Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Nambu Tetsubin

I would like to wish my readers a Merry Christmas!

I am sure that you have opened your Christmas presents and smiling over your latest gifts.  I bought myself an Nambu Tekki tetsubin kettle for myself.  Come to think of it, I am have been too generous in gifting presents to myself.

This is the famous Japanese tetsubin produced under the "Nambu Tekki" brand.  The sticker on the underside of the lid as well as the  mold brand on the kettle will help buyers determine the authencity of this Nambu kettle.  'Nambu' literally means south region.  Nambu iron ware are produced in the Iwate prefecture in Japan.  Such iron ware are very popular in Japan and now abroad, due to the traditional hand making techniques used to make such wares.  

The kettle I purchased is a smaller version compared to my previous tetsubin purchases (link). This newest purchase can hold about 350-400ml of water.  I intend to use it for brewing tea in smaller teapots.  

I like to warn readers that if you are intending to use or buy a tetsubin kettle, you have to really take good care of it as it may gather rust if not dried out properly after use.  I had purchased a much bigger tetsubin but I have rust issues with it.  I would appreciate if there are any readers out there that can suggest ways to help me resolve my slightly rusty tetsubin.  

Why a tetsubin kettle?  Many serious tea drinkers I know attest to the softness of the water when the water is boiled in a tetsubin.  I do think (hopefully not imagining) that I detected the water taste a wee bit different.  Aesthetically, having a tetsubin in a tea brewing setup is very pleasing to the eye and it does make a tea session more elaborated than it seems.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Malaysia Tea Expo December 2014

I was at the tea expo in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia over the weekend.  This tea expo was held at Viva Home Mall.  I wanted to refill my stash of liu bao tea and wanted to see what oolong the tea expo had to offer. 

It was interesting that this tea expo had most of the stalls promoting pu erh tea than other teas like oolong or liu bao.  Pu erh tea here takes centre stage as many Malaysians do drink and invest in pu erh.  Investment here would mean that tea collectors would purchase pu erh in quantities, like buying them in cartons and storing these tea for a few years and reselling these tea when the prices have increased.   Taetea (Dayi) brand is an investment favorite among tea collectors.  

The highlight of this year's tea expo, to me, was the 2014 Dayi 40th anniversary "Malaysia-China collaboration" pu erh tea cake (pix 4&5).  This pu erh tea cake's recipe is created from feedback of the Malaysian tea drinking community.  This cake is smokey.  And yes....most of this tea will not be drank but stored away as an investment item.  

Pix 3 is the pu erh tea group I meet when I am in Kuala Lumpur.  I am especially grateful to James Ong (pix 3 , standing in a red polo shirt) who spent considerable time with me updating me on the trends in pu erh tea as well as the new finds of pu erh tea that met the high drinking standards of this tea group.  Thank you very much, James!

While I was disappointed that I did not get to purchase any older oolongs at the fair, I did buy some pu erh tea and a couple of teapots (more in my later blogs).  A memorable trip and I was most happy when I am drinking tea with my Kuala Lumpur tea group.  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

My New Tea Table From Keramikstudio

Yes....I got myself another tea table.  Readers will know that I had already a few tea brewing tables and this new addition arrived last week.  Why so many tea tables?  I don't know....maybe open a tea nightclub or something. 

This large circular tea table measured 18 inches or 46cm across and arrived well packed in a huge carton box all the way from Czech Republic.  Made by Keramikstudio and owned by Petr Novak and his partner Miroslava Randova, this handcrafted woodfired tea table simply captured my imagination that I was willing to shell out US$205 (inclusive of air freight) to get it.

This tea table is made up of 3 parts.  The table top, a large deep circular bowl and a removable trivet.  The trivet as you will notice, is a 3 legged support that when placed in the tea bowl, will hold up and support the table top.  The trivet also act to keep the table top dry during a tea brewing session.  This tea table set is very sturdy and heavy as well.  The only setback is pouring out the discarded tea after a tea session, which needed me to be more careful and deliberate due to the weight of the tea bowl. 

