A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from March 2007

Kung Fung Yung young puerh

March 31, 2007 · Leave a Comment

This is my first young puerh cake… or is it puerh? I think it is, or will be, anyway.

Last time I tried this was a year ago. I haven’t touched it since. When I bought it from Kung Fung Yung I knew nothing about puerh, and I was attracted by the way this tasted and thought this will be good. I wasn’t thinking about aging so much as just buying it for the novelty value. I certainly overpaid for it…

Anyway, here’s the cake

You can see this cake consists of mostly small buds and leaves.

I peeled some teas off and put enough in a gaiwan to make a good cup

The resulting liquor in different infusions




The tea is rather interesting to taste again after having been away from it for a year. The colour of the cake has darkened a little, as has the colour of the liquor as I remember it. The taste has most definitely changed a bit though — it has developed a more fruity aroma, whereas I remember it last time as being a bit more on the green tea side of things. There is a plum/berry like taste, which is what reminds me of the XZH 97 Yiwu cake — only this tea is from 2003. The profile, however, seems to be moving that way. I certainly don’t know how this will age in another 5 years, but right now…. that’s what I think of when I am drinking it.

The tea is very smooth for a young puerh, with very little of the roughness but still being thick instead of thin. It develops a good aftertaste, although not obviously strong, with some reasonable cha qi. I would think the overall profile of the tea pins it somewhere in the six famous tea mountains, but the smaller leaves might put it in a place like Yibang, where leaves are generally smaller, than a place like Yiwu, where the leaves are big. Either way though, this has to be a spring tea, given the size of the leaves…

That’s my phone in the bottom for scale. I think given the sizes, in the 1-10 scale it is probably a grade 3 tea, mostly. A closeup…

When I go back to Taiwan later in the year, I’ll definitely go back to this store and try it there and see how theirs might taste different, given different aging environment. I don’t think I’ll buy another one, as it’s expensive for what it is, but it’s certainly instructive to try this tea.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Retaste of Chenguanghe Tang Yiwu Chawang

March 30, 2007 · Leave a Comment

I tasted this tea a little while back, and wrote some notes on it. I figured I will revisit it today. The Yecha is almost not worth drinking again.

Let’s cut to the chase and show you the infusion notes I took… I usually don’t, but after 3 infusions today I thought I should.

1st — good qi, clear, light, smoke

2nd — BITTER, rougher, unpleasant, but feeling the qi quite strongly

3rd — similar, weaker
4th — sour, smoke still there, rough, bitterness dying a bit
5th — sourness persist, with a hint of smoke, bitterness remains
6th and on — more of the same…. in weaker permutations

I think as the notes say… the tea is bitter, strong, and I’d say powerful. There isn’t as clear a note of huigan as I noted last time, probably because I consciously used less leaves today to see if the tea tastes different that way. The bitterness in the second infusion was almost overwhelming… if I were a regular tea drinker, I would’ve given up. I have to say that from that point on… the tea was largely unpleasant until about the 8th or 9th infusion, when it got weaker again.

The taste of the tea also doesn’t really jive with what I understand as a Yiwu tea. Over the past year or so, I’ve tasted at least a few dozen cakes that are labelled Yiwu. Obviously, not all of them taste the same, as Yiwu is not a tiny area and there is definitely some variation in the taste of each production. However, there is an underlying taste profile that is largely similar and is very distinctive of what I now understand as the “Yiwu taste”, and I’d say most of the teas that are creditably Yiwu share that Yiwu taste, especially among the higher end stuff that I’ve found from various sources. I can smell a bit of this Yiwu taste in the dry leaves of this cake, but I can’t say I’m really tasting it in the tea that I am brewing with this. Now, Mr. Chen is obviously a big name in puerh circles, and I’d imagine he knows what he’s talking about when making a Yiwu tea, but at the same time, I cannot but help wonder if this is truly Yiwu at all, or if it might be one of those “greater Yiwu area” teas. This cake stands out among the higher end stuff to be called Yiwu but not tasting much like any of the other ones, so I really wonder if this is what it claims to be. I’ve tried one cake, for example, by Zhongcha this year, also Fall 2006, that is precisely one of these “greater Yiwu” teas, and one of the things is the much more pronounced bitterness from that cake.

