Feb 15, 2015

Kokang has great tea!

"Kokang has great tea!" said General Pheung Kya-shin on September 29, 2006. This line was printed on the wrappers of some limited-edition puerh cakes made by Man Le Tea Farm in Kokang. 

Kokang is located in the so called "Golden Triangle", infamous for its drug trade. For decades, opium and other illegal drugs was the only main source of income for local people. The drug trade was encouraged by military powers including the Myanmar government.

Grown up in ceaseless wars and drug trades, Genearl Pheung had come to understand that drug trade could never bring long-term peace and prosperity for his people. In 1990, as the head of Kokang army and Kokang autonomous region, Pheung ordered the prohibition of drug production, usage and trade in Kokang. Since then, Pheung pulled together a lot of resources to promote agricultural economics in Kokang, and led people of Kokang to shift from drug production to businesses including sugarcane, tobacco, and, of course, puerh tea.

That was how Kokang puerh was introduced to puerh lovers. The production was not large, but since it was relatively less known, the price was very good for its quality. More importantly, the ecosystem is great and the trees are old.

Previously I have discussed geographic patent of puerh and puerh that is not from Yunnan. Although Kokang puerh does not fit in the "geographic patent" requirements of puerh, generally tea drinkers have no problem at all seeing it as puerh. In fact, Kokang puerh is a perfect example that in spite of the borders between countries, there isn't such a border for the ecosystem and culture.

Kokang puerh is how I learned of anything about Kokang. Before drinking Kokang puerh, I literally knew nothing about the place, not only because it is such a small region in a small country, but also because of political reasons that I wasn't aware of. Briefly speaking, Kokang was "given" by Chinese government in 1960s to Myanmar (many people would see this as sort of political "bribery") and throughout the decades, Chinese media almost never mentioned this place.

People of Kokang have a hard life. In the past several decades, they lived through endless battles and killings. Their best time was probably between 1995 and 2009, with the economics progressing and a relative peace lasting for more than 10 years. In 2009, in a military conflict between Myanmar government army and Kokang army, Pheung disappeared. In the 5 years to follow, I heard of nothing about Pheung. Like many other people, I believed he must have died.

However, the reality is almost as dramatic as a historical romance. Suddenly, Pheung returned to Kokang in last December, and led his people to fight against the government army again. In the past week, there was a time when he almost entirely drove the government army out of Kokang. But the latest news is that the government army recaptured Kokang and Kokang army receded.

The war is nothing new for the region. But I was saddened for a few things.

First of all, this was never just a war between military powers. There are often news reports about local civilians being killed by the government army. And the most recent news mentioned that in order to search for fugitives of Kokang army, the government army burnt up acres after acres of sugarcane field, which is the main income source of local farmers after they shifted away from opium production.

Secondly, it's very disappointing that Chinese media and international media remain blind and silent about violence in Kokang. In spite of the large scale discussion among Chinese online community about Kokang, Chinese media didn't say anything about it except for the brief report of the short comments from the Foreign Ministry spokesman. The international media ignored the incidence as well. As always, if there is something happening in New York, Paris, or any western European major cities, it would be on the headlines for days or weeks. When there are slaughters in some remote corner of Africa or Asia, few media would care about it. This most recent Kokang conflicts started about a week ago. Up till this past Friday, by conducting an exhaustive Google search, I didn't find any news report about it by English language media, not a single one. Up till today, there are only some brief and shallow coverage, most simply repeating the lasted Myanmar government news release word by word. In contrast, American media (and oddly even some Chinese media) are so interested in giving long reports about the recent blizzards in Boston (which, by the way, are only comparable to the regular type of snow storm in rural Upstate New York).

Politics are complicated. It's hard to tell "right" from "wrong" or distinguish the "good guys" from the "bad guys". But awareness is the first step of understanding. For this, I thank Kokang tea for leading me to learn more about Kokang and its people. Drinking this tea, I pray for Kokang people and wish the 85-year-old General Pheung the best of luck.

Below are some unpleasant pictures from Kokang in the past day. 

Civilians in Kokang killed by the government militants. Their bodies were covered by the green blankets.
Some were killed after refusing to join the battle on site to the government army's side. Some were killed for no obvious reasons. Among the dead bodies, there are some with white hairs and some looked very young.

(I omitted some more bloody pictures.)

Young males of Kokang were tied up by the government soldiers. They will be sent to the battle front line to "fight for the government" or used as "flesh shields" for the government army. The government soldiers search door by door for young males. If nobody answers the door, they would burn up the house.

Feb 2, 2015

Guang Ya (广雅) "mellow taste" (味之淳)

This is a tea I sampled a few months ago and it's so interesting that I still think of it from time to time.

