A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from February 2007

Two teas today: darjeeling + Xizihao Mengsa

February 8, 2007 · 4 Comments

I was bad and drank two tea today.

I came home after lunch, and since I had an hour before the library opens again (they close for lunch), I decided to make some tea to kill time. I brewed up the darjeeling I got from Hong Kong this Christmas.

It’s…. a darjeeling, first flush, methinks. At least the way it tastes and smells and looks are first flush quality. No specific estate, so I have no information beyond that. It is quite tasty, and brews a slightly darker infusion than yesterday’s Lochan

3rd infusion

The tea is less rough than yesterday’s, although it could also be because I was managing it very carefully to try to make a tea that is less rough on the tongue. I managed to get about 5 infusions out of the tea, at which point it was clearly dying. The fragrance from this tea is less immediately stunning, although I think it has a deeper flavour than the airy aroma of yesterday’s. What taste is this? I don’t think I know how to describe it.

Wet leaves — typical Indian tea, very broken

After library, I got home… and felt like I didn’t drink any tea at all. 4-5 infusions of darjeeling just didn’t cut it.

I rummaged through my ever-growing collection of sample-sized teas, as well as tins and cans and bags of stuff. I’m sure most of you who read this blog know exactly what I mean — there’s always more tea than you can ever finish drinking. Among them, I saw a Hou De bag… one that I have completely forgotten for a while. This is a sample of the 1999 Mengsa from Xizihao. I looked in the bag… there was enough for an infusion! So…. out it came.

I was sniffing the leaves and noticed something — it seems to have absorbed some of the paper bag’s smell. After all, it’s been in the bag for more than half a year. It’s only natural that it soaked up some of the smell, but that is not a good thing. I immediately dumped the other Hou De stuff from the paperbags into little plastic bags that breath a little. I think that is a better option. I peeled off the labels so that they could be easily identified and threw those in the bags too… if you have Hou De samples lying around aging, you might want to check and do the same.

There was actually slightly too much tea for one infusion, but I didn’t want to leave a tiny bit of tea behind, so I brewed it all anyway. The first two infusions were a little off, no doubt due to the paperbag. It had an odd flavour, a little unpleasant, and bitter. The liquor looks nice enough

By the third the tea improved a bit. However, whereas I remember being quite impressed with the tea the first time I tried it, now I’m not so impressed anymore. Perhaps this is extra experience from the past year, when I’ve drank my way up and down Maliandao and Hong Kong shops. Perhaps it is poor aging. I’m not sure.

The tea retains aromas that are similar to what I remember it had last time I tried it. There is something that I didn’t notice last time though, and that was a little sourness… there’s some sourness in the tea, most prominent during the 2nd to 4th infusions. Dry stored teas can have a sour edge to it, and this one showed. It wasn’t very nice drinking puerh that was slightly sour. The sourness went away around infusion 5, and the more characteristic puerh sweetness returned, but it already left a bad taste in my mouth.

Infusion 3

Infusion 8

It generally seemed a little weak and thin, relatively speaking, especially considering the amount of leaves I used. It also went downhill relatively quickly, as puerh goes. It was still pretty flavourful when I was finished with it, but it wasn’t exactly impressive at any point of the tea.

One thing I noticed about the wet leaves is that the leaves of this cake seem quite heavily rolled, especially when compared with teas that are being produced now. Heavy rolling supposedly makes the tea a bit more bitter, but heavy rolling was the norm. In fact, rolling is getting lighter these days, because people like seeing their tea unfurl. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

All in all, it was pretty interesting revisiting this tea. I remember the first time I had it, I thought this was better than the 1997 Yiwu. Then, on second try, I thought that the Yiwu actually was better than this. I no longer have a sample of the Yiwu left, but I think I would still hold the same opinion. Perhaps it’s just my taste that has changed.

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Late night tea drinking

February 7, 2007 · 8 Comments

I got some tea in the mail today, which would’ve made this blog entry, but then, I got called out by ZH to go tea drinking at around 7:30, so off I went.

By the time I got there it was already 8:30pm, but that didn’t stop us from drinking lots of tea. It was quite a nice little teahouse, actually. I really liked it, and regret not bringing my camera. Nice service, allows us to brew tea freely for a nominal charge, and really just a decent place all around. If only China has less smokers….

