A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from July 2007

On tea blogs

July 31, 2007 · 8 Comments

It’s been almost a year and half since I started my blog. Initially I had no idea how many people would read it. Since according to some study an average blog gets 7 unique visitors a day, I figured if I get 10 a day I would be doing well. While this blog has certainly exceeded that expectation, the fact remains that it is merely a small project, comprising mostly of notes for myself and observations I have gathered along the way.

During this time, however, the online blogosphere has blossomed. When I first started, only four of the links on the blog existed — Babelcarp, Cha Dao, La Galette de The, and the LJ Puerh Community. The rest, as far as I am aware, were still in gestation. Now any visit to any of these sites will bring you to even more blogs and journals out there, composed by dedicated tea drinkers like you and me. Just keeping up the reading would mean visiting a dozen or so blogs every week, at least.

Visiting these blogs in quick succession, one will get the impression that much of the online blogosphere for tea is devoted to reviewing teas. In fact, many blogs do basically nothing but review teas. Is what we’re doing merely tea reviews, tea reviews, and more tea reviews? Is there a value for this, or is it mostly old news, uninteresting because of the relative lack of experience on the bloggers’ part in drinking tea compared to some grand tea masters out there? After all, my sister has likened the reading of my blog to reading knitting patterns for people who don’t knit — it’s really rather boring stuff. Why bother?

I think what’s beneath the surface of the blogs is what makes some of us come back, day after day, blogging about the rather mundane topic of “what tea we drank today” or “what we found”. It is the exchange of information, the interaction, and the joy in knowing that somebody else is interested in the same thing with the same keen interest that you do that keeps us interested in maintaining our respective blogs. I believe this is partly because of an acute lack of a culture of gongfu tea drinking in much of the blogging community’s own locale. Whereas when I was in Beijing there was always a ready-made group of tea drinkers who can share my interest in person, going out to a tea store or a teahouse to share a cup of our favourite beverage, in much of the English-speaking community, from which most of the online bloggers are drawn, oftentimes the only person who drinks tea seriously whom the blogger knows is the blogger him/herself. What the blogs, and the exchanges that take place both on and off sites, serve are the same needs that a tea drinker in China wants from a visit to a teahouse or teashop — an interaction with somebody else who is passionate about tea. (French blogs, curiously, have a very high “comment” rate unmatched in the English community — I’ve always wondered why)

Online interactions also turn into real life interactions. The LA Tea Drinkers were formed, I think, from exchanges online and now meet regularly in person for drinking sessions. There’s an active group of drinkers in New York centered around the Tea Gallery, and though they do not blog, by an large (except Toki, from time to time), others from other blogs or websites have found them through the internet. For a little while, a few of us in the Boston area tried our best to get together to drink some tea. The same has happened in the UK, and is going on in Hungary soon. Drinkers in Asia are luckier, but even then, on forums such as Sanzui, a large section is devoted to tea drinkers from various cities trying to organize tea tastings, sometimes on a weekly basis. In Beijing, for example, there’s a dedicated group of them who get together every so often, trying everything from white to black teas. All of these groupings consist of people who, by and large, would never have met in real life were it not for their love of tea — and their online activities which revealed themselves to each other.

These groupings remain small, however, and even in China, there are many cities where one sees users post something along the lines of “I’m the only person I know in the city who really likes tea — anybody else???” with nary a reply. The internet in general, and personal blogs in particular, become our outlet for the need for such exchanges. When we review the same tea, or teas of similar genre, or even drinking something random, we’re exchanging views in what is sort of a constant tea meeting. Photos and videos enhance that experience, but at the end of the day, I think it is the exchange of information and views that constitute the raison d’etre of the blogs out there. I, for one, have met many new friends both online and offline through my writing, and now I can count at least a dozen places where I have gotten to know new tea friends because one day in 2006, I decided to start keeping my tea notes online in a blog format. I’m sure I will only meet more in the future.

I think nobody is claiming any of this information in the blogs to be necessarily new, accurate, or thought provoking in and of themselves; however mundane and knitting pattern-like, they serve a purpose that is only possible thanks to the democratisation of the internet experience — as an ongoing virtual tea gathering of like minded individuals, each sharing their little slice of knowledge learned while drinking this marvelous beverage.

Categories: Misc · Old Xanga posts

Old puerh of some kind

July 30, 2007 · 3 Comments

I had some of those traditionally stored, loose puerh so common in Hong Kong today. I’m no longer sure which particular one was the one I was having. I don’t clearly label these, and they’re not too easy to tell apart, as anybody who’s tried these things would know.

