Late night tea drinking

I got some tea in the mail today, which would’ve made this blog entry, but then, I got called out by ZH to go tea drinking at around 7:30, so off I went.

By the time I got there it was already 8:30pm, but that didn’t stop us from drinking lots of tea. It was quite a nice little teahouse, actually. I really liked it, and regret not bringing my camera. Nice service, allows us to brew tea freely for a nominal charge, and really just a decent place all around. If only China has less smokers….

Anyway. First tea was a fired tieguanyin, supposedly with some years of age. It was difficult to tell, because, apparently, it was very recently re-fired, as they do from time to time to keep moisture out of the tea. That, however, means that it was harder to taste the subtle aged taste of a tieguanyin, and a lot of the roasted aroma instead. Not bad, quite mellow, and pleasant. Obviously aged. It’s just a matter of how much.

Then…. we had two Yiwus, side by side. One is ZH’s stuff, supposedly something like 8 or 9 years, I can’t remember now. It’s been in Beijing for about 4-5 years, and it shows. The tea, i thought, was only 3-5 years of age, because it looked young. When tasted, it had an odd aroma… something I’ve never encountered in a Yiwu before. It has a hint of what I know as the Yiwu flavour, somewhat aged, but it’s different in that the aroma of one particular aspect (sort of a spice… not sure what) is quite distinct. I think what it is is that because aging is slower here, it takes longer for the tea to pass through each stage of aging, and therefore what might be sped by in Hong Kong storage is instead accentuated here. Different flavour, for sure. It’s a little bitter and a little astringent. I think in some ways I prefer the Hong Kong taste.

The other Yiwu is this — something I received very recently as a sample

The coin is there mainly for comparison, it’s about the size of a nickle. This is a 2006 fall Yiwu small arbor tree, made with tea that is about 20 years old, supposedly. This is stuff that many vendors try to pass off as “old tree”, “ancient arbor tree”, and stuff like that. I specifically asked for this so I could use it as a basis for comparison. Of course, if a tea tastes like this it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a small arbor tree, but what it does mean is that it is small arbor tree quality tea, so it should command a similar price…

Anyway, the tea is nice, sweet, very very mellow, and very Yiwu. It is slightly on the thin side, compared with better, old arbor tree teas from Yiwu. It’s less aromatic as well. All in all though, not a bad tea. I might even consider getting a few just to see how they taste when aged, especially in comparison with all the other Yiwu I have right now.

After we went through some rounds of the Yiwu, we moved on to a cooked brick from the 80s in ZH’s possession. Oddly enough, it tastes somewhat like the Guangyun Gong I’ve had recently, with the exception that the GYG had a lot more yun, or aftertaste, than this one. This one is sweet like the GYG, but is not as “long” as the GYG. It also doesn’t last quite as long, and by about the 10-12th infusion, it was going downhill, losing the sweetness. It will be good for some more infusions if one were to boil it. Nice tea though, and very enjoyable.

Next was the “30 years loose puerh” from Best Tea House. I am now of the opinion that this tea is probably more like 15-20 years. Not 30, but then, it doesn’t really matter. It’s quite enjoyable, and quite nice, especially for a loose raw puerh that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. As ZH mentioned, he feels indulgent when drinking stuff like his brick and this kind of tea. It’s old, and at the end of the day, the market price for this stuff is not low.

Meanwhile, we talked about teas in general, plans for Zhongcha this year, etc. The conversation is better than the tea, and that’s what really makes these gatherings.

Just when we were about done (I was all tea-ed out), we were thinking “is there anything more to drink?”. I was going through his bags of samples that he has (he has lots), and found an interesting item… Lochan Darjeeling. Hmmm, didn’t expect to see it here.

He got some through his work. Since I told him I have been chatting with the owner of the firm on the internet, he said “why not?”, and off we brewed. We didn’t use much leaves. It was a first flush taste — very light, green, almost white tea like. An unmistakable Darjeeling flavour profile. ZH comments how Indian teas in general can be so consistent, whereas Chinese teas are less so, usually. The aromas are quite pleasant, and quite strong. The liquor is light in colour. The tea is a bit on the thin side of things, and with one quite noticeable flaw — the tea, when drunk, is VERY rough. You know how some teas leave your tongue roughed up? Well, this is one of them, and quite seriously so. Part of this is a water issue, and playing with the water can help fix it. Part of it, though, I suspect is just the tea itself. This is extra apparent, probably, because we’ve been drinking a lot of very smooth teas today, so the roughness stood out.

