Tuesday, January 10, 2017

My Pu Is Bigger Than Your Pu - The Sequel

There were never plans to make a sequel to my "My Pu is bigger than your pu" blog entry I made in 2010 (link). That 2 kg raw pu melon is still sitting in storage. That melon is already 10 years old (2007 production) but I am still figuring out how to break open that melon. I had even dreamt of using an industrial saw I saw at a butcher shop that should be able to nicely slice the melon into manageable 'cuts' without too much wasted tea dust. I told myself to keep away from giant pu. Yes….. to us pu erh tea drinkers….size does not matter. Really? I had noticed however these few years that size actually matters. The new cakes are getting smaller and getting more pricey as well. I see many new cakes now made in 150g to 200g sizes. 'Downsizing' seems to be the marketing strategy now. Even my bag of potato chips seemed lighter nowadays. 

Let me explained how I ended up with this 3kg cake. A tea shop owner had included a sample of raw pu erh tea in my carton of tea which I had bought from the shop last year. I found the sample nice. It had hints of a variety of floral scents and came with a hint of smokiness which I enjoyed. I made calls about the tea and I was quoted a very good price for the tea. I remembered I heard that it came in 3kg. I had assumed that with the new marketing strategy by pu erh manufacturers, the tea would be in packed in either 150 or 200g sized cakes packed to a 3kg box. I confirmed an order of 6 kg.

When I went to pick up my order last month, my eyes nearly popped when the tea shop took out 2 huge boxes of tea……with each pretty giant box neatly holding a 3kg pu erh cake. Perhaps, the pu erh gods were kind to me….my Malaysian friend who drove me to the teashop quietly asked me whether I could spare him one of the cakes. All is well and I only had to hand carry one 3kg cake on my flight home.

A happy and humorous tea adventure. Another tea for the collection. Can any reader out there loan me an electric pizza cutter?

Should I consider another sequel? Till then (hopefully not, must not and shall not), my pu is bigger than your pu!

Monday, January 2, 2017

2004 CNNP Raw Wild Pu erh

Happy New Year 2017.

I opened a 2004 CNNP raw pu erh cake to welcome the new year.  I had purchased this cake last month In Malaysia while I was at the tea expo.  There is a red chop  on the wrapper indicating the pu erh is composed of wild harvested puerh.  I had never seen this cake before and it was even more intriguing that the inner label or neofei is a yellow mark 'cha' which is different from the outer wrapper which showed a green 'cha'.  

I was surprisingly impressed with this tea when I unwrapped the 357g cake.  I bought this cake without sampling and the cake gave off a strong camphor, old book leather scent.  This tea brews very strong.  I enjoy old pu erh that brews strong and heavy in aroma. I could detect mild sweaty and slightly intoxicating sensations.  This cake is well stored in Malaysia; a clean and dry cake.  A lucky buy in that I purchased a couple of these cakes without sampling.  

But I digress.  I am grateful to everyone that supported my online tea store that I opened in July 2016.  The response was extremely gratifying.  Thank you.  I had noted your feedbacks and I will 'put out more tea, new and old especially the obscure ones as well'.  I will be introducing next week 2 raw pu erh which I enjoy very much.  Thank you once again and Happy New Year 2017. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Cambodian Holiday

Merry Christmas! Hope you are enjoying your Boxing day shopping today. I was in Canada last year and witnessed the shoppers in Montreal having a wonderful time buying stuff at discounted prices offered by most stores there. 

I was in Cambodia last week and I had a wonderful time there. The city of Phnom Penh appeared to me more like a city catered for the expats or the richer rung of the Cambodian society. Everything there was priced in US$. Yes, even the tuk tuk (motorized trishaws) was charging US$3 per trip. Supermarkets and most eateries had their products priced in US$. The only Chinese tea shop, aptly named China Brand Tea (address 735, Monivong Blvd) sells their tea in US$ as well. This is quite a large tea shop selling oolongs, tea ware and pu erh tea. They even collaborated with a Yunnan distributor in having their own pressed Yiwu tea cake (US$50). The owners had been in the tea business for about 3 years and they tell me that the locals are starting to be interested in their Chinese tea products. I wished them the very best.

My main purpose of this trip was visiting a couple who runs a mission in rural Cambodia. They mainly focused on providing basic education to the young kids there. The rural villages in Cambodia provided a totally different picture when compared to the city of Phnom Penh. Here the people are poorer and their livelihood was mainly rice production. Unfortunately, due to the system of the country, the farmers only get a price for their grain that is near subsistence level and as a result, the standard of living is relatively low. Basic hygiene like soap, shampoo and toothbrushing is not at the top of the list of these villagers. I was involved in teaching a village of children basic toothbrushing. It was unintentionally comical watching the children wincing to their first taste of toothpaste. I was quietly humbled and thankful for the rest of that day.

On my last day in the city before I returned to Singapore, I found an interesting tea product in a supermarket. Its a 'tea' that blends the local lemongrass and pepper grown in the Kampot province in Cambodia. It looks intriguing and I will devote a blog entry to this 'tea' next month.

To all my readers, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2017.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Malaysia Tea Expo - Dec 2016

It was a surprise that there was a 2nd tea expo in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia In December.  I was told there was only one expo this year that was held earlier in May this year.

I would like to apologize to my readers for this blog entry as this will be very brief - more pictures than words.  I had just returned home from this trip and will be flying off again tomorrow to Cambodia.  I know a family that runs a mission in rural Cambodia and I am visiting them tomorrow.  I have never been to Cambodia and it should be an interesting trip.  Yes, I had packed a teapot and tea to last me a week.

Back to the tea expo. 

Taetea and Xiaguan dealers had the usual bigger booths at this tea expo.  The tea dealers, which I had an opportunity to have quick chats with, tell me that 2017 will be a very challenging year in terms of the recent economic developments around the world.  However, these tea dealers felt that tea prices would remain firm and 2017 new tea offerings might be more pricey as well.

Picture 5 is a very pretty white tea cake produced by Xiaguan tea factory.  The gentleman you see on the left in Picture 6 is the famous Mr Deng Shi Hai who had created a range of pu erh tea.  He is sitting next to Long Bean who is the Malaysia distributor of the tea.  I sampled the 07 raw tea and Mr Deng commented during the tea sampling session that the tea was very strong and recommend not to drink too often.  I interpret as 'daily'.  The tea is indeed very strong and pricey as well.

There were no  major new tea products in this tea fair but I enjoyed visiting this fair to meet up with my tea drinking buddies.  Yes, we adjourned to visit more tea shops to drink more tea in the late afternoon.

The last 2 pix was a teapot purchase I made at the fair. I was told made in 2004, a special order by Macau Sands Casino to commemorate the opening of the casino resort in Macau. The teapot is very pretty…the dark green clay simply captivating.    

Monday, December 5, 2016

Sea Dyke Shui Jin Gui

Oolong Tea is the most popular Chinese tea that is drank around the world. The aroma and taste is much appreciated by tea drinkers around the world. There are many types of oolong produced in China and Taiwan and exotic names are also given to the many variety of oolong available in the tea markets. The 4 most popular Chinese oolong drank by the Chinese community (aka Xi Da Ming Chong) are Da Hong Pao, Shui Jin Gui, Bai Ji Guan and Tie Lo Han.

Sea Dyke Brand had recently produced a premium range of oolong tea that were harvested from the Wuyi mountain region (the most famous oolong producing region in Fujian China) and this Shui Jin Gui is one such example. This 125g tea(mine is a 2014 production) is packed in 10 small boxes (12.5g per box). I like this packing as it allows me to carry a small box to a tea drinking session knowing the box will protect the tea leaves from being crushed during the trip. It is however, a pain as it does up a considerable luggage space (storage space as well) when you buy this tea in quantities from overseas.

This Shui Jin Gui is nicely packed in foil packs of 12.5g. I used a 'thrifty' style of brewing, only using half a packet for a tea session. I used a 70ml teapot and brew 'one infusion per cup', using 5 cups in total. I had been experimenting with a style of brewing oolong. I use a small teapot (60-80ml), use about 6-8g of tea and brew one infusion per cup. I will use 4-5 cups and drink up the tea within 10-15 min. It is rather strong and the aroma stays in the mouth for a while after the tea session. The tea is nice, especially when you drink it hot, exhibiting a very nice sweet characteristic aftertaste that is found in Shui Jin Gui oolong.

Monday, November 28, 2016

2006 Mengku Pu erh Shou Brick

Ripe or shou pu erh tea is my 'turn to' tea in the evenings when I have a tea session.  The earthy, aromatic smoothness of the tea remains one of my favorite Chinese tea.  I had not been blogging about ripe tea in the recent months as I had been revisiting and opened ripe cakes and bricks which I had written in this blog over the years.  

I recently opened a 2006 Mengku ripe brick.  I enjoy the signature taste of Mengku ripe pu erh and I had broken up this brick into my tea caddy and allowing it to 'breathe' for 2 weeks before drinking the tea.  The terminology here is 'xin cha' (aka awaken the tea).  I would also urge you, the reader, to try brewing with boiling water and adding a bit more leaves.  I had been chatting with a few new friends via email and discovered that the water used by my friends was not very hot.  They either used a thermos or a kettle of hot water that should preferably be boiling or reboiled in later infusions.  Boiling water does makes a difference in brewing pu erh (raw and ripe).  The flavor and aroma of the tea 'comes out' better.

Brewing this ripe tea with slow boiling water could get me about 8 good strong infusions.  There are 3 things I look for in a ripe pu erh tea - smoothness, sweetness and mellowness.   This 10 year old brick passed with flying colors.  

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Storing Pu erh Tea

"How do you store your pu erh tea?" I received this email question last week and this same question was posed to me by a Guangzhou tea collector friend last year.

As a tea drinker/collector, you would know that tea should be kept away from heat, light and odors. So storing tea in a kitchen or bathroom are not good choices to keep away your tea. Green teas, if you have large amounts should be refrigerated and even stored in a freezer in small bags to keep the green tea as fresh as possible. In Guangzhou, I have seen longching tea dealers using chest freezers to store their tea.

But if you store your pu erh tea under certain conditions, your pu erh will age well. The taste and aroma of an old pu erh are enjoyed by many pu erh tea drinkers throughout the world. Not only pu erh gets better with age, many such older pu erh command a much higher price in the tea markets and teashops than a similar younger pu erh. Older ripe pu erh are equally expensive now as well.

Let me digress. For my readers who are starting their pu erh adventure, Pu erh tea is available in 2 types. The 1st type is called 'raw' pu erh tea. This process of making this tea is as follows (my short version) - pu erh tea leaves harvested and collected, the leaves are spread out on the floor to naturally dehydrate, later in the evening, the tea leaves are fried in a wok to stop the oxidization and further dehydrate the tea leaves, tea leaves are rolled and shaped by hand/machine, tea leaves are sun dried/ machine dried, tea leaves are sorted and ready to be pressed into cakes. The 2nd type of pu erh is 'ripe or shou' pu erh. Making this ripe tea is the same as raw pu erh with a few extra steps at the end, as follows - the tea is spread out again on the floor and moisture is reintroduced back into the tea, and covered in cloth at a fixed level of temperature and humidity. This process is called 'wodui' in Chinese. The tea leaves are turned a few occasions during this 6-9 weeks wodui. The ripe tea is ready to be pressed into cakes.

Chan Kam Pong in his book 'First step to Chinese Puerh Tea' explains:
"As it is known that Raw Pu erh requires a relatively long time for aging, such as 20 to 30 years, most people are unwilling to store Raw Puerh by themselves. For this reason a scientific manufacturing process which speeds up the fermentation was invented…….a tea factory will deal with the raw Puerh leaves by using water and micro organisms, which is for fermenting purposes. Then the tea factory will cover the mixture with blankets throughout the whole process of fermentation. Providing a suitable fermentation environment is essential for the fermentation process. The temperature and humidity have to be strictly controlled. While fermenting, Puerh tea has to be stirred at intervals manually. The whole process takes several weeks or months depending on the maturity of the Ripe Puerh tea."

This would imply that ripe/cooked pu erh was made to resemble old raw pu erh. If you are a pu erh tea drinker and prefer the raw to ripe versions……your raw pu erh if you manage to store for a few decades might end up (ahem) tasting a bit like a ripe pu erh. That is another story.

