A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from July 2008

The last tea…

July 26, 2008 · 14 Comments

Before I get married…. shared with some friends and family.

See you all on the other side 🙂

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Independent teashops

July 23, 2008 · 2 Comments

I find it amazing that independent teashops survive in this country. This is not a friendly place for tea, and for the most part people drink crappy bagged tea. I’ve always wanted to take some pictures of the tea section in a lovely place like a bad supermarket in the midwest…. it really gives you a good idea of what people are imbibing.

That makes it all the more pleasant when you go to a place that at least tries to provide a nice experience drinking tea in a shop, despite all the extra hurdles that they have to go through to get off the ground running. There’s something philosophically attrative about an independent store that survives despite the onslaught of the Starbucks of the world. I guess they’re the modern equivilent of homestead farmers who make it despite the tough conditions of the frontier and establish a foothold in a hostile land (occupied by its rightful owners, at least on this continent).

I went to a place called Tea Chai Te yesterday while having to do some waiting around, and spent a good hour there just sitting and sipping tea while reading a not very good book about green tea. I wonder how independent shops gather the 100 or so teas they offer — I suppose it’s from wholesalers of various ilk, and sometimes directly sourced from whoever it is that sells such things. I ordered the Wuyi Oolong, usually one of the safer choices out there (no varietal specified). The tea was brewed for me and came as liquid only in a Chinese made small tetsubin, enameled lined and all. I suspect it was made in an infuser basket. I got a drinking cup too — some fairly large red glazed thing, which was fairly pretty, although the tetsubin and the cup’s colour meant that I couldn’t judge the tea. The tea was all right — I think the water makes it better here, and there was some throatiness to it. They also served other more esoteric things, including a few puerh, although most of those are mini-tuos that I wouldn’t dare try.

Still, if only they have such stores everywhere I go — unfortunately, that’s not the case here, and in most cities you’d be hard pressed to find even one or two such things. Oh well, at least, I think, things are starting to change.

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Aging cakes

July 21, 2008 · 2 Comments

I’m in Portland now, getting ready for the upcoming festivities… so don’t expect much update in the next week or so 🙂

However, there are always observations to be made.  As Walt just pointed out in his comment to my last entry, cakes change — and they are always changing.  I bought a cake of the 2002 Mengku for my cousin a while ago when I was still in Beijing, and now it’s been here for…. 2 years or so.  What I’ve noticed, when I tried it yesterday, it’s much sweeter and mellower than when I got it — less bitter, and more fragrant.  I think the climate here works fairly well for aging puerh — a dry season in the summer, and a wet season during winter.  The wet season here is wet enough so that the cakes are sufficiently moist, and then dries out a bit during the hotter months.  In fact, I suspect the whole Pacific Northwest works fairly well, probably.

I wonder how my cakes in Hong Kong are doing.

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Haiwan Meng Pasha

July 19, 2008 · 3 Comments

Haven’t done this for a while

This came through the mail from a friend. It’s still on sale, apparently, but quite a bit higher than I remember it used to cost.

The cake got a little beat up on the way here in the mail — some parts of the cake was pulverized.

The tea…. is a fairly standard one. There’s quite literally nothing too remarkable about it, but nothing bad about it either. It’s one of those reliable, clean tasting cakes. It did go for quite a while and hasn’t weakened too much after many infusions.

There was an initial floral note early on — in the first few cups it was quite obvious. I think I would’ve liked to see a little more punch to the tea, but it was relatively speaking a little subdued. Then again, nothing’s wrong with that.

Obviously I haven’t done this for a while.

Now I suppose this, too, will go into the “wait” pile and see what happens to it five, ten, or twenty years from now. Maybe leaving it out in the crazy thunderstorm outside will help speed up the aging.

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Collective wisdom

July 17, 2008 · 15 Comments

As we all know, many brains is better than one when it comes to solving problems…. so I need your help 🙂

Along with the broken pot, I bought another one that turned out has a bit of a crack on the outside (didn’t see it because, well, it was covered in dirt). That’s not the real issue though.

Looks nice enough

Until you see the inside

And this is AFTER cleaning it with BLEACH. You don’t want to know what it looked like before — imagine a white covered interior that feels like it is caked on for ages. I have no idea what it is, or how it is so stubborn. I’ve already removed most of it, although you can see how it still has that brown base that makes the whole bottom sort of spotty looking.

How do I clean this thing?

I’ve heard you can use citric acid to melt things away like this, but I’ve never tried it. Aside from that…. what else can I do? I mean, I’m not sure if this pot is really that usable, since it is cracked (although it does not leak — cracking is only on the outside, strangely enough). Either way though, I’d like to at least have it be clean….

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All look same

July 16, 2008 · 3 Comments

Mr. Lochan sent me quite a few samples. I only went through two. Today I thought I’d pick up the third one.

One thing about Darjeelings, at least first flush, high grade darjeelings, is that they all look sort of the same

Which really makes me think… can the average buyer of darjeeling tell them apart, if tasted blind — especially with English brewing methods? This is a good tea, with all the right notes for a darjeeling. However, I can’t quite remember how this might or might not be different from the other ones I’ve had so far. Perhaps they’re from the same estate, so the taste is only minimally different — since there are no names, I can’t tell for sure. Or, maybe because I’m brewing it in an approximation of English style…. the differences aren’t as obvious. I wonder if I should switch to a small pot to make these things.

