A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from May 2013

Spare your friend

May 24, 2013 · 3 Comments

As a tea drinker, a very difficult thing to get asked to do is “just buy me something good” and then get handed some money. The motivation is basically the problem – friend (or family, or whatever) is going to China/India/Japan/Taiwan, and so, the asker thinks, why not get them to buy me some tea? Tea is everywhere in those places, what could go wrong?

A lot.

The touring friend may have no interest or expertise in tea. If they are not frequent visitors to these places, then chances are they are mostly going to be in the big cities, visiting the nice sites and interesting spots. Buying tea is fun – but on their own terms. If the friend is buying tea, and is not a tea drinker, the most likely place that’s going to happen is a tourist-trap shop or the big chains like TenRen. There’s nothing particularly wrong with those places, but is probably not what the asker had in mind.

Also, for someone with no real interest or knowledge in tea, buying tea is not an easy thing, especially in East Asia. There are a zillion choices and prices are opaque. The difficulty is that the shop owners will steer the friend to what they perceive to be tourist friendly teas. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it probably isn’t what the asker had in mind.

Also, these days, there are plenty of stores that sell online from those places, and the prices are not likely to be much higher. In Hong Kong or Japan, in the proper places anyway, the prices are not going to change depend on whether or not you’re a tourist – what you see is what you’re going to get. In China, and less so Taiwan, however, prices may or may not be what you’re supposed to get – I’ve heard prices quoted that are multiples of what I paid. It’s not a friendly thing to do, but it’s what they do. The friend may actually be buying overpriced tea that you can get online for much less. Going into a teahouse can also be quite stressful. Some places have high pressure sales tactic, especially if they are in a tourist area. It’s only really fun is the owners happen to be pleasant and the friend enjoys tea. That isn’t always going to be the case.

If the asker gives a list of things to let the friend get an idea of what he wants, that’s great – but that can also be a curse. If the friend is visiting a place that they might not go back to again, every hour spent getting the tea is every hour not spent seeing/hearing/experiencing things. And, the worse thing is, what they get can be wrong. So, they spent half an afternoon at a tea market getting the tea, but turns out it’s not quite right (say, a fall tea instead of spring, or a Fenghuang shuixian instead of a Wuyi shuixian – and we’re lucky if we got that close). Or, if they got a carte blanche, they come back with a bag of nuclear green TGY that is just plain nasty to anyone who’s drank tea for a while, but is really attractive for someone totally new. What then? The friend will feel terrible, the asker feels like s/he was cheated… it’s not a good situation when that happens.

There are actually a lot of choices out there to buy tea from the source. Not all of them are equally good, but there are definitely options. The only thing that is really hard to get overseas are the top end teas, and also some of the really rare things – but those aren’t likely to be found by the friend who is just visiting for a week. The rest, well, that’s what the internet is for.

I’ve been asked before to buy tea for people, and I found it hard to do even though I actually enjoy spending a whole day in a tea market. It’s harder for people who don’t know much about tea, and who are only visiting a certain place for a short period of time. It’s not a good way for them to spend their time, unless they go often and know the place well, so spare them and let them enjoy their vacation.

Categories: Information

Saturday tasting with friends

May 12, 2013 · 1 Comment

Another tea afternoon with some friends. This Saturday was spent mostly drinking Chenyuan Hao, although not exclusively. In reverse time order (and also the order in which we drank the teas)

1) Dayi 2012 Longyin (Dragon Seal). This thing is about 800 RMB now, for a cake that is barely a year old. It’s a silly price for something that is basically a few steps above your regular run of the mill big factory productions – it’s not that great, a little smokey, and well, you can hold on to this for ten years and see what happens. At that price point there are a lot of better teas. It’s probably great if you had gotten in at, say, 200 RMB, so you can sell it now for a handsome profit. Getting it now is rather dumb, I think.

2) 2007 Chenyuan Hao Yiwu King vs 2007 Wisteria Red Label

I had high hopes for the Chenyuan Hao Yiwu, which is supposedly a pretty small run and made with good material. We compared it with Zhou Yu’s Red Label from the same year, region unknown. The result is rather surprising – it was no contest. Zhou Yu wins hands down. The Yiwu, while decent, is quite commonplace – it’s not that hard to find teas like it (CGHT, for example). Zhou Yu’s tea, on the other hand, has some “special sauce” in it.

3) Chenyuan Hao 2006 Nannuo

This tea starts out really promising, nice taste and all, but somehow drops off rather quickly into a somewhat sour and thin tea that isn’t very good at all. I inquired afterwards about its price, and turns out it’s rather cheap for a small run 2006 tea. No wonder.

4) Chenyuan Hao 2001 Yiwu

Something is really weird with this tea. I’m not sure if it’s the storage or the original material, but it’s quite disappointing – given that it’s 12 years old and from a maker that does make nice teas. If you have a cake like this, it’s a waste of 12 years.

Categories: Teas
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The retaste project 14: 2003 Menghai Early Spring Arbor Tree

May 1, 2013 · 3 Comments

Speaking of silly prices, here’s one.

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This is a tea that I have been holding on to for the past few years. Tim of the Mandarin’s Tea Room visited me, or perhaps I visited him, and somehow I ended up with half a cake of this (Tim, you want it back?). I think he wrote about this somewhere on his blog, although I can’t find it for the life of me. The tea has been consumed a number of times by the time I got it. I haven’t really tried it since.

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Relatively tight compression, but otherwise an unremarkable big factory looking cake. The Taobao price now hovers somewhere in the ballpark of 3000 RMB. Notice there are fakes out there, but either way, I doubt many are dying to buy a 3000 RMB cake without first having tasted it. In any case, it seems like none of the Taobao vendors have sold any recently.

The reason I say silly prices is because when I tried it, well, the tea’s fine. It’s got a bit of smokey notes in there. It is relatively full bodied, distinctly Menghai factory tasting, still somewhat bitter, and generally similar to many other Menghai products from around this time. They differ in degree, not in kind. Yet the prices of the teas cannot be more different. For $500 USD I can buy something like 50 250g tuos of the same year from Menghai that doesn’t taste much inferior, if at all. There is no real reason why anyone should buy this tea.

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So why do they charge such a high price for it? Well, I don’t know. I think one reason is because this is something easily identifiable, and in small supply, so people can ID it and say “oh, this is from this year”. Whereas the CNNP wrapped teas are hard to pinpoint in year and make, this is not the case here. I also suspect that somewhere along the line, someone did a speculative job with this tea – and drove the prices up. So, those who are left holding the bag are, well, still holding it. At some point I suppose it will meet the price that is being asked, but really, at 3000 RMB a cake for a 10 years old tea that is still a bit too young to drink, there really are a lot of better choices out there. I seem to remember Tim has more of these cakes. If I were him, and if these cakes can be sold back to Mainland dealers for, say, 2000 RMB a piece, I’d totally sell them and use the money to buy something else. Anyway, this one goes back to the storage and sit.

Categories: Teas
Tagged: ,