A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from September 2006

Saturday September 30, 2006

September 30, 2006 · 3 Comments

It always takes a bit out of me after making a serious trip to Maliandao. I tasted no less than 10 teas, and it really hit me the next day. I was a bit tired and worn out, and I think the caffeine withdrawal gets more severe because I was consuming a lot the day before. I think it’s especially bad because I sleep less well after a Maliandao trip (too buzzed from caffeine, I suppose), so it takes longer to recover.

I’m still recovering, so to speak. Yesterday I had a sample of a medium-to-high fire tieguanyin. It was decent, but not great. They claim it’s 15 years, which I’m sure it’s not. It’s hard to say how long it’s been around, but it doesn’t taste anything like the 15 year old oolongs I’ve had in Hong Kong — it lacks the softness and the subtle aromas that an aged oolong will have. Instead, the flavours are very up front.

Today I’m drinking the Best Tea House 30 years loose puerh again. I am now on about infusion 10, and no end in sight. That’s always a nice thing about aged puerh — you can keep brewing, and brewing, and brewing, as both Cloudstea and Davelcorp noted recently in the Livejournal Puerh Community. There is something lacking though in a loose puerh – there is always a little less complexity, I think, when compared with compressed puerh. It seems that something happens to the process that the tea ages when compressed, in such a way that the tea adds flavour when aging in a compressed form. Different shapes also seem to impart somewhat different aging, with round cakes being the most palatable. I think both bricks and tuos tend to be of lower quality, and the jingcha, or mushroom shape, being the worst. That, of course, is no hard and fast rule.

I am now fairly interested in securing a brick made by Mengku Rongshi in 2001/2002, 300g, that is supposedly mostly from wild tea mixed in with regular stuff. I saw it on my most recent trip, but decided not to taste it yet, as I want to bring Bearsbearsbears along for a second opinion. Since this is not really a piece for educational purposes, I intend to perhaps buy a little more, which also means a little more careful consideration. The same goes for a 2002 cake of theirs that I did taste and that seemed rather decent, at least for the price.

One problem of buying puerh seriously is just that there are so many of them. Each store will easily have at least half a dozen to a dozen cakes on display, most of which are wrapped, which means you have to go through every one of them to look at them, check them out, see which one might be interesting, taste them, realize it’s crap, and repeat the process. You can always ask them to give you the better stuff, but that’s also an invitation to raise prices on you, so you can’t really do that with people you don’t know.

So all I can do is taste as much as I can, and hope I chance upon something decent. There are simply too many puerh factories (I think they number in the hundreds now) and too many vendors out there. I read somewhere that there are at least 500 stores on Maliandao selling tea. At least every other one has puerh on sale. Most are not puerh specific, and those who do specialize in puerh tend to have better stuff, but even then, most of the stuff is crap.

That’s one good thing about going to a place like Best Tea House, where they do some pre-screening for you so nothing is really terrible. On the other hand, the prices are also a good bit higher, and the selection limited…


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Thursday September 28, 2006

September 28, 2006 · Leave a Comment

I went to Maliandao again today. It’s tough being in Beijing by yourself — it’s a bit boring, and my entertainment so far has been tea shopping, hahaha.

I went to quite a few places on today’s trip. The first stop was the Beijing Puerh Tea Capital (Beijing Puer Chadu). I walked around twice, stopped by two stores. The first one sells cakes from a factory I’ve never ever heard of. I tried one of their cakes — a Yiwu Zhengshan cake. Supposedly from arbour trees. It was ok, not great, not too bad. I ended up getting a free sample of the thing so I can try this out at home for real.

Then I hit another store that sells only Mengku Rongshi stuff. I looked around, and tried out the Mengku 2002 cake that won some gold award, and is generally considered decent. The cake is, indeed, decent, and immediately tastes better than the Yiwu Zhengshan, but of course that’s not fair to compare, because the Yiwu is 3 years younger. Even then, however, I think the nice feeling you get from drinking puerh is stronger with this Mengku cake. The girl, however, wasn’t willing to budge much for the price, so I just walked.

And good thing too… I decided to explore the Chayuan Chacheng at the end of Maliandao a little more. One of the first stores I saw was a Mengku Rongshi store — in fact, one that is setup by the factory itself. They also had this cake, and the initial quote was already lower than what that girl claimed was their “baseline price” (which, we all know, is not really the baseline). I didn’t buy any, but I might go back and try it again, maybe with BBB in tow. There’s also an early Mengku Rongshi brick that is supposedly decent.

I walked around a little more, and settled into a puerh store that sells stuff from another totally unknown factory. There are zillions of these and you just can’t get to know them all. I tried 3-4 cakes there, all mediocre stuff. Nothing really struck me as good, but the owner is very nice (he’s the boss of the factory) and we talked alot about the puerh market, things that are happening, etc, and he was pretty honest about some of the cakes I was trying, like when he says one cake “well, this cake has a flaw — the shaqing temperature was too high”. I think I put my knowledge just acquired recently to good use and impressed him with what I knew (or pretend to know, anyway), so he didn’t feel like lying to me. Always a good thing, because otherwise these people think they can lie to you and get away with it.

But anyway, I ended up buying two cakes from him which, incidentally, is not really his stuff. Both are samples or what not he got from other people, and I bought them for basically what is a friendship price — I didn’t bother to bargain because I felt what he told me in knowledge was worth something too, and it’s always good to have a sort of person you can trust a bit. I might go back there, not so much for the tea, but for the company.

This is cake number 1

And cake number 2

This is one of those “three no” cakes, with no warpper, no neifei, and no big ticket. I have no idea what they might actually be. Guess which one is the more expensive cake? Which one do you think it’s better? Place your bets now. I will be tasting them soon. Maybe BBB can be guest judge. These are more education pieces, but I think both are probably better than the cake I bought the other day.

Then, after sitting there for almost two hours just chatting and drinking insipid puerh from his factory, I walked out again with these two cakes. He also gave me some loose tea, some weird looking maocha, basically. Might be worth a try.

Then I walked into my final stop of the day, a Wuyi tea store. These people also make their own, apparently, with the store owner’s mom being the tea master (she’s in Fujian). This is their Beijing outlet. I tried four of their teas in a very short time — the girl was brewing nonstop. Part of the reason was because 3 regulars were also there, drinking tea and just chatting about tea. I was, again, learning and just sitting there mostly listening. I’ve learned far more sitting in teashops and listening to older tea addicts talk about tea than I have ever done either reading books or taking tea classes (well, I only ever took one, decided it’s enough to know the basics). Didn’t buy anything, but I might in the near future to get some stuff to compare with what I got from Lao He. I got the feeling that these people have better tea.

So now I am rather buzzed with caffeine, and I felt today was a good day at Maliandao — genuinely made some contacts/friends. I also discovered for sure that prices at the Tea city at the end of the street seem cheaper than up closer to the Carrefour…

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Wednesday September 27, 2006

September 27, 2006 · 3 Comments

In terms of teas I drink these past few days, nothing’s been really exciting. I had more of my rougui (the 2006 version) in the pot yesterday, and it turned out better than the first try. Maybe my intense seasoning effort paid off last time (the tea sat in the pot for a whole day). Maybe it’s just that I messed up the first time, I don’t know.

Then today I had bits of the brick I bought. Didn’t come out as well as last time. I wonder why… it’s got some qi, but the flavours are a bit lacking. I think I am more confident in saying that this was a not-very-well-stored puerh. It’s got a bit of a cooked flavour. Now when I smell it it’s no longer got that nasty mouldy smell. Let’s hope it stays this way.

On the other hand, I was studying the cake I bought a few days ago a little more, and noticed some things

The parts I circled are all leaves that are yellow/light green. From what I’ve been reading the past few days on Sanzui (Chinese), there are, supposedly, two kinds of teas that are now making their way into puerh cakes. There’s the Yunnan Green (dianlu), and there’s the Yunnan Dark Green (dianqing). YDG is the stuff you want in puerh — it is what makes puerh “go”, so to speak. YG, on the other hand, are more or less green tea.

So what’s the difference?

I think they differ mainly in the processing. YDG is processed at lower temperatures duing the shaqing (literally Killing Green) process. That’s when the enzymes and what not are destroyed and the oxidation stops for the tea. Green tea, as we usually know it, is proceed at a high temperature where the shaqing takes place rapidly, thus preserving the green colour of the tea and stops oxidation quickly. White tea, as we all know, is processed more naturally and thus the leaves are actually a little oxidized. YDG, then, is processed more like white tea, I guess — where temperature is low and they should be naturally dried under the sun. They are what should be used for puerh.

So why add YG?

YG adds flavours — nice aromas and that kind of thing. Adding YG to the cake makes it more palatable NOW. There are lots of people who buy puerh not to drink 10 years from now, but rather to just drink it now, and YG makes the tea nice, smooth, mellow, drinkable, with good aromatics and lack of bitterness that makes YDG nasty to drink now, sometimes. YG’s colour is lighter — greenish, yellowish, whereas YDG is darker green, more like a forest green than a leafy green. We’ve all seen the difference. So YG being added to cakes is really a matter of how the market is moving and what people want from their puerh.

This, of course, leaves many questions unanswered. YG supposedly ages poorly, because it basically decays like green tea does over time, and instead of enhancing flavours, it loses it. Supposedly, the tea’s colouring rapidly changes and before you know it, you’ve got a brown pack of tea that really doesn’t taste very good. YDG, supposedly, doesn’t do this and ages like a normal puerh should/would.

But does this mean we should look for the nasty tasting cakes? If the 90s Xizihao cakes are any indication, then no. They seem to age decently well, although, admittedly, I worry about its tastes another 10-15 years from now. But then, those cakes obviously do taste just fine now, and probably will taste quite nice 10 years from now.

I’ve also heard theories that wilder tress/older trees/arbour trees tend to produce tea that are more palatable, not as bitter, etc. Are those just YG in disguise, where a dishonest merchant is trying to cheat me of my money in goading me to buy crap tea? Maybe the merchant himself is being misled? Or is what I read completely wrong?

I’ve been reading things that say that lots of the processing of raw leaves for puerh is extremely unscientific, and when you think about it, sun dried tea, by definition, has to be unscientific. If you plucked the tea today, and luck has it that the weather turned quickly and starts to rain in the evening when you’re trying to lay out your tea for drying — what do you do? You use the oven to dry it instead of leaving it outside. What if it’s cloudy that day? What if the weather is especially cold? Lots of things can happen, and can really affect the tea that is made.

I am starting to think that I need to apply the shotgun method — buy lots of different things, and hope that some things turn out good. There are cakes that do seem to be poor prospects for aging, like this one that I bought recently, but then, does anybody really know? Maybe it will turn into a reasonable cake in 5-10 years, and that given the initial cost, becomes a decent investment. I honestly don’t know the answer, and I’m not sure if anybody really does.

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Monday September 25, 2006

September 25, 2006 · Leave a Comment

So this is the cake I bought yesterday:

Longyuan Hao Gelanghe Old Tea Tree Bing. Spring 2005.

This is, by the way, my wrapping job 🙂

The tea looks like this:

And these are the bits I broke off for taste

After brewing, it looks like this

And in liquid form, in the 6th infusion, I think, it is like this

Enough tea porn.

So how does it taste?

I tried it yesterday in sub-optimal conditions, and decided to get one to buy home to try for real. Like I said, it was cheap, so I wasn’t too worried even if it sucked. It’s sort of an education piece, if nothing else.

If you look at the front of the cake, it looks nice enough. The back, however, reveals some yellow leaves, and from what I understand, those are no good.

The compression of the cake is solid, not too tight, but not so loose that you already worry about it falling apart. I broke off a decent amount for tasting. The overall impression is one that goes down mellow, but really nothing terribly exciting. When I drank it at the store yesterday, I actually felt it was better than me drinking it at home. Maybe the hustle bustle of the store added to the mood, I don’t know. In terms of aroma, the first few infusions were a tiny bit smokey, with hints of fruit on the lid, but none in the taste. There were also some notes of honey sweetness at the bottom of the cup for aroma around infusions 2-5. The fruitiness smell disappears after 3, being replaced by an odd aroma… it’s almost perfume like. I’m not sure how or why such a smell made it into this cake. Maybe it’s from the cake maker??

The taste of the puerh is fairly consistent… and flat. The most obvious taste is astringency — that little tingling that puerh does to you, but not in a menthol kind of way. I am not very good today at thinking up words to describe the taste, other than that it’s a bit boring. After a few infusions the colour is still there, and the taste, while persistent, was not particularly exciting.

I have my suspicions about this cake as to what happened with the tea. If you look at the leaves, there are red borders and what not — I think it might’ve been leaves that either took too long to dry and thus oxidized a bit, or… deliberately done so that the taste of the tea is more mellow and drinkable now.

Will I buy it again? No. One’s enough.

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Sunday September 24, 2006

September 24, 2006 · 2 Comments

I was bored out of my mind today, so what did I do? I went tea shopping again.

I ended up with one cake of puerh of medium quality. The tasting conditions were sub-optimal, since it was in a slightly dirty wholesale store of puerh selling low to medium quality stuff. They didn’t even make the tea for me — I served myself. It was a rather odd experience, but kinda fun, in a way. I’m not sure if I’ll go back there. This cake I bought mainly for comparison purposes — so I have some basis to go on, since I haven’t been drinking much young puerh these days (unlike some people, ahem). It was better than a few of the other cakes I’ve tasted though.

It does, however, also remind me that I should bargain harder in Beijing. HK really kills your bargaining habit.

So I put that into practice and bargained a bit harder at the place where I also bought some qingxiang tieguanyin today. I probably could’ve gotten it for a even lower price, but this is probably all the qingxiang tieguanyin I’m buying this year, and I found the price pretty acceptable (having been knocked off about 60% from the first quoted price).

This, however, reminds me how much of a ripoff it is to buy anything tea related in the States. But then again, if I were in the tea business, I’d also sell at those prices in the States because that’s what the market can bear (of course, there are other costs too like shipping, rent, labour, etc…)

I ended up tasting some more puerh at another store, although neither of the cakes I tasted was any good. The first was one of those sweet mellow pathetic tasting cakes that leaves no impression after you swallow. The second is better, with a bit more wild taste and what not in it, but I wasn’t convinced it was good enough, and the price … well, I didn’t feel like it justified what they were asking for (and taking 50% off that). So I left.

I might taste the puerh cake again tomorrow to give it a more honest try.

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Saturday September 23, 2006

September 23, 2006 · Leave a Comment

I made some of the tieguanyin I got two weeks ago, and somehow, it didn’t come out quite right. I’m not sure what I did wrong… I wonder if it’s the water. Maybe the water needs a bit more mineral-heavy stuff to balance it out, or otherwise it gets too light. I don’t know… it just didn’t taste right today.

I hate it when a tea came out wrong, but you’re not really sure what’s wrong. I also wonder if it was a little too much leaves. Hmmm


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Friday September 22, 2006

September 22, 2006 · 6 Comments

Another trip to Maliandao today. There was a lot of traffic, so the cab driver took the longer route, from the south. I’ve never gone in that way before.

He was going to keep driving, but I saw this

Which is ANOTHER tea city, so I told him to stop, and decided to shop there to take a look.

It’s a brand new place, with some stores still doing renovations and not moved in yet. Lots of puerh stores, and the other places mostly sell tieguanyin. I saw a teaware store, and I went in. Bought two things…

I think they are pretty decent gaiwan and cups (two of them). Big cups, good for puerh drinking.

I walked around, but didn’t feel like bothering with the myraid puerh stores. There are SO MANY of them. You almost get numb and don’t end up feeling like going into any one of them. Everybody looks at you eagerly, hoping that you’ll walk in and buy something because business is piss poor. This tea city is really at the end of the Maliandao, quite far from the rest of the stuff, so unless you were going purposefully, you would usually end up at one of the other tea cities up the road.

After buying the teaware, I went north, and went into one of the open air tea cities. I saw this place, called Dr. Chen’s oolong, and went in, because last time when I was at Lao He’s place, he mentioned Dr. Chen as someone who makes decent high fire Taiwan oolongs. I figured I’ll go in and have a taste.

Ended up spending most of my afternoon there, and bought a bit of stuff. It’s more expensive than your run-of-the-mill Maliandao tea, but it’s not bad. The firing is decently done so the tea doesn’t come out sour. There were also a few people who came in to buy stuff while I was there, which is also atypical of Maliandao. It seems like everybody on the street knows them, and they are well respected. I ended up with 100g of their tea.

Which means I still haven’t found my dancong.

I ended up in the tea mall that belongs to the Beijing Central Tea Company, and found a dancong only store. I went in there, but the offering was not what I wanted — mostly low to medium fired stuff, nothing I really liked. I did end up with something, out of courtesy, and also because that tea is VERY WEIRD. More on this tea later, maybe when BBB comes :). It’ll be a surprise.

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Thursday September 21, 2006

September 21, 2006 · 4 Comments

I did the rougui experiment today, and it was a resounding success.

I tried brewing the same rougui with my gaiwan today, to test whether or not there is any difference in how the pot affects the taste, especially with regards to the lack of aroma in my initial tasting with my pot. So…. I brewed it up, and right away, I could see a difference in the liquor. The liquor came out darker, and the taste was much more explosive with aromas and all the tastes that I found when trying the tea at Lao He’s place, but was lacking when i used the pot to brew it.

I might’ve added slightly more leaves as a proportion of the brewing vessel, but it was a small difference, I think, when compared with the results.

Does this mean that my pot is still soaking up the tea’s flavours, and thus leaving me with a lot less to drink? Maybe. I am putting a good amount of excess tea in the pot today (wash plus some of the leftovers from each infusion), just to feed it. My hope is that over time, it will start giving instead of just soaking (as they’re supposed to do). I’ve heard this theory first at the Best Tea House while chatting with more experienced tea friends who loiter there. I was initially very skeptical as to whether a pot can really soak up the flavours that much, but this experiment definitely nudged me towards thinking there is something to that theory after all.

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Wednesday September 20, 2006

September 20, 2006 · 2 Comments

I didn’t have proper tea today. I was out with my sister all day long, so we never had time. We stopped by a place that serves bubble tea, and there wasn’t anything for me, of course, but since I should order something, I got a “Rose Tieguanyin” iced tea. Nasty is all I can say. And expensive.

Then we had dinner at Made in China, where they serve the best Peking Duck in town. While I was waiting for a table (she went upstairs to her hotel room to meet with my brother-in-law and to drop stuff off) I ordered a pot of Dahongpao to pass my time. It comes in a big metal pot, probably a liter worth of water or more. This is their standard tea. It was watery, as you can imagine.

They also do “traditional” tea service, which is done in small pots — basically gongfu style. They can do it for one, or they can do it for up to six. I think that, though, is more or less a very touristy attraction — for people who want to feel like they’re experiencing something. Part of their wall is lined up with a nice display of lots of yixing pots. I asked one of the waitresses if they actually ever use any of them, and the answer was no. Instead, there seem to be only a few pots that they ever use.

I have never seen anybody order a full traditional tea. So I don’t know how they actually do it, but somehow, I suspect it’s done with much flair but not much care. The pot that they just used was wet, but the lid was closed…

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Tuesday September 19, 2006

September 19, 2006 · Leave a Comment

Well, I guess if I were diligent, I’d be drinking the rougui today with a gaiwan, but I want variety. So, I ended up with a sampling of a tea I got a few years ago, and which I repurchased this time again at the Best Tea house at an inflated price (should’ve bought more…)

This is a 30 years old loose puerh from them. It was labeled the same when I got it maybe 3 years ago, so now it should be a little older.

A shot of the leaves — looks almost like some roasted oolong, which proves the point that you can’t really tell anything from looking at the leaves of a particular without seeing, feeling, and smelling them first. That’s partly why buying tea on internet is such a crapshoot — you never know what you’re actually getting. Anybody setting up a store for tea over the internet should include sample sizes.

This tea is very interesting. It has a darjeeling-like astringency, in the sense that it bites the tongue in a way similar to a darjeeling. This is, of course, instantly a sign that it’s not a cooked puerh. Cooked puerh leaves also do not look shriveled like the ones here do, even when they’re loose. The taste is quite aromatic, with notes of wood, camphor, and some Chinese medicinal aromas. The medicinal aroma isn’t that strong. Whereas the other loose puerh I have (now still in the States and almost all gone) is mostly medicinal, this one is more camphor like, I think.

After a few infusions the taste gradually gets a bit sweeter and a little more metallic as well. There’s a decent amount of qi coming off the tea, although not an overwhelming one. I think over all, it’s a nice tea to drink and not too pricey. It’s good for drink it now — no point in storing it at all. At this price, I can probably buy a medium quality 10-15 year old cake, or get this. And this, I think, tastes better.

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