Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tenmoku - A Closer Look

Tenmoku tea bowls are characterized by a thick glaze on the surface (both inside and outside) of a bowl.  Tenmoku bowls had its origins in China, where Japanese monks had visited Chinese temples (experts think monks, during the 13th century, had visited Tian-mu temple in China, hence the name 'tenmoku') and bought back these tea bowls (and I imagine some Chinese tea as well) when they returned to Japan.  Subsequently, these bowls were very popular with the Japanese and they started to make their own versions of tenmoku.

I had purchased a few tenmokus.  The top 6 pictures are Japanese tenmoku bowls while the last bowl at the bottom is made in China, where such bowls there are called Jian ware.  

I would like to share two observations of these tea ware :

1.  The glaze on the bowls were thickly applied and highly reflective.  The presence of iron oxide in the glaze may cause, intentionally, beautiful  patterns on the glaze after the tenmoku had gone through its firing process.  Depending on the heating and cooling times of the firing (baking) process,  these tea ware will have very unusual and artistic results.  Pix 6 shows an oil spot glaze, known as yuteki.  The pattern of the glaze on the last pix is call 'rabbit fur or hair' design characterized by very fine lines resembling the coat of a rabbit.  Readers, please click on the pictures to have an enlarged view.  

2.  Some of the Japanese tenmoku tea bowls comes with a metal rim.  These rims are usually made from silver.   You can clearly see these metal rims in pix 4 and 5.  Why a metal rim? My best guess is the metal rim was made to protect the very fine and thin temoku bowl rim which may be easily chipped off during handling of such bowls.  Rim chips may make drinking of tea from such bowls unpleasant and will affect the overall aesthetic appearance of these bowls.  I found the installation of these metal rims to be high quality and it does not in anyway, affect me when I drank tea from such bowls.  Almost unnoticeable.  

Did you notice the tea bowl holder in the first 3 pix?  This is a tenmoku dai, a holder to rest the tea bowl.  These dai may be made from wood or lacquered in this case.  I suppose some of these tea bowls have such narrow bases or bottoms, and may cause the bowl to topple to its side, spilling in its contents if one is not careful and a tenmoku dai will help reduce such accidents.  

Drinking tea from these tea ware are very popular in China and Japan.  These tea drinkers attest the tea would taste better in terms of aroma and taste.  Moreover, the aesthetic factor will be turned up  few notches when such bowls are used in a tea session.  

Time to drink my pu erh from a yuteki oil spot tenmoku.  

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Malaysia Tea News - Investing in Tea Leaves

This very interesting article, written by Tee Lin Say, appeared in The Star Online on 3 Oct 2015.  


Investing in tea leaves

Malaysia is deemed as the best place to store tea as the tea fetches a better price than that stored in Indonesia or Thailand.

BACKED by a 2,000-year history, Pu’er tea is among China’s top ten and has increasingly become an attractive investment for tea lovers today.

The market for Pu’er tea is relatively small, with only about 20 million to 30 million consumers worldwide. However, with Pu’er tea generating an average compounding return of 10% a year, the trend of collecting Pu’er tea is becoming increasingly popular.

Hai-O Enterprise Bhd executive director and chief operating officer Tan Keng Kang has been an avid tea collector since he was 14, While he was initially influenced by his parents’ love of Chinese tea, today, he is the tea expert for Hai-O and is also the president of the Pu’er Chamber of Commerce in Malaysia.

As a boy, Keng Kang remembered his father, Tan Kai Hee, who is the managing director of Hai-O, buying over a tea company – Chop Aik Seng Sdn Bhd – that had already been in existence for 100 years. Thus, after school, Keng Kang would head to the Chop Aik Seng tea shop to do his homework. Just for fun, he bought a few discs of Pu’er tea.

“It was really cheap, under RM10. And I remember that without having to wait very long, in about one to two years, my Pu’er tea had doubled in price! At that time, I felt it was such a windfall. This fired up my interest in Pu’er investing,” says Keng Kang.

Keng Kang started researching the different teas when he was 14. He also noticed another trend – while people would buy a few packets of Ti Kuan Yin tea, they would be buying Pu’er tea by the cartons. Why was this so?

First of all, the Ti Kuan Yin tea is best consumed within a year. On the other hand, the older the Pu’er tea, the better. It can even be kept for 100 years to be passed down to the next generation. Like wine, the older the tea, and depending on its place of origin and how it was manufactured, Pu’er tea becomes a lot more valuable over time.

