Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Xiao Binging of the Puerh Industry

One of the things that has really changed since 2011 is the overabundance of xiao bings (“small cakes”).  I am really unsure which vendors or factories started pressing all their cakes into xiao bings but it seems like all of them pretty much followed suite shortly thereafter.  When did this happen?  Why?

I was first exposed to xiao bings last year when I picked up 2 different xiao bings from O5Tea (this and this).  I have drank a lot of puerh in my life but never did I ever drink from a xiao bing- that is how rare they were about 10 years ago.  In fact, they were almost completely non-existent, novelty items.  The fact they are everywhere right now is actually quite shocking.

Why did this happen?  I guess that as the price of raw maocha increased exponentially over the last little while it got to the point that the price point for a regular 357g was hundreds and hundreds of dollars for the same quality of leaf.  To prevent sticker shock the vendors pressed a xiao bing instead of a full.  That seems like a logical explanation.  Essentially, the vendors are either 1- doing this for the benefit of the customer to make it easier/ or possible to purchase within their budget or 2- they are doing it to hide the actual cost per gram.  Due to the current popularity of the xiao bing, the customer must be happy with the move towards the xiao bing?

The xiao bing also offers something between a sample size and a full 357g bing which makes it possible (but not really that feasible) to age long term.  There is really no point to age samples because they are so small, really.  So the xiao bing offers an aging option.  This can also be played both ways to benefit the customer and the vendor.  Vendors sometimes complain about the nuisance of preparing samples and sometimes offer a much higher price per gram for the time of preparing them.  So selling a xiao bing can really benefit both.

Also something else needs to be said about the xiao bing.  There seems to be 2 sizes of xiao bing out there.  If you asked me how many grams are in a xiao bing I would say 200g of course.  Today there seems to be many 100g xiao bings (xiao xiao bings) out there as well- this is also new.  I don’t think I even remember ever seeing a 100g xiao bing online until recently.  Maybe things will continue to shrink?

Personally, I am not a fan of the xiao bing.  The popularity somehow bugs me but I don’t really know why.  Maybe it’s just me struggling to come to terms with the fact that you can’t get as much as you used to get for the same amount of money… or maybe its symbolism for the puerh world being increasingly micro-managed… I don’t really know… or maybe it’s because it does kind of hide the price per gram a little… I don’t know (must meditate on this more).

To me the xiao bing is really just a sample.  I even prefer to get a full size cake as a sample.  In that way you can choose to age it, drink it now, or banish it forever.  If you get a full cake as a sample and its good but the cake has sold out then at least you still have lots to enjoy.  If it’s not your favorite cake then maybe at least you might drink it years later if your puerh stash is ever dwindling (never again I keep telling myself).   It’s very easy for me to go for a full cake as a sample now because I am trying to restock.  It might be a completely different story when I’m up to my neck in puerh a few years from now.

I even despise the xiao bing so much I considered an all-out boycott of any and all vendors which press them.  Then I realized that I would probably be left with no vendors to order from!  So maybe I’ll just boycott the actual buying of xiao bings.  Using the power of the wallet can impact change.

In fact, most of the cakes in my stash and that are currently on their way are 400g or larger.  I like the big, chunky, beefy, robust, old school feeling of these cakes and the industry that they represent.  The larger, the better!  1Kg, even 2Kg, cakes and bricks- "bring'em on" I say.  In fact, I challenge vendors to release one of these big guys in response to the xiao binging of the puerh industry.  People will buy- I’ll be the first one.

Peace

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

White2Tea & The Post Truth Era of Puerh


Before I dropped off the radar you could count the number of Western puerh vendors on two hands.  On my return to puerh buying, there are so many more out there.  To me this is a good thing but a little overwhelming at first.  To be perfectly honest, I have mainly purchased all of my puerh either in person in Korea or on Taobao.  Essence of Tea and Yunnan Sourcing might be the only exceptions.

Even old, reliable sites like the classic red and gold Yunnan Sourcing website have recently made major changes (saw that one turn over recently).   Other sites like Puerhshop have really slowed down as well.  Change happens and more selection and competition is always welcome.

