2004 Jinuoshan Youle

Youle Puerh Tea

My draft bin is full of articles half written. Reviews of teas and notes on things that get lost in the shuffle of day to day life. I took these photos, edited them, and then never bothered to write the accompanying article. Luckily, my little leather bound book has sparse notes on this tea. Rather than toss away some perfectly good images, I thought why not transcribe my notes here; musings on a session since forgotten.

2004 Jinnuoshan Youle

Pre-steeping

Dry tea has no smell. Tippy. Furry. Tightly pressed.

Youle Puerh

A close up of chunk of dry puer

Rinse is sweet and clean. The first cup soft, sweet, fruity, and smooth.

Second steep, light and smooth in the mouth.

Youle Puer Tea

Copper soup in the cup

Late in the session the tea is calming and has strong grape-like tannins. Plenty of body and subtle bitterness.

12 steeps.

Puerh Tea blog

Spent Youle puer leaves

These notes were dated November 24th, 2013. I must be drinking too much tea, since I can not even recall this session. Thank goodness for cameras and notebooks.

How to Avoid Fake Puerh Scams and Get What you Pay For

Yixing porn

What is “Fake” Puerh Tea?

Fake Puerh tea is not as easy to define as most fake products. Fake gold is a metal which is not gold. A fake Rolex is a watch that was not made by the Rolex company. But, what is “fake” Puerh tea?

First, fake Puerh tea can be fake in the sense that it is not actually from Yunnan or from a Puerh varietal and processed as Puerh. For example, if I took Guangxi Liubao tea, pressed it into cakes, and claimed it was Puerh tea, that would qualify as a fake. This is the most black and white test of whether a tea is a fake Puerh.

From there, it becomes a bit gray. Some people will consider any misrepresentation of the following traits to be “fake”:

  1. Quality of the material (is it plantation material or old arbor, etc.)
  2. Region or origin of the tea
  3. Date of the tea’s production
  4. Season during which the tea was picked
  5. Age of the material
  6. Factory/producer/brand
Stacks of Puerh

Stacks of cakes with vague wrappers are commonplace in Chinese tea markets. The tea is what matters, not the brand.

If the first two factors are indicative of being fake, then nearly 95% of Puerh tea on the market in China and abroad is “fake”. The amount of cakes labeled Gushu [old arbor] Laobanzhang [a famous tea region] are beyond measure. Some of these mislabelings and misrepresentations are done with the intent to trick high-end buyers, but for the most part, there are small fish trying to capitalize on a famous brand name or low-quality, factory teas trying to parade around as something more rare than the 10,000 ton mass production.

Number three through five on the list are all misrepresented with great frequency, but not as much as the region and material quality. These are also more minor offenses. Who cares if a tea is from the fall of 2012 or the spring of 2011 if it is good? I would rather have quality tea than a specific vintage.

Number six is a whole ‘nother hornets’ nest worthy of several articles, but I will try to briefly address this issue towards the end of the article.

The “You Should Know Better!” Fakes

I’ve seen multiple threads on reddit’s /r/tea pop up in the last few months about a certain “1990′s” shu Puerh brick for $7 on ebay. Examples here and here.

This tea falls into the category of teas that are so obviously fake that you should know better! That is to say, they are obviously fake to the point that they were not meant to fool the educated Puerh tea buyer, but meant to trump up the quality of a low-quality tea in effort to force a sale. If you are trying to up your game and learn how to avoid fakes like this, here are some handy guidelines that will hold true the majority of the time:

  • If every ebay seller has it, it is not good tea. (A search for the term puerh on ebay yielded 19 results with this same exact brick…on the first page!)
  • If the age of the tea exceeds the price of the tea in dollars, it is not good tea. (15 years old > $7 = Do not drink) This is tongue in cheek, but suffice it to say that if a price seems too good to be true, it almost always is!
  • If it has a wrapper that says “1990″ on it, it is almost always fake. Nobody dated tea wrappers back in 1990′s. Seldom even in the early 2000′s.
  • If a Chinese ebay seller is selling the tea, it is generally bad tea. (Just my opinion, there are definitely exceptions)
7581 Puerh

A 2002 7581shu Puerh wrapper; oft faked.

If every seller on ebay is selling the same tea, that means that the production volume was massive. Tea is an agricultural product. The higher the volume of the production, the greater the difficulty to maintain quality control. Bricks like this were probably produced in the tens of thousands of tons range. It is not to say that every huge production of tea is bad, but with a brick like this, they likely are.

If the price tag doesn’t reflect the age, that is a red flag. On a recent trip to Hong Kong, I visited several tea shops and rarely did I see an old tea of any value under the $100 mark. (and to be more discriminating, the $200 mark) For a brick like this to be over 20 years old and sell for $7 would not make much logical sense. Who held it for 20 years? How much did they sell it for to this middle man? How much could they possibly be earning? Do you know any business people who are willing to purchase and hold an asset for 20 years in order to make $2 of profit and not outpace inflation? No matter how you slice it the price does not make any sense.

Another clue is the date on the wrapper. During the early 2000′s and before, very few companies dated their wrappers or cakes. Look at real photographs of cakes, such as this 2002 Xiao Huangyin [Little Yellow Mark]. No date. If a brick has a big ol’ 1990 on it, 9 times of 10, it is fake. In some cases, it may have been an unwrapped brick which they later wrapped, but this brick is clearly attempting to knock off the style of the wrapper above – the generic shu brick wrapping of the era. (Notice: no date)

Lastly, I am generally weary of Chinese ebay and taobao (the Chinese ebay) sellers. There are definitely exceptions to this rule, but for the most part their tea will be low cost, low quality, and labeled as a 1990 brick for under $10. Are there deals out there? Yes. Will you be throwing darts to hit the deals? Yes. Will you probably waste more time, money, and energy than if you just purchased good tea in the first place? Probably.

The most important consideration is whether the tea is good in the cup. But, not being lied to would also be a plus.

The Paris Hilton Fakes

These are the fakes that capitalize on the public craving for fame without much actual substance in the tea, hence the name. What does Paris Hilton actually do? Why is she famous?  (Oh…right. But, aside from that)

These fakes are usually an attempt to copy a famous brand or famous production. Some longer-term readers on the blog might remember a post regarding the 2011 Gold Dayi raw puer cake from back in 2012. This cake’s fame and price have done nothing but sky rocket since its release. Along with that fame came a deluge of fakes.

A recent kerfuffle on teachat had some customers scratching their heads and comparing wrappers regarding allegedly fake Dayi cakes. I admire the sleuthing abilities of these Dayi devotees, but on the other hand, wouldn’t it just be better to buy a tea that wasn’t famous enough to be faked?

Real Dayi

An image of an authentic 2011 Dayi cake

Some tips on how to avoid cakes that might be Paris Hilton fakes:

  • If the price tag is too good to be true, buyer beware. Good tea costs. No vendor is silly enough to sell real 1990′s 7542 for $100
  • If the production or brand is very famous, the likelihood of fake tea increases exponentially
  • If you are not extremely familiar with the intimate details of the wrapper and material, it is better to consult someone who is before making a purchase

After a tea becomes famous, the rise in price should be a deterrent for the wise Puerh buyer. There are better teas to be had. I am obviously biased towards my own productions, but I lament the fact that some folks are chasing after the 2011 Gold Dayi whilst my 2014 New Amerykah is available for 1/3 the price. But, this opens a gushu [old arbor] vs. plantation debate that is best left for another article.

When seeking a specific production of a famous tea, there are always more reasonably priced options which will allow the consumer to avoid fakes and save a few bucks. Dayi productions will rarely afford either luxury. It is not a secret that China is the world’s most skilled forger of all things, be it Louis Vuitton bags or solar panels. Puerh is no exception. Entire businesses are dedicated solely to faking Dayi products.

Let me repeat that again for emphasis. There are businesses out there, in large wholesale tea markets, whose entire livelihood is built around making and selling fake Dayi products. Consumers who desire certainty of authenticity ought look to smaller factories with less fame. Sometimes a less flashy brand will afford the confidence that you are getting what you pay for.

