Friday, December 28, 2018

2018 white2tea Snoozefest & the Real Meaning of Snoozefest

Sometimes, probably because of my age or just how I see the world or because I’ve been at this tea thing before some of you readers were born, I don’t get it.  Portions of my position and criticism of the 2017 white2tea Snoozefest is one such instance found here on this blog…

In this post in 2017, I laid out the reason why I thought the marketing around the Snoozefest puerh was a joke.  The argument I initially laid out is as follows…

There is no way of determining if this is actually a $40 cake offered at $15, because it is in fact offered at $15.  Also, there is no way of sampling it before you buy to actually test this argument and determine for yourself if it is actually worth $40 (or at least $15) because it is offered as a limited run and intended to sell out very quickly.  Nor can you compare to other puerh of $40.00 ($0.20/g) or even $15.00 ($0.08/g) in this category because you only have one shot, a gamble really, to determine if this one is truly the bargain white2tea claims or just some marketing stunt.

Although my feelings about this criticism was honest at the time and some of it still holds true (some of it can just as easily be applied to the 50 cake limited 2018 Tunji which sold out in under 18 hours), my position on this has changed over the last year because of two realities that I have come to accept in regards to puerh in 2018…

I know this is nothing new but I realized this year that it is extraordinarily rare how many fresh young puerh cakes are offered at very low prices (below $0.10/g).  And out of these how many are actually good?  All products have a low point which the price must be above to turn a profit or at which the cost of production doesn’t exceed the price at which it is offered.  I wonder in 2018 how low that point is?  It will be different for each producer, for sure, based on their business model and mark up.

This year I realized that it is a common marketing strategy these days, for one reason or another, to offer a very limited amount of puerh that is basically meant to sell out before anyone has tried it.  This is opposite the traditional model of selling puerh where a very large volume of puerh is pressed as both an investment to age in their warehouse as well as to simply have enough in stock to sell as much as they can possibly can.

Besides coming to these conclusion the third thing that I have resolved within myself is that Autumn puerh can in fact be good puerh and worthwhile drinkers.  I have opened myself up to the possibility of purchasing of Autumn puerh partly in response to increasing prices.

So after coming to terms with these realities, I realize that “Snoozefest” has a different meaning all together.  Offering a puerh cake at $0.08/g of fresh puerh has to be pushing that lower profit limit for most of our western puerh vendors like white2tea.  For Yunnan Sourcing, a more traditional western puerh vendor, they still manage to offer a handful of these every year and probably do it within their pre-existing profit margins.  Scott of Yunnan Sourcing claims that he prices all puerh on a formula not on perceived value.  So, I now feel that offering fresh puerh at $0.08/g is probably a gift in and of itself.  Something, I failed to understand a year ago.

The name “Snoozefest” refers to the flash sale offering of this cake.  It sold out fast this year (an hour or so) and almost crashed the white2tea site.  If you snooze, you loose (out).  The rapper this year has added some additional features on to last year’s wrapper (my interpretation is here link).  It also has other pictures and features that give the cake a hyped and gangsa-esque feeling.  The thief motif of the free tote that came with the purchase kind of pairs with the feeling of this cake.  The thief motif holds special importance in urban art, specifically in graffiti art.  This Banksy inspired design speaks to both the reclamation of public space and discourse (pertaining to tea) that white2tea is branded towards as well as the rebel, going against the norm or establishment, positioning of the brand.  This is a very nice touch and esthetic that I appreciate with my purchase.  In another marketing stunt, there are apparently at least 2 completely different totes that were given away.

So… I knew I was going to purchase a white2tea cake this year that I’ve had my eye on.  Also I was planning on sampling 2018 white2tea Splendid in a new quest- a search for the best cheapest young puerh (much more on this in a coming post).  When I went to the white2tea site it had grinded down to a snail’s pace and I ended up getting out with a number of these Snoozefest cakes as well as the cake I initially went in for but pulled the plug before picking up a 2018 Splendid sample.  I was concerned about my cart crashing.  I also was a bit surprised as there was little forewarning that Paul was going to drop another Snoozefest cake, were you?

My rationale for picking up a decent number of 2018 Snoozefest cakes is the following…

Reviews of the 2017 cake seem to be positive from what I read- vegetal, savory, slight bitter, astringent, sweet, creamy, floral, pine with the negative being a bit dry in the mouth and lacking stamina (see here and here and here).  Some comments suggested that people wished they had ordered more.

My other rationale is that this is the absolute cheapest white2tea sheng puerh and, as stated above, I am on a mission to find the best of the cheapest stuff.  My reasoning above about the rising cost of maocha is enough reason to purchase.

