A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from September 2007

Trying two young teas

September 30, 2007 · Leave a Comment

I decided to drink two teas against each other today. I picked the 2004 Yangqing Hao sample that I got recently, and the 2005 Fuxing Zhangjiawan as a comparison. I thought the Zhangjiawan, while not from Yiwu area, tastes similar to one. i want to see how (relatively) similar it is, and also how it compares with a tea that is slightly older. Since the YQH was stored in Taiwan (albeit Southern Taiwan), I figured it’s a closer match than anything else I’ve got at this point.

I took some pictures of the dry leaves, but then realized that they were poor quality, and that they don’t look any different — not discernable through a camera anyway. Just remember — left cup is YQH, right cup is Fuxing 🙂

Here are infusions 1, 4, 7, and 10

It’s always interesting when one tea outlasts the other. Flavours behaved similarly to the colour of the tea. The 2004 YQH is starting to taste a bit aged, and has a bit of that spicy aged taste to it — it’s obviously more aged than the Hou De sample I bought last year. One year difference, plus more Taiwan storage, probably did the trick there. The Fuxing, by comparison, tastes more green, with more fruity aromas and a generally lighter feel. It is always difficult to tell which tea in particular is giving you the throatiness, qi, and the coolness in the mouth when drinking two teas together, so I won’t try to comment there. The body of the two teas were similar. The general trajectory were also similar, and not a lot of roughness came out from either one. In fact, there wasn’t a huge divide separating the two. Except, of course… in the fact that the Fuxing simply lasted longer. The YQH started feeling a little weak by infusion 7 or 8, and when I pushed them late, it petered out.

That was also when a difference in throat feel was noticeable. The Fuxing went deeper, whereas the YQH didn’t. Of course, it could be because the tea died, but I don’t remember it being particularly deep last time I tried it, and I think this is just confirming that impression.

Even the wet leaves look somewhat similar, although the YQH has, relatively speaking, more easily unfurled leaves, while the Fuxing is rolled tighter and didn’t always unfurl. That, however, is not necessarily a bad thing at all. The jury’s still out on the rolling and the amount necessary. In fact, there are those who claim that some teas that unfurl too easily are actually not being rolled enough — that you need a bit more to release the juices and to break down membranes for aging to happen properly. I don’t know the answer to that, but it is food for thought.

There was also this little thing I found…. is that a tea leaf, the small one?

I can’t tell, but something about the way the veins are…. don’t look like any of the other tea leaves I’ve seen.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Bottled oolong

September 29, 2007 · Leave a Comment

This is what passed for tea today

Lengshan (Cold Mountain) oolong, it says. No sugar, the little red seal in the bottom right indicates. The little sticker sticking out (you can see the profile of it) says “2007 Yushan First Prize Tea winner (again)”. Ingridients? Water, oolong tea, Yushan oolong tea (less than 20mg/100ml natural caffeine). Retail cost is about $1 USD (or maybe $2 USD now the way the exchange rate is going, haha)

Hmmm, yum.

The “first prize” thing is obviously a gimmick. I bet there’s 1/1000000 in weight of first prize tea in whatever vat they use to brew this tihng. Most of it is probably cheap grade oolong…. leftovers from whatever else that was being made, or maybe liquid pesticide, or some such…

This actually is one of the better tasting ones out there, although it is a bit sour. The one thing it has going for it (besides no sugar) is that there’s no “natural flavours” in the tea. You can definitely taste it when they add flavourings. The tea would come out a little saccharin, with an odd aftertaste and something not quite natural in the way it behaves. This tea is ok by comparison, although I actually still prefer the Itoen Huangjingui. That is actually decent, for what it’s worth. This is merely ok…. good enough for the necessary caffeine for a day with no time at home for real tea.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Lew Da Chashan

September 28, 2007 · 1 Comment

I tried the other sample Lew of Babelcarp sent me. It’s a tea he pressed in Yunnan while he visited there this spring. The leaves are from Nannuo, and the neifei he uses says

“Lew” sounds a bit like “Liu (six) in Chinese, and “liuda chashan” is the usual phrase for “Six Famous Tea Mountains”. Quite clever 🙂

The tea is quite aromatic even when dry, and I can smell it clearly. The leaves are robust looking

Sorry for the shaky hands.

