Friday, December 21, 2007

Pu-erh Class agenda

The World of Pu’er Tea

Part one - 1.5 hours

  1. History

a. Pre-Communist China:

1. Medicinal beginnings & Tribal tea

2. Tea horse road

3. Old Brands

b. Communist China:

1. Government factories

2. The Cultural Revolution & Recovery

c. The Modern Market:

4. Factory privatization

5. Hong Kong returns to China

6. Tea investment: Pu’er as commodity

  1. Why Pu’er?
    1. Terroir and connoisseurship

i.Flavor range

ii. Mouthfeel and texture

    1. Appreciation of Pu’er: The Pu’er Mythology

i. Qi and the Dao of Pu

ii. Health claims: what the studies do and don’t say

  1. Origination
    1. Location: tea mountains and production regions

i. Xishuangbanna

ii. Simao

iii. Lincang

iv. Dehong & other border areas

v. Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, Guandong, Guizhou, Guangxi

    1. Raising and processing: what results in pu’er?

i. Varietals

ii. Environment: the ideal growing environment

1. High elevation

2. “Natural” tea:

a. No bush cloning

b. Freedom from cultivation/pruning

c. Organic tea?

iii. Processing

1. Making Maocha: Plucking, [moisture reduction], sha qing, [striping/rolling], drying

2. Factors in compression

a. Stone mold, machine pressed, and levels of compression

b. Shapes and sizes

c. Fruit rind compression

3. Wrapping and packing

4. Production errors: “green tea pu’er” and “oolong pu’er”

  1. Subcategories
    1. Major categories:

i. Sheng vs. Shu

ii. Young vs. Aged

iii. Compressed vs. Loose

    1. Minor distinctions:

i. Season

ii. Leaf grade and “recipe”

iii. Storage: very wet vs. wet vs. dry vs. very dry

iv. Plantation vs. Wild Arbor vs. Ancient Tree tea

v. Factory vs. Private Producer

vi. Single Estate vs. Blend

vii. Shu tea: grade and fermentation

    1. Experimental and novel varieties

i. Yin zhen “Silver Bud” tea

ii. Zi ya “purple bud” tea

iii. True ye sheng “wild” tea

  1. How to choose a pu’er: Taste and Trust issues
    1. Purchasing by goal: aging, drinking
    2. Purchasing by philosophy: a survey of divergent opinions on “age-ability”
    3. Liars and cheats: fakes and the “tea master” syndrome
    4. Information starvation

  1. Aging pu’er – storage methods and ideal conditions
    1. “Traditional” Storage (Pre-1993)
    2. “Dry” Storage (Post-1993)
    3. Where: containers and locations
    4. Humidity

  1. How to brew: Various methods and idiosyncrasies
    1. Western brewing
    2. Gongfu brewing

i. Water: mineral content, heating methods & temperatures

ii. Teaware: Timing and Ratios

1. Gaiwan

2. Yixing: matching a pot to sheng, shu, and aged pu’er

iii. Survey of various approaches

Include: definition of terms, map of Yunnan

Part two - 1.5 hours

Tea selections will be featured after Jason's speach:

2 young sheng (1 maocha & one cake)
2 young shu (1 cake & 1 tangerine)
2 aged (wet & dry)

Courtesy of Jason, his private stash of rare and old finds might be within reach! If you weren't drunk by the end of the class, the pu fest will continue after class. :D

Monday, December 17, 2007

Pu-erh Class

For those who lives in southern California, this is one opportunity you would not want to miss. I'm very excited and happy to announce the very first class of Pu-erh tea in LA if not the first in America!!!! Outline of class will be announced soon (once Jason comes back to town).

Topic: The world of Pu-erh
Speaker: Jason Fasi
Date: Jan 5th, 2008 (Saturday)
Time: 1:00 pm
Location: Tea Habitat
Free of charge

Address: 21B Peninsula Center, Rolling Hills Estates, CA 90274 (Across from TJmaxx)
Call 310-921-5282 or email for reservation.

Limited seating only (20), reserve your seats early!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My future retirement location - Phoenix mountain

I mentioned when I retire, I'll spend part of the time living in Guang Dong, Chao Zhou area, soak up the air and drink lots of good teas while watching sun rise. See it for yourself and imagine what life would be like. *dreamy*

Tea plantations among dense fogs in the morning.

Fog is so thick in the morning, only take a few minutes to accumulate a drop of water. Facial for tea every morning!

Ah, old arbor tea trees! They can be over 5 meters tall, hence difficult to harvest, climbing on branches and using ladders are the only way to access those precious leaves. Average of 3 pounds of finished products per tree, only one harvest annually in Spring. Picture is taken in Fall, there is not much leaves on these trees. High altitude old arbor trees don't grow much during fall.

Only in natural organic habitat will parisitic plants grow on trunks of tea trees. You can be sure leaves from these trees are safe and delicious.

200+ yrs vs 50+ yrs Huang Zhi Xiang

Before I continue with "Get to know Phoenix Tea (3) - Naming", I did a side by side tasting of the 2 Huang Zhi Xiang flavor teas: Ao Fu Hou 200+ yrs old mother tree, Huang Zhi Xiang 50+ yrs old (early clone).

Dry leaves: Ao Fu Hou (left), Huang Zhi Xiang (right).
Left (200) is mature, not uniformed, thinner but wider leaves, green with yellow bits.
Right (50) is dark green, uniform in size and color, small strands.
Tea trees reach its prime around 50 - 60 yrs old depending on the living condition, meaning leaves are meatier, more flavorful than younger trees. At sea level, tea tree will decline at 75 yrs old. At high altitude, ideal living condition preserve tea trees longevity beyond prime years. However leaves grown slower, thinner, but ensure full flavor with silky texture, also tannin level is low, hence little to no astringency, hui gan is awesome.
Left AFH is light amber, right HZX is light yellow in color.

Spent leaves: main difference is in shape of leaves.

200+ yrs old tea: aroma is subtle and lingering through out the session, even long after drinking. Tea soup is creamy and milky, very smooth and full, the sweetness is quite pronounce, combined with the creamy texture, it's almost like drinking milk tea. After 20+ infusions, flavor is not longer noticeable, but tea soup is still round, full and silky. My body started to respond to the qi shortly after just a couple infusions.

