A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from October 2007

This is how you clean an old pot

October 30, 2007 · 11 Comments

I went back to Fuxing (Fushen) today… and as usual, the owner talked and talked, interesting info spewing out during the tea session. Among other things, I asked — how do you clean an old, dirty pot?



“Yeah, bleach — stick the pot in bleach, cover it in bleach, leave it there for a day, and then take it out”

So, apparently, what you’re supposd to do is to bleach the damn thing, inside and out. Then, you take it out, rinse it a few times with water (I suppose cold is good enough?). Then, you use spent tea leaves — throw them in, fill the pot up, and fill it up with water. Leave it overnight. The next day, your leaves and the water will smell like bleach, but the bleach from the pot will be gone. If you feel queasy, repeat this a few times.

Sounds rather insane to me.

But… maybe not? After all… we use bleach on a lot of things.

Maybe that’s what I should do?

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Cooked oolong

October 29, 2007 · 1 Comment

As far as oolongs go, the tea I had today is what you’d call a cooked oolong.

Sometimes reasonably roasted oolongs are called cooked (shu) oolong, but there are different degrees of this stuff, and today’s is pretty extreme. Look at the liquor

I picked this tea up at the Fuxing store. They had a small amount of it left, and I thought it was fun, if nothing else. They claim it’s an aged oolong, 10 years or so. I somehow don’t buy it. Look at the wet leaves

They’re almost pitch black. The leaves are like little springs — you stretch them and let go, and they bounce right back to their original shape. They won’t unfurl no matter what you do, and will break if you try too hard.

Don’t get me wrong though, as far as super heavily fired oolongs go, this one doesn’t taste too bad. It has its share of charcoal notes, but it also does have a little bit of an aged taste, and plenty of woody notes in the tea. It is probably better if brewed a little lighter because of its very heavy firing, but I want to compare it on a more equal footing to the other stuff I’ve been drinking recently. Whereas some of those aged oolongs you’ve seen can actually look quite normal, this is anything but. Yet, there will be people who tell you this is aged stuff… and I suspect that with enough work put into it and giving it some more time to lose the “fire” flavour, it can indeed be a reasonable aged oolong. It just isn’t one yet.

There are charms of such teas, but they tend to be a bit boring and sometimes just a little too much charcoal. I think I will revisit this tea after leaving it around for a few months and see what happens.

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Chenguanghe Tang Yiwu Spring 06 revisited

October 28, 2007 · 3 Comments

I went back to this sample – what’s left of it – today.

One thing about these teas is that they are stemmy — lots of stems

Stems are not a bad thing. In fact, some see it as an important part of a cake that will age well. Obviously Mr. Chen agrees.

It brews bright yellow

The tea is smooth (as young raw pureh goes), sweet, classic Yiwu taste, clean, deep, strong qi… the only thing I had a problem with was that it dropped off significantly after about 7. There was a steep drop off into another step — something much milder and sweeter, and it is on that plane that it remains. It still brews infusions after that, just… it’s a bit of a jarring turn.

One thing I’ve noticed about this after brewing it is that the leaves don’t unfurl on their own. Now, there are people out there who will claim that leaves that don’t unfurl is a sign of a bad tea, but I think that really only applies to aged stuff or highly roasted stuff. Here, the leaves are sticking onto each other (or themselves — rolled) and don’t unfurl despite long brew times. You need to peel them open. Is this good, or is this bad?

There’s a recent post on tea4u, a Taiwanese forum, that sums up all these debates – basically, the simple answer is “nobody really knows”. Everybody agreed that “it’s better to spend more on a good tea than to pay less for a crap tea”. Ok, that’s easy. The next question is — what’s a good tea?

That’s where everybody starts getting stumped. Keep in mind these are collectors, dealers, that sort of thing. People who are hardly unknowledgable about tea. People who are widely read, have drank lots, etc… and most couldn’t come up with a straight answer.  When somebody proposes something, someone else will challenge it. My conclusion from all this is that — there is no concensus, and if you talk to 100 “experts”, you’ll get 100 different answers. The simple way of explaining this? Nobody really knows.