Then again, this is not a tea that was produced for gongfu brewing, I think. Instead, it’s made for a different style of drinking, where such roughness would be much, much less apparent and tolerated. Priorities are different as well. This in some ways exemplifies very well the different preferences of Western versus Chinese tea drinking. Western tastes are very aroma focused, with typical descriptions of a tea surrounding a particular tea’s taste — it’s about how a tea literally TASTES and SMELLS. Chinese drinkers, however, don’t only go for the aroma and the taste, but also how it FEELS in one’s mouth, on one’s tongue, and down one’s throat (or even after it’s been swalloed). These are equally, if not more, important to a tea’s overall quality and appraisal. For example, in Hong Kong when drinking tea with Tiffany & Co., if a tea is rough on the tongue, no matter the aroma, they will rate it as a bad tea. That is not to say it is really that terrible, necessarily, but to them, that’s enough of a sin to make it not worthwhile to drink. The same tea, given to another group of people with entirely different tastes, will receive very different reactions.


Comments

Late night tea drinking — 8 Comments

  1. Did you mean rough from the gritty tannin?

    Actually, Westerners also value mouthfeel, texture, smoothness, etc.

    So I think Lochan’s tea is suited for tea + milk combination to tame the edges…fat counters tannin.

  2. Yes, rough from gritty tannin.

    I don’t know, I’m not sure if Westerners do (at least not to the same extent?). A lot of times I see people talk about tea online… how a tea feels barely gets a mention, focusing instead mostly on the forest floors or the apricots…

    Maybe it’s something that folks feel, but don’t talk about? I’m not saying the feeling goes unnoticed. I’m just saying it doesn’t seem to be a big part of the evaluation criteria among the general public. The sort of people who blog about Chinese teas is not exactly the general public either.

    The thing with Lochan’s tea is that it will be a bit of a waste if you add milk to it, IMHO. I suspect a small amount in a big pot brewed for five minutes might yield better results. It doesn’t last too many infusions either, as a tea with broken leaves probably shouldn’t…

  3. I think you’ve given words to the feeling I’ve had lately while drinking Darjeelings. They just aren’t as desirable for me anymore. With more experience and interest tea, my focus has definitely come upon Chinese teas. Great insight!

  4. Most people don’t take Darjeeling teas with milk – here in the UK, at least. A little lemon, perhaps. It’s predominantly an afternoon tea.

    Generally, to my mind, most people don’t talk about the texture of tea in the mouth. The “smoothness” of a tea or wine might get a mention, but not much else. This even goes for wine reviews in the quality national press. “Rough” / “smooth” is about their limit. Check it out yourself, by reading the ten most recent wine reviews from The Times, The Telegraph, or the Guardian. These are reviewers who make their livelihood writing about wine, to an educated audience, bear in mind.

    Partly, I believe that this is because there is an air of affectation and pretension about discussing the “feeling” of a wine, in England. During the 80s and 90s, a very prolific wine reviewer constantly went on about such things, until the point at which she was parodying herself. Since then, people tend to steer clear of the subject, lest they seem similarly foolish. I hasten to add that discussing the texture of a wine or tea in the mouth is a valuable aspect of the review, obviously, but that the discussion of it has become a cliche here.

    Though matters of the texture of the wine/tea in the mouth often go unappraised, a rough product will invariably be classified as “poor”.

    Toodlepip,

    Hobbes

  5. I sometimes feel funny writing on this blog about feeling down the throat, etc, when talking about teas. I mean, people who’ve never experienced it will probably go “huh? down the throat?? there are no tastebuds there!”. But the fact is… some teas do leave a mark down the throat, sometimes it extends quite far.

    Same with chaqi… it’s just…. so ridiculous sounding, until you’ve had that one moment when it hits you, and you realize that it is real. For the longest time I thought people talking about chaqi were just making things up, until one time I drank a tea that crept up my back…

  6. >>Maybe it’s something that folks feel, but don’t talk about?

    You have to forgive me in advance, I’m going to rant about wine and what westerners value as I understand it.  From my interactions with my western wino friends online (winexiles) and in the meatspace, they do appreciate mouthfeel not only as an afterthought, and they talk about it often.