Recently, I also constantly wonder how much longer the tea blog could last. I'm not just talking about this tea blog - although I have to admit that these days I share tasting notes more in other ways than on the blog, mostly because one could be lazy using other media that involves only taking a few pictures and writing a few lines, while getting a lot more instant feedbacks from people. I still think blog is a better medium for writing about tea. But most people, including me, go lazy whenever they could :-p Even my puerh icon, Ulumochi, who used to write tons of nice stuff almost on daily basis, nowadays mostly writes micro blogs on WeChat (the Chinese counterpart of Twitter). His micro blogs are as intelligent and interesting, but I constantly miss his long blog posts!

I drank this tea a few months ago in my office. Then I took photos and immediately micro blogged it. One doesn't have the luxury of writing a real blog at work!

I got the sample for free from a Guang Ya dealer. In recent years, some very, very expensive new puerh brands came to the scene, and about half dozen of them got quite popular (I mean quite popular among rich people, of course). Guang Ya is one of them. I have never bought their puerh, because I don't know what could trigger me to make up my mind to buy a new puerh for several hundred dollars. But I bought some of their Liu Bao. Their Liu Bao is under the sub-brand Guang Wu (广梧). It's still way more expensive than most other brands. But new Liu Bao is overall a lot more affordable than puerh, and they seemed to have some unique traditional-style technique rarely found in other products. So I got their entry level Liu Bao, and to my surprise, got abundant free samples of their higher grade Liu Bao with my orders. Obviously I was hooked by their free samples, and went back buying some higher grade Liu Bao. Then to my joy, they gave me more samples of various types of Liu Bao and puerh. This is one of the samples.

The tea looks very decent and clean. That's sort of expected, for a new shu of almost $100 a cake (357g).

I expected the taste to be nice too. And it exceeded my expectation! It's not stinky (which is already a big plus for a new shu), the liquor is smooth, the taste is interesting and sweet, and it lasts for several decent infusions. Overall it's one of the best new shu's that I've had in recent years (although it's not even the high-grade shu of Guang Ya), and I think it could easily beat a lot of aged shu.

Then I thought more about its price. Still I think it's very expensive. But on the other hand, the price is not so forbidding. If I bought a cake, I could probably be happy drinking it on most of the days and finish the cake in a year. Then it's $100 well spent. You know, many puerh drinkers have many $30 cakes at home that were less than 1/10 used. So what's so wrong with a $100 new shu if you could enjoy every bit of it.

Then I thought of another question, couldn't somebody else make some $50 or $20 shu that is as enjoyable? Of course somebody could do it. And I have some less expensive shu that I enjoy very much. That's why I haven't bought this $100 yet (but indeed I was tempted). Meantime, I also understand why these super expensive brands could get so popular nowadays. I spend a lot of time searching tea. But not everybody who is interested in puerh would also be interested in spending so much time searching and trying different teas. For people who don't have time or don't want to spend time in tea hunting, brands like Guang Ya could be perfect for them for shu and ancient tree young sheng. 

My final comments on Guang Ya is, although their tea is expensive, their dealers are always generous in giving out free samples.

If you invert the two sections of the above sentence, it would make sense too ;-)

And my suggestion to tea friends was, buy some of their Liu Bao, and ask for free samples of more expensive teas!

Guess what, Twitter is firewalled in my new office. Otherwise, I could have done some tea twittering during the week...

Jan 10, 2015

to avoid over-brewing (and under-brewing) Chinese green tea (2)

Part (1) is here

3. Temperature
I don't believe temperature is a big factor that can cause over-brewing. As previously explained, in a vessel with wide opening and small volume, a tea can rarely be over-brewed, even when very hot water is used.

Interestingly, in my observation, I've noticed temperature is often a big factor that causes under-brewing. In recent years, there seems a trend of recommending rather low temperature for green tea brewing. I believe brewing temperature can definitely be flexible, based on personal preferences and with other brewing parameters (infusion time, leaf/water ratio, etc.) adjusted. But I am a little concerned that more or less, lower brewing temperature is becoming a dogma. Many people are told they "should" use rather low temperature for green tea (and similarly, for white tea), and are worried that higher temperature would ruin a green tea. Traditionally, many Chinese green teas are brewed at nearly boiling temperature (205-212 F) , some high end green teas with a lot of young buds are brewed at a lower temperature of about 180-205 F), and very few high end teas (such as March harvest Bi Luo Chun and En Shi Yu Lu, the latter one similar to Gyokuro of Japan) use even lower temperature of about 170-180 F). Currently, a lot of brewing temperatures recommended by various sources are even lower than the lowest of above-mentioned brewing temperature. When brewing a Chinese green tea at rather low temperature, a potential risk is the tea can be under-brewed, and the drinker would find the tea rather "tasteless". So when a tea drinker finds a Chinese green tea (or a white tea) short of taste, the first thought coming up to my mind would be "try hotter water". It doesn't always solve the problem, but sometimes it does.

