Jul 28, 2013

2003 Hui Sheng Hao Mahei ancient tree

Mahei, old tree, 10 years, purely dry storage. These are the key words...

Mahei and "ancient tree" are some of the most abused puerh terms in recent years. But Hui Sheng Hao (會盛號)is probably one of the few producers that could use these words without exaggeration. Hui Sheng Hao started making Mahei tea from around 2000 and collectors started to hold their Mahei ancient tree tea in relatively large amount since 2002 - at that time I didn't even have a clue yet about the name of Mahei. The owner has access to the oldest tea trees in Mahei. So their claim of 300-500 years old tea tree age for their puerh is among the (few) most trustworthy claims about this region.

I've heard a lot about Hui Sheng Hao but hadn't tried any of their tea until recently, because it's hard to get their aged tea and I always hesitate to pay big money for newer tea, although I do believe the tea is more worthy than a lot of other new, expensive teas. This year, Hui Sheng Hao's 2003 tea reached its 10 year anniversary, and the producer released some to celebrate the (probably) first ancient tree single-region puerh with a clear history of purely dry storage. There might be a few more other small-label puerh products that are qualified for "ancient tree", "10+ years", and "purely dry storage". But I guess there aren't many overall, and barely any for such "hot and sexy" region as Mahei.

With their promotion prices, a 30g sample still cost me more than the price of some other big puerh cake... and I finally opened it with my trembling hands :-p

I took a small sample this time. And I did remove all the broken leaves and crumbs before brewing. Generally I'm very stingy on tea drinking. But when I'm still exploring a tea, I think it's important to judge it based on its whole leaves and not crumbs. 

This is the entire 30g that I've got...

 This is the rest of the 30g...

An earlier infusion...

A later infusion...

Wet leaves... I took them out to take photos while there was still daylight, and then put them back to gaiwan to resume brewing. That's how stingy I am!

It's a great tea with not overwhelming but very long-lasting floral, honey aroma and sweet aftertaste. The leaves look juicy and succulent.

By the way, when I drink a puerh, even when drinking an outstanding ancient tree puerh, I usually don't have those reactions such as sweating like water falls, mouth flooded by saliva, or blurred mind, or floating, burping, farting... or getting hyper and crazy... (if you've read some 1990s to early 2000s puerh literature, especially those earlier Chinese puerh articles, you would know each of these reactions was from some people's serious description and I didn't make up any of them...) Maybe I'm just blunt. Maybe I didn't use a lot of tea to a stimulant level. To me, tea drinking is tea drinking. I don't get any reaction of alcohol or marijuana or 'shroom from tea :-p

Hui Sheng Hao's marketing partner is in Zhuhai, a coastal city in Guangdong. This tea was released from their Zhuhai storage. From their history, I would guess this tea was stored in Yunnan till around 2007 and then stored in Zhuhai afterwards. This tea tastes dryer than most Guangdong dry-stored tea that I've tried. There were a few big-tree teas that made me feel that even dry storage on the humid side would somehow "waste" out some aroma and unique taste from the tea. Of this tea, obviously they've been taken very good care. I got some other mid-age tea from Hui Sheng Hao's Zhuhai dealer, including the previously described CCT 2006 Yi Wu. All the other teas I got from them are generally dry-stored teas, but almost all of them had more or less more humid storage than this 2003 Mahei (and they are not as expensive either). I would imagine they have their most expensive and highly equipped storage space for their Hui Sheng Hao tea to guarantee the dry storage of the tea, while having the tea benefit from the coastal air flow of Zhuhai.

If I have a lot of disposable income, then I wouldn't mind getting a lot of this tea and use it as my daily drink. The official price of this tea is about $600-650, and there were opportunities of relatively deep discount. Thanks to the high prices of new tea in recent a couple of years, $600 doesn't sound bad at all for such a tea. And after all, it's still less expensive than a lot of Long Jing :-)

But eventually I bought an offspring of this tea - the 2010 version of this tea.

