A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from May 2010

Less is (sometimes) more

May 28, 2010 · Leave a Comment

If you’ve been following this blog you’d know that I drink tea only once a day.  Once, of course, is a bit of a misnomer, as it involves multiple infusions and can go on for a while.  I’ve been trying to reduce my caffeine intake a little these days by not using as much leaves as I have been in the recent past.  It’s always a dangerous thing to start adding more leaves to your tea — there’s a tendency that I’ve observed among teaheads that the amount of leaves used/water tilts towards leaves, rather than water.  I think this is biologically rooted — more caffeine.

I have been “rediscovering” some of my usual teas this way.  I am particularly fond of an aged siji oolong of mine, which actually brews better with less leaves (but not too little — when it becomes bland) than too much.  If the pot is stuff too full with leaves, the tea gets a bit bitter and sour, whereas with just the right amount it is fragrant, sweet, and fresh (in an aged way, of course).  I almost forgot why I loved the tea so much that I am now sitting on a few kg of it.  The same can sometimes be said of some younger puerh as well, which tend to be more fragrant and less punchy when brewed lightly.  Then there are other things that require sufficient amounts of leaves to really shine — a yancha, for example.  It’s a fine balance, and finding that right balance is part of the fun.

Now, of course, if only lowered dosage of caffeine won’t lead to caffeine headaches, but that’s a different problem entirely.

Categories: Information · Old Xanga posts

~10 years old Dingxing puerh

May 24, 2010 · 16 Comments

I made an order recently through Taobao, and one of the cakes I got was this

A tea made by “Dingxing”, a long defunct tea maker from early this century.  Like many others at the time, some manufacturer saw it fit to use these old school names when making their own puerh.  There’s no clear vintage for this tea — I’m guessing around 10 years or thereabouts, plus or minus a few.  In some ways, that matters less than what it tastes like — as storage condition matter greatly, and as anyone can tell you, 10 years in Kunming is not the same as 10 years in Hong Kong.

You can see the paper is slightly worn and probably devoured by some bugs.  There are no obvious bugs in the cake, but there’s that smell of a wet storage room.  The cake itself isn’t really frosted

I didn’t use too much leaves.  The first two infusions there’s a distinct smell of wet storage, but in a slightly bad way.  The cake can use a little time to air out before another attempt.  The wet storage, however, goes away a bit, and what remains after the first few infusions is a nice, somewhat aged cup of tea.  It’s sweet, although some bitterness remain if you brew it longer.  Perfume smells.

And the wet leaves tell the rest of the story.

There are lots of duds on taobao, and I’ve bought a few.  This one is not too bad though.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Whitedog whisk(e)y and young raw puerh

May 19, 2010 · 2 Comments

The New York Times recently ran an article on the appearance recently of white dog whisky on the market.  It seems like some hardcore fans of whisky think this is a sacrilege — that maturation is what makes a whisky whisky (after all, they’re not allowed to call it that, at least not the scotch variety), I started thinking about our little favourite here, puerh.

After all, there are parallels here.  We talk about aging puerh as an essential process that makes a puerh, well, puerh.  It’s not pu if it’s not aged, or so some will argue.  Others, usually newer school drinkers, will contest that young, raw puerh is still puerh — it’s just not aged.  I think the parallel here with a white dog whisky is quite apt, and in some ways, much more so than wine.  A young wine, while it is not quite the same as an aged wine from the same vineyard, will share many resemblances with its older counterpart, whereas there are fundamental and crucial differences between a new make spirit and matured whisky, to the point where a newcomer to the drink will not even recognize them as being the same thing, sans 10 years difference in the cask (said drinker will probably think it’s just some really nasty vodka).

Puerh, I think, belongs to the latter category — no one of their right mind would think that a 15 years old puerh is the same thing as a new born cake.  They look different, taste different, and even feel different.  The aging process is crucial, and with that, where and how it was aged are also extremely important.  I just bought a few things from Taobao, and tried the first of these cakes today — a Kunming stored Yiwu from 2003.  It was not very inspiring, and leaves me with a lot of question marks.  I know, however, that Kunming is not a particularly good place to store tea for the long haul, and I think I should probably avoid buying Kunming stored tea from now on if at all possible.  If I want a new, fresh puerh, I can drink that, but in the end, I find the aged variety much more enjoyable.  Some would argue that drinking the unaged cakes will educate you about their future and what the baseline taste of puerh is, but I find that to be a bit of a red-herring — the taste of the tea changes so much over just even a few years of proper storage that it becomes almost unrecognizable.  Which is why, again and again, I think only mouthfeel and body ultimately matters in the evaluation of younger puerh.

Categories: Information · Old Xanga posts
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White clay?

May 17, 2010 · 7 Comments

A new acquisition

The pot is rather small, with a diameter about the same as a regular camera lens.  It’s also got an interesting look on the clay — feels almost liquid, rather than sandy.

