Thursday, December 31, 2020

Goodbye 2020 And Hello 2021


2020 in one word - Tumultuous.  

This pandemic had taken a physical and economic toil on all of us.  As we welcome 2021 tomorrow, I am sure 2021 would be a much better year for all of us.  

I was not able to travel much this year and I should think I can only fly overseas only late next year.  For many tea drinkers around the world, I had noticed from my email correspondence, many of us are had bought less tea this tea and are instead drinking from our stash of tea.  I am sure we had bought some nice tea in the past and we are now brewing them during these 'rainy days'.  

Pix shows a 2010 Lao Man E's ban zhang 500g tea brick.  This tea is strong from the 1st sip.  There is now some mellowness and a slight hint of sweetness In the tea.  Very strong chi in the tea and I felt a sweaty sensation (for a couple of minutes) from the 2nd infusion. 

I am thankful that all my readers and tea buddies around the world were doing not too badly this year.  To all my readers and tea buddies, Happy New Year 2021.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Tea for the special occasion


I would normally open an older tea to drink and share with my family and friends, This is usually done on special occasions like Christmas or Chinese New Year.

I was most probably showing off when I would take out the cake with its wrapper on, opening or breaking up the cake when we are brew the tea.

I realised now it was a mistake.

The tea is not at its best when you open the cake and prying off some tea to brew on the same day. The tea would be much better if I had broke the cake up and stored the contents in a tea caddy for a few weeks before that special occasion. The taste and a aroma of the tea would be better. Yes call it xin cha or awaken the tea.... it really works. This is especially so for highly compressed cakes from Xiaguan and even Taetea (Dayi) cakes. Both raw and ripe cakes would do very well if they are broken up and kept in a tea caddy for a couple of weeks.

I am opening a 2005 Xiaguan cake. This is not an iron cake but the compression, in my opinion is just as hard as an iron cake. This cake should be nice as I could detect the old Xiaguan signature faint perfume aroma from the cake, I cannot wait for 
Christmas.  Counting down the days.  

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Demise of a teapot


I was brewing tea when this happened.  It was late in the evening and when I was adding boiling water to the teapot, I heard a soft bubbly a sound of a fizzy soft drink when you opened a can of soda.  Initially, I tried to look for the source of this fizzy sound and realised that it was from the teapot.  

Old timer Chinese tea drinkers who used clay teapots to brew their tea, have told me about this fizzy sound phenomena.  This would most probably be caused by a very tiny hairline crack in the clay.  It is not obvious, in the sense that when I examined the teapot in detail after washing the teapot, I was unable to detect any thing (visually) or any crack on the teapot.  I was told that after prolonged use of the teapot, it will eventually start to leak tea.

I am still happily using this teapot. This teapot looked elegant and is thick walled.  Good news though, I had bought 2 of these teapots long ago.  I do not buy doubles.....maybe I am lucky.  Teapots usually meet its demise not through regular use, but in my opinion, more through accidents.  Dropping the teapot or lid during washing, or dropping  something heavy on the teapots are common accidents to teapots.  

To this particular teapot, thank you for the memories. 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Wuyistar Lao Chong Shui Hsien Gold Tin


Wuyistar Brand of oolong had produced 2 tins of Lao Chong Shui Hsien for sale.  One is a silver tin and the other a gold tin.  Both cans comprises of 125g of oolong and the gold version is a few dollars more expensive than the silver one.  

The oolong in both tins are high roasted but the gold tin has the roast level raised a notch higher.  I enjoy both tins and found the silver version sweeter with a pleasant perfumed floral aroma.  

The gold version has a good oily mouthfeel.  Very long lasting aftertaste.  The sweetness is hardly present but the good mouthfeel makes up for the absence of sweetness.  It is a personal preference whether you want a little sweetness in the silver version or you settle for a very pleasant finish in the gold one.  However I found both versions only being able to brew up about 6 infusions before weakening in a hurry.  

I recommend you try these 2 versions if you come across them in your vicinity.  

Sunday, October 25, 2020

A Fireside Chat With Matthew of Mattcha's Blog


Matthew of Mattcha's Blog (link) graciously allowed me to ask him questions about his passion in Chinese tea,  He is a Canadian and had been blogging about tea since 2008. He has a loyal following of readers worldwide and the following email chat below is reproduced in full (unedited).   Pix in the blog was also provided by Matthew as well. Thank you, Matthew for spending time answering the questions.  

a). Hello Matthew, could you tell us something about yourself and how you began your journey with Chinese tea?

