Sunday, September 2, 2007

Southern California Heat Wave

Hot! The weather has been sizzling these past few days, managing to reach 110˚F / 43˚C in San Fernando Valley where I live. So yesterday we spent the whole afternoon at the beach in Santa Monica, where it was around 80˚F and lightly breezy. Sweet! Our Sophia had a great time playing in the sand and water.

The heat practically melted any desire to brew heavier teas. So I opted for last year's qingxiang tieguanyin oolong that I purchased from a tea store in Guangzhou back in March of 2006. The leaves are light green (very low oxidation) and unroasted. When I purchased 300gr of this tea, the sales lady was more than willing to separate the leaves to thirty 10gr batches and placed each in a small vacuum-sealed pack. A pack is enough for a single gongfu brewing session.

I lost interest in this tea and greener oolong's in general a few months after getting it. So I kept it in the fridge and it's been there ever since. Yesterday, I took one small pack out and placed it on the kitchen counter for an hour or so until it reached room temperature before ripping it open. The tea is still fresh looking and tasted fine, too. No sign of staleness.

It's refreshingly floral and grassy -- just great for the weather and my mood. The leaves are quite choppy on the edges, which makes me think that they were not hand-harvested...or that the processing of the leaves caused damage to the edges. If I remember correctly, I think I paid around $75 for the 300gr.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

2001 Mengku "Yuanyexiang" of Mengsa Mtn.-- Dry and Wet Stored

The following is a side-by-side comparison of the popular 2001 Mengku Shuang Jiang Factory's "Yuanyexiang" (also spelled "Yuan Yieh Xiang" or simply “YYX”). The leaves of this compressed tea came from the Mengsa Mtn. Proper (Mengsa Zhengshan) in Yunnan Province.

Yuanyexiang is another successful project by a well-known Hong Kong tea merchant, Mr. Chan Kwok-yee of
Best Tea House, who popularized the the dry storage method of storing pu'er. With this tea, Mr. Chan decided to store some in a dryer condition and some in a more humid environment. Upon introduction into the market, the Yuanyexiang were distinguished by the 2 methods under which they were stored in. The dry-stored version is identified by the thinner paper used as its wrapper, while the wet-stored version by its slightly thicker paper wrapper. (See pictures below for more details).

As the term implies, dry storage is literally a method of storing teas in a dryer environment, though not exceedingly dry either. Wet storage, on the other hand, is the storing of teas in an environment of increased humidity. The main objective of wet storage is to accelerate the fermentation of the leaves so as to produce mellower, sweeter and smoother tea (generally more approachable to drink) in a shorter period of time. The 2 methods create significantly different end-products, and it shows very clearly by tasting the Yuanyexiang teas. The majority of opinion seems to indicate that the dry-stored Yuanyexiang is the better of the two versions. I agree to a certain extent, though with a slight reservation, which I will elaborate further in the second last paragraph of this post.

Side note: the wet storage (Shicang in mandarin) treatment is perhaps also referred to as "traditional storage" to dispel the negative connotation associated with the term. The general consumers tend to misconcieve the term "wet storage" as something shoddy and unhealthy, partly (and fairly) because many shoddy teas are produced through a poorly controlled wet storage method. This in turn lend the term an ill-interpretation to the everyday consumers. In reality, however, a well-controlled wet storage by knowledgeable tea professionals can yield wonderful results that is harmless (and perhaps beneficial) to one's health. (Disclaimer: I am not a health professional and, therefore, can not back my opinion with hard scientific facts)

The popularity of the Yuanyexiang is partly borne out of a publicized tea tasting session in Tokyo, Japan, where 3 very highly regarded pu'er were tasted and judged against each other (as featured in the Puerh Teapot Magazine vol. 16). The story goes that the Yuanyexiang came second after the 1999 Yi Chang-hao and bested the excellent 1999 Menghai "Green Big Tree" black label (personally, I think the Menghai "Green Big Tree" is slightly better than the YYX).

Echoing the general pu’er market and Yuanyexiang’s own growing popularity among tea aficionados, collectors and investors alike, the price of the Yuanyexiang has moved up quite significantly in the past months. In early January of 2007, Best Tea House in Hong Kong sold the dry-stored version for RMB 650 per 357gr beeng (USD $86 at the current exchange rate) and for RMB 500 each if you buy 10 jians (840 beengs). The same tea currently is priced at RMB 880 (USD $117) per beeng and RMB 600 at wholesale quantity. This translates to a 35% and 20% increase per beeng and wholesale, respectively, over the past 8 months. The online Chinese auction site Taobao listed the dry-stored version for RMB 600 per beeng back in early January, and it is currently offering the same tea for RMB 900; a 50% increase! On the contrary,
MarshalN, who has a closer touch with the tea market in China, informed me that the dry-stored YYX can still be had for much less than RMB 600 per beeng.

Let's take a look at the teas -- the tea porn, as they say. I hope the following observation will be a useful reference for your buying and collecting decision.

^ The wrappers. The dry-stored version uses a much thinner wrapper than the wet-stored version. The neifei (inner ticket) is clearly visible through the thinner wrapper, while the opacity of the thicker wrapper hides the neifei better.

^ The pictures above probably do not very clearly show the differences between the dry and the wet-stored versions. By naked eyes, however, the wet-stored version is noticeably redder / browner. The most obvious indication that one of them was subjected to a wet storage condition is the presence of very thin, white coating throughout, but most obvious on the top-middle section around the neifei (inner paper ticket).

^ A close up of the neifei and surrounding. Notice that the wet-stored version's neifei is generally browner as if it is tea-stained. The dry-stored version's neifei, on the other hand, is much cleaner and whiter. Although the leaves of the dry-stored tea is almost as red-brown in color, there is a certain freshness and crispiness to its overall look.


The 2 teas were tasted one after another; meaning that I finished a session of 10 infusions, rested for an hour or so, and then continued with the other tea. I thought this would provide a fairer impression of each tea. The parameter applied were exactly (or very nearly) the same for both teas.

Dry-stored (thin wrapper)

Parameter: ~ 8gr in an 100ml gaiwan. 10 sec. rinse. 10s, 15s, 15s, 20s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 2m, 4m, 10m.

Dry leaves: the nose is sweet, mellow, plumy, woody, incense-like with a mushroom-y note on the lower strata of its aroma.

Wet leaves: woody (bark), mushroom-y, slightly medicinal and clean.

The clarity of the liquor is crystal, which is very promising (all the high caliber pu'er teas that I have tasted consistently had crystal clarity). Earlier infusions (1st and 2nd) exhibits a mild Chinese medicinal qualities. It is slender bodied, clean-tasting with a smooth texture.

The tea started to sing melodiously by the 3rd infusion and continue on until the 7th, providing ample complexities. The medicinal, woody, mushroom-y, and the slightly greenish qualities are lively and balanced. Medium body, extremely smooth, and almost non-existent astringency (feels like thick water in the mouth). The camphor-like nose started to appear around the 4th infusion.

Around the 8th infusion, the tea turned rather watery, and it was downhill from then on. In retrospect, I employed rather long infusion time to achieve a concentrated ("nong") result in evaluating both teas. I think with a 50% shorter infusions, as I usually employ with other pu'er, I should be able to get a few more infusions out of the tea.

For what it's worth, this tea reminds me very much of the excellent 1960's Bazhong Huangyin, especially the Chinese-medicinal taste.

4 stars (vg), with great potential to improve with age and proper storage.

Wet-stored (thick wrapper)

Parameter: as applied to the dry-stored tea.

Dry leaves: aroma of damp wood and earth and slightly medicinal. Simpler and rather one-dimensional.

Wet leaves: smells rather bookish, woody, earthy and mellow-sweet.

