Five More Things I Like & Dislike. Heicha is Overly Broad, XXL Home Storage Setups, Vendors Speaking Out.

Things I like & dislike.

Be Specific About What Type of Heicha!

The term Heicha is overly used as a tea type. It is incredibly broad and stands out for a diverse setof teas, from Sichuan Kangzhuan, traditionally stored sheng, ripe pu’erh from Yunnan, Fuzhuan from Hunan, Qianliang from Hunan, Fuzhuan from Shaanxi, Liubao from Guangxi, and Liuan from Anhui, etc. Liuan and Liubao start with the same character and are often confused together but are actually very different tea types. They are totally different from a Fuzhuan inoculated with golden flower fungus or ripe pu’erh which is usually made with the large leaf varietal and has a wet piling process. These are distinctive tea categories that have different processing methods. We should not overgeneralize and lump them together when we’re talking about specific preferences or experiences. Be specific about what actual heicha you’re talking about!

Over Obsession with Old Tree

I prefer old tree pu’erh over aged tea.

One area I’m sympathetic with the White2tea view is the over obsession old tree tea. If anyone is using the above statement, there’s a strong chance they’re actually just referring to a certain style of modern processing. Modern processing and modern style pu’erh does not equate to old tea trees. There’s tons of stuff being masqueraded as old tree tea that’s just not. I’d be foolish if I said that I could tell you exactly which teas are what % old gushu. I can give a guess, but that’s far from the 100% truth. Whether a specific tea is old tree or not is also a tired and uninteresting discussion in my opinion. When carried out on the internet these discussions usually go nowhere. It’s also incredibly difficult to prove any such claims as well, making valuable feedback quite challenging.

When someone gives a statement above it often implies that they like modern style young pu’erh over aged tea. That’s fair, you can drink what you’d like. Please don’t pretend everything is all about old tree pu’erh and those who choose to drink older teas are drinking crap..

Vendors Speaking Out

I’m sympathetic to vendors speaking out and calling out bad behavior. While I understand the criticisms of vendors speaking out, they often have experiences and expertise that hobbyists don’t have. For instance there are a fair number of pu’erh vendors that travel to Yunnan. There aren’t many hobbyists or people with platforms that spend extended amounts of time there every year. This gives vendors a valuable perspective towards a number of topics.

In the case of calling out others, I think much of the same applies. It’s a lot more difficult for a guy like me to call shenanigans on someone claiming something is old tree pu’erh than people with experience in Yunnan like Scott (Yunnan Sourcing) or Paul (White2Tea). I think we should not be shaming vendors for speaking out but even encouraging it more often. In my opinion, their knowledge is sincerely appreciated even when it is used to teach lessons that we may not want to hear.

XXL-Sized Home Storage

I admire anyone that has the guts to get a huge single box storage setup, whether it be a full-sized fridge or a giant odor-free cabinet or whatever. If those of us with loads of tea are being honest with ourselves, it probably makes more sense than several small devices. You can make the case for having a bunch of smaller fridges or bins (easier to move, stash in different corners of your house, do tests with, etc.), but I think I’d rather have one large stash of tea than several disparate ones. Most of us tip toe around our significant others and incrementally just add another bin to our storage rather than going all in. I admire those that bite the bullet and go all the way in. Bonus points if you can avoid a divorce. WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) be damned.

Not For Tea
Not For Tea… Yet.

Misleading Descriptions of Pu’erh Storage

One interesting trend in the west is old pu’erh people popping up to resell their stash in the pu’erh tea club or elsewhere. People who bought pu’erh in the west 10 or more years ago were truly pioneers. Unfortunately being a pu’erh pioneer can be kinda rough, especially in terms of storage. Information was scarcer and of the teas has not turned out that well. I’ve also heard of failures in storage. Mold, infestations, odor tainting, very dry storage, etc. This all makes me pretty skeptical towards the efficacy of a lot of western home setups. Perhaps even moreso for our dear pioneers.