Anyway. First tea was a fired tieguanyin, supposedly with some years of age. It was difficult to tell, because, apparently, it was very recently re-fired, as they do from time to time to keep moisture out of the tea. That, however, means that it was harder to taste the subtle aged taste of a tieguanyin, and a lot of the roasted aroma instead. Not bad, quite mellow, and pleasant. Obviously aged. It’s just a matter of how much.

Then…. we had two Yiwus, side by side. One is ZH’s stuff, supposedly something like 8 or 9 years, I can’t remember now. It’s been in Beijing for about 4-5 years, and it shows. The tea, i thought, was only 3-5 years of age, because it looked young. When tasted, it had an odd aroma… something I’ve never encountered in a Yiwu before. It has a hint of what I know as the Yiwu flavour, somewhat aged, but it’s different in that the aroma of one particular aspect (sort of a spice… not sure what) is quite distinct. I think what it is is that because aging is slower here, it takes longer for the tea to pass through each stage of aging, and therefore what might be sped by in Hong Kong storage is instead accentuated here. Different flavour, for sure. It’s a little bitter and a little astringent. I think in some ways I prefer the Hong Kong taste.

The other Yiwu is this — something I received very recently as a sample

The coin is there mainly for comparison, it’s about the size of a nickle. This is a 2006 fall Yiwu small arbor tree, made with tea that is about 20 years old, supposedly. This is stuff that many vendors try to pass off as “old tree”, “ancient arbor tree”, and stuff like that. I specifically asked for this so I could use it as a basis for comparison. Of course, if a tea tastes like this it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a small arbor tree, but what it does mean is that it is small arbor tree quality tea, so it should command a similar price…

Anyway, the tea is nice, sweet, very very mellow, and very Yiwu. It is slightly on the thin side, compared with better, old arbor tree teas from Yiwu. It’s less aromatic as well. All in all though, not a bad tea. I might even consider getting a few just to see how they taste when aged, especially in comparison with all the other Yiwu I have right now.

After we went through some rounds of the Yiwu, we moved on to a cooked brick from the 80s in ZH’s possession. Oddly enough, it tastes somewhat like the Guangyun Gong I’ve had recently, with the exception that the GYG had a lot more yun, or aftertaste, than this one. This one is sweet like the GYG, but is not as “long” as the GYG. It also doesn’t last quite as long, and by about the 10-12th infusion, it was going downhill, losing the sweetness. It will be good for some more infusions if one were to boil it. Nice tea though, and very enjoyable.

Next was the “30 years loose puerh” from Best Tea House. I am now of the opinion that this tea is probably more like 15-20 years. Not 30, but then, it doesn’t really matter. It’s quite enjoyable, and quite nice, especially for a loose raw puerh that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. As ZH mentioned, he feels indulgent when drinking stuff like his brick and this kind of tea. It’s old, and at the end of the day, the market price for this stuff is not low.

Meanwhile, we talked about teas in general, plans for Zhongcha this year, etc. The conversation is better than the tea, and that’s what really makes these gatherings.

Just when we were about done (I was all tea-ed out), we were thinking “is there anything more to drink?”. I was going through his bags of samples that he has (he has lots), and found an interesting item… Lochan Darjeeling. Hmmm, didn’t expect to see it here.

He got some through his work. Since I told him I have been chatting with the owner of the firm on the internet, he said “why not?”, and off we brewed. We didn’t use much leaves. It was a first flush taste — very light, green, almost white tea like. An unmistakable Darjeeling flavour profile. ZH comments how Indian teas in general can be so consistent, whereas Chinese teas are less so, usually. The aromas are quite pleasant, and quite strong. The liquor is light in colour. The tea is a bit on the thin side of things, and with one quite noticeable flaw — the tea, when drunk, is VERY rough. You know how some teas leave your tongue roughed up? Well, this is one of them, and quite seriously so. Part of this is a water issue, and playing with the water can help fix it. Part of it, though, I suspect is just the tea itself. This is extra apparent, probably, because we’ve been drinking a lot of very smooth teas today, so the roughness stood out.

