Thursday, March 19, 2009

Chinese Tea Books

There are not many books written on chinese tea in English.  I do, at times, get that odd look when I walked into a bookstore and asked about books on chinese tea.  Well I manage to get my hands on a few books and will discuss the merits of such books. 

"Tea and Chinese Culture" by Ling Wang offers a fascinating assessment of the historical and cultural significance of chinese tea.  The book delves on tea in China's history and how tea had its position to the chinese religon, philosophy, art and imperial tea culture.  This book is beautifully lavished with lots of pictures especially old paintings with relation to tea.  I have extracted a few lines on how tea played a part with chinese funerals - "It was widely believed in china that ghosts in the netherworld would compel a person who had just died to drink a magic potion to make him forget all the past on earth, or lead him into a maze so that the ghosts could humiliate and enslave him.  the chinese believed that one should be reasonable and sober, and it was unwise to drink the magic potion.  Tea could help people keep a clear head.  So tea became an important component part in funeral customs in many tea producing areas.  According to the Records of Chinese customs, people in Zhejiang Province and some other areas believed that"besides a silver  ingot, the family of the deceased should put a ball made of mannan leaves in his mouth, and a pack of tea in his hand so that he could not be filled with the magic potion."

The second book, entitled "Chinese Tea" is by Liu Tong.  Originally written in chinese, it was translated into English which became part of a cultural china series which has similar books that covers chinese festivals, foods, clothings etc where chinese tea is one of the books.  This book serves to introduce the reader to chinese tea; history of tea, types of tea. customs and culture related to chinese tea.  The strength of the book, I think was on the introduction on the various types of tea, how they process these teas as well as the interesting history or stories behind the discoveries of the teas.   I have extracted the closing lines of this book which I find extremely thought provoking:

"Various kinds of tea can respond to various phases of life.  In Adolesence, people are like green tea, immature and simple.  They don't know much but start to understand.  They are still natural and this naturalness is displayed in every movement.  Although not too strong in flavor, they are pure and lovely upon careful savoring.
In youth, people are like flower tea, in their flowery years with flowery scent and flowery dreams.  Countless possibilities are in store for them.  Whatever we add to the tea - jasmine, sweet scented osmanthus or rose, this cup of tea is always redolent, admirable and appealing.
In middle age, people are like black tea, salmon in color and full of aroma.  They are not as clear and fresh as green tea, but they have a mature charm of their own.
In old age, people are like Pu'er tea, the older the better.  Filled With all kinds of stories, elder people minutely represent traces of age.  Though dry, old and thin in appearances, they are very intense and mellow in taste, able to stand up to repeated appreciation."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Buying tea on the internet

The internet is an important resource for the tea enthusiast.  It provides information about tea, provide a forum for the tea drinker to air his views and also acts an avenue to buy and sell tea worldwide.

I buy tea from the internet due to a few reasons but mainly
-  the tea is not available in my area
-  the tea may be more expensive in my area 

There are lots of tea and tea stuff for sale on the net.  It is therefore important that before you plonk your money in your internet purchase that you consider a few points; the reliability of the seller, the tea/ or teastuff you are buying and the price.

The reliability of the seller is important in that you get the actual product you are buying and getting it (good packaging) within a reasonable time.  Its also important to get quotes for the shipping rates on your items ordered so you can ascertain the true costs of your order after factoring the shipping costs.  I usually order my stuff using air shipping as it reduces waiting time to less than 3 weeks as surface mail may take up 3 months for the stuff to arrive.  An example would be it costs me US$15 to air ship 5 pu erh cakes (averaging 2 kg for the whole package).  I would then allocate the air shipping costs of $3 per tea cake.  So if I purchase a tea cake costing $20, the true cost is then $23(as I order about 5 tea cakes per order).

I mainly order my tea from 2 dealers on the net; Awazon tea and Yunnan Sourcing LLC (YS).  Both are located in Kunming, China and it is not surprising that they sell a wide range of pu erh tea. These 2 tea dealers also represent themselves selling tea on ebay.   It is also noted that Yunnan Sourcing (YS) is operated by an american Scott Wilson, while Awazon is operated by a local chinese Mr Zhang.  Both dealers have good ebay ratings and good reviews on the various tea forums.

I have ordered my tea from both dealers on many occasions and are pleased with the tea I have received from them.  YS carries a much larger range of tea and tea accessories.  I have purchased 2 teapots from YS and they have arrived in good order.  Both accept payment via paypal which makes the purchases very convenient. YS allows the buyers to purchase small samples of about 25 gms of a tea so you need not commit your funds in a whole cake or brick. Awazon do sometimes include a complimentary sample of a tea that is sufficient for a teapot brew.

It is interesting to note that both carry their own house brand of pu erh tea.  The pix (2nd pix) of the round tea cake is that of 2008 raw 357 gram raw tea described by Awazon as "Awazon “Jinmai Ancient Tea” raw cake is made of pure ancient tea tree leaves from Jingmai ancient tea mountain. Only top grade early spring tea leaves and buds from over thousand year old ancient tea tree are used as raw material for making this raw Pu-erh tea cake. This is the best choice for Pu-erh connoisseurs and collectors. Please note that only ancient Pu-erh tea can last over 15 infusions, which is a very important factor to judge if it’s real ancient Pu-erh or not. For this Awazon “Jinmai Ancient Tea”, the brewed liquor becomes much better from the 3rd infusion on. You will feel a very good sweet aftertaste in deep throat and full mouth with lingering orchid aroma. This is a unique flavor of ancient Pu-erh tea from Jingmai and Mangjing ancient tea tree. What surprising is this flavor will be getting stronger and better after years of aging. And this feature makes our Awazon “Jinmai Ancient Tea” raw Pu-erh tea cake much more valuable for collection." - retails at ebay at us$38

The tea brick (1st pix) is a 500 gm raw tea carried by YS.  He describes the tea as "2008 * Wild Tree Raw Pu-erh tea brick of Dehong * 500 grams -An incredibly fantastic raw Pu-erh made from Pu-erh tree leaves that have a purplish tinge when picked. The resulting brick is darker. The quality of the leaves and the meticulous processing ensures excellent storage and aging potential. At the same time, it is one the best 2008 raw Pu-erhs to drink. The infused liquor is golden and is almost completely without bitterness. CLARITY, CLARITY, CLARITY! This tea brick is composed of entirely spring 2008 raw material from the exact same area as the 2005 production. This year Yunnan Sourcing is proud to be the exclusive producer and distributor of this very special tea! We have produced exactly 460 bricks in total!" - retails at ebay at us$25

There are many things to buy on the net......words from an unwise one...."spend wisely"

Monday, March 2, 2009

Chrysanthemum tea

Chrysanthemum tea (c. tea) is actually a floral drink comprising of just dried chrysanthemums infused in hot water.  Sugar is sometimes added to sweetened the taste.  Some Chinese families also practice making c. tea by adding a handful of flowers in a kettle and boiling the tea.  The tea is drunk hot, cool or may be refrigerated as a cool beverage.  Wikipedia describes the tea as "Chrysanthemum tea has many purported medicinal uses, including an aid in recovery from influenza, acne and as a "cooling" herb. According to traditional Chinese medicine the tisane can aid in the prevention of sore throat and promote the reduction of fever. In Korea, it is known well for its medicinal use for making people more alert and is often used to waken themselves. In western herbal medicine, Chrysanthemum tea is drunk and used as a compress to treat circulatory disorders such as varicose veins and atherosclerosis.
In traditional Chinese medicine, chrysanthemum tea is also used to treat the eyes, and is said to clear the liver and the eyes. It is believed to be effective in treating eye pain associated with stress or yin/fluid deficiency. It is also used to treat blurring, spots in front of the eyes, diminished vision, and dizziness."

There are now commercial chrysanthemum teas sold in cans or tetra packs and are sold at supermarkets or grocery stores.  However, you may buy the dried chrysanthemums easily at chinese grocery shops.  There are different kinds of packaging but the traditional packing is that brown paper wrapping tied with a cotton twine string.  (see pix).  They usually comes in 500gm pack and a fresh good grade tea is identified by fresh looking whitish flowers with a strong floral fragrance.  When I opened the above pack for picture taking, the entire room was filled with the pleasant fragrance of the chrysanthemum flowers.  A pack of the c. tea costs about US$5.  Remember to store the tea in a dry box and refrigerate the box asap.