Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Visit to Guangzhou pt. 3

In Guangzhou tea centre, there are shops (note the plural spelling) that only sells elaborate tea tables (pix 1) ...and....there are more shops selling tea accessories (pix2)...and....even more shops selling tea.

This huge tea wholesale centre literally has most of China's tea produce for sale.  You will notice that the tea shops have so much tea for sale that they had to display their tea products outside their shop.  (pix3&4, click pix to enlarge).  Rose tea, a brew where you add water to dried rose flowers buds is a popular floral tea drink in China.  One of the shopkeepers there showed me rose tea from Iran and he claimed that the fragrance and taste of the Iranian rose tea is a better rose tea than the chinese counterparts.

My impressions are that pu erh, oolongs like TGY, green tea are are the major teas that are mainly sold in Guangzhou.  Yes, you will find the white teas and other floral teas there but the earlier teas I mention takes precedence and pride of place in the tea market there.  Its no wonder that many tea retailers around the world come to Guangzhou to source for tea and tea products.

The video shows the brewing of pu erh tea.  I was trying some ripe teas and the sales representative was brewing  tea I had selected for tasting.  Some observations - the 1st 2 infusions are discarded.  I was reminded, by a shopkeeper there, to only try tea samples brewed from a gaiwan and not from a clay teapot.  He explained that a seasoned tea pot may enhanced the taste and I may not duplicate the taste after purchasing the tea.  He reminded me that it was important to have a fixed amount of tea (eg 8 gms of tea to a 150+ml gaiwan) as some pu erh being sold may require more leaves to bring out the taste.  I think, he meant that you can tell a low quality tea (eg pu erh) when the sales rep places more tea than usual in the tea tasting session (I have an alternative view on this practice which I will discussed in a later blog).  The sales rep in the video actually weighed the tea in a mini electronic scale, showed me the tea leaves and weight of the leaves before proceeding to brewing the tea.

If possible, I would love to revisit Guangzhou end of the year.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Drought in Yunnan

This news article is from China Daily(27 Mar 2010) 
"Tough year for tea harvest
By Yu Tianyu and Guo Anfei

Severe drought, cold front create uncertainty for crop and market

KUNMING - Li Xueli, a tea farmer in Dahuangba village of the Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture in Yunnan province, is helplessly watching his trees wither and die amid the worst drought in 50 years.

Li, 37, said he may be able to harvest only one-third the total amount of pu'er tea leaves of previous years if there is no rain by mid-April.

He is desperately praying for rain for his 0.53-hectare farm and is just one of the farmers growing the region's famous crop hit by the dry spell.

"The tea is at its best during spring, but the severe drought has delayed the harvest this year and both the quality as well as the quantity have been greatly affected," said Gao Lixia, a tea trader based in Kunming, capital of Yunnan. "For example, the price of pu'er from Banzhangshan, a tea base in Xishuangbanna, used to be 700 ($102) to 800 yuan a kilogram. It has soared to 1,100 to 1,200 per kilogram," Gao said.

The prices of different pu'er varieties have been rising, with some going up by four times, she said.

As the country's second-largest tea production base after Fujian province, Yunnan produces about 180,000 tons of tea a year and spring tea accounts for up to 30 percent of the annual amount. The ongoing drought has reportedly hit more than 260,000 hectares of tea plantations, accounting for 80 percent of the total growth area. The dry spell is also expected to halve spring tea production.

The purchase price of raw tea increased by 10 to 20 percent, to 70 to 90 yuan a kilogram this year, said Wang Bin, the vice-president of Hong Kong-listed Longrun Tea Group Co Ltd.

Still, Wang said there will not be any large increase in prices of his company's tea products. There will be steady growth in prices instead, he said.

Pu'er tea is considered to improve in quality the longer it is kept well, leading to a number of buyers purchasing large quantities of the product for investment and boosting prices, as well as creating bubbles, in the industry.

But a number of investors exited the market in the second half of 2007, creating a supply glut and big slide in prices.

Many pu'er farmers and traders, including Kunming-based wholesale dealer Tang Cuiping, are expecting prices to rebound in line with pu'er's reputed health benefits and the large decrease in production this year.

Still, wholesale prices of pu'er have been stable so far at Maliandao Tea Street of Beijing's Xuanwu district, with its more than 1,000 tea shops and the 18,000-square-meter Beijing International Tea City that is regarded as a benchmark of Chinese tea prices.

Business here has been relatively slow and vendors said they have stocks of aged pu'er that was harvested three to six years ago.

Pu'er tea is typically sold in patties that weigh 357 grams each, said Zuo Xiao,

sales manager of the Ping Yue Tea Co

Current prices range from 100 yuan to 1,000 yuan a patty, similar to last year's prices, Zuo said.

But pu'er prices have been declining in recent years and less customers are choosing the tea, said Liu Yu'ai, manager of the Zhen Long Quan Tea Shop.

Both Zuo and Liu said there will be a slight fluctuation in pu'er prices but the weak demand will rein in any significant price increase.

"You cannot see soaring prices at wholesale markets as vendors are trying to sell as much as they can because of overstock," said a tea trader surnamed Wu at the Beijing International Tea City.

But a number of tea shops in central Beijing tell a different story, with vendors adjusting prices because of consumers' anticipation of higher prices amid reports of the drought.

"They just want to profit more from it," Wu said.

Cold weather in the past two weeks has also hit more than 100,000 hectares of plantations growing the famous longjing tea in Zhejiang province.

Tea shop manager Liu Yuai said shops are still selling longjing stocks that were harvested before the drought so prices have remained stable.

But there will most certainly be a 10 to 15 percent increase in prices when the new stocks arrive in the next two weeks, Liu said.

Many tea drinkers remain unfazed by the weather's effect on crops.

Sun Mingshan, a 62-year-old tea drinker living near Maliandao Tea Street, said there are thousands of types of good tea available in the country and he will pick other kinds that are not affected by the weather."

My tea friends in Yunnan gave me this scenario "....... very dry this year in Yunnan province. Almost over 9 months without any rain. So that the price for  Maocha raw material of making Pu-erh goes up a lot...Tea leaf is not good as before..."  This translates to a simple equation :   no rain=small harvest=smaller production=higher prices. You as a tea drinker must be aware of the most critical aspect of this equation; which implies lower quality for this year's harvest.  Go easy on purchasing this year's tea. Pix shows a 07 awazon raw cake and a 09 haiwan raw brick.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Visit to Guangzhou pt. 2

I had dim sum for breakfast before I embarked on my journey to Fangcun Tea Centre.  Actually, all my breakfast throughout this trip was dim sum.  Dim Sum is actually small dishes that you order off a menu in a restaurant.  Examples of the dishes are steamed buns, congee, steam glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaves, assorted fried/steamed pastries, noodles and even soups.  Yummy.  The 1st pix shows a dish of 3 steam buns filled with red bean paste.  I had a choice of tea that ranges from pu erh, oolongs or jasmine tea.  Different grades of the tea are on offer and the tea is charged per head basis.  I normally choose a mid price ripe pu about 10rmb per head.  You can see from the 2nd pix, you get to brew the tea yourself with a boiling pot of water at the table.  

My hotel was in downtown and getting to Fangcun was easy.....hop on the subway and get off in 5 stations time (less than 10 min).  It will take another 10 min walk from the station to Fangcun tea centre.  Fangcun tea centre comprises of many buildings and exploring the centre for the first time was for me an exhilarating experience.  There are more than 2000 shops selling tea and tea accessories.

There are 2 important points to note when visiting fangcun:

a)  this is a tea wholesale centre - meaning though the merchant may sell you small quantities, you will normally get a better price if you buy in quantities.  The wholesalers are normally upfront with you on their prices.  An example would be buying loose tea.  The pu erh shops which I visited quoted me prices for their loose tea per 500g  (about 1 lb) basis.  Larger quantities may give you another 10-20% further discount.  I had bought a gaiwan for 35rmb although the dealer would sell me for 28rmb each if I had purchased  12 pieces.  Likewise buying a tong of 7 pu erh pieces may be more expensive than buying a carton (4-8 tongs) of tea.  The savings may about 20% in this case. If you are not fussy, loose pu erh there gives best value for money.  Loose pu erh are very much cheaper than cakes or bricks.  The price you pay for a kg of a 2003 loose ripe pu might only get you 1 similar quality 2003 ripe pu cake (357g).

b)  you must know your tea and the relative prices.  If you are going to the tea centre and are looking for a tea, you must have some understanding of that tea you intend to buy and the relative pricing associated with the tea.  Tieguanyin (tgy), which is sold in many shops in Fangcun comes in a myriad of varieties.  You can buy aged Tgy, or new TGY.  They come lightly roasted, or with more floral characteristics, more robust or even specific grades/quality/seasons or areas/farms from Fujian province.  You have this problem of time management when you are there.  If you are looking for Tgy, you will realize there are many shops there offering tgy and the tea merchants are more than happy to let you sample their tgys.  Spend an hour at each shop (Fangcun is open from 9am-about 6/7pm), and you only cover about 9 shops a day.  This may posed a challenge and be frustrating (humorous if you think about it) if you are a 1st time visitor.

For myself, I went there looking for some new, high quality ripe pu erh and lao cha tou.  I did a little homework researching on the various companies that were in Fangchun prior to my visit.  As most of these companies participate in,  I did get a inkling of the type of products offered as well as customers' feedback on the company on the web.   More on my purchases in later blogs.

The last pix show a less crowded mall with few customers as there was a heavy rain while I was there and it was already late in the evening (about 5pm).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A visit to Guangzhou pt. 1

I visited Guangzhou during the Easter week.  Going via Hong Kong, I took a bus from the airport to Guangzhou.  This city (also known as Canton) has a population of 7 million.  This modern metropolis is characterized by skyscrapers, huge shopping offices and malls and has an efficient and clean subway system.  Prices there are similar to Hong Kong, in terms of food and general shopping.  The city however still possesses the old Guangzhou in some parts.  I enjoyed my stay there and would like to bring my family bext year for a holiday.  (and to buy more tea)

But I digress - Guangzhou holds a  yearly Canton fair in late April showcasing products from China.  This worldwide renown fair is very popular.  A visit during this time may be also very interesting.  I would advise my reader if visiting Guangzhou via Hong Kong to take the express train (which I took when returning to Hong Kong).  The train stations at both ends are located downtown with subway connections.  The train ride, about 2 hrs+, is inexpensive and extremely comfortable and I find the documentation at the  immigration entry points to be a breeze at these train stations. 

The 1st pix shows the mascots that represent the Asian games to be held in the city in summer.  This pix was taken along Beijing Street, the famous street mall downtown.  At night, red lanterns hanging from trees lit up making a walk there a pleasant experience.  Pix 4 show the night scene there.  The glass panels there covers a section of Song Dynasty old roads found during an excavation.  

Dining is another major highlight of my visit.  The selection of food and drinks is astounding.  I had dinner at a seafood restaurant (pix 2&3) where more than 100 tanks of live seafood are available for selection and you can also choose how you want your seafood to be done. (steamed, fried, spicy or braised etc).  Tea selections range from pu erh, green teas and oolongs and you can brew your own tea as a tea set as well a kettle (over a small flame) of boiling water is at your dining table.  My 6 course seafood dinner costs me about US$60 for  table of 3.

My purpose in Guangzhou was to visit the tea centre there.  Guangzhou is considered as a major tea trading hub where one can find almost all the chinese tea there.  Tea buyers and traders worldwide are known to source their tea here.  The biggest tea centre in Guangzhou is found at Fangchun.  Accessible by subway, the Guangzhou Tea Centre boasts more than 2000 shops there.  It is an astonishing sight.  A "mecca" for the tea lover.  The size of this tea centre will make any tea enthusiast or even a  tea dealer  scream "wow".  More of Fangchun in my next blog.