Tea Gallery

Today was a total loss for tea, spent traveling, etc…

Yesterday, however, was not. I went in the afternoon to the Tea Gallery in NYC. Many of you have probably heard about this place. If you haven’t, it’s basically… the best place to go for tea if you want Chinese tea in New York City, as far as I am aware anyway.

They apparently have regular Tuesday gatherings there, and I met, again, Toki, but also another friend whom I’ve only corresponded with on RFDT. When I walked in, they were already drinking — four teas from different cakes of a private production, but somehow all tasting quite different. The first was smokey, the second a little more bland and weak, the third and fourth tasting more like Yiwu, but different in their own ways. All were different and with varying degrees of bitterness and thickness. It would be rather difficult to believe they were all from the same production if I wasn’t told, even though the dry leaves don’t immediately look different. The colour of the wet leaves are also different…. some were darker, some lighter. The variation is simply quite striking. I think at least part of it has to do with a slightly uneven production process — not all the cakes were made/pressed at the same time or using the exact same batch of leaves.

Then we tried a dancong I brought over. This is a gift from somebody in China, supposedly of some pretty decent quality leaves. The tea is very sweet, with a nice hint of something like apricot, but the taste is a little on the light side. I need to try brewing it with my own pot and experiment with it. I might go back and buy a little more if the price is right.

We also drank a very nice, fragrant, and deep shuixian. I’m not sure where it’s from, and neither does Michael, the owner of the Tea Gallery. He got it from somebody in Taiwan, and it is, from what I gather, a gift. It was nice drinking though.

There were people coming in and out of the place while I was there. It was pretty busy. We all had fun and it was particularly interesting drinking those four rather strong puerhs.

All in all, a good day, and finally got the chance to meet somebody I’ve been corresponding with but not met. It’s really a rare thing to have in the States to be able to sit at a teahouse and chat for hours on end about various things related (or unrelated) to tea. It is also a great thing to meet like minded people. If only we had such a place in Boston….

Or maybe it’s a good thing there isn’t one here. I know I won’t get work done if it exists!

Revisiting Best Tea House dancong

I haven’t had this tea in almost a year. Last time I had it was probably sometime in May 2006 or so.

This is actually the last bit of the tea I have left. I probably should’ve bought some in Hong Kong, but then, I can always go back and buy some more. This is their second most expensive selection. In terms of price/quality ratio, I find this to be a better deal than the Song Zhong Dancong, which is slightly too expensive for my tastes. This is half the price for more than half the quality. I’ll take it.

With this tea… it’s the same honey like fragrance, without the nasty greeness of an unroasted dancong that I find a little unattractive. The roasting gives it a good balance between the sweetness of the tea and the fragrance, without feeling like it’s been tempered with by the addition of artificial flavours. When drinking those non-roasted dancongs, I always feel like they are somehow unnatural…. too fragrant.

The only downside to this tea is that it doesn’t last too many infusions. After about 4-5 it starts dying, and since dancong tend to have a slightly bitter edge to them, it decreases the appeal of the tea significantly after that. Of course, today’s was especially bad because there were lots of broken bits of leaves in the tea — what always happens when it’s down to the last brew. As you can see….

Impulse buy…

I drank my very expensive dancong today that I really bought as a mistake when I first got to Beijing. It was an impulse buy, and today, drinking it, I am reminded why it was such a bad idea.

The tea, while ok, was somewhat thin, weak, and just not that exciting. It’s got some cha qi, but…. it just wasn’t that good, especially given the price. Thankfully I only have 50g of it, most of which is already gone…

But still…. what a waste.

I guess I can use it to season the pot, if nothing else. I ought to just drink this up so that it’s gone, so I can free up a canister for some other tea.

Aged dancong

A few months ago I bought a very weird tea, something that I’ve never tried before. It was from a small little shop in one of the shabbiest tea malls in Maliandao — the Beijing Tea Corporation mall. It’s a husband and wife team, renting basically a corner of a much bigger store that sells mostly teaware (especially those big wooden tables). I went in there because I was looking for dancongs, and they only sell dancongs (a doomed business in Beijing, pretty much). I tried two things, neither of which I particularly liked because they were too light for my taste, but then the husband showed me one tea, brewed it up…. and it was weird enough for the weird factor for me to have bought 150g of it. The other reason I bought it is because I think they really don’t get much business and I felt a little bad.

