Monday October 23, 2006

Well…… I met up with the girl who has those cakes that I covet. The ones she has…. is not exactly the same thing as the one I tried :(.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad tea, just that… I need to try it again before I’m sure.

We met up in a McDonald’s, so there wasn’t any real way of trying the tea out. I am going to give it a shot today afternoon. She was nice enough to let me take a cake with me (while the rest of the tong sits with her) so I can give it an honest shot at home. I appreciate that.

Then again, this is Guhua (autumn) tea. I’m not sure how this will affect the taste. I did brew up a little in the McDonald’s with some hot water, and the brewed leaves were a little red to my liking. Like I said… have to try it again.

Anyway, here are some tea porn. More on this cake later

Sunday October 22, 2006

One of the problems with a puerh addiction is that you are usually acquiring way more tea than you can ever consume. One cake of puerh is 357g. Say you use 10g for an infusion, which is a lot, you still have 35 infusions in one cake. For me, that’s at least a month’s drinking. 7 cakes is about 8 months of nonstop drinking of that particular cake. In fact, one tong of tea is probably something like a year’s supply. This means I already have a few years’ worth of tea sitting around.

And all the time, I am getting samples, lone cakes, etc, and the supply just keeps adding up. When will I ever drink it all? I need to put a stop to all this… but there’s always that “oh, just this one more” temptation.

Anyway, the reason I said all this is because today I drank another of the samples YP gave me. The samples she gave me alone is like a week and half worth of tea, total, so….

This is the sample in question today

It’s the shiniest thing ever. BBB saw it and commented that it is more shiny than any other puerh he’s seen. I agree. I have some trouble with white balance for the camera, because one of the lights is a regular tungsten light, while the other is a flourescent. That’s why you see the reddish tint in the back.

The tea…. is not to my liking. Initially, in the first few infusions, there’s a nice aroma, and also a bit of the cooling that happens. Yet, after about 2-3 infusions, the tea turns bitter. It’s quite bitter, and the bitter does not produce a noticeable huigan. It got quite nasty, actually, near the end. The tea sort of progressively got worse. I wonder why that is. I think this might be a tea that is processed at too high a temperature, producing, initially, a nice aroma and sweetness and all that, but over time, it degenerates into bad flavours like bitterness.

Looks quite nice, a bit reddish in the liquor.

Doesn’t this look like green tea?

Anyway, tells me one thing — don’t buy silver bud cakes, or if I do, don’t age them. I have one sitting at home, I should probably drink it up.

Saturday October 21, 2006

Today was cold. I was craving for some older tea, so I drank my 30 years loose from the Best Tea House.

It’s too bad I don’t have 30 years old cakes around, sigh. I wish I do. This is sort of my old tea substitute. What can you do… I’m not even 30 yet.

Using my trusty new pot

I brewed this up

And after about 10 infusions

It got weaker.

I went with a few more, but then decided to stop. It’s nice, it’s not fantastic, but good enough, and quite pleasant. It was a bit on the weaker side today, as I didn’t add in a lot of leaves. It is somehow sweeter than I remembered. I wonder if having brewed a lot of sweeter puerh in my pot the past two weeks have done something to the taste. I don’t know.

Here are the brewed leaves, sorry the picture is a little redder than it really should be

Incidentally, I did an experiment today. I think I need to do a more scientific way of testing teas, at least new ones, for purchase and for taste. So, I am going to play around with parameters and also with different teas to see how they come out. Given that, I brewed up the crappy Longyuan Hao cake I bought (since it’s crap anyway). I used boiling water, rinse quickly, and then brewed it for 3 minutes straight.

Basically, the liquor came out orangy yellow, a bit opaque, the tea…. VERY bitter (takes some serious determination to drink it down), a little sour — this is something I didn’t notice before — and drying. The throat went dry on me. There was little huigan, and not a whole lot of salivation. No feelings of coolness in the mouth or the throat. Like I said, crap tea, but good for experimentation.

I drank a late infusion old puerh to recover from the dryness. Then I brewed it for 3 minutes a second time. Less colour — the tea’s getting weaker. Same taste…

Maybe I should give the two mystery cakes the same treatment and see what I get from them. It will be interesting.

