Wednesday November 1, 2006

I realized, when going through my tea stash, that I never drank the Jingyehao Yiwu sample I got from Hou De from quite a while ago. That’s what I decided to brew up today.

The sample came in one large piece with a little bit of broken leaves. I broke open the large piece into two, and then separated one half into bits

This is what I brewed up.

The taste in the first 3 infusions was classic Yiwu — a bit aged taste. It reminds me of the Green Big Tree, although the taste, I think, isn’t quite as “pure”. There’s a bit of “noise” in the taste, if you will. It’s quite nice, and quite pleasant to drink.

Then, infusions 4-8, I think, are less pleasant somehow. The tea got a little more bitter. There’s a bit of tingly feeling on the tongue and the throat, but not necessarily a pleasant one. It’s a bit uncomfortable, and I’m not sure why that’s the case or what exactly it is. Hmmm. The tea also gets very drying at this stage.

Then, the long brewed infusions…. are very nice. Cools my throat. Nice huigan. This is after I sat the tea away for a few hours and then came back to brew it up. Somehow the tea improved, and less of the unpleasant stuff was there. What happened?

This is a shot of infusion…. 3 or 4, I think

Update: There we go, got the last brew of the tea out, so here are the brewed leaves

Lots of stem, as Yiwu teas seem to always do. Leaves are quite large. One thing interesting — the light really plays tricks on you. When I look at it under my tungsten light, it’s quite brown/red. When I look at it through the white-adjusted camera…. it’s green!

Monday October 30, 2006

I went back to Maliandao today. A big part of what I wanted to get yesterday, but didn’t get time to shop for, was Wuyi teas. I thought I could bring them to my sister as a gift when I go to Paris next week.

So I went back to the Wuyi tea store that I liked, and where I bought a few things before, especially with BBB. The owner of the factory was there. She’s the mother of the person in charge of the store in Beijing, and is usually in Wuyishan overseeing production at the factory (which, from what I can gather, is more like a small workshop than a real factory).

I started out asking for that Wuyi tea that I tried with BBB again. It was a tea with extremely good cha qi. I remembered it basically making me go “wow…”. It was there again, and I tried it again. I want to get some of it, despite it’s very high price.

Then we went on to a higher fired Dahongpao. Tastes quite nice. Exquisite, and there’s a touch of softness to the brasher fired taste in the tea. Hmmm, I want this too.

Then, as we were drinking this, three middle aged women of leisure walked in (no, I mean they are married to people who pay their bills, or something like that — what Cantonese call SeeLai). They sat down, obviously one of them knowing the owner pretty well, and started asking for teas. I just sat there, and drank along.

We tasted no less than…. 4? 5? Teas. The first was a Zhengshan Xiaozhong, better known as Lapsang Souchong. First infusion — smokiness as usual, and expected. Then…. wow. I’m floored. This is really good. The tea is nice and smooth, and incredibly sweet. I’ve never had a red tea (Chinese call black tea red tea, indulge me) that tastes like this. It’s not astringent at all. There’s no hint of that nasty rough tannin taste. It leaves your mouth feeling moisturized, full, etc etc…. very nice.

And it’s dirt cheap!

Then…. we had a tieluohan, a shuixian, a rougui, a huangqi…. then it was time for the ladies to get their goods. They were about to go, but then decided to stay around a little longer. Then some other lady walked in. I was, by then, quite filled up with tea (having sat there for 3 hours). I got a bit of the two dahongpaos that I started with, and a bunch of the Lapsang Souchong to bring with me to Paris. Yum. I can drink this Lapsang Souchong all day. Usually I don’t like that tea, but this one….is quite special.

Then I walked literally next door to the Mengku place. No, the Yuanyexiang really is not there anymore. They looked. I wanted to also try some of their younger stuff, so the guy there brewed up first the organic cake for me from this year. It’s…. not great. I don’t know why i didn’t like it, mostly, I think, because the mouthfeel is not good. The tea leaves a very drying and very rough taste on the tongue. I feel like I’ve been scrubbed with sandpaper on the tongue…. it’s so drying. Not very pleasant.

Then I had the Mushu Cha, literally “Mother Tree Tea”, also from this year. It’s cheaper than the organic cake, and it’s better, IMO. Smoother mouthfeel, and a bit better tasting. I was thinking about buying a few of these. Then again, I have more than enough tea.