Or better yet, pay attention to what is in the cup, not on the wrapper. Follow this simple advice and you will never be disappointed.

Not all Puer Storage is Created Equal. Just as it Should Be.

Puerh Storage

Puer Storage Questions

Everything in puer tea comes in varying degrees. There is a range of bitterness. A range of quality in processing. Huge differences in quality of material, from very bad to transcendent, with one million variations in between. Puer tea storage is no exception.

When I recently steeped my way through a glut of 10-20 year old dry stored teas, I kept recalling Jakub and his pained Luke Skywalker “Dry Storage” meme. Some of the teas did indeed have “Darth Vader is my real father” level of poor quality storage, while others were dry stored and excellent. So, where does that leave us in the overall storage debate?

D Duckz

I certainly don’t feel this way about dry stored teas, but Mr.Skywalker does.

The online comments on the subject often deal in absolutes that make it difficult to get to the heart of the issue. Comments about how terrible dry storage is or how humid storage will turn your tea into a moldy abomination are ubiquitous on tea forums. Depending on which coterie you belong to you may have gotten involved in some heated discussions on the matter.

Rather than the “DRY GOOD! WET BAD!” arguments, the more nuanced conversation that ought to be taking place is how to improve the storage which you yourself have available.

Humid Storage Star Wars Luke Skywalker Yoda

The Star Wars universe has a lack of ideal storage options. Maybe the Ewok homeworld?

Unless you plan to build a personal puer tea warehouse in the climate that you deem to be perfect storage, you are probably going to use the home that you have. Your family, job, school, and other circumstances are far more likely to dictate where you live than what kind of tea storage you prefer.

Without a doubt there are puer fanatics who go to great lengths to store their tea in the place they most desire, whether it be South China, Taiwan, or Mozambique. But rather than discuss which storage is perfect until we all turn blue in the face, let’s address a question that can help any tea drinker in any location; How can you improve your home tea storage?

Regardless of where you live, the basic puer storage suggestions are:

  • No direct sunlight
  • No heavy aromas
  • Any situation that would cause mold (dripping water) or dry out your cakes (being on top of a heater) will ruin your tea
  • Use common sense

In addition to these puer storage rules, the best advice can be summed up in one sentence:

Take the middle path.

If you live in a dry climate, add a bowl of water to the closet where you store your puer tea. If you live in a very humid climate, make sure their is sufficient air exchange so that dampness doesn’t settle on your cakes. Whatever extreme your storage situation is leaning towards, take measures to bring it back to the middle.

There are high quality teas that have been stored in both dry and humid environments, just as there are teas that have been ruined by their storage on both the wet and dry sides of the fence. If you avoid the extremes, you will also avoid the destructive results that can come out of the bone dry warehouse or the sauna basement.

The changes that occur in any given climate will have different speeds and characteristics, and that is OK! The same ten cakes stored in ten different cities will turn into ten wonderfully unique puer teas, and thank goodness for that; Puer would be so boring if every tea was the same. So, the next time you see tempers flaring like this on a message board about which storage is “the best”, just smile, nod, and follow the middle path. Or rock out on your guitar.

Reflections on Spring 2014 Puer Tea

2014 Spring Puerh

Finally back to my perch in Beijing after spending two months and change in Yunnan scouting out Spring puer tea.

Spring Puerh 2014

Tea in Menghai, Yunnan, China. Spring 2014

There are too many stories of great people, teas, and adventures, so I thought it might be easier to bullet point some broad observations about the puer tea and tea market this year:

  • It was an excellent year for early Spring puer. There  was very little rain. Some places noted that the last rain they saw was in October of 2013. This drought is by no means good for the region or good in any sense, other than the fact that tea which sprang forth in 2014 was strained, concentrated, and powerful
  • Most of the best teas I experienced this Spring were low on fragrance but had flavor and fragrance buried deep within the soup, rather than “on the top” or surface fragrance. This might make people who are fragrance chasers upset, but for fans of aging puer with depth 2014 is ideal. Many villages still use a fragrance heavy method of production, but in my book those teas are all flash and no guts.
  • This Spring had more tourists than I have ever seen on tea mountains. Lots of people with big hats, fanny packs, Coach bags, and sunglasses coming up to the more famous locations like Laobanzhang, Laoman’e, and Jingmai. Some people flew in to Xishuangbana just to go and visit Laobanzhang. They all assured me they purchased some very real Laobanzhang because they know some guy there or something. They likely all left with fake crap.
  • Lots of problems with fakes in areas that were previously not full of fakes. Big factories like Yulin and Chenshenghao set prices high enough to make it lucrative for the farmers to bring in material from their cousins in other villages and sell it off as their own. This was always the case in places like Laobanzhang, but now it is happening all over. No point in buying Yulin cakes, they are expensive and chocked full of low quality material.
  • Processing skill in smaller villages seems to get increasingly better. Many tea entrepreneurs are mentoring tea farmers about how to best process their leaf. Some of the villages that had poor quality processing in 2013 improved greatly over the last year.
  • Prices are high almost everywhere. You can still get cheap teas in far flung Lincang, but for consumers who are demanding top tier quality teas from Yiwu or Menghai, there are very few bargains. Best to look to some aged teas if you are on a budget.
  • Roads continue to improve. The paved road to Laobanzhang is almost completed and they are building a paved road to Laoman’e. This bodes well for tea travelers and tourists, but is not good news for anyone anticipating a price collapse of of Laobanzhang old arbor tea.
  • Construction is everywhere. Villagers are upgrading from wooden homes to 5 story cement buildings with 20 rooms. One person in Laobanzhang was building a 20+ room guesthouse!
  • I am very excited about the teas I pressed in 2014!
Laomane Tea

Construction in Laoman’e. New homes being built everywhere.

All of my Spring cakes are pressed and on the way to the warehouse. They should be up on the site in the next week or two.

Share your thoughts and discuss on twitter or in the comments.

Tea Stories and the Danger of Tea Table Talk

Tea and Poker

Strong Personalities, Big Tea Stories

Yunnan attracts a lot of strong personalities in the Spring. Self proclaimed tea masters and tea experts. Rich bosses seeking to purchase the best tea, or at least something to pass off as the best in hopes of gaining face amongst their rich pals. Old school puer drinkers and adventurer types who are quick to decry anything as inauthentic or not up to their impossibly high standards. In the last month and a half I have witnessed three intense verbals altercations around the tea tray, one of which was teetering on the cliff of fisticuffs. Take two big fish and put them in the same small pond and there will be a ruckus. Or in this case two grown men boasting in a way that would make Muhammad Ali blush.

Laobanzhang Puerh

Tea tasting in Laobanzhang, 2014 Spring.

“When I came to Yunnan in XXXX year, nobody had ever heard of XXXX mountain. I paved the road to that village with my own two hands.”

“I used to be the police commissioner of XXXX and all the people in XXXX village give me the best tea. They all call me Old Uncle XXXX.”

My warehouse has XXXX tons of [insert famous region]‘s puer tea. I had to sell all of my none old arbor tea because I didn’t have room for anymore old arbor puer.”

Of the above three quotes, two are real and one is fake. It doesn’t matter which is which. The quotes simply illustrate the mindsets of some of the people who descend on Yunnan each year when the new growth arrives. Which archetype am i? After listening to the unabashed bragging of these ass-hats, I probably fit into the annoyed foreigner archetype.

Numbers Don’t Add Up

The events that inspired this post were all happenstance. I kept running into one loud mouth tea god after another, until something very funny happened. The claims of 3 separate people that I encountered exceeded the yearly production of a mountain. “Aha!”, I thought to myself. “One of these braggarts is not telling the truth!” Not that I ever had a bet placed on the truthiness of their bragging, but now I had proof at least one of their mouths had written a check that the puer gods wouldn’t cash.

Naka mountain has a very limited amount of gushu [old arbor] trees. I do not have an exact number, but the average of several people I consulted was about 2 tons of Spring gushu puer tea. (Some guessed as little a few hundred kilograms)

Banpen Puer

Fresh leaves in Banpen, 2014 Spring.

Amongst the three boasting tea bosses, their total purchase amount of Naka Spring old arbor tea? Five tons. The stories were as follows:

“I know some of the Lahu people there and they set me up with two tons of gushu.”

“I have been purchasing from Naka since 2004 and they sell to me every year. I get the best two tons they have.”

“I buy [insert ridiculously unbelievable purchase figures from several other mountains here] and also one ton of Naka gushu.”

No worries guys, only two and a half times what the trees can bear!

The saddest part of this tale is not that these fellows are filthy liars. Nor is it that one, two, or all three of them are coming here and purchasing fake or mixed tea by the ton. The saddest part of this story is that these are only three random people who i encountered. There are surely another 100 tea bosses out there buying up fake Naka, both wittingly and unwittingly. The fact that I happened to bump into three such personalities, all laying claim to the same territory, is a window into the greater problem of the current puer market. But, that is a topic for another day.

Morals of the Tea Story

As far as I can see, there are two big takeaways from the above anecdote.

1) For every “famous” tea mountain, there is a very large demand for the old arbor tea and a very limited supply. This results in a lot of fake tea. If a village becomes popular there is an influx of low quality tea, both fresh leaves and processed, which is then sold as the genuine article. Consumers are the loser in this battle. If a boss coming to the village in Spring and leaves with fake tea, what chance does the average tea drinker have to get anything real?

2) The 3 huge egos in my story  each have their own wholesale stores and tea houses. They will be disseminating their false information and false teas to hundreds of people in China. Their customers will assume that Master so and so is telling  the truth, and the vicious cycle of misinformation will continue.

Which leads to the moral of the story; Don’t believe everything you hear at the tea table, or on tea blogs, or any outside information on tea. Be a tea Buddhist. Question everything you hear and discover the truth on your own. Discard labels. Ignore origins. Close your ears and eyes to the marketing and the noise. Listen to your mouth. Listen to your body. Listen to your own gut. Research and be open.

Come to think of it, you shouldn’t even believe this post. After all, it is just a tea story.

Notes from Yunnan Spring 2014

Puerh Gushu

Spring 2014 in Yunnan, Awards and Honorable Mentions

Last year I made a couple of lists of funny and interesting things I encountered during the Spring of 2013. After traveling around Yunnan for a couple of weeks this spring,  I thought it might be time to list some funny notes before returning to tea related content. In no particular order;

The Best Moonshine

Medicine Filled Booze

Medicine Filled Zikao Jiu

Steeped for one year in a plastic bottle, with half the bottle weight being medicine, this corn liquor was excellent. The color was reddish after coaxing out the medicinal properties of all manner of unidentifiable barks and roots, along with whatever plastic leeched into the mix. (Note to self: See a doctor) Aside from packing a wallop from the alcohol, they claimed this liquor to be good for soothing aches and pains. But, what double shot of 80 proof alcohol isn’t going to make you feel less achy?

Moonshine Tea

Beer in the background, also good for aches and pains

I am waiting to return to this village in Bulang next week to pick up more tea, at which point a fresh batch of his homemade booze will be ready for the drinking.

The Most Bizarre Moonshine

Wasp Liquor

Wasps and medicinal roots. Supposedly good for lower back pain

As we I traveled further out into the nether regions of villages near Myanmar, I had lunch in a village that had another home brewed medicine mix, but this time with one important ingredient the previous liquor lacked. Wasps. I wonder if Mickey’s malt liquor would sue this guy for branding infringement? This stuff was more of the “oh fuck I am going to go blind” level alcohol, I am guessing 60%. The perfect pairing for fried hedgehog with chili peppers (below on the right). To any of my customers, don’t say I never do anything for you. Your tea often comes at the expense of my liver and gastrointestinal tract. Such is the situation in Yunnan, that finding far off gushu is becoming increasingly difficult.

fried hedgehog

Sonic’s lesser known third cousin, Stumbles the hedgehog (1991-2014)

The Most Profound Quote

Chingrish

I…um, what?

Gives to the new times sincerely, intellectual aristocrat. That is way too deep for me. I think I need more moonshine before that is going to make any sense to me.

Let’s end on a more comprehensible tea note, how about a picture from Laoman’e?

Laoman'e Gushu

Laoman’e Spring growth

2010 EOT Manmai

Essence of Tea

Manmai Puer Tea

Warning: placeholder review ahead. I have been scuttling around Yunnan the past few weeks and will be on the road for the next  month. Having recently drank a lot of Manmai tea, I thought this post would do the trick of updating my blog and acting as a comparison to some of the tea I have had around Menghai this week.

EOT Puerh

Fragments of a sample

This sample was passed along to me. Fragments from a cake I have never laid eyes upon.

Judging teas in fragments gets a little bit tricky. Where was this tea? How was in stored? Is it representative of the whole cake or production?

The EOT Soup

The EOT Soup

The first traits of this tea that struck me were it’s color and it’s scent. Both the light yellowish color of the leaf and the raw green smell of the rinse suggest this tea is less than 3 years old, or generally green.

After delving further into the session, the soup continued on with a yellow color. There was some huigan [sweet aftertaste], but the other characteristics were not typical of my impression of a three year old Manmai. I had a 5 year old Manmai in Manmai that was in the opposite direction of this cake.

I still have yet to get around to trying other teas from Essence of Tea, other than samples passed my way by friends and puer lovers. Hopefully I will get a shot at some others.

Essence of Tea Green

The spent leaf

Puer Scents and a 2011 Laoman’E Gushu

Laoman'e Puer

Laoman’e Puer & Young Teas with Floral Scents

Young teas have a tenuous grip on their high pitched floral scents. With an (almost) three year old Laoman’e raw puer tea, you can feel the lighter floral character slipping from the tea’s fingers, to be lost forever as the Laoman’e spirals out into the low tones of bitterness and other mysterious developments that the region is famed for. The floral aspects of the tea are the first thing to be shed when aging sets in, but still many people search out puer teas with heavy fragrance. If the goal is to buy raw puer tea with the intent of aging, this sort of methodology is folly. In 10 years, most of those fragrances will be gone. It is the same logic of why one ought to marry a best friend instead of the beauty pageant winner. Surface beauty is fleeting, but substance lasts.

Laoman'e Puerh

Dry piece of a Laoman’e puer cake

This 2011 Laoman’e gushu [old arbor] still has a loose hold on the flowers of youth. The initial steeps are roses dipped in a satisfying bitter tar.

Several cups pass and the roses become blacker and blacker, until the eventual penetrating kuwei [pleasant bitterness] begins to dominate the character of the tea and the roses are nowhere to be found. They are lost in the thick and engrossing body of the tea.

Laomane Puer

Laoman’e gold soup

The core of the this tea is like an opaque black stone. Orbiting around the bitter gravity are flecks of cream and sweetness.

An intoxicating tea to drink young, for bitter devotees such as yours truly.

For cultists of the floral, perhaps puer is not the right refuge. Oolong teas, fresh green teas, and scented floral teas all hold better claims to the flower throne. I often hear casual tea drinkers in China gripe about the lack of xiangwei [fragrance] in raw puer teas when compared to other teas they drink. This is like complaining about the lack of incense in a temple. Sure, the fragrance of incense in a temple is pleasing to the senses, but if you show up to the temple to meditate and all you can manage is a complaint about the lack of perfume, perhaps you’ve come to the wrong place.

Laomane Puerh

Laoman’e spent leaves

Laochapo, the Old Tea Granny

Old Tea Granny

Liubao Tea and the Old Granny

Every region in China has its own nomenclature for the big, thick 4th and 5th leaves on the tea plant. Puer drinkers most commonly refer to it as Huangpian. I am a champion of huangpian. In tea circles it doesn’t get enough respect. Well aged huangpian can be good in their own rite – sturdy and affordable.

Tea Field Guangxi

A tea plantation bordering a forest outside of Liuzhou, Guangxi

On a recent trip to Liubao, Guangxi I encountered a different tea culture. The people of Liubao are staunch defenders of huangpian, which they call “Lao Cha Po” [ 老茶婆 ] literally translated this means “Old Tea Granny”. Laochapo was held in a spot of reverence. When I asked one Liubao-ite about his favorite tea, he immediately grabbed a handful of brittle orange laochapo and tossed it into a pot.

Laochapo Aged

A 15-20 year old Tea Granny

The tea was about 15 to 20 years old, although he said he could not pinpoint an exact date. The flavor was similar to brown buckwheat honey. Grainy and sweet. No arguments about the merits of this tea.

Laochapo Tea

Younger Laochapo leaf

Lao Cha Po

Young Laochapo soup

We also had a 3 year old Laochapo. It’s scent and flavor was reticent of freshly cut pumpkin meat. If you have ever made a jack-o-lantern and smelled the fresh pulp, this younger Laochapo had a similar flavor. The leaves seemed very lightly cooked and they were not rolled, so the leaves were not bruised as they usually are during the rounian [rolling] process of puer making.

Rotted Aged Tea

The inspection of old leaves, brought in for sale by a farmer

During our session, a tea farmer entered his house to bring in a bag of old Laochapo. She had a bag of Laochapo that she claimed was 20 years old which she wanted to sell him. She said she was remodeling her house and found the bag stashed underneath floor boards. We were all greatly anticipating the tea, but after she opened the bag our hopes were dashed. The tea smelled like decaying fall leaves on a forest floor. The leaves were bug bitten and falling apart, revealing their veined structure. The seller smiled politely, even as he rebuked her offer saying something in Cantonese I couldn’t understand. He then looked at me and said, “This tea is filthy – nobody would drink this. Let’s brew it.” Lovely idea! Like when an older sibling takes a bite of the blue plate special liver and onions and snorts, “This is terrible…try a bite!”

Dank tea

The rotted Laochapo

Despite my better judgment, we brewed it up. Sure enough the tea yielded a disgusting pitch black tar. The smell was repugnant. PSA kids, store your tea well, or it will turn into the rotted leaves below. Protip: Do not put it underneath the floorboards for two decades, unattended.

Tea gone bad

Black tar that quickly found the drain

Should you want to try some (none rotten!) Laochapo, you can buy online here.

1980′s Wild Tree Loose Puer

1980 puer

 Aged Puer Tea

Lovely old puer teas have engrossing stories to tell. This aged puer from origintea has the odor of musty books. Wood unfurls out of the the gongbei [shared cup, glass pitcher] after a rinse. The dust covered smells then morph into a deep caramelized sugar, and then vanish. The leaves smell damp after a long sleep. I wait about two minutes after the rinse before I start steeping. I smell the lid of my yixing and there is a sharp smell of wetness that a lot of older teas have inevitably collected in their long lifetime.

Any hint of the sharp smell vanishes within moments. I place the lid back, wait a moment, and smell again, and again the smell has transformed to fragrant wood and earth. Teas like this are captivating. Their constant changes are a sort of theatrical performance. The sharpness makes a brief cameo appearance, takes a bow, and leaves the stage. The wood is a main character, acting in scenes with the earth and the sweetness. All of the acts being performed amidst a backdrop of smoothness and warmth, the setting of the play. This is what good puer tea should be!

Dry 1980's raw puer tea

Dry 1980′s raw puer tea

The early steeps were thin. The tea was just beginning to wake up, and had a direct thinness similar to aged Liubao tea. As the session progressed this thin character began to widen out.

On the fifth steep I smell the leaves and get a smell of browned stew meat. I did not see him in the playbill! Honestly, I questioned whether I should write this note down, since some puer aficionados are going to read stew meat and think I am an idiot, but it was just the first thing that came to mind. The smell of raw beef that you are browning in the pan. When you take it out of the fire and it sits for a moment and has a sickly, meat smell. That was the connection my brain made. A definite first.

Petr Novak Cup

A view of the dark red brown soup, in a cup from Petr Novak

The star of the show is difficult to pick in such an intense drama. The lingering huigan [sweet aftertaste] is one the best assets of the tea. The smooth texture of the tea and warming body feel are enviable. This is a must see show. A Tony award winner (ha!). Enough with the hackneyed  theatrical references, try the tea!

Zisha Puerh Aged

Spent leaves