Then again, this is not a tea that was produced for gongfu brewing, I think. Instead, it’s made for a different style of drinking, where such roughness would be much, much less apparent and tolerated. Priorities are different as well. This in some ways exemplifies very well the different preferences of Western versus Chinese tea drinking. Western tastes are very aroma focused, with typical descriptions of a tea surrounding a particular tea’s taste — it’s about how a tea literally TASTES and SMELLS. Chinese drinkers, however, don’t only go for the aroma and the taste, but also how it FEELS in one’s mouth, on one’s tongue, and down one’s throat (or even after it’s been swalloed). These are equally, if not more, important to a tea’s overall quality and appraisal. For example, in Hong Kong when drinking tea with Tiffany & Co., if a tea is rough on the tongue, no matter the aroma, they will rate it as a bad tea. That is not to say it is really that terrible, necessarily, but to them, that’s enough of a sin to make it not worthwhile to drink. The same tea, given to another group of people with entirely different tastes, will receive very different reactions.

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Cheaper traditionally stored tea

February 6, 2007 · Leave a Comment

Today I drank the cheaper version of yesterday’s tea. I bought these two partly because, when I was at the store, I simply could not tell the difference between the two. This one, in general, looks a little thinner and crisper when dry, but I really could not tell what the big difference was to justify the big price difference (by multiples).

Looks like loose puerh to me… just like most other loose puerh.

The tea is a little weaker than yesterdays. It’s also a little fresher in taste, in the sense that it is younger in age, it seems. In infusion 2-3 there was also a hint of sourness, but oddly enough, adding high mineral content water (no, not 5100) to the mix solved that problem, and the tea came out sweeter. The aroma is also a little less subdued and deep, but is instead a lighter fragrance, with a hint of talcum powder. The tea is a little more bitter as well than yesterday’s, and a little less sweet in general. Drinking it, the difference in price is quite obvious.

But all of this is only really apparent when it goes in your mouth!

3rd infusion

8th infusion

When you look at the brewed leaves though, the difference is clearer.

The leaves look a little greener, and a little less aged. There are three kinds of leaves…

The black stuff:

The wet stored stuff (their flexibility and softness gives its storage condition away more than their colour)

The dry stored lookalike

Overall, the proportion of black bits is lower in today’s tea, while the proportion of tea that looks drier stored is actually higher. Funny isn’t it? I think it’s just a matter of age, and since the tea isn’t as aged in its mixing recipe, it’s cheaper. This also means, I think, that I can buy some of this tea, let it sit, and expect it to turn into something better over time.

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Traditional storage can be good for you

February 5, 2007 · 4 Comments

I had some wet stored loose tea from Ying Kee in Hong Kong today.

And while drinking it, I couldn’t help but wonder what all the fuss about dry storage is. Ok, I know, good, well aged dry storage tea can be wonderful, but is it really worth the time/effort/price?? I mean… it’s fun to store tea and watch it change, and it’s great when you get to drink the finished product, but really, at the prices they command, why would anybody pay that much money for a cake of dry stored stuff that is still only ok to drink now (needing, say, 10 more years) when you can just buy stuff like this and drink away?

I’m not saying it’s fantastic, I’m not saying it’s the best thing I’ve had. Far from it. What I am saying, however, is that bang for the buck, this is quite good, and it even cleared my minor nasal congestion I’ve been having today. Two infusions down, and the congestion just disappeared. It was amazing.

No, it doesn’t cure cancer.

Infusion 3

Infusion 8

I should go buy some more of this stuff as a regular drink. So far I’ve been only drinking these as a “throw in the cup and brew” tea. Today’s actually the first time I drink this with any seriousness. It’s got pleasant aromas and a lingering sweetness. It doesn’t have any of the cooked puerh taste, which is a big plus. It is quite cheap. It is loose, making it easy to brew. If I’m not looking for the perfect cup, this is a fine tea to drink on an everyday basis.

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Impulse buy…

February 4, 2007 · 2 Comments

I drank my very expensive dancong today that I really bought as a mistake when I first got to Beijing. It was an impulse buy, and today, drinking it, I am reminded why it was such a bad idea.

The tea, while ok, was somewhat thin, weak, and just not that exciting. It’s got some cha qi, but…. it just wasn’t that good, especially given the price. Thankfully I only have 50g of it, most of which is already gone…

But still…. what a waste.

I guess I can use it to season the pot, if nothing else. I ought to just drink this up so that it’s gone, so I can free up a canister for some other tea.

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Lots of young puerh

February 3, 2007 · Leave a Comment

I had a lot of young puerh today while shopping at Maliandao. I think I need a week to recover.

