Saturday, October 23, 2010

Chinese teamaster calls pu erh a detergent

This very interesting article is from Cnngo by Virginia Lau entitled “12 things about tea your local dim sum restaurateur won’t tell you” (dated 7 Oct 2010). The writer interviewed Master Leung Ka-Dong who had been working at Ying Kee Tea House for almost 40 Years.

"What type of tea do you usually order when you eat dim sum?" asks Ying Kee Tea House Master Leung Ka-Dong (梁家棟).

"I usually order white hair peony because my family always orders it," I reply.

"Did you know that almost all restaurants mix their white teas with black to to add flavor and color?" he says.

No, I did not know that. I did not know that it's only in the recent 50 to 60 years that white, green and pu-erh have become Hong Kong's most popular teas either.

With a richer economy, Hong Kong people stirred away from simple black teas from India and Sri Lanka and began to enjoy tea for various health reasons or collect pu-erh tea like wine.

Thanks to Master Leung, who has worked at Ying Kee Tea House since the early 1970s, I now know a little more about how to appreciate Chinese tea.

Here are 12 things he told me about tea that no restaurateur would have:

1. Never drink tea on an empty stomach

Always drink tea during or after a meal. Our stomachs are acidic and tea is alkalizing.

Acid and alkaline combined have a bloating effect.

2. Drink white tea if you are a smoker

White tea is really good for the lungs and throat, so it is especially beneficial for smokers.

A cup of white peony tea helps clear all the phlegm in our throats and cures coughs.

3. You won’t be able to tell the quality of white tea by its color

Most restaurants mix white peony tea with black tea to add color and flavor because customers generally prefer tea that tastes richer and looks darker in color.

Pure white tea itself has hardly any flavor or color compared to other teas.

4. Only fine dining Chinese restaurants serve screw shaped green tea

Genuine screw shaped green tea is the highest grade of green tea and the most expensive. At Ying Kee Tea House, it sells at HK$5,067 per kilogram (HK$380 per 75 gram bag). Produced only in Jiangsu Province’s Dong Ting Mountain, it’s also the rarest green tea in China, producing only about 1,000 kilograms a year.

It must be consumed fresh, within a year after picking the tea leaves. Screw shaped green tea of higher quality is best consumed within six months even. If it is tasteless, solvent or extremely bitter, that means it has already gone bad.

But while it is certainly expensive, screw shaped green tea has a very particular taste that not everyone may like. Even when it is fresh, it tastes more bitter than other teas.

For all those reasons, screw shaped green tea is only served at fine dining Chinese restaurants, usually at hotels.

5. Treat pu-erh tea like a digestible detergent to flush all the grease away

Always pair oily food with pu-erh tea. Dim sum, no matter steamed or fried, contains lard. When you eat shrimp dumplings, there is always a piece of fatty pork in there to add flavor and fragrance.

Pu-erh tea helps you rinse all the grease from the food out of your system. It aids digestion, blood circulation and lowers cholesterol levels.

If you don’t have detergent at home, boil some pu-erh tea and use it to wash your dishes. It’s like a digestible detergent.

6. Sweets go best with green tea

Sweet food is best paired with tea that is more bitter. Loong cheng green tea helps moderate the sweetness of desserts.

Like pu-erh tea, drinking green tea helps lower cholesterol levels and break down fat.

But while most teas are best brewed in boiling hot water, green teas like screw shaped green tea and loong cheng only need to be brewed in water that is about 75 to 85 degrees. If the water is too hot, it will be difficult to maintain the same fragrance in the second brew.

7. Teh kuan yin goes best with spicy food

Spicy foods are best paired with teh kuan yin because it has a bittersweet effect. If you ever visit a Chiu Chow restaurant, they always serve teh kuan yin tea with their spicy dishes.

Plus, Chiu Chow city borders Shantou city and Fujian province, which is known for harvesting teh kuan yin leaves.

8. Fried food goes best with white tea

Basically, any type of fried or deep fried food goes well with white tea. In Chinese medicinal terms, fried food is considered “dry hot.”

White teas like white hair peony help release body heat.

9. Smell quality

Aside from pu-erh tea which is almost odorless, quality tea should always give off a fragrant smell.

If you can’t smell the tea or or see that it is very solvent, then it has probably expired.

10. You won’t be able to find good pu-erh tea at dim sum restaurants

It is simply not cost-efficient. Pu-erh tea is like wine. The longer you store it, the richer it becomes. Storage for at least three to six years is optimal.

Regular pu-erh teas served at restaurants have generally been modified during the fermentation process to reduce storage time. By doing this, they lose whatever fragrance and flavor they originally had.

Good pu-erh tea should look very smooth and deep red in color, not black like regular pu-erh tea.

You can also test the quality of your pu-erh tea by the stain it leaves on your cup after drinking it. If you see a stain surrounding the rim of your cup, that means you are drinking regular or low quality pu-erh tea. If your cup is left with no stain after consumption, you are drinking pu-erh tea of high quality.

11. Teh kuan yin, daffodil and oolong are all the same at dim sum restaurants

No matter which of the three you order, dim sum restaurants will serve you low grade daffodil tea. All three teas come under the same oolong tea category, yet they are very different in flavor.

Teh kuan yin tastes more clear and fragrant. Oolong is stronger and more solvent. And daffodil is the purest of them all.

12. The best moments of tea enjoyment are when you have time

Drinking tea is a matter of mood. And when I talk about mood, it mainly has to do with the condition of time.

You’ve probably heard many rules about tea, from water temperature to color. But at the end of the day, drinking tea is a very personal experience.

Some people like their tea boiling hot while others like theirs lukewarm. Some may like theirs stronger than others. So it’s all about time. We need time to brew that perfect cup of tea.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Sea Dyke" brand Lao Chung Shui Hsien

I was at Amoy Tea shop (see 20 Aug 2010 blog) last month when a couple of elderly gentlemen walked in and bought a few tins of "Sea Dyke" Lao Chung Shui Hsien. They communicated in a Hokkien dialect with Mr Tan, the proprietor, before leaving the shop happily with their tea.

Mr Tan later told me a little history of this tea. Amoy Tea in the 1950's was the sole distributor of "Sea Dyke" tea. As the export quantities of this tea was controlled by the Chinese government, there was a good and strong demand by the tea drinkers here in Singapore. This is especially from the migrant Fujian community in Singapore where many had taken up work and residence here in this country. I suppose, that this tea represented, to the migrant Fujian tea drinker, a kind of link to their roots in China. A sense of nostalgia perhaps but it brings back memories of their times in China. This tea was sold for $16 during that time. This was a luxurious amount to pay for the tea. A bowl of noodles with a drink costs about $0.50 during that time ( it costs $4 now). Mr Tan had observed that there are many old "Sea Dyke" tea drinkers especially from the Fujian dialect who are still faithful patrons of this tea. Mr Tan also mentioned that his clients of this tea do tell him that even though there are occasions that the tea is not up to the mark (due to a poor harvest), his clients will be faithfully buying and drinking the tea. This tea now retails for S$11 (about US$9).

This tea is produced by Xiamen Tea Imp & Exp Ltd. Their website, also in English describes this tea ( as "It is one of our traditional high- grade tea products, fully displaying the four features of "YAN" flavor; vivid, sweet. clear and fragrant. It is black bloom in color, with thick, lasting fragrance, heavy, mellow, smooth taste as well as distinct "YAN" flavor. Even thick tea soup won't taste bitter or astringent. It can retain its unique flavor even after several times of brewing."

This 125g tea is well packed in a tin. The tea has a nice strong fragrance and the color of the brew resembles a ripe pu tea. I found the flavor robust but not bitter. The tea has a nice toasty and woody aroma with a slight sweet aftertaste. It is not bitter and the tea make a really enjoyable drink. My family members like this tea and gave good opinions on this beverage. A brew can make 5 good infusions.

I enjoy this tea very much. I would recommend a buy on this inexpensive tea. The added bonus from purchasing this tea is the tin that houses the tea. This tea is packed to the brim in this 5 inch high tin. Its like a well decorated tea caddy. It comes with a plastic stopper and this tea container can be reused to store your other teas you have in your collection. Time to make a brew of this tea.....

Saturday, October 9, 2010

How much did you spend on tea?

A news article from the Wall Street Journal, 23 Sept 2010 by Josh Chin:

"Worried gold has topped out? Don’t trust the stock market? Can’t raise the money for real estate?

