A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from December 2006


December 31, 2006 · Leave a Comment

Happy New Year!

I went to the Best Tea House today before the New Year’s festivities. Among the things we tried was using the different water with an older tea (1980s). The result was astounding…. whereas the filtered tap water is a bit thin, bland, and boring, the tap water infused with mineral water was nice, aromatic, and thick. The difference was night and day. This tea was tasted at the request of somebody who bought a piece of this cake from the BTH a few months ago (he wanted to try the difference between what he has and what the BTH is offering right now) and let’s just say he was impressed with the results and decided to try it out at home.

I’d encourage everyone of you to go try out different kinds of water for your teas, and try to figure out what’s best for what kind of tea. Otherwise…. you might not be brewing the teas to its full potential. After all, it’s the only other ingredient in the making of the drink.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Luk Yu Teahouse

December 30, 2006 · 3 Comments

Seems like the internet is back to normal faster than I thought. Give it another day, and I can probably start uploading pictures again. Right now it’s still quite slow (think…. 28.8k slow with lots of packetloss)

I went to Luk Yu Teahouse 陸羽茶室 with family today for lunch. It’s a fairly famous old restaurant in Central, best known for rude waiters who only treat you well if you’re a regular, and a murder case a few years ago where a guy was gunned down in the middle of the dining room. Either way though, it’s a bit of a landmark and is not bad for food.

As many of you probably know, going to eat dim sum in Cantonese is “yum cha”, literally “to drink tea”. When we first sat down at the table and mom started looking at the food menu, the waiter commented “so fast?”. The expectation is that you will first sit down, drink some tea, talk, slowly look at what kind of food there is, wait for everybody to show up… and have a very, very leisurely lunch (or brunch, as is usually the case). A lot of Cantonese families I know would go at 9am and stay until well past 1. They sit, chat, read newspaper, etc, and it’s a time for the whole family to get together. Dim sum, the focus of this activity in the West, is only what fills the belly. It’s really a time when you are catching up with family, and tea serves as a lubricant for the conversation.

I think the kinds of tea that are ordered are often jasmine, shuixian, nongxiang tieguanyin, or puerh, with lighter teas being less popular (although I think they are also gaining in popularity). We got a puerh today. There’s no specific thing you order. You just tell them what tea they want, and they give it to you in a pot. There’s no asking of vintage, raw or cooked, or anything. It comes in a big pot where the water stews the leaves. It’s what’s called “cow-drinking”, which basically means drinking in big gulps rather than small cups for fine tasting. They also have gaiwans, if you prefer that, although with 10 people at the table gaiwan is quite impractical.

Usually, the puerh that is offered at these places are cooked or raw-cooked mix puerh, low quality, and quite nasty. The stuff at Luk Yu, while not fantastically good, is not bad. It’s all raw, at least the sample leaves I pulled out of the pot when we were done were definitely all raw puerh. It’s got some age. I can’t tell how long, but it’s not short. Drinking it from a big pot of stewed leaves also doesn’t help. After all, the tea’s just there to help you eat and talk. My family all commented though that the puerh there was better than the usual puerh you get outside, which is often dark and bitter (when overbrewed). I think for what it’s supposed to do, Luk Yu’s puerh is quite good.

I think tomorrow’s a tea shopping day 🙂

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Earthquake means no internet

December 29, 2006 · 2 Comments

As many of you might have heard, there was a fairly serious earthquake in Taiwan a few days ago. Among the damages it did was the severing of the underwater fibre-optic cable that carries much of the internet (as well as voice) data traffic between Asia and North America. For the past few days, there was no internet access here (for all intents and purposes) between here and the United States or Europe. Much of the net is still extremely slow or simply times out for me here, so updates will be a little more sporadic (and definitely picture-less) until things get back to normal.

Among the tea things that happened recently was a triple tasting of three different kinds of loose puerh…. which was rather interesting with varying levels of black liquor and aged taste. I also met a new tea friend, KL, who is quite nice and has interesting things to share. We might meet up again in a few days to try more tea.

Anyway, hope you all had a nice Christmas break, and are drinking lots of tea :). I think the internet will get faster as the repairs get underway, but at the same time, I am logging on at 2:30am on the Friday night before New Year’s, not exactly a time when net traffic is high (and even then it took minutes for me to get to this page). I think during much of the day it will simply be impossible to do anything on the net, still, until they replaced the damaged sections of the cables, which can take 2-3 weeks….

