Apr 12, 2014

The last bit of 2013 green tea

I'm sitting in a room full of 2014 new green teas, while drinking this last bit of a 2013 green tea called "wild orchid bud". By the way this is a very unimpressive green tea name, as there are so many "orchid this", "orchid that" tea in China! This is one of my favorites in recent years. Amazingly, this tea still tastes very good. Sometime ago, when I wrote this blog post about shelf life of green tea, I was thinking that among all green teas well made and well stored, some teas simply last longer than others. For example, quite a few Anhui green teas (such as huang shan mao feng and this "wild orchid bud") seem to have much longer shelf life than teas like bi luo chun.

I tasted a few samples of this tea in 2012 and immediately fell in love with it. In recent years, I've decided to introduce at least one or two "new" (I mean new to American market) green teas to America. For example, in 2011, it was Orchid Fairy Twig. In 2012, it was Bai Mei Hua Jian. Up till today, not many people have heard of this latter tea (but the knowledgeable barbel carp tea lexicon has included this tea, impressive!), either in China or else where. But it's not less tasty than many very famous green teas. Last year, my "new" tea to bring up was supposed to be this "wild orchid bud". But unfortunately, a whole shipment with this tea and a few others were lost in transition, and eventually I only got a little bit of this tea as a gift in an order of other teas. But this year, it will come again!

Why would I drink old tea while the new tea is already here? There are a few reasons.

First, I'm very thrifty. Got to finish the old tea, no waste of tea!

Secondly, no matter how good the old tea remains, once you start the new tea, under the comparison, you will immediately switch to new tea and won't want any of the old tea anymore. You all know it.

Thirdly, it's ok to wait for a while. Traditionally, it was recommended that the new green tea should rest for 2-4 weeks before usage. It was for several combined reasons, including the flavor development of the tea and the traditional Chinese medicine theories. Whether or not the tea is healthier after a couple of weeks' resting, there isn't any evidence-based conclusion yet. But I do believe it and wouldn't mind waiting for a big longer. In the old days, one wouldn't even think about whether the green tea needs to be rested for 2-4 weeks, because nobody could get it any time sooner anyway. It used to take weeks for a green tea to be transported from its hometown to the province next to it. Nowadays, it takes several days for a tea to be transported from its mountain to another side of the earth, and it is possible to drink a new tea very soon. But it wouldn't be too much pain to wait for a bit longer. So, try to finish your 2013 tea first! ;-)

Mar 30, 2014

blog sale - some tea wares

Similar to the previous blog sales - 

If interested, please contact me at gingkoheight @ g m ail . com before April 11, 2014.  I will try to get all packages prepared before April 14.

Shipping is included for US addressees (with a $5 shipping refund if one buys two items), shipping to be estimated for other countries.

Shipping could be combined with Life in Teacup orders. 

All prices are lower than market prices and not correlated with our web store prices. Some of the items may be offered in Life in Teacup web store in the future, and the prices will be higher.

1. Small special shape red clay shui ping by Qian Hongfen, made in Yixing Factory #1 in 1990s for export. $52. There are 5 available for this blog sale. There will be some more available in future in our web store.

More photos are available here

It's made of red clay. The volume is about 60ml. This was a mass-export products made by Yixing Factory #1 in 1990s. Qian Hongfen is a very well known Factory #1 worker. In my impression, her works, even the commercial level ones like this teapot, are relatively well made. The craftsmanship of this teapot is not great, but generally better than mass-export products of that time. The lid fit isn't perfect, but generally not bad. And I would select the relatively better ones from the batch for sale.

A drawback of this style is that this type of stainless steel strainer would be too big to put on this teapot. This wouldn't be a problem if one prefers single hole strainer. I personally don't. If it has to be a single hole, probably large leaves are better for it, as the leaves tend to leave some space for the water flow through the single hole, so to avoid plumbing work while drinking tea. There are DIY strainer ideas that could work for this little teapot. If you do want to DIY a strainer (it's actually not that hard), this and this are some ideas (the above two aren't the right size and just serve as reference). For a slightly more complicated DIY strainer, you could refer to this webpage (probably translation is not necessary as the pictures say it quite well).

2. Special shape purple clay shui ping. Author unknown. Made for Taiwan market to mimic an earlier style (in terms of shape and stamp). $98. There are 3 available for this blog sale. There will be some more available in future in our web store.

More photos are available here.

This is a purple clay teapot, about 100-110ml. Rumors are this was a 1980s customized order. To be conservative, let's just think of it as a 1990s order. I think this is a very impressive little teapot. I currently don't have the information about who made it, but it was definitely somebody who did good work. The clay quality matches the very high quality found in pre-1990s teapots. The craftsmanship is great. The lid fit is perfect or near perfect. The shape and the square stamp are cute (I think).

3. Jingdezhen porcelain gaiwan. $18. There is one available.

More photos are available here.

The usable volume (not filled to the rim, but filled to the level of the lid rim) is about 110ml. The diameter of the bowl is 9cm (3.5 inch). For my hand size, it would be a bit large for gongfu brewing - after seeing a lot of discussions on how to use gaiwan for gongfu brewing without burning your finger, my final conclusion is, the number 1 tip is that the gaiwan is small enough relative to your palm size, and everything else is easy to handle :-p

However, I would feel comfortable using it for green tea brewing like this (this style is suitable for males too!).

The pattern is not hand painted but mimics hand painting. The painting is quite nice and the color is good. It takes a very close look to tell it's not hand painted. 

