Friday, January 28, 2011

Hong Kong - Lau Yu Fat Tea Shop

Going to Hong Kong from Guangzhou was easy.  We took the express train from Guangzhou East Railway station all the way to Hung Hom station, Kowloon.  The train stations at both ends are also subway stations as well.  It is advisable to book your tickets at least one day in advance.  Its about RMB 170 per ticket (allocated seats).  It takes about 2 hours for this trip.  I recommend taking the train to Hong Kong as taking the bus tend to be more arduous.  Going by air would also incur you additional transport costs and time to travel from Hong Kong airport to the city.

Hung Hom train station is already in the city and getting around from this station is very convenient. I normally stay in the Kowloon area, specifically the Jordan vicinity and its only about a 10 min taxi ride to the hotel (HK$25).  I love hotels around in Jordan; good and cheap eats, night markets, shopping and walking distance to a subway.  A hotel stay in Jordan would be around HK$700-1200.  Check for internet offers.  

I had the opportunity to visit  Lau Yu Fat tea shop in Hong Kong.  Take the subway to Lok Fu, come out through exit A, turn left and you are in a shopping centre.  Take the escalator one level up and you can locate the tea shop next to a supermarket.

Lau Yu Fat tea shop is a father-son establishment.  They carry a wide variety of Chinese tea and a good range of pu erh.  You can sample the tea and I had the privilege to have the senior Mr Lau brewing tea for me.   Good news is that the shop takes credit cards ( I think online order as well) and since it was my last day in Hong Kong .......  I ended up buying 4 bricks of ripe pu erh (2004), a ripe cake (2008) and the latest issue of pu erh tea magazine. 

I will delve more on Mr Lau's pu erh tea brewing style in later blogs but I observed that Mr Lau practised 3 flash-rinse during my pu erh sampling.  He explained that this 3 flash- rinse will wash, hydrate and awaken the tea.  "Awakening the tea" concept is practised by some pu erh tea enthusiasts as they believe that the pu erh tea would produced its best aroma and flavor with this practice.  My Penang tea expert friend 'awaken his tea' by putting his uncovered pu erh brick/cake in a tin canister for a week before he breaks up the tea for brewing.  As for me, I break open a tea cake/brick and place the tea pieces in a cardboard tea box and only start brewing the tea after a couple of days.  Does 'awaken the tea' (known as xin cha in mandarin) enhance the pu erh brew?  Let me know your thoughts.  

I recommend a visit to Lau Yu Fat tea shop.  Mr Lau and his staff are very friendly and knowledgeable.   Nicolas Tang, a respected tea expert from Hong Kong, in his website rated Lau Yu Fat tea shop very highly in terms of trustworthiness, quality of tea and pricing.  

I enjoyed my time at this tea shop very much and look forward to my next visit. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

2006 Mengku 'old tree' ripe cake 400g

This is a 2006 Mengku 'old tree' ripe pu erh tea cake 400g. I had purchased this pu erh during my last visit to Guangzhou. A tea dealer friend there was packing his tea storage room,installing some new shelves, after 4 years in the tea business. That was when he discovered that he had one unopened carton of this 2006 Mengku ripe tea. He had remarked that this was one of his earliest purchase when he started his tea business. He wanted to keep 2 tongs himself and sell the remaining 6 tongs. He tore opened a tong and did a sampling test on one of the tea cakes. My decision to purchase this tea was easy after sampling the tea.

Notice from the pix(click for enlarged views) how the tea cakes are packed and wrapped; 7 cakes in one tong, with natural bamboo wrappers. The bamboo wrapper appears brittle when I opened a tong of tea. Even the cords binding the tongs are also bamboo cords. You can even see faint red chop marks on each tong (translated as 'old tree ripe cake'). There was a green sticker found on the inner label (called the neifei) that has '2005' printed on it.

Brewing this pu erh was enjoyable. The wodui, associated with newly produced ripe pu erh was no longer present. The aroma was warm and toasty, woody and fragrant. Subtly sweet. The color of the tea was pleasing to the eye. This is a straight forward tea that ripe pu erh drinkers will appreciate.

Why did I buy 6 tongs of this tea? 2 reasons. Firstly, I like this tea. I felt it was a good ripe tea; to drink now and hopefully it will get even better with a few years of storage. Secondly, the price offered to me was good. Price was inexpensive, per cake basis, when I compare with some of the new 2010 ripe pu erh cake offerings by the more well known pu erh tea manufacturers. A few tea dealers there have noticed that more people are buying new pu erh and new tea drinkers and collectors are indirectly pushing up the prices of the popular brands of pu erh. I personally believe that about 40-50% of the new pu erh (raw and ripe) produced are purchased and stored away and are not consumed (at least for a couple of years).

Whenever I have the opportunity to travel, I would try to buy tea especially in China and Hong Kong. Buying chinese tea in Singapore is more expensive and the choices here pretty limited. Moreover, the many varieties and options buying from especially China gives me substantial savings in terms of price and postage (if I ordered online).

Any readers (residing or coming to Singapore) reading this can email me to share this tea loot with me - 2 tongs only.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Fangcun - a revisit

If you are into Chinese Tea and you happen to be in Guangzhou, it is essential you make a visit to Fangcun tea wholesale centre. You will get to see more than 2000 tea merchants selling all things tea and the amount and variety of tea and tea accessories sold there will make any tea drinker enthusiast go gaga for a very long time.

As usual, we had dim sum every morning at the chinese restaurants around the hotel. A dim sum meal with a choice of chinese tea costs US$20 for 6 of us. A dim sum breakfast can be quite filling in that we only get hungry again at around 2-3pm. My kids were pretty fascinated by the piglet red bean buns and made a couple of reorders to fulfilled their amusement.

Well anyway, you can easily get to Fangcun by subway. Its clean, convenient and fast. We used the subway every time we travel in Guangzhou......even the express train station from Guangzhou to Hong Kong (Guangzhou East station) has a subway stop at the basement. One word of advice; it gets extremely crowded on Sundays. As Sunday is a rest day, the trains get very packed. Be prepared to get shoved and pushed on Sunday. I have been on many subway trains in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, London, Paris, Taipei, Bangkok and Singapore and I can say that the level of 'pushing and shoving' here on Sunday can be pretty intensive. I reasoned the capacity level of the trains were exceeded on these peak hour weekends. Weekday subway rides were however very comfortable.

Back to tea. Fangcun is the place to go for Chinese tea in Guangzhou. I would like to stress must know your tea you are buying. Be aware of the relative prices and always sample the tea before a purchase. Mostly cash sales even you are buying 50000rmb of stuff.

One of the bigger tea complexes there housed a commemorative giant pu erh cake. Weighs a ton I think. The room even had a guard to prevent people like me taking this cake home as a souvenir.

There were also shops that sells dried floral and fruit infused tea. There were rose buds, dried citrus orange slices and many other wonderful smelling stuff which I could not identify. I bought a bag of dried Iranian rose buds and another bag of unopened chrysanthemum buds.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2011 - a new start and a tea purchase

I was at the Singapore airport when 2011 rolled into my life. I had just arrived from Hong Kong. I was on a family vacation bringing my whole family to Guangzhou and Hong Kong. The trip did not start well as my camera died on me. I had to share the remaining camera to take a few tea pictures as well as family shots. Anyway, the trip was very enjoyable as my family enjoyed a week's break away from home.

My family arrived in Guangzhou on Christmas morning (4 hr trip from Singapore). Passing through customs was a breeze and there was a subway stop at the airport that took us all the way to Haizhu. This was where our hotel, Grand Continental Service Apartments, was located. I chose this hotel (free broadband) as this area was where all the shopping action is located. Wholesale markets are located here. With a subway station here, getting around was very convenient. The hotel was also a 5 min walk to the upmarket Beijing Rd pedestrian street where renown brands like Nike, Levis and Uniqlo are all represented there. Wholesale markets are also within walking distance from the hotel......I am talking giant malls with each mall singly dedicated to certain products. You have the huge malls just selling shoes, stationary, toys, dried foods (see pix - some areas are open air), clothings and even an undergarment centre. My daughters pointed out at this undergarment mall, there were huge TVs showing a latest American lingerie show and many of these shops are displaying for sale similar lingerie as that on the television program. The electronic malls were also fascinating with many shops concentrating on Apple related accessories like mobile phone cases, cables and covers. You need more than a week to visit a few of these malls.

Food is plentiful in choice. There are lots of american fast foods, high end restaurants and street food. There was a restaurant patronized by the locals near the hotel offering various types of chinese noodles, rice and congee (porridge) which my family enjoyed. Pix showed a piping hot bowl of beef noodles. A dinner meal there for 6 including drinks did not exceed US$12.

I did not mean to buy much tea during this trip. Really. Don't you laugh.....or snigger. But I came back with 8 tongs of ripe tea, a couple of tea bricks and some tea accessories. In Hong Kong, I had a chance to visit a tea shop and bought more tea and other stuff. I will try to explain why I made these purchases in my later blogs.