Categories: Misc · Old Xanga posts

Cheap loose puerh

December 25, 2006 · 12 Comments

I tried the loose traditionally stored puerh today for real, with this setup:

I know a few of you use a water dispenser like this one. My question to you — how on Earth do you control the pouring???? Because I find it extremely difficult, and the water always come out a little too quickly/strongly, and the water sort of spills everywhere. I can hold it up to the spout, but then I run the risk of having it splatter on my hands, which is not pleasant either.


This is the puerh I drank.

This is infusion 2

This is around infusion 8 or 9

The puerh is not bad. It’s got some Chinese medicine taste, and very good chaqi. The leaves are big, and I actually thought it’s not a bad value for the quality of aged puerh that it is. It’s not a fantastic puerh, but if you need a cheap, aged puerh fix….. it will do the job.

Maybe I should go buy a little more. It’s really quite cheap….

And of course

Merry Christmas!

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

More puerhs…

December 24, 2006 · Leave a Comment

I went back to the Peninsula for a canister of their Darjeeling. It’s not that cheap, but it’s cheaper than I thought.

I went and visited Tiffany again in the afternoon, and tasted quite a few things today. The first was a puerh brick that they sell — a cake with no clear origin other than some vague “high altitude” claim. The tea was very buddy, with lots of young leaves. The taste was sweet, with a Jingmai taste, but not that impressive, and has some suspicion of green tea taste. It’s not terribly obvious, but Tiffany also said it reminded her of the organic green tea that they sell. We then chatted about the dangers of buying young puerh these days, and it seems…. basically nobody knows what will be good. Sigh

Then we tasted a purely dry stored Mengku cake… somewhat different from the stuff I’ve had before. It’s more refreshing in its taste, although I actually prefer the one that has been through some slight wet storage, as the taste is deeper and thicker. That tea didn’t last too long before we decided it wasn’t that good.

I pulled out the Jingmai sample that I have… and tasted it sort of in comparison with the first tea we had.

The one on the left is the brick, and the one on the right is the cake. You can really see the difference in size and completeness of leaves.

The Jingmai cake is a little less obviously sweet and aromatic, although I think it is still quite aromatic (the dried fairness cup smells a VERY strong floral fragrance). The cake also has obvious “throat feel”. I think maybe I should grab a few of these when I get back to Beijing.

At this point, some other tea drinker came in. She seems experienced, although mostly a client of another sales who works at the Best Tea House, and generally I don’t see her. She wanted to try something nice…. and so Tiffany pulled out the Zhenchunya Hao.

This sample cake they were using is at least poorly stored. You can see evidence of mould on the cake — some slight white dots on the leaves that weren’t on the surface of the cake. You can also smell the storage from the dry cake and the first few infusions. The tea… is nice and sweet, with an obvious Yiwu taste, but honestly… it doesn’t not merit the price being charged. The last Zhenchunya Hao I had at the Best Tea House in their main store was better — it was also better stored.

I heard that Mr. Chan of the Best Tea House actually bought this batch from somebody who originally got it from sources in Taiwan, and this is after he sold out (pretty much) his own supply. Therefore, storage conditions are not quite the same, and it’s obvious that this batch I’m seeing is not as well stored as the other ones…

Either way though, it just costs too much…. with a nice 25% markup to the price since I was last in Hong Kong… in August!

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
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Two darjeelings

December 23, 2006 · Leave a Comment

I had two darjeelings today at two different hotels. Colonialism dies hard, and afternoon tea is one of those institutions that the Brits have left behind in Hong Kong. At the better hotels and restaurants they generally serve loose leaf tea of various kinds, although some places I’ve been to charge you $6 USD for the privilege of drinking an insipid teabag.

So I went to two places today, and the reason it’s actually blog worthy is because the difference was night and day. I don’t know exactly where they’re from or anything, but the first one, served at the local Conrad, was a bit boring and probably not a real Darjeeling. It was a second flush type of tea, dark, strong, but without a lot of the signature “Darjeeling” taste that I like (and the only reason why I’d order it). This is why I suspected it’s just a blend, instead of pure Darjeeling leaves. The leaves were very broken, small, low grade. It was not worth the $$ they were charging for it.

