A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from March 2012

Priced for gifting

March 31, 2012 · 15 Comments

Lew Perin, maintainer of Babelcarp and, I think, longtime reader of this blog, asked me a few weeks ago about a curious cake he saw on Taobao. His question was basically “does anyone actually buy these things? And are they that stupid?”. The cake in question, in case you’re wondering, is currently priced at 3888 RMB (although at the time I think it was 9999, if member serves). The tea is supposedly Youle mountain tea, produced in 2005, so maybe 7 years old or so. If we believe all of that, and if it’s truly old tree tea, the value of this cake maybe 1000 or so, but who knows. There are, after all, no pictures on the wrapper.

There are catches though, of course. The first is that this cake has slight religious meaning – it’s “made by Longchang Hao, produced by the Shaolin temple”. Yes, that Shaolin temple (which also explains the yellowness). What’s better, I found a cake that is similar, only with the signature of the abbot of the Shaolin temple, and this one was selling for 99999 RMB.

Back to Lew’s original question – why do these things exist, and who’s buying them?

I think the simple answer is – gift, gift, and gift. Basically, these things exist as gifts for the high and mighty of the Chinese bureaucracy and business world. Now, this cake is a little “special” because of its religious meaning, perhaps, but one doesn’t need to look very far or hard on Taobao to find similarly priced cakes that aren’t made by the Shaolin temple. Basically, these things are used as gifts to grease the wheels of business. The way it used to work, of course, was through gifts of cash. That ship, however, has sailed. Nowadays, gifts of cash are often refused, because it’s too obvious and hard to hide. Conspicuous gifts of luxury are often not that impressive for the official who already has all the latest watches and bags. So, enter tea and other rare things.

A friend in Dongguan recently described it to me like this – these days, those looking for gifts don’t just want anything expensive. After all, they can buy it themselves. These days, they want something unique, something that other people don’t have. Roughly following Bourdieu’s ideas of taste and cultural capital, in a society where an increasing number of people can afford Louis Vuitton bags and BMWs, it is important for those in the upper crust to find something that keeps them apart from the rest of the pack – something to distinguish themselves. Gifts of a rare, hard to find, and impossible to procure nature will easily do that.

So, in terms of tea, what we’re seeing these days is exactly a reproduction of this type of dynamic, driven by the demand of a market that is increasingly segmented into different layers. These days, even older teas such as Red Label are not that hard to find, if you have the money. Buying things like this is only a matter of wealth, maybe coupled with a few connections that help you find the “real” ones instead of the fakes. But if you have the ability to splash out 100k RMB, you can find something of that calibre without too much difficulty.

However, it is difficult to find certain kinds of things, such as, say, true current year first flush Lao Banzhang from old trees. Such teas, given the limited amount that is produced, tend to be secured long in advance by the powerful, and sent up as gifts to those even higher up. You can easily imagine, for example, of how a local administrator in Xishuangbanna looking for a promotion might use his pull to make sure the village head of Lao Banzhang saves him 10kg of these teas. He keeps maybe a little bit for himself, and then sends the rest up to people in the provincial party hierarchy, or maybe even in the national bureaucracy. The best tea, in other words, never see the market at all. The ones that see the market end up commanding high prices. Even if they’re not really worth all that much, their supposed rarity help the perceived value of these teas. In fact, they become Veblen goods and the gift-giver only needs to point out that “this tea costs 10000 RMB on the open market” and all of a sudden, everyone understands that this was a substantial gift. This explains why jinjunmei, an otherwise decent but utterly unremarkable black tea, was selling for something like 20k RMB per 500g.

Shops like the ones I visited in Dongguan are also, I think, largely driven by the gift market and the connoisseur market. They are related, but not identical. The shop owner was, according to the shop keeper anyway, a factory owner who was relatively successful. Having cashed out of his business, he turned to tea, but I think his business acumen still remains. He knows, for example, that in a city like Dongguan where there are many businesses vying for contracts as well as needing to make things run smoothly, there is an acute demand for gifts that help things moving. It was no surprise that in the area near where my hotel was, there were lots and lots of tea and alcohol shops selling high end tea as well as high end French cognac. These things are prized by the middle managers and that type of thing, so again, creates a market for this type of good.