Of course it would be nice to enjoy it in 2020. But from the 2003 version, I've learned that this tea could possibly be friendly enough to enjoy before it's 10 years old. When would be a best time to enjoy it, only time would tell. That's why, as I explained earlier, if I want a puerh cake, I get at least two of them, one for longitudinal tasting and one for hoarding.

Jul 25, 2013

reunion of twins (1b) - drinking with a "baiding"

Reunion of twins (1a) is here.

Reunion of twins (2) is here.

Besides, there is a reunion of 3 brothers (part 1) here, if you are interested ;-)

There have been a few more reunions of other twins and brothers done recently and a few more queued up :-D

I grabbed the word baiding (白丁) for use in tea drinking from one of my puerh icons Feng Yu (or the famous PCCZ in China). I couldn't find a proper English translation for this word, and obviously google translation refuse to do it. Baiding, originally referred to a person without an official title. In ancient society, such a person was usually an uneducated person. So later on, baiding refers to an uneducated person, with a negative connotation. Its meaning is not exactly the same as "uneducated" or "illiterate". It's somewhat closer to "uncultured". Somehow this word has been used by Mr. Feng in a funny and friendly way, without negative connotation. In China, very few urban people are completely illiterate about tea, but a lot of them don't know much about puerh. Mr. Feng calls his friends of this type baiding in a jokingly way.

I've talked with a few other tea producer and tea experts about baiding tea drinkers too (although they don't use this term). Very interestingly, almost all of them pointed out that baidings are usually very innocent tea drinkers who could give more truthful comments on a tea than seasoned tea drinkers. It's not because seasoned tea drinkers aren't honest, but very often because seasoned tea drinkers have too many theories and a lot of established values in their minds.

This time, I drank the twins with a baiding and had some interesting conversation about them. Baiding in my opinion, is one of the best photographers in Boston. He was born in Guangzhou, China and grew up in Canada. He has typical Cantonese tastes on food stuff, but it's an exception (and a pity!) that he isn't interested in tea. He drinks tea sometimes... I mean, mostly in restaurants... He is generally uninterested in tea. Sometimes I give him some tea to taste, without worrying that he would grab a lot from me ;-) He would rarely like a low-end tea. But among the high end teas, he only enjoys some of them, which are not necessarily my favorite ones.

Among all the Chinese restaurants Baiding has been to, most of them are Cantonese restaurants, which typically serve cheap shu. So Baiding knows about puerh and has drunk a lot of puerh. He generally know of shu and sheng, but doesn't care enough to know much of them. He doesn't know much about impact of aging or storage on puerh, or the difference between storage styles. He isn't aware of what's dry storage and what's humid storage. Purely innocent :-D

So we were drinking these two teas (mostly drunk by me and he tasted just a little).

The dry tea leaves don't look that much different and it's not easy to tell which is which, as showed in part 1.

Once brewed, there is no need to guess which is which.

The differences are huge in color, aroma and taste.

The brewing was very casual. Most of the time when I drink and compare two very different teas, I would grab whatever convenient to use and don't bother using uniform tea wares, because the difference of the tea would be much, much bigger than any difference that could be caused by tea ware or slight differences in leaf/water ratio.

So we had the little cups to compare colors (without them the color contrast would be strong anyway) and the larger cups for drinking (I like using teacups of the same sizes as the teapots so that sharing pitcher is omitted).

The spent leaves look very different too. But if there weren't the comparison from the dry-storage, I feel it would be a little hard to judge if the leaves in this cup from dry storage or humid storage, because this humid storage wasn't very heavy. If one is told the age of the tea as well, then probably it's much easier to tell it went through humid storage based on the liquor color. But without tasting or smelling, or being told the age of the tea, it could be hard to tell. When the spent leaves are put side by side and if knowing these are "twins", then everybody could tell which is which.

Baiding's comments on the humid storage tea - "tastes better than how it smells", "tastes a little bit like straw", "a little bitter, but mainly sweet." His comments on the dry-stored tea - "more bitter and more sour than the other one, but after a while the taste turns better." To answer the question "if you pick one to drink between the two, which one do you pick?" His answer - the dry-stored one. This last answer did surprised me a bit. I suspect many of his fellow Cantonese would pick the humid storage one. But probably it's because this guy has spent too many years in the dry and cold Ontario?!

My comments on the humid storage tea - the liquor texture is very nice; it's one of the most acceptable humid storage tea for my personal taste, yet I wish the tea has everything else but not the storage taste (straw flavor Baiding mentioned, I believe); overall the storage of this tea is the very light type of humid storage, so I'm hopeful that at least some of the "straw" taste would go away with time being. My comments on the dry-stored tea - the aftertaste is great; it could get bitter and astringent though; I feel the characteristics of the humid storage version somehow reflect some quality of this tea and make me believe the dry-stored version has a great future. It will take time to find out what the future is like, and I'm sure this tea will be with me in the next decade or so.

Jul 20, 2013

a recommended way of brewing Lu Shan Yun Wu (and most Chinese greens)

This is a Lu Shan Yun Wu from a different location than the last one. The leaves of this one look even wilder. The first day harvest leaves are usually of varied sizes, because at that time, there were leaves of various sizes, and the harvest workers would pick all leaves above certain sizes. In the harvest of later days (which still count as "first flush" if we use "international" tea terms), the size would become more uniform, because most leaves came out after the first harvest and grew for the same amount of time. The taste, in my opinion, is even better than the last one.

While drinking this tea, I thought of an article written by Wei, who is the single best source of Lu Shan Yun Wu that I know of, and is an iconic figure in Chinese green tea world.

The article is about the recommended way of brewing Lu Shan Yun Wu. My method is slightly different from his but largely in agreement with his. Either his method or my method, is just "one" way, not "the" way. But in my opinion, Wei's brewing method is the "mainstream" method of Chinese green tea brewing. I didn't invented my brewing method either. Pretty much, I'm just a copy cat of the green tea drinkers before me.

People who have talked about Chinese green tea brewing with me, probably know that I'm a big advocate of brewing green tea with boiling water. It's not that I care so much about how other people brew tea to begin with. I think, what agitates me is, in America, many new tea drinkers are told by other seasoned tea drinkers that green tea "should" be brewed with cooler water, and some new tea drinkers were even sneered at when they used nearly boiling water to brew a green tea. (And there is similar phenomenon in white tea that's mentioned in this post.)

For brewing of Lu Shan Yun Wu and many other high mountain green teas, my favorite vessel is a small bowl with a wide opening. Usually I would have the water fully boiled, rinse the bowl with a little bit of the newly boiled water, throw in the tea leaves and pour in the boiling water. Then I would drink directly from the bowl whenever I feel it's ready, and add in more hot water when needed. That's basically my simple "brewing method" if it could be called a "method". There are some variations of brewing method mentioned previously. And some green teas, such as Long Jing and Bi Luo Chun do require slightly lower water temperature (water of 80C and above won't hurt them though), partially because they are made of tender young leaves, but largely because they are not high mountain green teas (high mountain green teas such as Lu Shan Yun Wu and Huang Shan Mao Feng are made of tender young leaves too but do very well with boiling water).

Some people may think boiling water is "cruel" for a high grade green tea. But in fact, high quality green teas won't be harmed by boiling water. Actually, Wei's brewing method is more "violent" than mine. Instead of using a bowl with wide opening, he prefers a tall porcelain cup which would preserve heat and aroma well. He uses boiling water, and keeps the porcelain cup lidded half of the time (I generally leave the lid off even when using a vessel with a lid). He brews his first-day harvest Lu Shan Yun Wu all year long with this method. The full version of his tea brewing article can be found here (google translate would help, but the pictures alone illustrate his idea pretty well).

