Water temperature

I was just in the US for a few days for a quick conference trip, and had to endure a few days of subpar tea. I did bring my own – some tuo that I found recently that’s rather decent. These days, nice hotels generally have better coffee makers than they did of old. Whereas the old drip coffee machines mean that your water will have to pass through not only the area where the coffee goes, but also into the glass pot where anything going in will start tasting/smelling like coffee, the new ones tend to be done with a construction such that, if you were to remove the coffee element, water will directly pour into your cup. This means, among other things, that there’s no more need to really try to eliminate the coffee smell before you can use them for tea. So thankfully, tea in my room was mercifully ok.

The same, surprisingly, cannot be said for the airport lounge. The coffee machine they have is a fully automatic thing that has a hot water dispensing tap that spits out water with the push of a button. This tap, however, is problematic – the water is too cool. I suspect it comes out at something like 80-85 degrees, and the tea simply doesn’t brew properly in those temperatures. Whereas my tea at the hotel was decent tasting – more or less like the real thing when I brew it at home – the same tea brewed at the lounge in a pre-warmed coffee mug tastes like coloured water. Worse, the tea never really expanded/broke apart. The two chunks of tea stayed quite chunky for a very long time. It was only after maybe the 5th or 6th time I added water to the cup when it finally started to come apart, and it was only then when the tea started tasting a bit stronger. In other words, the water was not hot enough.

This is why when you have a vendor telling you to brew younger puerh at anything under 100 degrees, especially if they tell you to use water much cooler, what you’re getting is a very different experience from what you would get if you go at it with hot water. The effect of cooler water is a lower extraction rate from the tea, and it also opens up the leaves slower. It means that for teas like puerh, you’re not getting everything out of it at once. This does decrease the amount of bitterness and roughness that you might get from the leaves, but it also means you’re not really tasting everything you can.

For teas that you’re trying to evaluate whether or not is age-worthy, this approach can be problematic. If you brew your tea purely for currently enjoyment, then by all means, do whatever you like. If you want it with olive oil and cinnamon, do that. However, I do find that if the roughness or the bitterness is too much, a better way of avoiding/managing them is shorten the infusion time or lower the amount of tea leaves used. Lowering temperatures often diminishes the overall experience – most importantly in the mouthfeel of the tea, making it thinner and lighter. The tea at the airport was definitely a sub-par experience – one that I think makes the tuo come off as weak and boring. I rarely use warm, rather than hot, water to brew tea, so it is good, sometimes, to be reminded of what is possible, and what others may do to a tea. This can also explain the range of experiences that you often see when talking about the same tea – the variables are too many and so comparisons are, oftentimes, at best suggestive.

The importance of water

Water is a subject that I talk about from time to time, but it is very easy to get caught up in all the myriad discussions about this tea and that tea that you forget just how important water is to your tea drinking experience.The past two days I went to a local shop that just opened recently and which makes new pressings of Yiwu cakes. I like their stuff, and the quality is there. They are also a bit more traditional in their processing, so that the taste is not the high and floral stuff that you often find on the market today. In our conversation, we talked about old teas, and I also drank some old teas with them, including the remnants of a Fuyuanchang Hao from early 20th century. So, in the spirit of sharing, I brought with me some of my aged oolongs on the second day for them to try, since the owner is unfamiliar with a lot of them.

Well, trouble started when we began with an aged baozhong of mine that I know very well, and which yields a pleasant, sweet, and alluring cup. The problem is, that wasn’t really evident at all. Instead, we got a thin, barely there taste with a crisp but weak mouthfeel and only some notes of high aroma. This is not the tea I know – which is why it’s useful to get well acquainted with a tea. Granted, he didn’t use much leaves, but clearly, it was the water.

As I’ve mentioned multiple times before, water is the most cost effective way to make your tea better. So, I went downstairs to the local 7-Eleven, picked up a big bottle of Volvic, and mixed it in the current kettle and used that instead. The improvements are instant and immediate. It explains, also, why the old tea I had on the first day was a bit thin and boring. Turns out they’ve been using tap water, filtered with bamboo charcoal and then just boiled in your typical Kamjove boiler. They know it’s no good – but as a newly opened store, they have to make do with the water for now until they can come up with a better solution, since hauling water from local springs is a really hard thing to do, especially if you don’t have a car. As it is, however, the water is destroying the tea.

The really interesting thing is that I also use tap water, except these days I don’t even bother to filter it and simply boil it in my tetsubin. I think the difference in what I tasted between his brewing and my brewing is mainly down to the tetsubin and the filtering – you can get all paranoid about your water source and how it might contain harmful stuff if you don’t filter it, but the fact is, in most cases the water source doesn’t contain these heavy metals that your filter is built for, but they do take out all kinds of other things that make your tea better. I remember visiting a friend’s place here that used a pretty heavy duty filtration system, and the resulting tea is also thin, weak, and boring. If you’re a frequent drinker of lighter greens, it might work. For everything else, it’s probably a bad idea.

Buying good bottled water (not all are created equal) is probably one of the possible answers, but it’s probably not a great answer. Environmental concerns aside, it’s expensive, it comes in plastic that in some cases leech smell and taste, and it’s bulky. It’s useful in a pinch, but not a long term solution.

They do serve as a useful benchmark though. I like Volvic and Vittel, and for lighter teas, Iceland Spring, which also happens to be a really tasty water just for drinking purposes. Do water taste tests – pour four or five glasses of different waters, including your normal tea water post boil, and taste them as if your life depended on it. You will find that they’re different, and in some cases, your water may contain some really unsavoury tastes and smells. The body of the water will also be different, if you get water with varying levels of total dissolved solids. Use them then to brew the same tea – a tea you know very well. Try it, and you will find the tea you usually drink will taste different in some way. Include a distilled water in the sampling, so you can see how terrible it really is. Your tea with distilled water will be thin and sour.

It makes me think that perhaps more conscientious vendors can make water suggestions, but that might also get too complicated and drive people away. The fact is, water makes a huge difference, and not enough people pay attention to it. Every so often, you’re reminded that it’s important, but then it fades from memory and the cycle repeats itself.

Variety is the spice of life

Many of us drink different teas every day, or even within each day, to keep it interesting.  Drinking the same tea, day in, day out, can get tedious, no matter how great the tea is.  I also find that tastebuds can sometimes go dull if drinking the same tea too many times.  Instead of just varying the leaves being brewed, however, there are many other things that you can do to change the way a tea tastes and how it appears to you.  Obviously, brewing method is a big one – a little leaf in a big bowl is going to taste very different from a lot of leaves in a little pot, but one that I think people tend to ignore is water.

I’ve talked about water many times before, and I think one of the key points I have tried to make over the years is that different water suit different teas, adjusted for different styles of brewing.  There are, I think, some general rules of what water is better for what kind of tea than others, but when it comes down to it, you have to find the right water for what you want from the tea.

Having said that, it is always interesting to change water sometimes just to give yourself a sense of what different water will do to a tea that you’re really familiar with, or for me yesterday, what the different water did to a tea that I was drinking earlier in the day.

My usual water here in Maine is from municipal sources, and from what I understand, water around here is pumped from underground.  The mineral content is high – the highest I’ve seen from municipal sources that I personally have experience with.  It’s the first water that leaves obvious, visible mineral deposits on everything I use from kettle to pots.  It is also heavy in taste, and when unfiltered, has a nasty sharpness to it that precludes enjoyable drinking.  There’s also a slight amount of saltiness in the water.

My tap water actually works rather well with most of the teas I drink – heavier teas, such as puerh and roasted or aged oolongs.  It’s really quite terrible for greens and light oolongs, but I rarely drink those anyway, so it’s not a real problem.  Yesterday, though, when I was shopping at our local organic food store, I saw that they had Iceland Spring on sale.  This is a water that I love – crisp, clean, refreshing, very tasty, and not too expensive.  So I got two bottles and intend to drink some tea with it.  It has low total dissolved solids, and you can taste the difference (note: I am not saying low total dissolved solids is good, but it’s different and it does what it does).

The tea I was having yesterday was a taobao purchase of a Yiwu cake from about 05 or 06.  It was one of many taobao lottery I purchased a while back.  I tried this cake once before, but wasn’t too impressed.  As I drank it yesterday first with the tap water, it seemed to have improved.  I came home with the Iceland Spring, and boiled the second kettle of water to use as a continuation of the initial brewing.  The tea changed – not just because it was weaker after a full kettle worth of tea, but also because the water changed.  You can think of a tea’s progression through infusions as being on a curve of sorts, and in this case, changing the water led to a break in that curve.  The tone of the tea lightened up, both in terms of the physical colour, and also the body, which is pretty consistent with my findings from previous experiments.  What’s gained though is a depth in fragrance that was rather muted with my tap water.  That took more of a center stage when I brewed it with the Iceland Spring, which gave it a nice, crispness that enhanced or at least brought attention to the fragrance of the tea.

This brings me back to my original point, which is that the water you should use depends on the tea you want.  A water that works for you is the best water for the tea.  It doesn’t really matter if it’s tap, spring, well, river, or rain – if it works for you, it works.  Now, on balance, I think some water types work better with some tea types, and I think there are generally broad agreements as to what water is better than others (distilled bad, spring good).  I also think that the only way of finding out, given all the variables there are in tea brewing, is to try it out yourself.  Using different sources, buying different kinds of bottled water, and comparing the results is really the only way you can find out if what you normally use is good or not for what you drink.  After all, water is the cheapest way to improve your tea.

Another thing that is very underrated but I think very important is to just try the water itself, in comparison with each other.  This is very easy and cheap to do.  Go find four or five different water sources, pour them into identical glasses, and drink.  Don’t just gulp, but drink like you’re drinking tea – taste it, feel it, and pay attention to it.  Water is actually quite interesting to drink on its own, and can taste great.  You don’t need abominations like this to make drinking water fun.

Silver revelation

Today I drank a sample that I got recently, without any real labels or anything.  All I can remember (and discern) is that it’s some sort of an aged oolong — not really aged, just a few years under its belt, with a little sourness in the smell and that characteristic aged smell.  I brewed it up normally, did not think much of it — seems a little hollow, and one note, but not particularly interesting.  I brewed two kettle worth of water with it, and decided to basically call it a day.

Then, late night, I thought I wanted some more tea, but adhering to my one-tea-a-day rule, I had to just boil more water for my tea, instead of using new leaves.  For some reason, I picked up my silver kettle instead of my usual tetsubin for the water.  In the water goes, out comes the tea…. and the tea seems to have gained new life.  All of a sudden, the taste is richer, with a fuller body and a deeper penetration into the back of the mouth and the throat area.  The high note, which was already present in the original brewing, is now really obvious, but has undertones to support it so that the tea is not bland and hollow anymore.  All in all, the tea is now good, and I want more.

This of course confirms what I already know, but sometimes forget – silver tends to be better for the teas with lighter notes.  Sometimes, when faced with teas like aged oolongs, it’s not always easy to tell what’s going to happen, and experimentation is necessary.  Now I wonder if I should go back and test some other recent teas with the silver kettle, which, until today, has been neglected in the back of my teaware cabinets.  I think it’s time to work on water again.

Chlorine in water

The water here is heavily chlorinated.  Apparently, my town gets its water supply from wells, and in addition to being heavy on minerals, the processing of the water happens pretty close to where I live, and when I go to a restaurant  that serves unfiltered tap water, it comes out as bitter and nasty.  There is a very unpleasant taste to it, in addition to the chlorine that you can feel in the water that gives it a heavy, metallic taste.

Once filtered, the water comes out much better, at the very least it loses some of that nasty edge to the water.  The difference is not obvious to me, day in, day out, since I never drink the water unfiltered (so the only time I notice it is when I have to go somewhere and drink the tap water).  The thing is, when I tried to make tea for my class last semester, the students were able to pick up on the bitterness in one of the tea.  Knowing that tea, it has nothing to do with the tea itself — it’s the water that’s making the tea taste sharp and bitter.

BBB recently talked about assumptions about new tea drinkers.  The thing that we tend to assume is that younger drinkers like the more floral, lighter stuff.  In fact, I’ve been treated that way before by many tea sellers who assume that of me as well.  The fact of the matter is very often a newcomer to tea can have a better handle on what stands out as the dominant taste/characteristics of a tea.  If it’s bitter, they’ll tell you it’s bitter.

I always think it’s important to show newer drinkers of tea the difference in taste that different water can have.  Considering there are only two ingredients in making tea, there are few things more important than that.  As I’ve said before, changing your water is often the best, fastest, and cheapest way to improve your tea.

Chlorine

I made some tea for class the other day, a Shuixian and an aged oolong.  I was trying to explain how Chinese have basically “invented” this new style of tea making that really has little historical basis, but is now widely viewed as “traditional Chinese tea ceremony” when nothing can be further from the truth.  What struck me though during the brewing is how different the tea tastes.  The Shuixian was subdued, without much of its natural aroma, while the aged oolong came out a bit bitter, rough, and not sweet at all like I know it to be.  I used all my regular equipment.  What’s wrong?

Water

Specifically, the chlorine in the water.  Bringing a water filter to class and then waiting for it to filter through is really not an option, so tap water, instead, has to be used.  Maine tap water, for some reason, is really, really chlorinated.  When I turn on the tap here I can smell the chlorine.  When I boil it unfiltered, I can also smell the chlorine.  In fact, when I opened my tetsubin after that class, I could smell it in my tetsubin.  Disgusting.

School’s only two minutes away from where I live, so I am pretty certain we get the same water supply.  There’s no other vairable involved.  It has to be the chlorine (and whatever else is in the water, but most likely just that).  If you ever need proof that filtered water is necessary for a good cup of tea, this is probably it.  Bottled water, on the other hand, is a completely separate discussion.

The result

The experiment, I must say, was not conclusive. Of course, that’s probably predictable right from the get go — almost no tea experiment is conclusive. However…. having tried pouring my water quite hard and fast today, I must say that it seems as though the tea came out a little more sour, and a little more bitter, without as much aroma…

Could it be that different?

Well, I think there are a few things that a high, slow pour will do, some of which have been mentioned by comments in yesterday’s post. The first is, of course, temperature — a higher pour means the water is ever so slightly colder. Also, the water is in touch with tea a little longer — of course you can time yourself so that your fast pour stays in the pot just as long, but the combination of slightly lower temperatures and longer time… might be interesting.

There’s something else too. If you pour harder, it distrubs the leaves and potentially change the way the tea brews. When I prepare a pot for tea, I always shake the pot a little so that it settles down — the leaves will be more tightly packed. When I do the slow pour, the leaves move very, very little. If you move the leaves around, it changes the tea — I think anybody knows that. So, the movement might also have something to do with it.

Of course, all this might be placebo and I’m just kidding myself. Blind test might be better, but that’s quite hard to achieve….

How to pour water

Another topic that came up during my conversations with Sherab is pouring water into the pot. Think it doesn’t matter?

Well… the story he told me is like this

A certain famous tea master, who shall remain nameless, was brewing tea for a few people somewhere in China. Sherab has a friend who went. Two teas were made. The first was a wet stored cooked puerh, and it tasted like crap. The tea supposedly gave off the “locking the throat” feeling, where one feels as though the throat is closing up and is often attributed by mainland Chinese as a sign of wet storage — a bad side effect, so to speak. The second tea, which, while not specified (to me) I assume is also of a similar genre, had no such effect. Second tea is better, no?

Well… not quite. Apparently, when the master made the first tea, he poured water from up high and in a rather violent fashion, so the water hit the pot hard. The second tea he didn’t do that. Afterwards, as Sherab’s friend knows said master, he went and asked. Master said, “when you do that (high and fast pouring) with wet stored cooked puerh, you will always produce the “locked throat” effect”. Pray, tell, why would a venerable tea master do such a thing so that a tea will come out tasting worse? Well, I’m sure you all, my intelligent readers, must know the answer, and it involves profit, if you need a hint.

The fact that most tea masters out there have a profit motive is not something you need me to tell you. However, the significant part of this story is the pouring – how do you pour water into the pot affects the way the tea tastes. I remember, very early on in my own tea career, I was told that when making oolongs, one should pour from high up, in a small stream, gently, and slowly. Puerh, on the other hand, should be treated with a stronger stream, but NOT high up — pour low. When pouring from pot/fairness cup into the cups, ALWAYS pour low — don’t splash around like some bad youtube videos do.

Over time, I must say I’ve gotten sloppy with my water pouring technique. It’s easy to get lazy, but I decided to try that out again today. I pulled out my aged baozhong, a tea I know pretty well, and one of my pots, and made sure that whenever I made that tea, I poured in a small stream from up high. The result? My tea seems to be a little less sour, and a little smoother. I’m going to try tomorrow, with the exact same wares, but with a different water pouring style. Let’s see what happens, and of course, I’ll report back.

Water water everywhere

My friend from Beijing, L, recently took on a job to be an editor for a tea magazine that Zhongcha puts out, and he asked me to try to write a column for him. It’s going to be in English and Chinese (the column, not the rest of the magazine) and I thought I should give it a shot in English first before writing the Chinese equivalent. The below is my first attempt — please give any thoughts or comments you might have so that it may get a little better. Thanks :)

There are only two ingredients in a cup of tea – the leaves, and the water. The leaves we talk about very often. In fact, I would say the leaves are almost the only thing we tea lovers normally talk about. Water, however, is a much neglected subject, and for water, the preparation is usually the least discussed. Yet, over the years, I have found that the preparation of water and the water used for the tea is extremely important to a cup of tea. This is obvious among those of us who already drink tea often, but it is difficult to say something conclusive about water. While I certainly do not pretend to know anything more than my readers here, I do feel that it might be useful to engage in a discussion of the sort of variables involved in water that seem to affect the making of tea.

The first question about a type of water that we can easily know about is the source. Where is the water from? There are a number of old texts that deal with this question. Lu Yu from the Tang dynasty said that the best water is spring water, then river water, and the worst are well water. Other, later texts generally find that to be true, although there are smaller variations in their beliefs. I don’t think it is necessary to discuss which spring is the best, because that is partly subjective, and it is also rather difficult to pinpoint such things when most of these springs are not reachable by us. However, we do now have the ability to gather water from a source and ship it many, many miles away. So in some ways, we do have such access.

I think the primary differentiator between the different waters that we can usually access is the amount of minerals in each of them. Every water has a unique mineral profile, and in many cases, we can compare them easily as the bottlers who make the water provide these information to us. Without getting too technical into the chemistry, generally speaking I find the ppm of a water a reasonable indicator of what kind of tea it brews, but most of the time water contains mostly Calcium Carbonate (plus whatever other minerals there are). On the low end, I’ve seen water with as low as 10 ppm. This was, I believe, a water from a small island on the south side of Japan that supposedly had pristine conditions. On the hard side, you have famous waters like Evian, or even the new water from Tibet, that have hundreds of ppm of minerals in the water.

So what does it do for your tea when you brew teas with different hardness? I have done a test before using two different types of water and brewed them in an exact same way, using the same equipment. The tea used was a Yunnan black tea. This picture is the result

The water I used for the tea on the left is the new 5100 water from Tibet, with anywhere from 482 to 725ppm of dissolved solids in the water. On the right hand is the Nestle water from Shanghai, which I believe is a public source water that is treated. They don’t provide a specific amount of dissolved solids, but I believe it is quite low.

If you’re not convinced of the fact that this was a product of the water, and not of other variables, such as the amount of leaves used or the time the water spent in the tea, I brewed the next infusion by switching the waters around.

I think this shows that the effect of the color of the tea is mostly a product of the water difference, and not anything else.

The taste of the teas were also different with the two waters. The cup of tea made with 5100 is softer, rounder, fuller, with a heavier taste and seems to have some more depth. The tea made with the Nestle water, on the other hand, is a cleaner tasting cup, with higher notes and less of the body and depth. Yet one might say the tea taste crisper, and some may prefer this type of taste. I do, however, think that with more minerals there does seem to be an ability by the water to pull out more flavor from the tea.

When I was in Beijing for a year doing research, one of the things that always was a problem was the water used at the tea shops. Some shops use very good water that make the tea taste good, but some use very bad water that are basically filtered or even distilled water. That can make a tea taste very flat or boring sometimes, and so when I buy tea, I often will first buy a little bit to take home with me to first taste it at home, using water that I am familiar with, before I buy more. Unfortunately, for teas that seem bad at the shop, sometimes it is possible to miss a very good tea because the water they used was bad.

There was one instance when I remember such a thing happening, although in that case, it was a tea I brought to somebody’s shop, this time in Hong Kong. I had a tea with me, a Yiwu, that I thought was very good. I took it with me to the shop and we made it, and instead, the tea came out very flat. There was a very low level of aroma, and the body of the tea was also thin. It was not active in the mouth, and was barely showing any sign of strength. I was mystified, because the tea was certainly much better than what I was tasting in that cup.

Then I realized that they use a very advanced filter system for their water. The water filtration system is so good, in fact, that probably very little minerals were left in the water at all. If my theory that higher mineral content tend to “pull” more flavinoids out of the tea, then a very low content would mean a flavorless tea, which was true in this case. I walked outside to the closest convenience store, and bought myself a bottle of Volvic, a French mineral water. I took it back with me to the shop and we continued brewing this tea with the Volvic, and instantly, the taste improved dramatically. The tea now had a throatiness and a depth that was lacking before, and it tasted much more like the tea that I know. The shop girl, who is a good friend of mine, was surprised to find it so different.

What the above story illustrates is that water can sometimes be “too good”. Just because it is filtered for a million different things does not mean that it will make good tea. I believe that a good water requires a certain minimal level of minerals in it. There are some ways of fixing this problem. One is to use stones that can be placed in a kettle or a water container and which helps put some minerals back into the water. Another is to buy some mineral salts and add them to your water.

So what water is good with what tea? I can’t say for sure, for, again, it is a matter of taste, but I do feel that there are some general rules that might apply a little more universally. I think for teas that are delicate and light, which includes most green teas and white teas, as well as some lightly fermented oolongs, the water used should probably not be too heavy in mineral content. Using a crisp water would accentuate the freshness of the taste of the tea, and often will even make the tea feel cool to the mouth, which is sort of what you want anyway from a green. Using water that is too heavy for such a style would create a tea that seems unbalanced.

On the other hand, I think heavier teas, including blacks, darker oolongs, and puerh (and I put even young raw puerh in this category) water that has a bit more minerals in it would be beneficial.
In these cases, there is usually a depth of flavor and a complexity that is being sought after, as well as potentially a good solid body in the liquor itself, and even down to a deep, rich color for the eyes. Both of the teas that I tested for this purpose that I mentioned above benefitted from the heavier water.

The key here is that I believe there is no single water that works for all kinds of tea. Water that is good for green tea is probably not going to be good for black tea, and vice versa. Again, what “good” means really depends on the individual, and some people may just like the lightness that comes with a black tea brewed with a crisp water. But I think as a general rule of thumb, we need to adjust our water as we change the tea being made.

How to pick water that is available is obviously a matter of great concern. One is simply through trial and error. Try widely, and eventually you will find one that works for the tea in question. Everybody has their favourite teas, and in those cases, maybe a little more experimentation would be useful. Since each person’s favourite tea is probably also the one that he or she knows the best, it also makes experimentation more fruitful, as any change in taste due to the water tasting different would be more obvious.

More importantly though, I think tasting water on its own, without the tea, also helps develop a sensitivity in understanding the water’s characteristics. Whenever I am traveling I will always go to the local convenience store and buy bottled water that I have never tried before. Tasting them, sometimes side by side or one after another, can tell me a lot about the way different waters taste and the range of possibilities that exist. Doing a blind taste test at home, with maybe three, four, or five different kinds of water in identical glasses for taste, is also one good (and I should add, fun) way of getting a better sense of how different waters taste. When doing this, it might be useful to include the normal water that one uses for brewing tea, which in our case is most likely filtered tap water. Doing so will help locate exactly where on the spectrum the tap water is.

I have yet to do this yet, but I think at some point it might even be useful to try water cocktails – mixing different waters together to get something else out of them. I don’t know if it is something worth trying, but it’s definitely a thought. After all, teas are regularly mixed to maintain consistency from batch to batch. I don’t see why water can’t be mixed that way.

This is just the water itself. We haven’t even mentioned the preparation of water for brewing, but that is another topic entirely, and should probably be discussed on its own.

Revived from the dead

Over time, I’ve bought a bunch of stuff that I thought were duds for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s stuff that are, basically, no good at all. Other times, it’s tea that should’ve been good that had somehow gone bad. Or, perhaps, I made them bad (say, longjing I bought three years ago… anybody want some?). Today’s tea was supposed to be one of them.

I had a few boxes of stuff that recently arrived via the slow boat from Taiwan. Among them, of course, are a bunch of teas. Some are good, some are ok, some are things that I didn’t want to throw away, but not really good at all. This is a qizhong (literally unusual varietal) of Wuyi mountains, bought from the candy store. It was one of my first purchases there. Their tieguanyin became one of my staple teas in Taiwan. This one, however, wasn’t so good — too sour.

So it was with some trepidation that I picked this up today to try. I figured maybe, just maybe, it won’t be that bad.

It looks pretty good dry, which was why I bought it in the first place

Smells old, although, now that my nose is a bit more trained, it also smells a bit sour. But I wasn’t quite good at telling that apart from the “old” smell before.

Into my old oolong (1 person) pot it goes

The second cup

The …. 12th? cup

The residue

Since I lasted 10+ cups, you probably figured out that the tea wasn’t that bad. It was, in fact, far better than I expected. There was some sourness at first, but by the third cup it was gone. The Wuyi “rock” taste was very strong, with a potent minty sensation down the throat. Aged, of course, and I couldn’t detect any sort of immediate roasting flavour. Nicely aged and mellowed… a winner. Even better without the initial sourness, but I can’t ask that much.

What changed?

Well, everything, really. First, the water. It’s a different water (not my Taiwan apartment slightly problematic water). Boiled in a different vessel (my cheap tetsubin instead of the glass kettle). Brewed in a different thing (a supposed zhuni pot instead of a gaiwan). Drunk in a different cup (my newest purchase instead of another cup). And of course, just halfway across the planet.

Which one was the one responsible for making this tea better? I don’t know, but I suspect water, water prep, and tea brewing vessel all did their share. Or, maybe, after all this time brewing old oolongs, I myself am also a little different, and a little better at this. Can’t complain.