Sep 27, 2010

Between Green and Red (2) - Fo Shou (Buddha Hands) Oolong

A brief introduction of Fo Shou Oolong is here.

Between Green and Red (1) is here.

In my eyes, Fo Shou is a very intriguing varietal. In Southern Fujian, this tea varietal is called Fo Shou (Buddha Hands), named after a fruit (Asian Bergamot, which has fruit like a slightly closed hand of the Buddha's). In Northern Fujian (Wu Yi), this same tea varietal is called either Fo Shou, or Xue Li (Snow Pear), or Jin Fo (Golden Buddha). I love every of its names!

Here are two Yong Chun Fo Shou products, one is light oxidized without much roasting and the other is medium oxidized with light to medium roasting.

The "greener" style Fo Shou. It's not as tightly curled as Tie Guan Yin, and doesn't usually yield as many infusions as Tie Guan Yin. But it has very unique flavor that reminds you of greener fruits.

Fo Shou with slight charcoal roast. The roast is not very deep and dry leaf color is mainly from medium oxidation, not from roasting.

The liquor is light golden color. It's still of brighter flavor than most roasted oolong. The leaf materials are not suitable for heavier roasting and therefore this tea was made with light roasting.

Yong Chun Fo Shou used to be much more popular than it is nowadays. It was one of the most exported teas in the old days in Fujian. And it was one of the favorite oolongs among Southeastern Asian Chinese. But It was not easy for me to find some good Yong Chun Fo Shou. And I have yet to find a darker roasted Yong Chun Fo Shou that has more complex taste than fire flavor.

Wu Yi Fo Shou, although a small varietal among numerous Wu Yi teas, has been well existing through all these years. Here is a Wu Yi Fo Shou that I've luckily obtained from an artisan tea worker and Wu Yi tea scholar.


Many years ago, in 1980s, there were more and more of these tasty Fujian citrus/oranges in my hometown in North China. They were sweet and juicy, a great treat in winter days. They were big and shiny, individually wrapped with tissue paper. We all loved them and they were people's favorite gifts. A lot of these oranges were from Yong Chun, hometown of Yong Chun Fo Shou Oolong. Many years later, a Fujian friend told me, his family used to own a lot of orange trees in Yong Chun. In 1980s, oranges were sold so well that many farmers chopped down their tea trees and converted their tea plantations to orange orchards. But several years later, there started to be so many oranges in the market and prices of oranges dropped a lot. Tea farmers became orange farmers, but their oranges didn't bring in as big a fortune as they had expected. Several more years later, there started to be a pathogen infecting a lot of orange trees in Yong Chun, and many farmers lost all their orange trees. In recent years, more and more farmers chopped down their orange trees and re-started Fo Shou tea plantations.

When I read about Taiwan tea, I've learned that similar story happened in Taiwan too. In 1960s, when bananas were sold well in export trades, many tea farmers chopped down their tea trees to make space for banana trees. Then, banana prices dropped rapidly, leaving lots of farmers in desperation. Later, many farmers put themselves together and re-started their tea plantations. And this time many of them made a fortune. The following decades became the best era of Taiwan tea.

My Fujian friend says, nowadays Yong Chun oranges are not that abundant, and he really misses those oranges. Me too! We both wonder, can't we have both the nice tea and tasty orange from Yong Chun? Why would everybody want to grow the same thing as everybody else? But to us, the "city dwellers", it's just "I love the oranges!" or "I love the tea!". To the farmers, what they grow connects to everything in their lives, hope, struggles, disappointment, desperation, and new hope. We can hardly say what the farmers "should" grow. More often than not, the farmers know better than we do, and they just need to make a living. It seems we are now in a great era of tea. When tea cultivation is rewarding to tea farmers, we, as tea drinkers will have our luck to get a lot of great tea.

