Before the year ends, I wish to do a brief tea tasting. People who follow the Mandarin's blog know that tea review from vendors are rare, except a couple of trusted ones. So, why a change? Perhaps it's to encourage more younger people to learn and understand this life changing experience.
A generous sample for holidays from Carnie and Sina from Red Circle Tea, two young tea enthusiasts who started a new online tea shop. After reading their blogs, I could feel and share the joy of being up in Taiwan tea mountains in search of fine tea.
The package included 1. Organic Red Jade #18, Ping Xi, Taiwan. Machine process and 2. Organic Tribute Red Jade #18, Ping Xi, Taiwan. Hand process. I am just going to write up the latter, hoping readers could test out the first one themselves.
Interestingly, this tea shows the positive energy and youthfulness from the ladies who found it and the people who made them. I am looking forward to seeing how this tea and the company will bring tea awareness to younger audience in the States.
Thank you again Carnie & Sina for such lively and warm gift in this Winter Holidays.
Photographing using snow light or in rainy daylight is always a blessing. The unusual natural lighting always create such romance and mystery to the shot. I am enjoying the first white out before christmas with my Wuyi Oolong tea setting. Wishing you all a warm, cosy Christmas. T
My deepest Salute to Mr. MarshalN.! A set of Antique Japanese pewter cup saucers for the Holidays. One of the few items missing for my tea room. Now, it is completed and I am content. Thank you again for your kindness and generosity. Happy Holidays!
After 2 weeks of resting from jet lag, most of my tea and myself are almost recovered from bottle shock. The best way to cure the distress was to drink, drink and drink more. Safe to say, we went through almost 2 pounds of fine tea within this couple of weeks.
The choicest so far are aged Shui Xian, and a late 80's 8582. Also got some samples of a fine grade Yixing Kung-Fu Red. I've found 5 kinds of Shui Xian from this trip, 50's to 2008. The most amazing is the 2007 Wuyi SX Special Select, which tastes like a fine bordeaux wine! Shui Xian characters still continue to amaze me. Wide range of bouquets from Peony, to Habanos; Aloeswood to Fine Cognac; Aged Moutai to Château Margaux... hitting all the right spots.
This Menghai 8582 from the late 80's is somewhat 'Mandarins' too. Before 1990's 8582 is my favorite recipe from Menghai factory. A very challenging puerh imo, like a wild horse. The stages are rugged and awarding, powerful and challenging for the mind.... sadly the productions after 1990's are flat and uninteresting (compared to the former). Not to mention the current productions from 2000 and onwards, after Dayi took over... 'Commercial' is the only comment this graphic designer could kindly come up with.
This is a traditional Hong Kong Storage, which means 'wet stored'. After the 4th infusion, the 'storage' smell is mostly washed off and rounded, leaving the 80's Menghai unique characters of: Rose talc perfume, aged plum and camphor. I am aging this in my baby onggi at the moment, to further soften the storage taste. Will see how my aging technique might enhance this 80's treasure.
My Second design for Mr. Parker arrived at the studio today. Since then, I've sent 2 packages of choicest tea select for a cuppa invitation to Mr. Parker. Patience will be awarded somedays, hopefully a tea session with my wine idol....
A thought on Burning incense: "....The fungus and decomposition process continue to generate a very rich and dark resin to form within its heartwood. This is the preferred resin used in making fine Japanese incense. The resin created as an immune response makes the most sacred oil on the planet . As you can see the wood is extremely rare and often very difficult to obtain, as well as being quite expensive. The best quality is Kyara. Kyara comes in four types: Green, Iron, Purple, and Black.
There are many stories about aloeswood being buried under the ground for hundreds of years. This legend comes from an old Chinese book on incense, but today most aloeswood comes from infected trees that, although in the process of decaying and dying, are indeed still standing. However, sometimes the roots become infected with the fungus and these can be found underground....."
Finding a decent traditional high fired oolong is hard these days. Looking for a properly aged Wuyi Shui Xian is harder, so stumbling over a 50 years + high fired aged Wuyi is by fate not by quest.
It took me a life long dedication on a single tea shop to finally convince the owner whose tea I am worthy of. Not just any tea, but his own self roasted Main Cliff Shui Xian made more than 50 years ago.
The oldest high grade water fairy I had was a 26 year old vintage Heaven's Heart Cliff Wuyi. It tasted like aged Moutai wine as I recorded. This one, when drinking with the owner it tasted like XO Brandy.
Smooth, Chinese medicine, brandy, aged balsamic on front. Orchid, floral, rose and clean for the finish. Wonderful structure, not a bad way to get drunk. Sweet!
I also tried it with my new 70s buffalo Shui Xian pot. I was not sure about the buffalo at first... but after I used it, it totally made sense. The head of the buffalo acts like a nob for me to open and close the lid easily. Brilliant!
We started with 2 new puerh cakes from Yi Dao. A High Mountain Wild Tree, and a High Mountain Before Ming. We had 3 rounds on each one and that was it... this factory is still at a very young stage searching for it's identity. We wasted no time and cleansed our palate with a late 80's 8582. A Hong Kong storage cake, but good enough to bring us back on the train.
Brian Kirbis needs no introduction to the Mandarin's tea although this was his first appearance inside the red room. Being the first timer here at the Big Apple, I played as a proper host to have dinner at the Katz's Delicatessen with their Pastrami on rye extra juice, Reuben, Knoblewurst and fries. Until our tummies were filled with grease and beer, great preparation for a long tea night.
My lovely wife passed on the occasion, since heavy tea and habanos will be our surroundings. She retired early and let us monkeys run the place.
We revisited the 8582 on its 4th steeping and then jumped into the hard items. Brian introduced one of the most amazing yiwu I've ever seen: 可以兴茶砖 brick from 1995, the original family recipe. The brick was beaming with energy, glossy surface and warm glow, the construction and the amount of pressure to press it is optimum. He brewed it with heart and concentration, making the Cha Qi welcoming, rather than aggressively imposing. 'It took me a couple of years to do this...' he said. 'More like winning the heart of a Dragon Lady', I kept the reply to myself.
Around 5g in a 150 ml pot, full boiled water, flash rinse and 5 sec. of 1st steep. Fresh Orchid, warm dry wool, bamboo forest, and dense liquor. The Qi surrounded us, instead of exploding inside us. 2nd cup, I was in a trend.... bright and focused, light and warm. Speechless on the 3rd..... amazing.
Feeling lost, but understood we can not do another young puerh after this yiwu. I pulled out a '83 DHP from the 2nd generation bushes, hoping the Yan Qi will cut the Yiwu, but it faded into thin air. So, a 80's high fired aged Anxi Xiping TGY, Kung-Fu style in a 40 ml blue pot. Crushed powder lining half the pot and filled with whole leaves on top. 'Bring It On!' Brian's '01 Cohiba Siglo II was kicking into it's 2nd stage. My 2nd 2007 Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 of the night was burning rapidly on it's 1st stage....
'How do you feel, Brian?' 'Good, good, good.' trying to keep the flame going. The smell of aged Habanos and high fired TGY filled up the room. The place felt alive again, after my 2 weeks of absence working in China. An excellent way to warm the house.
11:15 pm. We have to part.... my 3 days of insomnia and jet lag had taken its toll. A couple of amazing gift from Brian, tea for me and a Moscato d'Asti for my wife. Charming! Just Charming.
I was too drunk to clean up and the Qi from the yiwu put me to sleep right away. Thanks again for a wonderful event Mr. Kirbis, and best of luck to become a East Coaster again next fall. Till then, you have to pursuit your happiness, so that we could have more mandarin's (boy's) time once you move to upstate!
The Reunion is sweet, and the longing is finally over.... After 3 years of her disappearance, Juliet returned with beauty and grace. A Shakespearian drama with a happy ending.
Companying her voyage are an army of 70s-80s yixings, ranging from 40ml to 180ml. All cleaned up and documented here in this post.
I hope all yixing fans could learn one or two things from my previous post Flagstaff Yixing Teapot Museum, Hong Kong, using museum pieces as reference to guide yourself when purchasing older pots. Most of those museum pots' market value is from US $10K and up to almost a million, ranging from early 17c to 90's. So price (collector's select) could be the first indication of its authenticity. Buying a Rong Jiang's pot for under 10K will surely be a tuition.
*This is a craftsman grade 40 ml SP, the smallest functional SP i've ever seen. Made in the 80's using 'Factory stored' early (after ROC) Ben Shan muo luni, with more coarse and sparkle gold sand. You can see the clay difference from a later replica.
The original 1915 Cheng's globular shape from the Flagstuff House museum of Tea Ware, Hong Kong. What amazes me is the size of this beauty... it can hold at least 600 ml of water. The glow is quite something.
This little treasure has been hiding in my baby onggi jar since this April. Finally, the right moment came and I shared it with my friend Michael Turek and Italo. With 2 other teas: 80's cooked tuocha, and a 1600+ yrs Chairman Mao.
My friends were new to tea tasting, and they both thought the DD is a bit on the mellow and quite side. Nice clear brew, aged character stimuated both sides of my tongue and made me salivate. Need to have a quite mind for this tea, perhaps? But my wife preferred this over the 80's tuo.
I wonder if I did not push it enough when both my friends prefered the other comparing to the DD? Or is it just that they were looking for instant gratification because of the promising aroma?
Most often when we do group tasting, we are more likely to jump to the gun... or impatience? There is a big difference in drinking tea to purify the mind vs drinking tea as a social event. Later one makes you feel that the clock is always ticking, and moving on to the next is a constant concern?
So I brought the pot back home, and slowly brew it with one of my favorite Cohiba Siglo VI 2003 companying it. The cedar, coffee, leathery aroma with hint of grassy tobaccoy paired well with subtle floral of this Dong Ding. The sweetness of the tea, balanced out the tarry nutty smoke. Then the creamy texture of the aged tobacco added dimension to the clean candy water at the end. What a bliss, and this combination made me feel complete and satisfied. Thanks again for ABx for his generosity.
Over the years, I have been documenting on some brewing methods for Oolong tea. Looking back and comparing the progress is one of the most self educational & learning experiences. From the very beginning, I only concentrated on the surface and 'packaging': eg. looks, brewing steps, aroma, feeling of front of mouth and the first couple of minutes of 'expectations'. All these do not excite me any more, but the lingering effects and experience afterwards is more what I am searching for at this point.
A couple of readers asked what is a good oolong and how do I brew it.... All I can answer is that it is a loaded question. Perhaps an endless quest? Awakening of "Self and Surrounding", or a lifetime experience to search for Ethereal... a great character/bouquets of maturing process like a 30 yrs+ fine Bordeaux, Burgundy or even Habanos. And the refinement of brewing a tea without thinking too much of it... just like breathing?
The only fact that I am confident of concluding based on my experience is, if you can use 16g of tea on a 80ml pot and you can very much enjoy it, it is a good tea and a good brewing method.... at least to my latest enlightenment, and of course, this will only change in time.
Most often these days, when drinking with Masters, or beginners, I always observe in a very intense way.... Not intruding nor asking, but just looking and enjoying the results. Often enough, I will learn something new, and could tell why and what made someone do what they are doing at their own stage. Can you translate what I am doing in this silent animation?
Beginners often use less tea to water ratio, and Master usually do the opposite. A seasoned tea drinker once told me, the reason to do this is often someone has not yet found something good enough or confident enough. When you use a load of not-so-refined tea, the best you get is a cup of not-so-refined brew. A high quality tea, when you pack it to the top, you will always get a top cup. That's why you have tea bag, and the normal way to brew it? A bag to a big cup, you can make any tea bag taste passable.
My mom wrote to me this morning: "Kyoto is one of my favourite cities in the world, there stood the only traditional Tang Dynasty architecture left in the world, and yet ours, in China, were all destroyed. sad.sad sad.....!!
One wonders, sometimes, if Kyoto does resembles what our own city once looked like back in Tang Dynasty?? A great era... ruled by Empress Wu......a city filled with artists, scholars, poets, dancers ...beautiful and elegant people....in tasteful and stylish fashion... good food...good wine...great music and lyrics..... lucky lucky Tang! Poor Hongkongnese!"
Well, here is my first blog response to my dearest mother: "I do inherit the proud Chinoiserie from you, and sadly 'most' but not all the Tang architectures were destroyed in our beloved 'Middle Empire'. One could still reconnect the tasteful, romantic style of Tang dynasty culture through a cup of tea. Specially under the Autumn foliage, in Kyoto, Korea, China, Hong Kong or New York, it does not matter.
I hope my practice in the art of tea have prepared me to whisk you up a good Tang Style tea medallion, next time we see each other." xoxo
Happy Autumn to all. My favorite tea season.
photo courtesy of http://patrickphoto-tw.blogspot.com/
One of the lost puerh tucked away inside a tin box. No big fan of Dayi, almost like drinking a Mondavi's house Merlot, meanwhile you know they also make Opus. But sometimes I just want to enjoy something simple or less poetic, when deadlines and challenging design solutions start to pile up.
Perhaps the reason I picked this up was the blooms covering the brick. As you can see, it also blossomed on my '94 Monte 4. The surface of the cake still looks oily with nice shine, and that's the way I like my aging to be.
Cloudy afternoon, around 85% humidity, and temp in low 70s. 6 grams with 150 ml pot. Boiling water flash rinsed twice, and rest for 2 mins. 1st brew 5s. Clear, dark amber, aroma of 70% coco dark chocolate with dried wood. No chew even though the soup look dense and oily. Very nondescript and mild. Deep water throatiness all the way to chest level.
2nd brew, push 20s. Cold semi-sweet chocolate right out of the fridge, the sweetness is not detectable, but you know it's there!? Clean, light and refreshing. Hint of balanced bitterness paring with woody maple. No qi at all but good quenchless.
3rd brew, pushed even harder, since I am only using 6g with 150ml water. Rich maple syrup front and finishing with coco aftertaste.... is this a puerh? Comfortable and familiar effects, besides the cold chocolate part. Overall easy and single dimensional. A good during lunch dim-sum tea.
At this point, hope you are enjoying or at least learning something new from these posts about the similarity of aging tea and cigar. I do want to point out that all of these experiences are very much personal, and there is no right or wrong in doing what you think is good... just the result and consequence of anyone's choice. For me, I prefer to take the action of practicing them, rather than blind googling or listening to vendors or "masters' online. That's the reason I started this blog to begin with.
There are some interesting things about learning both 'hobbies', just looking at these jars shown above and the concept behind it and then comparing to Tea Jar that we use for storing puerh, Strong Coincidence?
Speaking of Coincidences, I have been fortunate enough to meet up with like-minded aficionados by random accident. I was filled with joy and excitement this morning when I received a mail from Mr. Nino who had the pleasure to meet with Min Ron Nee twice!! So I break out this Double Coronas Partagas and kick back on a Thursday afternoon..... Enjoy!
If one of the World's most respected cigar collectors wrote about the link between aging Habanos and Puerh, there are much wisdom to learn from....
