A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from May 2009

Health benefits

May 21, 2009 · 10 Comments

I’m ready to kill somebody if I see another tea website with a big section on “health benefits of tea” and why you should drink more tea.  I saw a blog post today (to which I will not link — sorry, I really have no desire to link to such rubbish) that has the title “Infusing tea could cream HIV”, makes suggestive comments about how drinking more tea is good for you, and then linked to this article.  If you read the whole thing… in fact, if you read the first two paragraphs, you’ll see that this is all about how EGCG, the polyphenol that we’ve all heard about, can aid in blocking HIV infections through vaginal intercourse from the semen to the woman’s cell.  Adding EGCG to a vaginal GEL or something similar may help slow HIV infections.  That is, of course, great news, if it works.

Except that it has NOTHING whatsoever to do with DRINKING tea.  Sorry for all the cap letters, but I’m annoyed.  Pretty soon we’re going to be hearing that drinking tea raises the dead, cures cancer, solves global warming, and lead to everlasting world peace.  The fact is that this study, from the excerpt provided in that little WebMD article anyway, has nothing to do with EGCG in your body and everything to do with EGCG acting as a chemical that helps destroy a compound that makes HIV more effective in infecting cells.  So please, stop trying to sell tea because it provides health benefits.  We drink it because it tastes great, because it’s interesting, because it’s a good conveyer of caffeine.  Sure, some people drink it for health benefits, and that’s fine.  But surely, you must be able to sell tea, good tea anyway, without having to resort to “this is good for you” and “drink this and it will make you live longer”?  Or maybe, the tea you’re selling is so terrible (or terribly overpriced), that’s the only way to sell it.  If that’s the case, I’m sorry.

Categories: Old Xanga posts

Aged oolong of unknown vintage

May 21, 2009 · 2 Comments

One of the problems with drinking aged oolong is that you never know how old the thing is.  Whereas with puerh the progression is fairly predictable, and taste can be a reflection of time passed at least down to blocks of five years, aged oolong does not afford the drinker such luxury, and can be wildly varied in taste and feel.  The culprit here is really the roasting, which changes all sorts of characteristics for the tea and can greatly affect how one perceives it.

I have been talking to some Taiwanese tea farmer who entered some aged oolong in a competition this year that were eventually rejected.  I just tried the tea yesterday, and it was somewhat light, sweet, aged, certainly, but not that aged.  The problem, he said, was that it wasn’t roasted enough, so the leaves still seem green and the judges felt it wasn’t really an “aged” taste, even though it has some years behind it (not that you would know if you didn’t know what you were looking for).  I tried another tea he sent me today,

And it’s very different.  The tea is more roasted, less fragrant, but also sweeter in a way.  The thing is, much of this is really just due to roasting, I think, and not a lot to do with the tea itself.  Instead of coming out yellow, the tea comes out a little more brown

For the uninitiated, a roasted oolong and an aged oolong might not seem all that different.  In fact, very heaviliy roasted oolong tend to taste quite similar to certain types of aged oolong.  I tend to like the lighter types — where roasting is not heavy and reroasting was not done (or done very sparingly).  I do wonder about the possibility of eventually holding on to some of these things for long term storage, but the risk of failure in this case is high.  Unlike puerh, oolongs can go bad in the form of sourness or simply dissipation of taste.  Until I find a good way to solve this problem (which entails, of course, experimenting with storage) I will just have to keep getting it from the farmers.

Categories: Old Xanga posts


May 14, 2009 · 6 Comments

As I think I’ve mentioned a few times before, I am writing a column for a tea magazine in China, especially on issues of cross-cultural tea habits.  I was thinking about writing on the topic of pumidors (puerh humidors) — a rather unique American thing, I think, especially when you are talking about elaborate setups.  I am interested in what people have done, and would appreciate if anybody can volunteer a picture or two of their creation.  Please leave a comment if you have something to share.  Thanks

Categories: Old Xanga posts

Zhizheng “Hongyue”

May 12, 2009 · 4 Comments

Through the randomness of the web I found this teashop called Zhizheng Tea. They seem to specialize in high end puerh, and claim to be a Sino-British venture of some sort.  There are some cakes listed, but with awfully little description — many of them are simply described as “pressed with high end maocha” or some variation thereof.  The pictures of the cakes look nice, although with a touch of sharpness that only really comes with too much photoshop or editing, and are not likely to reflect how they actually look in person.  I was curious what this shop is all about, and seeing that the cakes are priced far out of my reach, I opted for the relatively cheap samples.

The first thing about the samples is that they are indeed very cheap when compared with how much the cakes cost.  In fact, per gram, the samples are almost half the price of the cakes.  Of course, buying lots of samples in order to get 400g of tea is a rather perverse way of buying puerh, and may very well affect the aging process, but I suppose if one’s goal were simply to buy tea to drink now, that’s not entirely a bad way.

