Monday, October 17, 2016

Moleskine Tea Journal

I am a supporter of Moleskine products.  In fact my family are using the 'Moleskine diary'. My daughters who are still in school found the 18 month diary very useful as it starts from July to the following year. My kids would technically start using the diary  from their 1st day of university in July jotting down datelines or any event they needed to attend.  Yes, I know that our smartphones could do these functions well…..perhaps maybe it is an old habit that my family had not fully let go.

Moleskine came out with a 'Tea Journal'.  The binding is impressive; leather-like with teapot images decorated on the covers.  Moleskine also came out with a series of hobby journals like beer, coffee, gardening, dog, cat, restaurant and travel journals.  There are many other hobbies journals and Moleskine is hoping to reach out to a wider audience.  

I purchased this  'Tea Journal' last month.  This journal
had included information on history of tea, tea types, brewing and vocabulary on tea.  It had even had tabulated sections where one can record (or review) a tea, tea shop, recipes and key in your tea collection.  There were also 202 labels to 'personalize your journal'.

However, there are some things I did not like about this 'Tea Journal'
a)  it is obvious that this journal was a rushed job.  Some material on tea was incorrect and a little hilarious, to me at times.  Here are a few funny errors:

"The highest-grade oolongs of all are 'Monkey Picked' oolongs.  Legendarily, monkeys were trained to climb high up into the tea tree to pick the youngest leaves."

"Chesty - Having the smell or aftertaste from the wooden chest in which the tea was packed"

b)  The printing of the material was extremely faint and it could have been better.

My overall impression of this 'Tea Journal' is fairly good.  Do check it out when you see this journal on sale in stores.  


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Buying A Used Teapot

Why would you want a used teapot? Or even buy one?  Perhaps you have a certain teapot collection and are trying to fill the 'holes' in your collection, whether the teapot was made by a particular artist, or you are collecting a certain shape/color of teapots or maybe you heard the teapot calling out 'buy me, buy me!'.

I bought and owned a few used teapots.  The teapot in the 1st pix was purchased last month.  Its a big one (guessing about 320ml).  The clay used was the reason…. and it is so shiny.  The teapot in the 2nd/3rd pix was purchased 5 years ago at a teashop in Kunming.  This teapot was used while I sampled a ripe pu erh tea there.  I had purchased some tea there and I asked whether the teapot was for sale....and it was.  

I am no teapot expert and I am not willing to pay high prices for my teapots.  I had seen many teapots (some of them newly made) for sale from US$500-$5000.  You can imagine the careful handling of such teapots if you use them to brew your tea.  I am sure you can visualize the anguish if that teapot was to meet with an accident. 

During my tea sessions with my tea groups both locally and abroad, I gathered some pointers about buying, using and cleaning used teapots.  These pointers may not necessarily be correct so I hope my readers can share their thoughts on these points :

a)  When you are buying a used teapot, make sure it is a used teapot.  This is not a joke.  There are teapots for sale that looks like a used teapot but these teapots are 'deliberately' stained to resemble a used teapot.  Some of these teapots may have been immersed in tea for weeks or, I have heard, buried in the ground to recreate the 'buried treasure' appearance.  There a a few pointers that may help you when you are thinking to buy a used teapot.  Pix 4 and 5 shows one of my teapots.  I had used a pen to point at 2 areas of a teapot;  the area under the lid and under the spout.  You will noticed that there are prominent tea stains in these 2 areas where I had pointed.  Serious teapot users will tell you that used teapots will have certain tea stains that indicate the teapot was well used for brewing tea.  These 2 areas will be more stained ( as well as a kind of staining pattern) than other areas of the teapot. As I said…this is one of the things you look out for, in addition to other aspects, when you are examining a used teapot.  

b)  Using a used teapot.  It is ideal when you know the tea that was dedicated for that teapot.  This would allow you to continue using the teapot for brewing that particular tea.  The big teapot in the 1st pix was used for traditional roasted oolong while the 2nd teapot was for ripe puerh.  I had continued using these teapots for the same purpose.  Chinese teapot users I know, swear by the 'better tea' brewed from a seasoned teapot.  They claimed the tea is more rounded and more smooth.  This could be due to the tea patina in the teapot.  Maybe its the old clay, or maybe it could be just a psychological belief.

c)  Cleaning or resetting a teapot.  You may want to clean-out a teapot.  Perhaps it is badly stained or you may want to use the teapot for another tea.  The teapot in the last 2 pictures is a 'whitish' ben-shan clay teapot.  I was told with frequent use of the teapot, the teapot will develop a beautiful stain on its surface.  If I can remember who told me that…..I will boil him in a pot of tea.  The stains looked awful and I decided to reset this teapot.  I used a new scouring pad (those used for washing pans or dishes) and gave the surface of the teapot a good scrubbing under running water for about 10-15 min.  You can see the results are quite good.  I will give it another few more minutes of scrubbing on the inside and outside of the teapot.  I did not use any chemicals or detergent, though I know a few teapot collectors using a bit of toothpaste when they reset their teapots.  To complete the cleaning, I will boil the teapot in a pot of hot water for 30 mins and the teapot is ready for use. 

d)  Seasoning a teapot.  This is how I season a teapot (new or reset) :
- wash the teapot under running water. Use a soft toothbrush to brush the inside of the teapot.
-  immerse the teapot (separate the lid) in a pot of water and put it to a slow boil for about 30 min to 1 hour.  You may want to put a small piece of cloth below the teapot if you worry about the teapot moving within the pot.  It is believed that boiling removes any smell or residue in the teapot.
-  once the water has cooled, remove the teapot and wash it under running water.
-  Brew a tea with the teapot (4-5 infusions) but discard the tea. Wash and rinse the teapot after use.
- your teapot is ready

These are a few pointers I had learnt and used in regards to used teapots.  I would appreciate if you can share your thoughts with me.  Thank you in advance. 


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!