Finally, I hope this purchase will test out the claims made by whtie2tea that this tea is actually a $40.00 tea not the $15.00 they sell it for.  I have only sampled a few mid-priced white2tea sheng offerings and I really want to see what the bottom of their brand is like.  Let’s get to it…

Dry leaves smell of distant sweet fruits and florals, it’s a faint but distinctly fruity and sweet smell.  I pack a bunch into the pot.

First infusion has a muted woody almost salty barely floral/sweet ghostly candy onset there is a soft suggestion of flat sugar sweetness and some vegetal taste.  The aftertaste slowly and softly pops florals and candy floss.  The mouthfeel is silky with a slight stickiness in the mouth.

The second infusion has a soft almost sweet pea and pungent muted candy floss initial taste over a slightly salty dry wood.  It has a nice fragrant entry and soft fluffy mouthfeeling.  The cooling throat feel is mild and there is a slight rubbery sensation in the aftertaste over mutted cotton candy and plums.  This blend shows lots of different elements in it.  The mouthfeeling is light and sticky, the lips feel dry.

The third infusion has a tangy almost grapefruit and wildflower/ candy floss initial taste with a salty/ savory approach.  There is a creamy sweet, candy like, and savory woody aftertaste.  The mouthfeel has a distinct astringent feeling and makes the teeth feel squeaky.  The mild cooling and muted candy aftertaste is long and returns minutes later.

The fourth infusion has a strong initial taste of fragrant florals, sour citrus, plum, muted candy sweetness, saltiness over as slightly astringent and bitter base.  The mouthfeel is astringent and slightly sticky.  It pushes the saliva into the mid- and upper-throat.  The aftertaste is long and is held by the strong mouthfeeling and throat feeling.

The fifth infusion starts with a sour and salty grapefruit like initial taste which turns into a floral nuanced thing.  It then turns creamy, chalky and woody with a candy-like in its aftertaste.  It has a certain level of astringency and is slightly bitter.

The sixth infusion has a more pronounced bitter and astringency to it but a more upfront very salty, sour and floral profile.  The aftertaste is long and sweet the astringency pushes saliva in the throat and hold the creamy sweet, dry wood, and candy aftertaste in place.  The mouthfeel is a balance of pucker and almost stickiness.

The seventh infusion starts with a creamy sweet candy like sweetness, almost soapiness, in a dry woody and astringent base with heavier floral suggestions.  The liquor isn’t overly thick in the mouth and the taste isn’t overly deep but the plethora of high and complex notes are held in tightly by the astringency with capture them all in the throat nicely.  It’s almost as if this tea lack a mid-profile, or dense grounding thickness but is compensated by complicated interplay of highnotes, and good mouthfeeling/ throatfeeling.  The qi of this tea is mild with a fuzzy/ muffled head feeling, mild relaxing and slight alertness.  In the body you can feel a subtle heaviness in the solar plexus between the heart and stomach area.  It also has a mildly relaxing effect on the shoulders.  Got some very mild itch with this tea also on the legs, allergy reaction to this one which I have never experienced before with white2tea.

The eighth has a fruity sweet burst initially with barely salty and creamy sweet overtures.  There is a sticky sweet long lingering candy aftertaste.  The taste here is much more sweet and simple and the bitter/ astringency in this infusion is much less.

The ninth infusion starts with a slightly sour juicy fruity initial sweetness ends in a long creamy sweetness.  There is a notable grapefruit/citrus flavor in the intial taste and a creamy sweet finish.  The mouthfeel is sticky, lips drying, even slightly sandy.

The tenth infusion has a bitter onset with a grapefruit and heavier perfume floral arrangement there is still that creamy sweetness and a touch more vegetal taste as well.  The aftertaste is long and the bitterness and astringency is notable.  The mouhtfeeling is pucker.

11th starts creamy sweet, slightly sour, astringent, slightly bitter orange peel.  The aftertaste is floral and long creamy sweetness that turns into slight sour, bitter almost dry wood. Citrus peeling, cotton candy, flowershop.  Qi is slow to build but I feel it in many different places. Mild itch.  Medium young puerh harshness in Stomach.  This tea is not meant to drink now, this is surprising to me.  Last year’s reviews suggested something milder with less stamina and more drink now, from what I read.  This year’s Snoozefest is not that.

12th is bitter, slight floral faint woodiness underneath.  The aftertaste is long and creamy sweet.

The 13th is a mild, creamy floral woodiness, with sticky mouthfeeling and sweet creamy aftertaste which starts to disappear into woody vegetal tastes.

14th is more bland wood with most of the sweetness, the creamy type, in the aftertaste.

15th I add 15 seconds to the flash infusions and push out much more sweet creamy tastes initially then mouthfeel is less astringent now and more dry sticky lips and slightly sandy in the mouth with a fruit like taste lingering in the aftertaste.

The 16th is steeped for 30 seconds again and has a sour fruity initial with creamy sweet tastes and present enough mouthfeel even this late in the session.

I throw in the towel with this tea but it is enjoyable enough to continue, I just don’t have the time today so it goes into an overnight steeping.

Decent Stamina here with enjoyable flavours late into the gong fu session with mouthfeel still holding on. Nice.

The positives with this tea is that it has a nice mouthfeeling that really hold the complex blend of interesting highnotes together nicely.  It has enough diversity from steep to steep to keep it interesting.  Its stamina- this tea actually can be steeped longer than the average sheng.  The Qi is nothing special but enjoyable.  Overall it lacks a thick/deep feeling in the mouth and the tastes feels more superficial a character more common of autumn puerh.  Another negative is that it is the first white2tea sheng to trigger very mild allergy response from me but it was the mildest I have felt to date so I can probably overlook it.

Overall, I have the impression that it is more of a $40.00 cake than a $15.00 one so I am quite happy with my purchase.  My assessment is that this year's 2018 seems better than the notes I've read on the 2017.  I taste mainly Yiwu and Jinggu, and maybe even Southern Menghai.  This is mostly, if not completely, autumnal picked puerh in this blend.


Edit Jan 9, 2019: I have had a chance to drink this again a few times with harder water and in my large 200ml Yixing.  It is still a bit hard on the system being so young but yet requires a full stuffing of the pot with leaves to bring out the full brilliant high notes of this tea.  However, the more leaves you use the harsher more astringent bitter it becomes.  If you use less leaf it just becomes insipid- what's the point of that?  I recommend soft water in a very small teapot stuffed full of leaves for the best effect. 

In my search for the best cheapest young sheng puerh I have to ask the question, "Would I order more for $15.00?  Maybe try for it next year?  I keep thinking that I likely would not mainly because the qi is just too weak in this cake.  The top notes and astringency work nice together though.

I am going to wrap up this tong and put it in pretty dry storage to preserve those nice notes.  In ten years the harshness will be diminished but the top will remain... see you in 10 years...

Double Peace

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Tasting an Old Vacuum Sealed Puerh and Famous Puerh in the West: Teamasters 2003 Spring Wild Raw Yiwu

Reason for Fame:  This was the first introduction to wild tea for Western puerh drinkers.  I remember the initial buzz around this tea in the mid 2000s.  Stephane of Teamasters Blog submitted this very tea in a tasting competition with other online puerh drinkers and it won.  The interesting thing is that samples of this tea are still available from Teamasters and that he has extensively documented the aging of this tea on his blog throughout the years. 

When organizing some of my aged tea I stumbled upon an old vacuum sealed sample of this that Stephane sent me in 2008 (when it was presumably vacuum sealed after 5 years of Taiwanese storage).  You can see from the package above that it still is completely vacuum air tight.  I remember that I wanted to sample some other wild teas together for comparison and education at that time but I had not acquired so many as they were harder to come by back then.  So, I saved this sample for a few months.  As time went on, I never ended up doing that extensive sampling of wild tea samples and this one somehow got lost among all my aged tea, probably in moving.

Vacuum sealed puerh is a bit of a controversial issue with Hojo first publishing this type of unconventional storage in English on hisblog many years ago .  The really interesting thing about this vacuum sealed sample is that you can compare it to the well documented progression of aging on Stephane’s blogin 2011, in 2013 (with retrospection), and in 2018.  Although, it should be noted that an old sample cannot represent an old full cake, having a look at this sample might give us a bit of insight into vacuum storage…

The dry leaf smells like oat straw, distant strawberries, creamy sweetness and dry sandy dirt.

First infusion has a dry woody and straw onset and mid-profile.  The sweet soft strawberry and barely muted cream tastes appear in the aftertaste before disappearing.  A long dry menthol taste develops then recedes.  A dry clean crisp distinct creamy sweetness returns for the minutes later aftertaste and swells up in the mouth.  The mouthfeel is slight stickiness.

The second infusion starts off woody and straw then develops a slightly sandy mouthfeel.  Then arrives the cooling menthol then a barely fruity taste.  The minutes later aftertaste is of nice talc and strawberries in the distance.  The mouthfeel here is sandy and barly sticky.  A relaxing qi starts to build up.