I’ve been trying to check out all the new vendors out there.  This article by James of TeaDB has really helped me out.  The new puerh vendors out there that I am finding the most interesting are two American puerh vendors Crimson Lotus Tea and White2Tea.  They are really taking the puerh market in different directions, no doubt, in response to past issues with buying puerh in the West.

I think Crimson Lotus is brilliant for marketing to and branding their puerh to the science fiction niche.  I have also noticed that many many people who drink puerh also enjoy science fiction- most of my puerh drinking buddies in Victoria and Korea fall into this category, I think.  Overall, it’s an interesting concept but, as always, it comes down to how good their tea is… puerh can’t lie no matter what planet it’s from!

It sounds like White2Tea is really shaking up the puerh tea world… Tea with no region, no explanation, no story, no background, no pictures of farmers, no context what so ever.  All these values line up squarely with my own tea philosophy- “A blog that is the tea’s”.  However philosophy and reality often don’t align and as I begin my search for puerh once again I find myself looking for regions, mountains, factories, producers, and vendors that I know and that have a certain characteristic, quality, profile, tack record and “house taste”.

With the White2Tea’s decision to go in this direction basically you have to either trust the brand, trust the curator TwoDog (Paul), trust others who have tried the tea and recommend it, or sample all the tea yourself and decide for yourself.  I find lots of problems with this system.

I find it eerily familiar that TwoDog has basically based his marketing of Puerh on a similar strategy as Donald Trump… has anyone else noticed this?

Firstly, he has picked up on the discontent/ dissatisfaction of many Western puerh drinkers.  Secondly, he has discredited the old system of selling puerh as basically dishonest.  Thirdly, he insists that everything that is claimed about the origin of puerh or even a singular quality of certain areas is a lie.  Forth, he is thriving off of the idea that “controversy is good for business”.  Fifth, and most importantly, he offers a solution to the problem- just simply trust his puerh.  I guess we really are living in the Post-Truth Era of puerh!

I think the only fair way to assess puerh in this Post-Truth Era would be to sample puerh from all vendors, factories, and areas blindly.  Then decide on purchase based on how much the tea was valued in the blind testing verses the actual price.  The problem is that that no one would have the time and energy and money for that type of extensive sampling.  So quite naturally we try to narrow it down to certain brands, areas, factories, and vendors from either past experiences, others recommendations, or from simply brand identification.

With all this being said, I am most compelled to try White2Tea’s young puerh over any other vendor … so I guess all this smart marketing works… I kind of feel like I want to support his vision for tea on its own merits.. I guess even if you identify the marketing strategy at hand that doesn’t always make you immune to its effects…

If we know only one thing to be true it is this- that old MattCha was probably GongFuing to Drake long before Paul (TwoDog) even knew who he was.

Peace

Friday, May 12, 2017

2008 Fangmingyuan Nannou



This is the last bing remaining of what used to be three cakes from my personal stash.  My tea drinking friend in Victoria convinced me to go in on a Taobao order on this one back in 2011 after reading a review on The Half-Dipper.  We also picked up a cake of the 2008Fangmingyuan Jingmai which I drank completely up last year.  I am slowing savoring about 1/3 of a cake of the 2008 Fangmingyuan Bama which is a very good chunky robust cake which we also picked up in the same order.  The Jingmai was my least favorite of the bunch but to be fair I don’t prefer the Jingmai profile too much.  Last time I heard from my old Victorian puerh drinking bud he was bugging me to post about this wonderful 2008 Fangmingyuan Nannou that we acquired with the others.

Taking a break from the business of life, I sneak up into the loft at work where I sit in meditation, drinking this tea… please join…

I peel back the dry leaves which give off odours of very sweet cloying sweetness of raisons and dried fruit.

First, steeping emits deliciously creamy florals in a deep fruity syrupy date-like odour.  Taste of soft fruits on a full tongue and opening throatfeel has a nice cool finish buried underneath.  Has a deeper taste of wood underneath but very light and creamy overall.  Very nice cooling aftertaste that coats and opens the throat.  The throat feel coupled with the profound cooling returning sweetness immediately tells me this tea is very good.

