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I embarked on my tea journey when I studied abroad in China in 2008 and traveled around Taiwan that summer. I'm here to share my experiences and offer my own opinion, advice, and comments on tea.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Tale of Two Tuo

So this is what I've been doing for the past two weeks or so: tasting various '01/'02 Xiaguan Jia Ji Tuo Cha that I ordered via Tao Bao Now. The process was fairly easy, and the longest part of the whole process was waiting for the vendors to get their stuff to their office. Although I haven't tasted them all brewed normally, they all tasted pretty okay brewed competition style. Some are better than others, but the difference is a bit slight. Their similarity also makes it difficult to detect the subtle differences between them all.

I have a bit of help from some tea friends, who are helping separate the crap from the gold. One of them has been singing the praises of sample C, which I don't recall too specifically, only that it wasn't too bad. One of my favorites so far has been sample B, which is a'02 boxed version of the Jia Ji Tuo Cha. I don't know about the differences between the boxed and non-boxed versions, but the boxed versions are usually more expensive than their non-boxed counterparts.

The Dry Leaf
On the left is the 2001 Non-Boxed Xiaguan Jia Ji Tuo Cha, and on the right is the 2002 Boxed Xiaguan Jia Ji Tuo Cha

Nothing remarkable about the dry leaf really; they both smelled fairly similar, except the '02 Non-Boxed version has a weird cotton candy-like aroma. I tried to maintain the integrity of the leaves, while making sure it isn't in too large of chunks, because that way they can both evenly.

The Tea Brew

So because of my idiocy, the one on the left is the boxed version, and the right is the non-boxed

Once again, not too many differences in the brew, even in the color. Clarity was pretty good in both of them, and they both brewed up a similar amber-gold. Although there is roughness of bitterness/astringency, it seems that it's been mellowed out by age. Although compression was tight, it was slightly looser with the boxed version, which makes me more inclined to buy that version. Sample B seemed a little rougher, but I found it charming because it seemed that the tea had more character, whereas its counterpart was a bit flatter. With both of them, but especially with sample B, the astringency translated into a lasting and decent hui gan, something I value highly. Sample C seemed a little mellower, which may be the result of an additional year of aging, but it also seemed boring. Now, comparing competition style is only one facet of all of this...and I'll see if all of this translate when brewing it normally. So far so good with all of the samples, and at least to my palate it doesn't seem like any of them are fakes. They're good to drink now, with some exception, but if they aged well it could be something marvelous. I think they fall within my expectations, considering their price (roughly $10-$12 a pop).

The Wet Leaf

Not much to see here, just your run of the mill factory chopped leaf. Surprisingly, there aren't too many differences in terms of aging, IMO. Of course, they're only one year apart so perhaps there wouldn't be any difference, but because the box would deter aging, I suspect that the boxed versions are stored box-less, and put back into the box for sale. Much chance for a switch-a-roo, but 2002 isn't really a big selling point, but who knows. Although not as nice as the 2002 Mengku cake I also ordered, but at a better price-point, I can buy more for storage.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Vast Sea of Pu-erh

I'm beginning to understand why so many blogs dedicate most of their space to pu-erh, instead of say... sencha or matcha. More so than other teas (IMO), pu-erh is the one most "famous" but at the same time the most misunderstood. Compared to most other teas, which more or less have a shelf life, pu-erh is a collectible tea, which speaks to the collector-geek that secretly resides in us. And finally, despite all the misinformation about it, we still dive head-first into it all because the thrill of uncertainty, the gamble that might pay off. I'm still a neophyte in the world of pu-erh, but the more I read and the more I taste, the more questions I have. Things that I took for granted beforehand, like processing, are now closely scrutinized by my mind. So here are some of the biggest questions I have, and although I'm not naive enough to think there's a definitive answer or a singular truth, I hope that I can at least understand the subject a bit more.


From what I understand processing of the tea is fairly straightforward, and although I don't know the exact details, I do know that the temperature of kill-green and intentional oxidation are a big deal to some people. To former, at too high a temperature, creates green tea...which doesn't age well (though carefully done could work). The latter, when over-done, creates a delicious brew similar to Oolong, which is not desire either. For some reason pu-erh can manifest hong cha-esque qualities, but I'm not sure what causes that or if it's good/bad. I think maybe if it's overly oxidized it becomes hong cha. Something I've heard from a tea friend of mine is how careful were processors back than in the 50s, when the legendary Marks came into being. Were people back than as careful about kill-green/oxidation as they are now? Was the entire process as mechanized back than as it is now? Will a slight bit of oxidation actually kill a pu-erh in the long run? And how much oxidation is too much?

One step in the processing of pu-erh has got me thinking the most: the steaming that takes place to soften maocha before compression. How does the steaming temperature affect the aging of pu-erh? I recently posed this question of the pu-erh LJ, and someone said that a slice of bread can be steamed but it will still grow moldy. So microbes and fungus and whatever can survive the steaming temperature or are introduced somehow after the steaming. If steaming shouldn't kill these microbes than how will pu-erh age if it's broken up? Will it even age at all? I've broken up the cake of my 2008 Xiaguan "Instant Sensation" and stored some of it in a clay jar. I didn't break it up into individual leafs, but little chunks here and there. We'll see how/if it ages.

Related to this, if the bacteria/microbes that are helping a pu-erh age come the surrounding air...than will pu-erh aged in our homes ever be as good or be as aged as stuff from Hong Kong, Taiwan, etc.? It will probably be 10 years or so before we start to see what parts of the world outside of China have the "best" conditions for aging. Even if we all have our humidors and water trays, if the air is different...will our home-aged stuff ever be "as good" as stuff from Asia? Perhaps specific fungus/molds/etc are introduced deliberately...and each factory has its own secret "blend" of this stuff.

Or maybe the bulk of aging isn't done by fungus, microbes, etc. I think BBB pointed this out somewhere, but we know that these things are present, but we don't know if they're actually doing anything. So maybe the aging process is just the slow break-down/"rotting" of cell walls over time.

So no real answers here...just endless speculation. Thoughts, anyone?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Teaware Garage Sale

I think one of the marks of being a tea geek is realizing how much unused stuff you have that's taking up space. So in the tradition of tea ware sales, I am hoping to lighten my load a bit. A few guidelines regarding payment information and general info about the items:
  1. Please email me at MaitreTea@gmail.com, unless you know my "real" email address.
  2. All prices include shipping within the continental United States. If you are buying from abroad please email me so I can give you an accurate freight quote. If you are buying in bulk than we might be able to cut a deal. We can discuss this via email. Items will be shipped via USPS Priority Mail.
  3. All items, unless specified, have been used lightly. For some of these pots, I've only used them a few times or so. I will give detailed notes about the condition of each item, including any damage.
  4. Payment through paypal is preferred, though if you want to make other arrangements please feel free to email me.
  5. First come, first serve. The first person to pay me will get the item. End of story. *ADDED* All sales are final, and although I'll gladly accept returns you must pay for the return postage it may not be worth it given the low price of these items. Also, I did my damn best in packing (see comments for more details), but once it leaves my hands it's up to USPS to deliver it safely to you.

130 ml Duan Ni Yixing


110 ml Duan Ni Yixing


Japanese Teapot and Teacups

Vendor: Unknown; Somewhere from Arita, Japan though.
Price: $35
Size: Teapot is 700 ml filled to the brim; teacups are 200 ml filled up to the brim.
Material: Porcelain
Description: Unused and completely new. Comes in the original box it came in. Good for those who don't brew gong fu style or just love Japanese porcelain.

Japanese Porcelain Teacups

Vendor: Unknown; Somewhere from Arita, Japan though.
Price: $10 each; $20 for both
Size: 150 ml when filled up to the brim
Material: Porcelain
Description: Unused and completely new

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Milestone

This is a fairly long post/rant, so it's broken up into sections:

A Milestone
Ever since installing SiteMeter a few months ago I have officially passed the 1,000 visitors mark. While I don't really care too much how many people read my ramblings on tea, but I am interested in the distribution of my readers. I'm often surprised at how "global" the tea drinking/blog reading community is. It's interesting to know that I have a sizable number of readers hailing from Sweden. If not for SiteMeter I would have thought there were few, if any, tea drinkers in that part of Europe. Somewhat surprisingly though is the lack of readers from the mainland, though I suspect that has more to do with the Great Firewall of China than anything else. Though you're welcome to stay quiet, please comment somewhere...I always relish the chance to interact more with readers and find out where they're from.

