Yunnan Corn

State of the Puer Union – Fall 2016

Reflections on 2016 Autumn Puer Tea

The last leaves have been plucked and another autumn has come to a close. This fall lead to some further exploration of teas that have typically taken a back seat to my focus on raw Puer; namely white tea and some experimental blending of white tea and black tea together. This is also the year I’ve pressed and piled the most shou I’ve ever done. (a real lesson in patience) Despite those explorations, the bulk of my time was still spent drinking raw Puer and traveling around to various tea areas.

tea leaf red stem purple
Beautiful tea leaves with reddish stems, Yunnan, 2016

Fairly Stable Weather

Most of late September saw fairly even keel weather and quality conditions for tea growth and production. Scattered rains were nothing beyond the norm and there were plenty of sunny days. Only one or two teas that I had commissioned ended up with a cloudier than average soup, due to a bit of excess moisture during processing. In general, the teas produced this fall met or exceeded my expectations. Should be plenty of good tea coming out in the coming months. Oh yeah, and there was also plenty of mud.

muddy yunnan
Much mud to be had. Yunnan, 2016

New Blending Techniques

This fall was the birth of a new pressing that blends both white and black tea (baicha and hongcha) together into a single cake. It’s an idea that I’ve been toying with for a while and the blend finally felt right, so i commissioned the production of the teas, blended them, and waited for the pressing below. My favorite part of the blend was giving it to some Chinese friends (who are in the tea industry) and watching them turn up their noses at the idea before drinking the odd ball blend, only to immediately back peddle after taking the first sip. As is my usual m.o., the blend of teas is made from exclusively large leaf varietal that is typically destined for raw Puer production. All parts of the blend were sun dried and processed with the coming years in mind, so I’m really looking forward to how the blend ages.

Hot Brandy Tea Cake
The 2016 Hot Brandy, blended black tea and white tea from white2tea , Yunnan, 2016

Side note, the tea was gifted its name by Max Falkowitz who was visiting Yunnan for fall tea. When I brewed a cup for him, he immediately reacted with, “Smells like hot brandy!” I couldn’t pass up such a delightful name, especially given Wisconsinites propensity for drinking brandy. That, and when drinking it the name “Hot Brandy” just felt right. It took all of my restraint to not use a still from “What About Us” for the wrapper art.

New Roads and Infrastructure

Several villages that used to have pothole filled dirt roads received cement from the government to finish roads and in some cases even build houses and schools. Some villagers in Lancang area that I spoke to had to provide their own labor, but the local government provided the cement and most of the the equipment. This is a boon for the local people as it decreases their travel time and improves accessibility, as well as protects their roads from being washed out during rain storms. The villagers organized crews to build the roads and used the materials provided with great success. It’s a generalization, but it seems that Lancang’s government is better organized for supporting infrastructure projects than most. These changes also benefit yours truly, as it shaves hours off of driving times when visiting far flung villages.

A newly constructed cement road
A newly constructed cement road in Lancang, Yunnan, 2016

It’s also encouraging to see villages getting quality of life improvements that will hopefully improve their local economies in the long term. This sort of investment is vital for the future of Yunnan. The downside is that there is a still a long way to go and it is a slow process.

Favorite Scene of the Season

This totem has stuck in my mind. There’s something about its presence in the forest that made it one of my favorite scenes from 2016 autumn. The structure was erected by Lahu people near a well spring where the villagers gather water. They explained that they see it as both an offering and protector. It shows that they are thankful for the water from the spring and that they hope the totem helps the water flow forever.

lahu totem
A totem from the lahu people, Yunnan, 2016

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy the new fall teas as they trickle in over the next couple of weeks. If you’ve had a rough couple of days, take solace in a glass of tea and raise a toast, cause i am right there with you. Here’s to water, here’s to tea, and here’s to humanity. Flow on.

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Youle Puerh Tea

2004 Jinuoshan Youle

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.

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Laoman'e Puer

Puer Scents and a 2011 Laoman’E Gushu

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

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1980 puer

1980’s Wild Tree Loose 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

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Huang Pianr

Huangpian, Tea for Bedtime

Huangpian Gets No Respect

Somewhere along the line, huangpian [the huge, yellow/gold leaves in some puer blends] got a bad rap for being ugly. In most Chinese markets, consumers will pay a premium for buds, or two leaves and a bud. Maybe it is carry over from enthusiasts of other teas? Maybe most people find them aesthetically displeasing? Maybe people hate (or think they hate) the flavors of the big leaf? Whatever the reason, it is a modern aesthetic. Traditionally, the huangpian, also called jintiao [golden strands] in the past, were left in when processing cakes. Even the shift in nomenclature from huangpian to jintiao suggests a widespread lowering of its status.