Friday October 20, 2006

Too much puerh yesterday, so I went back to my trusty oolongs. I brewed up the dancong I bought while BBB was here.

Then, I thought, what the heck….. I will try both of mine to see how they fare against each other.

Here are the two teas in question

Closeup of the left

And the right

Look pretty much the same — dancongs, I think, are extremely difficult to tell apart when dried.

I had the one on the left first. It was, well…. nice. This is the one I got with BBB. The tea is quite mellow, round, not much astringency, quite floral and honey-like, much like a dancong should be. No match with the Best Teahouse stuff, but the price is also a world apart. Not too bad, I suppose, for how much I paid.

This is how it looks when brewed. Lots of leaves didn’t unfurl. I’ve been told that this is actually a sign that the tea was rolled by hand, whereas ones that unfurl quickly are the ones that are rolled by machine. I will have to test this to be sure that it’s actually true.

Then I tried the other one, that’s the one I think I way overpaid for. The aromas are a bit different.. this one feels….. ricey. Yeah, it reminds me of rice, for some odd reason. I’m not even sure why. The tea is not as fragrant as the other. Cha qi is a little stronger, but….. overall, quite lacking. I wouldn’t say it’s worse than the cheap one, but considering the price……

This is what it looks like brewed. The leaves unfurled a lot more. Is this machine rolled? I’m not sure.

Turns out two teas was a little more than I can handle today. I feel a bit dehydrated after two. Gotta go on a low caffeine regimen…..

Wednesday October 18, 2006

People keep asking me if I’m getting anything done besides tea shopping. I guess this blog provides a rather skewed view of my life in Beijing.

Or maybe not.

Anyway, today was a mellow day… and I opted for some of the Wuyi tea, which I got almost a month ago now. There’s some sourness in the first infusion that I noticed last time, but never before. I wonder if it’s because it got slightly damp in there somehow, and the moisture caused the sourness. It goes away quickly and gives me that nice, mellow infusion that I was looking for. Quite relaxing, not nearly as much work as making a puerh, and this particular tea has the nice trait that it doesn’t taste bad even if you mess up the brewing. Can’t say that for everything else. I am also hoping that the seasoning for my pot is coming along nicely 🙂

On an unrelated note, I found a new home for my puerh. Whereas before they were sitting in a corner of my living room, exposed to all sorts of nasty elements (well… not much) and covered only with a piece of calligraphy paper, last night I suddenly remembered that there is a cupboard that is entirely unused. I suspect it was used by the last tenant as shoe storage, although I’m not sure. When I first moved in, I aired the whole thing out for a week because it smelled a bit like new furniture there. This time when I opened it again, it smells a bit of wood…. that furniture smell, but not overwhelming, and it disappeared after an hour or so. I figured it’s safe enough, and its supposed to be better to keep your puerh in a non-air tight, but at the same time more or less enclosed space. So that’s what I did. I think it has something to do with trapping the aromas in the cupboard rather than letting it loose. It also protects it from the smell of daily living.

Tomorrow is Maliandao :). This time, I am going to go look out for another Yiwu cake that is supposed to be good (according to folks on Sanzui) and also to maybe taste some Changtai stuff. We’ll see!

Tuesday October 17, 2006

First of all — a partial retraction of what I said yesterday about the Yiwu. I’ll explain why later.

I brewed up the Xizihao 1997 Yiwu sample that I have leftover from Guang. Ever since we went to the Mengku store to buy the puerh, the leftover sample has been sitting in my chahe, because I had to empty some sort of a bag to put the loose 30 years puerh in there. That ended up being the bag I emptied, so I had the loose leaves sitting there for…. at least a week now.


Here’s the guilty party.

Of course, the only way to solve that problem is to drink it!

So I brewed it up in my pot. Hmmmm, quite nice. It goes down well, nice aromas up front, something really fragrant. Compared to the Zhenchunya Hao that I had with BBB, this one is more “orthodox” in taste. Spicy, flavourful.. I’m not really sure how to describe the taste. The liquor is a little thin…. YP is right, the tea is a bit on the thing side of things compared to some other cakes I’ve had recently. Also, the pleasant sensation does NOT extend down to the throat… stopping somewhere near the back of my mouth. That might have to do with how much tea there is though — I’d normally add a tad more than what I did today, but I don’t have any more.


Infusion 1

Then something happened in infusion 3-4 and the taste changed a bit. A bit more fruity, a bit more like the Zhenchunya Hao. Less spicy. When I picked up the lid and smelled… something funny, it smells almost like baby powder, or a woman’s makeup. I have no idea how this smell came into the tea, but that’s how it smells. Maybe this is some sort of flower? I’m not sure what flower smells like this. Very fragrant, very nice.

The reason I said I will retract some of the things is because this reminds me a little of the Yiwu I had yesterday. This one is far better, of course, but there is a hint of what was in yesterday’s tea in tihs brew. I’m not sure what it is. I didn’t even use the same vessel (I brewed in a gaiwan yesterday), but somehow, something reminds me…

Then again, the unpleasant effects of yesterday’s tea makes it fairly undesirable, despite the nice notes. Maybe it’s a storage problem? I’m really not sure here.

Anyway, back to the tea… in infusions 7-8, something happened again. The “big” flavours faded, and instead, something ELSE familiar is showing up…. what I tasted in the Mengku cakes the past few days. This taste is fresh on my mind, because I’ve been puzzling over how to describe it. Davelcorp calls it woody/leathery, maybe a bit like chocolate… I’m not sure what it is, but it’s a complex and memorable flavour. But why is it showing up here? I thought that was a “Mengku” taste that pervades their products, but apparently not. What’s it doing here?

Could it be that THIS is what supposedly wild tea tastes like, as people have always claimed, or at least, this is a component of wild tea taste?

That seems to be the most logical explanation, as the Yiwu here claims to be old wild trees. I can’t explain what this taste is doing here otherwise. I didn’t put the cakes together with my chahe. It’s been sitting on my shelf for the whole time, while the cakes are in another room. Somehow, I don’t think they crossed flavours. This is not a taste that I’ve found in all my aged puerh either, so it can’t be an across the board aged puerh thing.

Hmmmm, food for thought. Now I wonder how this wild taste is like when it’s only a year old. I want to go back to the Mengku store and try their new stuff to see what it’s like.

Davelcorp, you’ve tried the Yuanyexiang. If you have a leftover sample of this 97 Yiwu, let me know if you find this taste. I don’t think I am making things up here. I just had another sip of the leftover brew that I use to wash my pot with …. it’s definitely that same taste.

Anyway, here are the leaves when done:

I always wonder if there’s something I can do with them other than throwing them away.

Monday October 16, 2006

I brewed up the sample that Phyll gave me (via BBB). It is the Changtai Factory Yiwu Zhengpin.

The pictures are of the solid piece in the sample, but I ended up using the loose stuff first, figuring that I’d leave the solid piece for another time.

The tea brewed a fairly dark infusion for a two year old.

And the colour of the tea stayed more or less the same throughout — I made about 7-8 infusions before stopping

Somehow, something is not quite right with this tea. I can’t really put my finger on it. The tea has some interesting notes — chocolate, woody, there’s a little hint of that leathery/woody taste from the Yuanyexiang, but a tiny hint only. There’s some smoke in the first two or three infusions that goes away. There’s also a bit of tartness in the first few infusions that also go away. The liquor is thinner than the other puerhs I’ve had recently. It is also rougher — less “round” as a tea. When drunk, it feels a little rough and the tongue doesn’t feel smooth, instead, it gets a bit dry. The same is true for the throat. I got somewhat thirsty after drinking a few infusions of this. There were also one or two infusions where my throat felt prickly, but in the nice, smooth, cooling way that a top notch tea does, but in a slightly unpleasant way. I’m not sure if this is because of the storage, or if it’s the tea. There’s a basic lack of a nice aftertaste.

The overall impression is that the aromas of the tea are a bit diffused — it’s a bit all over the place. I also have a lingering suspicion that this is, somehow, mixed in with some green tea — tea that has been processed at too high a temperature during the “kill green” process. There is, somewhere along the way, a reminder that it tastes like green tea, but perhaps a few years old green tea. I’m not really sure if that’s actually the case, but somehow, it doesn’t strike me as a pleasant thing.

