A Tea Addict's Journal

First day back in Hong Kong…

December 18, 2006 · 8 Comments

and where do I go? I go to Tiffany & Co., of course… (actually, I prefer Cartier)

Anyway, I haven’t even been to the new Tsim Sha Tsui branch of the Best Tea House… and like bearsbearsbears said, it’s quite small. Here’s a shot looking out from the vantage point of the tea drinker/brewer

But believe it or not… it’s actually bigger, physically speaking, than the older branch. The older branch, however, was square, so even though it’s physically smaller, sitting in it feels better.

When I got there after lunch, there were already two older tea drinkers there. They were all getting ready to taste another tea (obviously much has happened already before I arrived). Tiffany was making the tea…. with two gaiwans. Here are the contents:

They are two “thousand taels tea”. The one on the left is an offering of the Best Tea House, whereas the one on the right is brought by one of the drinkers who were there. Thousand taels tea is basically a heavily compressed stick of tea — a very big stick. It’s usually some 5-6ft long, and the diameter is similar to a regular puerh cake. You can imagine how much tea that is. I believe it’s made with Hunan leaves… and it’s got all sorts of stuff in it.

These are how they are brewed, in the same left right setup. Although the way the tea reflected light makes it seem as though the right side is darker than the left, the reality is that they are very close.

The taste, however, is not. The left is sort of medicinal, but a bit thin. The right has everything the left has, but more, and has also a “chen” taste with a sweetness to it that the left doesn’t. Quite nice. Supposed to be around 50 years old (and in the hands of the tea drinker for 15 years already). I’ve tasted a very young thousand taels tea, and that one tasted very rough and unready for consumption. These are both drinkable, although not at these prices….

Then, we tried a Chaozhou gongfu tea — heavily roasted oolong. We brewed it in a pot — sour. We brewed it in a gaiwan… not sour. Something’s wrong with the pot. The owner (the guy who brought the thousand taels tea) said he’ll have to go home and re-season the pot thoroughly to get rid of the nasty taste.

Then… I brought out the two puerhs I brought (well, I brought more). The first is the Yiwu maocha, and the second is the Yiwu girl cake.

Everybody liked the Yiwu maocha… flavourful, smooth, full bodied. It tasted better than when I brew it, so I thought Tiffany’s tea brewing skills are obviously better than mine, for good reasons. I’m glad it tasted so good.

Then we tried the Yiwu cake…. and something was seriously wrong. It was thin, rough, not fragrant at all. Nobody wanted to drink it after three infusions, and I myself felt uncomfortable with the tea too. Something was wrong, quite wrong.

While we were discussing why this might have been the case, we brewed up a little 88 qingbing (88 raw cake) for taste. I’ve never had it, and neither has the other guy who brought the tea and the pot, so we figured it’s not a bad thing to try.

Boy, was I disappointed. Astronomical price tag aside, the tea is thin, bland, lacking in huigan, etc…. only of middling quality all around, if even, and did I mention it’s expensive?

A shot of the wet leaves

I asked a guy I know on Sanzui who’s also from HK about it… and he said “duh… anything left in the Best Tea House at this point that’s a 88 raw cake is not going to be good”. Good point. The good stuff is long gone — picked out by the people who bought it in bulk, or simply lucky enough to buy early.

Meanwhile, we figured that it was probably a water problem — namely that the water I use in Beijing and the water here are different, with the water here (filtered tap water) being very soft and low in mineral content, while the water I use in Beijing is harder. So, to test, I went out, found the closest 7-eleven I could find (2 minute walk away) and bought a bottle of Volvic for our experiment (my preferred option, Vittel, was not for sale there, and I don’t like Evian).

We mixed the Volvic into one of the water kettles, making it an even mix of the tap water and the Volvic, and the other was just tap water. We brewed the Yiwu girl tea up again after a quick rinse.

The result…. was a flavourful, fragrant tea, much, much smoother, and more full bodied. Closer to what I’ve tasted in Beijing. Not quite the same, mind you, but closer.

We then used the tap water to make another infusion of similar time… thin, rough, just like the first few.

Volvic water again… much better. This time the infusion time was short, and it was even more apparent that the tea OBVIOUSLY improved.

However, I think the maocha tasted better with the tap water. What gives?

We tried this with one other tea. This is a tea brought over by the other guy sitting there today, a Wuliang Shan young cake from 05. We tried it with both waters… and the tea was better with the tap water.

I’ve still got to figure out what it is that makes the Yiwu girl tea better with the high mineral content, while the other two better with the regular tap water. This is a bit of a mystery and needs much, much more experimentation.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
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8 responses so far ↓

  • Phyllo // December 18, 2006 at 2:22 pm | Reply

    Very interesting observation about the water.  It’s a hit and miss thing for each different tea…and it seems without experimentation we can’t know for sure which water goes better with what tea.  Re: 88-Ching beeng…uh-oh!  I just got a sample from Guang and I have planned — before I read this entry — to taste it tonight.  So it’s a coincidence that now I have some sort of a reference from your chance tasting of the tea.  We’ll see.

    Welcome back home.  Oh, btw, I never liked Tiffany & Co. or Cartier, but that doesn’t matter here 🙂

  • sspeakfreely // December 18, 2006 at 7:45 pm | Reply

    Interseting observation about there being preferable combinations of waters and teas. Hobbesoxon sent me a shou that brewed up murky and dark as espresso with the mineral-rich well water we have here. And he shared a photograph of his own brew which was clear and a beautiful mahogany color. I have yet to purchase some bottled water to see if that is the problem, but you observation has renewed my interest in doing so.

  • sspeakfreely // December 18, 2006 at 7:46 pm | Reply

    Interesting observation about there being preferable combinations of waters and teas. Hobbesoxon sent me a shou that brewed up murky and dark as espresso with the mineral-rich well water we have here. And he shared a photograph of his own brew which was clear and a beautiful mahogany color. I have yet to purchase some bottled water to see if that is the problem, but you observation has renewed my interest in doing so.

  • sjschen // December 18, 2006 at 8:22 pm | Reply

    I noticed a similar thing with a cake from wuliang that I had. Namely, it tasted better with distilled water than with filtered tap. A pseudo-educated guess is that the nasty tastes in some cakes are different than those in others in terms of binding certain metal ions.

    Does Tiffany own this branch of BTH?

  • MarshalN // December 18, 2006 at 9:26 pm | Reply

    No, she is just a lowly employee.

    I think it does have something to do with metal ions and the concentration of it, especially whatever it is that makes the tea “rough”.

    I wonder if the 88 Qing is better with a stronger dose of minerals in the water. It was really pretty uninspiring with the filtered tap water we used.

  • MarshalN // December 18, 2006 at 9:33 pm | Reply

    By the way…. Lu Yu and other tea sages of the past all recommend against using well water.

  • sspeakfreely // December 19, 2006 at 8:22 pm | Reply

    I am lucky to live in a place not far from mountain springs, and with very good well water. Having read about Lu Yu’s advice against well water, I acquired some spring water from the top of Cheat mountain and did a taste test with an oolong and a puer (I forget which ones I used, it has been a while) and in both cases the well water from our house yeilded better results. I suspect that in Lu Yu’s time, wells were shallow, hand-dug affairs that leaked a certain amount of surface water, not 200ft+ deep and lined with pipe. I did notice in comparing the water all by itself that there was a slightly noticable iron content in our well water which I do not normally taste when I am not comparing it carefully with other water.

  • MarshalN // December 20, 2006 at 11:04 am | Reply

    True, when a well is that deep, it’s more like a spring as you’re tapping into an aquifer.

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