2017 Spring Puer Tea

2017 Spring Puer Tea State of the Union

The State of 2017 Spring Puer Tea

I have to clear the air straight away; 2017 was not a good year for Puer tea. I don’t want to dance around it. It just wasn’t as good as the previous few years. Now, before you panic, that isn’t to say that there was no good tea. There was some very good tea. However, that good tea was in short supply and commanded higher prices, as one when expect when the supply is squeezed. From my vantage point, it took a lot more work in 2017 to wade through the glut of average quality material and get to the goods – and if you’ve been watching my snapchat/instagram, you’ve probably seen a cake worth of maocha going down every day for a couple of months. These days my cakes are being pressed, so I took this free moment to write up my 2017 spring Puer tea reflections.

2017 Puer tea leaf
Freshly picked Puer tea leaf, 2017

Short Supply of Puer and Erratic Weather

Why was the tea generally worse and in short supply? The main reason is erratic weather. cough climatechangeexists cough I’m sorry I am coming down with some sort of…cough whythefuckistheuspresidentleavingtheparisclimateaccords cough pardon me, I am really sorry, it’s just this cold. cough itsnotacold cough

The early spring was extremely dry and cold. This resulted in a lot of very low quality (editor’s opinion) early growth. The tea was short stemmed and lacking necessary water content, causing most leaf to be difficult to process, since it was not the norm. Some people would say those teas are more concentrated. Those people are welcome to buy them. I personally found those teas to be dry and awkward; and processing difficulties resulted in tea being dry and of lower than average quality. In addition to that, through late March the weather was too cold, leading to slower than average spring growth. Then, a small amount of rain and a bump in temperature lead to some later than usual growth, but still much less than previous years.

withering tea leaves
Withering Leaves, Spring 2017

Anecdotal evidence, some farmers I spoke with had a mere 100 kilograms of tea by mid-April, whereas in 2016 they had 280 kilograms. This (and the weather described above) are generalities that may not apply to every mountain, Yunnan is a big place, but this analysis rang true for most places I visited during my nearly three months in and around southern Yunnan.

As a consumer, I’d recommend being a bit more discerning about which teas you buy this year. There was a lot of lower quality tea, and with the squeeze on the supply, a lot of it cost a pretty penny. The easiest way to be safe is to buy my tea. Just kidding. cough notkidding cough

The Usual Tuhao Suspects

The usual shenanigans abound this spring. Herds of tourist SUVs heading up to mountains like Laobanzhang and Nannuo mountain. Lots of tea vendors talking a big game about how they have spring Bingdao old arbor or other nearly unattainable teas. Plenty of arguments over correct processing and chaqi [tea energy]. Plenty of tea merchants breezing through to take pictures and quickly shuffle back home with their bags of maocha in hand.

tea wok
The back of a wood fired tea wok, Spring 2017

Anecdotal observation of the above: In mid-March there was a pair of younger women from Zhejiang province, discussing their trip in Menghai at a dinner table. Regrettably, I was seated next to them and was granted no reprieve from their conversation. They explained how they had been in the Puer business for two years, and mostly dealt in gushu [old arbor] Laobanzhang. I found this kind of amusing, but then they proceeded to tell me they were going to Laobanzhang that day to get their tea. In addition to that, it was the second time they had been to the village in their life. Now, there are a few holes in their story, even in summary form; Laobanzhang gushu wasn’t even picked until early/mid-April and the material is difficult to obtain, even for seasoned veterans. They then went on to tell me how Menghai was too low class because it lacked a Gucci store. I quietly began inhaling my rice at record speed and recused myself from the table as fast as I could. Other topics of note, before I finished my devouring my food, included how Menghai really needed a Gucci store and how the local people were not stylish enough.

Encounters with people like this are etched in my brain forever. Who are these people? Who are their customers? They own brick and mortar stores in China. Do you ever see those posts on tea forums where people ask “Where should I buy some tea on my trip to China?” I always want to type “Nowhere! Turn back now! You’re fucked!” What if a tourist wanders into these viper nests? Good luck, kids.