(This previous post includes some discussion about brewing temperature for white tea.)

I have been wondering what makes people think very low temperature should be used for green tea. I guess, the influence of Japanese tea drinking might be a factor. Many Japanese green teas require significantly lower brewing temperature than Chinese green tea. When some people extends their tea drinking from Japanese green to Chinese green, they may naturally think similar low temperature should be used. But in fact, most Japanese green and most Chinese green are significantly different and therefore require very different brewing methods. Another possible reason why people think low temperature is suitable for green tea is the thought of "the more tender the tea leaves are, the lower temperature should be used", which might be naturally intuitive, but is often untrue. Besides, some brewing suggestions are probably made for 16 oz. or larger teapots that are more commonly found in an average household. Then lower temperature is used to compensate for the steaming and volume effect as above analyzed.

Some green teas can be enjoyed with lower brewing temperature without being under-brewed. Usually this involves adjustment of other brewing parameters.  

Jul 13, 2014

Anhui Long Stem Tea (杆尖)

You know, when you send a nice gift to family or friends, and when they enjoy it very much, you would feel so proud of yourself for finding such a wonderful gift. I like gifting friends with green teas, and would feel so proud for being able to send them great teas before their friends start drinking green tea for that year. A even better scenario is, when they enjoy it very much and can't even figure out what it is. In the past several years, I tried to introduce some rare and unique green teas to America, including Orchid Fairy Twig, White Plum Flower Peak and some others. These teas are not only new to Americans, but rarely seen in China either out of their home region.

A few months ago, I sent this "long stem" tea to a friend, who is a Chinese from the hometown of Xin Yan Mao Jian (信阳毛尖) and a very enthusiastic green tea drinker. Later he told me that he asked quite a few tea friends and didn't figure out what this tea is. And I told him "don't bother", and besides him and me, probably few people, if any, in our friends circle have had this tea before. To be honest, this is the biggest source of happiness in gifting others - you make them happy, you make them woo- and wow, but more importantly, you make them wonder and wonder and wonder what on earth this is :-D

This is the first year that I had this tea, and it's one of my favorite greens of the year. I just made up the English name "Long Stem Tea" to make it easy. The Chinese name has only two characters, but it involves a big chunk of technical history of green tea processing and there is no way to "translate" it.

So this tea has long stems. Obviously, the stem grows faster on this tea. This is an early spring first day harvest, and the stems are already so long. Somehow when this tea was invented, the producer chose to harvest with the stems. Rarely any green tea with such long stem is seen as a high grade tea. Historically Chinese green tea has very strict visual standards. Besides, most of the time stems are seen as tasteless parts that add to the weight of the product. So I guess it must have been a bold decision to harvest with the stem when this tea was first made. And probably there were technical reasons for it.  In spite of everything I've learned about Chinese green tea aesthetics, I like the long stem looking very much!

I almost want to tell everybody who drinks high mountain green tea from Anhui (in fact I've already done it for many times) - could you do me a favor and not use cooler water for it? High mountain tea deserves very hot water (as long as not covered by a lid)!


This is a typical Anhui tea, and a "relative" of Tai Ping Hou Kui. I sent it to my friend along with Hou Kui and a couple of other "relatives" of Hou Kui. It would be very interesting comparison. Besides, nowadays, Hou Kui has been largely mystified. A comparison of Hou Kui with its "cousin" teas would make us understand it better and appreciate it better. 

May 11, 2014

spring time tea

Perfect green tea season now!

I had a tea gathering with my friend Bin and his wife. Obviously my friends are of the Facebook generation. Bin took photos during our tea drinking and post them on WeChat (which is used more than Facebook by a lot of Chinese). All the photos below were taken by Bin.

I asked Bin to select tea to drink and the order of drinking. It was a challenge because we could just drink so much tea no matter how much more are available. We ended up tasting 5 new green teas, which turned out a good amount. The types of tea and order of drinking were casually determined by Bin on the spot, and they turned out excellent choices.

In our drinking, we used a very small teapot to share the tea, in attempt to save our tummy space for more types of tea. But this is not a typical Chinese way of drinking green tea. If it were not for the purpose of multiple tastings, I would serve people tea in a glass or a tea bowl, or a personal gaiwan for each person, for them to drink directly from the gaiwan. I would use one of these method.

We had Shi Feng Long Jing first. I sort of pushed for it, as a way to show my hospitality :-D Although I believe each tea has its unique strength, in China, treating guests with Long Jing is a way to express that the guests are taken very seriously.

We then had Tai Ping Hou Kui, which is another showy tea that a host would be happy to serve the guests. We didn't have my favorite vessel of brewing Hou Kui on the spot. But we managed to brew the tea nicely.

