About Me

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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.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


As some of you may know, I've been in the Peace Corps application process for almost a year now, but I've finally been invited to serve in Azerbaijan, teaching English. I know this isn't tea-related but it's pretty big news. Also, this is an opportunity for people to send me tea! (just kidding, but not really). I'm planning on bringing some tea, but not a lot since I have to travel light. Probably just the basic balled-up oolong, since wiry type tea takes up more space and is more prone to breakage. This may also mean that I won't be updating this anymore after I leave, since it'd just be me drinking the same kind of tea over and over again.

For those who wish, you can follow my adventures in Azerbaijan over at my other blog here

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Tea Party

I recently had the opportunity to brew tea for some UCLA students on behalf of UCLA Natural Complementary & Alternative Medicine student group, as part of a tea presentation in which Imen of Tea Habitat was the speaker and presenter. Will had asked me earlier if I wanted to volunteer, knowing very well that I'm not too confident with my brewing skills. Eager for an opportunity to discipline myself in the nuances of gong fu cha, I accepted. Luckily I had the chance to practice the weekend prior in a young sheng fest. The fact that my fellow tea heads, especially the pu-erh expert himself Jason Fasi, approved of the tea I brewed boosted my confidence a bit.

I was so focused on the act of brewing tea that I totally forgot about the other aspect of a tea tasting: the conversation! Esoteric and random tea facts shot out of my mouth, as if my mind's filter on the mouth broke. A simple question such as "what is the best tea that you've tasted" lead to a very precise and detailed description of the aging process, which then led to the story of Da Hong Pao's name. I only hope that the participants didn't think I was a madman.

At least I looked graceful brewing tea

An important lesson I learned from this event though was the importance of pacing/timing in a tea tasting, especially when there's a time limit. Since I'm usually drinking alone I take many infusions with a tea, and I did the same that night, not realizing that I was working with a time limit and a number of teas to go through. How many infusions to go through a tea before moving on? Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I was the last person brewing, but I was relieved that a fair number of drinkers actually sat through the whole thing.

my pig cha chong was a huge hit with the ladies ... and a good conversation piece!

Thinking back, and confirmed by the photos of the event ... my table seemed to be dominated by Asian girls! Especially in comparison to the other tables. I don't know if they gravitated towards me since I must brew better than the others since I'm Asian (definitely not true) or if thought my tea set-up cute. Unfortunately, I felt that I made some assumptions in what I talked about, since I assumed that they've had oolong before. In some ways though my group being mostly female helped a bit, since I feel more "natural" talking to the opposite sex. I kept the conversation light and made a few jokes here or there, including some at the expense of a particular girl who always wanted seconds, pictured below to my left

One person I thought was pretty interesting was a guy who was sitting directly across from me. He did the "finger tap" whenever I poured tea, and he picked up the differences in quality from tea to tea. All in all, I had fun brewing and would do it again if I had the opportunity.

ack, a tea faux pax ... having the guests pour the tea.

To be fair, I only had them pour amongst themselves just so I could use the time prepping the next tea.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Reader's Poll

My parents have always regarded my tea habit with curiousness . After all, I'm sharing the same interests with my grandparents, who are more or less triple my age. The "tea" gene skipped my parent's generation and hit me hard. When I visited some tea shops in Asia the owners always asked me why a youngster like me wanted to buy tea (this was when I was a bit younger than I am now). And within my circle of local tea friends, I'm the baby of the group, in both age and experience. In most of the blogs I read the writers are "grown-up" with real jobs, a house or an apartment, and perhaps even kids! And here I am, working part-time, living with my parents, and basically waiting for my Peace Corps invitation to get here so I can get a move-on with my life.

So I wonder if this is actually do, so if you would oblige, please participate in the poll in the top left-hand side. Don't be shy to answer truthfully. If you're much older than me I'll envy you for your wisdom, and if by chance you're younger, than I will envy the youth that's giving you an edge on collecting young sheng.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Self-Made Blend

A line in MarshalN's blog about blending puerh (see here) struck me in particular:

"Instead, I think the answer might be for us to start blending our own tea -- an aged Bulang with a young Yiwu might make for a pretty interesting combination."
As I was thinking this morning, I dug through the numerous samples that I have, coming across an aged Bu Lang (my remaining sample of the 1997 Hen Li Chang Bu Lang) and a younger Yi Wu (the 2001 Ding Xin Cha Zhuang Yi Wu). The Bu Lang had a nice and thick after taste that coated the tongue with a good kind of bitterness. The Yi Wu had some nice fruitiness going on in the flavor/aroma, working more "up front." I used 2.5 grams of each for a 100 ml gaiwan. A shot of the dry leaf:

The Yi Wu seems to have more complete leaves, since the Yi Wu was pryed from a chunk whereas the Bu Lang pretty much arrived in a loose leaf format. Hopefully this won't affect how the tea blends.

Another difference between the two is that the Bu Lang is a bit "bud-heavy," but I'm not sure what bud-heaviness does to a tea...maybe make it sweeter?
The combined leaf:

So how did it taste? Better than combined parts, surprisingly. I'll probably have to try this again in different proportions, but it seemed to taste more "complete" in the mouth, with a great more deal of complexity. The bitterness that the Bu Lang was teeming with was a bit toned down and there was a nice fruity youthfulness that came courtesy of the Yi Wu. As the infusions went on though, it became easier to distinguish the components, as the Yi Wu faded a bit earlier than the Bu Lang.

The wet leaf:
The larger leaf, which is lighter in color, is more or less the Yi Wu, whereas the darker smaller bits are the Bu Lang. Looking into my gaiwan between infusions, it seemed more or less even distributed.

Friday, April 9, 2010


It's interesting to see how our tastes in tea change over time, even in a short interval of time. I remember last summer I was in a phase with Japanese greens, which is something that I haven't had in a long time. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I bought so much that drinking it became a chore. Well, I recently placed a pre-order for this year's shincha from Yuuki-Cha, so I'm looking forward to that. Only ordered one thing, so hopefully I won't be forced to drink it all up ASAP. As I was thinking about tea to try, when my eyes glanced over my yancha pot, and it just came to me: I haven't had a yancha in almost two months. And it's probably my favorite kind of tea too! So what happened?

Well, I've chanced upon some pretty amazing yancha, that the ones I usually drink don't excite me anymore. Yancha can get pretty pricey, and I brew it in a style that burns through ALOT of leaf (a normal session usually calls me for at least 10 grams for a 100 ml pot). My attention has also been focused on another things, especially pu-erh, which I've been finding more exciting these days.

Even though I was jonesing for some aged pu-erh, I decided to take yancha pot out for a spin. I have some high-fired DHP stashed away to settle down and maybe age a bit. It's mellowed over this past six months and the charcoal taste isn't as strong. It's a decent tea, not great, but not terrible.

Oh well

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


A recent conversation with a tea friend has touched upon this, but I'm sure that this something that everyone thinks about in some way or another. If it doesn't, than maybe I'm being too paranoid so just ignore me.

Secrets, tea secrets. Not so much trade secrets like processing technique or whatever (though I'm sure for farmers this is probably an issue). I'm talking about secrets regarding teas/tea-ware that you like. So why would this be a problem? Well, this is actually more of a problem with pots and pu-erh than it is with other stuff, since the former can be rarer and limited in quality. Especially when there are only one or two cakes left, it can get kind of tense because there's the fear that someone will buy it up. So if I, as a blogger, praise said tea highly...well, some random reader comes along, reads it, and decides to snatch it away from me.

This is more of a problem with random readers than it is with the couple readers that I've corresponded with, who I can trust not to purposely screw me over. Of course, this is capitalism, so it's really every man for itself...but just to keep the odds in my favor, well, maybe I'll be a little less specific about the teas I like.

Anyway, onto the tea of the day...which actually falls into this category of limited availability so until I decide to buy it I won't give it away: but if you're really curious, I might let you know.

This is a late 90s tea, that's seen some slight wet-storage, but luckily that doesn't really seem to affect the tea's quality, though I'm a partial to wet-storage. What's so surprising is that it's still go some bitterness on it, and not the bad kind. It's a good bitterness, one that melts away into a sweet aftertaste. It's like some sort of bitter tea that my parents drank growing up in Taiwan. I'm surprised that it still has that kind of edge on it, since the few teas I've tasted with similar maturity have been mellower. Good strength, excellent tenacity, and thick/luscious mouth feel, this is something that I could see really turning into something after more years or again. Of course, I need some sort of approval from the local tea-heads before actually buying it.