The samples come in these bamboo cases (you see one on their home page).  I just happened to have ordered three samples, which means I got one of these three pack pouch as pictured.  They look nice.  They’re not terribly practical, however, as tea bits do end up in the crevices of the bamboo weaving and when you try to open it after they’ve taken a long flight… you can imagine what happens.  I had a lot of tea bits on the table.

Packaging is not that important, at the end of the day.  The tea is.  I tried each of the samples once already, but I thought I should only write something about it on the second try.

Today’s tea is the Hong Yue, red moon.  There is no information about where this tea is from other than that it is maocha from 2005 that’s pressed this year.  I am guessing somewhere in Menghai county, possibly from one of those rather strong-tasting mountains.  If I have to make a guess I would say Bulang area, without making any claims about its precise location.

Now, the dry leaves don’t look all that remarkable, but then, they rarely do.  Looks, after all, are rather deceiving.

Taste, however, is not, and this tea, I can safely say, is strong.  There’s a bitter edge to the tea, only very slightly tempered by time and age.  It has lost the greenness of the young puerh, and is moving into that 5-7 years old taste profile.  The tea has body, strength, and character, and is the kind of stuff that I like to find in a younger puerh.  It also has energy, which is very nice.  The bitterness can easily turn off some of the less hardcore of puerh drinkers.  This time I made the tea a little weaker.  The taste is still strong, although not quite as punchy, but that may be a good thing.

I find it interesting how they suggest using a relatively large gaiwan, rather than a Yixing pot.  While I used to subscribe to the idea that using a gaiwan gives of more of the “true” taste of the tea, without the compounding effect of the Yixing pot, I no longer think that’s relevant.  After all, if I drink all my young puerh with the same pot anyway, then the problem of teaware affecting the tea is no longer an issue.  If a certain tea doesn’t work with my wares, well, too bad, I will just drink something else.  Besides, I think great tea will be great no matter what ware you use.

Needless to say, this isn’t much of an issue here.

The leaves are somewhat broken here, but that’s partly because of the sample effect.  They are nice and sturdy, without being tough, and has that feeling of stickiness on them.  Overall, I find this tea to be quite enjoyable.  Whether or not it is worth the price of admission is really dependent on the individual.  Personally, I find it hard to sink that amount into a cake of new tea that I don’t plan on drinking for a while, but as with all consumption, only the willing buyer pays.

Categories: Old Xanga posts

Chataku by the dozen

May 8, 2009 · 5 Comments

Well, not quite a dozen… but I’ve grown quite attached to these things, and have obviously collected some over time

They usually come in sets of five, although the one on the bottom right I only have four of.  I like the metal ones, I think they provide a nice contrast against the porcelain cups.  Another important thing though is that they’re heavier.  The wood ones I feel are too light and flimsy, as if the cup is going to tip over any time.  With a metal one I don’t feel that imminent danger.  They also serve a practical function — they help the cup dissipate the heat, which makes the tea hit drinkable temperature faster.  Otherwise, I will have to wait longer.  Of course, they also make tea cups easier to hold when hot (by me avoiding touching the cups all together) and save the surface of my wooden trays.

So all in all… a pretty addition to my set, and one I never go without these days.

Categories: Objects · Old Xanga posts

Using a gaiwan

May 5, 2009 · 7 Comments

Well, here it is — a silly little video on how to use a gaiwan and a few ideas on what works and what doesn’t.  It’s pretty basic.  For most of you, it’s probably useless.  I just thought that given all the stuff out there on Youtube — mostly with extremely elaborate procedures and all that, it really isn’t that instructive for those who aren’t into the performative side of things.

Let’s see if this works….

Categories: Information · Old Xanga posts · Videos
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Yixing vs gaiwan

May 2, 2009 · 14 Comments

First of all — the result of the last little question is in, and trentk, you should email me (marshaln at gmail).  Chaozhou, yixing, tokoname indeed — or some other variation of Japanese clay pot.

Now, yesterday was a nice day, so we had tea outside, with tea mistress in training handling the brewing duties

It was a good session, drinking some old Wenshan baozhong that I traded a little Japanese bizen teapot for.  This is somewhat roasty, but not too roasty stuff.  Nice aged taste.

Now, today, after dinner, we had the same thing, but I used a gaiwan.

I haven’t touched my gaiwans for a long time, other than to occasionally brew something very casually using that large sipping gaiwan.  I thought I would make a video about using gaiwans — boiling it down to the basics, using as simple a process as possible.  So, I figured I need a little practice.

Hmmm, boy did I forget how teas taste with gaiwan.  No wonder I haven’t used one in ages — it just doesn’t work, at least not with teas like this.  I am not sure what exactly it is that makes it taste different — there are, after all, a lot of variables involved, but I can say pretty confidently that when I had the first cup, it tasted flat and lacking any depth.  I was not happy with what resulted.

So why use a gaiwan?  Simple, convenient, and functional.  As easy teaware goes, it doesn’t get much better than a gaiwan.  As good tasting tea goes, however, I think a pot will beat a gaiwan any day.

Categories: Objects · Old Xanga posts
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