A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from December 2006

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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Thinking about tea on a plane

December 17, 2006 · Leave a Comment

The past few months in Beijing, aside from my dissertation research, has been fairly productive in terms of my tea studies. Maliandao is a valuable resource for those adventurous enough to go and seek out the teas. Although I have been told by some that only lower end puerh exists in Maliandao, I don’t find that to be true — it just takes some effort to locate the stores with nice puerh. As for other types of tea, while Maliandao is woefully inadequate in roasted tieguanyin and roasted dancongs, it has a reasonable selection of Wuyi teas and more qingxiang tieguanyin than you’d care to drink. There are also an amazing array of green tea, which I almost never touched. The presence of a lot of government officials, important businesses, and simply a lot of people has made sure that the supply of tea is varied and good.

I have probably tasted at least 150 teas on all the trips I’ve taken to Maliandao and other tea gatherings. I have made a bunch of purchases, usually in the form of one or two cakes at a time, that seem to suit my fancy. Some are supposed “big tree” teas, others are teas that seem to be genuine big tree or high quality puerh, and then there are the oddballs, the ones that I bought more out of curiosity than anything else. All these, of course, present a wonderful opportunity for learning about the nuances of all the teas that are available, and to use as reference points for separating the good from the bad.

I have learned a few things so far. I think I have finally started divorcing myself from getting too attached to particular flavours in a tea, especially when looking for puerh for aging. Instead, the important point is to go for the “mouthfeel” of the tea, and how it literally feels while swirling in the mouth. This also includes how your mouth feels after the tea is swallowed, as that also yields important clues as to the quality of the tea. Flavours are, in short, a smokescreen. It’s not that they are not important. If a puerh is sour… something’s not quite right. If it’s extremely bitter and does not turn into a sort of “huigan”, something’s not quite right, but to get too carried away by individual aromas is, I think, missing the point, because the aromas will change very quickly. A fresh puerh that has a certain aroma will most likely lose that within the first 5 years, or at least, it will be changed enough so you no longer recognize it as the same thing.

That, of course, is only if you’re looking for teas that are for storage. If you are looking for a puerh that is for immediate consumption, whether raw or cooked, then any of the above-mentioned things really don’t matter. As long as you like it, and as long as the price is right, then anything else does not matter at all.

But what about other teas?

I can only talk about the ones that I’ve tasted a lot recently, namely Wuyi mountain “rock tea”. There is a whole spectrum of these teas, ranging from basically no roasting to heavily roasted teas. Here, again, it depends on individual taste, first and foremost. I personally find that roasted teas will generally last longer in infusions, and have a depth and character that cannot be matched by the lightly roasted ones. Of course, the light roasted teas will have an initially alluring aroma that is unparalleled, but that is really up to individual taste.

I think when it comes down to it, buying tea that suits your taste is simply the most important thing. If somebody tells you that dry stored puerh is good, but after comparing dry and wet stored tea, you decide that you like the sweetness and smoothness of wet stored puerh… then what’s wrong with that? Go buy it, and consider yourself lucky because wet stored teas are cheaper. Similarly, if you like that $10/lb tieguanyin over the $100/lb one…. go for it!

The danger in all this, I think, is imperfect information and a “mob effect”. It is more pronunced for puerh than other teas, and certainly more obvious here in China, where information regarding tea travels faster. Those in North America or Europe are quite insulated by this as there is a real information barrier, and whatever is the current fad in China often takes a long time before it gets translated over. For example, current guesses is that teas from the Mengku Rongsi factory will be the next candidate for speculation — its prices are likely to rise in the coming year. It has already begun, with the heavy promotion of their early 2001 tea, the Yuanyexiang bing. There are also a number of merchants recently who have been touting the Mengku Rongsi made Big Snow Mountain wild tea brick (made for Ruirong trading company), and when I went to the Ruirong store yesterday to taste stuff, I asked if that brick were available as well. In one of the few useful pieces of information she gave me, she said lots of people have been asking about this brick lately, whereas half a year ago, nobody even knew about this thing. BBB and I tasted it when he was here, and honestly… it’s not any greater than any of the other Mengku stuff. I will be surprised, however, if the price of this brick does not skyrocket in the next two years.