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Border tea

July 15, 2008 · 5 Comments

Lew of the ever expanding Babelcarp kindly gave me this sample when I was in New York

The tea is from Taipei — a store that I actually visited once or twice, and then through a friend of his came into his possession. When I first saw it and smelled and looked, I told Lew that I think it’s a “border tea”, which generally means non-Yunnan tea made into some sort of puerh. On the back of the bag it says Yiwu Maocha, but every maocha out there is Yiwu….

The reason I said it’s border tea is because it smelled like it, and it also looked like it — long, wiry, thin stems with that twisted look. Yunnan tea generally looks a little fatter and shorter. I have a cake of this stuff, and also some various assortment of loose tea that are almost certainly border tea — most likely of Vietnamese origin. They also have this distinctive smell — it’s best described as somewhat spicy, and after trying a number of these things, quite common.

They also tend to brew dark

And they look dark when wet

The taste is usually of the same spicy note you’ll smell, and tend to be a little thin in terms of body. Mind you, they’re hardly bad — I’d drink this anytime. They’re just not Yunnan in origin, and is often passed off as higher grade stuff, which it decidedly isn’t. The most famous border tea that is easily obtainable is probably the 1980s or 1990s Hongtaichang, which you might see quite often. They have a squarish neifei with about four columns of words and usually no wrapper. I’ve seen them sold at various places, including M3T in Paris and shops in Taiwan, as genuine Yunnan puerh with the price to boot. If you find them in places that sell them for what they are, they are fairly cheap (under $50 a cake). For a 1980s or 1990s tea, it’s not bad…

Thank you, Lew, for the nice sample. I tend to like these mellow, easy to drink things. It’s less stressful to make than younger or harsher teas.

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A new pot of sorts

July 14, 2008 · 2 Comments

A new little thing came in the mail a few days ago

The owner of the pot clearly loved it very much, and used it very, very heavily

And so it took some damage over the years

But because of repeated use — it has the nicest patina I’ve seen in a while

Too bad it is broken… and has a hole in it to boot.

I’m not sure what I will do with it. I got it because it looked like really nice clay, and I wanted a reference pot — something to compare others against, and also, perhaps, something to experiment on. There are simply too many conflicting theories out there on zhuni, what it is, what it isn’t, etc. I think I now have some idea of it should be, but the variation out there makes it hard to say with certainty whether a pot is or isn’t real zhuni, especially, of course, if you only see a picture of it. In some ways, buying a broken pot might be the best bet of getting the real deal.

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Location, location, location

July 13, 2008 · 2 Comments

Storage is important, I think that’s a point that has been hammered home many, many times by now by a wide variety of people, on or offline.

How important is it, exactly?

I went to the City today, and in the afternoon met up with a few tea friends at The Tea Gallery. Among the teas we had was a side to side comparison of a cake that Michael, the proprietor of the place, that are of the same batch. Except — although it was one batch of tea, some stayed in Hong Kong for an extra three years while the others he brought with him three years earlier to New York.

While we brewed it a little too heavily, so it was rather difficult to swallow, it did, in some ways, accentuate the differences between the two teas. It was immediately obvious that the New York cake brewed a lighter colour, and the leaves of that cake is also of a greener hue, while the Hong Kong one is darker overall. The Hong Kong cake tastes a bit older, especially if you drink it side by side with the New York one, and less green — it has something extra. The three years definitely made an impact.

What was rather interesting was that the last cup, Michael mixed the two — and the tea was actually more interesting, although, it was also weaker, and having endured a number of rather bitter cups, maybe it just wasn’t as strong? I’m sure he’ll be brewing it tomorrow (because the leaves are hardly spent), and I might hear about it again.

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Wedding favours

July 11, 2008 · 5 Comments

Tea seems to be getting more popular as a wedding favour these days. It makes sense — it can come in small quantities and nicely presented. I recently went to a wedding in LA where the favour was two of those flowering jasmine balls. They’re pretty (thought usually not very tasty) and suits the purpose pretty well. I’ve also heard of people giving out those individualized teabags, usually one of those fancy pyramid shaped ones, as a favour.

My original idea for my own favour was to make a gaiwan for everybody — ordering them from China direct, since I have the friends who know people who make gaiwans. But it was getting too costly, especially with the risk of breakage in shipping, etc etc, so that was dumped as an idea. So I turned to Adagio, who offer sample sized tins with bags as favours. Ok…. but why are they all “vanilla”, “strawberry”, “licorice” flavoured teas??

I guess part of the problem is cost — favours are supposed to be cheap, I guess, but I can’t stand the idea of giving my guests such swill…

So after some discussion with the sales rep, who told me that for many teas they can’t do the number of favours I need, it seems like Yunnan gold is one of the ones that seems accpetable. I ordered one to try, and this is it — looks fairly ok, methinks. The tea is not too bad itself — quite smooth, mellow, nothing too exciting, but Yunnan gold isn’t really supposed to be exciting. I originally wanted to do a Keemun, as I think they are better teas, but alas, they don’t have enough of it, and I don’t trust oolongs or greens from them. To be fair though, I’ve never ordered from them before, so I don’t know for sure, but I tend to think that for things like this which might go to people who never otherwise drink loose leaf tea, giving them something too exotic can possibly provoke a bad reaction in one form or another — think people who might dump the whole sample into a pot and brew it five minutes. In fact, I wonder if I should make a note to make sure people don’t do that…

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