Apr 29, 2011

a few guesses about 2011-2012 prices of tea

Recently I've had discussions with a few friends about prices of tea. There are concerns about market hype, investment speculation and increasing labor costs. Will these factors affect tea prices? Here are some of my thoughts.

My guesses are about the source prices of high quality tea in China. International market prices are only remotely, if at all, correlated to source prices. But eventually, I believe modern information technology will make prices more transparent at every level of the trade chain, as discussed in a previous blog post about the newly developed price index of tea.

The following discussion doesn't include those $10k per pound auction teas, as you and I are not likely to ever put our hands on them :-p

Will Long Jing price soar?
I don't think so. How much higher can it go? There is not much space for price to further rise, as the current price is already high. Long Jing is a tea that has been having the market hype - and therefore inflated price - in the past a few hundred years. The consumers can just take that much. In small, elite auctions, the price could increase like there is no tomorrow. But that doesn't reflect market price. If the market price were to further increase, who would take it? Even the expensive, vanity brands of Long Jing need to find a balance between their prices and market sizes.

(However, inflated price is not the worst thing. There are teas that can't be easily bought with money. Although I have managed to get a little bit of both, I have to admit it was by far easier to get authentic Long Jing than authentic Tai Ping Hou Kui made with traditional processing method.) 

Will puerh price be bid up?
Not much, I guess. It has been investigated and reported by mainstream media in China that hot money has entered puerh market. It's true that tea of some famous puerh villages has been bid up even more crazily than in 2007. Prices of some big factory products have increased a lot too. But luckily Yunnan is a big province. Besides, after years of development of puerh industry, the few big factories and expensive companies are no longer the only sources of good puerh. People who are after specific village products or specific brands may have to pay higher prices. But I don't think the average market prices will change dramatically.

I am also optimistic about prices of aged sheng. I personally find some dry-aged sheng over 10 years very enjoyable. (I've seen people talking about dry-aged sheng must be older than a few decades to be drinkable, and maybe their taste preference is different from mine.) In future years, I expect to see more aged sheng coming out of Yunnan, where storage costs are much lower than Taiwan, Hong Kong or Guangzhou. 

Besides, according to export reports, Malaysia has imported puerh at the scale of thousands of tons annually since 2005. Most of these products have been stored away in modernly equipped mega-warehouses with strictly monitored humidity. Maybe in several years, there will be abundant supply of Malaysia-aged puerh. Abundance will lead to reasonable price - I think so, optimistically. 

Will price of Yan Cha be bid up?
It will, to some degree, I believe. It has been investigated and reported by mainstream media in China that hot money has entered Yan Cha market too. Wuyi is a relatively small region, and therefore tea prices are more likely to be impacted by the speculation. 

I think it's very unfortunate that puerh, Da Hong Pao and some other teas have become targets of investment speculation. This can potentially harm the entire tea industry. But possibly, when things cool down, inferior producers will be weeded out (possibly with some good producers being sacrificed too), and some good producers will be left more development space.  

Labor cost is another factor that contributes to price raise. In Fujian and a few other relatively developed provinces of China, increasing labor costs have been, and will be, affecting tea prices to certain degree. But then, I am trying to be optimistic again - increased production costs and leaf material costs will eventually let producers with high quality and reasonable price stand out. The market may become more ordered (or less disordered) after it calms down.

Unlike price increase caused by speculation, price raises caused by increased labor costs usually promote the income of farmers and first-hand producers, and therefore will contribute to promoting the quality of tea products. 

If the prices increase too much and don't drop down soon, I guess we can always consider drinking more Shui Xian and less of other varieties with more inflated prices :-D

Overall, I wouldn't worry much about fluctuation of prices. Whether you are a fan of green tea, oolong, puerh or other tea genres, there are so many choices within each given tea category, and no need to stay attached to the most expensive ones. If the price of a tea is inflated too much to be bearable, stay away from it and drink other teas. Chances are, its price will eventually come down.

