Saturday, February 20, 2016

2015 In Review - Pounds Of Tea

We are well into 2016, and I thought it would be interesting for some people to review - have a discussion - about how much tea they bought over the course of 2015. There are three types/levels of tea buyers I run into on the web, and they can generally be pinned into the basic categories of: 1) personal enthusiast/connoisseur, 2) tea lover and buyer for a cafe or restaurant, and 3) a tea wholesaler or entrepreneur generally selling on the web. I fit into category #2, and although I participate in various forums and other tea related discussions, I don't encounter many other people who also fall into category #2. Most seems to be in categories #1 and #3, which is fine, if you are in #2 like me, you probably have a ton of other things to do like run your cafe or restaurant. However, to put out some numbers for discussion and to help those who may be interested in starting a cafe, tea house, or restaurant, here are the teas and amounts that I bought last year.
Top half of current teas on offer

Chinese White: 10 pounds
Chinese Green: 139 pounds
Chinese Oolong: 25 pounds
Chinese Black: 64 pounds
Chinese Post-Fermented: 69 pounds

Indian White: 4 pounds
Indian Green: 1 pound
Indian Oolong: 0
Indian Black: 144 pounds

Taiwan White: 0
Taiwan Green: 0
Taiwan Oolong: 32 pounds
Taiwan Black: 0

Japanese White: 0
Japanese Green: 54 pounds
Japanese Oolong: 0
Japanese Black: 0

Total: 542 pounds of tea in 2015
Bottom half of current teas on offer

That seems like a fairly decent amount of tea for one year, but I don't know. Perhaps it is low, perhaps it is high. Tough to say without any numbers out there. In comparison to the amount of coffee we bought last year, it is 10 to 1, i.e., we bought over 5,400 pounds of coffee.

This year I plan on buying a bit more, as we continue to grow and sell more tea and coffee. It is an uphill battle, as there is so much out there in terms of coffee education, coffee events, coffee support, and so forth, whereas with tea, there is very little. The largest gap that I see in the tea market in the U.S. is simply educating consumers about quality tea on all levels. If you are interested in learning more about tea, it can be a long journey depending on where you live and how much money you have, whereas with coffee, it is easy to find a high quality roaster or cafe within 1 hour drive of almost anywhere (except for some areas that are simply to rural to sustain that type of business). 

To my mind, cafes are the best place to grow tea culture and tea appreciation in the U.S., far beyond online efforts, trade fairs, or specialty classes. Cafes are where people can learn about tea without being put-off by it's mystery; you can go to a cafe and try a tea while your friend gets a Americano or some other familiar drink. It is the perfect spot to relax and to be open to learning and trying new things. When I travel, I always go to the local cafes and try both the coffee and any tea if it is available, but I am always struck by how tea is treated as a side project of the cafe or not included at all. 

I hope to meet other people in category #2 (as well as #1 and #3) so that we can learn how to grow tea appreciation and tea culture in the U.S. If someone is traveling, I'd love to be able to tell them where to get an excellent pot or gaiwan of tea, but other than a few spots in San Francisco and one shop in Tucson, I can't say much. If you are out there, I'd love to hear from you, it's a long journey and I'm always looking for friendly faces to share the adventure with.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Wild Jungle Sheng Maocha Puerh and Liming Spring High Mountain Sheng Puerh

Wild Jungle Sheng Maocha

A little while ago I acquired a couple pounds of a "wild jungle sheng mao cha" dating back to the year 2000. Although technically not a pu'er as this tea comes from Laos, it is a pu'er and has been exceptionally aged. Picked and processed by the Dai people just across the border from Yunnan, the wild tea plants and associated leaves are delicious and exhibit many of the characteristics that I love about this style of pu'er. The leaves are very large and thick, coming from the summer harvest. They were minimally processed, being sun-dried before being piled and aged. Opening up the bag, the classic "funk" of a good pu'er wafted out and overwhelmed my senses. The tea brewed up to a smooth, slightly sweet brew with a slight viscosity that coated the tongue before slowly revealing the subtle flavors.

Sharing the tea with friends, all seem to really enjoy it and it has been selling really well, even to a few green tea fans who enjoy it's ability to not turn astringent on longer steeps. People really overlook aged maocha in my mind, thinking that cakes are where it is at when it comes to pu'er, but to my mind a good aged maocha can be exceptional, and often just as good as an aged cake pu'er but for less money. Something like this one will never be found on the market again, and so I will be holding on to as much of it as possible to slowly put out over the next couple years. If you happen to come into the cafe and see a "wild green sheng" available, I strongly suggest you give it a try.

The readings I got on this were:

TDS - 87ppm
PH - 7.56

TDS - 484ppm
PH - 5.95

TDS - 397ppm
PH - 1.61

This was a really good extraction, as I usually only get that much TDS change in black teas. The PH change is a bit above the normal pu'er, but not a total outlier.

2005 Liming Spring High Mountain Sheng

I got one cake of this 2005 gushu to try before buying the entire tong. A couple people have put forth a negative impression of the factory, which is located in the Menghai area and is one of the oldest pu'er factories, having been established in 1964, but from what I can tell they have done so to simply push their own pu'er and agenda. Others have noted how Liming, which also produces under the name Ba Jiao Ting (which is the label of their higher quality products), has been noted for its consistency, quality, and push towards organic tea. The online world is full of players pushing their own agenda - I try and ignore that and let the tea speak for itself. So I ordered a cake, as the price was favorable and I wanted to try the tea.

I enjoyed it - my notes include "nice, alert, hay and honey, lingering through the nose, good digestion, a touch dry in aging." It did not have the viscosity or slowly rising chi of the Wild Jungle Sheng above, but I was able to pull a 5 hour standing counter shift with no breaks right after enjoying this tea and felt great the whole time, so that should speak to something. I will order a tong and see what the customers say, but think it will go over well.

This photo shows the difference in leaf size between the spring Liming cake and the summer Wild Jungle maocha. Quite the difference!

Here are the numbers I got:

TDS - 53ppm
PH - 6.95

TDS - 388ppm
PH - 6.07

TDS - 335ppm
PH - .88

Another good extraction, although not as high as the Wild Jungle Sheng above. The PH change was also much less, indicating that the leaves released less carbon into the water, most likely because they are 5 years younger.