Sep 25, 2010

an old business and its traditions

Wu Yu Tai is a teashop in Beijing with more than 170 years of history (their English website has no valuable information, but the little painting is cute). It is THE teashop where my parents go tea shopping in all these decades. Before Wu Yu Tai's rapid expansion, it was our neighborhood teashop. Nowadays with many Wu Yu Tai teashops all over Beijing, my parents still go to the small, quiet neighborhood shop. Unlike my parents, since long time ago, I have been buying most of my tea elsewhere. But in my eyes Wu Yu Tai is still the good old teashop that always has great tea.

In fact, today's Wu Yu Tai is no longer the traditional business as it was established. In the past decades, it expanded rapidly through enfranchisement. I've never liked the idea of enfranchisement in tea business. However, in business sense, it has been a success for Wu Yu Tai. The other day, I was thinking, what makes people like my parents and I love Wu Yu Tai throughout all these years, in spite of all the changes in the society and in the teashop? I believe it's because of the traditions that have been retained in this business. These traditions include:

1. It's a tea business that knows how to make tea. A hundred years ago, Wu Yu Tai purchased tea leaves directly from the farmers and had tea processed by its own artisan workers. The company owned jasmine plantations in Fujian and transported blooming jasmine plants for thousands of miles to Beijing to make jasmine green tea. They are still doing all these today (except that most jasmine tea is made on site in Fujian where the jasmine is grown), which is actually not the business mode of most other large tea companies in China. A friend of mine, a Tie Guan Yin expert once commented that one of the largest problems of many large Chinese tea companies is they don't care about growing tea, processing tea or carrying out tea research; instead, they only care for buying finished tea products from farmers and selling them for much higher prices. They believe in packaging, marketing and advertising, but not the basic work. In fact, some of them are financially successful. But I doubt many of them can last over 100 years.

2. It holds strict standards. Many modern tea businesses seemingly hold strict standards, with their products bearing all kinds of grand titles. But nowadays tea drinkers constantly question, are there standards at all for tea products? Before 1980s, when all Chinese tea businesses were state-owned, there was a full set of National Standards on various types of tea and they were strictly followed. With the privatization of tea businesses, national standards are no longer commonly applied on tea products, and basically a company can call whatever tea Grade 1 or Superior Grade without liability. In the old days, it was well known that Wu Yu Tai held stricter standards on their tea than the National Standards. Today, as far as I know, they still have high standards. Very often, a Grade 2 product of theirs is much better than a Grade 1 product from another large tea company.

3. It has signature products that are not affected by market trends. The teashop's inventory structure does change a lot with market needs. But veteran tea drinkers can always get what they've been enjoying for decades. When Taiwan High Moutain Oolong gets trendy, Wu Yu Tai carries it too. But meantime, they always have the nice, medium-oxidized Dong Ding. When 90% of tea drinkers in Beijing drink green style Tie Guan Yin, Wu Yu Tai sells it too. But they always have their honey-aroma traditional Tie Guan Yin. Trends come and trends go. Nowadays in Beijing, there are numerous places where you can buy tea, let it a lone the even more online shopping options. But there are only few old businesses like Wu Yu Tai where people can get the same specific teas that they've enjoyed over decades.

Wu Yu Tai is changing fast. It has started enfranchisement. It sells more and more types of teas (sometimes they seem too many to me). It sells more and more super expensive products. It even sells tea mooncake - I don't mind Haagen Dazs selling ice-cream mooncake, but I don't really like seeing a teashop selling tea mooncake. After all, Wu Yu Tai is a teashop in a fast-changing society. It surely loses some traditions in all these changes. And I don't know if someday it will change so much that I will stop loving it. But so far, it still remains a pleasant part of my tea life.

Sep 22, 2010

Concept Tea (3) wild oolong

(Happy Moon Festival! I think it's like a Chinese Thanksgiving!)

I got this tea from my friend and my favorite TGY supplier. I have no idea how the tea tree variety is related to TGY, and he neither. But it's a local tradition in Fujian that people picked up wild tea leaves in the mountains during Qing Ming time (early April) and process it with very simple method. Therefore this tea is often called Qing Ming Tea. (However, Goden Osmanthus Oolong (Huang Jin Gui), a different tea, is sometimes called Qing Ming Tea too.)

