Jun 23, 2013

Lu Shan Cloud Mist (廬山雲霧) made by the uncle "si shu"

Among all the Chinese green teas, probably Long Jing is the most famous and most wanted  - indeed the tea is great but there is also great advertising effect created by Qing dynasty emperors...Besides, the tea is produced near economic center of all eras (Hangzhou), which makes it easy for the tea to get popular.

Lu Shan Cloud Mist (Lu Shan Yun Wu) is another famous green tea, yet it's much harder to obtain than Long Jing. Although sometimes people say it's hard to get authentic Long Jing, I think it's only true if you add "for a reasonable price" at the end of the sentence. There are quite a few elite brands that sell high quality authentic Long Jing, such as Tribute Brand (贡牌), Wu Yu Tai (吴裕泰 whose Tie Guan Yin I wrote about here), Tian Fu (天福), and quite a few more. Tribute Brand, in my opinion, is the best, since I know they get their top notch tea (not sure if all their tea) from Long Jing Village in the past years. Tian Fu is also known as Ten Fu in North America. But Ten Fu in China is a much upper scale store than most (or all) Ten Fu stores in North America. In China, almost all Ten Fu's green teas and oolongs over $800 per pound are of very good qualities - but of course it's a different story who would like to spend that $800... I wouldn't... but for those who have the money, why not.

Of the above mentioned, Tribute Brand specialized in Long Jing. None of Wu Yu Tai, Ten Fu or other elite tea vendors of their level regularly offer high quality Lu Shan Cloud. It's not offered in most tea stores out of its home province, Jiang Xi. That's why I would say it's much, much harder to get good Lu Shan Cloud than getting good Long Jing. And therefore I'm both thrilled and grateful to get Lu Shan Cloud in recent years from Wei, who is an iconic tea person to me.

I'm very reluctant to say which green tea is my favorite, because it's almost impossible to pick one. But I have to say, once I started getting Wei's Lu Shan Yun Wu, I feel I don't want to ever miss it in any future year.

Even within China, I would guess majority of green tea lovers have never had really high quality Lu Shan Yun Wu, because the production is small and there isn't a "brand name" of it run by a large company yet (which is not necessarily a bad thing!). Many people never had a chance to have Lu Shan Yun Wu. Some people only had mediocre ones and couldn't understand why this tea has such a great fame. For many people, including me, Wei's Lu Shan Yun Wu has become the first ever experience to know the true beauty of Lu Shan Yun Wu. Wei is a professional tea researcher but only an amateur tea dealer. His goal is to let more and more people know the beauty of Lu Shan Yun Wu. With this goal in mind, he only carries the best quality, and the amount is usually very small, with a few to several kilograms from each site (and Wei traveled by foot to these mountainous sites to get the tea). Amazingly, tea of each site has some unique characters, although all these sites are within Lu Shan.

This tea showed here is from Zhuo Ma Ling, a historical famous site of Lu Shan Yun Wu. I don't know the origin of this name, but guess it could be translated into "horse-stopping ridge", which indicates how steep the cliffs are. This tea is made by somebody we call "si shu". Year after year, within the small group of Lu Shan Yun Wu drinkers, si shu of Zhuo Ma Ling has become a popular name. Si shu(四叔), literally means "the fourth uncle". In the countryside, everybody is related to everybody else. Si shu is an uncle of Wei's, and now he has become a famous "uncle" among tea drinkers. If Zhuo Ma Ling si shu is mentioned, I would immediately think of the tea that has some unique floral notes and very smooth liquor.

The dry tea leaves don't look extraordinary at all. They are obviously first harvest leaves from early spring, very fresh and vibrant. But in Chinese tea aesthetics, these dry leaves can't be called pretty. Once I discussed this tea with my favorite Tie Guan Yin producer, who barely knows anything about Lu Shan Yun Wu but has very good general sense about tea. He said, the dry leaves could definitely be improved and must be improved if the producer wants the tea to be as high-end as Long Jing or Bi Luo Chun in the market. But he also commented that it's paradoxical that non-commercialized teas don't look perfectly good but have their best natures retained; but once a tea aims to become a high-end tea, you don't know what eventually would be lost from it.

I think that's very interesting comment and to some degree, very true.

Wei often says, Lu Shan Yun Wu is a very "manly" tea (hmm, I'm not sure if I agree with the sexism statement but I got his point). I think its flavor strength and depth of liquor texture are way above vast majority of other green teas. In this sense, I would agree it's more "masculine" than many other teas. The tea is manually fried on top of wood fire. You would always see a lot of "blisters" on the rims of tea leaves, similar to the blisters on Huang Shan Mao Feng, but a lot more and a lot bigger blisters (proportional to the leaf size). While frying the tea, a good worker would fry it thoroughly without creating too many burnt spots on the tea leaves. But it's impossible to have none. There will always be some dark burnt spots on tea leaves, and there are usually a lot more dark burnt spots than those found on the manually processed versions of other tea types. For example, in the photo on the left, we could see a dark spot on the leaf at lower right corner. Overall, Lu Shan Yun Wu is made heavy-handedly. That's the style of Lu Shan Yun Wu, and uncle si shu is one who carries out this style perfectly.

