May 25, 2013

reunion of another pair of twins - good storage and bad storage

In the last episode of "reunion of twins", I posted about a dry storage version and a Hong Kong humid storage version of a same tea. Although neither of them is perfect - I wish the dry storage version gets smoother and wish the HK storage version without the hint of "wet straw" taste - I enjoy both of them fairly well. I could drink either of them every day for weeks without any complaints. So for those two versions of storage, I think they provide an interesting comparison of two styles, but not a contrast of "good" or "bad".

Here I got another pair of twins. And this time, I would simply call one of them "good storage" and the other one "bad storage". It's possible that some people would even like the "bad storage" in my eyes (because it's actually not that bad... I've seen much, much worse ones). But would anybody prefer the "bad" to the "good"? Hmm... anything is possible. But for this scenario, I guess the chance is really really small.

In the photos to come, you may notice that this time, I didn't take any "group photos" of these two brothers, yet last time for the other twin brothers, I took most of the photos with the two cakes side by side. That basically reflects my feelings about these two pairs of twins. For these current two cakes, I couldn't bear with putting them next to each other, seeing one of them as a "contamination source".

How did this type of twins/brothers comparisons start? I once wrote about the different styles of puerh purchases. Of the three styles mentioned, one is "philatelists" style - basically, buying a little bit of this and a little bit of that, so to have a diverse collection. I guess many people have some tendency of being philatelists. For me, a big motivation (or excuse) of philatelists style purchase is, when I have an interesting tea, I would be also interested in getting its brothers, cousins, spouses, twins, etc. For example, I got these 3 brothers, the above mentioned twins, these cousins (I got a few more of their green stamp cousins too), the spouse of this tea, and could build up other family trees among my teas.

The tea discussed in this post, is one of my favorite puerh (when well stored). It's not the "giving you a strong kick" kind of puerh or super old puerh many people seek for (it's a 2004 tea) . I can't quite sort out why I like it so much, but I think it's pretty much what an ideally aged Yiwu is like in my mind (although this tea has Menghai tea blended in as well).

The bad storage version was for sale at a price much lower price than I had ever seen (and I somewhat knew nobody would bother to fake this tea) and the seller did mention to me that the tea needed to be aired out a bit as it had some storage smell. So in spite of the bad storage, I'm ok with the seller and actually still think his price is quite fair (because the bad is only relative to the good storage, and is not that bad). The tea is not commonly seen in the market, so I was glad to have a chance to have a twins reunion to compare the storage, whether they are two styles or contrast of good and bad. Besides, I thought if the storage smell mentioned by the seller was not that bad, maybe I would just stock up some and air it out. But eventually, I've figured out that I'm already old enough to treasure my time, and I live in one of the most expensive cities of the country, so basically, I can't afford any time, money or space for the bad storage tea, although it's not that bad. The bad storage tea could serve as a specimen and be examined again in a few years.

This time I will put the show-and-tell in a reverse order.

The photo on top of this post is from the bad storage. The loose leaves look not bad at all. Without smelling it or tasting it, I would have thought it was totally fine.

The bad storage being brewed. The leaves are actually adorable and don't look very different from my normal version of this tea.

I didn't take brewing photos of the good storage tea, but actually they don't look that different in small amount of leaves and in brewing. It's somewhat surprising, and also makes me cautious that without tasting contrast of various version of the same tea, sometimes it's really, really hard to tell whether the final quality of a tea results from the tea leaves themselves, the storage, or other factors.  

There are a few rather counter-intuitive things about this bad storage tea.

1. The liquor color doesn't reflect wet storage. But later we will see some photos of this tea indicating that the tea suffered from at least short-term dampness.

2. More surprisingly, this tea doesn't have much of the "typical wet storage taste" either. The "Ji Feng Yuan" twins in a earlier post include one Hong Kong humid storage tea that has some "wet storage taste" in a rather mild way and the taste has already faded a lot during the follow-up dry storage (which is an essential stage of professional Hong Kong humid storage). I also had some humid-stored tea whose "wet storage taste" didn't recover that well and would be a little harsh. But overall, this tea doesn't have that wet taste, yet we could see this tea did suffer from dampness (from whole cake photos), in a way much worse than proper humid storage.