My friend L in Beijing told me that his shop once received an order for 100 cakes of cooked puerh, each worth maybe 50 RMB. He was told to get the nicest looking packaging possible for the tea, and then deliver the goods to the client. The client then resold the teas in his upscale store for 10x the amount, no doubt ending up in people’s homes as gifts and told that these are nice aged puerh. My parents sometimes get things like that from friends visiting, and they are almost always very mediocre (or worse) cakes that I wouldn’t even want to try.

So if you visit major Chinese cities and pass by teashops near your hotel and are floored by the crazy pricetags you see, it’s not because the Chinese love their tea so much that prices are insane, but because they need to show the gift-receiver that they paid good money for such things. Skip those stores and head to the wholesale market instead.

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Tuition pots

March 27, 2012 · 5 Comments

Everyone love posting about things that they bought, especially when they are interesting, a bargain, or great in some way. I’m guilty of the same, but I also think that some of your lesser purchases, especially wrong purchases, are at least as instructive as the great ones. After all, if you don’t know what’s bad, you can’t tell what’s good. One who only drinks 30 years aged puerh cannot know what is great about it until they’ve tried faked 30 years aged puerh.

So in that spirit, I present you a few duds that I have purchased over the years. These are generally failed gambles on eBay and other such sites. For everyone that is a win, there is at least one that is not.


These three pots, I think, represent three types of fake pots that you can find. Now, a general rule of thumb – the point of faking a pot is to either make it look old, or to make it look like a famous maker made it. Here, I am mostly concerned with the first type, because the second type is everywhere, and even seasoned collectors I know cannot tell the difference – a perfectly made pot bearing the perfect replica of a famous master’s seal is going to be pretty difficult to tell. A yixing dealer in Taipei told me that she can sort of tell, but all kinds of funny business happens to make the whole process rather haphazard. Old masters might disavow earlier works (either to prop up the value of newer works, or because they don’t like the old ones) and brothers, cousins, and what not often borrow the famous maker’s seals and even clay to create their own pots, but sold under the famous maker’s name. That type of forgery is not what I’m talking about here.

The first I want to talk about is the metal looking thing. First, a closeup



Now, this is trying to pretend like it’s a pewter-wrapped teapot. Those things have clay on the inside and a layer of pewter on the outside, with calligraphy and painting carved into the body of the pewter, which is soft and easy to work. The real McCoy costs at least a few hundred USD, at a minimum, and have nephrite jade handles and spouts. In other words, great if you can fake it right.

These things, however, are not that. Instead, what they are, as far as I can tell, are plastic handle and spouts that, from a distance (especially in a picture) are difficult to tell apart from a jade. Also, the body’s metallic sheen is probably from a thin layer of aluminium foil, wrapped around the clay body of the pot. One key difference is that the bottom of the faked pots generally display naked clay, whereas the bottom of the real pewter pots have a layer of pewter at the base of the pot.


Also, you can see that the “carving” is not really on the “metal” but is rather wrapped under it, at least if you look carefully. I did a casual search on eBay and I found at least three or four of these, some of which have bids from buyers who, I’d imagine, are falling for the trick.

The second type here is the famous, or infamous, shoe polish pot. They don’t necessarily have to be shoe polish. It can, in fact, be anything, as long as it’s black and oily. The point of the shoe polish is to make the pot look dark and old and used. Except that old, used pots that are dirty don’t look like that. They look like this.

One of the most obvious signs of shoe polish is when you see black streaks. Notice that over the body of the pot, the black is not even, and that they appear streaky when examined closely.


