Sunday, July 3, 2022

Early Concerns About the Paper Tong

I remember a heated conversation in the mid 2000s about the emerging popularity of paper tongs. I was at a Korean Tea house which mainly sold puerh tea and we were stirring around drinking puerh and the topic was tong wrappers.

At this point in time the popular puerh factories such as Menghai Tea Factory, Xiaguan, and even Haiwan, I believe, were starting to wrap a lot of their tongs in paper bag like wrapping instead of the traditional bamboo leaf tongs.  Even just two years before wrapping tongs in anything other than the traditional bamboo leaf was almost unheard of.  The only paper tongs I know of earlier than 2006 is the 90s GuangYun Gong productions.  Therefore the topic of conversation at the time was one of speculation…

On a very practical level there was conversation of whether the paper wrapped tongs would befit the aging of puerh or hinder it.  Some thought that the paper tong offered more protection against odours, pests, and excessive moisture. Others were concerned that if the paper tong was exposed to excessive moisture it would do the opposite because paper absorbs the water and it would leave the puerh cakes tasting like wet paper or worst mouldy mildew tasting.  Some like the idea of the better air sealing feature of the paper tong for the outcome of aging and others thought that the better air flow and natural breathable nature of the traditional bamboo tong would provide better aging in Korea.

Interestingly, one mentioned the energetics or Qi of a paper vs bamboo tong.  He said the nature of the bamboo tong was from renewable bamboo leaf and was naturally breathable.  It would impart an enlivening energy into the puerh when it ages.  He said the nature of paper was from a dead tree and was suffocating.  It would impart a stagnant and dying energy into the puerh when it ages.  Also there was discussion on the micro biome or symbiotic relationship between tea leaf and bamboo that would maybe be lacking in paper imparting a different aging outcome.

To this day I still don’t know the answers to a lot of the questions that this discussion generated.  I don’t know of any wearhouser or collector who has acquired the same production in both paper and traditional bamboo tongs to compare the impact of the different types of tong storage.  Often puerh factories use different cake wrapping to indicate different batches or to differentiate commissioned productions.  Any factory production with both paper and bamboo tongs might also be used as an identifier of different materials or batches.  They could also indicate production batches with the same material going to different wearhousers in different areas and climates and that will obviously age quite differently.  

The only time this is ever mentioned in the English puerh scene is when referencing the 2013 Xiaguan Love Forever Paper Tong.  However, there isn’t a written record of comparing these two.  It is often written that the paper tong was used to indicate better materials used in the cake which includes some aged Banzhang material.  I’m not sure if it’s true.  Does the traditional bamboo tong version not contain this material? Or is the difference due to purely storage differences or the result of the less desirable effect of the bamboo tong?  If the better material was used for the paper tong version then did the person who made that batch or the person who commissioned it believe that paper would impart better aging outcome for the difference in materials? Or for the storage conditions the better materials would be stored in long term?

Most of the questions from that conversation 15 years ago around that tea shop in Korea remain.  Maybe I’ll never know the answers.  But sometimes it’s wonderful to think of such things…


Saturday, July 2, 2022

2010 In Pursuit of Tea Phongsali Laos “Bang Laa”

Got his on a year or so after visiting the puerh producingBorder Tea region of Pongsali Laos from an outfit called In Pursuit of Tea.  I have kept this since fresh in my own very dry storage in Victoria and Regina ever since.  Sent Marco a blind sample of this one last year and wanted to compare it to 2010 Essence of Tea Cloud Watching which I quite enjoyed…

The dry leaves smell of faint smokey grassy sweetness.

The rinse is a 20 second long rise to loosen up the densely pressed bamboo form…

First infusion I start at 10 seconds… It gives off a weedy grassy onset with a long cooling sweet pure sugar taste.  There is a returning swell of pure candy and a very mild tight tongue and lips.  Very clean and pure tastes.  Nice strong Qi with relaxing focusing.  Woody dry grass and sugar edges.

The second is 20 second steeping… it gives off a woody slight faint incense with a sugar dry grass and woody almost candy like sweetness.  Nice relaxing alertness.