Back to pu erh storage. A pu erh tea drinker/collector will not only need to store the tea away from heat, light and smell but at the same time would like his/her pu erh tea to age while the tea is being kept. So how should you store your pu erh? Well, there are already people storing pu erh and this would be a helpful guide in gleaning more information on pu erh storage.

For me, I looked at the Far East. I looked at countries like Malaysia, Hong Kong, and China. There are many tea collectors there that had kept pu erh tea for more than 20 years. Malaysia and Hong Kong are good places to look. This is because pu erh tea stored in these countries are often 'repurchased' by Chinese tea dealers back for resale to China. Taiwan tea dealers, in the late 90s/early 2000s had bought lots of pu erh tea from Malaysia and Hong Kong though this buying had stopped due the weaker Taiwan economy. The pu erh tea that was repurchased by the tea dealers were later resold for a much higher price. This would suggest that the storage of such pu erh tea would be one of the main reason for the higher price and demand for such tea.

In addition, with me staying in this part of world…..this allows me to have easy access to these tea. I am able to sample and buy the tea. I am spoilt for choice….I can choose the brand and the different age of the tea. I can easily get 3, 5,8 10, 15 year old pu erh tea here. This large variety of tea available had allowed me to 'taste the results' of aging and storage. I will get a clearer picture on how a tea is aging and this helped me in choosing a tea for storage knowing (with a small degree of confidence) how the tea would taste like after waiting out 8-12 years of tea storage.

When you buy an older pu erh tea, you are not only buying just the tea but you are buying the storage. I would also like to think that you are also buying 'time' - the time you would otherwise have to 'wait out' for the pu erh to age. The same 10 yr old Dayi/Xiaguan cake you buy from a teashop/online would taste different if you had purchased the same identical tea from Europe, Yunnan, Beijing, Malaysia or from Hong Kong. This difference is due to the storage of the tea. This difference in taste and aroma is obvious and this is due to the climate where the tea is stored and 2 factors play an important part in the storage. They are temperature and humidity. It is my opinion that for proper aging of pu erh tea, you need to have a storage facility or room that is humid and warm enough (constant with little variation in temperature and humidity) for pu erh tea to age well. Do not be mistaken that tea collectors here expose the tea directly to the tropical climate. No they do not, but I would like to suggest that storing pu erh tea in a clean room or storage space, but in a climate of high humidity and temperature is conducive to aging pu erh.

A look at the climate conditions of the countries (Malaysia, Hong Kong and Guangzhou) I had mentioned, have both high temperatures and humidity all year round, which is suitable for aging pu erh. Let me give you a snapshot on the weather in Kuala Lumpur, city of Malaysia. The average temperature there is 28c (80f) and humidity at 80% all year round. Humidity there is even much higher during the rainy seasons. Google search the climates of the places I had mentioned and you will get a better picture on the temperature and humidity levels there.

In Malaysia, Hong Kong and Guangzhou, I had visited the storage facilities and rooms, to store pu erh tea, that are used by my serious tea collector friends and teashops. A few serious tea collectors would dedicate empty bedrooms (and use fully from floor to ceiling) to store their tea. One friend actually rented a house and store 4 bedrooms to the max with tea. I also know a few friends and teashop owners renting warehouse facilities to store their tea. These storage rooms are clean, lined with proper metal shelves and only tea is stored in these rooms.

Will pu erh tea age in countries with lower temperatures and humidity? I have friends that live in temperate countries and they had constructed or made 'pumidors' to store their pu erh. They have told me that it is a constant challenge to keep both temperature and humidity constantly high especially during the winter months. I am planning to visit USA/Canada in 2018 and look forward to drinking their teas. It should be fun. I would also like to do a tea exchange with my readers if we have the same tea. It would make an interesting study and a nice Christmas gift for both of us as well.

How do I store my Pu erh? I mainly buy my pu erh tea in 7-cake tongs and in cartons. I keep the tea in 2 rooms and only open these rooms to take out the tea or adjust the tea boxes properly so that I can store more tea. The secret to my tea storage in Singapore - let time quietly do its work. 8 to 12 years seems like a long time. There will be many milestones in life as we age our tea. Time really flies….and some of my tea are now ready to drink.