Saturday, November 28, 2009

2005 Hong Tai Chang Ripe Pu erh

This is a 2005 Hong Tai Chang ripe pu erh 400g.  You will noticed that this cake is wrapped in a brown paper wrapper.  I was told that it was a signature wrapper used by the tea company.

I had found that this ripe pu provided a myriad of taste sensations when I had brewed a pot of this tea.  The earthly taste in very deep and strong.  The aftertaste seem to remind me of an aged raw pu instead of ripe.  It is a delightful drink as the tea aroma has very mild hints of cereal, herbs and mint. I tend to drink my ripe a little stronger (10-12g) in a 200ml pot and can easily drink through 8-10 brews.  This tea did not disappoint me throughout the entire brewing session.  I had started on this tea in Oct ‘09 and have already brewed through 1/3 of the cake. 

This tea cost me about US $20 and I got it locally at my regular tea shop in Singapore.  The tea cake is compressed tightly, so you have to have your tea tools for prying open the tea cake.  This is one of the best ripe pu erh I have tasted this year.    I had noticed the shop has not many pieces left and I just might…..

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Da Hong Pao

Da Hong Pao (big red robe) tea is the popular oolong tea produced in Wuyi in Fujian province.  According to the book “Chinese Tea” by Liu Tong, the author explains that Da Hong Pao, “whose production is highly delicate, especially the technique of ‘shaking green’.  After the fresh leaves are picked, they have to be sunned and slightly adjusted.  Then they are thinly spread out on a dustpan and shaken with hands.  The edges of the leaves rub with each other, and are oxidized by air after the edges break, so they will turn red.”

Da Hong Pao (DHP) tea, translated as big red robe tea has a story behind its name.  Supposedly, a high ranking official was sick in Wuyi and was cured after drinking this tea.  The official then placed his royal red robe on the tea tree as a grateful gesture…..thus red robe tea.

Unlike tie guan yin or Taiwan oolong whose leaves are curled and twisted into a small ball, DHP leaves are relatively straight.  The aroma is floral and sweet smelling.  The one I purchased is labeled “guo xiang” (translates as floral fruity fragrance), a sub-category of DHP.  It is a mid price range  DHP tea that cost me US$28 for 100gms.  The scent of the tea is really pleasant and seems to linger on for a long time in the teacup even when emptied. The taste is very pleasant, refreshing and very drinkable.  A brew can give you about 5-6 good infusions. Brewing hints -  The tea dealer that introduced this tea to me had used a 100ml teapot and filled 3/4 of the teapot with DHP before brewing.  The best storage method is to keep the DHP in an airtight odourless container and refrigerate it if possible.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Introduction to Japanese Tea

A Japanese neighbour introduced me to a Japanese tea ceremony.  Yes, I had this tea in restaurants prior to this introduction, but this is totally different.  Japanese tea drinking is very much not only tea drinking but the proper brewing of Japanese tea, called the tea ceremony, together makes the tea drinking experience, to me, a truly humbling exercise (I call it a romanticism of tea) for the tea drinker.

 Let me explain.  If you have seen videos of Japanese tea ceremony (do a internet search); the elaborate movements, the immense attention to details and the various tea utensils used enhances and bring the aesthetics of tea drinking to a new level.

I went to a store that specializes in Japanese tea and got myself a tin of tea (20gms), a tea whisk and a whisk holder.  Honestly, it was the tea whisk that fascinated me.  These 3 items costs me about US$60.  The tea bowl and tea tray in the pix was an inexpensive addition to complete the set.  The whisk holder is to hold the tea whisk to dry to keep the whisk’s shape.

The book “The way of Tea” by Lam Kam Chuen mentioned the history of Japanese Tea as “At the beginning of the ninth century, Japanese visitors to China took home the fashion of tea.  On in particular, the Buddhist monk Dengyo Daishi, studied in China until AD 705 and then took back some seeds to his monastery when he returned to Japan.  Initially, tea was consumed by Buddhist monks to keep themselves awake during long periods of meditation, although by the 13th century, tea had grown popular outside the monasteries.  The Japanese began their own research on tea and evolved their own ceremony, which is very different from the Chinese way of tea.  In China, the focus is on enjoying the flavor and taste of the drink itself, whereas in Japan the focus is predominantly on the ceremony.”

Here are some Japanese terminology.  “Matcha” refers to the powdered tea leaves.  The process to make matcha is steaming, then drying the tea leaves and finally grinding the dried leaves by stone mill into powder.  “Chawan” refers to the teabowl.  Any bowl, according to my neighbour would do, but ideally a flat base bowl is good to prevent the tea from spilling during whisking.  The whisk known as “chasen” is made from a single piece of bamboo.  The tea prongs, ranges from 80 to 120, are used to whisk the tea powder when hot water is poured. 

An extremely simplified of making Japanese tea is to use and place a small spoon of tea to the chawan, add hot water (about 50ml), stir well with whisk until it foams then move whisk slowly to make the foam fine.  Tea is ready to drink.

It would be a privilege if any of my Japanese readers can share more information on Japanese tea or if possible link me to a Japanese tea farm/store where I can learn more about Japanese tea. It would be a beautiful excuse to visit the Land of the Rising Sun.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

2000 Ripe Tea Brick

I had ordered this 250g ripe pu erh brick from Awazon from the internet.  Awazon's proprietor describes the tea as " This Pu-erh brick tea is product of the year 2000, carefully preserved through Dry Storage Method (a traditional way of producing fine Pu-erh tea). It is produced with Qiaomu (arbor) tea from high mountain hundred years old tea tree in Yunnan province.  It brews transparent brown liquor, and gives smooth & great aftertaste with pure Pu-erh aroma."  It costs me about US$17, freight inclusive.

