Thursday, 31 December 2009

Spring 2007 Yi Wu Gao Shan Sheng Tai Cha Qi Zi Bing (Sampan Tea)

Pic taken from Ebay. It's too dark to take my own

"This is a small family production made by Yi people in Mengla. Early spring 2007 material from wild arbor collected at around 1700 meters migh. The mix of large leaves and early spring buds makes this cake very balanced with notes of campher throughout the infusions. A very nice cake."

I bought a sample of this cake for a couple of reasons, the main one being that I liked the simplicity of the wrapper, I also have had good experiences with this seller. There is something about the wrapper that is appealing, the producer hasn't tried to 'tart' the tea up by adorning it with a pretty coat.

Usual parameters : yixing pot with bamboo charcoal filtered tap water.

The aroma from the freshly brewed pot is about right for a 2007 pu erh, it's somewhere half and half between it's young character and something that is starting to mature, a teenage tea. The soup is a pleasant yellow and amber, no signs of any attempts to pre age the tea. It also pours really well from my pot with an even flow, the small spout isn't blocked by any leaf fragments. Further examination shows that the spent leaves are largely intact, whole and of good size. The stalks are particularly thick and robust. Small production wild arbor? perhaps so.

Large leaf, robust stalk and tip

Still though, it's not an expensive bing at about £26 and for something of that price you shouldn't expect too much. I've been amused by the wrapper and the nature of the leaf but the actual flavour of the tea is a little underwhelming. 'Well balanced' it may be but it doesn't have any outstanding quality, nice but not captivating, I found myself steeping it for long periods too to try to coax more out of it so it's a little lacking in legs.

In summary, there is much to like about this tea for what it is. The romance of a small run with sturdy leaf is alluring even though the potency of the soup is a little lacklustre.

Anyway, happy new year tea drinkers! May 2010 be a good year for drinking!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

2009 Yiwuzhidao Guanfengzhai (Yunnan Sourcing)

a touch of sweetness to an otherwise drab winter's day
Three months ago well known tea blogger Hobbes ran a sample tasting experiment using several bings from Yunnan Sourcing. I was unfortunately too late to sign up but not deterred I ordered samples of three of the better teas. Three months later my samples arrived (where have they been?), which is no fault of Yunnan Sourcing. This particular sample was the favourite of the lot in Hobbes' opinion so I was looking forward to trying it.

The dry scent of the leaf has grassy tones above the thicker aroma of a dark honey. The post infused leaf was more typically that of a new pu erh and not something I am all that fond of in general so I don't hang about to analyse it.

Forgive me if my initial impression of honey has biased my taste buds but to me it is the overriding characteristic of this tea, not a bad thing. Falling in line with other reviews of this tea I can clearly taste the mushroom after the 4th infusion, it comes to the fore once the initial sweetness starts to taper.  I'm not entirely bowled over by this tea, but I'm not really that keen on brand new sheng pu erhs in general. It's still pleasant to drink now though although it doesn't inspire me to purchase anymore beyond the sample.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

2009 BanZhang Chun Qing (Yunnan Sourcing)

"Like the stalk of a spring onion" Kong Mai - Hollow pulse depicting blood deficiency

Aromatic dry new leaf with greens, browns and slivers of tips, the aroma from the pot after the first infusion is very legume, there's no denying it's from 2009.

The first infusion is surprisingly light and floral with a early appearance of huigan supplemented by a good energetic buzz on the outside of my lips. I slow down my intake to really observe the qi. Hints of liquorice with a quick appearance of bitter that arrives and immediately departs.

It's such a world away from the '99 7542 I drank earlier in the day, it's young, fresh and floral, almost perfumed, lingering pleasantly on the palette. No fireworks though or anything characteristic that grabs the headlines especially. There's a little bit of pepper to the aftertaste a couple of minutes after finishing the cup.

After a while it gets a little too much for my tastes, just a little too green, and I back off from the session.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

2008 Pu Jing Hao Yi Wu Old Trees (Sampan Tea Ebay)

In reality its not so amber, good news!