The third infusion starts off woody and straw then goes into a subtle sour fruity wood note almost vegetal like tomato.  The menthol is there then a long creamy sweetness.  The minutes long wild tea aftertaste with this tea is nice.  The mouthfeel is interesting with empty feelings, a slight dry roof of the mouth and sandy with more of a stickiness on the tip.  The throat feel like it is deep but not overly stimulated- nice for a wild tea.  The qi is a relaxing type, oh yes the head floats with this qi.  In the body it is felt more in the center, still subtly rough on the Stomach.

The fourth infusion starts with an empty, juicy taste with soft woody layers underneath.  The profile is now balanced between sweet and woody base here.  The long menthol aftertaste is beset by the climax of creamy minutes long almost strawberry sweetness.

The fifth infusion has a woody almost incense initial taste and base taste to it.  The minutes long aftertaste is really nice creamy, talc, sweet, barely fruit. The mouthfeel is interesting still sticky, sandy, dry roof.

The sixth infusion starts with incense wood, this infusion is less sweet and the mouthfeel is the highlight now with woody tastes, barely fruit nuances and creamy sweet long tastes.  There is a creamy sweet talc fruit taste throughout.  Qi still slightly rough on stomach, six infusions in, it is more obvious now. 

The seventh infusion has a nice dense mouthfeel and soft opening throatfeeling.  There are notes of distant pinapples and tomato and a soapy, talic taste.  The aftertaste is long supported by the throat feeling.

The eighth infusion has a dry autumn coppery leaf base taste the mouthfeeling is nice and stimulating.  The base taste is more empty now with no sweetness to counterbalance the tastes.  The aftertaste is also more dry wood, less menthol and creamy sweetness.  Even the minitues long taste is more creamy woody menthol.

The ninth infusion is mellow again.  A soft woody, dry leaves base taste with an almost metallic taste, methol, and creamy sweetness minutes later.  The initial taste has flattened out considerably.  The mouthfeel is stimulating and throat feel open at a deeper level.

The tenth infusion has a stronger menthol returning taste the sweetness is almost honey like now.  The dry wood profile is throughout.  The minutes long aftertaste is creamy, sweet, and almost metallic.

The eleventh infusion I add 10 seconds to the flash infusion and a metallic flat dry wood taste is the result with a mainly menthol aftertaste.

The twelfth infusion I add 15 seconds to the flash and get a woody taste, a muddled taste, almost metallic with long menthol finish.

The thirteenth infusion I go back to a flash infusion and it brings back the sweet creamy base taste of almost strawberry in this wild tea which I enjoy. 

The fourteeth is flash infused again and again as solid as ever a very enjoyable very sweet creamy strawberry taste over a nice soft stimulating mouthfeel.  This infusion has a nice mild wood to balance things out undernieth.

I flash infuse this tea for many many more infusions and highly enjoy its sweet, creamy, talc, tastes in a full mouth and deep throatfeeling.  The finish is consitantly menthol and the minutes long taste remains sweet.  “How many infusions am I on now?” 21, 22?  This is great tea, nice relaxing but offers a gentle concentration and care free feeling to my day.

Insight on Vacuum Sealed Puerh.  I was somewhat surprised by this puerh sample because even though I knew it wouldn’t have suffocated to death, I was expecting it to not be as vibrant and delicious.  The one negative was that the body Qi wasn’t sufficiently warming enough so it still felt a little cooling and rough in the stomach.  I think if it would have had another 2 or 3 years of Taiwanese storage before being sealed it would have turned the corner and the Qi would remain somewhat warming.  Currently, its Qi feeling felt a bit unnatural in a subtle sort of way.  I believe a 2018 Taiwanese sample would feel much warmer.  If a puerh is sufficiently bitter or rough on the digestion when young, I believe it needs humidity (and warmth) for its Qi to warm.

The vibrancy of the high notes which form the base of this tea and have great stamina even in late infusions- was a surprise to me.  I believe that the 2018 would have fermented some of these notes away by now and or at least deepened them.  I wonder what has happened to these notes in Stephane’s Taiwanese storage?  Maybe the result is better?

From experience I think a drier stored wild tea seems to do better, for my preference at least. Wild tea is all about the light sweet tastes, mouthfeel, and Qi and I think the vacuum storage did pretty good over the last 10 years.

The sampling of this 10 year vacuum stored sample confirms what I have previous stated about storage: puerh is resilient and can endure many aging conditions even extreme aging conditions and still taste amazing.  Of course it didn’t show signs of browning and deep fermentation, but many qualities that remain are excellent.  If you have a puerh that is quality, complex, enjoyable and drinkable while young, it will probably be enjoyable many years later but the reverse is no guarantee.  Sometimes the risk is worth the payoff.

I guess a comparison with Stephane’s current storage is in order…


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…