T Salon Darjeeling – aged

Somebody’s response to my entry on Cha Dao (same as the one I posted here two days ago) mentioned how Darjeeling is rarely talked about, even though it is quite popular among tea drinkers. Indeed, I don’t know quite why it is that us tea bloggers tend to be drinkers of Chinese teas. So in response to that… I thought I could dig up a darjeeling.

Unfortunately, the only thing I have easily available is something that I bought many years ago… almost… 7 years now, I think? It was purchased at T Salon of New York City. They have a website, but it’s basically non-functional (everything is still “coming soon” except the chatty video) so I won’t bother linking you. I should also mention that the last time I went there was at least 4 years ago, and I remember buying some basically stale tieguanyin. That, and the snotty attitude of the owner (the other saleswoman was nice enough) was enough for me to not go back again.

But I still have this tea. It’s not drunk because I just really don’t drink that much Indian teas in general, and between all the teas I have I rarely get to this little tin, almost forgotten among everything I have. I can’t remember what they called it, but it’s a first flush darjeeling, one of those lighter ones with green and red mixed in the colour of the dry leaf.

Perhaps it was a good idea I bought a tin along with the tea, because otherwise it probably would’ve lost a lot of the flavour by now. As it is, however, when I opened up the tin it still smelled strongly of the fragrance of darjeeling, and when hot water first hit the gaiwan that scent of a darjeeling, first flush… you can smell it distinctly. I must say that while there are many darjeelings out there, I generally only find the differences between first and second flush to be really meaningful. The differences among the different estates are generally quite subtle, and given some of the very high prices they charge, I’m not sure if they’re worth all that much.

The tea is holding up well. The first infusion was brewed too strongly, even, and came out a little too bitter. I had to be quicker about it and poured water out of the gaiwan as fast as I could, basically. The tea then came out smoother and lighter, just right, with a long aftertaste that I like out of my darjeelings. I think when it comes to teas like this I’m rarely very picky… and they are usually pleasant enough. I still think, however, that indian reds are generally not meant to be brewed with a gaiwan, and when brewed that way it can get a little boring. Perhaps I should try this tea just in a mug tomorrow.

The wet leaves are typical…. chopped up, with a mixture of colours. It might’ve gotten a little redder since I got it, because I remember it being fairly green, but it’s really too long ago for me to remember.

Rishi Yunnan gold

I went for something simple today, a Yunnan Gold I acquired some time ago from Rishi. I brewed it simply, in a cup with some hot water. The tea is not too bad, has some vanilla flavour and rather robust, without an overpowering bitterness even when obviously overbrewed.

What concerns me about this though is that the tea tastes remarkably similar to some somewhat aged puerh I’ve had. This tea, I should add, is a Yunnan Gold that only has a little gold tippy buds in them — most of the dry leaves are of the black variety. The combination of sweetness, bitterness, and aroma in the tea reminds me strongly of some 3-7 years puerh I’ve had before (and not just one). I wonder if this is going to be a common thing — puerh that was, perhaps, undercooked, so to speak, and thus has too much of its enzymes still active and working to oxidize the tea.

In many ways, this, and the overcooking of tea (green-tea-ization) are perhaps far, far, more dangerous to any puerh collector than any sort of price gouging, misinformation, or the like. I think I have some rudimentary idea as to how to tell a green-tea-ized puerh to a regular one, but how does one make sure the tea is not undercooked when it’s very young? That, I’m afraid I really don’t know.

I suppose it’s time to start praying.

Long drive

Running around like a madman, trying to finish up all the errands we need to run so that we are ready for our rather long drive tomorrow to Ohio, where my girlfriend will be for the next year. I tried another Keemun today, from Karma Cafe in Cambridge. The tea was insipid, and far worse than the Tealuxe version. I know that I haven’t really spent much time on many other kinds of tea aside from young puerh for the past few months, and I feel now it’s time to revisit some old favourites and the like.

I’ve been poking around teamap to see whether or not there are places that sell tea around where she will be. Seems like slim pickings. Seems like my own stash of tea will come in handy when I come back to the States in 2008.

So the traveling continues….

Whittard of Chelsea

I went to Whittard of Chelsea today, recently opened on Newbury Street in Boston. I remember when I first got interested in teas, I had some Whittard Darjeeling that I liked. Walking into the store, it wasn’t quite what I imagined it to be. The teas they had were mostly blacks, with some green or oolongs thrown in, but they were, by and large, very basic stuff. Most of the store was actually teaware of various sort, mostly of the very big ceramic pot kind. I must agree with DH that they’re not that impressive. They even had…. coffee… and some truly fantastically amazingly expensive coffee machines. Does a $1200 machine brew a better cup than a $700 one?

I think for the next few days I might just experiment with drinking various keemuns from various places. I had a keemun “Haoya B” from Tealuxe today…. must say it has nothing to do with the keemun I bought, almost. It’s more smokey, and less sweet. There’s a touch of vanilla taste in it. With a place like Tealuxe, one can never quite tell if it’s contamination from the next bin over.

Red Thunder

Rummaging through the samples I have today, looking for something to kill, I found a blue box with a label on it saying “Gopalhara Tea Estate — Red Thunder oolong”. Hmmm, I’ve neglected to taste this tea! It was kindly given to me by DH, a Boston area tea friend. He got it from somebody in New York, who apparently buys these small lots of premium Indians teas and resells them. There was a few grams in the tin left, perfect for a session with my small gaiwan.

The leaves look a little like oriental beauty, with the mixture of colour and type of leaves.

The tea brews a deep orange, with clear and somewhat thick liquor. The taste… is intensely floral. The first two infusions, as I’ve noticed with these Indian oolongs, coat your mouth with whatever taste the tea has. I was expecting this thing to drop off after a few infusions, as some other Indian oolongs I’ve had tend to do, but this one stayed strong — I brewed probably 10 infusions, and it still had decent taste. I’m impressed.

The floral quality of the tea reminds me of a dancong, actually, or at least the non fruity dancong. The affinity to dancong is most obvious around infusions 2-3. Later on, it came back to a taste that is mostly like a first flush darjeeling. In fact, I wouldn’t know this one’s supposed to be an oolong were it not for the floral qualities in the early infusions. It’s got less of the astringency that one gets from regular darjeelings, and but in some ways, I prefer those more. I think there’s something weird to me when I drink one of these teas — perhaps it’s the fact that the floral/fruity qualities are so concentrated in the first two infusions but then fade away. When I drink teas like this, I always wonder if they’re coated with a layer of artificial flavour. I’m sure they’re not, but it just seems that way sometimes.

This is easily the best Indian oolong I’ve had though. Depending on the price, I could get some of this. If it costs more than what I have to pay for reasonable dancong though, I’d pick up the dancong instead. The novelty value isn’t enough to keep me that interested over time.

You can see the wet leaves also look somewhat like an oriental beauty… I wonder how they did the fermentation, kill-green, and rolling/drying.

An outdoor tea party

Today was a very nice day, and I invited two friends to come to have tea with me.  Since it was a warm but not too warm day, I thought it best to sit outside, next to the blooming roses…

We started off with one of the Douji Maocha samples that I got from the tea expo. To refresh your memory, it’s one of these:

Since I’m a fan of Yiwu… we drank the Yiwu.

The amount of maocha was just right for the gaiwan… not too little and not too much.  One of my friends is a tea novice, so I thought other mountains might be a little too bitter.

The Yiwu turned out to be quite fragrant, thick, smooth, and generally very pleasant to drink.  It lacked a bit of a “throat feel” that I hoped for, and huigan is mild, not as strong as can be.  The tea is obviously spring tea, although I’m not sure if it’s actually 07 spring tea.  I’d imagine it might be, but it could also be an 06.  It’s hard to tell and I personally am not sure.

The wet leaves are quite beautiful

I think I liked this tea quite a bit.  Now I wonder how the other mountains taste.

We then went on to a qingxiang tieguanyin given to me by Toki.  I brewed it using the pot I got yesterday

It worked pretty well.  It’s a little bigger than the amount of tea was good for, but at the same time, we were looking for something a little less strong.  It brought out the fragrance of the tea quite well, although I always find the newer qingxiang tieguanyin these days to be a bit grassy for my taste.  I haven’t had a qingxiang tieguanyin for so long!  Thanks Toki 🙂

This is what’s left of it at the end

We then drank the cheap Yunnan green, or rather, tested the cheap Yunnan green I bought.  I wanted to contrast it with the maocha just to see what’s in the tea…

I think it’s pretty safe to say that if this were pressed into a cake, nobody can tell for sure if it’s puerh or not without being able to smell it and try it.  It can look quite like the real deal.

The taste, however, is distinctively beany.  Many green teas have a “bean” taste, and this tea, I think, has a classic “bean” taste that can go into a tea textbook.  If I ever want anybody to know what a “bean” tasting green tea is like… this is it.  This is also something that a puerh shouldn’t taste like, lest it will not age well in a few years….

The wet leaves are rather green too.

By this time it was getting a little late, and we finished up with the Qimen Haoya B that I bought a few weeks ago here in Shanghai.

I didn’t use too much leaves as I didn’t want to overdose my guests.  It yielded a nice cup of tea, quite nice to drink to finish off this session.  I always like to drink something warming/mellow to finish a tea session to keep everybody on a happy note.  Something too high-strung can really make one feel jittery or uncomfortable after many teas.  The hongcha did the trick, I think, and we proceeded to dinner after the tea.  Not before I take a shot of the wet leaves though…

By this time the sky was turning dark.  The camera was doing funny things to compensate for the lack of light, so the gaiwan is showing up in interesting colours.  I played with the colour balance to try to approximate the colour of the wet leaves, but this is still a little off.  Oh well.

It was fun, and I think I should definitely do this again.  Drinking tea outside has its charms, and so long as it’s not the mosquito season… it’s a very pleasant thing to do.

Shopping in Shanghai

I walked to Tianshan Tea City from my place today, looking for some cheap teaware to use in Shanghai.  It’s a 20 minute walk if I don’t walk too fast, and I can make it there in 15 if I walk really briskly.  It’s a bad combination, I know.  Luckily, the place is not big enough to hold a lot of interest for repeated visits.  It’s two floors plus some ground floor open stores.  In total I think there are about 80 stores of various kinds.  Interestingly enough, there are more puerh stores here than last time, and that was only two months ago.

I had set out to look for some cheap teaware to use in Shanghai, since I didn’t want to bring more stuff than I was already carrying.  However, I got sidetracked into a Keemun store.  They sell basically only Keemun, with some other teas as well (some unknown green, plus some Taiwan oolong — a mixed bag).  I was attracted by the Keemun, because she had all the grades, and they were clearly marked.

I ended up tasting two, a Haoya (she said it was B when I asked), and a tea she called the “Li Cha”, which is a new style Keemun which is not broken up — it’s instead using whole buds.  Keemun, as most of you know, is the sort of classic Hongcha (red tea).  It’s got a distinctive flavour, and the leaves are usually quite fine and cut up… is it broken orange pekoe?  Anyway, the Li Cha is not like that.  Instead, it’s buddy, looking a little like a red version of biluochun.  I think I’ve seen stuff like this before called by different names, but didn’t know it’s from the same region as your classic Keemun.

The Haoya is quite nice, although slightly rough on the tongue.  The Li Cha is better, but it lacks that Keemun flavour I was looking for.  I want something that I can use as a sort of benchmark to judge other Keemuns by, and I figured this is a good place to stay (I must confess I know little about Keemuns in general).  I sat there for a while longer, tried their green tea, and had a cooked tuo that she bought for 200 RMB (way overpriced — she wasn’t selling the tea, just drinking).  I then bought some of the Haoya and left.  She offered me a 30% discount without me prompting it, which was nice.

I wandered around the market for a little longer, looking for a gaiwan and a few cups.  The gaiwans are quite nice — I think BBB is right in saying that the teaware here is nicer.  The nice gaiwans, of course, weren’t the cheapest, but they were tempting.  I had to leave to go to another place, so I never finished shopping for teaware… having just bought one tea tray and no cups/gaiwans to use it for.  I’ll either come back here or go to Jiuxing, the other tea market which is a bit farther away.  Maybe I’ll go next weekend or, if I have time, sometime during the week.

On my way out, I noticed another store that specializes in Keemuns.  I should go check that place out.

Back to Beijing

Today was a lovely day, with warm temperature and great weather, and the sky was actually blue and not some shade of yellow. I am rather jet-lagged… feeling sleepy around 12pm. What better way to try to keep myself awake than to walk around on this sunny day while pumping myself full of caffeine?

Yes, I went to Maliandao. Surprised? Didn’t think so.

When I got there, I had this strange feeling that everything felt foreign, somehow. I know the place pretty well now, but somehow today, when I went there, I felt odd. Maybe not having been here for more than a month did the trick and made me feel a little odd.

In order to get myself into the mood, I went into Jingmin Chacheng to see what’s there, and if there’s anything new. I went into a store that I have never really went to previously, looked at some cakes, sat down to taste some, and I think I gradually got myself back into the mode of drinking tea with strangers while there.

I originally didn’t want to try anything there, but ended up trying three different kinds of tea. The first is a quite delightful Bulang cake, and quite reasonable too after hacking off more than 50% off the list price. I didn’t end up buying one, as the guy offered me those discounts without me asking for it (oddly enough). I told him I’ll probably go back and pick up a few. I think he’s basing on the assumption that I’ll buy a tong (he’s quoting me those prices) but I don’t know if I actually want a tong of tea….. it’s a little too much at this moment. At most I want two or three cakes.

The second was a Banzhang, which, while being about 5 times the Bulang at something like $50 USD, is not as good. It doesn’t strike me as a good tea, and is expensive merely by being Banzhang (everything Banzhang is astronomical these days). That’s why I don’t generally buy anything Banzhang…. price/quality wise, it’s not usually a good deal.

The third tea is a mixed cake of some sort, and the guy couldn’t tell me where it’s from. From the taste it’s from the Six Mountains, probably something like Manzhuan. It’s not too bad, but too pricey and not good enough.

I didn’t buy anything. I might go back for the Bulang… and to try their spring teas, which are coming down in a week or so.

I then proceeded to L’s store, where I sat down to have some dianhong. The girl who’s usually there, L’s business partner Xiaomei (L’s usually in Shanghai) is down in Yunnan with L and others to check things out for the first time. So only the assistant was there today. The dianhong is of the larger leaf variety, quite nice, but a little weak. I think they didn’t steep the tea long enough and were brewing it like young puerh, which is not the way to go. After drinking it, I thought to myself that I should really go check out redteas everywhere.

I ended up in a Wuyi tea store that is opened by a relative of one that I often go to. I tried perhaps half a dozen teas there, and bought 100g of one. It’s a heavily roasted Shuixian, quite nice, and good chaqi. It’s not that cheap, but I think it’s worth it for the price. I have, of course, more than enough Wuyi to handle, but not quite so much that I’ll have to worry about not finishing them. Part of my calculation is that I need “drink it now” teas more than “storage” teas, and this falls into the “drink it now” category. Young puerhs…. gotta really think about them before buying a bit lot of them at this point.

Some of the other teas I tried there were older dahongpaos, which were of varying degrees of interest (some were quite good!). One tea stood out as interesting… a variation on Zhengshan Xiaozhong. I didn’t like it, but it was interesting to look at the leaves and taste the tea… which was like ZSXZ, but not really….

I got pretty pumped up by caffeine, but that didn’t stop me from feeling extremely sleepy once I got home…. I think I am heading to bed.

P.S. Seems like all blog websites are down in China!

Black and white

Yesterday I had a black and a white tea, which made for an interesting contrast, I suppose, although really, they are all just shades of brown.

The black is an assam given to me by Mr. Lochan of Lochantea. It brews great in a cup, with nice caramel aromas and soft body. It gets a bit tannic after sitting in the cup for some time, but for the first few minutes the tea is quite drinkable, and great for a cold, snowy day, as we just had recently.

The white is a silver needles from Adagio. It’s being served in a cafe in our undergrad library’s cafe, and it’s the only non-adulterated tea in their offerings. They gave me probably what amounted to 1.5g of tea in a pretty big cup, which brewed a fairly flavourless cup of tea. On the bright side, it’s really not too bad, and serves up a good cup of sweet, flavoured water…. but not much of a tea. I needed more leaves.

I’m flying back tomorrow to Beijing, so not much is happening, tea wise, as I rush to do last minute things. There are only very few things I miss from Beijing, Maliandao being one of them.

I’ll report back once I get on the ground again 🙂

Pyramid teabags

Pyramid teabag is one of those things that we’ve been seeing more and more these few years. Many companies now make them, including I think Lipton, according to an article from, I think, the New York Times a while back. The theory behind them is that pyramid bags, by virtue of their shape, allows for more room for the leaves to be in. They also allow for the tea manufacturer to put whole leaves in them, rather than the fannings that you usually see in regular bags. This, supposedly, will yield a better cup and, of course, be more expensive.

But is it?

I had one today, made by Tea Forte. It was an English breakfast tea, which tasted like your typical Ceylon blend. By the end of the tea…. the bag was filled with the expanded leaves. I am not sure if it really achieved the goal of allowing for more room for the tea to move around.

Also, the amount of tea initially that was available was really tiny…. maybe 2g of tea? It’s quite expensive for what it is….

It might not be much more than a gimmick 🙁