A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from January 2007

Another day of tea

January 20, 2007 · Leave a Comment

Another day with tea with L today.

On the plate was, first, a Mengku cake from 2000 or so that was traditionally stored.  Surprisingly, it’s really quite good.  Very aromatic, smooth, sweet, nice, and fragrant.  Not a lot of the nasty taste of a wet stored cake, and could easily masquerade as a 10 years old + tea.  I like it.

Then, we had a Menghai factory Mengsong cake (the peacock ones).  It’s quite expensive for a 2 years old tea, and really not that interesting.  It’s smokey, with some nice flavours but mostly just bitter and astrigent.  I really didn’t like it that much.  It’s got an interesting flavour profile, but I’m not sure if it’s worth all the money.  In fact, I have rarely found a Menghai factory cake that’s new that is actually worth the $$$ they want for it.  The price is simply artificially inflated….

More teas tomorrow with L, J, and Bearsbearsbears.  Busy!

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Tea tasting with a lot of people

January 19, 2007 · 1 Comment

Today was a big event…. tea tasting with L, J, and Bearsbearsbears.  We met up before lunch, had two teas (one Menghai Bada Shan, one Zhongcha Bada Shan) and then got some food, after which we headed over to L’s friend, G, to try some teas.

G is an odd person.  He lives on top of a dual use building, with a nice view.  When we got there, his wife/companion was still in her pyjamas, drinking some tea, and I think G wasn’t even really up yet.  It’s a fairly big place, with a big coffee table that is filled with teaware that dominates the room.

We sat down, and soon we were underway.  The first tea we tried was a 1980s Tongqing Hao, which was really mediocre and wet to the hilt.  It was wet, wet, wet.  This is the sort of wet stored tea that leaves a nasty feeling in your throat.

Then we had a 50 years old 1000 taels tea.  It was nice.  It was not great, but not bad.  I enjoyed it.  Nothing too much to write home about — I’ve had better.

Then it was a newer tea.  G proclaims proudly that he doesn’t own any tea that is produced after 2000.  He seems to have bought, or is about to buy, a lot of this following cake we’re going to taste.  The tea is wrapped in the Zhongcha wrapper from the old days, of the original Yellow Label design.  This is a newer tea, looks quite young, and when he asked me how old I think it is, I gave the honest answer of 3-5 years.  He said “no!” and told me how none of the teas he has is younger than 7 years old, blah blah blah… so we brewed this one up.  It was, at most, about 5 years old.  It first only tasted mildly like the Lincang stuff I’ve had before, and the first infusion was quite nice, but as we went further along the tea got worse (rougher, more bitter, etc) and less interesting, and also more and more like Lincang stuff (Mengku, Fengqing, etc).  Lincang stuff of about 5 years aging should be pretty cheap, as they are produced in large quantities and prices simply aren’t high for this area.  He said he might be buying this cake for 250 RMB a piece or so.  I think it’s a ripoff, but I had to just smile and nod and say it’s not that expensive.  The guy doesn’t like to take no for an answer.

Then it was a cooked brick from the 80s.  While it’s entirely ok and mellow, it was a cooked brick, and one should not expect too much from a cooked brick.

In between all these, we had a conversation about how I am a PhD student studying history, and he showed us a 100 years old tea, supposedly.  It looks rather unremarkable, and he wasnt’ about to let us try it.  He also showed us what looked like a real Songpin Hao, but he wasn’t going to let us try that either.  So…. all in all, we didn’t have many interesting teas today.  They were all broadly similar, and really not that exciting.

After that, we went to tea shopping at the Tianshan market.  BBB thinks he’s coming back for the teaware, while I just looked at all the puerh stores.  We tried three teas total, all at my request… the first was a Haiwan Laotongzhi, which, oddly enough, tastes much nicer than I imagined.  The second and third were both “old tree”.  The first was a “Yiwu” that didn’t really taste like Yiwu.  It was cheap too… makes you wonder, doesn’t it?  I suspect it might be summer leaves masquerading as big tree leaves…. makes the tea look nice but really not that flavourful.  It looks better than it tasted.  The second was similar… more intense, but half the price.  Still not that interesting, and I think I can find stuff that is better, even if for a higher price…

All in all, a long day of drinking tea (and which got me a little uncomfortable as I started feeling the effects of it through dinner).  We ended the day with a drink at a bar, and I tried, for the first time, a Chivas Regal Royal Salute.  I was tasting it like a tea… smooth, sweet (it’s relative), with a nice aftertaste, and really quite pleasant.  I think I like it better than the JW Blue Label.  But ok, this is a digression.