The brews throughout the 10 infusions I had were much deeper reddish-brown (as you can see from comparing the pictures above). The taste of this tea was rather simple overall and significantly less complex than the dry-stored version. However, this tea had a rounder body and thicker overall mouthfeel, as wont wet-stored teas. Surprisingly, the tea felt a bit more astringent on the tongue and mouth than its dry-stored cousin, which was very clean-tasting. The camphor-like aromas also appeared around the mid-infusions.

The 2 advantages of this tea over the dry-stored one is its better brewing durability and fuller overall body. This tea was able to brew well beyond its 10th infusion with the same brewing parameter as the other one.

I mentioned above that the consensus of opinion seems to indicate that the dry-stored version is the better of the two. While I agree, I also think the wet-stored one has the potential to improve in a good way, too. To draw a parallel, I am quite certain that at some point the 1960's Bazhong Huangyin that I enjoyed very much went through a period of traditional storage. So why won't it be beneficial for the Yuanyexiang in the long run, too? Granted that it does not taste as complex as the dry-stored one today, it may still show itself up later down the line with proper storage. Who knows until then?

At this moment, however, I am giving the wet-stored version a 3-star rating (good) with my sincere hope that it will age with grace and improve.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Entertaining Guests With Tea

When my wife and I have guests at our home, serving tea is a part of our customs and something that requires a bit of thinking ahead. As overzealous hosts we often prepare meals in courses (and always too much). It is usually right before desserts that a mini dilemma would set in: What tea to serve and how?

In our home, desserts are almost always accompanied with tea. I generally am not in the habit of offering my guests any digestif or dessert wines, though should the mood strike I always have a ready supply. Tea is still my – and my wife’s – preference after a hearty meal.

Since we have banished teabags from our home, and since I have gifted – or burdened – myself with many types of loose leaves, the act of serving tea has become a bit more complicated than shoving a box of Twining’s Variety Pack on the table. As such, there are 4 considerations that I think about before deciding the most appropriate action. Do keep in mind the setting is a casual gathering with friends and family, and not a tea tasting session:

Firstly, how many guests are present? If more than 6 people are to be served, then our 32oz teapress gets the job. The tea that goes in it will be something that I keep in quantity. These are decent teas, but they are not among the best I own (may the Gods of Graceful Hosts strike me in anger!). By habit and personal preference, I only brew my best teas in a Yixing clay pot or a gaiwan. With too many guests present, however, I rarely find it worth the hassle to start a gongfu tea process.

If there are 6 or less people, then I would consider bringing out my treasured teas and accoutrements. It all depends on a few other factors.

Secondly, what are we conversing about? This is as important as the first consideration above. If we are in a very engaging conversation, then the large teapress still wins the assignment (exception: if the guests are gongfu tea drinkers – see the 3rd consideration below). However, if we are talking about Britney Spears, Donald Trump’s hair or other mind-degenerating topics, then my fantastic tea and utensils may just get to rescue the day.

Thirdly, to gongfu or not? With guests who are not acclimated with this Chinese tea ritual, I would hint to them of the possibility for a tea tasting. The process tends pull everyone’s attention and topic of conversation towards itself. It is a great way to enjoy tea, but I feel the ritualistic and meditative qualities it projects do not suit all occasions.

To those who know about my little tea obsession already, I would unabashedly offer them the pleasure. The narcissist in me always wants to get the tea set out; especially if the guests admitted to never paying much attention to the tea they drink. But the realist in me checks to make sure that I am not about to impose upon anyone or to unnecessarily shift the overall mood of our gathering.

Lastly, what tea to serve with the desserts? There is no simple answer for me because, as I mentioned above, there are many types to choose from. I believe the desserts being served should play as the main anchor. With heavy tasting desserts such as tiramisu, creme brulée and chocolate cakes, I would gravitate towards a heavier tasting tea (“nong xiang” – highly oxidized, may be roasted) to match like Red Keemun, Lapsang Souchong or highly roasted Wuyi and Tieguanyin oolongs. With fruity desserts such as fruit tarts, key lime pie and Pavlova, I would opt for Darjeelings, lychee red or highly oxidized oolongs such as Oriental Beauty and Taiwanese “hong shui” (red water). I would accompany fresh fruits and the lightest desserts with greener oolong’s (“qing xiang”, low-oxidized and non-roasted) that have sweet, delicate floral and grassy notes. White, green, and Pu’er (raw and cooked) teas are not considered to accompany desserts, as I think they are best by themselves.

There is no formulaic method with which to arrive at a decision, although the four considerations mentioned above are what I generally think about before I serve tea to my guests. Call me anal.

As with foods and drinks, of course, preferences are exclusively personal, and mine is derived from the mental notes I have gathered through pairing things out experimentally. There are no rules, which make the whole process much fun for the hedonists among us. My main objective is to bring about the most enjoyable setting for everyone sitting around our dining table.

[Previously posted at T Ching on August 27, 2007]

Thursday, August 30, 2007

2007 Doke White Tea, Kashanganj, 2nd Flush

Doke Tea Farm

While I enjoy subtler teas occasionally, I often find myself shying away from most white teas because I find them to be too delicate for my taste. So when T Ching featured this Indian white tea as part of its August online tasting, I reserved my opinion until I tasted it.

From Doke Tea in Darjeeling comes this 2nd flush white tea from the Kishanganj district of north eastern Bihar. This was to be my first white tea from the Darjeeling region, and it was a truly pleasant encounter.

The faces of Doke Tea (at least on the internet) have been its proprietor Mr. Rajiv Lochan and his nephew, Ankit Lochan. Before this tea, however, I have never known about Doke's own product line. This is partly because in addition to managing Doke, the uncle-nephew team is also in the wholesale business of other producers' teas through their Lochan Tea Limited enterprise. T Ching has in the past featured selections from the Lochan Tea Limited’s portfolio.

In addition to being in the tea business, they also manage a charitable organization, The Indus Foundation, which aims to improve the living conditions of the surrounding local districts.

Tasting Notes

2007 Doke "Kashanganj Snow Bud"
White Tea, 2nd Flush, Organic
Output: 50 kilograms per annum
Available for sale at T Ching Store

Dry leaf's appearance: Whole buds. Medium green and silver in color due to being covered in silvery down.

Nose: Refreshing. Of muscatel, passion fruits and exotic spices.

Taste: This Kashanganj white tea delivers a more upfront and assertive nose and taste than any Chinese white teas I have ever tasted. One smell and you can't miss that Darjeeling signature muscatel quality. Slightly grassy. The high notes and the judicious amount of acidity is refreshing and lively, giving oneself an energized feel after drinking it. It is medium to full bodied and smooth. Plenty of astringency and a touch bitter if brewed in a higher temperature water (90' C and above). The aftertaste is lingering and sweet in the back of the throat.

Wet leaf's appearance: Dark green with red streaks that indicates some oxidation was allowed to happen before halted.

Overall impression: This is a fine white tea with the unmistakable Darjeeling characteristics. It is also a white tea that stands well to high temperature brewing (> 90’C), as long as it is given a much shorter steeping time. Based on quality of the white tea sample that I received, I dare say that it is a tea worth pursuing and watching for in the future.

One of the attributes of Darjeeling tea that I find very pleasing is its acidity, which seems to bring liveliness to a tea. It also makes the tea highly compatible with many types of food, especially the rich tasting ones, by providing a juxtaposition of tastes.

4+ stars (vg - ex)

The following excerpt is by Mr. Rajiv Lochan:

On 1st June 1999 Indian Tea Board declared Kishangunj district of north eastern Bihar as a non-traditional tea growing area, though we had started planting tea little earlier in 1998 in Pothia block of this district.

Last month I was called by the Deputy chief minister regarding land and labour policy matters and came to know that Kishangunj was known as “poor man’s Darjeeling” since people who could not afford to go to Darjeeling in olden days could enjoy the beauty of Kanchenjunga from a little distance, that is Kishangunj.

Doke plantation, where these teas are grown is south of Jhapa and Illam districts of Nepal and south west of Darjeeling and snow capped mountains are about 25 kilometers as the crow flies, though the foothills are only 7 kilometers away. On a clear day one can have a panoramic view of Himalayas and if one is lucky evening setting sun lights up Mount Everest to be visible from Doke.

