Category Archives: Tea knowledge

Bai Ji Quan

img_0551

According to the Chinese zodiac calendar, this year, 2017, is the year of the Rooster. I can’t help myself thinking more about this tea call Bai Ji Guan. It is a rare tea and extremely hard to come by.

Bái Jī Guān, 白鸡冠, or White Cockscomb, is very lightly oxidised Wuyi oolong tea. It is one of the highly prized tea of the four famous Wuyi Cliff tea (Si Da Ming Cong 四大名欉). This tea originated from the bat cave area on Ying Ping peak in the Wuyi Mountains since the Ming Dynasty.

Bai Ji Guan is an extremely rare tea and is hardly available in the commercial market. The tea is not widely planted and requires a lot of traditional skill to process.There are many fake Bai Ji Guan tea out there. In fact, I was searching for a genuine Bai Ji Guan for some years and luckily managed to find a batch from a very reliable source.

img_0548

Genuine Bai Ji Quan is very expensive and close to the famed good Da Hong Pao tea price. The genuine tea leaves are light yellow in color with fine hair and reddish/maroon edge. Fake ones are often greenish.

The typical taste of this tea is extremely sweet with complex fruity fragrance and dry and crisp in the mouth. The type of  fruity profile can be different, depending on the batches. Some has apricot and some has lychee taste profile. The taste profile and character of this tea is very distinctive and memorable. Once you have tasted a genuine Bai Ji Guan, it is very easy to spot the fake.

img_0549

This batch (2014) that I have found has complex fruity taste and aroma with an interesting subtle taste of ginseng tail. The tea is also extremely creamy and at the same time crisp and dry in the mouth. It is a very unique batch.

img_0550

I really enjoy this tea especially in the year of the Rooster. According to legend, this tea was named by a monk in memorial of a courageous rooster that sacrifice its life while protecting his young chicks. The rooster was incarnated to the highest honour of being a tea tree.

This is the  year of the Rooster. It is a good year to drink the Bai Ji Guan tea and pay tribute to the courageous rooster.

.

Superpower

image

I recalled, in a very long time ago in the 1970s, an old Teamaster told me that some tea goes a very long way. A few tea leaves thrown into a big kettle would enabled the tea to be brewed for almost the whole day, pots after pots of it.

Many years later, I discovered some tea with this character. I call this type of tea the “Superpower” tea.

In the late 1990s and early 2000, a group of tea experts toured Yunnan to study the Puer tea in detail. They were amazed why the Chinese, being very resourceful, left the wild tea trees alone. After thorough studies, they realised and concluded that only wild tea harvested in Spring is suitable to be processed into Puer tea.

Wild Puer Yiwu 2001 tea wrapper (Seven Sons)
Wild Puer Yiwu 2001 tea wrapper (Seven Sons)

It was only around the time in early 2000, some small producer began harvesting some wild tea in the early Spring and started the wild Puer tea movement.  But the Puer tea market response was lukewarm and hesitant. There was a lot of doubts about wild tea Puer as most collectors were more in flavour of Cultural Revolution tea and older mass market tea at that time.

Wild Puer Yiwu 2001 tea leaves (Seven Sons)
Wild Puer Yiwu 2001 tea leaves (Seven Sons)

Finally, after more that a decade, wild spring tea aged to be one of the most powerful, smooth and flavorful tea and presently sought after by many Puer tea connoisseurs. The two Puer teas that I have discovered as Superpower tea are from Yiwu mountain produced in 2001, both of them are wild spring Puer tea.  It is the similar batch of tea produced by the same producer in different packaging.  One of them in yellow mark Chitze and the other in the producer own label.

Wild Puer Yiwu 2001 tea wrapper
Wild Puer Yiwu 2001 tea wrapper

However, not all the wild spring tea can be considered as a Superpower tea. The probability is higher for those tea harvested from the wild for the first time or a biodynamic wild or old ancient tree. The harvest has to be in very low frequency during spring and they should be well processed and stored. These are probably some of essential criterias for Superpower tea.

Wild Puer Yiwu 2001 tea leaves
Wild Puer Yiwu 2001 tea leaves

Brewing a Superpower tea is a little bit tricky. Initially I made some mistakes brewing the tea in the usual amount which I normally used which is around 2-3gms per 120ml of boiling hot water, subject to the accuracy of my hand pinching.

image

The tea turned out to be extremely strong and powerful to the point of being too concentrated; overwhelming in taste, aftertaste, aroma and body to a degree of being undesirable.

I realised later that to express it correctly, the tea needs to be stretch widely or thinner in the brewing. The Superpower tea is like an 3 hour orchestra piece condensed into 30 minutes. So the quantity of tea leaves used is reduced drastically, perhaps to a third of the normal amount with shorter brewing time using in a bigger tea pot.

2001 wild Yiwu brewed tea leaves
2001 wild Yiwu brewed tea leaves

With this moderation in brewing, the tea is still very strong, full bodied, with complex aroma, smooth and flavorful, and highly desirable brew after brew. The brew transformed into a superstar tea.

Superpower tea
Superpower tea

Superpower tea is a very high quality and rare tea.  The quality of the tea may be due to a few essential criterias i.e. a very well processed and stored tea, biodynamic wild tea that are harvested in low frequency during Spring. Enjoying a Superpower tea is a real joy, it lasted brews after brews for a long time.

The lengthy brew makes the tea bow gracefully into obscurity and transcending the tea ceremony into a spiritual level of enjoyment.

EDCT

 image

EDC is a common term and  abbreviation for Everyday Carry. There are many instruments or tools designed for EDC e.g. multitools, torchlight, money clips or self defense tools etc.

For tea, I always have a tea canister for EDC. I often refer to it as EDCT (Everyday Carry Tea).  They are small tea caddies or canisters which I carry in my daily tote bag for tea survival. You never know when you need to brew a cup of tea.

Sometimes when I am in the company of friends, over some nice food in a restaurant which provides brewing facilities, it is just cool just to pop out the EDCT.

Or, in middle of nowhere when there is hot water available, just pull a few leaves out from EDCT and plopped it in to have a quick tea fix.

EDCT caddy is really cool and they can be in many forms e.g. a recycled candy tin, a small borosilicate bottle or any canister that is easy to carry around.

I have a few EDCT which I carry around depending on the situations. The one that I usually carry around the most is a recycled candy tin which I filled with aged Sheng Puer. The tea is easy to brew to impress anyone familiar with tea at all level of expertise.

Candy Tin EDCT with 2002 Sheng Puer
Candy Tin EDCT with 2002 Sheng Puer

The other EDCT which I carry is the Yancha in a small pewter tea caddy.  This one comes handy when I patronize the restaurant serving local ribs soup (Bak Kut Teh)  where Chazhou style brewing facilities is available.

Small pewter caddy with Tie Loh Han Yancha
Small pewter caddy with Tie Loh Han Yancha

Sometimes when I visit a novice tea drinker, I like to brew a lighter tea. I would bring along a small Japanese tea caddy and fill it with wild white tea. The caddy itself is a nice art and conversation piece. The tea has subtle ethereal fragrance and milky sweetness which is appealing to a tea novice to be enticed to the world of tea.

Japanese tea caddy with wild white Fuding tea.
Japanese tea caddy with wild white Fuding tea.

On the wild side, when I go jungle trekking or bush bashing, the titanium EDCT is always in the survival pack. Most of the time, survival tools are kept in survival capsule but for me, it is of course, tea.

In the worst case scenario, the titanium survival capsule is used as a teapot too. I would just pour hot water into the titanium capsule and brew the tea from there! It is tea survival to the extreme.

In this capsule, I often filled it up with the flower fragrance and smokey Lapsang Souchong tea. It is a nice smokey tea which come in handy in the wilderness, you never know when you need to smoke some fish or game meat for jungle survival. I carry this Titanium EDCT when I go for jungle trekking in the wilderness.

Titanium EDCT with Lapsang Souchong
Titanium EDCT with Lapsang Souchong tea

EDCT (Everyday Carry Tea) is a crucial tea survival tool.

Have  you got one yet?

Tea Day

Tea day

“There is no such thing as a bad tea day”

Once my tea master, Sifu, 師父, made this statement in response to my casual remarks of good and bad tea day. I thought it was a bit blunt but after I pondered for a while, I realised that it was a reality check for me. Oh yes! I was to be blamed for having a bad tea day because my tea brewing skill was not good enough.  Perhaps it was a subtle message to ask me to work harder and think harder. I worked hard, thought hard and kept this reality check in view and then I finally saw some light with lesser and lesser bad tea day.

Eventually, after many years, the notion of a bad tea day still haunts me but kept in abeyance unless I get sloppy with my brewing skill again.

Finally, my tea master concluded this notion for me by saying: Control your tea and don’t let your tea control you, then there is no such thing as a bad tea day.

Until today, every time when I brew tea, I hold this thought firmly in my mind. Of course, I was fortunate to go through with him for years on how to control tea.

Remember, control your tea and don’t let your tea control you then there is no such thing as a bad tea day. “

 

Ambivert

An ambivert is an intermediate character between an extrovert and an introvert.  It is an easy character to relate to, having the best of both worlds in different situations. Sometimes we need to be quiet and sometimes we need to be assertive. Tea behaves this way too. I often use the term “ambivert stage” to describe Sheng Puer tea that is in the transition phase of changing from the vibrant young to the mellowed aged tea. This is one of the most exciting stage in the aging of Puer tea.

I have been following the aging process of sheng Puer for many years.  It is the real joy in tea appreciation. Most of the time when a new tea is vigourously tested and approved to be in my good book, I would procure a dozen or two pieces of the tea. From the day of purchase, I will drink the tea often and experience its’ aging process. I often drink them leisurely but every quarterly, I would be more rigorous and thorough in the tasting process to enhance my understanding of the tea.

