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.    

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

An Inexpensive Tinned Lung Ching brew

In my many years of tea adventures, I was told, or under the impression, or 'explained to me' that Lung Ching tea should be drank fresh.  Buy the spring harvest of 2019 in May or June and enjoy the tea.  Enjoy and appreciate the freshness of spring in the tea.  Refrigerate your Lung Ching to keep it fresh but try to finish the tea as soon as possible.  

When I visit Fangcun tea wholesale centre during the sale of freshly picked Lung Ching, I noticed the freshly harvested tea leaves were refrigerated (some in chest freezers) to keep the freshness and they were sold out within a month ( the better ones ).  The 'better ones' were expensive and 100g of the better grade can easily set you back at $100-$200.  And that's wholesale prices.  

I buy very small amounts of fresh Lung Ching tea every year and I enjoy the fresh, sweet and nutty taste of the tea.  

I noticed there are tinned Long Ching (and shrink wrapped ones as well) on the shelves of the Chinese tea section in Chinese department stores. The prices are very low about 10-20% of fresh Lung Ching.  I wondered who would drink this tea.

I was at such a local department store last week when I noticed an elderly gentlemen selecting a tin of Lung Ching and was about to pay for his tea.  I asked him whether he could tell me about tinned Lung Ching.  He replied, in Cantonese, that tinned Lung Ching ('Long Zeng' in Cantonese) was a much lower grade.   He had to use much more leaves for his tea session.  He told me he brewed this tea using a large mug, throw in some leaves and let it infuse for a few minutes before he drank the tea.   This method of brewing, also known as grandpa brewing is an easy way to enjoy a cup of tea.  He also told me that he kept the tin in a fridge after opening but  he would normally finish the entire tin within a month.  

I bought a tin.  125g of tea produced by Zhejiang Tea Group Co Ltd. This is a 4th grade tea.  The tin came double lidded and looked quite air tight.  

How is the tea?  Compared to newly harvested Lung Ching that I have drank, the aroma and taste of the tinned version is much subdued.  And...I had to add more tea leaves to my brew.  The tinned version is only good for 2 infusions.  

This would suggest this tea is not good.  No....It has the aroma and taste of Lung Ching and has that signature nuttiness in the tea.  The price of this tin is less than 10% of the fresh ones and I recommend you, the reader to try a tin if you like Lung Ching.  You would have to add more leaves and I recommend you 'grandpa' your tea.  Add leaves in a cup and put hot water. Allow tea to infuse for a few minutes and your tea is ready t drink.  

I used a large porcelain teapot and made one litre of the tinned Lung Ching.  I allowed the tea to cool and proceeded to chill the tea.  My family enjoyed this chilled Lung Ching while having a fried rice dinner. 

This tinned Lung Ching was a surprise too me.  For its price point, it is worth it.  This tea is much better than many Chinese tea bags in the market. 

To my American readers,  Happy Thanksgiving.  


Sunday, November 3, 2019

Buying Expensive Tea

This Rougui costs me $500 for a 500g pack.  This is to me, an expensive tea.  I could have used the money to buy a return air ticket to Guangzhou, maybe even adding a couple nights hotel stay if I had travelled during the low season.  I could also get myself a nice noise cancelling headphones, which will be extremely useful like if there was a crying baby in the airplane.  Yes, the money could be spent on so many other things.  

I would normally spent between $1-2 for a tea session for myself at home.  I use about 7-8 of pu erh (raw or ripe) and 5-6g of oolong per tea session.  Spending $2 for pu erh session would imply that the pu erh cake (357g) would had cost me about $100 (if I had broke the cake into 50 portions of 7g).  A $2 oolong tea session (5g) would mean a cost of $40 for 100g of oolong.  

Back to this rougui.  This tea is $1 per gram and $6 per tea session when I use 6g of this tea.  

When you buy an expensive tea, say 2-3 times more than what you normally pay, do not expect the tea to be 2-3 times more aromatic in terms of taste and aroma.  My regular oolong tea I drink normally can make 4-5 strong infusions and this rougui could also make 4-5 infusions (not 10-15).  When I pay more for an older tea, I am paying for the following reasons - a particular vintage, taste or aroma.  The tea may had reminded the drinker of a pleasant memory.  This rougui is not more tasty or aromatic.  It is slightly more smoother as it is old but I had purchased it for its finish.  This tea has a very light perfume finish and the aroma stays longer in the mouth for a few minutes after the tea session.  

When you buy an expensive tea, I can only give you an advice.  You must be able to try or sample the teas before your purchase.  You cannot depend on reviews, forums or opinions to make the purchase.  Every drinker’s taste preferences is different.  What I like, you may not like or agree.  The description of taste and aroma is different for everybody. You must know what you are buying as such purchases can be an expensive mistake.  Conduct a simple experiment......get a tea buddy to send you 2-3 packs of tea, just naming them sample1, sample2 and sample3, preferably one cheap and one slightly more expensive.   Brew and drink the tea and see whether you make a good tea connoisseur.  

Most importantly, we must be happy with our tea.  Good tea need not be expensive.  

Monday, October 21, 2019

2006 ChangTai Raw Pu erh Tuo

When I looked at my tea collection, there are odd and end cakes and stand alone teas among my tea stash.  They may a single cake, tuo or brick or one tin or pack of oolong.  These are teas that I had purchased through my 10 years of serious collection.  I bought them as a 'sample' - to enjoy them at my own time and pace.  Sometimes I would buy something from a shop after sampling a few teas there.  There were also instances when a shop allowed me to sample some tea and even if the sample tea was not suitable, I would buy something to show my appreciation for trying out the tea.    If the teas are interesting and nice, I would consider buying more in my next purchase.  But for reasons unknown, some of these teas were not opened or drank by me.  

This 2006 Changtai tuo is one of these teas.  I was actually given this tuo by the Changtai dealer when I was in Guangzhou last year (or was it 2 years back).  He told me that this tuo had 'turned'. This is the tea lingo used by my tea buddies to describe a tea that had aged nicely.  

This tea had really 'turned'.  The tea brews strong with a dark amber rusty colour. There is a strong woody and herbal aroma and taste In the tea.  There is some mild bitterness and harshness and hardly any sweetness.  I laughed when I tasted this tea.  Mouthwatering.    I like this tea.  When I am pleasantly surprised with a food or drink, I will laugh.  I cannot explain but I like this tea.  I will look out for this tea in my next trip.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2019


Smoke is used in food and drinks.

We have smoked meats. Common examples where you can find smoked food in a supermarket (the bigger ones) are smoked ham and smoked salmon. I liked them as the smokiness give the meat more flavour and taste.  It was a cheap way to preserve or cure meats.   In bbq parties, the serious party host may use special wood like hickory or cherry wood to scent the smoke. I had even noticed, on cooking shows, where a 'smoker gun' was used to smoke the food. The cook would simply put some aromatic wood chips in the smoker, light it up and the smoke was 'hosed' into a bag (I thought I saw a ziplock) and the food was bathed in the smoke.  I also recalled another cooking show where they smoked a cola drink by dunking the smoker hose in the drink, resulting in a smoky soda.  

Whisky is an unique showcase for smoky drinks.  There are smoky whiskies that are appreciated for their smoke.   In Scotland, peat was a cheap and easily available fuel to dry barley.  When peat is burnt, they give off smoke and as a result, the barley absorbed this peated smoke and this smoke was even retained in the alcohol when the barley is distilled.  I have tried heavily peated whiskies and I can say that I felt that I was drinking smoke than sipping a whisky.  It was to me an eye watering exercise than a mouthwatering experience.  Pix shows a Talisker 10 year old, a moderately peated whisky.  

If you find smoky pu erh too smoky for you, I would warn you to stay far away from smoky whisky.  It is many times more smoky.

Likewise, wood fuel was a cheap and easily available fuel (90s or earlier) to fry and stop the pu erh leaves from oxidising.  As a result, the tea leaves absorbed this smoke and when you brew these tea leaves, you may detect smoke in the tea.  Nowadays, electricity are used instead of wood fire in pu erh tea processing.  There is no smoke in the tea.  The famous Xiaguan brand do continue to produce some smoky pu erh and these  smoky tea are now limited in production.  I liked smoky pu erh as the aged smoky ones, in my opinion, taste more complex and aromatic than the non smoky ones. 

Enjoying smoky food or drinks may not be your thing.  I can understand this as I myself am unable to appreciate the highly peated whiskies that made me cringe when I sniff into the glass.  I am, however, extremely happy with my smoky pu erh.  

Time for an old smokey.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

2006 Xiaguan YueShang Tuo

I am a fan of Xiaguan pu erh tea.  In particular, I liked their smoky pu erh tea.  When these tea had been stored away for more than 10 years, the smoky character  seems to be quietly subdued, changing the taste and aroma of the tea into a more complex drink.  There were a few older Xiaguan in my collection which seem to have an extra camphor finish in the tea which I enjoy.  And....the iron cakes - the complexity in taste and aroma is something I enjoy everytime.  However, most of the tuos and iron cakes are extremely tightly compressed.  It can be a health hazard trying to pry open the tea.  I have poked myself more than once with a tea pick.  I have recommended you use a normal plier (new) to break off pieces from your iron cake or tuo. 

This 2006 YueShang 200g tuo is non smoky and I liked it a lot.  I call this the honey tuo as this tea has a honey aroma that reminded me of floral honey.  When I brew this tea, there is a nice sweet aroma intensifying with herbal scents that make this tea very enjoyable.  There is a baked apple pie hint in the tea which I like as well.  Under all these honeyed notes, there is a herbal complexity in the tea as it is already 13 years old.  Smooth, mellow and sweet.  This tea is similar to the Xiaguan gold ribbon tuo but this YueShang is heavier on the honey profile.  

This tea was on my 'to buy' list during my Guangzhou trip last month.  I managed to lay my hands on a carton and it was to me, my 'find of the year' (so far). Really nice.  

Monday, September 2, 2019

Countryside Tea Factory Of Yunnan China

I am guessing you are shaking your head in disbelief when you read the title of this blog.  I am not tea drunk.  There is, really, a 'Countryside Tea Factory'.  Just look at the wrapper on the last pix. 

I got this 50g tuo as a gift from a tea distributor in Guangzhou last month.  He told me it was from his personal collection.  

My guess is this tuo is about 15 years old.  This mini tuo is highly compressed and I almost 'poke' myself with a tea pick as I was dismantling the tuo.

These are my findings from 2 sessions of this tea.  There  was hardly any sweetness in the tea.  This tea is strong in both taste and aroma.  There were strong herbal notes in the tea; almost medicinal herbs and a bitter tree bark taste in the initial infusions.  Middle infusions were quite mouthwatering with a herbal soup taste like lingzhi and ginseng roots.  I felt the aftertaste is a little dry.  This tea made a dozen good infusions in one sitting.  I believed my tea distributor friend liked the unique herbal medicinal profile in the tea.  An interesting tea....from the countryside.