I've been buying a bit from Sampan Teas on Ebay. It's a very small outfit that hasn't even achieved 100 feedbacks yet but they always stock small amounts of unusual tea and quite refreshingly always change what they sell so it keeps me interested to go back once in a while and see what they have.

I'm sure if you had some sort of word randomizer that contained various tea names it wouldn't take it long to come up with 'Yi Wu Old Trees', you just see that sort of a name all the time and I personally don't actually think that the bing actually would be made from much of the stuff. At £28 it's not a very expensive cake but I still thought I'd just pick up a sample and give it a whirl.

Usual parameters, bamboo charcoal water, 5g of leaf, short steeps all in my sheng yixing pot.

It's good to see that the soup on second infusion (pictured above) wasn't too amber (despite my iPhone camera making it look so), hopefully it's not tweaked. On the first sips I felt good energy on my tongue, it went through the surface layer quite quickly, that's a good sign. Further down the road it's a little harsh still at times with a strong ku bitterness, but to me thats a good sign. Even better than that is the sweet and  lingering huigan, giving me a rollercoaster ride of bitter and sweet between sips.

I really do like this tea, it's one of those samples that has convinced me enough to go for a couple of bings. The price is right and I am rather curious to see what will happen to it's properties over the next couple of years. Only one way to find out!

Friday, 4 December 2009

1980's Wang Zi (Nada)

yang within yin

I woke up this morning to find my car iced over and the ground dangerous to tread. The school run over I find solice in this dark old pu erh. I sit in the gloom and savour the subtleties beyond the earthy palette and from within the yin comes forth yang for one cannot be without the other.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Menghai 7542 1993 (Nada)

I have liberated some of my tea from the Royal Mail! Huzzah! Thanks to Nada for providing me with a tea from one of the best years of my life. 1993 was a rock and roll year for me in Hong Kong!

The leaf looks much older than the '99 7542 I drank last week with almost rusty browns and a very light white dusting. A quick rinse and then straight into the action.

I'm keeping the infusions short to not darken the soup too quickly but still it eagerly shrouds over. The '99 was rather quite woody, like something fresh cut from a carpenters shop where as the extra six years of storage has mellowed this characteristic out somewhat. It's more like an ebony or mahogany that quietly numbs my tongue and leaves me with an initial aftertaste that reminds me of brazil nuts. It's smooth but the sweet huigan is much more elusive than the '99.

With all the hubbub of the last week it's just so pleasant to sit down with a new tea and 'kick back' in modern parlance. I've bitten off perhaps more than I can chew in my studies, simultaneously studying a diploma in Chinese herbs at the London College of Chinese Medicine, nose diving into herbal formulation and classical pathology with Arnauld Versluys and preparing to restart my second year studies at the College of Traditional Acupuncture in Warwick. Oh well, in two years time I'll be through the worst of it.

drip drip drip

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Menghai 7542 1999 (Sampan Tea Ebay)

The Royal Mail has been scuppering my enjoyment of tea recently by refusing to deliver anything I had ordered. Some how everything else was arriving except my tea, perhaps there is a pu erh sipping postie in Warwick?

Finally though something did creep through and I'm excited about it. This was the first of my various 7452's to arrive and being from 1999, somewhat older than a lot of teas I usually drink.

Gave it a rinse and a sniff, lots of peat! It doesn't take more than one infusion for the leaves to separate and the dark wood to come out in the soup. It's all about the wood as I'm taken back to my youth in Hong Kong. Drinking bo lei in Hong Kong though didn't give me such a sweet huigan, wow...

What a fantastic tea.. It has plenty of maturity and depth but still such sweetness comes out of nowhere..

I have been troubled with the amount of bottled water I have been going through. One positive is that I'm recycling them all and by taking them out of work at least I'm getting those bottles back into the system. It still troubles me though to see so much plastic. My solution is to switch to bamboo charcoal filtering. No plastic waste, road miles in delivery, cheaper and ecologically sound as well, consider it.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Wuyi Star Da Hong Pao (Dragon Teahouse Ebay)

Marlboro packaging but hopefully no tobacco taste

I ordered this tea from the popular China based Ebay shop, Dragon Teahouse. They ship quickly and are generally cost effective compared to western shops. Their 大红袍 da hong pao or Big Red Robe selection is priced and sold in 100g and 500g offerings at different quality levels much like their other teas. You can get 100grams for either about £10 or £18 depending on the grade. Something caught my eye though.

They also sell a branded da hong pao by a company called Wuyi Star that is, rather oddly, packaged in what looks like a packet of cigarettes! This tea costs a whopping £8 per advertised 18 grams (postage included) and it turns out that they are in fact only 16 gram boxes with two 8 gram foil sachets inside. This struck me as rather costly but an interesting purchase. I have some average da hong pao as well as some good stuff, how would this 'top grade' compare?

I warmed my yancha pot, emptied it and then poured the leaf inside. The warm clay heated and lightly steamed the leaves giving me a chance to catch a most wonderful aroma of chocolate transforming to dark brambles. This is good and I haven't even brewed it yet.

I decided to not rinse but fill the pot so the froth is displaced as I close the lid. A short 15 second infusion and the dark tea is poured into my glass jug. I just miss my chance to smell the pot after pouring so I go on to drink the tea. The flavours don't overpower me but I can't say it's bland, it's more like the dark cocoa hints are there to be discovered and I am surprised to have an almost instant huigan and some energetic feelings around the sides of my tongue.

Round two! The pot smells very aromatic before I add the water but somehow isn't very powerful after the infusion. I poke my nose further into the pot to pick up the interesting aromas on display, I catch a couple including grapefruit and a very hot steamed conk. The thick and potent soup tastes a little dark and a bit bitter, I'll back off the heat of the water next time around. There are hints of those dark bramble fruits underneath.

It's not quite what I was expecting but I'm enjoying the session.

I'm a little worried that the 8 gram 'serving' is a little too much for my small pot and this is causing the tea to be overly steeped. Time to adjust my brewing, quicker and a little cooler. This is the problem of having a pre determined packet of tea. Perhaps next time I should empty both 8 gram packets into a suitable container so I can brew three 5.3 gram amounts. I don't have a suitable pot.. hmmm...

Boil the water, wait for it to cool a little, in it goes, count to ten and pour... I'm about to drink when the sweet caramel aroma of the soup distracts me then I notice how much I am feeling the tea in my head. I'm going through infusions of this tea fast... slow down cowboy!

What should I conclude about this tea? The smell of the dry leaf in the warm pot was fantastic as was the aroma of the soup. The aroma of the emptied pot didn't have that interesting transition but the tea itself was potent and like a dark chocolate, hints of fruit tones with a sweet smelling soup. It's gone right to my head too! If I compare it to Jing Tea UK's premium da hong pao I believe that it only surpassed that tea in it's aroma but the taste was just a little too dark cocoa for my liking. Somehow I'm left a little short of my expectation.

Friday, 6 November 2009

2007 Ancient Road (Jing Tea)

You can't get a lot for a quid nowadays! But here is an example. Jing Tea offer 10grams of this tea for just a pound so I thought 'What the heck!' and stuck it on the end of my order. 

... what if pound shops sold pu erh? 

The dry leaf smell is very Benson and Hedges and also very twiggy. It kind of reminds me of a rack of lamb in shape. Hmm, it's so dark.

The dry leaf goes into the warm empty pot and the heat alone arouses the aroma, again it's tobacco.

First infusion is on the brink of amber, the soup is sweet and lightly tobacco. Not much else. I drink it quite quickly hoping to get onto the next infusion. 

Second infusion and the leaves are open now. I'm quite surprised that many of them are an unusual dark olive. I was somehow expecting them to be more brown, not because it's an old bing but that the soup is darker than I expected. I did get a hit of green in the aroma revealing that it's youth hadn't quite escaped it yet. 

