Monday, October 10, 2016

Menghai Dayi 2006 0622-601: Notes & Visual References

This post is about the Menghai Dayi 2006 recipe number 0622 batch 601, 200 grams cake version.  This particular tea was obtained from a tea wholesaler based in Dongguan, a city in the Guangdong province that is about 41 miles (67 km) away from Guangzhou.


  • A new numbered recipe was introduced in 2006 in celebration of Menghai Tea Factory's 66th anniversary
  • This new 0622 recipe is based on two older recipes: the '92 Fangcha and 7532
  • Three versions of the 2006 0622 were produced in cake (bing) format: 660 grams, 400 grams, and 200 grams
  • As the third number in the recipe denotes (0622), the tea is a blend of second grade leaves with silvery-white buds interspersed generously
  • The number 601 indicates that it is the first production batch in the year of 2006

For the sake of brevity, I will defer all visual observation and description to the accompanying photographs.

Basic parameter: ~5.5 grams in a 110ml gaiwan; Crystal Geyser (source: Olancha spring) water at 100°C/212°F.

Storage of the tea is dry natural in humid Southern China conditions.  There is no indication that the tea was subjected to traditional or wet storage.  This is observed from the look of the dry and the wet leaves, as well as the taste of the tea.

The humid storage taste is dominant in the first 3 or 4 infusions before the base material's characteristics reveal itself in subsequent infusions.  The tea is full bodied, well-rounded in the mouth, bitter and quite punchy (assertive).  The bitterness, however, is the welcome kind that transforms into a sweet aftertaste / huigan that reminds me of good Bulang tea.   Steeping durability is excellent, providing about 12-15 good infusions (this is highly variable depending on tea:water ratio used and steeping time).

Overall score: 3½ out of 5 (good - v. good)

Price as of October 2016: ¥180 (RMB) or $27 USD per 200 grams cake.


All images were taken within the last week of September 2016, about a few days after receiving the tea from the Guangdong-based vendor.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Cheunghing Tie Luohan: An Affordable Luxury

As autumn settles in and the air grows cooler, I have a tendency to prefer drinking aged, highly-roasted oolong over other types of tea.  It’s warming and soothing (it is less cooling, to be precise, as all teas are cooling by nature).

Buying high-fired oolong, however, is an adventure in itself.  The great ones often come with a [very] high price tag, while the affordable ones that flood the market often are younger teas that have been roasted to death and/or subpar.  That’s not to say there aren’t any good, affordable, aged ones.  Cheunghing’s Tie Luohan is one example that is good, aged and affordable – a triple threat.

The tea brews very dark, almost opaque.  It’s malty, sweet with a hint of chocolate flavor, thick and silky smooth.  Whatever strong roasty characteristics it had when it was young, it has now mellowed out with age.  This tea can take a lot of abuse too: over brewing it does make the tea strong but it hardly gets bitter.  The best part about it is, a session with a small packet of 7.5 grams in leaves costs only $1, more or less.  Simply said, it’s an affordable luxury.

I store the paper packets in a medium-sized clay jar to let the tea evolve and (hopefully) get better with age.  I have to admit, it’s rather hard to keep my hand out of the cookie jar, so to speak.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Kintsugi and the Beauty in Broken Things

These wood-fired cups were made by a talented Taipei-based pottery artist, Mr. Emilio Jose Del Pozo, and they were fired in a kiln at the ceramics museum in Yingge.  Alas, two of them broke in the process, leaving only one fully intact.  Kindly, Mr. Del Pozo offered to repair the broken ones by kintsugi (金継ぎ) method using gold(1), and the results are simply beautiful.

There is something profound about the art of kintsugi beyond mere aesthetics alone, especially in this day and age of disposable consumerism.  For me and my family, it resonates rather deeply as we are currently taking care of a terminally ill parent.  Sometimes, without rhyme or reason, people and things get broken regardless of how attentive and careful we conduct ourselves.  Continuing to love and care for those that are broken, I think, is one of the meanings of kintsugi itself.

Mr. Emilio Jose Del Pozo is a pottery artist and the proprietor of The Jade Leaf in Taipei (


1. Kintsugi can also be done with pure silver and platinum, in addition to gold.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Is Wistaria Going West?