3. The spent leaves look quite adorable. Not that much different from the good storage version, at least in this small amount. I guess this means that, the bad storage didn't kill this tea and probably this tea could recover more in the years to come. On the other hand, this demonstrates that the appearance could be very deceiving. Because after all, this tea tastes quite different from the good storage version.

4. After the above 1, 2 and 3, you may wonder, so, this tea doesn't look wet storage, doesn't have wet storage taste, and doesn't look that bad, then what's wrong with it? The tea tastes much bitter than the good storage version, and doesn't have the nice, gentle, fruity taste and unique aroma that I have always enjoyed from the good storage. Still, it's not such a bad tea. It still has some nice aftertaste. But it's by far not comparable to its good storage "twin brother".

5. I'm afraid the the worst thing about this tea is, it's very confusing and probably deceiving. It looks pretty good. It doesn't taste horrible, but rather underwhelming, with its nice leaves and good fame. The taste is not as suspicious as the smell of the tea cake. So if one has never tasted a good storage version and just tastes this bad storage version, one may think it's just the tea and it's just a mediocre tea. If one knows about the tea being water-flashed (which is not hard to tell from the whole cake outlook), then one may blame wet storage for its mediocre taste and its bitterness. However, it's the bad storage, not wet storage that caused the problem (I will explain more about its bad storage smell later). If one only looks at the liquor color, then one may think the bitterness is due to a rather young age of this tea through dry storage, then the water disaster history of this tea might be disguised by its liquor color and even taste.

Now here is the back of the bad storage cake:

We can ignore the straw - that's not a problem and just a regular "gift of purchase" as with many puerh products. But if we focus on the 12'o clock to 2'o clock region, we can see the surface is somewhat "smeared". And below is an enlarged view of that region:

 But still, not much other than the smeared region. No "white stuff" that is supposed to be a common criminal evidence of damp storage. Actually the Hong Kong storage version of the "Ji Feng Yuan" twins does have some subtle hint of "white stuff", likely residues of white mold from humid storage, yet I wouldn't call it a bad storage.

Below is the back of a good storage cake for comparison:

The front side of the bad storage cake doesn't look that bad at all, probably just a little more dull. But the good storage cake looks brilliant! Sometimes good and bad are just relative. A bad is only bad when compared with the good!

Below is the front side of the bad storage cake (the double cake ticket is not a real problem here but a small accident, I guess):

Below is the front side of the good storage cake (it has a "gift of purchase" too, this time, a plastic string!)

And a few more photos of the good storage cake... It actually looks even better than the photos!

The bad storage cake has some bug bite holes on the wrapper. But that's not a problem for me. Quite a few nice aged puerh I've had have bug bite holes on the wrapper too. But it seems that the bugs were only interested in the paper and didn't mean to hurt the tea. I've heard of teas that were severely damaged by bugs but have never seen any. I guess it's generally not a problem in dry storage, and shouldn't be a problem in proper humid storage.

The wrapper of the bad storage tea looks not that bad at all. So overall my impression is, this tea might have suffered from some accidental water flash problem instead of going through intentional humid storage. This also makes the tea confusing and probably deceiving. Although not everyone likes humid storage teas (I myself could enjoy very few of them), accidental dampness is always much worse than professional humid storage. In quite a few occasions, I've seen people blaming the bad taste of a cake resulting from its humid storage, while the cake actually went through destructive water disaster. Also in quite a few occasions, I've seen people praising a cake for its proper humid storage and called it "not as harsh as dry stored cakes", while the cake looked obviously purely dry storage in my eyes. All this, I think, is because puerh could be very confusing overall. So probably one thing for sure is we will always be confused. And probably it's good to be aware that we can easily be confused and will be confused for many more times in the future. With this awareness, we have the hope of being confused in a higher level with time being :-)

Below is the bad storage cake:

Below is the good storage cake. It has got some bug bit holes too.

And I haven't explained it yet why I would call it bad storage to begin with (the smeared cake surface itself might not serve as strong enough criminal evidence). It smells bad! It has a typical damp warehouse smell that I'm familiar with through my clothing purchase from Southern China.

I buy fairly amount of my clothes on Taobao, because I've found quite a few nice small business designers there, and overall it's easier to get shorter sizes in China. Most of my clothing purchases come from Southeastern China. Many of them have a "wet storage smell" on arrival. Although I'm thinning my list of sellers to those whose clothes don't have such warehouse smell, there are some sellers' stuff that I've got to buy (because they are adorable!) in spite of the bad warehouse smell. And it's understandable that sellers have to use unlivable space (such as damp basement) as warehouse (not equally understandable for tea though). For clothes, it's much simpler to deal with the storage smell. I simply hang them in the attic till the smell fades. And if it doesn't fade from a piece, I would just wash it.

This bad storage tea has exactly the same warehouse smell as found on some of my clothes purchases. When I enjoy the good storage version of this tea, I've always thought of it as having an aroma of mountain spring rising from the surface of tea cake. Obviously such aroma can't survive a warehouse smell. Interestingly, when I took photos of the bad storage version, I noticed that after being exposed in the air for a while, the bad smell faded significantly, and the "mountain spring" smell came back a bit (it could completely be my illusion though...) Then when I left the tea wrapped up for a while and opened it again, the tea was full of the bad storage smell again. Same thing happens when I left some of the bad storage version in a box to "wake up" the tea. So I guess, the bad smell would fade, little by little. But with the loss of bad smell, I'm afraid other good characters would be lost more or less. Maybe after several years, the bad storage version will no longer smell bad or taste bitter. By then one may or may not be able to tell about its dark history. But even if the bad storage tea recovers well, I don't believe it could ever get nearly as good as the good storage version.

May 19, 2013

quick udpate - Tea Nazi is back!

(The photo is from Pan's Tea Travel webpage, explaining the green tea processing.)

Here are of Tea Nazi that I wrote two years ago.

Ok... I admit I was really blunt to call him "tea nazi", as he is by far not as harsh as the "soup nazi", and he is really a nice guy!

This spring I got "official" announcement from Pan that he is back to tea business - on part-time basis, but in some sense, more devoted than a lot of full-timers in tea world. I know a bunch of "amateur" tea people, part-timers, moonlighters, or "hobby sellers(?)". In fact, among my favorite tea friends, tea suppliers and tea "colleagues (?)", there are probably more part-timers than full-timers. Thinking of that just surprised me! I haven't had any business relation with Pan yet. But I sort of like it that he has come back to tea business on part-time basis!

Now I know it's easier than ever for foreigners to shop on taobao. So here is Pan's taobao store:

His store name is the same as the name of his store before he "retired" from tea business last time. It literally means "Here's a Tea Store". I think it's a lovely name!

There aren't many items yet there. And I've already asked him "would you please add more stuff in the store and make it more business-like?!"

Pan told me that he will add more items to the taobao store, but probably not a lot and not very fast. So far, he would visit every of the production site or collection source of his teas, and he would only carry teas that don't use any pesticide. He will not do a lot of business in a short time. But he will maintain very high standards for quality and health of the teas, as always!

I think it's not hard to tell that one can hardly make a living selling tea in this way, especially in China, where there are about a few million tea sellers doing business more efficiently on lower budgets. But it may work out just fine as Pan keeps his day job, which is an interesting job anyway.

If you look for more things to see, his "tea travel" page is very cool:

And I'm sure he will add more photos and writing to this page to document his tea journey and his teas. I've already suggested him to put his writings in text format on the webpage so that non-Chinese readers could use google translate to read them. But so far photos dominate and photos tell most of the stories already!

Besides, anybody who are Chinese-English bilingual, if you are interested, please feel free to translate his writings, publish the English version online and link back to his webpage.

May 11, 2013

drinking two Huang Shan Mao Feng

Before the start, I would like to salute to Malaysian friends with these 2006 shu and sheng cakes made per special order of Malaysian Puerh Association.