Huangpian
Dried huangpian from Guafengzhai

However, this shift is actually good news for people like me who enjoy huangpian for a few reasons:

  1. I can buy huangpian that other people pick out of their puer for a discount
  2. When you tell farmers you want to keep some huangpian in your blend, they love you because it increases their tea weight and lightens the work load
  3. You can feel superior to the whiny princesses out there who want perfect, pretty tea. Toughen up, Sally.
Huangpian Puer
A picture of a Huangpian only cake from 2009

Some people’s love of huangpian is so deep they don’t drink anything else. The above cake was that I got from a farmer in Guafengzhai who said he drinks majority huangpian from fall. He told me that he prefers them because they are not as fussy, and he pressed the cake above to give to friends who visit. Admittedly, this is more cost effective than gifting high grade gushu [old arbor tea]. But, I appreciate the gift. Gushu huangpian is in my tea rotation.

There is a litany of other reasons why huangpian are great, but this artcle is going to focus on just one; it is perfect for drinking before bed.

 

Huangpian: Lower Caffeine, Better Dreams

 

Huangpian have naturally lower caffeine than the leaves which are higher on the stalk. I learned this just from trial and error. You brew a pot of huangpian and steep it 5 times and there isn’t a caffeine kick like a fresh green tea or other young puer tea. Luckily, someone out there actually did scientific testing to back up my casual observations (Thank you, Elmwood Inn):

Nigel Melican’s caffeine percentage findings are:

Bud-6.3%

First leaf-4.6%

Second leaf- 3.6%

Third leaf-3.1%

Fourth leaf-2.7%

Leaf stalk-2.0%

Two leaves and a bud-4.2%

Stealing Mr.Nigel Melican’s data, we can see that there is a steady decline in caffeine content as you go down the stem. Reason enough to keep a pot of huangpian near the bed stand.

Huang Pian Puerh
Huangpian tea, ready to chug out of an old teabowl that lost its lid

The other important fact to take away from his study is that the amount of caffeine that remains in the leaves decreases as you steep. If you are particularly sensitive to caffeine, you could brew and toss the first few steeps and get an even lower caffeine intake.

Huangpian puer tea
Huangpian puer soup

The other obvious solution for the caffeine sensitive tea drinker is just drinking caffeine free herbals or warm goat’s milk, but if you have read this far in the article, you are probably a puer addict anyway. Herbal? Come on. Who are you trying to kid?

For me, it is a matter of mood. I do drink herbal teas. Fresh mint or licorice root are favorites on mine at night. But, sometimes I need that depth. A huigan [sweet aftertaste] or kuwei [bitterness] or a mineral feel in the mouth. And my trusty ol’  huangpian are there to rescue me.

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Gua Feng Zhai Puerh Tea

And Never Say Always, 2008 Guafengzhai

Guafengzhai Puer Tea and Managing Expectations

Anyone who has talked puer with me knows that I am a Guafengzhai fan boy. Not quite to the level of Beiber fever screaming and hysterics, but i play the album often. Guafengzhai is an area far East of Yiwu, on the border with Laos. It is a village of Yao minority people surrounded by mountain jungles, with three main tea picking areas; Chaping, Baishahe, and Chawangshu. In addition to those areas, which in my fan boy opinion are some of the best puer areas anywhere, they also have some younger plantation teas. This 2008 Guafengzhai is one of those super young plantation teas – I believe one of the first years they made xiaoshu [little tree] tea using local material, or this is how it was disclosed to me from the source.

Chawangshu
The road to Chawangshu, taken by yours truly in Spring 2013

Being a Belieber in Guafengzhai, before it even comes on stage, I am lost in fantasies of our future together. How it will slowly step down off the stage and press through the crowd, gaze fixed on me. Motioning for the security guards to step aside and pushing through the throngs of other desperate eager puer fanboys. “Come to me. We were meant for each other,” I mouth to the Guafengzhai. It winks at me and picks me up in its long stemmed arms. Or at least, these were my expectations for the session.

We all continually relearn the same lessons in life. My lesson today? Expectation is the precursor to disappointment. Desire the source of all pain. Did the Buddha ever have plantation Guafengzhai?

Plantation Teas and Thinness

Without getting into a bunch of sticky and dangerous talk about the difference between gushu [old arbor] and xiaoshu [little tree, plantation] teas, let me preface by saying there are exceptions to most rules. If you want to talk about stem size. Or veins. Or leaf thickness. Or depth of flavor. Or thinness. Or Body. Or _____. There is almost always an exception. If anyone wants to write a definitive “Gushu is always ______”  list, be my damn guest. I am not poking that hornets’ nest.

