May 29, 2011

Discussion on Long Jing (5b) - Long Jing and non-Longjing cultivars

Discussion on Long Jing (5a) is here

The brewing method used here is the same as used in discussion 4b. But only 1.3g tea leaves are used for each cup. In all the photos, Wu Niu Zao cultivar is on the left, and Jiu Keng group cultivar is on the right.

Dry leaves:
From wuniuzao

Wu Niu Zao:
From wuniuzao

Jiu Keng group cultivar:
From wuniuzao
One relatively distinguishable difference between the two cultivar is, most shoots of Wu Niu Zao are plucked from the very bottom of the shoot, and therefore they bear the leaf stalk sheath, usually in dark color. So some people would say Wu Niu Zao leaves have "black butts". This is generally because the leaf stalk of Wu Niu Zao is very short and it's hard to pluck the shoots without pulling off the leaf stalk sheath. But as seen from the pictures, leaf stalks of Long Jing shoots are quite short too, espeicallyin early spring. So it's inevitable that some Long Jing dry leaves also have "black butts". Usually if we already know a sample is Wu Niu Zao, it's easy for us to recognize the "black butts" feature to confirm the recognition. But this feature is not as useful in distinguishing unknown samples.

Brewed in cups:
From wuniuzao

From wuniuzao

Spent leaves:
From wuniuzao

Wu Niu Zao:
From wuniuzao

Jiu Keng Group cultivar:
From wuniuzao

Again, on spent leaves, the "black butts" feature of Wu Niu Zao is quite obvious. But meantime, as we can see, some Jiu Keng leaves have "black butts" too.

I guess a conclusion we can get from above pictures is, Wu Niu Zao and Long Jing cultivars can look quite similar from pictures. However, the "real" difference is at their tastes. Wu Niu Zao doesn't have the typical Long Jing flavor. Instead, to me, the tea tastes like sweet straw. Besides, the flavor becomes significantly weak from the 2nd infusion, and very weak at the 3rd infusion. In traditional style Long Jing brewing, usually people don't expect the tea to last more than three or four infusions (unless a lot of tea leaves are used and brewing style is modified). But those are three or four flavorful infusions. Generally speaking, the inner quality of Long Jing cultivars is much richer than that of Wu Niu Zao.

In recent years, what makes many people have negative feelings about Wu Niu Zao is, sometimes it's sold with a Long Jing label and this makes people feel deceived. Although it's not as flavorful as Long Jing, Wu Niu Zao is not a "bad" cultivar. As an early harvest tea, it can serve as a great treat in early spring. In Zhejiang, some green tea lovers would love to buy Wu Niu Zao to quench their thirst for new green tea in late February to mid-March. What's important to buyers is, they should be given correct information about what they get.

May 23, 2011

Jin Jun Mei (金骏眉) 1:6

I sampled quite a few Jin Jun Mei products in the past year. Most of them are very enjoyable. Here are two of them. I single out these two because I think it's interesting to find out how they are so similar in certain ways and different in some other ways. 1:6 is about their prices, the second's price is six times as much as the first one - not that the first is inexpensive :-p I have to say I love to sample Jin Jun Mei but always hesitate to buy it.

Jin Jun Mei is a fancy type of Lapsang Souchong. It was created in 2005 by Jiang Yuanxun (heir of a historical Lapsang Souchong family business) and his colleagues. I am sure they have some "secret formula" for the processing of this tea. But my simplified understanding is, Jin Jun Mei uses fine leaf buds of Souchong tea trees, whereas most traditional style red teas use bigger leaves as raw materials. The name of Jin Jun Mei can be interpreted as Golden Handsome Brow, indicating the rich golden tips of this tea. Besides, the character Jun in its name comes from the name of one of the creators of this tea.

Of the two teas I have here, the first one is a Wuyi Jin Jun Mei, produced in Wuyi but out of Tongmuguan, the original producing region of Lapsang Souchong. The second one is Tongmuguan Jin Jun Mei.

The two teas look quite similar.

Wuyi Jin Jun Mei

Tongmuguan Jin Jun Mei

I always think, it's often impossible to judge similar but different teas based on physical appearance. These two, I think, are another set of examples. If taking a closer look of the dry leaves and judging by the amount of "golden tips", I think the first one looks prettier than the second one, yet the second one is the expensive one.

Wuyi Jin Jun Mei

Tongmuguan Jin Jun Mei

The color differences of above two photos are mostly likely due to light intensity. The dry leaf colors of the two teas are almost the same.

Only after tasting them, I kind of understood why the second one is more expensive than the first one. I "kind of" understand it, in market sense. But I have to say, personally I like the first one much better. The first one tastes very creamy and chocolaty. I enjoyed it very much and even kept its empty bag for a longer while to inhale its chocolaty aroma. The second one is enjoyable, but of brighter aroma and quite floral. I think the dark toned, chocolaty aroma is more common in traditional higher end lapsang souchong, while the floral aroma is not something commonly seen in Fujian red tea. So my understanding is, because it's generally harder to achieve floral aroma in a lapsang souchong, and because the floral aroma is more in line with the "mainstream" preference, the second Jin Jun Mei is a lot more expensive than the first one.

This floral Jin Jun Mei still tastes quite pleasant to me. But I once had another floral Jin Jun Mei earlier that I couldn't bear with. I guess sometimes the overwhelming floral flavor in red tea can drive me crazy, as I described in this post about another red tea and its floral flavor. But this is just my taste preference. I always feel glad when finding out I prefer a less expensive tea to a more expensive one. It feels like finding a deal :-D

Overall I like Jin Jun Mei, but it's not a tea that blows me away. I thought of including Jin Jun Mei in Concept Tea, but hesitated to do so. The tea is wonderful and it does involve some innovative techniques. But the concept behind Jin Jun Mei phenomenon, in my opinion, is more of a marketing concept than a technical concept. I am not saying Jin Jun Mei's fame is entirely based on marketing strategies. What I mean is, it created a new niche in the market.

Just several years ago, in China, very few people were willing to pay a lot of money for a red tea. Therefore there was little incentive for producers to make red tea with the fine leaf buds, using meticulous protocol. But in the past several years, Jin Jun Mei has dramatically changed Chinese red tea market. In fact, Jin Jun Mei is a market miracle. In few years after it was created, the tea has become the most wanted red tea in Chinese market (or, at least "most wanted" among rich people), and is sold for up to thousands of dollars a pound, or even more. I am still wondering how they did it - how the producers of Jin Jun Mei managed to sell it for so much money. Besides, Jin Jun Mei indirectly caused price rise of other red teas in China. I think, even the dramatic price rise of Yunnan red tea is somewhat related to the Jin Jun Mei phenomenon. In addition, Jin Jun Mei has inspired a new wave of red tea products. There has been "Jin Jun Mei style" red tea developed in Sichuan, Anhui and other tea producing provinces. Many of them don't aim at simply copying Jin Jun Mei, but making red tea at a new level, a level of very fine processing and very high price.

May 20, 2011

Blog sale: some rare teas and new green tea

(Item 5, 6 and some free samples are still available. )

The teas for this blog sale are not sold at (most of them are not sold else where either). Some of them I've obtained small amounts for personal tasting. With all of them piling up, the small amount of each tea is probably still too much for me to drink myself :-p Some of them came to me for various reasons, as explained in this post. 

If interested, please contact me at gingkoheight @ g m ail . com before June 5, 2011. 

Shipping is $4 flat for US and Canada, $8 flat for Europe.

1. A bunch of 2011 spring green tea.           Sold.

I have small amount for each tea, and can make 3 sample sets for sale, with 8g of each tea in each set. Totally 40g per set, $8.

I've got them from a group purchase at a Chinese tea forum. The group purchase selects top notch tea and most unique teas each year. Last year I attended the group purchase, enjoyed most of the teas, but felt terribly guilty for not drinking up all the teas before the end of the year. I almost feel it's a sin to leave a great green tea unconsumed before the end of its peak time! So this year I'm determined to get rid of all of them with help of others.

The group purchase prices are very good. Many products are provided to the group purchase for advertising purpose. So some prices are significantly lower than market prices. The main purpose of this blog sale is to share these teas with green tea lovers. The sale prices aim at not losing money, but all the prices are surely better than what one can usually get from Chinese domestic market. But still, the teas are costly. So I would only recommend them to people who love green tea and want to experience more varieties.

A - Huo Shan Huang Ya, a green tea from Anhui. I don't remember if it's from the same producer of this Huo Shan Huang Ya I got last year. But anyway that's the style.

B - Meng Ding Gan Lu (蒙顶甘露), a green tea from Sichuan. The outlook is somewhat similar to Bi Luo Chun, but the taste is more vegetal.

C - Jing Xian Ti Kui (泾县提魁), a green tea from Anhui. The style is somewhat in between Huang Shan Mao Feng and Tai Ping Hou Kui.

D - Tong Cheng Small Orchid. This tea is similar to the one I blogged last year (which is available for sale at this year). But this tea is from older tea trees. This tea is not from above-mentioned group purchase but I think it's quite unique to share. 

E - Jing Shan Tea (径山茶), a historical green tea from Zhejiang.

