Friday, January 31, 2020

Hitting FAST with a Hammer

Most readers will be familiar with MarshalN’s famous post Hitting Hard with A Hammer.  In this post, MarshalN recommends the buying strategy of buying very large qualities of puerh that you enjoy:

A more experienced tea friend in those days told me that whenever she was buying stuff, she liked to “hit hard with the hammer,” meaning buying lots of the tea. Otherwise, you run the risk of not having enough of it when you want it.

I think better advice these days is to “hit fast with the hammer”, meaning buying a tea that you know you like and that you know is a good value quickly (or at least in a timely manner) without much hesitation. Otherwise, you run the risk of it selling out before you purchase or before the tea doubles or triples in price.

I am a firm believer of the strategy of hitting it hard as well- this is how I have restocked my puerh.  I actually employ two modes of hitting hard.  The first is to buy anywhere from 1.5-2 tongs, truly hitting it hard.  The other is to hit it ½ as hard and pick up a few cakes or 1/2 tong.  I hit it ½ as hard when the cake is quite expensive and/or if I am not 100% sure of my purchase and I want to sample it for a while to make a final decision.  Sometimes it’s more prudent to hit it half as hard. However, if the tea is cheap and good value and you love it, then hitting it truly hard is usually the best strategy.  While I was preparing an upcoming post on purchasing goals, I realized that all of the puerh I truly hit hard with a hammer either tripled in price within a few years (here and here) or have since completely sold out (here and here).  This had me thinking that, contrary to previous advice, you really should not wait too long- hit hard and hit fast.

In many ways hitting fast is even more relevant these days than hitting hard.  This is mainly due to how expensive puerh is and the dwindling purchasing power of potentially future puerh buyers.  People are becoming less likely to hit as hard as you could in 2013 when MarshalN’s original post was published.  Nowadays many people’s purchasing power is less than it was, say, 10 years ago.  But if you enjoy a tea, even hitting fast can land you with a full 357g cake of your favorite sample or even maybe just a Xiao bing or maybe even just a sample before it triples in price or sells out.  And trust me, if it’s good puerh and is undervalued it will either sell out or significantly go up in price- my own experience above is evidence. This is especially true for the best of the cheapest.  Of course, you really have to have some experience under your belt and know your own tastes before you understand value in puerh.  Not having a firm grip on this is really where the risk of hitting hard lies.

It is also fitting that hitting fast with the hammer even applies to the experiential puerh drinker who will never ever hit it hard with a hammer.  It allows them to potentially have the same puerh experience at 1/3 the price or something that may become more limited and exclusive thereby enhancing their experience with a sample.

Hitting hard is fine and good, but these days you had better hit it fast with a hammer as well.


Saturday, January 25, 2020

2019 Tea Encounter Laos Gushu (The Real Blend)

Ok…. so I accidentally made the assumption that the early maocha that I had kindly received this summer by Tiago that was labeled “2019 Maocha GuaFengZhi Xiao Shu + Laos Gushu blend” was their 2019 Tea Encounter Laos Gushu.  It turns out that it wasn’t the one they were selling at all but rather an experimental early blend.

So I had find out what the real one was all about with both my extensive experience with Laos puerh (aka border tea) and general enjoyment of Gua Feng Zhi.  This 2019 Tea Encounter Laos Gu Shu is pretty cheap and attainable for most at $37.71 for a 200g cake or $0.19/g.

The stereotypical black leaves of Ban Korman Laos are seen in this blend.  The odour is of sweet black licorice root, deep musk rainforest with a sweet honey backbone and lingering faint florals and fruits.  The dry leaf odour is dominated by the Laos almost barnyard and beef jerky and rainforest pungent musk but the lively Gua Feng Zhi leaves must give it that floral and fruity sweet lightness.

The first infusion starts with a small touch of clear melon fruit then quickly transverses to a musky rainforest almost beef jerky taste.  The musky pungency lingers in the mouth.  The mouthfeel is watery still a bit sticky.  A melon almost floral returns minutes later in the breath.

The second infusion starts with a juicier almost bread and not really that melon or pear sweetness then transverses to musk and rainforest beef jerky.  The musky pungency is the main character the sweetness lurks underneath.  The mouthfeeling is faint sticky and mild pucker.  The tastes are clear, pure and simple but deep in their tone.  The pear melon minutes long returning sweetness is found again.  The profile is really long in this respect.