One of the major purposes that people traditionally make this tea is for its health benefits. Local people believe wild tea has greater medical potency than cultivated varieties and like to use it as diet supplement to treat chronicle diseases, especially liver diseases. This has not been tested by modern science. I asked a few Fujian people and none of them knows why the tea is of medical benefits, although they all believe it. Some Chinese traditional medical theories take tea as a treatment for liver diseases. But I don't remember reading anything about wild tea has larger potency than cultivated tea.

Traditionally wild tea was made with very simple sun-drying and kill-green procedures, almost as simple as the procedure for raw puerh. Taste of traditional wild tea is by far not as delicate as Tie Guan Yin or other famous oolongs, often with some bitterness and astringency. Nowadays fewer and fewer local people pick up and make the wild tea. With increased living standards, many people turn to the "normal" fine tea. Besides, people in rural Fujian are busier and busier in other jobs that brings in a lot of money.

This year, after the March snow storm, Huang Jin Gui and a few other early harvest cultivars had very low or no yields. Without much tea to work on, the 70 years old Shi Fu in my friend's small factory couldn't bear with such idling in early spring. He said, Why not pick up some wild tea? We've got to have ourselves occupied with tea work, so that we will get thoroughly warmed up when new harvest of Tie Guan Yin arrives! That's how I got this wild tea carefully made by one of the most skillful Tie Guan Yin Shi Fu and his apprentices.

The dry tea leaves don't look as pretty as "normal" oolong leaves. Leaves are smaller than most other oolongs.

The initial taste was surprising. After hearing about the rough taste of traditional wild tea, I had not expect such fragrance and sweetness! The tea still has some wildness in it. It's still not as floral or elegant as Tie Guan Yin, Ben Shan or Huang Jin Gui. But it is quite pleasant. It still taste like a Fujian tea, but in some sense, it remotely resembles Taiwan oolong and raw puerh.

After several infusions, leaves expanded. It surprised me again that spent leaves look quite nice, which is in contrast to the raw looking of dry leaves. The most prominent character of this tea is the sweet aftertaste. I rarely see a oolong at this oxidation level with such strong sweet aftertaste.

So, this tea is said to be healthy (which is not backed up with any "scientific explanations"). But what matters to me the most is always the taste. I love the unique taste of this tea. And of course it's a bonus if it's indeed healthy.

I would like to put it in the list of "Concept Tea" because it's something existing for hundreds or even thousands of years yet something we don't often see. Besides, it's not exactly the same as its wild tea antecedent. With careful processing, the wild tea becomes a fine beverage, yet it tastes untamed. It's interesting to think, What tastes are people seeking for in tea? Theoretically, the cultivated tea varieties reflect people's taste preferences over hundreds of years. But then, why sometimes a totally different wild taste can attract us so much?

Can this be a product line? I don't know yet if my friend and his Shi Fu will be making more next spring. But I think I will urge them to.

This tea will be included in our offers to tea bloggers, along with a few other unique teas.

Sep 15, 2010

Four keemuns, 3 reds and 1 green

Most Chinese teas have 4-character names. I suspect it has to do with the acoustic aesthetics of Chinese culture. The currently found earliest recorded Chinese poems have four characters in each sentence. And throughout the history, there are popular styles of rhyme essays in 4-character-per-sentence format. The four teas here all have 4-character names:
Qi Men (Keemun) Hong Cha (Red Tea) - 祁門紅茶 or 祁門工夫
Qi Men Xiang Luo (Aromatic Spiral) - 祁紅香螺
Qi Men Mao Feng (Mao Feng as in Huang Shan Mao Feng) - 祁門毛峰
Qi Men Cui Mei (Emerald Brow) - 祁門翠眉

In the traditional nomenclature of Chinese teas, one popular way of naming a tea is putting its production region (often in 2-character format) in the front and then another two characters describing the tea. Above four names all follow this format. All the four names start with Qi Men (Keemun in English), which is their production regions, and is why I put them together here - they are all from the same region of Anhui province.