Strong creamy sweet cherry odour is emitted from the wet leaves.  The second is much richer and creamier.  This tea excels at leaving these flavours painted on the tongue and throat.  Breaths bring a cool menthol taste mixed with these flavours.  There is a soft creamy wood underneath.  The second infusion is quite dynamic and significantly relaxes the mind.  This tea is very sedating and is great for meditation.

The third is more rich, more woody, but overall quite fruity and creamy.  More mature tastes reveal themselves as the leaves open up.  Overall this is good Naunou representation in mouth and feel.  The qi is very relaxing stronger as the session progresses. The thickness of this tea is quite apparent.

The 4th is creamy & woody the throat and mouth feel are great and hold to these flavors with suggestions of fruit and cool menthol still ringing in the throat.  This tea really coats the teeth, mouth, pallet, and deep throat- its quite full.  The deeper notes up front add depth.

The 5th & 6th the higher notes drop off a bit but the thick feeling of the tea remains strong.  The cooling returning sweetness remains.  The mind starts to feel mild tunnel vision and the heart races with qi softly jaunting around the body.

The 7th & 8th show more cherry woody sweetness with thick mouth feeling.  A mild hyperactivity pings through my body and mind now.  The taste, fragrance, and feel of this tea lasts for many more steepings.  When it gets too weak I put it in an overnight steeping to draw out what’s left.  The long steeping rewards me with very fruity tastes with very little bitterness.

Unfortunately this cakes is no longer for sale.  It is my favorite cake from Nannou and I would reorder if I could.  I also couldn’t find any information on the current price of this cake.  It was stored in China (Beijing, I think) for the first 3 years, then two years in Victoria, then 4 years in a Ziplock in the dry prairies.  There is no signs of improper storage or off tastes.

Thanks for joining me in meditation…

Peace

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Price of Puerh: Everything I Know About Puerh Has Changed!

This quote in a post from James at TeaDB almost completely sums up my life and return to puerh buying:


It seems like a LOT has changed in the puerh drinking world over the last 6 years (it hasn’t been 15 years at least).  Can’t believe how much has changed… The next series of posts will look at all of this crazy change from the point of view of someone who was drining puerh that long ago and from the point of view of someone who is actively trying to re-stock.

Price of Puerh

Apparently, new sheng puerh continued to rise in price sinice 2011.  Blog posts by good old Hobbes of the Half-Dipper and Marshal’N of A Tea Addicts Journal both published in 2014 point out that it is much cheaper to buy puerh with a bit of age on them then buy new stuff (oh I’ve been reading LOTS of tea blogs lately).  These posts are a few years old but from what I have seen so far, it still makes since to buy older stuff but the price gap is definitely closing.  This was almost immediately echoed by readers of this blog after last post.  If it keeps going at this pace maybe the price gap will completely close within the next couple of years?

The plus side to buying semi-aged stuff is that you can drink them right away and can understand better how they might age (because they are semi-aged now!).  This should benefit me because this is exactly the type of puerh that I’m looking for now.  I might have to rethink the buying of new sheng and spend more of my money on some older stuff.

Overall, I think there are many factors effecting the price increase of new puerh.  Back in the mid-2000s everyone was most concerned about the rise of the Chinese middle class and people hording puerh to create demand and control the price of certain factories and productions.  I think the mechanism by which drove up the price of young puerh is much more complicated than this but in the end comes down to availability, supply and demand, and how much people are willing to pay (I am aware of how obvious this sounds).

Price really is everything when buying puerh.  No matter who you are, unless you have unlimited money to spend, you will pay attention to prices.  However, I think there is more truth to this now than it was 10 years ago.  Back in the day people definitely paid attention but with prices still relatively accessible for new puerh people didn’t fuss too much.  Back then there were really 3 types of price categories of new puerh: 1- cheap factory stuff and CNNP 2- mid-range productions like Douji 3- boutique Taiwanese productions like those on sale at HouDe.  I placed myself very deliberately at the bottom two points (better factory stuff and midrange productions) and I’m happy with that decision now.