Pu’er tea is generally categorised as green Pu’er and black Pu’er. Green Pu’er is non-fermented, while black Pu’er is artifically fermented.

Historically, Pu’er tea a top China tea, abundantly produced in Yunnan Xishuangbanna and Simao, and other south-western counties. Records of Pu’er tea date back to as early as the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317–420 AD), and records of the Tang Dynasty also show Pu’er tea trade.

Another reason for the tea’s popularity is its claims of health benefits.

Meanwhile, another major development for Pu’er tea took place in 1995. Prof Deng Shihai from Taiwan published a book entitled Pu’er Tea, which until today is considered the bible and authority on Pu’er tea. The publication of this book immediately increased the awareness and interest in Pu’er tea.

Keng Kang says he read every single word in the book and became even more interested in seriously developing the Pu’er trade.

“Although Pu’er tea is not traded in the open market, it is not difficult to find a buyer. First of all, it is real and consumable. If you have a packet of Pu’er tea from 1960, how can you replicate it? There is the place it was grown, the season and how it was plucked, among many other factors, to be considered. Once it is consumed, the tea is gone forever,” says Keng Kang.

Another example of a good investment made by Keng Kang was in 1996, when he bought 400 discs of Blue Label Pu’er tea for RM15 each. Today, each piece fetches some RM7,500.

So, how often does Keng Kang buy his tea now?

“That’s difficult to answer. How often do you buy your shares? As and when I see opportunities,” he answers.

Hai-O currently has a very substantial collection of Pu’er tea worth tens of millions. Keng Kang also has a private collection.

Among the tea on display in Hai-O are two valuable ones – a Red Label Pu’er tea manufactured in the 1950s, which is now going for RM250,000. He has another one, the Song Ping, manufactured in the sixties, which is now going for more than RM50,000 apiece.

In recent years, Hai-O has championed the “Malaysian storage” concept for Pu’er tea because of ideal weather conditions in Malaysia.

“Malaysia is the best place to store tea. The tea stored here always fetches a better price than the same tea stored in Indonesia or Thailand, for example,” says Keng Kang.

“If we are able to successfully market the idea that Malaysia is the best store place for tea, then we can eventually set up a facility to store all these tea. From there, we can develop Pu’er tea to make it a tradable commodity.

“My ambition is to create a standard for Pu’er tea, and for Hai-O to become the authority on Pu’er,” says Keng Kang.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

2005 Lau Yu Fat Red Mark Pu erh

Old man Lau of Hong Kong Lau Yu Fat teashop introduced me to a 2005 red mark pu erh cake for sale at his shop.  This is a 'Zhong Cha' brand cake produced in 2005.  

Mr Lau explained that this cake had been stored in Hong Kong (HK) for 10 years.  The unique selling point is that this tea was 'Hong Kong' stored for the 1st 4 years and later dry stored for its subsequent 6 years.  

Let me explain.  'Hong Kong' storage refers to pu erh tea being stored in warehouses or stores where the humidity of the storage area are naturally higher than the natural weather of Hong Kong.  Old warehouses are normally located near harbors (for easy import and export).  Older warehouses or shophouses may have basements as well for more storage of goods.  These warehouses and basements are normally more humid and pu erh stored in such places will age but with a humid or damp characteristic where a tea drinker can easily detect from the aroma of the tea.  The result is that, in my own opinion, is that the pu erh tea will develop a unique taste, that somewhat taste older for its age.    I would like to warn my tea readers, if you had not tried such tea, that this HK stored pu may be an acquired taste - you may like or dislike it.  

When I brewed a session of this Zhongcha pu erh, there was an added dimension of HK storage aroma and taste.  The tea does taste more aged than a normal dry stored 10 year old cake.  This is an interesting cake.  

If you like pu erh, you should try to have some HK storage tea in your pu erh collection. It will serve as an important reference point for pu erh stored under unique storage conditions.  It is interesting to note that many pu erh tea drinkers classify HK storage as traditionally stored.  Many old cakes made in the 1960s through 90s enter Hong Kong for the domestic market or were later re-exported again to other countries for consumption. It would be no surprise if some of these cakes had some 'traditional storage' characteristics in the tea.    

Let me see whether I can get more HK storage cakes to share with my readers.