2020 Tea Progress Report

I’ve stored tea for around six years now in Seattle and while I’ve fussed a bit over a few small things, the methodology has been overall consistent. The pu’erh has been stored in an enclosed container with Boveda packs to ramp up the humidity to around 65RH. Airflow is low. Most people would call this a pumidor. Every year I look at my spreadsheet and decide on pulling a few teas to retry.

How I Picked Teas to Try

Typically, I’ll avoid drinking tea in the 3-7 year range. Under the cooler and slower conditions of Seattle this allows the tea to get a bit of age under its belt before trying. In the two predecessors to this report (Early Yunnan Sourcing Mini-Report, Tea Progress Report – Washington State Stored Tea), the selection was composed of mainly younger tea that had just reached 7 or 8 years of age. This year the selection is a little older. It is composed of two buckets of tea.

  1. Teas that have primarily been aged in my storage.
  2. Teas that have primarily been aged elsewhere but have still spent at least a few years in my storage.

So why not just bucket 1? It’s more honest towards just evaluating how my own storage is doing. This is true, but many of the candidates that fit the criteria I’d already re-reviewed in the two previous reports. I strongly suspect I don’t have all that much new to add. Much of my buying in the past five years has also focused on semi-aged pu’erh from a place like Taiwan, so choosing from the 2nd bucket makes sense because it represents an aging trajectory that is more representative of what I actually own. I also tried to select teas that up until recently I had not been drinking regularly.

Revisiting Teas
Revisiting Teas.

How I Brewed

I brewed using a pot, using my standard ratio. 6-6.5 grams per 95ml.

Notes

2013 SampleTea Pudi Yiwu (6.1)

My Memory: I consumed this tea in a Yiwu drinking report in May 2015. I remember it being decent for a reasonable price ($0.25/g), but not outstanding. Since then, I’d had it a couple more times and most recently remember it being awkward and not as appealing as when I first had it. The tea had been stored in dry Malaysia storage previously.

Storage: Malaysia (2 years), Mini-Fridge (5 years)

Current Notes: This tea is no longer awkward and is basically a pleasant Yiwu that is showing the first signs to being semi-aged. It is soft, sweet, woody, still on the green end. Herbal, grainy, mineraly in the mid-late steeps. The huigan is pretty good. Yiwu teas with a bit of age are one of the more regular brews for me. While this tea is nothing too special and pretty simple, I could see drinking it and enjoying it. The tea is overall different from the Purple Yiwu I drank last year, but would occupy a similar role/quality if I were to consume it.

Verdict: Nice, basic, barely semi-aged Yiwu with good structure to it. No longer awkward.

2012 YS Wujiazhai (5.9)

My Memory: I’ve had this tea for a while and had a few sessions with it when I bought it in 2015, but don’t have any active notes for it. I remember it being sort of like a cross between a few of Scott’s other northern teas, like the Mangfei and Sanhezhai. Decently strong, floral, grassy.

Storage: Kunming (3 years), Bins (4 years), Eurocave (1 year).

Current Notes:  The 2012 Wujiazhai is now nutty, creamy savory. It has a decent body and can get quite punchy when pushed. There’s also a slight depth to it that is a pleasant surprise. I’m not known as a prolific drinker of Lincang/Northern teas but this tea is better than expected. Overall, I’d say Scott’s teas I’ve tried have moved in the right direction. Given the modest cost, I can’t complain about this.

Verdict: Decent, thick Northern tea showing some semi-aged notes. Likely better than previous sessions.

2012 Giant Steps (3.9)

My Memory: This is the only repeat from last year’s report. Several years ago when I first had this, I enjoyed it.. Last year it was a pretty unpleasant session that was far too bitter/sour/astringent and I was curious if I could get more of the original appeal.

Storage: Guangdong (2 years), Wisconsin (1 year), Bins (4 years), Eurocave (1 year).

Current Notes: This cake is still dominated by green notes. While I can get small hints of the appeal here, there is an extreme sourness and bitterness that overwhelms. Because this is such a varied blend, it’s possible there’s some material in here that really overwhelms the others. Either way, this reinforces my sessions from last year.

Verdict: Not enjoyable.

2009 Yongde Daxueshan (6.5)

My Memory: I liked this tea quite a bit as a standout in the January 2015 Lincang report and bought a few cakes. It’s been an off and on brew since then and a bit of an oddity in my collection. It’s always had a different profile than my Yiwu/Menghai centric drinking. And it’s more refined than factory brews but pretty different from other boutique teas I drink. While this tea shipped from Malaysia and has presumably had some Malaysian storage, it has always been on the dry end of that spectrum.

Storage: Malaysia? (6 years), Mini-Fridge (5 years).

Current Notes: The tea is sweet, floral, brown sugary. Despite a profile that leans towards the refined end it still has a moderate body and can get astringent. The astringency was one of the more defining aspects of the tea five years ago and I do think it has somewhat mellowed. Lingering sweetness and decent depth. I continue to enjoy this tea.

Verdict: Still very tasty. Probably slightly improved with lower astringency.