Apr 25, 2011

Bamboo Leaf Green, trademarks and lawsuits of teas

The other day I had this cup of Bamboo Leaf Green (Zhu Ye Qing), freshly from Sichuan, China. It was a delightful cup of, 100% authentic, Bamboo Leaf Green. 100% authentic - if I say it too loud, I could be sued :-p I am kidding, but only 50% kidding.

Bamboo Leaf Green is involved in one of the biggest controversies about tea, and lawsuits have been raised because of it.

Bamboo Leaf Green is a famous tea from Sichuan. Many farmer families in Emei Mountain have been making this tea for years. In 1990s, Bamboo Leaf Green was registered as a trademark by Zhu Ye Qing Company. Therefore, it would be deemed illegal for anyone else to use this tea name. At that time, most Chinese farmers and local merchants were not familiar with commercial laws, and many small companies kept using Bamboo Leaf Green as their product name. Then in 1999, Zhu Ye Qing Company initiated lawsuits against tea manufacturers who, claimed by the company, violated their right of the registered trademark. Eventually, Zhu Ye Qing Company won all the lawsuits, and it was made clear by the court that nobody else should use Bamboo Leaf Green as their product name.

In spite of the result of the lawsuits, many people believe Bamboo Leaf Green, as  a name of tea variety, should be a common cultural property and should not have been granted to a tea company as a trademark. Zhu Ye Qing Company did not contribute to developing the processing method of this tea, but obtained such a valuable trade mark simply by registering it. Up till today, although Zhu Ye Qing Company is the only large trader of this tea, many tea farmers still call their product Bamboo Leaf Green, and most tea drinkers buy their Bamboo Leaf Green from sources other than the company that owns the trademark. The tea I had the other day has a product name of "Bamboo Leaf Spring", although it's exactly Bamboo Leaf Green - the manufacture specializes in making Bamboo Leaf Green, but labeled their product with a different name, in order not to violate the law. I have a lot of sympathy toward them, considering they have to compete against a big company while not having an equal right of naming their products.

Bamboo Leaf Green is probably the largest trademark controversy in Chinese tea industry, but not the only one. If we look into the historical producers and sellers of puerh, Yan Cha and Liu An tea, we will see their names currently being registered by multiple companies, in different ways. Each trademark holder claims it inherits the legacy of the historical producer or seller, but basically what they had to do was simply registering a trademark in an innovative way, before anybody else did it. Like in many other industries, trademark laws are put into applications before there are enough regulations that examine the justification of each trademark registration. 

This is only a beginning, as many Chinese tea producers have just stepped into the modern commercial society, and fine tea has just picked up its international market expansion. Who knows what will happen next? When I drink a cup of tea or eat an apple, I don't care what trademark it bears. The taste rules. But in the huge modern international market, trademarking is probably very necessary. Sometimes it's the only way for consumers to know where the products are from. I think it will be interesting to see how trademarks will be developed in tea industry and how the problems will be solved or unsolved.

Apr 18, 2011

Concept Tea (8) - purely dry storage '96 Xia Guan Butterfly Spring

This is a rare tea, but not a novel tea. I would like to include it in Concept Tea because it serves as a typical example of dry-aged sheng, and there aren't many such examples.

A tasting note was logged on Steepster.

The tea was made for a Taiwanese merchant in 1996. Small amount was left in Yunnan, in dry storage.

Talking about dry or wet, average annual humidity (AAH) is a way of evaluation. New England region has an AAH of about 75% (rough estimation from this map), with AAH of Massachusetts slightly lower than 75%. AAH in the household is very hard to estimate, but I believe it's significantly lower than AAH in nature. I only have a very primitive hygrometer whose measurement is very hard to decipher. But I think it shows humidity of 50%-65% year around. AAHs of Guangzhou, Shanghai, Kunming and Hong Kong are 79%, 80%, 68% and 85% (data from a research on puerh storage conducted by Prof. Chen Wenpin of South China Agricultural University, published in The Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference of Yunnan Puerh, 2007). There is no official definition what is considered "dry storage". But generally speaking, people often refer to Kunming storage "dry storage". Guangzhou and Hong Kong are two important cities of puerh storage. I would usually call both of them Hong Kong storage (due to the significant status of Hong Kong in aging puerh), although nowadays a lot of "Hong Kong aged puerh" is actually aged somewhere in Guangdong, the Chinese province next to it. I will reserve the term "wet storage" to the type of storage using addtional artificial humidity. Besides, some people in Hong Kong or Guangdong may choose to use dehumidifier rigorously in monsoon seasons, and then the humidity is between dry storage and typical Hong Kong storage.

