cheap shu puer

2007 Liming Golden Peacock Shu

Cheap Shu Puer for Daily Drinking

It has been a few months since the beginning of my blog, and I have yet to mention much shu [cooked, ripe] puer, aside from these lousy teabags. It is not because I never drink shu, but within my puer drinking, it probably only constitutes 5%-10% of my overall consumption. (Or in the last two months, maybe 1%) I do enjoy shu puer, but find it less engaging than sheng [uncooked, raw] puer, so I usually drink it less often. I also tend to drink teas that are redder in color in colder weather, so when winter hits, I drink a lot more aged sheng and shu than in spring and summer, when I tend to drink younger teas. With old man winter announcing his presence this last week, it was time to bring out the cooked pu. (Although these pics are from a couple months ago)

Liming Puerh
Dry leaves

In the past, I felt like I have crapped all over Liming Factory, due to this Qiaomu Chawang, which is mainly their own damn fault, for naming such an average tea the “arbor tea king”. Where is the humility?! But, a little bit of the blame rests on me for being picky and demanding. The price of the tea king isn’t reasonable, but I don’t hate Liming. And to prove I don’t completely hate Liming, I present this cheap shu puer. A similar shu is floating around Taobao and can be bought for anywhere between USD5- USD15, a totally reasonable price for a very drinkable everyday shu. (The shu below is a bit more expensive, but very similar, I have had both) If you are a fan of shu, I recommend you pick some up. If only their “arbor tea kings” has a similar price tag.

Liming Puer
Shaky hands and clear soup
Liming Ripe Puer
More soup witcha meal

Now, Liming factory is sort of a copycat, and these cakes are far from the best shu puer you can get, but they are decent for their price. Having a cake of shu around which can be chipped into 15 gram chunks without fear of being decadent is a blessing. This is a solid shu, with a classic woody flavor and some  medicinal kind of flavor floating around. A warm friend to help welcome winter.

Li Ming Puerh
Leaves in the Gaiwan

 

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Haiwan Pashan 2006

2006 Haiwan Pasha

Haiwan Pasha & the Joys of Youth

Tight, tippy, tobacco, and T. The four T’s. Jakub, fellow puer enthusiast and blogger, sent this 2006 Haiwan Pasha puer.

The tips are welded together. The master crafted blades do not yield to my boiling water. Only after three rinses do they decide to give way and open up, I must have gotten the very epicenter of this cake. The first true steep (maybe 4th overall?) of tea was perhaps the best, mellow and smooth.

Raw Puer Tea Haiwan Pasha
Cakes of steel

After further unfurling, the tea turned towards heavier tobacco, and a brief tannic harshness – probably the only real bone I have to pick with this tea.

Puerh tea Pasha
Steel is slow to melt

The throatfeel was excellent throughout, and lingered a bit after the session. The middle of the session also had a pleasant vibrancy in the mouth.

Puerh Tang
Pasha Soup

This tea is from 2006, but it has been told it can play younger. The Pasha looks a bit green in the leaves, probably due to a combination of dry storage and being pressed by a blacksmith’s apprentice. It could probably use another several years to break down some of the tannins and turn it into a something excellent. However, it is very drinkable now. Younger sheng lovers will no doubt enjoy its character.

Spent puerh tea leaves
Spent leaves

It has decent staying power, with its flames extinguishing around the tenth steep. A very enjoyable session, thanks again to Jakub. This tea can be purchased at Yunnan Sourcing for $50.

 

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Colourful Yunnan

2012 Colourful Yunnan Puer Teabags

Puer Teabags & Bad Teabag Puns

I had high hopes about Colourful Yunnan puer teabags, the mass marketed bagged puer tea that swept over China’s grocery stores last year. My excitement stemmed not from a desire to drink it, but because it would provide me a sturdy soap box to stand on. This would not be one of those mysterious sessions, where the complexity of the tea left me grasping for adjectives. Nor would it be a session where my writing skills were painfully inadequate to describe the experience of the tea. And last but not least, it would not be a session where I was left feeling amatuerish, a boy playing a man’s game. One of those sessions where puer leaves you mystified, as if your years of experience amount to nothing more than a fizzling star in a galaxy of tea knowledge.