There are a few free samples of other 2011 green teas coming with this set, including Orchid Fair Twig (similar to this one), Yong Xi Huo Qing (similar to this one) and/or your choices.

2. A cute tiny little tin of 2011 Pre-Guyu Xi Hu Long Jing from Mei Jia Wu, Jiu Keng group cultivar, around 15-20g. $4. This is not sold alone and is only available to buyer of other tea.       Sold.

I'm not exactly sure of the total weight and it's just a guess. It comes in a cute little tin about the same size as the sample tins Adagio used to have. The tea is Pre-Guyu Grade II, meaning it was made around April 12th. I tried this producer's tea last year and it was pretty good.

3. 2011 Pre-Qingming Xi Hu Long Jing from Mei Jia Wu, Long Jing #43 cultivar, made on March 31, 2011. 50g. $28. Buyer can opt to buy half of the amount.             Sold.

This tea is also from above-mentioned group purchase. I haven't tried this producer's tea, but trust the selection standards of the group purchase and believe it's a good tea. The reason I give it up is that I've already got a lot of Xi Hu Long Jing from various sources. It's ok if someone would like to buy any amount between 25g and 50g. If bought at 50, the tea will stay intact in a sealed pack and a tin (the tin is already slightly dented as what often happens in international shipments).

This price is not typical for Xi Hu Long Jing, and shouldn't be used to compare with other Xi Hu Long Jing prices.

Buyer of this tea will get free samples of Xi Hu Long Jing from for comparison purpose.

4.  Huang Shan Mao Feng from central producing region, 50g. $12.   Sold.

This tea is also from above-mentioned group purchase. Price is not typical for Huang Shan Mao Feng.

I had this producer's tea last year, and thought I liked my other two Huang Shan Mao Feng better (although this tea is still very good). However, this tea has been highly praised by a lot of participants of the group purchase both last year and this year. So I guess the taste preference is very personal. Buyer of this tea will get free samples of three different Huang Shan Mao Feng from for comparison purpose.

5. 1990 Wuyi Yan Cha, variety unspecified, pack of 7g, $2 each. Purchase is limited to 1-3 packs for each buyer at this time. This is a friend's tea of private collection. If you taste this tea and would like more, I can connect you to my friend in China to buy more directly from him.

A free sample of 1994 Phoenix Dan Cong comes with this purchase. 

6. 2010 Bulang Zhang San (Zhang Jia San Dui, 章家三队) arbor puerh Sheng. $1 per 10g. The purpose of this sale is to share this tea with people and learn what people think of it. Purchase is limited to 10g -20g for each buyer.

This tea has very low bitterness/astringency and relatively high aroma and sweetness to drink now. It can be a good example of drinkable new sheng (for those with strong stomach). But I personally think it can wait for a few more years to get more enjoyable. It doesn't taste harsh, but definitely has something strong in it that kind of stirs me up (not sure physically or mentally). That being said, whole cakes are available if some people really want it.

The reason why this sample is available now is a tragedy... I once got a mailing agent who packed carelessly. As these cakes are made with traditional stone mills and are not so densely compressed, some cakes were badly crushed during the shipment. I had planned to open this tea in a few years, but now have a few broken cakes to play with.

Buyers please feel free to claim some free stuff here:

1. Some 7g packs of modern green style Tie Guan Yin from various producers and of various grades. I usually don't ask for modern green TGY samples as my stomach doesn't handle them well. But I've accumulated some small packs and hope to send them to some green TGY lover.

2. Some tea flowers (similar to flowers seen in this tea), not much but I can send it in a few 7g small packs to people.

3. "mysterious puerh". There is a 2005 sheng puerh that I think is surprisingly bad (in terms of taste but not in terms of storage or food safety) :-p I won't tell the name of the producer and won't show the wrapper. But I would like some people to either concur with me or disagree with me on how bad it is. If this can promote your interest - it is the worse sheng I've ever had! (Well it's not really stomach-wrenchingly bad. But obviously I haven't tried hard to look for bad sheng to begin with...)

Normally I hate to give things I dislike to people. So anyone who is brave to claim this sample will also get another sample of my favorite tea or a puerh sample of their choice  :-D

4. Some samples of Liu Bao tea with CNNP mark numbers. Around 20-30g. I hope someone who likes Liu Bao can take it and also enlighten me why they like Liu Bao. I can drink it, but have never got it why it's supposed to be good...

And of course, buyers please feel free to ask for free samples from

Shipping can be combined with purchase for North American addressees.

May 16, 2011

Discussion on Long Jing (5a) - Long Jing and non-Longjing cultivars

Discussion on Long Jing (4b) is here.