The third tea was An Ji Bai Cha. It turned out we used more tea leaves than the most desirable level. But luckily for An Ji Bai Cha, it's usually ok. This tea is featured with high nitrogen contents and low carbon contents, compared with many other green teas. Therefore this tea doesn't usually get bitter even when over brewed.

The next tea we had was Orchid Fairy Twig. We brewed it in a yixing teapot that's not very absorptive. And I figured that next time I would rather brew it in a shibo, or glass. This tea has very floral aroma, and it could get lost in a teapot with certain height.

The last tea we had was Lu Shan Yun Wu, this one made by Uncle "si shu" again. This time again, we used more than usual amount of tea leaves. But for Lu Shan Yun Wu, I often intentionally make it stronger, first because the tea wouldn't be harsh on stomach even when brewed strong, and secondly because the tea has very nice liquor texture, which is more prominent when the tea is made strong.

Overall, we had a good time, enjoyed the tea, and exchanged quite a bit gossips :-D I'm glad that we started with Long Jing and ended with Lu Shan Yun Wu. Among all 5, these two both have very long lasting sweet aftertaste, and their flavor is of lower tone compared with the others. In Chinese tea aesthetics for green tea, the lower tone types of aromas (such as the so called "chestnut aroma" of Long Jing) are often valued more than uprising aroma (such as floral aroma). Drinking several teas in a row somewhat helped me understand such traditional aesthetic. Somehow, among the 5 teas, Long Jing and Lu Shan Yun Wu became more impressive than others. They are both very good statement teas. But maybe it would also be a nice idea to put Long Jing later in the sequence. When we had Tai Ping Hou Kui after Long Jing, we felt that the aftertaste of Long Jing was reaching into our Hou Kui tasting, and could be a bit distracting.

Tea always tastes better when you share it with friends!

May 8, 2014

RIP, Lu Yun, father of modern puerh

Last week, a very important figure in puerh history, Lu Yun, passed away, at the age of 57. The name of Lu Yun is less mentioned in recent years, although he was one of the most recent and one of the youngest "godfather" of puerh.

To a lot of younger tea drinkers, Lu Yun may not sound a familiar name. However, many people are very familiar with his lifetime work, without even realizing it. He was the head of Menghai Factory, and then CEO of Dayi. He was the leader of the developing team of Dayi 7262. He was involved in research and development of some of Dayi's most popular products including 7542, 8582, 7572, etc. He was the founder of Dayi trademark. He was a co-author of Puerh Yunnan Province Standards, which were the bases of the current Puerh National Standards. He was respected as "father of puerh" by many puerh gurus. 

Unfortunately, in the last stage of his career, Lu Yun became a controversial figure. He was involved in some big financial scandal (mixed with personal life scandals) in 2008. Many of his friends see him as an "innocent offender", and many believe the incidence was a tragedy outcome of the 2007-2008 puerh crisis. He was also condemned by many people. He disappeared from the social scenes, and his name was rarely mentioned since then.

But at the end of his life, when the news of his death spread, it turned out he is still very well known and well remembered. With good wishes, many tea drinkers choose to remember the best part of his life and let go the dark side. Personally I feel a lot of sympathy towards him. His career was not perfect, and most of the rest of us aren't perfect either. Thinking of all the tea he created, I just can't get mad at him. Sometimes I say, we are in an era of too many masters. In today's tea world, there are many tea masters and tea celebrities. Most of them will be forgotten by history. This one will be remembered as part of puerh history, as he created a big chunk of puerh history.

Apr 26, 2014

pictures of some popular Factory #1 teapots

More pictures are here.

The pictures are rather small and are mainly for the purpose of style identification. These pictures could be found in quite a few Chinese tea websites and teapot websites. So far there is no copyright concern. I guess some non-Chinese yixing lovers would be interested in these pictures as well, and therefore put them in the above public album.

I have a few other series of Factory #1 teapots pictures and will put them together in a folder soon.

These are not inclusive of all Factory #1 teapot styles, but cover most of the commonly seen styles. There were large amount of custom order teapots that were not included in Factory #1 catalog as those in the pictures showed here. In the market, the "cataloged ones" are usually more expensive than the uncatalogued ones, when qualities are similar in all aspects. This is largely for identity reasons, as it's easier to identify and authenticate the cataloged teapots. I'm not sure if it would still be the case in the long run, as some of the cataloged styles were made in much greater amount than some of the uncatalogued styles.

For people who are interested in more detailed and artistic documentation of some Factory #1 yixing styles, I would recommend this book: 钰壶雅集 Yu Hu Ya Ji

Some pictures of this book can be find on this page of Wu-Shing Books. This is one of the three "bibles of yixing teapots" named by some Chinese yixing lovers (another one of three is the Gu Jingzhou book).

As far as I know, this book is still being sold in Taiwan for about $60-80.

And here again is the question, if you have $100, would you spend it on a good but not fabulous teapot, or a picture book of splendid teapots? 

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