2006 Xiaguan Pink FT#4 (5.3)

My Memory: I bought this tea back in 2016 after having a sample from MX Tea. Originally when compared with a bunch of other Xiaguan teas it stood out as slightly softer and more interesting than the rest. It was predominantly woody and texturally interesting. When I actually got my cakes of this my opinion changed a bit. I suspect part of it is sample variance and part of it is the natural contrast when compared with other Xiaguan vs. being contrasted with my usual drinking. Regardless, my opinion shifted towards viewing this as a rougher, harsher brew.

Storage: Guangdong? (10 years), Mini-Fridge (3 years), Eurocave (1 year).

Current Notes: Smoked, perfumey wood, with barnyard aspects. Quite dense. It has a mineral, resinous, textural quality that I find to be one of the more interesting aspects of the tea. Good longevity. The downside is that the tea is still harsh without enough rewarding aspects, i.e. huigan for me to enjoy.

Verdict: Slightly improved. Not ready for me to drink and enjoy. Maybe in five years.

2003 Baichatang 4th Generation
2003 Baichatang 4th Generation.

2006 Heshihua Jingmai (6.0)

My Memory: I got this four years ago. It’s from a region I don’t drink much from and notes from a few years back pinned it a moderate bitter, floral, woody profile that softened up mid-session.

Storage: Kunming? (10 years), Bin (4 years).

Current Notes: The profile is floral, fruit forward, with a moderate bitterness early. The brew color is surprisingly dark. It softens out pretty fast in the mid-steeps and becomes easier to drink. My notes here line up quite closely with previous attempts at the tea. Decent longevity. The tea doesn’t necessarily fit easily into my rotation but it’s not bad.

Verdict: Similar to previous sessions.

2006 Haiwan Pasha (6.3)

My Memory: This is one of the first pu’erh teas I acquired. And I’ve liked it pretty much from when I first got it. I’ve had the tea since 2014. My early notes from 2015 label it as a strong tea with bitterness and astringency but with good aftertaste and depth.

Storage: Kunming? (8 years), Mini-Fridge (2 years), Bin (3 years), Eurocave (1 year).

Current Notes: Still relatively green, but the bitterness is light and the returning sweetness comes fast. No smoke, sugarcane, floral, herbal notes. The aftertaste is the highlight. I could see enjoying this tea now.

Verdict: Solid, well-constructed tea with a good aftertaste. The bitterness is probably less intense than six years ago, and I suspect the tea is mildly better.

2005 Yangqing Hao Yiwu Chawang (5.8)

My Memory: I’ve always thought this was one of the weaker YQH teas, both in quality and potency. Still, I overall liked it as a sort of herbal, sweet, Yiwu tea. The last time I drank the 2005 YQH Chawang the storage sheen was still strong in it.

Storage: Tainan (10 years), Mini-Fridge (5 years).

Current Notes: Very soft, sweet, fruit-forward. The aftertaste isn’t bad, but this needs pushing to be interesting at all. I find my opinion of the tea has been further lowered. This may be the case where the stronger storage notes actually made this tea taste better to me. Not too sure when I’ll manage to drink through this cake.

Verdict: Weakish and not terribly interesting Yiwu tea. Looks worse when compared with other, superior YQH teas. I’m not sure if it has gotten worst in my storage, but my opinion of it has. It’s not awful, but I’m the opposite of excited.

2003 Baichatang 4th Generation (6.6)

My Memory: The 2003 Baichatang 4th Gen tea has been smooth since I’ve owned it. This is despite being pretty dry-stored and brewing up a light color for something of its age. It has good depth and some notes I associate with Geraldo’s storage drier, woodiness.

Storage: China – unknown (3 years), Wenatchee (10 years), Mini-Fridge (4 years).

Current Notes: Hints of smoke early on that quickly dissipate. The original aroma of the tea when I first got it is diminished, something I consider to be a positive development. Sugarcane, wood, caramel. Good aftertaste. It’s overall softer but thicker than the 2009 Yongde Daxueshan. Pushed it can get a little sour but it transforms into sweetness. Like the 2009 Yongde this is a solid drinker that occupies a slightly different sub-category in my rotation.

Verdict: Good tea, slight improvements in the past four years.

2020 Teas Revisited Ratings

TeaMakerRating
2013 Sample Tea Pudi6.1
2012 Yunnan Sourcing WujiazhaiYunnan Sourcing5.9
2012 Giant StepsW2T3.9
2009 Yongde Daxueshan6.5
2006 Heshihua JingmaiHeshihua6.0
2006 Haiwan PashaHaiwan6.3
2006 FT4 PinkXiaguan5.3
2005 YQH Yiwu ChawangYangqing Hao5.8
2003 Baichatang 4th GenerationBaichatang6.6

How is my Storage?

For the most part I feel at ease with my storage. It’s seemingly stable and has moved the tea in the right direction, just slowly. Certain teas resemble their former selves, while others have changed more definitively. Intuitively we’d expect that younger teas mainly aged in my storage (i.e. 2013 SampleTea Pudi, 2012 YS Wujiazhai) to have changed significantly more under my storage than older teas with stronger storages to begin with (2006 Xiaguan Pink FT4, 2005 Yangqing Hao Yiwu Chawang). This lines up with my experience, especially after those original storage flavors dissipate. Certain teas that have had more mild storage, like the 2006 Haiwan Pasha seem to fall somewhere in between. If the tea was green when I got it, it might be slightly darker but it’s still green. If the tea started out with heavier storage, the change seems relatively minor and trickier to parse out.

One recent change is moving the vast majority of my pu’erh into one large storage, the Eurocave. This isn’t a tactical decision so much as a logistical one and a desire to get most of my tea in one place. The tea has now been in there for a year, so one of my goals was to see if it was imparting anything that I’d consider a negative. I’m happy to note that I haven’t noticed anything off and I couldn’t say that I’ve really noticed a major difference between the containers I’ve used, mini-fridge, wine cooler, bin, and massive wine cooler.

Bonus Section: Advanced Metrics. VORT/VOATO

One additional aspect I looked at internally was the VORT and VOATO of these teas. The VORT (Value Over Replacement Tea) is basically how the tea measures up with the average pu’erh I could buy at the same price range in the current pu’erh market. A positive number indicates that I’d choose it above the average tea in its category in the market. A negative number indicates that it’s worse than the average tea available in its category in the market. I used the price I acquired the tea for.

Given that these teas were acquired at least four years ago, it inherently skew towards a positive number. The only teas that didn’t score positively here were the Giant Steps ($0.15/g), which I disliked, and the 2005 Yangqing Hao Yiwu Chawang ($0.35/g), which I ranked as neutral. Even a tea I didn’t really enjoy and has been a mild disappointment, the 2006 Xiaguan FT4 Pink ($0.11/g) was acquired at such a reasonable price it does well on this metric. It is hard to find a tea at ~$0.10/g that I would pick over it! Unfortunately not a ton of these are available.

Value of Replacement Teas

TeaMaker$/g (acquired at)VORT
2013 Sample Tea Pudi$0.250.5
2012 Yunnan Sourcing WujiazhaiYunnan Sourcing$0.121.7
2012 Giant StepsW2T$0.15-1.5
2009 Yongde Daxueshan$0.122.5
2006 Heshihua JingmaiHeshihuaN/AN/A
2006 Haiwan PashaHaiwan$0.280.8
2006 FT4 PinkXiaguan$0.111.2
2005 YQH Yiwu ChawangYangqing Hao$0.350
2003 Baichatang 4th GenerationBaichatang$0.301.1

The VOATO (Value Over Average Tea Owned) is a useful measurement for me to see if a tea makes the cut to drink. Something like the 2006 Xiaguan FT4 Pink does poorly (I don’t want to drink it!) and the scale is generally harsher to inexpensive teas as it is irregardless to cost. This lines up, as I only expect to drink a couple of these teas regularly in 2020.

Value of Average Tea Owned

TeaMakerVOATO
2013 Sample Tea Pudi-0.5
2012 Yunnan Sourcing WujiazhaiYunnan Sourcing-0.7
2012 Giant StepsW2T-3.2
2009 Yongde Daxueshan0.5
2006 Heshihua JingmaiHeshihua-0.6
2006 Haiwan PashaHaiwan0.2
2006 FT4 PinkXiaguan-2.0
2005 YQH Yiwu ChawangYangqing Hao-0.8
2003 Baichatang 4th GenerationBaichatang0.8
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2 Responses to 2020 Tea Progress Report

  1. MattCha says:

    James,

    This is a great storage article. I love how you weaved previous explanations of VOATO/ VORT. This actually does matter to someone who drinks and is still buying puerh. The notes you put about how many times you have actually went back and drank the tea also says something about the tea and storage. Very very thorough and in some ways a more practical way of looking at storage.

    I point that I really agree with and have observed myself and mentioned before is that puerh that I purchased semi aged and more humidity stored (Maylasian/ humid Taiwanese) seems to change very little or much less obviously or less favourably in my storage compared to:

    1- drier (example Kunming storage) purchases of semi aged

    2- puerh purchased fresh and young.

    3- puerh reordered years later from the original humid storage.

    This realization a year or so ago has influenced both my puerh buying as well as my storage. I’ve written a bit about this but maybe not as blunt as I am stating in this comment.

    It had me to believe that my storage of semi aged humid cakes are most optimally aged in Marco hotboxed. Even just adding extra humidity without heat didn’t seem to do that much and to tell you the truth even hotboxing is much inferior to reordering a few years later from its original storage.

    It had encouraged me to look more seriously at purchasing fresh young puerh which were the majority of my purchases in The last 1.5 years. As well as look more favourably to drier semi aged cakes. And weigh the costs and risks of waiting out a re-order vs just stocking up.

    This advice is especially relevant if you are purchasing a more humid cake that is still not read to drink now.

    Had hoped to put some of this into upcoming posts I’m working on but since you mentioned it…

    Peace

    • anon says:

      Mattcha I’ve recently started stocking up on hot-humid aged puer, so I am eagerly awaiting your post!

      I’ve figured already my home setup (70% RH, hot summers) would be very limited in pushing those caked forward, but I haven’t thought they might suffer..

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