I first stopped at a Keyixing distributor, and tried two of their Yiwu cakes. One is an attratively priced cake at around 70 RMB. It’s slightly high, and slightly on the bitter side for a Yiwu, but something about the tea made me think it’ll be good for aging. It’s got strength and it’s got smoothness. Gotta think about it. The other tea, from 2003, was lacklustre, and really not worth the price they were asking.

Then I walked over to the Ruirong store, but on the way there, a cake caught my attention… and I tried it. It’s a store that sells mostly Biluochun and Tieguanyin, which means that puerh is, at best, a side business, and that prices are likely to be high. It’s a Mengsong cake that I haven’t noticed before, so I gave it a try… not bad, not great. It’s bitter, and a little rough. Price… 180RMB. Wah. I then noticed that there’s a small Ruirong sign on the wrapper… which…. means I should be able to find it at the Ruirong store.

Which I did, although I went there for another Mengsong cake, a smaller cake that I saw elsewhere and which is reasonably priced. I tried it… and I liked it enough to buy 6 of them. These are 200g cakes, so 6 isn’t as many as it sounds. It also comes in a tong of 5 like this

While each individual cake look like this:

I also tried a Bulang cake there that was decent, as well as a Youle cake that was ok. The Youle cake was slightly expensive, but the Bulang cake is quite tempting. I might go back and buy some of that. The Mengsong cake I saw elsewhere was selling at this store too… for 20RMB, which is 1/9 of the price being quoted at the other store, and they are literally 50m away!!!! Lesson learned — always buy from the factory store if I can help it (although, sometimes, factory stores actually cost more, because they update the prices quickly whereas retailers sometimes bought their stock a long time ago so they can still sell at the lower price).

I then went to L’s store, just to drink some tea and have some conversation. ZH also showed up, and so we drank and chatted. Among the topics — how Zhongcha’s recent production of Banzhang was all snapped up. They are selling for quite a bit of money…. and so I took some pictures

Compared to my “Banzhang” that I bought last week…. the 3 tongs of stuff I bought could buy about 1 cake of the above

Is it really 20 times as good?

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Lightly roasted tieguanyin

February 2, 2007 · Leave a Comment

To those of you who have been following this blog for a while, you would’ve noticed that I haven’t had a tieguanyin for a long, long time.

Well, I decided to finally drink one today. As you might recall, I’ve self imposed a “no young puerh” rule recently (although I must say that if I go to Maliandao young puerh will be unavoidable), so it is a great opportunity for me to get away from those young puerh tastings, which isn’t always enjoyable anyway, and back to the stuff that got me started.

On the menu today is a lightly roasted tieguanyin I got in Beijing when I first arrived, some five months ago now, from the store Chadefang on Maliandao, which, incidentally, I have never been back since.

I stored this tea poorly in a papier-marche box. There were two teas that I put in those boxes. One was this, the other was a Maocha. The maocha suffered horribly, tasting like paper. I thought the same fate might befall this one, but oddly enough, it hasn’t. Nevertheless, since I haven’t had this tea for so long (3 months now, I think), I figured I will use the gaiwan today to taste its condition, so to speak.

The first two infusions were light, a bit thin, and you could almost say it was watery. I was a little disappointed initially, but then I was probably out of practice in brewing them. I also decided to add a little of the 5100 leftover from yesterday to my kettle of my usual water, to give it a little kick. Remembering the experiment yesterday, I figured it might give me more from the tea.

The result was as expected — it did. The tea started tasting sweeter, softer, peaking at around infusion 4, and then starting on a gradual descent, but lasting me about a total of 15 infusions or so, which is quite decent for a tieguanyin.

Infusion 5:

Infusion 6:

Infusion 8:

Meanwhile, I kept my tieguanyin pot around to season it with leftover tea. I didn’t want to drink too much, so about 1/3 of each infusion went to the pot, instead of me. When I opened the lid, a film of tea stayed and I took a shot of it

That’s some serious surface tension.

I was pretty satisfied with myself today, mostly for not messing up the tea, but also in rediscovering why I liked roasted tieguanyins in the first place. In a way, drinking young puerh, which is interesting and exciting because of its sense of discovery, is not quite the same as drinking a nice, mellow oolong just for enjoyment. Today I was just enjoying my tea instead of trying to figure out where it’s from, what kind of leaves were used, etc

Although, now that I’ve said that I wasn’t trying to figure out what kind of teas were used, I do wonder if this is tieguanyin at all, or if perhaps this is a benshan. I’m not very good at spotting the difference. The price would suggest a benshan, or a tieguanyin from an outlying region. But whatever… it was nice drinking it. I will probably brew it up again fairly soon, instead of waiting another two or three months.

