A tea shopping trip…. and a contest

Today’s entry is going to be a little long… but it’ll include a little contest, so read on 🙂

It was a nice day in Taipei today. The weather’s gotten a bit cooler, with drier air blowing in from the north. I figured I haven’t gone tea shopping for quite a while, and it’s time to explore some more.

Instead of going to the posh and nice Yongkang area, I went a section of old Taipei where it’s said there are a number of older tea stores. I only have the address of one, the Youji. I should note here that “X-ji” is a typical way of naming a store back in the day. It’s function is sort of like the English usage of the “‘s” in “xxxx’s”. So…. lots of these older stores have names like this. The Hong Kong tea store, “Ying Kee”, is actually “Yingji” in pinyin. There are other famous establishments in Hong Kong that also have such names.

Anyway, that was a digression. I got off the subway at Shuanglian station and started walking towards Chongqing N. Rd, where, I’m told, some of these older stores are. I passed by a store that sells both incense and puerh — an odd combo, seeing the incense will probably infect every cake they sell. It consisted of mostly cooked cakes, fake Dayi, and wet stored stuff of questionable provenance. I passed, and kept walking. I eventually ended up near the Youji store, and in front of it, there’s a park

But this isn’t an ordinary park, because it tells you about how Taiwanese tea is made!

It has educational routes you can walk along this park that measures something like 40m by 15m

With relief carvings set in the ground of the processes in question

It’s kinda cute.

On one side of the park is the store for Youji

It actually says “Wang Youji Chahang”, but it seems like they just refer to themselves as Youji. The building is actually quite big. The front end of the ground floor is a store — you can sort of see from the picture above that it is somewhat renovated and newish looking (more pictures on their rather weird website). The back half though is their factory — where they process the teas. They do their own roasting, packaging, and what not. Business is obviously not as good as way back in the heyday of Taiwanese tea export, in their case perhaps dating back to the pre-1945 colonial period, but nonetheless… business goes on.

I tried two teas there — an aged baozhong that is a bit sour, and a roasted tieguanyin that is quite reasonable. I liked them both, although the aged baozhong needs to be finished relatively quickly or it can get too sour. I think it’s time they re-roast that one again.

After trying the teas though, I asked for a tour of the premises, which they apparently do. So…. through the door in the middle of the building and into the back we went.

The first thing you see when you walk through the door is this

These are the templates they used for the boxes that they packed the tea in — you paint over them so the words are painted onto the boxes. These are various brand names, from the “Tea Pot Brand” to the “Mitomo Kabushikigaisha” (Three Friends Corporation, bottom right, probably dating from the colonial period). Then, there are a bunch of machines — used for sorting, drying, etc, but nothing too exciting, and none were in action today. The more interesting stuff is the roasting room.

I’ve seen these individually before, but not in a room like this and certainly not this many at once. Since I think many tea makers these days are using electric roasters (I’m guessing they’re more consistent, less room for error, and probably more economical), this is going to be an increasingly rare sight. These pits are like this

They fill them with big pieces of charcoal

Then they ground them down

Using these tools (specifically the right-most long stick)

Then you cover the pit with what he said are something like burned grain husk

When these burn down, they become the powder you see on the left of the picture. This covers the fire so that you are not directly burning the tea. I always knew you cover the charcoal with a dust like thing. I always thought that’s used charcoal that’s disintegrated into powder. This grain husk thing is new to me.

Then…. you roast the tea for hours….

You can also see other things going on, like in the picture of the tools — look on the left, and you see a guy picking leaves. He’s sorting the tea, presumably readying it for sale, or roasting, I’m not sure. I had a good conversation with the guy, who is running the family business. He said it’s really hard these days to find young people who want to do this, especially the roasting part. It’s just not pleasant work (high temperature, having to deal with charcoal, leaves, etc) and nobody is interested. Why do it when you can sell non-roasted tea for the same price, or even more? They insist on it, and even lightly roast their baozhongs, but that doesn’t always happen anymore. I can’t agree more — this is something that, I think, needs to be preserved because I personally feel a lot of these teas can’t be drunk without ill effects for one’s health without some roasting. (Sidenote: this is also why I don’t drink a lot of the really green Taiwan oolong these days, in answer to Julian’s question a week ago)