A few days ago, I received a shipment of some tea from Wistaria, a well-known tea and cultural institution in Taipei.  Included among the teas is a leaflet with a brief history and philosophy behind their brick-and-mortar façade.  The accordion leaflet is well-written and well-designed, and it serves the purpose of reaching out to English-speaking tea lovers.

Credit: Wistaria Tea House, Taipei.  Click on the attachments above to enlarge.

The shipment of teas also included 8 pu’er paid samples, packaged inside lovely small canisters.  Those who have visited the tea house and purchased some tea there are perhaps familiar with these canisters.  Inside them are the following teas at 25 grams each.
  • 2001/02 Yiwu Rustic / 易武麤茶 (Yiwu)
  • 2003 Ziyin You / 紫印攸 (Youle)
  • 2003 Qingteng / 青藤 (Mengsong)
  • 2003 Zipin / 紫聘 (Yiwu)
  • 2003 Ziyin / 紫印 (Nannuo)
  • 2004 Jiangcheng / 江城 (Jiangcheng area)
  • 2006 Taihe / 太和 (Yiwu)
  • 2007 Hongyin / 紅印 (Master Zhou Yu’s blend formula)

Well done indeed, Wistaria.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Wabi-Sabi of Cracked Celadon Teaware

There is a certain ethereal and charming beauty about the appearance of crackled patterns on celadon teawares.  Made by a Yingge-based kiln (in Taiwan) that has now closed its door permanently, I acquired a few of these floral-shaped cups through an old friend in June of 2016.  The crackled veins appeared faintly at first after about a week of using it for tea drinking.  Now, 3 months later, the veins have darkened significantly.

It’s interesting to observe the development of their crackled patterns.  To visually demonstrate, on the left is a cup virgin to tea.  The center cup has been used infrequently.  And the cup on the right has tasted more than the others.

Will they one day become as beautiful as these precious antique crackled celadon collection at the National Palace Museum in Taiwan?

Credit: National Palace Musuem, Taiwan

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Removing Blockage in a Yixing Pot Finial’s Airhole

Disclaimer: please use good judgement before attempting the method written below.  The risk of damaging your pot exists, and I assume no responsibility.  This post was written as a note on my do-it-yourself attempt to fix the pot  – and to convey ideas to others.  It is not written as an expert's instruction.

A recently acquired late 1980’s Factory 1 shuiping teapot, 110ml in volume, single-hole filter does not pour well.  The stream pours thinly and often sputters out of the spout.  Further, when the lid is placed (gently) to close the pot’s mouth, an excessive amount of tea water spills out of the pot due to pressure from poor air exchange.

Upon inspection of the air hole on the lid’s finial, it is apparent that the airway is partially blocked by clay.  The partial blockage cannot be removed by simple means, such as blowing air into the hole or using a thin toothpick to push the blockage out.  Evidently, the blockage is an original part of the lid’s structure itself (i.e. it’s not a foreign object to the pot), and it is highly likely due to the manufacturing of the pot.

(√) Do nothing, except to raise the lid slightly while pouring to allow air exchange to occur better, thus speeding up the pour time.

(!) Use a jeweler’s needle file.  However, the smallest needle file was found to be too thick to fit through the finial’s airhole.  Damage to the pot is highly likely.

(!) Use a sewing needle, a toothpick, and other probes that fit through the airhole are not strong or sturdy enough to clear up the blockage effectively.

(√) Use a string-like tool with a rough surface and small enough gauge/width to fit through the airhole (and navigate around the blockage) to file away the clay bits that is blocking the airhole.

A string with a rough surface was employed.  A stainless steel cable designed for hanging picture frames was inserted through the airhole (see photo below).  The texture on the steel cable is not rough, but it is rifted due to being manufactured by using several smaller cables, twisted together (see photo above).  Upon insertion of the cable, a gentle back-and-forth motion was performed to file away the blockages.  This motion was done while at the same time turning the lid slowly in order to file the entire inner surface of the airhole.  After the filing was done, a camera dust blower was used to force any loose clay and dust out of the airhole.

The attached blockage was filed away successfully.  As a result, the pot pours as it should be: much swifter and smoother than before.  Further, placing the lid onto the pot’s mouth does not cause water to spill out [as much as before] anymore.  No damage was caused from this procedure.