Guafengzhai Puerh Tea
Dry Leaves, showing a few years of age

What I will say is that plantation teas generally have less body and staying power, meaning that they are thin in the mouth and die out after a shorter number of steeps. These two factors are what made this session fall short.

The good points, on the first rinse this tea was deeply fragrant. Low purple fruit in the gaiwan, very sweet in the cup.

GFZ Puer
Thin soup

In the third steep two strange things happened. First, a strong smell of Stilton cheese on the leaves – which I have no explanation for, especially considering this tea was dry stored and blue cheese sharpness usually shows up with wet stored teas that have a bit of mold. Second, there was an abrupt and intense astringency. Also, not something I can explain, as I rarely associate Guafengzhai with astringency. The astringency quickly passed however, and was gone on the next steep.

Guafengzhai Puer Tea
Spent leaves

Later in the session ,around the fifth steep, the tea drifted off into thin oblivion, with nothing left to offer. So, there I stood, having the painful realization that my expectations were too high. I did a couple of oversteeps for research and pitched the rest. There are many fish in the sea, and many other teas in my cabinet. No sense in spending time dreaming about this one, especially since I have my own Spring Guafengzhai cakes on the bench.

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Tea Flower Blog

Never Say Never, ManSong 2001 Raw Puer

Cloudy Tea & the Trappings of Conventional Opinion

After countless experiences being proven dead wrong when speaking in puer absolutes, I should know better by now. Today’s tea, a 2001 ManSong raw puer pushes back on a couple of puerisms that many people toss around:

  1. Aged teas tend to lose their youthful fragrances over time in non-dry storage
  2. Cloudy soup is an indicator of “bad” tea

Both of these pieces of knowledge are generally true. An aged tea will often leave it’s floral scents of youth after a decade, or sometimes much faster, depending on the storage. And cloudy soup can be an indicator of a variety of woeful situations, like tea picked after rain or even poor processing, both things which tend to impact the quality of the tea.

Nine times out of ten, these things are right. And then you have the tenth tea.

Zisha Teapot
Dry Maocha about to go into the pot

This tea is roughly a decade old, but smells more fragrant than most young teas.

The first rinse left an intoxicating aroma in the gongbei [shared cup], but as you can see from the image above, it is very low on the clarity scale. Once in awhile you get some fall teas picked after heavy rain which are less cloudy than this. I have no idea where this opacity comes from, but most puer snobs would scoff at the color of the liquor.

Mansong Puerh Tea
Cloudy Tea (Partly to my bad camerasmanshipbility)

I am a snob and I scoffed as well. Then, I took a sip, followed by a bite of humble pie. The first steep had remnants of astringency, but was smooth and thick in the back of the throat. A mix of fruity caramel flavors and a fast huigan [sweet aftertaste] that followed a light bitter body. Don’t judge books by their covers and all that.

Mansong Puer Tea
The soup, getting a bit less cloudy and more red in color

Speaking of prejudice, I was a little bit down on ManSong tea and several other teas from that area before this Spring. Probably because I had a few bad encounters and wrote it off. After visiting several areas around Xiangming and ManZhuan I changed my opinion. Just another re-learning of the lesson to keep an open mind and two open eyes when looking for good tea.

Mansong Pu-erh
Spent leaves, all very hearty
* Might be wrong on the date here, but that is what the farmer wrote on a slip of paper in the bag

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Xia Guan Puerh Tea

2005 XiaGuan 8653

Waiting for Red Soup

Puer drinkers share a common goal of wanting aged tea. There are outliers who love fresh young sheng, but the smoothness and intrigue of an aged cake are tough to beat. Every so often my hands reach for a young cake, but left to my druthers I prefer something with some age. The problem is that old tea costs. But, lately, young tea costs too. Often is disproportionate ways.

Xiaguan Factory is not glamorous. Many turn up their noses at the crane, dismissing it as rubbish. But if you want a tea with age and value, it is a fine place to begin. This year Dayi 7542 was listed at a selling price of around $30 or so from Taobao wholesalers. If that is the price for a new 7542, then I am befuddled. I need someone to clarify how in the world still makes sense. Especially when the tea I am about to discuss is the same price, and 8 years older.

Puer Tea Venn Diagram
Who buys new 7542?

Granted, that Xiaguan 8653 is not the best tea. Maybe not even good tea. But, the likelihood of getting good quality 8 year old cake for $40 is low anyway, so we let’s not split hairs of an 8653’s flaws. Not to mention that for most people, especially people who are new to puer, this Xiaguan is more than enough to hold ones attention.