4. A xishi teapot with a broken lid, or may we call it a fairy pitcher. $24. There is one.

This poor little thing was one of our beloved 100ml di cao qing xi shi. The knob was very unfortunately broken off. It could still serve as a fairy pitcher though, if you just need one. I would send along the lid and the knob piece as well, in case you would like to do some repairing work. It's possible to stick the knob piece on with rice soup, and it could be very sturdy as long as you don't use the teapot for tea brewing (water or steam dissolves the rice "glue"). This way, you may use the teapot for tea storage. I personally use some teapots for storage of puerh and roasted oolong, with their spouts and knob holes plugged with tissue paper. It's an odd view, but works well! If you really want to glue the knob back on and use the teapot for normal brewing, you will need to be very careful about whether the glue is safe enough.

Free stuff:

1. Assorted yixing cups.
2. Small porcelain cups (about 30ml) of the similar painting style of the above gaiwan.
3. 2014 Frosty Spring Yunnan Roasted Green 7g sample.
4. 10-25g packs of 2013 green tea
1400m Huang Shan Mao Feng
750m semi wild Huang Shan Mao Feng
Jiang Xi Tribute Tea
Frosty Spring Yunnan Roasted Green

Mar 14, 2014

praying for MH370 and praying for Kunming

A pair of 2006 sheng and shu custom made for Malaysia Puerh Association, symbolized with Twin Tower of Kuala Lumpur.
Mourning on the 7th day memorial of Kunming Railway Station terrorism attack, at the square of Kunming Railway Station.

This has been a month of terror so far. The terrorism attack at Kunming Railway Station on March 1st left behind 29 dead bodies and 143 people injured. And now, after almost a week out of radar contact, the status of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 remains "missing." It is just my speculation, but at this point, I don't believe the flight is really missing, and probably all our governments have already known what happened, without letting us know (just speculation here...). I'm afraid it's another terrorism attack, although it's unclear who is behind it and which country/countries are targeted. I hope I'm wrong, but with time being, hope dwindles for the 239 passengers and crew of MH370 to survive. I wonder what really happened to MH370, and wonder how much of the truth would be released to us people eventually. But at this point, it seems that we could do nothing but praying for the 239 people on MH370.

Life moves on no matter what. Yunnan green tea has already been harvested at the 1500m site. Other green teas are coming soon. But while we move on to enjoy our lives, we shall not forget those who lost their lives.

Mar 8, 2014

2005 Xia Guan Jia Ji Tuo "green box"

Xia Guan changed the design of its green box for this Jia Ji Tuo in 2005. This is the older "green box" produced in the first part of the year. It's widely believed that this version is better than the newer "green box" produced later in 2005. I sort of agree with it.


Most Xia Guan tuo drinkers know there are often "gift with purchase." This time it's a little piece of clay (right in the center at the top). 

This tea has been stored in Zhuhai, Guangdong for several years. The guardian of this tea has tried all they could to lower the humidity of the storage environment, and Zhuhai is a subtropical coastline city. So the outcome is a clean storage with ample humidity.

The tea still has some hint of the signature smokey aroma of Xia Guan tuo, but not a lot of it. The liquor has become quite mild and a bit soupy. Overall it's a quite enjoyable tea, and a tea that I could drink a lot without worrying about my stomach.

In my mind, Xia Guan routine tuo products are the stars of inexpensive puerh. I generally don't drink them when they are younger than 5 years old. But after several years, when some puerh that was born in the same year with the cheap Xia Guan tuo becomes trash (you know that happens, not due to storage), Xia Guan tuo is enjoyable, and remains inexpensive, compared with other teas of the same age. On the day that I had this 2005 green box tuo, before and after this tuo, I had several samples of other 7-10 years old puerh teas that were star products since they were born, and made by celebrity tea people. Some of them are fantastic, and some are, not so great, to put it in the mildest way. And all of them are way more expensive than this Xia Guan tuo. Although this Xia Guan tuo is currently over 10 times more expensive than its own price in 2005, it was a lot cheaper than many star products in 2005, and it is a lot cheaper than most of the 9-year-old puerh today. This, I think, is something very interesting about Xia Guan routine tuo products. They are not the greatest tea. They aren't meant to be. But after some years, they become nice tea, and they could beat many teas 3 times of their price, hands down.

Feb 8, 2014

preparing a new yixing teapot (1)

This teapot has a cute nickname, "little dumb"
This includes preparing a new teapot or a newly obtained vintage teapot, whether is new vintage (some people use the term "vintage virgin") or used vintage.

Here are some methods that I could think of at this moment, including some methods that I'm reluctant to use but being used by a lot of experienced yixing collectors.

All the methods mentioned here are for legitimate yixing teapots. They are not useful to detect any harmful chemicals in the teapot or "cure" the teapot from any permanent harmful contents. Some of the methods may help to reveal the clay quality to some degree, but this is not a practical aim of preparing teapots. Whatever flaw that could be reflected in these method, could be detected in other observations before hand.

As usual, I know I will be too wordy to control the reasonable length of the post. So I would divide the contents in 2 posts. Part one is about the routine and popular methods. And part two discusses some more controversial method and some "queer" methods. 

1. To judge if a yixing teapot is ready to use.

To judge whether a newly obtained yixing teapot is ready to be used for tea brewing, other people may have more decent ways, but to me, there is a very important test, which doesn't sound very decent ;-) This very important test to me is... Sniff Test! Basically I would sniff a teapot around to decide whether it's ready to be used for tea brewing or it would need more "preparing" work.

The purpose of the sniff test is to see if there are dust residues hidden in the pores of the clay texture. This is not a test for any additive harmful chemicals, though, because many harmful chemicals are odorless.

