Sunday, September 25, 2016

2007 Sea Dyke Ming Xiang Oolong

I managed to snagged 2 tins of Ming Xiang oolong tea while I was at the Malaysia Tea Expo earlier this year.  This oolong is a Sea Dyke production.  Manufactured in 2007, this large tin contained 500g of Ming Xiang oolong, and is further packed into 50 smaller packets  as seen in the pictures.  These smaller packets are stapled, so if you are opening the packet, you must dispose the staple properly and not have it in your tea.

I emptied a packet into a 120ml teapot and I could get about 6 strong infusions of Ming Xiang.  Nice nutty taste with a faint sweetness.  I found this Ming Xiang oolong has similar taste profiles with Sea Dyke's red tin Ti Kuan Yin (link).

This Sea Dyke Ming Xiang is also available in 125g packed into a paper box.  

But I digress.  A reader asked me about aged or old tea with regards to pu erh and oolong.  Pu erh drinkers would know that older pu erh taste better than newer ones especially in terms of taste and aroma.  Pu erh tea actually ferments over time during storage.  This fermentation is more pronounced in raw pu erh than ripe pu.  Oolong on the other hand (I am talking about the heavy roasted oolongs) do not ferment while you store them in your tea caddies.  Yes, oolong will 'aged' but you will still get your oolong taste and aroma except the tea gets more aromatic, mellow and smooth.  I was told  by a few old tea drinker friends, that very old tea, whether pu erh, oolong or even tea like liu ann will eventually 'developed a chinese medicinal taste' in the tea.  Really?  Time will tell.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Bingdao aka Ice Island Weekend

A couple of weeks ago, I received a gift from a local tea buddy (if you are reading this..thank you very much).   It was a 2013 Bingdao raw pu erh cake.  This 150g tea cake was part of a boxed set which held 5 cakes in a box.  Bingdao (Iiterally called ice island) had been (past 3 years) the 'darling' of the pu erh tea markets, where tea harvested from the Bingdao region had seen its prices rising dramatically these few years.  I am not surprised if this cake was purchased for about US$100 (each).

I only own 2 Bingdao cakes.  It is a personal choice. The tea is nice and I enjoy the aromatic bouquet of many floral scents in the tea.  I felt that for the current prices of bingdao tea leaves, I can use the money to purchase older big factory brand pu erh instead (8-10 years old) which I enjoy very much.  These older teas I believe, gives more value for money.  As said…its a personal choice.

This Bingdao tea exhibits good floral aroma.  I  detected a number of flowers from the aroma.  Very smooth and very easy to drink.  During my tea travels, I had many opportunities to sample bingdao pu erh.  Most of these tea are newish - 1-3 years old.  One striking characteristic of this BIngdao tea (from the samples I had) seemed that the tea is ready to drink now, unlike the big branded factory raw pu erh which is very rough in taste when new.  Maybe its the bingdao tea leaves or maybe it could have something to do with the tea processing in the Bingdao villages.  Those reading this blog and are drinking bingdao pu erh….I do appreciate your thoughts.  

This cake is only 150g in weight….another cake to drink sparingly.  By the way…its that time of the year we eat moon cakes.  The Chinese celebrate mid-autumn festival where moon cakes are eaten during this period.  I bought a couple of boxes of moon cakes when I was in Hong Kong last month.  The last pix..shows only an empty box…the cakes were all gone within 3 days of purchase.  

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Tea Art Magazine #57 and the 'Commemorative Teapot' article

I bought this Tea Art magazine (issue #57) while I was in Hong Kong last month.  Though this is a very heavy 386 paged magazine that focused on Chinese tea and tea ware, I can say that more than 3/4 of the pages are advertisements taken out by tea manufacturers and dealers showcasing their products.  This is not surprising as magazines are extremely dependent on advertising as the main source of revenue.  I enjoy browsing through this colorful magazine reading the few articles inside while at the same time looking at the new products, packaging and new players in the Chinese tea industries.  Pix 3 showed a Malaysian Chinese tea ad taken out by my new Malaysian tea friend.  Yes, he calls himself Long Bean.  

This latest issue had an article on vintage Japanese tetsubins (pix 3-4).  I remembered one of my tetsubins I had purchased had rust issues…..Yes, I procrastinated on cleaning the tetsubin.  I will get work on it soon and will share my cleaning adventures with my readers soon.

The other article in this magazine was on commemoration teapots.  The writer chose the word 'commemoration' (I translate his Chinese literally) but I felt that these teapots are more like souvenirs or advertisement teapots.  To me it is something that was given to dealers and clients as a gift while advertising a particular product. Example - if you buy a carton of soft drink and sometimes, you may get a free glass or mug with the product name on the cup.  In this case, the name of the company or tea is engraved on the side on the teapot and these teapots were later distributed or given to dealers and customers.  These teapots may sometimes have a company name or name of a tea or even an tea related event (exhibition or competition) engraved on the teapots.  This article showcased some of these teapots that were produced from the late 1950s to the 1990s.  You will have noticed that the teapots are 'shui ping hu' designs.  I have a few of these teapots in my collection.  There are sometimes flowers being engraved on one side of the teapot and the 'commemorative' words on the other side of the teapot.  I was told by a teapot collector that the 'oolong' souvenir teapots came in a set of 4 flower design, each teapot has a specific flower design called 'xi cheun zhi' (if I remember correctly).  

There are sometimes a numeric number engraved on the inside lid of the teapot.  In the pix, there was a '6' on a lid and the author explained that the 6 meant the teapot was a 6 cup teapot that will pour out 6 cups of tea 15ml per cup implying this teapot was about 90ml in size.  I owned a few 80s teapots whose label on the tea boxes were just '4-cup teapot' or '6 cup teapot'  I am researching more about this and should be able to share more information in my later blogs.

Quality of the teapots are average.   On the rougher side…..but nonetheless highly sought after by teapot collectors.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

2005 Haiwan Fang Zhuan Brick

I opened a 2005 Haiwan raw pu erh brick last weekend.  This fang zhuan (aka square brick) is a very well compressed 200g brick.  I managed, with a pu erh pick, to split the cake sideways into 2 slices before breaking the cake further into smaller pieces and storing the tea in a tea caddy.

I had purchased 2 cakes 6 years ago and had always wanted to try brewing this tea but procrastinated till last weekend.  I had previously thought that if the cake showed promise, I would buy more of this tea (inexpensive back then).  But….opening this cake 6 years later meant that any repeat purchases (if the cake was good) would mean a more expensive refill and maybe some serious hunting for this tea as it is already an 11 year old tea.  

But I digress…talking about highly compressed pu erh….. opening compressed tea cakes especially iron cakes can be hazardous (you may accidentally poke yourself with a tea pick) and there would be lots of tea wasted as a fair amount of tea dust may be generated after breaking open such tea cakes  A Xiaguan manager In Hong Kong 2 weeks back, showed me a method when he opened an iron cake.  He used a plier (yes you read right).  He gripped the side of a cake with a plier, and then lift up the plier, like opening the cap of a soda or beer bottle, and the result is a nice chunk of tea.  This, to me is a useful tip.  I believe, a larger plier can be used for opening tuos as well. Time to include a plier in your tea tool bag!

Back to this tea.  This tea reminded me of pinewood furniture and nice notes of fresh hay and herbs.  The sweetness is extremely faint in the aftertaste and I do feel a bit sweaty after the 4th infusion. This tea brews well making 10 good strong infusions.   My Haiwan distributor friend just messaged me telling me he does not have this tea.  This is a simple raw but old pu erh tea. Nice.  I got to drink this tea sparingly.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Hong Kong International Tea Fair 2016

The Hong Kong Tea Fair 2016 was held from 11-13 Aug 2016 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.  I was able to attend this tea fair and you can see some of the pictures I took while I was there.

This tea fair was also held in conjunction with the Hong Kong Food Expo while drew massive visitors to look at the new food offerings from all over the world.  Both the food and tea exhibitions were very well organized and professionally managed.  Exhibition booklets were of high quality and given to all trade visitors.  Free wifi  was available and there was even a booth where you can pack and mail home commercial samples instead of lugging the goods home.

The tea fair as seen in the pix was organized by country and by product.  Country booths like Japan, India and China were clustered together.  For the China booths, they were even sub-divided by regions like Anxi and Yunnan provinces.  Tea ware distributors were also grouped together for the convenience of trade visitors.  

I was surprised by the quality of the Anxi Dehua ceramics and I even bought some tea ware that was for sale there (pix 6-8).  I had the opportunity to converse with the Anxi tea dealers in their native ming-nan dialect and even had to opportunity to play 'interpreter' as there were several enquiries in English.  And…I was rewarded with invitations to stay in their tea farms and I hope to visit Anxi next year.  

The Japanese tea booths were very impressive.  These booths were well organized and even had a separate brochure detailing the various products and offerings of the Japanese tea dealers.  There was even tables set up for visitors to learn more and try their hand in brewing Japanese tea.  Did you notice the Matcha 'coke' in the pic?

The tea fair also include presentations and talks by the tea dealers to present their tea to the trade visitors.  The Australian representatives were showcasing their tea products while I was there (pix 9).

A Hong Kong milk tea (kam-cha) brewing competition was also held at the tea fair, where the Hong Kong locals  try to compete with each other (these guys looked real serious) brewing the popular Hong Kong milk tea. The last pix shows the tea being prepared.  Notice the 'tea sock' used to brew the tea.

I felt this tea fair was professionally done and I enjoyed my visit…nuff said!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Grandpa Tea In A Cylinder Porcelain Teapot

Grandpa tea? What is that?

The phrase 'grandpa style tea' was coined by the Hong Kong tea guru and friend, Lawrence of Hong Kong who writes a very informative tea blog
 (linkthat is followed by many Chinese tea readers around the world. He explained 'grandpa tea' as follows :

"Grandpa style is a term that I coined a few years ago while talking about drinking tea casually, and it has since caught on, it seems, in the blogosphere for tea. In a nutshell, grandpa style means the brewing of tea in a large cup, with no filters or teaballs or bags or anything else in it, with water constantly refilled without much regard for infusion time or temperature. The only three things necessary for grandpa style brewing are tea leaves, water, and cup, preferably a large one. I named this grandpa style, because this is how my grandfather drinks his tea, and is one of the first memory I have of people drinking tea."

Grandpa style brewing was a very common sight in my part of the world as well especially from the 70s thru 90s. I recalled that, instead of large cups as mentioned by Lawrence, large teapots were used for grandpa brewing instead. Basically, a couple of spoons of tea was dropped into a porcelain teapot (see pix) and hot water is poured into the teapot filling up the teapot. When there is about a fifth of tea left in the teapot, hot water is poured into teapot again. There may be 2-4 refills of hot water in an entire day. Sometimes an extra spoon of tea is added during a refill when the tea gets weak.

There are also tea baskets used to keep the tea warm. The last 2 pix show such a tea basket. I had even seen extra compartments in another basket that could store a couple of teacups as well.

So how does grandpa tea taste? Any good? You can grandpa any Chinese tea but usually Liu bao, oolong and red tea were the more common teas brewed this way. As the tea leaves were allowed to 'infuse' in the hot water for a longer time, the tea does taste strong and aromatic even though the ratio of tea leaves to water seem weak compared to regular kungfu tea brewing. Grandpa tea is drank more as a thirst quencher than a tea appreciation exercise. 

I recently bought another cylinder porcelain teapot (see pix 1-3). About 5 inches in diameter and standing at about 6 inches tall, this teapot is decorated with gorgeous phoenix and dragon motifs. The plastic cap you see in pix 2, is a tea accessory which acts like a dust cover. This unused vintage teapot was made in the 80s/90s.

Grandpa tea time!

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Guangzhou Love Story

Mr Lim Yi Shen was only 21 years old when he arrived from his home in Anxi to work in Guangzhou in June 2006  helping his uncle who ran a teashop in Fangchun.  He started as a delivery boy, pedalling on a bicycle, delivering tea from the shop to customers within Fangchun.  In the course of his work, he met Miss Chen Hwa Yi 23 (whom he later married), who was working as a tea assistant in Fangchun.  Mr Lim and his wife had witnessed the wild rise and dramatic fall of pu erh tea prices in 2007 and saw an opportunity to start a tea business for themselves. 

2007 was a year to remember among the tea traders in China as it was the year that saw a period of frenzied price speculation of pu erh tea that saw the average price for a Jian (a wholesale carton) rising from 500rmb at wholesale price rising within months to 5000rmb.  The buying and selling of pu erh tea was the way to make easy money, where one can earn a month’s wages in one transaction within a day.  Tea factories even received pre-orders for their tea and order chits were issued to the buyers pending deliveries.  Trading of these order chits changed hands many times during this speculation period.  All transactions were in cash and Mr Lim recalled seeing many shops using counting machines to count the cash.  Teashops dealing in pu erh tea had drawers full of cash at the end of every business day.  It was no surprise that the appearance of fake pu erh, poorer quality pu erh as well as the lower demand at these high prices burst the frenzied activity at the end of 2007 bringing many tea speculators to their knees.  Many people end up with high priced, unwanted tea and were financially ruined ‘overnight’. 

The couple borrowed 20000rmb from close friends and relatives and started a small teashop in April 2008 along a small street in Fangchun.  They got married within the same month as well.  To save money, the Lims cooked their daily meals in a corner of their teashop.  Many teashop owners practice cooking and eating their meals within their premises but recent fire safety laws now prohibit cooking within the teashops.    

Mr Lim in 2008, could at this time select the better pu erh tea in the tea markets and could easily purchased cartons of the better tea at close to factory price.  Many tea speculators who were ‘burnt’ by the speculation bubble were ready to cash out their misadventures at any price.  Mr Lim and his wife had planned to trade in pu erh tea in Fangchun, sourcing for tea and making a profit from the difference in selling or buying the tea.  There were hardly any pu erh tea produced in 2008 due to the lower demand which in turn benefitted Mr Lim in his tea trading in Fangchun.  The Lims literally went shop to shop in tea village and peddled their tea.  Demand for pu erh tea recovered after 2008 especially due to the ‘fat reduction’ health benefits found in pu erh tea that were reported in Chinese scientific journals. 

Mr Lim also took advantage of the internet.  Taobao, is an internet portal for people and businesses to advertise goods and services.  This online company had started in 2007 and Mr Lim decided to put his tea on Taobao as an additional selling platform.  He took pictures of his tea and uploaded the information on Taobao. He was willing to sell in smaller quantities to individual customers or shops.  China EMS, a door to door mail service provider was recently available, which enabled Mr Lim to simply call for a pickup and the tea order could be delivered anywhere in China within a few days.  He had even received a few foreign orders from USA and Japan.

Buying things on the internet was a novelty as well as a game changer.  Tea drinkers or collectors who have no access to certain teas can now buy on the internet.  Mr Lim’s online teashop in 2008 was one of the earliest internet tea merchant and business was brisk and profitable. Selling online requires a buyer to remit money (inclusive of freight) to the seller, which meant Mr Lim had no issues with bad debts.  Mr Lim also sold tea that were available from neighbouring teashops and if an order for such tea came in, Mr Lim will simply purchase the tea from the relevant shops accordingly.  Orders are only sent out only when payment is received.   Business enquires and sales through Taobao was good and brisk that the Lims were always on their laptops throughout the day with sales enquires beeping throughout the night. 

The Lims ploughed back their profits and moved to a bigger shop in Fangchun. In 2010, they were made a distributor of Chen Shen Hao pu erh tea.  Chen Shen Hao tea has a range pu erh tea that is harvested from the Banzhang region of Yunnan.  Tea harvested from this region are considered higher quality pu erh tea among the tea drinking community. 

Today, Mr Lim had also included ‘Wechat’ app in his busness.  “Wechat’ is the Facebook of China, where users can post entries on tea and readers can cross reference to get information on this tea.  Mrs Lim informed me that most of the online sales and enquiries are now channeled through ‘Wechat’ than Taobao. 

Today, tea dealers in Fangchun are technologically savy, with wireless internet available in most teashops.  Payment for tea now is cashless and many buyers simply remit money wirelessly via their handsets when purchasing tea in Fangchun.  Mr Lim gave me a wry smile when I met him in last December.  He noted that the tea market today is very quiet now.  He missed the noisy speculative days of the tea markets.

The Lims now have 2 daughters and had saved enough money to make a down payment for a small apartment In Guangzhou.