First, on the previous post where the author mentioned in interesting note (blue): Do cigars need to breath while aging? Applying the same idea to aging puerh, I found those in which I open storage with good ventilation for the new - 2 yrs old bings. The darken color (fever) marks were obvious. After the first couple of years, the tea oil shine on the surface dried up and became matte. Moreover, the floral notes were flattened and its character/aftertaste were less complex than those I refined storage. So if I want to drink young puerh in 5 years and prefer a bit more 'aged' character, I might want to open storage it. But if I am going for the mandarin's style... I would not give up any of my 'granny powder' for any shortcuts.
The funny thing is, once you know the difference, it's easy to tell. And there is no way someone could hide the false and reverse what's been done to the tea. Any thoughts?
My rose, talc cosmetic nub that started it all....
Just finished a Monte 2 from 2002. An the mysterious 'Granny face powder' showed herself in the third stage.... the same character of a Nannuo. As Salsero pointed out on teachat regarding the same encounter: "...Bill had a very strong impression from his childhood of the aroma of Granny Face Powder which he remembers as a flour-like Coty powder that could fill a room it was so light. For a while he thought he detected some of that aroma, but it was only one of so many fleeting smells and tastes that we were pretty bowled over by the tea and after losing track of the number of infusions (all quite short) we were too tea drunk to continue...."
I would like to share a dialog with cigar enthusiasts and pureh aficionados based on some personal experiences and facts, regarding these two subjects on aging Cigar and tea and how they changes the profile in the coming posts.
source and credit to Mr. Min Ron's An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Post-Revolution Havana Cigars
Last Group for the tea utensils posts is these tea scoops. (Clockwise from Top) 1. Early Rep. Zitan wood scoop with jade inlay 5-7g 2. Silver spoon 1890s 2-4g 3. Cow horn scoop 8-12g 4. Bamboo scoop 6-8 g 5. Modern Rosewood scoop 6-9 g
Very simple but useful tools these are, I realized there is such a history behind them besides going further to Chinese, Japanese or Western tea culture. These Chinese scoops' shapes, widths, and sizes were all pre-calculated.
What do I mean by that? For example, while scooping loose wiry oolong one supposed to roll the tea onto the scoop, rather than digging into the delicate leaves, this rolling action will position the long leaves for easy entry to a yixing pot. Also, a full scoop equals to one tea session in general, around 6-8 grams for 120 ml brewing vessel. Depending of the sizes of the pot, we can then use different sized scoop.
Something so simple, yet following the basic design principle of form follows function.
How many is too many? Organizing and rotating tea utensils is often a headache for me... not because I am trying to show them off, but the fact that only 10% of the utensils are being used. Some even get used only once or twice. So what are these? Here, I am trying to put a glossary together for the record:
Group A: Yixing brushes. 1. Boar bristle brush for polishing larger yixing. 2. Hay brush for cleaning inside of wet yixing after use. 3. Boar chest-hair hard brush with ox bone handle, for brushing off uneven patina on yixing surface. 4. Soft 'feeding' brush to even out patina on yixing. 5. Fan brush from my watercolor class, to even out water spot while brewing. 6. Soft polishing cloth for cleaning yixing after brewing, and while the surface is still hot.
Group B: Tea strainers. 1. Korean Calabash Gourd Strainer. 2. Blanc de Chine Strainer set. 3. English silver nickel tiny Strainers. 4. Cheapest stainless steel Strainers ($5 for 25) with glass pitcher 5. QingBai Cha Hai
More to come.... Would it be fun to have quizzes next? hmm... a sneak peek:
Anyone interested in guessing what 4 and 8 are? Of course there will be a small reward. Enjoy
Thanks for everyone anticipations... Close guesses, unfortunately, no one get it right : ( Here are the answers:
4. Wild guess 1 - Teapot lid holder. Material like Pearl on the top suppose to avoid reaction with yixing (as the maker told me), more like caviar spoon. 8. Wild guess 2 - Tetsubin holder. While using Brazier to heat Tetsubin, this traditional chopper tools adjust and hold the kettle in place. You can see the notches at the end for gripping the rim of a brazier, which RTEA pointed out.
After drinking 2 days straight on the 90s Tibetan puerh, I think it was pretty exhausted.... will I just discard it? Why not try something the Tibetan will do - Boiling it. Only without adding yak butter and salt.
Boiling puerh is a traditional way of drinking tea in the mountain of XiShuangBanna. Village Elders usually drink the boil soup after a day of work, companying a nice green tobacco.
The boiled soup tasted like classic black Assam tea. Warm and welcoming.
Is there a season for drinking aged cooked puerh? Most of my experiences with shu aged (7-15yrs) during dead-winter season, is flat and boring.... really nothing to write home about.
Organizing some cigar boxes in the storage (which I use for aging shu puerh), I bumped into a lost mushroom. I did a post back in 2008 Feb., this puerh did not impress nor inspire at that time. But when I opened it up this morning, in a 80% hum./80F storage, it was like an invitation to a fine Chinese Banquet.
The continue down pour and hot muggy weather, it seems to have given a new life to this dried up, loveless mushroom. Fragrance of sweet cedar wood, dried wild morels, and a hint of tobacco caught my fancy. The shape of mushroom puerh always look exotic and intriguing, so inspired by it, I have to find some vessel which is similar in texture and tones.
A neglected set of Japanese tea cups seem to beg for a summer breeze.
Brewing: 8g/150ml pot. Crab eyes boil. 3 Flash Rinses. Set 1 min rest after 3rd rinse. 10s to 3rd brew / 30s on 4th / 10s on 5th / 1 min onward.
Color: Clear shine, ruby red, burnt chestnut and oily.
Smell: Red Jujube and dried dates, sweet woody, after rain forest.
Taste: Dry sweet mushroom, dates, chinese herbal medicine, cedar wood, pale rose.
Base: Sweet, clean, coating top of throat, oily refreshing (like Olio Nuovo), deep and tingling.
Effect: Calming, numbing to back of mouth and throat, gentle cha qi, sweet spots at top of throat, refreshing and moisturizing the tongue. Still a bit flat after the 5th. to my taste.
Besides drinking it hot in my chawan, I also lined the 'new' small cups out for a cool tasting. From 1st brew to the 6th. Most of the time, when tasting aged puerh (shu & sheng), do try drinking it cool. It's a preferred way for older pu-headed mandarins.
So next time, if you have a disappointing aged shu in your storage, try picking a right season or after heavy rain to give it another chance.
Looking back to my tasting notes, I found that I have more than 4 different styles developed over the years (my first style). I don't know which one I prefer or my audiences prefer, perhaps it depends on the tea? The latest style was "borrow" after the modern bible of puerh tea by Mr. Tang. I like the to-the-point and in-short information format, listing all the most important elements during a tea judging process in China.
I wish to start a regular tea tasting report on more popular tea here (hopefully once a week?), so that I could build a good tasting archive, and a 'reference base' to share with other Tea Passagers.
Hmmm... what tea should I start to dedicate to the idea? A more unusual one I think, thanks to Brian for his kind gifts: A Wang Mingyi Zen Brick from zenandtea.com.
6.5g in 120 ml pot. Crab eyes boiling. 30s rinse. 1 min rest. 30s steep. 2 min rest to 2nd brew. 3 min steep and push on 3rd brew. Overnight brew on 4th.
It's an interesting puerh. More like a red puerh than raw pu. The high oxidation process completely changed the natural flavor of a lincang. Frankly, it is something I have to get used to.... very much like another cake I had in the same process:
Personal notes: I think this process might be too rough on the mao cha, exhausting the essence of its natural characters thru high oxidation, making it flat, aired-out and one dimension. Hope that this is not the trend for puerh to come, the result was a easier to drink raw puerh. Down side is it changes the profile of the tea. Maybe aging could have a different outcome, adding back the complexity?.... but then what's the point?