I still need to clean it, but I already love the colour of the pot.

Categories: Objects · Old Xanga posts
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1998 CNNP “Green Wrapper” brick

May 16, 2010 · Leave a Comment

This is a long, long forgotten sample from YSLLC that I obtained at least a year ago, if not more.  It’s no longer available, as far as I can tell.  The thing is a brick, so the leaves are, predictably, chopped to high heavens.  The general rule of thumb, at least until the past few years, is that anything other than cakes and you’re going to get chopped up leaves.  In fact, you’d be better off with tuos than you are with bricks.  Bricks is usually a good guarantee for really, really broken stuff.

The tea is interesting — it is aged somewhat, but since it was probably stuck in Kunming, the aging is not very great.  The tea is sour, at least in the middle infusions.  Strength is low.  There wasn’t much to the tea and what it had, it delivered pretty quickly.  There’s a reason bricks are not a good investment and why my friends in Hong Kong avoid them.

It’s not horrid — if you can get past the sourness — but it’s not something you’d really rejoice in drinking either.  There are better teas out there that are younger but more rewarding.  This is not a good example of a 12 years old tea.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
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Chlorine in water

May 12, 2010 · 4 Comments

The water here is heavily chlorinated.  Apparently, my town gets its water supply from wells, and in addition to being heavy on minerals, the processing of the water happens pretty close to where I live, and when I go to a restaurant  that serves unfiltered tap water, it comes out as bitter and nasty.  There is a very unpleasant taste to it, in addition to the chlorine that you can feel in the water that gives it a heavy, metallic taste.

Once filtered, the water comes out much better, at the very least it loses some of that nasty edge to the water.  The difference is not obvious to me, day in, day out, since I never drink the water unfiltered (so the only time I notice it is when I have to go somewhere and drink the tap water).  The thing is, when I tried to make tea for my class last semester, the students were able to pick up on the bitterness in one of the tea.  Knowing that tea, it has nothing to do with the tea itself — it’s the water that’s making the tea taste sharp and bitter.

BBB recently talked about assumptions about new tea drinkers.  The thing that we tend to assume is that younger drinkers like the more floral, lighter stuff.  In fact, I’ve been treated that way before by many tea sellers who assume that of me as well.  The fact of the matter is very often a newcomer to tea can have a better handle on what stands out as the dominant taste/characteristics of a tea.  If it’s bitter, they’ll tell you it’s bitter.

I always think it’s important to show newer drinkers of tea the difference in taste that different water can have.  Considering there are only two ingredients in making tea, there are few things more important than that.  As I’ve said before, changing your water is often the best, fastest, and cheapest way to improve your tea.

Categories: Information · Old Xanga posts

Puerhshop 2008 Fall Meiguo Hao Nannuo

May 5, 2010 · 1 Comment

Puerhshop’s Jim came out with the “Meiguo Hao”, or “American Hao”, a few years ago.  I’ve had this cake for over a year now, but have yet to open it for a tasting.  I did just that this week, twice, in fact.

The cake I bought was the 802 production, from fall 2008, and is of the 200g variety.  Not much decoration on the wrapper on this one, one of the earliest runs for his cakes.  His newer products have fancier packaging.

There’s a sticker on the back too keeping the wrapper together with a nice stars and stripes, and a serial number for the cake.  BBB reviewed this cake a while ago, and seemed to have liked it.  It’s important to note that “Half Slope Old Village” is banpo laozhai — the same place where the Sanhetang maocha came from.

I’ll tell you what I don’t like though — when you open the wrapper, the sticker is too strong.  It tears the paper apart even though I unwrapped it fairly carefully, ensuring that I can’t wrap the cake back properly without losing some tea or messing it up.

Blah blah blah cures cancer blah blah 10,000,000 years old tree blah blah will be worth a zillion dollars…… made by “Menghai Nannuo Mountain Banpo Zhai Old Tea Factory”.  No, it doesn’t actually say it cures cancer, it does say it’s from trees that are 500-800 years old or above, at elevations between 1250-2000m.  Take it for what it’s worth.

The leaves look nice enough, nothing too old, nothing with too much stem.  The cake is not terribly tightly compressed, and a few stabs with a tuocha pick does the job pretty well.

Enough with physical appearances.  How’s the tea?

Good.  Compared to the Sanhetang stuff, this actually tastes like puerh, although it retains its regionality and you can get that Nannuo taste from it (of which, I might add, I’m generally not a fan).  The tea is not too bitter, but it has that bitter note to it, especially when I brewed it a little stronger the second time around.  It’s a little on the thin side though, perhaps a product of it being a fall tea, and so it lacks a little of that fullness that I look to find in good, young puerh.  Given the price, however, one can hardly complain.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas