The slippery slope


One of the intentionally aged teas, Pu-Erh has a loyal following.

The slippery slope

Postby Tecnorobo » Jan 27th, '13, 21:40

I happen to frequent a cigar forum that references the life of a cigar collecter as a slippery slope. On said slope, it's very easy for one to take a tumble downward once they've tried a number of high quality cigars.

With that being said, I would say the world of puerh tea is also a slippery slope. I believe the last time I checked in here, I was asking questions as to where I should start. Now I have a very modest collection of 15 various bings/bricks. I'm buying tea every month, always trying to get the wife on board with more purchases.

My Tea cabinet is quickly beginning to fill up and soon I will be strapped for space, in need of another area for storage. I wouldn't say I'm tumbling down the slope at full speed, but I'm definitely sliding down it. I think things are only going to get "Worse" before they get better.

As you all know, puerh is pretty good stuff. I reckon it's a good thing I've not tried any legitimate LBZ stuff, or properly stored pre-98 sheng. But, I would imagine I'm not too far off from those things. I need a bigger wallet.
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Re: The slippery slope

Postby debunix » Jan 27th, '13, 22:06

It might be worth calculating how much puerh you drink per month, as a realistic upper limit of what you could conceivably rationalize for personal use.....an upper bound on the collection, so to speak. At my present rate, I can run through only a couple of beengs per year, and I've got enough to last several more years. The only way I can justify ordering more is that I'm running low on those mellow shu pus that I can trust to make tasty tea when dumped into the thermos and topped with hot water. Those are running low.
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Re: The slippery slope

Postby TwoDog2 » Jan 27th, '13, 22:14

It's a natural progression with most consumption based interests. You start of with cheap bottle of no-name whisky, and after several years you are trying to chase down aged single malts from some small Scottish town that your friends have never heard of because they use the kind of peat you like to roast their barley.

If you want to avoid pitfalls on the slope, try to plan ahead. Think about what you want to buy and how much you want to drink now and age for later. If you set out a general plan or budget, it might help you avoid mortgaging your house for puer. Might.
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Re: The slippery slope

Postby Tecnorobo » Jan 27th, '13, 22:16

Fine suggestions. My consumption isn't that large. I'm probably somewhere around 100 grams a month, and that would be on the higher end. However, I'm a sucker for variety if you will. Having lots to choose from is nice if you can afford/justify/have space for it. I've certainly not made any brash decisions at this point. I do find myself browsing vendors/informational websites a lot though.
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Re: The slippery slope

Postby TwoDog2 » Jan 27th, '13, 22:34

Tecnorobo wrote:Fine suggestions. My consumption isn't that large. I'm probably somewhere around 100 grams a month, and that would be on the higher end. However, I'm a sucker for variety if you will. Having lots to choose from is nice if you can afford/justify/have space for it. I've certainly not made any brash decisions at this point. I do find myself browsing vendors/informational websites a lot though.


That's fine - educating yourself about what is out there will prevent you from buying things that you won't like or that are priced too highly, etc. Browsing information is research - it is a good thing.

If you drink 100 grams per month, you will go through about 4 cakes per year. From there, make a plan about how much you want to age, and buy some extra cakes of the things you like, so that 20 years from now you have good tea to drink.
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Re: The slippery slope

Postby nada » Jan 28th, '13, 10:43

I'd recommend sampling, sampling and more sampling. Pretty much everyone I know who has been drinking puerh for some time has a stash of cakes they loved when they first started that they can't bear to drink any more. I know I've got more than enough.

It might seem like you've got to stock up to get a particular bargain at a certain time, but with the amount of money you'll waste it would be better to wait and make calculated purchases once you've got a good overview of the different qualities of puerh available.

Personally, I'd recommend quality over quantity any time. There's no fun glugging down rubbish just because you've got a lot of it. I'd imagine one could go through a similar journey with cigars.
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Re: The slippery slope

Postby Tecnorobo » Jan 28th, '13, 11:20

Indeed Nada. I've already found that to be the case with some of my early purchases. I liked them then, but, not so much now. Quality over quantity and abundant sampling seems to be the way to go. There is that silly part of me though that seems to scream "buy more!"