Third infusion and the sweetness is leaving but it leaves a void behind as nothing takes it's place. I experience a short huigan. It's at this point that I decide to have a test and quickly brew an equal proportion of my 2007 Bulang Spring Tips, a tea that really doesn't excite me and give them both an AB test (it is at this point I really notice the Bulang bing being layered with lots of tips on the outside and on the surface only). 

There's not a lot of difference between them really and there the pu erh session ends and a mug of Margaret's Hope darjeeling waits.

Well, it was just a pound in the end I would have to say it was a learning experience. I would recommend anyone ordering from Jing Tea London to spend an extra quid for this sample, it's such a cheap way to have a little look at pu erh. What I wouldn't recommend is that anyone spent £34.60 on a bing like this, it just didn't stand above a very average pu erh that costs just $12 or so. 

As their website states, '.. this pu erh produces a rich golden orange liquor with the scent of warm autumn leaves and rich wood and tobacco flavour notes.'

I am suspicious of youngish sheng producing orange soups, to me it suggests tweaking.

At least yesterday was good. 

Thursday, 5 November 2009

2003 Menghai Wild Yiwu Sheng (Jing Tea)

I am going to enjoy today, I have something I think will be special. 

Despite the postal strike's best effort to stop all my tea from arriving I did receive a sample from Jing Tea London within 24 hours of ordering, well done Jing! As a side note I am becoming quite impressed by them as a company, their service has been very good. I even got a phone call apologising for one of my glass tea cups having a defect. They seem to be a good bunch.

They only stock a handful of pu erhs, it's not really their thing but if a company like Jing decides to choose just a couple of pu erhs to represent them, you would imagine they are going to pick a good one. Of the two bings they sell, one is from 2007 and the other 2003. The latter I shall deal with here. One thing it's not is cheap, priced at a whopping £132.40 per bing! Despite this high price the sample pricing is very fair.

350g @ £132.40
10g sample @ £3.75
350g using the sample price is £131.25!

Now, I'm not sure £132.40 is a good price for this tea, it seems rather high. But I haven't been able to find it sold online elsewhere to compare the price. Anyway, £3.75 isn't a lot to spend if you think about it. I'll get two sessions from the 10g sample and, if it's got good legs, an awful lot of infusions from each session. The final cost of each infusion is pennies.

The first infusion

5g rinsed then brewed with One Love Welsh spring water in my yixing pot.

The first infusion is sweet, slight tobacco and some camphor in the finish that awakes the tongue and leaves my mouth feeling cool.

Second infusion reminds me of honey, amber and thick, the camphor has picked up and the center of my tongue feels more energetic. The tobacoo is more pronounced and I am able to observe the woodiness. My lips feel a little numb, especially my lower lip and I feel more focussed.

Third infusion

 Just before I am about to start my third infusion I notice my tongue is still alive with feelings from the last steep. The soup is slightly darker now and this is when it's at it's best. My session is cut short by the need to pick Michelle up from college (note to self : allow much more than an hour for a good session). On the drive over to Stratford I pick up a nice huigan, not overpowering but pleasant. I also pick up a £60 speeding ticket and three points which shatters my mood somewhat.

Subsequent infusions are lasting but don't have the magic of the first three, perhaps my mind is elsewhere now?

It's a very nice pu erh. I don't think it's £132 nice but still highly enjoyable and it sets the benchmark from now on for me. I'm gonna wrap up this session's notes with a very pleasant huigan in my mouth.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Changing wind

It's quite usual to have a free sample thrown into a shipment of tea and the last time I ordered from Pu erh Shop I had some Yunnan premium silver thread amongst my things.

It's decided inexpensive at under $4 per 50g and it is described as a 'green' tea but it is most unusual. Quite often with pu erh I have used the word 'beanie' to approximate the smell of freshly boiled legumes. As an odour it is very strong in my 09 pu erh teas and not so in teas slightly older. I have associated this smell with a certain flavour as well which I am really starting to dislike! Unfortunately the silver thread tea this taste and smell in droves. There is no doubt that the effects of the tea is significant, it quickly numbed my tongue and mouth, I had a strong huigan and I felt lots of sensations rising to my head. Something about this taste though, in such abundance, makes me nauseous, it's quite unpleasant.

In short, I will be avoiding this tea at all costs. The knock on effect of this is effecting my drinking of young sheng pu erh as well.

Patience is a virtue and I am eagerly awaiting my shipment of 7542's that are on the way. I feel that I need to branch out in my tasting of pu erh, I'm getting too stuck drinking young sheng.

岩茶 suddenly seems all the more appealing.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Simple pu erh maths..

This morning's tipple Bi Luo Chun

I have spent a lot of money on tea this month and it's troubling me. Included in my purchases has been Gyokuro @ £17.50 per 25g, Oolong sampler @ £11.50 per 50g and Da Hong Pao @ £8.15 per 18g.

Let's look at the average cost of these teas :

Total weight : 93g
Total cost : £37.15
Cost per gram : 40p per gram

I have also bought some pu erh, 1999 Menghai 7542 @ £7.90 per 25g, 1993 Menghai 7542 @ £10.50 per 15g, 1980's wangzi @ £3.40 per 20g, 2009 Yi Wu @ £3.93 per 25g and 2009 Banzhang @ £3.93 per 25g.

Here's the maths :

Total weight : 110g
Total cost : £29.66
Cost per gram : 26p per gram

It's not that there is too vaster quality difference between the two sets of teas either. Neither choice of tea is too low or too high, it's just a nice selection of decent teas.

Let's have another look shall we at Yunnan Sourcing's 2009 Menghai 7542. A full bing costs £6.65 per 357g.

Total weight : 357g
Total cost : £6.65
Cost per gram : under 2p per gram!

Not convinced? How about Nada's Bulang bing? It's a serious tea with awesome qi, really quite scary if not handled properly.

Total weight : 357g
Total cost : £24
Cost per gram : under 7p per gram

That's not even 7p for something that could be described as a 'boutique' tea.

Ok, so pu erh can go a little crazy. Nada also sells a 1980's Da Ye bing.

Total weight : 357g
Total cost : £750
Cost per gram : £2.10 per gram

One final consideration too is that pu erh can normally be brewed more times than green or oolongs and in my opinion pu erh provides far more interesting qualities in the taste of the tea. Giving the 2009 7542 as an example, what sort of green tea would you be expecting that costs £7 for about 400g?

Everyone goes on about the cost of pu erh being high and silly but from where I'm sitting (at my tea table) the maths seems to suggest otherwise. Thoughts?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

It's not all in my mind..

My last post was a little long, today's post will be short.

I've drunk a lot of tea recently but not so much pu erh as I've been 'playing' with other kinds. I felt in the mood for some pu erh again so I opened up my American Hao 901 bing. First thing I noticed was a honey aroma I hadn't spotted before, then the leaves looked different from what I expected too. The soup was a darker amber and the taste didn't have much apart from brown sugar.

I smell a rat...

In fact, I smell my Spring Tips Bulang... What a donkey! Session restart.... grrr

On the bright side, at least I did notice. If I had missed that I would of been really peeved.

Monday, 26 October 2009

The Yancha showdown

"Please don't give up on yancha!" Were the wise words to me from Nada. So I took four yancha teas and tasted them one by one over a day or so.

Jing Tea London Big Red Robe Supreme aka 大红袍

I ordered the 'Oolong Explorer' set that contained a 10g sample of this tea. It's priced at £20 for 50g making it the priciest tea in this comparison. The blurb on the website goes into detail of the exact source of the tea, saying that 5kg was obtained from a total production of 15kg reinforcing the idea that this tea is exclusive.

The aroma was captivating with a floral layer to it, something I wasn't expecting but it kept my nose at the pot for some time. The quality fragrance was accompanied by some fantastic qualities in the flavour and thickness of the soup. It had peaches and cream with a distinct oily character, a real joy to sip.

This tea made my day and hours after drinking it I was excited and alive about my experience with it. It surpassed my expectations by some distance.

Jing Tea London Cassia Oolong aka rou gui 肉桂

The second sample from this vendor in my little taste test. This tea is the cheapest of the two priced at £11 for 50g, almost half the price of the Big Red Robe.

I found it rather telling that the vendors website doesn't really say much about this tea, just one sentence.

"Full, firm and satisfying, with ample richness and lifted by unexpected grapefruit-citrus aromas."
Where is the history and the passion about the origins of this tea? 
I have found the tea to be a little uninspiring. It's not a bad tea experience but it lacks something distinct about it that says 'drink me!'

Teasmith Dark Rock aka shui xian 水仙

Just a short period of time from my first experience of this tea where I just didn't get a grasp of it, I'm having another go. Previously I brewed the tea in a gaiwan, which to my mind keeps the influence of the vessel to a minimum, but as with the other teas here I am using a pot instead. Price wise I'm trying to remember the exact cost but I think it was about £6 for 20g 左右 (or thereabouts), don't quote me on that!

Following John's instructions I am keeping the brewing times much shorter with his tea, starting at 15s and even so the first infusion is surprisingly coloured, much darker than I would of expected. After pouring into my chagang 茶缸 I immediately inspected the aroma of the pot, it starts off potently nutty and about 7-8 seconds later the sweet dark berry scent rushes onto the scene.

The flavour is markedly different from the Jing Tea London wuyi teas in this test. It's certainly less floral on the palette and given the colour of the soup being a richer amber the tea must surely be more roasted. If I am honest, the flavour of this tea doesn't capture my imagination, however, the chaqi 茶企 is very significant. After a few cups I am quite tea drunk.

The next step in my education of yancha 岩茶 and more specifically, shui xian 水仙, is to try another vendor. I have ordered a sample of Jing Tea Shop's (not to be confused with Jing Tea London) competition shui xian.

Golden Monkey Big Red Robe aka dahongpao 大红袍

This vendor is a place I am fond of as it's only 60 seconds walk from my front door and the proprietor, Maria, is a lovely, bubbly tea fan. It's a shop born of passion and love for a good cuppa, which gives it much merit from a spiritual sense. Her 大红袍 is the cheapest of the teas in this test at a snip under £10 for 50g.

Heavily roasted and dark, the soup is the deepest amber of them all. The aroma from the pot just after pouring has an initial quality that leaves me cutting my inhales short, the roasted smell gets right at you! Again there is a transition to a sweet aroma after a few seconds but it's not as enchanting as the 水仙 or Jing Tea London's 大红袍.

In taste it has the 岩茶 flavours on view but like the 肉桂 it leaves me a little flat. To the less enthusiastic tea drinker it might seem rather costly still but I this wouldn't be a bad place to have a little look at wuyi teas. Would I buy it again? I would have to say no, I just want more from my tea and I'm prepared to splash my cash for the finer product.

To recap :

Jing Tea London 大红袍 : Great flavour, soup and aroma. I loved it.
Teasmith 水仙 : Intriguing aroma and knock out chaqi!
Jing Tea London 肉桂 : Reasonable floral flavour but not captivating.
Golden Monkey 大红袍 : Entry level wuyi, heavy roast.

(front) broken and green Jing Tea 大红袍, (left) twisted and thin Teasmith 水仙, (rear) dark roasted Golden Monkey 大红袍, (right) large and green 肉桂。

What a great way to spend the morning, just me and some tea. I think I have rather overdosed on 岩茶 though, I should be as thin as a rake if all the silly weight loss marketing was to be believed. As a learner of tea it's very beneficial for me to keep trying various samples of tea instead of committing to buying larger quantities just on the vendors sales pitch. Even though it is expensive I would certainly consider buying Jing Tea London's 大红袍 again, there was something special about that tea that stood it out, it just felt right and I should follow my feelings.

"Spare £2 for a cup of tea?" asked the polite beggar in the street. He must be drinking some fine 大红袍!

Friday, 23 October 2009

My new Korean tea mug

I was quite enchanted by it..

Gritty and rough..

The iron like exterior reveals a softness and depth inside

等等我的新朋友, 茶来, 茶来。

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Premium Long Jing (Dragon House Ebay store)

Bit of a conundrum today, what is the point of me drinking mediocre tea? Ok, if I'm away at work and the environment isn't conducive to enjoying the finer points of tea.. fine. Drink the 100g for £10 stuff.

When I'm at home though I don't think I should settle for anything but good tea. It's ok to just want to saviour the finer things in life right?

Speaking of 100g for a tenner, how about 100g for £12? A while back I went down to Teapigs in Brentford and purchased some of their Dragon Well and Mao Feng teas. The idea was that I wanted to see what level of tea this company was actually producing, which in my own eyes was the bee's knees not so long ago. I also ordered some of the lowest grade Dragon Well and Mao Feng from an online Ebay store, both companies were around the same price mark and the exercise was to compare quality.

I'll post a comparison picture of the Mao Feng when I am home, it's good for a laugh.

The Long Jing doesn't look so green in this picture but it's alright, little bit twiggy too so I'm expecting it to be machine processed. It has a similar taste profile to Teapigs Long Jing, fresh grass with a lemon zest and slightly buttery. I'm not going to hang about dissecting this tea, it's not special enough to be worth it really.

The real question here is a moral one. Would I be happy to sell this level of tea at my own tea bar? For sure the casual punter would love it and think it's all rather good, but the reality is that it's not all that swanky. I am rather torn on this subject.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Cooling tea

Michelle is an unusual case for a filipina, she lived in the super hot and sticky environment of Cebu but seems to be impervious to cold here in the UK! When I'm all wrapped up Michelle wears t-shirts. All well and good? Perhaps not.

She seems to suffer from 'Heat' in the sense of the pathogen. Her skin has several signs of Heat and over the last couple of days her lips were red and dry. Her tongue was also showing small signs of heat but overall it's not excessive by any stretch of the imagination.

I thought then that I would make her some 菊花茶 jú huā chá (guk fa cha) Chrysanthemum tea. Energetically it's cooling and it's taste is bitter and sweet. It is also in the category of acrid surface releasing herbs and it enters the Liver and Lung meridians.

It's not a great match to her condition, 金银花 jin yin hua or Honeysuckle would of been better as it's cold in nature and enters the Stomach meridian.

I boiled up some spring water and then took it off the heat, added some dried flowers. This was left for 15 mins to infuse before I added some nice local honey straight from the comb. After it cooled down I bottled it and left it for Michelle to compliment her dinner.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Having a green week

Seems that I have forgotten my pu erh's this week and have gone for greener pastures. Yesterday I was enjoying a Bi Luo Chun and today it's my best rolled Taiwanese oolong from Da Yu Ling. You must excuse me though as I haven't found out where I got it from, not too surprising though considering the myriad of online sellers.

Perhaps I am just going through a phase? Or perhaps it is because I have a shed load of green and oolong teas that should be drunk when fresh? Maybe it is just to take a break in my tastes and 'reset' my palette.

Either way, it's very enjoyable. Today's tipple is going down extremely well, it must be on it's 5th infusion at the time of writing and is holding up very well. The huigan is only really coming to the fore now and is holding on my tongue in subtle but enchanting waves. I am having to really concentrate on the dynamics of this experience as Michelle is busy vacuuming around me but my mind is at peace, the hubbub doesn't agitate my mood and I am taking that of a clear indication of how calming this tea session is.

Today's water is of higher quality too, Highland Spring from Sainsburys. I had been sourcing my water from hoarding the free bottles at work. Nine litres doesn't cost much so it's not a problem for me as water quality is so important. I used this water to prepare the first litre of oolong-bu-cha with a little apple cider vinegar to lower the ph of the brew as I had no starter liquid.

My Kombucha has been fermenting for a day now and, rather unsurprisingly given the temperature, isn't reacting much. I'm expecting this culture to be a little sluggish and perhaps it will take about 10-14 days for this first batch, if not a little longer.

The scoby seems at home though already.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Teasmith Bi Luo Chun and a new oolong idea..