Colourful Yunnan Puerh
What a great box

No, not today.

Today is Colourful Yunnan. Today I get to plant a flag and stand my ground and call a spade a spade. Today I am Lebron James and my opponent is the Westside Middle School 6th grade basketball team…or that was what my initial reaction. However, after a bit of soul searching, I decided that dunking on 6th graders was neither fair nor productive. Rather than point out of all the flaws of Colourful Yunnan’s bagged tea, of which there are many, I ought to try to and focus on some of the good. After all, Colourful Yunnan does have a couple of major positives:

1) It increases overall public awareness of puer
2) It provides a relatively inexpensive and convenient way for people to steep puer tea, sans accoutrements
3) They make use of the floor sweepings left behind when average puer tea is produced
4) ???
5) The…er,…um… packaging is … presentable

His love of teabagging might break up their otherwise blissful marriage

Alright, maybe slightly fewer positives than I had anticipated, but let’s look at the first couple. It does do a service in terms of bringing puer to a wider audience. Maybe restaurants that would previously not have offered puer as an option will now stick it on the menu. Maybe they will stock it at offices next to the bagged greens and oolongs. Maybe it will start showing up as a free bagged tea in hotel minibars outside of Asia. When I was growing up in the US, the only tea option most restaurants had was a bag of Lipton. If they got into Bigelow territory, they were already ahead of 99% of the competition. As a kid, I remember going to a small hotel that had a tea box with several different colorful packets of tea on the table and thinking it was some sort of lost beverage treasure chest. Every tea drinker starts somewhere, and Colourful Yunnan could be a gateway drug. Even Lebron had to begin his career playing 6th grade basketball.

Puer Teabags
The dry teabag

Second positive, it is widely available and convenient to steep. How many people are willing to keep a puer cake, a tea needle, a gaiwan, cups, and a tea table on their office desk? There are a lot of people who scoff at that amount of equipment. Those very same people would be more than willing to have a mug and a tea bag in their desk drawer. Problem solved. Anyone who was turned off by the process of brewing tea just joined the puer team. Again, gateway drug. You start them off on bags, and hopefully within a few years they are brewing up 15 year vintage puer in a gaiwan on their 3 ton mahogany and stone tea table, complete with intricately carved scenes of phoenixes and monks and whatever the hell. Also, clay figurines of Buddha.

Now that I have respectfully acknowledged some silver lining, its time for some Harlem Globetrotter style disregard for my opponent. The tea itself is typical bagged tea. Dregs, fannings, whatever you want to call it. It’s a one and done brew, and the brew is not particularly smooth, a little bit harsh. It is floral in a generic (see: bad) way and has a slight sweetness. It is also perfumey and no doubt has some sort of standardizing additive. Additional silver lining, the liquor has a nice color and clarity to it; I must admit, it does have a nice color (colour) to it. Based on visuals alone, it’s quite nice. Throw the actual drinking of the tea into the mix and you have a bit of a problem. Rather than prattle on about how this tea lets you down in nearly every department, whether it be flavor, mouthfeel, and on and on, I will just say that it is somewhat like the Lipton of puer, and leave it at that.

Puerh Teabag
Some serious teabagging

I can’t really see myself drinking Colourful Yunnan for any reason other than hypothetical desert island scenarios, but then again, they don’t need me. I am not their target market. And if you are reading this, I suspect neither are you. The two things that it has going for it are mass marketing and convenience. I have seen promotions in supermarkets and office buildings in several major Chinese cities. There has been an assault of advertising, in an effort to secure some market share for people who want a bag of tea to brew and chuck into the waste bin. I would say that the price is good, but pound for pound there must be 10,000 other teas that are better. The bagged dregs weigh in at 2 grams, when considering you can get some really respectable 357 gram shou puer cakes for a few dollars, I can not claim their price is good.

Two Cups
Me, throwing out the remaining perfumey brew in favor of some sheng. Also, ran out of captions with sexual overtones. Boobs.