Also, if you can examine it in person, you’ll feel that the surface of the pot is somewhat sticky. That’s a sure sign of something else other than natural dirt. It also is impervious to bleaching, as I tried yesterday to test it out.Organic compounds left behind by natural tea drinking will wash away very easily when you bleach the pot.

Also, if you can see the interior, you’ll see obvious problems.


That’s right, the pot is pristine inside, while super black outside. Nuff said. This particular pot seems to have been made with some kind of clay on a wheel, as you can see evidence of it having been thrown on some pottery wheel. The clay is much lighter in colour than yixing clay – probably shantou or some such. Somebody even bothered to put a seal at the bottom of the pot, which, of course, is pointless. Funny enough, the seal is sideways.


The last I want to show you is sort of the reverse of the above. In this case, the interior of the pot has been deliberately dirtied-up to make it look old. The surface of the pot has this weird white stain that won’t come off. Inside, you can see residue of some yellow gunk, something that looks like dirt, and some remnants of what might be tea leaves. It smells funny too.


The pot is also ginormous, and is completely useless. It comes with the fake seal of Gu Jingzhou, one of the greatest yixing masters of the 20th century.


Pots like this one are ALL OVER eBay. Don’t even try buying them. I can imagine if this pot were to have no surface issues and clean inside, it might actually fetch an ok price – not exactly masters price, as 99% of the Gu Jingzhou on the market are fakes, but it’ll at least be, possibly, a usable pot. Now, it’s just a worthless piece of junk.

This is the last problem with tuition pots – not only did they cost you money (not too much in any of these cases, thankfully), they also eat up space, and become a sort of albatross. I can’t give it away, or sell it. I suppose you could give it to places like Goodwill, although even that seems rather evil. You could just throw it away, which I’ve thought about doing. Right now, I’m considering using them as practice pieces for gluing – I need to repair something, and to get the best results, I should probably practice how to glue things together first. Breaking these apart, then gluing them up, might be the best use these pots have seen since their creation.

Categories: Objects
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Made during the Ming

March 23, 2012 · 1 Comment


“Made during the Ming, a pair of hat-lidded teapots, treasured items”. These are not my words – they’re the words of Sato Kian, who was a mid 19th century artist in Japan and whose inscription graces the front of this box and whose signature and seal are on the back.


Inside are two little things that are most interesting.


Things like this can be a little hard to use, and I haven’t quite given it any thought what I’ll do with them. The “hat-lidded” reference sort of makes sense – the lids are on top of the pot, much like a hat, rather than fitting completely over an opening or some such. They have “overhangs” that go over the top and wrap around the body, and the spout is a very cute, classic three point spout.


Are they really Ming? I can’t say for sure. Are they old? Yes. They’re not going to be as functional as, say, a new shuiping that you can find easily in a store and pours flawlessly, but as you’ve heard many times before, I like these quirky pots. These are no different.

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2003 Menghai 7542

March 20, 2012 · 12 Comments

I went tea shopping this past Saturday, hitting a few of the old, venerable teashops in the Sheung Wan area of Hong Kong. Sheung Wan used to be where the Chinese section of the city began, and to this day it is an area that is best known for Chinese medicine and dried seafood stores. Among them are a number of older teashops that have survived the test of time, some having been around for decades or more. They are, in some ways, the best places to shop for tea in Hong Kong, because it is here that you can find real, Hong Kong style tea. Visitors to the city may have a little more trouble navigating these places, but they are, by and large, friendly establishments and you’ll find things here that are not available anywhere else – whether it be Taiwan, China, or overseas.

One of the teas I picked up is a 2003 Menghai 7542. It was cheap, and at least at the tasting I had at the store, it was good. I thought I’ll give it a spin and bought one.





