Ripe Puer as the Dominant Idea

Ripe puer tea is fairly new compared to raw puer tea, and has only been around for a few decades. Therefore it’s commonly claimed that raw puer is the “real, authentic puer tea” and ripe is just an artificial attempt at skipping the aging process of raw puer. Nowadays, ripe puer is by far more popular (and less expensive) than raw. It also has the advantage of being “ready” to drink, while many would consider a young raw to be too astringent to enjoy fresh. My first puer was a ripe one from Mark T Wendell tea company, and it was only 8 years later that I tried my first raw. And I preferred the ripe.

Since ripe puer is more common, and easier to drink, shouldn’t it be considered the dominant form of puer? I think this parallels the coffee world, where dark roast coffee is much more common than light roast, but people who are coffee enthusiasts commonly focus on light and medium roasts. The variation in ripe puer seems to be more narrow than in the countless villages and mountains of raw puer, which are most clearly exhibited in their uncomposted form. But wait a second, what about yancha? Those are all roasted, but could be considered the peak of all tea by some connoisseurs. So then, just because all ripe puer is wet-pile fermented, does this have to mean that it’s less characterful than non-wet-piled puer?

What does the wet pile process do? 

From what I understand, when loose puer is wet-piled, it’s moistened and it heats up a lot. During the 1-2 months (usually) that it spends in the pile, various molds and other microorganisms digest the green parts of the leaves and turn them brown. The bitter and astringent compounds are transformed into less bitter and much less astringent other compounds, and the leaves develop a sweet and earthy aroma. The caffeine is reduced and turned into… something. Also, the energy of the tea overall becomes more grounding and less stimulating, but there’s still caffeine in there. The light floral and other top notes are darkened and toned down by the intense microbial fermentation. 

The Duck says hi

Basically, when you wet pile puer, you’re left with less variation and subtlety between different original raw material than it originally had. Let me qualify this: there is still variation – but the range of flavor and sensation for a ripe compared to a raw is narrower. Ripe puer tends to focus on the earthy, deep fruit, and bready (if you’re lucky) tastes and smells, and nearly never on florals. A young raw puer can feature both specific floral and vegetal tastes and at the same time, deep petroleum and mineral notes. And an aged raw puer can keep some of those higher notes, while incorporating deep fruity and earthy flavors and aromas, like the 2004 biyun hao manzhuan I recently reviewed here

So, since ripe puer, though delicious, has a narrower profile than raw, but is more accessible and ready-to-drink, I think the best way to look at it would be like with dark and light roasts of coffee. Ripe puer is a comfortable, relaxing and simple brew but with an engaging profile when well-crafted. Raw puer is commonly a more challenging tea with a wider range of flavors and aromas, both within a single session and between tea from different ages and areas. Whether one is “more puer” than another is up to you and what you enjoy.

2004 Biyun Hao Manzhuan with Fake Toronto Water

After a couple hours of work, I was able to make a slightly shuffled-around version of the Toronto water recipe from my last post, Replicating Toronto Tap Water. The mineral content is the same. So, I figured it would be fun to make tea with it and take some good old fashioned tasting notes, a-la-mgualt. I’m not too experienced with this kind of steep-by-steep report, but it seems like a useful way to document the experience.

6.5g/100ml zini, glass kettle, 232 TDS (calculated) water, pH 8

Homemade water in the kettle


Nose: Wonderful yeasty-woody smell coming off the liquor, something I don’t get from my normal water or other lighter recipes. Wet leaf extremely surprisingly pungent, sharp wood incense, damp wood shavings, cooked mushrooms, chocolate.

Mouth: Sweet deep fruity taste, like plums and wood. Bready aftertaste, like sourdough. Relieved that I’m not getting plastic taste, as source water is distilled water from the supermarket. Still would like to find a better source.

Body: Calming, warmth in upper back, settling in.


Nose: Pronounced earthy depth on liquor. Wet leaf has pungent chocolate-coffee aroma. Cherries on wet leaf.

