Q&A. Vendor + Tea Recommendations, Tea Books, Judging Pu’erh, etc. [Inbetweenisode 173]

This episode I answer a series of questions on tea, covering a pretty wide range of topics. Topics include vendors for aged oolongs, water, tea books, caffeine content, judging pu’erh, and some pu’erh recommendations.

Thanks for all the great questions sent in! I answered as many as I could, but unfortunately could not get to everything.

9 responses to “Q&A. Vendor + Tea Recommendations, Tea Books, Judging Pu’erh, etc. [Inbetweenisode 173]”

  1. Really disappointing to hear you declining to say anything about your tea sources and saying “just stay around the tea scene, show your passion, private sources will reveal themselves”. Sorry but the vast majority of tea lovers, people who are just as passionate about tea as you are, do not have major youtube or tea website platforms. They do not have people showering them with samples and bringing connections to their doorstep. Now it’s absolutely warranted for you, given all the public-facing work you do promoting tea. That said, it’s hard enough to find rare / top quality tea in the west without this culture of secrecy around what it even looks like to source hard-to-find teas from “private sources”. Forgive me for expressing my frustration.

    • Hi TL,

      I understand and appreciate you voicing this. A few points.

      I may’ve misphrased it, but it’s not like I have a list of secret or hidden vendors that I keep to myself and refuse to shoutout.

      Most of my tea sources are simply friends traveling somewhere or private group buys that operate under the presumption that the buys stay small and private. Many of these are very time sensitive and I can’t shout them out for obvious reasons..

      A couple of these sources are places abroad that have been recommended to me by tea friends. Many aren’t online and I’ve only been recommend them under the premise that I don’t talk publicly about it.

      Hope that can help you understand a bit more of my situation.. Am I uniquely fortunate to have access to outlets such as these to buy tea? Absolutely.. But in reality there are a variety of reasons why I may or may not be able to share a source. Believe it or not, I really do try to share them whenever it is appropriate.

      For instance, I recently shared publicly on twitter about a new source/co-op, https://teaswelike.com/ (check them out!). I would’ve mentioned them in this video but they were yet to launch. I’ve bought tea from them. I’ve also shared about group buys done by the guys over at https://deadleaves.club/ .


      • Hi James, I appreciate your reply and clarification. I was just feeling frustrated that the connections needed to discover and/or buy non-western-facing tea are often (seemingly) limited to members of a select inner circle. Just to reiterate: I do not mean to detract from your hard-earned ability to source teas from the unknown nooks and crannies of the tea world. That is well deserved. You are doing us all a great service here with teadb. Thank you.

        • Agreed.. It’s well within people’s rights to keep these things small, but access is a pretty major issue and quite a frustrating for people out west.

          It’s I think a pretty big motivator for the folks at TWL too. Trying to bring these teas they’ve been buying to the more general tea public.

    • Hi TL, I figured I’d chime in with my 2c since this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this complaint.

      It’s important to bear in mind that there are (broadly-speaking) two kinds of buyers of harder-to-find teas – those who have a lot of money to throw around, and those who don’t, but are passionate about tea. Often, sources for special teas at reasonable prices or quality teas at special prices have low stock, and the unfortunate fact is that the minute such a source is publicised, it’s only a matter of time until the stock is bought up by someone with the inclination to hoard and/or buy large amounts of stock for later resale. This is one of the reasons that the apparent “culture of secrecy” exists. Another is that stock of special teas may be very limited, and the only way to get a production is a peer-to-peer purchase from an individual’s stash.

      It sucks, because it makes it difficult for often-isolated westerners to access certain parts of the market (high-quality semi-aged and aged teas, for example), but the alternative to selective-access is access to nothing – once demand spikes, prices rise and/or stock disappears.

      > the vast majority of tea lovers, people who are just as passionate about tea as you are, do not have major youtube or tea website platforms. They do not have people showering them with samples and bringing connections to their doorstep.

      Referring back to what James said in his video, “if you just stay around the tea scene and demonstrate your passion for tea, sources will be reveal themselves”. This isn’t something that requires that you “be somebody”, it just requires that you involve yourself in one of the various communities, get to know people, and express an interest.

      If you are passionate about tea, there’s nothing stopping your from getting out there and talking to people. Once you get a feel for the community, ask the question, and there’s a good chance that someone will reach out to you.

      • Hi Alex, your comment sheds a great deal of additional light on this situation for me. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

        • You’re welcome. If you find yourself at a loose end, OolongOwl runs a Slack channel that serves as a great way to meet teafriends and talk pu.

          I’m also looking at changing the direction of the group-buys I organise toward higher-quality teas, though “higher-quality” in this case is a relative term and if you’re interested in teas with a market value of >250-300USD that’s unlikely to happen through me.

  2. Hi James,
    Good Q&A

    To clarify one point about water, initially I thought that Volvic sold in Japan was different in composition, but this was a misunderstanding around how waters are measured and quantified in Japan vs the west. The west typically lists mineral content as TDS aka total mineral content within the water, whereas japan measures by “hardness” which is the amount of calcium and magnesium only (and run through a formula which I won’t bother with here). I do believe volivc in Japan is the same areas elsewhere

    About water generally, I think in the states it’s more common to have a water that is too hard or to mineral rich, than one that is too thin. RO or similarly purified water is too low granted (there’s a really distinct profile than comes from tea made with RO), but many waters (volvic included) are too mineral rich and really Drown out a lot of a good tea’s subtleties. Icelandic glacial, and similar low TDS waters from Iceland or other volcanic areas (Hawaiian waters are also good in this regard) are the best I’ve found that are generally available. Hope that clarifies things a bit : )

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