The tea is traditionally stored, but only lightly.  There’s no obvious evidence of mold or anything along those lines, and smells only faintly of the storage. You can see the surface of the tea is changing colour to a greyish brown. It looks a few years older than the Yiwu girl puerh, for example, but it probably should anyway. The tea, once I chipped off a chunk, is very choppy. Early 2000s Menghai (or any factory, for that matter) tend to have fairly uneven quality control, and some cakes can be quite high in chopped up leaves. This is one of them.


I christened my newly acquired shuiping with this tea, and after two infusions, you see this darkish brown liquor that is the hallmark of a traditionally stored tea. The tea is still somewhat bitter, but is already exhibiting sweetness and a pleasant taste. It is slightly sour, as they often are at this sort of age, but I think it has started to round that corner and is yielding more pleasant tastes than not. Compared with the traditionally stored Lao Tongzhi, for example, this tea is not only better stored, but also better, period.

The tea was sold with no wrapper. Their sample cake had the regular CNNP wrapper, and I am wondering if I can get more wrappers from them for the purpose of storing these things. Otherwise, it can become a bit of a pain, because I don’t want my tea wrapped in plastic (even though it’s loosely, non-airtight at all plastic).

PhotobucketAs you can see, the tea is all chop. It didn’t stop the tea from brewing many infusions without losing too much power, however, so it bodes well for the future. It’s time to stock up again, if I can make more space for it.

Categories: Teas
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The retaste project 10: 2006 Fall Yiwu girl Gaoshanzhai

March 16, 2012 · 4 Comments

Not long after I started this blog I went to Beijing for a year of research for my doctoral dissertation. When I wasn’t in the archives or trying to do research, I was probably spending time thinking about, drinking, or buying tea. For the first half of the year I was there, I was obsessing over a slightly long saga of trying to get a tong of cakes from a shopkeeping girl in a shop that I chanced upon randomly. Long story short, she was, apparently, sort of side-dealing for the tea in question, and when I returned a week later, I was told that I couldn’t buy it anymore. I eventually got a cake, and after trying it out for weeks, finally bought a tong of it, seven cakes in all. It was the most trouble I went to in order to obtain some tea cakes. It was also the first real big purchase I ever did in terms of buying tea, and it was special, because this wasn’t (and isn’t) a tea you can just buy on the market. Because of that, this tong of tea has always occupied a somewhat special place in my tea collection.

I haven’t tried this tea at all since 2007, and the memory of it is hazy. I just remember it being very good – a nice throatiness, good qi, thick taste, nice fragrance. I checked on the tea a few times in the intervening years, but never tasted it. Recently, while talking to Tea Urchin about swapping some samples of teas, he must’ve gone through my entire archive and found this cake. I told him if it’s any good, I’ll send him some. Well, to find out if it’s any good, still, I need to try it, so here I am.

First of all, although lighting conditions are obviously different, this tea has darkened. The tips are now all a golden yellow, rather than white. The leaves are shiny and oily, and there are even more stems than I remember. That was one of the big question marks I had with this tea – there was a liberal amount of stems in the tea, almost abnormally high. I wondered how they’d age over time.



Using my trusty pot, I brewed some.


The result, I’m happy to report, is very satisfactory. The coolness at the throat is still very obvious – more than I remembered. The taste is still quite full and thick. The tea has obviously changed, and it’s hard to say it’s better or worse than before, but it is definitely different. It also lasts a long time – 3 kettles of water later, I was still getting something out of it, although it was merely sweet water by that point. All in all, I’m very happy with its progress, but I’m not going to drink it again, not any time soon. Back into the tong it goes, and maybe I’ll wait another five years before trying it again.


In the meantime, I wonder what happened to that girl who sold me the tea. She was training to work in one of these teahouses in Beijing, but I never heard from her since, and we sort of lost touch. I hope her family’s still making tea in Gaoshanzhai.

Categories: Teas
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Don’t be hasty

March 13, 2012 · 3 Comments

There’s been quite a few responses on my last post, some focusing on the problem of “too dry storage” and how to fix it. I think it is important to keep in mind that although I said you can’t quite make “traditional storage” at home, you can easily grow mold at home, if you have the right conditions and aren’t paying attention. For example, look at this experiment that went horribly wrong.

There are lots of variable that go into aging and proper levels of moisture, etc, that makes it difficult to pinpoint what is a good condition and what is not. In that post, Tuochatea mentioned that the Jingyehao teas were not molded. That’s interesting, but may also be explained by the fact that the cakes were more compressed than the other ones. He also put some Xizihao in there, which tend to be loosely compressed, hairy teas, which are much more likely to attract and retain moisture than your run of the mill cakes. Put some Xiaguan iron cakes in there, and it’s quite likely that the mold damage would have been very light, or none at all.

If you go about changing your storage condition, especially if you try to accelerate aging by adding moisture artificially, or putting the tea in a place with naturally high moisture, it is quite important to be able to check on the tea every so often to make sure it’s going ok. If it’s an environment where human beings normally move about comfortably, then there probably won’t be much of a problem. On the other hand, if it’s in a shed or some such, or, as I’ve read once on a Chinese blog somewhere, moved outdoors onto someone’s balcony, then you’re playing with fire and can very easily ruin a whole bunch of tea in very little time, especially if you don’t catch the mold growing on a few leaves. Also, the natural rhythm of the seasons is said to be beneficial for tea aging – that the tea will “breath” moisture in and out as the climate changes. A constantly high humidity environment doesn’t allow the tea to do that.

So just because I told you to learn to stop worrying and love the moisture, I am most definitely not telling anyone to just buy two humidifiers and start pumping water into your room 24 hours a day. If you do that in, say, Phoenix Arizona, that’s probably fine, since it’s so dry there. If you try that in coastal Maine, it might not be such a bright idea and may very well end in tears.

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Ideas of proper puerh storage

March 9, 2012 · 39 Comments

A few people recently pointed me to a blog post on McIntosh Tea serving as a “how-to” guide to storage for puerh. I think it is always good to have more discussion on this topic, and very often people have little idea of what to do for teas in general, and puerh in particular. However, I also believe it is very essential to have good, accurate information, and when things pop up online or elsewhere that seem to be misinformed, it can easily mislead people in the wrong direction. Alas, I think there are a number of problems in this post that need to be questioned.

The premise of the post is that Mr. McIntosh is trying to build a tea storage for his budding business as well as personal collection, which is a great reason to figure out a good way to store your tea. However, after talking to “tea wholesalers, retailers, collectors and experts in the field”, the solution he came up with is more or less the same as a lot of what others have built that are affectionately called “pumidors”. Basically – a closet, or an enclosed space, with a water source that provides some additional humidity in the environment. So far, so logical.

This is where the problems start. There are logistical issues, such as having a wet towel constantly on a plaster wall being VERY likely to induce mildew in that particular area of the wall (and thus more likely to infect the tea stored in the same space). The entire post is built on a foundation that is really rather shaky, namely that of focusing overly much on relative humidity and not enough on anything else.

The most important of these factors is temperature. Relative humidity of 70% in a 25C environment is very different from the same relative humidity in a 15C environment. The former is conducive to tea aging, the latter is not, because it’s too cold. Aging tea requires humidity and temperature, neither of which can be too low. Ignoring temperature from the equation is basically like telling people to store wine correctly on a rack in a damp environment, while forgetting to mention it needs to be kept cool. You can end up with vinegar that way.

Also, the relative humidity number used in the post is itself rather problematic. How did he come up with 50-65% as the optimal range for such storage? I can’t quite figure it out, and would appreciate if he would elaborate. After all, Kunming, which is well known as a place with relatively dry storage condition for puerh, has humidity that fluctuates between 60-80% throughout the year. 50-65% is considerably lower, and if you believe anything Cloud says, he would think that’s too low for the right conditions for aging good puerh tea, and 20-30C being a good range of temperature.

This choice of super-low relative humidity is probably explained by McIntosh’s self-professed dislike of “wet-stored tea”, but as I have made clear many times before, “traditional storage” is not the same thing as “wet storage”. You cannot replicate traditional storage at home, even if you try and pump up humidity and temperature. What you’ll get instead is some nasty tasting, mold covered tea, but the richness and the flavours that at least some find alluring in traditionally stored teas will be missing. For that, you need large volume, expert control, and the proper environment for it. You won’t get that at home, even if you try, unless your home also happens to have a more or less air-tight basement with literally tonnes of tea and 30C+ temperature.

What you can achieve with McIntosh’s setup, however, is storage that is far too dry. They can seriously damage the tea, and yield horrible results. Quite a few Kunming stored tea that I have tried that have been there since the early 2000s have similar problems, but the desert treatment that I’ve tasted takes the cake in terms of dryness damage. Not all Kunming teas are terribly stored, but many are. The worst is when they’re exposed to high levels of ventilation and dry air – it sucks the moisture out of the tea and will never change into anything decent.

What people forget, I think, is that when the term “dry storage” first appeared, it referred to teas such as the 88 Qing, which was stored naturally (i.e. without traditional ground storage treatment) in Hong Kong in an industrial building. There’s no dehumidifiers, no air conditioning, and only minimal air circulation. Mr. Chan only opened the windows on drier days, but given that in Hong Kong, most of the year the relative humidity is over 80%, when you say “drier days” it’s still quite wet by the standards of many places, and way wetter than the 65% upper limit that McIntosh has proposed, not to mention quite a bit warmer as well. And even then, the 88 Qing was, until maybe about ten years ago, still very young tasting and not particularly nice. It’s only in the past ten years when it really turned into something more fragrant and drinkable. That’s storage under Hong Kong, natural conditions. Under low temperature, low humidity conditions, it would’ve taken considerably longer.

Paragraphs like the following are particularly misleading:

“There are times when I have received a new shipment and have wanted to jump-start the microfloral growth after its been sitting on a boat for a few months covered in bubble-wrap, so I will bring the humidity up to 70% for a short period to speed up the fermentation process. I only will do this for abut a week, since if left longer there is a chance that mildew could form. Personally, I do not enjoy wet-stored tea, so I avoid high-humidity storage.”

Pumping up humidity for a week to 70% for a tea will do absolutely nothing in terms of long term aging, especially if the temperature stays at something like 20C, which is typical of a heated home in the US. I have a cake that I’ve been leaving out in the open for about three months now because it was stuck in some plastic wrap for a long period of time. Relative humidity has been around 95%-98% for the past two weeks with temperature fluctuating between 18-25C, and the cake has exhibited no evidence of any mold or any other abnormal growth. The fact of the matter is, unless you put your tea right next to an open window for weeks when it’s raining nonstop and temperature is hitting 25C or higher, the ability of your tea to grow mold is not exactly high. I’m not saying it’s not possible, but relative humidity of 70 or even 80% is pretty safe unless it’s getting quite hot outside. Overdoing it on the low end, on the other hand, can basically stall any and all aging and will result in teas that change very little over time.

I think what needs to be rectified is the confusion of different terms, and substituting “traditional” for “wet” and “natural” for “dry is a good place to start. There also needs to be a recognition that many of the old teas that we consider great by the tea community at large are, for the most part anyway, stored under conditions that might be considered “wet” in some circles but which are actually what should be just called “natural”. To “Keep your investment safe”, as McIntosh puts it at the very beginning of his post, there needs to be growth in the value of the investment itself, and not just preservation of the status quo or even a decrease in its value. Aging doesn’t happen without temperature and humidity, and so trying to keep humidity down in a temperate environment is almost counterproductive in terms of trying to get good, aged tea ten years down the road. What you might end up with is a lot of wasted time and teas that aren’t particularly good or aged. Regretting the lost ten years will cost considerably more than regretting the money you spent on the tea.