I was feeling the ill effects of having too much tea, and the young puerh tipped me over into feeling a bit ill, so I was sitting there, just chatting with the store guy about random topics, when this man walked in. He’s apparently one of the Mengku dealers on Maliandao, probably coming over to get some goods.

Apparently, the way they have to operate now is rather difficult. Since Mengku has a factory store on Maliandao, anything that the factory store sells is going to be mostly cheaper than any other store selling Mengku stuff, because, well, the factory store has a lower cost. So, the dealers are all stocking up on this year’s tea, while they’re all selling stuff from last year — what the factory store is no longer selling. This is the only way for them to survive, not a pretty picture. So, Mengku is thinking about closing down the factory store’s presence on Maliandao, and instead make it a real wholesale division somewhere else in the city (or just rent an office space somewhere with a warehouse in Maliandao). This will ease the problem of the dealers there trying to sell tea. Makes sense, although sucks for consumers. Then again, they need people to take the large orders from them, since, at the end of the day, factories can’t do retail all by themselves.

While he was there though, he dug up a brick from Mengku that isn’t available yet, but of which there’s a sample, and he took pieces of it and said this is something he wants to get. We brewed up a bit of it… and it’s quite good! Decent mouthfeel, etc, but it’s 1kg per brick, and it’s… not for sale, yet. I guess I will watch this one when it comes out, and maybe get one (1kg is a lot of tea) if the price is right.

Anyway, more tea than I could handle today, and yet, still haven’t tasted a lot of the stuff I want to try. Maliandao is a curse as well as a blessing. There were at least 3 stores I wanted to visit that I didn’t get around to. Oh well.

Sunday October 29, 2006

Long entry. I thought about posting all the pics I took, but then decided it’ll be 1) way too long and 2) not really useful. So instead, I’ll do the low pictures approach for the few notable items of today. Part of the reason is because…. a lot of the cakes look rather similar.

Today was the tasting that is hosted by Hong Zhao Tou, a teashop in Maliandao that is opened by a Taiwanese guy. They also have two stores in Guangzhou, and seem to specialize in Taiwanese oolongs and older puerhs. There were a total of about 15 people at the tasting, seperated into two tables. I ended up on the table with younger people, and hosted by the company’s manager of the branch, a woman in her early 40s (I think?). The other table had a more lively discussion on tea, but they were all older and I think they all sort of knew each other. Everybody is from Sanzui, except a few at my table who were in the trade and were just friends of the boss.

So things got rolling pretty quickly, as we had about 10 puerhs to go through. The first up was a 2002 iron cake, wrapped in one of those old Red Label style wrapper. Nothing remarkable. It was a usual Xiaguan tasting iron cake… nice, not fancy, probably too expensive for what it is.

Next up — 99 Green Big Tree. Nice, a bit spicy, deep, complex, living up to its name, although only about on par with the Yuanyexiang, I think, and by extension, not a whole lot better than the 2002 cake I got from Mengku, and definitely not 13x better, as the pricing indicates. I guess I can probably bargain it down a bit, but since this is vintage stuff, and relatively rare, the room for downward movement in price is small. Nice tea, not worth the admission fee.

Then we had a 97 bing that was ordered by some Malaysian merchant. Menghai stuff, supposedly. Rather uninteresting and flat, especially put next to the Green Big Tree. It was ok, but not great. Interestingly, the tea changed a lot in the few infusions we had. That was rather surprising and worth noting. The first few infusions were not that great, but it got better.

The next was a 97 7542, and surprisingly, it went down well. I liked it, quite a bit, actually. It was selling at the same price as the Green Big Tree, and I think I’d buy this one if I wanted to blow that kind of money on a cake. Complex, interesting, had nice sensations down the throat…. everything I’m looking for in a cake, basically. Not bad at all.

By then, it was already more than an hour, and we were only just getting started.

Then we had a 7542 from the 80s. Wet storage stuff. Sweet, mellow, as a wet storage should be. Not bad, not great.

Continuing the parade, a 8582 from the 80s. This one was stored better, and is one of the cakes I want to show a picture of, because it has something interesting


Front


Back

As you can see — typical recipe cake, where the front is made of small, high grade, leaves, while the back is mostly big low grade ones. Not that it’s bad, just something interesting to note. You can also tell the storage has been largley dry — the leaves are shiny and look good. The flavours…. I remember it being good, not overly impressive, hints of medicine, camphor…. something like that. I realize that it’s starting to blur a little.