The initial infusion was very light in colour, and then it deepened a bit to this

It’s a bit sweet, with an aroma that is identifiable as Nannuo, where the tea’s from. The sensation in the mouth is full, and one can really feel the tea in the back around the throat, also on the roof of the mouth (what do you call that?). I think this is a good tea. It’s got my head spinning a little and body sweating a bit. It does hit the back of the throat. The taste also lingers for a good bit after the tea’s been swallowed.

The leaves run the gamut in terms of size. While they look good, there’s one thing in the leaves (as well as something in the taste) that concerns me a little. There’s a certain greenness to the tea, and the bitterness in the tea got much more prominent around infusion 4-5 onwards and never quite went away after that. I’m not entirely sure this is normal or not, but I have heard a frequent complaint on Sanzui that teas this year are all rather green in nature. Perhaps it has to do with weather? I really don’t know.

Either way though, thanks for the sample, Lew, and I’m definitely interested to see how this tea changes!

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Xiaguan 2000 Jiaji tuo

September 27, 2007 · Leave a Comment

Once in a while, I actually drink Xiaguan stuff.

I’ve never been a big fan of their newer things. I do like the Traditional (and Simplified) character bings from the 80s, but that’s a different story. For the most part, I find their younger teas to be harsh and quite unpleasant. It takes years for them to mature into something more drinkable, and even then…. they’re not that great. They’re harsh when young, but not actually particularly good — leaves you with a bit of an aftertaste, but I’m not sure it’s the right one I want for my youngish teas.

But I found this tuo with Action Jackson when she was visiting here, and I remembered liking it. I picked one up

As you can see… it’s been taken apart. No, this is not what’s left – this is only a portion of it.

The tuo is aged 7 years… from 2000. Back then, this stuff costs maybe twenty cents USD. Nowadays…. it’s many multiples. This thing still isn’t terribly expensive, I suppose, but it’s also not really cheap either when you compare it with what it was worth, back in the day.

It is starting to show a hint of age

The tea definitely smells a bit aged. It’s lost the “green” smell and has taken on a slightly changed, slightly musty smell. The taste is sweet — much of the bitterness has receeded, only there in a very subtle way in the background. The initial greeness of Xiaguan tea is also gone, but it is still detectable in the way the aftertaste behaves… it’s there, in the background, telling me that this tea is once upon a time a pretty green Xiaguan tea.

Is this great? No, not really. Is it interesting? Sure. I’m also curious how it compares with, say, the ITC tuos from the 90s. I remember Davelcorp & Co. saying that those don’t taste very aged. I wonder if this one tastes more aged than those, or less. If it tastes more aged than the ITC ones…. then it’s either because Oakland (where I think ITC stores their teas) is really too dry, or those tuos aren’t really from the 90s.

The wet leaves are pretty typical jia tuo stuff…. small leaves, some chopped, some not so chopped. The tea deliveres some caffeine buzz though, I can feel it.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Why do we bother with puerh?

September 26, 2007 · 4 Comments

I drank some loose, wet stored puerh that I bought on the cheap in Hong Kong. It’s nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.

What I increasingly realized, at least for myself, is that I really am not all that interested in aged puerh right now — aged puerh that are aged by other people and sold at very high prices. I am certainly not disputing that a Red Label or some such are really good tea. I am, however, not convinced that it’s worth that much money for me, other than perhaps in small doses of an ounce or so.

I’ve had a number of aged cakes ranging from stuff from the 90s to stuff from the 20s. I do think that if it’s a good tea, it can be incredibly good. What I think is not true, however, is that everything aged is good. One of the teas I had this past weekend was a late 80s, somewhat wet stored 7542. It’s probably about $300, which isn’t all too expensive, all things considered, but it really wasn’t that good. I mean, sure, it’s better than the loose puerh I just drank…. but it’s also many times the price of this tea. At $300 per 350g, I can buy Wuyi yancha of extremely quality and which I will enjoy much more than this mediocre 7542. A better 7542 from a few years before, and which was stored better, was double the price. Sure, it’s nice…. but is it really worth $600?

I think I am hardly alone in thinking this. My friend YP, who’s been drinking and storing tea for more than 15 years now, said back in the day, you drank Red Label all the time. It was (relatively) expensive, but still affordable. You whip it out once in a while. Then she saw how the prices skyrocket, and thought…. maybe I should save this up, and started drinking Yellow Labels. Now, even that’s getting a bit pricey for her, and she still has, I believe, a few tongs of it up her sleeve.