Uncle si shu is the best tea worker in his village, and throughout his life, he is one of the best known tea workers in Lu Shan region. He is also a Buddhist, a gongfu (martial gongfu, not gongfu tea) and a locally well-known chiropractor who helped a lot of people with his skills. He is known for a lot of great things. But he is never called a "tea master", "martial artist" or "medical master" - these fancy words are not in the vocabulary of countrymen.

Jun 9, 2013

one of the most influential Chinese tea books

Chinese Teas, 2nd print book cover

Below is an introduction written by Dr. Miles Xian Liu (comparative literature researcher, English professor and tea enthusiast) and me. And you could see the writing is much better-trimmed than my usual blog articles.

Dr. Liu and I have been working on the English translation of this book and are looking for cooperation of a publisher in the US. We hope to make English version of this book available in a couple of years. 

I read this book in (around?) 2007 and started my communication with Dr. Wan Xiaochun in 2008. After many conversations with him and reading some of his peer-reviewed research articles in tea biochemistry, I've got a thorough understanding about his passion in tea and his scientific vision that embraces this book.

Back then, this was one of the few encyclopedia style tea books. Later one, there are more books following this style, including a few high quality books written or edited by leading tea scientists in China. But among all, this is still my favorite encyclopedia style tea book, and probably the most influential contemporary Chinese tea book (and probably there is no "one of" in front of "most").

Chinese Teas, 1st print book cover
A little bit extra that was not included in the formal introduction. The making of this book took 3.5 years (from early 2003 to late 2006). Several leading tea research institutions in China and dozens of the best tea scientists participated in the discussions for this book. From 2003 to 2006, these people traveled across country to get together for three formal meetings for this book. More than 300 top-grade tea samples were collected from more than 20 tea-producing provinces for the photography of this book. This kind of work, considering the amount of efforts and human resources involved, can hardly be replicated. This is probably why this book remains the most influential tea book of its genre in China.

The book, Chinese Teas (中国茶谱 ISBN: 978-7-5038-5854-3), is a single volume of comprehensive tea study by the leading experts in China.  Already two editions within three years testify to its significance and popularity.  Although a little pedantic in tone, the book is intended for general tea enthusiasts across the world. 

Comprehensive in its coverage and scientific in its discussion, the book—Chinese Teas—offers encyclopedia-like deliberation on a wide variety of teas in China.  The first of its two main sections chronicles tea origins, classification, history, and arts of tea ceremonies, with extensive illustrations.  It provides both the latest scientific analysis of health benefits of tea drinking and intriguing descriptions of twenty local tea drinking customs throughout China. The second section illustrates a hundred and twenty-nine varieties of Green Tea, five kinds of Yellow Tea, thirteen types of Dark Tea, two categories of White Tea, eighteen kinds of Oolong Tea, nine varieties of Black Tea, and several “Scented Tea.”  These hundred and eighty samples best represent many thousand teas in China.  With color photos throughout, a reader can get a quick overview of a tea, its history, producing region, and preparation process.  Whether for a casual read or academic research, this book can serve as an encyclopedia on Chinese teas.

Its general editor—Wan Xiaochun  (宛晓春)—is one of the utmost Chinese tea authorities, and his contributors range from botanists, professors, tea scholars to expert tea growers across China.  The wealth of information in the book thus represents the latest developments of tea research in China. The need for two editions within three years—2007 and 2010 respectively—shows the market demand for this book inside China.  


About the author:

Wan, Xiaochun (宛晓春)—the general editor of Chinese Teas—is one of the utmost authorities on Chinese teas.  A leading scientist of tea research in China, he serves as President of Anhui Agricultural University and Deputy Director of China Tea Science Society.  He has written several books on tea, including a college textbook of tea science widely adopted by universities across China, and contributed more than sixty tea research articles to influential science journals both in China and abroad.  To write this book, Professor Wan has marshaled ten tea experts and scholars as his assistant editors from several universities and research institutions across China and published what many has regarded as the most authoritative source of tea knowledge among all Chinese tea books so far and the most influential book in its genre.

Jun 7, 2013

Yixing Jade Bamboo (宜興翠竹)

Yixing bamboo in yixing eggplant :-D
My first time ever having this tea. Such moments are always exciting!