Puer maocha
Maocha from Spring 2017

Continued Economic Development and Better Life Quality

On a brighter note, several villages I’ve been going to for years are continuing to develop. Dirt roads are getting paved in cement. The government is giving free bricks to people with wooden houses. The general quality of life continues to improve for people in rural Yunnan. Which brings me to my blatant plug of the spring:

2017 U 2 CAN HELP, check white2tea.com for details

This year white2tea made a tea cake to benefit the non-profit organization Education in Sight. They focus on bringing eyecare to children in rural Yunnan, and for each cake white2tea sells we will donate one eye exam, a pair of glasses, and eye education to a child in need via Education in Sight. Our goal is to sell 100 cakes and sponsor 100 kids. We’d appreciate anybody who helps us spread the word. Even if you aren’t into buying the cake, you can donate to EIS and help the cause of kids in rural Yunnan! cough thanksforyoursupport cough

Chinese Government Infrastructure in rural Yunnan
The government providing free bricks and roads in Yunnan, Spring 2017

Moonshine of the Year 2017

Lastly, it wouldn’t be a Puer state of the union without a best moonshine of the spring award. I was originally going to award it to a four year moonshine steeped in raw olives, but I can’t find the damn picture and I’ve had a long day, so the award goes to this corn moonshine that I drank at 11:07 AM, unceremoniously, out of paper cups at a tea farmers house. Sweet, clean, and with just a hint of that Dixie goodness. (I took pics on my snapchat, but those are gone now. So here is the barrel of the next batch)

Yunnan corn moonshine
A fermenting barrel of corn for future moonshine, Spring 2017

The 2017 teas are being pressed now, and we will release them as they trickle in. We rushed the 2017 U 2 CAN HELP cake because we wanted to make sure it got some proper spotlight before the rest of the teas drop.

tea questions

What am I Doing Wrong with my Tea?

Am I strange?

My inbox is a vault full of tea questions. The more common questions inevitably evolve into blog posts. I’ve even toyed with the idea of starting some sort of “Ask Twodog” column where I give tea and relationship advice. I’m only half joking. E-mail me with the subject “Dear Twodog” and I’ll try to fix your relationship probs – all anonymous – let the dog jump start your love life. But until the advice column gains steam, I’ll be sticking with tea and using oft asked tea questions for blog fuel.

The question that sparked this post was a question type i’ve seen frequently lately:

I was trying a fair amount of the shu and found a few that were OK, but it felt like something was missing. I started adding about 2g of the Gaoshan Qingbing to 6g of shu to get some high notes and like it a lot. The funny thing is that just by itself, the GaoShan is not my favorite. So my question is if you know of other people that do this or am I just strange.

The answer to this question, “am I just strange?” is almost inevitably yes. Yes, you are strange, but strange is normal. This is something that I’ve learned from years of reading Dan Savage. The subjective nature of taste results in broad variations. You’re not normal and neither is anybody else.

For tea folk, the whole subject of tea can become a bit dear – I am as guilty of this as anybody. The questions of good and bad, right and wrong, they loom heavy. They are such an ominous cloud that people sometimes forget to just have fun.

You’re pouring water on leaves. Imbibing a beverage that has thousands of years of human history. Enjoy yourself for fuck’s sake. note to self

With that being said, here are a few question formulas that have hit my inbox lately, with some generic advice for each.

tea questions
Is it strange to drink tea this way?

Can I Mix Ripe and Raw Puer?

The question above; is mixing ripe Puer and raw Puer some sort of sacrilege punishable by flagellation? Not at all, people do this. You are OK. Some bricks and cakes are even pressed this way. (Spoiler alert: I have pressed some, but not released them yet) Though, if you do want to mix your ripes and raws, here are some helpful tips:

  • It helps to mix a slightly aged raw. Young raw profiles are usually far too disparate to successfully meld with ripe Puer
  • I’ve had more success bolstering a ripe with a middle aged raw than vice versa, though that is a broad rule made to be broken
  • Don’t be afraid to blend your raws with other raws, too. Crimson Lotus Tea Cats and white2tea Dogs are a collaborative pair of blended tea with just that kind of mad tea science in mind

Is it weird if I like X better than Y?

I get this question a lot. It boils down to people not being confident in their own preferences, which can admittedly take a bit of time. Typically this happens with teas that are from differing price ranges. For example, you might like a $50 tea more than a $150 tea. There are a myriad of reasons why different teas cost different prices, including but not limited to: vendor mark up, fame of the village, fame of the producer, where the supplier purchased it from, who their typical customers are, whether it is Bingdao from 70,000 year old trees and the farmer cut them a “deal”, etc. All of that is to say that price does not always have a direct correlation to quality with tea.

This boils down to trusting your own gut, not the price tag. If it’s right for you, it’s right.

tea pour
It’s important to trick people into thinking you drink whisky in the daylight

What if I dislike this tea everyone else likes? Am I missing something?

Maybe you are, maybe not. In my life of beverage consumption, there are things that were over my head at various times in my journey. That being said, you should always default to drinking whatever raises your happiness levels at the current time. From a financial standpoint, if you hate old arbor Yiwu, that’s probably great news for your wallet.

Rather than keeping up with the Joneses and second-guessing your own experience, do what feels right. And for the love of tea, if you stumble on a good blending recipe, share it. (#madteascience?) There are a lot of interesting possibilities out there. Blend your favorite teas together and take notes. And don’t be too serious about it.

meng song

State of the Puer Union – Spring 2016

Reflections on Spring Puer in Yunnan

As 2016 spring teas are slowly working their way into the teapots of tea drinkers around the world, it seems like a good time to reflect on my spring in Yunnan. Technically it isn’t over yet, as I am still here for a few weeks yet, but as everything is being pressed and packed it feels like the rush is over. The streets are a lot quieter and the luxury SUVs full of tea tourists are nowhere to be seen. I much prefer this time of the year. Year after year the early spring tea tourists and whirlwind buyers are increasing, and they make me feel anxious. There are all sorts of festivals, parties, and box socials. I am tired of it. This year I became increasingly anti-social, retiring to my hotel room to drink tea all night and have some snapchat jam sessions, (snapchat: white2tea) rather than going to boozy dinners, crowded karaoke rooms, and meeting up with distant acquaintances. I also found myself becoming increasingly skeptical of new people. It seems every year there is a new person or two showing up, making tea for a year (maybe two) and then you never see them again. This high turnover of would be tea masters and blowhards has left me craving headphones instead of chit chat.

Naka tea
Lone tea bud, Naka Mountain, Yunnan 2016

Tea Tourism in Yunnan

There has been a huge influx of tourists over the last few years. Ever since Laobanzhang got its ATM a few years ago, the direction of the current has been apparent. Since then, more and more tourists flood into the village each spring. Most spending way too much money on very low quality tea. Several of the people from Laobanzhang who I am close with told me the amount of money they were making from retailing a few kilos per tourist and I could barely imagine it. Nannuo mountain was the same. Nannuo, which is located very close to both Menghai and Jinghong is a very tourist accessible location. The tea farmers, savvy as ever in their ability to dupe tourists, are making a killing.

Puerh tea leaves
Hand and Tea Leaves, 2015

One farmer bragged that they took most of their young tree material and put it into small paper sacks, 700g of this, 900g of that, and labeled it all as single tree ancient arbor. (Tree #4, Tree #16b) Selling each bag of “single tree ancient arbor” for a few hundred dollars to random tourists. I can’t say I blame them. If I grew up without electricity and suddenly tuhao (see:yuppy) Chinese tourists started knocking on my door with LV wallets full of cash, I think I’d probably start telling them about the 2000 year old trees in the forest that I picked just for them.  And hey, maybe it’s a win-win? The tourists just want a memento and probably know very little about Puer anyway. The farmers are partly selling them tea and partly selling them the experience. As long as the tea farmers are making a lot of money from tuhao tourists, I am happy for their lies. As long as they don’t shovel too many my way.

And a side note; if only these tourists followed my blog they could learn some important tea buying tips. Like, if you hear the words “single tree” or “ancient” just run away.

Shady as the above practices might be, the tea tourism is a boon for the farmers. One farmer who I’ve worked with for several years sold out of his tea before mid-April, selling (almost) all of it to tourists and at a much higher price than he would have been able to sell it to the likes of me or someone else buying maocha.

Tea Tree Age and Descriptions

It’s been interesting to watch how people describe the ages of their trees, for both the farmers and vendors. It’s also made me increasingly cynical about how old a lot of trees actually are. An anecdotal example; another vendor and I split a farmer’s entire production of tea last year. I hadn’t pressed mine, but he did. I was looking at his wrappers and he wrote on the back “Tree ages from 100-300 years old, xiaoshu [little tree]”. This made me laugh for a couple of reasons. First, the material was from 30 year old trees and that is being generous. Second, little tree? How warped is the market that anyone would consider 100-300 years old “little”? For the record, 100-300 year old trees are not only not little, they are rare and expensive. Or put another way, if you took teas from 100 vendors with Puer tea labeled as being from trees over 100 years, most of it would not be from trees over 100 years of age.

Tea Caterpillar
Caterpillar in a Tea Tree, Mengku, Yunnan, 2016

Naturally I started giving him shit for his ridiculous age statement. He told me, and I’ll paraphrase, “What do you want me to do? I have no options. Everyone else is writing 1000-2000 years old on their wrappers. If I write 30 years old, nobody will buy it!” And he’s got a point. This same mentality has leaked over into most of the Western market too. People somehow have come to think that 70-100 years old is “small” or “typical”. With some vendors tossing around high three digit and four digit ages, people get a warped senses of what actual tea trees are like and how much old tree material there is. It’s not for me to dispel all this nonsense, but it’s worth repeating something i’ve said 100 times before; ignore wrappers, ignore stories, ignore ages/sizes/village names etc. Most of it is completely meaningless. Just pay attention to the tea.

Price Fluctuations

Price trends seemed roughly in line with what I’ve written in the past. Low quality material dropped a bit in price. High quality material from older trees and famous villages either maintained or became more expensive. A few villages in particular, like Xigui, continued to climb in price. Some areas that are lesser known stayed about the same or dropped in price. The market seems fairly stable, save for a few outliers on either end, good and bad. It all seems fairly natural. The teas of high quality can demand a higher price, as most of them have a limited production and are typically purchased by the wealthy. Historically speaking, whenever rich people fight over limited resources, bad things happen.  The low quality teas are going to need to up their game if they want to fetch a high price in the future. There is a lot of over production of crap tea and no real market for it.

Tea Stone Press
Pressing Stones, Menghai, Yunnan, 2016

Moonshine of the Year

As with previous years, I’ve had many (often unavoidable) encounters with various grain alcohol when tripping around the mountains. This alcohol from Mengsong was this spring’s most entertaining. They took corn based alcohol and drown live mud wasps in it. These wasps are fairly fat and roughly the size of a quarter. After stuffing these wasps in the glass jug, they let is sit until it turns a healthy(?) umber color.

Wasp Moonshine
Mud Wasp Hooch, Mengsong, Yunnan, 2016

Obviously this drink has significant TCM applications. Most of which revolve around the invigoration of men (strengthening the stinger, if you will) and alleviation of pain. I always laugh at the “relieves joint pain” portion, as if you need mud wasps for this when drinking 50%+ grain alcohol. I’m not a doctor, but the mud wasps probably aren’t doing the heavy lifting on pain killing there. Has anybody with joint pain every downed a glass of moonshine and said, “My joints still hurt! If only there had been mud wasps!”?

Thanks for reading, spring teas will be on the way towards the end of June.


Taste Tea Blog

Taste is in the Mouth of the Beholder

Differences in Taste and Cultural Reference Points

In China, it is common to stumble upon pizzas that force you to question whether a higher power exists and if there is a point in carrying on living. Shrimp, chunks of corn, bits of seasoned ground beef, all with sweet mayonnaise drizzled over the top of the lifeless processed cheese and wonderbread crust. It’s as if the chef was using pizza as a vehicle for a cruel joke. Its only purpose is to taunt honest people who wanted a delicious pie.

Or at least, that is my perspective.

Chinese Pizza
Just look at that…delicious…pizza

I grew up on different styles of pizza. When I was a kid, I gobbled down Little Caesar’s craptacular pizzas while taking breaks from playing NBA Jam and Killer Instinct. In my teenage years, it was higher quality pizzas in Chicago and New York styles. Later on, more of the Italian-style pizzas crept into my repertoire. But, like anything, pizza and pizza preferences are learned. The reason shrimp and sweet mayonnaise pizza makes me borderline violent is because it is “wrong”. But, what is wrong anyway? Local Pizza Huts are full of eager diners, patiently waiting for their corn and squid covered abominations. Such is the mystery of culinary preferences that vary amongst humankind.

 The Flavors of Rightness and Wrongness

Many Puer tea drinkers will rise up in arms over the inherent “rightness” or “wrongness” of flavors and characteristics. “This tea has smoke on it! They burned it! WRONG!” is one common battle cry. “This tea is bitter! Nobody would want to drink this!” is another oft hurled insult. However, as a man who receives Puer related correspondence from all over the world, I can safely say that some people want bitterness. Or want smoke. Or want sweetness, thickness, thinness, sharpness, or smoothness. That is to say, some people want shrimp and sweet mayonnaise while others want mozzarella and fresh basil.

Pizza Hut China
Merry Christmas! Hug for Love. Thanks, Pizza Hut.

These judgments, whether for Puer or pizza, stem from the same cultural and flavor backgrounds that we all learn. If your mother served you bitter tasting medicine when you were a child, of course the bitter flavors will conjure up cerebral connections of sickness and medicine. If you have been told that smoke is the result of imperfect processing, the smoke is a signal of low quality, whereas a seasoned Scotch whisky drinker might associate smoke with peat and a fine bottle of Laphroaig. Referring back to my personal pizza dilemma, for someone who has been eating American- and Italian-style pizzas, toppings such as shrimp, corn, and sweet mayo don’t make a hell of a lot of sense. But, what is inherently wrong with bitterness, smoke, shrimp, corn, and sweet mayo?

eating wasps
Sweet, nourishing wasps and minnows

Similar trials and tribulations happen all the time when I am traveling to tea mountains in China. My hosts gleefully tell me, “We knocked down a fresh wasps nest!” Which means I will be dining on wasps. Or the wide variety of marmots, bug larvae, and organ meat that farmers happily serve to me when on the road in small tea villages. Tea farmers will often describe with delight how these fried bamboo worms are prepared just how his mother used to make. I try to keep an open mind and remind myself that taste is in the mouth of the beholder. Though sometimes that is a test of my willpower; especially when two friends begin arguing about whether they had properly cooked out the venom from the wasps. Not reassuring fellas. Pass the minnows!

Viewing Puer tea flavors through a wider and more open lens has allowed me enough distance to reconsider my own perspective of what is good and bad. In the future, I will kindly nod when I pass by a gleeful family munching on shrimp and corn pizza – or someone happily drinking a Puer that I dislike. After all, the most important factor with food and drink is whether it can bring a smile to your face.

Last Thoughts Puerh

How to Buy Puer Tea: The Three Tenets

Tenet One: Walk Before you Can Run. Then Sprint.

How to buy Puer tea might not seem like a topic that needs instruction. Click the pay button and you are done, right?

A lot of new Puer drinkers make a common mistake, which is getting too much tea before they really understand much about Puer tea and their own personal preferences. Your ability to judge other people’s character is like your ability to judge Puer tea. We all begin as novices and improve over time.

The ability of most Puer beginners to judge character is the equivalent of a 12 year old’s ability to judge people. Remember that time you thought you were in love with Susie Johnson in 7th grade? Your puppy love in full swing, when she walked into the room you heard Close to You as the room turned rose colored and began to spin. You were certain that you were meant for each other and destined to get married! Soul mates. You’d move to an island together. Start a family. Build some sort of tree house with a coconut phone and monkey butlers. How’d that work out? In hindsight it is probably better that you (or they) called off the teenage wedding.

2003 Gold Dayi
Gold Dayi from 2003. A tea that is so oft faked and so expensive that it is barely attainable

As time goes on we all improve our ability to discern who is the best fit for us. The same development happens after drinking pot after pot of Puer tea. You date around with some people/samples and start to recognize which traits are meaningful for you and which can be left by the wayside. When you mature into your 20’s or 30’s you begin to realize what you want in a relationship… or what you desire in a pot of tea.

This is the first tenet of buying Puer tea; Walk before you can run. Take a few dates to the movies. Get in a couple of cake-term relationships. Heck, buy a tong [stack of 7 cakes] and move in together, only to realize you have made a horrible mistake and break up with that tong after it cheats on you with your roommate Jeff. Well, hopefully that last part doesn’t happen.

After you finish this dating period, you are ready to move on. You can walk. You understand your own preferences. And now that you are comfortable judging what you like, start sprinting. On to tenet number two.

Tenet Two: Understand the Economics of Puer

A couple of years ago Planet Money recorded a story titled “Why Coke Cost a Nickel for 70 Years“. The story begins “all prices change, that is basic economics…”, but most price changes are gradual. In the case of Coke, there were several decades where Coca-cola prices never shifted. One nickel for a bottle. Even during my lifetime, the price of Coke has remained relatively stable. Coke is a reproducible product with seemingly no limit in terms of scale of production. Factories all over the world crank out as much Coke as the clamoring masses will consume, the more the better.

The trunk of a mighty old arbor tea tree (Laoman’e, Spring 2014)

The seemingly infinite supply of Coke is in stark contrast to gushu [old arbor] Puer tea and aged Puer tea. Old arbor Puer trees need a hundred years or more to become mature and develop deep root structures. Aged Puer has a supply that dwindles as the years pass by. For example, If an initial 100 ton production of Puer tea sells half of its stock each year for the first ten years, by the tenth year there will be scarcely enough tea left to distribute to retail, not to mention the value will usually will have risen far beyond its initial market price. When we start discussing even smaller productions of 100 kilograms, purchasing almost has to occur when the production is first released, lest the opportunity to buy be lost and gone forever.

Now, which teas legitimately have a limited supply and which do not? This is a rich topic for a separate article, but there are two major categories of teas which will not be around in abundance; gushu teas and aged teas.

For example, most of the white2tea productions from 2014 were under 20 kilograms. Some of the teas are already gone. Aged teas, such as some of the smaller production teas sold on our website two years ago have tripled in price or become sold out altogether.

Tenet two can be summed up in one sentence; The better the material or the older the tea, the faster the buyer should take action. This brings us to the third tenet.

Tenet Three: Hit it Hard

Last year an article written by Marshaln called “Hit it Hard with a Hammer” hit the nail on the head. (har har) Marshaln laments the fact that he had not purchased some of the teas he loved back in 2006, and then goes on to describe how he learned his lesson and picked up 50 tuos [nest shaped tea] of a bargain tea that he stumbled upon. This exchange in the comments sums it up nicely:


The last sentence of the reply is the key. “This is something you learn only after drinking tea for awhile.”

The only real problem I have with Marshaln’s article is that a hammer seems like an inadequate weapon. Puer drinkers need to bring out the artillery when they find a tea that speaks to them.

Fu Hai 7576
Fuhai 7576

There are many examples of this phenomenon, but as an anecdotal case study, let’s look at this 2003 Fuhai 7576 Ripe Puer tea. The Fuhai 7576 sold on the White2tea site between 2012-2013 for $37 a cake. Since then, an innumerable amount of e-mails have flooded into my inbox asking for this tea, but alas, it is gone. The current market price for this tea is over $70 (in China, on Taobao from a 3 crown vendor – whatever that even means anymore) and that is before we mention that the market has since been doused with a hefty amount of fakes of the Fuhai ripes from that era, both red and yellow mark variety.

When the disappointed (and sometimes angry) e-mails get replied to, I try to use measured courtesy and sympathy; but what I will write in the future is You should have tenet 3’d!. Teas like the Fuhai 7576, which was in its 10th year of age at that point, will not be around forever. Quality teas are continuously being consumed by thirsty drinkers and hoarded by wise collectors. Should you happen upon a tea like this, find its traits to your liking, and have the financial capacity, buy it in bulk. One cake is not bulk. Hell, even a tong is not bulk. If you drink a lot of Puer, how long will a tong last?

Put another way, if you surveyed a group of veteran Puer drinkers and asked, “Given what you now know about the price of gushu Laobanzhang, if we had a time machine and could go back to 2009 to buy some quality Laobanzhang, how much would you buy?” or “Given what you know now about the 88 Qingbing price, how much would you buy in the year 2001?” The answer would not be a cake. And the answer would not be a tong. The answer would probably involve the words second and mortgage.

When you finish the cake that you loved, you can’t go grab another one off the shelf like a Coca-cola. If you manage to find the cake, the price tag will be very disappointing, and that is if the shelf isn’t empty.

Let’s end with a sage quote that concisely sums up how to purchase Puer tea:

“A cake is a sample.” –  Ouch, moderator from the Badger and Blade forum

And to go a step further, a tong is a cake. Hopefully these words won’t fall on deaf ears and new puer drinkers can learn from the venerable wisdom of mistakes made in the past.