James talks about the missed opportunity in 2008 (the date of most of my cakes) in this nostalgic post.  Considering all the uncertainties about aging puerh in very unnatural conditions in North America, I feel I did really good with the puerh I purchased and the money I spent considering so many uncertainties.  So I am at peace with this.

How will the price of puerh will impact re-stocking?  The spending plan going forward (revised) is first to stock up with the cheaper but good semi-aged stuff.  This will focus on quantity but with quality in mind.  Then I hope to acquire some mid-range and even boutique semi-aged puerh as well to add some variety and depth to my drinking.  I’m still undecided on how much new puerh I will acquire but I feel like I have to slowly start doing this sooner or later.

I love tea samples but am not a big fan of buying samples which can eat up a lot of money.  I would rather use my experience with drinking and aging puerh and take a very small monetary risk at buying full cakes that will pretty much serve as large samples.  If they check out then ordering more is an option or even a tong.

I am also debating about including a discussion on price a bit more with upcoming puerh posts.  Years ago price was not as important of a consideration as it is to me now as I re-stock.  Nowadays, I appreciate when people discuss the price and relative value of the tea they are writing about as it does better inform my buying.

Out of everything that has changed, the price is one of the most dramatic of all changes… but even 10 years ago we knew it would continue to increase in price.

Peace

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Minimalist Puerh Drinker's Dilemma

If there is one descriptor that people often pin on me, it is the term "minimalist".  I whole heartedly agree with them.  Even looking at this blog, it is very minimal in design and feel.  I keep a tight ship and I think I benefit greatly from the airy Zen of minimalism in my daily life.

The moto of the minimalist is "less is more".

However, is it truly possible to be an aged puerh drinker and be a minimalist?

Maybe not.

Do you know what the opposite of a minimalist is?  A maximalist. Their moto is "more is more".

According to Wikipedia, "it can refer to anything seen as excessive, overtly complex and "showy", providing redundant overkill in features and attachments, grossness in quantity and quality, or the tendency to add and accumulate to excess".

Does it sounds a lot like the stereotypical puerh collector?

I think a distinction has to be made between the terms "aged puerh collector" and "aged puerh drinker".

The former is a collector who sees his puerh world as a hobby and investment where the maximalist approach is probably ideal.  They may drink their aged puerh but chances are their collection will continue to grow.  Perhaps the puerh collector enjoys the acquisition of puerh more than the actual experience of drinking it.  At the extreme the puerh collector only collects it or uses it as an investment without even drinking their best stuff at all (see these post by Marshal'N and James).

The puerh maximalist and the puerh collector both see their puerh stash continue to grow and rarely drink up their good puerh.

On the other hand the aged puerh drinker is someone who enjoys the experience of drinking puerh but may dislike every other aspect that comes before and after that experience such as acquisition or storage. 

You could be both a collector and a drinker of aged puerh, of course.  But could you be just PUERLY an aged puerh drinker? 

What about an aged puerh drinking minimalist?

Peace

Friday, May 5, 2017

Invitation to You: Let's Restock a Puerh Stash Together!

So if you have been following the story so far...

I recently was surprised to know that my puerh stash was almost gone.
I have reflected on the reasons this has happened so it will never happen again.

So now I have to actually replenish my puerh stash and bring it up to the glory it once was... that's it.  Sounds like fun eh?

Almost immediately and most urgently I need to acquire some approximately 10 years aged sheng puerh so that I can drink it now.

Then I should also be thinking about acquiring some much cheaper new cakes of sheng puerh to age.

So that's the plan.

I have pretty much been in a puerh time capsule since 2013.  I have basically had no knowledge about what is going on with puerh tea since 2013 and have not really even paid to close attention between 2011-2013 when I spent most of my attention on Korean teas.  It will be so much fun to explore it again.  I wonder what I missed during my absence from the world of puerh?

So please reader, join me in this rediscovery of puerh and everything that goes with it.

Invitation to You: Let's Restock a Puerh Stash Together!