Consider the risks of unintentional damage to the pot before proceeding.  You may not want to do this to a highly valuable pot in case of accidental damage.  Please read the disclaimer on the top of this post.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Notes and Visual References on the Late 1980's Menghai Factory # 7542 (aka: 88 Qing Bing)

This post is about 88 Qing Bing, thin wrapper version.

The 88 Qing Bing ("88QB") tea in this post was obtained from a trusted tea collector extraordinaire in Malaysia. It has been stored naturally by the collector since the early 1990’s.

There are 2 important key elements to 88QB:
  1. They are Menghai Factory-produced 7542 tea cakes from 1989-1992, and
  2. They are dry-and-naturally stored † (see endnotes for more information)
Once authenticity can be confirmed (point # 1), the next challenging and interesting part will be to determine the tea’s storage (point # 2). Due to storage differences by various owners, 88QB comes in many different expressions. Some of these expressions are exceptional, while others are lesser in quality.† According to Mr. Chan Kam Pong, author of “First Step to Chinese Puerh Tea”, a significant amount of Best Tea House’s 88QB stock had been sold to buyers worldwide as of 2003.† As such, the change in provenance will have subjected much of the worldwide supply to storage differences, and therein lies the rub.

For the sake of brevity, I will defer all visual observation and description to the accompanying photographs.

Basic parameter: ~5.5 grams in a 110ml Yixing pot; Volvic spring water at 100°C/212°F.

A true powerhouse in taste and energy! The scent of the tea cake radiates far and robust with attractive medicinal/herbal scents, preserved dates or plums and a sort of oriental spices that is mildly sharp. It’s quite a wonderfully intoxicating perfume. There was no hint of smoke or wet-storage smell. The tea soup feels thick and oily, yet it still possesses a finely-textured astringency that forms a necessary backbone for further aging. Of its taste, the phrase “iron fist in a velvet glove” fits the bill accurately. It packs power and punch! The concentration of flavors and aromas is very dense…herbal/medicinal, spicy, plummy, extremely cooling, numbing of the mouth cavity, all in an explosion of activities before it goes down smooth. It’s never bitter in the slightest. The aftertaste is sweet and long with impressive staying duration. The energy (chaqi) feels clean and powerful.

After 8 steepings, there is an unmistakable feeling of euphoria. It’s unlike that of being tea drunk. The tea continues to steep well for about 15 steepings before I transferred the leaves into a large pot with a tea warmer underneath for an extended extraction. 2 days and 25 generously-sized cups later, it still refuses to give up.

In 2007, I had the opportunity to taste the 88QB, albeit one with a very different expression. I was not impressed by the tea to say the least. It was unpleasantly smoky, very woody and the aftertaste was metallic and somewhat akin to cigarette smoke. According to my old notes the tea was thin-bodied. That tasting session many years ago made me feel unwell and disappointed. Ever since that tasting, I hardly ever thought of 88QB with much regard. I assumed (wrongly) that it was just another overrated and overpriced tea.

In more than 20 short years of tea learning, I can only count a handful of times -- spaced over many years apart -- when I encountered a tea so singularly exceptional. These are the kind of teas that shook one’s understanding of what great tea is all about and why we make such a great fuss about them. This particular 88QB is one of them. The learning never stops.



1. Because dry and natural storage is a key aspect to 88QB, any example that exhibits wet storage exposure would deviate from the intended expression that is responsible for 88QB’s high acclaim.

2. An 88QB that has been humidly-stored (i.e. traditionally or wet) for most of its existence may not exhibit the same power and punch that a dry-stored specimen would.

3. Dry-storage does not mean bone-dry conditions, but rather an environment where moderate to high levels of humidity and temperature are natural without any artificial means.

4. Best Tea House in Hong Kong is the original proprietor of many well-known dry-storage pu’er teas. 88QB is considered to be the epitome of such storage practice.

5. Kam Pong, Chan, First Step to Chinese Puerh Tea, Taipei: Wushing Books Publication Co. Ltd., 2006. Print.

6. The photos of the wet leaves are less than ideal. Much of the leaves for this first session were from those that have fallen off of the cake and trapped inside the wrapper. For all intent and purposes, however, they clearly show all the necessary visualization for aged and dry-stored tea leaves. I will provide better photos of wet leaves next time.

7. External links and references on 88QB:


With the intent of providing a useful reference for everyone and myself, the photographs that accompany this post have been captured by using strict product photography standards to ensure accurate color representation.









Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Marathon Has Ended

On the 11th day (Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2008), I ended my tasting of a well-crafted 2004 Wuyi Shuixian oolong that was harvested from a 200+ years old tea bush. If my notes are correct, this prolonged session yielded 21 infusions in the first three days, using gongfu brewing method. And 16 additional lovely cups were extracted through long steepings (9 - 12 hours each) over the next 8 days. That brings the total to 37 infusions.

On the 11th day, the tea-water tasted thin and light, yet still fragrant and sweet. The last cup was the ghost of something beautiful...a testament of a great tea and the teamaster's skills.

So, what does this extended tasting session accomplish, someone asked me (and called me "nuts")? I've pondered on that question for a bit longer, and I think as far as highly roasted Wuyi yancha oolong is concerned, I have learned the following...a great Wuyi yancha oolong:

(in no order of significance)
1. Has great brewing durability (the reason why it lasted 11 days for me)
2. Has impeccable balance of its roasty, floral, fruity, and sometimes woodsy characteristics
3. Has good active mouthfeel and a long aftertaste / "echo" (chayun and huigan)
4. Has good chaqi (yin or yang), and
5. Tastes great when lots of leaves is used (more than 1:2 ratio of the teapot's volume, up to 1:1)

Before this tea, my personal preference with highly-roasted Wuyi yancha had always been to use 1/2 a teapot full of dry leaves (compacted by tapping the teapot gently while filling it with dry leaves to settle them down). I had been somewhat averse to using more than 1/2. This was because almost each and every time I used more, I had always been rewarded with overly bitter brews, even with flash steepings. So this tea has changed my perspective on how to gongfu-brew a good quality yancha.

One thing that still makes me wonder is why this very tea brewed in a gaiwan can last more than 7 weeks at The Tea Gallery in NYC. When brewed in a Yixing teapot, however, it lasted only 11 to 12 days for all the participants involved (Toki, Salsero and myself). Does the porous nature of Yixing clay affect brewing durability...perhaps through absorption and oxidation? (Anyone?)

My utmost thanks goes again to Toki for this incredible experience and opportunity by providing the tea in question. I am in the opinion that such an superb tea is something that one only finds when armed with knowledge, understanding, passion and a spirit for adventure. Oh, and maybe lots of cash, too (Toki never revealed the price of this tea).

Related Posts

From The Mandarin's Tea Blog:
1. 7542 '88 Qingbing Ended, Vintage Qing Dynasty Brick Began (Aug. 21, 2008)
2. A Marathon Relay Continues (Sept. 1, 2008)
3. Second day of Kung Fu tasting (Sept. 2, 2008)
4. What is detail Tasting? (Sept. 5, 2008)
5. The Morning After (Sept. 12, 2008)

From Teachat:
1. A post by Salsero

From my own blog:
1. The Marathon Has Begun (Aug. 31, 2008)
2. And It Continues On (Sept. 1, 2008)
3. Into The 6th Day of Tasting (Sept. 5, 2008)
4. Elevated Expectations? (Sept. 6, 2008)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Is "Tea Sommelier" a Misnomer?

The use of wine terms and allusions for tea has become more popular in the past few years. While I'm not a linguist, my guess is wine terms are increasingly adopted in tea talk because they have a higher likelihood of being understood by those uninitiated in tea but are more familiar with the wine culture (I'll refer to them as "wine-people" for the sake of brevity). Also, perhaps, wine terms lend to teas a certain charm that wine-people can relate to. Simply put, it's good marketing.

The word "terroir", for example, is brought up in conversations about teas, which like wines, are unique to the place where they were grown in. The French word terroir, after all, was coined by wine makers of old to convey a sense of origin and uniqueness of the grapes and the resulting wines. It is a concept with such universal application that it can be used for everything that grows and exists under the sun. So why not tea.