In China, there are some, but very few, discussions on storage in Northwest provinces. The AAH is 40% or below (think of Arizona with an average annual temperature of Montana). Some people are experimenting storing tea there after the the tea has spent some years in Guangzhou. Few people would consider such low humidity for long-term storage of puerh (unless the tea is expected to be "forever young").

So this tea falls in the range of dry storage. In China, this type of storage is often called "purely dry storage", with an emphasis on "pure" to distinguish it from "dryer" storage conducted in humid regions. But "purely dry" is still relative, and it's by far not "desert dry". If the tea spends more years in New England, I think it can still be called a purely dry-stored tea. I am interested in finding out what would happen to it in future years. But I am perfectly happy drinking it at its current stage.

The leaves of this tea are admirable. I wonder leaves of such quality can still be seen at all in modern day Xia Guan products.

As most other products for Taiwan market, the tuo is made very neat. But still, not surprisingly, I found a cotton thread... so far no stones or barley shells found...

The texture of the liquor is smooth and soupy. The front taste is somewhat like shu puerh, minus all post-fermentation taste of shu. It has some "aroma of age", but definitely "aroma of DRY age". What’s most wonderful is its aftertaste, which is like a weak resonance of a typical sheng, bright aromatic, even a little floral, and very sweet. This lingering aftertaste made me elongate the interval between sips and cups, and taste the tea very, very slowly. In between the front taste and aftertaste, I think I’ve tasted something milky and buttery. It’s usually not a feature I find in puerh, either sheng or shu. So it’s possibly just my illusion. But also possibly that’s what the tea mean to be, since I’ve tasted milky flavor from Hei Cha products, which went through post-fermentation as puerh does.

Lovely leaves... easily distinguishable from leaves of tea stored in higher humidity. As I've seen from some other dry-aged sheng, some well aged oolong and some heavily roasted Yan Cha, after all the years or roasting hours, eventually, all their spent leaves  look surprisingly alive and display some vibrant youth!

I’ve seen a lot of discussions on dry storage, Hong Kong storage and wet storage. But currently the missing link is dry-stored old sheng – there aren’t many of them. Many Chinese tea drinkers I know don’t like the taste of Hong Kong storage. But there must be a lot of people, whom I may not personally know, loving it too, especially in Hong Kong and Guangdong.  Currently, many people who don't like high-humid storage don’t have much dry-stored old sheng to choose either. Vast majority of dry-stored sheng in the market is only 5-8 years old. There are a lot of debates about dry storage and Hong Kong storage, because people have to hesitate and struggle between the two options. I believe in future 5-10 years, there will be more dry-stored older sheng (10-15 years, or older) available in the market or in hands of collectors. They will no longer be so rare, and very likely, will not be forbiddingly expensive. Once the direct comparison is widely available to most people, there is no need to debate. One can just compare and choose, without wondering how a tea will age in another number of years. It's just like, few people would argue which is better between green tea and white tea, because they are two different things, both easily accessible and ready to be selected by people of different preferences.

A puerh manufacturer in China (who stores his own tea in Kunming and in controlled dry storage in Guangdong) once said, people who love high humid storage will rarely change their taste, neither will people who love dry storage; so what's the point arguing which way is better? - His comment was in response to the current trend of Kunming-storage advocates rigorously denouncing Hong Kong storage. I don't think he said this just to show either side no offense or to be "politically correct". What he said is quite true.

I guess it's also possible that some people drink high humid storage for years and eventually find out dry storage is their "true love"; or the other way around - some people may drink dry storage for years and eventually wish they had tried high humid storage earlier. It's always important for each person to understand his own taste. But still, there is no need to argue which way is better. 

