A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from April 2010

Sanhetang Banpo Laozhai maocha

April 28, 2010 · 3 Comments

This is the stuff that, long time ago, Hou De used to carry.  It’s a nannuo area maocha, supposedly leftover from production.  Guang was quite fond of giving them away as an extra, and I got my share when I bought a few small things from him.

It’s been at least three years since I last drank it.  I can’t quite find my notes from Beijing, but here’s something from 2006.  Funny enough, I remember this tea quite well, because I’ve had it a few times now, and interestingly enough, every time I’ve had it, it tastes the same.  Fragrant, straw colour, tastes more like an oolong than a puerh, and even though it’s been a good four years since I first got it — my impression of the tea is almost exactly the same.  No real change going on here.

This compares with some of the other maocha I bought since then, for example one I got from Beijing, which has aged some since my purchase in 2006 and in fact provides a good study in comparative change.  I’ve always suspected these Nannuo maocha from Sanhetang were processed badly — killed green, which means it won’t age.  The leaves, as I’m staring at them right now, are bright green.  I don’t think it’s a good puerh candidate for aging.

At least this is the last I’ll see of it — it’s the final bits in my bag.  So long, Banpo laozhai.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Four teas

April 18, 2010 · 4 Comments

If you look carefully, there are four teas here.  From left to right

1) My 2003 Bulang that I love a lot.  This tea is mostly buds — very small leaves, young, and fresh.  I think the reason why the tea is so punchy in terms of caffeine is because of the heavy proportion of buds in the leaves.  You can probably tell from the wet leaves that they are small, especially in comparison to….

2) A 2005 Manzhuan which is no longer available anywhere, not even Taobao.  I like Manzhuan teas.  Large leafed, but not old.  Very few “woody” stems in the cake, which is supposedly a good thing.  I like this cake a lot, and I think aging wise, it has real potential.  I can’t say that about…

3) A 12 Gentlemen Jinggu from 2006.  I’ve never liked Jinggu teas, thinking that they are poor candidates for aging, and this basically confirms that suspicion — the tea was thin, bland, and gave me a stomach ache for some reason.  It didn’t go down well at all, and I dumped it after a few infusions.  12 Gentlemen’s makers got some publicity back when they first started in 2006, and although I was never impressed enough with them to buy anything (other than a few samples, of which this is one) their other offerings were at least better than this.  There’s probably a reason why, after the explosion of young puerh a few years ago, you no longer see Jinggu teas showing up very much these days.

4) The last is a sample from Lew of babelcarp that I have kept for a few years now.  It’s from the 101 Plantation (not sure if they still sell tea).  The tea was quite expensive back then.  I used the remaining sample, and am happy to report that the tea is actually holding up quite well.  It’s got good body and flavour, and should continue to evolve over time.  Lew, how are the cakes doing?

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Old vs new

April 14, 2010 · 6 Comments

Over the course of the past few years, I have grown increasingly skeptical of the idea that people used to keep tea around for a long time before they drink it.  I think generally speaking, we have a somewhat romantic notion, no doubt encouraged by many tea vendors, that aging your own tea is a good idea.  This is partly because puerh, as we know it, does age well, and partly because of this impulse to collect, that we now have a bit of a culture of “buy now, drink later” when it comes to tea, specifically with puerh.

However, I have yet to find anything definitive in historical texts that says anything remotely similar to what we consider a “buy and hold” strategy.  Yunnan puerh, when sold, seems to be new, or at least almost new.  At most they were a year or so old when they reach their final destination.  Oolongs and greens were definitely not kept around for the sake of aging them; you may keep them because you can’t finish them, or because they’re quite precious and therefore not worth drinking all in one go, but I have yet to find anybody writing anything along the lines of “I am deliberately aging this tea so that it will taste better x years down the road”.

This obviously does not mean that aging was not done; I’m sure it happened.  However, I think much of the aging was accidental, either because it was unsold stock, or because it was forgotten.  When I went to the “candy store” in Taipei and others like it, they were, mostly, selling teas that have been sitting around not because they were aged, but because they were not sold.  Sure, some collector somewhere might have been sitting on a few bags of tea to age deliberately, but that is almost always strictly for personal consumption.

One of the problems of storing your own tea is that you now take on the risk of spoilage.  As some of us know very well, this can easily happen even with the best intentions and precaution.  For those who live in places such as Los Angeles, the risk might be dryness.  For those in wetter climates, the problem can be moisture.  Either way, there is a lot of risk in storing tea long term, and I’m not entirely sure if it’s a good idea to do so.

