A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from January 2009

Drinking storage

January 30, 2009 · 6 Comments

I remember when I first started out drinking tea and learning about it, a very knowledgeable friend told me that puerh (by which is meant aged puerh — new tea was not in the discussion) tastes best BEGINNING with the 5th infusions. Note that we are talking the BEGINNING of the good tasting part is the fifth infusion onward, going to 10th, 15th, etc. Everything before was not very good, and in fact, the friend rinses two or three times sometimes for older tea, and throwing those away or using them to help age pots.

I think most people, having been raised on the “infuse and throw” culture, will wonder how it could be that a tea can start to taste its best on the fifth infusion. Many I know don’t even necessarily get to the fifth before giving up on a tea.

I think what happens here and what bears repeating is that in the first few infusions, what’s really going into the liquid is what can be called the “storage” taste. Different storage facilities taste different — find two loose traditionally stored puerh, say, from two different stores, and they will taste vastly different. Find two traditionally stored puerhs from the same store, and as long as they have stored both, the first few cups will taste very similar. What happens afterwards is what’s really in the tea — the true taste of the tea, not the storage.

One of the reasons why some people hate traditionally stored tea is the storage taste — it’s not going to go away no matter what you do. If you drink enough infusions though, it does weaken it sufficiently so that you can get to the tea underneath it. The taste is obviously changed, but for better tea, there will be that perfume taste that can be quite obvious in a dry stored tea but less so in a traditionally stored one, but it should still be there.

These days I’ve been drinking my puerh for two days at a time — with the second day being a contiuation of the first. I am using a larger pot with a relatively careless way of brewing them, and they are all traditionally stored, loose or broken tea. While the taste is much stronger on the first day, the second day is often much sweeter and, sometimes, has that nice, sweet quality to it that is ultimately what you’re after.

I’m not saying that that’s the only way to appreciate puerh, but I do think that to focus too much on the first few cups can be very misleading sometimes, especially when it comes to puerh that has been aging for a bit. While it is true that for dry stored tea the effect of storage might be a bit lower, it is still a mitigating factor. What other teas are stored along the cake you’re drinking, for example, will affect the way it tastes/smells the first few cups. That, in turn, can affect your impression of the tea if the first few cups take too much precedence in the taster’s mind.

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Fighting bad tea

January 27, 2009 · 3 Comments

I’ve been traveling a lot recently, which means not much time and chance to sit at home to make tea properly. When on the road, I am usually quite lazy and don’t always bring my own tea, and at any rate, circumstances often doesn’t allow me to brew tea in a good setting. Sometimes even hot water supply can be a problem. That means one thing — I buy from stores for tea to go.

That, however, has problems. Two recent experiences remind me why this is so perilous sometimes

1) Buying a cup of teabag tea which was infused with water that was not hot to the touch, but only lukewarm. I don’t know how this happened, but somehow the water that came out of the coffee brewing machine at the coffee shop delivered water that is less than hot, which means the tea was barely brewing. Only after much complaining did I get a new cup. They even claimed, initially, that that’s how warm the water is going to be and nothing was wrong. Do these people even know what tea is?

2) At another store that sells loose tea that gets thrown into a bag and then brewed. That’s usually a recipe for better tea, coming as it were from loose leaves instead of factory floor sweepings. That is, until the person decided to use so much leaves that when expanded, the bag of tea was about the same size as the cup that I bought….and this was a darjeeling. At least if it were a Taiwanese oolong or some such which expands greatly, it won’t be as much of a problem. Darjeeling, in heavy doses, is deadly. I asked for a large cup half filled with hot water, diluted the tea with basically double the volume of water, and it was STILL too bitter.

Tea education is obviously necessary. Where to start, however, is a real issue. Until then… I should remember to bring my own tea and just ask for hot water.

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New year

January 26, 2009 · 3 Comments

Well, a new year is upon us. May everybody have good tea for this year!

I spent the last day of the year of the rat drinking a sample of the Yangqing hao 2006 Yiwu that I have left from Taiwan

Using new (cup) and old (gaiwan) teaware that I almost never use, mostly because the gaiwan is quite fragile and the cup, well, is new.

The tea though, isn’t that exciting. It’s ok, but not great. I personally think stuff like Yangqing hao might actually be better fresh than they are now. Of course, maybe it’s just going through the nasty period — the first few years after harvest. Those of you who own this tea — how much of this do you have left, and what do you think of it?

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January 11, 2009 · Leave a Comment

I hate Teavana

I used to think that it’s ok, they sell tea, they are trying to promote the drink just like anybody else…. and the thinking was, the more people there are who drink tea, the better.

Now, I’m not so sure.