We then had an iron cake — 80s traditional character Zhongcha brand. It is, interestingly, not similar at all to what YP gave me. They look rather similar, but this one has been through different kind of storage, probably drier. It’s not nearly as sweet and interesting, but then, maybe the amount of tea they use matters as well. More on that later. Either way…. what YP gave me is infinitely better. Infinitely.

But all of this was sort of a prelude. I wasn’t terribly interested in any of this stuff. Interesting, yes. Educational? Yes. But it’s not why I was here. I was here to taste the old stuff.

Old stuff #1 — small Green Label from the 70s. Quite an interesting tea. Some wet storage detected, but it’s been quite a while now, so it’s not terribly obvious. Very flavourful, complex, deep. The first two infusions were pretty strong, aromatic in an old puerh kind of way, then turns into the sweet water, but with a distinct twist — the taste is ricey. Yes, it reminds me of rice. I don’t know why, but it does. Rice. That, I thought was, quite interesting.

Old stuff #2 — Red Label Iron Cake from the 50s. Same stuff as I tasted from YP, but this one’s weaker — partly because of the problem of not enough leaves. The same sensation of salivation along the sides of the mouth, the same odd sense of astringency that comes up…. and the same inability to continue with a powerful brew from the 5th or 6th infusion onwards. These old teas die fast. I don’t know why, but they do. I guess because they’re old and they’re losing their tea flavours? Still, impressive, and you can’t get this sensation anywhere else.

Old stuff #3 — Songpin from the 30s. Hmmm, I have a few pics for you


Looks just like any other old tea?


This is $17,000 USD in my hands right here. Sorry for the reflection, I couldn’t take it out.


On the left is the Songpin, middle is Red Label, and right is Small Green Label (these are all the wash)

So, how does it taste?

I was desperate, and I drank the wash. Yeah. Part of the reason I drank the wash is because the wash was an amazingly long 30s. I don’t know what she was thinking, but for tea this old….. you shouldn’t wash it for so long, especially when it’s already pretty broken up. I don’t know what they were thinking.

So I drank the wash, and it’s….. interesting. Medicinal is probably the only word I know to describe it. There’s a certain…. aged character to it, but it’s medicinal. The taste is mellow. It’s not strong, it’s not overwhelming, it doesn’t make you cry. If anything, the Red Label would make me cry, not this. It can last many infusions as sweet water…. but it’s really a bit underwhelming, especially considering the price. I get more enjoyment out of my fresh Yiwu than this. Then again, the “tea base” is really good — you can really feel the tea going down, and it stays with you for a long time. But then again, I get this too with good fresh Yiwu leaves, and I honestly cannot say this is vastly different in that respect either.

But this gets me to the pet peeve of the day. Why did they use so little leaves?

Ok, I shouldn’t be complaining, because this is free. Since it’s free. But…. why so little leaves? Somebody weighed the tea they used, and it’s between 3-4 grams. That’s just… so little. Most of the gaiwans were half filled even when brewed, needing long infusion times to make anything of them. Of course, if they filled it up it will not only cost a lot of money, but also get us all tea drunk halfway through the day, but still…

I felt bad for the woman brewing the tea. I think she was seriously burning her fingers by the end of the day. The gaiwans were not the best, I think, and they get quite hot. I felt bad for her.

Overall, an educational day. Some teas were great, some were so so, some were… meh.

I then went to the Mengku store. I decided I wanted more of the Yuanyexiang after all….. and they were SOLD OUT.

Blah. That really killed my day. I was rather unhappy. I asked them to see if they can dig more up from their storage, if they have any left, but i
t’s not looking good. Why are all the teas I actually want to buy so hard to get? This is rather annoying.

I think I am going back to Maliandao tomorrow. I have a few things I want to try/buy that I didn’t get to today.

Saturday October 28, 2006

This blog was started as a tool for myself, mostly, to record what I’ve tasted and what I thought about them. A depository, of sorts. Gradually more and more people started reading it. Although the readership isn’t exactly large by any stretch of imagination at this point, it does seem like I have readers all over the world, from Australia to the UK. Thanks for reading :).

Today the depository function was used as I revisited the Lao Banzhang from Xizihao, a sample of which I got from Hou De. Gotta give them credit for selling sample sized stuff. It’s nice to be able to taste a lot of different things.

I remember last time when I tasted it I thought it was a bit green-tea like. I also remembered it being a bit bland, actually, not flat, but bland. I also said that the cha qi was quite strong.

I think the same holds true, to a degree, although I think now that I’ve tasted more young puerh, I can say that this is some sort of a big tree tea, with reasonable craftsmanship and decent raw material, although probably not the best of the best. The tingling, cooling sensation was there, although it didn’t exactly extend down the throat. The taste was mild, with an underlying bitterness and a taste profile that seems to be in line with other Banzhang I’ve tasted. The tea seems to have aged a bit since I last tasted it, about 5-6 months ago. It could be just me thinking that, but I think given that I added a little less leaves than last time, it still comes out pretty strong, and I could sort of taste a hint of aged puerh in there, although at this point it is very much just a hint of it. There’s some smokiness early on, and it goes away after infusion 4-5.

Cha qi is still decent, and obvious. There’s a good amount of huigan, and the tea, when drunk, is fairly comforting. I thought maybe I should buy something like this. Or, maybe I should go to that place where BBB and I tasted that one decent Banzhang cake — the asking price was high, but maybe it’s worth getting one or two if the taste seems good.

Hmmm, I got too carried away and forgot to include photos.


Standard infusion… about infusion 3-4, I believe. The colour stayed this way for most of the sitting

Maybe because it’s been sitting in a paper bag for a while, the tea is a bit more broken up than I remembered. I was hoping to find a whole leaf, but couldn’t. The reason for that is because I have read that true Old Banzhang old growth tea has two distinctive features — one is that the tip of the leaf does not point straight, but rather turns sideways (IIRC to the right). So that means that rather than having a straght line that can disect the thing into half along the stem, the leaf is actually asymmetrical. The other thing is that the edge of the leaf should be wavy, not flat. There’s a ripple that is only present in Old Banzhang leaves that aren’t there anywhere else. Since I couldn’t find a good sample of leaf for this, however, I couldn’t prove it either way.

Friday October 27, 2006

I drank the remainder of Phyll’s dahongpao. It is quite mellow, a bit fruity, and on the whole less punchy than the Wuyi I got. Wuyi teas, I find, are quite relaxing to drink, unless you’re drinking top notch dahongpao, in which case the cha qi knocks you out…

I have found a problem with my puerh pot. Yesterday, I saw a ring of deposit from tea that formed near the bottom of the pot, so I thought I will rub it and sort of polish the pot that way. Who knew…. when I tried rubbing it, the whole patina of that part came off alongside the tea deposit, so now I have a ring of dull colour at the bottom of the pot, while the rest remains its shiny self with the patina. Hmmm…. I tried to see if I can start fixing it today with putting some tea on it and basically brushing tea onto the part, wait till it evaporates, repeat, but nothing seemed to work. I did something similar with my tieguanyin pot, because there was a ring of less-polished bit on the lid, and I successfully blended the two to the same colour again. The patina on my puerh pot, however, is much thicker…

Oh well, I might just have to live with a pot that has a small ring of duller clay at the bottom. It’s not a real loss, and doesn’t hinder brewing in any way. I think the problem is that while my other pots are all brought up naturally by me, this one was not, and the way the patina formed … I don’t know how it was done. I always thought it’s a bit too shiny. Who knows. Maybe it’s got some wax on it and that’s what makes it the way it looks. Whatever, the pot is nice enough. I’m even contemplating just scrubbing the layer of whtaever it is off the pot and start from scratch. In some ways, it’s more fun that way.

Thursday October 26, 2006

Today I ran a test that somebody on Sanzui suggested. It’s for the Yiwu cake that I have, because there was some reddish colour on the leaves I tried last time. There’s speculation that it could have undergone “pre-oxidation” much like an oolong, and thus producing a tea that is less desirable in the long run.

The method is brewing using 1:16 ratio of tea:water, then by pouring gently on the side of the gaiwan, leave the first brew for 30s, second for 1 minute, then 30s again. The goal, supposedly, is to see if there are funny business going on with bitterness, which the guy referred to as “bitterness peeling off”. I’m not sure what exactly that means.

