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.