Apr 15, 2011

discussion on Long Jing (4b) - comparing cultivars

Discussion on Long Jing (4a) is here.

To demonstrate a comparison between the two Long Jing cultivars (Long Jing #43 and Long Jing Jiu Keng Group cultivar), I took samples of similar grade (first day harvest) of the two cultivars from the same Da Fo Long Jing producer, and brew them side by side with the same method.

The brewing method I use here is:

1. Use gaiwan with effective volume of around 70ml. Fill 1/3 of the gaiwan with boiling water. Put the rest of the boiling water in a container and in a thermos for later use.
2. Wait for one to two minutes, and throw 1.5g tea leaves in the gaiwan.
3. Gently swirl the gaiwan for about 20 seconds to allow the tea leaves to be moistured. Then pour in more hot water from the water container. Leave the lid of the gaiwan off.
4. Start drinking from the gaiwan after 1-2 minutes.
5. For the first infusion, when the gaiwan is 1/2 full, add in more hot water from the thermos. In later infusions, when the gaiwan is 1/3 full, add in more hot water from the thermos.

I used this method for comparison because this is the most convenient method that will almost never cause accident. In this method, the water will not be too cool to induce the flavor from tea leaves. With gaiwan releases heat very fast, and with tea thrown in between two times of pouring water, the tea will not be "cooked" by hot water either. Even if the 1-2 minutes waiting time is a little shorter or longer, the impacts of temperature fluctuation will be buffered by the rest of the operation. That's a way to control the brewing without a thermometer. In this brewing, I used a scale for comparison purpose only. Usually you won't need a scale to tell how much tea is enough to put in the gaiwan. In this brewing, later I found out that I would prefer less than 1.5g of tea, probably 1.2g. But for people favoring heavier tastes, 1.5g would be fine.

Following is the comparison of the two cultivars.

Dry tea leaves. #43 on the left; Jiu Keng Group on the right. Overall, #43 leaves have greener color, and Jiu Keng Group leaves look a bit pale and a little yellowish. But the color alone is not enough to tell one from the other. There are many other factors that can affect dry leaf color. For example, age of the tea and processing parameters can both affect dry leaf color.

Leaf shapes are also different between the two cultivars. Overall the #43 leaves look more slender. But leaf shape can be affected by harvesting stage of the tea, so it's not a determining factor to judge on tea cultivar either.

Although the two teas are both first day harvests from the same producer, the first day harvest of Jiu Keng Group cultivar looks younger with more buds than the #43 cultivar. I've seen this phenomenon with almost all Long Jing producers I know. I think there are many reasons behind it. One of the reasons is, the Group culitvar is already late than #43 cultivar, and the price drops from day to day in the harvest period. So there is a motive for farmers to harvest on Group cultivar as soon as they can. 

Dry tea leaves of #43 cultivar.

Dry tea leaves of Jiu Keng Group cultivar.

 At brewing step 2. #43 culitvar on the left.

At brewing step 3. #43 cultivar on the left. 

At the third infusion. #43 on the left.
Usually the #43 leaves look a little "wrinkled" compared with the Group cultivar leavs. But after a few infusions, the leaves of the two cultivars look quite similar to each other. However, throughout the time, #43 leaves looks greener than Group cultivar leaves.

Spent leaves.

Spent leaves of #43.

Spent leaves of Group cultivar.

As I said in the last Long Jing discussion, it's not always possible to tell the culivar from tea product photos (for me, but it's much easier for experienced producers). The flavor differences between the two cultivars are easier to detect. Overall, #43 has a brighter, even floral aroma, while the Group cultivar has a deeper nutty flavor. Traditionally, Long Jing flavor has been described as "roasted chestnut flavor", which obviously fits the Group culitvar, but not exactly #43 cultivar. To me, the flavor of #43 is a little between "roasted chestnut" and green bean aroma. But overall, both cultivars have a light roasted flavor with sweet aftertaste that are typical of Long Jing.

Many seasoned Long Jing drinkers love the traditional cultivar and feel resentful that its production is shrinking in even the most traditional Long Jing regions. I have a lot of sympathy toward it and will keep supporting Xi Hu Long Jing products that use the tradtional cultivar. Meantime, in my personal experience, I've noticed that a lot of people would even prefer #43 for its sweeter, brighter taste. To me, it has a more spring-like taste than the traditional cultivar. In tea drinking, it's not always possible to say which is "the best", or which is better than which. But it's always interesting (sometimes even quite important) to know what cultivar it is and what flavor to expect from it.

Apr 11, 2011

Concept Tea (7) - Camellia sinensis Tea?

What is tea? There are different definitions, some broader, some more peculiar.

This is a joke for people who think tea should only be from Camellia sinensis, a species from Theaceae Family (Tea Family) and Camellia genus. This cup of drink, whether you call it tea or not, is from Camellia sinensis. The sweet little flowers are tea flowers!

I've seen producers of different tea varieties selling tea flowers, by-products of their tea trees. This one is a little more creative. The tea is green tea made with oolong cultivar, processed into curled shape, and the flowers are from the tea trees. 

I thought it was an interesting thing and was curious how it tastes. The taste is not typical for a tea. It's not something that would blow you away, but quite novel to try. The flower flavor is subtle but easily detectable. It's a mix of pollen flavor and very light honey flavor.

In southwestern China, especially Sichuan, there is a type of "tea" people drink in summer. It's not from a plant in Theaceae family. It looks somewhat like tea. It tastes quite different from most teas, but there is probably a tiny bit of similarity in flavor. These leaves contain a lot of tea polyphenols that are almost identical to those poly phenol molecules found in tea leaves.

And then there is the famous Ya Bao ("leaf bud") that was sold by a lot of Chinese puerh vendors a few years ago. Many of them are claimed to be leaf bud of wild tea trees. It turned out many, or most, of these "wild tea trees" are not Camellia sinensis, not the same trees people harvest tea leaves from.

Apr 8, 2011

discussion on Long Jing (4a) - comparing cultivars

Discussion on Long Jing (3) is here.
Discussion on Long Jing (4b) is here

In previous discussions, I explained why I think cultivar information is more important than production region information for Long Jing. Here is a comparison between the two most popular Long Jing cultivars, Long Jing #43 and Long Jing Jiu Keng Group cultivar. A third Long Jing cultivar, Long Leaf cultivar is also used by some tea farmers, but not as popular as the first two.

I will first go over the backgrounds of these two cultivars, and then in a later post, I will compare the two cultivars in terms of physical appearance and tastes. However, the purpose of comparison is not to demonstrate how to distinguish one from the other, since it's not always easy to do so by physical appearance. In fact, a comparison may instead demonstrate how similar they look. It's actually easier to detect their differences in taste than in appearance. That's why I believe it's important that producers, suppliers and retailers should always carry the information of cultivar for a Long Jing product.

Long Jing Jiu Keng Group cultivar is the traditional Long Jing cultivar. Long Jing #43 was cultivated through genetic selection on the Jiu Keng Group cultivar. As a result of genetic selection, Long Jing #43 has stronger tolerance to cold weather, it's easier to propagate than the traditional cultivar, and it's leaves and buds are somewhat prettier than those of the traditional cultivar. The cold resistance feature is why Long Jing #43 is the dominant cultivar in most new production regions in Zhejiang province, the home province of Long Jing. However, in recent years, even in Hangzhou, the hometown of Long Jing, many farmers grow Long Jing #43 too. In early spring, even before Qingming (around April 4th of every year), the price of Long Jing varies from day to day. The price difference within a week sometimes can be as much as 300%. Long Jing #43, due to its early harvest (1-2 weeks earlier than the traditional cultivar), is considered more profitable than the traditional cultivar. Meantime, in recent years, expansion of Long Jing #43 and shrinkage of the traditional cultivar growth has made a lot of people cautious, among them many loyal fans of the traditional cultivar. Therefore, some farmers in Hangzhou are committed to growing the traditional cultivar, and many farmers in new production regions have started growing the traditional cultivar to attract more Long Jing lovers.

