A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from May 2006

Wednesday May 31, 2006

May 31, 2006 · Leave a Comment

A very uneventful tea for a very uneventful day. I had some of my Taiwan oolong today, the “Yuqian Jinxuan cha”. Typical jinxuan stuff — not great, not too bad, entirely drinkable, utterly boring. I can see why it’s yuqian — the leaves are still very small, bud like. It’s rolled very tight, Taiwan style, and unfurls nicely. Lasts something like 6 infusions before it dies off, but after the 3rd it’s really not that great anymore.

There’s a slight problem with my Taiwan oolong pot though — it’s got a bit of a different coloured clay around the base of the tip of the lid. I’m trying to figure out how I might be able to remove it. It looks like an extra bit of clay that’s stuck on the pot….

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Monday May 29, 2006

May 29, 2006 · Leave a Comment

The story goes like this: The Qianlong emperor, ever the playboy, was on one of his money squandering trips down south where he could enjoy better food, better scenery, better weather, and better women than he could ever dream of in Beijing. He was stopping by the Wuyi mountains in Northern Fujian, I suppose, and was served some tea. You know the rest of the story — he thought the tea was mind blowing, and asked what it’s called, and where the tea trees are. The peasants (or more likely, the local county magistrate sucking up to him) told him where it’s from — three trees on the cliffs of the Wuyi mountain reputed to make good tea. He bestowed a red robe on these three trees, and thus Dahongpao was born.

I don’t know if it’s a true story, and I suppose I could check by looking into the Qing Shilu. Then again, I couldn’t care less, and it makes for a nice story to tell.

Dahongpao is the most famous of the Wuyi bushes. When drinking them, what you’re looking for is that “rock” taste, or more properly, aftertaste that it leaves on your tongue and, to a lesser extent, your throat. It looks somewhat like a dancong. Just looking at pictures, it’s not always possible to tell one from the other, but when you brew it and taste it, the tastes are a world apart. Dahongpao is very robust in flavour, but at the same time there’s a softness and mellowness in it. Dancong, on the other hand (and it really depends on what kind you’re having — same with Wuyi rock tea) is more fruity, floral, and maybe you can call it fickle.

Nobody drinks from the original dahongpao trees, unless you wish to fork over tens of thousands of dollars to win that auction every two or three years when they sell a jin of that stuff. I have a box of the “first generation transplanted dahongpao” from Best Tea House, which I think means that they are branches that were taken off from the original plant and tacked onto other tea trees. I’m keeping that though.

What I had today was the dahongpao from Tea Gallery in NYC. Their Dahongpao is on the lighter side — fragrant, mellow, but not necessarily giving you that big bang type of taste that you might get with a stronger version of it. For dahongpao, and most rock teas, one should fill about 3/4 of the vessel with leaves (as pictured). Yes, a lot of leaves, but as long as you keep infusion reasonably fast, the result is very, very good 🙂

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Sunday May 28, 2006

May 28, 2006 · Leave a Comment

Puerh #2 from Hou De – this is the 1995 8582 cake they sell. They actually charge more for this than the 7542. Let’s see how this goes.

Looks like Rosetta Stone

Dry leaves: very solid, hard pressed. You can tell by the way it looks that it’s quite compressed, which would mean, among other things, that it ages slowly. Compared with the 7542 yesterday, which was very loose, this one’s hard. I had to break this piece apart using a good bit of force in order to get the right amount for my pot. Yesterday’s tea just peeled off.

Because of the hardness of the piece, and the way it has been broken for me, I couldn’t peel off layers before it put it in the pot because I couldn’t get a good handle on it. So I dumped it in, gave it a rinse, then peeled off layers. Not surprisingly, even after the rinse, the inside of the piece was completely dry. If I didn’t do this, I’ll be drinking successive, weak brews instead of using all the leaves for one brew. I really need to buy a good puerh knife.

Ah, after the second rinse I can clearly smell the ubiquitous camphor when I opened the pot.

First infusion: The tea’s still warming up, so it’s a bit weak. I can already tell this is obviously less aged than the 7542 yesterday, not surprisingly. Comparatively, it is more sweet than bitter. A bit of the raw flavour in the back.

Second infusion: Hmmm, much stronger. After drinking a few sips… The first noticeable sign of cha qi is showing up, with me sweating down my back. The smell is of sweetness. I think I might’ve put in a tad too much tea and left it in too long, because it came out slightly astringent. Less time next steep.