50+ yrs old tea: aroma is definitely more present than 200+ yrs old tea. Sweetness is more honey like, less creamy and smooth than its older counter part. It's very high in caffeine, in case you are sensitive to it. Both of these teas are powerful in qi.

What to look for in Phoenix tea:
Older trees in high altitude: subtle aroma, taste and texture
Younger trees on high altitude: aroma and taste
Young trees below 800 meters: sharp aroma, flat texture

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Get to know Phoenix Tea (2) - Modern day and grading

Phoenix Shui Xian is the official name for teas grown on the Phoenix mountain ranges. 1956 was the birth year of the name Phoenix Shui Xian, grouping all varietals on the Phoenix mountain ranges. In 1985, the government certified Phoenix Shui Xian as national premium tea varietal.

Phoenix Shui Xian is not the same or related to Wuyi Shui Xian. Wuyi SX is a varietal with its own specific flavor. Phoenix Shui Xian on the other hand consist many varietals and flavors. The more appropriate comparison of the two would be Phoenix Shui Xian to Wuyi Rock, Honey Orchid to Wuyi Shui Xian.

Phoenix Shui Xian in the old days were spread out amount the ranges of Phoenix mountain between 700 to 1100 meter above sea level. In modern days, tea plantations are everywhere including lower altitude hills. Here resides some of the oldest wild tea tree varietals, Hong Yin for example. It's hearty and rough in taste, not suitable for drinking when young. Locals store them for 30 years as medicine. Believe to have cooling property.

Phoenix Shui Xian are small arbor trees, require intense and slow labor for harvesting. Phoenix Shui Xian traditionally were propagated by seeds, hence each tree is different from another due to mutation. Flavor is different, aroma is different, shapes and colors are different. Not wanting to mix the flavors together, the locals collect and process one tree at a time. Years of separation and experimentation, Dan Cong bushes are identified by its outstanding properties.

There are 3 sub divisions from the main category Phoenix Shui Xian: Dan Cong, Lang Cai and Shui Xian by grade. Within each sub division, there are 4 more grades of each. Special grade, first grade, second grade and third grade. Each grade has 3 ranks. Total of 36 grade/rankings. For example, Lang Cai 3rd grade 3rd rank is better than Shui Xian special grade 1st rank. Dan cong 3rd grade 3rd rank is better than Lang Cai special grade 1st rank.

Shui Xian being the lowest due to the low grade of fresh leaves being used and processing of Shui Xian is also less cared for. The final taste determines what grade they belong to within the sub division.

Lang Cai is better than Shui Xian by the same theory, better grade of fresh leaves were used, and processing is slightly more complicated during the fermentation step.

Dan Cong being the highest grade due to careful selection from the vest number of Phoenix Shui Xian tea trees. Most of us already know Dan Cong means single bush. In the past, these single bushes were harvested and processed one tree at a time. Today, single bush processing is still very much practicing and strong, averaging 3 lbs production per tree. They just don't get to travel out of the country across the sea much if at all. Most of them don't even get out of Chao Zhou.

You may wonder why there are so many DC out there for cheap. No, they are not fake, at least not from the ethical sellers. In modern days, cloning technology is widely used by tea plantations. The advantages of cloning is more than economical. The most important is preserving DNA of the single bushes, the aroma, the shape, the flavor of mother trees. But do not expect these new trees will taste exactly the same as the mother trees. Age of the trees also dictates the maturity and richness of the flavor. Older the wiser for human! Older the tastier for tea! Cloning does speed up propagation, and by doing so plantations can multiply its size at lightening speed, producing a lot of teas for commercial trading. Because the clones are coming from DC trees, they are marketed as DC as commercial products. It's a commercial product name, just like commercial Da Hong Pao. For defense of the name Dan Cong, there are true single processed bushes today. It's not a myth of the past. You just have to find it!

Get to know Phoenix Tea (1) - Bird Beak Tea

We see phoenix tea, phoenix Dan Cong tea. What are the difference? Dan Cong - Single bush as we understand from the name. However what is the true meaning of dan cong? In order to explain this, we have to travel back in time a few hundred years to get to know this fabulous tea. Why it is named Phoenix tea, why Dan cong, why shui xian (not to confuse with Wuyi shui xian)? Tea is confusing period, therefore phoenix isn't excluded. Let's travel down the corridor of history and sort this out.

A mythical story often told by the locals of Chao Zhou, the last emperor of Song Dynasty Zhao Jing ran from the Mongolians traveling west from Fu Jian to Guang Dong, stopped briefly on top of Wu Dong mountain. Young Zhao Jing sat down feeling exhausted and thirsty. He asked for tea, but his servant replied where can tea be found on this foggy mountain top with no sight of a dwelling. He cried and kept asking for tea. Dense fog drifted apart, a phoenix appeared in sight with a branch in her mouth, she then dropped the branch by ZJ and flew off above rainbow clouds. ZJ picked up the branch, pondered, he plucked a leaf and placed it in his mouth. He shouted out "It's tea! It's tea brought by a bird's beak." He passed out all the leaves on the branch, leaving 2 husks. Inside the husks are 8 seeds. ZJ planted them on the ground, immediately 8 tea trees came to live, bloomed and fruited. ZJ was ecstatic, spreading all the seeds all over Wu Dong mountain. Tea trees were then spread all over Phoenix mountain range. The locals named it bird beak tea. It's also called Song Zhong - Song varietal. The oldest tea tree alive today on Wu Dong MT is over 900 years old. It's a white leaf Song varietal. The most famous tree on Phoenix mountain, however not very tasty.

An other more convincing theory is phoenix tea leaf shaped like a beak from the side. It's up to you what you want to believe.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Roast your own tea

Roasting tea serves a few purpose, here are the ones I know of:
1, small commercial operation to change flavor, prepare for storage and/or aging.
2, home roasting using rice cooker to reduce moisture for storage and/or aging
3, roasting before brewing for flavor enhancement

I speak of what I know, and what I know is not the only way, nor it is precise. However it's a learning process, it serves the purpose of what I try to achieve at this point. Of course my expectation of end result will raise as experience accumulates and that my skill improves along time.