Breaking this particular brick up gave me a surprise.  The cake was compact and I had to use a knife for assistance.  The surprise was the difference in appearance of the tea leaves on the outside of the cake compared to the inside.  The tea leaves seems to be of lower quality on the inside of the brick - meaning the tea leaves looked so broken and crumbly.  I have never drank this tea before and I was concerned with this findings (see pix 3/4).  In addition upon brewing the tea, I found the 1st infusion slightly cloudy due to the fine tea dust.

I contacted Awazon to let him know of my findings; that maybe the distributer that sold this brick to Awazon may have shortchanged him on the sale.  I received a reply from the proprietor; "This 2000 aged Pu-erh brick was made by Yunnan Tea Import and Export Company. Traditionally they have higher grade loose Pu-erh tea outside and lower grade Pu-erh tea leaves inside. This sort of production for Pu-erh tea cakes you may see in traditional ripe Pu-erh tea cakes, such as 7572#,7552# produced by Menghai Tea Factory and 7578# and 7598# made by Haiwan Tea factory.  I broke a brick and checked this brick, here in Kunming the inside part is also loose (as produced many years ago),  but dry (not damp, maybe Kunming has a dry climate....... It's normal sometimes you have cloudy infusion when brewing ripe Pu-erh tea...This tea is safe."

The implication of the reply seem to indicate that some production of pu erh before the tea companies were privatized, may have been compromised, in a sense, that some tea cakes and bricks have better leaves on the outside and lower quality leaves are used on the inside.  I had heard of this rumour during my visit to Kunming earlier this year, where a couple of tea dealers there had mentioned this practice to me, even though I had not encountered any pu erh tea cake/ brick that were compromised in terms of quality until now.  

The taste of the tea was pleasant and smooth.  It has a nice light floral aroma.  My local tea friend, whom I gave a sample of this tea, commented "this tea remind me of red dates....nice and fully acceptable".  Over in this part of the world, when we refer to red dates,  this meant the dried version of the chinese red date.  These red dates are usually added to soups or tonics to sweeten the taste and as well as to give a floral aroma.  My tea friend had concluded that the taste of this ripe tea brick was pleasant.  I agreed with his findings.

Do I recommend this tea? Price-wise ok and taste ok as well.  I would say that for about us$17 for a 10 yr old nice tasting ripe brick, I would recommend a purchase.  I have to admit that I cannot assess this tea properly as I do not have much exposure to ripe pu erh tea that is about 10 years old.  I have a couple of these bricks left and I have no regrets having them in my collection.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fake Pu erh Wrapper

The 1st pix shows an imitation (fake) pu erh wrapper.  This means that there is no such CNNP wrapper being used and sold as raw pu erh in the 1990s.

It was inevitable that I will be “caught” one day with a purchase of pu erh that was not the real thing.  Let me explain.  My friend had purchased this teacake from a teashop and gave me a sample of the cake.  He informed me that it’s a wet stored pu erh from the late 90s.  I tried the sample and found the taste of the pu erh tea to be a pleasant aged one.  The tea leaves appeared normal and  I went to this shop and got myself a cake.

I took this cake to my regular teashop for a “bragging” session (to show off my latest “wow” purchase).  A pot of this tea was brewed and a tea drinker there found the tea good.  However, the tea manager there, upon tasting, immediately commented, that this is a raw pu erh that had gone through accelerated high humidity aging, and that this wrapper was not an authentic wrapper, only made to wrapped this quick aged pu cake and to sell to unsuspecting buyers as aged CNNP raw pu.  Accelerated aging of pu erh meant that the pu erh is exposed to a high humidity environment for the purpose of quick fermentation.  This process sometimes known as “wet stored” pu erh, helps raw pu erh ferment quickly so the tea will have a aged sensation taste.   The manager also remarked that this taste of accelerated pu used to be very popular with Hong Kong drinkers some years ago.  

My Penang teamaster friend (Eric) upon receiving my pictures of this pu provided these astute comments : “It's an imitation wrapper. I also noticed that the character is larger than the rest……. Also take a look at the character on the wrapper and the character on the inner ticket of your Pu. Both are different! I've attached a picture of the CNNP Simplified "Yuen" from the mid 90s for you to compare. Both versions of the “yun” has to be the same. The paper used as the wrapper also doesn't resemble any from the 90s that were from CNNP. The printed characters appear to be bold and dark. This printing method is found only from 2000 onwards. All pre 2000 prints are thin and sharp. Finally, the character should be in a proper square, not rectangle.

Well, I conclude from these findings that this is a fake CNNP wrapper, which also strongly indicates that this pu erh is not from CNNP either.  The pu erh tea is real though.  Taste is not unpleasant…an aged sensation taste.  The aroma of the brewed tea is also good but it may be that the pu erh tea was exposed to certain scents during the fermentation process to achieve this final scent.  The question here is whether the tea was in a safe and hygienic environment while it is aging and whether there was any physical tempering to the cake.  I disposed the pu erh cake in the garbage after posting this blog. 

It is very important to know your tea and buy your tea from reliable sources to minimize the chances of a bad purchase.  Pu erh fakes are usually found and sold as old raw aged pu erh.  There are hardly, in fact no fakes for the newer cakes (after 2007) as the prices are quite low.  (post blog comment - there was now news that Menghai Dayi newer cakes in 2008 have fakes, please examine the security sticker and feel out the embossed threads before buying)