If storage was never an option for tea drinkers, then is there a reason to do it now?  Sure there is.  Some of us like the way teas taste when they get older, so we store them, hoping that at least some of our tea will turn out well.  Others prefer them young, and that’s fine too, so long as your stomach can handle a steady diet of young puerh.  I guess what I want to say, though, is that the notion of storing tea as the “traditional” way of doing things is not really true.  At least, it’s not something for which I have found any reliable, written evidence.

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“Yiwu” cakes and “Qing” pots

April 11, 2010 · 6 Comments

I find that there are two things that the web will never run out of — puerh cakes purporting to be of Yiwu origin, and yixing pots that are supposedly Qing dynasty.

Let’s just pause for a moment to think — how likely is it that there will be an endless supply of such things on the web?

Take Yiwu tea for example.  I remember in 2006, every cake out there claims to be Yiwu.  Of course, if you’re selling young puerh, you want your tea to be from Yiwu — it’s the most famous of the mountains, and for the most part people have no way of telling if you’re lying or not.  So, you slap the words “Yiwu” on a cake and voila, it’s Yiwu, and you can sell it for 10x what you could if you call it Jiangcheng.  Add words such as “old tree” “wild” and the names of a few villages, instead of just “Yiwu”, and it seems more authentic.  Now you can sell it for 20x the original price.  Never mind that the amount of tea out there that claims to be Yiwu probably outnumber the amount of tea that the whole Xishuangbanna county produced in a year.  It hasn’t stopped people from doing it.  In the last few years producers have gotten more, well, inventive in their claims.  “Yiwu impressions” and that kind of name are now more common.  Consumers have caught on, and so the game has to change for the sellers to stay ahead.

More recently, we seem to be seeing the same thing with Yixing pots that claim to be Qing, at least in the English language world.  Somehow, everybody has a Qing pot to sell, often for the bargain basement price of under $1000.  Many of these so called “Qing” pots are suspect at best, frauds at worst.  A walk around Taiwan or a search online can yield many similar looking pots for a fraction of the price, none claiming to be Qing, and to think that such things can be had for the price on offer, well, I have a whole bunch of Qing pots to sell to you for $500.  When an authentic piece of work can go for thousands in the place where it came from, why would anyone sell it for hundreds online?

Unfortunately I find the tea business to be full of such sorts of schemes and half-truths.  Somehow, there’s always a supply of buyers ready to jump in for things like this.  Be careful out there; tea “masters” abound who are only too happy to take your money from you.

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Better brewed in paper

April 9, 2010 · 1 Comment

These days I’m on the road a lot, and that means that I have to be expedient — can’t brew properly when I’m in a car driving, after all.  Paper cup + leaves is often the way to go, with refills on the way for hot water and hopefully, the water isn’t tainted by coffee, as it very often is.

What I’ve found sometimes though is that some teas are actually better brewed in a cup, grandpa style (it seems like this term is now in much wider circulation than I thought possible), than actually trying to make it in a smaller pot, etc.  Young puerh, especially, seems good for this treatment.  Whereas the tea may be very bitter and somewhat acidic when brewed intensely in a small pot, in a larger cup with a higher water to tea ratio, it actually can come out pleasant, with a nice but not overwhelming sense of bitterness, and the young tea’s acidity is not overpowering to the point where you wonder if you’re drinking drain cleaners.

Of course, there are tricks to the trade too.  You can’t drink it all before you refill — that’s disaster, because the next cup will be insipid, boring, and tasteless.  You are often better off drinking water at that point.  Also, you need a tea that can stand up to the sometimes coffee tainted water, so that if there’s that extra hint of java in there, you won’t notice it all too much.  A wonderful green can be destroyed if you add those kind of water in your cup.  I recommend a youngish (but changing) puerh or a roasty oolong.

The source of water is also important.  Some kinds of establishments are better than others vis-a-vis their water.  If you try to get water from a gas station, you’re pretty much doomed.  Starbucks is actually not a bad place, and they always give it to you for free.  Some places are stingy, like Dunkin Donuts, and want money from you for the water, which often tastes like coffee anyway.  I find it wasteful sometimes, but I will usually ask for a cup of hot water, rather than handing them my tea-filled cup — they are less resistant to giving you water that way, and at any rate, my “leaves floating in brown water” cup often leaves people wondering if I’m trying to do a science experiment.  Just like how kids no longer understand how meat comes from livestock, to a lot of people tea is that brown stuff you find in teabags, not whole leaves.

Time to go driving again, and today I’m drinking some of this.

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