Oct 27, 2012

dry-stored 1989 Yiwu loose sheng

{Off the topic for a second... here is something nice that I saw from a Russian tea forum! (with translation tool, of course...) -
We look for the taste, not the "absolute truth." A taste, as you know, everyone has their own. Those who love Puerh, understand what "diversity" means.

I like it and think it's true for a lot of teas and a lot of things... 

And, oh my! There seem to be lots of puerh enthusiasts over there in Russia! Maybe it has to do wit culture, climate as well as diet?}

This is something I liked a lot. I think it tastes quite similar to another Yiwu loose tea that's also labeled 1989, from a different dealer. I wonder if they share the same source. But I was too occupied by other things to compare the two. And so far, both of them are buried somewhere in one of the numerous unopened moving boxes which resulted from my moving 3 months ago... So you know, I'm still recovering from my moving event, and really miss the rural New England (I'm now in urban New England...)

The leaves are clean! I don't have enough experience to tell harvest season of every puerh. But from the leaf shape and the taste characteristics, I'm guessing it's an autumn harvest. The price is also consistent with autumn harvest, which often has lower price than spring harvest for aged tea.

The liquor is smooth and has a nice rice-soup kind of stickiness. That's one of my favorite characteristics from all kinds of tea. Green tea, oolong, puerh... they are so different, yet the best of each type often gives you this "rice-soup" mouth-feel.

The aftertaste has a floral and honey flavor, exactly what I would like to see in a dry-stored sheng.

The taste is rich and deep enough, but not the most powerful that I've seen from aged sheng. I guess it's because this is an autumn harvest. In both puerh field and Tie Guan Yin field, I've heard people say this again and again, "Drink spring harvest for its liquor texture, and drink autumn harvest for its aroma." (春水,秋香。) My understanding is, this is largely why autumn harvest aged puerh is often less expensive. In aged puerh, the liquor texture and the long-lasting aftertaste is valued a lot more than the aroma immediately rising up at the first sip. Autumn harvest tea usually doesn't have as rich texture as spring harvest, which accumulated nutrients throughout a whole winter. But on the other hand, I have an impression that good autumn harvest tea loses bitterness faster in aging - that's the other side of the coin!

I usually drink this tea for 8-10 infusions. That's not a lot of infusions for a puerh. So that may count as a limitation of this tea. But overall, I'm happy enough with several nice infusions.

And, I always have this obsession at the outlook of leaves! The leaves of this tea are not of particularly high grade. But it looks so leathery, succulent, and lively! The outlook of leaves is also something that often amazes me across tea categories. Some aged puerh, aged oolong, and roasted oolong, after going through all the years and/or all the fire, the spent leaves look surprisingly young and alive.

Now I don't know why I'm here writing a blog. I have deadlines to meet in few days and feel quite guilty for spending time on blog instead... But somehow blogging may serve as my ventilation and "mental massage" - that's my excuse :-)

Oct 20, 2012

tea kharma - a "high mountain orchid green tea"

In Buddhism, kharma means "cause" or "effect" or "chain of cause and effect" or pre-destined relationship... It's hard to summarize the exact meaning of it, I guess. Generally speaking, it's very hard to trace the cause of a thing or to track the outcome of a thing. But it's generally believed by Buddhists that good causes would lead to good outcomes, sooner or later. So doing good deeds or create good kharma is sort of like putting away money in your saving account, I guess ;-)

Sometimes "kharma" can serve as a simple explanation of things that are beyond our understanding. For example, why isn't life fair? Why is her boss a jerk? Why this accident just happened to me? Why did he win the lottery? You can't always find a logical answer to every question. But "it's all kharma!"

To me, tea kharma is about how we sometimes want a tea without getting it, and how sometimes a tea come to our way unexpectedly. All of these have their causes but we can't always know or predict. For example, last year I got some really nice Tai Ping Hou Kui but this year I didn't get any. There are many reasons: prices, timing, my own reasons... But all in all, I guess it's just "tea kharma". Maybe I will get some next year. If not (nowadays it's much harder to get good Tai Ping Hou Kui than Long Jing), then probably the year after next year...

It's also "tea kharma" that this year I got a few teas that I didn't even expect. Such as this green tea casually labeled as "high mountain orchid aroma", from one of my favorite green tea supplier. If I get Yong Xi Huo Qing in a year, usually it's from her. Besides business interaction and regular chatting, we didn't talk very much. But from her small tea gifts like this one, I think she likes me a lot :-D She gave me two small packs of green teas last year and two small packs this year. None of them was ever in her tea sale list and I guess it's because the amount is too small to be listed for sale.

The monkey well illustrates my reactions to this tea :-)

The name of the tea doesn't tell much. It's a green tea from Anhui. A lot of green teas from Anhui are from "high mountain" regions and have sort of "orchid aroma". So this one is almost like nameless. However, it's one of the best Anhui green teas that I've had. I guess this is partially because it's really outstanding, and partially because it's not something that I can get whenever I want. It came to me unexpectedly and I don't know if I will encounter it again in future. So the name is not important, and I will just enjoy it while it lasts!

Oct 12, 2012

2011 "Collecting Aroma" Korean export

(Recently I have been very much occupied by other work and didn't have much time doing "useless" things such as blogging... But it feels good to finally find some time and write about tea again, haha ~ ) 

I've had a few Korean export puerh and enjoyed everyone of them. (Here is another Korean export puerh that I like very much.) So when I saw this one, I thought I would take home some no matter what. Besides my optimistic expectation on the tea itself, I'm always drawn by the packaging of the tea. The Korean export puerh packagings I've seen, including the simple, plain ones, are all very neat.

This tea is said to be custom order by some national TV station of Korea. The bamboo tong is very elegant. I thought usually this type of corporation orders are to be gifted cake by cake, and the recipients won't get whole tongs. But this one makes me feel guilty to break the bamboo shell package. So maybe this is a very generous TV station and they were going to give each guest a whole tong of this tea. Oh them lucky guests!

In my impression, Korean export tea typically has these characteristics:
1. Nice packaging.
2. Ancient tree or at least big arbor tree.
3. Nice leaf shape. Good looking compressed tea.
4. Very clean. Some people in puerh industry told me that Korean puerh import inspection is very strict. The tea must be very clean (free of straws, stones, hairs or any other commonly seen gwp of puerh...) to pass the inspection.
5. The taste and aroma is more of the elegant style rather than the powerful style. I don't know if the tea would feel not powerful enough to people with heavier taste. But to me, it's just great. I don't believe a tea has to give you a harsh kick to be great.

Overall this tea has all above characteristics.

Besides the above mentioned characteristics, what's interesting about this tea is, it's a spring tea that was compressed in autumn. Quite a few puerh producers I've talked with believe it's good to wait for a few to several months and let the tea "sweat out" before compressing new sheng, much better than compressing the tea shortly after harvest. It's what people did in the traditional society too. But most of those who said so still compress their tea in spring, because, that's when the tea sells and a tea compressed in autumn would cause numerous questions about whether the tea is "really harvested in spring". In modern society, many people believe in quick cash, and they just wouldn't believe you would hold a spring tea till autumn while you could sell it fast in spring. In recent years, there are more and more producers who venture to compress some of their spring tea later in the year. Usually these are producers who have established reputation and a stable group of returning buyers. For new producers, I guess autumn compressing is not quite practical with the current market mentality, and with the commonly seen cash flow problem in modern puerh industry. I don't know how the patron of this tea decided they would like the tea compressed in autumn instead of spring. But I guess that's a good decision.

Comparing a few 2011 spring-compressed sheng and a few 2011 autumn-compressed sheng I had (both types are made of spring tea), I have a general impression that the "grassy taste" of new tea faded much faster in the autumn compressed tea. I generally wouldn't drink a lot of new sheng and usually would like to wait till the grassy taste fades from a new tea before drinking more of it. In this sense, I feel autumn-compressed tea has some short-term benefit too. A caveat (if I may call it a caveat) is that I also have the impression that autumn compressed tea tend to lose the uprising aroma of new tea sooner. I'm not sure this is really a drawback though, because for puerh, people generally expect for long-term outcome, and the new tea uprising aroma would evaporate sooner or later within few years, even for the spring-compressed tea.

I haven't tasted a lot of this tea yet as it's still too young for me. But overall my impression is, it's didn't blow me away in either good way or bad way (I mean it's not overwhelming or too harsh either), but it's very pleasant as a new tea and has a depth of flavor that may indicate good future development.

The production date on the wrapper is October 2011. The seller of this tea was a little regretful about it and told everybody 100 times that "it is a spring harvest, spring harvest, spring... spring..." It's the national regulation that the production date of a puerh must be the date of compression - which is actually reasonable, but then there is not enough "hard proof" about the tea being a spring harvest, which worries producers and sellers a lot. It's not hard to tell a spring harvest from a non-spring harvest, and "hard proof" of a printed date on the wrapper is theoretically not necessary at all. But that's exactly what the market is after, especially in China. Unfortunately a lot of people buy tea entirely based on "selling points" (spring harvest, arbor tree, xxx village product...) and a lot of sellers sell tea completely based on these selling points (or they would create some selling points). But then, is it really that unfortunate? Maybe not... Good deals belong to people who don't follow the selling points and discover tea that are under-priced due to lacking hard proof of "the selling points" :-p

Oct 5, 2012

some personal view about tea business

In the past a few months, I was pondering on a blog called "slow down but won't stop" talking about my plan of slowing down the tea business of Life in Teacup (but won't stop...) Then I remember this unfinished blog that I started writing long time ago (seen from the date of the relevant steepster thread, it was really a long time ago...) So I thought probably I should finish this piece about business first.

I was also sort of reminded of it by the recent business discussion with a few friends and some thoughtful business discussions initiated by Pete on teatra.de. I always feel Pete's view of business makes more business sense than mine but he also has a lot more "tea sense" than many tea business articles I've read written by the "tea industry people".

This was first inspired by a discussion on Steepster about "how did you get into the tea business?" It was not the first time I saw this kind of question, but this time I happened to have some time to type up what I thought :-D

I always have this hobby of collecting and trying different tea varieties. Some of them I fall in love with. Some of them I don’t like that much after trying once or twice. But just the process of trying new types of tea itself excites me a lot. At certain point I started to feel the current market offers too limited variation and probably I can bring more diversity to the market. Even Chinese mainstream market doesn't offer all varieties that I want. I guess it's because any mainstream market can't afford investing too much on rather unknown products that are destined for only an extremely small group of consumers without extremely high medium charges. So before I started selling tea, to get my personal tea, I often had to dig up and down for information of new tea source and then run up and down to get the tea. At certain point, I both enjoyed my tea adventure and felt terribly guilty that I had wasted so much time on just finding 100g new green tea for myself. In this sense, I feel my time for similar activities is much better used when the time is spent looking for various of teas and not just for my personal use.

In addition, I was very much encouraged by the growth of tea drinking trend in America. As an enthusiastic tea lover living in US, I was invited by a few Chinese tea magazines to research and wrote about American tea market. The research confirmed my gut feelings about growing tea market and further encouraged me. I am destined to deal with small varieties of tea and varieties that are not (yet) known by a lot of people. Without the thriving tea culture in America, I wouldn’t have thought I could possibly put together a tea business based on my own taste preferences.

Besides, something else that makes me excited about this business opportunity is, it’s an opportunity for me to try out a series of ideas. I always believe the subject is more important than the wrapper. I still hope I can further improve many aspects of our business. But I hope that a tea lover interested in tea business doesn’t have to invest tens of thousands of dollars as cash advance to open a business. Also I hope the budget of the business is focused on the subject (tea). Everything else (outlook, marketing, packaging…) can be minimized - probably from this, you can already tell I don't really know much about business in academic sense, and you will probably hear completely different things from real business experts. But I think what's wonderful about a small business with financial freedom is, you can do it in whatever way you like. Otherwise, why bother?

Long time ago, I read a book about a very old tea business. An owner of that tea business said, To run a tea business, you've got to keep a leisure mind. Well she talked about tea business in the old days which may not make much modern sense. But I am somewhat fascinated with the mindset of tea professionals in the old days. I think I currently have pretty much a leisure mind for my tea business. But in fact, I am a weak soul. I know I wouldn't have been able to maintain any leisure mind if I had to put myself in debts for the business. I guess I'm not alone on this. In recent years, I have seen more and more tea businesses that started small on ebay or their own websites, and slowly built up themselves into a larger online business or opening a bricks and mortar teashop. I think this is quite difference from the business mode of investing big cash to open a big store from the beginning. And I can imagine the financial freedom would allow the owners to run the business the way they want, instead of the way the market demands.

In recent years, I've also seen more and more "amateur tea sellers" both in and out of China. Most of my best green teas in recent years are either from tea farmers directly or from "amateur tea sellers" who are children, grandchildren, cousins, nephews, friends... of tea farmers. They sell tea that can't be found elsewhere and they can afford doing so because they don't financially rely on tea business. I started writing a blog about them long time ago but have yet to finish it sometime in future.

These are pretty much my own wishes based on my own shopping habits. I know my business philosophy is not consistent with many other people’s, and may not be the best way to do business. But I am curious to find out if my way will work. Besides, it just feels good when a big part of work is drinking tea.


Recently a few single friends of my husband's called him up one after one to discuss with him their relationship problems with wives, girlfriends, dates...(mid-life crises?)  I just couldn't help laughing upon it and I would tell my husband that this is entirely "blind leading blind". As much of a great person as he is, my husband is really a blunt guy who has no great idea about things like "where to go for the third date" or "what to do when my girlfriend doesn't return my calls"... But when I talk about business, it's his turn to laugh at me for "blind leading blind"... But whatever, if he can run his relationship clinic phone line, I can write about my business :-p