Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tea : aromas and flavors around the world

“Tea : aromas and flavors around the world” is written by Lydia Gautier published by chronicle books.   This is a big book and is beautifully lavished with photos all related to tea.

 This tea book concentrates on the evolution of tea; its taste through the centuries.  The book delves on the history of tea and its practices and customs associated with tea consumption.  Other chapters include the alchemy of tea; the processing methods of the different tea and a interesting write up on the aromatization of tea.  Later chapters deal with tea tasting, subtle affinities of tea, recipes for cooking with tea and an address book on all the tea merchants and tea rooms of the world.  Cick the pix for  enlarged views.

 I have included 2 excerpts from this book which are very informative:

“The effects of tea on the assimilation of iron – It is often said that tea prevents the successful absorption of iron, and for this reason pregnant women are advised against drinking it.  During digestion certain polyphenols do in fact remain undigested by the organism and form complexes with iron ions (that is to say, they absorb them).  As a result the iron available to pass into the blood during digestion is heavily reduced.  However, once it has passed into the blood there is no further interaction with the polyphenols, which are digested and also pass in to the blood.  It is therefore simply a matter of consuming sources of iron separately from drinking tea or of waiting some time after meals before drinking tea”. 

“Milk – The custom of adding milk to tea appears to have been introduced by the British to reduce the bitterness of certain poor-quality imported teas, and to date from the nineteenth century.  In chemical terms, the proteins in the milk form a complex with certain tannins in tea that are responsible for its pungency and bitterness, thus making the tea seem smoother and sweeter.  When making tea in this way, the milk should be poured into the cup first and the hot tea added; the tea will cool on contact with the milk as it is poured.  If, on the other hand, the milk is added to the hot tea. The proteins in the milk are denatured by the heat and then unable to produced the desired smoothness.”

 My comments on the milk article above is that so far in Asia where I reside and all the places I have visited (Americas and Europe), all the people I know and saw pour their milk to their tea (when the tea is drunk with milk).  Nonetheless, this book is very well researched and the pictures therein are outstanding.   A recommended read.  

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mooncakes and Chinese Tea

Mooncakes are eaten by the Chinese during the mid autumn period of the chinese calender.  The story below will try help explain the story behind these cakes.

 During the Yuan dynasty (A.D.1280-1368) China was ruled by the Mongolian people. The people were unhappy with the occupation by foreign rulers.   The leaders of the rebellion, knowing that the Moon Festival was drawing near, ordered the making of special cakes. Baked into each moon cake was a message with the outline of the attack. On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels successfully attacked and overthrew the government. What followed was the establishment of the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644). Today, moon cakes are eaten to commemorate this legend.

Mooncakes are no bigger than a size of a man’s clenched fist.  It is usually filled with lotus seed paste or red bean paste.  These fillings are sweetened.  For the more expensive cakes, salted hardboiled duck yolks are found within the cakes (see pix).  The cost of each cake is about US$4-5, An order usually comes in a box of 4 moon cakes.  Nowadays, to cater to the younger market, mooncakes now come in a myriad of fillings ranging from ice-cream, yogurt, cheesecake and even chocolate fillings. 

Traditionally mooncakes are eaten with chinese tea.  My uncle love his mooncakes to complement tie guan yin.  I fully agree with him on his choice, even though I think pu erh (both raw and ripe) and oolongs will also be good choices with mooncakes.  The mid autumn festival this year falls on 3 Oct 2009.  Nuff’ said …..  time to eat the mooncakes.  

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ripe Pu erh - an aging perspective

Ripe pu erh tea is tea that underwent fermentation (usually about 6 weeks) during the processing of this tea.  The purpose of the fermentation is to make ripe pu erh tea to have similar taste / flavor as aged raw pu erh tea.  This means that your raw pu erh, which you and I are keeping and storing, will mature in 15/20 years to a flavor similar to that of ripe pu erh.

 According to a few tea shops and tea drinkers,  I was advised that ripe pu erh is to be drunk after 2 years from the production of the tea.  This time period will remove the mild scent of the fermentation (known as “wodui” in chinese).  Raw pu erh, given under similar advisement, was also to be drunk after 3 years, to remove the sharpness of the tea.

Pu erh teamaster, Chan Kam Pong from Hong Kong in his tea blog (, gave a tea review (9 nov 2008) of a 1990s purple sky ripe tea cake.  Here is a short excerpt:

 “The Purple Sky Ripe Tea Cake had a thick, mellow and sweet tea broth. It had extra smooth texture and finish. It was really a solid tea broth as one could feel it easily. Since it has been aging for more than 15 years, there was not much obvious earthy ripe tea smell left. During appreciation, one might not feel that it was actually a ripe tea cake. To a certain extent, the taste was somehow close to the "aged raw tea". Certainly, there was still differences in the tea broth between the aged raw Puerh and the aged ripe Puerh. Even though the aged ripe tea was so mellow that it was close to the aged raw Puerh, the ripe tea broth was too smooth without much vividness and aftertaste ("Huigan") when comparing with the aged raw tea cakes………All in all, if The Purple Ripe Tea Cake was judged by ripe tea criteria, its performance was extra-ordinary and fantastic as it had extra fine mellowness, sweetness, smoothness and texture.”

 I have read comments in tea forums as well as from my readers of this blog that aged ripe pu erh tea(10 years old) is really good.  My thoughts on this matter is that when you store ripe pu erh, this tea will continue to ferment naturally over time.   Aged raw pu erh will however, still be the gold standard for pu erh tea as the time and effort involved in storage of the raw pu erh (15-20 years) is considerable compared to ripe pu erh.  I enjoy both ripe and raw pu erh.  However,  I  drink more from my ripe tea collection as my raw pu erh tea lot is less than 10 years old.

Pix shows a 2008 ripe menghai.  This is a new recipe from menghai where aged maocha is blended with the new leaves to produce this cake.  

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Norbu Tea

Norbu Tea is an online Chinese tea company operating out from Dallas, Texas in USA.  The proprietor of this company is Gregory Glancy (yes, he is the one in the pix).  He sells chinese tea and tea accessories like teapots, gaiwans and tea sets.Gregory tells me that he personally source for all the tea he sells in his store. 

 I am privileged to have an interview with him (via email).  I posed some questions to him and his answers shown below are unedited for your information and reading pleasure.

 Question - tell me about yourself.  Answer: “I was born and raised in Dallas, TX.  Split most of my childhood between our cattle ranch in East Texas and our home in Dallas.  I attended a small University in Texas called Southwestern University, where I graduated with a Bachelors degree in Religious Studies and Economics.  My religious studies coursework was primarily focused on Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, and I studied how the roots of these traditions have shaped some aspects of modern culture.  Interestingly (and I am still amazed that I was able to pull this off) I ended up writing my senior thesis on food concepts (raw vs. cooked, pure vs. polluting, etc) in the Hindu worldview. My economics coursework was focused on international economics and learning about the developing world. Random facts about me:  I play the Bass guitar and the saxophone.  I have worked as a line cook and a cooking teacher/demonstrator to feed my passion for learning about and sharing cooking techniques and food culture.  I am most passionate about my tea and my cooking interests.”

 Question : why enter into a tea business? Why chinese tea?  Answer : “Ever since I was a kid, I have always been a tea drinker, but in Texas we always drink black tea (usually not Chinese) over ice with some lemon and sweetener if you want it (I still don't use any sweeteners in any of my teas).  I started seriously learning about tea a few years ago when I tasted some decent quality Taiwan oolong for the first was like a lightbulb went on in my head and I realized how much of a sensory experience there can be in good quality tea.  From there, I was on a quest to learn as much as I could about tea, so I started going to local tea shops, shopping online, etc just so I could taste as much as I could and build a frame of reference in my head for what different types and styles of tea can actually taste like.  I tried my first Pu-Erh (a loose leaf ripe Pu-Erh with dried tea flowers mixed in that wasn't very good at all in hindsight) at some point in my tea exploration, was intrigued with it, and decided to try to learn as much as I could about Pu-Erh tea.  There was virtually nothing written about Pu-Erh in English, so I had to dig pretty hard to find any good information at all.   Eventually, I ended up traveling to Yunnan for a vacation.  I spent a few days in the Kunming tea market, and fell completely in love with all the teas I drank there.  When I got home from that trip, I looked around in Asian grocery stores and online, but couldn't find any of the teas I loved so much.  That's when the idea for Norbu Tea was born...I basically wanted these awesome teas to be available, saw an opportunity in the marketplace, cashed in my savings, and started the company.”