    Descriptions such as “huge,” “hollow,” “thin,” “broad,” “watery,” “voluptuous / Marylin Monroe,” “oily/glyceryn,” “silky/sateeny,” “numbing”, etc. are often communicated.  Mouthfeel descriptions are even more prominent when discussing harder liquors like whiskeys, bourbons, Cognacs, etc.

    The subject of tannins can not be discused briefly here, but in general tannins must be balanced with aromas for a wine to age properly.  My point in mentioning it is westerners ALSO don’t go only for the aroma and taste, but the combination of everything, including throatfeel (if there is such a word) and how it feels after swallowing (finish).

    Another difference in counter to the Chinese point of view as you mentioned above is that there is a significant amount of individualism among westerners.  That is to say “one’s trash is another’s treasure” is often seen and heard.  On the other hand, the Hong Kong-ese, if what you mentioned above is true in stereotype, would tend to immediately brush off teas that are rough in the mouth as subpar, even though it may have other appealing characteristics.

    Consider this: a guy praises the bigness of a Californian Cabernet and dislikes the thin-and-watery Bordeaux, while those who prefer old-world wines can’t understand what the fuss about Californian wines.  Another guy might like the tannic and concentrated wines from Toro because it’s “manly”, he says, but another dismisses it as rough and brutish.  And there are those who look down upon most everything except for fine Burgundies, which are smoother, less tannic and highly aromatic.

    Now, all of these opinions on mouthfeel may seem to be regarded as an afterthought in published wine journals (although Steven Tanzer, a respected critic, gives some weight to how a wine feels), but they are discussed and evaluated often among serious winos who don’t write tasting notes for a living.

    I think if more and more westerners discuss teas as hedonistically as they do about wines, they will not only talk about aromas and taste, but also on how it feels, but with a healthy dose of individualism.

  7. I think the Hong Kong-ese taste I’ve talked about a little is not true in, say, Beijing, or Shanghai, or anywhere else.  Beijingers, for example, are not as big on mouthfeel.  They don’t mind if a young tea is really rough.  They sometimes even like it that way.  It’s very different.  I think it mostly has to do with differing requirements for what they want in a tea, and Hong Kong and Beijing have very, very different tastes in many ways.  What is entirely an acceptable tea in Hong Kong can be seen as terrible in Beijing, and vice versa.  I am sure the same can be said for individuals, as I’m obviously generalizing here.

    As for talking about mouthfeel — perhaps what I am saying is that among the tea reviews I’ve seen posted by enthusiasts, a lot of time I see a lot of talk about what the flavours are, and the mouthfeel barely gets a mention?  I’m sure people are feeling it.  It’s just a matter of whether or not they think it is something important/interesting enough to talk about it.  Since other than a few places, such as SF, LA, or NYC, there is very little meatspace interaction among tea fanatics, that’s all I can rely upon. 

    I have learned over time that at least with younger puerh, it is not the flavours but the feeling of the tea that serves as a better predictor of its quality in the long run.  All the flavours will change.  The fact that a tea is very thick and juicy right now is probably not going to change as much.  I think I am now subscribing more to that school of thought, which is, I guess, why I talked about what I did.  What I guess I am trying to say with my post is that when drinking tea, it is instructive to not get too carried away by the flavours, but also by what the tea is doing to you.

  8. MarshalN, I didn’t notice this before, I think you’re discussing quite a worthwhile subject here and in all I feel this should be brought up more often. Great that you bring up such interesting subjects…

    Peculiarly I think that this area of tea appreciation is quite similar in shape to the appreciation of say music or poetry. One has a certain level of criteria which one applies before even beginning the process of appreciation, say the performance must be reasonable or the poetry must actually be readable (sidestepping the really new works). The same happens when one is drinking tea, say the tea feels rough, musty or industrial then there isn’t really any fun in appreciating it further. Of course I would agree that the deepness and the peculiar parts of such an analysis would depend on personal experience and cultural differences. The worst kind of product to describe is really a tea that is (very) merely OK (compare to pop music haha)… it screams mediocrity but you can’t quite pin it down with descriptions of taste/aroma… its in the feeling, lack of energy, lack of anything.

    In all I think this a very worthwhile subject that it would be worthwhile to discuss, perhaps on LJ Pu-erh or something.

    And whats wrong with forest floors and apricots? hehe 🙂

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