I picked up a little tea, and plan to be back here for more. I walked out, and wandered around a little more. I couldn’t find more tea shops… they are hidden somehow. Some of the stores are closed. This part of Taipei is no longer important, economically — the center of action has moved eastward, leaving this area behind. There are some older stores here, definitely, but they are only dealing with locals, and not the big exporters they once were. So it is somewhat fitting that there were some antique shops around here that look rather run down. One, though, sells some teapots…. so I went in for a look. He had about 20 of them on display, which was all he had. They were of various levels of authenticity and craftsmanship. One, though, caught my eye, and I eventually came home with it.

It pours well, the lid is well fitted, the patina is very nice and it felt good enough for me to buy it despite its funny smell inside. I tried brewing some of the cheap aged oolongs in it to get rid of the smell, and it seemed to have worked. I’m going to let it sit around some more and see if the odd smell comes back (probably because of where it was stored for a while). We’ll see what happens.

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Which gets us to the contest part:

In trying to make this blog a little more interactive (I have a, relatively speaking, very quiet set of readers), let’s play The Price is Right. Submit your guesses to me via email regarding how much this teapot cost me. The person who comes closest (either high or low is fine, in deviation of the rules of the gameshow) will get samples of all the aged oolongs I tasted the last week, good and bad. If there’s a tie (say, one person guessed 1.1 and the other 0.9) the lower one wins.

Please submit guesses to (my username) at gmail. Please quote the prices in Taiwan Dollars (currently about 32 NTD for 1 USD). I am going to announce the answer on the 23rd when I blog. You have lots of time to ponder 🙂

Links

My girlfriend bought me Xanga premium a little while ago (you might’ve noticed the disappearance of the ads). With premium I also have the option of adding a custom module. I never got around to it, but here it is now, on your left, with links to other places on the web. There’s also a link to my photo album. I decided not to keep it on Xanga itself, so to have more flexibility in how I manage my pictures.

Drinking two Banzhangs right now. Will talk about it later 🙂

Housekeeping issues

A few administrative things…

I am thinking that at some point in the future I may want to migrate to another blog host, or possibly to get myself a domain name of some kind, find a host, and use one of those blogging software to make a blog. It will be much more flexible, I’d imagine, than the current system, and it might allow for more user participation. If anybody has any ideas about what to use, how I should do it, etc (I know there are computer types reading my blog) feel free to make suggestions.

In the meantime, my girlfriend bought me a Xanga premium membership. This means that I can have a custom module on the left. I am thinking of putting links up, but bear with me… I’m slow.

I’m also slow about tagging old entries. This will, at least, provide some sort of navigation tool to the old posts. If you click on one of the tags (again on the left hand side) it will bring you to posts that have been tagged with that term. I haven’t finished tagging yet, as it’s a rather slow process, but I’m moving.

Not too much happened today with regards to tea, other than having tried a generic “English Breakfast” that was rather nice. I am hoping tomorrow I will have more time by myself to drink tea more seriously….

Switching teas

My body seems to be protesting my drinking of young raw puerh. Today for dinner there was some (crappy) longjing that I drank, and I felt really unwell. I think until my body gets better and the weather gets warmer, it’ll be mostly Wuyi teas and high fired oolongs, plus a bit of cooked puerh for me for now.

In the spirit of that, I had some cooked puerh today, along with a Hong Kong style milk tea, which is basically super-boiled black tea plus some heavy evaporated milk. Good stuff.

Earthquake means no internet

As many of you might have heard, there was a fairly serious earthquake in Taiwan a few days ago. Among the damages it did was the severing of the underwater fibre-optic cable that carries much of the internet (as well as voice) data traffic between Asia and North America. For the past few days, there was no internet access here (for all intents and purposes) between here and the United States or Europe. Much of the net is still extremely slow or simply times out for me here, so updates will be a little more sporadic (and definitely picture-less) until things get back to normal.

Among the tea things that happened recently was a triple tasting of three different kinds of loose puerh…. which was rather interesting with varying levels of black liquor and aged taste. I also met a new tea friend, KL, who is quite nice and has interesting things to share. We might meet up again in a few days to try more tea.

Anyway, hope you all had a nice Christmas break, and are drinking lots of tea :). I think the internet will get faster as the repairs get underway, but at the same time, I am logging on at 2:30am on the Friday night before New Year’s, not exactly a time when net traffic is high (and even then it took minutes for me to get to this page). I think during much of the day it will simply be impossible to do anything on the net, still, until they replaced the damaged sections of the cables, which can take 2-3 weeks….

10,000th hit

One of you reading this post today will be the 10,000th visitor of this blog. Not a large number, I know, but given that the average blog has 7 readers a day (according to The Economist), I feel like I’m not doing too poorly.

This blog began on January 28th, 2006, as a sort of record-keeping method for all the teas I drink. I wanted to be more systematic in my tea drinking and record keeping. I found that I was mixing different teas up in terms of what I think of them, and thus writing down a record, with pictures and what not, could well be the best way of keeping track. A blog format made sense. That’s also why I called it by the somewhat silly name of “A Tea Addict’s Journal”.

The blog changed over time. I have taken to taking more pictures. I have also started commenting less on tea-related things, for some reason. I suppose partly because I think that what drives you all here is not what I think about certain issues related to tea, but the tea itself. Since I am in China, and I have access to teas that are rarely seen in the West (where most of you are), the best I could do is at least write about them.

In many ways, I am merely a commentator, sometimes a picky, inquisitive, and opinionated one, but a commentator whose job is to talk about teas that I come across. I don’t claim to always know what I’m talking about. If I sound authoritative when I write, that’s because too many caveats will make this blog unreadable. I think I am learning, just like everybody who reads this blog, everytime I drink a new tea. It reveals new things to me, and adds one more reference point for evaluating future teas that I drink, whether it be a green, an oolong, a puerh, or a red. I think I have developed my taste in tea more in the past few months in Beijing than the previous four or five years combined, and I think the act of blogging about what I drink has benefited me because it makes me more critical of and pay more attention to what I drink. By sharing these observations, I hope that others can somehow benefit from what I’ve learned.

At first only myself and maybe a few people close to me were reading this thing, for obvious reasons. Then, gradually, readership grew bit by bit. I discovered other sites, such as Teachat, LJ Puerh Community, Cha Dao, RFTD, etc, and also made new friends like Toki, Phyll, bearsbearsbears, among many others, some of whom I have now met in real life. It is encouraging to see that other people are reading this blog, some on a very regular basis, and that, in turn, is a motivation to keep writing, because I know that there will be people who are at least interested enough to check back here. Some I can tell who they are by where they’re located, etc, but others I have no idea, but somehow found their way to my blog and decided it worth their time to look once in a while. I have romantic notions that one day, I will open a teahouse somewhere where I can share this wonderful drink with people in person, sipping each cup, talking about it, exchanging views, ideas, thoughts about it. Tea is, after all, partly a communal experience that is best enjoyed with a few friends. Alas, that’s not possible, not yet anyway, so for now, a blog will have to do.

I know Xanga isn’t very comment friendly, and I wish I could change that, but since I can’t… if you feel like announcing yourself, please drop me a line at marshaln (the at sign goes here) gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you. But regardless — thank you all for reading along.

P.S. I wish I have a way to reciprocate all the links that others have put on their sites to this blog. I still haven’t figured out if there’s a way to post permanent links on the front page of this one. If anybody knows where/how, please let me know.

Jetlagged

It is difficult to go back from Paris to Beijing. Paris is so much nicer.

After the longish flight, I was tired, so I ate lunch and then came back to drink some of those aged loose puerh from Best Tea House. I haven’t had good tea in a while, and it’s a nice change. I noticed the water is a bit thin, and oddly enough, the talcum powder taste/aroma is still there. I don’t know how. Does it have to do with my pot???

Too tired to do anything else today. I think I might go to Maliandao tomorrow in order to keep myself from the (very great) temptation of plopping on the bed at 3pm and then condemning myself to a week’s worth of jetlag.