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 BIT ABOUT MENGHAI DAYI 0622-601

  • 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

§ TASTING NOTE
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.

§ ADDITIONAL IMAGES











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 (www.thejadeleaf.com).

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Notes:

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.

§ FACTS
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.


§ ISSUES
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.

§ OPTIONS
(√) 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.


§ CHOSEN SOLUTION
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.


§ RESULT
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.

§ CONCLUSION
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.

§ A BIT ABOUT 88 QING BING
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.

§ TASTING NOTE
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.

§ CONCLUSION
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.

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ENDNOTES:

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:

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§ IMAGES
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.