A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from June 2006

Friday June 30, 2006

June 30, 2006 · Leave a Comment

No tea today… :(. Had take out Darjeeling that’s overbrewed and super bitter, but whatever, it’s a caffeine fix and I’ll take it.

I’m flying out again, tomorrow, this time to Palm Springs for a wedding, so I will be stuck in no-tea-land for the next few days (Tazo tea bags, here I come!), although I might very well be meeting two tea friends, Phyll and BearsBearsBears, in LA for maybe some tea.
On a side note — today my blog hit 40 visits, of which I think at least 30 are unique users. Thanks for reading 🙂

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Thursday June 29, 2006

June 29, 2006 · 7 Comments

I drank the 70s Guang Yun Gong from Hou De today. I am a little too lazy to write a real review, but suffice to say, while it is a reasonble tea, it’s not great.

I’ve had better 30 years old before, and I’ve had better puerh, period. The tea itself is fairly dark, and is obviously well aged. There is some cha qi, but not terribly strong and not terribly impressive. The taste is mellow, with a certain kind of lingering sweetness that is slightly like a cooked puerh. I also saw some traces of white on some leaves — I think indicative of a little mould. The tea on a whole just lacked the punch and bite that I look for in an aged tea. It doesn’t have the sort of strength that I like from good puerhs. Of course, this is sort of a personal taste issue. But I do think that this isn’t the best example of a 70s tea.

It’s not expensive considering its age. At the same time, I’d rather pay half the price and buy the 8582 from the 90s instead. I like that one better.

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Wednesday June 28, 2006

June 28, 2006 · 1 Comment

When I was visiting Portland I was staying with my cousin and her husband, and they are generally not big tea drinkers. One of the teas they have, however, is a curiosity — it basically looks like little bits of tea, each about 2mm x 2mm x 2mm in size. So they’re pretty small. Apparently, they use it to make chai, and an Indian co-worker of my cousin-in-law said that it’s a good brand for that. The only problem is that I can’t figure out at all what kind of tea it is. Apparently, when you try to crush it when it’s wet, it just sort of get mushed up and crumbles. My guess is that this is basically compressed fanning — so basically, teabag material that is compressed into little bits instead of stuck in a bag. I think this means flavours get released very fast and will yield a slightly bland and mellow brew.

And in a completely different context, I had it today. My girlfriend just returned from a trip to Xinjiang, and today we visited one of her friends, whose husband is half Egyptian. My girlfriend brought a bag of tea for them from Xinjiang, which is made from Yarkand and originally (according to packaging) from Yunnan.

The taste of the tea is very odd — it’s got hints of a reasonable black tea, but with notes of spice and other frangrance in it. It smells slightly sweet — maybe a hint of rose? Cardamom? I wasn’t sure. Then I peeked in the pot — and realized that it’s the same pressed fanning tea that I saw only two days ago! It was quite interesting to actually taste it. The tea was weak, even when brewed for a long time. There was obviously no qi, and it was just smooth — no astringency or acidity.

Apparently, this tea is also good for making their local milk tea. I guess it’s good for that sort of thing — flavoured, milk diluted tea. Yarkand stuff is supposed to be the best, for whatever reason. I guess to each his own. I’d rather drink my big leaf puerh, hehehe

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Monday June 26, 2006

June 26, 2006 · 5 Comments

Yesterday my girlfriend and I went to the teahouse in the Portland Classical Chinese Garden that is run by the Tao of Tea. I went hoping to find some good tea serves in a reasonable manner. I know I am picky (well, ok, very picky), but then, all tea addicts are picky. If you aren’t picky, you can’t make good tea. Discernment is key.

Anyway, I digress. We went in, and it was a nicely built building, with Chinese windows and ceiling, and authentic looking furniture, although the flooring is with some light coloured softwood, which will never happen in a building of this type. We took a seat on the second floor, and were given two menus. Of course, I skipped all the food and looked at the tea.

They served almost all exclusively Chinese tea, not surprisingly. I decided to order a “Maofeng Noir”, apparently a red version of your usual maofeng. My girlfriend decided on the “Frozen Summit”, which, of course, is just your regular Dongding oolong. Just when I was about to order though, I saw this special tea menu on the first page — and I saw a black tea called “Monkey King”. I asked the server if she knew anything more of the tea. The answer is negative, so, well, I ordered it.

The teas arrived. I should’ve taken a picture, but basically — hers came in a black yixing that’s about 150ml with a regular sized aroma cup and a drinking cup. Mine came in a 350ml to 400ml Yixing and a drinking cup that is only slightly larger than your regular cup.

You know what this means … the leaves are stewing in the water.

With black tea, this is not the greatest sin ever. After all, they do take a good bit of abuse and really don’t get that screwed up thanks to overbrewing. I asked for a larger drinking cup, so that the whole pot will drained with about 4 cups. Nevertheless, with my girlfriend’s cup it was hopeless. I could’ve asked for something else to put the tea in, but then it would just be a big cup and all that. Besides, by the time she would bring the big cup over, it would be way too late because the tea would’ve been stewing in the pot for a long time anyway. They put enough leaves in it so that it became rather toxic. My black was also exhausted by the time I got a second round of water. We ended up pretty much only drinking one round of tea.

Another funny thing — when she brought us the teas, she poured the first cup for my girlfriend. She used two hands — one hand holding the handle, and the other holding down the lid, except that…. she was holding the airhole of the pot, and she was rather confused as to why the pot wasn’t pouring much at all. When I pointed out that she was putting her hand over the airhole, she gave some lame excuse like “oh, hard to correct old habits…”. I must’ve appeared one of those smarmy know-it-all customers, hehehe

But it does point out one thing — my expectations were higher than usual at this place, because I know they know something about teas. I also know that they were trying to serve things authentically, but the end result was poor — they just simply didn’t pay enough attention to the details so that they avoided the problems of a usual Western style teahouse. At least at those places you have no illusions as to what kind of stuff they actually serve, but with the teahouse set up like this, some people might think they’re really drinking it the way it’s supposed to be, but when that Dongding oolong turns out bitter and nasty because it’s been sitting in the pot for 5 minutes…. you can turn off a LOT of people.

On a slightly related note — these guys have some interesting looking puerh, but no provenance and no real details. At $40 a piece, and no real way to sample it, it’s really hard to justify the prices…

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Saturday June 24, 2006

June 24, 2006 · 1 Comment

Well, today I had three teas today — first making longjing and tieguanyin for my girlfriend and her mom, and then after our big dinner, some gongfu cha for my cousin and cousin-in-law. It was slightly difficult having to improvise various ways to get water and pour properly, but for what it’s worth, I managed all right. The water for the gongfu tea was slightly colder than I’d liked, and the flavours came out much mellower in general, and didn’t really have the explosive taste that it should. Oh well…

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Thursday June 22, 2006

June 22, 2006 · 3 Comments

Haven’t really had time to write an update yesterday — I was on a plane for 10 hours, basically, for what should’ve taken 3 hours less. Oh well, I’m here now, in Portland Oregon.

I am staying with my cousin who so nicely let me live in one of their rooms. I was wiped when I got here, and of course, I haven’t had tea all day, so it was getting a little tough going. I brought my traveling tea set, and some of my own tea, but my cousin also got a new package of stuff from her in-laws, and so we opened that up instaed.

Turns out it’s a bag of longjing. It’s packed in one of those brown paper bags, with paper wrapped around the whole thing. It looks rather fresh, and is probably a good grade. I ended up brewing some (sorry, no pics) and it does turn out pretty well. Tastes like one of a later harvest, not totally top grade kind of longjing, but as Toki pointed out, sometimes these are actually better than the super top grade which can taste kind of weak. The leaves, when brewed, is a beautiful green. The taste is mellow, and sweet. There’s a good amount of cha qi. It might have been too strong a tea for me after the long trip, but it was pretty good.