The key to the sniff test is to sniff the teapot when it's moist but not holding water or having a lot of water on the clay surface. When the clay is moist, the dust odor is most prominent, if there is any. But when the teapot holds water, a lot of the odor is dissolved by water and can't be detected as easily. For a new pot, it's almost ready if it still has some hint of pleasant, aromatic odor of clay (shouldn't be strong though). It wouldn't be good if the odor is heavily soil-ish (need more rinsing, or the the teapot didn't have enough firing in the kiln).

2. Simple rinses may work sometimes.

In the most ideal situation, "preparing" work is minimum to none. For some high quality, high fire modern teapots of certain clay textures, the only thing needed in preparation work is to rinse it for a few rounds with tap water and then with boiling water. It takes 1 minute and the teapot is ready. Some vintage teapots could be ready with some simple rinse too, but considering the time the teapot might have spent in a dusted warehouse or an unknown place, probably more preparation work is necessary.

If the user would like to have some fun to go through more tedious preparing work, as described in this blog post, it is fine. But it's not always necessary.

In my experience, a lot of zhu ni teapots, ben shan green clay teapots and red clay teapots would get ready with such simple rinses. High-fired purple clay and duan ni teapots with relatively smooth surface may belong to this category as well. Usually, after simple rinses, if I don't see tiny piles of clay dusts inside the teapot, and if the teapot passes sniff test, then I would start using it if I'm very eager to start using it.

3. Rinsing with boiling water.

For most of my new teapots, I would rinse them with boiling water for many times. I don't spend extra time rinsing a new pot, but just rinse it when drinking tea. The teapot is filled with boiling water, and then rinsed some time later, and filled with boiling water again, and rinsed again. This could last for a few dozen rounds and a few weeks. I would give the teapot a "sniff test" from time to time, to judge how ready it is. But usually the rinsing time is more than the teapot needs to get cleaned. The rinsing helps to season the teapot anyway, although it's just plain water. So I wouldn't mind over do it.

I like this method much better than boiling a teapot in a pot of water, which is also a popular method of preparing the teapot. This method takes longer time, but it's fun anyway, and for many of you who've already got more than enough teapots (admit it!), you are not in a hurry to get a new teapot ready anyway.

Some new teapots has small piles of clay inside the pot, semi powder and semi clay, but removable. Many high end teapot makers would be careful enough not to leave such small piles, or remove them in the quality control step - that's partially why teapots from high end makers are often very easy to prepare and method #2 would be enough. But having left over clay powder in the teapot doesn't necessarily mean the teapot is low quality. Sometimes a relatively careless potter is even more skillful than a relatively careful potter. For teapots with left over clay, I think multiple rinsing would work much better than boiling the teapot, because it takes both hot water and repetitive rinsing to get rid of the left over clay.

Many commercial grade factory-made teapots in 1990s and before would have tiny piles of dust and clays inside when they are new. Many higher grade of factory-made teapots in 190s and before would have piles of white, fine sands or even aluminum powders (both used to file the teapot opening) inside when they are new. In these cases, repetitive rinsing with hot water would work more effectively to remove the dusts and powders than boiling the teapot just once.  

Sometimes, I would put some spent tea leaves in a teapot with water, and let it sit over night. This is because tea leaves are very absorptive, and could help to remove dusts hidden in the pores of the clay. I would prefer spent tea leaves to unused tea leaves, because the purpose is to use the absorptive feature of the tea leaves, and not to let the tea leaves "scent" the teapot - such scenting may disguise any residual dust odor and interfere with "sniff test".

4. Boiling the teapot in water.

Compared with method 3, boiling the teapot in water may get a teapot ready sooner (sometimes repetitive boiling and rinsing are probably necessary). It could work well on most new teapots (although many of the teapots don't need it), as long as carried out with caution. There are a few things that help to keep the teapot safe while being boiled:
a. Put the teapot in cold water before boiling starts;

b. Let all parts of the teapot completely submerged in water;

c. Leave lid off the teapot;

d. Use one or two towels to cushion the teapot in the boiling pot;

e. Use low heat when boiling;

f. After the heat is turned off, let the pot of water naturally cool down before taking out the teapot;

g Boiling the teapot for 30 minutes and 3 hours may do just the same work on the teapot, while 3-hour boiling induces more risk;

h. Some yixing teapots are waxed on the outside surface. Boiling (combined with scrubbing afterwards) could remove the wax relatively efficiently (compared with rinsing with hot water). But in such cases, you may need to spend extra time cleaning your boiling pot afterwards to get rid of any residual wax. If you are not sure whether the unusual shine on a yixing is caused by wax, you could try to scratch the teapot surface with fingernail and see if there is white wax accumulated.

When boiling a teapot, besides taking all above cautions, one should also be ready to take risk and, sometimes, take the consequences in following situations:

i. A high quality, well made zhu ni teapot may still have one or two  tiny crackles (sometimes invisible by naked eyes or hidden in some invisible corner inside the teapot) that could be extended into severe damages by boiling

ii. Some older teapots could have tiny crackles or other tears-and-wears that could be extended into severe damages by boiling.

iii. Very often, boiling would remove a lot of (although not all) the "patina" on  an older teapot. If your goal is to thoroughly remove all patina, boiling is not enough (harsher methods will be introduced in Part 2). On the other hand, if you don't want to lose a lot of the patina (given that it's known to be clean patina), then hot water rinsing would be better than boiling.

Chances of damage of the above two types could be minimized by taking cautious, but can't be completely avoided.

In part two, I will discuss:

4. rinsing cloth, luffa scrubb and tooth brush

5. tough detergent - bleach, hydrogen peroxide and other commonly used detergent for... toilet bowl...