The most popular wine allusion, probably, is the claim by producers of Darjeeling teas that their products are the Champagne of Teas. I can see the intent, and again, it's marketing. Attaching one's identity with Champagne's venerated image is a good way to relate to a broad range of consumers. Beyond its marketing propaganda, however, I don't quite see any similarity between the two.

There is one wine term that I believe can not be adopted for tea, as it would create a misnomer. The word is sommelier. Tea sommelier just does not make any sense. A sommelier by itself means a "wine steward" or a person who is in charge of the wine provision and the service of it. Is a tea sommelier, then, a person who is highly knowledgeable in and serves both tea and wine? I think those who call themselves tea sommeliers in their profession should reconsider the word's meaning.

Consider the etymology of sommelier:

"Middle French. From somm(er)ier (one charged with transporting supplies), from somier (beast of burden), from somme (burden). From driving a pack animal to drafting wine lists, a sommelier has come a long way. A sommelier is to wine as a cicerone is to beer, though the latter has recently been introduced and is not widespread."

Another version says:

"French, from Middle French, court official charged with transportation of supplies, pack animal driver, from Old Provençal saumalier pack animal driver, from sauma pack animal, load of a pack animal, from Late Latin sagma packsaddle."

I think it's safe to say that a sommelier has got nothing to do with tea in the historical and etymological contexts. Are there any other misapplied wine terms used for tea, or vice versa?

[Edit] PS: In the back of my mind, while writing the post above I vaguely remembered having expressed the same opinion about the use of "sommelier" in conjunction with "tea". Searching for that comment made in the past, I found that Corax of Cha Dao had also expressed the same sentiment in his post "Flavor Hedonics: Pleasure and the Physiology of Taste" dated July 17, 2007. And my agreement to his sentiment was recorded under that post's comment section.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Elevated Expectations?

Last night, after drinking Toki's yancha oolong brew du nuit (steeped from 9am to 9pm), I decided to look for another yancha tea among my stash to do a comparison tasting, sort of. Aha! I found a pack of vintage 2007 Baishuixiang (100 years fragrance -- BSX) oolong, still vacuum-sealed in its little mylar bag.

This tea, among others, was generously given to me by Will and Louise, two of my LA Tea Affair buddies. While visiting Wuyishan last year, they obtained a variety of teas from the local producers and vendors to be brought back to Los Angeles for their personal enjoyment. I am sincerely grateful to them for the potpourri of samples of their acquisitions.

My thinking was to drink Will's BSX and use my recent (and ongoing) tasting of Toki's Shuixian (SX) as a frame of reference for taste, quality and, most especially, firing technique. Granted that BSX tea is not the same variety as SX, I hope they are more or less comparable on the general level, as far as my tasting experiment is concerned.

So, as with Toki's tea, I placed about 3/4 full of the BSX, tightly compacting the leaves by tapping the pot's side gently, into my 80cc 1970's hongni shuipin Yixing pot. With boiling-hot water I flash-rinsed the tea once, and then flash-steeped the tea for 6 infusions. After the 6th cup, I felt that I've had enough impression of the tea for the night (will continue in the morning).

The differences between the two teas were strikingly noticeable. Although both teas have been deeply roasted, the SX managed to give out an upfront yet balanced sweetness and roastiness. The BSX, on the other hand, was skewed much more towards its roasty characteristics. It had thin layers of green and floral characters underneath all the strong, toasty flavors. Also, the BSX tasted rather chaotic in the mouth: burnt toast, some greenness, a bit floral, but highly astringent. I felt that the qi of this tea was also chaotic, giving me an uneasy feeling overall. The aftertaste lingered for quite a while, though unfortunately, it was sour and drying to the throat. I felt more thirsty than before I drank this BSX.

Should I not put as much leaves when brewing BSX tea? Or has my expectations been elevated somewhat by Toki's tea? If my overall expectations has indeed been elevated, then I reckon that I am doomed to spend a large sum of money whenever I shop for a decent Wuyi tea -- that is if I could find such high caliber teas to begin with.

[My utmost thanks again to Will and Louise! Despite my criticism, I am grateful for the lesson I learned from tasting your tea.]

Friday, September 5, 2008

Into The 6th Day of Tasting...