Peace

 

Monday, May 1, 2017

How Did It All Go So So Wrong? & Learning From Past Mistakes

It is said that mistakes are always good because we can learn from them- it creates a learning opportunity that will maybe benefit us in the long term... So, please join me in this life lesson... maybe it can also benefit you in the long term...

So after I realized that my puerh stash will pretty much be gone in a year or so.  I began to reflect on why I could let this happen in the first place.  Well of course, it is a matter of simple addition and subtraction.  Simply put just purchase more tongs, tous, brinks, and cakes than one will consume.  But in reality, if you are a drinker of aged puerh, it is a lot more complicated than that. You have to either buy puerh with more age on it but usually at a higher price or buy now and store and age the tea yourself.  So this really complicates the simple math equation because you might be buying tea now that you will only consume 10 years down the road.

For me there were some very real issues that had to be solved before I just purchased a tong every year.  The issues were as follows:

1- Dragging my puerh stash around the world.

I had to stop shipping my puerh stash around the globe with me. I have lived in 11 different places,  in 2 different counties, and 2 different Canadian Provinces in 10 years.  Do you know how expensive it is to ship, unpack, repack, reship, store, repeat?  I understood that after all that shipping my puerh was all of a sudden a lot more pricier per cake.  On top of that there are inherent risks to the puerh from shipping and storing it.  Also it is really quite annoying and a hassle to do this.

This was a big reason why I tried not to stock up on too much puerh because if you include the time & money spent on this it makes the puerh rather expensive.

My solution was to settle down and purchase a home first then restock my puerh later.

For a variety of different reasons this took a lot longer than I initially thought.  It wasn't until Dec 2015 that I accepted the inevitability that Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada is my home and bought.

2- Money and the increasing price of puerh.

Especially between 2009-2015 my funds were not as robust as they once were and are now.  Also the prices really started to go through the roof at this time as well.  So the combination really turned me off from buying.

My solution was to wait for a time when I would have more expendable cash to spend on puerh.

I think this just finally happened over the last year really!

3- Everyone pressing their own cakes.

I was also turned off and confused buy all the vendors pressing their own cakes in 2008/2009.  It required someone spending a lot more time and money ordering samples trying the tea to see what you were actually buying instead of just throwing your money at a factory you could trust.  Also there was all of a sudden a surge of information coming out of Yunnan as far as puerh from all these little small villages and less popular mountains that puerh drinkers have never heard of before.

My solution was to wait until some of these other issues were solved and when I was more serious about buying before getting really indepth with these new pressing, villages, mountains, vendors.

Overall the process was very time consuming but now I am glad I have this experience under my belt.  To me it was kind of like drinking puerh in mid 2000s when you had to try the tea to see what was behind those CNNP wrappers that pretty much covered every cake.  I am so grateful to all those who sent samples and especially all the group blogger puerh tastings mainly set up by Hobbes of the Half-Dipper.  I participated in all of them dispite of everything and it really added to my tea knowledge.  Thank you those involved with that.

4- Not being able to buy in real life and being turned off from digging around online.

I guess some of you really love sleuthing around online for the right puerh? Or maybe you just have never had the opportunity to sit in a variety of different tea shops within a close proximity of your home to contrast the online experience?  I am fortunate to have first learned about drinking puerh by going to many puerh tea shops and drinking lots of puerh tea next to other people who really love puerh.  This experience seems so far removed from learning and buying online.

My solution is a general life theme and probably what got me into this trouble in the first place- PROCRASTINATE until you finally really feel like doing that stuff online or maybe you will move back or visit Asia in the near future.

I think sometime last year a vague thought passed my mind that I kinda need to restock some of this puerh.  I didn't look online thoujgh, instead I visited my buddy Pedro's epic O5Tea in Vancouver, BC in Spring of 2016.  In conversation I told him that I was looking to restock my puerh.  He is selling some very fancy designer puerh called DC there at O5Tea- I bought 2 xiao bings.   They were very different than puerh I was used to drinking, not too harsh at all for young Shang puerh.  I consumed them quickly within a month or so.  Xiao bings are pretty much just samples in my mind- not worth storing.