Mouth: Nice bubbles on liquor. Oily texture, mouthcoat, mouth cooling. Some precipitation of calcium carbonate on the surface of the tea. Rich, sweet dark chocolate cake taste. Definitely sweet mushrooms as well in the front. Not much bitterness yet. Huigan starting to set in, sweetness mixing with sourdough bread aftertaste.

Body: Warmth, some sweating. Calm and focused. Awake.


Visible scale in the kettle, this is hard water after all!

Nose: Can almost smell ripe tropical fruits on wet leaf. Some florals and balms on empty pitcher.

Mouth: Mushroom soup, almost fatty. Bitterness coming through now, but balanced.

Body: Relaxed and open. Warmth spreading to ribs now. Warm fingertips. Smiling.


Nose: Wet leaf still smelling like warm tart cherries and decaying wood. Liquor has a waxy melted candle-like smell.

Mouth: Texture is quite sticky, settles in nicely after a few seconds. Not overly thick, could be more expansive. Sweet-and-sour taste. Slight mouth drying, could be from the scale.

Body: Alert and grounded.



Nose: Wet leaf has deep wood and tobacco.

Mouth: Grappa-like raisin and grape notes, hints of some sort of flower or herb essence. Vivid earth taste. Still great oils. Great complexity in back of mouth, younger-sheng-like fruitiness (citrus huigan)- front is more on fruit sweetness and earthiness.

Body: Dizzy, vivid colors, zoned in. Heat mostly in lower and mid back now, not really present in neck and ears. Interesting.


Really scaling as the water continues to boil.

Nose: Hot chocolate with marshmallows on liquor, wet leaf mostly natural woods.

Mouth: Bourbon-like wood sweetness. Taste getting more subtle now. A hint of yellow squash, but bitter wood incense is quite noticeable. Texture quite thick, definitely some tannins coming through. Vivid jasmine tea aftertaste!

Body: Some swirling energy in fingers and core. Enjoying breathing.


Long steep here, about a minute.

Nose: Some black (red) tea smell. Sweet grasses. Meringue on wet leaf.

Mouth: Amazing bittersweet bready oily taste/sensation. Sunkist Lemon gummies. Fruit pectin. Feels like this water is extracting the tea to the core. Jelly beans (not jelly belly, the cheap kind) and bark mulch. Less structure than I would expect, perhaps the scaling has made the water go a bit flatter. Although I don’t like using the word, there is dirt in the aftertaste.

Body: Floating feeling. Aware of breath, deep and slow. Warmth in forearms.


Nose: Wet leaf has key lime pie. Some granite-like smell. Decaying wood, but not musty. Just warm like old books.

Mouth: Some sort of spice, like a cinnamon stick. Definitely tasting lighter now. More general woodiness and tannins, less fruit.

Body: Very relaxed, could take a nice nap.


Don’t mind the spill…

Poured out the remaining water from the kettle and refilled. Let’s see if this changes the tea…

Nose: Fading a bit.

Mouth: Definitely more lively and expansive in the mouth. Refreshing sweet yeastiness. Texture is great. A little bit of green beans.

Body: Totally chilled out. Very comfortable.


Loooooooong steep, 3 mins.

Nose: Smelling more spent, faded woodiness.

Mouth: Tannins and wood, with a pleasant sweetness. Nice sugariness.

Body: General warmth.

Experience Rating: 8.2/10

Thanks for reading!

A seriously deep and rich taste with this water. I had this tea with my normal tap water and although it was good, it didn’t have these yeasty rich bready chocolate notes. I would have to say this was a better session than with tap. The scale is annoying, so maybe a slightly lighter version of this water would be even better.

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Replicating Toronto Tap Water

The following is an account of an experiment I did in April 2020.

The Context

I had been messing with water for two years, adding minerals to pure water and trying all sorts of different brands, with varying results. I was having fun, but I knew there was better water out there than what I was making, buying, and getting out of my tap. As I was reading Late Steeps, Marco Gualtieri’s tea notes blog, I noticed he seemed to be getting amazing sessions with aged teas like the 2004-06 Yang Qing Hao productions. I’m aware that now his opinions of those teas have changed a bit, but back then he was enjoying them, getting tons of intense flavor and engaging energy. My experiences with Yang Qing Hao were less stellar, more boring and flat. I started to wonder… what if it was the water? Marco lives in Toronto and was using tap water usually in his older reviews. I looked up the water quality report and thought,

What if I could make Marco’s tap water in my own apartment?