Today, I enter into my 6th day of tasting Toki's Wuyi oolong, which according to his blog was harvested from a 200+ years old Shui Xian bush, and then fired 4 times between May and September of 2004 by a talented tea master in Wuyishan, Fujian Province, China.

For the first 3 days (Sunday to Tuesday), I brewed this tea with regular gongfu methods until such point that I had to infuse the tea for 15 minutes or longer. From then on, I began to infuse it for hours on end. These are the steps I am taking, as suggested by Toki:

1. After concluding the last short-brew steep, pour boiling-hot water into the teapot up to the rim. Place the lid on, and pour hot water over the lid to "water-seal" the teapot.

2. After about 6 or more hours, pour the tea out (to be enjoyed). Then, pour boiling water into the teapot for about 5 - 10 secs before pouring the brew out into a cup (to be enjoyed). The purpose of this short steep is to re-heat the leaves in order to prepare them for the next extended steeping. The leaves must be as hot as possible. Then, I immediately pour boiling-hot water into the teapot again, up to the rim, put the lid on, and water seal it. I let it stand again for hours on end.

3. Repeat step 2. Increase steeping time as necessary, up to 12 hours.

The liquor from yesterday morning's 11-hour steeping was smooth and flavorful. It no longer had the roastiness and the astringency that this tea exhibited during the first 3 days. Rather, it tasted and smelled floral and subtly complex. I can't find the words to describe it. Somehow, it reminded me of drinking an old, top-notch Cognac.

I wonder if an extended tasting session that goes on for weeks is best (or better) done with a heavily-roasted tea. Since roasted tea had to go through the firing process, I would assume that the end product is "clean"...less bacteria, fungi and other creepy microscopic crawlies. Also, the fact that the leaves are always submerged in water inside a sealed teapot probably minimizes mold growth and other nasties from developing. Further, after the tea is poured out, re-steeping the leaves with boiling-hot water maybe helps kill any chances of unwanted stuff from growing too much, too quickly or at all. Lastly, perhaps the fact that tea has antiseptic properties helps keep it clean and safe to consume for much longer.

These are just hypotheses...I'm not sure.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Monkeys Pick Tea?

All this monkey business ought to stop.

Chinese tea factories and companies that produce "monkey-picked" teas would do well from not referring to their employees as monkeys. Ask any business consultant, and they will confirm that it’s an effective policy to boost workers’ morale. It is a right step in the direction of reducing or eliminating employee harassment lawsuits. It is also highly insulting to the independent tea growers.

Wholesalers and retailers should stop the practice of labeling and selling their teas as “monkey-picked”, unless the business owners and managers climbed something and picked the leaves with their bare hands. It's just plain dumb to employ this trick on unsuspecting buyers. You would look even dumber and amateurish for selling such named products to the more sophisticated customers.

We, the customers, should start suing producers and sellers that sell "monkey-picked" teas for false advertisement. It isn't right for us to get human-picked tea when we've been explicitly told -- or the label says -- that it's "monkey-picked", is it? We should truly expect the tea to have been picked by monkeys if it says clearly so. Real monkeys...not by people who look like or call themselves monkeys, and certainly not by workers who have been referred to as monkeys by their twisted employers.

It is simply dehumanizing to refer to all those good men, women and even minors who work hard to bring us this noble beverage as monkeys.

This post may not be the one that ends the practice. Most certainly, it is not the most research-backed either. But the spirit is right in defense of consumers' and tea pickers' interest (monkeys', too, for that matter) everywhere. Cinnabar over at the Gongfu Girl blog has written a more eloquent and better-researched article about the myth and legends behind the term “monkey-picked”.

Pictures were swiped from the internet and then modified without prior permission of the rightful owners, with the believe that it's permissible under the general rule of fair use and parody of the copyright law.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Negative Outlook By a U.S. Tea Wholesaler

I always welcome with delight the latest quarterly catalog from Upton Tea Imports when it arrives in my mailbox. Even though I rarely order from them, the catalog itself is a good read. It is written like a gazette on tea history accompanied with a broad list of tea and accessory selections.

What caught my attention in the Fall 2008 catalog is the short note to the customers on page 3. As a well-established wholesaler and mail-order tea company in the US, their view on the tea industry -- though understandably it may not be free of subjectivity due to their position -- let us peek into the changes and the current condition within the trade. The note reads as such, and I quote:

(Bold format by me)

"A Note to our Valued Customers:

We continue to see challenges in the procurement of top-quality teas from virtually all of the major producing countries. A late start to the growing season was followed by rather warm weather, adversely affecting the quality of the teas from northern India, China, and Japan. With few choice lots being produced, and with sustained pressure on the value of the U.S. dollar, the best teas fetched record prices once again. For the first time we have seen select Assam teas selling at prices formerly attainable only by the best Darjeeling teas!

China Yunnan teas continue to be disappointing. There is hope that the late season will produce better teas than last year's selections, but the proof will be in the samples, yet to arrive."

It's followed by a more upbeat tone...

"But rather than focus on the negative, I must say that we have been enjoying some outstanding new arrivals here at Upton Tea Imports, and we will be receiving several excellent teas over the coming weeks. And even as loose tea prices have been increasing by leaps and bounds, we note that the world's finest teas are still an affordable luxury.

As always, new arrivals are posted on our website as soon as they have been received and checked for quality."

Then it mentions about 3 recent arrivals from Taiwan, which I am leaving out, before the note is concluded.

Altogether, it's realistic but not an inspiring note for tea drinkers, if you ask me.

Left out by the writer of the short note above is any mention of the recent political unrest in Darjeeling (also here) and the effects on the quality of the region's teas. Also, the writer gave no hint as to the causes of Yunnan teas' poor quality, which in the case of Pu'er it was most likely from overproduction, a lack of standard control and the rampant speculation of the commodity. But there are other types of tea produced in Yunnan. What causes the poor quality of non-Pu'er teas from that province remains elusive for now.

As consumers, we are already being pummeled by high gas prices, increasing food costs, weak U.S. dollar, and the poor economy as a whole. Unfortunately, in the scheme of things, what goes on with tea is not at all surprising. We are being forced to pay more and settle for less.

Monday, September 1, 2008

...And It Continues On

Parameter: dry leaves 3/4 pot full , compacted by tapping the pot gently to settle the leaves down. Flash rinse. Gentle stream of boiling-hot water (99-100' C). All time measurement is an approximation, decided by the previous cup's taste and strength.

Day 1: brew # 1 - 4 flash steeped. Brew #5 +2 sec. Brew #6-7 +5 sec.

Day 2: brew # 8 (flash steeped to heat leaves). Brew #9 +5 sec. Brew #10-11 +7 sec. Brew #11-12 +10 sec. Brew #14-15 +15 sec.

...still going strong, ready for day 3!

Per Toki's instruction, keep brewing normally until the tea has to be pushed for up to 3 minutes. Thereafter, each steeping for hours on end will begin.

By the way, I'm not alone -- thank goodness! Salsero is in this, too.

All this tea made me thirsty for some wine...

2003 Saxon Brown Zinfandel
Casa Santinamaria Vineyards
Sonoma Valley
($25, 15% alc.)

Dark purple, almost opaque. Ruby on the rim. Very intense black and red berries, dark cherries, and coffee. Powerful and concentrated, without feeling too heavy. The finish has a roasted oak, coffee and a slight glycerin sweetness. Its high alcohol level (15%) is beautifully balanced by the just-right acidity level, which gives the wine a lively zing and dimension. For a zinfandel lover (me), I love it!

4 stars (vg)

Sidenote: Saxon Brown winery and the Casa Santinamaria vineyards are precious jewels of the Sonoma Valley. The vines in these vineyards are dry farmed, head-pruned and have low-yield (~1/2 ton per acre). Under the talented hands of Winemaker Jeff Gaffner. You've got to love Mr. Gaffner's wines!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Marathon Has Begun...

...a tea tasting marathon session, that is.

I am conducting my first drawn out, detailed tasting session, which may last for weeks (one tea) if I do it correctly. The tea is a vintage 2004 high-roast Wuyi oolong of undoubtedly top pedigree.

Today I brewed the tea for 7 times. It was lovely and full of energy! The vibrancy of the 7th cup left me with little doubt that this tea can endure the long haul. I'm reserving my tasting notes for later.

We hit the beach in the afternoon. It was cloudy and a bit chilly, though the water was nice and warm.