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A tale of two waters

February 1, 2007 · 7 Comments

I got an email early today from Toki, who’s been rather quiet lately (note: and as I just noticed right now on his blog, whose grandmother has just passed away…). He asked me if I have tried a water called 5100. I haven’t, so I prompted went out and got a bottle.

This is a pretty expensive water for Chinese standards, with this particular one costing about 1 USD for 750ml of Tibetan water. It’s piped from some spring at 5100m elevation, and supposedly glacial in origin. It boasts boatloads of minerals, among which are Lithium and Strontium, which I’m not sure is actually good for human consumption in large quantities. Anybody knows?

Since I’ve already said yesterday that I’m going to brew some Yunnan Red (aka Black) Tea, I did. This is a tea that my girlfriend brought me from New York, from a place that sells both tea and coffee. The tea is basically a typical Yunnan hongcha, nothing fancy, and not of the “Golden Yunnan” variety where all the leaves are golden buds. Instead, it’s mostly broken leaves with bits of golden buds mixed in.

I wanted to test the new water I got today, so I brewed this tea using the two small gaiwans I have, putting in a small amount of leaves in each, eyeballing them to about the same level (damn the broken scale). One is to be just the 5100 water, and the other is my regular supply — Nestle water from the Shanghai plant.

I didn’t bother washing the leaves. Since the amount of leaves I used was small, I brewed each infusion with about one minute steeping time each. Let me show you the first one


That’s a big difference in colour, and trust me, even though I think I added slightly more leaves to the gaiwan on the left, it was by no means a huge difference.

As you have probably guessed, the left gaiwan used 5100 water, and the right used my Nestle water. They definitely LOOK different. I mean… it’s night and day.

Thinking it might have to do with the slightly different levels of leaves, I reversed the water for the two gaiwans for the second infusion

And got the reserve result. This is not an illusion.

So far I’ve only been talking about the look of the tea. How did it taste? Well, the tastes are definitely different, although the true test would be if I were able to taste them blindfolded, not knowing which one I were drinking. The tea brewed with 5100 water tastes a little heavier, whereas the one with Nestle water tastes crispy. I’m not sure what the best way to describe this is, but the 5100 water gives the tea a slightly more intense and deep flavour, as if it had condensed something from the leaves, while the Nestle water just skimmed the surface, but the aroma from the Nestle water was more apparent, “higher” in Chinese terms, and just lighter in general. There was a slight hint of sourness in the Nestle water sample on the second infusion that I didn’t detect in the 5100 sample. The mouthfeel of the 5100 samples were obvious a little softer as well, but not definitively so. Again, it would be more convincing if I couldn’t see which cup I was drinking from.

I switched the teas back to their original waters

And a final, long steep, with the left now being a mix of 5100 and Nestle water, and the right only of Nestle water

Meanwhile… I consumed some snacks, which I don’t mind doing when I’m drinking red (black) tea. In case you’ve never seen them… these are egg tarts, “Portugese style”, but really from Macau as far as I’m aware. The ones that look burnt have caramel added to the custard mix, whereas the ones that aren’t burnt do not have the custard and are therefore a little less sweet and a little less creamy.

One interesting thing about the 5100 water, which I’ve noticed with Evian as well, is that they leave sediments behind when boiled. Notice the white deposits….

It will be interesting to see how this water changes the way certain other teas taste, stuff I’m perhaps more familiar with. I’m wondering what to try next with this. Perhaps the Best Tea House “30 years” loose puerh will be a good candidate for the same treatment, or maybe some Wuyi tea. I don’t think I’ll want to use only 5100 for brewing, for a few reasons. Cleanup is definitely one, since I think the amount of deposits in the kettle is quite high, and although I know I would be gulping down all of this if I were to drink the unboiled version of this water, it’s still a bit… jarring. Also, it’s not cheap…. and I don’t think the way it changes the tea is entirely positive. That is, I don’t think one can say with no reservations that this water makes today’s dianhong better in every way. It was different, that’s for sure, but I couldn’t say I liked it more, necessarily. I think it was interesting to see the difference though.

What’s a day’s drinking without a shot of the wet leaves?

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