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Tuesday June 20, 2006

June 20, 2006 · 1 Comment

More sampling today: another sample from Hou De. If nothing else, being able to buy sample size is a nice thing

Today I’m doing the Xizhihao Lao Banzhang cake, 2005. This is made by a Taiwanese company called Sanhetang, and they’re one of those who claim to be using older methods and recipes to make tea. The cakes themselves look rather nice, with old, big leaves layered on the surface, and from the looks of the dry leaf, the whole cake is made of the same sort of leaves.

Pen for scale

The tea itself, when brewed, yields a slightly smoky flavour in the first few brews. There’s a certain amount of astringency, and some gan in the back. There are also some notes of fruit and floral tones, but they’re rather subdued at this point, mostly in the aftertaste. In fact, the bitterness (not a very unpleasant one) stays quite long until maybe the 6th infusion, where the tea turns into a sweeter taste.

First infusion

Second infusion

Brewed leaves, what Chinese call, literally, “tea base”

The most defining characteristics, I think, is the strong presence of chaqi. The chaqi is very strong in this tea, and every cup I drink I can sort of feel it through the sweats that I am breaking, as well as a general power of the tea that doesn’t really show in any other way. At one point I had to grab some snack to eat, and an hour after that, I ended up making dinner, because it was simply too much for me to continue drinking.

I’m still going on with I think the 11th or the 12th infusion. It’s got a few more of these long infusions left. Very good.

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Monday June 19, 2006

June 19, 2006 · 3 Comments

I had a sample of the Nannuo maocha from Hou De today, which he gave to me for free when I bought some other stuff. I sort of messed up brewing it — underbrewed, with not enough leaves. The leaves are very large, and smell like young puerh. When I brewed it, however, it tastes more like a typical, slightly grassy green. Very mild, and sort of mellow. I think I need to try it again with a little more leaves to do it justice.

Since I shared the tea today, and since it was so light, I indulged in a second round of tea with some Tea Gallery Dahongpao. Warm and nice, although I feel it lacks a little in lasting power and a truly long, lingering aftertaste. Maybe it’s just me being picky.

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Sunday June 18, 2006

June 18, 2006 · Leave a Comment

As I posted on the LJ Community for puerh — a list of terms for puerh. Enjoy.

7542 (or 7582, 8582, 7532, etc etc etc) — recipe numbers of puerh cakes. The third digit is the grade of the tea leaves blend (not all are grade 4 in 7542), and the fourth digit is the factory number. The first two digits is the year when the recipe first got started. Just because two cakes have the same number though doesn’t mean they’ll taste the same, especially as factories revive old recipes.

beeng 餅(properly spelld bing, but beeng seems more common) — a beeng usually refers to a baked dough that is round and thin (think pizza without toppings), but can be used to refer to any number of “cakes” or baked goods in a variety of context. In puerh parlance, a beeng is a round compressed “cake” of puerh leaves. This is the most common form of compressed puerh, and range in size from 100g a piece to 3000g a piece (or more). The most common sizes are 357g or 400g. In the case of 357g, they are sometimes call qizi bing 七子餅(sometimes spelled chi-tsu).

cha qi 茶氣(or just qi) — literally the “qi” (or in some cases “chi) of the tea (cha). It’s a pretty elusive concept, and some will dispute whether such thing exists at all, but essentially, it is a quality that some people look for when buying puerh (or any tea in general) and can be most conveniently translated as the power of the tea. Immediate effects of a tea having strong qi is that it makes you sweat, usually in the back (especially lower back) and you feel a sort of rush/buzz that comes from the tea. It is independent of the caffeine and temperature of the water, or at least it should.

dapiao 大票 — the big piece of paper telling you the manufacturer, name of the tea, often year, and other vital information of the tea in question that usually comes with a jian of tea (although I think I’ve seen dapiaos on just each tong of tea?). Us non-vendors probably won’t see this too often.

jincha 緊茶 — literally “tight tea”, this is the mushroom shaped compressed tea that is so often associated with Tibet.