This tea is produced in Yixing, the hometown of yixing tea ware. The tea is named after its shape - the dry leaves look like tiny bamboo leaves. This tea has a more famous cousin - Tai Lake Jade Bamboo, which is supposed to be very similar to this tea, but is produced in Wuxi, another region of Jiangsu province. Wuxi and Yixing are not far from each other and they are about 40 miles apart. Wuxi has very good soil/mud resource, which is used to make the famous Wuxi small figurines.

I had never had Tai Lak Jade Bamboo either. So I didn't know what to expect from this tea. The dry tea leaves look quite similar to those of Bamboo Leaf Green.

It's said that more than half of all green teas of Jiangsu province is produced in Yixing region. This is both surprising and not so surprising. I was a little surprised because Jingsu has quite a few famous green teas and Yixing green tea is not as famous as them. Meantime, it's not really that surprising, because Yixing was a famous green tea producing region throughout history. It was praised for its green teas long before it was praised for its teapots. Yixing has become a famous town of tea ware, not only because of its unique clay resources, but also because of its tea culture background.

Since this is a low-profile tea, I didn't expect it to be super good. But it surprised me with its floral, sweet taste. Good producing location, good manual processing, high grade leaves, and freshness, the tea has got it all. In traditional green tea culture, the leaf shape and outlook of brewed tea are very important. This tea has got them too. Brewed in a tea bowl, the little leaf buds all "stand up" and look like a green flower.

In the past a few years, I've got this same question for several times - "Is yixing tea ware not suitable for green tea because of its porousness?" Actually, yixing teapots are great for green tea. They were invented for green tea (at that time, other types of tea were either not invented yet or not in the mainstream culture yet). People have been using them for green tea for centuries, and are still using them for green tea today too.

Then, why would some people say yixing is not suitable for green tea? Here are my thoughts:
1. I think it's not 100% correct, but has its reasons.

2. Yixing teapot could be great for green tea. Yixing pitchers (like the above-showed eggplant) could be great for green tea too.

3. Some yixing clays are more absorptive than others. So indeed some clays might be less suitable for green tea than other clays. But it's all relative. A good yixing teapot won't be so terrible to ruin a green tea no matter what. Some more absorptive clays, after being used for a while, would become better seasoned. If one drinks green tea all day long (like in 18th century when there was barely any other tea in most part of China and most people didn't have as many yixing teapots as modern day shopaholics :-p) then it doesn't take long to have a yixing teapot well seasoned.

4. This myth of "yixing teapots not suitable for green tea" may somehow reflect the dwindling yixing teapots quality in modern time. Generally speaking, even when we talk about authentic yixing clay, there are a lot more low quality yixing teapots in modern day market than in the past. Historically, Yixing was famous not only for its clay tea ware, but also for larger clay wares such as plant pots. Typically the clay used for plant pots is of lower quality than the clay used for teapots, and the lower quality clay cannot go through very high kiln temperature without being broken. But in today's market, many yixing teapots are made by the clay that would have been only qualified for plant pots in the old days. And there are a lot of clays of borderline quality, better than the plant pots clay, but not good enough to sustain high kiln temperature. With compromised kiln temperature, the teapots would end up of lower density, and more porous than it's supposed to be. Such teapots would undermine taste of any high quality tea, and especially green tea.

Jun 2, 2013

purely dry storage 1996 Menghai tuo (covered by white stuff)

I started writing this right after I wrote the blog post about the 8972 brick, where I mentioned this tea. Somehow this post fell into the split of time and I forgot about it all this time...

And the "covered by white stuff" part of the title was added recently, which I will explain later in this post. And I have to admit that part of the title was added to catch attention and coax more people to click into this post... The tea is not really "covered" by white stuff. But don't be disappointed and don't feel cheated. I will show you some "white stuff" soon :-p

This is a tea that I would call "purely dry storage", and by now, I'm sure most of you know about my definition of "purely dry storage", which, hopefully, is consistent with the definition in most people's minds (but I don't really know).

The photo on the very top shows the spent leaves. The color bias is little (in spite of my poor photography skills), and I hope the photo can tell aloud that the leaves don't seem to have experienced any humid storage.

Now the tea liquor (one of the infusions... don't remember which one, probably five-ish):

This is a CNNP tea labeled Menghai Tuo. It might be a product made for export. There isn't any date labeling with this tea. The production year of 1996 is according to the dealer who offered this tea, and he got this date from his source of purchase. So this is a fuzzy date. But it's generally consistent with my impression with the taste of this tea. Yunnan dry-stored tea ages much slower than tea stored in more humid places. I think the tea tastes like a typical Yunnan dry-stored tea, and it would take these many years for a tea to age to this level. But there is no way for me to tell whether it's exactly from 1996, or an adjacent year.

The tea doesn't have a inner ticket (nei piao) or tuo ticket (neifei). I like this tea very much. But in my opinion based on previously discussed criteria, this is a tea for drink instead of a tea that can make money for its collector, due to the fact that it doesn't come with full package and it doesn't have a whole set of paperwork with it.

This tea doesn't have as prominent aromatic aftertaste as the butterfly tuo and 8972, which might be why I like those two teas better than this one. But I do think this tea has nice features of a Menghai tea, and its strength is probably not at aroma. The liquor has a nice texture that feels thicker and stickier than the other two teas. The aftertaste is not strong but lasts quite long.  

Now, as promised, I shall show you some white stuff!

I didn't think much of the white stuff until a teachat discussion last year about a photo of the xia guan butterfly tuo. I don't have an intention to defend the butterfly tuo (because I like it, I own it, I probably can't be objective about it, and I think it's so great that it doesn't really need any defense). But I've found it somewhat interesting that a number of people do have deep concerns about the white stuff being mold, yet I had never related it to mold because I wouldn't think the dry storage allows mold growth.

Then, a year later, I bought a 2003 Chang Tai Yi Chang Hao small cake, a quite popular and somewhat rare cake, at a rather low price. I will write more about this cake later. The reason for the relatively low price is that there was a debate going on among a group of Chinese tea drinkers about whether this cake was of "bad, wet storage". I was interested in studying outcomes of storage styles. I even got some humid-storage tea (which I rarely buy) like one of these, and a bad-storage tea like one of these, so I got this little cake as well. It turned out, in my eyes, this 2003 cake is a purely dry storage and even drier than some other teas from this seller. I couldn't find a hint of bad storage or wet storage on it... but there was some "white stuff" mentioned by the seller of this tea and some other buyers of this tea.

This incidence made me further realize that how much impact the "white stuff" could make. But what else could I say. People believe what they choose to believe. And indeed the market is confusing and indeed there are a lot bad-storage teas out there. So I guess some tea drinkers were immediately freaked out by the white stuff on the tea and immediately returned the tea to the seller without even tasting it. In this case, I wonder how hard I should try to make it a point to others that I think this tea is a great dry-stored tea... after all, because of some people disliking it, I got it for a nice low price...

Many dry-storage teas I've had don't have white stuff. But I've also had quite a few dry-stored teas with white stuff on them, such as the above-mentioned butterfly tuo, and this one!

From this photo, you could see that it's not entirely exaggeration to say this tea is "covered by white stuff". In fact, this tuo has a lot more "white stuff" than any of the butterfly tuos that I've opened. There are a lot of white spots here, most abundant on tea stems and cut ends of tea stems (this is also what I've observed on several other dry-storage teas with white stuff,. I don't know why though. It might have something to do with the surface layer of the leaves and stems). 

There is a Chinese saying that "A melon seller would always tell you his melons are the sweetest in the world." :-D  To some degree, it's true and it's people's perceptions. So sometimes I consciously hold back from giving too much explanation about my own tea (because of course I love them and think they are excellent...) This is not because I'm social phobia, but rather because there is no way to make everybody agree with what everybody else says (however, I believe, everybody would agree with this last sentence ha ha~). So probably we should save the time and find something more fruitful to do.

About the white stuff, there is a little more explanation. Not from me, but from somebody much greater than me - Shi Kunmu. In his book Classic Puerh: Term Explanations, Shi Kunmu mentioned that "white frost" could happen in humid storage as well as in "low temperature (lower than 26 C), low humidity (lower than 80% relative humidity)" storage. He didn't put it in detail (because it's a term explanation book almost like a dictionary, with a concise style), but I believe the "white frosts" in humid storage and in dry storage he talked about are not the same kind of "white frost". He did mention that compared with the "white frost" in humid storage, the "white frost" in dry storage is more evenly distributed throughout the compressed tea (this is consistent with my personal observation) and is overall good for the aging of the tea (this is his opinion, and he didn't explain it. I don't get it though how the white frost could help aging, and think the "white frost" in humid storage might not be that bad either).

This is Shi Kunmu's explanation and I've found it quite reasonable. But on the other hand, this doesn't mean everybody would agree with it. In puerh world, Shi Kunmu, a very peaceful person, is sometimes a controversial figure. I don't agree with everything he said, but have enjoyed many of his articles and respect him a lot. Many people enjoy Shi Kunmu's products and have benefited from his teaching of tea knowledge. But I've also heard quite a few people bad-mouthing him (I like and respect some of those people too, without agreeing with them on bad-mouthing each other...). I feel, this Shi Kunmu phenomenon somewhat demonstrates that in tea world (or the entire world), nobody could be liked by everybody, nothing would be agreed upon by everybody, and debates will be going on, forever.