When an old pu’erh hobbyist is looking to sell we’re treated to the usual gamut of pu’erh storage words: clean, free of odors, and a humidity mark. I’ve seen in a number of these, the humidity listed quite high (70+RH) and when poking around have discovered that in some cases the humidity listed is simply the year round average of the city they are based. Unless the tea is actually stored outside, this is misleading and not a useful way to describe their tea storage. An RH of 75 outside in a North American or European city, will likely mean a totally different RH where there are heating and air conditioning. The temperature and whether it is in a heated space is also often inexplicably omitted, which is an extremely important parameters in pu’erh storage.

Stocks of these teas are often small making it very common for no samples to be available. If we’re going to gamble and blind buy cakes the more we know about the storage the better.

13 responses to “Five More Things I Like & Dislike. Heicha is Overly Broad, XXL Home Storage Setups, Vendors Speaking Out.”

  1. James,

    As an owner of an xxl storage unit ( converted large early 1900’s oak ice box), I originally started with multiple smaller units but I needed something easier to manage and more aesthetically pleasing for my wife. She has been in the loop on all my tea related purchases. She did not really get my hobby, but I am unapologetic about what I like and never asked for permission. I made sure I only spent what we could afford. Now, 12 years later my wife still does not understand why I might spend $400 on a cake, but we drink tea together in the morning and she likes the tea I have. BTW, we’ve been married over 29 years…..

    • Thanks for the comment and words of encouragement Karl. I may’ve bumbled my way into some XXL storage myself (I swear I wrote this article first!). Stay tuned.

  2. James
    what do you mean?! That fridge looks perfect to me, a good 30/70 size ratio for ripe to raw and I like the way you cleverly disguised it with family/friends photos and magnets.

  3. James,

    Thanks as always for putting your self and opinions out there- not an easy think to do. These like/dislike articles are my favorites here on your blog. I feel they really advance the conversation. Bloggers calling out and speaking out is not done to insult or be rude just to advance interesting dialogue.

    I too wish more vendors join the conversation. But I can see why it can be a liability for them. I feel that if we can constructively criticize them they should also be able to go in that direction.

    I knew of no one 10 years ago with a held humidity storage. So I think it should be taken for what it is. I think certain teas do very well under drier storage where others fail. There is a trend in the West these days for more humid storage but I still think slow moving quite dry storage gives some beautiful results and is comparatively rarer in Asia and the puerh world. So it also has its lure/ can be quite desirable.


    • Thanks Matt.

      On the topics of vendors, I think it’s a net win for the tea community if they speak out. My wish is that the tea community would be a bit more receptive of a vendor speaking out. I definitely understand they have some downside, which can be fairly significant for a larger vendor who sells tea for a living.

  4. Re: misleading descriptions of storage.

    As a meteorologist, I am interested in humidity. But it does not factor into my professional work all that often, because there are far more useful and interesting measures. One of these is the wet bulb temperature. (Potential wet bulb temperature aka theta-w may be even better). However, it is not well known or frequently used by non-meteorologists. The only measure that most people are familiar with is relative humidity, but people still get it wrong all the time. You can witness this during summer time particularly in places with connected and affluent westerners who are quite vocal about the weather. Some good examples would be the US midwest and Sydney in Australia. Both these locations experience occasional summer humidity, and when it occurs the average person grotesquely overstates it. You will hear people claiming “40C with 95% humidity!” (Sydney*) or similar exaggerations in the midwest. One cause of this is that people are terrible thermometers. Another reason is that people simply don’t understand relative humidity even though they are *familiar* with it.
    For example, people don’t realise that RH is almost always highest around dawn, which is when the temperature is also the lowest. e.g. it could be 15C and 90% humidity at dawn, then by 3PM be 30C but the humidity would have fallen to 50%. If there has been no airmass change, the dewpoint or wet bulb would have only fluctuated by a few degrees.
    The wet bulb temperature is a decent measure of the airmass, and with pu-erh ageing it’s likely that airmass is more important than humidity- which only tells half the story. We all know that 65% RH in Seattle in winter is different to 65% RH in Hong Kong in summer. The RH value obscures this, but wetbulb temperature would not (it might be something like 6-8C in Seattle but 23-25C in Hong Kong).

    So the problems with misleading pu-erh storage indicators go quite far: most people don’t understand how relative humidity works, and we as a species don’t fully understand how it affects pu-erh storage, and yet they still use it to describe their storage conditions.

    That doesn’t even get into issues around inside vs outside RH (very different as you say) and people potentially pulling average RH values for their city.

    It would be good if we could classify ageing by using a decent airmass indicator like wetbulb or dewpoint.

    *40C with 95% RH has never happened anywhere in the world, and nowhere has ever got close to it. If you ever hear someone claim these sort of absurd values, call them out on it and ask for actual observations. Weather observations are everywhere.

    • Anyone that gardens or farms most certainly understands wet bulb and that the air is most humid at dawn. Even a stoner grower knows this, and knows that is when to pick, assuming the night did not get rain. A farmer is not sleeping in during the harvest. I’m guessing you don’t live in the Midwest because plenty of folks actually do understand these concepts, except perhaps some people (city or town) who step outside but don’t grow anything, as opposed to those who do. Complaining about the humidity is a social way of talking and interacting, particularly in public. It’s a friendly and most acceptable form of greeting strangers.

      • “Anyone that gardens or farms most certainly understands wet bulb”

        This is easily disproven because I know many people that both farm and grow and do not understand wet bulb.

        “I’m guessing you don’t live in the Midwest”

        I don’t even live in the US.

        I have no issue with complaining about humidity. The problem is that people are terrible thermometers and do not understand standard exposure (which in a sense is arbitrary, but at least is consistently arbitrary), and also that they throw around values which bear little resemblance to actual observations.

        Pretty easy to find examples with a quick reddit search. e.g.

        “I live in Canada and it was 45 Celcius last week, with 70% humidity. But we don’t need AC apparently.”

        Someone counters with

        “45°C at 70% humidity is a wet bulb temperature of >39°C which is well above the lethal WBT of 35°C, i.e. you’d die in a few hours even if you’re naked, in the shade and next to a fan.”

        OP responds with

        “I performed a close inspection, but I don’t appear to be dead. Best check your facts again.”

        And to cap it off

        “Thermometer read 42-46 C in my yard for the entirely of last week. Not joking.”

        What more can you say? People in general are hopeless with both humidity and temperature and are far too freewheeling with spewing out values.
        (BTW the OP in that reddit post would require a dewpoint of about 38C , which is 3C higher than the world record. In Canada? Not even remotely plausible).

    • Thanks for chiming in Jon. The wet bulb temperature sounds interesting but it’s above what I understand.

      I definitely agree that the majority of people are not great at having an inherent sense of how humid or hot it is. It also kinda drives me nuts that some choose to set up elaborate pu’erh storage setups but won’t take even rudimentary.

  5. There is another point to make. It is not the RH of air that matters that much but rather the moisture of the tea (and of course the storage temperature which probably matters even more). For open air storage it might be very hard to relate the humidity of the tea with that of the air (which greatly varies throughout the day as pointed above). But in a closed system such as a ziplock bag, or a mini-fridge filled with cakes, under a stable temperature, most of the humidity will be likely concentrated inside the tea, and the RH of air should reflect in some way that of the cake, making it relatively meaningful. An increase in temperature in such system should probably lead to a (relatively small) increase in the measured RH as the tea will release a bit of the moisture, and not to a decrease as it would happen if only air was inside.

    • Martin, that’s a good point and just adds to the complexity of the matter.

      This might sound crazy but what would happen if someone misted their cake and packed it into ziplock bags before storing for the winter. Would this direct application of water (even a small amount) to the cake material be beneficial, risky, or completely pointless?

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