However, I can report that I find no significant difference between this brew and the last one. In fact, this one tasted a bit better. If you look at the leaves and the liquor, the colour is also lighter. I wonder if the leaves I picked last time somehow tended to be redder, mostly because it’s stuff on the surface, meaning larger leaves, meaning easier to get bruised during the processing? I’m not sure. Take a look yourself and compare it with the pics down the page in my old entry.

I can say that the cha qi, even with so little leaves, was evident, with my heart pumping quite fast and also feeling a bit of a sweat even with so little leaves. I think after this tasting I feel a bit better about buying the whole tong :). Even if it doesn’t turn out so good in 5-10 years…. it tastes quite good now!

But as you can probably guess, so little leaves wasn’t going to satisfy me, so I brewed up something else. I decided to give the brick I recently bought a try. This brick is also labeled as Keyixing, but it’s a different production and I think a later one. However, there is talk that this is actually a re-pressed brick using loose, aged maocha. I can believe that.

Anyway, here are the pics

Front

Back

Edge

Quite shiny. It must’ve been dry stored, and stored decently well (unlike the other bricks I have, which are quite poorly stored). I am thinking this is, at the very least, a good lesson in storage. If you put them side by side… it’s obvious right away which one is dry stored.

This is what it looks like when I broke a corner…. the inside is more or less the same as outside, which is good. Sometimes bricks are filled with shavings and fannings, and ditto for cakes. This is why it’s best to have someone open it up for you to taste

So I brewed it in my pot. The taste….. it tasted quite bitter initially. Part of the problem is that the Yiwu filled my mouth with sweetness, so I think in comparison it tastes quite bitter. There’s that sharp taste of green puerh that still hasn’t gone away. Judging from the colour of the liquor, I’d say it’s about 10-15 years

It then mellows out a bit. There’s a good bit of camphor taste, and then it turns into a chocolate like aroma, and descends into the sweet tasting water that older puerh tends to be. There seems to be a bit of wild tea in there, because once again, I am tasting that “wild” taste. Of course, I don’t know if that’s what it actually is, but let’s just call it that for now.

Here are the brewed leaves

Not a great tea, I think. Water is a bit thin, and the complexity lacking, but it makes up for it with its age, and most importantly, the relatively cheap price :)

Wednesday October 25, 2006

Aside from the Yiwu cake, I also got a bag full of maocha the same day, free of charge, that is supposedly from the same village. I think she said it’s from her neighbour and her parents sent it over as a gift of sorts. The bag is quite substantial, and there’s at least something like 150g of tea in there, so it’s quite enough for current drinking (in fact, already way more tea than I need).

So I brewed it up today to see if it’s the same batch or different one from the tea in the cakes, and also to see if there’s anything interesting about these.

They’re pretty impressive looking loose tea. Leaves are large, and quite long. I have read that tea farmers in Yiwu these days are not rolling the tea as much as they used to, partly because of demand from tea makers that they want larger faced leaves — because they look better. Nobody knows how this affects the taste in the long run. My guess is it’s probably not a whole lot, but….

One annoying thing about loose maocha is that they are hard to fit into a gaiwan, until they get wet anyway. I stuffed the gaiwan, essentially

This is how it looks brewed

Colour stayed pretty consistent for 10+ infusions, after which it started dropping off a bit unless I prolong the time, in which case it stayed with the same colour for longer. The taste is, again, classically Yiwu. It’s mild, almost tasteless when in the mouth, and has a nice fragrance that is floral after you swallow it. There’s a sense of coolness coming from the tea, extending down to the throat, although I think this particular one is not quite as strong as the leaves from the cake. Cha Qi is evident, as my heart started pumping and I was sweating after drinking two cups of this. It really worked me up and that doesn’t always happen. After about 4-5 infusions, my whole mouth was filled with sensations of sweetness. It was sweet, sugary sweet. Huigan is immediate and overwhelming. I don’t think I’ve ever really had this feeling before of such sweetness in drinking tea, but now I have. I’ve read about it on Sanzui from someone who knows what he’s talking about vis a vis Yiwu teas… now I know what he meant by “wave after wave of huigan that is endless”

Since it’s maocha, you get a nicer look at the whole leaves (whereas from cakes you have to peel them off very carefully to preserve whole leaves). Look quite nice, a little less red than the stuff on the cake, I think, although it could have something to do with the processing or just luck of the draw. Some of the leaves have very noticeable veins — you can feel the smaller veins on the leaf, which was quite impressive. They say these are from old tea trees, some of which are a few hundred years old. I can’t verify the claim, of course, but this is probably not your typical plantation tea. Plantation tea supposedly have a more bitter taste, and the aromas linger mostly in the front of the mouth, while older growth tea are more to the back of your mouth and very un-bitter. Plantation teas evolve slower, and take longer to age, whereas older growth tea will age faster.

All of this, of course, is what other people told me. It’ll take me a few years to verify these info :)

I think next time I go to Maliandao I should pay a visit to the big factory stores, like Menghai and Xiaguan, and try out their goods more thoroughly, so to have a basis for comparison. I might also want to buy a few, but the prices for those goods are quite high, especially Menghai. I’m not sure if they’re worth it. For two or three decent Menghai I can get a cake of this Yiwu.

Tuesday October 24, 2006

So the verdict is that there are two wrappers that use the “ye” that means “industry” rather than the “ye” that means leaves. One is the 88 Qingbing style, the other is from later, which means it’s not relevant.

Given the date, then, it is entirely possible for it to be applied in this case :).

Nevertheless, the tea is not exactly well stored :(, unless the mould developed since I got it, but it hasn’t been subject to moisture, as far as I am aware anyway, and really shouldn’t be deep into the middle of the compressed piece….

Tuesday October 24, 2006

Today’s teas started at a local tea shop — Fuchaju. Some of you might have heard of this from an auction store on Ebay who sells his teas. Basically, it’s started by a Taiwanese tea drinker who is quite famous for his tea roasting skills, and he sells some oolongs as well as puerhs. I had some expectations going into the store.

And my god, the expectations were dashed quickly and mercilessly. It was awful. The two salespersons there knew almost nothing about tea…. whether it be oolongs or puerh. They could tell me little about anything. I asked if they have higher fired oolong or tieguanyin, since that should be what they specialize in, but they couldn’t tell me what they’ve got exactly, not show me the tea proactively so that I can look at the leaves and compare. Who trained these people??

So I ended up settling for one oolong for taste, and looked at the puerh while they were boiling the water. Turns out that there’s only one raw puerh cake on sale. The rest are all cooked. They are wrapped in your usual puerh wrapper, but beyond that, somehow they have also put them in these heavy plastic bags, so that even the samples are difficult to look at, and I had to take them out. I’m not sure what they were protecting the tea against.

Meanwhile, the water was ready and I tried the oolong. Light fire stuff, nothing exotic. It was quite pleasant, but not really something I’d spend money on buying right now, just because it’s not what I am looking for.

The one raw cake was from Wuliangshan in Yunnan, so I asked to try that. Oddly enough, while I was still tasting the oolong, the other girl sat down at the other table and decided to start making the puerh for me. I’m not sure what the hurry was, nor, for that matter, why they were doing it away from me. So by the time I finished with the oolong (after a 3 weak infusions with maybe 3g of tea in a HUGE gaiwan, and which they brewed the first infusion using about a minute and the second one about a minute and half…) I was presented with lukewarm puerh from the other table, also brewed with very little leaves and with infusions of a minute or more. Why they do this, I do not know.

While brewing, the girl repeatedly apologized for not knowing exactly how to make tea and such. Turns out this branch only opened a few months ago, and they were both hired very recently. They are from Hunan (for some reason, I’ve met a lot of Hunan girls recently selling tea, mostly in Maliandao). None of them had a background in tea, so….

So, of course, I didn’t buy anything. It was an exercise in annoyance. Their manager was away, but somehow, the manager is either grossly incompetent (i.e. not training his/her staff well) or the manager usually does everything with the girls sort of serving as aids. It was pretty sad. It’s obvious the location of the store is terrible as well, since it has no pedestrain traffic and you are pretty much destination-shopping when going there. Who decided to open a store here, I don’t know. It was a mistake, I can say that much.

Anyway, enough ranting.

Not being satisfied with two meekly brewed teas, I came home wanting something stronger. I was looking on my shelf of samples, and saw the 8582 bag from Hou De. I still have a piece of the tea, and I remember I liked it the first time I tried it, a few months ago… so I decided to make it again to see if I still feel the same way after quite a few months of intense puerh drinking. Last time I drank it I was undergoing a long period of drinking very little puerh — I was on an oolong binge, so I think my taste might have been off.

