Water’s too good for the tea

Water can sometimes be too good for a tea.  Today was such a case — went to the Best Tea House to see Tiffany and drop off stuff, and had one of the baozhongs I brought there… wow, the tea tasted awful.  Flat, thin, not aromatic, slightly rough — what happened? It’s that super water filter they use! I think the water’s so free of minerals, it tastes bad.  I’ve found this to be the case with a few other teas I’ve brought over too — flat, boring, thin.  You compensate by putting in more leaves, but I always forget that when I go there and make tea.  So…. the tea ends up tasting like crap. So yes… sometimes water can be too good for a tea.  I’m not even sure if there’s ever such a need for such a good water filter in a place where the water system … Continue reading

Water issues again

Before I get on to the topic of water… some unfinished business from yesterday. This is what yesterday’s tea looked like when I brewed it this morning This is what it looked like late afternoon The top cup is yesterday’s tea. The bottom is today’s Wuyi… And this is how the leaves look when I finally cleaned the teapot So, yes, suspicions of cooked tea still remains, but the longeivity of the tea itself, and the fact that he has really no good reason to lie to me, makes me think that he’s not lying. It doesn’t matter much, because the tea tastes a bit cooked. I can probably boil it with water and get a few more cups of rather tasty tea out of it, actually. Anyway, water. I’ve been fiddling with my water here, since I am starting with a new supply and not the steady Nestle water … Continue reading

Water preparation

One of the perculiarities of Taiwan that I’ve noticed is that it runs a dual voltage. While most household sockets deliver 110v, some deliver 220v. I’ve noticed that it’s not just my apartment either — the subway station has clearly marked “110v” and “220v” sockets. Why any country would run two systems is beyond me… But being mostly 110v, it means that I can’t use my water boiler from China. What I used to do was to heat up the water in the electric boiler, and then transfer it to my glass kettle with the alcohol burner. Since I couldn’t find the right fuel at first, I resorted to using the stove, which is basically a heating plate of sorts, with my glass kettle. It worked, but there was one problem — water was either not boiling, or boiling too quickly and reached a rolling boil in no time. I … Continue reading

Water troubles

Everybody knows that only two things go into making tea — the leaves, and the water. We talk about tea often enough. Despite the attention paid to it from time to time, however, water is still a rarely discussed subject. My drinking today is a good reminder of why we should always be mindful. I pulled out an old sample that I haven’t tried for a long time — the 2nd puerh trade fair cake from Houde. I got what appears to be the center piece So I broke off a chunk, about 7g in all, into my young puerh pot and brewed. The first two infusions were fine (this, by the way, is white adjusted, while the other one was not) It was crisp, a little sweet, somewhat bitter, and had a decent finish. You can taste the Menghai area characteristics in this cake. Nothing too fancy, but a … Continue reading

A tale of two waters

I got an email early today from Toki, who’s been rather quiet lately (note: and as I just noticed right now on his blog, whose grandmother has just passed away…). He asked me if I have tried a water called 5100. I haven’t, so I prompted went out and got a bottle. This is a pretty expensive water for Chinese standards, with this particular one costing about 1 USD for 750ml of Tibetan water. It’s piped from some spring at 5100m elevation, and supposedly glacial in origin. It boasts boatloads of minerals, among which are Lithium and Strontium, which I’m not sure is actually good for human consumption in large quantities. Anybody knows? Since I’ve already said yesterday that I’m going to brew some Yunnan Red (aka Black) Tea, I did. This is a tea that my girlfriend brought me from New York, from a place that sells both tea … Continue reading


Happy New Year! I went to the Best Tea House today before the New Year’s festivities. Among the things we tried was using the different water with an older tea (1980s). The result was astounding…. whereas the filtered tap water is a bit thin, bland, and boring, the tap water infused with mineral water was nice, aromatic, and thick. The difference was night and day. This tea was tasted at the request of somebody who bought a piece of this cake from the BTH a few months ago (he wanted to try the difference between what he has and what the BTH is offering right now) and let’s just say he was impressed with the results and decided to try it out at home. I’d encourage everyone of you to go try out different kinds of water for your teas, and try to figure out what’s best for what kind … Continue reading

Memorable places

Let’s face it, a Darjeeling teabag from Dammann Freres is never going to be that great, nor is it remotely worth the price of admission. I had some Dongding in my backpack that I would infinitely prefer to drink instead, but that would be rude. Their water wasn’t really hot enough anyway, and adding Taiwanese oolong to water (instead of pouring water over the leaves) is a loser’s bet. The overly aggressive pigeons trying to eat my apple pie were also not particularly welcomed, with me having to fend off their attacks while attempting this photo three times. I gave up trying to take a better one, lest I lose my pie to the indomitable birds. I still thoroughly enjoyed my tea. The pie was good. The tea was serviceable. The view was excellent. The weather was almost perfect, if only it were a little bit warmer. I won’t remember … Continue reading

A long walk away

This shot is taken right where we got off our car as we entered the scenic park area – normal cars are not allowed to go in there now, you must take a bus. The only cars allowed in are tea producers’ with the right permit. These are guys whose job it is to haul the raw, freshly plucked leaves from the tea trees inside the scenic area to the waiting cars/trucks, and then hauling them to the factories for processing. Each of the load are 75-100kg. They’re heavy. These are migrant labourers, mostly from neighbouring Jiangxi province, who get paid something like 200-300 RMB a day to do this work. Sure, the daily wage is fairly high, but it’s back breaking, and it’s only good for a few weeks of the year. For a good amount of the distance they have to travel, it’s on the paved walkway that … Continue reading

Tea Geek Paradise

I spent the past three days in central Taiwan doing fieldwork visiting tea farms and such. Once you’ve seen a few tea farms, they all start to blend in – farms on their own are not particularly interesting unless the farmer is doing something really interesting, or there is something weird about the farm. Likewise for tea production facilities – the machines are mostly the same, the processes similar, and the only real difference lies in things you can’t see – the producer’s skill, timing, weather, leaf conditions, that sort of thing. And then there are places like this: This is one of the five tea research stations of Taiwan, official units of research into all things tea – from developing new tea varietals, to cultivation techniques, to production improvements. This place isn’t open for public – you need to have a valid reason to request a visit in advance. … Continue reading

Tea service is hard

Restaurant tea service is often bad, I think mostly because it’s difficult to get right. Of all the things that a server needs to do, making tea to serve a customer is probably one of the most time consuming. You have to gather at least 3 pieces of wares, put leaves into the pot, add hot water, then bring it over and pour it out for the customer plus all that cream and sugar business. Compared to coffee, where you really only need one cup for the coffee and usually only a button press for the actual liquid, it’s a lot of work. Moreover, there are other hidden problems in tea service. Like yesterday morning when I drank this cup – the tea was supposed to be English breakfast, but the problem is the little metal pot they used had been brewing quite a bit of peppermint tea, it seems … Continue reading