We have found burnt clay pottery broken pieces buried as deep as two feet all over the planting area and a legend says that during the ancient times of Virat kings who had Viratnagar as their capital and Thakurgunj as their river port on the banks of Mahananda river, there was a potters village in this location, which legendary Shrawan Kumar visited along with his blind parents and stayed overnight.

Bihar being the land of Buddha and full of ancient history, it seems history is repeating itself here in Doke and we wish to make full use of it."

Images, with the exception of the tasting session photos, were provided by and used with prior permission from Mr. Ankit Lochan of Doke Tea.

Other excellent reviews at: MarshalN, PalatabiliTEA, Perplexitea, T Ching

Art of Tea Poll

[The below is posted by the request of Mr. Aaron Fisher, Senior Editor of the Art of Tea Magazine. The article solicits for your kind opinion on the use of the Chinese Pinyin vs. the standardized English language when it comes to tea-related nomenclatures. It is a poll. Your opinion, therefore, will have bearing on the future content of the Art of Tea magazine. Mr. Fisher also requests for your help by posting the poll on your blog -- if you are a tea blog administrator -- to widen the polling population. A discussion is currently ensuing at T Ching. Thank you. ~ Phyll]

I am hoping that you can help me think about something:

As Issue 3 of the Art of Tea lands on many of your doorsteps and you begin to read, you might think about whether you would rather learn the Chinese terms for all things tea related, via roman pinyin of course, or develop some kind of standardized English translation.

Personally, I like the Chinese as it makes cross-cultural communication easy, as well as facilitates true understanding of something that was born in a distant, ancient culture. And English definitely has the ability to absorb foreign words, growing as it has adopted words from French and other language’s nouns as they are imported– even from Asia, like “wok” or “wasabi” for example. When I studied the Dao in college, my first teacher gave us several translations of a few of the more important texts, saying that no one translation of anything can bring real equivalence. For that same reason, I studied Sanskrit and Pali in my younger days. In other words, which is clearer: “Cooked”, “Ripe”, “Black”, “Artificially Fermented”, etc. or perhaps is it better to have all of them?

Still, whatever your thoughts are, I would greatly appreciate hearing them as the English scholarship of tea-related books, translations and articles progresses forward I think this will be an important issue.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

L.A. Tap Water As Good As Bottled Water

Harken and rejoice, tea lovers in Los Angeles! Our tap water seems to have outdone itself. It was judged to be as good as bottled water.

As good as Aquafina? : )

"L.A. tap water came out on top in a 2006 blind tasting, beating water from New York and Seattle, among others. One judge called L.A.'s water 'exceptional. Like a bottled water.'"

Read the full commentary by Tom Standage here on the detriment to the environment caused by the bottled water industry.

Ms. Ntsiki Biyela, Winemaker

Once in a while I come across wine articles that transcend mere hedonism and clichéd enthusiasm for certain wineries or wine-growing regions. In this case, the article goes into the realm of racism, sexism, stereotype and the inexhaustible spirit and talent of one Zulu woman who struggles with those barriers as she became the first black female winemaker in South Africa.

Deservingly so, this excellent article by Robyn Dixon of the Times was published yesterday on the front page of L.A. Times (the very main page, not the first page of its Food Section).

"Biyela smelled, as instructed, but there had never been any blackberries or cigar boxes in the Zulu village where she grew up, fetching water from the river and firewood from the forest every day. The liquid smelled alien.

Then it was time to taste. Bitter! Disgusting! Was she going to dedicate her life to making this undrinkable brew?"

Read the inspiring story of
Ms. Ntsiki Biyela here.

Photo: Stellekaya Winery

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Part V: After the Pasadena Pu'er Event

This is an entry long overdue. Many things happened after the June 16th Pasadena Pu'er event until Mr. Chen Chi-Tong left Los Angeles on June 20th. I had a great time with the entire Wu Shing team (Mr. Liang, his wife, Chen Zhi-Tong, and Aaron Fisher), Guang, Mary and Bob Heiss (authors of the upcoming The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide), and the LA Tea Group. I'll summarize this post with short narratives and some photographs that I snapped during the time.

^ The morning after the Event and a long dinner party, we dimsummed in Chinatown. Mary and Robert Heiss joined us. After the dimsum brunch, we visited the famous Huntington Library in San Marino for some Afternoon Tea. I had a most pleasant and eye-opening conversation about olive oils with the Heisses. They are the quintessential experts in everything olive (and other gourmet foods too). What true gourmands they are! (The Heisses are the proprietors of Cooks Shop Here, a culinary shop in Northampton, Massachusetts).

^ After a sumptuous late dinner at a Greek fusion restaurant, Danica, Helen, Chen Zhi-Tong and I went to Danica's home for some tea (Mr. Liang and his wife retired to their hotel room). The tea session stretched until 4am in the morning! We brewed the stash that Chen Zhi-Tong brought along from Taiwan: 1930's sheng, 1950's sheng, 1960's sheng, and many recent vintages of his own Chen Guang He Tang Yiwu Chawang (2002 - 2007). Chen was most generous for leaving behind his Yiwu Chawang teas for the LA Tea Group.

^ After that late night / early morning tea party, we headed home for a few hours of sleep. Then, we drove to the beautiful Santa Barbara County wine country. There are basically 2 wine trails that we could choose from: Foxen and Santa Ynez. We trailed the latter by car, stopping at wineries along the way. The picture above is from our visit to the Zaca Mesa winery, where we sampled the wines in a very spacious tasting room.

^ We also visited the Fess Parker Winery (featured in the Sideways movie). After a flight of wine in the tasting room, Chen and I relaxed in the patio where he offered me a stub of his Montecristo No. 5 Cuban cigar. We had a nice conversation in broken English (him) and broken Chinese (me) about tea, wine, the Pasadena Event and future potential event in the United States. He was impressed by the people he met in Pasadena and by the great turnout. While Chen and I conversed, the others sat or napped in the field of green grass next to the vines. All in all, it was a very relaxing day with a perfect weather to boot.

^ Fast forward to Wednesday, June 20th. On Chen's last day before he left for Taipei, a few of us members of the LA Tea Group took him to a Californian BBQ ribs restaurant (Mr. Cecil's CA Ribs on Pico Boulevard) for one of the best and authentic Americano red-meat dishes. Will and I brought 4 bottles of excellent red zinfandel to down the meat and fat with. Though we managed to finish a lot of perfectly bbq-ed ribs, corn bread and hush puppies, the six of us were prudent enough to only consume 3 bottles of zin (most of us drove separately that day). Then at 11pm we said our goodbye's with Mr. Chen before I drove him to the LAX airport.

To be continued - Part VI: Tasting the 2007 5th International Pu'er Appreciation Memorial cake...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Visit to Old Batavia

Ah, summer lull seems to be affecting my blog lately. Please pardon the extended absence of any update. A week ago I returned from my S.E. Asian trip on a family visit and to attend various familial events (1 year ceremony of my mother's passing was one of them). Since returning to the States, I have only caught up with the blogging world.

[Announcement: T Ching is currently conducting an online tasting of 2 teas: the 2007 Meghma Estate Nepalese Oolong and a 2007 2nd flush Darjeeling white tea called the Kashanganj Snow Bud. It's not too late to participate.]

I had an eventful trip, during which most of my time was spent with immediate family and relatives. Every morning while there, I found myself mostly brewing the Meghma Estate Nepalese oolong (see previous post) that I brought along from the States or, on occasions, a Wuyi Dahongpao oolong supplied by my tea-drinker aunt. The inhabitants of my parents' home, which include my father, sisters, some guests from China, and my aunt who visits every morning found the Nepalese oolong quite delicious and most welcome with breakfast.

And as usual, whenever I visit my hometown my aunt offered me a lot of her own tea to bring back to the States. I declined most that she offered -- not because I was disinterested -- but because of my current oversupply of tea. I did accept a small amount of Tieguanyin oolong that she apparently got from Best Tea House in Hong Kong and 2 types of highly roasted Wuyi oolongs from a tea store in Singapore.

Spare personal time presented itself only once, and I made good of it by visiting a Chinese chain teashop called Teh 63 in a mall to re-supply my dwindling stock of the
Jawa (Javanese) oolong. I enjoy this tea quite a bit and it costs a decent $5 per 100 grams. It's not overly complex or fine, I think, but it really does the job well of giving me satisfaction whenever I drink it. It's great for everyday drinking, by gongfu method or thrown into a large teapot.

(Teh 63 shop in the Pluit mall)

The only drawback when I bought this tea was that none of the very polite salesladies had any idea which harvest period the tea is from. The packaging leaves no clue whatsoever...not even a simple production date stamp exists. The only defense that the salesladies provided me was freshness is guaranteed since the tea is vacuum-packed. Perhaps. It may well be last year's or older stock, which in itself may not be a problem with certain teas. However, since this Javanese oolong is the greener, less-oxidized type, freshness is key. I did ask for a tasting, and it tasted just right. Whether or not the sample that they brew in-store and the ones I bought come from the same batch is hard to know. So I took my chances with the 1.5 kg I got (most of which will be gifted away).

In the realm of loose leaf tea shopping, I personally think vintage information is very important. It could mean a world of difference in taste and quality, and especially so for green, white, yellow and the less-oxidized oolong teas. First flush Darjeeling teas, too -- despite their very high oxidation level -- have been said to be at their best in the first 6 months or so after release. Storage condition plays a factor, of course.

On the other hand, the recurring wisdom that I hear from at least 2 experienced sources recently tend to suggest that all good teas will age finely, no matter what kind. The guideline that delicate green, yellow and white teas have a short shelf-life is just that, a mere guideline. Exceptions abound. Over time, the taste of tea will transform as they age, and whether one likes how the tea tastes then is a matter of personal preference (as long as it's not obviously stale from poor storage and excessive exposure). So they say. In the meantime, until I know better by fist hand experience, I am sticking to the general guideline when shopping for tea.

On the wine front, my cousins took me to several trendy restaurants and wine bars in uptown Jakarta. One of my favorite trendy Indonesian restaurants to chill with my friends and family is a place called Lara Djonggrang in the Menteng area of Jakarta. The interior of the restaurant is designed in the Javanese and various oriental traditions with a modern and soulful twist. It's a very inviting, warm and relaxing place, if not a bit mystical too. The lighting and the candle fires add to the exotic ambience. Lara Djonggrang has become a popular destination for foreign expatriates. Most locals would perhaps find it a bit pretentious and costly. I personally think it's a cleverly designed place with an interesting menu. The food is great and authentic, especially the chili sauces, which made me sweat and gasping for air. Yeah...I love spicy food!

wine and cocktail list is quite good, too, living up to the expectation for being a classy dining establishment that foreigners as well as the westernized locals could appreciate. For the wines, markup averages around 200% - 300% of off US retail prices, which is about what good restaurants in Los Angeles charge. A 1997 Chateau Margaux, for example, costs Rp. 4,200MM (around $450), which is 2.5x the average retail price in the U.S. Considering the high national tax rate on imported alcohol, it is rather reasonable (wines are known to be notoriously overpriced in Indonesia due to heavy taxation and import restrictions).

On a visit to another clubby wine bar called Cork & Screw (tongue-in-cheek), rows of wooden wine bins much like the bins you see at Costco greeted me upon entering the front door. The idea is that you pick the bottle you'd like to have opened and present it to a waiter. At 10pm when we arrived, the place was filled with well-heeled locals and foreign expatriates who seemed to be denizens of the adjacent corporate buildings that house many international firms.

The place is nicely appointed and the interior felt cutting edge and modern. Later towards the evening at around 11 pm, the music started blaring at an ear-drum splitting level. No one got on top of the table to dance while swilling Penfolds Grange. It was Thursday night. In fact, the crowd started to thin out as soon as the music blared like a maniac. It was rather strange for a restaurant / wine bar to do that. But maybe it fits well with the weekend crowd. My cousin told me that Cork & Screw is the happening place in town right now, requiring a 2-week advance reservation for a table. I think next time I'm in Jakarta I'd need 2 weeks to consider whether it's worth going at all, if I'm invited to go there again.


The wine selections and the prices were a killjoy. Having just dined elsewhere, we didn't try the food there. Most of the wines are middle-of-the-road stuff priced at top-of-the-line level. The average markup over the US retail price was about 500 to 600 percent! We broke open 2 bottles: a 2005 Chilean pinot noir by Tabali and a 2006 McLaren Vale (Australia) GSW blend (Grenache, Shiraz and Mouvedre) called Stump Jump by d'Arenberg. Both wines were so-so, with the pinot noir bordering on being boring. The Stump Jump was average and quite pleasant for an $8 wine (retail price), but not for the $40 my cousin paid for it. Yeah, good thing my cousin was paying. (Thanks cuz...I'll bring for you nice wines on my next visit.)

Most noticably, Cork & Screw carries a lot of Australian wines but very lacking in any Bordeaux and Italian wines in general. I was hoping to treat my cousin and sister to a decent 2nd Growth or a Chianti. Driven by my curiousity, I striked a friendly conversation with one of the knowledgable waiters. He told me that there is a shortage of better wines in general in Jakarta due to importing restrictions recently placed by the byzantine bureaucracy of the government agencies. Politics as usual. It's merely a problem easily solved when enough money has changed hands. Instead of berries and currants, wine smells like dough (a lot of dough) in this third world country, and those in power must have their beaks whetted first. Without a trade baron, a minister, a military general or a mafia godfather as an ally, you may as well forget about doing any wine-related business in Indonesia. If this is not a true statement, at least that's the common mindset there, so I've been told.

Some shots of favorite foods I had while I was there. I think I've gained some weight.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

1950's Hongyin Pu'er & 2007 Spring Meghma Estate Oolong

While I am drafting Part V (post-event happenings) for the next installment, I thought I'd share with you some pictures of the 1950's Hongyin pu'er. A 10 gr sample of this very tea is now available at Houde for a decent sum of $355.

At the Event, we were only able to brew 6 or 7 infusions of the Hongyin as we ran out of time. This tea should be durable enough to last 15 to 20 infusions, depending on the brewing method. For the first infusion, I gave it a 5 sec rinse and then a 20 sec initial steeping. Gradually I moved up to about 1 minute long for the sixth infusion. Since the leaves were still inside my Yixing pot, at home I pushed the infusion time to 2 minutes and longer.

The resulting liquor was quite amazing. It’s thick, sweet and refined. The clarity of the intense red-brown liquor is impeccably crystal. The texture is milky smooth, almost resembling the feel of a half-and-half cream. It has a woody (camphor) and earthy quality to it, yet very clean tasting with a soft, sweet aftertaste. Though personally I feel this tea is less impressionable than the 1960's Bazhong Huangyin, it is a very elegant and easy going tea to enjoy.

4+ stars (vg - ex)

I have also been enjoying
Madan Tamang's freshest batch of 2007 spring Meghma Estate Nepalese oolong. I received a 1oz sample from The Simple Leaf (sold under the name "Honeybee") and I brewed the tea using the gongfu method and then later by the "English" method in a 32oz Bodum glass teapress pot.

It is a wonderfully aromatic tea! When brewed in a gaiwan using high leaf to water ratio and short steeping time (3s, 7s, 15s, 30s, 1m, 1.5m), the tea reminded me of sweet Oregano spices, white pepper and cumin, all wrapped in a honey-like fragrance and taste. The English style of brewing yielded a more rounded taste that is honey-like and floral, almost.