 Question:  where do you see yourself and chinese tea in 5 years time?  Answer : “In 5 years time, I hope to be focusing all of my professional efforts on promoting great tea.  Chinese tea has won my heart completely, and I can't imagine not working in this field in some capacity or another.  At this point Norbu Tea has only been online for about one year, so I don't really have a way of predicting whether the company will be a success or not. I just plan to continue to focus on a very high standard of quality and/or freshness of the products I work with while keeping prices as fair as possible.  I think that if I keep these two aspects of the business firmly in my focus that Norbu Tea has a good chance of being successful.  (I'm not happy with the next part of this answer at all, but I can't seem to come up with a better way to communicate my thoughts on the future of tea in China yet...this part is a work in progress)  Over the next few years, I hope that small scale Chinese tea farmers and producers are able to make a good living.  As it is now, a lot of the big commercial farms produce some pretty good quality teas but keep the prices low with a huge supply of inexpensive products for domestic consumption.  The problem is that the small producers of more artisan type products aren't able to offer their products for a price as low as the big factories can, so the world is in danger of losing some of the lesser known but great Chinese teas and tea styles.  If overseas demand for higher quality tea continues to grow over the next few years, my guess is that traditional producers will be able to support themselves by producing traditional artisanal teas.  We'll have to wait and see if the market trends in China will continue to allow more and more domestic consumers to pay a premium for high quality tea as opposed to high quantity tea.”

 Question:  any tea promotions to our readers? Answer : “Sure!  Enter this code without the quotation marks: "E144F86C" in the coupon code box to get 15% off your next order.  New customers will have to register for an account before they can apply the coupon, but we don't EVER share/sell email addresses or any personal customer data with ANYONE.  One coupon use per registered user account.  (Coupon not applicable to shipping charges unfortunately).  Coupon code expires 2009-10-31.” (31 oct ’09)

 Norbu tea’s website provides good information on tea and the brewing aspects of  different teas.  You can also sign up for a e-news letter.  Payment for your orders is done through paypal.

 I would like to thank Gregory Glancy for sharing his information, pictures and thoughts with us and I wish him the very best in his tea endeavors. Check out the website:  

Speculating of Pu erh tea - a myth?

A recent chinese tea article appeared in (titled Puer tea: China’s next hot commodity.  25 aug 2009 by Emily Rauhala).  An excerpt of the article as follows: 

“There is Champagne, France; Tequila, Mexico; and Parma, Italy — all places turned trade names known for their unique, high-quality foods. Now, if China has its way, there could be another: PuerThis lush corner of Yunnan province in China's south is home to one of the world's hottest teas. Puer tea may not look like much — it is typically sold in heaps resembling cow patties — but one mug of these aged leaves can fetch up to $1,000. The drink is touted for its health benefits and is loved for its light, earthy taste. It is already a hit in Hong Kong, where rare teas are a status symbol among the city's √©lite, and it is generating hype outside China, too. Three high-profile Silicon Valley techies recently tweeted and blogged their way through Puer tea tour of Yunnan. Dieters, meanwhile, are buzzing about rumors that Victoria Beckham, the svelte former Spice Girl, drinks Puer to lose weight.”

In spite of all the hype that pu erh tea will the next hot thing.  Let me give you my thoughts on this matter.

For discussion sake, lets take a 20 year old pu erh cake as a yardstick.  A late 1980s cake would fetch about US$400 in today’s market.  Buy a new pu erh cake (about $25) today and the money question is whether you can sell your tea cake for $400 20 years later (assume no drastic inflation or revaluation of the currencies).  The answer would be NO because there are now many tea collectors in the world that are keeping these cakes.  This is unlike the late 1980s cake that is now extremely limited in supply as there were few tea collectors then, and people that time drink than hoard their tea.  Good news are that your new tea, if kept in proper storage conditions, will see its price appreciate in 20 years.  I forsee  the price of our current cakes to be about 4-5 times the current value in 20 years time.    I see this as a fair price appreciation as the price would also justify the effort and space spent in properly storing this tea over a 20 year period.   I would like to stress that you must know how to store your pu erh correctly so that you will have aged pu erh  after a period of time.  Pu erh tea stored incorrectly will be worthless.

I am storing some pu erh tea (2003-08) for a 15-20 year period.  I wish to drink aged pu erh tea in 20 years time without paying too much for the tea.  More on  my tea collection next time.   

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My order from Awazon

Awazon is another tea supplier (also on ebay) which I get my tea.  This company operates from Kunming, China.  They sell mainly teas that come from Yunnan.  Awazon has a good range of tea mainly pu erh.  Awazon is run by a husband and wife team (surname zhang).   Both are knowledgable in  pu erh tea.  They have produced their own housebrand of pu erh tea, and have received very good reviews in the local Kunming papers on their jingmai and manjing cakes. Overall,  I have found their tea prices and packaging satisfactory.  

My recent order from Awazon arrived in good order.  You will observe from the pix that the packing is generally acceptable.  The tea is well packed to prevent movement during transit (so you will not  get broken cakes).  In addition the  tea cakes are bubble wrapped and sealed; ripe and raw cakes are separated.  A pack of yunnan "white hair silver needle" tea also came packed in an aluminium foil.  

Tea joke - What is the teapots' fave movie ?