Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pu erh news - Hong Kong

This well written article is from AFP, written by Judith Evans (Nov 3, 2011) titled “Cultural thirst drives China’s high-end tea boom”.

The article:

“Fifteen years ago the Lam family business picked up a consignment of aged tea from a defunct Hong Kong restaurant. Its value has since risen by a factor of 10,000, as the Lams have found themselves part of a boom that is both investment fad and cultural obsession.
"It's like magic," managing director Sam Lam told AFP as he prepared tea according to the Chinese ritual, pouring boiling water through rough leaves and then into tiny cups to drink, and spoke of the profits to be made.
The tea is pu erh, a dark tea that is fermented after drying and whose taste mellows with age. Its history is thought to date back between one and two thousand years, with legends of growers in mountainous Yunnan province ferociously guarding their cultivation secrets.
Over the past 20 years prices for aged pu erh have rocketed, while China has encouraged renewed development of a luxury tea culture which parallels that of wine -- partly as a source of national pride in a home-grown high-end product.
With over 70,000 tea businesses in mainland China, skilled buyers must taste tea in order to assess its quality, which only increases pu erh's mystique and sociability.
"You can tell from the aftertaste, the smoothness," says Lam, pouring out cups with practised hands. The tea is sold in pressed round "cakes", wrapped in paper printed with bold designs that reflect the vintage of each one.
Lam's father set up the business, Lam Kie Yuen, after moving to Hong Kong from the war-torn mainland in 1949.
But the pair say it is only since the mid-nineties that the market for luxury pu erh -- also, in its less refined forms, a staple of cheap restaurants -- has exploded, with middle-class investors joining the wealthy to buy it up.
The Lams are now selling tea from the 1930 to 1950 era for up to HK$200,000 (over $25,000) per 345-gram (12.2 ounce) cake, having bought much of it in cheap truckloads from dim sum restaurants that closed down.
"Growth slowed during the economic downturn, but it's still ongoing," said Sam Lam. "As the price is rising, people are buying it less to drink, and more to collect and invest."
But luxury pu erh is not just bought to lay aside; it is identified with proud, ancient aspects of Chinese culture, in contrast with the cheap "made in China" goods that have spurred the country's economic rise.
In Hong Kong's hectic Mong Kok district, fashionably dressed young men gather at a calm tea house for lessons from qualified tea master Eliza Liu.
"It's like a drug -- I'm addicted now," said student Ngan Kan Shing, 21. "By discovering tea I feel that I've learned about China."
He has been coming to classes for six years, but says: "I still only know the basics."
The group examines the colour of each cup of tea before sniffing and then slurping it in respectful silence, as Liu talks them through the value of the aged tea.
Grown before artificial pesticides and dried naturally rather than at a high temperature, it has a paler colour and a smoother taste.
"Good tea is produced at higher altitude, and also depends on climate," says Liu. "In Yunnan, they say a tea tree can experience all four seasons in one day."
The tea is served from small fine china tea sets, used with a tray that drains off excess water. The first cup of each brew is not drunk, as it is used to clean dust or residue from the leaves. After that, a good tea should taste different with every cup, say experts.
According to China's state-run Global Times, one batch of top pu erh sold at auction for $250 per gram in 2002, while rare Da Hong Pao oolong can also rival such prices.
But Liu and tea professor Yip Man, who taught her the art, are sceptical of the eye-popping prices paid for some teas, preferring to emphasise tea's longtime role in Chinese medicine and thought.
"Tea has a philosophy behind it, and it's about health. Tea has been very commercialised, but a cheaper tea may also be as good (as an expensive one)," said Yip.
"The philosophy is about harmony, bringing people together, peace within the self."
The price of pu erh is acknowledged to be boosted by a tight supply, and sceptics argue that investors buying aged pu erh may be made to look foolish as China's newly affluent drinkers move on to fresh fashions like Phoenix Oolong.
However Lam says that although the astonishing growth of the last two decades may not be sustained, pu erh is still a good investment.
He said a buyer of a good, inexpensive pu erh -- at, say, HK$100 ($13) a cake -- now could expect to make a 10 percent return in a year. "But you have to choose the right tea," he said.
Luxury tea houses springing up in London and Sydney indicate China might succeed in exporting its high-end tea culture. And Liu and her students feel meanwhile that they are tapping into much more than a fad.
Student Ngan is evangelical about pu erh. "Before learning about tea, a lot of my friends believed the stereotype that tea is for old people. But now I think they're changing their minds," he said.”

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Yunnan Jing Gu Black Tea

I had ordered 100g of this black tea from Yunnan Sourcing.  This black tea comes from Jing-Gu and the black tea leaves looks golden.  It has a nice strong sweet scent but I would suggest you do not brew this tea in a your clay teapot as the aroma, even though is very nice, may linger in your pot for some time and will affect the tea brew when you re-use the teapot for other teas.  I suggest you use something ceramic when you brew any scented tea.  Dedicate one teapot if you really like a particular strong scented tea.  I have a separate yixing teapot for heavy roasted TGY and shui xian.  

For convenience, I recommend you take a pinch (about 10 strands) and brew in your mug.  Add hot water (a couple of minutes after boiling) and your tea is ready to drink in 5 minutes.  This black tea releases a nice nectar sweet aroma. The color of a brewed tea is like a weak ripe  pu erh brew.   The aroma makes me think the tea is sweet when I drink the tea.  Very nice and pleasant.  This black tea also makes a nice chilled tea as well.

Costing about $10 for 100g (its quite a lot of tea leaves and will last a long time), I would recommend you include a pack of this Jing-Gu black tea when you place your next order with Yunnan Sourcing.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

2005 Haiwan 'Yellow Label' Ripe Pu erh 357g

I had the privilege to have purchased this tong locally in Singapore. This is the 2005 Haiwan Lao Tong Zhi ripe cake. I called it 'yellow label' for obvious reasons(see pix) as I could not find any recipe number or name for this cake anywhere on the wrapper itself.

This cake was kept in Singapore for 5+ years and the favorable weather in Singapore had helped to make this tea a real treat. Yes, good storage conditions and a good tea are also important factors that help making old pu erh taste good. And - ripe pu erh tea can be aged into a wonderful tea.

Singapore is an island located in south east Asia. The weather is hot and humid all year long. It is common that the average temperature is about 28-32C with average humidity above the 80% region. Rainy seasons can see the humidity reaching the high 90s. For me, I store my pu erh tea cakes in envelopes (single cakes and bricks) and in carton boxes (tongs) in an odour free room and half opening the windows when I am in the house. The weather in Singapore is similar to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, and several tea collectors in this region felt that the pu erh stored here would result in a nice aged tea.

This 2005 Haiwan cake, when brewed, gives off a pleasant aroma of toasted cereal and chinese herbs. Quite an intense scent. It tasted like a nice chinese double boiled herbal soup. It just gives me a smile with every sip. I felt a warm pleasant sensation after drinking a couple cups of this tea. My wife and daughter actually liked this tea - I had observed they drank up the entire cup and sometimes ask for a second round. This tea tasted better when drank hot or warm. I learnt a trick from my daughter - if the tea has cooled down, put it in a microwave and heat it up for 30 seconds (the tea will taste just as good). Do not drink overnight tea though.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The "Lau Yu Fat teapot"

I was in Hong Kong in May this year and grabbed the opportunity to visit Lau Yu Fat teashop and bought some stuff. ( also see blog entry 28 Jan 2011)

This teapot is designed and sold exclusively by Lau Yu Fat teashop. The 180 ml capacity teapot was recommended to me by Mr Lau (teashop owned and run by father and son) senior. He explained that the rinsing of pu erh tea should be fast, so that you would not waste the tea from prolonged rinsing. He had designed a teapot that allows for a quick pour-out of tea. The 1st 2 pix are that of the teapot I took while I was at their teashop while the last 3 pix belong to the teapot I had purchased. Click pix for larger views.

This teapot has 22 drain holes. This is significantly higher than the average 7-9 holes you find in most teapots. I did a quick comparison with my current teapot (180c) I am using, and this 22-hole teapot was slightly faster in the pour-out race. I did not time that race but for those regular teapot users, I felt that faster time was only like an odd second or two faster. Was there a taste difference in brewing the tea..........For I normally adjust my brewing times in accordance to the teapot as well as the tea. Moreover, I am a little clumsy with my teapots; already broke a couple the past 2 years.......and I find that I had to understand my new replacement teapots and adjust the brewing of tea accordingly. Some pu erh teas I am drinking may need a few more infusing seconds before I pour out the tea. But I would like to qualify that this teapot may be quite suitable for those teas that brews fast and strong.

The price of the "Lau Yu Fat teapot" is now going at HK$800 at the teashop. For the tea drinker who have a chance to visit Hong Kong, this teapot does merit a purchase consideration.