So we’re basically all guessing, and none of these newer cakes really have had enough time to mature into something truly aged yet. We’ve been doing this for, what, 10 years, since the mid 90s? All the new experiments are just now entering the second decade… whether somebody’s right or not will take considerably longer to figure out.

I guess one way to ensure you have a nice cake for the future is to hedge your bets — buy different styles of stuff, preferably from different kinds of people who believe in different kinds of aging formula. Or… just not worry too much and go with the flow, drink what you feel makes you happy. I’m somehow more comfortable with that approach, but just in case, I’m also practicing a bit of the first as well to hedge my own bets 🙂

Categories: Old Xanga posts


October 27, 2007 · 3 Comments

There’s a tea mall in Maliandao called “Chayuan”. “Cha”, you all know, is tea. The word “yuan” ç·£ in this case can mean “predestined affinity”, or something like that, anyway. Chayuan, when combined, can mean something like “some natural affinity through tea”, either between two people, or between a tea and a person.

I suppose I had some of that today, when I went walking around the Chungking North Rd. area again where the old teashops of Taipei are located. There aren’t that many of them nowadays, and one or two that I went by looked downright imposing…. even worse than the “Grand Old Store“. They were so imposing, I didn’t go in at all.

Then I found this place that’s across the park from Youji. It still looked like a Grand Old Store — old decor, lots of big (I can comfortably sit in one) canisters for tea, all lined up along the store and two women sitting there watching TV. No customers. I walked in, and asked if they have “laocha”, old tea. This is parlance for old Taiwanese tea, usually, when one’s in Taiwan. Surprisingly, she took out some puerh — cooked, loose puerh at that. “No no no, old Taiwanese tea”, I said. “Ok, we have some”. She popped open on of those big cans, inside of which is a big plastic bag, and there it was… kilos of what look and smell like aged baozhong. It was then the owner of the store, a man in his 60s, came out. Wanna try some?


The tea itself wasn’t very good. It’s a bit too sour — sour enough to make it unpleasant. The conversation, however, was going well. I think the owner liked the fact that I know a few things about tea, and that I am a young person seeking old Taiwan teas. These days, he laments, young people don’t know these things anymore. They just drink the new stuff, and all those new stores that are popping up — those owners know nothing about tea. You can’t drink that green stuff too much. It’s too stimulating, and is bad for you. This is what we drank in the old days, etc etc

Not surprisingly, he then brought out some better aged baozhong… they look better, and tasted far better. It’s a little sour in the opening, but it’s only a touch sour and is entirely acceptable. There’s an aged taste to the tea, although not a lot of the fruity sweetness, but the qi is strong and obvious — I was sweating profusely, and today was hardly hot. This rarely happens with me, so I know I’ve got a winner here.

So I got some of this, and then, the guy was like “want to try some of our gaoshan oolong?”. I think he likes educating a young man in tea. I’m a happy and relatively knowledgable audience, so he was having a good time talking and brewing. He took the stuff out — looks like good gaoshan oolong. Roasted about 8 hours, he said. You can’t really tell by the way it looks when dried, or wet. The stuff is still pretty good.

You can, however, tell by the taste. There’s very little of the grassy notes in this tea, which I loathe in a green Taiwan oolong. Rather, it’s fruity, smooth, with a nice hint of sweetness and also some floral notes. The difference between something like this and some of the unroasted stuff is quite obvious. It doesn’t have that nasty, green, and metallic edge to it that I really dislike in green Taiwanese stuff (and which generally makes me feel unwell after too much drinking). This tea was good… not awesome, mind you, but good, and I don’t say that very much about green Taiwanese oolong.

The best part was the conversation though. He was telling me a variety of things, some of which I knew, others I’ve heard for the first time. It’s always interesting to hear a man who’s spent his life in the tea business (since 13, he said) tell you his take on things. As I’ve said before, these are the real tea masters who really know their stuff.

So I got some of both, left…. picked up a gift along the way, and ended up at the place that sold me that $10 pot again. I couldn’t resist going back there to see if there’s one or two more pots to pick up that are cheap enough. I ended up choosing two…. he sold them to me for even less than 350 per pot. Amazing, eh?

So here they are. The first one is not bad, I think, the second a little more iffy (the nub on the lid, as you can see, is not well done). The clay on that thing though feels awfully silky and soft. You almost feel like you can push it in and turn it back into a ball of clay. Heck, it’s not even $10. All in all, a pretty productive tea shopping day.

