I’ve not written about non-standard tea sourcing before.  A blog post citation from Cwyn’s Death by Tea identifies the background:

“More and more tea heads on vacation trips are dragging home kilos of tea they tested and bought for friends back home […] The forums are full of people now offering to do group buys from numerous sources, employing their own sets of connections […]”

So, a new wrench for vendors to contend with is non-professionals selling to peers, directing their tea budgets away from current vendors. Furthermore, the line between professional and re-sale is blurry. If honesty and truth are really what buyers want, the non-pros might have an advantage. And who knows when the day will come when tea farmers decide to get into the action themselves, and sell online to the highest bidder.”

A friend of mine was a part of blurring that line, buying kilos of hard to get Nepalese tea both to drink and sell.  Now there are now more tea suppliers from that origin.  My favorite tea farmer, Cindy Chen, in Wuyishan, is part of the last trend mentioned, opening a sales website very recently, selling directly from the grower and processor, her family.

Group buys are another interesting part of the story.  Andrew Richardson is part of that, owner of Liquid Proust teas , who is quite active on Steepster.  One of his endeavors has been to create and sell very novel blends, like French Toast Dian Hong, or Rummy Pu [alcohol infused pu’er], which is really a separate story.  He also conducts a non-commercial group buy for sheng pu’er, the Sheng Olympiad (see more on both in this blog site).

More about that project follows in this interview with Andrew.

Can you say a little about the Sheng Olympiad?

The Sheng Olympiad is a yearly event that I put together for the online community to have an enriched experience and access to rare/exclusive raw puerh. I do this as someone who is passionate about community and I see a huge potential for people to come together over something as complex as puerh. The Sheng Olympiad isn’t just about shared bulk purchase of good teas. For example: During February 2016, I was talking to White2Tea and Crimson Lotus Tea to produce the exclusive material to be ready for that December. At the same time, I was working with Bitterleaf Teas to help provide some awareness as they were quite new to being an online puerh vendor. Lastly, to provide that rare aspect, I secured the last of Tea Urchin’s 2012 spring Bang Dong cakes so it could be enjoyed by many before disappearing. There will always be a theme focus because The Sheng Olympiad is to be as educational as enjoyable, and while it may be curated by me the discussions that revolve around the tea are the end goal.

Sheng is known as one of the least approachable teas due to adjusting expectations and preferences to the style, finding good versions, and also being touchier about brewing.  At the same time it is commonly experienced as an endpoint tea type preference.  How does this work out related to participants experiencing a learning curve?

Actually, it’s quite beautiful how this handled. Since this project has a lot of support from those participating, I end up answering almost no questions because people are connecting with one another as they share tips, give suggestions, and ask questions of one another. With that being said, I myself am constantly learning as I read the conversations happen and that brings joy.

Sheng pu’er is actually a diverse version of tea related to styles, regions, aspects, and types, isn’t it?  How do you address that in the buy?

Each year I have an educational goal in mind. For 2016, I decided I wanted a solid production of a specific region spanning over years for participates to taste the differences. What ended up being used was a 2005, 2009, and 2015 spring material from YouLe; the 2005 and 2010 are both from Hai Lang Hao and 2015 was the first time in 10 years that they pressed a YouLe cake. For 2017 I chose the Bang Dong and in 2018 it will be Jingmai. Eventually I would like to do some ‘storage wars’, but for now focusing on harvest time and region seems to be working wonderfully.

Is there a core message you would like to pass on to a non-tea drinker?  

There’s no better time than now. First thing I always tell someone is to join the community. There’s no requirements for how long someone has been drinking tea or how much tea knowledge they have. Tea is like any other passion or hobby; it’s a journey.

In a recent Steepster forum post Andrew explained why he will stop selling teas (the Liquid Proust blends brand) but would continue ventures like this one:

“I recently got a promotion at work […] This alone will eat up my time […] so I decided that when I do tea it’ll be pure community, pleasure, or education, and never business.  I will continue to host the Sheng Olympiad […] Group buys will continue with the main purpose to provide education or experiences […]”

So due to becoming busier in the future he will only be a tea evangelist, instead of a vendor; cool enough.