Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Marathon Has Begun...

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Durable Morning Tea

While reading the woes of the world and the bleak financial news on the papers this morning (not to mention Sen. John McCain's puzzling choice for VP), I sipped on what most likely the 20th infusion of 2005 Yichanghao "Ji Pin" sheng pu'er (Houde). Maybe it was the 19th or the 21st brew...I lost count. This last cup was steeped for a good 12 to 13 hours from the evening before. Its aroma and taste were still enjoyable, and the tea was drunk at room temperature.

For a vintage 2005, the dry leaves of this Yichanghao look interestingly darker than most other -- if not all -- 2005 sheng pu'er I have or tried. The beeng gives off a mild whiff of floral and straw notes. It made me wonder: is this one of those '04 - '05 Chang Tai tea that went through, as Danny Samarkand mentioned on CHA DAO, a "slight pre-processing fermentation"? [click here for the excellent 2nd installation on proper storage consideration for pu'er teas, written by Mr. Samarkand and MarshalN, as well as the ensuing discussion in the comment section, which touched briefly on the subject of Chang Tai teas]. Unless I misunderstood Danny's meaning, this '05 Yichanghao fits his opinion: the leaves are darker compared to similarly young teas, and the liquor is orange.

A very pleasant fragrance emanated from the tea liquor, which reminded me of straw, bamboo shoot, and of sweet smelling flowers. It's so fragrant that it almost felt unnatural for a young raw pu'er. Again, it made me wonder: is this more oolong or more pu'er? I couldn't be exactly sure.

The taste was smooth and astringency was hardly present, unless I pushed the steeping time exceedingly long. It's sweet-ish in the mouth and throat from the get go (as in no ku -- bitterness that turns to sweet sensations that one might expect from some young pu'er). The chayun and the huigan were all rather weak, but the overall package was very pleasant, actually.

On its chaqi: I felt a certain energy flow that first warmed my lower back and then it moved towards my stomach area, shoulders, chest and neck. The effect was calming and relaxing.

Conclusion: For a young pu'er, it is already approachable and ready to be enjoyed. I would think that anyone who hasn't acquired a taste for young raw pu'er should find this tea pleasant [enough].

Ageability, however, is hard to predict. There was not much strength or concentration of taste, aroma, chayun and huigan, all of which are necessary attributes that every candidate for a long-term storage should possess (or so I read). Certainly not lacking, however, is its good brewing durability. Therefore, it will be interesting to see what this tea has in store a few years from now. I should think that an investment in a few beengs could be warranted...some for immediate enjoyment and a few for a bit longer down the line.

Good compression -- not too tight or too loose. The wet leaves are healthy and intact.

What do you, dear readers, think about its aging prospect given my long-winded descriptions above?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Beautiful Morning Tea

I make it a point to obtain some freshly produced Oriental Beauty oolong every summer. This seductive tea is one of my favorite seasonal indulgences. It's quite easy to fall in love with it. The best example that I ever tried made me swoon in adoration as she sang all the low, mid and high notes in symphony.

I think the mark of a superior Oriental Beauty oolong is the presence of acidic nose / taste (the high notes -- fruity, sweet and sour) that is the signature of summer, insect-bitten teas. At the other end of the scale, the high degree of oxidation should lend the tea its mid and lower notes (honey, floral, caramel). When all is well, the effect can be euphoric.

This 2008 summer harvest is among my recent purchases from Houde. I seemed to have underestimated the leaves' density in dry form, and as a result may have used too much leaves this morning. To compensate, I employed flash steepings in the beginning and add mere seconds to later infusions.

Floral and honey notes are more prevalent here, with only a hint of the high sweet-sour notes, which I was craving after. There is a slight bitter undertones, too. I still need to "play around" with it. For now, it lacks the higher notes. Next time I will use less leaves and longer steeping time to, hopefully, coax out its fruitier personality.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fresh Morning Tea

The Yeoman Warder (a.k.a. Beefeater gin) from last night played a drum in my head. It was imperative that he left immediately before I leave for office. So I resorted to the fresh Baozhong (spring 2008 harvest, Pinglin township, Taiwan), which was generously included by Guang among my recent purchases.

Floral and silky smooth. A wonderful morning refreshment. The Yeoman still lingered, though much calmer by now. Ready or not, it was time to brave the 405 freeway, again.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ngaben Ceremony at Besakih Temple

Note: Besakih Temple, Bali, Indonesia. Ngaben (cremation) ceremony per the Balinese Hindu religion. Ending procession began from the restricted upper area of the temple passing into the public area. Quite fortunate to witness it as this doesn't happen every day (such solemn ceremony is not staged or open to outsiders).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Crab's Feet Pu'er

Drinking tea in a Guangzhou (Canton) teashop, one is bound to be shown many novelty teas by the shopkeeper. I was a newbie at Pu'er back in 2005 (still am today). It was in November of that year during a visit to the old city when I first got introduced to Crab's Feet Pu'er at a teashop on Yue Hwa Road.

I was a soft target: a tourist, even though I wear the skin of a Chinese man. Furthermore, my command of the Mandarin language was flaky, probably the level of a native 3rd grader at best. I got by, though barely. A conversation ensued, more or less, as such:

"This crab's feet tea is popular with the Taiwanese people," the lady shopkeeper said.

"Oh, how come?" I asked.

"They find the taste appealing, and the crab's feet supposedly have good medicinal properties for the stomach," she explained.

"What is it, actually?" I inquired curiously.

"It grows on Pu'er trees as a parasite. It gives a slight suān (酸 -- sour) taste to the tea. Here, let's try it, shall we?" I didn't have "parasite" in my Mandarin vocabulary at the time, so I went "huh?"

She then broke an ample amount from the beeng and brewed the curio with a gaiwan. I still remember her rather well to this day because, in addition to being young and pretty, she was very adept and gracious with the gaiwan. Watching her hands move about and pour tea out of the gaiwan was quite hypnotic in itself.

I was a very soft target.

By the time I left the shop, I owned 2 beeng's of this Crab's Feet Pu'er, which according to my records I paid RMB 150 per (~ USD $19 at that time). Back in Los Angeles, I chucked them, along with some other pu'er I obtained during the trip, in my off-site cellar cabinet. They have been sleeping in cool darkness ever since until their retrieval yesterday.

On the tea's wrapper and the inner ticket, the characters 螃蟹脚 (pángxiè jiǎo) are written, which literally translates as "crab's feet". I am not quite sure why some refer to it as crab's "claw", because as far as I know (and that's not much, mind you), the character jiǎo () literally means foot / feet. Toki of The Mandarin's Tea blog has pictures of this parasitic vines growing on an old Dancong tea tree.

The tea is a vintage 2002 made by Spring City Tea Factory in Menghai. As you see from the pictures below, the beeng was compressed with leaves of different colors. The orange-brown things, which are more like stems than leaves, are the crab's feet.

The tea itself was ordinary tasting. It had sour plum and dried wood notes. Overall its taste was rather boring, lacking any character or depth. Its brewing durability suffered, too, when its taste began to subside significantly after a mere 5 rounds or so. Had I been offered this tea today, I would never have bought it (except if the shopkeeper was Gong Li, perhaps).

Curious about the crab's feet, I separated the orange stem-like substances from the compressed tea and was able to obtain enough for a tasting experiment. I brewed the small amount of the crab's feet in just-boiled water (98-100' C) for about 2 minutes. The liquor was almost colorless with a light tinge of orange. It almost had no taste at all. What it had, however, was a creamy mouthfeel and aftertaste...almost milky (edit: umami is the word I've been looking for to describe the taste of the crab's feet liquor). It's quite interesting by itself, actually. However, it did not taste sour at all, as the shopkeeper had claimed. I should note again that this pu'er seems to be mixed only with the stem-y part of the crab's feet, and it does not contain any of the leafy parts. Maybe it's the leaf of this parasitic vine that is sour tasting?

Conclusion: For this particular Pu'er specimen, I think it serves the purpose of satisfying my curiosity, but largely a waste of time and money.

Light and Shadow

(Light, shadow, and a girl running)

Note: taken at the J. Paul Getty museum on Sunday, August 24th, 2008. About 5pm. The running child: Sophia, my ever hyper daughter.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Centipede On a Stick, Anyone?

Caught this NBC segment today of Al Roker and Chef Ming Tsai snacking in Beijing. Makes me think that I should be on a strict centipede diet in order to lose a few unwanted pounds...because I wouldn't eat any of it! I'd chew down most of the stuff there without a second thought, although I'm a bit hesitant about the scorpions. Not the centipedes, though...uh uh, no thanks. *shaking my head*

These are all kid's meal compared to the things this guy has eaten.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Promising Prospect -- 2001 Mengku Yuanyexiang

The one tea that I've been drinking quite often lately is the 2001 Shuangjiang Mengku Yuanyexiang (YYX), thin paper version. It is now 7 years of age, which supposedly marks the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd stage of its fermentation process. At least that's what they say, although I haven't really grasped the theory behind this concept.

The more I drink the YYX, the more I feel how promising this tea has become as it ages a bit more. The redness of the liquor and its clarity is great. The taste is complex, lively and "active". It may not be as smooth as an older sheng, but I think given enough time it will acquire that characteristic eventually. One can only hope. What I like best about this tea, though, is the way it makes me feel after drinking it -- it rejunevates and focuses my mind, and it soothes the stomach, too.

The cake / beeng that I've been breaking from has been stored in a closed book cabinet at home with an un-capped bottle of water to help with the moisture level. Generally, however, the storage environment at home is much drier than the off-site cellar where I keep most of my wines and teas. This makes me wonder if the several cakes of YYX (thin and thick paper versions) that I keep off-site have progressed differently than the ones I have at home. I should like to fetch some and do a taste comparison soon.