I should hasten to say that I have had and liked many teas that have been naturally stored – I am, by no means, a traditional-only type of tea drinker. In fact, most of the cakes I have are natural storage only since I purchased them, or even since when they were produced. I do, however, find much fault with the idea that’s sometimes propagated on the internet that natural = dryness. Even my friends in Beijing, who a few years ago were very wary of traditionally stored teas, are now trying very hard to find ways to add humidity to their storage precisely because they now recognize that the natural environment in Beijing tends to produce poorly stored teas (dryness + coldness). To speed things up, they’d add water in bags in closed plastic boxes in order to produce something better. Even that doesn’t produce mold. The worry, therefore, is really about dryness, not wetness. It’s easy to spot tea that is starting to grow mold and even easier to rectify such a problem – just reduce humidity and temperature, and you’re good. The cake I found growing mold in Taiwan has had no problem since – it’s aging just fine, even though it had a little bit of growth for a short period. Spotting teas that are stored too-dry and hasn’t been changing much is considerably harder, and the only thing that can fix that is time and effort. If you are drinking your tea regularly, chances are you’ll spot the mold long before it festers into anything serious. That’s how I learned to stop worrying and love the moisture.

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Sample from Guafengzhai

March 6, 2012 · 4 Comments

Yiwu has lots of villages, and probably more than anywhere else, every puerh lover these days are pretty intimate with Yiwu geography. The villages closer to Yiwu town include things like Luoshuidong, Mahei, and Daxishu. Then you have Gaoshan zhai to the northwest towards Manzhuan, which includes villages like Xiangming. To the northeast, though, are relatively newer places like Zhangjiawan, Dingjiazhai, and right up against the Laos border to the East of Yiwu is Guafengzhai. These are some of the hottest places in the Yiwu area these days, ever since they became known as “good” places to find tea of real quality, mostly because villages like Mahei and Luoshuidong are, in my opinion anyway, quite inferior and not very good usually. The further you go, it seems, the more likely you’re going to hit relatively virgin patches of tea trees, although these days they’re all harvested to the hilt.

This is really the opposite of things like wine, where the famous regions are quite often the ones that seem to produce the most. I think this has a lot to do with the belief that old tree teas are better, therefore the supply of such things are, by definition, limited and confined to a small area. This then drive up prices, and eventually it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.


I do like my good Yiwu though, and some of the best are indeed the ones that are labeled as old trees. The above is a sample from Guafengzhai I got from the same store in Dongguan that sold me the Jingmai. They only had a few cakes left, and I didn’t want to buy anything that I haven’t tried, so I asked for a sample and the shopkeeper gladly gave this chunk to me. It’s hard to show such things, but even just looking at the whole cake, you can tell this is good, well made tea.


One of the things that takes a while to get when trying these old tree teas is that they are subtle – very often, they don’t give you any “bang” whatsoever. Instead, the bang can be very soft, at least initially. There’s no overwhelming bitterness nor obvious, high fragrance. It does, however, fill your mouth with something, and that something should stick with you for a long time. This tea, for example, gives my throat a cooling sensation after I swallow, but before that, it really doesn’t seem all that remarkable. After you drink a few cups, however, you do feel that it has qi, which is in fact quite strong and obvious.

I remember trying really hard to figure out during 2006/2007 what were the ways to really identify old tree teas. There were various theories, and at that time everyone was trying to do the same thing. I think I can now say, with some confidence, that most of the teas that come out hitting you hard in some way or another is not an old tree tea. I’m not saying weak, mellow ones are, but the ones that stimulate your tongue or mouth strongly probably aren’t.


I didn’t use that much leaves for this sample, and the tea lasted about two kettles before turning into sweet water. The leaves are soft, well rolled, with stems that are flexible and not woody. I do like a good Yiwu indeed, especially a spring tea, and I think I need to go buy more of this.