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Tea production

January 18, 2007 · 1 Comment

I’m in green tea land.  Everybody drinks green tea here, pretty much.  Longjing is taken quite seriously, with last night’s dinner discussion partially centered around the differences of Meijiawu and Longwu longjing.  I feel ashamed that I don’t know that much about this drink anymore.  Although I can tell a good one from a bad one, I can’t tell the production locales, much less the finer distinctions in gradations.

It is, in many ways, the most versatile of teas.  Different greens do taste quite drastically different.  Using the same leaves, if you press on the pan instead of rolling the leaves on the pan, the taste will come out different.  While puerh “kill-green” is a pretty simple and unscientific process, longjing kill-green is an art form.  Everything from the temperature to the pressure is quite systematic and carefully done, because any variation can cause a detectable change in taste.  Puerh, from picking to production, is all done in such a carefree way — no specific time, no specific way of killing green, no control of temperature, etc.  Green tea is so exact.  I always wondered what will happen to puerh if somebody bothered to control all these variables and try to make it more of an exact science.  Will it produce better teas?

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More Shanghai shopping

January 17, 2007 · Leave a Comment

Not much interesting to report today… other than prices here are sky high, and I discovered another Yichang Hao lookalike — this time it’s called Yiwu Hao, looking just like a Yichang Hao cake, except that it’s not.

Puerh’s got a long way to go in Shanghai…. which also means it’s got a lot of market that hasn’t been tapped…. which also means when it is eventually tapped, prices will be sky high.

Oh dear…

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Green puerh in a cup

January 16, 2007 · Leave a Comment

I drank the spring 2006 Jingmai cake in a cup today…. brewed the usual way you would if you were lazy — just throw the leaves in and pour some hot water, and refill as necessary.  It makes…. green tea.  Drank this way, with a low amount of tea leaves for the cup, it tastes entirely like any regular green tea, nothing too unusual, nothing too bitter, and after a few infusions, the astringency and roughness of a green tea showed up.  If you didn’t tell me this is maocha of Yunnan tea, I might not even notice.

After all, this stuff is green tea, and for the longest time, they had bags of these kinds of sun-dried maocha for sale as green tea in China.  That, of course, is no longer the case.  Anybody selling maocha on its own like this in tin bags for cheap must be crazy.  All of a sudden, puerh is puerh as soon as it’s pressed into a cake.  Technically speaking… puerh is still only puerh after it’s gone through all the fermentation.

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Shanghai tea shopping

January 15, 2007 · Leave a Comment

I discovered last night that the biggest tea market in Shanghai, the Tianshan market, is very close to my house (very close being about a half hour walk, briskly).  I walked there after dinner, knowing full well it was about to close.

The place is weird.  Instead of a big, flat layout, like in Beijing tea malls, this one was multi-storied, with each story being rather small.  I only browsed around the ground floor, as shops were already closing and I think the ones upstairs were definitely closed.  I walked around… it was an interesting sight.  Lots more green tea and tieguanyin, and less puerh in general.  A lot of stores carry some puerh, but only a few specialize in it, and the ones that do only carry some pretty inferior goods.  There was only one cake that I found slightly interesting, but I have doubts about the price.  In fact, prices are high all around.  I asked about a Changtai Yiwu Zhengpin, which normally should cost about 50 RMB or so.  The quote?  400……….

I will head back there again for a closer look, but this is not very promising

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Old teas

January 14, 2007 · 1 Comment

A pretty good day drinking tea with L and J (the reader of my blog in Shanghai) today.

We went to the home of one of L’s many, many friends.  That friend, a certain Mr. Y, is a lover of old puerh.  He has quite a bit of stuff, but not having had outside, independent verification of his collection, I am sort of brought in as someone who’s tasted a bunch of older stuff.

The first tea we had was the Red Label, ostensibly from the 50s.  It’s an iron cake — tightly compressed.  There are as far as I know many batches of the Red Label during its production run, and some are iron cakes and some aren’t.  The cake in question (he has two tongs) is starting to loosen up on the edges, but still rather tight in the center.  He opened up a new cake for us today, basically, and the wrapper and packaging look pretty prestine.

The tea looks good though.  Big tree leaves, thick, heavy veins, looking like the real deal.  We brewed it up… and it tasted like the real deal.  Not exactly the same kind of taste as I got from YP’s Red Label, nor is it the same as the one I had at Hong Zaotou, but nevertheless, the effect was immediate.  It was the first time for J to taste something like this, and she commented that the tea is more intense after you drink it than before.  Once you’ve swallowed it is when the tea gets good… you can feel the sensation of coolness/pleasantness traveling down your throat, and after about two or three infusions, the qi is hitting your whole body.  The taste is a mellow, plum like taste.  Sweet, old, and quite subtle, it is not a wow tea, but the qi and the feelings are unmistakable.