So this is the piece left behind — I peeled it open to reveal the inside, and look what I found

I think that’s mould, the yellow dots. I braved it and drank it anyway.

This is colour of the liquor from infusion 2, which remained about the same until about infusion 7, when the colour started dropping off.

The brewed leaves.

So what do I think of it now?

I think it might’ve been poorly stored or wet-stored, I’m not sure which. Poorly stored and contaminated with moisture is my guess, although it’s hard to tell with just such a small piece. The brewed leaves indicate that it hasn’t been fully dry stored, as claimed by the vendor. Nor, mind you, is the colour of the liquor convincing that it is dry stored — 10 years old does not look like that if it’s fully pure dry storage. It’s not possible.

I guess I did learn something over the past few months :)

The taste is fine…. it’s not the greatest, but it’s not nasty either. It’s a bit like those cheap bricks I bought in Hong Kong, which I know for a fact that are not dry-stored and went through some sort of poor/wet storage over time. This one has less “off” tastes and more orthodox aromas, and is actually not bad, aromatically.

Something else just struck me though as I was writing this entry….

Is this fake?

I went back to the vendor’s site to look at the picture of the cake while writing this and something struck me as odd. The pressing of the cake looks too compressed, and the edge of the cake is not your usual Menghai edge, which is a nice, thin, round edge. Instead, the edge is very broken up here, and the mold used to make the cake seems to have a ring around the edge… also not Menghai’s style. The back of the cake also does not look like Menghai, either, with the large stems and all. Then… on the wrapper, the wording in Chinese is actually different from the usual. The words for “Cha ye”, which means tea leaves, is instead “Cha ye” meaning tea industry………

Um…

Let me ask on Sanzui and see what I find. There are lots of experts on this kind of thing. Mainlanders deal with fakes all the time, and they might be able to spot this one. I’ll report back.

Monday October 23, 2006

Well… as promised, I have tried the cake.

I didn’t add a lot of leaves. Partly is in case it turns out to be terrible and I need to give it back to her, and also, because I didn’t know how it will turn out.

The tea…. tastes quite nice, I suppose.

It’s hard to describe a Yiwu. There is something plain about it, almost boring. There’s nothing going on, in a way… it’s very flat, not very alluring, not very fragrant. Yet, there’s that mouthfeel, especially, in this case, the feeling down the throat, that you don’t usually find. This is not perculiar to Yiwu, but IS perculiar to good tea. A properly made tea with good materials, usually of older trees, will have that throat feel that you otherwise cannot get. This is, for example, lacking in the Xizihao 97 Yiwu — the taste remained in the mouth, not down the throat.

The first infusion looks pretty normal, like a Yiwu

I brewed it longer… in fact, I almost consistently overbrewed the tea, in a way to compensate for the low amount of leaves I used, and also because I want to test it out and make sure I got everything.

My infusions after about 7 were something like 3-5 minutes each, with the last one about 10 minutes before I decided it was done. There’s more left in it, but I didn’t feel like brewing it anymore. There’s a bit of dryness that is associated with this tea, and which was not as obvious in the tea I tried when I decided to buy at all. That’s disappointing. Then again, this cake is quite freshly made. In fact, the first cake of the tong felt a little, just a little, damp in a way. The leaves felt like they haven’t been fully dried — there’s still a bit of moisture. This is, according to folks on Sanzui, quite normal, and that sometimes it’s advised that the first cake be taken out of the tong in order to make sure its quality doesn’t suffer. Otherwise, it can be a bit worse than the rest of the tong.

One thing that bothers me a little with this tea is the dryness, and also the somewhat reddish leaves in some cases. That’s an example of leaves that went through the kill-green process either a little late, or have been improperly handled somewhere along the way before the kill-green took place. That’s another issue with these teas — a lot of the tea farmers are quite relaxed about this sort of thing, and thus produce tea that are of varying quality. Some are better than others, and some batches are nicer than others. It just depends on what your luck is.

I think at the end of the day, this is quite a nice cake, and uses materials that are indisputably large tree, most likely Yiwu given the taste profile. I am still feeling coolness in my throat, an hour after I’ve finished drinking the tea.

I am hoping that I can score something even nicer if/when I do go to Yiwu next spring.