Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Can a serious tea drinking person be into tea without owning teapots?

Tea celebrity James of TeaDB commented on my previous blog entry and his comments are reproduced in full below. I shall give my reply in another blog. Thank you, James for your thought provoking comments.

Hi Wilson,

I think you referenced one of my recent posts. I think we mainly agree about most of this. But in regards to the importance of teapots, I'd respectfully share a few of my thoughts and push back a little bit.

In my opinion, good Yixing can improve a session. I also use Yixing for a significant majority of my own sessions so I'm certainly not a total skeptic. I also do believe that it's importance can be overly inflated.

My post was written towards people newish to Chinese tea and/or pu'erh. The cost of good clay pots can be quite high and getting a $200 teapot is often seen as a significant barrier towards trying Chinese tea, when I think it'd be better if it wasn't.

From what I've seen, a fair number of people just starting will end up with cheap pots that they'll stop using at some point. You could argue this is necessary just as tuition tea is.. But.. I'd argue newer people would be better off focusing more on tea rather than concerning themselves with the intricacies of the teaware market.

Can a serious tea drinking person be into tea without owning teapots? This is a harder question, but I do think it is possible. I have a good tea friend that's been into tea for several years.. They have a couple pots, but when resources are limited he just about always ends up buying tea. Having old, nice pots is a nice thing to have but I also don't think it is a 100% requirement to be considered a serious tea person. I'd argue it is a luxury more than a 100% requirement.


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Believe It Or Not ! Things To Improve A Puerh Tea Session - Part 1

I have mentioned on many occasions that there are inexpensive ways (or things I did) that had improved my puerh tea brewing sessions while I was brewing tea at home.  The following ideas or methods are not expensive to do and I would like to share (repeat) these ideas again in this blog entry.  The improvements might be very very tiny, hardly noticeable but can be discerned by a pu erh tea drinker.  

1.  Water.  I use tap water for my tea.  Chlorine was added to the water (during purification) to make it germ free.  The chlorine scent is quite pronounced especially when you fill a jar, cover it and returning to it 15-20 min later.  I use a filter (simple gravity type) to remove this smell.  Another way to remove chlorine is to fill a jar of water and leave it overnight.  Drinking chlorine free water does improve the taste and aroma of the pu erh tea.  I know a few tea friends that went the extra 'mile' by placing mineral stones or charcoal pieces in the water jar.  

Another inexpensive method is to use boiling water for brewing all your pu erh infusions -  raw or ripe.  Even for later infusions, start up your stove again or let the kettle reboil before brewing your tea.  I feel that I could get a wider aroma profile from just using boiling water.  Ideally, if you can get a kettle of water and get it to slowly simmer (low boil) throughout the tea best.  I am sure you had noticed some friends, teashops or even video where the water is never reboiled after the 1st infusion and the water gets 'cooler' with subsequent brews.....the tea taste and aroma is affected by the lower temperatures and the interpretation of the tea in my opinion is compromised. Reboiling a hot kettle of water only take a few seconds and your tea would taste better with this extra effort.  

2.  Use a Yixing teapot to brew your tea.  There is a big difference between using a gaiwan and a Yixing teapot when it comes to brewing pu erh tea.  A Yixing clay teapot will enhance the taste and aroma of your pu erh tea.  Perhaps it is the tea patina from constant using of a teapot, that had improved the taste of the tea.  Maybe, the teapot holds the temperature well (preventing the tea from cooling too fast)...or maybe it is the interaction of the clay with the tea.  (Incidentally, I also found that purion teapots made by Lin Ceramics seem to make my pu erh tea more amplified in the aroma and taste.)  Buying a Yixing teapot may be an expensive proposition.  You would be looking at prices from $50-200 for a Yixing teapot.  But....if you are careful with it, the teapot can give you many happy brews of your tea.  I have a few teapots that I have used and brewed tea for more than a thousand times.   I had personally found, I could use a Yixing teapot to brew either ripe or raw tea and I could not discern any inconsistency in the tea when I used such a teapot.  I recently read an article that using a teapot is not 100% necessary and that using a gaiwan is good enough.  You can brew a tea anyway you want even throwing some leaves in a cup, adding hot water and drinking the tea later, but to enhance the atmosphere of drinking and appreciating Chinese tea, a teapot is an important utensil that serious tea drinkers cannot do without.

To be continued.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

An Old Taetea Dayi Raw Tuo

This is a 2005 Taetea Dayi raw pu erh tuo.  Yes, many Chinese pu erh tea drinkers would normally associate the compressed 'tuo' (or bird nest) shape with Xiaguan tea factory.  You are absolutely right that Xiaguan produces a very wide assortment of pu erh tuos every year while other pu erh tea factories often mainly produces and compressed their pu erh tea into cake or disc shapes than tuos.  

Taetea (aka Dayi) do compressed their pu erh tea into tuos on a smaller scale.  This 100g 2005 raw tuo had been stored in Malaysia for about 13 years.  Composed of mainly Menghai material, this tea when brewed coat the mouth easily; an almost oily mouthfeel.  This tea is floral in aroma and has a pleasant mild sweet finish and aftertaste. Good for 10 infusions.

But I digress.  Tuos compared to cakes are more difficult to dismantle.  I find that I get more tea dust after I break open a tuo.  The compression of a tuo tend to be 'looser' after about more than 12 years of storage in this part of the world and the tuo becomes easier to pry open.  Pu erh pressed into tuos are less popular with collectors than pu erh cakes.  My guess cakes are visually more appealing, bigger and feels more value for money due to its size and weight.  However, the tuo shape pu erh is a hallmark of the pu erh tea industry.  There is no discernible difference in the taste and aroma of the pu erh tea.  I have yet to meet a drinker, that can tell from drinking a cup of puerh, that the tea was compressed as a tuo or not. 

Let me know and share your 'tuo' experiences with me.  

Sunday, September 9, 2018

LIu An Tea - Novelty Brewing

I was looking to refill my Liu An stash and had started to sample this tea whenever I see them in the tea shops.  I looked for the traditional packed ones that are wrapped with bamboo leaves ( it actually looked more like lotus leaves like those used to wrap rice dumplings) and packed in a bamboo basket.  These baskets are normally packed with 500g of Liu An tea.  Many tea drinkers and collectors store them away in its actual unopened packaging and would normally start drinking them after 10 years.  Older ones are even expensive now.

Liu An tea is a very pleasant tea to drink.  At about 10 years old, the tea takes on a herbal and medicinal finish. Many Chinese medical halls used Liu An tea as a herbal soup base adding the herbs used to treat various ailments of their customers.  Many of my tea drinker friends brew up a few sessions of this tea when they are coming down with a cold or flu.  I have tried this tea when I was sick with some success.....but it could be seen as 'drinking lots of liquid' that had help eased my discomfort.

A few tea shops where I had recently sampled Liu An tea cut off a few strips of the bamboo leaves and adding these pieces to the tea brewing process (see pix 3).  The result - there is a additional aroma, slightly sweet smelling.  This could be directly from the bamboo leaves  or it could be from interacting with the Liu An tea.  It is to me, quite pleasant.

However, this style of brewing, in my opinion is a novelty brew.  Adding rose or chrysanthemum flower petals to ripe pu erh tea are also novelty brews.  They are interesting and enjoyable.  However,  a good tea can and should be appreciated on its own.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

2011 Haiwan Lao Tong Zhi Ziyun Raw Pu erh Brick

This Is a 2011 Haiwan Lao Tong Zhi Ziyun Brick. This a special production made for a Guangzhou tea dealer. Composed of Yiwu and purple pu erh tea lea leaves, this tea is moderately compressed into a 250g brick and packed in a pretty gift box.

This tea is one of my favourites. Break open the brick and place it in a tea caddy for at least 3 weeks before you start brewing this tea. There is a nice bouquet of complicated aroma and flavours in this tea. For a 7 year old tea, this tea is very smooth and mellow. Initial infusions open with a strong bitter and woody taste and aroma.  Middle infusions open into a floral, dried and fresh fruit aroma. Faint imaginary hint of salt. Later infusions becoming sweet, fruity and herbal. The taste is complicated varying with every infusion. I get woody notes, fresh and dried fruit, berries and even a hint of saltiness. There is no salt in the tea but the aroma seems to carry a 'remembrance of salt'. It is a nice play of flavours in the mouth. Good for 10 infusions.

But I digress. A reader emailed me asking me about buying older pu erh tea in Guangzhou wholesale tea markets. Basically, these tea wholesalers (those I know and are my friends) would try to sell off their yearly new tea to their own customers like tea shop retailers, collectors and tea drinkers all over China. Say 2018 tea - most tea are sold and those unsold are kept in the warehouse which are eventually sold within 2-3 years. Most of these wholesalers I know do not hoard the tea for a higher price. This meant that any older tea are actually unsold tea and to a certain extent..... that no one wants that tea. Many do not have the spare cash or capital to risk such a venture. There may be that odd carton that remain unsold but such tea are usually quickly sold if such boxes are discovered in the warehouses. Buying of older tea is possible as these dealers might know which of their customers are holding the tea and may help the buyer obtain the older tea for the right price. I do not recommend that you buy old tea in the wholesale markets......unless you know the tea dealers and you are very familiar with the tea and prices of that tea.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Looking At Puerh Tea Through My Crystal Ball

I was in Guangzhou in early August and I had an enjoyable time having tea with my tea drinking groups as well as with my tea wholesaler friends during the week there. 

I witnessed a carton of 2008 ChenShengHao 'year of the rat' edition changed hands at slightly more than 10k RMB per cake.  I remarked that this tea was already 10 years old and the buyer would enjoy the taste and aroma of a 10 year old banzhang pu erh.  My wholesaler friend laughed at me.  He told me most of the Banzhang sold by him are unlikely to be brewed and drunk.  Most of these expensive tea are kept and resold, never drunk.  He explained that there were good returns for such tea especially before 2012 production.  One could see very good returns if the buyer stored his/her cartons of tea well over this period.  My wholesaler friend says that prices of new tea are high now and there are many 'investors' of tea in China.  The returns of newer tea are now much lower than if one has invested in tea 10 years ago. 

I was disturbed.  I told a Chinese tea drinker group about this finding when I had tea with them the next day.  This tea drinking group of 6 were mainly tea collectors / drinkers.  They would open a cake, cheap or expensive to drink, without hesitation.  My friends would normally drink their pu erh after more than 10 years of storage.  These friends also believed that the many expensive 'branded' pu erh tea are purchased and stored away and not drank at all.  Examples would be the Dayi tea special edition pu erh cakes.  One collector felt that even old Yixing factory teapots are also now bought and stored away as investment pieces and they are never used for brewing tea.  interestingly, this group of tea drinkers rarely buy new tea now, citing the very high prices as one of the reasons for the non purchase. 

I believed that about 50-60% pu erh production are purchased purely for investment purposes.  Small retailers and tea drinkers/ collectors would make up for the rest of the tea.  

My readers would know that this news are not 'earth shattering'.  Tea forums and tea blogs have already highlighted this pu erh trend.  As I gazed at my dusty crystal ball, I believed that these 'stored away' tea will appear in the tea markets again only in one scenario - in very bad economic times.  When business environment turns sour, investors may have to liquidate their assets for cash, a force selling situation.  In very good economic times, these tea will also be sold for a profit but this tea simply changed hands to another buyer who will store them away hoping for a higher profit. 

The pu erh tea industry now is highly dependent on speculators and investors to support the higher prices of the pu erh tea markets.  Yes, most of the expensive 'branded' pu erh tea are never drunk.  How is the quality of this tea? Has the tea aged well?  For now, the only important question in the tea markets is "How much is the tea?".

Sunday, August 19, 2018

2018 Hong Kong International Tea Fair

I was invited to attend the 2018 Hong Kong International Tea Fair which was held from 15-18 Aug 2018.  This tea fair was also held in conjunction to the Food Fair at the Convention Centre in Wan Chai. 

As usual. the fair was very well organised.  The organisers even had shuttle buses to ferry foreign visitors to and from their hotels at regular intervals.  There were special booths set up to assist with packaging and freight that makes the buying experience very easy especially for 1st time buyers to the fair.  Wifi was free and reliable within the fair grounds.  

The tea fair had a 'tea saloon' where talks and tea sampling sessions was scheduled at hourly intervals through the day.  Vendors and tea experts would share their knowledge and products with visitors.  I enjoyed these events very much.

There was a Hong Kong milk tea competition that is unique to the tea fair and it was a serious affair with contestants young and old competing with each other on who could brew the best cup of tea. It was in good fun with celebrity guest judges having a hard time determining the winner.  Maybe I should be a contestant next year.