I've been living in my small world and didn't know much about what was going on in Malaysia. But I have a facebook friend who is Chinese Malaysian American and updated me a lot about the recent Election in Malaysia. It was quite amazing!


These are two Huang Shan Mao Feng that I have every year since 2010. Huang Shan Mao Feng is one of my favorite green teas (probably top 3, and Long Jing is not even in the top 3...) It's hard for me to pick just a few of "favorite green tea". Similarly, it's hard to pick up just a few of "favorite" Huang Shan Mao Feng producers. There are actually many that I like. But these two, I think, are most unique in style and from quite unique places. I've explained about them here and here.

This is pretty much a casual tasting rather than "evaluation" tasting. I love them both and hence can't really evaluate them objectively.

The one on the left is the semi-wild Huang Shan Mao Feng (which I happened to take from the very bottom of a pack so there are more broken leaves than usual), and the one on the right is the 1400m Huang Shan Mao Feng. 



Overall, the semi-wild Mao Feng has higher bud/leaf ratio than the 1400m Mao Feng, while there are are fewer broken leaves in the 1400m Mao Feng. The amount of broken leaves is partially due to that I reached the bottom of a pack for the semi-wild. Besides, the semi-wild Mao Feng must be carried from its remote site back to the factory for processing, unlike the 1400m Mao Feng, which is carried from a site near the village (the near distance is still by the standards of locals who have very strong legs) back to the village for processing.

In terms of taste and aroma, I feel the 1400m Mao Feng is more "typical" Mao Feng taste, with a subtle floral aroma to begin with, and with very smooth tea liqour. The semi-wild Mao Feng has a quite "interesting" taste, with some edemame flavor and more prominent sweet aftertaste than most green teas.

I didn't take dry leaf photos this year - but they are quite consistent from year to year. If comparing the dry leaf photos from the above-mentioned earlier blog posts, we could see the semi-wild Mao Feng has more bud, and the pan-frying is not as heavy as the 1400m Mao Feng. It's still traditional heavy kill-green process. But naturally they shouldn't be pan-fried as hard as larger leaves.

In contrast, the pan-frying of the 1400m Mao Feng is quite heavy that we could easily see the "blisters" on the rim of the leaves.

Semi-wild Mao Feng (it has some blisters too)

1400m Huang Shan Mao Feng (a lot of "blisters")

"Blister" is something quite interesting, and I plan to create a blog post with a series of photos of tea leaf "blisters". It's commonly seen on traditional green tea genres and sometimes is used to judge if a tea is manually made. But the "blisters" on some teas (such as Long Jing) are much more subtle than some heavily "blistered" green teas (such as Huang Shan Mao Feng and Lu Shan Yun Wu). Between these two Huang Shan Mao Feng, I think the "blister" is an interesting contrast and somewhat reflect the different styles of these two teas.

Some updates: Mr. Wang's village finally got the road built. My feelings about it are complicated. But I know it's good for them. Mr. Wang is thrilled about driving a car to visit his parents instead of walking for 8km in the mountain.

May 8, 2013

guess guess guess... reunion of twins

By the way if you like the guessing game, here are some of the earlier ones - and make sure to take the guess before seeing the final answer or other people's answers :-D

* reunion of "3 brothers"
* price of a oolong

And a couple of *really* old ones on teachat - they make me feel old! :-p

* a oolong (and by the time of the posted game, I hadn't seen this specific style in American market yet, so it was harder to guess then than now!)
* which oolong is different from the other three


Now here is another one... The tea is 2004 Chang Tai Heng Feng Yuan sheng. Heng Feng Yuan is one of the numerous (as I complained before) trademarks of Chang Tai. There are mostly shu products under this trademark, but there are some shengs. This one from 2004 is relatively well known for two reasons. One is that many people think the leaf materials are pretty good. A second reason is that on the wrapper, the trademark "Heng Feng Yuan" is mis-spelt. The first character "heng" is put as "ji", which could be interpreted as "ultimate or supreme". It's not officially confirmed, but rumors are the misspelling was done purposely. I think that was plausible. Back in 2004, Chang Tai was in extremely good shape, their tea was indeed good, and the company had probably got already quite arrogant (which might be the root of the arrogance that caused them trouble in 2007, I think). But there is no official story about whether the misspelling was done in purpose. And one obvious effect of the misspelling is that the tea can be more easily recognized among all other early 2000s Chang Tai teas.

