Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Smoke is used in food and drinks.
We have smoked meats. Common examples where you can find smoked food in a supermarket (the bigger ones) are smoked ham and smoked salmon. I liked them as the smokiness give the meat more flavour and taste. It was a cheap way to preserve or cure meats. In bbq parties, the serious party host may use special wood like hickory or cherry wood to scent the smoke. I had even noticed, on cooking shows, where a 'smoker gun' was used to smoke the food. The cook would simply put some aromatic wood chips in the smoker, light it up and the smoke was 'hosed' into a bag (I thought I saw a ziplock) and the food was bathed in the smoke. I also recalled another cooking show where they smoked a cola drink by dunking the smoker hose in the drink, resulting in a smoky soda.
Whisky is an unique showcase for smoky drinks. There are smoky whiskies that are appreciated for their smoke. In Scotland, peat was a cheap and easily available fuel to dry barley. When peat is burnt, they give off smoke and as a result, the barley absorbed this peated smoke and this smoke was even retained in the alcohol when the barley is distilled. I have tried heavily peated whiskies and I can say that I felt that I was drinking smoke than sipping a whisky. It was to me an eye watering exercise than a mouthwatering experience. Pix shows a Talisker 10 year old, a moderately peated whisky.
If you find smoky pu erh too smoky for you, I would warn you to stay far away from smoky whisky. It is many times more smoky.
Likewise, wood fuel was a cheap and easily available fuel (90s or earlier) to fry and stop the pu erh leaves from oxidising. As a result, the tea leaves absorbed this smoke and when you brew these tea leaves, you may detect smoke in the tea. Nowadays, electricity are used instead of wood fire in pu erh tea processing. There is no smoke in the tea. The famous Xiaguan brand do continue to produce some smoky pu erh and these smoky tea are now limited in production. I liked smoky pu erh as the aged smoky ones, in my opinion, taste more complex and aromatic than the non smoky ones.
Enjoying smoky food or drinks may not be your thing. I can understand this as I myself am unable to appreciate the highly peated whiskies that made me cringe when I sniff into the glass. I am, however, extremely happy with my smoky pu erh.
Time for an old smokey.
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
I am a fan of Xiaguan pu erh tea. In particular, I liked their smoky pu erh tea. When these tea had been stored away for more than 10 years, the smoky character seems to be quietly subdued, changing the taste and aroma of the tea into a more complex drink. There were a few older Xiaguan in my collection which seem to have an extra camphor finish in the tea which I enjoy. And....the iron cakes - the complexity in taste and aroma is something I enjoy everytime. However, most of the tuos and iron cakes are extremely tightly compressed. It can be a health hazard trying to pry open the tea. I have poked myself more than once with a tea pick. I have recommended you use a normal plier (new) to break off pieces from your iron cake or tuo.
This 2006 YueShang 200g tuo is non smoky and I liked it a lot. I call this the honey tuo as this tea has a honey aroma that reminded me of floral honey. When I brew this tea, there is a nice sweet aroma intensifying with herbal scents that make this tea very enjoyable. There is a baked apple pie hint in the tea which I like as well. Under all these honeyed notes, there is a herbal complexity in the tea as it is already 13 years old. Smooth, mellow and sweet. This tea is similar to the Xiaguan gold ribbon tuo but this YueShang is heavier on the honey profile.
This tea was on my 'to buy' list during my Guangzhou trip last month. I managed to lay my hands on a carton and it was to me, my 'find of the year' (so far). Really nice.
Monday, September 2, 2019
I am guessing you are shaking your head in disbelief when you read the title of this blog. I am not tea drunk. There is, really, a 'Countryside Tea Factory'. Just look at the wrapper on the last pix.
I got this 50g tuo as a gift from a tea distributor in Guangzhou last month. He told me it was from his personal collection.
My guess is this tuo is about 15 years old. This mini tuo is highly compressed and I almost 'poke' myself with a tea pick as I was dismantling the tuo.
These are my findings from 2 sessions of this tea. There was hardly any sweetness in the tea. This tea is strong in both taste and aroma. There were strong herbal notes in the tea; almost medicinal herbs and a bitter tree bark taste in the initial infusions. Middle infusions were quite mouthwatering with a herbal soup taste like lingzhi and ginseng roots. I felt the aftertaste is a little dry. This tea made a dozen good infusions in one sitting. I believed my tea distributor friend liked the unique herbal medicinal profile in the tea. An interesting tea....from the countryside.
Saturday, August 17, 2019
Water make up a big part of your tea. Many of us are willing to spend considerable amount of $$ on our tea. For many tea drinkers, we may spent a few dollars for 10g of tea leaves for a session of tea. I have yet to read on tea forums or blogs about the cost of water in a tea session.
I suppose water is considered cheap. If you are lucky (like me), the tap water in your country may be drunk 'straight from the tap' and I would be using this tap water to boil and make tea. In countries where tap water is not directly drinkable, one would consider maybe adding a filter to 'clean' the tap water or may use bottled water in the home.
My friends in China, Hong Kong and Malaysia had told me to drink bottled water whenever I travelled to visit them. I noticed, in all these 3 places, that my friends used quite 'high tech' electronic water filtration devices in their homes to filter their tap water. The tap water is ran though 4-5 filtration modules before it is 'considered safe to drink'. The filters, I was told are changed 2-4 times a year.
When it comes to tea, my friends and teashops in these 3 countries would used bottled water for their tea sessions. There are many brands of water available but in Malaysia, the 'Spritzer' brand is preferred and in China. the 'Nongfu' brand is used for tea brewing. I am sure these folks have tried many brands before settling on these preferred brands. If my math serve me right, it cost about US$1.50 to buy about 2 litres of water in these 2 countries. So if you use 2 litres of water in a tea session, than the water cost is US$1.50 in this example.
It was surprising, or not surprising, that I found the water from these 2 brands tasted quite similar to each other. When I brewed ripe pu erh tea at home using these 2 brands, the water tasted a tiny bit sweeter than my home tap water. It was a fun experiment to do and I urge my readers to try the occasional bottled water in your shops to see whether you can discern any difference in your tea.
I also encourage that you use 100c (boiling water) when you brew your tea....it does make a difference. Do also remember to use boiling water as well for subsequent infusions as well.
I also know a few of my hardcore tea buddies (3 of them) would go outdoors to collect spring water and bring home to brew tea. They tell me its the best water.
We should be thankful we have water to drink. I have read articles that there will be future wars among countries whose conflict will be over water.
Thursday, August 1, 2019
During my more than 10 years of blogging about tea, I had written that there were many small ways or ideas that may improve a tea session.
Some of these ideas (you may disagree with me) include:
a) using a clay teapot than a gaiwan to brew your tea
b) experimenting with water - trying bottled or filtered water and see the impact on the aroma and taste of the tea. Use boiling 100c water to brew pu erh and high roasted oolong is an exercise I recommend.
c) breaking up a pu erh cake and storing it in a tea caddy for 2 weeks before you try the tea
d) a slightly expensive option is to use clay kettles to boil your water and the possibility of using a Japanese iron tetsubin for boiling water as well.
The Lin Ceramics purion clay is, to me, an interesting phenomena. When I brew pu erh in a Lin's purion teapot, the aroma and taste of the tea seem slightly amplified.
I brought over a teapot (3 years ago) to my tea drinking group in Guangzhou, China and my friends there (mainly in their late 40s and 50s and had never seen a purion teapot before) could discern this difference in taste and aroma. These friends are now owners of purion tea ware and they would occasionally brew tea in a purion teapot to enjoy this phenomena.
I cannot explain the reason. My thoughts are that the higher iron content in the clay could have affected the taste and aroma of the tea. I am still intrigued by this purion teapot after so many years of use.
One local tea buddy considered that using purion teapot would 'artificially' enhanced the tea and does not give a true representation of that tea. I can understand his argument but many of us do try to make a tea as 'tasty' as possible, and may use those ideas I listed in the beginning of this blog to brew their tea. I was quietly relieved that he does not know that I occasionally concoct an alcoholic tea session......he would have fainted.
I would like to add that this difference (using purion) in the tea (taste and aroma) is only discernible by 'hardcore' (close to it anyway) tea drinkers and this difference is ever so slight. If you consider yourself as 'hardcore', I suggest you should 'beg, borrow or steal' a purion tea ware and try it yourself.
Sunday, July 21, 2019
I was supposed to try this tin of tea last Christmas, but it was not opened (perhaps overlooked). This is the Wuyistar brand of shui hsien oolong.
Wuyistar is quite a big oolong factory in China and I had noticed, these few years that this company was trying to get a bigger presence outside China. I saw a shop outlet in Hong Kong just outside the exit of Prince Edward subway station. They are even represented in Singapore, located at Yue Hwa emporium. In the Malaysia tea expo last year, Wuyistar took up a big central booth in the expo to showcase their products.
I opened a 2017 tin. Information on the box indicated that this 125g tinned oolong was from the famed Wuyi mountains and it was 1st grade oolong. Notice the double lids and the extra foil top when you open the inner lid. This metal foil are commonly seen in powered milk tins. The tea leaves are shiny and plump. Keeping oolong tea in tins than just packets will help keep the leaves from breaking into small bits.
I filled my teapot with about 75-80% of oolong and proceeded to make 6 strong infusions of this tea. I could see the tea weakening in its colour by the 6th infusion. This tea is heavy roasted and strong in aroma and taste. Mouthwatering with good salivating sensation after drinking a cup of tea. A good tea but the box description of classifying this tea as a 1st grade Wuyi oolong was a little exaggerated.
In my limited experience of drinking shui hsien, I found or felt that there are 2 main variants - one where the tea was more mineral in taste and another where there is a very slight floral or 'perfumed' aroma in the aftertaste. Sea Dyke brand of Lao Chong Shui Hsien is an example where it has this 'perfumed' finish. I enjoy both versions.
For the Shui Hsien tea drinker, do consider buying a tin of Wuyistar if you come across it.
Monday, July 1, 2019
In the late 80s and early 90s, there were teapots that were sold by their cup size. I have a collection of teapots made during this period that actually had the 'cup size' clearly labeled on the tea box. You can see from the 2nd pix, 3 teapots and their respective sizes on the box - 4,6,8. The 6 cup teapot stated that it was for 6 cups. I measured this teapot and the teapot could hold about 90ml ....which would suggest that a 6 cup teapot can fill up 6 teacups of 15ml each.
I was intrigued. I asked my teapot collector friends and yes, it was considered, in the 80s, that a standard teacup size was 15ml. I managed to lay my hands on a few early 80s tea sets (see pix 3) where the teacups came in 15ml sizes.
Today, teapots and teacups come in many sizes. Teapots are sold with pretty accurate description on the capacity usually in ml.
Wouldn't it be great if teapots today are sold by their cup sizes? On the other hand, would it be better if we drink our tea in 15ml sized teacups?