The Art of Tea Critique

I haven't been in the mood to talk about/review whatever teas I've been drinking. I've been taking notes, so it should be relatively easy for me to transcribe them...but somehow I'm not too eager to write/review tea. This frustration was only brought to the conscious part of my mind when I read some comments on Something Smuggled In. It's a topic that's been discussed before, but the art of reviewing tea, or anything, can be awfully dependent on so many variables. It's almost impossible to compare accurate tasting notes unless things such as water, brewing times, brewing vessel, etc. were kept the same. Also, our personal inclinations towards certain teas, flavors, aromas, etc. also impact our judgment as well. But despite realizing this, I still read through all the blogs for tea recommendations. I think it's important to find someone whose tastes are sort of aligned with your own (something that comes with trial & error experience), because even with a well-crafted tea, opinions can vary. The Half-Dipper tasting event really showed that, IMHO.

What Now?

Having reached this "mile-stone" of sorts, I'm been thinking about the direction that my blog has taken, and what its future is. Unlike Hobbes, I didn't have the foresight to create a "mission statement." Looking at it now, the little blurb from my profile might be the closest thing to a mission statement. Let's take a look at it, shall we?

"I'm here to share my experiences and offer my own opinion, advice, and comments on tea."

It appears that I've satisfied most of these conditions, though I don't think I'm in any sort of position to dispense advice (well, not advice that should be taken too seriously). But this seems awfully one-sided, and I think I've slowly come to view this blog as a way of communicating with my fellow tea heads. So it's about sharing our experience, opinions, advice and comments on tea, using this blog as a "constant tea meeting," a phrase coined by Corax and MarshalnN on the seminal Cha Dao blog.

Updates on the Tea Front

I recently received the samples I ordered a few weeks ago of the Jingmai/Manjin Awazon cakes. Having only tasted the Mangjin, it seems pretty solid IMHO, but further tasting will be needed to decide if I should purchase a cake somewhere down the line. My Tao Bao order is still processing, and I'm hopeful that it will arrive here by late December, giving me something to do in January. I also made a spur-of-the-moment purchase from Nadacha: 100 g of the 80s Wang Zi Loose Leaf, something that Nada threw in as a sample with my last order and I liked enough for it to be an "everyday" aged pu-erh tea, since I don't have the money to order 80s cakes. I also ordered the 90s (late) Grand Yellow Label. I've heard good things about it all-around, and though it's a bit wet (IIRC), the dryness here should give it some body.

Will post an "actual" post soon...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

Nothing tea-related, since I'm in kitchen instead of in front of my tea station; also, small cousins = disaster just waiting to happen with my pots. However, I have learned two valuable life lessons:

  1. Turkeys are large, very large, and if you're going to brine a turkey...make sure your refrigerator can hold it (mine barely can). Also, a large enough pot to hold said turkey is valuable too. Make sure your refrigerator can hold the weight of the turkey + brine.
  2. I have a terrible time reading to children. My four year old cousin asked me to read a story to her/explain it whilst reading out loud, and I gave a really precise/technical explanation that kind of put her off. Oh no, I feel old already!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Looking Back

It's almost been two years since I dove head-first into the world of "serious" tea-drinking, but in reality my tea "roots" are way older. I grew up on various Taiwanese High Mountain teas and cheap shu pu-erh at dim sum restaurants. It's a bit embarrassing, but for a while (before really getting into tea) I thought shu pu-erh was the only kind of pu-erh there was! In my household dim sum was synonymous was shu pu-erh, with a healthy dosage of chrysanthemum flowers. Shu pu-erh was also something I drank casually in the house, when I wanted something with more flavor than water, but not as unhealthy as soda or something.

So how exactly did I make the "jump" from casual tea drinking into a geekdom that I would be hesitant to tell anyone except my tea friends and those closest to me. Like any good story, it all started with a girl...

Just kidding, there's no romance here, but it's really funny when you consider the circumstances. I was getting acquainted with people from various other universities when I was studying abroad, and one girl came from a tea-enthusiast background (Fujian), and she asked if I drank any tea, to which I said shu-puerh. Later that night, she prepared some of her expensive TGY gong fu style, and I was dazzled by it all: the artistry, the floralness, and the warm feeling from drinking her tea.

Deciding to make the most of my convenient surroundings, I headed to the local tea mall (Tianshan Tea City). My friend (the same girl) and I browsed around, and after sitting at a shop for a while I found my first tea-love: yancha. I had walked in expecting to buy TGY, and walked out with DHP. I've never looked back, and thinking about it now, I don't really drink much TGY anymore!

Thinking back to that tea shop, I probably got price/quality gouged just a bit. I had no clue how bargaining in a tea shop worked back than (still don't really have a clue), and I basically had no clue how to judge good tea. Luckily, I didn't spend too much money, and her stuff was decent in my memory. I was at the mercy of the shop-keeper, and I was a very soft target. I also spent way too much money on cheap slip-cast pots...which still haunt me today.

Before coming back to the United States I worried that I would be unable to continue my growing tea habit, not knowing you could buy good tea online. My friend (still that same girl) showed me the Hou De website, and told me it looked like a good place for Taiwanese oolong. Intrigued, I jumped from the Hou De website to various blogs, making my way to TeaChat, which is where my obsession began. I decided to create my own blog...and basically things just kept growing out of proportion, and here I am today. There are things still I regret and things I wish i had done differently...but these are reflections for another day.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Holidays...Finally

Ah yes, the holidays are here...and despite critiques about the commercialization of Christmas, and the fact that these holidays are nothing than a way for us to spend our way out of a recession. So much of our economy depends on Santa Claus that it's not even funny anymore.

But despite all this, the holidays are quite frankly my favorite time of the year. I am a 1.5 generation immigrant from Taiwan, so I spent many years absorbing all the trappings of American culture, for better or for worse. Although I can proudly say that I am Taiwanese (take that you Mainland unificationists!), I have my "white-washed" traits, which manifest themselves in the kitchen. As a teenager, I longed for the "traditional" American dinners that my friends enjoyed, at the same wondering what white people ate for dinner. For the longest time I thought a traditional American dinner consisted of pizza and ham burgers, since most of the dinners I spent at my white friend's were due to various parties or such.

So what's a guy longing for a well-done osso buco supposed to do, when your family insisted that Marco Polo stole the idea of pasta and pizza from the Chinese? I cooked it myself, naturally.

Even though I have a knack for some classical Chinese dishes, I relish the opportunity to explore cuisines I never would taste otherwise. The years went by, and my obsession with the culinary arts grew, though I'm an amateur at best.

So only on two days of the year (Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve) does my father begrudgingly forgo his daily rice in lieu of stuffing, mashed potatoes, and all the trappings of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, I apply my own personal interpretation on some classic dishes, including mashed potatoes with mustard greens which I boil for a while before mixing it in with the mashed potatoes, using olive oil to lubricate it all. Classic mashed potatoes, but with a little more color (and more healthy too!). I'm also serving pumpkin tortelli, with fresh hand-made pasta....

My Uncle and Aunt are coming with my young cousins (5 and 7), and since I love flattery on my cooking I've been busy these past few days thinking up recipes and drafting out a Thanksgiving meal. Thus why I haven't had any tea reviews lately...and the fact that not much has wowed me recently, except for the Yunnan Sourcing Yiwu Daqiufeng, which is surprisingly good considering its relative low price to its Yiwu siblings. A bit sour, but within acceptable limits and quite chunky and thick in the mouth feel....very delicious. May pick up a cake once I have more sessions to confirm my feelings towards this cake.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Musings on Pu-erh

Haven't been drinking anyway terribly exciting these past few days, but I've been slowing down my consumption of young sheng. Not because my stomach is reacting negatively to it (thank goodness), but the simple fact that I'm tired of disappointment from all my samples. Luckily, I have only out-right hated one (the Mengyang Guoyan "Queen of Yiwu"), but most of them have failed to "wow" me. I'm slowly beginning to know what I like, and what I should be looking for.

The other thing I've been doing these past few days is brewing my teas competition style. It's quite difficult to detect subtle nuances when you've been steeping young sheng for five minutes, and the excessive bitterness in most of them just punch you in the face. I can only imagine how bitter my Guan Zi Zai Lao Man'E cake will taste brewed competition style...and thus I have left that aside for now.

What I have been doing over is thinking about is pu-erh collecting, and just how much of it is speculative. I have yet to see anyone give advice as if they were an "expert," and most people have differeng opinions on what ages well and what doesn't. There is a thread on Teachat discussing different criteria for selection, which should be interesting as the interplay between those who buy great quantities of modern stuff vs. those who are more selective, buying stuff pre-2004. I think the purchasing criteria may have something to do with the purchaser's age. If one were to buy nascent sheng, it would be 20 years (give or take depending on storage) before it becomes "aged." What would happen if your entire collection turned out to be crap? How much money is going down the drain? Sure, people say that tried and true old recipies have shown the capability to age well, but maybe quality was better back than? And is it really worth it to blow your entire budget on only a few stellar-quality cake?

Returning to the original point, if I were older (say 40s) would I be buying as much nascent sheng? Probably not ... since by the time it becomes aged who knows how old I'd be. But if I were young (20s-30s), maybe I could afford to buy some nascent sheng. Also, as one gets older perhaps tolerance to younger sheng also declines too.

So what is my own strategy so far? I think it's important to hedge, and not rely too heavily on all nascent stuff, but at the same time not invest entirely in older sheng (unless you have money/access it cheapily, i.e. in Asia). Personally, I have to deal with excessive dryness and the fact that I'm leaving the country for 2-3 years, which negates the possibility of using a humidor. So right now I'm not looking to buy much nascent sheng, except for a few for immediate consumption/curiousity sake. I'm looking more for juvenile/adolescent sheng - stuff that has a "head start" on the aging process, and while the prices for these are fairly high, they are at least cheaper than stuff from the 80s or 90s (at least in my budget). I'm thinking that buying wetter-stored cakes would be a good idea, and I can use the "dry storage" here to get over the shi cang.

Just my two cents, and the usual warning: I am by no means an expert...

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Most Useful Tea Device ... Ever

The following is the most important piece of tea equipment, and yes, it's more useful than a tea pot, cups, fair cups, etc. It's importance might even exceed that of the tea itself!

Okay, so I'm clearly joking here, but these competition tasting sets are really useful. I'm kicking myself for not buying a few earlier. I ordered these from Adagio, for the modest price of $9 each ($54 for 6 so you save $5). I received them the other day but there were some minor chips on the cups (the packaging was so poor that it was asking to be broken). But they're shipping me a new set of cups, and I'm glad they were so prompt it getting back to me. However, the replacements are being shipped from the East Coast, and they won't be here until next Tuesday. No biggie, since I'm not actually drinking directly from the cups.

But before I get to singing praises about the usefulness of a tasting set, how the hell does one use it? For those who are familiar with using these, you may scroll down at your leisure or feel free to correct my technique.

Step One

I have heard there are different standards, but what I've heard is either 3 grams for 5 minutes or 5 grams for three minutes. Granted, you can go longer or shorter depending on the type of tea at hand, but at the very least make sure that you have consistency across the board. Have someone else put the samples into the lidded cup so it's a blind tasting, and please have the person write down what sample they put in what lidded cup, as to ease any confusion.

Step Two

Pour the water into the lidded cups, and I believe the temperature should correspond with what tea you're dealing with. Greener teas will need cooler water while roasted teas can deal with hotter water. Of course, things like this are highly subjective so do what you normally do. Now put the timer on. Than wait, but don't wander too far; 3 or 5 minutes can go by faster than you would think.

Step Three

Decant the lidded cup into the bowl, starting with the lidded cup in which you poured the water into first. The lidded cup is position in such a way that it lies perfectly balanced on the bowl, as shown below. So you don't need to hold the cup while decanting. Continue as necessary until all the cups are decanted. Please be quick when decanting, because there isn't a spout, so the tea can "dribble" down the cup if you're not quick enough. Put the lidded cups aside for now. See the following:

Step Four

Place a porcelain spoon into the bowl. Ladle some of the tea into a separate cup using the spoon, and after doing so smell the spoon to catch the aroma, both wet and dry. Taste the tea and make notes, either mentally or physically. If you're tasting with someone else, talk about it. Two heads are better than one, and more ideas are created by the interaction of opinions. Continue this with how many different tasting cups you have, and feel free to go back to a particular one if you need a double-take.

So What's the Point of All This?

There are several advantages to using the tasting set, and these are just off the top of my head. First, this is how many competitions are judged, and this method allows for more consistency in preparing the tea. However, judging a tea competition style is only one way of judging a tea, because some teas don't perform well under competition brewing standards. Or you have a tea that does well brewed competition style that doesn't perform well when brewed regularly. Tasting a tea brewed competition style is one aspect of judging a tea, IMO. The other aspect is judging a tea brewed normally. So it's important to do both.

If the tasting is done blind, it frees you from much of the bias that may happen if you knew what the teas were. Of course, there is still some bias because you're frantically trying to guess from previous knowledge/expectations, but it still allows you to taste tea(s) "as they are." I'm surprised at how accurate I am about my preferences, and at other times I'm horrendously wrong. Some of the teas that I love perform well under competition standards, while others perform abysmally. It's also a way to notice similarities or differences within the same type of tea, i.e. if you're competition brewing all Shui Jin Gui, or Bu Lang, etc.

Finally, it offers a very good way of comparing teas. You can brew several teas over the course of a day or a few days, but because you're not brewing it at the same time, it's more difficult to make comparisons. So brewing something competition style gives you the chance to compare a whole slew of teas at the same time. Of course, you don't have to use competition sets...similarly sized gaiwan or even bowls/cups would work just fine too. I think that brewing competition style could definitely be a good way to narrow down a list of potential purchases, and thus saving a lot of money.

Luckily for me, brewing my favorite sheng competition style has only confirmed how much I like them, so my short list of what to buy hasn't changed at all. I think I'm going to have a fun time competition brewing the same single-estate teas, just to notice the similarities/differences between them, if any, and maybe even see which ones are "better" examples of said region.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

2009 Guan Zi Zai Ban Zhang

This one is dedicated to Tea Goober, and his relentless quest to find quality Lao Ban Zhang. See product description here.

To be honest, I have purposefully been avoiding the Lao Ban Zhang samples I have, because of their reputation, and the ever-present question if what we're tasting is real Lao Ban Zhang, or if it's been mixed with filler from other areas (Lao Man'E, New Ban Zhang, Bing Dao, etc.). I'm at the point where it's not a question of if a particular cake is "pure" Lao Ban Zhang, it's question of what percent, because it's almost never going to 100%. It's unrealistic, because the area is only so large, and everybody wants it.

The second reason why I've been avoiding my Lao Ban Zhang samples is that I have seen "the truth." Simply, I have had the opportunity to taste a 100% Lao Ban Zhang cake. Okay, this was a private-private solo pressing, and everyone present (including pu-erh expert BBB) gave the general impression that this was the real deal. It had that bitterness that everyone and their mother associates with Lao Ban Zhang, but it wasn't as potent as one would think. Sure, it was extremely bitter, but the bitterness was fleeting, descending into a really awesome hui gan. It was very good tea, and I know what the fuss about Lao Ban Zhang is all about, because it really deserves the reputation that it does. Okay, so that experience created a set of expectations from my samples, and sadly these expectations weren't going to be fulfilled. So my Lao Ban Zhang samples sat in the corner while I danced with general merriment with the likes of Jing Mai, You Le, etc.

Third reason (I promise the actual review is coming soon) is that this cake seems too cheap to be what it claims, though even if it's 50-75% Ban Zhang, it might be worth it. The wrapper seems pretty enough too, and to be expected from the older brother of Yong Pin Hao.

The anticipation of expectations are right here in these leaves

I've only tasted one other Ban Zhang besides this one and the one mentioned above, the 2008 Lao Ban Zhang which was pressed as a side project of people from the Shuangjiang Mengku company. The 2008 disappointed me a bit, with its lack of fresh bitterness but it was still enjoyable enough with its bouquet of roses.

My first sip...and holy cow! This stuff is quite bitter. In fact, the word "bitter" appears in every sentence of my tasting notes, except for the first one: "dry aroma of leather and sweetness." But it's not an astringent bitterness, but it's the bitterness that I (and many other tea drinkers who employ Chinese) as ku. This is quite bitter, even more so than the private pressed cake that I sampled. The bitterness is quite present throughout the brew, and only in the 6th infusion does it "mellow" down. The bitterness is followed by a smooth/creamy and sweet hui gan, but it's slow...if that makes sense at all. But the bitterness sticks around, even in the aftertaste, as a constant reminder. It has a nice caffeine kick, and I feel my hands shaking and I have a slight cold sweet breaking out. Remarkable endurance, and though I don't keep track of how many infusions...it has been at least 15+ infusions, and still showing some slight bitterness!

It was interesting, and I wish I had more experience with Ban Zhang so I could "out" this one as being an authentic example or a "fake." Honestly, the bitterness didn't endear to me, and it stayed far too long than it had to. The mouth feel was pretty solid, and this certainly appealed to be more than most of the samples I have. But would I be willing to spend $48, when their $30 Jing Mai can satisfy me completely? Probably not. I know this review is making this tea sound lame, but it's pretty tasty...though if you're not a fan of bitterness, stay away. The aftertaste and hui gan is quite nice, and the bitterness itself itself of the offensive kind, it's bitterness but in a good way.

Tea Goober, if you want, I'd be more than happy to send you what remains of my sample (around 15 grams) as my donation to your quest to taste different Lao Ban Zhang. I also have a sample of the '08 cake version Lao Ban Zhang if you're curious to see if there are any differences between the brick and cake version.

*addendum* 11/7/09

Even though my initial impression of this tea may have been a little critical, after tasting the 2008 Mengku Lao Ban Zhang and the 2009 Yunnan Sourcing Ban Zhang I've been thinking more about the 2009 Guan Zi Zai Lao Ban Zhang. Out of all these samples, the Guan Zi Zai had the most "guts." I'm doing a blind competition tasting sometime soon, and hopefully it'll confirm this. I recall Hobbes said that the 2008 Menghai 7542-801 was like "being punched in the face by an old friend." (see here for details, scroll down to #1026) To put my spin on it...the 2009 Guan Zi Zai Lao Ban Zhang was like being kicked in the crotch by an old friend. Depending on what Tea Goober thinks of it, I may buy a cake of this with my next order.

*addendum* 11/8/09

Going back to the product description, it actually doesn't say Lao Ban Zhang at all! It just says Ban Zhang. So somehow in mind I automatically thought it was Lao Ban Zhang. I'm beginning to think that it may be harvested from Lao Man'E, which another area inside the Ban Zhang region. This is a pretty good thread about Ban Zhang, which also supports my belief that the maocha is from Lao Man'E: here
This would perhaps explain why this particular offering is so inexpensive compared to other Ban Zhang cakes. From both the product name, wrapper (at least from what I can see on the Yunnan Sourcing site), and product description don't refer to Lao Ban Zhang at all! I admire Guan Zi Zai's integrity and honesty in not fudging the facts about the provenance of their maocha.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

2008 Mengyang Guoyan "Queen of Yiwu"

Interesting enough, the Chinese name for this is Yiwu Cha Huang, which translates to "Yiwu Tea Emperor." Modesty and humility are certainly not traits of pu-erh factories when it comes to naming schemes, I believe. Sadly, this tea is neither a king nor a queen, but rather it's more like a pretender to the throne. This is merely the review of a humble pu-erh neophyte, so maybe I'm not "getting it," or once again, this tea just doesn't sit well with me.

I had heard good things about this cake from the folks over at TeaChat (specific thread here). I mostly agree with the sentiments there, but whereas these qualities are described positively by that reviewer, those same traits are negative qualities of the cake in my mind. The leaves look gorgeous, and compression was nice in my chunk of a sample. It seemed like a nice tea: floral, sweet, a touch woodsy. Like many things in life, looks can be deceiving.

If only the tea tasted as good as the leaves look

The first three infusions did not bode well in my judgment of this cake. The mouth feel of the infusion is decent which borders on being thin, while the smoothness borders on blandness. Frustrated, I recalled that a lot of leaf was needed to make it tasty, so added about two grams of new leaf after the third infusion. It did little to help, and even when pushed hard, the tea still had little to give. It's a bit fruity and there's nothing offensive about it, but it lacks the punchiness that I like in my pu-erh. Soft and rounded, it might be tasty to people who like that sort of thing.

Disappointment seems to be the trend of these samples, and I'm only considering ordering four or five cakes of what I've tasted thus far. Thank goodness I didn't subscribe to the cake = sample theory, because even if a cake is relatively cheap, when it's bad it's just sitting there, serving as a reminder of how stupid I was. I was actually thinking or purchasing this cake right off the bat, just based on what I've heard. So glad I didn't. I've also vowed to myself that I won't purchase a cake outright unless it's a recommendation coming from people whose opinions I trust. Though I'm more likely to take the advice of what cakes to avoid, than what cakes to get.

Hopefully the trend of disappointment will end when I receive a spur-of-the-moment pu-erh purchase I made from Seven Cups, their 2001 Winter Yellow Green Cake. Looks ugly, doesn't it? I would never had even entertained the thought of ordering such an expensive cake, but a combination of things were at work behind this spontaneous decision: 1. BBB's glowing review (see here), 2. their 20% off sale (who can't resist a good deal) which is ending this month, and 3. staying up until 2 AM thinking about pu-erh. I hope this wasn't a rash decision, but I trust BBB and his taste (and I hope his opinion of said cake hasn't changed too much in the three years since that review).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

2009 Guan Zi Zai Jing Mai Wild Arbor

See product description here

I've been sampling whole load of young sheng from my recent order, and I'm pretty glad that I didn't order cakes right off the bat - some of these are stinkers. Now, most of them are stinkers not because they taste horrible, but they weren't my cup of tea. As of now, I'm looking to purchase for immediate consumption...not worrying too much about storage. Since I'm going to be gone for two years, now's not the best time to start collecting. I also figure that in the near-future it'd be clearer what kind of cakes are going to age and which ones are not. Hopefully any cakes I buy will start to age as usual once I move them to a more suitable aging environment.

So, I'm reviewing this cake as it is, without considering if it's going to age well or not. I'm starting to find that I like pu'er with character, raw and fierce...and from what I've tried so far I'm really digging stuff from Bu Lang or Jing Mai. And I don't like many of the Lin Cang/Meng Ku samples that I have, but maybe I'm not drinking the right stuff, or stuff from this region doesn't fit my needs.

So, onto the actual tea. I've returned to this tea a few times, just to be sure that I like it enough to buy a whole cake. I think I'm sold. The product description reads that this tea's "bitterness is rivalled only by Bu Lang." Very nice

The remaining piece of my original sample

There's a nuttiness that permeates this tea. From the dry aroma to the wet aroma to the actual tea itself, it's always there. This seems to be a trait common to teas from this area, IIRC. I'm quite happy to distinguish that, but perhaps I wouldn't be in if this were a blind tasting between regions. There's also a "savory" element in the tea, which is also apparent in the wenxiangbei. Quite smooth and creamy, a slight bitterness in the tip keeps this tea interesting, and which also also compelled me to order a cake once I'm done with all the samples I have. It seems fairly durable, but I didn't keep an exact count of how many infusions it went through before descending into simple honeyed tea water (though I went through half a pitcher of water, which is fairly remarkable since a whole pitcher lasts for three sessions).

I have a fair share of samples from Guan Zi Zai, and they've all left me with a good impression so far. But I'm still a greenhorn in sampling young sheng, so perhaps my opinion doesn't count as much. Would be nice to see other peoples' impressions of offerings from this company, especially the ones that are up on Yunnan Sourcing, which are all 2009 cakes.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Complications, Complications, Complications

This won't have anything to do with tea, besides the fact that I'm drinking some while I'm typing away ... but this is my blog, so I can do whatever the hell I want!

So as some of you may know, I am currently applying for the Peace Corps, and I'm at the second to last step, the medical and legal review. Now, from what I've heard this is the process that's the most frustrating and time-consuming. I'm hoping to avoid any unnecessary troubles and getting this done right the first time. Now, the medical review is divided into three parts: the physical, dental, and eye examination. The last one was by far the easiest. Thank god for Costco optometrists. Haven't gone to my physical yet, but that's not until Monday. Now, my first obstacle: the dental examination.

The Peace Corps are truly attentive to details, requiring the actual X-Rays or digital images. Now, my dentist is ahead of the times and he's done away with the X-Ray machine, so this should be a snap, right? One caveat, it needs to be printed on photo-quality paper. Now, this shocked even the dentist because he said even cancer patients didn't have trouble with plan paper, but somehow I need photo-quality paper. So I'm going back to the dentist on Monday, after my physical, and buying some god damn photo quality paper. But I'm going to stop by his office first thing in the morning to write down his model number, and pray to God that regular printers can print on photo quality paper...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Overwhelmed with Tea

I've been pretty busy lately with the tea, and it's probably karma for venting about the tea ruts a while ago. But it's always better to have more tea than less tea, unless of course the tea in question is quickly perishable green tea. I recently met up with WY last Saturday, and we tried a wide range of different Oolong, mostly high roasted stuff, some Yancha, and an aged Baozhong. As always, I left with tons of samples of various high roasted TGY and Yancha (Thanks again!).

Soon afterward I became the latest to enjoy the Oolong Box Pass, courtesy of the folks over at Teachat. Some of the teas were things I wouldn't normally buy myself, but it's always nice to be part of a IRL tea drinking shindig, and it's a way for me to try to be as generous as others have been to me. Pay it forward is a way of thinking I strive to live by.

My order from Yunnan Sourcing also came on Saturday. I missed the mailman and he left me a "Sorry We Missed You" notice, which irked me, since I wouldn't get my package until Tuesday (because of Columbus Day). I am highly impatient, and I marched down to the Post Office at around 4:30 PM so I can grab my package when the carriers return back to the Post Office. I was scared for the worst, but luckily I returned home with a large package of four cakes/tuocha and 27 (!) samples.

I've tried all of the four cakes/toucha, and at this point I'm quite partial to the 7532 and the Xiaguan FT Baoyan Tuocha. I'm kind of disappointed in how "weak" the 2008 Xiaguan FT Instant Sensation is, but maybe I need more leaf. It's enjoyable to drink, but I was expecting something with a little more kick ... especially since it's a chopped factory cake. I've been thinking about how to tackle the samples, and I've decided to tackle these samples by region, starting with Bu Lang and Lin Cang. So far I like the 2009 Guan Zi Zai "Jing Xuan Bu Lang", which stands out a little more than the 2006 A-Gu Zhai Wild Arbor Bu Lang. The former has a better mouth-feel and bitterness (but a good way) than the latter. There's also some sort of "bean-like" aroma that I can't really describe.

I'm fascinated with the different flavors and aromas that come from a genre of tea that I had limited experience prior to this, and I'm also having difficulty conveying what aroma/flavor I'm detecting. To me, it seems that a lot of these teas I'm tasting tend to be more about the mouth feel, but some also have an interesting flavor as well. The 2005 Hai Lang Hao "Lincang Impression" has some kind of tangy fruitiness that caught me off guard.

I'm also finding that I find young sheng more enjoyable than most aged sheng (shocking isn't it?). I probably haven't had that kind of "aha" moment, but I prefer the flavor/aroma profile of young sheng. Hopefully I'm not overdoing it with young sheng, which I hear can cause stomach problems later on...so I'm balancing it with some other Oolong that I have, but it's so darn hard not to just plough through all my Yunnan Sourcing samples!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Window Shopping

What I would give to live in a metropolitan in China or Taiwan...I would be able to window-shop for for pots to my heart's content, sadly here in the states the best I can do is look at different vendor sites, because a lot of these pots are either a. too large, b. way out my price range, or c. highly likely to be fake, or d. not very good quality. The fact that some of the vendors don't have their pots online, whether they don't update often (Hou De), or they lack an online store entirely (Best Tea House). *Sigh* This is quite depressing....

On the plus side, I'm going to Boston and New York City for a week in late January/early February. Although I don't know of any good tea shops in Boston, Tea Gallery is definitely a place I want to hit up when I visit. Hopefully I'll be able to pick up a nice Zi Ni pot and some good tea while over there, but sadly this also means I need to tighten the metaphorical tea budget belt, so I can go bonkers while I'm there.

Besides Tea Gallery, I might hit up Ito-En...and maybe troll around Chinatown, though I doubt I'd find anything there, and I'm not good enough with pots to distinguish fakes. But Tea Gallery is still a little over 4 months away....*sigh*

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

An Exploration of Terrior

My previously posted entry on this mysteriously vanished into thin air, and now I am left with the task of recalling into memory what I have already written before. This must be divine retribution for doing tea-related work. *shakes fist at the work gods* But anyway, such is life...at least it gives me a chance to actually mull over what I write, instead of furtively sneaking around doing it...

Terroir, a concept pretty important in wine enjoyment/production, has found usage in tea drinking as well. I believe that it makes a difference in any kind of plant, not just tea (and it shows because produce from California beats produce from most other states in my opinion). But how much of a difference does it make, when you stack it up to other factors such as farming techniques, processing, storage, etc. I never really thought much about terroir that much when buying tea, that is, until I started researching pu'er.

From what I've read, single-estate cakes a relatively recent (recent being a relative term, of course) phenomenon. Back in the day the state-controlled factories picked leaves from all the different mountains, and blended them together. Now, in the post-DXP world, privately owned factories could make their own productions; however, they lacked the resources (or maybe even the legal right) that the larger factories had, and could only create single-estate cakes. It seems that these estates all have their own special characteristics, but the question remains of how these single-estate cakes will age, and whether their regional characteristics will stand the test of time, or will they all converge somewhat, and to the a point a Nannuo is no longer distiguishible from a Jing Mai. Since there's no historical precedence of single-estate cakes, no body knows.

But moving on from pu'er to what I'm most curious about: terrior in oolong. This is very interesting, because we have the opportunity to taste the same varietal of plant, Wuyi Shui Xian and Anxi TGY, grown in two different regions. So this is a good opportunity to see how terroir influences the same varietal in different environments.

I've sampled a fair share of Taiwanese Shui Xian and I've also had my fair share of Chinese Shui Xian. These two taste nothing alike, and the difference between these two is like night and day. But why is this? Well, Taiwanese Shui Xian is not processed traditionally like the Wuyi version; instead, it's a medium roasted Bao Zhong. I'm not saying that it's bad...but it's Shui Xian in name only. So maybe this shows that terroir is a big deal, but let's not be too hasty. The processing techniques of these two are way too different, and their differences may not be attributed mostly to terroir, but mostly to processing differences.

Okay, so let's turn to traditional roast TGY, which is done both on the mainland and in Taiwan. I could be wrong, but their processing techniques aren't going to differ as much as the difference between Wuyi Shui Xian and Taiwanese Shui Xian. Sadly, I haven't had the opportunity to taste these two side by side...but actually, now that I remember, a friend is sending me a sample of some traditional roast Muzha TGY. Now if only I could get my hands on some Chinese traditional roast TGY (looks at WY). But at least according to WY, who's tasted a fair share of traditional roast from both sides of straights, says about Muzha TGY, "there's something missing..." (I believe I'm paraphrasing him correctly here)

So maybe that "missing something" is terroir? Or is it processing differences?

Also, how much does terroir matter within the same genre of tea? Perhaps characteristics amongst the single-estates is more noticeable, because pu'er processing is more or less uniform (correct me if I'm wrong here), where as with oolong, things like roast and oxidation can muck things up. Will different Shui Jin Gui exhibit more similarities than it does differences? By the grace of...well, WY, I have in my possession four different samples of Shui Jin Gui, and I have ordered some from Seven Cups. Will they have more similarities than they will be differences?

Even though I may not have the palate to actually come to some sort of conclusion by the end of all this, at least I get to drink some tasty tea.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Ugh, I hate being sick ... because I don't really enjoy tea as much when I'm preoccupied with all the sniffling, coughing, and all the other nastiness that comes with the common cold. Also, I'm afraid that a coughing fit will hit when I'm holding a teapot, and lose of control might lead to unfortunate accidents. Tea has been touted, both in modern and ancient times, as something that can cure sickness, but I don't think I could really enjoy tea like this.

Also, the cough drops I'm popping would definitely mess with the taste of whatever I'm drinking.

Okay, so I wrote a new entry...and it's completely gone for some reason...sorry if you were checking in on the new entry, folks.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


There isn't a better title than this...and it's pretty self-explanatory. It hasn't even been a day since I posed the question before my readers, and I already found myself caving into the temptation. Between the advice of those on TeaChat (a cake = a sample) and the advice of WY (buy samples), I didn't know which school to follow. So I choose the middle path, buying a few cakes and a ton of samples. I figure I would buy some of the classics, and even if I didn't like them...it would be a good learning experience and give me a better understanding of some solid foundations. I picked the following cakes:

'08 8582
'08 7532
(I would've gone for the 7542...but I fear that its potency would turn me off completely)
'08 Xiaguan FT Baoyan Jincha
'08 Xiaguan FT Yiming Jingren aka "Instant Sensation"
Yunnan Sourcing Sampler (Just because it's nice to support your vendors, and the Half-Dipper tasting event made me curious)

Even though others might say that single-mountain cakes may not age as well as blends...but unlike many others out there, I'm not buying to collect, I'm buying to drink now (well, I might hold a few for long-term storage). Don't have the space/money to build a pumidor, so I'll just let nature take its course for now, and in a few years I'll get around to buying/assembling one. A few years isn't going to kill a cake, in my opinion. So anyway, I'm interested in tasting the different mountains, and maybe get a feel for their distinctive qualities. I didn't even know where/how to find recommendations for cakes that would be representative of their region, so I just emailed Scott from Yunnan Sourcing and said, "I want to sample cakes that are representative of the major estates: yiwu, nannuo, bulang, bada, lincang, jingmai, etc. What suggestions do you have?" He emailed me back in about 15 minutes and produced the following:

  1. 2009 Guan Zi Zai "Ban Zhang Wild Arbor" Raw Pu-erh 25g
  2. 2009 Yunnan Sourcing "Ai Lao Jue Se" Raw Pu-erh tea 25g
  3. 2009 Yunnan Sourcing "Yi Wu Da Qiu Feng" Pu-erh tea 25g
  4. 2006 A-Gu Zhai Wild Arbor Pu-erh tea * Bu Lang Shan 25g
  5. 2009 Mengku * Wild Arbor King * Raw Pu-erh tea * 25g
  6. 2009 Guan Zi Zai * Jing Mai Wild Arbor Pu-erh tea * 25g
  7. 2007 Zhen Si Long "Autumn Harvest Yi Wu" Raw Pu-erh 25g
  8. 2009 Yong Pin Hao * Stone-Pressed Manzhuan tea cake 25g
  9. 2009 Guan Zi Zai "Jing Xuan Bu Lang" Pu-erh tea * 25g
  10. 2009 Hai Lang Hao "Yi Wu Zheng Shan" Raw Pu-erh tea 25g
  11. 2004 Hai Lang Hao "Big Snow Mountain" Pu-erh tea * 25g
  12. 2009 Guan Zi Zai "Zao Chun Nan Nuo Shan" Pu-erh tea 25g
  13. 2005 Hai Lang Hao "Lincang Impression" Raw Pu-erh * 25g
  14. 2006 Jinuo Shan * You Le Wild Arbor Pu-erh tea * 25g
  15. 2007 Hai Lang Hao * Jing Mai Wild Arbor Pu-erh tea 25g
  16. 2007 Hai Lang Hao * Bu Lang Wild Arbor Pu-erh tea 25g
  17. 2008 Guoyan "Queen of Yi Wu" Premium Raw Pu-erh tea 25g
  18. 2008 Lao Ban Zhang Wild Arbor Pu-erh tea * 25g SAMPLE
  19. 2008 Yong Pin Hao * Stone-Pressed Yi Wu Wild Arbor 25g
  20. 2005 Lincang Tea Co "Wild Arbor King" Pu-erh tea * 25g
  21. 2007 Mengku * Mu Ye Chun * 001 * Raw Tea Cake * 25g
  22. 2002 CNNP * Bing Dao of Mengku * Raw Pu-erh tea * 25g
So including the Yunnan Sourcing samplers, I have 675 grams of pu'er to sample. I think I'm going to have a crazy September.

And I found out that I don't have to start paying my student loans until January instead of November, which is the reason why I was tightening the belt. So I get to have both options, and next week I'll be putting in an order of high fired TGY from Aroma Tea House.

I love living in California because it's the closest part of the coast to China...which means that any shipment from China will come to me quicker than it would to anyone else (except people on the island or something). Waiting anxiously...my last order via EMS arrived about four days after it shipped

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

To Pu or Not to Pu?

The title sounds crass, I know, but I couldn't resist...much like how I can't resist saying "that's what she said" when the situation calls for it...

So I've had the occasional pu'erh here and there, but I've never bought any on my mine. Out of all the pu'erh I've tasted (which isn't saying much), I think I like young sheng, old sheng, and middle-aged sheng...in that order. Once I start drinking more pu'erh I will probably have more nuances in this list, but this will do for now. Anyway, I digress from the point of this post.

Unlike other tea drinkers I know, I have been blessed/cursed with coming across tea at a (relatively) young age. I'm like a teenager compared to all the tea drinkers I know, whether in person or by guessing/implying peoples' ages on TeaChat. I'm blessed because I have the time to age teas and by the tea I can enjoy "aged" teas I won't be at the age when I'm senile. Now it's a curse because I don't have the cash to spend on tea, especially as a part-timer in this shitty economy. So my budget is limited, which means compromises need to be made.

So I enjoy young sheng, and I feel like it's about the right time to starting exploring that particular genre...the final frontier in my tea journey. All the heavy hitters in the blogging world, A Tea Addicts Journal, The Mandarin's Tea, The Half-Dipper, etc. talk about pu'erh alot, and a part of me feels like I won't be validated as a tea blogger or even a tea enthusiast without owning a few cakes/bricks/tuocha of my own. I couldn't be comfortable calling myself a tea geek until than. It would also allow me to enjoy these blogs even more, since I love to read them despite my non-knowledge of pu-erh.

A new month is approaching, and as my previous postings have indicated, I have begun to run dry on certain goods, mainly high-fired TGY and Yancha, though WY saved me by generously donating some samples of Shui Jin Gui. But I only have enough high-fired TGY for one more session, and I've been thinking ordering some from Aroma Tea House.

I was thinking of putting a massive order with Yunnan Sourcing at the beginning of November, consisting of a few "classical" Menghai and Xiaguan cakes, as well as some single-estate Nannuo and Bulang cakes. Why the single-estate cakes? Well, I want to slowly learn the characteristics of each mountain, and though these regional characteristics will differ from cake to cake(due to a whole slew of factors: plantation vs. wild arbor, vintage, processing, producer, etc.), when someone talks about a cake having that "classic Nannuo/Bulang/Menghai/etc. flavor," I want to be able to nod along and know what they're talking about. From what I've read on TeaChat and the blogosphere...these two estates sound appealing to me.