So I got these two versions of exactly the same tea. With a purpose similar to the that of these "tuition tea", I got these twins of Heng Feng Yuan for study and comparison purposes. This time, I think, it's an excellent comparison opportunity that rarely comes up. The two tea cakes here are from two different storage environment. One is purely dry storage, as most of my puerh. The other one is Hong Kong humid storage - if you are a drinker of purely dry storage only, you might think how brave I am to get this bunch of tea... But in fact, it wasn't a hard decision, and I will explain why later.

Now the question for you is, which is purely dry storage, and which is Hong Kong humid storage?

Don't be shy of taking a guess. It's 50%, 50% chance :-)

On the other hand, don't be surprised if your guess is wrong :-p This guessing game is indeed a little tricky - and I usually pick tricky ones to post anyway ;-) It's never hard to tell between a dry storage and Hong Kong humid storage, if you hold them in hands. But from the photos (and I don't know if the blog page would allow the largest resolution of the photos but you can try clicking them), it's not that easy to tell, especially when the dry storage is not the stereotypically "forever green" tea and the Hong Kong humid storage is not the stereotypical "rotten" tea.

There are indeed "keys" to recognize if the photos can be enlarged. Meantime, photos could be deceiving in various ways and they might show some "false keys". Last month I posted these photos on a Chinese tea forum and let people guess. Most people got it wrong - although there is 50% chance to choose each answer, somehow most people chose the wrong answer!

Now here are the photos. All the photos have the same tea on the left and the same tea on the right.

Although they are "twin brothers", their wrappers aren't exactly the same to begin with. One has thicker paper texture. Printing should be the same.

Below is the cake on the right.

Below is the cake on the left.

At the end, I also want to point out that I can't say for sure the Hong Kong humid storage is the typical product of its type. I do somewhat believe that's what Hong Kong humid storage is "supposed" to be. Many other things between these two teas are a lot more different than what's showed by the photos of these two teas. To me, that's the huge difference between dry storage and humid storage (but not necessarily difference between a theoretical "good" and theoretical "bad"). But I'm a dry storage drinker in general, so the "typical" Hong Kong humid storage in my mind is not necessarily the same as the "typical" in everybody's mind. Even though I got the humid storage tea for study purpose, I would like a "tuition tea" to be more or less drinkable to me too. In this sense, I can't say for sure how typical a humid storage is, if it's drinkable to a dry storage drinker.

May 4, 2013

Taiwan "Style" Oolong (1b) - Zealong Dark and Zealong Pure

This just reminds me of my terrible procrastination...

I started this series in 2011. Taiwan "Style" Oolong (0) is here, explaining why I'm interested in them.

Taiwan "Style" Oolong (1) is here. I wish I had finished writing this part (1b) much, much earlier, before the close-up of the late Chicago Tea Garden run by Tony Gebely, so that some people could have grabbed their last Zealong at a very good close-up discount price. In fact, I wish I had grabbed some myself, as these teas (even including Zealong pure) have quite long shelf life and the prices were great. But I was fully occupied by other non-tea stuff and didn't manage to do either of this. Though I did remind quite a few people of the good deal in various conversations.

All the Taiwan style oolongs I mentioned in part (0), plus quite a few other Taiwan style oolongs I found later, I've tasted them all. But besides once writing a short tea log here at steepster, I have yet to write down my thoughts of them.

Meantime, please let me know if you know of any good sources for Zealong with good prices! Prices are important to me. I know Zealong is good stuff and have no doubt about it. Price is the key factor in my tea purchase for Zealong. Last time I checked, Ya Ya Tea House of New Zealand carries Zealong products. And I don't know if there still are USA sources of these oolongs.