Third infusion: The sweetness is more pronounced, and has an earlier onset than the 7542 one which only shows when you’re done drinking. It’s very strong, and it’s sweeter without the bitterness. The flavours taste… like… Hmmm, I don’t know how to describe this. Paper? Paper tastes a little like this, I think. There’s that smell of camphor, but not a lot of the taste of camphor. I’m done with the 3rd infusion, and I am still tasting the sweet aftertaste in the back of my mouth. It’s quite strong.

Fourth infusion: It’s gotten a little more medicinal, and in my first cup, a slight hint of acidity. There’s a camphor-like aftertaste. The sweetness is more subdued, taken over by a more woody aroma.

Fifth infusion: Colour wise is similar to the fourth. The camphor taste is showing up stronger, and I think the sweetness has definitely faded now. Still a slight sourness if I swirl it around.

Sixth infusion: Tastes similar to the fifth. There seems to be something else that showed up, but I’m not sure what it is.

Seventh infusion: I think I added a little more leaves than I thought I was – the compression (I guess especially since it’s in the center?) made it harder to gauge how much I was using.

Eighth and beyond: similar to before, but I’m letting it steep longer. It has lasting power, and lingers on. Actually, I’m still drinking it right now, infusion #11. Steeping time is now into the 10 minute zone, but it’s still coming out nicely.

I like this much better than the one I had yesterday. Is it solely due to the fact that I added a bit more leaves? I don’t think it is. The aroma and tastes are more complex. While I don’t exactly find the fruity flavours that their website claims (perhaps the slight acidity is what some call “guosuan” or fruit acidity), it is more complex and more changing than what I had yesterday. Will I pay $39 more for a cake of this over the 7542 from yesterday? Yes, no doubt about it. Will I pay $160 for a cake of this? Hard to say. I think I am too poor as a student, arg.

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Saturday May 27, 2006

May 27, 2006 · Leave a Comment

This is going to be a long post

I got the samples I bought from Hou De today – only took three days for them to ship it out and get it to me, so kudos to them. This is the first time I’ve bought stuff from them, and nothing’s better than fast shipment to leave a good first impression.

The two samples I purchased were the 95 Shui Lan Yin 7542, and the 94 8582 cake. I decided to try the 7542 first. There’s also a freebie of maocha (raw materials of puerh cakes, essentially). It’s a whole bag full of it, so I’ll probably drink that at some point….

Onto the tasting, this is rather exciting. I’ve had a number of older (20+ years) cakes before, mostly thanks to the kindness of tea friends from Hong Kong and the generousness of shopkeepers (but of course, I pay them many times over for their teas). I’ve also had a decent sampling of young cakes. Cakes in the 10 year range, though, I have not had many of at all. I don’t know why that is, exactly. I suppose it’s because tea friends, those who are kind enough to share, tend to have fantastic collections and they’d rather drink the older stuff now. So they bring out the good stuff (of course there’s also bragging rights!). Teashops will offer you any young cake you want to try, so getting to taste young stuff is never a problem. Older cakes are just expensive enough so that not every shop will want to share with you, but you won’t find a lot of older tea friends who have lots of them and opening them up for serious drinking. So, I guess, that’s why I’ve never had many of them.

The sample from Hou de, when dry, smells a little musty, as many puerh tend to do. They sent me 20g, so I am using about half for my pot, and leaving half for a future tasting, perhaps when my girlfriend returns. The tea is very loose already, with some stuff easily falling off. I broke the longish piece into two, so it’ll fit in my pot, and on with the brewing.

The wash came out brown, but not dark brown, and clear. Good sign, at least, that it’s clean. The first infusion – marked taste of camphor, with a hint of bitterness in the back end. After drinking, there’s a lingering taste that stays in the mouth that feels somewhat minty. It is that taste of raw puerh – the same thing you’ll get when you drink a good, strong, young puerh. The taste lingers in the back of the throat, feeling cool and a little minty. This is a sign, I suppose, that this cake is not fully mature and retains an edge of rawness in it.

First infusion

Second infusion is similar to the first, with stronger flavours and, in my second cup (my pot is more than one cup) a hint of sourness. There’s a sense of astringency. I’ve heard that Shui Lan Yin tends to be on the bitter side, and I think it shows. The rawness in the end is stronger and would be more obvious to those who don’t drink puerh. The liquor is thick.