There isn't an exact way or formula to roast tea. The basics are temperature and time control.
Small commercial operation:
My way for initial roasting is using a semi commercial electric tea roaster, 80 C for 1 hr to warm up, depending on the type of tea (maturity and shape of the leaves, original roast and fermentation) and the final taste you want, turn up temp for actual roasting for any where between 30 min to 1 hr, temp can be anywhere between 90 to 110 c, then turn down temp to 70 to 80 for 5 to 8 hrs. It's now time to taste. I usually put aside some of it at this point if I am not satisfied with the result and proceed to another session of roasting. It's trial and error from this point on. I have burn some batches, under roasted some, and some came out quite nice but I still wonder if it could get even better. The key is as long as you did not mess up (burn) a batch, you can manage to make it better.

Highest temp for re-roasting tea is not to exceed 110 c, unless you like charcoal flavor tea. Patience is virtue my tea friends. Bear in mind the bottom line is to decrease moisture for better aging, flavor is second to it. For fisted oolong, longer it takes at lower temp, because you do not want to burn the exterior while the interior still contain moisture.

Green tea in bamboo container above. Breathing hole in the middle for air circulation. I just started this batch today, will be stored away in sealed container for the next 10 yrs. If you remember this in 10 years, ask me for some sample of aged Mao Jian. :P

Roaster does not come with cover, I use layers of paper to cover opening. I will look for a bamboo cover soon.

Above picture shows before and after roasting. Left is before, right is after. This is TGY of 07 which Will acquired from China in Oct. One of the medium grade TGY with typical green grassy flavor before roasting. Roasted TGY is slightly more brown than the original, but the difference is rather small. However the taste is much different. Roasted TGY lost most of the grassy taste, sweet roasted rice aroma is the new transformed flavor, much more palatable than the original flavor. The whole duration of roasting went on for about a week, with initial roasting (low, high then low temp) about 7 hours, another 4 hours (low) the next day, rested for 2 days, 1 hr (low) every other day for the rest of the week.

Home roasting using rice cooker:
Rice cooker must have "keep warm" function. You can roast 1 to 2 lbs at a time depending on the shape of leaves. Loose strands take up more space, hence less tea can fit in rice cooker pot. "keep warm" for 8 hours if you just want to loose excess moisture. To change flavor, "keep warm" for 1 hour, "cook" for 30 min to 2 hours depends on original roast, shape of leaves and how you like the resulting flavor, then "keep warm" for 6 hrs. Test result with tasting, repeat if desired more roasting. Do not cover with lid when roasting, cover entire pot with a few layers of clean paper free of odor. Moisture can escape through paper is the purpose. For greener teas, leave center open by creating a hole in the middle of the pile.

If you try to change the flavor of tea by using high heat, please do beware the flavor will continue to transform for months after roasting.

Roasting before brewing:
Here is an article I wrote a while back using a Yixing roaster.

Happy roasting guys!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Aging tea

Ever since pu-erh market sky rocketed, it generates a lot of interest in aged tea. Aging tea is not a new invention and not limited to pu-erh. Aging tea is incidental for most, pu-erh and liu An are exceptions. New crops of green pu-erh and liu an are too raw for digestion.

Why age teas while fresh is usually better? Well, supply and demand are rarely equal. Despite the demand for tea, particular quality teas has increased significantly, there are always unsold teas in any type. What do you do with them? Not much other than keep them around and let it age. China tea industry was at a historic low before mid 80's of last century. Hence you see more aged teas from that period of time. However they were gobbled up by the new middle class of new China in the last 10 years, pu-erh market shows how crazy this phenomenon has been.

Tea stored for a long period of time are subject to moisture, mold, oxidation and pest depending on the condition. How to prevent tea from becoming rotten? Clean environment is a must, next is to keep moisture as low as possible and out of the container. Roasting teas at low temperature will achieve the purpose, then stored in sealed container.

Oolong, green and black teas are all ageble. What kind of tea is suitable for aging? Basically any tea. The fundamental requirement is keeping leaf moisture below 5%. Roasting is the key to preserve quality. Environmental influence is one of the elements to consider during roasting on top of the type of tea to roast, the resulting flavor you would like to achieve. Temperature and duration of roastings are key factors. Younger the tea leaves, lower temperature and shorter time. More matured leaves (more fiber) can handle higher temperature and longer roasting time. There is no formula for roasting, not even the same tea roasted in different days at same temperature and timing will end up with same flavors. We can attempt to not mess up a batch then let it evolve over time. That's why tea is so fun and never boring.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Dan Cong feast

Tea brings people together as a Chinese philosophy for thousands years, it will continue to bring new people and the familiar together for many more years to come in every corner of the world. Here in the southern corner of California, we carry on the tradition on a Sunday afternoon. A few LATA members and tea enthusiasts frequent my shop got together for a session of tea tasting. Cha Xi (tea banquets) are often hosted here lately. Good teas are must, various types of snacks are also part of the feast. For a more complete documentation of this tasting, see Jason's story at pu-erh community. It's interesting how a typical Chinese banquet lasts a couple of hours, while a half day long tea banquet seems too short.

It'll require a larger area to host events like this in the future. I am looking forward to Chinese New Year when family, friend and selected customers are invited to attend a huge tea party, celebrating the culture with tea, how appropriate!

During the last tasting, we had a few interesting teas, and a few others we didn't have time to try. 86 vintage Dan Cong, 94 vintage Dan Cong, not sure if we had the 96 Wu Dong Da Ping DC, Chuan Du Lao Ming Cong - courtesy of Danica, Bor Tou - ginger flower. I had to part from the tasting for business issue while tea tasting continued.

Chuan du lao ming cong was sold out without any reserve shortly after its arrival. The few sessions of this tea I brewed varied from time to time. It was the most difficult tea to brew out of all the teas I had. At one point, I was quite disappointed, until I looked further into the "moodiness" of DC. During the latest gathering, I made a special request to Danica to share some of her stash of this tea, brewing with all Chao Zhou tea wares, from pots, to stove, to water boiling pot, to olive pit charcoals. The result was not satisfying either. The challenge was on and would not be settled until I could maximize its potential. I have confidence in the potential of the tea, it just takes all the right elements to bring it out, perhaps I'd have to wait till full moon?! Will came by the next day (Monday), and generously gave me shares of his stash. I roasted the leaves at 80 degrees C for 30 minutes before brewing, the intense floral flavor came out again, honey smooth texture reminded me one of the previous successful session, but more smooth and mellow.

I love Dan Cong, not only because its beautiful aroma, distinctive flavor, the beauty of Phoenix mountain, or just because it's originate from the soil where I'm familiar with. What made me partial to them is its unpredictable nature, its complexity, and the hidden quality of its beauty. It takes patience to discover those qualities, it takes practice to unveil its potential. It's a challenge that drives me to learn, to search, to bring out the best of these little leaves.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sex or Sexless tea

Does tea trees have sex? By sex, it refers to whether a tea tree blooms and produces seeds. Get your mind out of the gutter!

Some trees produce flowers and seeds and some don't, especially the older trees (century years old) that live in ideal environment. This phenomenon also exist in human race. The more educated people are less likely to have more kids if any at all. Theoretically, these are the people with the right genes and means to carry on human race. Ironic, isn't it!

Among ranges of phoenix mountain, high altitude century old trees survived for hundreds years without producing any seeds. Hence unique with its own flavors as single bushes, different from the tree next to it. For this very reason, it's a significant lost once a tree dies. The natural habitat of these century old trees are shielded from decease, the climate is ideal for their longevity. Cause of death of old trees are usually man made, chopped down by human. Ever since cloning method was used to plant small trees from branches, these unique old trees can be "preserved" with their legacy flavors.

One may ask, how come clones from the same tree can bloom and produce seeds? It's nothing more than the law of nature - specie survival. When the livelihood of the tree is threaten by nature, such as lack of nutrition/water/nourishment, harsh weather, the survival mechanism kicks in, it will start blooming, massively producing seeds, ensuring the birth of next generations in case the mother tree can not survive. Trees that blooms are usually abandoned hill side farms in lower altitudes facing west. Well, perhaps in a couple of hundred years, any trees still alive at that time will become the most sought after flavors.

Smokeless charcoal

I burn some olive pit charcoal to compliment my new Dan Congs arrived today. Flash light was used when taking the top picture. These charcoals are still black in whole, and a few with small area of white ashes. Not a trace of smoke is coming out of these charcoals, however smell of the charcoal are apparent and pleasant. The second picture shows the actual flame, still no smoke. It's been burning for less than 5 minutes in these pictures.

There are speculations of smoke from burning charcoals. Wood burning smoke are common food preps to enhance flavor of meat, dairy products in both the west and east. It's also used to add flavors to tea, ie Lapsang Souchong. In some instances, it can be accidental, ie Russian Caravan. Traditionally, all tea were heat dried by wood/charcoal fire before electricity was born, or sun/air dried. Wood fired teas could very well absorb flavor of the wood and smoke from wood. However charcoal on the other hand is much less smoky than wood. Traditional Anxi charcoal roasted TGY does not have a signature smoky flavor, neither does Taiwan Tan Pei Cha (charcoal roasted tea). Smoke comes from burning off moisture, oil, jelly and other chemicals between wood fiber.

Modern day bamboo charcoal making is not just putting a log of bamboo on fire and letting it turn black. Logs of bamboo are placed in large kiln like ovens, then heat up to 800°C, while carbonizing fibers, chemicals are extracted into bamboo vinegar. The finishing products are carbons with very little chemical residues. Hence very little to no smoke when burning. If charcoals were not stored properly, ie moisture got in the charcoal for a period of time, bacteria and other organic live forms develop over these charcoal. When burning such charcoal will release smoke and funky taste.

Olive pit charcoal are made with similar high heat "baking" method.

Like tea, fresh carbonized charcoal is the key to smokeless and odorless charcoal burning, hence does not smoke our teas.

Monday, November 26, 2007

More Dan Cong

My mail man came in to drop off a couple of letters as usual, then he said "I got a box for you, be right back." I replied, a box??? Where did it come from???? I am expecting a few boxes, which one I want the most???? Before I figure out which one I want more, the mail man came back. I saw Chinese on the box, quickly I saw where this box was originated. My heart started pounding!

My friend Mary looked at me: Is that tea?
Me: It is weed!
Mary: I stopped smoking at 19.
Me: I am hooked for life.
Mary: You look high.
Me: Wanna get high now?
We both laughed...

My new order of Dan Cong arrived after a slight delay. Inside this box are some of the oddest Dan Cong you can imagine and some unusual grade but famous DC, of course aged DCs from 90's and 80's that made my heart beats escalate at very rapid rate.

Zei Shi (Thief Stool) 2006 - hmmmm how appetizing!
Ao Fu Hou (Concave Prosperity Queen) 2007 - Huang Zhi Xiang (orange flower) BEAUTIFUL flavor!
Bor Tou (Ginger flower) 2006
86 vintage DC, smooth as red wine
94 vintage DC
96 Wu Dong Da Ping DC, smooth, "experienced" at "prime"

2 more boxes are on the way, including some 97 vintage DC...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cute boys

My boys reading under a willow tree! They are so cute, I had to get them. Books they are reading are "Dao De Jing" - The Classic of Moral.

Celadon jar

My latest find, a beautiful celadon jar. I don't know what to use it for yet. It's just lovely to have it around.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Kung Fu Tea the real style

Nowadays, Tea presentation/ceremony are popular due to revival of Chinese tea culture. Pretty girls dress in traditional clothing, sitting up and straight, shoulders leveled and balanced, making tea in fixed procedures, showing off tea with "orchid" hands - stick out pinkies. It's a performance to entertain.

Real life tea drinking, on the other hand, I feel it does not have to be so pretentious. Tea is secondary when a group of friends get together for tea, as the conversations carry on and in between, "wow, this tea is wonderful, I love the flavor". That's the kind of tea drinking is all about in real life.

Chao Zhou Kung Fu Tea dates more than 800 years back, the most comprehensive of all in every way. At the same time, it's so simple, inelaborate, cultural in the most common way. The more I learn about it, the more I want to spend a good part of my life there when time permits.

Tea culture at level as presented in above photo struck me to the core, I'd so shamelessly invite myself to sit down on the floor with these old men for a cup of tea if I happened to walk by one day!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tea party in Camellia blooming season

You just never know who's going to show up to start a tea party that would go on beyond closing time. My friend Ming brought her friend along this afternoon, a friend she'd consider as Cha Xian (tea fairy), who's quite elaborate with her utensils, especially for what she brought over to have tea at a "tea shop".

Camilia flowers are blooming brilliantly and vibrantly in the misty air. Pink petals are so delicate, seems as the pink would drip off the petal any second, soft as lover's kisses....

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Da Hong Pao

WuYi tea is rather confusing to many tea drinkers. 2 main types of Wuyi tea by physical location of the trees: Rock teas and Zhou (Water side) teas. Rock teas are trees grown on cliffs of Wuyi mountain, Zhou teas are grown next to streams - lower altitude.

Here I talk about Rock teas briefly. Rock teas can be roughly divided into the following categories: Ming Cong (famous bush), varietals (produce large crops in tea farms), and Cai Cha (over all grouping of original local tea trees). Both Ming Cong and varietals are selections of good quality trees from Cai Cha. Before cloning was widely used to reproduce young trees, growing from seeds could not stabilize genetic, therefore Ming Congs are single bushes harvested, processed and sold uniquely. Other more stable varietals such as Shui Xian and Rou Gui can be widely sow and grown to produce large quantities.

Notorious names of Rock teas come to mind are: Da Hong Pao, Shui Jin Gui, Bai Ji Guan and so on. More than 800 varieties by name as currently known and documented by WuYi tea research institution. The name of the 800+ varieties can be separated according to myth (DHP), location (Zheng Huang Long), leaf shape (Bai Ji Guan), harvest time (Bu Zhi Chun), fragrance (Yue Gui), leaf color (Xiao Hong Mei), varietal (Shui Xian).

Da Hong Pao, despite its name which is widely known to many tea drinkers, the name is used for different concepts.

1) Ming Cong name - name for the group of 6 bushes. There are 6 single bushes (mother trees) still alive on the cliff of Tian Xin Cliff. These 6 bushes were sow from seeds, surviving centuries with its own individual genetic and flavor, even harvest time is different for each bush. Each bush is harvest individual and gone through a preliminary process, then combined all 6 together for final refined process (roasting), final product is about 1 kg each year. This is a blending technically speaking. 20g of DHP of these leave can be sold for $25k at auctions. The entire process is done by Wuyi tea research institute, we common tea drinkers will not have a chance laying our eyes on these precious leaves. They go straight to Zhong Nan Hai where the big shots are. Part of it is used for political purpose, such as the anual 20g DHP auction. Mao gifted half of his DHP to Nixon during his first visit to China in 1972, Nixon told his men that Mao was petty with such small quantity of tea. Little did he know, that's half of the "country" in Mao's words.

2) Varietal name - clones of the 6 DHP bushes now striving and producing in large quantity. In this case, DHP can be as pure as it can be or blended as well. Clones of one bush can be processed and sold on its own taking on the name DHP, or it can be blended with 2, 3, 4, 5 or all 6 of the clones to produce the end product also taking on the name DHP. In this case, varietal name and commercial product names are the same and legit.

3) Commercial product name - name of the end product on the market containing other than DHP varietal. Due to its famous mothers, demand for DHP increases substantially, to meet the market demand, some merchants blend DHP with other rock tea leaves and sold as DHP, or even without any DHP leaves.

Clones of "mother" trees are not exactly children where genetics can be evolved as sowing from seeds. Therefore, not considered as "generations". Clones contain the exact genetics, same flavor, same shape and same aroma. Ages of these clones are not to be mistaken as generations as well. i.e. clones done in the 80's are not "mothers" of the clones done in the 90's. However the age difference does make a significant contribution to Cha Qi. When shopping for DHP, some one tells you it's the second generation, therefore price is high is misleading.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

PV brats embracing tea culture

This ought to turn some of us long time tea drinkers to shame! Through out the years of drinking non-commercially, I accumulate tea wares and a lot of teas, just like most of you do. However, not to the extend as some of these new drinkers.

Within a couple of months, began with drinking in a glass infuser cup, to drinking kung fu tea with some of the best teas on the planet, and now owning a whole set of tea wares (tray, gaiwan set, clay pot, named personal cup, caddies, coasters that match) all fit in a portable leather box. On top of all that, a new rug, new tea table, pillows to create a tea corner in private home. That's over the top!

It's very touching and significant for me. Since spreading Chinese tea culture is my ultimate goal, I feel as my intend is achievable. The result encourages me to pursuit my goal with light ahead. While it's fulfilling for myself, it also helps others to live healthy and stylish at young, and most of all, stay away from drug!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Aged water?

Last Sunday night, Jason invited the local LATA group to have tea at his new place. During the 4 to 5 hours of drinking, a few of us brought our own tea and brewed with a different water had different results compare to brewing at home. We jokingly suggested from now on, we all bring our own water to future tasting events.

What we had experienced further stretch the importance of water, its impact on tea flavor. A classic novel of China "Dreams of the red chamber" had a chapter about tea activities in the compound, describing the extend of water which was used to make tea. A group of young girls (cousins), Bao Yu (a teenage boy) and Miao Yu - a young 17 years old nun having tea at a temple. After Miao Yu made tea for every one, she explained the water was a collection of snow flakes landed on blooming Prune flower petals from the first snow fall in January, stored in a sealed clay jar buried under ground for 3 years. Whether this is true or not, improve our tea or not, the poetic notion makes my tea taste better already.

Other one I heard is taking over night condensations on lotus leaves in early mornings to make tea, which has cooling property in addition to improving taste.

I think a trip up the mountain is necessary in near future. Perhaps after the first snow fall of the season, fill up some mountain fresh melted ice water through cracks of giant rocks sounds like fun. I might bring my stove and make a pot of tea right there and then. HA, that's a thought...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

PV brats

One of the joys I get out of having a tea shop, probably the most enjoyable out of all is to spread Chinese tea culture. By saying this, of course not forcing everyone comes through the door to learn what I feel so special and endearing. However when some one truly is inquisitive about the world of tea, it really gets me excited. One of the girls who work here is very much into tea and the whole Chinese tea culture after exposing to it for the last few months. It's quite a sight to watch a blonde girl pouring tea and explaining it to customers with enthusiasm. Her friends also got into tea influenced by her. After a lesson on brewing techniques and taste training, the first thing after school on a Friday afternoon is to drink kung fu tea at my platform. It started with 3 then 4 then 8 then 12 boys and girls showing up on Friday afternoons, Saturdays, some times even Sundays whenever they get a chance, spending 3 to 5 hours at a time, going through 3 or more teas, buying and sharing the most high end teas. It's rather amazing, not quite as I expected before I opened the shop, but definite a good thing for these kids, it's a better and healthier addiction than drug!

PV, as most kids here say, "I just want to grow up to be a normal person", without knowing they will never be normal, living here is realistically not the norm of this society. 1/2 of the kids smoke and take drugs, mainly because they have too much spending money. Their parents are hard working business people whom have very little time to spend with their kids, materials are substitutions of love and time. My friend Ming (a PV mom) said to me "how are they going to live without good tea from now on or live anywhere else with no access of good tea? You spoil them!". I then said to her, I am glad I'll have access to good tea even if I don't run a tea shop later in my life. Despite what's available on the market, I know where to get my good stocks of tea, how fortunate is that!

Custom made tea pots

Members of the LA Tea Affair (LATA)had ordered custom made Yixing pots with help from Marshaln, Action Jackson and friend of Marshaln. They finally arrived last week. Each and every pot are made with same clay, style (shui ping hu) and size with our own choice of chop marks at the bottom of the pot. 3 of the 4 pots I have are marked with my tea shop name in Chinese for obvious reasons. The 4th is marked as "double happiness", a few other members also have the same chops. Double happiness is used for wedding/marriage related decoration/description/wishes in Chinese culture. A couple members got engaged this year, therefore it is a well suited memoroir for a tea addict. Although I am not getting married any time soon, but wishful thinking will work for now.

It was lovely how AJ put together the box, including a hand written letter to the crew, a post card for Jason, also a couple samples of tuo cha from Marshaln and AJ out of generosity. They are now in possession of Jason for future tasting event in the west side of the town. Many thanks to everyone who put in the time and effort to help us fulfill our passionate pursuit of tea!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Chao Zhou Clay Stove Set with Olive Pit Charcoal

Tea culture in Chao Zhou, province of Guang Dong China has a long history known to be the oldest form of tea art in present days.

The following is one of the local tea ware of must have when making a good cup of fabulous Phoenix Dan Cong oolong. Clay pot made of local red clay for boiling water, a little portable clay stove made to retain heat within, and the last but not the least important element is Olive pit charcoal. Rustic style, coarse texture, however works wonders!

The clay pot for boiling water is made extremely porous, water can sip through the wall slowly. When heated, vapor is visible from the outside. Water quality is significantly improved after boiled in this pot. Metal tea kettle makes flat and hard water. This clay pot makes sweet, round, full body, and soft water that greatly enhances the flavor of tea. Tea liquid slips down from tongue to throat smoothly like ice cream. The texture is so full, it makes you feel as the space between upper mouth and tongue has increased.

Portable stove is made with thick wall all around, a small opening at the bottom ensures airflow. Thick clay wall serves as an insulation layer which keeps heat within the stove, heating only the bottom of clay pot. A sliding "door" can be move left or right for control of air flow, in turn controls temperature.

Olive pit charcoal is a miracle, in my opinion at least. This is a local black olive varietal from Chao Zhou, unlike Italian Olive, it's low in oil, hence soot free when burning. These charcoal releases an aroma when burning, the aroma burns through the porous wall of clay pot, further enhances the water flavor, hence enhances tea flavor.

Tea culture of Chao Zhou is extremely comprehensive. The region not only produces the best oolong tea, its natural resources made it possible to expand tea experience beyond agricultural. The Chao Zhou Zhu Ni clay pots, the unique floral aroma of Phoenix tea, the olive trees, the wisdom and accumulated experience through out the centuries, together give us this magnificent gift of tea culture. I feel extremely lucky having such exposure and access. My own tea experience has elevated to a level where I truly feel content with what I have to make a great cup of tea. Of course, I will not stop here. My final stop would be to retire in the mountain of Phoenix for part of the year, soak in the pure mist nourishing the soil and tea trees, drink century years old tea and watch sunrise from top of the clouds.

LATA celebrates Mid Autumn Festival

Last Saturday was the LATA (LA Tea Affair) meeting for yet another session of serial tea drinking. Members of the group including Will, Louise, Danica and myself, friend of mine Ming, friends of Danica - Angie and David from 1001 Plateau also joined the group and share their special teas. We had Moon Cakes, pumpkin seeds, Mochi, almond candies, dried plums and other traditional Chinese tea snacks while sipping tea and chatting away. Time flies when companies are great! Being Chinese, traditions as such are usually customary, however sharing with others whom embrace the cultural differences with such enthusiasm is rather touching to my heart. Toast to the Full Moon with a cup of Zhi Lan Xiang!

LATA is a group of tea enthusiasts join together occasionally to share tea, build friendships, learn from each other, most importantly share our passion for these precious leaves. The organization has been found less than a year, we already had many semi-formal/informal tasting sessions at private homes of members and my tea shop. We have come together as tea fanatics and transcending to friendships. No wonder the old Chinese wisdom says "Tea brings people together". I am one of those lucky ones to live it up.

Angie and David shared their rare Da Hong Pao and Rou Gui, which both are excellent teas. And warm welcome to both of them from all of us at LATA!

Leaves of Da Hong Pao: amazingly large leaf, very tasty and long lasting.

Friday, September 28, 2007

My little tea corner

Chao Zhou pots for Phoenix Dan Cong... These are my own collection of Chao Zhou pots, I'm particularly affectionate toward pear shape tea pots, any size, any shape.

Monday, September 24, 2007

What is Phoenix Dan Cong?

Phoenix Dan Cong is an Oolong tea, has a long history dates back to Tang dynasty. Chao Zhou Kung Fu Tea is well preserved live chronical history in tea culture. The mountain ranges of Phoenix has long been the nurturing soil of the local tea trees. There are less then 10 thousand old single bushes alive on these mountain ranges today. There were 20 thousand at the turn of the 1900, war and unstable politics were the main cause of ecology decline in the region and the entire country. Wu Dong mountain is the best among the ranges. The oldest bush believe to be about 600 years old, one of the Song Zhong varietal, white leaf type. Although it's the most famous bush world wide, but it's not a tasty tea known by the locals. I have to agree.

Dan Cong is the highest grade among Phoenix tea. Shui Xian being lowest, Lang Chai medium. Dan Cong is a single bush selected for its own distinct aroma and flavor, process separately from other bushes. Hence labor intensive and unique.

Today's commercial grade Dan Cong are cloned using branches from the mother tree, instead of sowing from seeds which flavor can be mutated on its own. Commercial grade Dan Cong contains the exact same aroma and flavor of the mother tree, therefore can be harvested and produce large crops each season unlike the single bush method.

However, old bushes are still processed on its own, one tree at a time today. Farmers are more aware of the plant cycle scientifically, hence better to preserve these old plants by letting them rest for most of the year, harvesting only in the spring.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


Today, I reach a new height in tea drinking experience. I had been tea drunk before, the experiences were over dose of caffeine. 2005 Lao Ban Zhang left me jittery hours after just a few grams. 12, 20 teas a day left my brain restless, but not organizationally functional. Today, I got drunk 2.5 times in 6 hours, I think. The last drunk was very similar to an alcohol drunk. My body was warm, itchy on my back, my eyes were stoned, I slurred, and I felt like walking on clouds when I got up. I had to make a quick head turn, and I saw a trail of lights from one shoulder to another. It's been 2 hours, I still feel drunk. After returning home, I just want to pass out.

Jason and Mark stopped by today for tea. Ming was here as well. As a bunch of tea heads, we without doubts had a ton of tea, at some point, we don't even know how much tea we had or what we had. We all got drunk a few times. I got so drunk, I refused to drink more tea after I got home. One tea that particularly hit all 4 of us hard was the Chuan Du Lao Ming Cong Dan Cong. Jason stopped drinking it after 4 cups. We were so buzzed, we all stopped drinking after the 6th infusion. I worried if I could make it home safely. My perception of depth was all off.

Chuan Du Lao Ming Cong is 1 of the 10 best Single Bush trees on Wu Dong Mountain. Only a few pounds are produced each spring. I got my hands on 500g, the anticipation of its arrival left me sleepless for many nights. Finally it arrived on Friday afternoon when Will's visiting, just right before he planned to leave. We tried 1g in a gaiwan, it was good but not what we expected (highly). However I did have 2 hours of sweet after taste lingered in my mouth. It was quite nice, but not mind blowing at the time.

This afternoon, I brewed 3g in Jason's Duan Ni pot. First infusion was __, I have no words to describe it. It does not taste like anything I can put a name on. Strange, not mind blowing, but interesting. I was curious to open the lid, WOW!!!!! It smells beautiful! Not nice, not fragrant, not just a regular word of flower. Just beautiful!!! The aroma is amazing, it literally smells like a real orchid, somewhere between a large white Cattlaya and a white Dandrobium. It's pure, drifty, clean, clear, lung opening, with a hint of winter honey sweetness. We kept drinking the second and third infusions, taking very small sips of tea at a time, 3 drops maybe. The flavor of the tea was magnified with each little sip. I still don't have a word for it. Honey like sweetness increased with each brew. Jason took away his cup while I was still trying to think of a word to describe it. By that time, we were all drunk and talking gibberish. I remember I said something like laying on clouds drinking cloud. Jason got up to walk off the buzz. Over all, I still don't know how to describe this tea. It left me contemplating, chasing something illusive. Maybe this is why it cost so much. The drunken effect justifies the price perhaps?! It was a fun eventful drinking afternoon.

Here is a list of tea I (we) drank today, I am still drunk that I may skip a couple here and there.

Small bud gold tip Yunnan black
Imperial loose pu 2006
Wuyi Rou Gui
Huang Zi Xiang Dan Cong
Honey Orchid Dan Cong
Bor Tou (ginger flower) Dan Cong (Jason, Mark and Ming arrived)
07 pu-erh mao cha
ALi Shan high mountain oolong (My roasting batch)
Fo Cha Ji loose pu 2004
Wuyi Te Luo Han
Zi Lan Xiang Dan Cong
Honey Orchid Dan Cong
92 CNNP Red lable Meng Hai
* first time drunk*
92 CNNP red label Meng Hai (roasted)
76 Roasted Baozhong
2007 Oriental Beauty
70's pu
Chuan Du Lao Ming Cong Dan Cong 07
*completely drunk*

Friday, September 07, 2007

Where in the tea world are you?

In the world of tea, where are we, where am I, what is my function in this ever evolving sphere? I found this article in Chinese, the author logically places each and every one of us in a systematical spot in the world of tea base on our knowledge of tea. I translate it and put in my 2 cents worth of thoughts.

1st layer(outer) which is made up of majority of people whom are tea drinkers/consumers.
2nd layer which is made up of tea merchants, people who sell tea as a profession. (moi)
3rd layer which is made up of tea processors, people with skills to turn a green leaf into dried commercial product.
4th layer which is made up of tea farmers, people who grow, maintain, collect leaves from trees.

Consumers are end users who are the least knowledgeable of tea, however their preference is the driving force of the tea business.

Tea merchants posses skills to brew a good cup of tea, a translator/communicators between tea producers and consumers. This group of people know a broad spectrum of tea from every category/type/region, learn about each tea's characteristics and brewing properties. Their knowledge and opinions serve as guidelines, they direct and collect feed backs of trends. I direct my customers toward oolong. Tea merchants can be tea processors at the same time. My latest batch is a medium roasted Ali Shan high mountain tea. The whole process took 3 days at various temperatures. Taste good when hot, cold brew is exceptional!

Tea processors are skilled "chefs" whom turn raw materials into tasty meals. There are endless recipes of existing flavors, and endless possibilities to create new recipes. The best chefs are those whom can improvise base on existing skills and traditional methods, able to recognize and extend strengths of a tea. However, market trend also limits possibilities to think out side of the box. Popularity and exceptional quality are usually unparalleled. Tea processors are specialist of a certain type of tea, rarely cross types. Most tea processors are whole sale tea merchants.

Tea farmers are those grow and nurture plants of tea. This group specialize in a certain verietal as well due to geographic limitation. Majority of them are semi processors producing mao cha before selling to tea processors/merchants.

My personal development began as a common tea drinker to tea taster, now a retail tea merchant, beginning tea processor. I expect to spend many years hovering at this level, learning, practicing, refining my skills. One day I hope to retire in mountain ranges of Phoenix mountain, attend to a couple of old Dan Cong bushes, pick, process, roast and drink from these bushes. I then can say I have been through all 4 layers of the tea sphere.

Natural floral flavor in a tea leaf

Floral note is one of the most frequently used term in tea taste description. Where does it come from? How come broccoli does not have a floral note, but a tea leaf does?

Oolong tea naturally posses lovely floral aroma, especially those grown in high altitude mountain ranges. The climate provides what it takes to produce high quality tea. Cloud hovers around 800 meters above sea level, tea grown at that altitude has the best flavors. Cloud provides constant moisture and blocks direct sunlight, however ultra-violet ray can still penetrate thick cloud layers, providing light for leaves to grow at a much slower rate, chlorophyll, tannin, essential oil concentration is higher than lower altitude plants, hence fuller in flavor and body with more intense aroma.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Why and how to raise a pot? (4)

4th topic, how to raise a clay pot?

Very first step is to season a pot. Clay pots were fired at lower temperature usually remain an earthy smell. Seasoning a pot is to rid of earthy smell. Brush new pot with clean toothbrush under water. Submerge cleaned tea pot in a large clean (oil free, odor free) cooking pot filled with purified water, bring it to boil and "cook" for 30 min, rinse hot teapot under cold water. For good quality clay pot, it should be good to start brewing tea. If clay smell persist, repeat boiling and cold water rinse a couple more times, add tea leaves to boiling water during last boil, let teapot steep in tea over night, rinse in the morning before brewing tea.

Step 2, find a suitable tea for the pot. In order to find out what tea can be enhanced by a clay pot, it's best to compare flavors of the same tea with same quantity, water, temperature and timing in a gaiwan and clay pot side by side. Gaiwan brings out the true flavor of a tea, both good and the bad. By comparison, if tea brewed from a clay pot taste better than gaiwan, then it is meant to be a pair. In most cases, it takes a few hit and miss to pair up a pot. Brewing a few different teas in the same pot will not intermix flavors of the subsequent tea while it's new. Raising a pot takes time and attention. If you do worry about that, just re-season the pot again by boiling then rinsing in cold water, repeat until you can't smell any flavor.

After you decide what tea to brew with a clay pot, the lengthy process of raising a clay pot will begin. I posted a short version of how to raise a clay pot here.

External raise can be done with various methods: polish with cotton cloth after pouring tea over exterior, or brush with tea then polish/dry with cotton cloth after each use, or rub with bare hand and tea then polish/dry with cotton cloth after each use. Each pour of tea is an additional layer of essential/tea substance deposit on top of each. Polishing/buffing is to evenly distribute these deposits. This step is to improve the cosmetic of a teapot, it has very little to do with the flavor of tea.

To conclude it all, the purpose of raising a clay pot is to enhance the flavor, improve the exterior beauty of a pot, extend the over all tea experience and a measurement of how obsessive you are about tea.

Clay pots are best for oolong and pu-erh. Green/white/yellow/herbal tea do not require the use of clay pot. Black tea is better in china ware. Porous pots are better with ching xiang fragrant greener type of oolong and new green pu-erh, ie duan ni or purple clay. Less porous pots are better for heavier roasted oolong, older/ripe pu-erh, ie zhu ni, xiao hong ni or chao zhou zhu ni. This is only a rough guideline. There are exceptions to rules, and there are surprises to exceptions. Experiment every possibility with every imagination.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Why and how to raise a pot? (3)

3rd topic: how tea impact the clay hence improves tea itself - why raise a clay teapot?

Now that we have an idea what clay can do to tea, what can tea do to clay? Dissoluble substance of a leaf as we can observe is not colorless. Tea stain is dried such dissoluble substance. We can smell aroma of such substance dissolved in water, we can taste the sweetness/bitterness/astringency of such substance dissolved in water. Fragrance is from distinctive essential oil of a plant. Lavender oil, rose oil or tea oil are all essential oils of its own species. When dissoluble substance and oil are released from a leaf into water inside a clay pot, sip through tiny air hole among clay, when dried, the substance stays in the pores (storage cabinets). More usage of the tea pot the more deposits will be stored away. Polishing a pot is to evenly distribute these essential oil, hence the shine on the exterior. This is cosmetic enhancement of the clay pot appearance.

It's commonly known to use one pot for each specific type of tea, similar in flavor and roasting method. The logistic is to accumulate similar substance in "storage", when making tea, these deposit will be redissolved again some what, hence enhance the tea flavor and aroma. Kinda like cooking a chicken with chicken broth. It's not a myth that a well used clay pot can make fragrant tea with only water. Ceramic and glass wares are not porous materials, therefore can not store away these flavorful substance, neither can they neutralize or react chemically with tea, therefore they can not enhance nor diminish tea flavor, however reflect true flavors.

These 3 articles briefly explains why the need or desire to raise a clay pot. The next article will talk about the techniques in raising a pot.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Why and how to raise a pot? (2)

2nd topic: how does a clay teapot impact tea?

Clay is made up of minerals, it can neutralize chemicals dissolved in water and tea. Wonder why natural spring water taste great and crystal clear? Evaporated water is pure water, however on the way up to the sky and coming back down to earth as rain or snow, dirty dust and chemical vapor polluting our air attache itself to tiny water drops. Rain become solvent of these unwanted substance drips back down to earth, runs through miles of rocks in river beds and streams, naturally filtered by these rich mineral deposited stones and rocks.

A clay pot is similar to a rocky river bed, pores allow tiny air hole to increase oxidation, porous clay teapot can oxidize and neutralize dissolved chemicals/minerals in water/tea, hence improve taste of liquid in pot. However by doing so, it may also diminish flavor of tea depending on dissolved substance of a particular type of tea leaves. That's the reason why some tea taste better with certain clay type and some don't. The same tea pot may not be good for every tea.

Everything revolving tea is not absolute due to element variations, so much like life, therefore our endeavor of preparing a cup of good tea is never ending. It's a perpetual pursue of experiments.