So here is what I think about Zealong Dark and Zealong Pure.

Zealong dark:

Dry tea leaves. Although it's called "dark", it's not that dark from dry tea leaves to tea liquor. The tea is made with certain degree of roasting. But the purpose of roasting is not to make it "dark", but to let it reach the best level of taste aroma. The tea processing is "tea centered". It's not like that the producer decided "today we make a darkly roasted tea". How the tea is roasted, depends on the tea.

First infusion.

Fourth infusion:

Seventh infusion:

Tenth infusion:

It didn't have to go to 10th infusion though. I'm often thrifty on tea drinking and tend to use the last drop of it. But I don't judge a tea by the number of infusions (I feel I need to clarify it here because some people do seem to give a tea higher score when they get more infusions from it... but on the other hand, you could often get more infusion by using more tea and less water. So to some degree, scoring a tea in this way is a biased method, I believe.)

Spent leaves:

Zealong pure:

Dry leaves:

Second infusion:

Seventh infusion:

I didn't take more photos of Zealong Pure because as previously mentioned, they are already documented by Matcha and Sir William, and their photos are much better than mine. Sir Williams documentation includes all three Zealongs from the same year (2010?) as mine.

Overall, I think these two teas, together with Zealong Aromatic, tell some very interesting stories and reveal important things about oolong, especially Taiwan oolong. Also interestingly, although they are Taiwan "Style" Oolong made on another continent, I think they inherit some of the best legacy of Taiwan oolong that's not always seen in every Taiwan oolong made in Taiwan. Basically, I think that's one of the interesting themes involved in quite a few Taiwan "Style" oolongs that I liked.

1. Comparing the leaf material of the three tea, we can clearly see that the youngest leaves were used for Zealong Pure, the oldest leaves were used for Zealong Dark and the middle level was for Zelong Aromatic. This is not necessarily the rule for all oolong. But it reflects that the processing style of the tea was coordinated with the characters of the leaves. To process a tea based on the characters of the tea leaves, I believe that's the spirit of artisan tea making.

2. The three types of tea leaves, no matter older or younger, all look very alive. The older leaves of Zealong dark may have a lower market price than the younger leaves of Zealong Pure, but they don't look inferior. They are thick, leathery, elastic and succulent. These are all signs of good organic cultivation. Whether or not the tea is certified organic, the leaves already reveal nice organic fertilization. I have to stress "good" in front of organic cultivation here. Organic cultivation only means no synthesized fertilizers or pesticides are used. It doesn't necessarily indicate the quality level of the cultivation. Some commercial organic cultivation, while omitting synthesized fertilizers, simply doesn't give the plants enough fertilization or maintain a nutrient-dynamic ecosystem for the plants. Then the plants could end up lacking vitality or nutrients. Organic cultivation in a poor ecosystem is not as "organic" as it may sound. The good organic cultivation results from thousands of years of agricultural wisdom and involves various eco-friendly cultivation methods and brilliant ideas of maintaining good soil nutrients and giving the plants organic fertilization (such as sheep droppings and soybean cakes!).

3. The three styles here are more or less similar to the three main styles of Tie Guan Yin that I talked about earlier. Different teas, same philosophy of tea making! Among the 3 Zealongs, my favorite is Zealong Aroma. Among the 3 styles of Tie Guan Yin, my favorite is the traditional light roast, which could be seen as a counterpart of Zealong Aroma in Tie Guan Yin family. On the other hand, I also enjoy the other two styles of Zealongs and other well-made styles of Tie Guan Yin. It's hard to dislike a style if the tea is well made.

4. The Zealong Pure, although the "greenest" style among all three, doesn't look as green as some other modern green style oolongs. The purpose of green style oolong processing is to maintain the natural, fresh leaf aroma by controlling for lighter oxidation level. But it's a commonly shared idea among a lot of great oolong workers (Taiwan oolong and Fujian oolong all included) that "green" is not the ultimate goal, and even green style oolong should have a right level of kill-green (enzyme dis-activation process) and right level of oxidation. Although I say this is an idea shared by great oolong workers of both Taiwan and Fujian, I feel the idea is much better implemented in Taiwan. Although some Taiwan oolongs could be "too green" for my value system, Taiwan oolong competitions don't favor the "greenest" style. A commonly quoted standard of Taiwan competition tea is "golden yellow and honey green" (金黄蜜绿). This is in contrast with the "green liquor" (绿豆汤色)and "light green liquor" (白水观音)standard from many Fujian Tie Guan Yin competitions.

5. The Zealong Dark, although the "darkest roasted" among all three, doesn't look as "dark" as some other roasted oolongs. The purpose of roasting is to induce the best aroma from the tea leaves. It's also a common idea shared by a lot of great oolong workers (again, Taiwan oolong and Fujian oolong all included) that "getting the tea dark" is not the ultimate goal of roasting, and a favored tea is dominated by tea aroma but not “fire flavor”.

6. The spent leaves of all three styles of Zealong show that they are very carefully made. The producer of Zealong holds very high standards for tea cultivation and tea processing. I think Zealong is quite expensive, but the price is not unreasonable with this level of work.

7. If drinking these teas and some Taiwan-made Taiwan oolongs side by side and blindfolded, can I tell which is which? Well, if there is a large difference in elevation levels of the production site, probably it will be largely revealed in the taste of the tea. But if it's a blindfolded comparison between Zealong and Taiwan oolong of similar processing styles from medium elevation level, I don't think I could tell which one is from Taiwan. That's something very intriguing to me about Taiwan "Style" oolong. I don't think I could easily tell which one is from Taiwan, which one is not, among two equally well made teas. If some people claim they could easily tell, I would say, let them go blindfolded test first :-p

8. In the above discussion, I was hypothetically comparing Zealong with Taiwan oolong from medium elevation level. This is actually related to something else about Zealong that amazes me. I tried to look up the elevation level of Zealong's production site, and it seems an almost ground-level place. I always think elevation level is one of the most important geographic factors for tea production. Most of the best Taiwan oolongs are from much, much higher mountains than the production site of Zealong, which can hardly be called "mountain" at all. But the quality of Zealong is way above what I would have predicted just based on its elevation level. I think it's quite amazing, and don't know how they did it. Well, no matter how they did it, they didn't do it fast. From what I read about Zealong, the tea wasn't put in the international market until 15 years after the establishment of Zealong plantation. Sometimes, "taking time" is part of the secret recipe.

May 1, 2013

the beauty of shu...

The beauty of... shu... ??!!
I can't believe I'm writing something like this. But indeed I feel I've finally tasted some beauty of shu.

In this blog (that's over the past 4 years or so), I've written about 6 shu. I enjoy each of them, from well to very much. But those are already the vast majority of all shu that I've liked. To me, they are like a small drop from an ocean of stinky, fishy, damp, basement-moldy, ammonium... types of shu! So you can tell how (un)excited I'm about shu. Usually when I recommend a shu to somebody, I would say, "look, even I could enjoy it!"

For years, I never understood what's the point of shu. My best interpretation was, people needed something mild (for the mouth feel, for the health or to go with their food...), and therefore would bear with some stinky flavors. I have almost zero tolerance of stinky flavor. So the few shu I would keep are those that don't taste stinky to me. And usually my near-to-the-best evaluation to a shu is "not stinky!" But after all, we don't have to drink a tea for its non-stinkiness, right?! I have to admit that it's relatively easy for a shu to have some good liquor texture and sweet aftertaste. But to me, that's not enough. Usually I would prefer shu that has a nice complex, aromatic aftertaste, not just sweetness and smoothness. But I'm pretty much an "aromatic" drinker for various types of teas, and other tea drinkers may not share the same preferences as mine.

Usually I don't deliberately look for shu, except for my recent search for 421 (because the 421 brick I liked very much was no where to find now). The other shu I enjoy so far were all that I accidentally bumped into.

Earlier this year, I got this 2007 Chang Tai "Gold Bowl Silver Tip", because somebody told me that I "really really have to try it." I didn't know why I "really have to try" it, since I'm not even a shu lover! But I got it anyway, because it does look like an interesting tea. It's made primarily of high grade tea bud, which, in my value system for shu, is a very good thing. Besides, it's a tea blended by the manager of Bao Lan Sheng teashop of Hong Kong, with shu of various ages and up to 20 years old blended in. In my own value system, I don't really understand what's the point to keep a *shu* around for 20 years (since it's already a shu). But I do believe this Bao Lan Sheng manager is one of the professionals who really know what he is doing. So I thought I would try this interesting tea. It's a 100g small tuo. So although it's not cheap, buying a tuo won't hurt my wallet that much.

The package - typical Chang Tai style for Hong Kong and Taiwan market. Chant Tai products for mainland China usually have more practical style of packaging. But for Hong Kong and Taiwan market, they attempt to impress with packaging. Sometimes I really enjoy the good packaging, like for this mushroom tuo. But most of the time, I think it's over done.

Besides, Wei Rong Hao, one of the numerous registered trademarks of Changtai, seems an attempt to attract Hong Kong and Taiwan buyers too. In addition to Wei Rong Hao, Chang Tai has a few other "Hao"-bearing trademarks such as Chang Tai Hao, Yi Chang Hao, Ding Sheng Hao... Somehow, "Hao" could make a lot of people relate to high end product - an interesting phenomenon.

The tea has a lot of golden buds indeed, which I like. It has been dry-stored in Guangzhou, and the tuo doesn't have much of the typical shu smell.

I had expected it to have some shu smell, and thought it might need some air-out. So as soon as I got the tea, I immediately broke an entire tuo and put it in a jar. Meantime, I took a piece to brew. To my surprise, without any air-out yet, the tea doesn't taste as if it actually needs any air-out.

Overall, I like it very much, and it might be my favorite shu so far. At certain point, I almost felt this tea tasted like a very old sheng instead of a shu. Although shu was invented in order to mimic old sheng, before this tea, no other shu gave me a feeling of old sheng and made me forget it was a shu.

In the past, for a few times, some very good American/Canadian friends of mine told me that they thought I didn't appear or behave like a typical Chinese. Each time, my response would be like this - I paused for a few seconds, and said, "is this supposed to be a compliment???" And I enjoyed seeing them a little bit embarrassed :-p But in fact, I'm a most typical Chinese. I would tell them that I probably understand what they mean, but I would guess many other Chinese they knew were not as typical Chinese as I am :-)

Back to the tea... basically what I wanted to say is, this tea almost doesn't taste like a shu - but then, I don't know if it's "appropriate" to praise a shu by saying it doesn't taste like a shu :-p
As for taste, it actually doesn't have as long-lasting aftertaste as my beloved 421 and a few other shu I love. But somehow, I love this tea very much. One thing about it that's most impressive to me is, it has a very sugary taste which is not felt by the mouth but by the throat. Maybe I could say this is the so-called "jujube aroma" of puerh. But in fact, there are already millions of "jujube shu bricks" out there in the market, and most shu that are claimed to have jujube aroma are either crappy or at the best mediocre. So I'm rather reluctant to call this sugary taste "jujube". 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoy this tea. Here is a comment on this tea made by the manager of Jing Mei Tang Guangzhou store. He said, "Before experiencing this tea, you can't say you know the beauty of shu." Well, I hope I still have many years to live and chances to discover a few other good shu. But I do think his comment summarizes this tea very well.  

At this moment, I feel a bit guilty that I didn't say much of good things about Chang Tai, yet I have enjoyed quite a few of their products very well. But on the other hand, if you wonder about it, I've tasted a lot more Chang Tai teas than what I've written, and not all of them are enjoyable to me. I do think that some pre-2007 Chang Tai teas are very good deal, partially due to them being boycotted in Chinese market. Some 2007-2009 Chang Tai teas seem to have very good prices, but I haven't yet tasted enough of them to judge whether they are good deals.