The second one, tasted at the Peninsula, was so obviously better after having had the first one. The tea was lighter — most likely a first flush Darjeeling. The leaves were less broken (forgive me for not knowing the British grading system by heart). The taste… was exquisite. It’s got that lovely fragrance of a good Darjeeling, with a nice bite to the tea but still very smooth going down. I loved it.

Of course, it probably helped that there was a band playing there for the whole time in the lobby, churning out Christmas music for the crowds and what not. It also cost more, but IMO, I’d pay the extra $$ to drink the Darjeeling there than the much, much lesser version of the first.

I wonder if they sell this tea at their gift shop. It might be worth it. I should go back and take a picture of the place, as it’s really well decorated for the Christmas season this year, and drinking afternoon tea in the Pen is something that a good tourist to Hong Kong ought to try.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
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Different locales, different tastes

December 22, 2006 · 5 Comments

One of the things that became really apparent on my trip back here this time is how differently people taste teas here. Let’s start with the brewing.

In Beijing the brewing is usually done with relatively little effort and concentration. In the gaiwan the leaves go. In pours the water. Out comes the tea. There’s some variation in how the tea is done at each store. Some storekeepers will do flash infusions with no regard to how much tea is in the gaiwan or the temperature of the water. Others will let the water sit a bit. However, usually the first method is dominant. This has to do with local tastes, where they prefer lighter, cleaner tasting teas. Anything too heavy is deemed to be either too bitter or no good. Ditto for anything remotely wet stored. Some will go as far as to say that anything that has been stored in Fujian or Guangdong is bad.

Then, in Hong Kong, the tea brewing is very different. This is most apparent with Tiffany at the Best Tea House, who takes a lot of care in both the temperature of the water, the amount of tea, and the way the water is poured. She lowers temperature for brewing after 3-4 infusions for almost all teas, but especially the older ones. However, the same can be said of some of the other places I’ve been to (though not all). Jabbok brews teas also in a fairly careful manner. Sunsing a little less so. The people at the Yue Wah National Products store are more like mainland brewing…. a little less attention than I like.

The tasting requirements are also different. Everybody talk about mouthfeel, but what exactly do you want from the mouthfeel is not quite the same. In Beijing, it’s about how thick the tea is, huigan, where the bitterness is, etc. Flavour is also important, to a certain extent. In Hong Kong, the overwhelming first factor that people seem to talk about is whether or not a tea is smooth. Smoothness, it seems, matters a lot to them. Some teas will be considered smooth by most people, but some of the tea drinkers at the Best Tea House still go “oh, this is quite rough”. Requirement in that side is high. The other thing they look for is “throat feel”, also something that is rarely discussed in Beijing (I seem to be one of the only person who talks about it, no doubt a HK influence). Where bitterness is, etc, is rarely mentioned. The thinness and thickness of teas is talked about in conjunction with these other factors, but not really the first thing they mention.

This leads to very different ideas about what makes a good tea. This is most evident in puerh, but also in other teas as well. I am still trying to figure out exactly what it is that makes a good puerh, and having conflicting concepts doesn’t really help. At the end of the day, it will take experimentation and careful observation. I’d tend to think that the Hong Kong way is right — because they’ve had more experience dealing with it. But then, maybe it just comes down to personal taste.

What do you look for?

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Buying tea…

December 21, 2006 · 7 Comments

I’ve felt less urge to buy tea in Hong Kong now that I’ve been in Beijing. I suppose it’s only natural.

Whereas before I left for Beijing I was only too eager, now…. I feel like I can wait. Of course, having bought a bunch of stuff there helps cure the urge, but I also think I’ve sort of passed the initial “rush to buy” phase, and have settled down a little. I noticed that tastes really do differ widely between here and Beijing, and what people here consider good tea might not be what people in Beijing consider even ok tea, and the same is true vice versa.

Which means that…. there’s always a market for any tea, regardless of “quality” because tastes differ so much.