When that voice creeps in, I tend to make purchases that aren't smart.
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Re: The slippery slope

Postby puerhking » Jan 28th, '13, 13:31

You're going to make mistakes....this is inevitable. Tuition as it is sometimes called. I started drinking good tea in 06 and can attest that it is indeed a slippery slope. I just now feel comfortable with my puerh collection...around 70 bings bricks and a couple of tuos. That does not included dozens of oolongs, Chinese and Japanese greens....hei cha and whatever is left. Variety is a must for me as well. Have you made it down to the Chinese grocery on 3rd and Grand? They have a couple of Xiaguan shu products and a bunch of other low quality and oxidized teas.
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Re: The slippery slope

Postby beecrofter » Jan 28th, '13, 15:48

No problem , no purchases without 3 sleeps and a weekly limit.

Or my approach, all orders from China by boat and it takes 9 weeks.
Every day $2 goes into a jar until your shipment arrives and no purchases are made between order date and you unpacking the box.
Now $2 a day means you have $ 126 dollars to play with and can buy 5 kilos of junk or a few very nice beengs.

How hard is that?
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Re: The slippery slope

Postby shah82 » Jan 28th, '13, 21:21

I feel compelled to say this every time the topic of sampling comes up, but...

You should buy cakes. Puerh is not green tea. People have relationships with their teas as they grow older. Sometimes good, like a toddler in a good mood. Sometimes bad, like a sullen teen.

And in general, I think that the chief cause of people having cakes they don't like is *because* they sampled too much. Remember, the majority of tea made isn't going to be bifurcated into good or bad. Much of the tea you try will have *something* good about them, and a n00b isn't going to know how to balance what's good about a cheap cake with the understanding of *why* it's a cheap cake. That understanding broadly only happens as you try to *drink* the cake! So you can sample and sample and sample--while still making mistakes in buying cakes after all of that sampling. Racking up expense given how expensive most samples are.

Five one-oz samples, say, from Yunnan Sourcing US probably costs a few bucks less than some pretty decent cakes there (samples of the house cakes are cheaper than, say Hailanghao). It's just a vastly better idea to buy a cake, say 2010 Youle Ya Nuo 250g @ $24 with a buck or two shipping, and explore what you like and don't like about that cake, while buying fewer samples. Complement that by reading as much as you can about puerh, and as many of the reviews as you can. When trying a tea you're very familiar with, you can connect some of the ideas that you read about online, with what's going on when you have your session. It's hard to do that when you're going ounce-by-ounce of what can be radically different teas. You're also less misled when it comes to how various brands handle their tea-making. Dayi, Xiaguan, Douji, they all have house flavors, for example, and once you know one, you broadly know them all. Lots of samples can tell you that, but it's easier when you have a baseline of familiar teas.

It's just a better decision to buy an (some) easily affordable "mistake" in advance, and fewer samples as a result, and really get to know at least one tea well. You *will* have tuition tea. I technically don't have any shengs I hate, for example. My *worst* cake is a 2003 Xiaguan Baoyan, and that was $19. I avoided this largely because I spent most of my money on expensive brands that turned out to be worth it. I've bought zero cheap Dayi, one cheap Xiaguan...zero cheap Bulangs and "Yiwus". Thus, tuition tea, for me, has been all about opportunity costs. My biggest failure in terms of opportunity costs were in buying as much Nada 2010 as I did. Not because they weren't pleasurable teas, but because better teas were available then that aren't available now.

If I had any advice for buying tea? Take good care to understand why the price is the way it is. Understand that most everyone in the East has a good grasp on the price structure of acquiring cakes. After all, they've had to buy the leaves, press the cakes, market, you know what. They've had to pay for storage as well. Also understand that there is a strong Gresham's Law in effect for puerh. Good to excellent cakes are retained for favored customers or personal consumption, and bad cakes are pushed with all the vigor people can manage into the marketplace. Lastly, there are a variety of cons that people use to get you to buy their over-priced cakes--and getting people to buy horrible cakes for $10 is a classic. If you understand about what you're buying, it's perfectly possible to buy decent Nanjian, for example, for $10. It's boring, stuffy, meant for cheap consumption, but honest cheap consumption, and you'll actually have days when you're happy with cheap Nanjian, Fengqing Factory, Xiaguan. So try to educate yourself about the market, and read as much as you can about the various reputations (factories, tea producing regions, etc), and then you'll be able to find great teas that are much cheaper than they should be for whatever reason. Or you'll know just how impressed or disappointed you should be when you try that sample.
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Re: The slippery slope

Postby Tecnorobo » Jan 28th, '13, 23:59

Thanks for your post shah. I say abundant sampling seems to be the way to go because, that's exactly what I don't do. I often do things wrong. I've actually taken your approach to the puerh world. Don't get me wrong, I do sample. But, I often just end up buying cakes. Most of my purchases are done by intuition rather than sampling. At any rate, what I'm getting at is I like your spin on things. Thanks for your post. I found it very informative/encouraging.
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Re: The slippery slope

Postby Tead Off » Jan 29th, '13, 00:34

While shah has his way of learning about Puerh, I don't agree at all with him. Coming to Puerh, the drinker needs to gather experience with many different samplings. Because Puerh is not a single type of taste experience that many other teas possess, the vastness of the subject can only be approached through getting to know the nuances of region, leaf quality, tree age, factory, small vs large production, young vs old, green vs black. Studying one kind of tea can never give an overview of the subject as a whole.

Unless one has unlimited funds, buying cakes as Nada says, is a sure way to accumulate a ton of teas you realize down the line are not too good. Samples, samples, samples. Don't get lost in the hype of certain teas. Get to know what good teas taste like. It takes time and in the case of Puerh, more time. No tea is more hyped than Puerh and I would venture to say a lot of it is pure rubbish.
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Re: The slippery slope

Postby shah82 » Jan 29th, '13, 02:25

I just don't think that's true.

I didn't acquire a ton of cakes that didn't turn out to be any good. Broadly speaking, people who bought Dayi, Douji, or their upscale counterparts wound up with tea they are enjoying more, 3, 4 years down the round.

People who stuffed their house with crap mostly stuffed it with a) too much 6FTM/Shuangjiang Mengku/Mengyang Guoyan bings or other notoriously average outfits (before people understood 6FTM was piss) b) bings from relatively pretentious, but empty brands like HLH or 12 Gentlemen. c)relatively anon and cheap bings with a single bright flavor that dulls to nothing. d) way too many tuos and bricks, with crappy leaves in them. e) special subset: you don't like an area or don't like the house flavor.

Not everything in these categories suck. There are secondary big factory bings that are quite good for the money. Thing is, you can easily find multiple positive reviews on a tea like that, say Muyechun 002 from 2007. There are good HLH cakes and good Shikunmu and 12 Gentlemen cakes--and they generally have reviews, like the 12 Gentlemen 7572 shu or the Ban'E. Plenty of places offer cheap 'n cheerful anon cakes, and every once in while, you find that the cake is probably worth storing and not just for drinking. Same with tuos. And moderate sampling is of course useful in figuring out which cake is a safe try.

Broadly speaking, you can't go wrong with what works, but anyone who has a name for consistent delivery of any sort of quality does their best to make money off of that name, so Dayi, especially Douji, tend to cost more than they are really worth, but the resulting cake, unless you got something crazy artificial, should still age into something drinkable, or at least tradeable for something you like better. It's perfectly possible to avoid terrible teas, and teas that just don't agree with you, but of still quality can be quite useful in understanding what you want.
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Re: The slippery slope

Postby shah82 » Jan 29th, '13, 02:57

One thing that *is* true is that you should sample as many older teas as you can afford to. The more (roughly 25y+) teas you've had, the better idea you have of what it's all about. You'll probably never be able to buy a whole cake of these guys, nor is it likely that you'll have a stable enough life to store for so long. Thus the inefficiency of sampling doesn't hold true here. Even if it did, and you're buying old cakes for thousands of dollars, that a sample costs $200 doesn't mean much when it comes to prices that high, and it's a worthwhile investment to ensure you're getting a cake you want for so much money.
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Re: The slippery slope

Postby the_economist » Jan 29th, '13, 17:56

I like elements of Shah's arguments. I fear the man who has drunk the same tea 1000 times much more than the man who has drunk 1000 teas just once.
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