Dumping bad samples

Despite the title of this blog, I actually only drink one tea a day, unless I happen to be visiting a tea store. Generally, when I’m by myself, I brew up one and only one tea, and will drink it until I feel there’s not much left, or when I get bored of it. For years I documented this meticulously on a daily basis, although starting a few years ago, I felt that it was oftentimes more obligatory than anything, without anything to add – nobody really wants to read about my daily tea drinking habits, after all. So, I stopped, and this blog became more about tea drinking culture and my thoughts on tea. The one-tea-a-day habit, however, remains.

Recently though, I have started dumping teas. I have lots of samples – either through purchase or through gifts from others. Samples of tea, as I’m sure most of you know, can be great, ok, or bad. Unless it’s really obvious, like some David Lee Hoffman huangpian that someone sent me, usually you can’t quite tell if something is going to be bad or even horrible. You can only really tell once you brew it – at which point, going by my old rule, it would be too late. I used to endure such teas, and write the day off as just a bad tea day. Now though, I decided I’m not going to waste my caffeine quota drinking stuff like this, and so instead, I dump them.

Today was one such day. It started out with me trying, finally, Hster’s oddly named Economic Corridors cake. I don’t like it. It has that weird taste that suggests to me it’s got something funny going on, although I can’t quite pinpoint what’s wrong with it. What I do know is I’ve tasted this before, and it’s not a sign of a tea that will age well. It has some attractive qualities, but underlying is a bitterness and staleness that turns me off. Looking at the leaves though, you can’t really tell

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Nor does the brewed tea in the first infusion tell you something is definitely off

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So, instead of waiting around, after a few infusions I just decided to move on – I don’t want this to be my last tea of today.

The wise thing would actually to jump into something I know that will deliver, but instead, I took another gamble and tried another sample that was sent to me, this time from a new outfit called Origin Tea. The tea is supposedly Yibang from a Taiwanese shop called Guangyang Hao. They have a nonexistent web presence, so I really have no idea who they are (sorry, no pictures, as it was getting dark)

The tea is better – not the greatest, but certainly better, and more puerh like than the Economic Corridors cake. It’s gotten past that initial hump, and tastes full enough and rich enough so that I think it will at least not deteriorate, which should at least be the minimum standard.

Then I’m reminded of why I usually only drink one tea a day – I think the two teas was a little too much for me, for one person to consume comfortably. There just isn’t a good balance between drinking decent teas and trying new things. Smaller pots, as some might suggest, is not really an option either – I dislike using smaller pots. So perhaps, next time I should just be more decisive and throw out bad tea after two or three infusions, instead of five or six. After all, there’s always, always, more tea to drink.


Comments

Dumping bad samples — 16 Comments

  1. Why don’t you want to have too much coffeine? Do you feel bad or it’s just general health precaution?

    I had to limit myself to one tea a day too as I get quite sick if I drink too much, unfortunately. It is especially difficult to restrain myself when a lot of juicy samples arrives. Or, as you say, when one encounters a tea which is not that good and wants to have another one.

    I agree that it’s difficult to balance drinking known tea and exloring new things. When my stomach is good, I manage one gongfu and one tester session a day, but still, I don’t feel as good as if I had the gongfu only.
    Jakub

    • Jakub,
      I can’t speak for Lawrence, but like him, I also know I have an intrinsic caffeine quota; in fact, I pretty much only drink tea after I have drained myself of a lot of energy through activity–either work or exercise, usually. I can not drink tea when I am already feeling energetic–it would just make me jumpy and my heart beat way too fast. It’s not a pleasant feeling.

  2. Nothing to say other than that your approach is identical to my own. I don’t usually feel satisfied if I can’t go for 10+ good brews of at last 150 ml each, or thereabouts. If I don’t like a tea after the 2nd brewing, I stop drinking it right away and switch to something else.

  3. Caffeine is highly soluble so if you discard the first 2 rinses/infusions, you will reduce the caffeine content noticeably, and can still enjoy infusions 3-4, which usually are my favorite.

      • Agreed..I have always heard this as the standard line for years from many, including experienced and knowledgable sources, but I have not found it to be true for myself (in terms of noticeable change in the amount of chemical stimulants added to my body by not drinking the 1st or 2nd infusion). It may be that the caffeine is substantially decreased, but some other stimulant is still mostly present (theanine or something else), or that there’s some more complex synergistic effect going on that isn’t so straightforwardly non-linear (e.g. most of caffeine or stimulants is released on first two infusions so that there’s only 20% of original content by the 3rd, etc.) As usually, biochemistry is complicated..

          • Completely unrelated, recently I started taking some ginseng+astragalus supplements to combat some persistent fatigue problems resulting from overwork/stress–I have to say, the physical and mental feeling is not dissimilar from the positive–good energy–relaxed but focused set of feelings I’ve obtained from certain better puers, but without as much as the noticeable “I can feel my heartbeat temporarily increased from caffeine, etc.”
            I suppose not surprising, given that one of the purposes of ginseng in Chinese medicine is to increase flow of qi/stop blocked qi, which is essentially one of the things many of us are writing and talking about with respect to the qi/sensations of certain teas.

  4. I agree with dumping the bad stuff out. I fell ‘victim’ to incredible amounts of samples from here and there until finally I had samples that I had completely forgotten about (both because I really hated the tea or just forgot). In any case, Hoarding the samples or bigger cakes to try is completely useless, although I admit I’ve taken tea I don’t like and brew it as liquid fertilizer for plants.

    As far as David Hoffman, I’ve had a handful only. I can’t really speak for or against his collection. Most of them were OK, one was really enjoyable and one was really wet stored. Honestly, I find the biggest problem is the lack of actual catalog, reading names doesn’t really help choosing your tea on it’s own. Storage has been critical when talking about Puerh that is not completely new.

    Marshal, I’m REALLY interested in trying a Sheng 1950-1960s. I know there are pages out there that have some samples but I was wondering if there were other places besides “Hou De” or “Generation Tea” or if you’d recommend any of the two to try an aged Sheng. Thanks in advance.

  5. As someone who worked at a Winery have you considered spitting out the tea like wine tasters do? It seems almost disrespectful to the tea but in honesty i think its a good practice for anyone tasting/drinking many teas in a single day.

    • I think what happens there is that you lose the ability to taste the finish of the tea – which I think is a very important component of evaluating something.

      • I agree, spitting out tea would definitely result in a loss of a lot of the flavor experience, for example I think it would greatly reduce the huigan/aftertaste, as well as some of the feelings/tastes only perceptible in the throat. It’s interesting, because I know wine people often justify spitting by claiming the entire flavor experience can be had without swallowing, and I know most people most of the time spit out coffee samples while doing cuppings (although you can still end up feeling quite the caffeine buzz anyways, something to note w/r/t/ tea..). However, in contast to wine and coffee, in my experience doing craft beer tastings, I’ve always heard that one should never spit because an essential part of beer’s flavor comes out only after swallowing, perhaps because of the carbonation or something with the flavors involved, I’m not entirely sure why but I would definitely agree when it comes to evaluating a beer. So I think it really just depends on the beverage, for some, swallowing is more important for tasting all there is to taste. And this is to say nothing about the way the beverage makes us feel, which as this blog’s author has effectively argued before, is an often overlooked/undervalued step in evaluating the quality of tea, especially with things like puerh.
        Keep up the good work marshaln! As a long-time tea nerd just starting to dig deep in the wide and wonderful world of puerh, I’ve become a fan of your blog recently and find it extremely informative and refreshing in many of its philosophies, especially your noting of the many uses and merits of “grandpa style” brewing.

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