A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries tagged as ‘cooked puerh’

Reading tea leaves

December 15, 2006 · 2 Comments

Today I drank the pieces I broke off yesterday from the cheap brick that I got in Hong Kong:

The pieces in question:

I realize that now that I have a scale … I am actually using less leaves. I never realized that sometimes I was putting upwards of 10g in my teapots/gaiwans. I ended up with about 7g of tea in my puerh pot.

Anyway, so I brewed it, but this time without the two long washes that I subjected it to last few times I made this tea. I originally did it because I was worried about my health (the tea looks a little nasty, with little white bugs on it). Now that I’ve been airing them out for close to 4 months here in this rather dry weather (I’ve kept it out of the tea closet, figuring this is better to get rid of the off taste/smell), I feel more confident with the tea.

This time the off taste is basically gone. Whereas the first infusion when I first tried it was a slightly odd, and uncomfortable, aroma of something sort of medicinal, now it is a more orthodox “somewhat aged” puerh taste. There’s still something off about it though… but the tea goes down smoothly and nicely enough. It’s very soothing for the throat… doesn’t feel dry at all, and there’s a sense of coolness that I like that extends down the throat. This is mainly the reason why I bought the tea to begin with.

Looking at the leaves… I think I am learning a little more about the particular variety of tastes in this tea

Look at them…. tell me what’s wrong

Some closeups

Basically…. I think the tea is a raw/cooked mix. The picture of the pile of stuff in a corner are the big, beefy leaves that look like this when unfurled

And then you have the other stuff… skinny, black, dried up looking things, that disintegrate when touched. I don’t think it’s bad storage, but rather, I think it’s just cooked puerh. This might explain the slightly odd mix of tastes. There’s that nice sweet, mellow, smooth nature of cooked puerh in the back, coupled with the punch of the raw. The cooling sensation produced by this tea cannot be a product of cooked stuff. The leaves also are not, mostly, cooked leaves. There are, however, a scattering of the black pieces that fall apart when I try to unfold them. If the tea is uniformly like that, then I’d say it’s probably bad storage, but it’s not… some of the leaves are incredibly green (as you can see) and a lot of it are brown…. I think it’s just a mix.

It might also be the case that this tea is recompresed maocha mixed in with cooked puerh. The bad thing is that this is probably done to cheat people (i.e. saying this is well aged tea). The raw leaves have some years, as most of them are some shade of brown. But it’s not all old… but then, maybe the stuff that are more green are the ones in the middle of this very tightly compressed brick, and thus having had less aging done to them?

I really don’t know, and it’s a bit of a mystery — a mystery that I can’t pinpoint for certain beyond what I’ve just said. However, I enjoy drinking it, and I think it will get better with age. After all, one of the favourite puerhs I’ve tasted… the Zhongcha Simplified Character from YP, is a cooked/raw mix. That one is very good……

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
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Cooked!!! puerh

December 5, 2006 · 2 Comments

I thought about using my new teaset to do a tasting that I’ve been thinking about for a while, but I decided to wait, because I want to try my new cooked puerh first.

Cooked puerh, for those who are not familiar with the genre, is basically a form of processed puerh, and is generally considered the opposite of raw puerh. Raw puerh is essentially compressed, sun dried Yunnan tea, processed only with a few steps, namely picking, frying, rolling, and then drying (under the sun, ideally). Then you steam the tea and compress it, and you get something that looks like this:

(This, by the way, is a tea I have yet to write about on my blog and is the first candidate for the two-gaiwan tasting)

Which will then age over time into a browner, looser version of the same tea. The fermentation that occurs takes place on its own, and you just have to wait and keep it away from nasty smells and extra dampness (but too dry is no good either). So raw puerh is, really, quite simple. If you know how to pick tea, fry it, and press it, you’re basically in business. There are subtle points of interest and technique in this, of course, and a misstep can cause the tea to be less desirable, but on the whole, the level of technology is quite low.

Cooked puerh, on the other hand, involves something extra — a manually triggered/encouraged fermentation process before the compression into cakes/tuos/bricks. Basically what happens is you have leaves that are left in big piles, with water sprayed on, temperature turned up, etc (I’m not sure exactly how it’s done, and I suspect different factories have different specifications as well, down to the size of each “pile”, the depth, the temperature, the amount of water, etc). As you can imagine, a lot of wet leaves in a pile…. will lead to decomposition. That’s sort of what happens, and the tea basically ages very quickly into something that tastes very, very roughly approximately like aged puerh (but really, not the same at all). This process was developed in the early 70s, so cooked puerh hasn’t been around for that long, relatively speaking. It provides a kind of tea that is easy to drink now. On the other hand, aging potential is much more limited, as the leaves are exhausted of materials that can be aged into something else. Some factories, like Menghai, are famous for their cooked stuff. They have done it for so long that they know exactly what they’re doing, and will mix and match different grades and different levels of fermentation to bring together a cake that is complex, interesting, and tasty. Newer factories tend to have more problems with the cooked stuff. Shuangjiang Mengku, for example, kept making cooked puerh that’s sour (I haven’t tried enough to judge). They have upgraded their facilities, brought in water from far away (with a new pipe guiding water from miles and miles away, apparently) etc, trying to make their cooked pu taste good. It’s big business.

I usually don’t like cooked puerh (in case that’s not obvious by now). It’s usually thick, but with a flat taste, sometimes unpleasant aromas, little aftertaste, etc. I don’t feel too comfortable after drinking it. Yesterday’s purchase, however, is one of a very few exceptions that I’ve encountered. I liked it at the store, so I bought one, figuring that 1kg of tea will last me a long time.

A closeup of the brick reveals what looks like something you can find in your yard on an autumn day, after some rain and a few days of rotting:

I broke a corner of the brick, which includes this mysterious looking thing…. the big black round thing in the middle. I don’t know what it is. There’s also a human hair you can’t see here, but you didn’t need to know that.

Infusion 2, looking a little intimidating:

Less intimidating in the fairness cup:

How does it taste? Thick, silky smooth, sweet, aromatic…. without the ricey or the pondy taste that I don’t like in cooked. After some infusions you can feel a bit of the cooling effect on the throat, something that happens sometimes with cooked puerh, but only usually with the better stuff. No sourness, which is a big no no. The owner of the store claims this is aged a bit, and I think i agree. It doesn’t taste like those fresh off the factory floor cooked, which are generally a little harsher and a little uglier in taste. Instead, it’s mellowed out a bit, and quite comfortable to drink on a very cold winter day.

The leaves of this brick are also quite large, more so than your normal cooked puerh (but not unheard of)

I unfurled some leaves that came unfolded easily… still retaining some flexibility and texture

And then there’s the really black, charcoal like stuff. The thing on the left is the black round thing, which I broke into half. There are two seeds in there. The colour of the inside is reddish. I still don’t know what I drank.

Not the most appetizing images, when you think about it…. but it tastes quite decent, and I don’t mind drinking it, which is more than what I can say for most cooked puerh….

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Gaiwan purchase

December 4, 2006 · 2 Comments

I went back to Maliandao today, mainly to get this

Two sets of idential teaware, tiny gaiwans with cups that are big enough to take one infusion. This is so that I can conduct taste tests of two things against each other without overdosing myself on tea. Ideally, I should also have an electronic scale, but I didn’t get one today :(. It’s good enough anyway…. for now. I also got the puerh knife on the right. I never had one.

Then I stopped at a puerh store, and got stuck there.

The owner is quite a character, a Northeast China guy who went to Yunnan some years ago (probably got sent there during the Cultural Revolution) and stayed there for quite a while, and started dabbling in the tea business more than a decade ago, so he claims. A chain smoker who probably goes through at least two packs a day, he was pretty excited to have someone to babble to, i.e. me, and I stayed there for something like three hours.

When I walked in, there were already two customers there. They bought 1200 RMB worth of goods (two cooked bricks, and two raw cakes), which will come out to…. something like 300 RMB a piece. I honestly don’t think any of those things are worth that much. They got screwed, especially on the raw cakes which are worth at best 100 RMB a piece. But these are the people keeping all the businesses on Maliandao alive, I suppose.

The raw cake they had, I also tried ,and I thought it was not very good. It claims to be Yiwu, but it can’t be. I then tried another much better looking (and tasting) cake, but it’s also not pure Yiwu. I didn’t even ask for a quote — it’s not bad, but not that great. I can find much better stuff, so why bother with this?

The cooked brick, however…. is quite interesting. I ended up with one at home. I think I paid a little too much, but it’s 1kg, and per gram, it’s very cheap for what it’s worth. Since I never buy cooked puerh, I think it says something about this brick 🙂

It’s got none of the nasty cooked taste. Instead, the taste is an overwhelmingly sweet, mellow, and with a dry date aroma that I really liked. I figured it’s not a bad thing to drink when I feel like something more mellow. It looks quite nasty in appearance, but what the heck…..

So that was my afternoon at Maliandao. I didn’t even make it to one store that I wanted to go. Oh well, there’s always next time.

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A random tea trip

November 26, 2006 · Leave a Comment

(Warning: long)

I received an invitation over Sanzui last night from a tea friend (let’s call him W) whom I shopped at Maliandao with a few weeks ago to drink tea at his friend’s teashop and then go back to his place. I figured what the heck, might as well, so I went. I know he has a big stash of tea, so I wanted to see it. He is also serving a bit as the puerh advisor to his friend’s teahouse, where he goes and shops for stuff that he finds appealing, and then goes with his friends to do the buying.

We first went to his friend’s teashop, which is in a building that houses mostly stores for art and paintings and calligraphy (and paraphrenalia), as well as a few teashops. They’ve called themselves, at least at that corner, the “West Side Tea City”. It’s a bit further from my house than Maliandao, but there’s a nice little operation going on, with 5-6 teashops on the second floor of this mall-like-thing. We went into an enclosed space within his friend’s shop where he stocks his higher priced yixings, and started tasting stuff.

The first up is a Nanzhao cake, I think 2004.

This is made by the order from Feitai, a tea company from Taiwan. W likes their teas, apparently, and bought lots of them over the last few years. Feitai just opened a store recently in Maliandao, but their wholesale prices (W buys by the jian) is even HIGHER than some other stores on Maliandao selling the same stuff. Go figure.

The Nanzhao cake is….. well, like a regular Xiaguan puerh type taste. Bitter, astringent, a bit rough. Bitter is the most obvious taste. Much of the flavours/aromas/feelings stay on the first 2/3 of the tongue, and the back of your mouth gets nothing… I can’t feel much of anything at all, sweet, bitter, or minty, in the back. This is plantation tea par excellence. There’s supposed to be Banzhang leaves mixed in it, but my friend said after going through the wet leaves very thorougly before, he found maybe a 1:20 ratio of Banzhang:other stuff.

Nothing really interesting. Overpriced to boot. Why do people drink this stuff? It’s so overpressed I can’t imagine it aging quickly or well at all without some years devoted to it. In fact, in a dry climate like Beijing…. I honestly don’t know what will happen to something like this.

Then we started on a cooked puerh. This is a 2003 (?) mini cake of Golden Needle White Lotus from Menghai. There’s no wrapper — just the tea. The wrapper is a white cotton paper.

Price is almost the same as the Nanzhao. Daylight robbery.

This is the wet leaves

Cooked puerh is cooked puerh. I don’t usually put much stock in it, and this one is the same. Why drink cooked puerh when you can drink a nice roasted oolong?

Then we tried ANOTHER cooked puerh. I didn’t really feel like it, but since I am the guest, I didn’t want to say too much. I didn’t take pictures, but actually, this one’s not bad. It’s a “Purple Sky” cooked puerh, made by the request of Nantian Company in Hong Kong in the 90s. It’s called “Purple Sky” because on the wrapper is a purple seal with the Chinese character “sky” on it. Not cheap.