Since 2014 I have not had a puerh drinking buddy that I can sit down in person with and talk and drink puerh.  I hope the online community and this blog will fill this gap a bit- please sit down with me, join in the conversation, and lets have some puerh together over the coming months and years.

5- Finding increasingly less time for tea.

The intensity of my life slowly increased dramatically until the last year.  In fact there was one year when I moved homes 3 times, took over another Dr.'s practice on top of my own family practice, moved clinics 3 times, had a child, bought a house and there was 1 death in the family all in one year!  2015 was a very interesting year.  Life can be rather intense sometimes.  This ultimately lead to the long absence in blogging.  But honestly it happened slowly over many years of having more and more constraints on my time and shifting priorities.

My solution was to come back to everything when things settled down but really I just stopped thinking about this stuff.  Thinking about puerh dropped off much quicker than Korean tea.  It wasn't really a conscious choice it was more like survival.

I would guess that since 2011 I have not really paid any attention to what was going on in the puerh world other than reading Hobbes' Half-Dipper off and on since 2013.  I had a wonderful puerh drinking buddy in Victoria named Antoine who convinced me begrudgingly to go in on some tongs with him.  He was a follower of Hobbes' beloved Half-Dipper and got some nods from his tasting notes.  God bless him because if it weren't for him I would be out of tea in 2015.

It is important to note that although I had little time, my tea drinking was still sacred time- true peace amongst the chaos and quick changing life.  In the end, you always come back to what you love... so I am here now.

6- My tea tastes were changing

As I waited for most of my puerh to age to a certain level of maturity, I was stuck with drinking mainly fresh samples and a thin variety of good older, everyday drinkers. I was also drinking lots of Korea teas.  But I think the game changer was the introduction of Darjeeling teas.  My wife and I visited there in March of 2009 and the teas that year made an impression on us.  Darjeeling had a few excellent years with extraordinary tea (2015 and 2013 seem to stick out).  That coupled with the familiarity with the different gardens, producers, and the feel of each of these places made sampling and ordering very easy.  The price of Darjeeling was also very affordable (but has risen dramatically too over the last 6 years- this years first flush was pricey due to drought).  So I ended up ordering a few kilograms of Darjeeling every year for a very reasonable price and regular drinking of this tea slowly put a squeeze on my puerh drinking because really you can only consume a certain amount of tea in a year.  I really wondered if I still would drink that much puerh every year.

My solution or thought was that there is no need to buy more puerh when you are not drinking too much of it anyways.

I was, in fact, drinking more puerh than I gave myself credit for.  Over the last year or so I have realized that aged puerh really is the healthiest for me to drink.  After this realization I drink almost exclusively puerh especially as my old stash of puerh seems to be quite ready to drink.

*7- Can puerh tea even survive or taste good stored in ultra cool and dry conditions?*

This one is the kicker.  It is a really really important issue that I could only tell with time.  The Canadian prairies are extraordinarily cold and dry.  They are so cold that all houses are now pretty much heated with forced air furnaces that run constantly and burn off all the humidity in the house.  To give you an idea of how dry it gets here- A wood end table I purchased in Victoria warped from the humidity change.  Everything that I knew about puerh storage told me that puerh will not aged well here.  Maybe it would be like fresh green puerh frozen in time? OR maybe it would mutate into something quite undrinkable?  Maybe I would just have to buy expensive aged puerh and just drink it right away?

There was no one I could find in the province of Saskatchewan (or Alberta) that had any experience with such issues so the only way to test this out was to actually age the tea here myself and see how it does.  It would just be a colossal waste of money, time, effort, and space if tea couldn't age here.

My solution was a 10 year long aging experiment in these harsh conditions (probably similar to the extreme environments NASA tests in... Hahaha).

Don't listen to the fear mongers.  Don't obsess about the storage.  Don't risk molding up all of your tea.

It turns out just fine (I will definitely post lots about the details of this one in the future).

So there you go, those are the reasons why I was left with my stash dwindling.  I think putting it in writing and reflecting on it will ensure that it never happens again.  Maybe it will help some of you guys not get to this point as well?

Peace