Whether Colourful Yunnan will flourish has yet to be seen. It will be a battle of marketing and mass appeal versus quality. Who the globetrotters are in that game, is still anybody’s guess.

“You bet against the Harlem Globetrotters?”
“I thought the Generals were due!”

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Naka Puerh Tea

Taobao Tea Roulette : 2010 “Naka”

The Sting of Taobao Tea

Ordering $4 tea off of Taobao is kind of like playing roulette. The odds are against you – to a degree that make roulette look like a wise investment. After scouring taobao tea with dreams of winning big, but you would be thrilled to get any return at all. In all likely hood, you will walk away a loser. There is a reason the Venetian has enough money to hire gondoliers to sing to you; it’s a rigged game. So, why do we gamble? Addiction Hope. Hope is the reason.

New pair of Guafengzhai

As for myself, I’ve never been a roulette man, a craps man, or even a casino man. What I am, is a taobao tea man. I enjoy flipping around $3 or $20 or…let’s not talk about amounts, the point is, I enjoy laying bets and seeing if I can turn up a gem once in awhile.

Taobao Naka Puer
White wrapper Naka Puer from Taobao

This habit has turned up its fair share of shit tea, but once in awhile, you get lucky. This cake is an example of the excremental side of the dice rolling. One of many cakes where I spun the wheel – and lost. So…Why write about? No reason really, except that somebody noticed a stray comment I had made on a message board referring to this tea, and was curious if it was this yexiangwang tea. I decided to clear up which tea was which, and also try to point out some of the silver linings of the cloud that is this “Naka” tea.

First, let’s start with a basic question – is this Naka tea? The most logical answer would be – no. Why is this not Naka tea? Well, for one thing, Naka raw material ought to be more expensive than $2 per 357g. If someone tries to sell you a real Rolex on a street corner for $10, the most obvious question is “why $10”? I knew this going in to the purchase, but was curious what they were trying to pass off as Naka for the same price as a happy meal.

Taobao Gamble
The deceivingly pretty dry leaves

After a rinse, this tea leaves the gaiwan smelling fruity and sweet. The lid also has a beany aftersmell (neither of those are actually words). The first steep is very cloudy and dirty. Lots of floating bits and a lack of clarity in the soup. I decide to pour it out and score it as a double rinse.

The first drinkable steep is a dark golden color, with higher clarity than the first two rinses, but a bit more dirty than most good puer. Black floaty dots stubbornly remain despite repeated rinsing; I decide to drink them, as the alernative seems to be an additional five rinses and I am a lazy, lazy man.

Puer Soup
Puer Soup

The soup is very se [astringent], with a very light kuwei [pleasant bitterness], and no throat or mouthfeel to speak of. The tea is in and out of the mouth in a flash, like drinking hot water.

The next steeps stay in the mouth a little longer, with the clarity maintaining its cloudiness. It is difficult to pinpoint where this tea is from, but I think Lincang would a reasonable guess. The price, flavors, scents, and clarity would make a convincing argument. The tea never really becomes cleaner, in flavor or clarity. The throatfeel has moments of comfort, but they are fleeting.

Spent leaves
Spent leaves

The tea drifts along through the session in roughly the same way it began, a bit harsh and dull. But, let’s review our fact sheet: $4. 357g. You don’t go to McDonald’s and complain that your burger is overcooked. For $4, you take what you get, which in this case, is a dirty lincang-ish cake. You could do worse, but you could also do better. I chalk it up to another small loss at the taobao casino.

I would not really recommend this cake to anyone, but if you want to try it for the sake of masochism research, i can break you off a piece. I have plenty left. Or, go here.

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Xiaguan Puer

2007 Xiaguan Teji Tuo

Xiaguan Tuos: Rough and Rugged

Xiaguan – the workin’ mans’ puer. This little chunk of coal has fueled many late afternoon meetings at the office. The compact nature of the tuo makes it ideal for chucking into a bag or stuffing into a desk, to be summoned when energy is needed. This is the first real session* I have shared with this particular tuo. Prior to today, it was mostly a way to cut through Chinese business lunch or to kickstart a drowsy afternoon.