However, it’s quite nice. Drinking it right after the Golden Needle White Lotus, you can really tell the difference, and the Purple Sky wins hands down. Now, even if you factor in the price, I think the Purple Sky still wins, but then, if I have money to blow on it, I’ll buy a fresh cake of some big tree tea any day over this stuff…

At that point, we left the store of his friend’s. It was a busy day, with lots of shoppers. They are mostly uneducated about all kinds of tea, as Beijingers generally only drank green and floral teas until recently. Business is well, and the pots also bring in good money. Good for them. I should add that there was no pressure for me to buy anything at all, it was just as a friend going to taste stuff.

We went to W’s apartment, which is very big, and I checked out his tea collection. It’s quite impressive, actually, mostly consisting of Xiaguan tuocha, bings, some bricks, some Menghai bings, a few other random stuff. Mostly big factory tea though, very different from the sort of thing I’m buying these days. I think we have pretty different tastes.

We then drank a, literally, dizzying succession of teas. He goes through the teas very fast, brewing everything with a generous amount of leaves, and leaving each infusion in for about 20-30 seconds before pouring. It’s uniformly strong, although I don’t think that’s necessarily bad. What I found a little uncomfortable was that he sometimes leaves some water in the gaiwan — mostly because he finishes pouring very abruptly and quickly, meaning that there’s always a few ml of water left in the gaiwan…. brewing while we’re drinking the infusion, making the tea even more bitter. Yum

The first thing we tried was a fake Menghai cake he bought in 2003. We brewed it up. First infusion is very sweet, nice aromatic…. then it’s downhill from there. By the fourth infusion it was INCREDIBLY bitter. Bitterness to the end. We drank one more infusion, and stopped. You can judge the wet leaves for yourself

(It’s an accident that it’s in a star shape)

Does it look like green tea to you? It does to me, and it smelled like it too. Ovendried, and I think overdried, tea, that will not age thanks to it being not really puerh, but just high-temperature dried green tea. Tastes nice initially, but nasty after a few infusions. Buyer beware.

Then we tried two unremarkable iron cakes that are somewhat similar to the Nanzhao. I honestly don’t have much to say about them, other than they all taste quite similar to me. I don’t find them very exciting.

Then there was another tea… a Baoyan Mushroom, specially made also, I think, for Feitai, and probably two years old if I am not mistaken.

It comes in a nice special gift box, all wrapped up nicely. The reason we tried it was because after I showed him the 2002 Mengku cake (which he and his friend bought two tongs of) he realized that this is Mengku tasting… and it is. It tastes like the 2002 cake. Quite similar, and definitely Mengku. You can’t mistake it for anything else.

At this point, I was really drained by all the tea. It was…. a lot. I brought the 2004 Yangqing Hao to share with him, and we ended the day’s tasting with that, and I have to say I prefer that (or any good, big tree tea) over what I’ve tasted. It’s a different style, and it depends on what kind of taste you like. He likes the more heavy hitting, powerful, and “wow” teas that make an immediate impact. I guess I am more into drinking a little more slowly, stuff that is more mellow, that don’t necessarily wow you right away, but after a while you do realize that you’re drinking good tea afterall. As W observed when we started tasting the Yangqing Hao — this is a tea that is for sipping, and is quite subdued. He was, I think, interested in it, and thought it will age well as well with a comple
x taste in the future — and how the tea fills your mouth with various kinds of flavours, each brew being somewhat different. It was a nice finish to an interesting tea drinking day.

He gave me a tuo before we went off to dinner. This is also a Feitai tuo, I think, that is also, he thinks, made of Mengku materials. The packaging is the same as pretty much any other Teji Tuo

The tea doens’t look much different than your usual XG tuo, but the smell…. smells like Mengku tea. I’ll try it at some point. However, not all Teji use Mengku leaves. In fact, the September production (this is 04 May) that he owns does not taste like this one at all. Go figure. You can never tell unless you know what each region tastes like.

Tea really brings various kinds of people together…. And then there’s the Zhongcha visit tomorrow….

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
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