The third is left to cool and gives off a woody-grassy surgery sweet pure note with edges of incense.  Simple yet satisfying tastes.  Soft mossy mouthfeeling with slight drying edges.

4th 15 sec has a clear pure grassy watery woody sugar sweet onset with a creamy sweet returning

5th we are at flash infusions has an oily woody incense with a sugar faint candy like edge to it.  The mouthfeeling is watery and mossy and the taste has a faint juicy fruity Asian pear edge to it.  Nice deep relaxing focusing.

6th has a woody incense body with sugary edges.  There is a faint juicy pear edges to it with a subtle smoky breath.  Nice sticky thin mossy slightly gripping mouthfeeling.

7th  has a pear candy like peachy pop of sweet taste initially.  There are some grassy incense base tastes with a returning creamy candy sweetness. Nice mossy slightly sticky tugging mouthfeeling with a mid-deep throat opening with cool breath.  Faint smoke incense throughout.

8th has a syrupy incense juicy fruity sweet taste that has a base of sweet grass and weeds.  Mossy mouthfeeling with lingering incense smoke.  A balance of savory, sweet, almost slightly bitter and smoke.

9th has a sweet candy like splash of taste with a juicy sweet initial that fades into a sweet grass and incense and candy faint returning taste.  Nice mossy sticky a bit dry mouthfeeling with some euphoria relaxing.

I resume steeping the next day…

The 10th infusion is consumed with the cooled down cups have a fruity caramel smoke incense dry grass taste to them with a bit of oily texture.  Nice relaxing vibe.

11th also cooled down has a pear/melon/dry grassy onset in an oily texture.  It tastes mainly sweet with a cool throat and some faint sugar returning flavours.  Slight mossy dry gripping mouthfeeling with upper throat opening.

12th also cool has a grassy incense smoke with fruity juicy taste.  The smoke is more prominent.  There are sweet flavours and smoke-incense balance with a grassy-woody sort of Border Tea base taste.  It is predominantly sweet but not very sweet.

13th is cooled and gives off a chalky caramel melon smoke incense juicy sort of taste a bit complex in the juicy sweet and incense smoky.  Nice mossy gripping mouthfeeling. 

14th is cooled down as well… its warm here today so the cooled down infusions are nice.  There is a woody dry grassy sweet taste with edges of faint fruit but also even fainter incense taste.  There are some chest beats and relaxing feeling.

Still lots of condensed stamina here with layerings of taste.

I mug steep out the spent leaves anyways and get some strong brews with a grassy weedy taste and sweetness that can sometimes appear as pear or faint candy but is usually a lesser sugary edge.  The smoke is really apparent in these mug steepings.  The Qi is a bit euphoric and mainly energizing.  There is a rich coffee like taste in there bitter-weedy-woody-grassy with a sweet sugar and barely pear edges.  Nice strong enlivening feeling with some face bodyfeeling and chest beating.

Overall, this puerh is a bit interesting in that it is both a bit crude in its traditional bamboo processing with a bit of traditional processing but the leaves and Qi appear to be of decent quality older leaf.  There is a nice contrast between elegance and crudeness, oily juicy sweetness and smoke incense, older style with a bit gushu feeling.  Its not an amazing puerh but none the less very satisfying to me with the slow unraveling and all these balanced and opposing dimensions.  This puerh kind of reminds me of something between Laos and Bada.

Vs 2010 Essence of Tea Cloud Watching- I drink these two back to back as they are both boarder teas, both dry stored, and have a certain grassy woody base taste that they share but they are very different in that Cloud watching has excellent processing with very clear gushu energy and profile.  Cloud watching is very elegant and deep where this Bang Laa is a balance of rough and somewhat elegant with a stronger tilt to more traditional and rough and crude.  The storage on the Cloud Watching is really nice dry storage where my own storage on the Bang Laa is on the too dry side.  I still really like Cloud Watching although I have accepted I will not buy any…

Marco’s (Late Steeps) Blind tasting notes