I purchased this tea table for a number of reasons.  One is that the design is simple but elegant.  These guys from Kermikstudio had captured the essence of a Chinese tea brewing table, that is being simple and functional.   I just add in a teapot and a few cups to start a tea session.  Nothing fancy...just simple.  And...this tea table is made by a European couple all the way in Czech Republic.  It is my opinion that this table is nicer than most fancy tea tables I had seen in the tea markets in China.

Time for a  group photograph of my family of tea tables.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tieh Kuan Yin - Butterfly Brand

I was told that this tinned Butterfly brand Tieh Kuan Yin (aka tgy) was considered as one of the expensive tinned tgy.  Retailing for about $30 or US$25, you get 250g worth of tgy sealed in a aluminum foiled bag and packed in a tall metal tin to ensure the tea leaves do not get broken till sold.  

I am starting to drink and explore the world of oolong and went recently on an oolong shopping day.    I am unable to resuscitate my wallet after my oolong purchase.  I can understand now why serious oolong drinkers use small teapots to brew their tea.....its so darn expensive!

I used smaller teapots to brew my oolongs.  For pu erh...I use 150-220ml teapots, but for oolongs I use about 100ml sized teapots.  I find that brewing oolong in  in a smaller teapot is ideal for me as I drink oolong on the strong side and 6 good infusions of oolong is enough oomph for a tea session.  I normally fill about 1/4 of the teapot with oolong and let the hot water infuse for about 15-20 seconds before pouring out the tea.  When I end my tea session, the teapot will looked stuffed full of the hydrated tea leaves....literally to the brim. 

Back to this tgy.  This tea is a medium roast tea, but on the heavier side.  If I use a scale to measure the roast levels of a tea....0-35 is light, 35-70 is medium while 70+ is heavy roast.  I would rate this tea with roast levels at 65 - 68. This tea exhibits a nice floral bouquet aroma with a mild hint of a sweet finish.  I personally prefer the heavier roasted tgy but overall impressions of this medium roast tea are very good.  This tea makes a very nice chilled tgy too.  One more thing...if you are using a yixing teapot to brew your oolong, use the teapot only for oolongs as the aroma does sometimes linger for some time after washing the teapot and may affect your tea session is you use the same teapot for other non oolong tea.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Thirsty Games

Welcome to the first edition of The Thirsty Games!

Yes, this contest pits teacup against teacup.  The rules are simple - no violence and no breaking of teacups.  In fact, no contact whatsoever among teacups.  Teacups will not be judged by their physical appearance, size or color but they will be assessed by the tea. This simply meant that tea will be poured into the teacups and the tea will be judged cup by cup.  Yes, expert tea drinkers worldwide had attested that the material of a teacup can affect the taste and aroma of the tea.  I decide to take out a few of my teacups and see whether these teacups affect the tea or not. 

I selected 4 cups for the Thirsty Games.  I chose a 90s rice pattern porcelain cup (aka rice), a Jian or Temmoko(Japan) rabbit hair cup (aka rabbit), an old Japanese Bizen cup, made by Hisamoto (aka Bizen) and a Ru Yao crackled glazed cup (aka crack).

I had also chose 3 teas to be tested on the teacups.  One ripe and raw pu erh as well as an heavy roasted oolong.  I will use the 3rd infusion from each tea and pour out that infusion into the 4 cups.

I observed that rice and crack teacups held heat best.  The tea felt warmer in these two teacups while the tea in bizen and rabbit was cooler.  Perhaps this was due to the wider mouths of bizen and rabbit teacups.  However, I liked the wider mouths as bizen and rabbit teacups seem 'wrap or surround' my nose when I drink tea from these cups and the aroma seem to be more pronounced from these two teacups.   

How about the taste of the tea in the teacups.  I am not certain but there are very subtle differences.  Ripe pu erh tea was outstanding in bizen, while raw tasted subdued in crack.  Oolong was nice in rice and rabbit.  I cannot be 100% certain and I would have to taste tea from these teacups on more occasions.  

Overall, the Thirsty Games was a fun exercise.  It makes my tea session more experimental and interesting.  Till the next Thirsty Games.  May the teacups be forever increasing in your collection!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Puerh Tea Bag - Butterfly Brand

I received a call from a local tea drinker friend.   He had read my blog about Bao Ding brand of pu erh tea bags (link).  My friend loves his cup of pu erh and like me, will take along pu erh tea bags when he is traveling or attending long meetings.  He called me to say that the Butterfly brand of pu erh teabags are better than mine.  