Hello, my name is Matthew commonly know in tea circles as MattCha and I like my daily tea! Like many more serious tea drinkers and even other more-famous-than-me tea bloggers I first started drinking green tea- Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. Probably around 2006 I started to consume more puerh than green tea. My journey with tea throughout the years closely mirrors my journey in life and you can see glimpses of that if you read through my blog.

b). Readers had noticed your preference to raw (mostly newer). You do not write anything shou(ripe) or other teas like oolong or green tea? Any reasons why?

I used to write a ton of posts on green tea especially matcha and Korea green tea and you can go back and see that on the blog. I haven't had fresh green tea in a few years. Oolong and aged Korea tea such as Balhyocha, I mainly drink with guests or paired with Chinese or Korean food these days. I still really enjoy these teas and have a long and complicated history with them, but I find they are just not as interesting or deep as puerh nor does my body enjoy them as much.

I started drinking puerh at a time when raw puerh wouldn't bankrupt you and shu puerh was almost always inferior to sheng puerh. I think a lot of puerh drinkers who started when I did will not prefer to drink shu when they have access to aged or semi-aged sheng. Part of the rise and popularity of shu is partly because people can't afford to drink older sheng or even newer sheng. The other part is marketing shu as “puerh” but it actually isn't really exactly the same as sheng. I really do enjoy a good shu but only consume a few pots every year usually in the winter and its often aged shu. Also, I understand that shu is widely accepted to be “puerh” and historically there is a reason for this as locals wanted to control the product and marketing of the raw material more closely.

I know that I might be controversial in saying this but I feel that sheng is “the original puerh”. “Shu puerh” is the same raw material as raw puerh but processed differently than raw and “Yesheng puerh” is a different varietal of tea material from the same area processed as raw puerh… but are they really puerh? Neither are original puerh but an expanded definition that has evolved to market different puerh like product throughout history. Anyways…

The biggest problem with tea review blogs is that it is often not a very good representation of what the authors are actually drinking. I would say this is true with me as well. Surprisingly, I actually don't hardly drink newer puerh tea at all. I mainly exclusively drink aged and semi aged raw puerh. When it gets cold (in Canada it gets very cold) I only consume semi aged and aged. In the summer I might consume a few hundred grams of fresh puerh if I don't have access to fresh green tea but that's it beyond what I am sampling on the blog. Recently, I sent a bunch of the puerh I regularly consume as a blind sampling to another blogger, Marco, of Late Steeps Blog. I have about 12 cakes of puerh sealed in Mylar in my shelf that I regularly drink through day to day. I believe you like to break up a cake at a time ;) Check it out on Late Steeps if you are interesting in what I actually am drinking on a day to day basis.

However, I try to keep my blog a pretty good representation of what I am purchasing. So all those fresh beings of puerh you see on the blog are put away for long term storage only to be consumed many years later. Most of the newer raw puerh posts you see on the blog are samples that I have either received for review or that I have purchased in search of purchasing a larger quantity to age. I began to look to buying a few more newer raw puerh dispite the increased price to better control the aging process because I liked how my cakes have very slowly aged out in my Canadian storage…

c). You stay in the ‘cold north’ in Canada, how do you store your tea? How is the storage coming along ?

The answer: poorly…. hahahaha… I wrote a post a few years back strongly in favor of sealed storage and at that time lots of people scoffed at me. These days lots of pictures of pumidors have a bunch of sealed Mylar bags in them. I use either plastic wrap and/or Ziploc within Mylar these days to store my puerh. Very very few of it is stored in a Hot box as outlined by Marco on his blog. I've learned from experience that sealed storage is best for the extremes here in Canada. A few years ago, unsatisfied with optimally storing such cakes, I started to deliberately not purchase too many more humidly stored semi aged cakes and simply buy them from Asian storage once I run low. I think you wrote a blog post about this last year? Very smart especially as more semi aged becomes easily available to Western puerh drinkers.

d). How is the Chinese tea scene in Canada? Are there lots of drinkers? Do you visit tea shops there?