I happened to stop by one today in the mall, so I figured, why not, I’ll go take a look. First of all, of course, there is the extremely overpriced teapots — such as $80 ugly 16oz yixing pots that are obviously machine made and very “oriental” in a negative way. Then you have the cheap Chinese made tetsubins that are really unsuitable for anything in particular. Then you have the $30 gaiwan that is far too large and flat for real use (it’s a breakage waiting to happen). Then you have the tea…

Oh the “tea”…

They always have teas out to let you sample. I figured I’d try one. This one was what they called “Utopian Jade Oolong” with “Roobois Key Lime”. How you blend the two together, I don’t know…. but I had about half a sip of it and I nearly threw up. The stuff tasted most like a fruit syrup of some sort — there was nothing “tea” about this blend, and everything sugary about it. The flavouring is obviously some artificial crap, and is just disgusting.

I picked up their catalogue, and found that Utopian Jade Oolong is, in fact, a mix of some cheap oolong tea and red raspberries and strawberries — probably dried and sugared to the nth degree.

This is why I have a problem with them — if they’re just trying to sell good, honest tea (and there are a few things on the catalogue that might qualify — if it weren’t so overpriced) then I am perfectly fine with them. With what they have right now though, this is no more than a sugar loaded soft drink pretending to be healthy (antioxidants, “good for your health” are everywhere on the catalogue). It’s not, and it’s shameful.

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Poo poo platter

January 6, 2009 · 2 Comments

I went over to the Mandarin’s lair a few days ago to drink tea with him while I was spending some time in The City. It was a welcomed break from the stuff I was doing there. He’s got himself a nice tea room, with a lot of ware lying around. My tea room is decidedly more pedestrian and filled with all kinds of crap, which really should be cleaned out… but more on that later.

We started the session simply, with a Fengqing “high altitude” brick from the Best Tea House. The tea, from what I remembered when I tried it at the store, was strong, and this one, though mellowed a bit, still tastes of that strength. It’s probably going to be a pretty good tea given some years of aging, but right now is probably still too harsh for any sort of normal drinking, but of course, if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s a nice one.

We quickly moved on though, this time to a shuixian. As shuixians go, this one has a nice kick. We made it in a small “five shape” set pot which was perfectly sized for two person’s drinking. But that wasn’t the real highlight of the day either.

Having thus been prepared properly, we opened up the new bag of bug dropping tea that I bought in Hong Kong. This is the stuff that bugs leave behind when they are done eating the leaves of cakes, and the owner of the storage facility usually sweep these together when they open up the cakes (to break them into pieces for sale) and sell them separately. These are believed to have some medicinal value and aren’t all that cheap when considering the volume. They look more or less like sesame (Photos courtesy of Toki)

This is the way that I was taught to brew these things by the owner of the store — put them in a filter, add water, and drink. It’s quite simple. You can see the little pieces of bug droppings. Here’s a picture of the stuff, post water

And when they’re ready to drink

You can see it’s pitch black, but it’s clear (not cloudy). It’s also very thick — the consistency is almost syrupy, much thicker than normal tea. Actual consistency, of course, depends on how much you add…

The taste is actually quite fresh, in the sense that it doesn’t have a lot of random flavours. It has one clear, consistent taste of the storage that the store has — a “chen” taste, for lack of a better word. There’s a slight cooling sensation, and after a few cups, I was feeling pretty high.

These don’t last too long — four or five infusions and it’s rather spent. We then moved on to an aged cake that Toki owns, but which also has a bunch of bug dropping all over it — only this time it’s still on or around the cake/wrapper. We tried to collect some of them, and added a bit of leaves to it, and the taste is decidedly different — of course, having the leaves will change the way it tastes. Yum

Toki was still feeling pretty strong, and went on to drink most of a roasted oolong, chaozhou style. I had a little bit of it, but since I was feeling sick from the long plane ride, did not participate much. It’s obvious I’m losing my ability to absorb large amounts of tea….

Sorry for the long delays between posts these days, but I am hoping to start blogging a little more again in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

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Happy new year!

January 1, 2009 · Leave a Comment

Happy new year to everybody! I hope lots of good tea await you all in 2009.

After a relatively short 21 hours trip from Hong Kong back here (I expected 24), I am breaking out some of my recent acquisitions on this trip. The problem with visiting family, as nice as it is, is that you sometimes end up having no time at all to do the things that you want done while in places like Hong Kong and Korea. Almost all my time, especially meals, was spent with family. There’s nothing wrong with that, except it means no time to hit teashops, or very little, anyway.

I did manage to go to a few places and buy some stuff, and since getting married is a great scam for receiving free tea, I got some tea as well as part of the bargain. Among the stuff I bought

1) 600g of some wet stored pu, in the form of broken bings. Cheap reliable everyday kind of tea…. drinking it right now and enjoying it.
2) 70g of bug shit tea – entertainment value
3) 600g of some aged oolong. Not the highest quality stuff, but it’s stuff that I like, so heck….

Then there’s the requisite free tea of various sorts….
1) four tongs from a very generous friend of my parents’, two are from the late 90s and two of more recent vintage. More on that story later, although I left them in Hong Kong
2) another bing from my friend L in Beijing
3) Two small boxes of some sort of oolong
4) four tins of some British tea

I think that will all tide me over quite well for a while…. until the next trip anyway.

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