A Tea Addict's Journal

The sample conundrum

September 6, 2012 · 7 Comments

I’m a fan of sampling, and I think it’s a good way to learn about teas. Whether it be greens, oolongs, puerhs, or whatever, sampling gives you breadth that you otherwise won’t get, and exposure to things that are otherwise hard to get (imagine having to buy 357g of something even if you just want to try). One of the problems with sampling though is this: what do you do with the leftover?

Every time I move, it seems, I create a new box for samples that are leftover. Now I have four of these things (the above is just one of them). There are always, always, more samples to drink than time to drink them, and oftentimes the samples, if they are not very good, very memorable, or interesting, are never touched again. This leaves lots of small, open bags of tea that sit around, and eventually get collected into boxes, never heard from again. Since I moved back to Hong Kong and before this particular move, I don’t think I ever took out those three boxes of samples I had sitting on the top shelf of my tea storage cabinet.

These samples come from three sources. The first are ones that I bought myself. You can see, for example, a lot of Yunnan Sourcing samples in this particular box. There are also samples given to me by friends, sometimes very generously. I am still sitting on some samples that I haven’t had a chance to drink, sometimes because they’re valuable teas and I don’t want to waste them on an individual session. Then there are the worst kind – the ones that I get from vendors while shopping, for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s because I want to try something, sometimes it’s because they’re pushing something, but inevitably, I come home with a little plastic bag, maybe try the tea, and then…. it’s forgotten, with no labels, identifying marker, or anything. Two years later, I find it in a box, and I have no idea what it is other than the general type. Once in a while, with teas that look distinctive, I can remember where I got them, but that’s not so easy when you’re looking at a small chunk of some green leaves.

There’s a good Chinese expression, “chicken rib”, to explain this. Chicken rib (雞肋) featured in a story in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, where Cao Cao, one of the warlords, was contemplating retreat and was brought some chicken soup, and he repeated “chicken ribs” a few times. Chicken rib represented the part of the chicken that was “tasteless to eat, but regretful to throw away”. I feel that way when looking at a lot of my samples.

Categories: Teas

7 responses so far ↓

  • Hster // September 6, 2012 at 12:39 am | Reply

    Just like the lesser yakitori joints who buy drippings from the famed master yakitori joints, I’m sure there’s no shortage of readers who would love to be in on your chicken ribs!

  • Scott Wilson // September 6, 2012 at 6:55 am | Reply

    Don’t you think samples age differently than whole cakes? I think they (samples) are not very representative of the cakes they come from after being separated from them and stored in little bags all by themselves for such a long time.

    As a tea merchant I have hundreds if not thousands of little samples… every once in a while I separate raw and ripe and melt them down in a bamboo steamer, then allow them to dry… sift out the small broken pieces and blend the “mao cha 2.0” together and put in a clay container. I have about 15 kilograms of raw tea in this form, and even more ripe tea…

    • MarshalN // September 6, 2012 at 6:58 am | Reply

      Oh, totally, I don’t think they age the same way at all, and am not trying to age them to see how they taste – they just got stuck in my pile and never came back out, basically.

      You should sell your maocha 2.0 on your site. I’m pretty sure there will be takers.

      • Scott Wilson // September 6, 2012 at 7:01 am | Reply

        Yeah… sometimes I just get a new sample right before I buy… even if I already had it. I just cannot throw away tea (unless it’s awful) even if it’s just 10 grams.

        If I press the “mao cha 2.0” they will be freebies for customers and friends…

        – Scott

  • Jing // September 9, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Reply

    …sometimes because they’re valuable teas and I don’t want to waste them on an individual session.
    I have the same feeling, sometimes because of its pressure and rare, I always think I need to try it for some special occasion or with right person. But it will be left in my sample box for a long time or be missed the right drinking time or even be forgotten… Some samples are really chicken rib, i can’t throw them away but also don’t want to drink one more time.
    Now, I started to have awareness about the waste of good tea sample, just try to persuade myself to enjoy it at the moment..

  • House blend, or floor sweepings | A Tea Addict's Journal // September 13, 2012 at 12:50 am | Reply

    […] something like this at home, and we can all do this with leftover samples and bits and pieces, as Scott from Yunnan Sourcing also does. It’s not a bad way to consume […]

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