Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Malaysia Tea Expo December 2017

I managed to make time to visit the Malaysia tea expo last week.  This tea expo was held at Viva Mall, Kuala Lumpur from 8 -12 Dec.

I was extremely happy to meet my Malaysian tea drinker friends and tea drinking groups.  It was something like a old class reunion; catching up with each other and comparing notes on our tea and recent purchases and having gift exchanges with each other.  

I was able to be an 'early bird' to the tea expo on opening day and I managed to snagged a few promotional items for early visitors to the fair.  You can see from pix 2 that I got a couple of 90s Sea Dyke Tie Guan Yin teabags and 2 old unused 80s tea bowls.  Teabags?  Yes!  And they are good. Old Chinese tea bags especially the Sea Dyke brands brew up an old medicinal tea taste and aroma which I simply adore.  I intend to give one of these boxes to my local teabag collector friend.  The 2 80s bowls was advertised as tea bowls.  They were, I recalled, more commonly used as rice bowls rather than tea bowls.  Chinese porcelain collectors will recognised the chop marks as from Jingdezhen.   A happy purchase.

I had the privilege to sample  teas while at the expo.  The new 1959 Xiaguan recipe tuo (250g) is blended with banzhang and yiwu tea leaves.  While at the Xiaguan booth, I was especially impressed with the 2007 iron cake that had a unique smooth sweetness which I liked.  I will add that iron cake to my shopping list on my next trip.

I was also invited to sample the Taetea (aka Dayi) 2017 super premium Xuan Yuan Hao pu erh tea.  With a asking price more than US$300 per cake at the fair, I sensed this cake will be an investment/speculative cake, a 'bitcoin' cake if you can call it.  The Dayi manager told me that this cake had Banzhang material inside and the accompanied literature that came with this cake also indicated that there was a blend of old bulang tea leaves as well.

I received a early Christmas gift of a 1999 Xiaguan tuo from a Malaysian tea buddy. Thank you if you are reading this. And.....I bought a teapot tray before I left the fair.  The dark green jade colour was simply too pretty to pass up.  I could hear the tray calling out to me to buy it......must be the due to the new Star Wars movie coming out this weekend.  Light sabres and Chinese tea?  Happy Holidays to all my readers.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Fairness Cup

Gong Dao Bei, literally translated as fairness cup is used in Chinese tea sessions to pour out or distribute tea into teacups.  

If you have brewed a teapot /gaiwan of Chinese tea and you are to pour the tea into 4 or more teacups, you may have the issue that there may be uneven distribution of tea in terms of amount of tea and strength of the tea.  You may discover some cups had more/less tea and some cups look stronger /weaker than other cups.  It is especially tough to ensure an even pour out of the tea (as in the last pix) where each cup has the same colour in terms of strength of the tea.  It will take lots of practice to achieve that skill.  Thats where the fairness cup is useful in a tea session.

All you need to do is to empty your tea from a teapot/gaiwan into a fairness cup. This will ensure the tea when poured out from the fairness cup into tea cups are similar and 'fair' in terms of strength of the tea.  Gong dao bei is an essential accessory used in tea sampling session to ensure uniform taste per infusion when sampling a tea.  

I have a few fairness cups.  This 1st one was given to me while I had visited a tea farm in Taiwan many years back.  The 2nd pix show  an old unused dark red 'wan shou hu jiang' and a rice porcelain cup.  I believed their original use were as mini tea pitchers or milk jugs.  I do see such similar shaped jars used to dispense milk when I am drinking tea or coffee in a restaurant.  The 3rd pix are fairness cups made from glass.  One is a stylized cup, with an extended glass spout, that sits in a bamboo holder while the one on its right is a double glass walled version.  

One good idea is to use another Chinese teapot as a fairness cup.......or if you have a teapot with a broken lid, keep that topless teapot as a gong dao bei.  In Guangzhou, I saw a new teapot being seasoned by using it as a fairness cup.  

My wife is eyeing to use one of my porcelain fairness cups as a gravy cup for our year end turkey dinner. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

2007 Liming Ba Jiao Ting Raw Pu erh

This raw pu erh tea cake is produced by Liming Tea Factory under its Ba Jiao Ting (aka 8 sided pagoda) logo.  The date stamp on the wrapper is blurry but I think I could make out the year as 2007.  Although Liming tea factory is an established and well known tea factory, their tea remained 'under the radar' and the prices of their tea are less pricey than the more famous brands.  Collectors that invest in Chinese pu erh tea would normally purchase the bigger brands or special limited edition cakes to store long term.   

However, in the latest Tea Art Magazine issue #61, Liming tea factory took out an advertisement on their new Lao Ban Zhang tea cake (last pix).  I remember I had walked pass their distributor in Guangzhou and I will visit them to find out more about their new tea cake.  I hope not to lose an arm or limb when I buy this tea.  

Back to the 2007 Ba Jiao Ting cake.  This 10 year old cake brews up a nice clean and strong tea.  I noticed this tea cake is highly compressed and you need your tea tools to pry open the cake.  This tea is clean with a pleasant amber color in the drink.  Nothing extraordinary but I enjoyed the herbal / medicinal aroma and slightly sweet aftertaste.  I realised I had brewed this tea 3 days in a row.  A happy purchase.  

Sunday, November 19, 2017

2015 Xiaguan Ripe Tuo

I was in Hong Kong last year and I wanted to brew a late night tea in my hotel room.  The Xiaguan sales manager recommended me to buy this ripe tuo, telling me that this 2015 pu erh tea was actually much older and that Xiaguan had produced this tea 2 years earlier and had stored the tea away before releasing this tea in 2015.

I had noticed that the bigger pu erh tea factories like Xiaguan, Taetea and even Haiwan are actually 'storing away' pu erh tea (the finished product) and releasing this tea after a few years of storage.  This applies to both raw and ripe pu erh tea.  This makes a lot of sense.  As a pu erh tea drinker, you will attest that newly produced pu erh tea is a bit rough and astringent especially for raw pu erh.  You can also detect a fermentation smell in newly made ripe pu erh tea as well.  If you had stored away these new pu erh tea away for 3-5 years, you will discover that the tea is much easier to drink.  The aroma and taste is more smooth and mellow.  

I think in this age, people demand 'instant gratification' when they buy and consume goods and services. It will be tough to sell/buy a product  knowing the product is better 3-5 years down the road.  I suppose these pu erh tea factories are making their new pu erh products a ready to brew/drink tea.  In a way it is like buying older pu erh tea.  

Back to this 2015 Xiaguan tea.  I actually did not brew this tea when I had returned to my Hong Kong hotel room.  I had went for late supper instead.  I only opened this tea last week.  This tea, to me, is still young, but I enjoyed the strong aroma and taste of this ripe tea.   This tea would be a good candidate for aging for another 8-10 years.     

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Qi Pottery

These tea ware in the pictures are made in Singapore. They are not only made in Singapore but the clay also comes from Singapore.   The potter is Kim Whye Kee.

Kim was involved in bad company during his younger days and was incarcerated when he was 18 years old.  He picked up pottery making while in prison and his passion for this craft intensified when he was released.  He took up a full time course in pottery, graduated with a degree in fine arts in 2013, and now is a proprietor of Qi Pottery.  He owns a small electric klin in his apartment to create his own works and hold small classes for the public to learn pottery.

The local newspaper, The Straits Times, on 10 Jan 2016 published an article about him. Written by Ng Hui Wen, I attached an excerpt from the article:

"One collaborative work on display was a mixed-media installation titled Family Dinner.

It was created by the exhibition's artist-in-residence and potter Kim Whye Kee and 10 inmates from the Visual Arts Hub at the Changi Prison Complex.

The piece was inspired by an inmate's experience behind bars, and depicts his longing for a simple family dinner.

"Every inmate hopes to go home to his family. It was usually the first thought I would have when the handcuffs were around my hands," said the 36-year-old Kim, who went in and out of jail for about a decade after getting involved in gangs and drugs from the age of 18.

"I dreamt of going home for a simple meal with my father. But six months before I was released, he passed away from cancer. It was too late," he said.

After his father's death in 2007, Mr Kim picked up pottery in prison, which gave him the peace and motivation he needed following his father's death.

In the installation, which he has dedicated to his parents and sister, he placed a lone chair facing three cracked rice bowls on a dining table. Each bowl was carved with messages that could be seen only through their reflections on the table.

"It's like a person sitting there, thinking about what to say to his family during dinner," he said.

"Sometimes, we feel pai seh (Hokkien for embarrassed) and the words just don't come out."

Also featured were 14 other ceramic bowls which were smashed and mended back together.

"I put the pieces back together using clay and gold paint. I wanted to show the inmates that even though they've made mistakes, their family and the community will always offer them a second chance," he said.

Three years ago, Mr Kim, who was released in 2008, graduated with a degree in fine arts from Lasalle College of the Arts with the support of his mother, who worked as a cleaner, as well as his sister and the Yellow Ribbon Project. Mr Kim now runs pottery workshops in his own studio."

I had visited Kim at his workshop/studio and I could tell that he was passionate about his craft.  He took time to me to explain the various clays he had used and tested for his works.  He had even bought clays from Australia and UK to experiment making tea ware with these clay.  He had, a couple of months ago, wanted to used local clay to make tea ware and I had requested him to sell me one of these "Singapore teapots" when it was ready.  Kim completed making the Singapore teapots in September.  As you can see from the 2nd/3rd pix, Kim had created a series of gaiwans and kyusu-styled teapots.  Kim explained that this clay was dug up in Tampines (an area in Singapore) 30 years ago and was stored away by his local pottery teacher.  Kim managed to get a few clay packets.  In Kim's own words:

"This clay is quite rough to work and instead of burnishing it, I decided to keep the characteristics of this clay, staying true to its look and feel.  No glaze for this ware but if you look carefully, the body is slightly flushed and each pot will be unique"

I purchased one of the kyusu teapot and the 4th pix showed the teapot photographed under yellow lighting while the other 2 pix below were taken under natural lighting.  

If any reader is interested to know more about Kim and and his works, you may visit his website (link) to get more details.  

I wish Mr Kim the very best in his pottery business.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Bizen Mizusashi

My readers would know my fascination with Bizen tea ware. I had purchased a few Bizen pieces that included a tea set and a teapot (link).    Bizen tea ware are made in Japan. The uniqueness are that some of these bizen potters, when they are firing, or baking the clay, allowed the ashes and burning cinders to fly within the kiln and the results were that these pieces may have scorched or burnt marks on the surface of the clay. To the purist of ceramic clay, this may seem like a defect or imperfection, but I simply adore these pieces. They seem to give a character to the pieces. I feel happy handling the bizen pieces in my collection.

I recently purchased a Bizen mizusashi. It is actually a container to store water for a tea ceremony. When there is little water left in a kettle, it is refilled from the mizusashi. I guessed it is convenient, that you need not leave the tea table with your kettle to refill water in the kitchen. One of my friends claimed that water stored overnight in a bizen container makes the water sweeter. I shall test his claim and report back to my readers. I had initially wanted to used this piece as an improvised tea caddy.  
This bizen piece stands at 6.1 inches and 5.3 inches in diameter. 

I will be In Tokyo/Kyoto for about 10 days during the Christmas period.  If any Japanese readers want to have tea with me, I would be happy to meet you. I will bring some old tea for our tea sessions.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

2014 Xiaguan Yuan Ye Raw Pu erh

I had been following this tea when I came across this tea 3 years ago in the tea markets.  This is the 2014 Xiaguan special edition of the Yuan Ye.  Based on the description slip enclosed with the cake, Xiaguan tea factory had harvested the tea from old gushu tea trees in high altitudes of above 2200 ft in Yunnan.  In addition,  Xiaguan had stored away this tea for 7 years and only releasing this tea for sale in 2014.  

The tea leaves are unique.  The leaves, when I broke up the tea cake, looked glossy and shiny.  I thought the leaves were damp.  It was not.  The leaves felt oily and closer examination of the leaves showed that they are quite big and (believe it or not) furry.....like little shiny hairs on the leaves. '

When I brewed the tea, the tea was clean and clear.  Nothing oily in the tea and taste.  Some smokiness but the tea was smooth with hints of smoky pine wood. There were some nice fruity aroma like plums and dried berries.  A tea session of this tea can get me 10 strong,   slightly intoxicating infusions.   

An interesting and strong tea.  I think this tea will even be more impressive after a few more years of storage in Singapore.  I will try to add more of this tea to my collection.  

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Tea With An Englishman

I had tea with an Englishman last Friday.

Russell Alderton, had through the Steepster forum, asked about Chinese tea in Singapore. He was in Singapore for a week and had wanted to visit the Chinese tea scene in Singapore. He contacted me and I arranged to meet Russell last Friday.

I guessed that he wanted to sample Chinese tea in Singapore. I met Russell in Chinatown and brought him to the famous Maxwell Food Market for a large plate of Hainanese chicken rice. You will noticed In the pix that I bought him a coconut drink as well. I wanted to make sure he had a good meal as the tea sampling session later that afternoon was going to be wild and intense.

Russell initially looked pretty stern but after sampling 3 old pu erh (5 infusions each), I got him tea drunk and you can see him grinning in the following pix. He appreciates his tea and took his time to describe the taste and aroma of each tea to me. He reminded me of Andrew Zimmern, the famed TV food host of Bizarre Food series. Let me explain.....when Andrew tried a food he liked, he would close his eyes and go into a 'bliss-like' state for a few seconds. Russell did that 'bliss-like' action (exactly) when he sampled the Feng Huang Danchong (we tried 2 old Danchong as well). He really liked that tea.

I learnt, during our conversation at the teashop, that Russell kept his tea in a refrigerator. The refrigerator was not turned on at all. He used his fridge somewhat like a pumidor or a mini cave to store his tea. He even used water pillows to maintain the humidity in the fridge.

It was an enjoyable tea session. I believed he was impressed with the puerh storage while sampling the tea cakes in Singapore.

I would like to thank Miss Chong of D'art Station for spending considerable time and patience for hosting us to a wonderful sampling session of old Pu erh and oolongs. Thank you.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Mooncakes and Tea Caddies

This is the time of the year where mooncakes are available for sale In Chinese confectionary and grocery shops.  These cakes are made and eaten to celebrate the Chinese mid autumn festival (next week).  If you had not tried mooncakes, they are actually baked pastries filled with sweetened lotus or bean paste.  Some of these cakes may include a salted duck yolk inside.  Somehow, this unusual combination makes eating a mooncake a pleasure to eat.  I love mooncakes.  My daughter managed to snagged a box for me at the Hong Kong Airport while she was there last week.  Yummy.

Mooncakes and Chinese tea makes a great pairing.  The sweetness of the mooncake and sipping Chinese tea makes for an addictive exercise.  I can gobble half a mooncake in one sitting.  I feel pu erh tea and high roasted oolong are good with mooncakes.  

I had received a couple of questions on how I would store my pu erh when I had broken up a cake or tuo.  I would break up the tea cake into small pieces and store them in one of the tea caddies you see the in pix.  The rice porcelain piece is actually a double-boil soup vessel where traditional Chinese soups were prepared in the container and the whole container is half immersed in a large pot of boiling water and cooked for a few hours.  You will notice that this rice porcelain container is double lidded and I am using it as a pu erh tea caddy.  These porcelain containers are easily available in Chinatown in your neighbourhood.  They were inexpensive when I saw them in San Francisco and Toronto Chinese shops during my last visit.    

I would placed the broken pu erh pieces inside and fold the erh wrapper on top of the tea (so I can identify the tea if I had forgotten about the contents).   I will put this tea caddy inside my tea cupboard and only taking it out when I want to brew the tea.  Yes, this container is not airtight, which  allows to tea pieces inside to breathe (Chinese call this Xin Cha).  This allows the pu erh to 'awake' and I personally find that the tea tasted better if  allowed to breathe for at least 2 weeks after breaking up your pu erh.  

In addition, the paper boxed tea caddy and the used oolong tin, in the above pix, are also equally good, in my opinion to store your pu erh tea.  I am using 8 tea caddies for my pu erh (5 raw and 3 ripe).   

How do you store your pu erh tea for daily drinking? 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Plates And Dishes

Give your old plates and dishes a new lease of life by using them in your tea sessions.

I am sure there are small plates and dishes in  your kitchen cupboard (or even at your mom's place).  These porcelain pieces could be the remnants of a complete set of dinnerware that got accidentally broken over time leaving you with the odd surviving piece.  You could had bought such pieces at a garage sale or from a flea market.  

Some of these porcelain can be used in a tea session.  You would have noticed from the pictures I had used them as teacup or teapot plate stands.  I had collected these plates during my tea travels.  A few of these plates were inexpensive as they were found in flea markets or in the odd and ends shelf of a shop.  The last pix shows an old plate, which I believed was made about 40-50 years ago. There were Chinese villagers that may own similar designed porcelain and the families would carve their surname on the porcelain pieces for easy identification in the event that there was a village gathering or party where villagers 'lend' their plates for the occasion.  You can make out the surname 'Lu' on the plate.  

I feel using such plates and dishes makes a tea session more interesting.  It does add a little whimsical nostalgia when you sipped your tea.  Wouldn't it be nice if you later discover that you owned a rare porcelain piece that can sell for a million dollars.  Dream on.  

Sunday, September 3, 2017

2006 Fu Hai 7536 Menghai Pu erh Cake

This is a 7536 recipe produced by Fu Hai Tea Factory.  This 2006 raw pu erh, is already 11 years old and this tea had been stored in Singapore for about 10 years.  The information slip in the tea stated that the pu erh is harvested from the Menghai region.  Pu erh tea drinkers would be familiar with the Menghai region as many vintage and classical old cakes were traditionally made from this region.  

This tea had aged well over the 10 years in Singapore.  The tea when brewed is mellow and sweet.  Notice the pleasant dark gold color of the tea.  Surprisingly, I found the tea paired nicely with fresh fruits (apples, pear and peaches).  I felt, that sipping the tea after having these fruits, the tea tasted sweeter.   Overall the tea has a nice pleasant sweet aftertaste and a nice floral-herbal  complexity In the tea.  I recommend that this tea should be brewed on the stronger side....by adding an extra gram of tea to your standard brew.

But I digress.  Making your tea on the stronger side......adding more tea leaves or a longer infusion?  Don't you get a strong tea from both methods?  Yes, but there are 2 main differences.  
a) using more leaves can get you more infusions in your tea session.  If you let your tea infuse for a longer time after every pour, you would get lesser rounds of tea.
b) there is a difference in taste and aroma.  The chi or energy from the tea is more pronounced with adding more leaves.  

I would try to get an ideal brew when I opened a pu er tea cake.  Yes, its a personal preference in terms of strength.  It would normally take a few brews for me to determine whether I should use more/less leaves and the infusion times for the brew.  It may take 3-4 tea sessions before I settle down and conclude the brewing parameters for the tea.  How do you, my reader, determine your brewing parameters for your tea, please share with me your methods.  Thank you.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Tsen Chi Cha

Tsen Chi Cha is a oolong tea produced in Amoy China.  This version is the Sea Dyke brand.  This tea is packed in a metal foil bag and packaged in a paper box.  This tea had been produced for many years by Sea Dyke and is available in many South East Asian countries.  They are commonly found in Chinese tea shops or Chinese emporiums.  I remembered I saw this tea at a Chinese tea shop in San Francisco and Toronto as well. 

I was in at Yue Hwa Emporium, Hong Kong last  year browsing at the Sea Dyke tea section when an elderly man came to the same aisle and picked up 2 boxes of this tea.  I asked him why he had chosen this tea.  He replied that he drank lots of tea (oolong, puerh, longqing), but because he lived in a very small apartment, he only had a small shelf for his tea.  When he had finished his stash, say oolong, he would replace them.  He mentioned he does not buy to store his tea long term but buy to drink.  He smiled and went off to pay, not before telling me that this tea was good.  I bought a box of this tea.

This tea brews up 5 good infusions.  It is high roasted and has a taste and aroma like a hybrid shui hsien and a tie kuan yin.  Nothing sophisticated or extraordinary but the traditional roast and comforting aroma made this tea a value for money purchase.   I can understand, when I sipped this tea at home, why the Hong Kong gentleman liked this oolong.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Japanese Tea Ware

I bought some Japanese tea ware last month.  

The teapot you see in the 1st pix is a teapot with a side handle.  Teapots, known as Kyusu in Japanese, are used in brewing tea and are traditionally brewed on floor mats or on very low tables.  The teapot shown is made with Tokoname ceramic and employs the Nerikomi style of kneading patterns with coloured clay.  You can understand my fascination with this teapot; the colours are very hypnotic and I could stare at the teapot for a good few seconds.  The height is about 2.8 inches and I am guessing its capacity at about 150ml.

I had also purchased an old copper kettle.  Kettles or Yakan in Japanese, often used for brewing Japanese tea, are usually made from iron or copper.  Iron kettles or tetsubins from Japan are much appreciated by tea drinkers all over the world for its artistic styles and the 'smooth' water when used with such tetsubins.  Japanese copper kettles are less famous but I was intrigued by the design of this copper kettle.  This design is known as tanuki or racoon style.  A story tells of a racoon, who made itself looked like a kettle to avoid capture by a hunter, found itself  'smoking' when the hunter placed this 'kettle' over a fire.  

This kettle can easily hold 1.5 litres of water.  I had already tried using this kettle but found the water less tasty than a tetsubin.  Maybe I should had washed the kettle thoroughly.   

But I digress.  I would be in Guangzhou in the last week of Sept.  I would welcome any readers to join me for a week of tea adventures in the tea markets of Guangzhou.  Breakfast not included.