There are two really great amazing tea shops in Canada. One is Camellia Sinensis in Montreal (I have never been but only heard positive) and the other is O5Tea in Vancouver (I've written lots about this one, Pedro is the best). There was a Tea Festival in Victoria BC (also have written about this one) but I believe it has been cancelled for a few years now and there is still one in Toronto before COVID hit. Unfortunately, living in the middle of one of the geographically largest countries in the world I am thousands and thousands of Kilometers away from all the action. I have rough plans after COVID to meet up in person with Shinzo who is the American Xi Zi Yao representative in Calgary about 8 hours away by car. Interestingly, when I first arrived in Regina there were 4 Chinese Tea houses here which really surprised me. Then it turned out they were all immigration scams with only one of the four carrying legit tea and aged puerh. One day they just packed up and disappeared overnight. It reminded me how lucky I am to be here in Canada drinking tea despite my isolation from other serious drinkers...

e). As the world is still battling Covid, how do you see the future of Chinese Tea post -covid? ( you can say anything)

The Western puerh dealers will know better than me but I think they might have had their busiest year this year because I think tons of Westerns trapped at home are more seriously taking up puerh tea or consuming more.

COVID has made the richest even richer and the poorest even poorer. Economists are dreading the “K” shaped economic recovery curve. What does it mean for tea drinkers? I think it will most definitely make drinking puerh even more elitist which in some way is sad. However, with that said there is still some very satisfying puerh for reasonable prices out there which will keep things fun. Overall, tea in the West will grow big time until this whole COVID thing is under control.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Chinese Tea - Pairing With Food


When I dine at a 'slightly more expensive' Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong or Guangzhou, Chinese tea is usually offered to diners.  There are even eateries that has a tea menu for diners to select their tea.  Tea is either charged per customer or by a serving of tea leaves.  There are certain restaurants that offer tea brewing utensils like tea tray, electric kettle, fairness brewing tea at make the tea drinking session more intricate during dining.  I find the cost of tea at these establishments   in my experience, not too expensive.

Pairing drinks with food is supposedly to be easy and pleasant.  I felt that if the drinks do not make the dining experience unpleasant, the drinks are suitable.  I had eaten at western eateries where I could select a glass (or 2 or 3) of wine to accompany my meal.  Wine drinking is different from tea.  Wine is to be sipped and swirled in the mouth before drinking.  It is not appropriate if you find a food extremely spicy .... you reach out for your wine and gulp down the entire contents to 'extinguish' the spiciness.  You could do that with Chinese tea.   It would be different how a diner approach Chinese tea and wine during a meal.  In Japan, I had warm sake to accompany my meal.  It is surprising refreshing (and intoxicating).  I recommend you try it.  

To me, good wine or good Chinese tea should be appreciated on its own. Drinking them after dining would be a good idea.  I appreciate the aroma and taste better when I drink them without any accompanying food.  

I feel kinda hungry now. 


Monday, September 14, 2020

Chinese Tea and Goldilocks


I had been reading more often especially during the lock down.  I came across an article about the Goldilocks zone.  This is a reference in astronomy where astronomers look for planets whose distance from its star is similar to Earth's distance from the sun.  Astronomers believe that looking for such planets may yield a higher chance that the planet may contain water and the chance of life on that planet.  In other words, astronomers are looking for planets that is not too hot and not too cold, just like the story of Golilocks.

When It comes to Chinese tea, I want to believe there is 'Goldilocks zone' for the tea - not too strong, not too weak, not too astringent, not too bitter.  I tend to find this zone by adjusting the amount of tea used and the infusion times when I brew the tea.  I believe every tea is different whether pu erh or oolong, that each tea may require different or micro adjustments to achieve the Goldilocks zone of tea.  Haiwan ripe teas brews notoriously strong and I would normally reduce about 25% of tea I normally used to brew.  However, I would add extra 1-2g when I brew Mengku ripe tea as the tea would taste better with that extra tea.   Maybe it is a personal perception, like letting my Xiaguan iron cake pu erh infused for a few extra seconds before I pour the tea out from the teapot.  I would like to point out that such adjustments should be done if you are a hard core tea drinker.....if may waste a lot of tea for this experiment.

A few serious tea drinkers had also shared similar thoughts that different tea require its own set of infusion times and amount of tea used.  I can appreciate that tea reviewers normally stick to a firm set of rules and practice like 7g for a 120ml teapot or gaiwan when they review the tea.  I would encourage that they should further recommend or conclude based on their initial brews, whether the tea should be better with less/more tea leaves or less/more infusion times in order to have a better cup of tea.  Yes, this would be subjective but I think the review would be much better for it.  

To my readers, do not be entranced by the notion of fixed amount of tea and fixed infusion times when brewing your tea,.  Try micro adjustments, that you as a serious tea drinker, so we can find the 'goldilocks zone' for that tea.  

Saturday, August 15, 2020

2012 Jingmai - Yunnan De Yu Tea Factory


I decided to drink one of my 'odds and ends' tea today.   These are the tea that I had bought in small quantities when I visit a shop when I am overseas.  There are many occasions when I had sampled tea at a teashop (2-3 samples) and I would tend to buy something from the shop before I leave.  There is usually no buying obligation for me to make a purchase when I sample tea at a shop.....but when I sit through a couple of samples, I would tend to buy a little tea from them.  Most of the times, I was undecided on making a purchase (especially for the newer produced tea).

I got these cakes at the Hong Kong tea fair in 2012 and I had sampled a few pu erh teas at this De Yu tea factory booth.  I decided to purchase 2 cakes of this Jingmai tea and even got the owner signed on the wrapper of the cake. I even remembered  passing one of the tea cakes to Prof Lawrence, the famous tea celebrity blogger of Tea Addict when I met him at the tea fair.

Time flies. Yes, I wish I was now flying to Hong Kong and China to have tea with friends and visiting tea shops and tea fairs.  The recent pandemic has really put a dent on my travels.  Many post offices worldwide still continue to issue 'severe delay' notices for international mail.  I had sent out a couple of boxes in June and it had taken more than 2 months for the parcels to reach my overseas friends.  Many of us enjoy buying stuff online from overseas but waiting for the orders taking 2-3 months to be delivered would be quite challenging and frustrating for both for the buyer and seller.  I will be mailing out tea via registered international air mail, but please be prepared to wait more than 8 weeks for your box to reach you.   

Back to this tea.  I decided to use a travel tea brewing gaiwan set to have a session of this pu erh.  This  8 year old tea is really good.  The arrival is slightly bitter and herbal, but the long faint oily and sweet aftertaste is very satisfying.  Mouthwatering and very smooth.  Very good workhorse as this tea brewed up a dark amber coloured beverage for more than a dozen infusions.  Impressive.  Sigh...I wish I got more of this tea.  

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Tea In Chinese Culture

As a Chinese tea drinker, you would have realised that tea is brewed and drank differently especially when in Europe or America.  Milk and sugar are not used in Chinese tea.  Tea bags are a less common sight as well in a Chinese eateries.  As I am in Singapore, I enjoy the various versions of tea offered in my country. I savour the Indian Masala tea where milk and spices are added to the tea, and you get a sweet, spicy and milky addictive that I normally have a second cup after I finished the first.

Tea in Chinese culture.  Oolong, pu erh, dan chong and long ching are some of the common teas drank by Chinese tea drinkers.  Many drink tea daily, during and after meals, in the office and at home.

Chinese tea is used in rituals and even religious ceremonies as well.

In religious ceremonies, cups of Chinese tea are place on altars and offered to Gods (taoism) or ancestors. You may have even seen these offerings when you visit a Chinese temple as well

In wedding ceremonies,, Chinese tea is offered by the wedding couple to elders of the family.  Drinking the tea symbolises the acceptance and in return the elders will give the couple a 'red packet' (gold or money) as a blessing as well.  

Pix shows an unused 90s wedding Chinese tea set.  The dragon and phoenix motifs represent the groom and bride respectively. Sweet red dates tea are usually selected as the tea of choice when tea is offered to elders of the family. 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

My Weekly Affair

I have a confession to make. I have a weekly affair. At least once a week.......I will have a smoky raw pu erh session.  Smoky raw pu erh?  Thats pu erh tea that has a smoky finish in the aroma and taste of the tea. 

There are many tea drinkers that are not into smoky tea or smoky drinks (try smoky whisky).  Many dislike the smokiness comparing the aroma and taste to a bonfire, burnt food and a friend even calling it a charcoal mouthwash.

There are a couple of famous smoky teas that you can easily buy from a tea shop.  One is the famous lapsang souchong.  This Chinese black tea is smoked dried with burning pinewood, whose smoke would be 'infused' into the tea.  The other is smoky pu erh.  I believed that smoky pu erh was a consequence of smoke introduced at some stage in the tea production that made the tea smoky.  Many newer pu erh now, are mainly non smoky.  New smoky pu erh are a rare commodity.  

I enjoy drinking older raw pu erh .  The tea makes for a more mellow, smoother and sweeter taste and aroma with age.  Smoky pu erh will lose their smokiness over time leaving a whisper of smoke in the tea. I also believed, that some old raw pu erh that exhibit a menthol or camphor aroma is the result of residual 'smoke' that resembles menthol or camphor.  This 'camphor' finish (called Zhang Xiang in Chinese) in pu erh tea are highly sought after by seasoned pu erh tea drinkers and usually these tea would command a high price.

Pix shows 2 Xiaguan pu erh tea.  Xiaguan tea factory continue to produce some excellent smoky pu erh and I know a quite a number followers of Xiaguan smoky pu erh in Malaysia and Guangzhou.  

Mysteriously addictive.  Which explains my weekly affair.

But I digress.  I would have to defer the reopening of my online store.  The re-outbreak of covid virus worldwide had severely delayed the delivery of international parcels.  Post offices and other couriers had warned of severe delays and even suspension of services in certain countries due to lockdowns and work suspension.  I will keep my readers informed when I reopen my online shop.  To all my readers, please stay safe.   

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Xiang Ji JI

This is Pek Sin Choon's most premium hand wrapped tea sold in a tin of 50 packets.  15g per pack, this tea is called Xiang Ji Ji.  The roast levels lies between mid to high roast.  

Pek Sin Choon described this tea as follows : 

"As the standard of living in Singapore improved, the preeminent fragrance was developed in between 1970s and 1980s to cater to the requirement of the tea drinkers who wants to enhance their experience in tea drinking. The tea soup is mild red in colour which is simple at first sip but leave a strong aroma around the throat and produce great aftertaste."

I used half a packet on a small teapot (100ml).  The aroma was cheerful like a fresh bouquet of flowers.  The mouthfeel was good, oily and mouth watering.  I had brewed this tea after dinner and I found it very suitable as a after-meal tea.  A good addition to my oolong stash.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Art Of Being Stationary

As many countries are slowly reopening their economies in June, we will find ourselves in a slightly different environment.  We are all masked up, always carrying a bottle of sanitiser and keeping a respectable distance from each other when we queue in line to do our stuff.

Many of us are emerging from a lockdown and as avid tea drinkers, we would had been brewing and drinking more tea at home.  We enjoy the brewing ritual and the taste and aroma of the tea.  Somehow to me, I felt it made the lockdown at home more manageable.

I was asked a few times during this lockdown how I drink my tea.  There is no secret and I will share with you what I did.  

Stay still, don't move.

That's it.  For a couple of minutes, be still.  Be stationary. Enjoy the aroma and taste.  The stillness will amplify the tea session even if for a minute.  

Being stationary sounds easy. There are however, many distractions in the home or office that will disrupt this deliberate stillness.  Try it for a minute.  Be still, don't move.  The tea will taste better.  

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Sea Dyke Lao Chong Shui Hsien

Sea Dyke brand is a very popular brand for oolong tea.  They had been producing tea and had been exporting their tea worldwide.  In the 70s, many Chinese immigrants that had migrated and set up new homes in South East Asia were loyal supporters of this tea.  They are comforted that drinking this tea was a little reminder of their home province or village.

Sea Dyke has a showroom and outlet in Xiamen, China.  Locals and tourists can gawked at the wide variety of tea for sale and buy some tea home as a souvenir.  One in-house oolong sold at this shop is a Lao Chong Shui Hsien.  This particular grade is only sold at this shop.  A relative had given me a few packets in 2017.  You will notice that this oolong had been packed in 250g aluminium foiled, self sealing bags.

This Lao Chong Shui Hsien is an 'above average' tea.  Not top shelf tea but decent enough to please any oolong tea drinker.  Heavy roasted and a strong aroma that will linger in the mouth for a good few minutes after a tea session.  Makes about 6 good infusions with every brew. I had hoped to visit this shop this year but it looks like I have to defer my travels to Xiamen till next year.  

But I digress.  Many economies worldwide are slowly reopening in June.  Post offices, couriers and airmail are slowly resuming 'operational' status.  I hope to resume tea mail by end June.  I will keep my readers informed.    Stay tuned and stay safe. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Do You Have Time For Tea?

This worldwide pandemic has extorted a high price for many people.   For most of us , we are staying at home, working from home and simply riding out the pandemic.

There is a silver lining in that we get to spend quality (quantity) time with our family.   If you had been wishing you had more free time to pursue a hobby or interest, you would suddenly found yourself granted this wish.  Many of my friends are learning to cook and bake (they cheated by buying a bread making machine).  Like it or not, I hope you are making use of this lockdown fruitfully.  

If you enjoy your Chinese tea like me, this lockdown period would allow us to explore and appreciate our tea and tea ware.  I find myself more deliberate in my tea brewing.  I try different tea and tea ware, infusion styles and get to drink more tea on a daily basis.  There may be certain teapots that pour I reduced the tea leaves.  There are certain pu erh that does better, in taste and aroma, with longer infusion times.  

A few readers had asked me whether I will be buying more tea.  Yes.  I hope to travel nearer the end of the year,  Moreover, with many countries attempting to restart their economies,  many post offices worldwide will be resuming International deliveries by June.  I will update my readers in due course on the reopening of my mini tea store.  

I had just opened a 2007 Lan Tie.  Produced by Jing Mei Tang, this 13 year old cake stored in my part of the world, has a very traditional old style taste and aroma.  It is strong, herbal and medicinal.  Very faint sweet aftertaste and slightly intoxicating.  A fun tea session.  

On second thought, maybe I should get a bread making machine.  Time for my 2nd tea session for the day,    

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Working From Home WFH

Help!  I have to move out my tea corner.    Singapore has initiated a lockdown in the country for a month (the government called the lockdown a circuit breaker) and as a result, my whole family are working from home.  I personally support a lockdown as it will help break the spread of the virus within the community and lessen the stress on our medical providers.

Video conferencing is one of the work that is performed daily.  My family members have such daily  'meetings' online and video conferencing 'areas' had been set up at home.  My tea corner had to be given up for this noble cause.  It now appears my tea brewing will be done in the kitchen till I can find another corner for my tea toys. Mornings and afternoons have to be pretty quiet to accommodate these 'meetings'. 

I would like to recommend a few tips on your video chats sessions
- raise your laptop about 5 inches from the table.  You would 'look' better as viewers will not see up your nostrils during the conversation.
-  position yourself from the camera that your shoulders and face can be seen. Not too near in that your entire face occupy the whole screen.
- some lighting on yourself and not depend on the laptop screen to light you up,  You will look like a walking dead character if you do that.

Meanwhile, stay safe and drink lots of tea.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Internet And Chinese Tea

As we hunker down to sit out the pandemic, the term 'social distancing' should not be misinterpreted during this time.  We should keep a physical distance but socially we should continue to 'socialise' in many ways with each other.  We should keep in communication with family and friends through the internet or the old fashion telephone.  This is especially important when we have older friends, family, neighbours or people with disabilities.  We must check on them frequently and help out whenever we can.  It is the right thing to do.  

Back to the internet.  We do many things on the internet - for work or for play.  We communicate, work, buy and sell things, send money, invest and even learn and unlearn while we are online.  I myself find myself watching movies (Netflix) and listen to music (Spotify) while I stay home during this time.  I am sad that many small businesses; those physical shops run by sole proprietors, are struggling to stay afloat and many would 'go under' during these difficult times.

When it comes to Chinese tea, many of us buy them online.  It is understandable that the internet give us more choices in terms of brands, storage and prices.  There may be a Chinese tea shop downtown but there is so much that a teashop can offer.  Many of these physical tea shops may fold up during this pandemic.  In the tea wholesale centre of Fangchun in Guangzhou China, a number of teashops and small wholesalers have closed their business permanently.  Many such businesses do not (as you can understand) put aside cash to 'tide over'  3-6 months of almost zero sales, while at the same time facing fixed expenses like rent and upkeep of a shop.  There may be rebates given to such business but they would not be enough.  This dire situation applies to other types of business as well.

The outlook for Chinese tea for the next 12 months would be challenging for the tea business.  A looming recession might make tea buying not high on the 'to do or to buy' list. There is a strong possibility that the majority of Chinese tea prices would be cheaper.  Tea businesses require cash flow while tea collectors might have to lower prices to sell their tea if they need the cash.  

For me, I would not be able to travel, for some time, to continue my tea adventures.  I would think the earliest I can travel would be nearer the end of the year.    Meanwhile, time to stay at home after work and drink from our stash of tea.  To all my readers, please stay safe.    

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Using Teaware To Amplify A Tea Session

How do I brew my tea?

I use a kettle to boil my water, a teapot or gaiwan (rarely) to brew the tea leaves and a few porcelain teacups to drink my tea.

There is no secret ingredient. I do not sing to my tea. I do not brew my tea in the middle of a rice field or against a backdrop of a waterfall. I am just like you. We mainly brew and drink our tea at home.

In the course of my tea drinking adventures, I want to think I found that there are a few ways to improve or make a tea session more fun and more tasty in terms or taste and aroma when you are at home. I can tweak the 3 main utensils in the tea brewing setup - the kettle, the teapot and the teacup.

Caveat - you must be a serious tea drinker to be able to distinguish the differences in your tea after using such utensils. I would consider a serious tea drinker if you brew and drink Chinese tea at least 3 times a week.

1. Teacup. I found that older Chinese porcelain teacups make the tea taste better. Yes, even my whisky taste better in them. They are still relatively inexpensive. An unused 90s Chinese porcelain teacup can still be purchased for below $5.

2. Teapot. Using a clay teapot can affect the taste and aroma of your Chinese tea. A good seasoned yixing teapot is the preferred brewing vessel used by many serious Chinese tea drinkers. I do recommend you take a look at the Taiwanese Lin Ceramics purion teapot. I found old pu erh tea seems more amplified using the purion teapot. Teapots are overall more expensive than teacups. You will be looking at about $60-$120 for a decent teapot.

3. Kettle. Use a clay kettle or the famous Japanese iron kettle (aka tetsubin) to boil your water. Many tea drinkers claimed the water tasted sweeter or tasty.  Japanese tetsubins are expensive. My last Japanese tetsubin purchase last year was about $200 and it was a small sized one as well.

Such tweaks are not necessary in a tea setup. With just $10, I can have a fantastic tea session as well. A plain white porcelain and 2 porcelain teacups would be more than sufficient to have a wonderful tea session.

The improvements in a tea session using such tweaks can only be distinguished by a hardcore tea drinker.  These improvements are quite small but whether to splash out a little money for these small improvements is a fun discussion among friends during a tea session.   

In the midst of the virus situation, I wish all my readers well and to stay safe.  If you are a essential service provider, I would like to say a big thank you.  

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Xiaguan Iron Cake

I have been drinking about 2 sessions of tea per day.  At about 7g per tea session, that meant 14g per day.....and if its pu erh...and at this rate would imply more than 1 whole cake a month.  That is a lot of tea and I would like to advise my readers again not to have a tea session on an empty stomach as it may cause the stomach to produce more acid in your empty tummy.

Readers would know I use a plier to break up my iron cake. I found that I could easily get small chunks of tea and have less tea dust from using a plier. 

I thought iron cakes would take a long time to age compared to regular pu erh cakes due to their high compression.  I was however surprised when I open up this cake in my collection.  This 2007 cake when brewed, has a very dark amber colour and there is very good hints of aged taste in the tea.  This tea is fabulously complex in the taste.  There are hay and a honey notes.  I  felt there were nice herbal and Chinese medicinal herbs in the tea as well.  This tea is a strong workhorse.... I use lesser tea about 6g with a 120 ml teapot.  I allow longer infusions but I could get 15 strong infusions easily. 

Older Xiaguan iron cakes are still inexpensive but are now slightly harder to find in tea shops.  I recommend. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

A Better Cup Of Pu erh Tea

If you had been browsing the internet tea forums and videos on pu erh tea, you would had discovered (recently), that there are many recent articles on pu erh storage.  This is very useful to readers who are residing in temperate countries, where the humidity and temperature are much lower in winter, and these articles had suggested ways to mitigate and store your precious pu erh tea properly for the long term.

As I had mentioned many times, such efforts to age puerh tea, would be rewarding to the tea drinker or collector as aged pu erh tea would have a complexity in taste and aroma after time in storage.  

You would have also noticed that when there are reviews on puerh tea by tea experts, they would normally use a porcelain gaiwan than a Yixing teapot to assess the tea.  Using a porcelain gaiwan is considered a neutral tea ware to brew tea while using a Yixing teapot may affect the assessment of a tea. 

Is a Yixing teapot so magical that it affects the taste of a tea?  Maybe the teapot holds temperature better, the clay could have affected the tea or the tea patina of a seasoned teapot changed the taste of a tea.  

I had posed a question to a tea expert that reviews tea on the internet - if many of your followers (say more than 50%) had over time, transited from using a gaiwan to using a Yixing teapot, should you use a Yixing teapot (on more occasions) to review a tea?...or use a Yixing teapot when you are not reviewing a tea.  

Anyway, the pix above shows a pair of Yixing teapots.  I had bought (about 7 years ago) 4 similar teapots from a Yixing teapot enthusiast in China who had made these teapots from one batch of clay.  The teapot on the right is one of my frequently used teapot for the past 7 years.  I would use it for raw pu erh about 2-3 times a week.  This would suggest that I had more than 500 tea sessions (raw pu erh) using this teapot for these past few years.   I did a few raw pu erh tea comparisons with these teapots last month.  Tea from the seasoned teapot felt more mellow.  I had used newer and older raw pu erh in this test.  Maybe 'mellow' is the wrong word to use.  The pu erh tea, especially the newer ones tasted less astringent while the older pu erh tea has a slightly better mouthfeel in the taste.  These taste comparisons are actually quite subtle and it could be my imagination running wild. 

Does a Yixing teapot brew up a better cup of pu erh  tea?  Yes.    

Friday, January 24, 2020

Happy Chinese New Year

Tomorrow is Chinese New Year.  To all my readers, I wish you every happiness for the year of the rat.

Prices of tea was much higher last year.  The slight older ones and old ones was even more expensive.  I did noticed that the old teas from Malaysia are 'disappearing' as many dealers had brought these older teas and selling them in Mainland China for a handsome profit.  I foresee such older teas will be even more expensive due to this trend. 

I would only resume my tea adventures in China only in the 2nd half of the year due to the recent Wuhan virus.  However, I may plan a trip to Chicago in late June/ early July this year.  If you are staying in Chicago, I would love to have tea with you.  Let me know.

Happy New Year.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Case Against Puerh Storage

Happy New Year 2020.

Are you a serious pu erh drinker?   I would consider you a serious pu erh drinker if you drink pu erh twice a week and own more than 5kg of pu erh (that’s about 14 regular cakes).  You would also had searched the internet, looking at the various tea vendors’ stores, reading forums and discussions (not necessarily participating), blogs and staring Instagram tea pictures late into the night.  

There are many recent articles on storing pu erh.  You will agree that the reasons for storing puerh on a long term are quite compelling.  Old pu erh has a complexity, in both taste and aroma, that can only be from a result of long term storage.  This is due to the tea leaves fermenting over time.  Moreover, old pu erh are expensive and aging your own tea does make economic sense.  Recent internet discussions do provide a guide on storing your pu erh especially when you are staying in temperate countries.  

I would like to put up a case against pu erh storage.  No, I am not suggesting you should age or not age your tea.  I would like to let you consider all perspectives of pu erh storage and at the same time share some of my experiences on storing pu erh.  

1.  Time and Space.  
Storing your tea takes up time and literally space in your house or apartment.  For me, I tend to drink my tea a little old.  I prefer my pu erh to be at least 10 years old.  Pu erh tea at this age would have developed a complexity in taste and aroma that is only from the result of long term storage.  Storing pu erh for 10 years or more takes up time, a lot of time.  
Many things can change in this 10 year period. Your taste preference may change.  Your lifestyle would have evolved.  Your work may not allow you time to monitor the progress of your tea storage, especially in countries where you need to keep the humidity and temperature suitable for pu erh storage. 
Waiting for 10 years or more for your pu erh to age is one of the most challenging aspects in pu erh storage.  It is not only tedious and it can test your patience as well.  I noticed, based on my experience (and some feedback from a few collectors), there may be no change in your tea especially in the 1st 6 years of storage.  The taste and aroma may not have changed significantly to discern any aged taste.  I also noticed, even though my collection is stored in hot and humid Singapore, some pu erh cakes only start to age after year 10-12.   

2.  Storage results
Old puerh has a wide spectrum of taste.  In my tea drinking experience, old raw puerh may taste like a ripe or Shou tea, be more herbal, or more floral (there was a tea that has a rose petal scent) or be more medicinal.  You may be surprised, happy or disappointed with the results of aging your tea.  
The recent pu erh tea in the market where some new pu erh are now processed differently, had made many seasoned tea drinkers question whether such tea can age well over time.  When I started my pu erh adventures many years ago, teashops would tell me that if I buy new pu erh, I had to store them away for some time as the tea is new and astringent.  Now, the teashops promote their new tea as 'ready to drink'.  Only time will tell whether such tea can age well.

There are some shortcuts to age your tea.  A simple time saving exercise would be to buy 5 to 8 year old tea to store.  This would save you considerable time in your storage adventure. 

Storing pu erh tea is a long game.  You need passion and discipline when you intend to store your tea for 10 years.  If you love tea, this adventure will be worth your while.