6. relatively friendly detergent

Jan 5, 2014

another teapot

Last time on the "most hated teapots", Emmett of Cha & Kung Fu said, "is there an opposite version (to the breast teapot)?" And I recalled seeing a teapot with "combination of male and female spirit." Last night, when sorting out my book shelf, I randomly glanced through some books and saw this picture again. So here you go, Emmett :-D

It's called Fu Xi. Fu Xi (male) and Nv Wa (female) were the parents of all humans in ancient Chinese myths. So they were supposed to be "source of life" :-D This teapot was made by Lv Yaochen, one of the few living gurus of yixing arts. It's included on many yixing picture books. This picture is from a book called Palace Museum Collection: The 200 Pieces of Yixing Works that You Should Know of (《故宫收藏•你应该知道的200件宜兴紫砂》), and this Fu Xi teapot was collected by Palace Museum (although the main purpose of the museum is to curate antiques from the Ming and Qing emperors living in the Forbidden City, it also collects small amount of contemporary arts). 

I think this this Fu Xi teapot is more bearable than the very much "naturalism" "life of source" teapot that I hated. But I can't help wondering if it was only made in one copy, and whether anybody tries to brew tea with it ;-)

The above-mentioned book, by the way, is a pretty good one. It's mainly composed of pictures of yixing arts, so there won't be much of language barrier for anybody. Compared with numerous other yixing picture, this book is unique in a way that all the pieces presented are from the royal palace, so the overall styles are quite different from private collections that dominate most yixing picture books.

This book was published in 2007, by Forbidden City Publishing House, which specializes in Palace Museum pictures and literature. This publisher is one of those that have the highest publication quality in China, in terms of paper, printing, photography and literature of antiques. Even now, this book is sold at amazon.cn for ¥60. That is so cheap!

Jan 1, 2014

blog sale - yixing teapots and some tea

Similar to the previous blog sales - 

If interested, please contact me at gingkoheight @ g m ail . com before January 14, 2014.  I will try to get all packages prepared before Jan. 20.

Shipping is $4 (tea only) or $7 (teapots) flat for US, shipping to be estimated for other countries.

Shipping could be combined with Life in Teacup orders. 

All prices are lower than market prices and not correlated with our web store prices. Some of the items may be offered in Life in Teacup web store in the future, and the prices will be higher.

1. Purple clay teapot, made by Yixing Factory #1, in 1992 or 1993, by Chen Huifen. $. There are 5 available for this blog sale. There will be some more available in future in our web store.

The volume is 80-85ml. It has single-hole strainer. The shape of spout is a type of fast and fluent pouring. In early 1990s, oolong was trendy in Korea (and puerh started getting trendy). So I would guess that's how this teapot shape was selected for the Ceramic Arts Festival.

I don't remember seeing this style in the Factory #1 catalogs (I only have a few incomplete versions that I plan to show in future blogs). It's probably modified from some gourd style teapots. I've been calling these teapot "mantou 馒头 (bun)" style, unofficially, but it does share some similarities with some mantou style teapots in history :-D

These teapots were custom order by some Korean tea merchant for the third Yixing Ceramic Arts Festival (which took place in 1993 1992 correction: it's 1992, not 1993). The clay and firing are great. Craftsmanship is pretty good - better than the average level of craftsmanship for regular styles (such as shui ping) in Factory #1 at that period, I think. Water seal is not good. Lid fit looks fine from the appearance. I've selected all these teapots that have relatively good lid fit and don't have major flaws.

I've found these teapots interesting because I think their current price is pretty good (and I believe they are more affordable now than future). Besides, I sort of like teapots made for special events. The bottom seal says "The Third Ceramic Arts Festival Souvenir" and there is a lovely Korean character. It seems one of the characters in Korean word "teapot" (not sure of it, I just did a google translation).

More pictures are available here. The stainless steel strainer showed in the Please doesn't come with each teapot. Please let me know if you need one and I will manage to send one along with the teapot. But if you are in a big city, it's possible to get better strainers than this one.

2. Black clay teapot. Same shape as the previous one, by the same author, from Yixing Factory #1 during the same period. There is one available, with some minor appearance flaws, no function flaws. $.

Volume is 100ml. Single-hole strainer. 

More photos can be seen here

The surface flaws include a little dent on the surface (could be seen in the above photo right in the front) due to "sand explosion" - a sand grain was melted and "exploded", leaving behind a tiny dent. Besides, there is some uneven color of the clay (especially on the lid, but overall not very obvious). This could be seen in other photos. The white color on the lid is not dust, but uneven color. Both flaws happen mostly when the clay is authentic and firing temperature is high (both are features of Factory #1). But after all they are flaws. We all prefer good clay and good firing, without flaws.

I wouldn't mind keeping this one for myself. Please let me know if you would prefer to get a relatively perfect teapot from the same batch, as I'm getting some more of these teapots.

I've found this teapot interesting because it's a "brother" of the previous teapot. This one was also made for export, but not specifically for the Ceramic Arts Festival. The bottom seal is the author's name "Huifeng studio".

It looks like the above #1 and #2 are made with the same shaper (the semi-manual yixing teapots have a type of iron shapers for the craftswoman to sculpt the teapot body and spout). Their shapes overall look highly similar. The purple clay teapot (#1) is slightly smaller than the black clay teapot (#2) in volume. But interestingly, their weights are almost exactly the same. So it seems the volume difference is due to the varied degrees of shrinkage of their clays.

3. Yixing "shibo" set. There is one available. $.

Volume is 120ml (usable volume, not volume to the rim). It's the best for large leaf tea (oolong, puerh with whole leaves, etc.), as small debris could escape under the lid.

More pictures are available here.

The clay texture is very good and very similar to this and this.

This type of tea set seems more and more popular in China these days. This one is my favorite of all "yixing shibos" that I've seen. I like it very much, but I'm not sure if it could get popular in America. In China, few tea drinkers saw shiboridashi before, hence this style looks very novel and unique. But many American tea drinkers have already owned shibos from Japan and Europe. I very much enjoy using shibo-ish and hobin-ish tea ware for various types of Chinese teas, such as this, this and this. As much as I like this set, it didn't hit me as a "novel" style.

What I like about this specific one is that it reflects a sense of humor from its creator. The bottom seal is "China, Yixing" made very similar to the seals on those Facotry #1 teapot. And there is a number stamped under the lid. As many of you know, some Factory #1 shui ping teapots have a number stamped under the lid (said to be the number of each QC worker), usually a single-digit number. However, the number stamped under the lid of this "shibo" is 88, same number on every teapot this person made and not a QC number. I didn't have to ask her why - 88 is a very good number in China, often seen as a number of fortune.

4. Yan cha set, 15g 2013 Shui Xian and 15g 2013 Rou Gui. There are 5 sets available for this blog sale. $ each set of 30g.

Since dry tea of most yan cha look similar, I will be lazy and omit taking pictures.

Both tea are high mountain tea from central Wuyi region (zheng yan 正岩). The Shui Xian is from trees planted in early 1970s. Both are the relatively heavy roast type, but not the "tasting like fire" kind of heavy roast.

 5. Liu Bao produced by Guang Wu 广梧 (this is the same company that produced Guang Ya 广雅 puerh tea). There are 5 packs available for this blog sale. $ each pack of 15g.

This is mainly for people who are curious about Liu Bao (and probably those who are interested in examining it under microscope). I don't think everybody will like it, although the tea looks really pretty for a fermented tea. "Pretty" including "golden flowers" on the tea leaves, so it may not even be pretty in everybody's eyes. The tea leaves have rudimentary tiny golden flowers (smaller than those found in fu brick and not as many, not sure if it's exactly the same species, very possibly it is).

The tea offered here is one of the three promotion products that Guang Wu issued this year, as this is the first year that Guang Wu Liu Bao has been in the market. All three promotion products are quite inexpensive (especially compared with other Guang Wu products and products of Guang Ya), yet they look very nice (I haven't drunk a lot of them yet, so most judgment so far is based on appearance). The tea offered here is #1 and 1st tier in the promotion series. I think these are truly promotion products as they are really good deals. This #1 was out of stock in most places in no time. For selfish reasons, I almost wish liu bao doesn't get too popular too soon, so that they will offer more promotion products like these ones in future years :-p

It looks like this picture. The photo is from one of the sales agents, and is on the #3 of the promotion series. The tea offered in the blog sale is #1 of the promotion series, with more refined leaves and more golden buds. But the overall style is similar. It's not a "sheng" liu bao like this one. It's not the commonly seen style of Liu Bao either. Instead, it's a light-fermented liu bao with relatively whole leaves. The producer claims the tea is made with the traditional "double steam" technique. But since this technique almost disappeared in the last several decades, many tea drinkers feel there isn't enough knowledge base to judge it. But it's an interesting tea anyway. (That being said, the tea still has a basement-like smell and ideally should be aired out for a while before use.)

Free stuff:

* Small porcelain cup (40-45ml)

* Yixing teacups of red clay, di cao qing or jiang po ni, limited to 1 cup per person. There are few cups of each type. Please let me know your preferred type. The di cao qing and jiang po ni are made of same clay type as used for some teapots at Life in Teacup web store (the firing outcome will be slightly different each time, due to the size and shape).

* tea ware wrapper, similar to this one:

* Yixing red tea - if you are interested in tasting the red tea from the hometown of teapots. This is the most popular "teapot-seasoning" tea in yixing.

Dec 21, 2013

2005 Chang Tai Gold Bamboo Mountain

This tea is from Bret at Tea Goober blog (many thanks!).

In my impression, most of Chang Tai's tea of those a couple of years named after "mountains" are quite enjoyable. At that time, Chang Tai was the leader of "mountain tops" teas, and was probably the only private company that could share the same table with Dayi and Xiaguan. Gold Bamboo Mountain is one of the relative stable series of Chang Tai and was offered in most of the years since... around 2002?? (I remember the starting year of Gold Bamboo Mountain is a big puzzle and hot spot of Chang Tai gossips...) It's in medium price range and a style I like very much. Just last year or early this year, I learned that Gold Bamboo Mountain (金竹山) is actually the same as Bitter Bamboo Mountain (苦竹山). Bitter Bamboo Mountain is a series that I like very much from another tea producer. And I didn't know these two "bamboo mountains" were actually the same mountain! It looks like that Bitter Bamboo Mountain was the original name, and Chang Tai (or somebody else around the time) renamed it to Gold Bamboo Mountain. You have to admit, in a commercial market, the latter one sounds more upscale and romantic. And indeed Chang Tai is good at this kind of things ;-)

Gold Bamboo Mountain is in Jing Gu (景谷) region, one of the home bases of Chang Tai. Although Chang Tai established their fame mostly with Yi Wu tea, some of their Jing Gu teas are very good, such as these twins.

Lovely dry stored leaves!

Sometimes when I get a chunk of tea, I would be reluctant to further break it. Then I would ended up using too much tea and regretted... I've been working on "not to use too much tea."

This is really too much tea... But this tea is very nice. It tastes like some arbor tree tea that doesn't get too harsh even when highly concentrated. But still, I think using too much tea is not a good situation and very often too wasteful. I brewed many infusions out of this tea. But later on, when I could taste the "straw-like" flavor from the top layer tea leaves that's typically found in a puerh near the end of brewing, I knew the leaves in the middle layer hadn't completely release all their flavors yet. I would rather brew these leaves in two different sessions instead of confining so much tea in such a small space. That's the number 2 reason I object brewing too much tea in each session - the number 1 reason is too concentrated tea polyphenols and too much caffeine all at one time is not very healthy, at least not healthy for my little subtle stomach :-p

This is the type of tea broth that I like very much!

In recent years I tasted quite a few samples of Gold Bamboo Mountain around 2003-2005, most of which are Guangdong dry-stored. Bret's Texas stored is one of the tastiest (and I guess Bret got his tea from a US source, likely from a dry enough place), along with a few other dryer stored samples. Many Guangdong dry stored teas I've tried are clean enough, but the humidity takes tolls on the aroma of the tea. And I think the unique aroma is the signature strength of Gold Bamboo Mountain. In contrast, some other teas I've had seemed to benefit some level of humidity (all of these are still within dry storage scope), such as the 2004 Xin Yun Cheng, and the Guangdong version in the 2003 Yi Wu twins (I will finish the report on the twins soon).

Dec 15, 2013

2004 Chang Tai Shi Kun Mu Xin Yun Cheng Ban Zhang (2004鑫昀晟班章)

This tea isn't labeled "Ban Zhang" anywhere. But it seems everybody calls it Ban Zhang - probably as unofficially released by the producer.

The photo on the left shows the two Xin Yun Cheng from that year, Yi Wu on the left and Ban Zhang on the right - it was about the time when people enthusiastically talked about "Ban Zhang is king and Yi Wu is queen." So these two make a happy couple.

Both cakes are 300g only, although both wrappers say 400g. The producer explained that it was a production mistake. I don't see how it could be even possible... As cynical as I am, I suspect it was because the tea material wasn't enough while they still wanted to produce so many cakes. With what I know about Chang Tai, I think my cynical theory is totally possible :-p

I haven't tried the Yi Wu yet. My puerh icon Ulumochi of Taiwan seems to have great faith of Xin Yun Cheng Ban Zhang, while in his critiquing with Tea Art magazine (some issue of earlier this year) he didn't give very good comments on 2004 Xin Yun Cheng Yi Wu - not very harsh critique either, though. What's interesting is, in the publication, Tea Art magazine mentioned the name of Xin Yun Cheng Yi Wu, yet printed on the same page a photo of Xin Yun Cheng Ban Zhang. Afterwards, Ulumochi mentioned that he was sure the tea sample for that tasting session was Yi Wu, not Ban Zhang, and the photo on the magazine must be wrong - I do believe him, knowing that his comments on Xin Yun Cheng Ban Zhang is very very positive.

The next a few photos aren't meant to be a blame on this tea at all, although they may look a bit astonishing... I'm sure this is a very, very rare case, because I know Shi Kun Mu tea is overall very carefully made and very clean for puerh. But when I first opened this tea, I was scared to see a bunch of... seemingly... black hairs!

Turned out, it was just a piece of nylon string, a quite long one!

Definitely much better than any black hairs :-p Actually this didn't give me any negative impression about this tea. For puerh tea, producers and sellers should hold high standards for themselves about hygiene. On the other hand, we know that at least up till this day, "gift with purchase" in puerh is almost inevitable, unless puerh is converted from an agricultural product to an industrial product.

The tea tastes quite young and obviously hasn't reached a peak yet. However, it does taste quite interesting, and not harsh.

I've had this tea for several times, sometimes it was less interesting, sometimes more interesting, but overall a tea of rich flavor and mouth feel. A few months ago, I got a small sample of this tea from a tea friend in Zhanjiang (a coastal city in Guangdong Province). The tea was stored at his home and he tried all he could to keep it as dry as possible. So the tea doesn't have the worrisome smell that we sometimes could find from a Guangdong stored tea. However, the storage was still more humid than my tea, which was stored in Shandong (a northern province) before I got it. I think my Zhanjiang friend's sample tastes so much better than mine. His tea seems to have already reached a small peak for enjoyment. 

The more I tried this tea, the more I like it. Tasting my Zhanjiang friend's sample made me feel I could see more of this tea's future. But by the time, it was already nearly impossible to get more of this tea at reasonable prices. This kind of things always happen in puerh. When a tea is still at its earlier stage, most people don't know how good or how bad it could be in the future. Sometimes we could choose to follow the guru's words, but then we don't know if we have the same tasting preferences as the guru. By the time we are sure we really like a tea, it may no longer be affordable. But what could we do? That is life. Fortunately most people having this problem actually also have more than enough tea to drink, haha! So if you take turns to drink different teas, for each tea, one or two cakes are enough to last for years, and during the time, there will be discoveries of new loves.

Nov 29, 2013

many changing views

Liu Bao by Peng Qingzhong, Wu Shing Books Publication, Taiwan, 2013

For everyone of us, views on tea change throughout time. Many of our tea views are fundamental and probably won't change much. But when looking back, we could always discover some changes in our views, which are, in some way, inspiring! It's inspiring because through the changes we see our tracks of exploring new territories.

Here are just a couple of my changing views on tea, more specifically, on liu bao, hei cha, and remotely, puerh.

I was never really interested in liu bao until lately. In the past several years, I was lucky enough to have got a lot of free tea samples from various sources in China. Along with puerh and other Hei Cha samples, I always got a lot of liu bao samples. But I gave away most of them, because I just didn't find anything interesting in liu bao. Earlier last year, I participated in a discussion on hei cha at Walker Tea Review,  where I also mentioned that "liu bao is tasteless to me!"

So I didn't find anything interesting in liu bao. But ever since I knew Mr. Peng Qingzhong (aka. 三口居士), I could never say it again. The change of view happened really fast, as I was having a blast of rich information from Mr. Peng's books and articles, as well as rich flavors of his tea gifts! Although I have yet to thoroughly digest his two brilliant books on Liu Bao and the numerous great liu bao samples he sent to me, the changes have already taken places. Ever since I know Mr. Peng, every liu bao I have now is completely different from every liu bao I had before - they are from different sources, and often made with a totally different processing method, or from the good old sources (CNNP or "3 cranes") but hand picked by Mr. Peng as the few representatives of historical liu bao.

In his book, Mr. Peng analyzed why liu bao in the market today is different from liu bao in history. This part of the book intrigued me even more than the technical part of the book. A mentor of mine used to say, you've got to know what you don't know before you manage to learn it. That's exactly what I feel about Mr. Peng's books. They led me to know a lot of things that I didn't know existing.

Here is a 2007 liu bao from Shan Ping, a historically famous liu bao producing area. This is one of the very first liu bao samples I've got from Mr. Peng. To me, it's completely novel. To Mr. Peng, it's nothing novel, it's THE traditional way of making liu bao.

I had never admired liu bao leaves before like admiring these leaves. These are not as elegant-looking tea leaves as green tea or oolong. But they are so much prettier than liu bao leaves I saw before! 

The spent leaves are even prettier! 

The taste is rather hard to describe. People often say good liu bao has "betel nut aroma". So far I haven't had any betel nut in my life yet. So I don't really know what "betel nut aroma" is. But it's anything but tasteless!

Since it's a "hei cha", I couldn't help using the left over tea liquor to make some milk tea :-D

A couple of years ago, I wrote a few blog posts about "what is puerh" (now I sadly realize more than 3 years have passed, and oops I never finished writing part 3!). Most parts of the writing were just plain narration of various sources of information, and not much of my own subjective opinions. However, in section 2, I went over several major debates on puerh and talked a little about my own opinions about these debates. One of the debates mentioned involved other types of teas:

Debate 4. ... ... can puerh be categorized as Hei Cha?

At that time, I had thought that puerh should be a category by itself, separated from "Hei Cha". And I expressed this opinion at a relevant discussion at teadrunk.org too (probably it doesn't take a botanist to figure out "biloba" is me :-p).  Now here are some changed view too. With time being, I more and more believe that it's unnecessary to separate puerh from other types of hei cha. I even somehow feel it's necessary to bundle all of them in one category, because:

1. The more I understand and appreciate various types of hei cha, the more I believe that although puerh is unique, puerh is not unique in its uniqueness. Each of other types of hei cha is quite unique too, and there is no way we create numerous tea categories and assign one category to each tea.

2. In my puerh tasting, especially tasting of some rather "off mainstream" puerh samples, such as various types of "wild puerh" (which could be a varietal of puerh, a unique ecotype of puerh, or even a completely different subspecies or species of Camillia genus) consumed by Yunnan local people and some Myanmar puerh with novel tastes (although many Myanmar puerh products taste highly similar to Yunnan puerh), from time to time, there are some flavors that resemble tastes from other hei cha such as tian jian and unfermented liu bao. I can't figure out what's the connection in the flavors of all these teas, but somehow they seem to be all connected with each other. In these sense, puerh, liu bao, tian jian and other types of hei cha seem to belong to one category.

3. Similarly, in my tasting of other hei cha, from time to time, there are some favors that resembles tastes from puerh. The first thing that made me fall in love with some hei cha is that they tasted like shu puerh but without any hint of the stinky pile fermentation flavor. In some lightly fermented liu bao, I feel there are even flavors that resembles old sheng puerh. Puerh and other types of hei cha aren't the same, because there are no two teas that are exactly the same in the world. But at this point, I feel puerh and other types of hei cha are close enough to be put in one tea category.  

3. There is no perfect way for tea categorization, as tea categorization is rather subjective. The major factors used for tea categorization, such as tea variety, processing method and processing region, although largely relying on natural conditions, could also be subjectively assigned by people too. For example, if we think of liu bao and fu brick, they seem totally different in terms of tea varieties, processing method and processing region, most of the time! However, in Mr. Peng's "liu bao" collection, there were fu bricks made by Wuzhou Tea Factory (the major state-owned factory for liu bao) and a few other factories of Guangxi. Some of these fu bricks were made with local liu bao tea varieties, and some were made with fu brick tea varieties transported from Hunan. (This is partially why I'm often thrilled by Mr. Peng's books and stories! They never stop surprising you!) With all these mix-ups, I feel there could never be a perfect way to categorize these hei cha teas, and to tell which and which are closer to each other and more distinguishable from others. While there is no perfect way, I would rather go by the simpler way. Six tea categories are already a handful. Unless it's absolutely necessary, I would rather not create a seventh tea category, and would rather let puerh stay with other hei cha.

In this past autumn, I've found that liu bao has replaced a big part of my shu puerh drinking quota. I'm not bothered by the competition between them, and find it interesting that the "niches" of these two teas partially overlap. It's also interesting to think back that it was only in recent a couple of years that I started truly enjoying shu puerh. There was a long, long time that I didn't find them interesting at all. So indeed there are many changing views on my side! And I'm glad that most of the changing views involve enjoying more tea in more different ways!

Nov 26, 2013

for those who have wondered, here it is...

Not those who wondered about the tea. For the tea, tasting is the answer. For those who wondered about the human issues behind the tea - more accurately, problem of one single person -  here it is...

Tolerance and patience are what I always value, as probably indicated by the long list of timeline I put at the bottom of my comment. But tolerance and patience aren't the equivalent of foolishness, and shouldn't be taken to a level that nurtures fraudulence.

My apologies for bringing up such a negative message. But I spoke up because I do believe it serves a positive purpose.

Nov 2, 2013

are yixing teapots more expensive today?

Are yixing teapots more expensive today than 3 years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago?

Short answer: of course!

Long answer: depending on the way of calculation and your benchmark... 

Last week, a few Chinese tea friends and I discussed how much things were back in 1980s in China. In fact, I couldn't recall many details. Back then I hardly spend any money except on food and books :-p But I do remember things were much cheaper then, and of course people made much less money too. According to some other people, back then, 30 rmb (about US$7) would be more than enough for a month's basic life expense in a large city like Beijing - this doesn't include rent though, but back then most people didn't have to pay a rent anyway.

The discussion was triggered by a "price list of Jiangsu Yixing Purple Clay Art Factory (aka. Factory #1) in 1989 - Grade A" provided by a collector friend. A quick glance told us that back then, prices for most of the top grade yixing teapots range from about 5 rmb (US$1.2) for smaller, simpler teapots to 40rmb (US$10) for larger teapots or teapots with more sculpturing work. There were 4 grades based on quality. Prices for Grade B would be 80% of the listed prices. Prices for Grade C would be 60% of the listed prices. Grade D... barely anybody mentioned them, but there were tons of them :-p

The market prices would be about 15%-30% more than the listed factory prices. The famous artists' prices are made based on each piece of work. According to the recollection of an early-days merchant, he got a Gu Jingzhou teapot for about 160 rmb (US$35) and some other artists' teapots for 30-80rmb each (US$7-17). And more complicated designs of famous artists' teapots would be up to 400-1000 rmb (US$ 90-220). But to buy famous artists' teapots from the factory, the buyer would be required to buy a few dozen commercial grade teapots along with them.

Roughly speaking, in late 1980s, 100rmb (US$22) would be a decent monthly salary. One could easily buy 10 Grade A yixing teapots from Factory #1 (top grade among the commercial level teapots) - although most people of sanity wouldn't spend all salary on teapots, of course :-p

Today, one would need to spend about 1000 rmb (US$160) on a good commercial grade old Factory #1 teapot of around 1990 (that's in Chinese market, not overseas market). But meantime, I don't know if 10k rmb could count as decent salary anymore in today's large cities in China. Between late 1980s and now, in Chinese large cities, people's salary increased for about 10-500 folds (roughly based on people I know, but not a societal statistic). Between late 1990s (real estate privatization didn't start yet in 1980s) and now, housing prices increased for roughly 10-100 folds. As my tea friends and I talked about these changes, none of us could afford either a Beijing apartment or a famous artist's 1980s teapot. But somehow with all the context, it looks like yixing didn't get more expensive at all, after the monetary discounting.

As for tea, it seems that most (probably puerh shouldn't be included) top grade teas have got cheaper, after the monetary discounting of the past 20 years... It does sound somewhat odd!

Oct 19, 2013

reunion of twins (3a) - Yi Wu, 10 years later

Other reunions of puerh twins or triplets can be found here.

This pair of twins are different in terms of two factors, one factor is storage location and the other factor is the shape of tea. Brother #1 is a brick and brother #2 is a cake. One of them was stored in Kunming between 2003 and 2013 and one of them was stored in Guangzhou throughout the time (both dry-stored, and the supplier of the teas literally repeated for more than a dozen times that the Guangzhou-stored one is dry-stored, dry-stored, dry-stored...) Their difference in taste, I believe, is mostly due to their storage environment. But it's unknown to me how much the shape of the teas has affected their aging.

Traditionally bricks were often made with lower grade leaf materials than cakes (and against today's trend, tuo used to use the highest grade of leaf materials). Up till today, many puerh brands still have both cakes and bricks in the same product series, and higher leaf materials are used for the cake. But these two teas are made of exactly the same leaf materials from the same batch. So they are indeed twins. And I think it's cute that they even have same clothing.

Both teas have decent leaf materials, but not as pretty leaves and buds as today's most expensive puerh products. Like many other good teas made in early 2000s and before, the tea doesn't look as meticulously made as many modern-day products. But it's easy to tell the leaves are nice and nutritious.

Brother #1 brick

This one has a "gift with purchase" - a cotton string

Brother #2

This one also has a "gift with purchase" - a wheat shell

One small piece off each:

Close up look of the piece from the cake:

Close up look of the piece from the brick:

Since this is not molecular biology, but just casual tea tasting, I didn't weigh the 2 pieces, and just took two pieces of seemingly suitable sizes and took two teapots (of different shapes and clay textures) of seemingly suitable sizes. And of course, no thermometer for water temperature and no timer for infusion time.  ;-)

It turned out indeed I mistakenly took too large a piece of the brick for the teapot I assigned to it. This kind of things happen rather frequently, I have to admit. One of my favorite tea seller often says, "I don't know anything about Cha Dao (茶道), I only know something about Dao Cha (倒茶)." While I guess you all know what Cha Dao means, I want to point out that Dao Cha means pouring tea. He is a professional and knows how to pour tea very well. Compared with him, I don't know either Cha Dao or Dao Cha, and I just lower the standards for myself :-p

And indeed all these discrepancies in a comparative tasting would contribute to the final tastes of the teas. Would it affect a fair comparison? Well, if you think of it in another way - if you have to control all the brewing factors to detect the tiny small difference between two teas, wouldn't you just conclude that these two teas are *almost* the same and not distinguishably different from each other?

For these twins here, in spite of the discrepancies in brewing, the differences between the two teas are still very obvious and it doesn't take a trained professional to tell. Besides, it's also very obvious that the differences are mostly due to the storage environments of the two teas.  

I know I'm rather wordy and I still have a lot to blah-blah about the comparative tasting of the two teas. So I would take a break here and come back to the tasting notes later. And here is a question for you (which is not a tricky question): from the dry tea photos alone, could you tell which one was Guangdong-stored and which was Kunming-stored?