Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Questions About Dark Tea


I had posted an entry about dark tea last week and Peter, a reader  posed the following question -

"I've been to Penang and seen that these giant bricks are very popular with older tea drinkers. Is it because they are so cheap? There are tea shops that seem to only sell these teas."

He was referring to those very heavy (about 1.5kg) bricks that you see in the 2nd pix

Here is my response:

1.  Yes, Peter you are right about black tea is generally cheaper than say oolong or pu erh tea. Gram for gram, those black tea bricks whether the small (1st pix) or larger bricks (2nd pix) are cheaper than pu erh tea. 

2.  One reason is that there is a much larger pu erh (or oolong) tea drinking community than the black tea drinker groups. There is also a very large group of pu erh collectors that buy to store for  investment. It is actual commodity trading except this time its pu erh tea. It is interesting to know that many limited and high end pu erh factory productions for the past 10 years are often sold out at product launch. These tea are never drank but are bought and sold like trophies. As far as I know, these black tea bricks are mainly purchased for drinking. Yes, there are collectors that aged these black tea bricks to sell but these resold black tea are usually bought up to be consumed. 

3. Black tea includes other fermented tea that include liu bao and ripe or shou pu erh. Older versions of these tea can be quite expensive now. 

Who knows. Black tea bricks may be the new investment tea in the next few years. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

A Crash Course On Black Tea

I was in Penang, Malaysia last week.  I was at the food fair and there was an area in the food expo devoted to Chinese tea. There were not many tea booths there.  A little disappointed but the fabulous local Penang food made my stay there very enjoyable.

I was fortunate to meet a hardcore black tea drinker and I learnt many things from this new tea buddy. Here are the things I learnt about black tea.  

1.  The local tea community here in Malaysia called Black tea as dark tea than black tea.  Dark tea is considered Chinese tea that had undergone deliberate fermentation during tea processing before the tea is sold.  Hence, according to my tea buddy, tea like ripe/shou pu erh, liu bao,  Si Chuan Tibetan tea, AnHua gold flower tea and the famous BaiShaXi famous black tea bricks are all regarded as dark tea. It appeared to me the dark tea categorisation of fermented tea is quite broad.

2,  I was told dark tea in Malaysia are brewed 2 ways. The first is kung fu cha style.....add tea leaves in a tea pot and brew as you would would with other Chinese tea like oolong or pu erh. The 2nd way is to boil the tea. I was told to brew 8g of tea with 500ml of water.  Boil the tea at a slow simmer for 5-10 minutes and the tea is ready to drink.   This is similar to Chinese herbal brew where you add 3 bowls of water to a bag of herbs and boil till about 2 bowls of  herbal tea is left.  The dark tea will be extremely aromatic and strong and the taste is more complex. I cannot wait to try this boiling method. 

3.  I was told that dark tea needs a minimum of 5 years of storage before the tea is ready to drink. I was taken to a Chinese tea shop in Penang and bought some tea to start my dark tea adventures. The 2 bricks in the 1st pix are at left a 2015 Baishaxi 1.6kg black tea brick, The yellow box is a year 2000 Si Chuan Tibetan 1,7kg brick. The 2nd pix showed a 2019 gold flower Anhua tea. This tea has gold flower mold introduced to the tea during processing.   The white wrapper is a 500g slice 2021 Chian Liang Cha. This is an actual slice from a 30kg tea log.  I also managed to get a 2kg bag of black tea stems. I was told boiling these stems would give off a very strong Chinese herbal medicinal taste. 

I look forward to start my dark tea adventures.    

Friday, April 28, 2023

2021 Xiaguan Raw Tuo


A new local tea buddy recently contacted me telling me that he wanted to buy some tea to age at home.  He was thinking about buying Xiaguan and wanted to buy a carton of tuo to store at home.  He asked me what I thought about the new Xiaguan raw tuos

It so happened I had bought a pack of 2021 tuo. This is the 'te tuo'. The name, I conclude is a shortened name version of their popular 'te ji' tuo. 

As you can see.  the packaging had changed. The 'palace and lake' illustration was gone......all words now.  The tuo wrapper is a white wrapper. These visual changes are not important to me. The tea itself is more important. 

Here are my observations and thoughts

1.  The smoke level of this tea is low.  Really low. I could detect a very faint smoke in the 1st two infusions before the smoke fades away.  The early versions I own (pre 2007) was more smoky.  I remembered when I had opened my first te ji tuo (2007 version), the strong smoke caught me by surprise. 

2. The floral aroma and lightly sweet aftertaste is pleasant.  The tea brews reasonably strong. 

3. This tea will age but the results of aging will be very much different from that of the earlier productions of te ji tuo due the very light smokiness in the production. 

4.  I would advise my new tea buddy that there is no need to buy a carton of this tea to store away......but instead buy a variety of Xiaguan tea or even other brands (4-5 choices) to fill a carton instead.  In 10-15 years time, your box will have a good variety of aged tea to drink and enjoy. That's my 2 cents worth.  

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Brewing Tea Overseas

I had just returned from a long overseas trip from Europe.  Here are some of my observations and adjustments I did for my tea brewing sessions while I was abroad.    

1.  Water

I could drink water straight from the tap in those countries while I was in Europe.  Tap water would taste different from different states or countries but it is an economic and convenient option than bottled water. 

The main issue is boiling water. Many hotels 'upgrade' their room hot water by providing coffee machines (with coffee capsules).  These fancy equipment is nice and the coffee actually tasted good. However, if you use the hot water to brew tea, there is a faint coffee aroma in the hot water and  this makes Chinese tea brewing unsuitable.  And....there were 2 European hotels during my trip where there were no kettles or coffee machines in the rooms and I had to go to a common pantry to get hot water. 

Anyway, I think an ideal solution is to bring along a travel kettle. There are many inexpensive travel kettles; smaller than 1 litre and with dual voltage selection where you can bring this kettle to different countries with different voltage requirements. Don't forget a multipurpose wall plug as well. 

2.  Tea

The tea I took for my travel had hibernating issues. Some of the tea tasted flat or subdued before the tea recovered again (about 1-2 weeks).  I cannot explain but serious overseas tea drinkers had advised to drink their tea, ordered from overseas, one week after arrival, to allow the tea to rest. I had brought along raw, ripe pu erh and some oolong for this trip and found my raw pu erh 'hibernated' during the air flight but woke up 1 week later.  

3. Tea Ware

I had used a small porcelain teapot and 2 teacups during my tea. It was adequate for my use. The teapot was about 150ml and I normally had 4 infusions of tea at one tea session. As I did not bring along a tea tray or tea waste bowl, I, on most occasions, do not rinse out the tea but drank from the very 1st brew.   It was more a matter of convenience.  Most Chinese tea we buy now are generally clean and there is no health risk not to rinse the tea. I was told by a tea buddy friend that unrinsed tea had the most caffeine but I cannot verify this fact. 

Anyway, these are my 2 cents of how to brew better Chinese  tea overseas. I believed there are better ways and would appreciate if my tea readers would share how they brew their tea when on a trip.

I will be visiting the USA (Seattle, Portland and Chicago in June) for about 3 weeks and look forward to more tea adventures again. 


Saturday, March 18, 2023

2011 Tea Urchin Ding Jia Zhai

This tea cake is produced by Tea Urchin, a tea business setup In Shanghai.  This business is owned by a couple Eugene and Belle.  Eugene was from Australia  before he settled down in Shanghai where he married Belle.

I had written about them way back in 2012.  This couple were quite hardcore when they set up the the business in 2004.  They made frequent trips to Yunnan to source for their own tea.  They visited the smaller tea families and farms and try to find and offer to their customers the rare and lesser known pu erh tea.  I believed they have a few kids now and the recent pandemic had prevented them from visiting Yunnan to personally source the tea.

This cake is the 2011 Ding Jia Zhai. This tea is primarily from the Yiwu region.  I had stored this cake for almost 10 years and had now broken up the cake and put the pieces in a tea caddy.  This tea is aromatic; wood and hay aroma.  This tea is extremely mouthwatering.  I would not serve this tea to new tea drinkers.  There is hardly any sweetness in the aftertaste. No sweetness or fruitiness.  This tea is slightly herbal bitter with a strong qi. I felt sweaty after the tea session.  This is the type of tea when you want it to be strong without any fuss. I like. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Late 90s CNNP 7581 Ripe Brick

This is a late 90s CNNP 7581 ripe brick.  I had acquired a carton of this tea during one my early visits to Guangzhou. I was introduced to a Chinese tea drinking group and I had later got to purchased this tea from a retired CNNP tea manager in that group. It was from him, Mr Chen that I started learning about pu erh tea and storing pu erh tea as a hobby. 

This tea survived my trip to Europe. Unlike my raw pu erh tea, this 7581 did not "hibernate' during the journey here. The taste and aroma was good exhibiting old earthly notes of old books and leather. This tea is a workhorse brewing up more than a dozen good infusions in a tea session. 

This only thing I found challenging was brewing tea in this cold wintry weather. The tea cools very fast. I like to drink my tea reasonably hot, but over here in Paris, the tea cools down and was luke warm after 10 min. I had to finish my tea quickly in between infusions. I wonder whether Chinese tea drinkers, in winter, drink their tea quickly in between infusions. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Case Of The Hibernating Pu erh


It is winter in Paris and I am brewing and drinking Chinese tea.  I had, in my previous blog entry, decided on the tea I had selected for my overseas adventure. One reader asked "no xiaguan? ".   Yes, I managed to packed some 2006 Yue Shang Raw tuo.  

I had brewed this tea a couple of days before my trip. I enjoyed this tea a lot and I was eager to brew this tea when I arrived in Paris. 

The tea tasted different. It tasted less vibrant and aromatic. I tried a longer infusion time but the results was not any better. I thought it may be due to the water. I tried a ripe 7581 pu erh tea the next day and the tea tasted alright. I concluded that this tea went into hibernation during the air flight and needed time to 'adjust' to the new climate. This phenomena was highlighted by many tea experts (residing in USA) who had ordered tea from overseas and tried the tea when the order had arrived.  Cwyn renown for her 'death by tea' blog recommend to rest the tea for a couple of weeks before you brew the tea.  This allow the tea to adjust to the new climate. It is like awaking the tea or Xin-cha in Chinese. The tea will taste better after a couple of weeks. I cannot explain this awaking phenomena but my many overseas friends has 'sworn' to rest their newly ordered tea for a couple of weeks before brewing the tea. 

I am going to let this tea rest and drink my other tea stash. As a reward of my clever sleuthing, I had rewarded myself with buying a Sherlock Holmes novel, printed in 1893, from the famous Abbey Bookshop in Paris.