A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from August 2006

Thursday August 31, 2006

August 31, 2006 · 2 Comments

I had a lull in the day today running errands before going to Beijing tomorrow, so I decided to go to Sheung Wan where a lot of old teashops exist to check them out.

I’ve never been in that particular area before. It’s very much an old street with lots of old shops — most are stores that sell various sort of Chinese medicine and supplements like deer horns, bull’s testicles, bird’s nest, etc etc. Among them are a few teashops:

This is the first one I went to, and one with the most local flavour. I’ve only been to one teashop like this before, in the Mongkok area. They mostly sell cooked puerh, with some raw puerh, but most of the raw puerh have been through wet storage.

I tried a few teas there. What’s most unique is not the tea they brewed but rather the method of brewing:

They use these big bowls to brew the tea (with a cover, much like a gaiwan, but big). Infusion time is about 5 minutes. This is somewhat similar to the test tasting method with a spoon, but with no spoon. You use it to test what Cantonese call the “tea base”. Then, they scoop the tea out

Like this. The tea is then presented to the taster on the lid

While they use a western style teacup to scoop out tea from the big bowl and pour into a small drinking cup for you to taste test.

The tea on the left is a wet storage pu. It tastes somewhat like a cooked, but with a bit more flavour and less of the nasty cooked taste. Quite mellow, as befitting of a wet storage tea. The one on the right is the only raw cake they sell. In fact, they don’t even have it in stock, but must be ordered beforehand. It wasn’t expensive, and since I felt bad for having sat there for a while, I decided to order it (minimum one tong). It was decent enough. A good bit of cha qi. I quite liked it, actually.

The last tea I tried was actually the one in the scooping picture. It’s a weird tea — some shuixian mixed with qingxiang tieguanyin. Yes, you heard me right. It’s an odd mix, but it sort of works. I think they did it mostly to cover up the strong roasted smell of their shuixian, which I think is a bit slightly overroasted. The qingxiang tieguanyin balances some of those flavours out. I bought a bit of it as a curiosity piece. At $12 USD a jin (around 600g) it’s really not very expensive. No cha qi, but hey, it’s cheap.

This store was shabby inside. As you can tell from the pics, it’s very undecorated, but had its flavours. They say they’ve been in business for 60 years.

I then went to another teashop next door. It’s owned by a man who’s now in his late 60s, early 70s. This store has also been around for about 55 years or so. His daughter now operates a teashop in Vancouver, BC. Family business, obviously. They are a bit more gentrified, and cater to more tourist business (some Japanese tourists walked in while I was tasting teas). I tasted two of their own make’s cake. One’s from 1996, another from 2004. The 1996 tasted decent, although lacking a bit of depth, but quite nice nonetheless and will probably improve. The 2004 is also nice. I bought one just to try another sample of a different cake.

Sigh, one trip, and two more purchases. I really need to clamp down on the buying in Beijing….

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Wednesday August 30, 2006

August 30, 2006 · 1 Comment

Sorry for the delay, two days (well, a day and half now really) until I hit the plane to go to Beijing. I’m quite dreading it. I don’t want to go, at all. Sigh.

Anyway, I thought I will show a few pics of things I bought aside from the ones I’ve already listed before.

The first is 4 bricks

The wrapper of which I’ve shown you all before

These are really not very high quality bricks. Supposedly from 1993, although who knows when it actually was made. The taste does seem like a 10+ taste. The taste is so so. Probably some wet or poor storage along the way. I’m airing it out so it won’t smell/taste like a lot of extra stuff when I eventually drink it. It’s really meant for an everyday kind of drink. Nothing fancy.

Then there’s this

Which is a cake (two actually) I bought from Jabbok. I decided to mostly buy things I know I won’t get on the mainland, and I decided that for the most part, I’m buying things that are sort of different, in small quantities, so I can test the taste and see how they develop over time. This will be more of an experiment than anything else. I might even send one of these cakes to Boston to store, while keeping the other one in HK to see how they age differently.

This cake is from 2001, but the cake was released to sell in 2005 and the wrapper was made then. You know it’s not 2005 because it doesn’t taste (or look) like a 1 year old tea.

Quite tasty right now. Not terribly cheap, but whatever. Only two cakes.

Then, of course, there’s this

This is the tong of Fuyuanchang that I bought. I’ve already shown you the cake, no need to do it again. My first tong of tea, hahaha. I’m in knee deep already.

I also bought a box of gongfu tea, a box of 30+ year old loose pu, and another ounce of another kind of 30 year loose pu. There’s the pot, and a box of loose broken bits of bricks and stuff that are from the BTH, mostly for pot warming/cooking purposes.

That’s it for this part of my journey. At this rate, I’ll have a 10 year supply of pu before December.

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Sunday August 27, 2006

August 27, 2006 · Leave a Comment

I bought two cakes today (same make). Will post more when I get around to taking pictures. I also bought an oz of loose puerh (the last ounce they have) for half the price they asked for, mostly because it was quite broken.

I should really stop myself before sinking too much…. I still have Beijing to go to!

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Saturday August 26, 2006

August 26, 2006 · 4 Comments

I finally made my way to Sunsing today, as I thought I was going to do for quite a while now.

They sell lots of cakes, at prices that are not TOO expensive, but certianly not cheap. I was looking for newer cakes (can’t afford the old ones). I tried two today, both newer cakes that are their own private label. One’s a 2003, the other 2006. The 2003 one is a little weak — mild, pleasant, but not enough strength. It’s apparently a Dadugang cake, whatever that means.

The 2006 one is overwhelmingly smokey. The smoke lingers on, but I think beneath the smoke is a tea that has a lot of decent characteristics and doesn’t make you feel nasty after drinking it. I like that. The leaves are big and fat, and look quite nice. Price tag is a little high — $20 USD a cake. I’m not sure if I want to pay that much for some new tea….

I did, however, buy something — two issues of Puerh Teapot.

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Friday August 25, 2006

August 25, 2006 · 8 Comments

Well, I had a tea date today with YP at 4pm. I went on time, and she was a little late because she got held up.

While waiting, we drank the cheapest puerh on sale at BTH. It was about $1 USD an ounce. None of us (including the storekeepers, Rosa and Helen) have tried it before. Some cooked, some raw mixed together. None very good, but I guess it is ok drinkable. At first after two washes it still had some odd tastes that it acquired throughout the years. I suppose if you air the tea out a bit it might taste a bit better. YP came in halfway through our tasting session of this tea. We asked her how much she’s willing to pay for this at the BTH without knowing the price. $1.50 USD was the answer. We were all impressed she won’t get gibbed.

But of course, we weren’t there today to drink $1/oz puerh.

YP is a lady with a big goodie bag when she’s in the mood. It’s basically a big paper shopping bag full of stuff — tea stuff. The first thing she pulled out was this

With a closeup

This is the REAL Zhenchunya hao tea. Why do I say real? This is the first batch, apparently. Mr. Chan of BTH got only 40 cakes when he first sold it. YP scored a cake and half (limited quantity for everybody). This is NOT the same thing as the Zhenchunya I saw in the BTH the other day (of which I took some pictures). As you can see, this one has golden tips in it, and the leaves are browner, while the other one is greener and dimmer. The leaves of this one is very shiny, very oily, while the other one is dull. I was quite impressed by the differences.

Then she pulled out this

Yes, a lady who carries around a whole cake. This is the wrapper

This is an 80s Sheng+shou mix cake, commonly called Traditional Character Zhongcha brand because it has traditional (rather than simplified) characters on the wrapper. Going price in BTH is $3800 HKD, or $400 USD.

Onto the tasting:

We had the Zhenchunya first. It’s remarkably mild mannered as a tea, very smooth, very subtle. The taste lingers forever, but isn’t overpowering. I think we could’ve added a little more leaf, but she got a little protective of her stash. It was really quite good, and the tea shows its age as a 10 year. Not as harsh and bitter as the Zhenchunya at the BTH that they sell now. I might ask Tiffany to give me a try of that again to see the difference using similar leaf to gaiwan ratio.

This is how the leaves look brewed.

Then… she pulled out more goodies. Two newer cakes, to be exact. I didn’t take pics of both, but I did take pics of a corner of a cake that she gave me (along with pieces of the Traditional Character Zhongcha as well as the leftover Zhenchunya sample she took — all mine!!!)

This is a 3 year old cake. Reminds me a little of my Taiwan cake, but this one is more silvery, although both are very buddy cakes — mostly buds and not much leaves. The tea is sweet, not quite green anymore, has a raw edge to it, tastes wild (rather than very tame and boring) and is quite tasty now. She said she’s buying these to see how they will age over time as these buds only cakes are a fairly new phenomenon. She bought at least a whole jian, afaik. Maybe more. All from Guangzhou.

This is how it looks brewed. Looks almost like white tea.

We were going to taste the Traditional Character cake, but I had to run soon already. Didn’t really have that much time left. So… she pulled out the other goodies she brought.


The top pot is for Wuyi, the bottom for aged high fire TGY. The top pot is a real Mengcheng. The bottom is by a maker called Songsui or something. I wasn’t really sure.

We had the TGY first. Very nice — 98 TGY from BTH, stored in good sealed condition for 8 years. I think she has bucketloads of this stuff. Somewhat sour as she brewed it extremely strong, but the aftertaste… on it’s great. That’s the taste you can’t get with new tea. It’s a round, full tea, with something I can’t really describe. Similar to the other aged Gongfu tea I had at BTH a week ago (from some other guy who has lots of stuff stashed), but this one’s a little more powerful (less age) and the tea quality itself is higher. She only makes 3 rounds of this and stops — she says anything more is a letdown after the goodness.

They were going to keep drinking — the Wuyi, and maybe other things. I had to go to dinner with dad, so I had to run. 🙁

I did come off with lots of goodies — four samples of teas, as well as lots of good advice on tea drinking, gaiwan using, etc etc….

A few action shots, as she brewed the ones where her pot was used (others were brewed by Rosa, a very experienced sales at BTH)

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Thursday August 24, 2006

August 24, 2006 · 7 Comments

Today’s my lucky day.

I bought the pot from the Best Tea House that I talked about a few days ago. It’s nice, and I like it, and it’s the right size. Small enough for one person, but not overly small.

I went to their main store today, where Tiffany is currently stationed. I got there at around 3pm, and started tasting again the Fengqing tuo (the 500g one). I think I might buy one of them, not sure. Anyway, I paid up and bought the pot there, and I also got a box of cheap aged puerh and got a small (50g) tuo as a free gift. Not too bad, I guess.

Then apparently Tiffany has to make a delivery run to somewhere else, and since I don’t like the other salesperson there, I decided to leave as well. As we went out, though, she asked if I wanted to go to their other branch, in a place called Taikoo Shing, and she might ask a very experienced tea friend to come along. I’ve been wanting to see that tea friend (a married woman probably in her 50s) since I got back, so I said yes. She called, and the arrangement was made.

We all went, got to their Taikoo Shing store at around 5pm. There was someone else there, a merchant from Quanzhou in Fujian province, tasting a 18 year old shou tuo (100g) from Xiaguan. We had it. It’s not bad for a shou, not great, but rather expensive (30 USD). Then again, apparently he can sell it for something like triple the price in Quanzhou, so more power to him.

A bit later, when we were still tasting the shou tuo, the older tea friend came in. Let’s call her YP. YP is a puerh-head. She’s the one who once treated me to a Yellow Label and also some Iron Cake. Very good teas in general… We chatted for a while while drinking the shou tuo, and was generally having a good conversation about what makes a good young puerh to buy.

And after the Quanzhou man left, she pulled out some stuff…. lo and behold, it’s broken bits from her two cakes of Grand Red Label (50s tea). I’ve taken a picture of one of these in plastic wrap in the Best Tea house a few days ago, going for $5000 USD. Here she was, pulling it out to let us drink it.

Too bad she wasn’t prepared, since she was called in a hurry, so she didn’t bring her zhuni pot along. So we ended up settling for a gaiwan. Apparently, she only drinks this thing once or twice a year, so this is quite special and she sort of brought it for me. I felt rather honoured today.

Needless to say, the tea was great. The initial explosion of flavours was overwhelming, giving way in later infusions to a spring water like clarity, and then finally the sweet undertones of a puerh after many brews. It was about 9 brews later when we left and went for dinner. I paid, the minimum I could do for having tried such a tea. I don’t know if I will get to drink a Red Label again. It’s not cheap and it’s not easy to get.

We have another meeting planned tomorrow. She has apparently never heard of those Taiwan puerh cakes that we’ve been oogling over. So I’m going to bring her a few sample of those tomorrow, to let her try it and see what she thinks. In return, she will bring probably some super high fire gongfu tea and tieguanyin and the like.

Too bad I didn’t have my camera today…

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Monday August 21, 2006

August 21, 2006 · 7 Comments

Many thanks to Toki for letting me know that there was a sort of tea display at the Yuhua Chinese Products store in Jordon. I went to that place today, on the 6th floor, and found quite a few stalls selling tea.

This is shot from one of the stalls.

There are also enticing displays like this

From which I tried two cakes

The first is an old growth tree cake, from Wuchidao. It was quite nice, somewhat complex, sweet, drinkable now. Decent cha qi. The price, however, was not friendly. They wanted $30 USD for one cake. I balked. It was way too much.

The second cake was a little more reasonable. It also tasted a lot worse. The colours are a bit dark, although in this picture it looks almost cooked puerh like. The tea, compared with the old growth, is not very good. $15 USD. No way Jose.

The biggest stall at this place was the place that Toki was telling me about. They sell lots of pots, some of which are nice. At first I had my eye on this one

An imitation Mengchen pot. Zhuni. You can see the lines where the Zhuni sort of contracted, and there are also marks on the pot where you can clearly see the clay contracting, leaving small cracks of sorts. It’s been used, so these are accentuated with the tea stains. The price was not too friendly — list price was something like $900, although I could get it for a decent discount. Even then, it was a bit steep, and the pouring of this pot was not the best.

I didn’t, however, leave empty handed. At the same place where they sell pots, I saw some bricks that were rather cheap. From 1993, supposedly. I had a taste. It was nice and mellow, smells better than it tastes, but still good enough for regular consumption, and not too expensive for that purpose. I ended up buying 4, which means a kg of tea. It has enough of the aged taste, while there’s still a bit of rawness left in the brick. The brewed leaves are a bit green, still. The smell on the lid and the bottom of the cup is a strong medicinal fragrance, although the tea itself hasn’t fully developed it yet. I am hoping for a little more from these bricks. If they just stay the way they are though, I am ok with that too.

This is the booty of the day :). I was going to open it for some pictures, but it will prove to be quite messy, and I’m not confident I can repack it well enough, so I decided to leave it be. It’s rather browned in colour now. I don’t think it’s cooked, as the taste isn’t entirely cooked, and the colour of some inner leaves are still quite green.

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Sunday August 20, 2006

August 20, 2006 · Leave a Comment

I was going to go to Sunsing today to see what kind of puerh they have on offer. However, thunderstorm struck today. From noon to 3pm the HK Observatory counted about 2300 lightnings. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly weather that’s conducive to go tea drinking.

So I stayed home most of the day and only went out at night for dinner. Tomorrow, I’m planning on (among other things) going to the tea exhibit that Toki’s been talking about. If there are interesting things, I’ll take some pics.

Let’s hope there’s nothing I want to drop money on…

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Saturday August 19, 2006

August 19, 2006 · 6 Comments

I keep going back to the Best Tea House, but I am finally closing in on some potential purchases.

Two things, really

1) A pot that I like.

Among the many:

Is this…

What do you think? It’s a bit steep in price… close to $180 USD. It’s not very big (the coin is about the size of a quarter — slightly bigger than a quarter). The pot is nicely shaped, I think, and pours well. The lid obviously fits very nicely over the pot — very smooth worksmanship. You know how some pots, when you turn the lid, you can feel it’s slightly uneven? This one feels absolutely flawless.

But it’s not cheap.

I’m thinking of using it for puerh. I’m not sure. What do you all think?

2) Tea. Puerh, to be exact

More pictures:

This is a cake from Fuyuanchang, which, from what I understand, is a brand that is made primarily for export to Korea. This is, now that I’ve looked more carefully, probably a 2006 cake, as it has a round sticker about how it is a “no pollution” cake with the date 2006 on it.

The cake is a Mengku Spring tips. The leaves are mid sized, I guess, as you can see. The flavour is mostly sweetness, with a bit of bite and there’s some smokiness in there. It’s still an early cake, so I think that’s what you can expect. Not bad, pretty pleasant overall. The cake is not expensive — about $10 USD a piece if I buy the whole tong.


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Friday August 18, 2006

August 18, 2006 · 3 Comments

Tea is everywhere in Hong Kong. From breakfast to dinner, if you go out to eat, you’re going to be served tea. If you go to have set lunches/dinners, you will also have tea (or coffee). You can buy bottled teas. They’re everywhere.

However, just like Phyll says, there is a problem with locating good tea in Hong Kong. It’s not easy. Most teashops are what Toki has described as either the corporate gift stores, or just your local regular tea stores. They might be fine for your regular tea drinker (and still beats most American tea establishments by a mile), they don’t really carry much that is interesting. Puerh is even harder to come by.

The reason I go to the Best Tea House often, even though they’re quite out of the way, is that the teas are good and there are lots of varieties. Good company aside, it is one of the few places where I feel I am learning something new every time I go just by drinking different kinds of tea. That’s unlikely to happen elsewhere.

I am also hoping to use this remaining two weeks in Hong Kong to give myself more exposure to other kinds of tea. Many of these I probably won’t even get to taste in the mainland, as selection there is actually worse, but what it does mean is that I have some sort of a reference. It gives me a starting point from which I can compare my tea tastings and eventual purchases. I fully expect to get ripped off in China, I just hope I won’t get terribly ripped off 🙂

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