So, not good. Maybe not even average. But, not bad. Here is a litmus test of whether or not you got a good deal on puer tea in 2013 – can you check the following boxes?

  • Nearly a decade old
  • Under $50
  • Could be described as “Not bad”

If you can say those three things about a puer tea purchased in 2013, then congratulations, you won. This is not an easy thing to do. Let’s look at the red soup.

Dry Leaves from Xiaguan 8653
Dry Leaves from Xiaguan 8653

The tea is medium dark, and even smelling the dry leaves screams Xiaguan. Mildly smokey, umber smells.

The tea is still a little bit astringent, but it is noticeably smoother than a 5 year or younger Xiaguan tea. Plenty of smells and depth come off of the gaiwan lid and leaves.

Tea Steeping Tips
The steep

Some thickness; which, when you consider the price, is something nearing a puer miracle. A brief huigan [sweet aftertaste] and plenty of finish. In the back of my throat there is a nice coating and a slight molasses aftertaste. My tongue tingles a bit from the astringency, but it is not aggravating, just there.

Xiaguan Puer Tea
Soup and the spent chop

Overall, a tea I would be totally comfortable drinking.

When you look at the color of the soup, and a tea that is for most peoples’ purposes good and ready, I don’t understand who would opt for the new 7542. I put the two teas in roughly the same category – big factory blends, which is what they are. Where the price discrepancy comes in is a debate for Dayi fans. I’d rather save 8 years of time and $10 and just drink the 8653 – and this isn’t even my favorite of the Xiaguan teas from 2004-2006, it’s just the one that happened to be in my cup today. Long live the crane.

 

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Purple Dayi Puer 2003

2003 Purple Dayi

Dayi Purple

This generous sample was sent over by Apache, and it spent a long time in my sample bin before making it to the gaiwan, and an even longer time in my draft posts before leaping on to the tea blog. Recently some people have been stirring the online marketing pot for a new production of purple Dayi, so what better time to review this old classic from 2003?

Purple Dayi Puer Tea
Dry Purple Dayi from 2003

Lately a lot of Dayi chit chat has been flung around on various forums where i lurk, most of which is speculating on the prices of Dayi for 2013. Hkteaforums, home to the most Dayi loving folk on our fine planet, has some particularly egregious Dayi butt licking. How many of these people are adbots is a mystery, but it seems that anyone who is excited about paying over $30 for 2013 7542 (China taobao price) must be on the payroll. With at least a few nifty plantation teas with 5 years of age abound for that price, I am hard pressed to think of reasons to buy 7542, which is just a plantation blend after all.

Purple Dayi Soup
Purple Dayi Soup

The 2003 hunk i have is full of buds, and tightly packed. The small pouch poofed a sweet soft smell upon opening.  After a rinse there was trace of smoke, which dissipated after the first steep.

Purple Menghai Puer
Purple Dayi Soup Closeup

Sweetness was lingering throughout the session and most youthful abrasiveness had been smoothed out, with only a little tooth remaining.

Purple Dayi Puerh
Wet Puer leaves during the brewing process, with plenty of sunlight to wash out the photo

The purple dayi gave out around the 8th steep, which is to be expected from most plantation factory productions.

Dayi Big Leaf
A larger leaf amongst the choppy Puer

The Purple Dayi was a very enjoyable session and Apache footing the bill for the sample allowed me to distance myself from the cost of this very dear cake. My advice would be to shovel some coal in your time machine and travel back to a time when this cake was cheap, rather than buy it now. But, if you are going through that much trouble, you might consider warping back a few more years and buying old arbor Guafengzhai and Apple stock in the 90’s instead.

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Timberlake Tea

Nannuo Puer Tea and Justin Timberlake

Justifying Young Puer Teas

Timberlake Puer Wistaria
Dry Nannuo Tea

First, listen to this. We are going to need it as a reference point when elaborating on what Nannuo Puer tea (above) has to do with Justin Timberlake (below).

Pusher girl, a track off of JT’s latest release The 20/20 Experience, is a song that drips. Swells. Pulses. It’s sex. Masterfully produced, well crafted, poppy neo-soul sex. This is the mature pop icon, Justin Timberlake. He is a case study in evolution. Those of you with a memory of American pop culture will recall that before Mr.Timberlake arrived at his current album he went through multiple transformations.