So, back to the original question...to pu or not to pu? Should I embark on a new journey now, or should I replenish my reserves first? My tea future is up to you, dear readers!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tea Ruts, a Redux

It's that time of the month again...when I start running low on supplies, but I'm over my tea budget so I need to wait until next month until I can order teas again. But unlike my tea ruts of July, I'm actually quite happy to be drinking the same kind of teas over and over again. In this case, I'm mostly drinking Taiwanese oolong these days, and my light roast/medium roast pots have been getting quite a bit of action.

Now, coming from a Taiwanese background, Taiwanese teas (as one might surprise), are the rage in our household. I still have about 400-600 grams of high mountain stuff still open, about 200 grams of lower elevation cheap jinxuan, and 600 grams of recently discovered aged tea (more on that later). So I pretty much never have to order Taiwanese oolong, because it's so readily available.

My latest obsession has also been DIY roasting, mostly in a crockpot. Since I have so much tea, especially jinxuan stuff, I've been using it to experiment roasting. See here for some helpful tips:

Tea Obsession

My Tea Stories (a whole series, fascinating btw)

You would think that I, like any proud Taiwanese, would use the traditional DaTong rice cooker...but for some reason my model hasn't have a keep warm function, so I've decided to go western on this one. I don't like to drink too many green oolongs, so my hope was to give some of my teas a light/medium roast, to mix it up a little. I got a little carried away and charred the Dong Ding...I don't know if it's drinkable.

I was a little more careful and less ambitious the next time, and I had some pretty decent results. It doesn't taste like a true roasted oolong, since that kind of a roasted flavor profile only comes from hardwood/charcoal roasting.

Now, the aged oolong I mentioned earlier. Asians like to give tea as gifts, and the rest of my family, non-tea drinkers, kindly accept said gifts and chuck them in the corner somewhere. Just last weekend, I found some Taiwanese jinxuan (I believe), still in its vacuum sealed bags, original canister, boxes, etc. ... from 1996. That's right, from over 10 years ago. I don't know how much a tea can age in a vacuum, but from what little I know of science, these vacuum bags aren't probably perfect vacuum spaces, and the tea inside probably mingled together and aged a bit.

It has an interesting taste, it's still floral, but not in a dominating way...it's kind of subtle. There's also a better mouthfeel and a kind of honeyed flavor to it. Since I have 600 grams of it, I took 200 grams away for further aging (just another one of my on-going experiments). People have called me crazy, but hey, if it's airtight enough...it will age. Tea Habitat carries aged green tea from 1994, so I'm definitely not crazy. I gave a portion of the aged tea a little roast, and it's a little more interesting, but I'll see in a week when the roast starts to become more stabilized.

Good thing this month is almost over, I'm looking forward to my next big order, which should probably sustain me until the year's end.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Now For Something Completely Different...

When I bought the before-mentioned pots, they came with samples. I like samples, because they're free and they let you taste teas that you probably wouldn't buy otherwise (too expensive or not your style). But this is different from everything I've tasted...this was a sample of sheng pu'er. Now, I've had the occasional sheng here and there, but I've never bought any on my own...much less brew it myself. I have a general understanding of how to brew it, but I'm just curious as to what kind of flavors or aromas to expect, since this is the youngest sheng that I've tasted. Of course, I'm also scared that I really like it...and than I start getting into pu'er.

I've been staring at this tea ever since I got it, and I wonder when I'm going to brew it

For anyone who's curious, the product description is here. Thank goodness Hobbes reviewed the tea (see here), which have given me a better idea of what to expect. Anticipating how a tea is going to taste is probably one of the worst things, because often times it leads to unrealistic expectations that aren't met in many cases. I should probably just drink this ASAP before I think more about how this tea will taste.

It tastes pretty delicious...crap, I believe I've been bitten by the pu'erh bug

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The End of a Phase

As of today, I've reached a crucial point in my tea journey. I finally have a dedicated yixing for every tea I drink on a regular basis (at least once every two days). It might be surprising to some that it's taken me this long (a whole year into the journey!) but I've made some bad tea-ware purchases along the way. Well, not bad per se, but just not good in the long run. I had thought that shape = most important factor, but I think now I'm beginning to think that clay is more important.

I've also learned that matching teapots to teas is mostly a personal thing, but as a result of many personal experiments, here's what I like: for roasted/harsher teas I like to have a softer, more non-porous clay such as Zi Ni. Softer clays round out these roasted/harsh notes that I don't really enjoy in excessive amounts. Duan Ni, in my opinion, can sometimes be too rounding, and should be reserved for the really roasted/harsh stuff. For more lighter roasted or delicate teas, I like to use a more non-porous clay, such as Zhu Ni or Hong Ni. I do this because non-porous clays bring out the "sharp" flavors of a tea. This is just what I like, and you're free to do whatever you want. I've actually "broken" some of these rules myself.

Here's a photo of the family:

From left to right, from top to bottom, these pots will labeled as 1 - 6
  1. Chao Zhou Pot: 120 ml, from Tea Habitat: I bought this about two months ago, and I've been using it for (surprise surprise) Dan Cong. Even though Imen recommends multiple CZ pots for the different types of Dan Cong out there...I don't drink enough Dan Cong to justify multiple Dan Cong pots. I might upgrade to one of the more expensive Wu pots, at which point this will be dedicated to young Sheng Pu'er. Some hairline cracks have developed at the bottom of the pot, but so far these cracks are only on the outside, so I'm trying to be a little more cautious with this one...Very thin walls, excellent lid fit, and a fast-medium pour.
  2. Modern Zhu Ni/Hong Ni Pot: 130 ml, from The Tea Gallery: I bought this a month ago, and it's first purpose was to be filled with medium/light roast yancha. It's now been dedicated to lighter balled-up oolong, and it's done wonderfully. I love Shui Ping, and I immediately had to buy this one out of all the ones Winnie showed me. The clay is very high-fired, and it has the best sounds of all my pots. It sounds closest to the Early R.O.C. Zhu Ni in this video here, courtesy of Guang from Hou De. It's a contemporary pot, and it was made on special order by Bill Lee from China Flair Tea. A very fast pour and excellent lid fit. Balances perfectly on water w/lid on.
  3. Late 70s/Early 80s Sand-Blended Zhu Ni: 100 ml, from Hou De. My newest purchase, which just arrived today. Even though I haven't used it yet, it's going to be dedicated to light roasted yancha. I was looking for a pot for light roasted balled-up oolong, but I realized that the Shui Ping would be perfect for that, and this would be perfect for light roast yancha. Even though this is my first "authentic" Zhu Ni piece, it's sand-blended so maybe it doesn't count. I theorize that the sand-blended nature, which increases porosity (?) would help soften (just a little little bit) the roast, while the Zhu Ni portion would help protect the flavor/aroma. It has very thick walls, and a pretty thick base as well, which is also perfect for keeping in heat.
  4. 90s Zi Ni: 80 ml, from Nada. My newest purchase also, also arrived today (daily double for me!), will be dedicated to high fired balled oolong. The previous pot I had dedicated to high fired oolong was also a Zi Ni. Why did I decide to change it? Well, the pot was cumbersome to pour (for me at least), and it wasn't really easy on the eyes. The lid fit is excellent, and the pour is medium-slow, but that's fine for me. I love the silver lining on the lid and spout. It's as if the pot is "pimped-out." Very thick walls too, and quite solid/heavy for its size.
  5. 80s/90s (?) Pin Zi Ni (?): around 80 ml, fished from my grandmother's house in Taiwan. It seems to be an authentic piece from Zisha Factory #1, since the potter's name is stamped under the lid. The clay is very soft, and maybe it's just me, but it seems quick to absorb tea oils. The lid is kind of loose and there's a chip on the lid (not my fault, but my grandmother's). This is probably one of my favorite teapots, sees usage at least once a day. It's dedicated to medium-fired balled oolong. The clay, while not high-fired, seems more high-fired than #4, and this has been "proven" with personal experimentation. Balance is very good, would be perfect if there weren't a chip on the lid, IMO.
  6. 00's Zi Ni (?): around 120 ml, from Ching China Cha in Washington D.C. My second tea-ware purchase, I actually haven't used this until the last few months. I had originally used it for Dan Cong, but between the thick walls and something...it just didn't brew right. I had it sit in the corner, thinking that it would be dedicated to Sheng Pu'er when I start getting into that. I tried it (on a whim) with high-fired yancha, and it did very well. I had previously used a Duan Ni pot with high fired yancha, but the Duan Ni rounded out the flavors a little too much, IMO. It's got thick walls and excellent lid fit. Surprisingly, the lid between this and #2 are interchangeable, and the fit is perfect too! The heaviest of all my pots, it looks like a modified version of the classic Shi Piao shape. I like to call it "the tank."
And actually, this is a distant cousin of the family. He's a little weird and shy...so he had to take a picture by himself:

This is the one pot that I don't use on a regular basis. I bought it from Yunnan Sourcing about a year ago, and I've been drinking shu pu'er with it. I drink shu pu'er with my meals, so this fits with that perfectly. The clay is now a nice dark color, and the pour/lid fit is really nice as well. It's one of the cheapest pots I have (if you count the slip-cast knock-offs I bought from China), and it exceeds well beyond its price. I think if you want to buy a good modern pot at excellent prices, you can't go wrong with Yunnan Sourcing.

I don't have the kind of money or space to be a collector of pots yet, so this is it for me for the time being. I don't like making tea-ware purchases unless they fill a void that exists or it's a noticeable improvement on what I have now. So maybe in the late future I'll buy more pots, but I like to focus on raising a few pots than having to juggle between tons of other pots. I might pick up a pot or two for aged oolong, but I don't have much experience with that yet, so it can wait.

I recently decided that the CZ clay was too stifling on my DC, so it's been re-allocated for young sheng pu'er. I decided that it's too complicated (IMO) to have two pots for wuyi, so the ZiNi pot is now dedicated to whatever aged sheng I happen to come by...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cha Qi

My first encounter with Cha Qi occurred when I was sampling The Tea Gallery's Hundred Year Tree. It was a very potent brew indeed, and it had a calming effect on the nerves. Sadly, I was able to grab onto this feeling two out of the four times I brewed...and it's a bit expensive to buy more just to capture something that's by nature elusive and almost mystical in a way. My second encounter, and the subject of this post, was a bit weirder in nature, and it was probably due to the circumstances than the actual tea itself, but I'll see when I polish off the tea later.

This sample, courtesy of WY, is labeled Gu Shu Cha. IIRC, he had bought it at Wuyi Shan when he visited. Now, the direct meaning of the name is simply Ancient Tree Tea, implying that the trees from which this tea was harvested from come from older trees. How much older? I didn't ask WY, and I'm guessing that he probably couldn't give a reliable age(Chinese tea vendors can be a conniving bunch sometimes).

The bottom of the barrel....*sigh*

The dry leaf is pretty roasted, and there's a distinct citrus aroma, kind of sharp, but it reminds me of a nice men's perfume in that kind of citrus-like aroma. the wet leaves had a nice "roasted" aroma with some deep, rich chocolate in the mix there. The initial infusions had a upfront fruitiness with some spiciness that made the tea even more intriguing. I found it very deep in flavor, but not too aromatic...which disappointed me a bit since the dry leaf smelled so delicious.

Now, the actual interesting part of the tasting. About three infusions into the tea, I started noticing that my hands were twitching, and there was a tingling sensation throughout my whole body.

The sandwich would've been this big, if only there I had more slices of bread in my pantry

I hadn't eaten much, so perhaps it was the lack of food and the caffeine rush from the tea; however, six infusions into the tea I was overtaken by a raw urge for food. I wanted to finish the tea, but my primal instincts drove me to the kitchen, where I devoured a five layered sandwich with five different types of meats. While I was eating, my mind was empty and the only thing I was doing was bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

If this was an instance of Cha Qi, than this was one hell of a tea. I'm going to try the tea at some later time...with ample food in my stomach, and seeing if the feeling returns. Even without the Cha Qi though, this was quite a delicious tea, probably my favorite of the Yancha samples WY gave me. *Two Thumbs Up*

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Visit to Tea Habitat

There are tea shops, and than there are tea shops. The former consists of obnoxious vendors such as Teavana to well-meaning shops that carry okay quality loose-leaf, the kind of stuff that would be nice everyday tea, but could not satiate the refined palate of experienced tea drinkers. The latter, in my mind, consists of the “legendary” stores strewn across the country, the places that carry teas that make people cry out to the heavens…places such as The Tea Gallery, Best Tea House, Floating Leaves, Tea Habitat, etc.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity of visiting a tea shop in the latter category, Imen’s Tea Habitat, nestled in a most unlikely place as any teashop could be…across from a T.J. Maxx. I apologize for the lack of photos. I had brought my camera, thinking to snap a few photos of the teas I was sampling, but I quickly forgot as I surrendered my mind to the Cha Qi. Hopefully my words can try to capture at least 25% of the amazing experience I had there.

I also neglected to take any tasting notes, but that was fine, because the tea lingered in my mouth for hours after I had left. Those that stood out in my mind included her Li Jai Ping Lao Cong, Song Zhong #5, ’78 Vintage Dan Cong, and Tian Yi Xiang (the name conjures up a fragrance equal to heaven. I think the Jade Emperor would have pressed his nose down towards the earth for a whiff).

After this experience, I realized that being a tea master isn’t just about brewing tea perfectly; I like to think a larger part is creating a cultivating environment for enjoying tea. My mother and grandmother found the first tea she brewed, Zhong Ping Lao Cong #4 (I think), to be too faint and delicate in flavor. Quick to think on her feet, she quickly switched it up to the heavy hitting Ba Xian, and not only did my mother/grandmother enjoy the teas more, the conversation also became livelier.

Imen was also a great conversationalist, answering my mother/grandmother’s questions, and turning their questions into focal points for even more conversation. I was initially afraid that it would be awkward because my mother/grandmother don’t really speak English, but luckily Imen’s command of the Chinese language is much better than my own. Imen told us that drinking tea between three people is best, because with one person it’s kind of lonely, while with tea the conversation can get a little stilted, while with four people the conversation tends to jump all over the place, or in my experience people often “break” into pairs (forgive me Imen, if I botched up your more elegant description).

Even though I’m unable to elaborate on it, but I definitely felt a difference between using a stainless electric kettle and her Chao Zhou kettle. Of course, there definitely was a difference in brewing skill, but the water tasted sweeter, and most of the teas left a pleasant coating over my tongue. Even though she didn’t use her newly arrived Wu Chao Zhou pots, I had the chance to feel them for myself, as well as inquire the differences between the Wu pots and the cheaper Zhang pot I got. The Wu pot had much heavier walls, and there was none of the “make-up” clay my pot had. The texture felt more familiar to Hong Ni/Zhu Ni. I’m para-phrasing what she told me, but brewing in the Gaiwan protects aroma, while brewing in a Zhang pot “mutes” the aroma, while giving the tea a better “mouth-feel.” The Wu pots protects both aroma and gives the tea a better mouth-feel. This was very interesting, since because the Wu pots had thicker walls, I thought aroma would be protected less.

Anyway, back to the actual tea tasting. I think I enjoyed the ’78 Dan Cong and the Li Jai Ping Lao Cong the most. I had actually intended to just buy her ’98 Hai Mei Zhan, but I liked the Li Jai Ping so much I just had to buy some too. The ’78 Dan Cong started off with a dry leaf aroma and initial flavor similar to Pu’Er, but the similarities quickly ended around the 5th-6th infusion. Around that time, the familiar sweetness of Dan Cong returned, and there was a “nourishing” taste, very reminiscent of chicken soup…not the actual flavor of chicken soup, but just the thick feel you get in your mouth. The Li Jai Ping Lao Cong left a nice coating of something on my tongue…it was very unusual, but a delightful experience nevertheless.

The hours past, and it came time for us to depart. We left in high spirits and with a longing to someday return, and I definitely will, not only for the vast selection of teas, but also for the enjoyment of tea in the most ideal of environments.

*EDIT* Just realized that my visit to Tea Habitat coincided with the "official" anniversary posting of my blog...what a fitting way to celebrate an anniversary