So it is both a blessing and a curse when information travels imperfectly and slowly. On the one hand, valuable information regarding various teas are difficult to obtain in English (not to mention any other foreign language), but at the same time, it also filters out much of the rather commercially motivated “information” available as well. The key, I think, is still to try as much as you can and take everything everybody says (including this very blog) critically. In the past few years we’ve seen a few things being speculated on with skyrocketing prices. Some Menghai factory stuff (new ones) are literally “one price a day”, as if there’s hyperinflation going on. Changtai group teas have, over the past few years, appreciated in value significantly. Xiaguan is also undergoing the same process, according to people on Sanzui, and I think I am seeing a similar maneuveur beginning for Mengku. When all is said and done, however, it isn’t about who made the tea, but the tea itself. There are reports of people buying fake Menghai stuff, but ended up laughing when they took it home, because when they tried it against the real one at home… the fake was better. That’s probably not common, but it’s not inconceivable either. The point is, of course, that a lot of people are simply buying teas per recommendation of “experts” who peddle various things, but as all experts in all agricultural products are… in order to have something to write every week (or month, or season, or year) you end up recommending a lot of teas that may or may not generate the buzz necessary for a huge increase in demand and price. In a market as young and uninformed as puerh (9 out of 10 people who drink puerh have probably started within the last year or two) there is a lot of demand for information, but it is also in this kind of atmosphere where manipulation of various channels (whether they are virtual places like Sanzui, tea fairs, or various publications) can easily create the appearance that something is in hot demand. As recent studies have shown… human beings put a lot of faith in what others are doing when it comes to purchases, and are easily influenced by that sort of information.

This is not to say never buy anything Menghai (or anybody else). This just means that when buying a tea… it is important to evaluate it simply on its own terms, and not on whether or not it says “Banzhang” on the label or whether or not others are also buying it in droves. It is, of course, not easy for those far away from any real life puerh vendors to try things out, but by studying the cakes, looking at the way it is pressed, the wet leaves, the tastes, the feeling of drinking it, the liquor…… and trying a wide variety of teas is an important place to start. It’s also what makes this so much fun.

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Packing and tea

December 16, 2006 · Leave a Comment

How much tea should I bring? My father would like to try some of my teas here, after discovering my blog. I would like to bring some samples back for friends in Hong Kong to try. I also need to drink some stuff at home too.

But then, there’s no water boiler in Hong Kong. Buying one there will be more expensive than getting it here (way more, probably). As it is, I am looking like a traveling tea merchant already, with 3 cakes, two samples, three bags of Wuyi tea, and some other random bits…

Categories: Teas

Last Maliandao trip of 2006

December 16, 2006 · Leave a Comment

Tomorrow I’m flying back to Hong Kong, so today was the last hurrah of 2006 for Maliandao tea shopping.

It was the coldest day so far this season today… hitting something like -10 degrees (around 14F for those of you in backward countries that still use Fahrenheit). After freezing in the antique market at Panjiayuan, I and my house guest went to Maliandao for some tea.

We first stopped at the store that sells that aged dancong, where I bought 500g of the tea. I figured it’s good enough for some regular drinking, and since it will keep, I decided to buy more of it. Again, the tea is not great, but it is unique, and I’m basically paying for that unique flavour. It goes down smoothly enough, and I quite like it. We tried a few teas there aside from this one, but all were only so so (and one, a winter pick dancong, was not good at all). I think my business today is probably the first (and maybe the last) for him today. I feel bad for them — sitting in a corner of a big puerh/teaware store. I don’t think they get much business at all, selling dancongs in Beijing, but what can you do. It’s not an easy business.

Then…. we went to the Ruirong shop. These guys have their headquarters in Hong Kong, and I might very well visit them in Hong Kong when I get the chance. I tried two teas there today, but neither of them were good. The first was a Yiwu from something like 2001. It looks great. The leaves look thick and meaty, and the cake is well pressed. I thought it would be nice, but instead…. something’s wrong about it. It’s bitter, very bitter. I don’t think it’s Yiwu at all, but something else (or only with a small amount of Yiwu mixed in). The tea also had some off flavours that I can’t really describe, but which leaves a nasty aftertaste.

The second is a “Banzhang” which definitely was not Banzhang either. I thought my taste buds were off… but I don’t think it was me. The cake was slightly Banzhang-ish, but compared to some of the other Banzhang stuff I’ve had, especially the Banzhang maocha that was amazingly nice, this was…. crap. Both teas also suffered from being very coarse, and the seller of the tea was clueless (I think she was just subbing in for the regular shopkeeper who might’ve been gone for a while). All in all, disappointing.

With those two teas down…. it was KFC time to recharge, and then we went to Chayuna, and entered the Wuyi tea place again. My guest wanted some gift teas for family. I figured young puerh is not really a good idea, interesting though it may be.

When we went in, they just finished trying two tieguanyins, and they gave me a cup each of the xth infusion — pretty weak. I was happy to be able to tell the good one from the lesser one (800 vs 600 RMB per 500g). The pricier one is more “pure” in its taste, while the cheaper one, though initially more fragrant, has a subpar aftertaste. Not bad, mind you (600 isn’t that cheap) but not great either.

Again…. like everytime I go there, I get stuck drinking a dizzying array of Wuyi teas. Too many. All sorts of flavours. It’s really a difficult genre to fully penetrate, and I feel like I’m still just scraping the surface. I think I can now tell apart what’s a good one and what’s a great one with more accuracy now. Since there’s no aging worries… in some ways as long as you’ve got that down, you are ok.

Next time I go to Maliandao it will be 2007. Meanwhile…. Hong Kong calls.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
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Reading tea leaves

December 15, 2006 · 2 Comments

Today I drank the pieces I broke off yesterday from the cheap brick that I got in Hong Kong:

The pieces in question:

I realize that now that I have a scale … I am actually using less leaves. I never realized that sometimes I was putting upwards of 10g in my teapots/gaiwans. I ended up with about 7g of tea in my puerh pot.

Anyway, so I brewed it, but this time without the two long washes that I subjected it to last few times I made this tea. I originally did it because I was worried about my health (the tea looks a little nasty, with little white bugs on it). Now that I’ve been airing them out for close to 4 months here in this rather dry weather (I’ve kept it out of the tea closet, figuring this is better to get rid of the off taste/smell), I feel more confident with the tea.

This time the off taste is basically gone. Whereas the first infusion when I first tried it was a slightly odd, and uncomfortable, aroma of something sort of medicinal, now it is a more orthodox “somewhat aged” puerh taste. There’s still something off about it though… but the tea goes down smoothly and nicely enough. It’s very soothing for the throat… doesn’t feel dry at all, and there’s a sense of coolness that I like that extends down the throat. This is mainly the reason why I bought the tea to begin with.

Looking at the leaves… I think I am learning a little more about the particular variety of tastes in this tea

Look at them…. tell me what’s wrong

Some closeups

Basically…. I think the tea is a raw/cooked mix. The picture of the pile of stuff in a corner are the big, beefy leaves that look like this when unfurled

And then you have the other stuff… skinny, black, dried up looking things, that disintegrate when touched. I don’t think it’s bad storage, but rather, I think it’s just cooked puerh. This might explain the slightly odd mix of tastes. There’s that nice sweet, mellow, smooth nature of cooked puerh in the back, coupled with the punch of the raw. The cooling sensation produced by this tea cannot be a product of cooked stuff. The leaves also are not, mostly, cooked leaves. There are, however, a scattering of the black pieces that fall apart when I try to unfold them. If the tea is uniformly like that, then I’d say it’s probably bad storage, but it’s not… some of the leaves are incredibly green (as you can see) and a lot of it are brown…. I think it’s just a mix.

It might also be the case that this tea is recompresed maocha mixed in with cooked puerh. The bad thing is that this is probably done to cheat people (i.e. saying this is well aged tea). The raw leaves have some years, as most of them are some shade of brown. But it’s not all old… but then, maybe the stuff that are more green are the ones in the middle of this very tightly compressed brick, and thus having had less aging done to them?

I really don’t know, and it’s a bit of a mystery — a mystery that I can’t pinpoint for certain beyond what I’ve just said. However, I enjoy drinking it, and I think it will get better with age. After all, one of the favourite puerhs I’ve tasted… the Zhongcha Simplified Character from YP, is a cooked/raw mix. That one is very good……

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Fall 2006 Yiwu “tea farmer’s” cake

December 14, 2006 · 2 Comments

I was originally going to brew up my wet stored bricks of some years today, and was ready to go with broken pieces and boiling water, but then my house guest came back and requested to try the cake from the Yiwu girl, since I talked about it in quite positive terms. So…. I brewed that instead.

I didn’t measure how much tea I put in, but I didn’t put in too much as my guest is sick. I brewed it up, doing it lightly this time, with quick infusions instead of those 30/60/30 types. The resulting tea… is sweet, with a hint of bitterness. The liquor is quite smooth, thick early on, but getting thinner as infusions go on. Since it wasn’t a lot of leaves (I think about 4g) the tea was rather mild, although, there was a drying note after a few infusions, leaving the throat slightly dry. It wasn’t serious, but it was there. I wonder if this has to do with the weather having been exceptionally dry the past few weeks (we haven’t had percipitation for a month now, I think). My guest also thinks it is floral, like jasmine, in some ways. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad in terms of aging… but it tastes good now.

The tea, when brewed with fewer leaves and quicker infusions, seem bland when compared with the more punchy puerhs. The age of the tea is still young. I wonder how this tea will age. I think it might develop some sort of flowy aroma, talcum powder, perhaps, and not the usual heavier taste.

You’ve all seen the cake, so nothing new to show, but I will shoot a few pictures of the leaves


As you can see in the closeup… the veins are popping on the leaves. The same is true for all the leaves.

However, I do wonder… it’s supposed to be a fall tea, but somehow, the variation in leaf size is quite large, with some stuff being very large, and some being very small. Do trees in the fall have such small leaves (like the one on the left)?

On a blog administration note — I’ve decided to organize my posts a little better, with titles, and also start using tags so that at the very least, if you click on one of the tags (you can find them to the left) you can see all posts related to that. I haven’t done the tagging of older posts yet — only a few. It will get done, eventually.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

2004 Yangqing Hao vs 2004 Changtai Yiwu Zhengpin

December 13, 2006 · 1 Comment

Lots of photos today — be warned

That, of course, means I’m doing a double tasting again when photos will tell more about the teas, especially since something interesting does happen… 🙂

The teas in question are:

2004 Yangqing Hao Yiwu Chawang, and 2004 Changtai Yiwu Zhengpin. Both of them are samples from Hou De. I figured it’s going to be an interesting comparison to drink these two side by side. The Yangqing Hao is made by a Taiwanese tea merchant who started pressing puerh a few years ago (as it is fashionable to do in Taiwan these days) and the Changtai cake is made by the Changtai tea factory, recently famous for their Yiwu products. The Yangqing Hao costs something like $90 a cake, while the Changtai is $29.50 (both prices from Hou De), or one third of the Yangqing Hao. Is the Yangqing Hao three times as good?

Let’s look at the dry leaves



The YQH is very meaty, big, bold, while the Changtai is quite broken and thin and weak in comparison. I think this much is obvious. Both are 4g of sample (thanks to my new electric scale). I tried preserving the leaves’ completeness as much as possible by breaking up the bigger pieces by hand. You can even see very fine, small shavings of leaves in the Changtai piece that I got, whereas in the YQH piece you can tell that everything is big, whole leaves. The YQH leaves are also lighter in colour, whereas the Changtai is very dark. So in terms of dry appearance, YQH wins, hands down.

But puerh’s not for looking. Puerh’s for tasting.

My gaiwan is very small. I’m not sure exactly how many ml it is, but it must be less than 100. My guess is that it’s around 70ml or so, but I could be off. Either way, 4g of tea is not too little… as you will see in the next few infusions

Infusion 1 (30s)

Infusion 2 (60s)

Infusion 3 (30s)

Infusion 4 (30s)

The Changtai, on the right, brews up a much darker brew. The YQH, on the other hand, is lighter in colour.

In terms of aroma and taste… the overall aromatic profile of the two teas are actually similar, as they probably should, since they are both Yiwu teas. Smelling it, you can sense that the YQH is a little more refined, a little more subtle, while the Changtai is a little more aggressive. The taste… the YQH is soft, supple, aromatic, slightly bland in the first infusion, with a hint of aged Yiwu in its taste. The Changtai has some of those notes, but one thing stands out in the back to back comparison — it’s sour. It’s not terribly sour, but it’s sour. The sides of my mouth felt that astringency distinctly. Also, the tea is more bitter, and it’s less smooth than the YQH. Whereas the YQH is soft and moisturizing, the Changtai is rough and drying. The sourness persists into infusion 3, after which it disappears. This, coupled with the bitterness, must’ve been why I thought it tasted green tea like the last time I tried this Changtai cake.

I have read on Sanzui (according to someone who claims to be a puerh expert) that the sourness is a sign of higher temperature “kill green”. Whereas high temperature “kill green” plus high temperature for final drying will produce a green tea, a high temperature “kill green” with low temperature final drying (such as drying under the sun) produces a puerh tea that will be somewhat sour. Is this it? I’m not sure. But it sounds awfully like it.

Moving along…

Infusion 5 (extended infusion time)

Infusion 6

Infusion 7

The colour of these infusions show that the two teas are now brewing similar coloured teas. The taste, as well, show that they are approaching. The YQH still holds an edge in smoothness and being more moisturizing, but the difference is quite slight… it’s won’t be terribly obvious if I weren’t tasting them side by side.

Then something funny happens

Infusion 8

Infusion 9

Infusion 10

The YQH is starting to get darker than the Changtai. This is not a result of the camera doing funny things. The tea actually showed in person how the YQH was brewing a darker brew by infusion 10 or so.

The taste… as my house guest describes it, the YQH at this point (the house guest didn’t get to drink the earlier infusions) was more fruity, whereas the Changtai was more metallic, which I think also implies that the Changtai is thinner. It is definitely a little thinner. I was, by this time, a little uncomfortable with the amount of (rather strong) young raw puerh I’ve consumed by then. So I stopped.

I think part of the reason the Changtai died out faster is because of its brokenness. The tea simply infused faster and gave out more earlier, and thus couldn’t last as long. I suspect this might have some implication in future aging. The broken nature of the Changtai is more obvious when you look at the wet leaves

Small bits, shavings, incomplete leaves, broken stems… whereas the YQH is whole, looks nice, soft, etc. The YQH leaves feel strong, sturdy, while the Changtai ones, when I can find a complete one (there were only two in the whole sample I brewed) were flimsy. The two leaves I unfurled — the YQH one is clearly nicer, with an obvious sawtooth edge, while the Changtai one has a very undefined edge and is thinner. The veins are also much more obvious on the YQH.

But it was surprising to see that the aromas aren’t THAT different between the two. In fact, I might have trouble telling one or the other apart just by aroma alone — it’s the other stuff, such as mouthfeel (like me feeling the sourness, but not tasting it) and thickness of the tea that really tell them apart.

Does the similarity in aroma mean that they will age similarly in the future? If the price differential is based on aromas alone, the YQH cannot command 3x what the Changtai sells for. It’s not that different. However, how will they age?

I think judging by what people like YP has told me… it’s the mouthfeel that counts. Is this what commands 3x the price? Of course, YQH, being an operation in Taiwan and all that, is going to cost more regardless, but 3x? I’m not terribly sure myself.

But if nothing else, I think this goes further to show how important it is to look for the other signs of a puerh, and not be too carried away with just focusing on the aromas of a tea, at least if we’re talking about young puerhs meant for storage. It’s the other stuff that you can use to tell apart an average te
a from a great tea, but that is so much harder than just tasting the tea as a nice tasting drink.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Aged dancong

December 12, 2006 · 2 Comments

A few months ago I bought a very weird tea, something that I’ve never tried before. It was from a small little shop in one of the shabbiest tea malls in Maliandao — the Beijing Tea Corporation mall. It’s a husband and wife team, renting basically a corner of a much bigger store that sells mostly teaware (especially those big wooden tables). I went in there because I was looking for dancongs, and they only sell dancongs (a doomed business in Beijing, pretty much). I tried two things, neither of which I particularly liked because they were too light for my taste, but then the husband showed me one tea, brewed it up…. and it was weird enough for the weird factor for me to have bought 150g of it. The other reason I bought it is because I think they really don’t get much business and I felt a little bad.

That’s usually a recipe for disaster — it’s usually those moments when you buy the worst tea in your inventory. I left this tea on my shelf, unopened, for the past three months. After the aged Wuyi two days ago though, I thought I should try this weird tea out.

I say it is weird because it is a genre that I’ve never had before — aged dancong. I’ve seen aged Wuyis or aged tieguanyin, but never an aged dancong. I think mostly because dancongs tend to be lighter in flavour, and aging a lightly roasted tea is not a good idea — the flavours will deteriorate into nothing. When I tried it at the store though, an overwhelming sense of — get this — puerh hit me. It’s not quite puerh like, but smelling and tasting the tea, it definitely reminded me of some puerhs I’ve had.

The aroma is hard to describe. It’s… old. It smells most similar to the mixed, low grade old puerh from Best Tea House, but the old puerh has a musty old puerh smell that this dancong doesn’t. Instead, it just retains the clean, old smell. I don’t know what to call it….

I brewed it up… and the initial two infusions were rather bland. The tea is, shall we say, subtle, but not unpleasantly so. The colour is light:

I increased infusion times, and it became stronger, with more of the “chen” taste that I found in the old Wuyi I had two days ago. However, it is not sour at all, which is a testament to good storage.

There were notes of dry dates again, the taste I found in the old cooked puerh brick. It’s a very subtle note, almost a flash. In fact, drinking this tea makes you work really hard trying to find the various flavours, but it’s quite complex and changes a lot between infusions. This time I only used about 4g of tea. Next time I will add more to make it more punchy and accentuate the flavours a little more.

The wet leaves are very large….

A pretty fun tea to drink, and it’s really quite cheap…..

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December 11, 2006 · 4 Comments

I didn’t get around to drinking tea today until about 8:30pm. Amazingly enough, no caffeine headaches, yet. I was quite surprised.

I think last week’s parade of 06 Yiwu teas really made its mark by doing some serious damage to my stomach. So I opted for a mild Wuyi again, this time the old favourite — the rougui I got when I first came to Beijing.

The lack of the “aged” flavour is obvious, as is the more up front aroma of the slight charcoal taste — from the roasting process. The tea’s still very nice and drinkable though. I sent a small sample to Phyll, who seemed to have liked it. This is not, by the way, from the usual store I’ve been going to for Wuyi teas. Rather, it’s from a store called Runhe Yancha. I should really go back there again to seek out what else they’ve got on offer. However, I’ve really got too much tea on my hands already….

Therein lies the danger of puerh. You can always justify another purchase by saying “Oh, I’ll just let it age”. You taste it once, and dump it in the corner of your storage space, and there it lies for weeks, months….. until you discover it again. Hopefully, it hasn’t gone mouldy by then, and hopefully, it has aged into something a little better. With some teas, like the Yangqing Hao 2004, you can already see promise of greatness. With others… you can tell that either nothing has happened, or in the case of some buds only tea, that it has in fact gotten worse by being simply bitter and nasty.

Just because the tea is good now doesn’t mean it will age well. But, I am increasingly thinking that a tea that isn’t good now (I do not mean taste — there are lots of other factors) is almost certainly not going to be good in the future.

Why’s puerh so hard?

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
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Aged Wuyi Tea

December 10, 2006 · 1 Comment

Now that we have the 10,000 hits thing out of the way… back to the teas 🙂

Yesterday, along with the scale and the bags of Wuyi tea I got, I was given a small sample of an aged Wuyi tea from the store. Since it’s a small bag, I figured I’ll brew it.

Since I got my new electric scale, I figured I’ll see how much tea they gave me.

It turns out it was 10g, almost to the dot. 10g of tea… that sounds like a lot.

So I warmed my pot, and started putting leaves in it. When I filled it to about what I normally would use… I realized that about 3/4 of the tea I got from the sample is already in the pot. What do I do with the rest? Keep it? It’s too little to do anything with it. Throw it? It’s a waste… so…. I “turned my heart sideways” (a rough translation of a Chinese phrase meaning “to do something with determination”) and threw the rest of the dry tea in there. It just fit in the pot, with a bit of space to spare… 10g of tea in this pot, and the pot is almost filled to the brim with dry leaves.

Yes, yes, tea addict.

In my excitement I forgot to take pictures of the dry leaves. I can say they are rather small and broken, and quite dark — black. It’s broken because it’s obviously been roasted fairly heavily (for storage) and perhaps re-roasted after some years of storage. Anyway, as I remaked yesterday, Wuyi teas are hard to tell apart when dry anyway.

The first infusion brewed a very promising looking liquor — doesn’t this look like aged puerh? This is what happens when you put 90% dry leaves in a pot….

The taste… overwhelmingly the first few infusions has a taste of chenpi (dried mandarin peel). This is what they would call the “chen” taste in tea, usually applying to oolong, as the “chen” taste in puerh is different. The first infusion came out a bit sour. It wasn’t terribly unpleasant in its sourness, but a little sour. Of course, with that much leaves in a small pot…. it’s hard to control. I then decided faster infusions will help, and indeed, the sourness subsided in the second infusion onwards, giving way to more of the “chen” taste. There’s a nice, soft, supple feel to the tea that is usually more obvious in aged Wuyi teas (or aged teas in general). Younger teas tend to be harsher, no matter what you do. Poorly stored aged teas, of course, can also turn bad on you.

Then after about 4-5 infusions, the chen taste subsided, giving way to a lot of sweetness. The brew also got considerably lighter. I increased the infusion time, but the chen taste didn’t come back. Instead, the sweetness persisted. I drank about 10-12 infusions of this. Needless to say, I was pretty worked up by the tea, despite its age and the fact that it’s a roasted Wuyi. It’s a comfortable feeling, not the nervous energy that you get from a young, qingxiang tieguanyin.

I might get more of this…. but I really, really have too much tea already. Then again, it’s hard to come by decent aged oolongs that are not sour or bland. This tea is neither. I should at least go back to the store and try it with less leaves.

The wet leaves…. don’t reveal much.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
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