Among Long Jing lovers, there have been a lot of debates on which cultivar is better, the traditional cultivar or #43 cultivar. But after all, they are genetically related and highly similar to each other. Besides, when it comes to taste, there are always personal preferences.

At the retailer level, #43 cultivar has been adored in the past several years, largely because the tea leaves of #43 cultivar are generally considered prettier than leaves of the traditional cultivar. Dry leaves of #43 cultivar are greener, and look more "well-pressed". But in recent years, many small retailers in China are more committed to the traditional cultivar to meet the demands of a lot of fans.

The early harvest feature of Long Jing #43 sometimes can backfire. For example, last year, when there was severe snow and ice storm in early to mid-March, harvest on Long Jing #43 was greatly impacted and production was reduced a lot. Meantime, the weather impacts on the traditional cultivar, Jiu Keng Group cultivar, were small to none, since the tea buds were not out yet during the snow and ice storms. In such a year with unusually cold March, #43 cultivar, which could bring more profit in other years, would cause great monetary loss for the farmers.

When I was a child, the aunt of mine who lived in Hangzhou was in charge of getting Long Jing for all of us. Every time she sent us many cans Long Jing, she would specify which cans were the highest quality for grandparents or as important gifts, which cans were for daily drink, and which cans were of decent quality. Usually the best tea was pre-Qingming (harvested before early April), and the rest was pre-Guyu (Guyu is around April 19th). Occasionally, in certain years, even the best tea was pre-Guyu, harvested after early April. And Aunt would tell us, "There is no pre-Qingming Long Jing this year, and pre-Guyu is as good as pre-Qingming of last year." Sometimes when there was no pre-Qingmign harvest, the tea could be even better than in other years, because of the cold weather and longer time allowed for tea leaves to accumulate nutrients.

Nowadays, with new cultivars (and probably more or less as a result of global warming), there is always pre-Qingming harvest. Even if cold weather delays tea harvest or damages tea buds, there is usually enough time for more tea buds to grow before early April. I think it's really nice that we can get new tea earlier with the new cultivar. But on the other hand, I think the traditional cultivar is very unique and its production should be maintained.

In my own tea shopping, I would usually buy products of Long Jing #43 from production regions out of Hangzhou, and products of the traditional cultivar from Hangzhou. It's pretty much my personal choice, since there are very good products of both cultvars in and out of Hangzhou. I choose Long Jing #43 from out of Hangzhou, in order to get the earliest harvest at a reasonable price. I'm not able or willing to pay for the earliest harvest of Xi Hu Long Jing from Hangzhou. The price is simply too high, even when the purchase is made directly from tea farmers, because too many people wan it. In some years, I help arrange such purchases for some crazy Long Jing enthusiasts, but I don't want to pay the price myself. Earliest harvest from other production regions (such as the Da Fo Long Jing from Xinchang County) is expensive, but at least the price is more "normal". Then, for the products of the traditional cultivar, I would choose the traditional tea producing villages in Hangzhou. When buying Long Jing of the traditional cultivar from Hangzhou, I would avoid the earliest harvest and wait till the few days before Qingming for the price to drop a little. Although the traditional cultivar is raised in other production regions too, these historical Long Jing villages have the best natural conditions and best processing skills passed on from generation to generation. Besides, as some farmers in Hangzhou have switched to the new cultivar and tea experts start to worry about dwindling of the traditional cultivar, I think currently it's very important to support those Hangzhou farmers who stick to the traditional cultivar.

In the long run, I am not worried very much about the traditional cultivar going to extinct. A cultivar can last only when supported by the consumers. I believe the traditional cultivar will always have a lot of fans. I think both #43 cultivar and the traditional cultivar have unique, nice tastes. But to me, the traditional cultivar has the familiar early spring taste from childhood. Besides, we can imagine, it is the same taste enjoyed by the emperors throughout Qing dynasty :-D

Apr 3, 2011

tea commercials in China

Tea commercial is a new thing in China. Traditionally, tea was treated as a produce,  like apples and peaches - there were famous producing regions and famous traders, but very few brand names. TV commercials of tea appeared only in recent years. Most tea commercials are for bottled tea and teabag products. But there have been a few nice ones for serious tea products. They caused some controversies whether TV commercial would cause inflated tea prices. On the one hand, I think money spent on TV commercial is eventually paid by the consumer, and that's a factor of price inflation. On the other hand, some commercials are really very nice! After all, even prices of most large tea companies are not as inflated as prices of many other commodities in our life.