It is very interesting to compare notes among fellow tea drinkers.  There will be different opinions on a tea even if it was served to a group of tea drinkers at a tea session.   I believed a cup of tea will appeal differently to tea drinkers and sometimes life experiences do affect the perception of a tea.  The tea may be a reminder of a pleasant, happy or memorable experience.  

Back to the teabags.  Both of us had not tried each other's teabag so I fixed a lunch appointment in town to meet and to go on a tea bag buying exercise.  

The Butterfly brand of pu erh tea is a nice clean stored ripe pu erh.  The other Bao Ding brand is more of a Hong Kong stored style of pu erh, which has a slight humid, 'old cupboard' aroma. These teabags brew best with boiling hot water.  Both teabags are inexpensive at about US$2 for a box of 25 teabags.  

Now, my friend and I are happier with our pu erh tea bags.  We equipped ourselves with both of these teabags when we are on the road.  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Tea Caddy

Storage of tea is an important aspect in your hobby of drinking and collecting Chinese tea. This will enable your tea to store well and in some teas to aged properly.

General rules of tea storage are pretty simple.  Tea should be kept away from odours, light and humidity.  The dried Chinese tea leaves in our collection absorbs smells and moisture easily and in many instances may damage your tea and make brewing the tea unpleasant or less desirable.  

Green teas like Longjing must be stored very well.  They would lose their green lustre as well as a reduction in taste and aroma if not stored well.  I recommend that if you enjoy green teas, buy enough to last you 6 months to a year.  This way, you will get fresh tea yearly.  And....pack your tea in food grade bags and store them in smaller containers,  Refrigerate your tea if possible.  Freezing the tea is another good option.  This will keep the green tea as fresh as possible.  The smaller containers would also extend the 'shelf life' as only small amount of tea leaves are exposed to room temperature at any one time.  

You will also realized that oolongs are also sold in different degrees of roast.  You have the very light roast like Taiwanese high mountain oolongs and Fukien Tie Kuan Yin that range from very light to very heavy roasted levels.  For the light roasted oolongs, the tea is fresh tasting and the tea leaves look vibrant green and supple.  These teas, I would recommend be 'ziplocked' and refrigerated to keep the freshness. As for the high roasted oolongs, ziplocking the tea and storing the tea in a tea caddy would suffice. Some of my friends insist storing their heavy roasted oolongs in a more 'airtight' container.  

A tea caddy is a a container to store your tea.  The pix you see are part of my tea caddy collection.  The 1st 2 pix are actually called mizusashi.  They are actually used in Japanese tea ceremonies as water storage containers.  Water is poured out from these mizusashi to refill the water kettle.  The mizusashi I owned are about 6 inches high and 5 inches wide, suitable to store a broken up regular sized pu erh cake.  The 1st pix is Seto ware while the 2nd pix is Kyo ware, which refers to the style and I believe, the Japanese provinces where these containers were made.  Yes, the ceramic lid just rests on the container which means these improvised tea caddies are not air tight.  I fold a pu erh wrapper and place the folded wrapper on top of my tea cakes when I store pu erh in these tea caddies.  

Pix 3 and 4 are pix of a ceramic steamer used in Chinese cooking.  Such steamers are used to cook soup and herbal tonics.  They are very pretty and I converted one of these steamers into a tea caddy. 

The 5th pix is a English made tea caddy.  The lid came with an inner rubber- like lining that will keep the tea caddy 'reasonably airtight'.

The 6th pix is a paper box tea caddy.  When you make a purchase of tea at a Chinese tea shop, you will most of the time have your tea packed in such a container.  These containers are good and can be reused many times.

The teas stored in my tea caddies are liu bao, pu erh and high roasted oolongs.  

You will also see many types of tea caddies that are made from different materials and come in an assortment of shapes.  As long as your container serve to store your tea well, it is a great tea caddy.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

2006 Haiwan Mavin Imperial Tea Brick

I gave a loud hoot when I discovered this carton of 2006 Haiwan Imperial Brick ripe pu erh in my tea stash.  This carton held 10 of these bricks of 100g each.  I had already consumed one brick a few years back (link).  

You will notice that Haiwan had dated this tea on the bottom flap of the box.  As far as I know, this imperial brick came out in 2006 and 2007.  Why the label 'Mavin' on the box?  I wish I know the answer but Haiwan distributors I know in Guangzhou and Malaysia do not know this 'Mavin' mystery too.  

Anyway, I would like to apologize to my readers that the last pix of the brick was a copy of the brick I blogged in 2010.  I had forgotten to take a pix of the pu erh brick when I opened it 2 weeks ago.

This tea brick is highly compressed.  Moreover, this brick uses the 'gong ting' grade leaves.  These leaves are supposedly to be of better grade of pu erh and they are made of small tea leaves with some shades of amber.    I liked the complex aromas and flavors of this brew.  I could detect nice scented wood and a nice mix of dried herbs flavor in the tea. I finished this brick within 2 weeks.

One drawback of the tea is that the smaller tea leaves used in this tea clogged up my filter in my teapot while brewing and I do get a much stronger tea as a result. (I find that washing the teapot after the brewing session and putting the teapot in the hot sun will naturally dislodge the clogged leaves in the filter).  Perhaps using less tea leaves will be a good idea as well.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

2003 Sea Dyke Brand Wu-I Ta Hung Pao

Xiamen Tea Import and Export Co Ltd produces and exports large quantities of tea especially oolong to many parts of the world.  One of its brands - Sea Dyke is a popular brand whose tea can be found in many tea shops and even supermarkets worldwide.  The better quality tea are packed and sold in tins and the economical teas are sold in paper boxes.  

One of the famous 'Sea Dyke' oolong is this Da Hong Pao tea (tin spelled it as Ta-Hung-Pao).  This is a popular oolong varietal.  Quality Da Hong Pao tea can command very high prices.  The best quality Da Hong Pao tea that are harvested every year are sold at more than US$2000 for 50 grams.

The story behind this tea was that a high ranking China official was sick when he was visiting one of the Xiamen provinces.  He was tended to and was given this tea to drink while he was recovering from his illness.  When the officer was cured, he took out his royal red robe and 'wore' it on the tea plants, something like a royal honor....thus the name Da Hong Pao which means big red robe.  

Da Hong Pao tea is primarily grown in the Wuyi region of Fujian China.  Tea grown in this region are also famously called yan cha or rock tea to reflect the geographical terrain in the tea growing region there; rocky and mountainous.  

This 2003 tin of Da Hong Pao is from this region.  It is interesting to note that later versions of this tea does not have the 'Wu-I' word printed on the tin.  I believed the higher costs of Wuyi tea had prevented 'Sea Dyke' from selling Da Hong Pao tea from this region.  My guess is that present production of this tea are a blend of oolong tea from other Fujian provinces.  

Back to this tea.    I enjoy the nice wood aroma and the mild salivating sensations after drinking a cup of this tea.  I was told to drink this tea strong or concentrated and to use small teapots and teacups.  I agree to this 'small scale' brew as the aroma does linger in the mouth for some time even though I had consumed only a mouthful of tea.  

I would like to thank my good friend Su from Malaysia, who came all the way to Singapore to give me this tin of very old oolong.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

2004 'Duoteli Brand' Liu Bao Tea

This is a 2004 Liu Bao tea from Duoteli.  This tea is made in Wuzhou, China.  Liu Bao tea is a black tea with the tea undergoing 'fermentation' as part of processing this tea.  Think ripe pu erh as pu erh do undergo fermentation for about 2 months before the tea is dried and packed away in cakes, tuos or bricks.  Liu Bao tea on the other hand, are also compressed into cakes or bricks but they are more commonly packed in loose form into large bags or baskets that may weigh from 1 kg to 30 kg.  They are also sold in smaller boxes like this 250g box I had opened.  

Liu Bao tea was a favorite with migrant Chinese workers that had came to work in tin mines in Malaysia (from late 19th century)  and it is no surprise that Malaysia is a popular place to find old aged Liu Bao (though most of these old tea are in the hands of collectors now).   I was told Liu Bao during that time was simply brewed Grandpa style, meaning a few spoonfuls of the tea is brewed in a large porcelain kettle and refilled a few times  daily with hot water when the kettle is empty.  

Today, Liu Bao tea is brewed in smaller tea gaiwans and teapots and  older Liu Bao tea (more than 30 years old) if available for sale, are expensive.  

I enjoy drinking liu bao tea.  Its aroma and taste has similarities to very old ripe tea.  I can detect strong fragrant wood and nice combinations of chinese herbs in the aroma liu bao tea.  I like to brew liu bao on the stronger side to enjoy that 'oomph'.  Let me forewarn my readers that this is an acquired taste and may not be liked by some of you.   

It is no surprise that there are some unscrupulous tea dealers that try to make a fast buck to newbie ripe tea drinkers, passing off the liu bao tea as very old ripes.  Do be careful if you are not familiar with your teas.  

Back to this 2004 liu bao tea.  This tea is very easy to drink with a nice aromatic character.  Good for 8-10 infusions.  I can only determine the date of this tea from an unopened carton that has the date printed on the carton.  The actual 250g box is undated.  I was also told that pre 2005 versions of this tea is hand-wrapped with cellophane plastic while later versions use shrink wrapped plastic.  

A nice tea but if you are living in Singapore or Malaysia, I recommend that you spend a bit more (take out your credit card) and buy the older liu bao tea, where the taste and aroma are amplified and more pronounced.  I will be visiting the tea expo in Malaysia in December and I will learn more about liu bao and share my findings with you.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Single Hole Teapot

Do you use a teapot when you brew your Chinese tea? And you are using a Chinese teapot? is a fun quiz for you.  Can you identify, if any, a single hole teapot from the 1st 2 pix?  I will tell you the answer later.  

A single hole teapot is.......nah.....just look at pix 3.  Look at the inside of the teapot where the tea will pour out through the spout.  It is a single hole.  This is a single hole teapot.  Single hole teapots were considered older teapots and building a filter inside was considered a newer improvisation.  Pix 3 has a pretty ball filter inside.   I was told that teapot makers do not make these ball filters themselves as there are people in the same industry that specialized in ball filter production.  I will find out more on teapot making when I visit a teapot maker in China soon.  Please be aware that when you are buying Chinese teapots, single hole teapots now does not mean they are old, as some new teapots now are 'single hole' as well. 

Chinese teapot users like their teapot to pour out tea well when they use the teapot to brew tea.  A teapot is considered not good when it takes a long time to pour out tea from the pot.  Some tea friends in Malaysia use a 10 second test when they buy a teapot.  These friends will fill a teapot with water and count the time for the teapot to empty its contents.  Taking more than 10 seconds would means 'fail' and they will not buy this teapot.  

Putting a single hole teapot to the 10 second test would get you a 5 star performance.  You can understand why such teapots will pour fast.  When I started using such a teapot for the 1st time, I was hesitant that my precious tea leaves would pour out from the teapot as well.  No worries....the hydrated tea leaves expanded and stayed in the single hole teapot.  

There is a catch.  Tea leaves will sometimes get lodged in the mouth of the teapot and pouring of the tea would slow down to a trickle.  Swirling the tea while holding the teapot may not help as the leaves are seriously stuck at the 'single hole'.  Users of such teapots will usually have a bamboo food skewer or a toothpick  and use this stick, poking it in from the spout into the teapot to dislodge the tea leaves.  It is no coincidence that most single hole teapot have a straight that a user can poke and clear the tea leaves.  

The Chinese teapot had 'evolved' and you see that filters are now designed into the making of teapots.  Pix 4 & 5 are some examples.  Any tea leaves gathering around the 'holes' of the teapot can be 'swirled' out gently by the user.  For single hole teapot users, they can now buy a metal attachment to affix to the inside of the teapot, which acts as a filter and also to resolve the clogged leaf issue (see pix 6).

So which teapot should u get? Single hole, multi hole or ball filter?  If you are a Chinese teapot user, you will, eventually, own one of each.  It does make a tea brewing session more interesting.  

And....did you identify the single hole teapot from pix 1 & 2?  The answer.... there are 3 of them that are single hole, the teapot at the front of the pix is a multi hole  one.