Saturday, March 21, 2020

Using Teaware To Amplify A Tea Session

















How do I brew my tea?


I use a kettle to boil my water, a teapot or gaiwan (rarely) to brew the tea leaves and a few porcelain teacups to drink my tea.

There is no secret ingredient. I do not sing to my tea. I do not brew my tea in the middle of a rice field or against a backdrop of a waterfall. I am just like you. We mainly brew and drink our tea at home.

In the course of my tea drinking adventures, I want to think I found that there are a few ways to improve or make a tea session more fun and more tasty in terms or taste and aroma when you are at home. I can tweak the 3 main utensils in the tea brewing setup - the kettle, the teapot and the teacup.

Caveat - you must be a serious tea drinker to be able to distinguish the differences in your tea after using such utensils. I would consider a serious tea drinker if you brew and drink Chinese tea at least 3 times a week.

1. Teacup. I found that older Chinese porcelain teacups make the tea taste better. Yes, even my whisky taste better in them. They are still relatively inexpensive. An unused 90s Chinese porcelain teacup can still be purchased for below $5.

2. Teapot. Using a clay teapot can affect the taste and aroma of your Chinese tea. A good seasoned yixing teapot is the preferred brewing vessel used by many serious Chinese tea drinkers. I do recommend you take a look at the Taiwanese Lin Ceramics purion teapot. I found old pu erh tea seems more amplified using the purion teapot. Teapots are overall more expensive than teacups. You will be looking at about $60-$120 for a decent teapot.

3. Kettle. Use a clay kettle or the famous Japanese iron kettle (aka tetsubin) to boil your water. Many tea drinkers claimed the water tasted sweeter or tasty.  Japanese tetsubins are expensive. My last Japanese tetsubin purchase last year was about $200 and it was a small sized one as well.

Such tweaks are not necessary in a tea setup. With just $10, I can have a fantastic tea session as well. A plain white porcelain and 2 porcelain teacups would be more than sufficient to have a wonderful tea session.

The improvements in a tea session using such tweaks can only be distinguished by a hardcore tea drinker.  These improvements are quite small but whether to splash out a little money for these small improvements is a fun discussion among friends during a tea session.   

In the midst of the virus situation, I wish all my readers well and to stay safe.  If you are a essential service provider, I would like to say a big thank you.  

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Xiaguan Iron Cake







I have been drinking about 2 sessions of tea per day.  At about 7g per tea session, that meant 14g per day.....and if its pu erh...and at this rate would imply more than 1 whole cake a month.  That is a lot of tea and I would like to advise my readers again not to have a tea session on an empty stomach as it may cause the stomach to produce more acid in your empty tummy.


Readers would know I use a plier to break up my iron cake. I found that I could easily get small chunks of tea and have less tea dust from using a plier. 

I thought iron cakes would take a long time to age compared to regular pu erh cakes due to their high compression.  I was however surprised when I open up this cake in my collection.  This 2007 cake when brewed, has a very dark amber colour and there is very good hints of aged taste in the tea.  This tea is fabulously complex in the taste.  There are hay and a honey notes.  I  felt there were nice herbal and Chinese medicinal herbs in the tea as well.  This tea is a strong workhorse.... I use lesser tea about 6g with a 120 ml teapot.  I allow longer infusions but I could get 15 strong infusions easily. 

Older Xiaguan iron cakes are still inexpensive but are now slightly harder to find in tea shops.  I recommend. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

A Better Cup Of Pu erh Tea





If you had been browsing the internet tea forums and videos on pu erh tea, you would had discovered (recently), that there are many recent articles on pu erh storage.  This is very useful to readers who are residing in temperate countries, where the humidity and temperature are much lower in winter, and these articles had suggested ways to mitigate and store your precious pu erh tea properly for the long term.

As I had mentioned many times, such efforts to age puerh tea, would be rewarding to the tea drinker or collector as aged pu erh tea would have a complexity in taste and aroma after time in storage.  

You would have also noticed that when there are reviews on puerh tea by tea experts, they would normally use a porcelain gaiwan than a Yixing teapot to assess the tea.  Using a porcelain gaiwan is considered a neutral tea ware to brew tea while using a Yixing teapot may affect the assessment of a tea. 

Is a Yixing teapot so magical that it affects the taste of a tea?  Maybe the teapot holds temperature better, the clay could have affected the tea or the tea patina of a seasoned teapot changed the taste of a tea.  

I had posed a question to a tea expert that reviews tea on the internet - if many of your followers (say more than 50%) had over time, transited from using a gaiwan to using a Yixing teapot, should you use a Yixing teapot (on more occasions) to review a tea?...or use a Yixing teapot when you are not reviewing a tea.  

Anyway, the pix above shows a pair of Yixing teapots.  I had bought (about 7 years ago) 4 similar teapots from a Yixing teapot enthusiast in China who had made these teapots from one batch of clay.  The teapot on the right is one of my frequently used teapot for the past 7 years.  I would use it for raw pu erh about 2-3 times a week.  This would suggest that I had more than 500 tea sessions (raw pu erh) using this teapot for these past few years.   I did a few raw pu erh tea comparisons with these teapots last month.  Tea from the seasoned teapot felt more mellow.  I had used newer and older raw pu erh in this test.  Maybe 'mellow' is the wrong word to use.  The pu erh tea, especially the newer ones tasted less astringent while the older pu erh tea has a slightly better mouthfeel in the taste.  These taste comparisons are actually quite subtle and it could be my imagination running wild. 

Does a Yixing teapot brew up a better cup of pu erh  tea?  Yes.    

Friday, January 24, 2020

Happy Chinese New Year







Tomorrow is Chinese New Year.  To all my readers, I wish you every happiness for the year of the rat.

Prices of tea was much higher last year.  The slight older ones and old ones was even more expensive.  I did noticed that the old teas from Malaysia are 'disappearing' as many dealers had brought these older teas and selling them in Mainland China for a handsome profit.  I foresee such older teas will be even more expensive due to this trend. 

I would only resume my tea adventures in China only in the 2nd half of the year due to the recent Wuhan virus.  However, I may plan a trip to Chicago in late June/ early July this year.  If you are staying in Chicago, I would love to have tea with you.  Let me know.

Happy New Year.  





Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Case Against Puerh Storage








Happy New Year 2020.

Are you a serious pu erh drinker?   I would consider you a serious pu erh drinker if you drink pu erh twice a week and own more than 5kg of pu erh (that’s about 14 regular cakes).  You would also had searched the internet, looking at the various tea vendors’ stores, reading forums and discussions (not necessarily participating), blogs and staring Instagram tea pictures late into the night.  

There are many recent articles on storing pu erh.  You will agree that the reasons for storing puerh on a long term are quite compelling.  Old pu erh has a complexity, in both taste and aroma, that can only be from a result of long term storage.  This is due to the tea leaves fermenting over time.  Moreover, old pu erh are expensive and aging your own tea does make economic sense.  Recent internet discussions do provide a guide on storing your pu erh especially when you are staying in temperate countries.  

I would like to put up a case against pu erh storage.  No, I am not suggesting you should age or not age your tea.  I would like to let you consider all perspectives of pu erh storage and at the same time share some of my experiences on storing pu erh.  

1.  Time and Space.  
Storing your tea takes up time and literally space in your house or apartment.  For me, I tend to drink my tea a little old.  I prefer my pu erh to be at least 10 years old.  Pu erh tea at this age would have developed a complexity in taste and aroma that is only from the result of long term storage.  Storing pu erh for 10 years or more takes up time, a lot of time.  
Many things can change in this 10 year period. Your taste preference may change.  Your lifestyle would have evolved.  Your work may not allow you time to monitor the progress of your tea storage, especially in countries where you need to keep the humidity and temperature suitable for pu erh storage. 
Waiting for 10 years or more for your pu erh to age is one of the most challenging aspects in pu erh storage.  It is not only tedious and it can test your patience as well.  I noticed, based on my experience (and some feedback from a few collectors), there may be no change in your tea especially in the 1st 6 years of storage.  The taste and aroma may not have changed significantly to discern any aged taste.  I also noticed, even though my collection is stored in hot and humid Singapore, some pu erh cakes only start to age after year 10-12.   

2.  Storage results
Old puerh has a wide spectrum of taste.  In my tea drinking experience, old raw puerh may taste like a ripe or Shou tea, be more herbal, or more floral (there was a tea that has a rose petal scent) or be more medicinal.  You may be surprised, happy or disappointed with the results of aging your tea.  
The recent pu erh tea in the market where some new pu erh are now processed differently, had made many seasoned tea drinkers question whether such tea can age well over time.  When I started my pu erh adventures many years ago, teashops would tell me that if I buy new pu erh, I had to store them away for some time as the tea is new and astringent.  Now, the teashops promote their new tea as 'ready to drink'.  Only time will tell whether such tea can age well.

There are some shortcuts to age your tea.  A simple time saving exercise would be to buy 5 to 8 year old tea to store.  This would save you considerable time in your storage adventure. 

Storing pu erh tea is a long game.  You need passion and discipline when you intend to store your tea for 10 years.  If you love tea, this adventure will be worth your while.    






Wednesday, November 27, 2019

An Inexpensive Tinned Lung Ching brew







In my many years of tea adventures, I was told, or under the impression, or 'explained to me' that Lung Ching tea should be drank fresh.  Buy the spring harvest of 2019 in May or June and enjoy the tea.  Enjoy and appreciate the freshness of spring in the tea.  Refrigerate your Lung Ching to keep it fresh but try to finish the tea as soon as possible.  

When I visit Fangcun tea wholesale centre during the sale of freshly picked Lung Ching, I noticed the freshly harvested tea leaves were refrigerated (some in chest freezers) to keep the freshness and they were sold out within a month ( the better ones ).  The 'better ones' were expensive and 100g of the better grade can easily set you back at $100-$200.  And that's wholesale prices.  

I buy very small amounts of fresh Lung Ching tea every year and I enjoy the fresh, sweet and nutty taste of the tea.  

I noticed there are tinned Long Ching (and shrink wrapped ones as well) on the shelves of the Chinese tea section in Chinese department stores. The prices are very low about 10-20% of fresh Lung Ching.  I wondered who would drink this tea.

I was at such a local department store last week when I noticed an elderly gentlemen selecting a tin of Lung Ching and was about to pay for his tea.  I asked him whether he could tell me about tinned Lung Ching.  He replied, in Cantonese, that tinned Lung Ching ('Long Zeng' in Cantonese) was a much lower grade.   He had to use much more leaves for his tea session.  He told me he brewed this tea using a large mug, throw in some leaves and let it infuse for a few minutes before he drank the tea.   This method of brewing, also known as grandpa brewing is an easy way to enjoy a cup of tea.  He also told me that he kept the tin in a fridge after opening but  he would normally finish the entire tin within a month.  

I bought a tin.  125g of tea produced by Zhejiang Tea Group Co Ltd. This is a 4th grade tea.  The tin came double lidded and looked quite air tight.  

How is the tea?  Compared to newly harvested Lung Ching that I have drank, the aroma and taste of the tinned version is much subdued.  And...I had to add more tea leaves to my brew.  The tinned version is only good for 2 infusions.  

This would suggest this tea is not good.  No....It has the aroma and taste of Lung Ching and has that signature nuttiness in the tea.  The price of this tin is less than 10% of the fresh ones and I recommend you, the reader to try a tin if you like Lung Ching.  You would have to add more leaves and I recommend you 'grandpa' your tea.  Add leaves in a cup and put hot water. Allow tea to infuse for a few minutes and your tea is ready t drink.  

I used a large porcelain teapot and made one litre of the tinned Lung Ching.  I allowed the tea to cool and proceeded to chill the tea.  My family enjoyed this chilled Lung Ching while having a fried rice dinner. 

This tinned Lung Ching was a surprise too me.  For its price point, it is worth it.  This tea is much better than many Chinese tea bags in the market. 

To my American readers,  Happy Thanksgiving.  



  

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Buying Expensive Tea






This Rougui costs me $500 for a 500g pack.  This is to me, an expensive tea.  I could have used the money to buy a return air ticket to Guangzhou, maybe even adding a couple nights hotel stay if I had travelled during the low season.  I could also get myself a nice noise cancelling headphones, which will be extremely useful like if there was a crying baby in the airplane.  Yes, the money could be spent on so many other things.  

I would normally spent between $1-2 for a tea session for myself at home.  I use about 7-8 of pu erh (raw or ripe) and 5-6g of oolong per tea session.  Spending $2 for pu erh session would imply that the pu erh cake (357g) would had cost me about $100 (if I had broke the cake into 50 portions of 7g).  A $2 oolong tea session (5g) would mean a cost of $40 for 100g of oolong.  

Back to this rougui.  This tea is $1 per gram and $6 per tea session when I use 6g of this tea.  

When you buy an expensive tea, say 2-3 times more than what you normally pay, do not expect the tea to be 2-3 times more aromatic in terms of taste and aroma.  My regular oolong tea I drink normally can make 4-5 strong infusions and this rougui could also make 4-5 infusions (not 10-15).  When I pay more for an older tea, I am paying for the following reasons - a particular vintage, taste or aroma.  The tea may had reminded the drinker of a pleasant memory.  This rougui is not more tasty or aromatic.  It is slightly more smoother as it is old but I had purchased it for its finish.  This tea has a very light perfume finish and the aroma stays longer in the mouth for a few minutes after the tea session.  

When you buy an expensive tea, I can only give you an advice.  You must be able to try or sample the teas before your purchase.  You cannot depend on reviews, forums or opinions to make the purchase.  Every drinker’s taste preferences is different.  What I like, you may not like or agree.  The description of taste and aroma is different for everybody. You must know what you are buying as such purchases can be an expensive mistake.  Conduct a simple experiment......get a tea buddy to send you 2-3 packs of tea, just naming them sample1, sample2 and sample3, preferably one cheap and one slightly more expensive.   Brew and drink the tea and see whether you make a good tea connoisseur.  

Most importantly, we must be happy with our tea.  Good tea need not be expensive.