As you may notice from the infusion time progression I employed, I learned that this oolong packs a punch in its earlier infusion but the taste tends to diminish quickly in later infusions. As such I employed a very short 3s and about doubled the previous steeping time. This way, I was able to get 5 to 6 brews before the tea turned watery.

Good stuff! What's more, this tea possesses a unique sense of place and character. 4+ stars (vg - ex)

Monday, June 25, 2007

June 2007 Pasadena Pu’er Tasting Event, Part IV: More about the Party

PART IV: More about the Party

I thought I’d delve a bit more into the details of the party, from my own point of view.

The guests were made up of individuals from different backgrounds, professions, ethnicities and age groups. There were authors, academics, bankers, students, IT professionals, movie and TV producers, teashop owners, tea business owners (IM-EX), service professionals, booksellers, winos, and at least one engineer (Guang), among others. All this made for interesting conversations at the table and after the party when everyone mingled to socialize. I am speculating, but I think the ages ranged between mid-twenties and late sixties. The ladies were certainly the younger-looking of the crowd. [insert winking emoticon here]

At the tasting table, camaraderie and friendship easily formed, as is wont at tea (and wine) gatherings. I introduced myself with my real name, although some of my table mates quickly realized who I am in the blogosphere, for better or for worse. Before I started with the first tea, I warned everyone that I would strife my best to not screw the teas up or break any tools during the session. I couldn't guarantee satisfaction. I’ve been known to be clumsy, especially when I’m in the hot seat.

A hot seat it was where I sat. Questions were peppered out shortly after I rinsed the 2006 Taiwan Expo Ji Nian Cha tea. The first question had to do with how many times the leaves can be re-steeped. Other questions forthcoming were about caffeine level of a young pu'er, on whether older pu'er has more caffeine, on ideal storage condition, on pu’er tea processing steps, on types of water, and on others that I can’t quite recall. Perhaps my traditional Chinese shirt was a tea-question magnet. Our table was a chatty and friendly one, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time brewing for everyone.

In retrospect, however, such talkativeness perhaps may have diminished our ability to concentrate on the nuances of the teas and also may have reduced our sensitivity to any physical reactions that could have resulted from drinking the potent liquor. Phenomena such as chaqi, for example, is better sensed when the mind is quiet and focused.

Understandably, the audience (and myself) were as thirsty for information as for the precious teas. And what better place and time to talk about it?! Those sitting at Chen Zhi-Tong’s and Aaron Fisher’s tables seemed to be more serene to the point of being meditative by my glancing observation.

At every interval before we moved on to the next tea, Chen Zhi Tong and Guang would explain to the audience the significance of the tea we were about to enjoy next. A summary of each tea’s background was also written on 4 pieces of bookmark-sized tabs (pictured – tab of the 2006 Taiwan Expo cake is not available, and tab of 70’s Zhong-cha Jian-tie beeng was not provided).

Since we were drinking some hardcore teas, food was an essential element in order to prevent any drunken brawls or irresponsible driving à la Paris Hilton. I jest. Seriously, however, an empty stomach is never meant for concentrated teas such as those we were about to savor. The resulting effect could have been unpleasant.

As such, savory sustenance was provided in abundance. They were catered by well-known Los Angeles area bakeries. From the famous Porto’s Bakery, a family-owned Cuban style establishment, were beef croquettes, pastel del carne (meat pies), guava & cheese strudels and apple strudels. Imen Shan of the Tea Habitat tearoom kindly sponsored apricot-almond shortbread bars, raspberry-chocolate shortbread bars, and a variety of other mini desserts. (as I have mentioned in Part I of my installment).

There were also the freshest fruits of the season: ripe Californian strawberries, black cherries, honeydews, melons, pineapples, grapes and kiwi fruits. As thirst quencher and palate refresher, still and sparkling water (Arrowhead and Perrier, respectively) were served. On top of each tasting table were unsalted almonds, cashews and black-and-white-sesame-seasoned crackers.

For decorative purposes, Guang and I selected high quality, celadon-colored linens to cover the tables with, which went very well with the oriental theme of the surroundings. Each table then was accented with fresh cut orchids in a curvy, modern looking glass vase. Four 20" x 30” posters (would have been six posters if FedEx delivered) were scattered across the courtyard at strategically-chosen spots. One poster announced the 5th International Puerh gathering. Another depicted the wrappers of legendary pu'er cakes of time past and the present. There was a Houde Fine Tea ad poster as well as a poster depicting different tea growing regions in Yunnan.

One short table with the five pu’er beengs of the day standing proudly on top was placed at the center of the staging area, right in front of fresh, colorful flowers. Another table was placed on the right-wing of the courtyard to display Wu Shing Publishing Co.’s various books, magazines and the pu’er cakes that Huang Chuan Fang specially blended for the Pasadena Pu’er Event (available for sale at Houde soon).

The teacups were chosen to be small, rather flat and with a wide rim on the top. They were obtained from Wing Hop Fung. All other essential tea utensils were brought over from Houston by Guang. Well, almost everything else. Apparently, Guang was forced to relinquish 2 tea trays and 2 kettles to alleviate his overweight luggage at the Houston airport. Fortunately, Imen came to the rescue and replaced these unexpected needs with her own store’s equipment.

Towards the end of the Event, one of the pleasant surprises of the day was seeing Jason Fasi (aka: bearsbearsbears, the moderator of the LJ Pu-erh Community and the author of the article “The Cart Before the Horse” in the 2nd volume of the Art of Tea magazine). I seemed to have not recognized him at first. Jason came by himself sans 25 lbs (from scuba diving in Vietnam, he said) and also sans 100 beengs of the pu’er cakes that he personally oversaw and produced while visiting Yunnan. He had arranged for Scott (of Yunnan Sourcing LLC) to send the cakes to the US, but none have been sent, Jason informed me with a perplexed tone of voice.

At 6pm, those who were in the courtyard were politely asked to leave the museum’s ground as it was closing its gate. Still, the few of us lingered for a bit longer outside the gate, unwilling to say our goodbyes. So we decided to continue our party at the Il Fornaio – an Italian restaurant in old town Pasadena – where the 12 of us, including Guang, Liang Chun Chih, Liang's wife, Chen Zhi-tong and most of the LA Tea Group members occupied a banquet room with one long table. We dined, we wined and we befriended.

To be continued…

[Posters provided by Wu Shing Publishing, and picture of the pu'er tea tabs provided by B. Loofbourrow]

Saturday, June 23, 2007

June 2007 Pasadena Pu’er Tasting Event, Part III: Party Time!

Part III: Party time!

On the 16th of June, to say that my morning was hectic would be a gross understatement. I was fortunate that none of my arteries burst. The day started early enough to make sure that the posters were re-printed and the freshest berries, fruits and orchids were obtained. The big items were easy to handle. The small details, on the other hand, were murderous.

I am glad that my lovely wife was able to help put things in perspective by slinging jokes that made me laugh about whole thing. She endured some of my frustrations. If it wasn’t for her wit…

After fetching the 2 hired helpers from a nearby Chinese restaurant (I had made the arrangements with the boss of the establishment weeks before), we arrived at the P.A.M. at around 12:20pm. We were late. The Museum was already bustling with workers placing the tables, chairs and umbrellas in the courtyard. Guang and the Wu Shing team were setting up the tea utensils. I immediately instructed the 2 helpers to set the food tables up, while I dealt with the vendors and the overall set up of the entire courtyard.

One of the first guests that I recognized by face was Sean Chen (SJSChen). And then I saw Mary and Bob Heiss, the authors of The Story of Tea. Guests started to trickle in at about 12:45pm, but we were quite far from being ready to entertain. The courtyard were filled with guests at 1pm, the time that the party was scheduled to start. It was not until 1:30pm, I think, that Guang welcomed everyone and provided the outline for the day.

We couldn’t ask for a better Southern Californian weather. The sky was perfectly cyan and the star we call the sun was bright and high. White puffs were scattered about, humidity was low and the temperature hovered around mid to high 70’s Fahrenheit. It is our typical pre-summer day (summer officially starts on June 21st here in the US), which is a great blessing in itself.

The attendees found their designated tables by about 1:45pm and Mr. Chen Zhi-Tong commenced his introductory speech in Mandarin. Guang translated. Although my command of the Mandarin language is sub par, I understood Chen’s speech quite clearly. Guang’s translation, however, often omitted the nuances and the depth of Chen’s message. The translation was in line with what was said by Chen, more or less, but one would find Chen to be a good orator if one understood Mandarin.

Honestly, though, I hardly paid any attention to the speech. I utilized the time to phase myself out temporarily and to get some food in my stomach before overdosing myself with tea. I didn’t remember if I even had a glass of water or not since I woke up that morning.

After the speech, I returned to the table and primed the tools and serving vessels for our first tea. It was an honor to have been seated at the same table with the following individuals:

- Beatrice Hohenegger (author of The Liquid Jade)
- Suzanne Mantell
- Carnie Tran
- Sina Caroll
- Charles [?] (Wing Hop Fung)
- Lan Ong (Wing Hop Fung)
- Heji Kim (Hster) & Christopher Taggart
- My wife and my brother-in-law

2 days prior to the Event, Guang contacted me with another unexpected request. I was to find 2 people with intermediate tea brewing skills to lead 2 of the 5 tasting tables. Guang, Aaron and Chen were in charge of 3 tables. I did not volunteer myself since I thought, as one of the producers of the Event, I should be available to attend to anything immediately. So I suggested to Guang that Jason Fasi and Danica Radovanov be the 2 people he could count on. Unfortunately, Jason was not yet reachable, and so I agreed to brew.

The first tea we brewed was the 2006 Taipei Expo Ji Nian Cha, and then we progressively moved to older teas. The apex of the tasting event was to be the sampling of the 1950’s Hong Yin.

The 2006 Taipei Expo Ji Nian Cha was a very good tasting young tea as an opener. It’s complex and very lively on the nose and in the mouth, bordering on being fruity, floral and green at the same time. The balance of every nuance was extraordinary and the mouthfeel was pleasantly substantial. According to the 2nd issue of The Art of Tea, this tea was blended by Huang Chuan Fang from 150 maocha provided (and then pressed) by Chang Tai.

[Side note: this particular blend by Huang Chuan Fang for the 2006 Taipei Expo Ji Nian Cha is also used by Chan Kam Pong for “his own” Clouds pu’er cake. Multiple reliable sources confirmed that they are the same exact tea with 2 different wrappers. Personally, I don’t think Cham Kam Pong has ever truly produced his own tea, unlike our very own Tim Hsu, Jason Fasi and Lewis Perin have]

Then we moved on to the 1999 Green Big Tree (simply outstanding! 5 stars), 1980’s Xue Yin 7532 (not memorable to me), 1970’s Zhong Cha Jian Tie (Xiaguan) “Simplified Character” (the participants at the table agreed to skip this tea due to time constraint), 1960’s Ba-zhong Huang Yin (Phenomenal! 5 stars if not more), and the 1950’s Hong Yin.

For the 50's Hong Yin, I think I may have failed miserably in getting the essence out of the leaves. Most everyone seated at other tables who I talked to after seemed to have enjoyed the Hong Yin tremendously. Those seated with me and myself, on the other hand, did not particularly find anything impressive with this tea. I am still not quite sure why! Did I use hot enough water? I brewed the tea in my own smaller Yixing pot that is quite appropriately sized for the quantity of leaves provided. My infusion parameter was quite standard, starting with about 20s for the first brew and then gradually longer thereafter. The tea was underwhelming and monolithic in taste and texture, though very smooth and rather sweet.

[Side Note: at home, however, with the leftover leaves still residing in my pot, I re-brewed the 50’s Hong Yin. This time, I pushed the infusion time for as long as 2 to 5 minutes. The resulting liquor was quite amazing. It’s thick, sweet and refined. Personally, however, it was still not as impressionable as the 60’s Ba-zhong Huangyin]

The party started and ended later than expected. At 5:30pm, we were hinted by Gabriella Karsch to wrap the event up as the museum was about to close in half an hour time. Many lingered around to socialize and seemed not eager to leave the positive aura of the day. It was a marvelous day by any account, though I personally was quite relieved that it was over without any hickup. By the smile and the congratulatory wishes that Guang and I received, it seemed we managed to pull the party off quite decently after all.

To be continued...

Friday, June 22, 2007

June 2007 Pasadena Pu’er Tasting Event, Part II: Prior to the Event

Part II: Prior to the Event

On February 27, I received an email from Guang titled “Need Your Opinion”, in which he asked for my recommendation on places to host the first USA Pu’er Tasting Event at. I told Guang that the better place to hold such a cultural event, in my honest opinion, is in San Francisco for many obvious reasons. While uttering that, however, I also thought that Los Angeles could potentially be a great place. So I suggested that he contact his SF acquaintances for their recommendations while I turn my wheels for the venues in Los Angeles.

A day later I came up with four ideas (alpha, in no order of preference):
1. The
Chinese American Museum in downtown Los Angeles (C.A.M.)
2. The
Descanso Gardens in La Canada (D.G.)
3. The
Huntington Library in San Marino (H.L.), and
4. The
Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena (P.A.M.)

The P.A.M. was available to host us in mid-June. It was unclear whether or not C.A.M. has the facility to host a third-party function (they never returned my calls). The D.G. and the H.L., unfortunately, were already fully booked in June. My heavy favorite at the time was the D.G. for its beautiful outdoor settings. However, when I scouted the P.A.M, I was very pleased with how the museum's courtyard feel and look. I immediately told Guang that the P.A.M. would be the perfect venue to hold his pu’er party at should he commit to having it in Los Angeles.

After Guang received many photographs and videos of the museum from me, and after he found out that such a beautiful Qing-dynasty style courtyard can be rented for only a fraction of the price of another Asian oriented museum (forgot which) in SF, he finally made his decision and booked the P.A.M. for the June 16th engagement. Well, it was just my luck, I thought…I wouldn’t have to travel far after all! The P.A.M. is practically a 10-minute walk from my office.

Thereafter, Guang and I were out of contact for a few weeks. I was under the assumption that he knew someone else who could organize the party on his behalf. I mean, after all, he only asked for my suggestions about the venues.

In mid-April I contacted Guang to ask if everything was underway. His reply, to my surprise, was that he hoped I could help with the organization of the event. I was hesitant at first, although I was also quite piqued by the challenge. Besides, the event was still 2 months away from then, so the preparation could still be done at a somewhat leisurely pace. He and I immediately took on the project together and we consolidated our vision.

During the ensuing 2 months, we slowly and carefully planned the project. Among other things, I selected the tables, chairs, linens, bowls, trays, utensils, umbrellas, etc. from the rental company’s wide selections. We wanted it to be understated yet elegant. Guang was in charge of inviting the guests and announcing the event to the public. We also figured out the logistics on how to get the tea utensils from Houston to Los Angeles.

My meetings with Gabriella Karsch, the Director of Events at the P.A.M., were always constructive and pleasant. Through her, I was introduced to vendors that P.A.M. had prior satisfying experiences with. She also made sure that I did not forget the little details that may have been unintentionally omitted, such as knowing the power limitations of the museum. This was resolved by renting an extra power generator to make sure that all 5 power-hungry electric kettles could run concurrently without blowing any fuse. My gratitude towards Gabriella is overflowing.

Everything was under good control…that was until the day before the event itself. Crises ensued on June 15th due to the fact that FedEx failed to deliver the six poster-sized pictures that I had ordered for enlargement. To make matter worse, on that same day and at the time when I should be sprinting to a nearby Kinko's to get the posters re-printed, Aaron Fisher called to let me know that he was stuck at the Greyhound bus station on Alameda and 7th Street (not a good part of our city). Apparently, his bus from SF to LA had broken down on the way, and so he missed his connecting bus that would have taken him from downtown to Pasadena. The two crises were resolved eventually, but not without much angst and cash. It costs 4 times more expensive to re-print the posters at Kinko’s than at Snapfish (an online photo vendor).

After picking Aaron up at the downtown bus station, we immediately headed towards the Hilton Hotel in Pasadena. We chatted and got to know each other better while waiting for Guang, Liang, Apple and Chen to arrive at the hotel. It was not until about 10pm that they finally showed up. This was to be my first meeting with Guang, the man who I have corresponded with for the past year or so, but only through emails and phone until that day. We were mutually happy to have finally met each other in person.

I was invited to Aaron’s and Guang’s room to further plan the next day’s kick off. To whet our tired and dry beaks, Aaron brandished his small silver teapot (“Such an ugly teapot,” Guang said jokingly) and started brewing his stash of 1930’s sheng pu'er that is made entirely of small gong-ting buds. We used one of Guang's electric kettles to boil some bottled water.

While sipping on this extremely smooth, rounded and naturally sweet tea, we talked about what was going to happen tomorrow. Everyone was anxious, and especially me because there were still many important errands on my to do list that I had to accomplish before arriving at the museum.

I left their hotel room at around half past midnight and reached my home at around one o'clock. I was exhausted by then and no longer had the energy to be anxious any longer. But I remember that I was still enjoying the aftertaste of Aaron's 1930's pu'er. The sweet taste in my throat lingered for a long time and I felt as if my esophagus all the way to my stomach was coated in a light mint-y sensation. It was quite a pleasant feeling.

Tomorrow (well, that same day to be exact, since it was past midnight) was going to be a long, exciting day…that was if I could manage to complete my long list of tasks before 12 noon!

To be continued...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

June 2007 Pasadena Pu’er Tasting Event, Part I: Thank You!

Part I: Thank you!

Last night I drove Chen Zhi-Tong, the tea master/maker/author, to the Los Angeles International Airport for his flight back to Taipei. This marked the end of my commitment to the pu'er event. As such, I am inclined to share with you my experiences surrounding the organization, preparation, and execution of the Pasadena Pu'er Tasting ("Event").

Before delving into the details, however, it is only most appropriate to extend my utmost gratitude to the following individuals. Without them, this Event simply would have been much less of a success than it had become.

Dr. Lee Guang-Chung (Guang) of
Houde Fine Tea – the Event was certainly the brainchild of Guang and the Wu Shing Publication. Guang was instrumental in pulling the day off successfully by providing guidance, advice and direction (not to mention the $funds$). Most of the legworks that I helped with were done under his vision and supervision. And thank you for the teas we drank!

[Guang, in pink shirt]

Mr. Liang Chun-Chih of Wu Shing Publication – for taking a chance with the tea enthusiasts in the USA. If it wasn’t for his entrepreneurial gamble, the Event would not have materialized, let alone considered in the first place. The US market in general, by relative measure, is still in its early stages of fine tea appreciation, and most especially pu’er appreciation. This Pasadena Event and the continued publication of the Art of Tea magazine lay the necessary ground works from which more interests will grow out of. I hope that his actions and vision will bear him fruits in the future, sooner or later.

Mr. Chen Zhi-Tong, Tea Master/Maker and author of the “The Profound World of Chi-Tse" – for his boundless passion, in-depth understanding and generosity with sharing with us, laymen, his knowledge on pu’er. What he shared was perhaps less than the tip of the iceberg, but I believe he had done a swell job at encouraging the audience’s interest in pu’er tea.

Aaron D. Fisher, Sr. Editor, The A
rt of Tea – for his indomitably creative spirit and his focused mindset on how to promote pu’er tea and the magazine. His presence at the Pasadena Pu’er Event gave us the opportunity to meet the person who plays a large role in our enjoyment of the Art of Tea magazine, from cover to cover. It was only appropriate that he stepped out from behind the curtain. Those who sat at the tasting table with him must have learned a lot that day.

Gabriella Karsch, Director of Events,
Pacific Asia Museum – for her enthusiastic support of the Event and her crucial connection with reliable contractors and vendors. It was through a positive karmic affinity that the pu’er event should be held at her museum. Gabriella is a pioneer of the tea industry herself with years of experience running the China Indo Tea Company, a company that she founded in the early 1990’s. No one could ask for a better host who understands the significance of our function!

Robert Williams of
Partyline Events (a party rental company) in San Gabriel, CA – for his top-notch professionalism and for executing an excellent blitz of a set up on D-Day. His tenacity and insistence on perfection made the day! I was a demanding client and Robert was always gracious under pressure and time constraints. I can not recommend him and his company enough for any large or small party projects. Bravo sir!

The L.A. Tea Group members:

Imen Shan of
Tea Habitat and Tea Obsession blog – for her support and sponsorship of the desserts and some crucial tea equipment. Her contributions and support ensured that all tasting tables were functional.

Danica Radovanov – For her acceptance to host one of the tasting tables at last moment’s notice. I could only wish to be at her table drinking the tea that she brewed.

[Danica waving at the camera]

And others of the LA Tea Group for their detailed assistance such as music selections and other useful ideas.

Last and definitely not least, the 50 plus attendees! What can I say? The event would have meant nothing without you, ladies and gents! My immediate thanks go to those who were at the table which I led (with much perspiration). I hope I had been able to deliver decent teas and provide relevant information to those who asked me questions. I am by no means an authority of the teas that we drank together or to pu’er tea in general. I did my best to answer your questions, however, but I hope you will take my words with a grain of salt in mind. It was an honor to have drunk tea with you. I hope we can be better acquainted in the future, near or far.

Thank you all, again. It was an honor and the pleasure was all mine.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

What a Day!

It's currently 12:40am on Sunday, and I just got back from dinner in Pasadena with a bunch of people, including Chen Zhi Tong, Guang, Liang Chun Chih (Executive Editor of the Art of Tea mag), Aaron Fisher (Sr. Editor) and most of the LA Tea Affair members. Drank too much great wines, too.

(I am a bit tipsy as I am writing this)

What an amazing day! I made acquaintances with so many great people from various trades and background. And we brewed teas from the 1950's Hong Yin, 1960's Ba Zhong Huang Yin, 1990's Menghai Green Big Tree, and other outstanding old and young teas (I was asked to take charge of one of the tasting tables).

More later. I am too drunk and tired...and tomorrow will be a long day again, starting with a 9am dim sum with Mary Lou Heiss, Robert J. Heiss (both tea book authors), Guang, Chen Zhi Tong, and others.

Good night!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

At Imen's Tea Habitat & The Long Beach Aquarium

[Behind bar L - R: Louise, Will, yours truly, Imen and Nick; guests are seated]

I had a great time at Imen's new tea lounge, Tea Habitat, on Saturday. It's located in the very upscale neighborhood of Palos Verdes. As it was the grand opening event, drinks were on the house...gongfu style! I volunteered to help with brewing the teas and serving the guests. Time passed like a blur, but I remember handling 2 to 3 gaiwans with different teas in them at the same time, while guests kept pouring in and questions were pouring out. It was a hectic sort of fun!

The customers asked me many questions, and especially often was the question on the differences between the types of tea (green vs. white vs. oolong, vs. black, etc.).

Louise, Will and Nick were there to help out as well. We drank and chatted with each other and with the guests. A young girl (10 or 12 years old at most) whom I served tea with was quite amazing in her ability to describe aromas. When I brewed a white tea named Jade Pole (leaves are rolled and shaped like butterfly chrysalides) for her, she immediately said "Wow, it smells like hot dog!" While I didn't necessarily relate the tea's smell to hot dog, it did smell like smoked meat or bacon. Bravo young lady!

Good stuff that I enjoyed at Imen's: Da Hong Pao (which I mistook for Dan Cong because of its fruitiness), Dan Cong, Jade Pole white tea, non-roasted Baozhong and roasted Baozhong.

After closing time, we popped open a 1996 Laurent-Perrier Champagne that I brought along to celebrate the grand opening (tight, citrussy and refreshing...very "1996" in taste and structure, as compared to other 1996 Champanges I have had. It probably still has a decade or so of life to mellow itself out).

On Sunday, I went to the Long Beach Aquarium with my family. Another fun excursion! My not-so-baby-anymore daughter was fascinated with every swimming thing behind the glass, especially the sea otters.

Me...I love those Sea Dragons! Such an amazing looking creature!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Mr. Madan Tamang and His Meghma Estate Oolong


Back in October 2006, I had the pleasure of enjoying Meghma Tea Garden's autumnal oolong from the Eastern Nepal. A discussion on whether the tea was hand processed / rolled ensued under that post. The sample received and tasted then was too broken for proper observation.

I have had again the pleasure of drinking this tea (recently purchased, not the same order as last October's sample).

In Eastern Nepal, close to the border that separates it from India's Darjeeling district, Mr. Madan Tamang grows Camellia sinensis and rhododendrons. The tea estate, aptly named after his ancestral village of Meghma, produces one of the most natural and unique oolong teas in the world.

The words “remote”, “no road”, and “purest” have been used to describe Mr. Tamang’s Meghma estate and its production methods. That is understandable, considering that the tea processing facility is located at about 7,000 feet or higher. This is a place in Nepal where electricity (by public utility) has not dared reach and where “charcoal” has to be handmade to fuel the roasting of the tea.

Tasting Note: 2006 Meghma Tea Estate, Autumn Harvest Oolong, Khalikhop Valley, Eastern Nepal

Source: The Simple Leaf Tea under the name "Honeybee" ($13.95 per 4oz)

Dry leaves: bouquet of nuts, honey, very ripe mango and high notes of yellow tropical fruits' acidity. When thrown into a warmed-up gaiwan, the leaves exude deeper and sweeter aforementioned aromas. Lovely!

Brewing parameter (gongfu): 205 – 208 F (96 – 98 C) spring water, dry leaves filling 1/3 of the gaiwan, flash rinse, then 5s, 5s, 10s, 15s, 30s, 1m.

The liquor’s medium amber color and its crystal clear clarity remind me, somehow, of eau de vie that has slumbered for many decades in oak barrels. Nutty with honey-like taste and a touch of acidity that brings the tea alive. The texture is smooth and a bit oily. Medium bodied. Finishes with an earthy, dark mushroom taste that lingers. After swallowing, the tea’s astringency is felt and it produces a mouth-drying effect. I feel thirsty again quite instantly.

The leaves are decidedly larger and more whole than last October's sample. I say "more whole" because the steeped leaves are a mix of whole and chopped leaves as well as stems.

This tea is rather easily spent, however, managing to produce 4 delicious infusions before turning watery. A lovely and complex tea overall, while it lasts.

4 stars (very good)

Were the leaves hand processed and rolled, then? According to Mr. Tamang in his interview with Nikhil of The Simple Leaf Tea:

Yes, our tea is completely hand rolled. Our methods are actually very simple - after plucking the green leaf, it is manually hand-rolled and then spread out on a table and covered with a moist cloth for the semi-fermentation process to begin. This takes up to 4 hours.

The leaves are then placed on large pans with handles and charcoal-fired for about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on atmospheric conditions.

The leaves are then placed on a table for cooling - up to 3 or 4 hours. These unsorted, dried leaves are then passed through a series of meshes of varying sizes to separate the larger leaves from the smaller ones. In the industry, we call this grading. Finally, we pack the tea into plywood chests or paper sacks and the production process is complete."

Every time I brew Mr. Tamang's oolong, it enchants me with its exquisite bouquet and taste. He has got a fan in me. His latest 2007 spring oolong will soon be available for sale, and I look forward to tasting the fresh crop.

Rajiv Lochan
discussed briefly about Mr. Tamang’s biodynamic farming approach at T Ching.

Nikhil Roychowdhury of The Simple Leaf Tea conducted a
one-on-one interview with the man himself. Find out who Madan Tamang is, his agricultural approach and his vision.

(Photo of Madan Tamang provided by The Simple Leaf Tea)

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Barbara Holland on The Joy of Drinking

Folks, we may be taking things too seriously with our beverages. Barbara Holland would heartily agree with my previous sentence and offer a toast to that.

I just read a provocative article in The Washington Post by Peter Carlson about his interview with the author of the recently released The Joy of Drinking (which she thinks should be sold as a package with The Joy of Cooking and The Joy of Sex). Strangely and twistedly, I think she gets it. By it I meant joie de vivre.

Alcohol, she writes, is "the social glue of the human race." Other interesting quotes:

There's a local restaurant where, when I show up, they get me a glass of merlot," she says, "and everybody keeps telling me that nobody is drinking merlot any more; everybody is drinking pinot noir. Well, frankly, darling, I'm not sure I could tell the difference."

Everybody is horrified that I don't insist on a single malt and I don't have an opinion on Glenfiddich and all that," she says. "People want to impress me and they serve me Cutty Sark, which tastes like white wine to me. I like ice cubes in my Scotch, but apparently it's illegal to put ice cubes in a single malt. You are allowed to put in a teaspoon of water to bring out the nose."

Her book is going into my shopping cart. It's probably going to be a guilty-pleasure kind of summer reading.

The full article at and The New York Times. Registration may be required.

Retasting "Glad I" Pu'er From MarshalN

I guess to enjoy or to dislike a tea is easy; To know a tea is harder; To understand a tea takes time; And to be indifferent is the easiest.

I learned a simple yet useful lesson: tasting multiple teas side-by-side, if done hastily, may not reveal the character of each fully. If the goodness of one tea is only revealed a few moments after swallowing the liquor, then the forthcoming sensation will get lost or muddled if another tea is tasted too soon. It is a common sense that I need to remind myself with whenever there are multiple teas (or wines) being tasted in one sitting.

I re-tasted Glad I sample from MarshalN, which turns out to be a 2003(?) Quanji Bulang Mountain Pu'er. In my previous post, I slammed this tea as being "not good, not bad". So I sat down this time with no pen, paper or camera until after I was done drinking 12 or so infusions of it. It was a one-on-one date.

This time around, I couldn't find any obvious flaw with the tea. Yes, it was bitter like a vegetable concoction from an over brewed green tea, and the bitterness lingers for a while. But then, as others noticed and I didn't before, the bitterness "melted" to become a subtle sweet sensation on the fore-throat and the very back of the throat. It was a nice feeling. Yes, the astringency was present, yet it was present in a similar way that other well regarded young pu'ers are also astringent (ex. the 2004 Yan Ching Hao Yiwu Chawang, which I re-tasted a few hours later, also with no pen, paper or camera). The yun and the body of this Bulang pu'er was good. The chaqi was quite apparent, with energy circling my body slowly but surely after 3 infusions or so (calming, with no sudden attack).

Everything seemed to be in good balance without any flaw or merit that deserved a wow at present, yet there was a certain presence and understated sophistication about this tea that was noticeable only when I observed carefully and patiently. Perhaps such a pu'er tea is one that will stand the test of time. I am inclined to concur with several others who opined that this tea has a good aging potential. Everything seems to be just there without over-exertion.

A lesson learned. With tea and wine, to drink slow is a virtue. And a re-taste is warranted on those that get overly bad or good impression for less obvious reasons the first time around. After all, a debatable crap today may be a debatable gem later, and vice versa. My revised score, as if it matters: 3.5 stars (g - vg), with good potential for long-term aging.

Related notes:
MarshalN's note on sample 1
Other participants' notes on sample 1

Photo: Wet leaves. Camera set at "neutral color", which somehow gives an unnatural grey hue to the picture (to my eyes). For reference and comparison with the pictures in the previous post, which were taken with "vivid color" setting.