The Process

The first thing I had to do was figure out the mineral composition that I was going for. The water quality report has minimum, maximum and average ranges for each of the relevant mineral ions; for example, the calcium content is between 31.1 and 38 mg/L, with an average of 35.6. I decided to aim for the averages, and see if it led to any problems. I used a slightly modified version of the Khymos mineral water calculator to convert my target ion concentrations into a mineral recipe that I could use.

(Ignore the carbon dioxide and pH, they are wrong, and also it’s not grams on the right column, but milligrams)

The ion charges didn’t match up, so I let the calculator compensate by adding bicarbonate to balance it out. 118 mg/L of bicarbonate was still within the range on the water quality report. This water is very heavy, and pretty hard. However, the hardness is higher than the alkalinity, which basically means that the flavor won’t get eaten up by excess bicarbonate. In general, the hardness to alkalinity ratio should be above 1 to prevent dullness of flavor. However, Icelandic glacial is decent for tea and has a hardness to alkalinity ratio of 0.85. This toronto water replica has a ratio of 1.32.

The amount of each mineral I had to add per gallon was all the way on the right column, in milligrams. I needed seven ingredients in my water to get that Toronto profile. My plan was to add them one at a time until I was done, pretty simple. If you add them all at once, there’s a chance they might react in some negative way.

The gang’s all here

The first five minerals, NaCl, KHCO3, MgCl2-6H2O, MgSO4-7H2O, and CaSO4-2H2O, dissolve fairly easily in water. However, the last two ingredients, MgCO3 and CaCO3 (chalk), are insoluble. So what did I do? Khymos instructs to carbonate the water – put simply, this produces carbonic acid which reacts with CaCO3 and MgCO3 to form soluble/aqueous Ca(HCO3)2 and Mg(HCO3)2. This works, but you end up with bubbly water, which I didn’t want to use for tea – I wanted to simulate what someone in Toronto would get out of their tap.

Bubbling and Debubbling


Luckily, the local Publix supermarket had Syfo Seltzer, a Reverse Osmosis carbonated water with 0 mineral content. My strategy was to make two concentrated solutions: I dissolved a gram of chalk in one bottle and 500 mg of MgCO3 in the other bottle, left it in the fridge over two nights, and rotated the bottles every once in a while until they were clear. Then, when it was time to make the water, I used a winemaking air pump to bubble air through each of the concentrates until the solution reached a pH of 8 or above, meaning all the dissolved CO2 was basically gone. I tried using a vacuum chamber for this another time, but it didn’t seem to work as well.

pH 8!

Making the Water – Putting it all together

A pinch of salt

It was then an iterative process of measuring out minerals, dissolving them in 0 TDS RO water, and then pouring that into the big jar.

Et cetera

After the first five minerals were added, it was time for the CaCO3 and MgCO3 concentrates. I simply measured out the appropriate amounts of each – one ml of the CaCO3 concentrate contained one mg of CaCO3 (in a way) and one ml of the MgCO3 concentrate contained 0.5 mg MgCO3.

This is only some of the chalk concentrate – there’s a lot in this water!
Pouring it in, almost done!
There are ions in this water is what this reading means

The TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) measured 148, even though the calculated TDS was 232. Quick note about TDS meters – they measure conductivity and multiply that reading by a constant to estimate the TDS. This water is less conductive per mg of TDS than the solution that the meter’s coefficient constant is based on. Bicarbonates are much less conductive than chlorides and sulfates. My meter’s coefficient is actually smaller than the commonly accepted one, too. So, that TDS reading was nearly meaningless, and the water was likely actually the proper TDS.