In Hong Kong these things are often not named specifically — usually only with very generic names to denote differentiation of grades, partly, I think, because they’re all blends, so it’ll be difficult to name them anything anyway, since they’re not specifically any one thing. Generally speaking, they are called “Old Puerh”, “Top Old Puerh”, “Aged-taste Puerh”, etc for cooked, and for raw, often they are named “Home-stored puerh”, “Carefully stored puerh”, “Old age puerh”, “Unknown year puerh”, etc. denoting different grades. Home-stored puerh from shop A is obviously not going to taste the same as the one from shop B, and prices can vary very considerably.

This one…. is probably something that might be called “carefully stored puerh”. It’s not great, it’s not too bad, or at least that’s what I remember of it, since last time I tried it was a year ago. This time, however, it presented a problem — the tea is drying. Very drying. After the first cup or two I had to drink some water to moisten my mouth. I don’t know why, but for some reason, it didn’t agree with me. The taste is mostly of an aged puerh variety, a bit bitter/medicinal, but pleasant enough. The drying factor, however, was new. I wouldn’t have missed it if that happened last time I tried.

The colour of the tea is quite dark.

I don’t exactly know why this is the case. Could it be that it was exposed to sunlight or some such? Something happened to it in the year that it sat in the container? I don’t know. I am thinking of airing it out a little before trying it again, to see what happens. Weather here’s been wettish, which is good for airing out problems like these. I hope to fix this, although I really don’t have much of it left.

The wet leaves are stiffish. They’re dark, and small. I don’t think this is Yunnan leaves. Vietnam, perhaps?

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
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2003 Crab claw cake

July 29, 2007 · 1 Comment

It seems like I am having most of the 2006 Tasteoff teas in 2007. A few of them I did drink, and now I’m drinking the remainder. The others I didn’t drink, and am now drinking for the first time. The 2003 Crab Claw cake from Hster is one such cake.

Crab claw is some parasitic vine that grows on tea trees, supposedly only on older trees and supposedly mostly in Jingmai area. They look rather flat and are a bit orangy in colour when dry. I didn’t notice any in the small sample I got. It looked more or less like pretty normal young puerh.

The tea has a bit of a spicy note to it when brewed, with a lingering aftertaste. The first few infusions were quite good, strong without being too harsh. Among the teas from the tasteoff, this one is on the aged side of things and tastes that way. The first hint of agedness is showing through, and it yields a rather agreeable drink. Later on the spicy taste fades a bit into a sweeter, mellower version of itself. Aftertaste doesn’t last that long anymore though….

This is around 4th infusion

Somehow, when I was brewing it, it kept clogging my pot. Other young puerhs I’ve used for my pot have so far behaved themselves, but this time, no matter what I did, every infusion involved some struggle with the clogging problem. I wonder why that was the case. I tried pouring the water differently, pushing the leaves in right before I pour out, etc… to no avail 🙁

Can I tell if there’s any crab claw taste? Not really. Going through the wet leaves… I didn’t really find anything incriminating either.

It’s very likely that this, like most crab claw cakes, only have a few of them on the surface of the cake, so unless you got those pieces, there’s basically none. I’ve never been sure of the value of these things. Why put them on the cake? On their own, crab claw doesn’t taste terribly good, IMHO. Supposedly it has medicinal value, but so does everything tea related, supposedly. If you really believe those claims…. you should be living to 250 and still be active like a 20 years old. Maybe novelty? Gimmick? As if there weren’t enough gimmicks in puerh already…

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Aged white tea…

July 27, 2007 · 9 Comments

Yes… aged white tea.

My girlfriend asked for white tea a few days ago, so I dug into my containers of tea looking for something. I found it… a canister of tea that has been sitting around since 2005. Conventional wisdom has it that white tea doesn’t hold up, is it true?

Granted, the container I used is a pretty good one. It’s got a pretty tight seal so air transfers was probably minimal. I used the gaiwan and filled it up with some leaves. Having water at off-boil and then cooled somewhat, I brewed the tea… which came our surprisingly good. I was expecting either something truly nasty (i.e. bitter and stale) or simply bland — having lost much of the flavours. Instead, I got a tea that still retained most of its aroma. It was never really good white tea to start with — only middle of the road stuff from the Best Tea House. It was meant for easy drinking. It is, still, easy drinking. It did lose some of the freshness, I think, but it has also made it easier on my body. I don’t think I take white tea so well these days for some reason, and perhaps having opened it since 2005…. it mellowed out a little?

Having it with an authentic Amish apple pie (purchased from an Amish lady who came by our town to sell) they went together quite well. White tea and Amish pie in the middle of Ohio… not your typical afternoon tea, I suppose.