The second and the third are both red tea and therefore can be called with the first name, Qi Men Red Tea. However, they are given more specific names in order to describe their unique features. The second one has a leaf shape similar to Bi Luo Chun and therefore has "spiral" in its name. And the third has a leaf shape similar to Mao Feng tea (not really that similar though, I think).

The last one is a green tea, which is reflected in its name by "emerald". The leaves have rich silver tips, and hence the word "brow" in its name.

Keemun Red Tea. Keemun Aroma - the aroma from a typical Keemun Red Tea, is the benchmark I use to determine my personal preferences on many black/red teas. Although it's somewhat unique in Keemun, other red teas may have hints of it too.

Keemun Aromatic Spiral. It's a relatively new variety, invented in 1997. It's made from very young leaves and harvest time is much earlier than that for traditional Keemun red tea. Here is my tea log about this tea on Steepster.

Keemun Mao Feng. It's made from younger leaves too compared with the traditional Keemun. Similar to the Keemun Aromatic Spiral, this tea is very tolerant to long infusions. I think this tea has more "Keemun Aroma" than the Keemun Spiral, however, the Keemun Spiral has more floral, fruity aroma.

Keemun Emerald Brow.  This is one of the most beautiful-looking green teas I've seen. It looks similar to the more famous Jin Zhai Emerald Brow. The flavor is light but long lasting. I enjoy it very much. I don't know how this tea can ever stand out among the numerous great green teas of Anhui province. But I would love to have it more often for its beautiful leaves.

Sep 10, 2010

traditional paper tea pack

Traditionally, as many other food stuff, tea was manually wrapped in a piece of paper. Folded by skillful hands of professionals, a thin piece of paper was turned into a well-secured package that could endure a lot of transportation and handling. The traditional way of packing tea was slightly more complicated than packaging for other food products, because tea is a more delicate product.

In traditional society, only upscale teas were packed in small portions. A typical portion was 4 liang, approximately 150 grams. The little 150g paper pack was where the name Baozhong is from. When the tea Baozhong was first in market, it used the paper wrapping which was then very popular in Fujian for upscale teas. Baozhong in Chinese means "wrapped product".

I always have sentimental feelings towards the traditional paper packs, in which I got snacks, candies, books and teas, without fancy paintings, without shiny plastic or metal. The paper was the most plain and simple kind, but the salesmen would make each pack in the most perfect shape and exactly the same size, all in seconds. It's a art that's not seen anymore.

Once I got this wonderful tea gift from Tead Off, who got it from a hundred-year-old tea shop in Bangkok. The tea, Qian Li Xiang (or Thousand Mile Aroma) is fantastic and is very hard to find even in Fujian, its production region. The tea came in a very neat, traditional paper pack! I spent a long time admiring the paper pack before I finally opened it. The little paper pack touched my heart deeply and brought me the warm memories of old days.

It also amazes me to think that people have never stopped packing tea in this way in a hundred-year-old teashop in Bangkok, while this tradition has almost died in Wuyi, where all the oolongs were originally from.

Today, many people buy tea from thousand miles away instead of in the teashop at street corner. Paper packs are replaced by vacuumed cans, mylar bags or other modern style packs. I don't know why I was interested to learn how the traditional paper packs were made. Not that there is any use of it. To me, it's just interesting to know.

After talking with a few tea friends, I've learned that to make a traditional tea pack, two wood boxes are needed, one should fit right inside the other. I happened to have this set of four wood boxes which were common in American society in the old days. They can do a good enough job.

First, paper is wrapped around the smaller box.

Then, the paper wrapped small box is set into the larger box.

 Next, the small box is carefully removed from the paper wrap.

After the small box is removed, the paper wrap is filled with tea. To avoid any wasting in my clumsy action, I used rice instead.

 After the paper wrap is filled to the top, the paper is folded on the top.

The lid of the wood box is used to press on the paper pack to make sure it's fully packed but not packed over the top. 

At the end, the paper pack is made and it's carefully taken out of the wooden box. 

It took me more than half an hour to make this poor pack. But in hands of professionals, it would just seconds!

Sep 7, 2010

Youth in tea drinking

It's an interesting phenomenon to me that in North America (and maybe Europe as well?), significant amount of serious tea drinkers (not to sure how to define it, maybe "frequent tea drinkers who are constantly curious about and mainly focus on loose leaf tea"?) are very, very young! I have the impression that most serious drinkers in China are in their late late 30s or above, who are lucky enough to have had a childhood free of coca cola or McDonald, who have got stable jobs, a little leisure time and kids beyond infant stage. However, in America, again and again I am amazed how some young people are seriously involved in tea drinking culture. I remember seeing from TeaChat a high school student collecting many dozens of puerh cake in his bedroom closet. On Steepsters, college students talk about organizing tea clubs on campus. Oh my goodness! This never happened when I was in a university!

A quick look on my blog list (the list I keep in the right column of this blog) lead to a conclusion that most of the Chinese bloggers are older than me (I somehow know most of their approximate ages) and most of the western bloggers are younger than me (some of them, although I don't know their ages, simply look so young!). I am in my mid-30s (I put myself on the watershed just for the convenience of a quick comparison).

I wondered why, and my partner's comment is, young people are naturally adventurous and curious about various cultures. In China, curious young people explore Coffee and in the western world, curious young people explore Tea! I would add to it that tea is a perfect wonderland for young people. One will never get bored with tea because there are so many varieties and so many styles to explore!

Some young people do wonders in tea world. The manager of the small factory making my favorite semi-wild Huang Shan Mao Feng, the guy who strives to revive traditional charcoal roast Tie Guan Yin, the farmer who made Red Tea Dan Cong creatively after his tea bushes were damaged by snow storm, they are all very young, ranging from early to late 20s!

But age is just a number. There are many tea drinkers who, no matter how old, are always young at heart. My aunt started drinking oolong at her 50s and my mom got interested in gongfu tea in her 60s. After drinking green tea solely for the first several decades of their life, they now explore their new tea world like curious children. Gong Zhi, one of China's top tea scholars, started writing his most important tea books (Oolong Tea of China, Red Tea of China, Tribute Tea of China) after retirement, and finished them in his 70s.   

In thousands of years, people believe tea helps us maintain youth and vitality. In modern scientific sense, that's still largely true. I always think I am lucky to have tea in my life. Few foods or drinks I love are as healthy as tea, physically and mentally. Drink tea. Stay curious. Stay young. It's a wonderful life!

Sep 3, 2010

About aging oolong - 1 question and 1 answer

Sometimes I would ask one same question to different people and learn what they have to say. It's not that I don't trust one person, but rather because many tea questions don't have standard answers. Sometimes I get opposite answers from different people, and I may like both answer as well. No answer is the final answer, but a collection of such answers make me learn little by little.

It was a summer afternoon when my friends and I sat in a small teashop in Beijing, drinking tea with the shop manager. In Beijing, teashop managers often share tea with customers, without intention to push for immediate purchase. It's a nice, warm traditional business mode that's seldom seen in other trades in modern day society. Of course not everybody walking in is treated with the top notch tea. But I was so lucky to be with my tea friends. Because of their friendship and good business relation with the teashop manager, we were treated with a lot of great teas, one after another. Among them, we had two Wuyi Shui Xian products. Both are high fire. One was made two years ago. One was made this year, manually roasted by this teashop manager. Both yield many infusions of complex great flavors. The 2-year-old Shui Xian is smoother and more sugary. The current-year Shui Xian is more striking with a lot of characters. We love both of them. My friend Charlie liked the 2-year-old Shui Xian better, while I prefer the new Shui Xian. In fact, many hours after our drinking session, at that night, the flavor of that Shui Xian came back to my mind again and again. It was not an aftertaste in mouth but an aftertaste in memory.

By the time we've exchanged a lot of conversation and I liked this teashop manager very much. She is a beautiful young woman, a certified senior tea taster, a qin player, a Buddhist baptized (? ordained?) in my favorite temple in Beijing. She is knowledgeable and witty, quiet but outgoing. In our conversation, I thought of this question that I've asked some people before, and I asked the question again to her. Do you think the inner quality of a oolong can be promoted by aging? I explained my perplexity to her. Although it was historically recorded that Wuyi tea of three years old was favored by tea drinkers even more than new tea, and although I did enjoy a few great oolongs that had been aged for several years, I don't have much idea about what long-term aging (say, 10 years or more) will do to a oolong. I also had some aged oolongs (not sure for how long though) that's definitely mild to stomach, good to your health, but not so special in taste.  I thought it would be interesting to learn what she thinks.

The manager told me she believes Wuyi Yan Cha can benefit a lot from aging, while she doesn't think Tie Guan Yin can age as well. Here are her reasons. Tie Guan Yin is made from relatively young tea bushes, while the best Yan Cha is usually made from old bushes. Besides, Wuyi tea bushes are grown on top of very thin soil, and majority of their nutrients and complex biomolecules are stored in the leaves instead of roots. Therefore, Tie Guan Yin's value is usually in its floating, refreshing aroma, while Yan Cha has thicker and naturally more complex flavor, which last well over years and has great potential to build up a great aged flavor.

I further asked her, If we give a grade 100 to a good oolong when it was new, will aging make its quality up to 120, 150, or allow it to maintain 100, or will aging cause its quality to fade to 80? She believes for Tie Guan Yin, aging will cause the tea to fade little by little, while for many good Yan Cha products, aging can promote the tea quality to 120, 150, 200 or even higher.

These are my question and her answer. With my limited experience, I don't know how much I am ready to accept this answer, and I am aware this is only one of many different answers on this question. But I think I like it that she has reasonable explanations on her opinion.

Previously in a blog on a vintage Tie Guan Yin, I recorded answers from a different group of people to the same question. Their answers are quite different from the response from the teashop manager, but they do share some common ground.

Sep 1, 2010

Ajiri Tea from Kenya

I learned of this tea from Marlena's blog, love the package of this tea, and love the idea of using tea income to support orphans.  

I always like Kenya black tea. I think it has a very refreshing floral aroma when brewed in moderate concentration in a topless vessel. Besides, I believe Kenya tea has a potential to be better than its current average level. Like some lowest grades of Chinese tea, much of Kenya tea is sold for relatively low price in the international market. It seems the world market just demands a lot of cheap tea, and large companies like mass production of cheap tea. But theoretically the landscape elevation and rich soil of Kenya should enable growth of some expensive tea, I believe.

It's quite similar to other CTC Kenya black tea I had before, while it's much more expensive. But even then, the tea is still quite affordable. It tastes very good, and it's not as expensive as some products sold by large companies that spent lots of money on marketing and printing elegant brochures. Sure the mark-up on this tea is higher than some other Kenya black tea. But the you know the extra markup goes to places that make you feel comfortable, such as supporting orphan education, creating employment for women and funding community based tea facilities. According to, Ajiri black tea is produced at a Rainforest Alliance Certified™ tea factory, owned by over 10,000 small-scale farmers. As far as I know, Kenya is one of the tea production regions dominated by industrialized mass production of large companies. Therefore, I believe the idea behind Ajiri tea is invaluable.

Besides, the package of this tea is so cool! This award-winning package is very lovely and very African. According to, each unique label is handmade using dried banana leaves and package materials are environmental friendly. I know this lovely tea box will sit on my desk for a long time!

ATB blog carnival

Here is another blog carnival! The theme is having tea outdoors. I don't have much experience having tea outdoors. But after reading some posts from the blog carnival, I think I will soon want an outdoor tea session!