Why would some people think boiling water could "ruin" good green teas then? Here are what I could think of:

First of all, the boiling water we talk about is never 100C, but of a lower temperature. Nobody could get 100C water into the tea bowl. When the water is boiled, the temperature would drop from 100C. Even when it's put in the brewing vessel the fastest, the actual temperature in the tea bowl would drop to 95C or even lower. In the bowl, the temperature keeps dropping all the time. So brewing tea with boiling water is by far not the same as boiling tea leaves in water.

Some people use very large amount tea leaves when using cooler water. And if the same amount of leaves are used for hotter water brewing, indeed the tea would get too dark and may get bitter. If the right amount of leaves are used, then little care is needed. The first picture in this blog post actually could serve as an illustration of "too much tea". Usually that amount is too much. But this tea is an exceptional tea and an exception of amount is ok. For most green teas, I would recommend half amount of tea leaves in such a tea bowl.

If the brewing vessel is very large and/or the vessel is covered all the time, there might be some "steaming" effect that causes the tea to get bitter or off-taste. This was discussed previously.

If the tea passes its shelf life and gets intrinsically bitter,  then cooler water, or even cold water may help the tea perform better and avoid the bitter taste to be infused out.

Generally, I think, the same tea brewed by very hot water and brewed by cooler water could taste dramatically differently. So it's worth trying it out if you haven't tried brewing a green tea with very hot water.

Jul 11, 2013

Chen Guang He Tang 2006 Yi Wu Wild Tea

I once wrote a blog about different styles of puerh collection.

With time being, I've found myself pretty much into philatelist style (and sample collecting too, for sure... my place is flooded by samples...). For tea of larger amount, I would only buy from people I'm familiar with or buy teas recommended by people I'm familiar with. But sometimes I buy teas almost as souvenirs. Even if they don't turn out super great, they are sort of the souvenir of an era.

I have several teas that were produced in recent years and that I have never tasted yet. Are they good? I'm pretty sure they are of decent quality, because their producers are people who take tea seriously. Will they be exceptionally good? I don't know. But I thought it would be interesting to collect these teas because their producers are interesting people. 

But this tea, I think, is ready for drinking now. I consider this tea an interesting tea, because first, its producer, Chen Zhitong (or Chen Chih Tung, CCT) is an interesting person and somebody who is serious about tea. This tea eventually didn't blow me away, but overall it's still a decent tea that was seriously made. Secondly, I think it's an interesting tea because it's supposed to be the first cake of Chen Guang He Tang. CCT made tea before 2006, but this cake was the first one issued under the title of Chen Guang He Tang. There are some other Chen Guang He Tang pre-2006 teas, but they were released in later years. 

This Chen Guang He Tang 2006 Yi Wu Wild Tea, when new, didn't get super good comments from one of my puerh icons, Ulumochi.

Here are Ulumochi's comments back in 2007

He didn't explicitly specify the name of the tea (I guess, because he isn't a blunt person...). But I believe he was talking about this tea.

I read Ulumochi's comments long before I bought this tea, didn't expect this tea to be super good but bought 2 cakes anyway. The price was quite ok to me. Generally, my way of puerh philately is "2 cakes" - one for now and one for future observation. I think it was Schopenhauer (but I could be wrong) who said this, every book worth reading is worth reading twice. As a book worm, I've found it very true. Similarly, if I want a cake, I buy two of them. If I'm not sure, I would sample, instead of buying any whole cake. For this one, I would have bought a few more cakes if the storage condition were better but never thought of buying more than a tong.

The storage isn't exactly bad, but more humid than I would like. It's claimed to be a Guangdong natural storage (which usually means no intentional dehumidification used and is usually too humid for the taste of dry-stored tea drinkers). Some people suspect it went through Hong Kong humid storage. But I feel this tea doesn't taste that humid yet.

The cake looks like one that was stored under certain humidity but not out of reasonable range. The leaves look flat and packed, but no humidity damage. 

In fact, it looks more humid-storage than one of these cakes that went through Hong Kong humid storage. However, this one was under less humid storage conditions than that one. Photos could be deceiving. From the smell, it would be quite obvious that that cake went through Hong Kong humid storage, and this cake is not as humid. 