maocha 毛茶 — raw material of puerh, and refers to the processed but as yet uncompressed tea leaves. Some puerh, however, is left deliberately loose, and in Chinese it is called sancha 散茶. Most modern day (i.e. post 80s) sancha is in the form of shu puerh, but if you go to places like Hong Kong it is still possible to buy aged, sheng sancha.

money — qian 錢 in Chinese, also taking the form of renminbi 人民幣, xintaibi (New Taiwan Dollar) 新台幣, or meijin (US Dollar, literally American gold) 美金 — substance that begins to disappear from your wallet and bank account at an increasing velocity as you sink deeper into the habit of drinking puerh.

neifei 內飛 — “inside ticket”, literally, this is the little piece of paper, usually about an inch by an inch or so, that is stuck on the compressed puerh. It is usually only present on beengs on the front (convex) side. Sometimes though, a particular beeng can have two neifei, one on each side. Often that is because it is a more valuable cake. Neifeis are used to determine the authenticity of a cake, but can often be faked and is more of a guide than a proof.

neipiao 內票 — this refers to the larger piece of info ticket contained in the wrapper of a bing (or brick, or other teas), but is loose rather than embedded in the tea itself. Usually they tell you that they picked the best leaves, that the tea brews clearly with nice aromas, and it will cure your (fill in the blank) cancer while helping you to gain appetite and lose weight.

puerh 普洱(or puer) — why I’m wasting time typing this up in the first place.

sheng 生 — sometimes also referred to as qing 青, which means green, sheng is the term that denotes the lack of post-compression processing of the tea. This type of puerh is the ones that we rant and rave about — it is usually what people buy for further aging at home, and if it is originally of good quality and kept well, can become great in the future. Of course, whether they last 30 years or not is another matter. Younger sheng puerh will brew a yellow-green liquor, and will become increasingly darker over time. The leaves will also turn from green to brown. The taste differ radically depending on aging, quality, etc, and this variation is the primary reason why you see so many reviews here.

shu 熟 — literally “cooked”, it refers to puerh that has been post-fermented artificially before being compressed into their shape. Their aging potential is limited, and is usually best drunk now. The brews tend to be sweet, earthy, and very dark — almost pitch black a lot of times.

tuo 沱 — one of the shapes of compressed tea common for puerh. A tuo is usually 100g in weight, and is dome-like. Usually of high compression and hard to break, and the taste of younger tuo tend to be smoky.

wet-storage — a process where the sheng cakes are put into a storage space with artificially inflated humidity/temperature to encourage fermentation of the tea. If done well, they can taste all right. If done poorly, they taste like crap.

wild arbor — in Chinese it is yesheng qiaomu 野生喬木, this is often something that a tea maker advertises on their wrapper as something special about their cake — that the leaves are from wild arbor trees. Cultivated tea trees are usually bushes, and supposedly, wild arbor trees (and the street knowledge is the older the better) will provide superior aging potential and better flavours.

wrapper — the piece of paper used to wrap the puerh beeng/brick/tuo. It contains vital information such as the make of the tea, where it might be from, and can often give hints as to when it was made, depending on little details on the wrapper. Of course, since it’s just a piece of paper, it can be easily (and is often) faked.

zhuan 磚 — another form of compression for puerh, zhuan means brick, and are really brick like — usually rectangular shape, about 3/4 of an inch thick and weigh about 250g, but there are bigger ones too.

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Sunday June 18, 2006

June 18, 2006 · 1 Comment

I called my dad today, hoping to talk to him since it is Father’s Day and all (even though we just talked yesterday) and somehow… he is out of town, apparently, with my mom. Upon talking to my grandfather, I foudn out that he went to — Wuyishan!!!

Now… why did he not tell me he was going yesterday? And Wuyishan, of all places!!! I could’ve asked him to get me some rarer rock teas, like baijiguan, but nooooooo…. 🙁

Oh well, at least I’m sure they’ll have a nice trip, and I’ll keep drinking my nongxiang tieguanyin.

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