*real sessions include real or at least feigned efforts of analysis, attentiveness, gaiwans, an air of smug knowitallism, general indulgence
Xiaguan Dry Puer
A close up of the dry chunk

Blue collar affordability makes up for the shortcomings, at just a few dollars for 100 grams of tea, it is utilitarian puer. It has plenty of strength and character; also, hot pink packaging.

Xiaguan tuo
Tightly packed tuo, reluctantly breaking apart
Xia Guan Puer steep
Further steeping of the rock

The liquor is a copper color, showing a little bit of age, but the age does not show up  in the cup. It is still very youthful and dirty. At times that youth shows up as an impudent lack of grace, but that is what keeps the party going. Afterall, dinner parties with mannerly guests are boring and uneventful. A little ruckus keeps the host on their toes. Think of young Xiaguan like a dinner guest who insists on fervently espousing their political views during the opening course.

After a rinse, the combination of tobacco and smoke on the gaiwan lid smells like a hotboxed dorm room, but that goes away after the first steep or two.

Xiaguan Puerh
Xiaguan soup

I had a flashback to a particular pipe tobacco a friend of mine used to smoke, called Black Kathy. ( a quick google search told me that is was a black cavendish with vanilla flavoring). This tea has transported me several times to that flavor of dark tobacco and vanilla (kind of) sweetness that lingers in the mouth.

Xiaguan spent puer
Don’t let anybody tell you Xiaguan tuos lack big leaves

Despite a young Xiaguan tuos inability to win a popularity contest, I enjoy them from time to time. They are inexpensive and don’t require a lot of fuss. I’ve definitely got plenty in my storage stash, which I will look forward to enjoying a decade from now, with a similarly nonchalant attitude.

 

 

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Makaibari

2008 Darjeeling Makaibari Silver Tips

Memories of Makaibari

After a couple of months of writing posts, it seems I have neglected to write about anything other than puer. Time to set the record straight; I do actually drink other tea.

Darjeeling White Tea
Dry “Silver Tips Imperial” from Makaibari

The following is what I am going to somewhat dubiously call an “aged white tea”. It probably doesn’t deserve such a title, as its aging and storage have occurred in a drawer over the past 4 years, after I bought it in Darjeeling at the Makaibari tea estate. I am not sure that treating a tea with the amount of neglect usually reserved for unpaired gym socks discarded behind a sofa counts as “aging”, but for the purposes of this article, let us pretend it does.

White tea is intentionally aged. Several years ago, I purchased one such aged white Fujian tea at the Shanghai tea expo. They brewed up a reddish color, sweet and full of cinnamon. I must have purchased it in 2008  because I distinctly remember drinking it as I watched Dwight Howard missing a baffling amount of free throws in the 2009 NBA Finals, handing Kobe another championship. How can you play basketball for a living and shoot a worse free throw percentage than a scrub tea blogger? ANSWER ME, DWIGHT! Anyhow, that was my introduction to aged white tea.

It was Marshaln who recently alerted me to a couple of vendors in the far corners of Maliandao [a Beijing tea market] that were selling aged white puer teas, or what looks to me to be furry white silver needle teas, some pressed, and some loose. It was a trip to that vendor that triggered my memory of this tea, which I had squirreled away after a trip to Darjeeling in 2008, and all but forgotten about.

Makaibari Darjeeling
Steeping in a brand new white ceramic gaiwan

I was not taking notes on teas back in 2008, but from what I remember of this tea, it was exceptionally light. A bit of food or non-water beverage would destroy most of its subtly. Other than that, most of my memories revolved around the crisp weather of Darjeeling and drinking red teas from the surrounding areas. In fact, this was probably the only white (or non-fermentation processed) tea I had on the trip.

Darjeeling Makaibari Silver Tips Imperial
The reddish soup

The tea has undergone a thorough transformation since I last drank it.  It has become even lighter than I remember it, with fleeting flavors of Cinnamon that flit over the tongue. A gentle way to drift through a sunny afternoon, what a shame that I only have enough for one more session. Or maybe that is my hint that I need to return to India.

White gaiwan with white tea
White gaiwan with white tea

 

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