Having gone through more than 20 infusions of that, we moved on to something else.  By the way, even at around infusion 30, the tea was still tasting like tea — very subtle, very light, but it’s not plain water.

The second tea was something with a bit of a story.  Basically… it was gotten from some rural family where they have an old house that was about to be demolished.  They found, in the attic, a well wrapped paper bag, with tea in it.  The wrapping said Guangxu 7 (1882).  So the tea is probably from that year, or thereabouts.  It’s not puerh, it’s something else, most likely Huizhou tea of some kind (famous for Liu An, but this wasn’t packed in the usual Liu An packaging).

There were a few different kinds of tea in that bag, and we tried one — a mix of some old tea leaves with I think the shell of the tea fruit.  It’s something that is kinda weird — slightly bitter.  Mr Y brewed it while throwing some 1998 Menghai tuo into the mix.  The resulting tea is very interesting…. and obviously very old.  The qi was strong, and I really felt it going up and down my back.  The flavours were not remarkable, but when you drink stuff like this, it’s not about the flavour at all.

The last tea we had, after dinner, was a 7532.  It’s probably from the early 80s, I think, and slightly wet, but still, quite pleasant.  After the food though, the taste was not so obvious.  It was nice, sweet, aromatic… but since we had such superior teas early on, it was no match.

All in all, a nice and educational experience.  Mr. Y is really generous with his teas, and we spent 6 hours drinking three teas…. quite a feat in itself.

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Tea tasting in Shanghai

January 13, 2007 · 2 Comments

I had tea with L today at his office.  It was a dizzying array of teas, among which a comparison tasting of two Jingmai teas stood out, because they are made by the same person, one in Spring, and one in Fall 2006.

The leaves look similar when dry, and exhibit a simialr fragrance.  When brewed though, the spring leaves are obviously more tender and younger.  The fall ones are a little bigger, older, and less tender.  The colour of the brew was significantly different — the spring one being darker in colour, due to age, no doubt, but I think also concentration of leaves.  The spring one also just simply tasted more concentrated — a higher level of aroma, fragrance, a smoother mouthfeel.  In fact, the spring was better in every respect.

How much of this is due to age?  I suppose some of it must be due to age, as it’s got basically double the time of the fall to age.  Yet, the spring cake still tastes really raw, and I think the fact that it is consisted of younger, more tender leaves also makes a huge impact.  Younger leaves, especially buds, tend to produce a smoother tea.  It is also more concentrated in flavour, reflected in this tasting.

If at the same price, I think it’s a no-brainer that one should buy the spring.  There is, of course, the variable that the spring leaves might be of a lower quality (say, from lower quality plants).  That, unfortuantely, is the variable that is the hardest to gauge.

Tomorrow I might be going with L to a friend’s place to try some more tea, and to meet up with a reader of my blog who also lives in Shanghai.  I hope it’ll be fun 🙂

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Lipton teabags

January 12, 2007 · 4 Comments

Some of you know that I am a PhD student doing research in China this year, and today, in Shanghai, we had a dissertation group meeting today, with a few fellow PhD students talking about their respective projects.  That, of course, is not interesting subject for this blog.

What is interesting is the tea I drank.  Lipton Yellow Label tea.

A thought occurred to me today — what makes it so that Lipton, a company that sells what really is an inferior product, can penetrate the country where tea is originally made and still made with such sophistication?

I posed this question to the group, and got everybody wondering.  After all, there are cases where something that is abhorred earlier would take over a market after it’s been accepted, but usually, that something is foreign, unknown.  Tea, on the other hand, is not such a thing.  Chinese drink tea all the time.  I suppose bad tea in a bag is unknown, foreign, just as coke or pepsi or sushi might be, but still…. it’s like introducing some weird burger to Americans and taking the States by storm.  Mos Burger (google it) is weird, is good, but is not popular outside of Hawaii.

So, I guess the question is — how did Lipton do it?

I suppose the fact that it’s in a bag helps.  The perceived image of drinking something foreign (foreign must be good!) helps.  But the tea itself is horrible… it’s a little sour, flat, not aromatic, goes well only with milk (I was imaginging it having milk in it the whole time I was drinking my bag).  Why do people like it?  It’s not even that cheap.

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Home stored puerh

January 11, 2007 · 4 Comments

I had the home stored puerh from Best Tea House today. No vintage, no specific region, just puerh in the old style… aged stuff, blended together, and drunk. Sweet, smooth, aromatic, thick… everything you’d want in a puerh. It’s not a Red Label, or Blue Label, or anything near that, but it does the job, and it’s not expensive. In fact, I’d rather drink this than the Traditional Character we tasted yesterday. An aged puerh should be sweet, smooth, aromatic, thick… not coarse and thin. At least for me, that’s what matters.

Don’t drink the wrapper. Drink the tea 🙂

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