One of the things Aaron Fisher said during our meeting was that good tea come to you — you don’t always have to look for it. I agree with that part — some of the best teas I’ve had are from other people. I think he’s had the same experience. In the current market conditions…. who really buys whole cakes of this stuff? Mainland nouveaux riche, obviously, but anybody else? Those are the people driving the prices up these days — Chinese who recently got fabulously wealthy, combined with an urge to discover some sort of “traditional” culture, however invented that may be, and a desire to display that wealth, as well as their high taste, in a conspicuous but not obnoxious fashion…. and tea is a perfect combination of all those things. Whether or not they succeed in that, especially the non-obnoxious factor, is another matter. What is obvious though is that demand for this stuff is still going up.

So combined with an ever expanding market for such old things is a relatively small and shrinking supply. Shrinking, because these teas from 90s and earlier are only going to get consumed over time through drinking or attrition, and because they aren’t going to be produced any longer. If one can afford it, buying some might be a wise investment. For the pure drinking like me though…. I’m really not sure if it’s worth all that fuss. Perhaps if I were not a poor grad student, it might seem less of an issue, but even then, I don’t think many (I’m not saying all – I’ll gladly buy some of YP’s Zhongcha traditional character!) of these aged teas are really worth their salt. They’re in demand not always because of their taste… but because of market conditions. That’s a very different thing. Nor, do I think, is it a good argument that “if you don’t buy it now, it’ll be 20% more in a year!”. I am drinking tea, not money, and if the tea itself isn’t worth current year prices to me, it doesn’t matter how much it will appreciate — it’s still not worth it, unless, of course, I plan to sell it again.

But there are many other vehicles of investment that are both safer and probably better. Tea is actually not a great investment tool, monetarily speaking. It’s very illiquid, runs a high risk of damage/destruction, and also has an unknown potential for growth. While prices of older teas are high because of their limited supply, the reverse is true for stuff that were made after maybe 2002/2003 or so. Supply has skyrocketed, and nowadays there are many people with literally tonnes of tea sitting in some warehouse, aging, hoping it will give returns similar to those old teas…. but I think the vast majority of it won’t, simply because there’s a lot of it now, and the quality of those teas are not going to justify the high returns.

So why do we even bother? Why not just buy these teas 10 years from now when you know which one’s good and which one isn’t, and in the meantime, park the money somewhere else? It’s a compelling argument, really, but I think, for me at least, part of the fun is to figure out what works, what doesn’t work, what tea will be good, and what tea won’t be. Watching them grow old, trying them over time…. and knowing that should you score something really good now, the price of it could, indeed, be quite expensive… it’s not so much the economic returns, but rather the elation at having spotted a treasure when it was young. I think that is why I bother with all this work, of going to places looking for good tea, of trying to find the right bargains. I guess hobbies, by definition, are not entirely rational.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
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Brewing yancha

September 25, 2007 · 6 Comments

I had the laocong rougui I bought recently again, this time using less leaves (about 50% of the pot was filled). Results were quite good, actually. The tea is a little lighter this way, and a little more aromatic, sacrificing a little bit of the “punch”, especially in the “yanyun” (what you might translate as “rock aftertaste”, rock referring to the fact that this is “yancha”, literally rock tea). It sort of depends on what you want from the tea and what you’re looking for. I have friends in Hong Kong who drink this stuff because of the yanyun, and sometimes I’ve seen teas made with about 95% of the gaiwan filled with leaves. It’s not a cup for everybody, but the results can actually be very pleasant. Most people who see me brew a yancha for the first time will often remark how much tea I am putting into the pot…. but later discover, when they drink it, that it’s not bitter nor nasty at all, but in fact, brings out nuances that are otherwise not obvious enough. I think generally speaking, a yancha (not the unroasted stuff you sometimes find these days…) should be brewed with at least a 50% fill in the pot. Anything less…. and you are sacrificing the uniqueness of yancha. Some, of course, will disagree. I am, however, quite happy drinking my yancha this way — in a small pot with lots of leaves.

I think I am starting to sound like those Chaozhou old men.

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Sample from Hong Kong, via Vancouver and New York

September 24, 2007 · 3 Comments

Today I drank a sample sent to me from Lew, creator of babelcarp. This is from Aroma teahouse in Vancouver, which is actually a branch of Lam Kie Yuen in Hong Kong, operated by the daughter of Mr. Lam in Hong Kong and selling, I believe, mostly the same teas. This is something he bought there, and he said what it tasted like in the store is a bit different than when he got home. I got a sample of this along with a sample of his own pressed cake in Yunnan.