The back side of this cake looks even more humid-stored, especially in the 6-8'o clock region.

The leaves are of mixed grade, and there are quite a bit older leaves. In his 2007 blog, Ulumochi mentioned that he feels one of the reasons why the tea is not great is that the leaf grades are rather low. Indeed I feel the leaves taste short of potency.

However, somehow the leaves look nice to me in certain way. I think they look quite natural and alive, although I'm not moved by the taste (still a decent tea though). It may not turn out the highest level of tea. But somehow I believe this tea wasn't made to fool people. I would consider it a tea of integrity. 

Although this tea may not be a super great tea anyway, I suspect I would love it more if the storage were dryer and more aroma were retained.

The name of the tea is "Yi Wu Wild Tea". Back in early 2000s, in puerh, "wild tea" was equivalent to today's "arbor tree" concept - basically it means non-plantation bush tea but genetically similar to most puerh products. But later on, some people indeed used "wild wild tea", which might not be of the same tea tree variety as the common puerh tea. This tea tastes somewhat like pickled cabbage to me (not in a bad way and not that sour). So I don't know if it has to do with the type of tea leaves used.

I saw this tea available at Hou De Asian Arts, and the price is quite ok in my opinion. I don't think it's from the same source as mine. But it might be even better if the storage is dryer than mine.

Jul 1, 2013

gossips... this year's biggest puerh gossip (yet)

This is the photo of the controversial 88 sheng cake posted on Gao's blog
Ah, Monday! The first 5 days after Sunday are usually the hardest, you know... ;-)

But, there is always time for gossips!

This time it's about "88 sheng" (or "88 qing", "88 green cake"). And this is probably the biggest puerh gossip of the year. I feel people don't talk much about 88 sheng anymore, and think it's *probably* because there have been more and more high quality dry-stored puerh available, and today, many puerh drinkers have dryer tastes than 88 sheng could offer. But anyway, 88 sheng is a legend, and has got to be in the spotlight again and again.

I don't use Chinese counterparts of facebook, twitter or other networks (too many accounts to manage...) So I don't actively follow all the gossips surrounding this issue (more and more are being developed these days...) But here is the core story.

Disclaimer - No personal comments. Purely hearsay... I'm not legally liable for following gossips... :-p

Short version -

In a small tea gathering, Gao Jianfei (a Beijing-based tea celebrity) and a group of tea drinkers compared 88 sheng from Gao's collection and 88 Sheng offered by 1510tea (a commercial tea website in China) in a lottery event that was directly purchased from Chen Guoyi (a Hong Kong-based tea celebrity, the original owner of "88 sheng") at a price of 50k rmb/$8k. According to Gao and some other participants of the tea session, the two 88 sheng tasted and looked completely differently, and the 88 sheng from 1510tea significantly inferior. Afterwards, Gao openly denounced the 88 sheng from 1510tea as a fake. Various tea drinkers who participated the tea comparison session wrote informal passages online to back up Gao's claim. 1510tea wrote to Chen Guoyi to ask for his opinion. The representative of Chen wrote back and pointed out that "Nobody has the right to claim Chen Guoyi's 88 sheng is fake, because Chen is the one who gave 88 sheng its name". 1510tea urges Gao to give open apology. They also claim to reserve the right to sue Gao. So far Gao insists his original claim that 1510tea's 88 sheng is a fake.

Longer versions (google translate required) -

I will put this source the first, because this is from a well-seasoned tea drinker at CYQX (one of the largest Chinese online tea forums), and in my opinion, a low-key and reliable person. Unlike the main characters involved in the gossips, this tea drinker doesn't seem to have any conflict of interests in this issue. He showed some (very casual) photos of the two 88 shengs and described the tea session from his point of view.


Gao Jianfei's microblog: http://www.weibo.com/u/1633531455 (login required)

1510tea's official webpage about their communication with Chen Guoyi:

1510tea's open letter to Gao and description of the source of their 88 sheng: