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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.

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!