It does seem to me that most tea genres will age. How they age, of course, is a big question. Some do it well, some do it poorly. I still have some 2005 Longjing that I can perhaps try to see if it’s still any good. The leaves are very yellow — having lost all the freshness by now, I think. Yet… perhaps removing the prejudice of “fresh must be better”, there are things to be discovered there as well.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

2005 Longyuan Hao 2kg anniversary cake

July 27, 2007 · 1 Comment

This is another one of those old samples that I never quite got around to drinking last year. The reason I have so many of them is because 1) my tolerance for young puerh at that point was lower, 2) It was near my moving date — after which all of them got packed, and 3) there were even more samples that I did dispatch at that point. So…. now I’m trying to at least give them all a fair go.

Anyway, this is a sample provided by Toki, and although labeled as Menghai Factory Anniversary cake, reading the packaging and the neipiao, it seems to actually say this is a Longyuan Hao cake and made by “Yunnan Xishuang Banna Old Tea Mountain Tea Industry Co. Menghai Tea Factory”. Which I think isn’t actually the same thing as Yunnan Xishuang Banna Menghai Tea Factory, i.e. the one we usually just refer to as Menghai. It’s one of those things that newer companies do to make you think it’s the grand old factories….

Of course I only got a little piece of the 2kg bing

Not too compressed, although given other opinions, it seems mine is the exception rather than the rule.

The liquor is clear and medium in colour

The initial infusion was remarkably light, deceptively so, but there’s a deep aftertaste that lingers, and which I like. The next few infusions, oddly enough, reminds me of beer. It’s a strange thing, but perhaps it is the hops of a beer that it is reminding me of. Bitter, grainy… something like that. Not too bitter, mind you, just enough to make me feel like I’m drinking a non-bubbly version of some malted beverage or another. The colour deepens. Aftertaste still strong, and I can feel a little bit of a caffeine buzz. It then progresses on to something else, perhaps more tea like now, sweeter, but strength remains. In fact, overall the tea lasts quite long and I gave up before it did.

Toki says there’s old tree leaves in there. I think it’s entirely possible, given the deeper aftertaste and the lingering effects that I found. Normally plantation teas tend to be more immediately stimulating but without the long tail. I’m not sure I detected very strong qi — certainly a buzz, but it doesn’t quite do the warmth thing to me. I think this is definitely good tea, and if the whole 2kg cake is made with this stuff (as in not just the front and back with a covering of good leaves) this can make a pretty interesting drink down the road.

A mixture of leaf grades, mostly larger. Some are stiff yellow leaves, a good amount of stems, and some smaller leaves. No buds in sight.

Unfortunately, one can’t say the same for many other anniversary cakes. Most of them I find to be overpriced versions of other cakes simply because they’re anniversary cakes of one sort or another. Some are merely very standard factory issues type cakes with some excuse or another to commemorate — be it the opening of a new mall or the 10 years return of Hong Kong to China. Some factories, such as Six Famous Tea Mountains, tell you every single cake they make is a limited edition — which is of course logically true, since no production is going to be unlimited when it comes to agricultural products…

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Mystery puerh, age unknown

July 26, 2007 · 2 Comments

While yesterday’s tea’s origins are not very well known, today’s tea’s source is obvious. I got it from Phyll, who in addition to blogging just helped organized the puerh tasting that happened in Pasadena a month ago, and also helps write (and edit?) TChing and moderates (?) Winexiles. A busy man. 🙂

Unfortunately, however, I got this tea more than a year ago. That itself is not a big problem. The problem is it was labeled simply as “1”. Nothing more. I think there was an email as well as a little note of paper that came with the package, telling me what they were (there were 1, 2, 3, 4, and I think I drank two before I left for China). I asked Phyll today, who couldn’t recall off the top of his head. So… it’s a guessing game.

So this is the tea

A closer shot of the other side

I used half the leaves, which might have been a tad low on the leaves, but I didn’t want to overstuff my pot again like the last two times. The tea is obviously a little aged — maybe 2-4 years? It’s lost some of the initial harshness, and some of the bitterness is gone. Now the tea is not too bitter, instead it comes through with a minty type of stimulation on the back of the throat and a muted sense of fruity taste. It’s slightly similar to the Mengku Rongsi 2005 mini bing that I tried a few days ago, but different. This one’s definitely less bitter, but that’s not saying a lot. It’s also less astringent. It’s hard to say which one’s more powerful, as the amount of leaves used was quite different so it is difficult to judge. This tea does taste like a plantation tea, but it is not difficult to drink. In fact, given the amount I used today, I think anybody can enjoy this cup.