Another of the things I noticed more obviously this time is the sheer amount of broken bits of leaves in this tea. I threw one whole piece of the cake in without breaking it apart, but every infusion I got a lot of bits of leaves in the bottom of my fairness cup. This is from something like the 12th infusion:

Sorry it’s dark, but you can see there’s still a fair amount of stuff (I clear out all the broken bits every round, so what you’re seeing is all coming from one infusion).

You can also see the amount of broken leaves from the wet leaves. For example… I poured out the wet leaves, but inevitably some leaves are left in the gaiwan… look at this:

And the leaves that were poured out:


The amount of small, little pieces is very high. I couldn’t pick up any leaves without getting my fingers covered with little pieces, each no more than about 1mm-2mm long on each side.

This prompted me to go back to the one piece of the tea left remaining in my bag. I took it out and took some pictures. What I did today to get the tea I brewed was to break the one big piece remaining into two halves, and I used one while keeping one. I split the piece down the middle horizontally, so that I basically peeled half the piece off. You can see the one intact side of the cake:

And the side that I peeled off

Not a lot of broken bits obvious in these cases. I tried tapping the piece thoroughly to see what comes off, and this is the result:

This still doesn’t come close to the amount of fluff that I got from the tea. I have a lingering suspicion that mixed in with the cake is a lot of leftover bits of leaves that is a result of processing/transportation. Instead of sifting them out before pressing…. they all got dumped into the cakes and pressed together inside. Otherwise, I simply could not explain the amount of broken tea that is in this, seeing as I didn’t break the piece into small bits before brewing it.

Is this deliberate? I haven’t seen a high quality cake that has such broken leaves. I’m sure the broken leaves contribute to the roughness and the bitterness of the tea. They infuse faster and stuff come out faster. Could this possibly be good for aging? I don’t remember older cakes being filled with such fannings (this is fannings). All I can think of is that somebody is being sloppy.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Back to the grind

March 30, 2007 · 4 Comments

I’ve been drinking more teabags than I care to mention these days. It’s really quite sad. Most of it is because I don’t have time at home to brew my own tea — I am on the go and thus am stuck with some sort of take out tea or another. If I’m not in the Square, then buying teabag is the only way to get my caffeine fix.

Luckily, today was a relatively lazy day. I got a chance to brew my teas, and I picked out those Guangyungong bits to brew.

The stuff is really quite tightly compressed, and the first infusion of the tea looks weak

By the third infusion, it gets much stronger

The tea has a taste of corn husk in it, with woody notes in the 3-5 infusions, and what my girlfriend describes as “generic aged puerh” taste. The corn husk returns later on, with a mild sweetness to it. There was a little bit of bitterness in the tea today, mostly probably because I added more leaves than I really should. Because of the hard compression, it’s really hard to tell how much leaves I’m really using, and thus I’m prone to using too much.

Now I’m on about the 20th infusion, and it’s still giving me stuff. It’s a mild, sweet, and smooth tea now. It’s a relaxing drink, even if not the best.

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Tea Gallery

March 29, 2007 · Leave a Comment

Today was a total loss for tea, spent traveling, etc…

Yesterday, however, was not. I went in the afternoon to the Tea Gallery in NYC. Many of you have probably heard about this place. If you haven’t, it’s basically… the best place to go for tea if you want Chinese tea in New York City, as far as I am aware anyway.

They apparently have regular Tuesday gatherings there, and I met, again, Toki, but also another friend whom I’ve only corresponded with on RFDT. When I walked in, they were already drinking — four teas from different cakes of a private production, but somehow all tasting quite different. The first was smokey, the second a little more bland and weak, the third and fourth tasting more like Yiwu, but different in their own ways. All were different and with varying degrees of bitterness and thickness. It would be rather difficult to believe they were all from the same production if I wasn’t told, even though the dry leaves don’t immediately look different. The colour of the wet leaves are also different…. some were darker, some lighter. The variation is simply quite striking. I think at least part of it has to do with a slightly uneven production process — not all the cakes were made/pressed at the same time or using the exact same batch of leaves.

Then we tried a dancong I brought over. This is a gift from somebody in China, supposedly of some pretty decent quality leaves. The tea is very sweet, with a nice hint of something like apricot, but the taste is a little on the light side. I need to try brewing it with my own pot and experiment with it. I might go back and buy a little more if the price is right.