Justin Timberlake Nsync
Justin Timberlake (back left) with his fab boyband hair, which is shockingly only the 3rd worst hairdo in the group

When he was young, you likely loathed him. Back up dancing in baggy jean overalls on  the Mickey Mouse Club. It’s tough to like this kind of family friendly programming, even when you are a kid. If you are like me, you probably didn’t even notice he was there. You opted to watch Voltron instead or despite your dislike, you might have admitted that he had talent and moved on. Even the biggest hater has to admit those are rad 90’s Disney© Dance moves .

Fast forward a few years, he starts fronting for the boy band N’sync. You might not have noticed the Disney Channel show, but unless you lived in a cave, you knew the Back Street Boys and N’sync. His band-mates and hairdo forced you to suppress homicidal rage, but again you had to admit, he had pipes. You weren’t lining up with the 8th grade girls wearing Stussy t-shirts to buy tickets to see their sold out arena shows. Again, you opted out and went to Warped Tour instead.

Jump ahead a few more years. You could really take or leave anything he has done in his career up until this point. He seems like any run of the mill teen heart throb. Then, suddenly, he’s not a kid anymore. He is no longer the Mouseketeer or the teeny bopper boy band lead. He is an adult. He starts putting out albums like Justified and Future Sex Love Sounds. He brings sexy back. Not only do you want to listen to those albums, you are anxiously awaiting his next release. You start seeing him in films and on late night television and he is a talented entertainer. What happened to the Mickey Mouse Club?

After several paragraphs about Justin Timberlake’s career, you might be thinking, “So what does this have to do with Nannuo Shan and puer tea? Twodog, I am a busy man, stop wasting my god damn time. I don’t even like Justin Timberlake. Your analogy sucks and am taking you off of my Google reader.” Keep your top on, I am getting to it.

Nannuo Puerh
Nannuo Puer

Fair reader, I will let you in on two little secrets; First, I never cared for the Mickey Mouse Club. Second, I don’t look forward to drinking young Nannuo teas. However, I still do the latter in spite of not enjoying it.

I drink young Nannuo teas like a talent scout, betting on who is going to have a career. It is a tough game, you might end up with a few JTs or with a few… who was the “bad boy” from 98 degrees? The point is, I don’t drink a lot of  young Nannuo teas in my daily rotation. However, if you open the doors on my personal collection, Nannuo shan is well represented. I am aging them in a few different places, with several different teas, ranging from more well known productions to blank white paper wrapped cakes from small productions. I have more than a few tongs [7 cake stacks] of tea with nothing more to identify them than a quickly scrawled Mr.Qin, Spring, 2007 Nannuo. I still haven’t opened those tongs, but I will when the talent is ready.

2003 Wistaria Ziyin Soup
2003 Wistaria Ziyin Soup

The tricky business with aging puer teas is that it is not an exact science. Teas will go through phases, starring in fast food commercials and waiting tables in between moments in the spotlight. Some will ascend to stardom, others will play regional theater. Poor storage can lead to a once promising tea ending up as a gutter dwelling heroin junkie.

So, where is a Timberlake-esk talent for Nannuo? The 2003 Wistaria Ziyin is in the ballpark. Price tag is around $175  per cake, which is Justified.(Sorry) Not an inexpensive pricetag, but Timberlake doesn’t play weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. Not to mention that finding talent in a sea of aspiring entertainers is a tough game. I could find 100 cakes on taobao [Chinese ebay] that are at or above this price, but have been stored terribly and lack the depth of charms that the Ziyin possesses. It is leathery and oily, thick in the mouth and throat with traces of dark fruit. All of the Mickey Mouse is gone, which can partially be attributed to Taiwan storage.

 

What is a low budget producer to do?

You don’t have $1,000 to spend on a tong of ten year old Nannuo cakes? You are not alone.  For the talent scout on a budget, you are going to have to find stars, not employ them. If a quality 10 year old tea is out of your price range, then a quality 20 or 30 year old tea not in the cards either. So, find some quality 1-3 year old tea. Use your best judgment, and buy a cake or a tong, and stash it in a well cared for pumidor. ( no heavy smells, no direct sunlight, moderate humidity ) In several years time, hopefully some of those guesses worked out. My personal pick and shameless self plug is this 2012 Ruiyuan Nannuo. Will it be a winner? I don’t know. Nobody does.

But in a good scenario, you get a smooth tea that sings and dances with enviable talent.

Ruiyuan Nannuo White 2 Tea Puer Tea
Dry leaves from a young Ruiyuan Nannuo cake

On the off chance you hate Justin Timberlake, (or are underwhelmed like these hipster hate-it-alls), you are welcome to leave alternative rise to glory analogies in the comments. I couldn’t come up with a brutal metal alternative. Maybe Deathklok.

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