A Sheng Puer should be tasted frequently to experience its aging process. It is like growing and maturing with it. At every stage of its aging process, it will reveal new personality, talk to you differently and sometimes surprises you. Sometimes it makes you smile and sometimes it challenged you to accept its’ new character. The guessing game of what it would turn out be next, is equally exciting. Even iconic tea like Lao Banzhang is still in the questionable stage and there is not certainty that it will be a great tea until proven so in future. That is the joy and beauty of keeping and aging tea, which is to grow with it. There is no point buying a Puer tea and hoping to enjoy it many years later or bet that it will be great when it is old. Just like life, we must enjoy the journey, not the destination.

Da Xue Shan 2002
Da Xue Shan 2002

At ambivert stage, the Sheng Puer is usually around about 10 years of age plus minus one or two years. It is the period of when the tea is approaching maturity, but still have its youthful vigor.

I recalled a special tea, a 2002 wild spring Da Xue Shan, 大雪山野生荼, which make my life so wonderful for many months when it reached 10 years of storage. The tea was changing its character every few days. It is at the stage of mellowing down to a smooth aged tea while still revealing its vigor and youthful vitality. The dynamism and  constant struggle between being introvert and extrovert is really so exciting. The taste, the texture, the aroma, the body and whole language of that tea changes and evolve in every few days. It was really a wonderful experience beyond description.

Da Xue Shan 2002
Da Xue Shan 2002

Eventually after that ambivert stage, the tea will mellowed down to something more constant but the complexity,  Qi  and the spiritual growth of the tea will continue further for many years.

Enjoy your tea from day one and grow with it so that you will understand and appreciate it even more.  Just like our children, we don’t put them in childcare and collect them only when they grew up. Grow with them and have a wonderful life journey with them. Likewise for your tea.

Ambivert stage is the most exciting stage in aging Puer tea. It is the stage when the tea changes dynamically over a short period of a few months, erratically  revealing all its personality, potential, vigour and vibrancy.  It is the most exciting and joyous period of enjoying the tea beyond any description.

Don’t miss it.

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?

Eat Tea

Traditional teochew teapot, cups and saucer
Traditional teochew teapot, cups and saucer

To the Teochew people, tea is treated like the exilir of life.

Traditionally, most Teochew cannot do without tea even for a day. They drink (“Lim”  in Teochew dialect) tea throughout the day and many of them often substitute drinking water with drinking tea.

Teochew or Chaozhou style of brewing tea is one of the most sophisticated way of brewing tea. It looks awfully simple but the understanding and techniques really take a lifetime  to learn. I set up a brewing station at home specifically just to train myself to brew tea in Chaozhou style but after many many years, I think I am still a novice apprentice.

While most of the tea connoisseurs refer to tea consumption as drinking (“Lim”) tea, the Teochew  would normally say eat (“Chiak” in Teochew dialect) tea instead. This term of eating tea suggest a higher level of tea appreciation. So when we meet a Teochew, or a tea friend whom we usually enjoy tea at a higher level with, we  should say eat tea rather than drink tea i.e. “Chiak Teh” rather than “Lim Teh”

So…“Lai Chiak Teh” ~~ “Come, Let’s Eat Tea”

Scent

Gaiwan Post

I enjoy nice and natural scents.  Artificial scents and fragrances really knock me off and give me a bad headache.

In recent years, adding artificial scents and fragrances to tea is a common practice.   Artificial scents e.g. nice orchid flowery aroma are often added to tea to attract unsuspecting buyers, thinking that the tea is of higher quality.

Most of the time, artificial scents or fragrances can be detected by smelling the dry tea leaves but some tea are cleverly masked by subtle scenting and heavy roasting.

The only way to evaluate these artificial additives is to amplify all the scents and aromas of the tea with one of the technique which I normally use.

Firstly, heat up a Gaiwan by pouring boiling water into it and let it sit, say for about 10-20 seconds.

Then, pour out all the water and close the lid. The internal part of the Gaiwan is saturated with high heat steam.  Immediately, add in, say about 2 grams of the dry tea leaves and close the lid.

Hold the Gaiwan and lid firmly in horizontal position.
Hold the Gaiwan and lid firmly in horizontal position.

Hold the Gaiwan with 2 fingers securely, one on the lid and the other on the base and shake it back and forth rigorously for about 10-20 seconds.

Shake the Gaiwan rigourously.
Shake the Gaiwan rigourously.

Then open the lid slightly and smell the escaped mist. The mist contain scents that are broken into layers and you should be able to identify all the natural and artificial scent quite clearly.

Tilt the lid and smell the mist from Gaiwan to evaluate all the amplified scents.
Tilt the lid and smell the mist from Gaiwan to evaluate all the amplified scents.

Do this often and you should be able to discern them quite accurately.  You can also use this method to gauge the quality of the tea after you are familiar with the scents of different quality of the same tea.

So with this skill, we can now say “sellers beware” and not ” buyers beware”.