Some of the dry leaves are charcoal like — black and breaks easily. When I unfurled the largest leaf in this sample (almost 2 inches long!) somehow wrapped in the leaf was a bunch of tiny black bits…. I’m not sure what it is.

The cake, when I saw pictures of it, look nice enough. The taste, however, doesn’t hold up.

Thanks, Phyll, for the sample. I’m not sure what to make of it. Maybe it is affected a bit by the traveling? Or maybe the tea really just wasn’t that good? BBB told me you guys brewed this with slightly cooler water, so that might have affected how it tastes. The way this came out here…. reminds me of a green tea. That’s usually not a good thing, afaik, for long term aging prospects.

Sunday October 15, 2006

Something good came from reading Sanzui today. This year is their 7th anniversary as a website, and so there are lots of things going on in the name of celebration (seems like they do this every year). One of them is a tea tasting that’s going to be held at the end of the month at a store on Maliandao. The teas they’re going to offer are:

Songpin (presumably the 80 year old ones), Red Label (50s), Red Label (no paper), Snow Label, Traditional Character Iron Cake (I wonder if this will be the same thing as what I had two days ago), 73 Small Green Label, 80s 8582, 80s 7542, 97 CNNP cake, 98 7542, 99 Green Big Tree.

Sounds good? I thought so too, and it’s free!!! So I signed up. Now I hope they won’t try to do any hard sell while I’m there, or anything funny like that. I wonder if there will be too many people. They capped it at 30, but 30 is still quite a few for tea tasting. I think this is a company that recently established themselves here (they have stores in Taiwan) and they probably figured this is a good way to lure tea heads into going to their store to take a look at what they have to offer. Knowing us puerh buyers…. we are such suckers and are probably a good target audience.

Anyway, excitement about the tasting aside….

As promised, I opened up the Yuanyexiang today to give it a try at home.

This is an iron cake — very solidly compressed. It took some prying to get it to break, and my attempts at trying to pry individual (largely intact) leaves from the cake wasn’t too successful, resulting in more broken bits than usual. I think it affected the taste a bit.

Oddly enough, this cake shares some of the same aromas as the other Mengku cake I bought that I reviewed a few days ago. It’s that undescribable smell — sort of woody, a little spicy, perhaps. I asked BBB if he knew what to call it, and he didn’t know either.

When I brewed it up — the first infusion looks darker than the 2002

The tea tastes really rather similar to the 2002, except for one difference — I think there’s more of a huigan taste as well as pleasant feelings in the throat (what they call “throat aftertaste”) that the 2002 lacked. The first brew came out strong, partly because of the broken bits used in the brewing, and partly because I left it in a little longer than I probably should’ve.

I like it. It has that woody taste that the dry cake smells of, and also the tea is thick, with a round body and goes down rather smoothly, and also being somewhat bitter. The endurace of the tea is not bad either, given the broken bits thing. After about 7 infusions the tea still looked the same

Although at this point it turned a bit sweeter, and the same metallic taste started to appear, just as the 2002. Why are they so similar? They’re not even from the same mountain. Again, what distinguishes this is the sensations in the mouth and throat, rather than the taste and aroma.

By the 12th or 13 infusion (lost count) the tea got weak

And I stopped. Here’s a shot of the leaves at the end

You can see the colour turned a bit red already, as one would expect from about 5 years of age. I’m a little curious as to the progression of this tea, and how it will age going forward. I still think I smell hints of Chinese medicine in this cake.

I’m debating whether to buy more of this. I know they have very few left at the store, and I know I am getting it for a fraction of the price I have to pay in HK for the same thing. Part of me tells me that I have enough tea, and that I should go to HK to try their goods out before purchasing. Part of me tells me that by that time, the price might’ve gone up here as well, or, worse, they would’ve sold their last tong. I think they’re down to one and half tong at this point.

In terms of the basic quality of the tea, this is probably a notch higher than the 2002. The price reflects that. Hmmm, tough decision….

Saturday October 14, 2006

I had a lot of puerh in the past few days, so I decided to get off the puerh binge and drink some oolongs instead. I brewed up my sort-of-higher fire tieguanyin, and…. messed it up. I almost forgot how to brew oolong, so it seems. The first two infusions were a bit sour, and I think I basically left them in the pot too long, as well as not clearing the pot out of water sufficiently. I adjusted my brewing in the third infusion,and it got better and more drinkable.

One thing about drinking tieguanyin, especially from my small tieguanyin pot, is that I’m done very quickly — 7 infusions takes maybe 20 minutes. It’s all over after that. Whereas a puerh session can last for hours, if I feel like it, a tieguanyin session can’t. In fact, if you drag it out, the quality of the tea suffers because it sits too long in the pot.

If you drink it like some people do, only really having the first three or four infusions, then it’s over even faster.

Friday October 13, 2006

“Never judge a book by its cover”. I think this can be applied to puerh.

I don’t just mean the wrapper. Obviously, the wrappers mean nothing. In fact, fake tea abound where the wrapper is one thing and the tea is another. Those wrapperologists out there who argue about quality of the paper and the size of the characters are, honestly, quite ridiculous.

What I mean is the tea itself can also be deceiving. Look at this thing I drank today:

Looks like cooked? Yeah, well, it’s mostly cooked, with some raw tea mixed in. This is from the early 80s, supposedly, and given to me by YP. When she gave it to me, we didn’t taste it. We were drinking the Hongyin that day — and not enough time to taste “crappy” teas like this :).

This is the cake’s wrapper – Traditional Character Zhongcha Brand

And the tea in question — looks terrible

I brought it with me to Beijing, thinking at some point I’ll drink it. I thought about brewing it with BBB, but we didn’t really have time to drink tea at home, and the one chance we had, we drank the Zhenchunya Hao (which was really good). So, between all the teas to drink, I never touched this and let it languish in its little bag. When I showed it to BBB, and told him it’s a cooked/raw mix, he said “yeah, I didn’t want to say, but it smells like cooked puerh”. Understandably, since he doesn’t like cooked puerh, he wasn’t much interested in it.

I had to brew it at some point, so I did today. I figured drinking some cooked puerh will be good for my stomach after drinking so many young ones yesterday.

Infusion 1:

Infusion 4:

I washed it twice, as the tea is very tightly compressed, and also being of old age, I thought it might be wise to wash it off (although, YP keeps her tea VERY clean — almost no bubbles). I brewed it up…. the first infusion the tea was still warming up, and tasted a little flat. The second one onwards…. wow. It’s GOOD. It has flavours like the ones present in the Zhenchunya Hao, except much more intense. An impressive sweetness penetrates the mouth and lingers at the back of the throat — this is huigan! A really strong one! It sticks to the end of the mouth for a long time, and it’s really obvious. The taste and the aroma… are more like dried peaches or plums. They are very obvious, and very strong. There’s no “cooling” sensation, and it makes sense that it doesn’t have it, and it does have a little bit of the cooked tea taste, but the cake is very nice. I drank it infusion after infusion, and every infusion it was something that I could think “wow, this is a good tea”. I was thinking on my way to dinner that if I am only allowed one cake to bring with me to a desert island, this could be it. It’s smooth, nice, friendly to your body, and it tastes great, just great.

It’s not the same as, say, an old 100% raw puerh, in the sense that the tea lacks that bite that remains even in an older raw puerh — it’s very weak in this tea, but what it does have, and what older raw puerh (without going through wet storage) don’t, is that sweetness and fruity aroma. My 30 years old loose puerh has a bit of that, but it’s nothing compared to this one. Zhenchunya Hao’s interesting point is that it is developing that without wet storage, and supposedly pure Yiwu is more prone to that sort of development trajectory. Most teas, however, only get that sort of taste with a wet storage process, as far as I’m aware.

I think I stopped after about 12-13 infusions. The tea started getting weak, another sign that there’s cooked puerh in this thing. I pulled out the leaves

Most of them are bundled up into little balls that won’t unfurl without disintegrating. Some, however, you can tell are nicely stored raw leaves, and they are mixed in with the cooked. It’s really only obvious in person when you can play with it — it doesn’t show up on camera.

YP said this is something useful as a “teaching tea”, and I agree. There’s a lot of flavours here that you can go “ok, this is x you’re getting”. I still have a few more pieces of this… probably enough for two more sittings. I have to let it sit for a while longer before coming back…. although I won’t complain about brewing them all right away.