But more immediately, it means that I need to sit on my stash of puerh, maybe only buy a small amount from now until….. a few years later, and see how my holdings so far develops before making any bigger commitment to buy more. I think I still want to go to Yunnan, and will still want to press some cakes, if the opportunity arises. Yet other than that, I think I should really stop buying until I’ve got more aging experience under my belt.

Of course, this is easier said than done, with something as big as Maliandao there. I probably will succumb to temptation as soon as I get back. I’m sure you all know the feeling.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
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Hung Chong Tai loose pu

December 20, 2006 · 3 Comments

I went to the old, wet storage tea store today to pick up the tong of tea I ordered back in the summer. Now that I think about it, I’m overpaying them for it. However, a search through Taobao showed that nobody sells this tea. There’s one item that’s similar, but it’s not the same thing.

I only have a vague memory of the tea I tried. I remember it being somewhat bitter, and quite “strong”. Mainly, I bought it because I want to see what these people pick as a good young puerh (since this is the ONLY young puerh they sell). I think I might just leave it in the tong here and let it sit in Hong Kong. It can use some moisture to age.

I also bought a little of this:

Some wet stored loose puerh (raw), packed in a pretty little bag…. kinda retro

Below the Chinese name of the company, it’s written on the leaf that this place is a “hub for famous teas”. They sell mostly wet stored stuff. Quite a cute place though. I might go back and see if I can find a cake or two of wet stored cooked pu and try it, and maybe take a pic or two of the place itself.

I made my tea:

Mellow, sweet, definitely raw tasting, although somewhat flat as the storage was pretty wet, I think. It’s not nasty though, just flat. I made many infusions, although since I was adding water when it reaches about 40% full, I don’t know how many infusions I can actually count. For the price (40 USD for 600g) it’s not too bad. I’d drink this regularly over a very young cake. It’s probably better for my body.

Some of the leaves… you can see how some are browner, while others are blacker (and stiffer). Did I say wet storage?

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

More Best Tea House

December 19, 2006 · 1 Comment

I went back today to the Tsim Sha Tsui branch of the Best Tea House. When this was closed, it was a trek to go all the way out to their main store, so I didn’t go very often, but now… it’s much easier.

A younger tea drinker, B, was there, and they were just about to brew a 1975 old tree tea. The cake itself looks somewhat unappetizing:

Yes, that’s white stuff on the tea. It’s been pretty wet stored (or just pretty poorly stored). You can smell it.

The tea brews a dark brown/black liquor. The first two infusion has a “wet store” taste to it, quite prominent, and somewhat unpleasant. However, it does clear up, as they usually do, after a few, and the resulting brew is still pretty reasonable, and nice to drink. I think wet storage really gets a lot of bad rep, but when it comes down to it, I think I might prefer this cake to the 88 qingbing, which was just a bit bland and flat. Of course, it’s got another 10-15 years extra aging, but still…. in terms of prices they are very close to each other.

The wet leaves:

Then some Japanese customers came in and they tried some tea, and bought a bit. After that, I pulled out my Mengku 2002 cake for them to taste. They all liked it — thought it was pretty decent and tasty, especially given the price. I told them that the Beijingers don’t really like this when I brew it for them, and they were surprised. I think the Hong Kong palette and the Beijing one are so substantially different. They look for different things, different tastes, different feels, and I’m not sure which one’s the right one. The Hong Kong one places heavy emphasis on how a tea feels — whether it’s soft, round, smooth or not. The Beijing one, although also taking these into consideration, is very particular about whether or not a tea is clean — something that Hong Kongers rarely consider. When they say clean, they mean whether or not there are traces of wet storage, and if there is, they generally don’t like it, even if it’s just a hint. I personally think that’s great, as it means that I can usually say “this cake was wet stored” and try to get a discount on the tea in question in Beijing. Can’t do it here.

We also tried the water experiment with this tea… and the tea tasted softer with more mineral water involved. Mark this down in the “mineral” column.

In the middle of this, two guys walked in, one being a famous calligrapher/painter and the other his friend (and host, I think) in Hong Kong. They sat down and tried some tea, and the calligrapher got very happy and wrote some words for Tiffany & Co. After they left, we drank a few more cups, and I took my leave.

On my way back to home, waiting for the Star Ferry, I am reminded of how nice it is to spend Christmas in Hong Kong

It’s good to be home.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
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