All posts by teaism99

Tribute 貢

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Finding an old or ancient tea is definitely determined solely by fate. On one fateful day, a tea collector brought a tong of early 1980s unopened Guǎng Yún Gòng Bǐng, 廣雲貢餅. I have found similar tea from similar era before offered by another collector but sadly it was badly stored and was kept exposed to hot and humid environment.  It tasted funny and bland and I  have to reject that tea with great reluctance. What a pity! 😦

Now, a totally sealed tong, unopened since early 1980s was presented to me (in 2013) to open it. What a great opportunity! 🙂

Early 1980s Guangyun Gong Beeng - Sealed tong
Early 1980s Guangyun Gong Beeng – Sealed tong

This tea is call Guǎng Yún Gòng Bǐng, 廣雲貢餅, which is made from tea leaves from Yunnan and Guangdong since the 1960s and the production continued to 1990s. The cakes from 1970s onwards are made solely from tea leaves from Guangdong. It is made using special recipe and the tea was so good that it can be used to pay tribute to the Emperor. That is why the word Tribute or Gòng 貢 is added to its name.

Of course those 1960s or 1970s ones are said to be special and superior but to have a perfectly stored tong of early 1980s tea right in front of you is really a blessed opportunity.

The tong was opened and the tea leaves were brewed.  The taste was really sensational and special… sweet, aromatic, full of flavour and has many of the character of a great tea…good yun… great Qi…captivating complexity and mesmerizing. Indeed it was a really special and wonderful experience.

The brew
The brew

The tea leaves are fresh, due to its well kept condition which allows it to age gracefully whilst keeping all its goodness intact. It is almost perfect in many ways.  The collector was kind enough to offer me a piece and it has been one of the precious tea in my collection since then.

Brewed tea leaves
Brewed tea leaves

This experience was one of the many opportunities for me to taste aged dry-sealed vs. exposed storage condition of the same tea.

I also have a few pieces of the same source 1970s Cultural Revolution Brick from 2 different collectors who also stored them differently for 4 decades, one exposed and the other, dry-sealed. The dry-sealed tea tasted so much better than the exposed one.

Storage for aging Puer has been a widely debatable topic but it would be a more fruitful debate if all parties have the experience of tasting decades old tea stored in different conditions.  Otherwise, it is just a debate of presumptive perceptions.

Many would agree that the choice on how we store and age Puer tea depends largely on the climatic conditions of the place we intend age the tea.  In the place where I aged the tea, the climate is constantly hot and humid around 31.1°C (88°F) , RH  83%, throughout the year.  After years of relentless of studies and experiment and also the tasting opportunities offered by different collectors on different storage methods,  my preference is definitely aging Puer tea in dry-sealed storage in this climatic condition.  This method appears to achieve what I wanted in aged old tea, i.e. hygienic, clean, smooth, sweet, mellow, captivating complexity whilst still preserving its original vigour, aroma, body and taste.

Nonetheless, we are all free to choose any storage method we perceived to be right. However, in whatever storage and aging method we choose for aging Puer tea, it is very important that we must monitor, taste and analyse the teas’ changing character throughout its’ aging process.

The only way to understand this is through constant and habitual due diligence to monitor the tea changing character over the years under different storage conditions. Don’t just store the tea and hope that it will be good in future. Follow its’ aging process and understand it. Taste other tea that has been stored in different storage conditions too.  There is no shortcut or other way apart from our own relentless pursuit and studies over a very long period of time.

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Tea Astronomy

What does astronomy and iconic tea like Lao Banzhang, 老班章 ,  has in common?  Both has something to do with the sky, one is sky gazing and the other is sky-high price.

I really couldn’t understand how the price of new high quality Puer tea shot up so high and fast over the last few years.

In the year 2007-2009, I tasted the Lao Banzhang tea and like  the tea very much. It was very powerful tea,  complex in a nice way, full of flavors,  high aroma and full- bodied.  After 2009,  I thought the quality has dropped and stopped buying those later tea. I probably have enough of those 2007 to 2009 Lao Banzhang to last for a long time. I brewed the tea quite frequently to appreciate its changes throughout the years.

LBZ price for 375gm as of April 2014
LBZ price for 375gm as of April 2014

After that, the big publicity came and the tea industry focus on this tea and the price went up steadily until  recently (April 2014), I was really shocked to discover that this same piece of 2007 Lao Banzhang I bought is currently selling at US$4670 (29,000RMB)  for a 375gm piece. Gosh! This price insanity really cause some distraction to the joy of enjoying tea humbly.  Currently, a lot of other high quality teas are  also going through the same price launching pad.  Wow! A new form of astronomy.

2007 LBZ
2007 LBZ

Nevertheless,  to me a tea is still a tea and I will continue to brew this tea for enjoyment and also to share with my tea friends. It is good to cut off all the noises and focus on the  joy of appreciating a nice and enjoyable tea.

LBZ 2007
LBZ 2007

Care to join me for some tea astronomy ? i.e. enjoying good tea whilst gazing the sky. 🙂

Awakening

Box
Awakening old Yixing pots is usually an insanely exciting experience. Many years ago, I found some nice and very rare old Yixing pots of the 1970s. Enthusiastically, I poured boiling water to awaken it. I heard one of the worst sound in my life i.e. the sound of a cracking teapot. Not believing my ears and without thinking, I immediately continued to pour boiling water into another teapot and the same thing happen. In a day, I cracked two rare 1970s Yixing teapots and that experience really taught me a big lesson.

Box 2

For old Yixing teapots, e.g. 60s-80s pots or for unused old Yixing teapot, it is necessary to slowly wake it up after years of hibernation. After hibernating for a few decades, the pot could be too dry, crevices not settle in, or nooks and corners need to be ironed out.

Box 3

For initiating old teapot, gently clean the teapot with a soft brush and soak them in clean water in a large clean container for one or two days. After that, boil the teapot in clean water in a very clean large pot. Turn off the heat immediately when the water boils to prevent any damages to the teapot caused by rattling. NEVER BOIL A TEAPOT CONTINUOSLY AS THE RATTLING WILL DAMAGE THE TEAPOT. I usually go through this process a few times. After that I would boil the pot with tea leaves and let it sit for a day and the whole process may repeat again.

I would then use the teapot as a pitcher and pour brewed tea into it and use it as serving pitcher for a few  weeks before I set the teapot for brewing tea. For initial use of the teapot  for brewing tea, I would normally use lower temperature until I am confident that the hibernation period is over and the teapot has settled in and can handle high heat brewing.  To take care of the teapot, please refer to here.

Box 4

Most of the time, we will be insanely enthusiastic when we find a treasure but it is wise to be patience and slowly initiate them conscientiously. Always think of the consequences of being impatience then we will be naturally more careful.

Lesson Learned!

Great tea

1970s CR Brick Sheng Puer tea.
1970s CR Brick Sheng Puer tea.

What is a great tea?  The tea culture has volumes of literature and rhetoric praises on it.  Auction houses capitalized on it.  Tea association celebrate it, some even with chanting and lion dances.  Books covered chapters and chapters on it.  Most of this great teas are seen in books, magazines and auctions without any clue of its taste. With all these noises, are those tea really great?

What is a great tea and how does it taste like?  I have tasted a lot of tea from the mediocre to the greatest, ancient to iconic, new and old. Personally to me, a great tea is a tea that taste just like tea. Huh? Taste just like tea? Yes, simply just that. Purely tea, just like gold, pure gold without any other metal. A tea that simply taste just like tea without anything else. Especially for Puer tea, no additional funny taste or smell, no weird factory storage aroma, no croakcoach smell, no lion dance, no drum hammering, no chanting and no cancer curing prophecy.

A  great tea is a tea that is delightful to the eyes, smooth and mellow in taste, with gentle uplifting aroma, recurring sweetness and a mouthful body that embraced all the good palate.  A tea that quietly embodies your sense of being, purify your mind and lift your spirit. A tea that is purely just tea; physically, mentally and spiritually. That is a great or perhaps the greatest tea. Just humbly that.

Some of the great or greatest tea may sit quietly in your collection waiting for you to listen to it. Cut out all the noises and listen carefully.

Chocolate

1990s compressed Shui Xian
1990s compressed Shui Xian

Chocolate tea is a nickname given to compressed Wuyi Yancha 武夷岩茶 in the 1990s when they were popular amongst tea drinkers. This tea is compressed in the shape of a chocolate bar with segmented ribs.

1990s compressed Shui Xian
1990s compressed Shui Xian

Usually a segment of the tea is broken along the ridge of the bar, just like chocolate and brewed in Yixing teapot. Sometimes, a chunck of the tea is plopped into a kettle of boiling water;  the casual ritual of drinking and brewing would just continue the whole day.

This tea compression style  concept is very interesting as the tea leaves consist of Yancha 岩茶, but made and aged in Puer style in the shape of chocolate bar. Delightful concept, isn’t it?

Tea leaves
Tea leaves

Today, I will brew a piece of this tea to experience its taste. It is a 1990s piece made from Shui Xian Yancha 水仙 岩茶, compressed in chocolate bar shape.  A segment of the tea is broken and individual tea leaves are carefully removed. Normally, I like to refresh tea before brewing so I will do the same for this tea. The tea is brewed in Chaozhou style so that I can exercise some control over its fragrance, sweetness and body.

The verdict?  Hmmm… a nice and exotic taste with a hint of more than 20 years of history imbued into the tea. The taste has the backbone of Yancha, no doubt, but  has more vigour than loose aged Yancha. Perhaps it is because of the compression that allow it to age more graciously and slowly whilst retaining its flavour and vigour. I also enjoy the comforting mellowness which is typical to aged Yancha.

C4

A very interesting experience indeed. Perhaps this compression style should be experimented in other tea that can be aged. I would certainly would be interested in other tea like Semi Fermented Dong Ding, or Tie Kwan Yin, or red or yellow and and white tea done in this compression style.  There are so much possiblities of exploring the compression style of aging other tea, beside Yancha and Puer.

Chocolate Dong Ding, Chocolate Darjeeling, Chocolate Dian Hong, Chocolate Qimen, Chocolate Beidou etc…..Chocolate tea, anyone?

Finest

1993 Xiaguan Jia Ji Sheng Tou Cha
1993 Xiaguan Jia Ji Sheng Tou Cha

When the tea, especially Puer is selected from the  finest grade of tea leaves and processed in the best possible way, the word 甲級 Jiǎjí is often added or stamped on the tea wrapper.

1993 Xiaguan Jia Ji Sheng Tou Cha
1993 Xiaguan Jia Ji Sheng Tou Cha

The  second grade is called Yǐjí 乙級 and the third grade is called Bǐngjí, 丙級 but nobody is going to label their tea as third grade. However, due to lack of control on these labeling in the tea  industry and some tea producers may blatantly use them, irregardless of the quality of the tea and processes.  

As a tea consumer, it is very important to learn how to identify a good tea by looking at the tea leaves instead of the wrapper when purchasing tea.  By learning how to taste and studying the tea leaves, one can ascertain the quality of the tea.   It is definately not advisable to look at the label of tea wrapper or worst still, buy any tea just by listening and reading too much of it. Most tea merchants will never say anything negative about their tea.   The general description on any tea are always good but realistically there are  good and bad tea.

So if you go for the finest grade, make sure it is not the finest wrapper or finest sales pitch but always the finest tea. Wrappers, stories and marketing can lie but not the tea leaves.

Jiǎjí 甲級, Yǐjí 乙級, Bǐngjí 丙級 or Lājī 垃圾 can be quite obvious if you look at the tea leaves carefully and taste the tea prudently.

1998 Yiwu Sheng Red Mark Jia Ji
1998 Yiwu Sheng Red Mark Jia Ji

Kyusu

Shigaraki Kyusu by Masaki Tachi
Shigaraki Kyusu by Masaki Tachi

Kyusu  is a traditional Japanese teapot.  Two common types of kyusu are side handle teapot, yokode kyūsu (横手急須) and back handle teapot,  ushirode kyūsu (後手急須).  There is also top handle teapot call  uwade kyūsu (上手急須).

Shigaraki Kyusu by Masaki Tachi
Shigaraki Kyusu by Masaki Tachi

I enjoy collecting Kyusu  to brew all types of tea from all over the world.  A tea friend once told me that Japanese teapots are only good  for brewing Japanese tea but I explained to him that teapot is just a vessel for brewing tea.  Just like car, even if it is made in Japan, they can be driven anywhere in the world.

Bulbous Filter
Bulbous Filter

Likewise for tea, which is essentially camelia sinesis.   Tea and teapot should also be universally accepted without any geographical boundaries.  They should be assessed and appreciated based on their intrisic values, wherever they are from. Essentially, it is all about how we use the teapot to brew tea, how we control the brew and what we want out of the brew to suit our palate for our own enjoyment and appreciation.

So, use any teapot or vessel  to brew any tea without any restriction. But like everything else in life, we have to go through the experience of constant experiments, to brew any teas with any teapots in order to understand their shortcomings and potentials.

With experience, knowledge will then be transformed into understanding.

Shigaraki Kyusu by Masaki Tachi
Shigaraki Kyusu by Masaki Tachi

Ancient Dragon Pearl Tea 陳年龍珠茶

Dragon Pearl

Ancient Dragon Pearl Tea 陳年龍珠茶 is a very rare and exotic “tea”. It is actually the excrement from a type of insect larva found in Yunnan, China.  The larvas feed on the leaf of a local native plant. Bamboo tray is placed below the leaf to collect the larvas’ excrement. Scientific analysis shows that the excrement contains crude protein, crude fat, tannins, vitamins and nearly 20 types of amino acids. The excrement is then processed by pan roasting with tea in the ratio of 5:1:1 (Excrement:Tea:Honey) to absorb the flavour of the tea.

Sounds bizzare? But really, it a very highly prized, rare and exotic traditional tea that are sought after by many tea connoisseurs.

Today, I will brew this exotic tea to savor its taste. This tea is processed in the 1950s. The shape of the tea looks like mustard seeds but half the size. After refreshing the tea, it smells like a good aged tea with musky and minty aroma. The color of the brew is very dark brown. The taste is very exotic and pleasant with layers of complexity of musk and dried fruits. It has a pronounce minty and refreshing aftertaste with the profile of a good aged tea.

Overall, it is a very pleasant and unique experience drinking this tea. Definitely this is the type of tea that I will appreciate more and more over time. It reminds me of my experience with truffles when I first tried them and now I am a great fan of truffles. Or perhaps even, the caviar of tea.

Dragon Pearl 2

But beware! This is a very rare traditional tea processed in a very remote area and the authentic ones could hardly be found in the market nowadays. Although this tea may sounds bizzare, it is definitely a rare and exotic tea that is part of the tea history.

Big Mouth Centre 大口中

Ta Kou Zhong

Icon always comes with interesting nickname. Likewise, the iconic  Puer tea nicknamed Ta Kou Zhong , 大口中, which is directly translated as Big Mouth Centre.  It refers to the character of Zhong 中 in the wrapper of Seven-sons Puer tea cake made in 1970s to 80s and also some tea cakes wrapper of the early 90s made by various producers.

The stylized rectangle character of Kou 口 in the character of Zhong 中 is bigger than normal, and therefore Ta 大  is used to describe the unusually bigger size of  Kou 口 in the word Zhong 中.   That is how it gets its nickname from.

This iconic Puer tea is said to be of higher quality and some described it as the tea that possess the dynamism and vitality of a galloping horse.  Wow!

Today, I will brew this (1970s 大口中) tea just to find out the truth behind its description.

This piece of tea that I kept  is very well stored. The tea leaves are clean, reddish dark maroon and smell fresh without any undesirable odour.   After  removing some tea leaves carefully, I refreshed the dry tea leaves and let it settle for a while before brewing it.  The tea is really wonderful and last many brews. The colour of the brew is translucent golden amber. It is really very beautiful.

This tea has a pronounced  enticing taste of lotus and bamboo leaves aroma and sweetness with tranquil complexity.  It also has hints of similarities to the 1950s Liu An tea that I had tried.  The overall impression is quite far from any galloping horse dynamism or vitality as described by others, but close to something that we would  describe as perfect. Voilà!

Now, I just like to enjoy this tea without getting distracted by writing too much technicalities…

Patiently, respectfully and attentively, as I sip this tea, just like when we are in the company of an honoured veteran.

Hmmmm… Viva el té!