Zhengshan

More traditionally stored broken bits today

This one is, curiously, called Zhengshan by the teashop that sold it to me. It’s pretty cheap. It’s obviously traditionally stored, in Hong Kong, and broken up a while ago. I don’t really understand the name Zhengshan. Zhengshan, in the context of puerh, means that it is of a certain mountain proper. So, a Yiwu Zhengshan (anybody who’s shopped around should’ve seen this phrase at some point) means “Yiwu Mountain Proper”. It’s an advertising slogan, basically, for anybody selling tea that purports to be from one region. It’s an assurance that the tea is, indeed, coming from the proper mountain that is being named, and not some surrounding regions or mixed with stuff, etc

Just on its own, however, Zhengshan doesn’t really seem to make much sense. I didn’t ask the owner what he meant. Maybe there’s something obvious I’m not getting. I don’t know.

I don’t know where this tea came from. I think this is some standard factory issue from the 90s. It’s quite compressed. The tea brews a nice red liquor:

Mind you, this is a bit lighter than usual because I changed cups. I bought a new cup a few days ago at Maliandao

It’s one of those flat, big cups. The thing is almost two inches in diameter. It will make the tea look lighter in colour than it would with a more normal cup. For example, a few infusions later I took a shot of the fairness cup:

Much darker. Pouring out, however, the tea still looks red.

The tea is very smooth, with a silky texture and a slightly creamy taste. It’s got a hint of bitterness still, more obvious when drunk cool. Camphor is the most prominent aroma. It does hit the back of your mouth a bit, but it’s not a very good tea that hits you with a strong but subtle impact. Instead, it’s a mellow and relaxing drink, doesn’t really excite you, but delivers the goods as it should. After a few days of some pretty green puerh, it’s a nice change of pace. I can really only take so much young stuff before feeling the effects on my body. Drinking this sort of thing is easy on the body, and not too demanding in brewing technique. You can just focus on drinking.

I should’ve bought more of it when I was in Hong Kong. It’s very different from the Guangyungong bits. This tea is obviously younger. It’s got more strength and punch than the GYG, which is now very mellow and sweet. There is another sample of even younger stuff, but I find that to be a little too young to taste good now. It’s some Jiangcheng brick, about 10 years old. They all have the advantage of being very cheap though.

It’s still brewing. I just pulled out some leaves to take a shot of it. It’s very tight still — I had to stab this piece to break it into twos when I took it out. Whatever this Zhengshan is, it’s pretty decent.

Disneyland with niece and dad

Which means no tea… until 7pm. I was, needless to say, having a bit of a caffeine withdrawal headache, since 4pm, in fact.

I came back and drank some of the Ying Kee puerh in a cup… it serves the purpose. It’s mostly cooked stuff, I think, with some raw mixed in, and just… well…. it downs well, if nothing else. The other great alternative is drinking some Wuyi tea, with a low amount of leaves in the cup. That also works well.

My girlfriend, who’s Korean, tells me that Koreans don’t have the ability to drink tea with leaves in the cup — apparently to lots of people it’s quite a difficult thing to do. In Hong Kong at least, and definitely in China as well, you learn how to use your teeth to filter out the leaves while getting the liquor into your mouth. With some teas, like biluochun, it’s quite difficult. With others, like Wuyi or puerh, it’s also doable.

At the end of the day…. that’s how most people in China drink their tea.

Cooked loose puerh from Lam Kie Yuen

When I went to Bonham Strand a few days ago I bought a little loose puerh from Lam Kie Yuen. The owner of the place, who is a very kind old gentleman with a lot of knowledge of the tea business, described this tea as having been through “swimming” storage. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I’d imagine it’s a little wet.

I should note here, by the way, that the term in Chinese that describes dry or wet storage is “shicang 濕倉” (wet) and “gancang 乾倉” (dry). The word “cang” in this case is better translated as “storage” as in “storage condition”, but the word literally means “warehouse”. So you can also translate those terms as “wet warehoused” and “dry warehoused”, or some such. When talking about a tea that has been wet stored, it is usually only referred to, in Chinese, as “this tea has been through storage”. This issue led Mr. Lam to quip “people have been asking me a lot lately whether this or that tea has been in storage. What kind of a dumb question is that? Where am I supposed to store my tea if not in my warehouse? Under my bed??”

Anyway, Chinese lesson over. The tea, when dry, looks like any other loose puerh…

Almost impossible to tell what it is. All I know is that the grade of the tea is fairly high.

The liquor is a dark matter…. slightly opaque. It’s got none of the “fermentation” taste of a young cooked tea. Instead, it’s just …. old, kinda sweet, and somewhat bland in a way. Smooth, although not 100% smooth. There was a slight unpleasantness in the back of the throat… very slight, but detectable. This is supposedly a by product of wet storage that hasn’t been fully aired-out, so to speak.

The wet leaves are…. not too remarkable

But the fairness cup, after using it, shows how much stuff was dissolved into the tea liquor… and the viscosity of the tea.

The reason I’m drinking this at all (I’m sure some of you are wondering why) is that ZH from Beijing wants me to look for some cooked puerh for him, preferably aged. This is supposedly about 10 years old. He wants to try putting ginseng with the tea in a sealed jar to let the tea be infused with ginseng smell, sort of as an experiment. I’m going to send him a sample of this and see if it meets his approval.

Passing the year

Not much of an interesting tea day, as I drank, interestingly enough, teabag teas. Well, not exactly. I had a so-so Darjeeling with my breakfast this morning, and then had a Tazo teabag in the afternoon. Neither were exactly nice, and I just didn’t have a chance today to brew my own teas. I was hoping to make something nice.

Chinese New Year is a pretty festive affair. Families get together to eat and chat and just gather for the sake of gathering together. At one point about 12 people were crammed into my grandfather’s room, all chatting about family stuff. It was quite nice, and something I certainly haven’t done for quite a while.

However, Chinese New Year isn’t quite so benign in its mythical origins. The Chinese term of going through the new year’s is “Guonian” 過年, which actually literally means “Passing the Nian”. Nian is year, but Nian also refers to an ancient mythical beast that comes once a year. It will come up from the deep seas, where it resided, and eat and rampage its way through the lands. People were scared of it and left home every year on the 30th to avoid the beast. One year, an old man showed up and asked the villagers to let him stay there — if they would, he could make sure the Nian won’t harm them. The villagers obviously thought he was crazy, and left anyway. He stayed behind.

When the Nian came, everybody except the old man had left already. Suddenly, however, there was a loud burst of sound with a lot of red confetti flying around — a red firecracker went off. Nian was badly scared. Turns out that Nian is afraid of loud noises and the red colour. The old man appeared, wearing red, and Nian ran away.

So, the legend goes, the tradition of decorating the houses in red with parallel banners and lighting red firecrackers became the custom each year to scare the Nian away. This, of course, is just a legend that justifies a lot of people’s festivities during this time of the year, but I’m sure at one point people perhaps really believed in such things. Either way, it’s a time when everybody is supposed to have a good time. Kids get their red bags stuffed with money. Adults exchange gifts when they go visit each other, and everybody is encouraged to eat lots of special food and wear red. It’s a good time.

Among the things I got was, surprisingly, a cake of puerh, from my uncle who got this thing from a friend of his in Kunming. I don’t think this is the best of teas, but it’s a nice gift and comes in a really nice packaging.

The tea itself is cooked, and supposedly 6 years old now if you read the little booklet carefully. It looks…. like a cooked cake, and cooked cakes….. are impossible to distinguish in terms of age. It smells strong. I don’t know how it tastes.

Festivities continue tomorrow, with fireworks at night!

Three time’s a charm

I went to Maliandao again today, partly because my friend DY wanted to go and she’s really unfamiliar with the territory, and partly because I still have some unfinished business there.

We just went to L’s store, where we sat down and started drinking. We first had a Yichang Hao 2006 Yiwu cake, which was a gift to DY from a friend of hers. I amazed myself by guessing that this is one of her Shenzhen friends (Shenzhen is across the river from Hong Kong). I asked because it tasted like a Hong Kong/Guangzhou area storage condition — i.e. the tea changed faster than it would in Beijing, smoother, and generally better. I was right! She was impressed I could tell where her friend is from just by drinking gift tea. I have to say I was happy 🙂

We then proceed to have a few cooked puerhs. I ended up buying a sample of all of them:

These are all directly or indirectly for my girlfriend. The two bricks are going to be gifts for people in Inner Mongolia, but I am not sure what kind of taste is better, because this will be used to make Mongolian milk tea. Since she’s much more of an expert on such matters than me, a pathetic Han weakling who knows no such things, I will defer to her judgment and going to bring the samples over to the States. The mini-tuos are also for her to make yuanyang, which is a mix of robust tea and coffee. She wants to try this with espresso and cooked puerh, and these mini-tuos are VERY robust tasting. I think it will work.

Lastly, we had another tea from DY, an almost border tea from a region near Burma. It was, surprisingly, very good. Very light, pleasant, fairly smooth as young puerh goes… and generally quite enjoyable. It lacks a bit of depth, but really…. for a tea that shouldn’t cost more than 20 or 30 RMB a piece, it is quite nice. Now, her friend bought it from a touristy area in Yunnan and told her it was “very expensive”, so….. somebody got robbed….

We then walked around a little to buy necessary teaware, but nothing exciting there. I am still in the hunt for a shui ping pot for Chaozhou style gongfu tea, but haven’t found a suitable pot yet…. maybe I can find it in Shanghai. Either way though, this will be my last Maliandao trip in almost two months. Tomorrow, I fly back to Hong Kong, and I won’t be back here until early April….

Back to Beijing

And what do I drink when I come back to my tea stash? Funny enough, it’s my cooked puerh, that 1kg monster brick.

I haven’t had it since the first time I tried it right after I purchased this brick. Tasting it now, after having had a few other cooked puerhs with L, I think I paid a pretty reasonable price for what it is. It’s not great, and it isn’t anywhere near a nice raw puerh, but it gets the job done… and I think is ultimately better for me in these cold winter days. After drinking young raw puerh sometimes I feel cold, but after this I don’t feel that way at all. It’s also easier on the stomach…

There are a whole bunch of stuff that I bought when I first got to Beijing that are now half a year older, such as the Mengku cakes that I haven’t tasted for at least a few months. Since I got some Mengku sample from Shanghai, I might test it against what I’ve got and see how they compare. That will be my next project.

But the next few days, my girlfriend will be visiting. 🙂

Tea tasting with a lot of people

Today was a big event…. tea tasting with L, J, and Bearsbearsbears.  We met up before lunch, had two teas (one Menghai Bada Shan, one Zhongcha Bada Shan) and then got some food, after which we headed over to L’s friend, G, to try some teas.

G is an odd person.  He lives on top of a dual use building, with a nice view.  When we got there, his wife/companion was still in her pyjamas, drinking some tea, and I think G wasn’t even really up yet.  It’s a fairly big place, with a big coffee table that is filled with teaware that dominates the room.

We sat down, and soon we were underway.  The first tea we tried was a 1980s Tongqing Hao, which was really mediocre and wet to the hilt.  It was wet, wet, wet.  This is the sort of wet stored tea that leaves a nasty feeling in your throat.

Then we had a 50 years old 1000 taels tea.  It was nice.  It was not great, but not bad.  I enjoyed it.  Nothing too much to write home about — I’ve had better.

Then it was a newer tea.  G proclaims proudly that he doesn’t own any tea that is produced after 2000.  He seems to have bought, or is about to buy, a lot of this following cake we’re going to taste.  The tea is wrapped in the Zhongcha wrapper from the old days, of the original Yellow Label design.  This is a newer tea, looks quite young, and when he asked me how old I think it is, I gave the honest answer of 3-5 years.  He said “no!” and told me how none of the teas he has is younger than 7 years old, blah blah blah… so we brewed this one up.  It was, at most, about 5 years old.  It first only tasted mildly like the Lincang stuff I’ve had before, and the first infusion was quite nice, but as we went further along the tea got worse (rougher, more bitter, etc) and less interesting, and also more and more like Lincang stuff (Mengku, Fengqing, etc).  Lincang stuff of about 5 years aging should be pretty cheap, as they are produced in large quantities and prices simply aren’t high for this area.  He said he might be buying this cake for 250 RMB a piece or so.  I think it’s a ripoff, but I had to just smile and nod and say it’s not that expensive.  The guy doesn’t like to take no for an answer.

Then it was a cooked brick from the 80s.  While it’s entirely ok and mellow, it was a cooked brick, and one should not expect too much from a cooked brick.

In between all these, we had a conversation about how I am a PhD student studying history, and he showed us a 100 years old tea, supposedly.  It looks rather unremarkable, and he wasnt’ about to let us try it.  He also showed us what looked like a real Songpin Hao, but he wasn’t going to let us try that either.  So…. all in all, we didn’t have many interesting teas today.  They were all broadly similar, and really not that exciting.

After that, we went to tea shopping at the Tianshan market.  BBB thinks he’s coming back for the teaware, while I just looked at all the puerh stores.  We tried three teas total, all at my request… the first was a Haiwan Laotongzhi, which, oddly enough, tastes much nicer than I imagined.  The second and third were both “old tree”.  The first was a “Yiwu” that didn’t really taste like Yiwu.  It was cheap too… makes you wonder, doesn’t it?  I suspect it might be summer leaves masquerading as big tree leaves…. makes the tea look nice but really not that flavourful.  It looks better than it tasted.  The second was similar… more intense, but half the price.  Still not that interesting, and I think I can find stuff that is better, even if for a higher price…

All in all, a long day of drinking tea (and which got me a little uncomfortable as I started feeling the effects of it through dinner).  We ended the day with a drink at a bar, and I tried, for the first time, a Chivas Regal Royal Salute.  I was tasting it like a tea… smooth, sweet (it’s relative), with a nice aftertaste, and really quite pleasant.  I think I like it better than the JW Blue Label.  But ok, this is a digression.

Confused

I walked by the tea store in the supermarket again, and saw something interesting — it was the cake that I bought at the Best Tea House before I left Hong Kong this time.  So, I walked up to the cake and took a closer look to see if it’s the same thing.  It is, and it’s priced $400 RMB… almost 3 times what I paid in Hong Kong, proof that not all tea is cheaper here.

I picked up the cake anyway, smelling it, to see if it smells any different (it looks more or less the same).  At this point, the sales came up behind me, and starting saying “this is a 8582 cake”.  Ok…. it’s not, obviously, since it’s not made by Menghai and looks nothing like any 8582 I’ve ever seen.  The best comment followed…”this cake is cooked puerh”.

Wah

Lady, this ain’t cooked puerh!  This is a 2-3 years raw puerh!  Whoever hired this woman should be fired.  Then again, maybe it’s exactly this kind of misinformation that allows them to sell at such extremely exorbitant prices?  I mean, my oh my, cooked puerh?  8582?  This is a small factory (tiny, in fact) cake that uses big tree leaves and has quite a nice throat feel, even though the liquor is light and the flavour is also somewhat light, and you tell me this is cooked puerh?

I just shot back “this is not cooked puerh”, put it down, and left.  They looked a bit shocked… I guess usually potential customers don’t do this sort of thing.  Cooked puerh… meh

 

Luk Yu Teahouse

Seems like the internet is back to normal faster than I thought. Give it another day, and I can probably start uploading pictures again. Right now it’s still quite slow (think…. 28.8k slow with lots of packetloss)

I went to Luk Yu Teahouse 陸羽茶室 with family today for lunch. It’s a fairly famous old restaurant in Central, best known for rude waiters who only treat you well if you’re a regular, and a murder case a few years ago where a guy was gunned down in the middle of the dining room. Either way though, it’s a bit of a landmark and is not bad for food.

As many of you probably know, going to eat dim sum in Cantonese is “yum cha”, literally “to drink tea”. When we first sat down at the table and mom started looking at the food menu, the waiter commented “so fast?”. The expectation is that you will first sit down, drink some tea, talk, slowly look at what kind of food there is, wait for everybody to show up… and have a very, very leisurely lunch (or brunch, as is usually the case). A lot of Cantonese families I know would go at 9am and stay until well past 1. They sit, chat, read newspaper, etc, and it’s a time for the whole family to get together. Dim sum, the focus of this activity in the West, is only what fills the belly. It’s really a time when you are catching up with family, and tea serves as a lubricant for the conversation.

I think the kinds of tea that are ordered are often jasmine, shuixian, nongxiang tieguanyin, or puerh, with lighter teas being less popular (although I think they are also gaining in popularity). We got a puerh today. There’s no specific thing you order. You just tell them what tea they want, and they give it to you in a pot. There’s no asking of vintage, raw or cooked, or anything. It comes in a big pot where the water stews the leaves. It’s what’s called “cow-drinking”, which basically means drinking in big gulps rather than small cups for fine tasting. They also have gaiwans, if you prefer that, although with 10 people at the table gaiwan is quite impractical.

Usually, the puerh that is offered at these places are cooked or raw-cooked mix puerh, low quality, and quite nasty. The stuff at Luk Yu, while not fantastically good, is not bad. It’s all raw, at least the sample leaves I pulled out of the pot when we were done were definitely all raw puerh. It’s got some age. I can’t tell how long, but it’s not short. Drinking it from a big pot of stewed leaves also doesn’t help. After all, the tea’s just there to help you eat and talk. My family all commented though that the puerh there was better than the usual puerh you get outside, which is often dark and bitter (when overbrewed). I think for what it’s supposed to do, Luk Yu’s puerh is quite good.

I think tomorrow’s a tea shopping day 🙂

Cheap loose puerh

I tried the loose traditionally stored puerh today for real, with this setup:

I know a few of you use a water dispenser like this one. My question to you — how on Earth do you control the pouring???? Because I find it extremely difficult, and the water always come out a little too quickly/strongly, and the water sort of spills everywhere. I can hold it up to the spout, but then I run the risk of having it splatter on my hands, which is not pleasant either.

Anyway….

This is the puerh I drank.


This is infusion 2


This is around infusion 8 or 9

The puerh is not bad. It’s got some Chinese medicine taste, and very good chaqi. The leaves are big, and I actually thought it’s not a bad value for the quality of aged puerh that it is. It’s not a fantastic puerh, but if you need a cheap, aged puerh fix….. it will do the job.

Maybe I should go buy a little more. It’s really quite cheap….

And of course

Merry Christmas!