I would wait a few more years before doing so though, because I think this can get better. Later infusions yielded a nice sweet water without being too bland. It held up well enough to keep things interesting. I don’t think it is particularly complex a tea, but again, I probably didn’t put quite enough leaves in there. Had I thrown in the whole piece, however, it would have been far too much.

The wet leaves look mostly big

But among them are tiny buds as well. The leaves in general don’t look or feel like spring tea. There’s a certain stiffness to some of them.

So… does this jog your memory at all, Phyll?

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Aged shuixian

July 24, 2007 · 2 Comments

This is a tea of unclear origins. I think I picked it up somewhere along the way in Beijing…

It’s an aged shuixian of sorts. Emphasis, I think, on the aged part. It does a few funny things. It isn’t bitter — until you overbrew it. It’s very fruity, almost oddly so. It’s got that nice aged Wuyi tea taste to it, but not sour. It’s not high fired. It’s light in taste, but very long lasting (many infusions later, it will still come out bitter if you overbrew it). It’s refreshing in taste, but dries out your mouth a little. It doesn’t possess obvious qi, but along the way, maybe during infusions 4-6, I felt a warmth buzzing in the lower back. The colour is a pleasant orange

But the colour belies the taste — which would normally be accompanied by a darker hue. It’s a bit of a strange tea, really, and I don’t really know what happened to it. I think I bought this bag partly out of curiosity — to see what’s going on here. It’s a tea full of contradictions. I don’t think it’s a very good one — it’s merely ok, but quite entertaining, and will definitely last a whole afternoon no matter what you do. I think I could’ve gone further with the tea, even after a good 10+ infusions. In that way, it’s like a good aged puerh — as long as you let it stew a little longer in the water, something will come out and it won’t taste bland.

The leaves are quite complete, and some are even greenish.

Fun tea, and worth every penny of it.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
Tagged: ,

70s cooked puerh

July 24, 2007 · Leave a Comment

Unlike Davelcorp’s sample yesterday, some of my samples are distinctly un-labeled, and I’m never really sure whose tea it is, when I neglected to label them and it’s been a year since I looked. Today’s tea was one such thing. It’s a 70’s cooked puerh, loose. It came in an envelope not unlike those used by Davelcorp, but bigger.

I seem to vaguely remember this is from shichangpu (formerly psychopuncture). I could be wrong though. If I am… please identify yourself. I’m really sorry 🙁

I don’t think I am expereinced enough to tell a 70s cooked from, say, a 90s cooked. I haven’t had enough authentic old cooked to tell for sure. All I know is that cooked teas do age a bit — mostly in removing the nasty fermentation smell/taste, and if slightly wet stored, can be more fragrant. I’ve definitely had some cooked puerh that are more sweet or plummy, and can be an interesting thing to drink. This is one of those that obviously have gotten rid of the nasty taste of cooked, and probably has gone through some wet storage. It’s mellow. It’s not terribly exciting (are cooked puerh ever?). It’s an interesting thing to drink, and it beats brand new cooked.

But is it really 70s? I really, honestly, have no way of telling for sure. This is probably especially true since this is loose. Can anybody really know?

The colour of the liquor is quite light, all things considered

So without judging it on the basis of age — let’s just say this is a reasonable cooked puerh… not offensive, not particularly exciting, but good enough – so long as it’s not too expensive.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Mengku Rongsi 2005 mini-bing

July 23, 2007 · 2 Comments

Dear Davelcorp,

Thank you, very belatedly, for sending me this sample. It’s been more than a year since its arrival, and only till now have I found time to drink it. I’m sorry it took so long, but I’m sure, as you know, I went to Asia shortly after your tea arrived, and in the rush to pack things up, move, and… move again, I haven’t found time to drink the tea. I suppose since it’s puerh, it doesn’t matter so much how it was stored. In fact, your smell-neutral paper bag probably worked pretty well since it allowed some air exchange for the bits of tea in there.

So I finally opened the well-labeled packet today, complete with your name in the bottom

These are not all — there’s a bit more tea in there, loose leaves, mostly, but the small bits make picture taking easier. Here’s a closeup

Mengku Rongsi factory is one that I’m somewhat more familiar with, having visited their factory store in Maliandao multiple times, and having tried quite a few of their products, young and old. Their young teas I found to be somewhat floral, at times quite bitter, but always possessing some strength and complexity. The older teas are a bit more of a mixed bag — some turn out a little like a dianhong, but retains a chocolate/nutty flavour that can be quite interesting, even only after 4-5 years of aging. I myself bought some of their teas, and have hopes that they will, at least, turn into something interesting.