Second infusion

Between the second and the third infusion I waited a bit, because I had to add some water and let it boil. I also tried something different – adding a bit of Fiji water to the filtered water. This is something the folks at the Best Tea House do. Instead of bringing 100% mineral water to a boil, they use mostly filtered water and add mineral water (about 1/5 of the entire volume, I’d say) to the already hot filtered water. According to Mr. Chan, the proprietor, bringing full mineral water to a boil from room temperature does funny things to the water and is not ideal. Dunno if it’s actually true, but it does dilute the water enough so you avoid all mineral deposit problems. Anyway, I digress

Third infusion – is this a placebo effect, or do I seem to feel this brew is somehow lighter in composition? I think the new addition of Fiji did do something to the tea, although it’s hard to describe. It’s almost made it a little…. Lighter. The flavours mellowed out a bit compared to the first two brews. The camphor is gone a bit (is this what Tim’s talking about?). Then again, maybe my infusion duration is slightly on the short side. Let me try a longer steep next round. The raw aftertaste though seems to be here to stay.

Fourth infusion – definite bitterness coming out from the tea, not in a bad way, but it’s there. The rumours are true. It’s what Chinese (or at least Cantonese) call “gan” 甘, which literally does mean sweetness, but it’s a sort of bittersweet taste . I think this taste shows up when something’s bitter enough for your tongue to compensate for it by tasting everything else as slightly sweet. The bottom of the cup smell turns more medicinal, slightly similar to my loose puerh, but not as strong. In fact, the aroma of the tea is not terribly strong – rather subtle. Since I’ve been drinking slightly fast, I am now starting to feel the cha qi. Even though it’s cooling down since I sat down and starting brewing, I’m still sweating.

Fifth infusion – the initial rush of bitterness and camphor taste is gone, giving way to a more mellow brew. In the taste there is slightly more medicinal stuff – I can’t really describe what it is, but it’s changed. The liquor’s gotten lighter. Maybe I need to extend brewing time even more than I thought. Hmmm.

Sixth – the tea is turning sweet. The liquor is determinedly lighter, both in colour and in taste. I already extended the brewing time to over a minute, but it’s the same. It’s interesting how this one drops off so quickly – a little unusual. I didn’t overfill the pot, but it wasn’t exactly a underbrewed either. Hmmm. A hint of camphor left.

Amount of tea I used

7th onwards…. Hmmm, what happened? It’s really weak, and you can tell there’s not much left. I suppose 7 is ok, but I expected a little more…. I stopped at 8. It’s still got flavour, but it’s mellow and weak and not going anywhere even with 3 minute infusions. Time to wash the pot.

Tail end of things

Will I buy this again? Probably not. It’s decent, but not great, and I’m not sure if it’s worth this much money. It reminds me a little of the 30 year old loose puerh I’ve bought before from the Best Tea House, and from what I can remember, that was better. Regardless, that is cheaper, and this, while a good sample, is not a great sample.

Then again, perhaps with some age it’ll get better. I really don’t know, and that, unfortunately, is experiences and knowledge that I do not have right now. 🙁

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Saturday May 27, 2006

May 27, 2006 · 2 Comments

I’m wavering, one tea per day from small yixing pots is hard. Gaiwans are bigger, and offer more…. ugh

Had my Beijing nongxiang today, oversteeped the 3rd infusion, came out slightly sour. Otherwise, it’s a pretty mild nongxing tea, as nongxiang teas go. The Best Tea House has a super fired one that’s rather strong, but it’s fun to drink and gives you a real buzz.

On a rather unrelated note, it is pretty interesting to see all the random visitors I get. There are people I know, but there are also people who I’ve never met in any way, shape, or form. To those of you (such as the Belgian and the Japanese visitor who seems to frequent here), hello! And thanks for reading 🙂

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Thursday May 25, 2006

May 25, 2006 · 2 Comments

I’m a junkie….

No, I already know I’m a tea junkie, but I’m now a junkie to this site too….

Lots of good info, in quick succession. It’s a good resource for me since I plan on doing many purchases of puerh next year in China, where it’s nice, accessible, and cheap. Since many are sampled here, I can get an idea.

Continuing my lower-caffeine regimen, I brewed a rather weak dancong today….

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Thursday May 25, 2006

May 25, 2006 · Leave a Comment

I am continuing my caffeine-lowering regimen, which means less tea. So I decided to drink a packet of the Xuefeng tieguanyin. It’s less than what I normally would use for qingxiang tieguanyin.

Brewing it today though, I found it to come out a bit sour. I don’t know what happened, but the first two infusions were sour. I tried a slightly shorter steeping time with slightly lower temperature, and that got rid of most of the sourness, but there was still a slight hint of it left. It also tasted a bit different after I’ve had days of the Fook Ming Tong stuff and a bit of the Beijing stuff. It is somewhere in between the two — less grassy than the Beijing one, and more fragrant than the Fook Ming Tong stuff, but in a strange way. It is a winter picked tea, so perhaps that explains most of it. The tea is also a little coarser in taste. Either way, it’s a curiousity.

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Tuesday May 23, 2006

May 23, 2006 · Leave a Comment

While I didn’t overdose last night, I was rather buzzed and didn’t sleep till fairly late. Considering that, I decided today I’m going to go easy on myself… and drink some long-forgotten white tea. This is a White Peony from the Best Tea house. Cheap stuff, nothing to write home about, but a smooth, mellow tea.

It’s basically dried tea leaves, mostly buds, but you can see how it’s not all buds here, and there are some broken leaves. Better grades are things like Baihao Yinzheng, but I honestly don’t think the difference in taste justifies the prices that they command. I’m ok with the regular stuff, especially since I rarely drink it.

White tea is now quite the rage, it seems, and everyone and their mom wants to sell you white tea, telling you it’s more healthy, blah blah blah. It’s only healthy if it doesn’t come with 40g of sugar per serving (and there being two servings in a bottle) and devoid of all sorts of “natural” and artificial flavouring. If people think drinking snapple white tea can make them healthier…. ugh

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Tuesday May 23, 2006

May 23, 2006 · Leave a Comment

Had a little tea party with my students from my tutorial today (note: tutorial is Harvard-speak for a small, seminar like class, in this case with 6 students). We had a jolly good time, sharing three oolongs (a qingxiang tieguanyin, a jinxuan cha, and a dancong). Some liked the first, some liked the second, but I think the dacong came out the real winner. It is really quite an alluring tea, with nice, fruity fragrance and good body, while not being overpowering in the way a nongxiang tieguanyin can be.

I’m glad to have done it, and I will probably miss teaching this class, which has been fun. Smaller classes are better than large ones, but even then, a good mix of students is very important.

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Sunday May 21, 2006

May 21, 2006 · Leave a Comment

More puerh tasting today.

Yisen Yiwu Thousand Year Old Tea Tree cake… (yeah, right).

According to this info ticket in the cake:

It does everything except resurrect the dead.

On the back of the ticket they also conveniently stamped the date — which says 2003, April. So, this cake is slightly older than 3 years.

You can see the leaves are fairly big, as it should be given the claim that this is from old tea trees. The compression is not too tight — loose on the edges, although the center and the back are tighter. The colour is already turning from green to brown. The degree of fermentation varies. The dry cake smells… like green puerh. I took bits and pieces from the edges and brewed that. It is possible that this way I am tasting the slightly more fermented stuff than whatever may be in the middle of the cake.

Onto the brewing. I used my gaiwan, and didn’t use a whole lot of tea:

As I normally don’t when tasting a cake of puerh. Adding too much tea may just make it really bitter without any real effect, and masking the other flavours that are in the tea.

The first infusion:

Came out a little insipid. Little taste. Hmmm

Then it got better with the 2nd infusion onwards. I could definitely feel some chaqi coming from the cake. It is, after all, from older trees, and the bigger leaves do impart some qi. Smelling the lid of the gaiwan, I can sense the smoky flavours, but it’s not very present in the tea. The liquor is darker than I’d expect from a 3 year old, and is rather mellow in the sense that there are no sharp flavours that are sometimes present in cakes that are younger than 5 years. I do, however, have the feeling that it hasn’t been kept wonderfully well so far — and the price indicates that might be the case, as is the existence of little bits of white dots on a few leaves that may be mould.

The flavours early on are a bit of the smokiness, plus the typical woody puerh taste and maybe hints of Chinese medicine. Then on about the 6th infusion, I started getting something a little more fruity when smelling the tea, and the liquor also comes out slightly sweeter.

I never know what to make of the black leaves among the greener ones though. Is it just a particularly well fermented leaf? A mix of cooked stuff? It is not quite pitch black, but deep, dark brown.

It tastes a little like a less aged version of the brick my friend sent me. If it turns out that way, I’m fine with it. It’s not that expensive, so whatever — I’ll drink it up.

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