The dry leaves look like a recipe cake

With the outside surface coated with smaller buds while the inside uses bigger leaves. The dry leaves are rather brown, and smell a little wet stored.

The tea brews a slightly cloudy (initially) and dark liquor.

The taste is a little funny. Despite the strong colour, the tea is not particularly strong in taste. At first there’s an obvious taste of the storage, but after that fades, the tea gets a little more bitter and there’s also a bit of sour in there. Despite what must be at least somewhat wet storage, there isn’t a lot of the smooth sweetness I expect. The tea is smooth, but not that sweet. I am thinking it probably needs more time, actually. It still seems rather young for some teas.

The leaves seem to show more age than the taste though. I’m not sure why

All in all, a pretty curious tea. I do wonder if the act of shipping it over in a small envelope has done something to it, or perhaps the Vancouver storage has changed it a bit. I’m not sure of the answer to any of those question….

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Fuxing 2005 Youle

September 23, 2007 · 4 Comments

The weather is really weird today. It was windy, sunny, AND rainy. When I was out for lunch, it started drizzling despite the strong sunshine. Everybody looked up, and saw only very scattered clouds. We all took a double take because nobody could quite figure out the weather. Strange. It’s a long weekend too, because coming up is the Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated in much of East Asia. Taiwanese have somehow gotten into the traditional of doing outdoor barbeque on this day (and the weekend preceding it). It’s almost like Labour Day in the US.

Anyway, enough about the strange weather. This blog isn’t about that.

This is the other Fuxing cake I bought. I got one of each because at the store, I couldn’t quite figure out the two teas. The Youle seemed better there, but we were drinking a mix of many things, and by the time I tried the Youle, I couldn’t really tell anymore. All I remember at the store was that the aroma of the tea filled the mouth quite evenly, and I liked that. The Zhangjiawan felt a little weak in the store, but as I tasted it two days ago, it seemd quite fine a tea. Will this cake hold up?

It definitely passes muster in the looks department. One of the better looking cakes out there, I think

The little indentation in the center is actually slightly too deep — so much so that there’s only one layer of leaf covering the hole. You can even peek through and see bits of light in the middle. It’s kinda fun that way.

The first cup of tea was incredibly sweet. So sweet I wonder what’s going on. Maybe this is why I remembered it filling the mouth — the first cup is really quite good. The qi is not as obvious or immediate as the Zhangjiawan, but I do like the opening.

Then the tea turns a bit more to a more regular two or three years old cake, with a lot of “tea” taste that reminds me of the Youle maocha I had a while ago. The cooling effect is less strong than the Zhangjiawan, and it is also a little rougher on the tongue. In general, I think, this tea is actually slightly worse than the Zhangjiawan.. although I think this might very much have to do with personal preference than anything else. Some might prefer the bolder taste in this cake, and the slightly more aggressive way it acts in the mouth (but not necessarily the qi of the tea). An interesting specimen, to say the least.

The tea lasts a long time, and stands up quite well to some abuse late in the brewing session. I don’t think there’s any funny business going on here either… the tea isn’t “nice” enough to be that.

I don’t actually own any Youle cake, and have only tried a few despite its relative high availability. Youle supposedly has more of its old growth tea trees than some other mountains, so productivity is higher. On top of that, it’s close to Jinghong, a major town in the area, so traffic is more convenient. That means that people who go up to the hills to press teas can get there more easily, and so I think we tend to see more private label Youle than some of the other mountains. I think BBB pressed some Youle cakes as well, along with his Nannuo, the other favourite of private tea-pressers for much the same reasons.

The leaves, just like the dry cake, are arguably prettier than the other

With lots of bud-systems in the mix

I think I like the Zhangjiawan a little more, especially since they cost the same. However… I will probably hit myself if I don’t get some of this either, if only because it’s still a fine tea, and like I said… I don’t have any Youle! I honestly don’t know how I managed to avoid them so completely.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Conspiracy theory

September 22, 2007 · 5 Comments

I went tea shopping today. The shopping itself wasn’t the most fascinating, although I did buy some stuff for Action Jackson, who wanted some of the tuos we had last time we went to this store.

What was interesting was the conversation I had with the owner of the store today. It wasn’t the first time I heard this theory, and it won’t be the last. It probably also isn’t the last time either that I’ll hear this.

Basically, the theory is that pure dry storage is a sham, cooked up by self-interested merchants who basically got lucky.

It goes something like this — prior to the concept of “dry storage”, everything was wet stored. There were the accidental dry stored puerhs, but those are rare. For the most part, a proper puerh would’ve gone through the traditional HK storage. How much is appropriate was always up for debate, but it always went through SOME such storage.