Oh yes, there's also the fear that a vendor will see a good review and jack up the price because of that...though I seriously doubt that vendors are bored enough to base their pricing on the ramblings of a tea neophyte


and it was the 1997 Hen Li Chang Bu Lang from Essence of Tea. And although I said I would confer with my local tea heads, after tasting it again...even if they said it tasted like Satan's piss I would still buy it, because I like it. Unfortunately, I grabbed the last one; however, he might be restocking it in the next few months. Wary of a price hike in the mean time (which just recently happened with a 2001 Yi Chang Hao Yiwu I was so enamored with) and the fact that it may never be restocked...I quickly snatched it up. Keeping my fingers crossed for an eventual restock, since I really want more of this one.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Even though it may seem from my absence of posting that I'm not thinking/drinking about tea, the truth is far from that. Tea is becoming a constant subject on my mind, whether I'm awake or asleep. This is truly becoming an obsession that is consuming my life, and I love it.

I have two different spaces for my teapots, one for the teapots that I use most frequently (situated closest to my brewing station) and a second space farther away, where I keep unused pots, which are either too big or just unloved. On that second shelf sits a purion teapot, my first "real" teapot I bough almost two years ago in the quaint ceramic/stoneware town that is Yingge. I used it for a while, until I decided that: 1. it was a bit on the large size and 2. it doesn't season or develop a shine like yixing (at least to the extent of my understanding). So what prompted me to take a sudden re-interest in this particular pot?

Zero over at Something Smuggled In had something to do with it. He's experimenting with yixing storage, and I've had the same questions about storage in purion. I've seen purion jars pop up every once in a while, and I've wondered what this "magical" clay affects tea. I sure as heck didn't want to spring for a purion jar (which can be pretty darned pricey) so I decided to use my purion pot as a temporary storage container. I put some wet-stored loose leaf in there, just enough for a single session, for a few days. After two days the wet-storage all but disappeared, and the tea seemed to have a better flavor/aroma, with little storage taste. It tasted much better than if I had brewed it straight from its usual jar.

Of course, this may have to do with airing out of the tea, so I'm doing the same experiment with my yixing pot and just airing out in the open for a few days.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Moldy Tea, Part II

Well, I didn't die from the moldy tea (at least not yet).

I know this is a point that's been emphasized by others such as MarshalN, but one truly cannot underestimate the importance of airing out/awakening a tea, even if it's not a wet-stored mess. I aired out the broken up moldy cake, and let it chill out for a while in a partially opened paper bag. I tasted it last Saturday, and although you can still taste some of the wetness, it's relatively smooth with slight sharpness. Pretty tasty as a daily drinker kind of tea.

Now, the importance of airing out tea isn't just limited to moldy teas, however. I bought some samples a while ago, and one of the samples was a 2001 Changtai Yi Chang Hao Yiwu. When I first tasted the tea, the tea tasted okay but a certain musty scent led to a negative impression of the tea. I wanted to get a second opinion from resident pu-erh expert BearsBearsBears before dismissing the tea completely. I left the sample bag open for a while (two weeks I believe), slightly curious to see if the mustiness was something that could be "aired out."

It tasted very differently than I remembered

Granted, it could have been a difference in water (we actually used my pot for that tea), but even so...the mustiness was gone. It's difficult for me to assign words to the flavors/aroma that I taste, but it was good. It's mellowing out, but there's still some of that sharpness which you would expect from something this young. The tea body was good, and there was a nice aftertaste. It was also at a good level of maturity for its age. Definitely something I will order cakes of, assuming other samples don't impress me as much.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Whenever I came across it on the tea forums I thought, "Nonsense! This will never happen to me! I live in the desert for goodness sake!"

This morning, when wrapping some cakes in tissue paper (I'm keeping the actual wrappers separate in case they rip) I discovered some mold on a recently acquired 1995 Grand Yellow Label! Blueish-white in color, it was scattered across the inner side. I quickly checked through the rest of my cakes and was assured. I'm thinking the mold might have been the result of the cake's already wetter-storage, combined with my fairly wet storage conditions. I've brushed off all the visible mold and I've set the cake aside in a "quarantine" area to be monitored for the next few weeks, even months. I wonder at what point would it be safe to put it back into storage/consume it

Photos for those who may have comments. I've brushed off most of the visible mold, but some of it may be seen if you open the photos in a new window.

I tell myself that mold is not that big of a deal...and cakes from the 50s to 90s were probably stored very badly/casually, in far more humid conditions than my own.

*Breathing* Yes...it's no big deal...



I think what I might do at this point, or at least in a few days after some observation, is break up the cake and somehow that will alleviate the mold problem. Than treat it like cheap wet-stored loose leaf. I'm kind of afraid that although the surface mold may be gone, it still might be hiding out on the inner parts of the cake.

Monday, February 22, 2010

NYC Show-Off

The long-awaited recap of my Boston/NYC trip:

I had the pleasure of visiting The Gallery in the comfort of Michael and Winnie's cozy home. It was like walking into my ideal tea room, surrounded by containers full of tea and tea ware galore. Michael, Winnie, and Dae were all gracious hosts, and although I felt out of place in terms of tea experience, I felt very welcomed. Michael was feeling a bit under the weather, so he was mostly in the background. I had gotten the impression from what few photos I've seen of him on their store's website and Dae's Journal that he was a very serious/stoic person. I was surprised with how taken he was with the knock-off iPhone my mother got me in China.I tried three teas, their bi-annual Oriental Beauty, the Golden Buddha, and a Dong Ding. All were excellent, but what captured my attention most was the Oriental Beauty. It was unlike any other Oriental Beauty I have had before. What swill Oriental Beauty have I been drinking all my life! Whereas many Oriental Beauty I've had before are generally simple and straightforward, this one was supremely complex.

It was like opening up an antique wooden drawer filled with Indian spices. Thick in the mouth feel, it lingered in my mouth for what seemed like an eternity. I had prepared to completely write off Oriental Beauty, but this was definitely a game changer. I'm not ready/qualified to say that it was the best; however, it was definitely very good.

I also bought an 80s 125 ml Zi Ni pot for juvenile/adolescent sheng. The "secondary" seal on the bottom was a bit amusing...it recommends this pot for puerh. Makes the process of dedicating this pot much easier. I also bought their smallest gaiwan, an acquisition that has been delayed for too long.

I didn't visit any other tea shops in NYC, but I did visit some vintage/antique Japanese shops, Seasons International in SOHO and Things Japanese in the Upper East Side. Although they both carried mainly Japanese tea ware, there were plenty of vintage cups to satisfy a student of Chinese tea drinking. They both had an interesting selection of tetsubin, which I sadly had neither the space nor budget for.

I bought a few vintage Japanese plates for my gaiwan brewing set-up, and I also bought a 30s Japanese sake cup which I plan on using for puerh. I like rounder cups for pu-erh, and I think that an old(er) tea deserves an old cup. However, the most surprising discovery was an early 20th century gaiwan, hidden in the corner behind all the cups. It was even on sale, which made it even more irresistible. I don't really have a need for more gaiwan, but I was mostly interested in seeing how tea tastes differently in a vintage vs. contemporary piece.

It was nice to visit my friends back East, and it was even nicer to have the opportunity to score so much nice tea ware. It's unfortunate though, that because of these purchases my tea budget is shot to hell for the next month or so. Luckily I'm in a good place tea-wise. I have all my tea bases covered, I have enough pots for the teas I drink regularly, and I have a pretty nice tea set-up now. I'm playing around with a few samples from Sampan, and I'll be ordering some samples from Nada, to fill out my pu-erh collection for some slightly older stuff.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

An Unintended Hiatus

I hate writing for the sake of keeping up appearances, but since I have misplaced my camera (probably at my friend's place in NYC), I can't show-off all the awesome tea pieces I got, as well as describing my journey to The Tea Gallery. Hopefully my friend will get back to me after her Valentine's Day trip, or I find my camera somewhere here. If not, I'm running my own tea storage teas, which may have some interesting results. Until next time, Happy Chinese New Years!


Epic fail...my camera was in the backpack that I had checked countless times before. Only this time did I actually reach all the way down. Show-Off post will be coming shortly...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Brilliant (?) Idea

I've been contemplating an idea, and I hope that I'm not being too ridiculous about it...but please bear with me dear readers

The Background

So I still have a good amount of young sheng samples just lying around. It's mostly stuff from my Yunnan Sourcing last year, and I've only tried these samples only once or twice, since it was pretty clear to me whether I liked them or not. Anyway, I have most of the samples (the ones I don't want to try again) mixed together in as a "house blend." It's sitting in a paper bag in my humidor, maybe aging, maybe not.

The Plan

So I've seen videos of how puerh is compressed, and I'm thinking maybe I can consolidate my samples into a "house blend" cake, which might actually make it more likely to age properly. In these videos they basically steam the maocha until it's soft enough for compression. Maybe I can do the same thing. I think one of the things I have to be careful of is making sure that it dries completely and there's no excessive moisture hanging around inside the cake. I'm also thinking about how exactly to compress it. I don't think there are rocks large enough in my backyard to serve this purpose, but maybe compress it using two boxes, one smaller than the other, and compressing it that way, kind of like those onigiri molds you see in the Japanese markets (see here). I've seen wooden ones (see here) which is more along the lines of what I might try to do. I'll also need to sew together a cotton bag to hold the maocha in after it's been steamed. Maybe I can give this more thought after I come back from my trip back east.

Comments? Has Maitre_Tea gone crazy, or is this the best way to "get rid" of bad samples.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ripe and Raw

I don't drink a lot of shu, but I recalled that my house has a fair amount of wet-stored shu from Guangzhou/Hong Kong. It's mostly a "daily drinker" type tea for my mom, who brews up a huge batch and takes it to work w/her, or puts it in the fridge to drink it chilled. My uncle, living in Guangzhou, is my mom's supplier, so he doesn't skimp on giving her better stuff. Anyway, I figure at the very least I should try it and see what the fuss is all about. I don't really think much about shu, since I normally drink it during dim sum, so it's more of a beverage than a "tea" to me. Most of the weird wo dui/fishy off-flavors have mostly dissipated, and in some ways it tastes quite nice. I detect some woodiness and some "minty" notes.

I've heard a bit about drinkers mixing ripe and raw, so I decided to give it a try. I went 75% raw and 25% ripe. The sheng in question was a 2008 Xiaguan FT "Instant Sensation" whereas the shu was a early 00s (?) no-name cake (The nei fei is weird...need to post a pic of it sometime). I don't know if this is the "standard" ratio but I've seen this ratio mentioned in some places, and IIRC it's the ratio for the ripe/raw mixed bricks/cakes out there.

The taste is...interesting. It has the bite of a young sheng with some mellowness from the shu. It kinda makes the sheng taste older than it actually is in some ways. It's a bit weird and it'll probably take a few more sessions to see if this is something I could do. Maybe I should try experimenting with a 75% ripe to 25% raw ratio...

Friday, January 15, 2010

1999 Menghai 7542 (Sampan)

Come to think of it, I've had more examples of aged 7542 than any other aged pu-erh (which isn't saying much, given my inexperience with much aged pu-erh). Thinking about it, also I've never had the experience of tasting new 7542. I've had three examples thus far, two from 1993 and one from 1999. Granted, these may not be exact dates, especially if there's funny business going on, but they all came from reliable vendors. Nevertheless, they were all remarkable in their own way, and I thank my tea friends for the opportunity to sample things I would otherwise ignore because of price constraints.

So today I have on my plate the most unremarkable of these three, the 1999 7542. Of course, there are some redeeming factors but I'll get to that later. This particular sample was stored in Taiwan for most of its life, so it has all the classic signs of wet storage. I love the damp, wetness, and musty book of wet storage. I apologize for the lack of photos...the weather around these parts has been most uncooperative.

Even though I've mentioned before that my experience with aged pu-erh is minimal, I've actually tasted a good number of it when studying abroad. The tea shop I entertained would brew up some of her reserve collection for me. I don't recall any particular details regarding vintage, recipe, storage, etc. Thinking back to those days, the pu-erh I sampled was definitely wet-stored. They weren't entirely complex but they were interesting, with notes of camphor, woodiness, and Chinese medicine. My friends all showed disgust but I didn't care and I eagerly drank up their share.

Perhaps our tastes and tendencies in tea are reflected by our first impressions. This is true of me, as I am fond of that wet-storage flavor and aroma. I'm a bit torn on this sample, and I'm still debating if I like it or not. There's a bit too much wet-storage, and the tea itself is a bit monotone. There is a slight touch of sharpness coming from the tea's relative young age, which gives me hope that it can still develop. It's comforting to drink, and it leaves a pleasant sensation in my throat. The cha qi is calming, and it leaves my palms and upper back a bit sweaty, and a nice sensation develops in both my mind and chest.

Would I buy this tea? Depends, though if the tea could develop a fuller body and maintain its cha qi...I might be more inclined. I'll taste other samples first before making a decision.

On an unrelated note, the first signs of aging in my 7532! There's a slight bit of tea stains on the nei fei. Okay, so maybe there's been some funny business going on: I accidentally got some parts of the tea wet. I dried it and checked on it every day or so. Should be okay now, and who knows...maybe I actually helped it by giving it some good old HK storage treatment.

Friday, January 8, 2010

2009 Fall Hong Shui (Tea Masters)

From reading my choice of topic for the past month or so you would think that all I drink these days is pu-erh. Well, I would that you're ... partially right. I've been analyzing my Tao Bao purchase, and I've narrowed it down to two tuos that I might "invest" in for storage. I've actually been revisiting some neglected teas, including Dan Cong and various Taiwanese teas I have lying around. Now, I don't take my Taiwanese tea seriously ... since it's often readily available to me freely and in high quality, I've actually never had to buy it before. I don't really analyze or take good tea notes, because Taiwanese tea is something I drink when I want something comforting. It's my macaroni and cheese for all intensive purposes.

But I recently sat down to some tea from Stephane over at Tea Masters, and I've been very impressed with the one offering of his that I've tried so far: the 2009 Fall Hong Shui Oolong. I don't have much experience with Hong Shui Oolong, and the other one I've tried was Floating Leave's Spring 2009 version. There were some general similarities, but I found Stephane's Hong Shui to be more to my liking. They both have higher oxidation, with a light roasting. The oxidation in Stephane's Hong Shui seemed more "in-your-face." It reminded me a lot of my 1996 Jin Xuan, which also has fairly high oxidation.

One of biggest criteria for any tea is good mouth feel and lasting aftertaste. This tea fulfills both requirements. Thick and lush in the mouth, the after taste lingered for almost forever even after my session was done. Durability was pretty good, and it extending upwards to 10 infusions before giving up completely. There was a ripe fruitiness in the brew, but it was more mellow and "tamed" compared to the one Floating Leaves offers. Whereas Floating Leave's Hong Shui seemed more refined and elegant, Stephane's version seemed a little more brash and masculine, richer in flavor, which is the kind of thing I like.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Great Divergence

*Title stolen from one my favorite books, The Great Divergence by Kenneth Pomeranz.

There are two different "camps" that I've noticed, with very different views on how pu-erh should be collected. There are those who buy young, waiting anxiously for the new releases from the major factories, collecting tongs upon tongs of classic recipes, confident in the fact that their tea will age well. They believe, somewhat naively, that the bitterness/astringency will make for a magnificent tea. For a few reason I will elaborate on below, these type of collectors are relatively new in the field.

Than there are those who are more seasoned in their experience, who urge caution when buying anything from the boom years of 2004-2008. These are the kind of people who "would rather have one 90s cake rather than a tong of a 09 release." They also have "better" means of access to aged pu-erh, either living in Asia, having extensive experience traveling through Asia, knowing someone on the "inside," or just having the money to experiment wildly.

There are probably many reasons why there are these two camps, but I think a lot of it has to do with access to pu-erh. There just isn't really available aged stuff being offered at reasonable prices. Of course, what's reasonably priced for one person might be different for some one else, but regardless, what aged stuff is offered via western-type vendors can be pretty darn expensive. I must note that my definition of a pu-erh's "age" isn't determined by numbers, it's determined by maturity. There may be a good number of pre-2004 cakes on puerhshop, but from what I've seen they're mostly in their first stage of aging. On Hou De and Nada anything "aged" will set you back anywhere from $60 and upwards to a few hundred dollars. Now, $67.5 for a 2002 CNNP 8582 may seem reasonable, but to me it's pretty pricey, especially since I have other teas and tea wares that need to be bought too. Of course, these aged cakes may definitely be worth every penny they cost...but I can't afford it.

So perhaps the average beginner takes a look at a '09 8582 ($8.01) and wonder why the heck anyone would spend $67.5 when you could buy the "same" thing for a little over $8? So they're really not the same thing, but they probably don't know how different they are.

To many people whose only source of pu-erh is these western-catering sites would probably think that anything aged is too expensive for them. But that's really not the case, because older stuff can be found more readily in Asia, which may be why most of those in Camp B don't feel the need to buy new, because the older stuff can be bought so easily. I go on Tao Bao and I can find a pretty darn good '02 Mengku Jing Pin for 300 RMB ($44), which is a fraction of the cost of similarly aged cakes on Hou De. I can even find 90s cakes for around $60, which is a joke compared to how much is charged for a 98/99 cake. Of course, it's not fair to compare a landmark cake to a no-name cake, but still, why would I drop $500 for BGT when I can pick up tongs of 90s cakes for the same price?

So this great divergence isn't one between two conflicting camps of collectors, but it's a divergence in the availability of pu-erh here in the West. You have a choice of either really inexpensive new cakes* or super-hyped and super-expensive older cakes. There's no middle ground when it comes to all this. I often wonder why a vendor isn't selling reasonably priced older cakes. The closest examples I can think of are Nada's 90s tuo and late 90s Grand Yellow Label. I would like to see more reasonably priced older stuff, even if it's early 00s stuff, which is pretty much the oldest I can afford. So I leave my readers with the following "task": to point out any reasonably priced "aged" pu-erh which can be found from a western-catering vendor.

*I am omitting the third type: the super-expensive and new cakes

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Experiments in Water

Water is an important, if not most important, component of the tea-making process. In some ways it's even more important than the tea leaf itself! Another component, though a bit less important (IMO), is the tea ware of choice. In many cases, it's yixing, and there are endless debates about the merits of particular clays, shapes, year made, etc. and how it affects the tea made. I have a general idea of what I should look for in terms of my own needs, but I always encourage experimentation for others, because the fun is the journey, not the destination.

We're always so focused on the interplay between yixing and tea, but what about the interplay between yixing and water? So I had a little experiment to see how my different pots affect water. I could have just brewed the same tea in all of them, which probably would be better in terms of detecting differences, but that seemed like too much of a hassle for me.

I pre-heated all the pots with boiling water, taking into account the difference in wall thickness, with the added bonus of "cleaning" out tea leaf bits, tea juice, oils, etc. Granted, the tea/coffee stains on the cups should have been cleaned, but oh well. I'm not claiming this is super scientific or anything. After pre-heating I poured boiling water in, letting the water sit for a few seconds, before decanting into the cups.

So starting from the upper left, going in a clockwise direction. I must note that it was a bit difficult to discern differences between all of these. If this experiment was being done with tea it might have been easier. The pots on the top are darker clays, all some sort of Zi Ni. With all of them, the water was generally "rounded" out in flavor with a thicker mouth feel. The upper-middle one left a weird off-taste in the water that I didn't really like. The pots on the lower level are more of a mixed lot. The lower-left is a modern Zhuni, the lower-middle is a sand-blended 80s Zhuni, and the lower-right is a modern Chao Zhou clay. For the most part, the water seemed a little brighter and sweeter, with the Chao Zhou clay making the water taste the sweetest. I wish I could drink water from that Chao Zhou pot everyday.

Of course, there are things that complicate the results. These pots have been used regularly, so maybe the change in water is the result of seasoning rather than the clay itself. Anyway, it was a fun experiment.

Happy New Years to All!