We also drank a very nice, fragrant, and deep shuixian. I’m not sure where it’s from, and neither does Michael, the owner of the Tea Gallery. He got it from somebody in Taiwan, and it is, from what I gather, a gift. It was nice drinking though.

There were people coming in and out of the place while I was there. It was pretty busy. We all had fun and it was particularly interesting drinking those four rather strong puerhs.

All in all, a good day, and finally got the chance to meet somebody I’ve been corresponding with but not met. It’s really a rare thing to have in the States to be able to sit at a teahouse and chat for hours on end about various things related (or unrelated) to tea. It is also a great thing to meet like minded people. If only we had such a place in Boston….

Or maybe it’s a good thing there isn’t one here. I know I won’t get work done if it exists!

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Three time’s a charm

March 27, 2007 · 1 Comment

I started today’s journey to NYC with a cup off McDonald’s tea.  Yes, McDonald’s tea.  It tasted just like the decaf English breakfast the other day, only it doesn’t have the excuse of being decaf.  I even have
a picture to prove it.

Then in the afternoon, I got myself a teabag of Harney & Sons Darjeeling.  Not too bad.  The leaves were really green.  I was wondering if you can properly call this a black tea at all.

Then, tonight, after dinner with Lew Perin, programmer of the very useful Babelcarp, he treated me to a sample of the 88 Qingbing, which is far better than the one I remember from the Best Tea house.  It had some similarities, but this sample was much better in the fragrance department.  Better than the tea though is the company, which was what was really enjoyable about these encounters.  🙂

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It’s not a total loss

March 26, 2007 · 1 Comment

I did get something out of the conference, that is related to tea, despite the lack of good tea to drink there.

I bought two books that are a collection of older tea texts. It looks very promising, with lots of information on various kinds of older tea practices, etc. Looks like a really fun read 🙂

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Random observations

March 25, 2007 · 2 Comments

Being at a conference means that I can only have bad tea. I have no option of brewing any sort of tea at home, and the only available tea around the conference area was Starbucks.

Which…. interestingly enough, no longer offers Tazo. Instead, we have Starbucks offering Harney & Sons teas now, in those nifty pyramid teabags. Most of the teas are odd though… including some Mudan white tea with bergamont oil (yes, a White Earl Grey), green tea with lemon and ginger, and that sort of thing…. not exactly what I was looking for. I just got an English breakfast.

I almost missed the Tazo stuff seeing the odd flavours coming from H&S

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Why do we bother?

March 24, 2007 · 9 Comments

Sometimes I wonder why we bother at all with young puerhs.

I’m attending a conference these next few days, and today during lunch with some current and former colleagues, the topic of tea came up. Eventually it got onto the subject of puerh, and aged puerh, and other aged foodstuffs, and one person asked “can’t you just buy a bottle of scotch and age it too?” Well, you can’t, because you need to buy a whole barrel of the stuff to age to make it even drinkable, or something like that. I have never heard of anybody drinking raw whisky.

And in some ways, this is more similar to puerh than the usual analogy of wine. After all, a fine Bordeaux is still, from what I understand, very drinkable now, even when new. It just gets better with age, but it doesn’t need age to be a good drink now.

Puerh, however, is not quite like that. Sure, there are some puerhs that are decent to drink now, and I think generally speaking people are acquiring more of a taste for younger puerhs, but the fact is that the drink is designed to be aged — it’s the aged stuff that you’re after, not the young stuff. Many of us who buy young cakes are not buying for the “drink it now” category, but rather the “let it sit and get better” category, and it dawned on me that in some ways, it’s rather absurd. This is not like buying a case of wine and let it sit at home. Rather, it’s more like buying a raw barrel of whisky and hope that in 10, 15, 20, 30 years, it will get better with age and become a great barrel of whisky (yes, I know, that’s only the minimum age of the whisky in the bottle). The young product, with a super high alcohol content, etc, is not really what you will call whisky. The law, at least, governs that scotch needs to be aged for at least 3 years, and generally more…

Now…. the difference is that nobody ever buys full barrels of whisky or wine, take them home, and age them in their own rooms. That’s insane — the costs, the trouble, and the risks. Yet, we do it all the time with young puerh cakes. We run all the risk, and we don’t even know for sure, in many parts of the world, whether this stuff will age well at all. A Hong Kong tea merchant told me that he’s sold a container of puerh to Australia before, and within a year he took it all back, because the tea’s quality went down… it got worse over time in the rather dry climate there. Lots of people from Hong Kong believe that a tea only ages well in a wetter environment.