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Another aged baozhong

October 26, 2007 · 4 Comments

Back to the lineup of aged oolongs…

This is an aged baozhong from Youji that I visited last weekend, and that I might visit again this weekend. When I asked them for aged tea, this is what they showed me. When I tried it at the store, I didn’t like it too much, because it’s a bit sour and a bit weak, but it was brewed lightly in a porcelain pot. It wasn’t the ideal setup for me, given my drinking habits, so I decided to buy some of this and try it at home. Despite the fact that one can try teas out at stores…. there’s nothing like trying a tea out at home.

You can’t tell too much from the dry leaves

The liquor tells a little more… although I actually forgot to take a picture before a few infusions went by, so the colour lightened up a bit.

The tea actually is quite similar to the alleged 60s baozhong I had a little while ago. The tea opens with a bit of sourness, and then delivers that aged taste…. etc

There’s only one obvious difference — the price.

The tea I tried last week costs something along the lines of $270/600g. This one today costs about $55/600g.

Yeah, 1/5.

Here’s the deal with aged oolong prices — it’s all over the place. Every store has some of it. They will tell you it’s aged, it’s been in their store for years, etc etc. Sometimes they can tell you where it’s from, other times they can’t. They will show you the tea, you can try it, and their taste is also all over the place — some taste like newly roasted tea, others taste like slightly aged green oolong, more taste like real aged oolong…. and the level of agedness has almost nothing to do with the price. I think one difficulty is simply because these things are not, and cannot, be labeled — a 5kg canister of tea is a 5kg canister of tea. Unless they come in those competition or whatever boxes that can be dated, it’s just loose leaf tea, and whether it’s 3, 5, 10, 50 years old… is up to the seller to claim and the buyer to decide.

Which, in some ways, is how things should be. You can decide if you like the tea or not on its own merits — not based on a wrapper or a reputation or somebody else’s opinion. After all, tea is for drinking. Do I (or will I) enjoy this tea? Is it worth it? Those are the two questions that I try to answer whenever I try out a new tea. If the answer to either of these is a “no” or even a “maybe”, I won’t bother.

I think it’s a shame that aged oolongs don’t get much coverage outside of Taiwan, let alone in the West. They’re every bit as good as old puerh, I think, but often for far less money (an aged puerh would be considered cheap even at the price of the more expensive baozhong here). Their problems are 1) lack of large volumes, 2) relative difficulty in storage, 3) difficulty in authentication, and thus 4) lack of consistency, again due to storage and authentication. There isn’t a lot of money to be made in these things, if at all. Like today… I know that I shouldn’t get the expensive one, but the cheap ones might be a good buy, and I might go and get some more to stock up for future consumption. At $270/600g, it’s not really an everyday tea (although still not too pricey, I suppose). At $55/600g, I can do whatever I like with it and won’t feel any guilt. The choice is pretty simple.

Categories: Old Xanga posts

Golden Damo

October 25, 2007 · 2 Comments

I was rummaging through my samples today, and found one given to me by Lew of Babelcarp when I visited NYC. This cake, from what I know, is somehow highly regarded. I’ve tried it before in Hong Kong as the Best Tea House sells it as well (for a hefty sum, as a new cake anyway). I remember I was not particularly impressed, but I could be wrong. The name of the cake is interesting — Damo is the Chinese name for Bodhidharma. “Jin” just means Golden. I’m not sure what this all adds up to…

The cake is well pressed — or at least my sample is.

Can’t say much about the leaves when it’s a small sample. I brewed it

It comes out a golden colour. So far so good. The first infusion was, oddly enough, somewhat floral. That’s not something you expect from a young puerh, or rather, not what I expect from one. The floral notes went away fairly quickly in subsequent infusions, replaced by a stronger “young puerh” taste that seems to be of the Menghai area variety. It hits the throat reasonably. It is, however, quite rough on the tongue. Something else also bothered me a little — it seems a little boring. I rarely ever use that term to describe a tea. This one though…. somehow hits that spot. Infusion after infusion, it delivers more or less the same thing — a bitter punch, some roughness, the same notes… a bit boring.

I do wonder if the very tender leaves that are mostly what this cake is has contributed to this

Cakes I like generally use more mature leaves. Cakes with mostly young buds seem to be a bit simple sometimes. I’ve read things that say the best are second flush spring leaves — so not quite summer, but not early spring, because buds are too tender and summer tea gets watery. I wonder if this is the case here with buds that are just a tad too tender. It could also be the case where the batch of tea is made from a very limited area with a very limited set of trees, which can, sometimes, render a one-dimensional tea.

But anyway, thanks for the sample Lew 🙂

Categories: Old Xanga posts

Green Taiwan oolong

October 24, 2007 · 6 Comments

I rarely drink green Taiwan oolong. I get dizzy often enough from drinking this stuff that I tend to avoid them. I don’t know why that’s the case, or why I am more sensitive to this stuff than young puerh, which should be equally hard on the body. But sometimes there’s just no explanation for this sort of thing. I used to drink a fair amount of this stuff, as well as green tieguanyin, but nowadays I almost never drink either. Part of it is because I got bored of them, but part of it is because my body doesn’t like them very much anymore.

The tea today is from Aaron Fisher, who gave me some of this when I left

I can’t really remember what part of Taiwan this is from. I think he got it in Lugu in Nantou, but I can very well be wrong.

The tea brews a typically neon yellow/green liquor

It is actually one of the better light oolongs I’ve had recently. It’s floral, but not too much to the point where I feel it’s artificial. There’s obvious qi. The tea has a nice aftertaste — at one point I felt like it was sort of apricot like. It goes for many infusions. I rarely like light Taiwan oolongs. This one isn’t bad. I told Aaron as much when we drank this at his place, and he generously gave me some to take home.

That said… I only need to drink this sort of thing a few times a year to get my fill. After a while, the grassiness (of which there’s still plenty) and the sort of one-dimensional quality to this sort of thing bores me. I know many enjoy the high floral qualities of such teas and find many nuances in them that are perfectly enjoyable. I think my tastes have changed and really no longer find these things attractive. Perhaps I drank too much of it during college and am now recovering.

The leaves are quite beautiful

Althogh — only the left one is this tea. The right hand side bud-leaf system is yesterday’s puerh. You can see how the oolong is no smaller in size than the puerh leaf. The puerh leaves eventually grow to a larger size, of course….

By the way…. I hope all of you in SoCal are ok. The fires look really bad.

Categories: Old Xanga posts

And the winner is…

October 23, 2007 · 13 Comments

(drumroll)….. John of Chabei!

So, how much was it?

Well…. I’ll explain in detail how I got this pot.

So I left the Youji store on Saturday. By that time, it was already 5pm. I decided to wander around the area a little, but most places were either closed, or were not interesting (non-tea related). I walked and walked, and saw this sign across the street – an antique shop that, among other things, sells teapots. Hmmm

I walked up, and noticed that it’s actually two similar looking shops right next to one another. One was closed, the other open, and the pots were right near the door. They looked interesting enough for me to walk in and check them out.

I normally never buy pots from antique stores, mostly because they’re either fake, really expensive, or both. Granted, most of that experience has been in China, where almost everything is fake when you walk into an “antique” store. Then again, this place looked shabby… but I thought it doesn’t hurt to just look.

There were about 20 pots on the little shelf, all of similar size. I picked up a few to check out. Some were bad — obviously poor quality stuff, not obviously faked to be old (they looked rather new, in fact) but just not high quality. Others were in the old Southern Yixing style with the curly spout and the pear shaped body, but the calligraphy on the bottom of the pot was wanting. Then I picked up this thing that I bought…. hmmm, looks ok. I smelled the inside — smells a bit weird, like an old attic. It’s a bit dirty inside too. I asked how much.


350? I thought I heard wrong. Surely, it can’t be 350? But at moments like these, you can’t ask to double check, nor can you really react in any way other than just a simple nod and a little grunt. Anything more, and you might risk an immediate price raise. I put the pot down, looked at some other pots, and asked prices for those too…. turns out they’re ALL 350 NTD, which translates into almost $11 USD. That’s about 5.50 pounds…. just enough for a short ride on the Tube, I think.

I had some reservations about this pot, because it 1) smelled, 2) was a bit dirty, and 3) was almost too cheap. The clay seems to be good, the patina seems really nice (it’s a bit uneven and doesn’t look like the obviously fake patina I’ve seen on some other pots), and the thing feels sort of right. It’s a bit too big for one person, but is perfect for two. On the other hand, the lid is well fitted, the spout looks clean and good, the body was well moulded, the wall is not too thick, not too thin…. hmmm

At 350 NTD, I figured I could take a chance. Worst case scenario, this pot can serve as a decoration. I’ve bought useless souvenirs that cost more. Heck, I’ve bought a bottle of beer that costs more.

So…. now this pot’s with me. I’m trying to see if I can get rid of the attic smell. I’ve brewed some of the cheap and not very great aged oolongs in it already after rinsing it repeatedly with hot water. The first few pots of water brought out a lot of old bits of something (probably a combination of dust and dirt). Now it doesn’t smell like an attic anymore. It just smells like the aged oolong tea. I’ll perhaps try making tea with the pot in a few days and see what happens…

The winning guess was 395 NTD. I wish to make one point clear though — I do not think it is normal for a pot like this (or really, any pot) to sell at this sort of price in Taiwan. While they do obviously exist, as evidenced by my purchase, for the most part pots I’ve seen cost more than this, even small and crappy ones. Not necessarily a lot more, but definitely more. So don’t get the wrong idea 🙂

I do wonder if I should go back there and see if there’s another pot worth gambling on at that store. One or two others looked ok. I’m probably being too picky at this price. The other store also had pots, and since they weren’t lined up near the window, I couldn’t get a closer look. Maybe it’s even cheaper :p

Meanwhile, a few more pics, as requested by Toki.

Thanks for playing 🙂

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Waking up another tea

October 22, 2007 · 5 Comments

First off: A reminder of the contest going on that I posted at the bottom of this entry. There’ve been some guesses, but anybody is welcomed to join. You have about 24 hours to do so :).

Last time I tried this tea, I felt it was a bit odd. It loooked strong, but it didn’t taste the way it looked. After the encouraging results from waking up my loose leaf puerh a few days ago, I decided to revisit this sample again today.

The liquor looks more or less the same

But this time, the tea tastes better. Sweeter, smoother, less bitter, overall a better, rounder tea. I really do think that perhaps the wettish environment the past few weeks has done something good to it. It was raining (or at least threatening to rain) for at least a week or more in the interim. Then, the northerly wind came in and dried everything. Perhaps having gone through that cycle, the tea improved. Either way — I know in this case it’s not placebo, because last time I wasn’t fully enjoying this tea, but this time I am. Since water didn’t change and vessel didn’t change, the only thing that changed, I think, is the tea itself.

The tea is obviously wet stored, but it isn’t very heavily wet stored.

The leaves are quite ok and probably good for some more aging.

So there’s a definite science involving the waking up of a tea. From what I was told anyway, the process of waking up a tea involves at least moving air, and a certian amount of moisture in the moving air. Bone dry air moving through the tea doesn’t make it better (or, I suspect, carry away the nasty bits). It merely makes the tea dry, as I’ve experienced before with deliberately dried tea left out in a desert weather warehouse (the owner of the cakes was precisely trying to improve the tea — but ruined them instead without realizing it, even after the fact). Breaking a cake up will obviously improve the process, and so will, I think, spreading the tea out. However, I suppose that too much spreading out might be bad. So, at the end of the day, it depends on what the purpose is and what time frame one’s working with. To make a tea immediately good for drinking, perhaps breaking a cake apart, spread it out on a plate and putting it in a humid climate will do best. If it’s just for short to medium term (within a year or so?) drinking, then perhaps sticking them in a jar will do. Long term storage, and you don’t break it open at all.

All of these, of course, without a whole lot of practical experience to back it up other than small experiments and bits of drinking experience here and there, along with information told to me by others who are indeed more knowledgable. But I think in this case it is possible to deduce these things…

Anyway, Lew, I think this tea is not a bad buy!

Categories: Old Xanga posts

Zhenwei Hao 2007 Spring Yiwu

October 21, 2007 · Leave a Comment

Today’s tea is another sample from the Fuxing shop that I got.

This cake is made by Lu Lizhen, a Taiwanese tea maker who is one of the people behind the Zhenchunya Hao cakes. He owns a shop in Yingge, and presses his own cakes still. This cake is some sort of commemoration cake, and according to one of the people at the Fuxing shop, is basically a special order for a few people with too much money to blow. It uses good leaves and most of the cakes went straight from the factory to these people’s storage, and only very few got on the market.

As you can imagine, price for something like this is not going to be low.

I got this sample because I bought a fair amount of tea, and because the owner thought I should give it a try anyway. The dry leaves certainly look very nice — they’re big, hairy, and look robust. Let’s see how it fares in the cup.

It brews a liquor that is golden yellow

The aroma is that of a lightish Yiwu — young and impressionable, I suppose. It’s a delicate flavour that is rather subtle, and the first few infusions yields that Yiwu aroma, but not quite the qi and the thickness I would expect from a good, high priced, premium Yiwu cake. There’s virtually no roughness in the tea, and very little bitterness. It is, in fact, a little green in nature, which, as I’ve mentioned, I think is common for many 07 teas. I’m not sure why that would be the case, honestly, but I’ve found that to be a common theme for new teas this year. The tea does hit the throat though, with a solid aftertaste and a relatively long lasting throatfeel. I think the Chen Guang He Tang Spring tea from 2006 was better.

I wondered if Mr. Lu doctored the tea a little, because he is said to favour slight pre-fermentation to reduce bitterness and roughness in puerh. Supposedly, the Zhenchunya also went through a similar process. I don’t know if that’s what makes this tea a little “off” for me, comparing to other Yiwus I’ve tried. I find it overall a little lacking in character — it doesn’t quite do it for me. Something didn’t hit the spot.

The owner of the store did admit it is too expensive — she didn’t even get much of it to sell, thinking it’s too high a price to pay for new tea. Her customers mostly bought maybe one or two cakes at most, treating it more as a curiosity (because the tea isn’t too bad, after all, and the maker is famous).

I find this sort of thing to be quite common these days — high priced new cakes that are made by people with a reputation. They certainly have their reason for the price — the fame of the maker, the supposed quality of the tea, and the rarity of the production. When judged against cheaper stuff though, I don’t know if they will all hold up in, say, a blind taste test. Some, I think, will. I’ve had my share of excellent new teas from more famous makers that fully deserve the praise and price. Some others, however, are more likely to be just average tea riding on a good brand name. That, of course, is what a brand does — the brand itself has value. What I find troubling, however, is that in a market like puerh, where the producer of cakes do not have active control of raw materials (at least for many of the smaller producers) a strong cake from a brand in one year does not guarantee a good product the next year. There are also brands out there that are relatively unknown but sometimes produce good cakes anyway. I tend to favour those acquisitions, partly because they can be more reasonably priced for a tea that isn’t necessary inferior (sometimes far superior, even), but also because I enjoy the process of hunting for these things. That, in itself, has value for me. This is, after all, a hobby. The act of searching out for unknown but good cakes, the feeling of finding sometihng new, and the joy of getting my hands on some such things are all part of the enjoyment.

There’s also a business side of things — like this cake, many of these more famous, but small volume producers have sometimes pre-sold their cakes to select individuals who are basically dealers. They often hoard the cakes and then sell them very slowly, therefore limiting supply and in some ways artificially raising the price on the goods. It often mimics monopoly pricing — where each individual is charged what the market would bear (at an increasing price, of course), rather than a fixed price for everybody. You can do that when you’re the only person holding the 50 jian of tea for this particular production. Even a big factory like Menghai does this to a certain extent. From stories I’ve heard, while Menghai’s total production can be very high, they sometimes send certain productions to only certain dealers — and they control who gets what (the first line dealers have no say in what they get). So, this also creates artificial shortage in markets that didn’t get the cake (Beijing was a victim of this tactic on a few occasions when I was there last year), and thus drive up overall prices by creating an illusion of high demand. I don’t think that kind of tea is my kind of tea. Monopoly pricing is bad for you.

This cake has pretty leaves, but I don’t think I’m getting one.

Categories: Old Xanga posts