San He Tang commercial at Guangzhou subway stations. Oh, beautiful! It cost about 1.5 million rmb ($220K). But many fans believe it's money well spent. On the first day when the commercial was put on, some fans went to the subway stations just to show support. 


By the way, did you notice the pornography in San He Tang commercial? No kidding :-p

Dayi commercial at CCTV (a mainstream TV station). Very expensive... It's not as artistic as San He Tang's commercial, but is indeed perfect for TV. Dayi knows how to reach Chinese families. Most puerh consumers in China are middle age city workers, many of them are away from their parents. Dayi's commercial makes people cry...


Lipton. Not comparable to the other two, but probably it is the most expensive one. The man in the commercial is one of the most expensive actor in Asia. The theme here is, Lipton symbolizes Royal Life. At the end of the commercial, when he holds the paper cup, his line is, "This is my royal moment!" Funny, huh?!


Apr 1, 2011

Tea Nazi

Remember the soup Nazi? :D

A friend of mine, Pan, I call him "tea Nazi". But since he doesn't watch Seinfeld, there is no way I could explain to him about it.

I am not saying he kills with his tea :-p He is the owner of a small teashop, which used to be in Maliandao (the "tea city" of Beijing), and now is in transition, after he got a "real" job in a TV station of Hangzhou.

You know, most small sellers are very nice. Many of them are truly very kind, and some others at least fake smiles to their customers. Pan, I have to say, is not nice to everybody. He has a lot of rules, and says a lot of "no" to customers. For example, for all requests of price reduction or free samples, his answer is usually "no", without additional explanations. He does give free samples to buyers, in my opinion, very generously. The 2005 Bai Mu Dan I blogged is a sample from him. It's a top grade tea of 5 years of aging. The Meng Ding Snow Orchid I blogged is another sample from him, a tea I would otherwise have no way to obtain. And there are a few other very nice samples. But he only "assign" samples to people, and doesn't allow people to request samples. When Pan tells people about a  tea or a brewing method, he sometimes talks in a way like a teacher to a 5th grader. I guess many people don't like his way of conversation, considering he is only 24 years old, and most customers are much older than he. But indeed he is very warmhearted, and wants to help you as much as he can in terms of these questions. Besides, with my experience of dealing with people, I can tell his way of talking is not because he has too much ego (though he does have some, I would say), but because he is truly crazy about the subject matters.

Once Pan told me such a story. A customer in his shop asked him, pointing to a White Peony, "why is your white tea in green color?" Pan said, with a straight face, "yeah, it's green because I dyed it green." The customer immediately escaped the store, scared and puzzled. Pan told me the story with a good laugh. But I was scared too, "How can you ever say something like this to a customer? Now she truly believes it and what if she tells other people you put green dye to your tea!" Pan said, "If she really wants to know, I would explain to her with more details about white tea. But she didn't seem to be that curious at all." This is even worse than telling a customer he didn't want to sell a tea to her, which, of course, Pan has done for a few times too. I didn't know what to say except telling him how buyer-repellent he could be!

To be fair, Pan is a nice guy and loved by a lot friends. Out of his tea store, he looks totally normal, and doesn't offend people as much as when he is in the tea store. There are a lot of people who were not freaked out by him and bought his tea again and again. He is outgoing and very frank to comment on his own teas about their strengths and shortcomings. And he does have a unique collection of tea. Although I do believe he could be milder and more sophisticated, his craziness doesn't bother me at all. I am surrounded by all kinds of crazy friends, and I like a lot of crazy people :D I think it's quite interesting to have one or two (as long as not too many!) soup nazi or tea nazi in real life, and it's even better when they are good guys who bring us good stuff.