Some in China claim to have the tonic for your investment blues.

In a new special report(transcript in Chinese), China’s state broadcaster CCTV delves into the stunning rise of dahongpao, a once obscure tea from the southern coastal province of Fujian that has suddenly become one of the country’s hottest commodities. Literally.

Since the middle of last year, the report says, prices of certain types of dahongpao have increased tenfold. According to one expert interviewed by CCTV, the wholesale price for mid-range varieties of the tea has risen from between 200 and 400 yuan to around 4,000 yuan per kilogram, with retail prices reaching 20,000 yuan or more. CCTV found one retail shop in the Fujian city of Xiamen that claimed to be selling one variety for 200,000 yuan, or roughly $30,000, per kilogram.

“I never thought it would get so expensive,” CCTV quotes tea producer Wu Zongyan as saying. “It’s one price one day, another price another day. Between when we pick the leaves and when it’s ready to sell, the price has already gone up.”

The dahongpao phenomenon mirrors in exaggerated form the burgeoning demand in China for high-end French wines. In both cases, high prices suggest buyers aren’t in it for the sipping pleasure but instead are purchasing the beverages as an investment.

Strange as it may sound, this isn’t the first time Chinese tea prices have gone stratospheric. A few years ago, puer, a smoky-tasting tea from Yunnan Province typically pressed into saucer-sized cakes for storage, underwent a similar transformation from tea-lover’s fetish to luxury-grade investment. Prices for some puer cakes reached the tens of thousands of dollars before crashing back to earth in 2008.

The attraction of dahongpao, a form of Oolong, is its rarity. Grown only in a small mountainous area in the Fujian interior, all genuine dahongpao is said to come from cuttings of a handful of trees originally planted to provide tea for the imperial family during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.).

CCTV explains the dahongpao craze as a reaction to uncertainty over real estate and stocks, among the only traditional investment outlets available to the average person in China. To meet demand, the report says, exclusive dahongpao shops have been multiplying across Fujian—from 200 to more than 1,500 in the town, Wuyi, where the tea is produced—while fake dahongpao has begun to flood the market. But in a bad sign for would-be investors, CCTV finds many of the new retailers losing money, unable to unload their more expensive tins.

In other words, this particular tea party may not be going on much longer."

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Gunpowder Tea

Gunpowder tea is a green tea. It is mainly produced in Zhejiang province. Green tea there is harvested and goes through steaming, drying and rolled into tiny nuggets or pellets. I suppose it got its name as it might have resembled gunpowder pellets that were used some time ago.

It is interesting that the rolling of these tea leaves resemble the rolled up tea leaves of Taiwan high mountain tea as well as TieGuanYin oolong tea. I remember, when I was in Alishan Taiwan, the tea was also placed in a large cloth bag and the bag was compressed and rolled around in a machine, so that the leaves are rolled into a nugget/pellet shape. I suppose gunpowder tea is also rolled in this way but I was told that some gunpowder tea from Zhejiang uses the very old traditional method of hand-rolling each individual tea leaf by hand. I personally believe that among the green teas that are produced in China, gunpowder tea is one of the driest form of green tea, and if kept properly, is able to store well for a few years.

I have also read that good gunpowder tea is characterized by the high shine on the tea pellets as well as the tight roll of the tea leaf. If you do a search on the net, there are also gunpowder tea produced and sold in Taiwan and Sri Lanka. I also read that in Morocco, gunpowder tea is served with mint and sweetened.

How's the taste? I took about 10 pellets and brew them in a regular mug. The tea color is yellowish - like a regular green tea brew. You will also observe that the gunpowder tea unfurl to whole tea leaves when you brew a cup. I usually let my family taste new teas and the feedback I got from one of my girls is that there is a slight smoky aroma and taste. I myself found it slightly sweetish but without the floral notes found in Longqing green teas. Quite a delicious tea actually. I have yet to verify whether the gunpowder tea underwent a roasting stage but Yunnan Sourcing in his Zhejiang gunpowder tea page stated that the tea was roasted during the processing stages.

Gunpowder tea is an inexpensive tea. It is very suitable to bring a small pack when you are on the road. Just pack it in a tiny bag and there are no worries that it would break or damage easily like other green teas.