Who’s right? Who knows. People in Beijing think that maybe in 10 years, in addition to HK storage, Taiwan storage, Malay storage, we will have things like Beijing storage with a distinctive taste to it. I’m just afraid that Beijing storage might be bad, dry, rough young puerh with funny tastes. I’ve had one or two of those, and I’m afraid of seeing more.

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Revisiting Best Tea House dancong

March 23, 2007 · 1 Comment

I haven’t had this tea in almost a year. Last time I had it was probably sometime in May 2006 or so.

This is actually the last bit of the tea I have left. I probably should’ve bought some in Hong Kong, but then, I can always go back and buy some more. This is their second most expensive selection. In terms of price/quality ratio, I find this to be a better deal than the Song Zhong Dancong, which is slightly too expensive for my tastes. This is half the price for more than half the quality. I’ll take it.

With this tea… it’s the same honey like fragrance, without the nasty greeness of an unroasted dancong that I find a little unattractive. The roasting gives it a good balance between the sweetness of the tea and the fragrance, without feeling like it’s been tempered with by the addition of artificial flavours. When drinking those non-roasted dancongs, I always feel like they are somehow unnatural…. too fragrant.

The only downside to this tea is that it doesn’t last too many infusions. After about 4-5 it starts dying, and since dancong tend to have a slightly bitter edge to them, it decreases the appeal of the tea significantly after that. Of course, today’s was especially bad because there were lots of broken bits of leaves in the tea — what always happens when it’s down to the last brew. As you can see….

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2006 2nd SE Asia Puerh Trade Fair Memorial Cake

March 22, 2007 · 1 Comment

I tried the SE Asia trade fair cake today, the sample of which came from Hou De. This tea is also made by Chen Guang He Tang, the same company (really, same guy) who made the two Yiwus I tried a few days ago.

I got the center of the cake, with a neifei to boot. The piece is literally the centerpiece…

I added a moderate amount of tea to the gaiwan and brewed. The first two infusions were a little strange… there was a strange metallic note to the tea, and also a sort of vegetal taste that I don’t usually find in younger puerhs. In fact, I felt like I was drinking vegetable water at one point. The tea is not very thick, although not too thin either. It’s bitter, and remains so throughout. The vegetable taste goes away after a while, turning into a more traditional Menghai area tea taste. There’s always some huigan to the tea, and the level of huigan is somewhere between the Yiwu Yecha and the Yiwu Chawang.

Sweetness doesn’t really show up until at least 7-8 infusions in. The tea starts showing some sweet notes then on the tongue. Bitterness persists though. The tea was never too rough on the tongue — quite smooth, in fact, despite the bitterness.

Overall I think this is an above average cake, but not a whole lot better than that. One of those teas that is only enjoyable after some years of aging, I think. Right now it’s really too bitter to be a pleasure to drink. If the bitterness is obvious to me, then it must be even more obvious to those who don’t drink this sort of thing regularly, since I generally find myself rather insensitive to tea-related bitterness these days when compared to other people.

2nd infusion

4th infusion

One thing I’ve noticed about these Chen Guang He Tang teas is that they consist of leaves that are more broken than usual.

In the whole gaiwan I couldn’t really find any leaves that were intact. These were the best looking ones

I suspect this has to do with the level of rolling they went through during processing. I suspect these teas are more heavily rolled than the usual ones we see in the market these days. Heavy rolling, according to what I’ve read, also contributes to the higher level of bitterness apparent in his teas. If this is true that heavy rolling is involved, then obviously Mr. Chen thinks that heavy rolling is good for aging. Is it? Only time will tell, I suppose.

On the other hand, I find that a lot of the leaves of his teas are actually quite thin and fragile to handle when wet. They seem to break more easily. Maybe it’s just a question of the general quality of the leaves… and that the stuff he uses are somehow thinner? Not sure.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas