Saturday, March 21, 2020

Using Teaware To Amplify A Tea Session

How do I brew my tea?

I use a kettle to boil my water, a teapot or gaiwan (rarely) to brew the tea leaves and a few porcelain teacups to drink my tea.

There is no secret ingredient. I do not sing to my tea. I do not brew my tea in the middle of a rice field or against a backdrop of a waterfall. I am just like you. We mainly brew and drink our tea at home.

In the course of my tea drinking adventures, I want to think I found that there are a few ways to improve or make a tea session more fun and more tasty in terms or taste and aroma when you are at home. I can tweak the 3 main utensils in the tea brewing setup - the kettle, the teapot and the teacup.

Caveat - you must be a serious tea drinker to be able to distinguish the differences in your tea after using such utensils. I would consider a serious tea drinker if you brew and drink Chinese tea at least 3 times a week.

1. Teacup. I found that older Chinese porcelain teacups make the tea taste better. Yes, even my whisky taste better in them. They are still relatively inexpensive. An unused 90s Chinese porcelain teacup can still be purchased for below $5.

2. Teapot. Using a clay teapot can affect the taste and aroma of your Chinese tea. A good seasoned yixing teapot is the preferred brewing vessel used by many serious Chinese tea drinkers. I do recommend you take a look at the Taiwanese Lin Ceramics purion teapot. I found old pu erh tea seems more amplified using the purion teapot. Teapots are overall more expensive than teacups. You will be looking at about $60-$120 for a decent teapot.

3. Kettle. Use a clay kettle or the famous Japanese iron kettle (aka tetsubin) to boil your water. Many tea drinkers claimed the water tasted sweeter or tasty.  Japanese tetsubins are expensive. My last Japanese tetsubin purchase last year was about $200 and it was a small sized one as well.

Such tweaks are not necessary in a tea setup. With just $10, I can have a fantastic tea session as well. A plain white porcelain and 2 porcelain teacups would be more than sufficient to have a wonderful tea session.

The improvements in a tea session using such tweaks can only be distinguished by a hardcore tea drinker.  These improvements are quite small but whether to splash out a little money for these small improvements is a fun discussion among friends during a tea session.   

In the midst of the virus situation, I wish all my readers well and to stay safe.  If you are a essential service provider, I would like to say a big thank you.  

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Xiaguan Iron Cake

I have been drinking about 2 sessions of tea per day.  At about 7g per tea session, that meant 14g per day.....and if its pu erh...and at this rate would imply more than 1 whole cake a month.  That is a lot of tea and I would like to advise my readers again not to have a tea session on an empty stomach as it may cause the stomach to produce more acid in your empty tummy.

Readers would know I use a plier to break up my iron cake. I found that I could easily get small chunks of tea and have less tea dust from using a plier. 

I thought iron cakes would take a long time to age compared to regular pu erh cakes due to their high compression.  I was however surprised when I open up this cake in my collection.  This 2007 cake when brewed, has a very dark amber colour and there is very good hints of aged taste in the tea.  This tea is fabulously complex in the taste.  There are hay and a honey notes.  I  felt there were nice herbal and Chinese medicinal herbs in the tea as well.  This tea is a strong workhorse.... I use lesser tea about 6g with a 120 ml teapot.  I allow longer infusions but I could get 15 strong infusions easily. 

Older Xiaguan iron cakes are still inexpensive but are now slightly harder to find in tea shops.  I recommend. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

A Better Cup Of Pu erh Tea

If you had been browsing the internet tea forums and videos on pu erh tea, you would had discovered (recently), that there are many recent articles on pu erh storage.  This is very useful to readers who are residing in temperate countries, where the humidity and temperature are much lower in winter, and these articles had suggested ways to mitigate and store your precious pu erh tea properly for the long term.

As I had mentioned many times, such efforts to age puerh tea, would be rewarding to the tea drinker or collector as aged pu erh tea would have a complexity in taste and aroma after time in storage.  

You would have also noticed that when there are reviews on puerh tea by tea experts, they would normally use a porcelain gaiwan than a Yixing teapot to assess the tea.  Using a porcelain gaiwan is considered a neutral tea ware to brew tea while using a Yixing teapot may affect the assessment of a tea. 

Is a Yixing teapot so magical that it affects the taste of a tea?  Maybe the teapot holds temperature better, the clay could have affected the tea or the tea patina of a seasoned teapot changed the taste of a tea.  

I had posed a question to a tea expert that reviews tea on the internet - if many of your followers (say more than 50%) had over time, transited from using a gaiwan to using a Yixing teapot, should you use a Yixing teapot (on more occasions) to review a tea?...or use a Yixing teapot when you are not reviewing a tea.  

Anyway, the pix above shows a pair of Yixing teapots.  I had bought (about 7 years ago) 4 similar teapots from a Yixing teapot enthusiast in China who had made these teapots from one batch of clay.  The teapot on the right is one of my frequently used teapot for the past 7 years.  I would use it for raw pu erh about 2-3 times a week.  This would suggest that I had more than 500 tea sessions (raw pu erh) using this teapot for these past few years.   I did a few raw pu erh tea comparisons with these teapots last month.  Tea from the seasoned teapot felt more mellow.  I had used newer and older raw pu erh in this test.  Maybe 'mellow' is the wrong word to use.  The pu erh tea, especially the newer ones tasted less astringent while the older pu erh tea has a slightly better mouthfeel in the taste.  These taste comparisons are actually quite subtle and it could be my imagination running wild. 

Does a Yixing teapot brew up a better cup of pu erh  tea?  Yes.    

Friday, January 24, 2020

Happy Chinese New Year

Tomorrow is Chinese New Year.  To all my readers, I wish you every happiness for the year of the rat.

Prices of tea was much higher last year.  The slight older ones and old ones was even more expensive.  I did noticed that the old teas from Malaysia are 'disappearing' as many dealers had brought these older teas and selling them in Mainland China for a handsome profit.  I foresee such older teas will be even more expensive due to this trend. 

I would only resume my tea adventures in China only in the 2nd half of the year due to the recent Wuhan virus.  However, I may plan a trip to Chicago in late June/ early July this year.  If you are staying in Chicago, I would love to have tea with you.  Let me know.

Happy New Year.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Case Against Puerh Storage

Happy New Year 2020.

Are you a serious pu erh drinker?   I would consider you a serious pu erh drinker if you drink pu erh twice a week and own more than 5kg of pu erh (that’s about 14 regular cakes).  You would also had searched the internet, looking at the various tea vendors’ stores, reading forums and discussions (not necessarily participating), blogs and staring Instagram tea pictures late into the night.  

There are many recent articles on storing pu erh.  You will agree that the reasons for storing puerh on a long term are quite compelling.  Old pu erh has a complexity, in both taste and aroma, that can only be from a result of long term storage.  This is due to the tea leaves fermenting over time.  Moreover, old pu erh are expensive and aging your own tea does make economic sense.  Recent internet discussions do provide a guide on storing your pu erh especially when you are staying in temperate countries.  

I would like to put up a case against pu erh storage.  No, I am not suggesting you should age or not age your tea.  I would like to let you consider all perspectives of pu erh storage and at the same time share some of my experiences on storing pu erh.  

1.  Time and Space.  
Storing your tea takes up time and literally space in your house or apartment.  For me, I tend to drink my tea a little old.  I prefer my pu erh to be at least 10 years old.  Pu erh tea at this age would have developed a complexity in taste and aroma that is only from the result of long term storage.  Storing pu erh for 10 years or more takes up time, a lot of time.  
Many things can change in this 10 year period. Your taste preference may change.  Your lifestyle would have evolved.  Your work may not allow you time to monitor the progress of your tea storage, especially in countries where you need to keep the humidity and temperature suitable for pu erh storage. 
Waiting for 10 years or more for your pu erh to age is one of the most challenging aspects in pu erh storage.  It is not only tedious and it can test your patience as well.  I noticed, based on my experience (and some feedback from a few collectors), there may be no change in your tea especially in the 1st 6 years of storage.  The taste and aroma may not have changed significantly to discern any aged taste.  I also noticed, even though my collection is stored in hot and humid Singapore, some pu erh cakes only start to age after year 10-12.   

2.  Storage results
Old puerh has a wide spectrum of taste.  In my tea drinking experience, old raw puerh may taste like a ripe or Shou tea, be more herbal, or more floral (there was a tea that has a rose petal scent) or be more medicinal.  You may be surprised, happy or disappointed with the results of aging your tea.  
The recent pu erh tea in the market where some new pu erh are now processed differently, had made many seasoned tea drinkers question whether such tea can age well over time.  When I started my pu erh adventures many years ago, teashops would tell me that if I buy new pu erh, I had to store them away for some time as the tea is new and astringent.  Now, the teashops promote their new tea as 'ready to drink'.  Only time will tell whether such tea can age well.

There are some shortcuts to age your tea.  A simple time saving exercise would be to buy 5 to 8 year old tea to store.  This would save you considerable time in your storage adventure. 

Storing pu erh tea is a long game.  You need passion and discipline when you intend to store your tea for 10 years.  If you love tea, this adventure will be worth your while.