Monday, December 5, 2016

Sea Dyke Shui Jin Gui

Oolong Tea is the most popular Chinese tea that is drank around the world. The aroma and taste is much appreciated by tea drinkers around the world. There are many types of oolong produced in China and Taiwan and exotic names are also given to the many variety of oolong available in the tea markets. The 4 most popular Chinese oolong drank by the Chinese community (aka Xi Da Ming Chong) are Da Hong Pao, Shui Jin Gui, Bai Ji Guan and Tie Lo Han.

Sea Dyke Brand had recently produced a premium range of oolong tea that were harvested from the Wuyi mountain region (the most famous oolong producing region in Fujian China) and this Shui Jin Gui is one such example. This 125g tea(mine is a 2014 production) is packed in 10 small boxes (12.5g per box). I like this packing as it allows me to carry a small box to a tea drinking session knowing the box will protect the tea leaves from being crushed during the trip. It is however, a pain as it does up a considerable luggage space (storage space as well) when you buy this tea in quantities from overseas.

This Shui Jin Gui is nicely packed in foil packs of 12.5g. I used a 'thrifty' style of brewing, only using half a packet for a tea session. I used a 70ml teapot and brew 'one infusion per cup', using 5 cups in total. I had been experimenting with a style of brewing oolong. I use a small teapot (60-80ml), use about 6-8g of tea and brew one infusion per cup. I will use 4-5 cups and drink up the tea within 10-15 min. It is rather strong and the aroma stays in the mouth for a while after the tea session. The tea is nice, especially when you drink it hot, exhibiting a very nice sweet characteristic aftertaste that is found in Shui Jin Gui oolong.

Monday, November 28, 2016

2006 Mengku Pu erh Shou Brick

Ripe or shou pu erh tea is my 'turn to' tea in the evenings when I have a tea session.  The earthy, aromatic smoothness of the tea remains one of my favorite Chinese tea.  I had not been blogging about ripe tea in the recent months as I had been revisiting and opened ripe cakes and bricks which I had written in this blog over the years.  

I recently opened a 2006 Mengku ripe brick.  I enjoy the signature taste of Mengku ripe pu erh and I had broken up this brick into my tea caddy and allowing it to 'breathe' for 2 weeks before drinking the tea.  The terminology here is 'xin cha' (aka awaken the tea).  I would also urge you, the reader, to try brewing with boiling water and adding a bit more leaves.  I had been chatting with a few new friends via email and discovered that the water used by my friends was not very hot.  They either used a thermos or a kettle of hot water that should preferably be boiling or reboiled in later infusions.  Boiling water does makes a difference in brewing pu erh (raw and ripe).  The flavor and aroma of the tea 'comes out' better.

Brewing this ripe tea with slow boiling water could get me about 8 good strong infusions.  There are 3 things I look for in a ripe pu erh tea - smoothness, sweetness and mellowness.   This 10 year old brick passed with flying colors.  

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Storing Pu erh Tea

"How do you store your pu erh tea?" I received this email question last week and this same question was posed to me by a Guangzhou tea collector friend last year.

As a tea drinker/collector, you would know that tea should be kept away from heat, light and odors. So storing tea in a kitchen or bathroom are not good choices to keep away your tea. Green teas, if you have large amounts should be refrigerated and even stored in a freezer in small bags to keep the green tea as fresh as possible. In Guangzhou, I have seen longching tea dealers using chest freezers to store their tea.

But if you store your pu erh tea under certain conditions, your pu erh will age well. The taste and aroma of an old pu erh are enjoyed by many pu erh tea drinkers throughout the world. Not only pu erh gets better with age, many such older pu erh command a much higher price in the tea markets and teashops than a similar younger pu erh. Older ripe pu erh are equally expensive now as well.

Let me digress. For my readers who are starting their pu erh adventure, Pu erh tea is available in 2 types. The 1st type is called 'raw' pu erh tea. This process of making this tea is as follows (my short version) - pu erh tea leaves harvested and collected, the leaves are spread out on the floor to naturally dehydrate, later in the evening, the tea leaves are fried in a wok to stop the oxidization and further dehydrate the tea leaves, tea leaves are rolled and shaped by hand/machine, tea leaves are sun dried/ machine dried, tea leaves are sorted and ready to be pressed into cakes. The 2nd type of pu erh is 'ripe or shou' pu erh. Making this ripe tea is the same as raw pu erh with a few extra steps at the end, as follows - the tea is spread out again on the floor and moisture is reintroduced back into the tea, and covered in cloth at a fixed level of temperature and humidity. This process is called 'wodui' in Chinese. The tea leaves are turned a few occasions during this 6-9 weeks wodui. The ripe tea is ready to be pressed into cakes.

Chan Kam Pong in his book 'First step to Chinese Puerh Tea' explains:
"As it is known that Raw Pu erh requires a relatively long time for aging, such as 20 to 30 years, most people are unwilling to store Raw Puerh by themselves. For this reason a scientific manufacturing process which speeds up the fermentation was invented…….a tea factory will deal with the raw Puerh leaves by using water and micro organisms, which is for fermenting purposes. Then the tea factory will cover the mixture with blankets throughout the whole process of fermentation. Providing a suitable fermentation environment is essential for the fermentation process. The temperature and humidity have to be strictly controlled. While fermenting, Puerh tea has to be stirred at intervals manually. The whole process takes several weeks or months depending on the maturity of the Ripe Puerh tea."

This would imply that ripe/cooked pu erh was made to resemble old raw pu erh. If you are a pu erh tea drinker and prefer the raw to ripe versions……your raw pu erh if you manage to store for a few decades might end up (ahem) tasting a bit like a ripe pu erh. That is another story.

Back to pu erh storage. A pu erh tea drinker/collector will not only need to store the tea away from heat, light and smell but at the same time would like his/her pu erh tea to age while the tea is being kept. So how should you store your pu erh? Well, there are already people storing pu erh and this would be a helpful guide in gleaning more information on pu erh storage.

For me, I looked at the Far East. I looked at countries like Malaysia, Hong Kong, and China. There are many tea collectors there that had kept pu erh tea for more than 20 years. Malaysia and Hong Kong are good places to look. This is because pu erh tea stored in these countries are often 'repurchased' by Chinese tea dealers back for resale to China. Taiwan tea dealers, in the late 90s/early 2000s had bought lots of pu erh tea from Malaysia and Hong Kong though this buying had stopped due the weaker Taiwan economy. The pu erh tea that was repurchased by the tea dealers were later resold for a much higher price. This would suggest that the storage of such pu erh tea would be one of the main reason for the higher price and demand for such tea.

In addition, with me staying in this part of world…..this allows me to have easy access to these tea. I am able to sample and buy the tea. I am spoilt for choice….I can choose the brand and the different age of the tea. I can easily get 3, 5,8 10, 15 year old pu erh tea here. This large variety of tea available had allowed me to 'taste the results' of aging and storage. I will get a clearer picture on how a tea is aging and this helped me in choosing a tea for storage knowing (with a small degree of confidence) how the tea would taste like after waiting out 8-12 years of tea storage.

When you buy an older pu erh tea, you are not only buying just the tea but you are buying the storage. I would also like to think that you are also buying 'time' - the time you would otherwise have to 'wait out' for the pu erh to age. The same 10 yr old Dayi/Xiaguan cake you buy from a teashop/online would taste different if you had purchased the same identical tea from Europe, Yunnan, Beijing, Malaysia or from Hong Kong. This difference is due to the storage of the tea. This difference in taste and aroma is obvious and this is due to the climate where the tea is stored and 2 factors play an important part in the storage. They are temperature and humidity. It is my opinion that for proper aging of pu erh tea, you need to have a storage facility or room that is humid and warm enough (constant with little variation in temperature and humidity) for pu erh tea to age well. Do not be mistaken that tea collectors here expose the tea directly to the tropical climate. No they do not, but I would like to suggest that storing pu erh tea in a clean room or storage space, but in a climate of high humidity and temperature is conducive to aging pu erh.

A look at the climate conditions of the countries (Malaysia, Hong Kong and Guangzhou) I had mentioned, have both high temperatures and humidity all year round, which is suitable for aging pu erh. Let me give you a snapshot on the weather in Kuala Lumpur, city of Malaysia. The average temperature there is 28c (80f) and humidity at 80% all year round. Humidity there is even much higher during the rainy seasons. Google search the climates of the places I had mentioned and you will get a better picture on the temperature and humidity levels there.

In Malaysia, Hong Kong and Guangzhou, I had visited the storage facilities and rooms, to store pu erh tea, that are used by my serious tea collector friends and teashops. A few serious tea collectors would dedicate empty bedrooms (and use fully from floor to ceiling) to store their tea. One friend actually rented a house and store 4 bedrooms to the max with tea. I also know a few friends and teashop owners renting warehouse facilities to store their tea. These storage rooms are clean, lined with proper metal shelves and only tea is stored in these rooms.

Will pu erh tea age in countries with lower temperatures and humidity? I have friends that live in temperate countries and they had constructed or made 'pumidors' to store their pu erh. They have told me that it is a constant challenge to keep both temperature and humidity constantly high especially during the winter months. I am planning to visit USA/Canada in 2018 and look forward to drinking their teas. It should be fun. I would also like to do a tea exchange with my readers if we have the same tea. It would make an interesting study and a nice Christmas gift for both of us as well.

How do I store my Pu erh? I mainly buy my pu erh tea in 7-cake tongs and in cartons. I keep the tea in 2 rooms and only open these rooms to take out the tea or adjust the tea boxes properly so that I can store more tea. The secret to my tea storage in Singapore - let time quietly do its work. 8 to 12 years seems like a long time. There will be many milestones in life as we age our tea. Time really flies….and some of my tea are now ready to drink.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Bunga Kangkong Porcelain

'Bunga Kangkong' is actually Malay for spinach flowers. Kangkong here is a spinach hybrid that is a popular vegetable eaten in South East Asia.  The flowers of this plant are depicted on the porcelain (see the pictures above). 

This porcelain was made in China around the early 1990s.  The difference among the various Chinese porcelain that I had handled was that this porcelain employed the use of 'transfer' in the decoration of the porcelain.  This meant that the decoration are not hand painted (traditionally) but used 'sticker' technology.  This decoration style meant that the flowers among the various porcelain would be quite identical from each other.  Hand painted decorations can be quite different on one teacup when compared to another similar teacup.  'Transfer' decorations are now commonly seen and used by modern porcelain makers around the world.  

The 1st picture shows a bunga kangkong teapot and some teacups.  They are very pretty.  If you are in South East Asia, you can still find these porcelain easily available in shops or general department stores.  They are very inexpensive and will make good souvenirs for a  tea drinker/porcelain collector.  

We will know very soon who the next president of USA will be.  I am very fascinated with this election and I had been following the debates quite closely.  I intend to brew pots of tea and watch the results unfold on my tele.  

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Pink Dayi

Pink Dayi??

Take out your Dayi (aka Taetea) tea reference books…….there is purple dayi, silver, gold and even rose dayi, but no pink dayi.

This is what I was told by a Malaysian Dayi tea dealer and a few Dayi tea collector friends. This pink dayi was produced around 2002/03 and was a special order for a Taiwanese tea shop. This teashop had requested that this special order tea was to be sent 'naked' when the tea was produced and shipped to Taiwan. 'Naked' here means the tea cakes are shipped without the paper wrappers that you normally see on most pu erh tea cakes and bricks. I was told that the Taiwanese shop had produced their own wrappers and wanted to wrap the tea under their house brand wrappers. Conclusion - this is just a one-off special order tea for a tea shop.

I bought some pink Dayi. They were without wrappers. No, I did not buy this tea because of its nudity but rather I liked the tea after sampling this tea. Over the past weeks (after opening this cake), I noticed that when I wanted a raw pu erh session, I tend to reach out for this tea and when I have a session of this tea…. it was a 'quickie' session, in that I finished my 6-7 infusions quite quickly.

This tea brew strong. It has the characteristic Menghai Tea factory (Dayi) taste in the initial tea infusions. It is also slightly bitter. This tea aroma changes very nicely every 2 infusions, from hay and lumber wood aroma, to  floral and herbal to sweet sugarcane aromas. And this tea gave me the 'sauna' session. Profuse sweating from the middle infusions. I hardly sweat when I drink Chinese tea and this was a rare event. Nice cool feeling after the tea session.

So….buy the tea you like. Pink dayi? Naked tea? I am loving it.

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.