However, in the late 80s/early 90s, there were people who wanted to get in, but who didn’t have years of old tea to supply themselves — all they had were newish cakes.

What do you do?

You claim that everybody can store it in their house and that it is, in fact, better to home store them. Dry storage, as a concept, was born. And from there… we got to where we are now. New teas are expensive, sometimes way more expensive than old teas, and many of them are still not drinkable years from now. In places like mainland China, even 5 years old tea can sometimes be considered “old”, whereas traditionally that would’ve merely been a “young” cake.

She does have a point, and I’ve often wondered the same thing. Teas that have gone through some HK storage, I think, can often taste better, change faster, and ultimately achieve better results. Pure dry storage has its merit, but is it enough?

To put it in perspective — the same person who was telling me this stuff also sells a bunch of newish cakes, many of which haven’t gone through HK storage, so it is not really the concept of dry storage that she has a problem with — it’s the results. I think what she really had issue with was 1) the idea that the drier the better, when in fact, you need certain humidity to achieve optimal aging conditions. 2) The idea that a cake that is under some number (say, 10) can be considered properly “puerh”.

I think I can agree with those points, for the most part. I don’t think cakes will age well in any climate. There’s a reaosn I am sticking all my teas, save a few things, in Hong Kong. I think I have seen enough cakes that are “drier” stored in places like Hong Kong or Taiwan that are quite good though, so I think it is not impossible to home store good tea. It is merely that it should not be taken to the extreme.

So perhaps the term “dry storage” (or gancang in Chinese) should really be tempered — it should just be “drier storage” instead, or better yet, “non traditional storage” or some such.

There’s definitely some financial interests involved here as well — “dry storage” has made a lot of people a good bit of money. But as tea drinkers, it is perhaps important to remember that ultimately — we are going to drink our teas.

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Fuxing 2005 Zhangjiawan

September 21, 2007 · 4 Comments

Well, I didn’t buy the cakes last weekend for nothing. I bought them so I can better try them out at home, with a view of making a purchase decision should either one of them (or both) turn out to be good.

So, here’s the first up.

This is a 2005 cake made with leaves from “Zhangjiawan”, which is literally “Zhang family bay/harbour”. There are obviously no harbours or bays in Yunnan, so it was probably in reality just near a small lake or some such with a place for boats to park. Many, many Chinese place names are like that — so and so family’s something. The most famous is probably “Shijiazhuang”, a big city not too far from Beijing, which literally means “Shi family estate”. No, most people who live there aren’t surnamed Shi, although, once upon a time, they probably did.

Zhangjiawan, after doing a little research, seems to be in the Mengla area, which is south of Yiwu near the border with Burma. I’ve had a few Mengla teas before, ranging from good to merely ok. The leaves used in this cake, at least from the surface, look quite big. The surface of the cake is also surprisingly dark. I suppose the fact that it’s been sitting on a shelf has something to do with it. No matter.

The tea, as I expected, still tasted quite young, but perhaps lost a little of that initial harshness you get in a brand new tea.

The first two or three infusions were almost fruity. A nice sweet flavour, little bitterness, and quite pleasant. Qi is very obvious — it started running circles in my body. After only a few sips I could feel the heat, which is not usually the case with most teas. This is definitely a big plus.

The tea is medium bodied, with a good depth and nice throatiness. The coolness you get from drinking a good young puerh lingers around the back half of the mouth, well after the tea itself is swallowed. Under the lid there wasn’t much aroma, although there was a faint hint of some floral notes in the middle infusions. Mostly, it was neutral or has a bit of that “green” smell. There was some roughness on the tongue, and some bitterness shown through in the middle infusions, but nothing too bothersome or out of line. In fact, if it didn’t have either of those, I’d be more worried.

The leaves look well processed

And there’s something from all sizes….

I must say I am rather impressed by the tea. The qi alone makes it interesting, because I rarely start sweating all over when I drink a tea. I can’t really find any fault with this cake. I remember when I tried it at the store, I thought it lacked something, but perhaps brewing conditions were not optimal so it was rather hard to say with any sort of certainty how it was like. Making it at home, under my own controlled conditions and using my own hands…. I have to say this is a very good tea.

Looks like I’ll be picking some of this up, unless, of course, the Youle proves to be far better. Even then, I will probably still pick a few of this up anyway, because it’s always good to have variety.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas