Sep 30, 2012

2005 Changtai Bulang Daughter's Tea & Gossips!

I wonder how many people are drawn in this post by "Gossips!" :-p

Tea first... unless you want to fast forward to the page bottom for gossips...

Cute package! I got this tea for around $16 (don't remember exactly) from back before the international shopping age. At that time, actually international shopping was already possible and started to be more convenient, and I remember seeing this tea cheaper on taobao (not a lot cheaper than $16 though... how much lower can it get anyway...). But I remember I was very much attracted by the package of Puerh Shop's offer, which is a Taiwan market version, with individual package for each mushroom! The mainland market offer has traditional bamboo shell package for each 4 mushrooms. On this one, I choose individual package over traditional package. The wrappers of the tea are two separate ones for the mushroom head and for the handle. It's not only cute, but also convenient.

Talking about western vendor mark-up, even without the wrapper difference, this is a typical case that even if I could buy for less from China, I would rather enjoy the convenience and buy from a trusted American vendor.

The tea is nicely made and clean. Well we know puerh is sort of a rough tea and we allow it to be a little dirty. But being clean and having nice leaf shape is always a bonus!

The taste is a little lighter than most Bulang tea, which is not a bad thing for me.

This tea is in the "Mr. Chen's Tea" series of Changtai, which is supposed to be a series that are taken pride of by Changtai's owner. 

This is a tea that I wish I've got more (the Taiwan market nice wrapper version!), as it disappeared from Puerh Shop website some time ago. While it was on the webpage, I remember there was a photo of this product of somewhat special shape (since each mushroom is hand made, the shape varies a little), which is absolutely cute, and I wish I had saved a photo of it...

I haven't shopped at Puerh Shop for a while, as I'm barely buying any tea from within the States. But I enjoyed my shopping experience there very much and think the prices are very reasonable - even as a savvy shopper who knows all tea prices in China :-)

After I started selling puerh, I would take a look at other web stores from time to time, just make sure my stuff doesn't have much overlap with theirs, because, you know, there are countless teas in this world, and there is no point selling the same stuff as others. Puerh Shop is one that I would take as a reference because they do have a broad range of unique offerings, and they are one of the not so many puerh sellers that give clear wrapper photos and manufacture information.

Now... Gossips!

About Changtai, many people know that Changtai has experienced some ups and downs in the past several years. Besides all problems common to many puerh companies around 2007 (over-optimistic, over-exploitation, over-investment, spreading too thin...), Changtai got extra problems that almost took it to bankruptcy.

In 2007, Changtai ran a whole page advertisement on Puerh and Teapot, a Taiwan magazine, with a big warship. I guess they meant to indicate Changtai's business strength. But soon it was recognized by many Chinese WWII fans that the warship on Changtai's advertisement is exactly the same a famous Japanese warship in WWII. The comparison photos and discussions were posted by numerous tea blogs and online tea forums and the wrath was built up very fast.

Just to be cynical, maybe some of Changtai's competitors helped promote the nationwide rage against Changtai. You never know... But in China (and I guess in Korea and some other Asian countries too), WWII is a painful historical period, and a company is not supposed to put a Japanese WWII warship into the face of their customers.

I personally don't think Changtai has any political intention in their advertisement. Why would they anyway? I believe many tea drinkers would soon forgive their advertisement error if they just admitted it and apologized to tea drinkers. After all, back then, not many tea manufactures made serious and clean products of big tree puerh. But somehow Changtai's response was rather lame. In my eyes, it's not anything political, but rather a public relation disaster. Changtai announced that they didn't have any intention to use Japanese warship to symbolize their company (that I guess most people would believe), but they refused to give sincere apology. Changtai's attitude was pretty much interpreted by many Chinese tea drinkers as its arrogance toward tea drinkers. Hence started a multiple year movement of boycotting Changtai. Up till today, not all vendors who have pre-2008 Changtai products in inventory dare to put them in the market. Some sold them out for lower prices, and some hold the tea in hope that one day the boycott would fade and the tea would be more valuable. The recovery of Changtai's reputation, I think, is totally possible, especially after some early 2000s Changtai Yiwu started to turn out very good in recent years.

I personally never boycotted Changtai (I don't go into any sort of boycott easily...), but I do think their public relation problem as well as some other tea-related problems affect my enthusiasm on them.  If million's of people are angry about a company for its own fault, and if the company still tries to stay cool and don't show people some tears (even alligator's tears would be better than nothing!), then I would interpret it as arrogance too.

In recent years, when Changtai came back to the market, their tea has been very expensive anyway, so I didn't spend much time considering them. On the other hand, I do believe they have relatively sincere attitude in tea making, compared with many other large companies.

So how did Changtai manage to survive the 2007-2008 puerh crisis? A friend in tea industry told me that Changtai went to invest in Maotai (an expensive Chinese liquor) business and manage to maintain the cash flow. You know, eating and drinking are the most important business in China. One won't go bankruptcy if hanging on within the loop of eating and drinking :-)

Sep 20, 2012

don't let the rim of our cup dry...

The Jar With The Dry Rim

The mind is an ocean… I and so many worlds
are rolling there, mysterious, dimly seen!
and our bodies? Our body is a cup, floating
on the ocean; soon it will fill, and sink…

Not even one bubble will show where it went down.

The spirit is so near that you can’t see it!
But reach for it…don’t be a jar
full of water, whose rim is always dry.
Don’t be the rider who gallops all night
and never sees the horse that is beneath him.

The picture is from Rumi Quotes on facebook, whom I've been following. Rumi always touches your soul!

Those of you who frequent teachat probably have heard of the sad news that a long-time beloved teachatter, Ian, recently passed away. 

In the past, besides enjoying some thoughtful posts from Ian on teachat, I had a few exchanges of emails with Ian and some short and pleasant online conversations. Overall I only know a little about Ian, but in my mind, he represents the good experience from an online tea community.

My online tea store had a summer break and some orders were collected in late August. I fulfilled an order from Ian just at the end of August. There was no message exchange upon the order. But Ian's tea selection made me smile. I knew he was restocking some of his old favorites. Sometimes when you know a person's tea tastes, you would feel you are acquainted with him in some sense. 

In these a few days, when I think of Ian, I always experience a moment of disbelief about the fact that he has left this world. It is hard to believe that few weeks earlier, few days earlier, everything looked normal. Then, somebody would suddenly leave! But that is life, isn't it? In fact, the sadness I have is a little more than I myself had expected. Probably because I'm getting older and easier to feel sad. Also to a large degree I feel sad for Ian's family. With time being, I've understood more that when death happens, usually the family of the deceased would suffer much more than the one who passed away. Death is usually a lot more unbearable for those survived.

But, as Chip of teachat said, Ian enriched our lives. Ian was a good tea friend, and he was a good rider of life. We shall carry the inspiration from him. And we shall remember, life goes by fast. Life is not just about having the cup full. We shall remember not to let the rim of our cup dry.  

Sep 5, 2012

a (relatively) complete list of fungi in puerh

If you ever wonder about the microbes in puerh, let's take a quick look at a paper from Journal of Tea Science (by Zhao et al., Journal of Tea Science, 2009, 29(6): 436-442) about fungi identified in 60 puerh samples. The journal is in Chinese language. But nowadays most of the best peer-reviewed Chinese science journals have an English abstract and English contents of data tables and/or graphs available for each paper. This makes it quite convenient for English speaking readers to browse the key contents.

I call this paper "a (relatively) complete list of fungi in puerh" because it's a complete fungi survey on a broad range of puerh samples, sheng and shu both included, using the most thorough and reliable DNA analysis. It's only "relatively" complete because I guess it's just impossible to find all puerh colonizing fungi in one group of samples. However, as showed in some of the data, the fungi found here are quite representative.

Before going over the contents, one thing to emphasize is, this journal article is about fungi found in normal, healthy puerh products, and NOT rotten or moldy puerh. So none of the fungi discussed here is a "mold". But it also depends on what the definition of "mold" is. Since "mold" is more of a daily-life word rather than a scientific word, there is no clear definition of it and people just use it rather randomly. I've found it's quite common that when people discuss on "mold" in puerh, they don't have the same idea of "mold" in their minds (Here is a recent example of such discussion from teachat). Sometimes, discrepancies are simply from that people are not talking about the same thing while they think they are talking about the same thing. Roughly, my definition of "mold" is the spore producing stage of fungi featured with hairy structures visible to naked eyes and sometimes spores visible to naked eyes. For puerh products, sometimes people would also call large visible clumps of fungal colonies (even when they are not actively producing spores) "mold". The fungi discussed in this journal paper doesn't include this situation either. So by the above definition of "mold", this paper is not about mold in puerh, but about "normal" fungi in puerh.   

Here is a snapshot of the abstract. (All following pictures can be clicked to enlarge.)

To make it short, a survey on 60 puerh (sheng and shu) samples led to identification of fungi of 40 species of 19 genera; half of the species are from Aspergillus and Penicillium (these are genera names that must sound familiar to many of you). By amount of growth, yeasts and Aspergillus fungi are most commonly found.

Below is Table 1 of the paper, with a complete list of fungi identified. Take a look before reading on... Found anything interesting?

To me, what's interesting from the above table is:

1. You can spot a few species that are commonly deemed as "bad guys". For example, the notorious Aspergillus niger. This guy is commonly found in normal healthy puerh, as reported by many puerh studies. But it's rather unclear if it has a significant impact on the health outcome of puerh. But when we talk about this guy in normal healthy puerh, it's NOT in its "mold" form. In most other discussions on various human diseases caused by A. niger, we usually see images like this, which is NOT what A. niger appears like in normal puerh:

Many fungi produce their toxins during sporulation (active spore-producing stage), which is really a reasonable stage for them to produce toxins as special protection mechanisms for their reproduction. So A. niger identified in normal puerh product is not likely to be very toxic. However, more research is needed to see if it's harmful or not, or if it's like the nitrite in kimchee or sauerkraut, something you don't want to have too much, but some price you would like to pay in order to enjoy kimchee and sauerkraut.

2. More thoughts about toxins. Potato buds are toxic to human body, but potato is perfectly palatable. Certain types of string beans are slightly toxic when not fully cooked, but when fully cooked, they are nutritious. Many edible mushrooms are only edible and non-toxic before their sporulation stage (for example, the puff balls). Very often, it's not a clear cut what's toxic, and what's not. Fungi are some of the most complicated species. It probably requires a lot of research to find out the health outcomes of puerh colonizing fungi. But obviously many people wouldn't wait for all research results to drink puerh :-)

3.  Despite some bad guys seen in the above table, we don't see Aspergillus flavus, may I call it the devil king of fungi? Aspergillus flavus is a fungus found in a lot of rotten crops, and typically in rotten peanuts. It produces a series of toxins that are among the worst of fungal toxins, causing diseases ranging from instant toxic shock to cancers. That's pretty much why many experienced puerh drinkers would tell people to stay extremely cautious about any yellow molds on puerh, which are indeed very dangerous. (However I would like to mention here that the Aspergillus flavus yellow molds are quite different from "golden flowers" in Fu brick, and it's not hard to distinguish them by naked eyes.)

Next is table 2 of the article, showing the amount of growth of various fungi. It shows that yeasts and Aspergillus fungi are abundant in both sheng and shu, with Aspergillus sightly more abundant in shu, and yeasts slightly more abundant in sheng. The other genera also have quite different abundances in shu and sheng. To a large degree, our puerh preferences depend on which fungi we would like to taste. 

Overall, I thought this is an interesting reading for both scientists and puerh drinkers. This also makes me think that it would be interesting to explore on the following:

1. Co-existence and co-exclusion of fungal species. But I can imagine it will take a lot more sample analyses and cost a lot of money. So unless it can reveal some "useful" information (such as whether puerh made in certain way is less likely to develop mold during storage), probably nobody would sponsor the study just to satisfy curiosity.

2. Species in sheng stored in different conditions. This research was done by Southwestern University in Chongqing, China. Those guys, I assume, deal with dry stored puerh primarily. It would be interesting to compare dry stored and wet stored sheng, and/or compare sheng of various ages, for their fungal colonization.

If you are interested in fungi in puerh, you may also want to read this article on chadao, a blog with not only many beautifully written articles but also a lot of evidence-based scientific discussions on tea. (But who knows exactly what happened to this blog site, as it has been inactive for over a year?)

The chadao article linked to another research about fungi in puerh. The link in the blog has expired, and I've found a new link to it:
(The link is long because of Chinese codes.)

This 2008 article doesn't seem as rigorous research as the Zhao eta al. article in Journal of Tea Science, but it provides some very nice photos of fungi. It also confirms that Aspergillus niger is commonly found in normal puerh products. The study has the potential to answer my above-mentioned 2nd question, but the authors didn't seem to give much discussion on it. But the link I've got for this article is short of the last page of the article, so I don't know if I've missed some important discussion there.

At the end, I also want to mention that, the last author of this Zhao et al. Journal of Tea Science paper (and supposedly the correspondence author and Principle Investigator of the study), Liu Qinjin, is one of the leading puerh scientists and a tea scientist overall. His book about puerh, Appreciation and Brewing of Puerh, is my favorite puerh book.

In China, there have been many puerh books published in recent years. But the world of puerh is always full of myths and urban legends. This book, as small and plain-looking as it is, is closely based on facts and gives a nice review of basics of puerh including history, culture, cultivation and production.

Sep 1, 2012

2012 Wild Oolong

(It feels great to write tea blog again!)

2010 Wild Oolong and its origin were documented here.

2011 Wild Oolong was documented here.

So this wild oolong from my favorite Tie Guan Yin producer has become an annual event for some tea friends and me. Back to this past May, we hadn't heard anything from the producer yet about the wild oolong, and asked them for it. The producer said, the wild oolong was made and was still being "rested". Then our question was, why would you need so much time to rest it (the wild oolong is usually produced in early April) and it's not even a heavily roasted tea? And the producer told us that they hoped the astringency in the tea would be reduced through resting.

Finally in June, I participated into a tea tasting event of this producer and got some samples of 2012 wild oolong. To me, tasting the wild oolong is one interesting thing. Something else that's equally interesting is seeing the "evolution" of this tea. Obviously, the producer has been experimenting the best way to process this tea. For most other oolongs, usually there are some "gold standards" and a producer would strives to get closer to the "gold standards". But for wild oolong, a tea with long-term informal processing among local people but without "industrial standards" for commercial processing, one could actually visualize many different ways of making it.

My past two months were in crazy transitions and till now I feel as if I've suffered from severe memory loss. For this tea, I actually had to track my correspondence with the producer 2 months ago to locate the pictures and verify my tasting memory was correct. So I would keep the verbal description short :-p

Overall impression:

1. The dry tea is completely different from its 2011 version, which was completely different from its 2012 version. I understand that this is the producer's favorite dry tea shape so far, so probably it will stay in this style in the future. The resemblance to current Tie Guan Yin is also convenient in market sense if this tea enters the mainstream market someday.

2. The taste is smoother than what I remembered for the past two years. Probably this is due to higher oxidation level than the past two years (somewhat revealed by the second picture below). I didn't taste much of astringency, but some other people in the some tasting mentioned astringency. This is probably because I do have higher tolerance of bitterness and astringency. Or probably because I brew my tea in a relatively milder way.

3. The dry leaves look quite dry and not shiny at all. But the expand leaves look surprisingly silky. This is what this tea has been like throughout these years. Generally speaking, I think silkiness of the leaves sometimes reflect how "organic" they are (depending on what "organic" means, but I mainly talk about how well the leaves were nurtured with organic nutrients by the soil or organic fertilization or both).

4. A close look at the expand leaves (the last picture below) shows that the leave are more "fibery" than most other oolongs from plantations. In this sense, the leaves look sort of "short of nutrients".

5. The above 3 and 4 seem to me interestingly paradoxical.   

6. Last year, I mentioned 2011 wild oolong tasted somewhat dancong-like. This 2012 tea tastes even more dancong-like to me, with prominent honey aroma in the aftertaste. But it doesn't have as much uprising fragrance as dancong or some other oolongs. I think the strength of this tea is not at its aroma, but mainly at its unique taste and long sweet aftertaste.