Sunday, March 29, 2015

Guangzhou Adventures - A Smoky Xiaguan Morning

I sampled 2 Xiaguan pu erh teas during a morning while I was in Guangzhou.

I had the opportunity to sample the 2003 Xiaguan iron cake and the 2006 mushroom tuo cake.  Both are raw pu erh and you will observe from the above pix that these 2 forms of tea compression are usually found in Xiaguan pu erh tea products.  Xiaguan tea factory commonly compressed their pu erh tea into cakes, small tuos and bricks.  Sometimes, the pu erh tea are compressed into iron tea cake and mushroom shaped cakes.  

This iron tea cake I tried is the 2003 version.  You do not see the 'Xiaguan' name on the wrapper but the tea factory's name is printed on the neifei or inner label on the cake.  I believed 'Xiaguan' changed to their own wrappers in 2005. A retired CNNP manager friend told me that the use of machines to compress these iron cakes came from Russia technology and to this day, iron cakes are considered the highest compression pu erh tea cakes.

The mushroom shaped tea is a 2006 production.  Weighing in at 250g per tuo, these tea are packed in threes into a paper bag.  Notice the tibetan flame logo, which indicated that these tea was primarily produced for export to the Tibetan regions.  There, the people have little access to green vegetables for their fibre intake and the tea was drunk as a digestion aid.  Butter, spices, salt and sugar were added to the boiling tea and are drank frequently by the people there.  Nowadays these tibetan flame tea are also appreciated by Chinese tea drinkers and such tea are now available in many tea shops in China and in countries like Malaysia and Hong Kong. 

Before I sampled these Xiaguan teas, I was happily thinking that I would have an exciting smoky Xiaguan morning and looked forward to drinking these older tea especially the 2003 iron cake.  Yes, it was a wonderful smoky experience but I was surprised that the 2003 iron cake tasted newer than the 2006 mushroom tuo.  I believed the high level of compression of the iron cake was the main reason for the newer taste.   This would suggest that only the tea leaves on the surface of this cake aged well while the leaves under the iron cake's surface aged very slowly as hardly any humidity could 'get through'.  The mushroom tuo, had a nicer aged taste but tasted a bit rough as more chopped tea leaves were used in the making of this tuo.  Even though  my tea friends and I believed that better or whole tea leaves were used for the iron cake, most of the tea  leaves would had been broken when I forcefully pried off some of this tea for a brew.  However, I found the taste profile was better in the iron cake……liked there were more flavors in the tea.  It was a nice morning going though about 10 infusions of each tea….savoring every cup and every drop.

But I digress… is the funeral of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore.  He had been credited with transforming Singapore within 50 years to achieve top world rankings in terms of economy and finance, education, investment and standard of living.  Time magazine had written many articles about Mr Lee and he had even been on their covers on a few occasions. Requiescat In Pace.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Guangzhou Adventures 2015 - Fang Yuan Pai Teapots

I took a vacation last week and spent 10 days just exploring tea in Guangzhou and Hong Kong.  It was an unusually pleasant experience to drink so much tea all day long.

I was privileged that I knew a collector that owned some Fang Yuan Pai teapots.  Fang Yuan Pai teapots were the only authorized teapots that were made for the commercial market during the communist era in the 1960s to early 1990s (link).  He allowed me to handle his collection and photographed them.  I had bought one of my teapots there and included it in a teapot group photograph (pix 15).

My collector friend even treated me to one of his rare teas, a green tea called Jing Shan Tea.  This tea is grown by monks at Jing Shan temple near Hangzhou and is mainly drank by the monks in the temple.  Devotees are sometimes given these tea when they visit the temple.  These tea are produced in small quantities and are not for sale.  Notice the unusual curled tea leaves.  I found the tea fresh tasting with nutty characteristics of a good longqing tea.   

Thursday, March 12, 2015

2008 Dayi Taetea Lao Cha Tou

Lao cha tou is actually ripe pu erh tea.  During the manufacturing process of fermenting ripe pu erh tea.  Some of the tea leaves clumped together and looked like tiny nuggets or pebbles.  Tea manufacturers would collect these nuggets from their many ripe tea productions and pressed them into bricks when there is sufficient quantity of these lao cha tou.  I did noticed, during the course of my tea travels in China that lao cha tou were also sold in loose form.  

This is the 2008 Dayi lao cha tou.  These were sold as 250g bricks.  I remembered that Haiwan had in 2007, also produced their version of lao cha tou that came in 500g bricks.  I bought more of the Haiwan bricks as the prices were similar to the 2008 Dayi but as Haiwan was 500g, it was my opinion Haiwan gave more value for my money (link).

A single brew of lao cha tou can easily make 12-15 infusions.  This Dayi tea is no different.  As lao cha tou tend to have 'off' flavors in the first few infusions, I normally flash rinse such tea 3 times, drinking only from the 4th infusion.  This Dayi tea is very easy to drink exhibiting fresh toast bread aroma with nice subtle sweetness in the tea.  A comforting tea to have after dinner and through the night if you need to stay up.