In discussion 4b, I compared two Long Jing cultivars. In a later post, I will use the same method to compare a Long Jing cultivar (Jiu Keng group cultivar) and a non-Longjing cultivar (Wu Niu Zao).

In spite of all the comparison photos, I have to clarify that photos of dry tea leaves are usually NOT effective ways to distinguish cultivars, even between a Long Jing cultivar and non-Longjing cultivar. Then, what's the point of comparison? I believe, the point is the awareness of various cultivars. Today, more and more tea lovers demand high quality green tea, including Long Jing. More and more people are aware of the importance of information such as harvest date and producing region. However, in the international market, as well as in Chinese market, many retailers don't have the habit of specifying the cultivar of their Long Jing product and many people assume all Long Jing tea is from the same type of tea bush.

As discussed before, there are various Long Jing cultivars. Besides, non-Longjing cultivar is not uncommon nowadays. Theoretically, products made from non-Longjing cultivars shouldn't be called Long Jing. But in reality, they are sometimes sold even in traditional Long Jing regions, labeled as "Long Jing". As I discussed in a previous discussion, cultivar is not an issue for a lot of other teas, but is a big issue for Long Jing. There is no way to get Long Jing flavor from a non-Longjing cultivar - one doesn't need to be a tea expert to realize this. It would be sad if some consumers are picky and careful about harvest date, producing region and everything else, but end up getting a higher end "Long Jing" product made of a non-Longjing cultivar. This kind of things happen, both in China and in the international market. Therefore, more and more tea lovers in China have started to inquire about the cultivar when buying a Long Jing product, and some retailers of Long Jing have started to include cultivar information in their product descriptions.

Wu Niu Zao cultivar is one of the commonly seen non-Longjing cultivar used in Long Jing style products. It lacks most flavor characteristics of Long Jing. Many people find Wu Niu Zao not as tasty as Long Jing. However, Wu Niu Zao is not a "bad" cultivar. It's one of the earliest harvested teas in Zhejiang province, and being early is an important advantage of this cultivar. Harvest of Wu Niu Zao starts as early as February, about a month earlier than Long Jing #43 cultivar, and 5-6 weeks earlier than Long Jing Jiu Keng group cultivar. (I include harvest dates of all three cultivars in this tea harvest calendar.) In late February to early March, Wu Niu Zao can be as expensive as authentic Long Jing, because by that time, Long Jing and most other green teas are not in the market yet. Once authentic Long Jing is available, many tea drinkers will stop buying Wu Niu Zao. So the market niche of Wu Niu Zao is pretty much in February to mid-March.

Wu Niu Zao is often made in Long Jing style. With its advantages and shortcomings, Wu Niu Zao is not an inferior cultivar, in my opinion. But it's important for tea drinkers to know what cultivar they get at each purchase, because Wu Niu Zao can look very similar to Long Jing cultivar, while the flavors of the two are very different.

The photo on top of this post is a "specimen" of Wu Niu Zao that I collected. It's a Wu Niu Zao made in Long Jing style. But it's a very well made Wu Niu Zao, and there can be great variation among Wu Niu Zao products in physical appearance as well as flavor quality. I can't always tell the cultivar based on photo - the failure rate is probably larger than 50% :-p

Recently I showed this Wu Niu Zao photo to a Long Jing farmer. Interestingly, he said, just from the photo, he wouldn't be sure if it's a Long Jing cultivar or Wu Niu Zao. Well, he knows Long Jing thoroughly. If he can't tell, I guess we don't need to beat up ourselves for not being able to distinguish cultivars based on dry tea leaves. It's just easier for everybody if the cultivar information is carried along with the product all the way from producers to retailers. 

May 9, 2011

Concept Tea (9) - sheng with blended leaves of ancient arbors

This is The puerh sheng that I fell in love with last year. Well, love should be examined through time. So I don't know yet if it's impulsive love. But this is the tea that got me excited, made me cry and brought poems to my mind :D

I logged about this tea on Steepster last year. And yeah I sounded very excited :D

To me, this is a Concept Tea, not just because I love it, but also because it's a good representative of a recent year trend - reputable small producers making blended tea with ancient arbor leaves from different regions.

For a period of time, big factories have their expertise in making blended tea out of plantation tea leaves (and, about some big factory products, don't believe they are made entirely of ancient arbor leaves even when they are labeled so... See the product titles just as "names", not "ingredients"...) and many small producers focus on unblended ancient arbor puerh. Many people would even thought making blended tea with ancient arbor leaves is a waste of resources, and they believed the precious ancient arbor leaves should be made into unblended products, with one tea product consisting of leaves from one region (or estate), so as to reflect the feature flavors of that region.

But eventually, there have been more and more small producers (or medium-sized producers, if compared with the tiny small ones) making blended ancient arbor puerh as their flagship products. The rationales, as I guess, are:
1. The product is more unique due to its blending formula
2. There is more fun of creation in the process of exploring what leaf materials best compromise and complement each other. And hopefully, this will benefit the long-term aging of the tea - which is not examined through time yet.
3. Such products are less impacted by regional price fluctuation of puerh raw leaf materials - such price fluctuation is sometimes manipulated or directly caused by large factories, and has been a big headache in recent years to almost all small producers.

The name of this 2010 product is Flowing Water (I love even its name!). It's not meant to reflect the tea itself, but a name to couple a shu product made in 2010 by the same producer (Yi Ru Chang) , which is named Beautiful Years. Chinese people often say, beautiful years flow away like water. It's like a particular Chinese view of life. And of course it fits the style of puerh very well!

What I think most striking about this tea is its unique aroma. The aroma has factors of floral, grass, honey, sugary... but is not like anything I had before. Besides, as a new sheng, it has surprisingly low bitterness and astringency. But I have high tolerant of bitterness and astringency. So probably the tea has both of the two flavors but they disappear so fast that I don't feel much of them. Its aroma is also very long lasting, both in terms of aftertaste and in terms of how many infusions it lasts.

So, this is my love! I didn't get a lot of this tea though. There are a few reasons, one being that I have no idea about how it will develop in future years. The aroma in the front taste is what I love the most about this tea. But in my limited experience, I have the impression that front taste aroma tends to disappear the fastest in aging. The aged sheng that I love has nice aftertaste aroma well maintained (or appearing through aging). But I don't recall having any older aged sheng (or oolong, or white tea) with prominent front taste uprising aroma. Chemically, the fragrant molecules are small ones that will escape over time. As you know, sometimes passionate love is ephemeral!

Besides, I feel I haven't tasted this tea enough to fully understand it. Ever since I got it, I drink it once or twice a month. It feels quite smooth and not harsh at all. But after all it's a new sheng. I never got ill effects from drinking a lot of new sheng (partially because I don't drink a lot of new sheng to begin with), but as I don't have the strongest stomach, I believe I should be careful. It's probably largely psychological. Now with 2011 tea season starting, I somewhat feel more comfortable to have this 2010 tea more often. But before 2011, I held myself from having too much of it. However much I love this tea, I've reached an age to love my health more than anything else :-p

May 5, 2011

purple beauty (Zi Juan, 紫娟) and anthocyanin

This tea is quite novel to me. I would otherwise put it into the category of Concept Tea. But I didn't, because I don't like its taste. But it's just me. I know some other people like it very much, and this tea is quite expensive as a red tea from Yunnan. Ha! Doesn't it feel good once you are sure you don't like an expensive tea and don't have to buy it in the future! :D

The tea is made from a newly discovered mutant varietal whose young leaves and buds are of purplish color.  Here is a photo from a producer of this tea, comparing tea leaves of this mutant varietal and normal tea leaves. Instead of having a lot of chlorophyll as most plant leaves do, these leaves have large amount of anthocyanin, a pigment often found in colorful flowers of plants as well as some fruits. Anthocyanin in oolong leaves contributes to the floral and fruity flavors of oolong.

Dry leaves: beautiful...

Liquor color: beautiful... 

Taste: floral... too floral, all floral... Normally I even like floral taste, but this is too much for me, too much floral flavor and not enough other tea flavors. After a few infusions, I decided I couldn't bear with this tea. Later, a friend visited. After treating him with a few other teas, I steeped the left over leaves from my pot and ask him to taste it. He loves it!

Probably this tea can work well when blended with some other tea to give its floral flavor. But I won't have enough tea leaves to try.

I also got a puerh sample made of this kind of purple leaves. Will try it later!

A little more thought about anthocyanin - a few weeks ago, a tea friend and I discussed a little on the cultivars of Sun Moon Lake red tea. I've got two versions of this tea, one is made from small leaf cultivar, and one is made from red jade cultivar (#18 cultivar). The latter one has become a hotshot in recent years and is a lot more expensive than the small-leaf cultivar. But for some reason, I like small leaf cultivar much better. I don't dislike red jade. But the floral taste of red jade doesn't blow me away. In fact, I don't quite understand myself. I usually love floral taste, such as what's found in Tie Guan Yin and some Taiwan High Mountain Oolong. But for some reason, I dislike Purple Beauty and am not too crazy about red jade. So I wonder if my taste preferences are largely due to the amount and forms of anthocyanins found in these teas.