Categories: Teas

Thoughts on tea blogging, 2012 edition

March 1, 2012 · 22 Comments

The last time I explicitly wrote about blogging about tea, it was more than four and half years (!!!) ago. The post, which is still on the hibernating Cha Dao blog, talked with enthusiasm about how tea blogging is like a “constant tea meeting” which enables us to share our experiences, exchange views, and in general meet like-minded people who are interested in the same thing you are. It was a pretty optimistic post, and the youthful exuberance is obvious.

The whole blogging scene has changed much since then. I think among all the blogs from the time when that post was written, and not counting blogs associated with vendors that try to sell things (either physical goods, or advertisements) only the ever diligent Hobbes remains. Lew’s Babelcarp is still an essential resource for those who haven’t fully mastered the mysteries of the Chinese language. Of course, Bearsblog is around, but it wasn’t there in that form when I last wrote about blogging. BBB’s previous project, the Puerh Community, has basically died, due in no small part, I think, to the fact that livejournal is not the most friendly place to conduct such business anymore. Mike Petro’s Puerh.net has been dormant for many years, and I think we have lost hope for its return. There have also been many personal blogs have were around at the time, or about to spring up. Many, in the intervening years, have died. Others, too numerous to name, have sprung up, although even some newcomers are already showing signs of slowing down, often the first hints of death for any blog. It’s not really a surprise that they come and go – tea blogging takes time, effort, and money. It’s no wonder that after a while, people give it up. Heck, even this blog was relatively dormant for stretches of time, especially when I was trying to finish my dissertation. Of course, many, if not all, of these people are probably still drinking tea. Some blogs, after all, do show signs of life once in a while.

Of course, the overall sum of things on the internet about tea has grown, not shrunk. Among blogs, of the few surviving ones from when I first wrote about this topic, most have turned into vendors of some sort. Stephane was already around back then, and is still selling tea and teaware from Taiwan today. Toki now has his own online store, and a physical presence as well in New York City. Gongfugirl is, from what I understand, a co-owner of Phoenix Tea. Imen still runs her TeaHabitat from the web. There are others, of course, but then we start to veer off from Chinese tea, and the universe gets bigger all of a sudden.

Then there are vendor blogs, which are too numerous to name. Those without a blog or something similar back then have often now included one, in order to provide better, in depth information for the customers. Teachat still exists as a good beginner type forum for all sorts of things, and it’s to Adagio‘s credit that they run it at arm’s length, so that people can talk about other vendors, teas, and what not on there freely (the software, however, can really use an update). Twitter, of course, is a great leap forward in this regard, and enables many to send out timely information and updates to thousands of people directly. I also discovered that it’s a good way to let people know about new postings on this blog, and increasingly traffic comes from Twitter feeds, not more traditional channels.

There are also social networks of sorts that have sprung up that are specific to tea, although personally I have not found them to be most interesting or rewarding. I know of Steepster and Ratetea, but neither seem particularly suited to the task of categorizing loose tea and even then, meaningful reviews are rarely shorter than an average posting on the Half Dipper, haikus notwithstanding. The “constant tea meeting”, I think, needs to be conducted in the long form, and a short, snippet view of tea just doesn’t work that well when describing the nuances of the fourth steep of a Menghai 2005 7542.

On some level, this reflects a general trend in the online world – blogs are now very specialized things, generally speaking. Those who used to use blogs for personal reasons have migrated to twitter, or to places like Tumblr. In fact, I think Tumblr might work very well as a kind of continuation of the tea exchanges that I originally thought we’re doing online.

Of course, in real life, groups like the LATA and others are still thriving, and without all these online communities of one sort or another, I don’t think many of these groups would ever have been possible. I, for one, have met dozens of tea friends entirely because they read my blog, and we happen to be in the same place. Some of these exchanges are very enlightening, and I have learned much from them. It’s worth it, in the end, to keep this up, both in treasure and time. If others reading it feel it’s worth something to them, well, I suppose that’s why they keep reading.

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