The third starts stronger almost cinnamon pungency barely sweet then to musk and rainforest which stretches across the profile.  The melon taste seems wedged in there.  There is a woody taste in there now in the base taste.  The mouthfeel is more sticky astringent now.  The Qi is relaxing- I can feel a mild stoner feeling and the chest and ribs open a bit.  Minutes later the sweet aftertaste of pear and melon arrive.  A musky rainforsty pungency lingers as the main profile.

The fourth infusion starts with more pungent musk but almost balanced with fruity sweetness.  This infusion has a creamy sweetness lingering throughout which is the main profile now.  The returning sweetness is stronger now with the creamy sweet lead and puts out a bump of creamy sweetness, melon and even licorice now. The mouthfeeling is moderately sticky in the mouth and the throat is vacuous but seems to faintly open deeply allowing the long retuning sweetness to play out.

The fifth infusion has a licorice and musk forest onset with a sweet fruitiness hidden underneath.  The musk forest pungency is the main note throughout and ends in a returning licorice sweetness and minutes later with a melon fruity nuance with a new sweet bread taste now as well.  The mouthfeeling is mainly sticky on the lips and tongue and upper throat but has a faint depth to the throatfeeling.  The Qi is mild- moderate stoner Qi feeling.  It makes the head float and chest and ribs expand and open.

The sixth infusion I let the liquor sit for 30 minutes to cool and it has a nice rich creamy intense sweet dominating taste with musk and rainforest underneath.  The sweetness here is fruity and thick and leaves me thinking I should leave these cups to cool for a bit… The mouthfeel is thick and sticky.  There is a thick dense honey sweetness to it.

The seventh infusion has a rich thick sweetness both creamy and less fruity initially that dominates the profile.  The musk and rainforest is faint background now just enough to give this blend some depth.  The mouthfeel is sticky and thick on the tongue.  The Qi in this puerh is solid and gives a nice high floating head stoned sensation and an open chest racing heart body feeling.  Very nice, very Gua Feng Zhi in its Qi with a bit more.

The eighth infusion has cooled again and more Gua Feng Zhi tastes of melon, forest, sweet potato and even a vegetal green grass comes out.  The sweetness is predominant.  The mouthcoat is decently thick.  A minute’s later returning sweetness of pear and creamy sweetness lingers in the mouth.

The ninth is a thick rich pear and melon taste with a creamy sweet backbone.  It’s mainly thick sweet almost syrup fruits at this point.  The Qi is decently strong espically for the price of this puerh and I have a body feeling of opening chest and ribs and light neck and shoulders.  Nice stoned feeling happening.

The tenth has a musky pungent Laos character onset with a building creamy sweetness that finishes fruity and sweet Gua Feng Zhi.  The pungency and musk never completely goes away but the sweetness is more pronounced on the back end of the profile.

The 11th starts a sweet juicy but just as musky forest in presentation which fades into an almost woody thing then appears a faint lingering fruity taste a minute later.  This infusion is a bit more astringent.  The mouthfeel almost dry and pucker.

The 12th and 13th push out more sweet fruit with the musky forest being fainter.  There is a nice returning sweetness of melon and fruit and sometimes even licorice root.

I steep this one a few more times before putting it into overnight infusions…

To compare to 2019 Tea Encounter Gua Feng Zhi, I think I like the big Qi of the Gua Fang Zhai and vibrant sweet tastes but the Laos has more interested depth and body feeling to it.  I use up the rest of my 2019 Tea Encounter Gua Feng Zhi sample the next day for comparison and overall its nice budget Gua Feng Zhi with some of the perks of a Gua Feng Zhi such as general nice sweet flavor profile and fairly decent Qi in the head.  However this 2019 Laos offers more depth and will probably age the better out of the two because of the more mature presence of the older tree Laos material.

It’s also interesting to compare this 2019 Tea Encounter Laos to their experimental maocha blend that I was sent in the summer.  They actually didn’t press this blend which has a stronger and more distinct Ban Korman profile which I estimated was 60% Laos 40% Gua Feng Zhi.  This 2019 Tea Encounter Laos blend has a more balanced profile of Laos old tree and Gua Feng Zhi.  Either they used less distinct Laos Gushu and/ or adjusted the blend.  I would say this one is probably closer to 50/50 or even 40% Laos and 60% Gua Feng Zhi.  Either way I feel the finial pressed cake has a touch more Gua Feng Zhi character in it than Laos as the Gua Feng Zhi effectively shines through in the final blend.

I had overnight steeped the 2019 Tea Encounter Gua Feng Zhi side by side and was to picture the leaves… but then work got out of control and they somehow made it both into the garbage… good thing I was at least a bit tea stoned thanks to these… hahahha…


Friday, January 24, 2020

Not a Fan of Huang Pian: 2005 Yang Qing Hao Huangpian Gua Feng Zhai

Emmett sent this free sample of an interesting Huangpian with my last order from Yang Qing Hao….

Dry has a creamy sweet note to it with woods and slight earth underneath.

First has a creamy very sweet onset with a woody and juicy huangpian nuance.  The mouthfeel is chalky and taste unravels with a cooling softness and fruity creamy sweet finish.  The flavours are very sweet and nuanced and evolving.  The coating in the mouth is nice and full feeling.  This first flash infusion gets me very excited about what is to come…

The second starts with a watery broth off creamy woody sweetness.  The sweetness is less here and the woodiness has a mild astringency to it.  That pulls at the throat just slightly.  I feel a body sensation in the jaw which is an unusual one for me.  My mind is a bit floating now.  The Qi is nice and comes fast.

The third infusion has a slightly empty watery sweet onset with a woody astringent tightness to it.  There is a lingering creamy sweetness underneath.  The throat and mouth are coated in this tight slightly dry astringency.  There is faint mild smoke in the distance.  My head feels heavy and a bit spacy.  The Qi is very nice for huang pian material.

The fourth infusion I realized that this huangpian is best with less leaf, longer steeped in a one cup steeper or larger teapot than a small gong fu pot.  I really, have very little experience with Huangpian and how to best steep them.  I decide to split the leaves in the pot between a larger one cup maker and leave the rest in the pot.  The one cup in a 40 second steep gives off a slightly fruity wood slight astringent with distant smoke and a returning very faint coolness with mild barely creamy sweet with a full chalky astringent coating.

Things get pretty simple pretty quickly and this is my general experience with huang pian.  Even the leaves in the tea pot get simple fast.  In the end I decide to grandpa steep this out.  If I ever grandpa steep a puerh its basically to simple to gong fu… this one like many other huangpian are like this.  Overall this was an interesting huangpain.

I don’t think I’m being pretentious when I say that huangpian isn’t worth it.  There are cheaper and more interesting puerh that can be found for the price of huangpian.  Who knows?  It might be like me and autumn puerh and in a few years it might be worth it or I might have a change of heart?  Maybe there is something about huangpian that I don’t get.  Either way this aged Gua Feng Zhi is pretty interesting for those out there that like huangpian (looks like this one sold out).  More interesting that any Huangpain I have experience with.

Edit: A few hours after posting this, Varat posted a nice article about Huangpian: The Humble Leaf.  He has a good point that huang pian can offer an aged puerh experience or educational experience that is just too expensive to gain with Spring puerh these days... it also got me thinking that maybe I'm not humble enough these days... I definitely have to work on that...


Saturday, January 18, 2020

Transcending Mediocrity in Life and Puerh

If we accept the two premises of that:

1- The same puerh production will have varying quality year to year regardless of how hard a vendor tries to keep things constant.

And that one of the main reasons for both of these premises is that puerh is one of the most sensitive teas to weather changes and that it is minimally processed.

Then we also must accept the premise that if we buy blind then we risk mediocrity.

This is one of the main reasons we shouldn’t buy a cake blind, unless it is a sample cake of course.  This is also one of the main reasons we should seek the advice of experienced bloggers and reviewers or at the vary least of a clear group consensus or strong word of mouth approval.

But the funny thing is that sometimes the marketing and branding simply gets the best of us and we buy blind.

Of course, you could simply not care as much as I do (Or maybe you care much more than me).  For some reason I really really care about the puerh I drink.  There are some things in life I am indifferent to and could really care less but most things I strive for great quality for the price I pay.  There are not that many things in my life that I put more time and energy towards than acquiring and experiencing a satisfying puerh.  I guess it’s just my thing but I can’t fault you if you put in a lot less effort and time.  But if you are an experiential drinker, wouldn’t you want a more nuanced or complex experience?  Or maybe you just don’t care and the experience of mediocrity is enough.

In life and in puerh we need to transcend the mundane.


Friday, January 10, 2020

Why All Western Vendors Press Both Good and Not As Good Puerh

It occurred to me sometime in the last few years that all Western puerh vendors press both very good and not as good puerh.  None are exempt from this evaluation. 

There has always been a bit of a debate about which vendor is the best- that is really up to your personal tastes and the way you identify with their marketing and branding more than whether their puerh is actually better.  Each brand has its own house style of puerh as well so part of the brand popularity is how you value their overall typical style.  In my experience, all Western vendors will press some puerh that seems a bit overpriced for what you experience and some that seem to be priced way under than what they should be.  I suppose you could argue that some vendors offer more value and others less but I don’t think you can say that one vendor’s puerhs are better than all of another vendor’s puerhs.  Of the popular vendors I frequent (Yunnan Sourcing, white2tea, Chawangshop, The Essence of Tea, Tea Encounter, Tea Urchin) none press undrinkable puerh, and trust me there is a lot of that out there in the world.  They at least meet a certain standard and thankfully shield us from some of the worst.  But no one vendor consistently presses puerh that is always, without fail, a slam dunk. Why is that?

I think this is because puerh vendors price their puerh at the prices they pay for the raw material (the maocha), the production, warehousing, and just overall cost of the business.  They apply their mark up and that is that.  The price they will sell the tea is decided way before they even press the cakes maybe even before they taste that year’s harvest.  If they book a certain garden a year before they probably already have an idea of how much the puerh will sell for.  If they go in search of maocha that has already been picked then the one selling it already knows how good the end product is and can base their selling price more on quality.  The price our Western vendors sell their puerh for is likely not based on the perceived value of how good the final product tastes rather its based more on how much they paid to book a certain garden or how much the purchased the maocha for.

I think the biggest factor for the variance in quality is that nature, not anything that can be accurately predicted by humans, dictates how a single production will turn out in the end.  I stated last post that puerh is one of the most sensitive teas to changes in weather and that it is never the same year after year because of these changes.  Of course, our beloved and hardworking puerh vendors do all they can to ensure the best product in the end but nature is the final decider.

When we experience puerh we are truly experiencing something beyond the reach and control of humankind, beyond the control of those who picked, processed, marketed and branded it.  When we drink puerh we are imbibing nature’s gift.


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Never Buy the Same Puerh Production Two Years in A Row

I have never seen anyone state this wise puerh buying adage so explicitly.  Long time puerh drinkers, I’m sure, all know it to be 100% true.  Don’t ever buy the same puerh production two years in a row.  Why?  There are many reasons…

Even when puerh vendors are holding many things constant such as same garden, same blend, same producers, same family gardens, same everything… puerh is different than other tea because it will never be the same year after year.  It is one of the most sensitive tea to changes in weather and its profile is complex so there is lots of variability year after year.  Even the tightly controlled plantation factories like Menghai Dayi factory, which have been using the same puerh recipe for their blends forever, cannot guarantee the same quality of production every year in even their most stable reliable blends such as 7542, 8582, ect.  The variability is even more apparent with non-terrace or gushu puerh.

There might be a reason that a production is popular the year that you first try a production and decide to buy it.  If you have sampled widely and settle on buying or if word of mouth takes you to the purchase, it likely was a particularly good or optimal year for that particular puerh or production.  Or maybe the vendor was impressed by the maocha and purchased it because it was better than other year’s productions or other gardens in the same area.  If you or the puerh vendor you trust are good at weeding these things out, then there is a higher chance that the puerh you decide on buying is likely an example from a good growing year.  This is especially true if the production is so good it sells out fast or it is so good you are looking to buy more next year.  One of the biggest puerh fallacies is to think- if a production is excellent one year that it will be excellent the next.  One year will always be noticeably better and one year noticeably worst, they will have different attributes, or, at the very least, the same attributes will be of different quality.

Sure you may simply be buying the next year’s production to compare to the production you already have, to validate your idea that the year’s production that you purchased is, in fact, the best year.  If you don’t sample, then how would you know?  This is different than buying the same production the next year assuming that it will be the same as the year before, in fact it’s the exact opposite assumption- the next year will be different than last year- but how so?  How different?  Which qualities will be accentuated which qualities will completely drop off?  Which qualities will appear that were not in the previous years?  This is just sampling.

The wise puerh buyer will always aim to buy the best production year of their preferred production if possible (potentially in volume) and not collect every inferior year of the same production.  Even for a seasoned puerh drinker, it is sometimes difficult to avoid falling into this trap especially when you drink through a puerh you really loved and can’t re-order.  In the end, this is just wishful thinking, an exercise that rarely ends well.


Friday, January 3, 2020

(Finally) Good Outcomes with Aging Korean Balhyocha

Over the holidays I hosted some friends some of which knew a bit about Korean tea.  I decided to open a sealed airtight foil bag of 2013 Kim Jong Yeol Noeul balhyocha (aka Korean Yellow Tea) which was sealed by vendor Pedro at 05Tea shortly after production in 2013.  You can read my initial impression on this deeper roasted and more oxidized balhyocha tea here.  I had just read Cwyn N’s disappointing assessment of her favorite balhyocha, a 2017 Jeon Jae Yeun after 3 years of being aged in a sealed foil bag I do believe.  In that post titled "Never Too Soon" she implied that you probably want to drink up your favorite balhyocha fresh than age it out.  I was not feeling super optimistic but thought it would be fun to open a bag of this..

Although I have some very limited experience with aged Balhyocha I have never tried something this aged before.  To see a history of some thoughts on aging balhyocha, a tea that has no real history of being aged, see some of my previous posts here.

The experience I had with this aged 2013 Balhyocha was a good one… It had some mild coco or chocolate notes, not at all as robust as when fresh, but what was really notable and pretty amazing was the long lingering fruity floral finish which wasn’t there in my initial tasting notes.  It was quite good and the guests really enjoyed the experience and noted the long fruity aftertaste as being quite refined.  This was a bit of a surprise because my previous experience with a few years aged balhyocha wasn’t as exciting as this one and in some ways close in sentiment to Cwyn’s finding.  These are a few of the theories I’m floating as to why this 2013 Kim Jong Yeol Balhyocha Noeul (aka “Sunset”) Balhyocha seemed to age better…

First, this one was air tight sealed some of the others, I’m sure, were aged in Oongi (Korean Ceramics that are specifically used to ferment food).

Second, this balhyocha was more roasted and oxidized than most balhyocha.  Balhyocha is roasted and oxidized on a spectrum and this one is farther than most on the roasted and oxidized side.  The only other almost as old balhyocha which I sampled was this Zeda 2006 sampled in 2011 which was a much lighter oxidized and not roasted balhyocha that was probably aged in Ongii- the outcome is quite different.

Thirdly, this balhyocha has been aged longer potentially surpassing an awkward stage of aging.  I would guess this could be a factor as it often occurs with many aged tea such as hongcha and puerh between 3-5 years.  During this time you might be better off re-roasting balhyocha like this sample of 4 years aged and re-roasted Kim Jong Yeol Balhyocha.

Fourthly, this balhyocha uses mainly second and third flush leaves which might give it more depth In aging than a more delicate ujeon or first flush leaf such as its pair the 2013 Kim Jong Yeol “sunrise” balhyocha.

 Anyways, I have to post some more detailed notes on this balhyocha … but for now I would just like to float the idea that if you don’t consume all of your fresh balhyocha within 2 years, and the package is still sealed, you might be better off being a bit more patient and letting it age a handful more years before opening the foil pack and consuming.  Otherwise, you actually might be opening the package a bit too soon.

After all, you know how the saying goes…

Good things come to those who wait.


Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Why People Really Stop Buying Puerh

As regular readers of this blog probably already know, I am likely getting to the point of acquiring enough puerh.   I hesitate in saying “too much” because is there really such thing as “too much puerh”?  Hahaha... yes there is....

I have had a bit of free time to better organize the mass of puerh I have acquired mainly over the last 3 years and realize I must slow down.  I think I have done quite well with very few regrets.  I started organizing things in the summer here and there and this led me to put to a halt to my cake sampling (not withstanding a few exceptions usually in single cake orders to off set the shipping).  This has also allowed me to sample more widely which I am enjoying and can be seen as my sampling of Yunnan Sourcing brand puerh this summer.

I have been told that, of course, having more puerh than you think you might consume is reason enough to stop buying.  Interestingly, those old puerh drinkers tell me that the real reason they stopped buying puerh is because they already have a bunch of puerh AND they no longer have the time, energy, and/ or money to dedicate to sampling extensively in search of a larger purchase that is of value for the price they are paying.  Another reason they site is that paying the current prices are too hard to swallow.  Of course, many mention that they no longer have the room to store puerh but this is more of a general statement of interior design esthetics than truly not enough space.

These people are generally doing four things...

1-rationing out their stash and completely stop buying

2-sampling only. which is often done to compare to the collection they already own

3- buying a single cake a year often rather spontaneously to support a vendor they enjoy or a cake they find particularly interesting

4- buying a larger quantity of a single production every few years or so that is recommended by a certain blogger or word of mouth/ general popularity ( a few people have emailed about this one)

I find it interesting that people stop not simply because they have too much and I wonder which of the above four categories I will fall into over the next few years?

Which one will you or have you fallen into?