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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.

Processing

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


*SOLD*

110 ml Duan Ni Yixing



*SOLD*

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...