A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from April 2006

Saturday April 29, 2006

April 29, 2006 · Leave a Comment

I brought this teabox today to my tea tasting thing in Quincy House. My girlfriend bought me this while I was in Beijing (yes, it seems like she buys all my tea addiction stuff). It ended up working rather well, with the gaiwan and cups fitting in one slot, and the fairness cup in the other. The smaller box then fits into the tea sea (the thing that holds water) and the cover then covers it all up.
We saw a few different ones in Beijing, but she ended up getting this one. Another one was different in design — three layers, with one on top of another. The problem with this particular one is that the tea sea becomes rather tall and I was always a little worried about the way the gaiwan was perched on top of the tea sea, but then again, it means it has enough space to fit all the stuff in. Otherwise, it might not be tall enough to fit a large gaiwan.

A total of… 8 people showed up, which was more than I expected (I thought maybe 4-5). I decided to do three teas, since more teas would mean an overdose of caffeine. I started off with a longjing, then moved on to the Fook Ming Tong qingxiang tieguanyin, and finally the Kung Fung Yung nongxiang tieguanyin. For water, I used Iceland Spring for the first two, and Volvic for the last. I would like to use Vittel, but of course, Vittel is almost impossible to find around here. They need a supplier.

The green turned out rather well, although slightly weak. I think I could’ve added a little bit more leaves, and for one or two of the infusions the water could’ve been a tad hotter. I was being too cautious, trying to avoid a bitter or rough tea. The longjing definitely had strong “cha chi” though, since I was breaking a little sweat as I was drinking this lukewarm tea. A good mingqian longjing’s power is unmistakable.

The first tieguanyin turned out to be what everyone enjoyed. We brewed it 5 times, and I know I could’ve gone at least one or two more. The Iceland Springs water I think enhances it a little, giving it a crisper taste and a little more sweetness that it wouldn’t have if I were just using regular water. Since I was brewing for others, I tried to be more patient/careful in how I make the tea, and I am rather pleased with how it turned out, especially the way different infusions each had a distinctive taste. I originally thought about bringing my pot over, but I decided it would be too small for anything more than 3 people, and I didn’t want to have different people drinking different infusions or mixing infusions, so I just used the big gaiwan I have. Oh well.

By the time we got to the last tea, everyone was comfortably buzzed by the caffeine. I had wanted to show the contrast between a light and heavy fire oolong, and the Kung Fung Yung tea serves that purpose rather well. Instead of adding a lot of leaves though, this particular tea needs to be brewed with at most 1/3 tea leaves. Anything more, and you can get a sour taste from it. I tried it with about 1/2 leaves before with a big sour aftertaste as a result — so not every heavy fire is the same. The reaction to the tea ranged from “this tastes kinda like coffee” to “tastes a little like straw”. I think because it is rather robust in flavour, it is a little harder to take, although among heavy fire ones it is already one that is more fragrant and less intense.

All in all, I think it was a success, especially compared to the last time when only a few people showed up, and all except one bowed out by the end of the second tea. Maybe it’s the longjing that kept them around :).

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Saturday April 29, 2006

April 29, 2006 · Leave a Comment

I got home slightly late today for tea (around 7pm), and all the way back towards home I was thinking what I should drink. I had decided on the bike that I was going to break out my aged brick puerh and have a bite out of it again. Last time I tried it was a year ago, and I think it must have changed a little by now. I got it in Hong Kong, and it was supposed to be 15+ years old. Good blog material.

When I opened the mailbox, however, I noticed that I got some tea today — from an internet tea buddy. I sent him some mingqian longjing, and in return, he sent me a pack of qingxiang tieguanyin (yes! Another one!) and something that was in saran wrap. I opened it, and there it was, one long slice of a puerh brick. Well, my previous plans of drinking my brick is shelved, since now I have new stuff to drink. Can’t pass that up. I will have to give the tieguanyin a spin another day. I also got some tea from my girlfriend — a huangshan maofeng. At some point, I’ll have to drink that too.

This picture is taken after I slip the slice into two by prying it apart. In the inside surface of the tea, you can see little dots, which might be mould. The tea leaves are fairly loose. Phyll, my net friend, said that this is something he bought in Guangzhou, and is supposed to be 8 years old. It looks older than 8 years, although I can’t say how old it actually is. I decided to brew half of it, and leave the other half for another time.

First infusion was unimpressive, but that’s how a lot of first infusions are for puerh since it’s not properly hydrated and loosened.

Second infusion – we’re getting there. More flavours this time, still a little flat, but a bit better. Definitely a raw tea, but perhaps a not-well-kept one. A hint of sweetness, but mostly a woody spiciness. There’s a bit of astringency in the aftertaste.