That’s usually a recipe for disaster — it’s usually those moments when you buy the worst tea in your inventory. I left this tea on my shelf, unopened, for the past three months. After the aged Wuyi two days ago though, I thought I should try this weird tea out.

I say it is weird because it is a genre that I’ve never had before — aged dancong. I’ve seen aged Wuyis or aged tieguanyin, but never an aged dancong. I think mostly because dancongs tend to be lighter in flavour, and aging a lightly roasted tea is not a good idea — the flavours will deteriorate into nothing. When I tried it at the store though, an overwhelming sense of — get this — puerh hit me. It’s not quite puerh like, but smelling and tasting the tea, it definitely reminded me of some puerhs I’ve had.

The aroma is hard to describe. It’s… old. It smells most similar to the mixed, low grade old puerh from Best Tea House, but the old puerh has a musty old puerh smell that this dancong doesn’t. Instead, it just retains the clean, old smell. I don’t know what to call it….

I brewed it up… and the initial two infusions were rather bland. The tea is, shall we say, subtle, but not unpleasantly so. The colour is light:

I increased infusion times, and it became stronger, with more of the “chen” taste that I found in the old Wuyi I had two days ago. However, it is not sour at all, which is a testament to good storage.

There were notes of dry dates again, the taste I found in the old cooked puerh brick. It’s a very subtle note, almost a flash. In fact, drinking this tea makes you work really hard trying to find the various flavours, but it’s quite complex and changes a lot between infusions. This time I only used about 4g of tea. Next time I will add more to make it more punchy and accentuate the flavours a little more.

The wet leaves are very large….

A pretty fun tea to drink, and it’s really quite cheap…..

Two Dancongs from Beijing

I thought about continuing the Yiwu parade with two 2006 spring Yiwus, but then….. my senses got the better of me. I will probably die of overdose if I tried that today.

So instead, I did two dancongs.

These are both purchased in Beijing. One’s the overpriced one, the other is the cheapo one. The price differential is about…. 5x.

As you can see, the L sample has smaller leaves. The colour is also a little more uniform. The R sample has bigger leaves, but if you look closely there are some leaves that are quite green, while others are quite dark.

The first two infusions:

L brews a slightly darker tea than R, although the difference is quite small and is a little more obvious to the naked eye than to the camera. Either way though, in effect the colours are the same.

But tea’s not for looking. Tea’s for drinking. L tastes… smooth. It’s quite fragrant, a little sweet, and not bitter. R is a little more bitter, less sweet, a little rougher. I tried long and short infusions, and the smoothness of L is always a little more evident when compared directly with R. In terms of fragrance… they are quite similar, with slight variations, but neither is exactly better. A close call, actually.

Given the price however…. it’s hard to justify buying the more expensive one (L) than the cheap one (R). The differences aren’t great enough.

The leaves, when wet, actually look quite different



L’s leaves unfurled easily, without any sort of human intervention, whereas R doesn’t really unfurl and is more tightly rolled. As I’ve mentioned before, I was told that this means that L was machine rolled, while R was hand rolled. I don’t know if this is true, but the guy who told me this doesn’t even sell dancong (a puerh guy), so he has no reason to lie to me. The extra rolling might also account for some of the bitterness. Extra rolling, in puerh at least, is supposed to make it a little more bitter. Maybe the same is true here.

L is still the better tea, but it is not anywhere near 5x better. Oh well. At least I only bought 50g of it.

Teahub Dancong

My French tea host gave me this tea from Teahub

It’s a dancong. I’m not sure which one.

Dancong, much like Wuyi, tend to be difficult to decipher when dry. I can’t really predict how they will taste based on how the tea looks. You can guess a little by the way it smells, but even then, it’s not a guarantee.

Infusion 1

Infusion 3

Needless to say, this is quite a bit lighter than my normal dancong. The first impression, and in fact, the lasting impression, from this tea is that it tastes very similar to a Taiwan oolong, with a bit more fruitiness, and a bit less of the metallic taste from Taiwan teas. It’s very smooth, and very low in bitterness, which is nice, as dancongs tend to have a bitter edge. However, the water is also on the thin side of things. Bubbles that form during pouring pop on their own without encouragement. Then again, maybe I’m judging it by puerh standards. The tea is quite resilient in terms of rebrewability.

The leaves are very thin as well. I couldn’t peel open any without tearing them. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. I should examine my dancong leaves a little more closely and do a comparison…. as I generally only really bother with serious wet leaf investigation with puerhs.