These mini-bings I did see in Maliandao, but I’ve never tried nor bought any of them. I’ve found that many of their products, despite their different names, often taste quite similar. No doubt this is partly due to their use of maocha from generally the same area.

This tea therefore didn’t surprise me with the way it tasted. There’s something vegetal and slightly floral, without an initial bitterness, but it shows through after it’s been in your mouth for a little bit. After swallowing, at least for the first few infusions, there’s a throatiness that lingers, which is nice. The flavours are almost sort of subdued — it’s light in a way, but heavy in another. Perhaps elusive is a good term. It’s not bad that way — just the way it behaves. The bitterness doesn’t last very long, which is good. The tea, however, stays quite potent through many infusions. I liked that about this tea, and I find it to be generally true of their productions. For the price, at least at the time (it seems it’s gotten pricier) it was probably a very good buy. I’m not sure if it’s as good a purchase now, but it might be interesting to see how these age compared to a big bing.

The colour of the tea is a little dark, but not too unlike the young puerhs I’ve been having the past few days

The wet leaves are quite thick, compared to what I’ve been drinking. They’re also mostly whole buds or small leaves. Some are broken, others whole. Some stems too, but not a whole lot.

On Chinese forums such as Sanzui (which has strangely been hard to get to these days) some have pondered whether the new products from Mengku Rongsi has been processed at too high a temperature. It doesn’t seem this tea has that problem, given that it’s been about two years since its production. I can’t say for certain, but I’ve had much nastier teas that are two years old.

I very much enjoyed this tasting, and I look forward to trying this again perhaps a few years down the road with a sample exchange with you for something else.



Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Asian markets

July 21, 2007 · 2 Comments

It is sad, but whereas previously I spent my Saturdays at Maliandao, swimming in tea, now all I can do to amuse myself is going to the local Asian market while I’m here in Central Ohio. It’s not much, but it’s food for thought.

Asian markets, I suspect, is where a lot of people in the USA come into contact with tea that isn’t bagged. Judging from the local teas available at Wal-mart and supermarkets, they mostly consist of Bigelow teabags, Lipton teabags, and other unmentionable names…. Lipton’s new White Tea, for example, just tells you something along the lines of “First discover in the Fujian province of China, Lipton White Tea is plucked by hand from the tips of tea buds before the tea leaf blossoms, to preserve the natural goodness of the whole leaf.”. Sure…. first discovered…. as if it’s new.

Which is why I think Asian markets in general are such a lost opportunity. Obviously, not everybody goes to their local Asian market, but it definitely speaks to the audience that is more likely than most to try out something new, something a little more exotic. While there today, a Caucasian lady and her Asian friend were shopping, and the former asked the latter “do you have a good tea to recommend?” while they were walking by the tea aisle.

Unfortunately, of course, none of the teas there were anything near what you might call good. Starting from the packaging, the teas being sold are atrocious, usually. They usually come in ugly packagings of green, lime green, red, orange, and other bright but uncomfortable colours, many of which haven’t been updated since the 1950s, and with unclear labeling, naming, spelling, etc that further confuses any potential buyer. Out of the whole aisle, only one tin of tea looked decent, judging by the packaging. It was a Lapsang Souchong, the tin having obviously been designed by somebody with half a brain, in a clear black and white layout. It doesn’t cost that much to do these things. It probably doesn’t cost them really anything considering how cheap packaging is to make in China. Yet…. nobody seems to understand the need for such a thing.

The teas themselves, of course, range from bad to atrocious. Rarely do they have anything really decent. I remember trying a few things from the local Asian market while I went to college in Northeastern Ohio (no, I’m not from Ohio; it’s just a coincidence that I’m here again) and they were all… pretty bad.

The only Asian market that had reasonable tea that I’ve been to was the Great Wall in New York City, but I have been informed that it’s dead. They put them in clear glass jars, so you could see what the leaves were like, and generally while they weren’t exactly great teas, they did have a few things that were palatable. In fact, I can say that I really got interested in tea because I bought a pack of mingqian longjing from them while visiting there. It’s odd for a Hong Kong boy to get seriously piqued by good tea from a shabby touristy Asian market in NYC, but such is life. I remember it was really expensive, and I wondered why it was so expensive, and tried some… and decided that I should never drink bad tea again. I’m still trying.

I wish more places were able to do that. Black teas in general keep very well, so it’s not too difficult nor too much of an investment to do such a thing. While cities on the coast definitely have other alternatives for a tea lover, for most of the American population in smaller cities, towns, or even rural areas… the local Asian markets really represent a lost opportunity to bring this beverage to a wider audience.

Categories: Misc · Old Xanga posts
Tagged: ,