion also tastes puerh like almost camphory in taste.  The qi of this tea is not as strong as other 7542 but it has a very cooling qi in the body not warming.  This speaks to its still relative youth and dry storage.  In the body you can feel it lingering in the stomach slightly.  Overall it’s relaxing and gives on a mild, focused mental sharpness.

The sixth is much the same as the fifth as all these tastes pull together in the initial taste and following taste.  These infusions have a plum and camphor taste.  There is also pine especially on the breath.  The aftertaste remains active and evolving, the mouth- and throatfeeling unwavering.  There is a talc taste on the breath minutes later, lots of sweetness returning with coolness.

The seventh infusion you can taste a subtle smokiness, could taste it very faintly in the sixth but more here.  This infusion has much less sweetness and more of a smoky woody taste throughout.  The aftertaste is mainly woody slight returning coolness.  Not as much sweet here.  Not as complex over the whole taste profile.

Eighth infusion I start adding 5 seconds to each subsequent infusions and starts with a clear woody taste, slight, faint almost flowery/powdery fruit taste.  Cool aftertaste with chalky finish sweet and creamy slight woody.  Long aftertaste.

The ninth infusion I drop back to flash infusion and am gifted with a very nice result that almost talc rose like sweet chalky taste that is classic dry stored 7542 initially.  It slightly numbs the lips the evolution in the profile is complex, interesting.  Pine wood appears in the aftertaste next to creamy sweet undertones.

The tenth I flash infuse again and the taste is much like the ninth.

The eleventh another very enjoyable infusion that is just as complex and very similar to the above.

I have to leave for work but I understand that these leaves are at their prime right now in the infusion.  I throw them into a container and put them into my one cup Korean tea maker at work but, I’m not sure if it’s the different, softer water there, the exposure to cold, or the steeping vessel but I can’t keep the momentum going with this tea.  Infusions at work I start adding more time to the infusions but get tastes of sweet creamy plum cherry but more muted than before.  Now mainly the tastes are of wood with a still full mouthfeeling and nice astringency of the throat which nicely hold the returning sweet menthol coolness.

The Qi really starts to build until it is almost of a talkative, jittery type.  Someone at work asks, “Did you have coffer today?”  Its that type of intense factory style qi that lingers within these steepings. But it really builds up very slowly to this point.

I steep this tea from morning to night and I am amazed at the stamina of it.  The throat feeling is unwavering and the menthol like returning sweetness will not resign.  This is a great example of dry stored 7542 and shares a certain resemblance to the Manghai Factory Qingbings I’ve sampled in the past.


These two Menghai Factory 7542 are quite interesting to compare.  Only 2 years separate these two identical recipes from identical factories, as far as puerh from 20 years ago this is almost nothing.  Meaning there is no one I ever met, no teamaster, that could guess which puerh is older by tasting a 19 year old and a 21 year old so this age difference, doesn’t mean much.  Although the price difference between these two is more due to the age difference.

The huge difference between these near identical teas is basically storage.

Neither is really better, it’s just a matter of preference.

I doubt that there are many readers out there who are going to shell out the money for these full cakes but I highly recommend ordering the samples.  Especially if you are new to puerh and want to see how different storage conditions effect a puerh 20 years down the road.  Or those drinkers out there who have never experienced Menghai (Dayi) Factory back when it was still great puerh.

I quite like the 1999 myself although just a bit out of my price range. 

Thanks Stephane for these memorable sessions.


Monday, March 5, 2018

A Growing Pragmatic Movement in Puerh

Upon my return to puerh, I first thought it was a little unusual that there were more than a few people calling my recent posts “pragmatic”.  Well, these days I try live my life minimally and pragmatically.  I feel it’s a good way to think and live and enjoy the wonders of life.  So, quite naturally, my puerh drinking and buying should reflect this I suppose.

It occurred to me recently that my pragmatic position on buying puerh tea may have been influenced by a larger pragmatist movement taking place in Canada right now and spreading quickly globally.  In Canada there seem to be political, academic, and general philosophical branches in the current pragmatic movement gaining steam here.  The first two branches seem to come from Canada’s recent history of pragmatic conservatism and a fringe academic, Jorden Perterson, who apparently is currently the bestselling author globally.   I can’t say that I prescribe to any of these types of pragmatism.

I think the growing popularity of the pragmatic movement is a response to the recent “Post Truth” and “Sunny Ways”  governments in the US and Canada as well as the general philosophy of those voters who elected them.  To me, in a general sense, it speaks to looking at things matter of fact instead of getting caught up on emotion, marketing, philosophy, political correctness and branding.

How does this apply to puerh?

I think a pragmatic philosophy is especially needed when buying puerh outside of Asia.  We are more at the whims of marketing and branding because the way most of us buy puerh here is online.  I can tell you from experience that it is far easier to walk away from buying puerh in a teahouse in person than it is to resist the marketing of online vendors.

I actually think there is a pragmatic movement occurring in the puerh drinking world right now in the West.  Just the last few weeks, for instance, there were two puerh bloggers suggesting to drinkers to use a more pragmatic perspective on buying puerh.  Marshal’N of A Tea Addicts Journal lauds us to Buy Less, Buy Better and James of TeaDB suggests that we should focus on buying less and enjoying what you already have by Setting Down into Tea.  Both of these posts challenge the current consuming culture of Western puerh purchasing habits.  I think both offer great pragmatic wisdom to puerh buyers out there.

I think there is something to be said about pragmatic wisdom.  It speaks to both a pragmatic approach and long enough experience to back that up.  Essentially, the above bloggers are speaking with pragmatic wisdom and asking us to perhaps tap into our own.

This pragmatic movement in puerh circles indirectly challenges the Post-Truth construct of puerh consumption and marketing.  I guess to some extent it is a challenge to all puerh vendors to step it up.  In Cwyn’s Death By Tea’s yearly predictions she predicted that 2018 will be the year of the Testy Tea Customer as puerh market experiences decreased purchasing power.

Instead, I think 2018 might be the year of the Pragmatic Tea Customer.