A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from January 2013

Storing is for the long haul

January 29, 2013 · 13 Comments

A few months ago a reader of the blog emailed me with a problem. She is newish to puerh, and has been buying some cakes since 2011. She bought some clay jars to store the teas in, and in the hopes of speeding up the aging process, decided to try to add a bit of humidity to the jars to make things go faster/age better. This much sounds familiar – lots of people do similar things, especially if they live in drier climates, because, well, they worry about the tea not aging properly. These are the jars.

Then the inevitable happened – first, signs of yellow mold, which can be dusted off easily and stopped the addition of humidity to the tea (by some method of adding water to the clay and let the clay soak it up, I believe). Then, a more invasive problem appeared – bugs, little bugs, that were all over the cakes, especially one, but it was showing up on others too. She threw out the most heavily infested one, but now almost all the cakes have bugs in them, and they move fast and run away from light, what to do?

In desperation, she emailed me to ask – what’s a good way to handle them? She threw one of the cakes with bugs away, but there were more. Another she put in a freezer, hoping that it will kill the bugs. Was microwave a possible way of killing them? Something else?

I think a little perspective is useful sometimes, because I’ve met others who have had similar reactions before. Puerh, when you buy them new, are, well, an investment of sorts. If your plan is to store them and drink them in the future, chances are your time horizon is years, if not decades. If that’s the case, even momentary infestations of all kinds of nasties will go away. Some, like mold, may leave a permanent mark on how your tea tastes. Others, like little bugs, will barely make a dent in your tea, if you manage to get rid of them. So, when you run into problems like this, the first thing to do is not to panic, unless you spent your life savings on the tea and your life depended on it. If it’s just a hobby – there are ways to fix the problem. What not to do is to overreact and put the tea in, say, the microwave and permanently destroy it. That will really end the tea’s aging potential and cause irreparable harm.

Since in this case it was obviously the wet jars and the attendant humidity that was causing the problem, I suggested the reader to take all the cakes out of the jars, and then separate the cakes into two piles – ones with bugs and ones without. The ones without, just store them on a shelf or something. The ones with the bugs I suggested perhaps putting them somewhere, spread out, and just let them air out. Usually, bugs like these that live on puerh cakes tend to love the humidity, and are mostly after the paper. Once it gets too dry they will go away, especially if it’s not a dark humid space. I had bugs like this on some bricks I bought some years ago, and after a few months all the bugs were gone, and I didn’t even do anything special to get rid of them.

So, happily, the reader wrote back to me a few weeks ago saying that the bugs were, indeed, all gone. No more problems, and the tea is probably a bit dry, but certainly better off than in some uncontrolled humid environment with a high risk of mold and bugs. They’re going back into the jar, but without any added humidity this time. I think the aging will be slow, but there’s only so much you can do with natural climate.

This is not the first time I’ve encountered folks with storage problems that were man-made. Usually the root of the problem is the desire to somehow replicate a more humid, hotter environment so the tea will age faster, but that is not so easy, and the risks of failure also increases dramatically when you pursue such projects. I am an advocate of simple solutions, such as, say, adding a bowl of water to a storage cabinet, but anything more and I’d be weary. If you do pursue such projects, monitor the changes very closely. Mold can grow on all kinds of places, but on tea cakes, they generally start at the end of the stems, so watch those carefully. They can also be in some corner of your storage unit in that long forgotten tuo sitting in the back – and that can fester and kill your whole stash.

You can never really replicate the storage conditions of a giant warehouse with hundreds of jians of tea. Just today I was walking by Lam Kie Yuen and saw them loading up a truck for delivery. There were probably 200 jian of puerh in that truck, meaning there were close to 17000 cakes in there. Storage that amount of tea and storing 20 at home are not the same thing, and they have decades of storage management experience to back them up. So, proceed carefully, and if anything goes wrong, don’t panic. Airing out the tea for six months will solve most of the problems.

Categories: Teas
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2007 Sunsing Yiwu

January 21, 2013 · 20 Comments

This is a cake of Yiwu tea, supposedly, that’s quite cheap and decent. It’s from 2007, right around the time of the craziest prices during the bubble, although in retrospect, the prices weren’t that crazy – it’s crazier now, believe it or not.

There’s not much that they told me about this tea, other than it’s from Yiwu, and that it’s some sort of arbor tree tea – not old tree, mind you. It’s only 250g, but it’s the price of a run of the mill cake. The thing is, this tea is pretty decent – better than a lot of stuff out there that’s 5 years old and selling for far more. So, why buy those?

Of course, this tea doesn’t have a fancy background. Nobody, as far as I know, has reviewed it and deemed it good, so no one’s chasing after it, making its likelihood of appreciation low. It is not exactly the most exciting thing out there in terms of taste, but that’s really not much of an indictment. A lot of teas that I’ve tasted recently that are from the past few years are positively awful – just not very good, especially when factoring in the price of such things. Unlike say five years ago, nowadays just finding something decent is difficult without needing to pay through the roof. Increasingly, I find it a better deal to look for something a bit aged, and among those, pick and choose the ones that are not as famous. Chances are, there are decent teas out there that can be had for not a lot of money. This cake is one of them.

I think this tea was perhaps stored in a slightly humid environment, but not quite a traditional storage – there isn’t a noticeable storage taste to the tea. It’s got decent throatiness, reasonable body and fragrance.

Yet chances are, cakes like this will languish in the stores that made them, and I can go back a few years later and it will still be priced at more or less the same price as it is now, maybe adding a bit of inflation, etc. I see cakes here that are being sold at the same price as they were four or five years ago, and for these non-famous cakes, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. So remember that for every cake out there that has gone through stratospheric increases in prices, there are probably a few dozens that have been sitting at the same level for ages. For those of us not in the business of speculating on puerh, these are the things we can buy to enjoy.

Categories: Teas

What’s in Yixing clay?

January 7, 2013 · 22 Comments

So, what’s in Yixing clay anyway?

Last year I got in touch with Professor NH Cheung of the Department of Physics of Hong Kong Baptist University, because they have this technique that they have been using to do spectroscopy on various things – forensic analysis on ink toners, for example, among others. They can use it to figure out what elements are present in any given substance without causing damage to the material itself. Well, what better than this to test if Yixing clay has lead or not? After all, that’s what everyone’s worried about, it seems, and this method seems infinitely better than the rather dodgy lead test kits that you can buy. So we got in touch, and Professor Cheung’s PhD student (soon to be Dr) Bruno Cai conducted the tests. You can read the full report here: 2012.12.31 Report of PLEAF analysis on yixing tea pots-1

I asked them to take samples from both the lid and the base of the pot, so as to get a more general sense of whether there are differences. I also gave them two pots – identical ones from, presumably, the same batch, which are here listed as “sample 1 and sample 2”. I thought it might be interesting to test to see if they share similar characteristics. In case you’re wondering, they’re the same as these ones:

The quick summary is – no lead (Pb). Among the elements present are: Aluminium, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Silicon, and Titanium. We don’t know in what quantity they are there, but that’s a start.

We might try to do more tests on different pots. They have also done tests on yixing ware previously – some reddish yixing cups, to be precise. The signatures are a bit different. This could get interesting.

Categories: Objects
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Happy new year

January 2, 2013 · 11 Comments

Happy new year to everyone, and I hope you all have a new start on a good year – drinking many good teas and meeting many new tea friends. I, for my part, am starting a new job, with a new office, and I think I can finally setup a work tea setup again, with maybe a Kamjove and a small tray. Perhaps, finally, I can drink some more tea at work again. That’s a good start to the year!

Categories: Information