Third infusion – similar to the second, but stronger. A bit more mellow, actually, but with stronger flavours. It’s hard to describe what it is, but I’ve had similar teas before, in Hong Kong, where you can buy old cakes that are broken up that taste decent. This is similar in taste to that. Hint of sourness at the sides of the tongue.

Fourth – a bit more bite in this one, I get the feeling that this puerh is one of those where you’re always expecting something more out of it every brew, but it fails to get there. A nice, very drinkable, everyday kind of puerh. Not your Red Label or any such thing, but nevertheless, good for regular drinking. I think it is also aged more than 8 years, or it’s been in a situation where the fermentation happened rather quickly (hot and humid weather in Guangzhou might have done the trick). I have 5 year old cakes that aren’t half as red.

One thing so far – the tea is rather thick, and coats the fair cup really well. I think partly because I put in a good bit of leaves, but partly it’s the tea itself. Nice body.

There’s not a whole lot of changes after the fourth infusion. When I was finally done with it, I pulled out the leaves to look at them. It seems like there’s a portion of the leaves that is cooked — it’s perhaps a raw/cooked mix brick, which will explain the aging, and the sweetness. There were moments in drinking this that I felt it tasted slightly like a cooked puerh, but it is obviously not because it has many of the characteristics of a raw puerh. A mixed brick makes sense, in this case. Some of the leaves are black (cooked), while others are a dark brown (raw). I looked again at the unbrewed half of the brick, and you can see that as well, especially on the side that was originally in the middle of the brick — some raw, some cooked.

All in all, it’s not a terribly remarkable puerh. In fact, it keeps giving you hints that it can do more, but it doesn’t deliver on those hints. It just stays mellow, which I think is the cooked part of the tea at work. The raw part is what gives it the spiciness and the flavours, and it also explains the astringency — an 8 year old tea is going to be a bit raw still, and have that bitterness/sourness that comes with a raw tea.

This is something that’s good for your everyday, average cup of tea. So long as it doesn’t cost too much, it is drinkable, fairly pleasant, and in fact, easier on those who have never tried puerh.

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Wednesday April 26, 2006

April 26, 2006 · 1 Comment

I tried my new dancong pot today with the dancong I opened. This tea is one of my favourites, and I really ought to get more of it. I got it from the Best Tea House in Hong Kong. Dancong 單欉 literally means “single bush”, and is a Guangdong oolong. It is wiry in nature, and it can sometimes look awfully like a Wuyi oolong, which is also wiry. They smell different, so that is the most reliable way to tell them apart. Here’s a picture of the tea

It looks awfully heavy, as if it’s going to taste really strong, but the brew itself actually comes out surprisingly light, and the tea leaves, when wet, exhibit a nice shade of green rather than a strong, heavy red. The tea brews a golden colour, with a brownish tinge (so unlike a Taiwan oolong that will come out golden yellow with a little green). The fragrance is overpowering — you can smell it from a mile away, and this particular one is sort of honey like, very sweet smelling. It tastes like that too, but has a little bite to it, and goes down very smooth, full bodied. I love this tea. I should get more of it when I go back to Hong Kong.

Here’s the new pot:

Today’s tea came out slightly weak, since I am still getting used to the pot and misjudged the amount of tea I should put in. Next time it should be better.

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Monday April 24, 2006

April 24, 2006 · Leave a Comment

Reading this blog post today got me thinking about an incident in Hong Kong this past winter. I was in Sunsing trying teas with the very rude staff, and there was this guy standing around, copying down the names and prices of all the puerh cakes around. He seemed to be a collector, or so I thought.

Turns out this guy is more like a speculator, someone who was clearly sucked in by the hype that the tea merchants created. At one point during his copying, he was chatting with one of the staff members. One of the things he said — and this I remembered very clearly — was that he had recently bought a whole bunch of cakes that he thought were really good and aged. He thought he found a treasure trove. Turns out they are all cooked puerh cakes, therefore really not worth much. Then he asked the staffer “so how do you tell a cooked from a raw cake? I have no idea what the difference is”.

Needless to say, I was rather astounded by this statement. Someone who doesn’t know how to tell cooked from raw really shouldn’t be buying tea cakes, especially in large quantities. From the sound of it, this guy was simply a speculator, trying to buy cakes and make money off them by aging them. At least learn to distinguish them before buying! Not knowing what you’re getting, and not knowing how to tell the difference, is only going to mean lots of tuition fees and getting scammed in a major way.

I think for those of us who like to drink tea and are passionate about it, the risk is not that much — after all, we enjoy what we buy. For people who are just buying it for profit, however… good luck to them, and thanks for driving the prices up.

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Sunday April 23, 2006

April 23, 2006 · Leave a Comment

So I put the new pot into action today, using it to brew that Yuqian Jinxuan tea. It is a fairly typical Taiwan oolong, not of the highest grade, but not bad at all. The tea leaves are rolled fairly tight (and small) and rather green. Smells fragrant when dry, and smells even better when brewed. It brewed a golden coloured liquor, and is relatively full bodied for a Taiwan oolong. All in all, a very nice tea, and lingers in your mouth for a good while. I am not sure how much of this is due to the pot, and how much is the tea itself. Perhaps I can try it with a gaiwan and compare, but then again, I don’t have THAT much of this tea, so I shouldn’t waste it like that. This is the tea:

Looks just like most oolong. You really can’t tell much just by looking at the tea. Smelling it gives you a few clues as to what it may be, but the real characteristics of the tea only come out if you brew it.

An interesting note though about the new pot — the colour of the pot, especially its interior, changed markedly yesterday after the boiling. I don’t think I’ve seen it happen that quickly before, and perhaps bodes well for the ability of this pot to make nice tea. I am rather happy with this purchase, and do hope that it will, in time, make a great cup of Taiwan oolong. Anyway, here are a few pics of the pot.

I put a penny there for a scale.

None of this, of course, is possible if my girlfriend weren’t in Beijing, didn’t buy me the digital camera, the tea, etc etc. Many thanks to her for supporting my habit :).

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Sunday April 23, 2006

April 23, 2006 · 2 Comments

Well, some excitement today — I am finishing the cooking process for one of my new pots, so it will be good to go tomorrow :). This is the teapot I got from the Confucian teahouse, and is what I intend to use to brew Taiwan oolong. Can’t wait.

The two step process I learned in Hong Kong goes something like this. First, clean the pot of any dust/particles/residues by rinsing it, and then put it in a cooking pot and boil it in water for maybe two hours. This will burn off all the unpleasant stuff that may be coated on the pot, as well as making it easier to clean out the rest of the pot-making residues. This I did for the two pots I got from Beijing not too long after I got back.

The second step just involves the boiling of the pot in the tea that you intend to use it for. So for this one, I brewed a bunch of taiwan oolong (using the pot to brew it), poured it into the cooking pot, and then boil it for also about two hours. This is essentially giving it an initial round of seasoning, starting it on the long process of gaining the flavours of the particular tea that it is destined to make. After this, the pot’s basically ready for use.

The oolong I’m using for this is stuff that my girlfriend sent me from Taiwan a while ago. I never opened it since, at that time, I already had too many bags of tea open and didn’t want to open another one. It is labeled as a “yuqian jinxuan cha”. Yuqian means “before rain”, which is normally a designation used for longjing. It is a little odd to see it here, but the idea is the same. Jinxuan cha is usually a medium level oolong from Taiwan. I tried a little of it when I was brewing the tea for the boiling, and it tasted good. I will have to give it a real spin tomorrow and see how that goes (with pictures of my new baby!). Can’t wait 🙂

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Thursday April 20, 2006

April 20, 2006 · Leave a Comment

I am drinking the loose puerh I have again, after a long break from it with lots of tieguanyin. I’ve now collected enough pots so that most of the teas I drink can be brewed by a pot, rather than a gaiwan, which is good because I’m interested in drinking tea anyway, the pots will see lots of tea in their lifetime and hopefully I will season them well over the years.

My girlfriend’s shipment of Dancong just arrived today. Now I have enough to begin feeding my pot and drink one of my favourite teas. I think I will go cook the pot tomorrow and ready it for use. Ah, so exciting. Now if I only muster up enough will power to open my last bag of qingxiang oolong from Taiwan and cook my new oolong pot too, then I’m all ready to go. More pics in a few days for the new pots 🙂

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Thursday April 20, 2006

April 20, 2006 · 2 Comments

Take out tea day. I ended up trying this Nepal tea from Mem tea. The tea itself is very similar to a Darjeeling, perhaps closer to a first flush than a second flush. However, it lacks the punch of a good darjeeling. I don’t know if it is because the tea isn’t very well kept, or if it is just like that — rather mellow. Not too bad, but not too fragrant nor flavourful. Worst though, is that it gave me a sore throat (had one right after finishing it). Don’t know how it happened, but it happened. Hopefully it’ll go away after a good night’s sleep…

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Wednesday April 19, 2006

April 19, 2006 · Leave a Comment

Not much interesting today, other than that I am again drinking the Kung Fung Yung tieguanyin again. I realized that my nongxiang tieguanyin pot has actually seen very little use recently — after I ran out of the good stuff from Hong Kong I haven’t opened a new pack, so it’s really about time. It’s also a small pot, so I can limit my caffeine intake that way even though nongxiang has a pretty high caffeine level.

Busy day tomorrow, so take out tea again 🙁

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Monday April 17, 2006

April 17, 2006 · Leave a Comment

Well, I just got back from my college friends’ wedding in Syracuse, NY. Interestingly enough, of all places, we went to a teahouse last night before the wedding. Specifically, it was the Roji Tea Lounge. There seems to be a few teahouses in Syracuse, but this one is supposed to be pretty good. It also has good reviews from Tea Map. So, I went with some expectation.

The decor of the place is simple, with a sofa, a few tables and chairs, and a small tatami area. The place is staffed by two people. From the looks of it, most people order some form of bubble tea, although there are some who drink real teas that are not sugar bombs as well. There were 8 of us, so we all crowded around the little round table at the tatami area. It worked well enough.

The menu (which strangely isn’t available on their website) consists of a number of different kinds of teas, with maybe 2-3 varieties in each category of green, oolong, red, white, etc. There were more choices of herbal teas than anything else (and most of my companions chose some sort of herbal). They also had chai, which the groom to be happily ordered, since he’s Indian (and I think he approved, more or less). Prices were somewhat steep, ranging from about $4 to $9.50 for the Oriental Beauty. I opted for their tieguanyin, having no idea what I will actually get. I figured that since I’ve been drinking so much tieguanyin these past two weeks, I will be able to better judge the quality of their offering that way.

They served us relatively quickly, considering that there were lots of people who came in after us (and the place was packed). Everyone ordered something different, so they had to bring it out in a few rounds. The red tea and the herbals were brewed in a glass pot, with a glass cover, and a glass filter/separator that can be taken out. They open the teapot, let you smell the cover, then take out the tea leaves and put it aside. The chai came in a large bowl, and it came with a side of syrup, but I have no idea how you’re supposed to serve chai.

Then came my tea. I saw them preparing it with a gongfu set, so I wasn’t sure what their plans were (some places brew it for you with a gongfu set without actually giving you the set itself). They ended up giving me the whole deal — pot, smelling cup, drinking cup, fairness cup, and the “tea sea” for excess water. The tea came washed already, so they just added water and gave it to me. They didn’t, however, give me any extra water, so I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. I didn’t look inside the teapot initially, and just poured it out after the normal interval I will allow for a tieguanyin — about 5 to 10 seconds for the first infusion. The pot was rather large, enough for maybe 5-6 cups. It was definitely too big for one person.

When I began pouring, I knew it was trouble — the tea was far too weak. I thought perhaps their tea just brews a light colour, so I drank it (after going through the smelling cup procedure), and indeed, it was far too weak. The smelling cup yielded little fragrance, and the tea tasted insipid. I looked in the teapot, and there it was the answer — too little leaves. The pot was only about half filled with leaves after they’re now wet and expanded, which means that they put in at best 1/8 to 1/10 of the pot with dry leaves. That is far too little for making proper tieguanyin (it should be at the very minimum 1/5 for qingxiang, I prefer about 1/4, adjusting for individual teas). So, I tried next infusion (after asking for water, which came in a thermos that pours VERY poorly) with less water and more time. It still came out insipid. Then I realized the second problem — the water is probably not hot enough. I think that while it might be advisable to use less than boiling water for the 3 minutes brew method, for gongfu tea, tieguanyin should take hot water. They, however, gave me, I think, 180 degress water. That made for weak brews.

The tealeaves themselves may also be somewhat dated, but since it was dark and I never saw the dried form of the leaves, I couldn’t tell if that was the case. It certainly tasted weak and smelled weaker. Any of my tieguanyin at home beats those hands down, even with that level of tea leaves/pot size ratio.

On top of that, the pot they use I think is not actually yixing, but of some other material. The worksmanship was nice enough, but I think it is some other sort of clay. The water that I poured onto the pot didn’t cling at all, but rather slipped off easily, and the texture felt funny. It was dark, and I couldn’t tell very well. That’s sort of an unknown.

All that negative criticism doesn’t mean, however, that I didn’t enjoy the night. It was good company, especially since I haven’t seen my friends (the ones getting married) for quite a while. Catching up was nice, as was the mere fact that in Syracuse, NY, there is still a teahouse trying to do proper tea. It can certainly be improved, and I think I might even send in an email to suggest such things (after all, if they’re charging me $8 for the tieguanyin, they can afford to give me a little more leaves). Perhaps next time when I go back I will have a better cup of tea.

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