Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A New Xiaguan


I had received a new (pack of 5 tuo) Xiaguan  during last Christmas tea exchange with a tea friend.  This is a 2020 production and I had broken up a tuo and started brewing this tea.  

These are my findings and thought about this new Xiaguan

a) Compression - this was a shocker.  I had expected breaking up a tuo would be tough: especially for a newer one.  It was a surprise that the compression was low.......I used a pu erh knife and broke up the entire tuo under a minute, and with little effort.  So easy.  

b) Taste and aroma - a drink-now tea.  No astringency, nothing rough or unpleasant about the tea.  The tea tasted fresh, almost like a good quality green tea.  It even reminded me a little of long-ching tea; there was a iittle nutty sweet aftertaste.  A sweet bouquet of fresh floral aroma with slightly sweet mouthfeel. The tea brews well giving about 8 good infusions.  

Teashops should be happy. This very inexpensive tea is an easy sell.  New puerh in the past was considered 'difficult to drink' and the tea should be kept for a few years so the tea would be less astringent and mellow.  Now, this tea is ready to drink; fresh and pleasant and even tasted much better than the Chinese tea offered in many Chinese restaurants.  You can now see and taste this 'new' tea phenomena with the popular pu erh tea factories and even from boutique producers.  I would even recommend serious tea drinkers to buy this inexpensive Xiaguan tuo and have a brew of this tea.

But I have a few concerns.  

Pu erh processing is as follows

= tea leaves are harvested

- tea leaves are laid out to dry (oxidation does take place)

- tea leaves are stir-fried (called kill green, stopping oxidation)

- leaves are then rolled (by hand or machine) for shaping

- tea leaves are dried (sun or machine drying)

- leaves are sorted and may be compressed

My concerns are that, even though the entire process of pu erh tea processing remains unchanged, It is my thought that the timing or duration of certain steps are altered, whether lengthening or shortening the time of a process step, that made the pu erh tea today different from tea from 'yesterday'.  Will this new pu erh tea age well?  I do not know. We will find out in 8-10 years time, as many such tea would have aged by then.

Pu erh tea, to me should be drunk when it is old .  Pu erh tea must have some age and with good storage, the tea will have delightful complications in both taste and aroma.  There is an added dimension to the tea once you drink an aged tea.  When you buy an older tea, you are buying the tea and you are buying the storage.  How much weightage do you give to storage when you assess a 10 year old tea.  How about a 20 year old tea?  Generally, well stored old pu erh are highly sought after and you can see the higher prices of these tea as well.  Storing a pu erh tea for more than 10 years or more is very challenging as it takes up real estate space and you have to monitor the storage with  higher vigilance especially if you are residing in a temperate country.  

When I am on a pu erh buying trip (I have too much already though), I will continue buying the older production ones for the reasons above.  

Your thoughts please.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Art of the Xin Cha - awaking the tea


I had blogged about 'xin cha' a few times in my blog and my readers would now know that breaking up a compressed pu erh tea (cake, too or brick) into smaller pieces, placing these pieces in a tea caddy for a week or two..........and you will discover that your tea is much better in both taste and aroma after this short time in storage.

Many tea drinker buddies from Europe and North America, upon receiving an overseas tea order,  have held back their enthusiasm over their purchase.  They do not peel off a piece of their pu erh purchase to make a brew, upon receiving their box of tea.  They felt the tea tasted 'flat' if they brewed the tea immediately upon getting the tea.  Now, they leave the tea alone for 1-2 weeks before they start a brew.  My tea buddies will happily testify the tea tasted much better after the tea had rested for a couple of weeks,

Why? I don't know.  Maybe the tea went to sleep while In transit in the cold temperature of the cargo hold of the airplane and now needed a bit of time to come out of its hibernation 

I had also proposed that for highly compressed pu erh tea, breaking them and storing the tea in tea caddies for 1-2 weeks will also help improve the aroma and taste of the tea.  Many tea drinkers I know, do not break up their pu erh cake, tuo or brick. Instead, when they want to drink a particular tea, they will pry off a small chunk to brew.  

This 'peeling off a small chunk to brew' is also practised by many tea shops when sampling a tea.  It is good optics to have this practice.  Buyers can still see the pu erh cake or brick and the entire wrapper.  It is also practical for a tea shop if it has more than 30-50 varieties of pu erh for sale. Putting the sample tea in tea caddies may not be practical and helpful in this aspect.  

If you have a collection of 20 of more pu erh tea, having 20 plus tea caddies is not a practical idea when there is 'no space' in the house for so many tea caddies.  

I may have a solution. Use 4-5 small tea caddies.  Small means capacity size for 50-100g of pu erh tea.  Choose your 4-5 pu erh tea you want to drink and break up 50-100g into the tea caddies and keep the unopened part of your tea back to your collection. You would have 4 -5 awakened teas that would last you 1-2 months before you can choose to refill them with either the same or another pu erh selection. 

One more thing.  A Korean tea buddy emailed me last month.  He breaks his tea into tea caddies  He however argues that for highly compressed tea. the tea would take a longer time to awaken.  He felt the tea tasted better after 3-4 weeks after storing in a tea caddy,  I share similar findings and I suggest you do likewise. 

Time for tea.