Taste of Toronto

I’ve never been to Toronto, but the finished water had a nice, natural mineral taste. It really didn’t taste synthetic, and was quite full and soft. I was impressed! The whole process took about three days, with two hours of work total.

Making the Tea

Ok! Now that the water was finally done, it was time to test it out. I had some Yang Qing Hao Jinhao Chawang lying around, so I fired up the kettle and did a little session.

The result was astounding. I had never experienced such a concentrated, thick, powerful tea before, especially from Yang Qing Hao. It’s hard to describe, but it was so satisfying, and I felt the energy much more than other sessions. I could tell that the full potential of this tea was being extracted, but the bicarbonate was providing a wonderful softness and richness. I now understood where Marco was coming from with his praise, when before, with Nashville water and even bottled water, I never got close to this experience.

Many other sessions were had with this gallon of fake homemade Toronto water.

I forget what tea this was
Teaswelike 2001 Yellow Mark
Young Sheng – thick and sweet

It was all amazing. To be clear, this water is heavy. You couldn’t go much heavier than this and have a good experience. But the calcium and magnesium are in perfect balance, as well as the sulfate and chloride, hardness and alkalinity, just a bit of potassium, not too much sodium. This, as I understand it, is a great mineral profile, especially for a water as heavy as this. I also like lighter waters, but there’s something with this Toronto water, this density in the resulting tea, that is extremely addictive. It’s too bad it was so hard to make. I plan on making it again, with a slightly easier method that shuffles the minerals around so I only have to make one concentrate.

So yeah, this is one example of what I’ve been up to in regards to water and tea. If there ever was a tea secret, this is one – water mineral content has an enormous effect on tea. I’m not suggesting everyone should make this water, as it’s rather difficult and time consuming, and maybe not for everyone. I feel like most people know that water has an effect on tea, but don’t know what to do about it. There’s probably a 50-70% chance that your tap water, when filtered to remove chlorine taste, is good enough. But if it isn’t, it might be worthwhile to find a solution (haha) to that problem, to get the most out of that hard-earned tea. Also, it’s just fun to play around with water! This experiment really opened my mind to what’s possible with a little chemistry and imagination, and I’m looking forward to making water that’s even better than Toronto’s.

Thanks for reading!!

Clay teapot comparison – Jianshui vs. Randová

Same tea, different teapots, different results. Hopefully this is interesting to you! I find clay to have an enormous effect on the taste/texture of a tea.

The first teapot is a 90 ml Jianshui teapot from crimson lotus tea. I’ve found it to work well with young sheng and emphasizing sweetness.


The second vessel is an unglazed shibo from Miroslava Randová. It has very sandy coarse clay with a red tone. I wonder how this will compare!


Tests were done with 5.4g of w2t 2019 snoozefest in the jianshui and 5.7g in the randová shibo.

today’s tea

clay detail
jianshui detail


Immediately on the first steep after the rinse there is a difference. From the jianshui it is soft and sweet. In the randová shibo there is more of a robust character. It’s still sweet, but more mineral and tart also. I would consider the shibo to taste more complex but less smooth. But this is just the first infusion!

you can see the small volume difference between the two vessels – on some steeps I compensated for this by using less water in the shibo. also, there is more leaf in the shibo

I’m very surprised how restrained the tea is in jianshui. Sure, there’s a little bitterness, but the infusion is more quiet. There’s some fruitiness and a lot of sweetness. In the Randová the tea is more expansive with more astringency to coat the mouth. There are more vivid notes of powdered sugar and frosting.

Third infusion, in jianshui it’s quite strong with nice sheng gasoline notes, better aftertaste in the shibo. Starting to be more similar.

Fourth infusion on: jianshui is more rounded, contained and cohesive. Randová is emphasizing more of a rustic taste profile with a lot of focus on the sides of the tongue. The temperature of the tea seems hotter from the shibo. Very satisfying from the shibo, really potent. Much more leafy/astringent in the shibo, and mouth cooling, thick and smooth in the jianshui. Mouth cooling also shows up in the shibo. Still astringent in jianshui on a pushed steeping, but it doesn’t show up until the tea is in the mouth for a long time. I would say the randová shibo has much more flavor up front. It also produces tea with more character.

I’m very surprised how much of a smoothing effect the jianshui has despite being very dense and having a low porosity. For a tea like snoozefest, which is a very characterful sheng, I think I prefer the randová shibo with its mineral-rich taste and emphasis of the outlier character of the tea. For a more comforting, soothing brew, I would reach for the jianshui.

In terms of aesthetic feel, the shibo is quite bulky and natural, where the jianshui is smooth and shiny. They correspond to different moods. I’m glad to know that both of these teapots “work” for young sheng but emphasize different aspects of the tea. You can still taste the wild fruity character of the snoozefest in the jianshui, but it’s deeper within the core of the tea rather than at the forefront.

Let me know if you want me to compare two other clays/vessels with different tea. Thanks for reading!



Water Filter Advice

Keeping it simple!

The Filter Room

There are many water filters out there, from pitchers to RO membranes to charcoal sticks. I have played with a whole bunch, and my favorite kind of filter is this one:

The 1 Micron Carbon Block Filter

Home Master HM Mini

It hooks up directly to the end of a faucet. You remove the aerator and screw it on. Carbon block filters also can come as fridge filters. The activated carbon removes chlorine taste and nasty chemicals from the water, leaving the minerals intact. So, if the mineral balance of your tap water is decent, this might be the best way to powerfully clean it up without taking anything beneficial away.

UPDATE: I now prefer the waterdrop brand filter pitcher, it’s slightly better than these carbon block filters and certainly a bit easier.

Good result!
Tea in the cup

Tips for having a good tea session

Concerning the body, just let it go with the flow. Concerning feelings, let them follow their course. If you go with the flow, you avoid separation. If you follow the course of feelings, you avoid exhaustion.

Chuang Tzu

So you like tea. If you like tea, you probably want to get the most out of each tea session. You may have some special expensive tea that you’ve been saving for the right moment… but how do you make sure you get your money’s worth?

Focus on what you can control, let go of what you can’t

It’s okay to have high expectations, but don’t let them get in the way and throw everything off. The fear of making a wrong choice at the tea table is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s easy to overcompensate for the fear of failure by trying to make the perfect tea session guaranteed. Here’s an alternative strategy. If you’ve had a good tea session recently with a less expensive, but similar tea, use the same water and teaware as that session, but substitute in the precious tea. This gives you a very good chance of having a good session, with the added bonus of familiarity.

Another thing you can control is your mental state. Don’t be afraid to take a walk in nature before your session, or meditate if that’s something you do. Tea is meditative, but it’s easy to get caught up and to lose focus if you’re not reasonably grounded and receptive to start.

Stay focused, even if you feel like the session has totally gone south. Tea can surprise you. Imagine you’ve used distilled water for an aged puer in a very porous pot, and there’s almost no taste. You could switch water, but you could instead just notice what’s missing, and appreciate what’s not missing. This will make your future tea sessions more rewarding and will make you smarter. You will at least enjoy using your teaware and being calm and quiet for a half hour.

One recommendation is to put your phone away. Take pictures on airplane mode and play music, but tea is a good opportunity to get some space from the internet. Make posts and discussions later, or save them for more casual daily sessions. I really enjoy reading a book or e-reader while drinking tea.

I don’t recommend trying a new water with a special tea session. Have a couple sessions with daily drinkers that you know and love to calibrate how the water behaves, and decide if you like it. Fancier water does not equal better tea.

Don’t burn your mouth. You may be really excited, but take your time. As the little cards that come with white2tea orders say, steep slow and be patient! If you rush the session, you’ll burn your taste buds and won’t be able to taste very well.

For me, the best tea sessions feel effortless. If you go with the flow, suddenly it can feel like you’re watching the tea session – rather than “making tea” you are experiencing yourself making tea. Then feelings come, and you really start to “vibe.”

Engage your five senses! Even if nothing seems to be happening, or you’re waiting for the water to heat up, there’s plenty to see, hear, smell, feel. You can touch the teaware, but also tune in to your body and feel what’s going on there. And remember to taste even when there’s no tea in your mouth! Aftertaste is one of the nicest parts of a tea session and can keep you very engaged.

If you’re bored, or the tea seems boring, there’s not much you can do. Try it again sometime with whatever different teaware or water you feel like, and see if it was just a bad session or not your favorite tea. If you don’t like it so much, you can use it for a quick mug in the mornings to wake up.

Err on the side of underthinking. Tea is not a problem to solve.

Say hi at!

Water, a Wicked Problem

I’ve been working on making good water for tea for almost two years now. A recent article on TeaDB mentioned puer tea storage as a “wicked problem” where there’s so many variables and not very good or clear feedback. Water for tea has proven to be a similarly wicked problem.

Natural vs. Artificial

What’s the difference between natural spring water and artificial purified mineralized water? Obviously, spring water comes from nature, and purified remineralized water is man-made. But what is the actual difference between these two substances? Does spring water have some magic structure, or is it just a good mineral balance?

What is in water?

There are 11 substances besides water that are in drinking water in various forms.

  1. Calcium
  2. Magnesium
  3. Sodium
  4. Potassium
  5. Chloride
  6. Sulfate
  7. Bicarbonate
  8. Silica
  9. Oxygen
  10. Carbon Dioxide
  11. Nitrate

These are 11 of the variables we can manipulate in the study of water. Where do you even start?

The Challenge of Purity

Getting purified water in a small scale is extremely difficult. My tap water comes from a dirty river, so cleaning it up has been a struggle. Distilled water bought at the store commonly comes in bottles that reek of plastic, are expensive, and pollute the environment. My local supermarket’s Reverse Osmosis machine produces water with a chemical aftertaste, likely from the monthly bleach treatment.

Distillation at home can be done with a distiller, but these are full of metal tubing and leave the water tasting quite strange. Also, distillation doesn’t remove odors in water very well, so distillers come with charcoal packets which don’t quite remove the taste. I purchased a $300 unit and despite the positive amazon reviews, it produced drinkable, but obviously metallic water.

I’ve also distilled in a closed all-glass setup, but the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are reabsorbed back into the water along with high concentrations of CO2, which makes the water taste not very nice. Basically, you can have water free of minerals, with 0 TDS (Total Dissolved Solids), but full of gross gases and non-conductive chemicals from your water supply. However smartwater gets their water, I would like that too, but it’s probably a piece of equipment worth a ton of money and bigger than my apartment.

I have a home RO (Reverse Osmosis) system, but the high pressure concentrates hydrogen sulfide into the end product, and I get eggy water. Also, the TDS is only divided by 10, so there’s some minerals left. It’s quick though and not metallic, so that’s what I’m working with.

If someone knows how to get pure water at home (or anywhere) without any metallic taste, plastic taste or dissolved grossness, that tastes like absolutely nothing, please comment on this post. It would help my research a lot, and I can share my findings with others.


Probably 10% of people are getting the most out of their tea leaves, water-wise. There is so much that can go wrong with just the mineral balance of water that can ruin your tea. I also believe there are new heights in water quality and mineral content that could beat any spring water. If you disagree, please tell me why this wouldn’t be the case.

P.S. I am aware that this is a problem in coffee that has been partially solved by various companies, i.e. Third Wave Water and gcwater. These could point in the right direction, but tea is not coffee, and there’s reasons these recipes might not be optimal.


Why do I keep drinking tea?

Sometimes there are tea sessions that just aren’t good. People don’t talk about them usually because they just aren’t notable or interesting – they are moments of failure. Usually, the explanation for these sessions is “I just wasn’t in the zone.”

During tonight’s ripe session, after a full day of water research (yes, I’m diving deep into water for tea), I was kind of bouncing back and forth between the computer and the tea table, sort of half focused. Suddenly, a song came on: Mind Mischief (The Field Remix) by Tame Impala. I have been listening to both Tame Impala and The Field for years, but didn’t discover this song until I heard it repeatedly on White2Tea’s Instagram and Snapchat stories. When I kept hearing it there, I started to wonder, “yeah, it’s a cool song, but what does Paul see in it that makes him listen again and again?

This is a pattern of thinking that I believe is central to modern tea culture. What do people see in Yang Qing Hao that makes them buy it by the tong? What do people see in old Yixing teapots that make them obsessed? What makes people buy those $130 samples of old Liu Bao from Essence of Tea? And on and on.

I closed my eyes as the song played and suddenly I was lulled into a sense of happy peaceful nostalgia (yes this reads like a bad college admissions essay but it’s the truth) where my old neighborhood flashed before my eyes, the cul-de-sac with its fresh mulch, the happy feelings of freedom so different from what I find most of the time in my young adult life.

When I opened my eyes, I saw everything with startling clarity – I mean to say that colors were more vivid, details were more pronounced. The texture of the modern zhuni teapot contrasted against the plate, the whiteness of the porcelain, the waste bowl, the chabu (tea mat), everything. I suddenly felt like I was capable of greater things, to transcend my everyday life.

When you invest time and or money into tea and or teaware, you are buying opportunity for moments like this. It’s not about always having the best tea session; that can be taken away, but nothing can take away the opportunity for an incredible, eye-opening experience.



Beginners and Experts

In the world of tea, what do we gain with experience?

What’s the difference between an experienced tea drinker and a relative novice? I’m not an expert, but I’m closer to being an expert than I used to be. I’ve also interacted with many people I would consider to be experts, especially in certain areas. Here are a few things people seem to collect along the way.

Tea and teaware

I’ve not met any tea enthusiast who does not have a sizable collection. From people with over 100 teapots to those with entire rooms full of tea, there exist tea-fans so obsessed that they have gone beyond practicality. The more you learn about tea, and the more tea you learn about, the more temptation there is to buy it. Marketing is getting better and better, limited releases are everywhere (white2tea,, others), and the selection of teaware is unbelievable. It is very difficult to purposefully reduce the size of your tea/teaware stash over time, and the best way is a sale or swap.

The ability to relax and enjoy

In order to fully enjoy tea, one must drop everything else (aside from possibly a good book or album). I mean to say that worry and tea don’t go well together, especially not worry about tea. I see most (not all) beginners quite concerned about if they are making the tea “right.” Eventually, an expert learns to let the tea make itself. This is done partially through development of personal style and habit, and otherwise learning how to relax and make tea at the same time.

The ability to make good tea

Of the ten thousand ways to make tea, not all are good. Making good tea is about maximizing good qualities and minimizing bad ones. It is an iterative process that comes from many attempts. The more pots one has, the longer it takes to learn their nuances, and the worse the available water is, well, you gotta figure out a solution. The better the water is, the easier it is to make good tea. The point is, people usually get better with experience, or at least develop some character and style in their resulting tea.

Positive memories

Some tea sessions stick out over others for various reasons. With experience, the list of memorable tea sessions lengthens. That time I had HK Henry after a long, stressful day. The outdoor session at the pond in the woods. That six-tea marathon session. The tea masterclass where the puers just got older and older. That time the tea made me tear up (it happens to more people than you think!) That first bitter-turning-to sweet taste of raw puer. And the list goes on.


I’ve met some people online and offline in the tea community. Some of these friendships go beyond tea, but it’s perfectly possible and okay to have deep friendships entirely about tea. There are one-sided relationships too – some people serve as the experts and others as the novices. The best way to put your own tea journey in context is to show others what you are doing and compare with what they do. This is not to say that people with more experience are necessarily correct, but that they may have reasons for what they do that you can think about as you decide what to incorporate in different ways.

Personal opinions / the (dis)respect of others

The tea culture is a generally polite place full of different opinions. Most tea-learning is confirmed by experience, and people don’t easily let go of that which they’ve learned from experience. There are usually reasons for differing opinions but they are not easy to figure out. So, there are commonly long arguments about, for example, tea storage, unglazed vs. glazed clay, vendor choices, whether a tea is good or bad, and water (this one seems especially contentious). This is what makes tea so exciting to an expert, especially one who is willing to change their mind.

Appreciation of non-tea

The more one learns to enjoy tea, the more that enjoyment spills over into non-tea elements. Whether it’s the world of alcoholic beverages, from single malts to wine to beer to eaux-de-vie, or just appreciation of nature, tea is about exploring the richness of the world to the fullest extent. Eventually, one learns to enjoy simply living and breathing.

Patience and its rewards

Patience is a virtue, and tea requires patience. Waiting for the water to boil takes patience. Waiting for the hot tea to cool a bit takes patience. Waiting for those loooong steeps at the end of a session takes patience. And all that patience is rewarded with a slow, steady adventure. It’s quite uncomfortable to wait so long doing nothing when you are a tea novice, but eventually it becomes clear that doing nothing is the gateway to a clear experience of reality, or something like that.

Learning from mistakes / Beginner’s mind

It’s easy to mess up a session, or brew a tea for a significant other that evokes the reaction of disgust, or spill tea all over your pants. It’s also incredibly common to have your most expensive tea with your favorite teaware and be completely let down by the result. This is learning, and why the best approach to tea is not as an expert, but as a beginner, open to whatever may happen in the current circumstance. The tea experts I respect the most don’t have any pretentious attitude, but simply know how to enjoy and share tea in their own way, and especially are good at listening to experts and beginners alike.

at puerh brooklyn

P.S. I’m doing a lot of hard, time-consuming, mildly expensive work with water, and plan to share it with the world around March 2020. Sorry for the wait, but distilling water takes many hours, and my glass lab equipment is in customs. Thanks for reading!

Five Observations

1) Bubbles on the surface of your tea are a good sign

Sometimes, when pouring tea from a pitcher into a cup, I notice a group of bubbles collecting on the surface. Sometimes, they pop or slowly move to the side of the cup, but occasionally they stay in the middle. Mgualt calls this the “jello effect” and it has to do with the saponins in the tea coupling with the right mineral balance in the water. Usually a cup of tea with jello effect will be thick and have good vitality. I have also had this happen with just water rinsing out the empty cup and pitcher, but this could be residual saponins on the teaware.

big bubble

2) Excess bicarbonate in water leads to softer texture, but less flavor

I’ve taken a small hiatus from adding salts and other substances to my water (besides charcoal), but when I was adding baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) I noticed this trend. High bicarbonates = softer tasting water. FIJI water is known to be soft and it contains 153 mg/L bicarbonate, which is very high. Seeing that target total mineral content in my opinion is 40-100 mg/L, just the bicarbonate level in FIJI exceeds that. This is why I don’t use FIJI for tea, you can’t really taste the tea. Why this is, someone please let me know the chemistry.

the thing on the right measures TDS: total dissolved solids

3) The difference between 60% and 65% puer storage humidity is very significant

At 60, my puer becomes pretty sour and flat; at 65%, it’s sweet and active. That’s about it, it’s an obvious difference from smelling the cakes. I still happily drink puer stored at 55%, but if I had more humid storage space freed up I would place the tea in that. 

very mild ambient conditions in the closet

bag storage

4) A standard 6 gram tea session is a lot of caffeine and takes a lot of time

After my week without tea, suddenly I couldn’t get through a full session without my heart racing. For me, a session is 6 or 7 grams/100 ml, but I know others easily get through 10 grams/150ml in a sitting. This isn’t crazy, but it is enough to push your tolerance so that you may need tea to function, which isn’t what I prefer. A 100 ml session is significant, and maybe a half-size session daily will keep the caffeine addiction to a minimum, and make the larger sessions that much more special. Also, a gongfu session takes me around an hour and a half, mostly spent letting the tea cool and heating water. This is a significant amount of time and isn’t advisable to do daily unless you wake up reasonably early.

left 180 ml, right 45.

5) Slightly alkaline water is better than slightly acidic water

This is just a general trend, around 7.8 pH is nice and strong, while 6 pH like Voss is tart and thin. I don’t understand water pH, but that’s just something I noticed.

Thanks for reading and feel free to discuss with your tea friends.