Just a quick one, a couple of posts ago was about our trip to Teasmith in London and I was left with the decision of what tea Michelle would have. I ended up opting for the Bi Luo Chun as an odds on hit with its smooth sweetness and great aroma. Needless to say it went down very well in terms of drinkability and acceptance from Michelle (someone who is not naturally born into tea drinking being a Filipina).

Today's session is just some casual drinking on my day off and I thought I would make some of the Bi Luo Chun. Prepared in my gaiwan with some of my better bottled water this tea has excellent aroma, it really is a pleasure to pour the soup off, let some of the steam from the leaves gather under the lid of the gaiwan before releasing it and capturing its fragrance.

The colour of the soup resonates with the delicacy of its flavour, it's sweet, pure and slightly buttery. The perfect accompaniment to my lazy afternoon. I just love the transparent light jade hue.

Now I feel gathered I will be moving onto my next project today. I have received a kombucha culture in the post. For those who don't know, kombucha is made from highly sweetened tea that is transformed by the culture over a few days into a health drink. The sugar and certain parts of the tea is consumed with the by product being vitamins and healthy bacteria like lactobacillus. I have made lots and lots before but always with horrid Twinnings green tea bags. I have decided to give it another go but with an oolong this time, the oolong in question being the relatively cheap Teapigs' Dong Ding.

What will be the outcome? Tasty kombucha with a hint of oolong or just plain old kombucha. It's going to be interesting to see if the quality of the tea can really affect the taste or will the cultures process prove too overbearing. Watch this space.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Teasmith WuYi Dark Rock

Dark and twisted with a cereal aroma, what sort of tea do I have here? I'm not sure. I purchased 20 grams of this tea from my recent trip to Teasmith as a bit of a stab in the dark. I had no idea what it was but I thought it would be fun to buy it and try it.

I rinsed the tea quickly and found the aroma interesting. At first it was the same cereal tone I found from the dry leaves but it transitioned into an interesting black current. The transition of the aroma was quite noticeable and I hoped the taste would be similar.

I did a quick google to find out more background knowledge on this tea but I found nothing other than the usual barrage of weight loss sites associating themselves with WuYi.

Unfortunately I didn't really get much from this tea other than the same cereal like tone in the taste. I tried to over brew it to get something more but I didn't succeed. It definitely aroused my head but not in a way I like.

Post brewing I examined the leaves and found then to be long and very very durable. They had been folded lengthways several times which was interesting.

The tea was fascinating in the way the aroma developed and in the leaf itself. I didn't, however, have much from the taste though. Such a shame. Perhaps I will enquire at Teasmith on my next visit on how to approach this tea.

** Update **

Just hours after I made this post I was sent an email from John at Teasmith.

It's a Shui Xian (, or Water Sprite Oolong from Wuyi. As I'm sure you know, such teas are collectively called Rock teas, hence our name...

...As for the taste, it should be more complex than you experienced: initially almost sour, smoky, charcoal taste, being replaced with a toffee/caramel sweetness after you swallow the tea. A chef we know made a pistachio dish using this tea since he felt that the nutty character was dominant.

We brew the tea at around 90degC and the quantity of leaf you used should tolerate a wide range of infusion times from 15s or so up to minutes in later brews. Aside from the quality if the leaves, the biggest variable in the infusion taste is water character. This tea should be robust enough to cope with anything but you may want to try a light mountain spring bottled water to see if it makes a difference...

First note then, great job Teasmith for taking the time to inform me. I was being quite conscious of not saying it was a bad tea as I don't think Teasmith would sell one, I just didn't 'get it'. I will give it another go soon and change the water I used, which was an average bottled water. I should also try it with some more leaf I think.

Thank you John for educating me. ;-) 

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Two Tea Tipples in Twondon Town

Michelle and I decided to have a good look at various health and tea shops in London to see what sort of environments were available with a mind towards setting up our own place. We trawled around various hideous Chinese medicine shops in Soho resplendent with various 'herbal viagra' posters and untidy shop interiors. Ghastly.

Hungry and thirsty we headed off to Yauatcha, a restaurant that mainly serves dimsum and a large selection of teas, particularly Oolongs. It's an impressive looking place with a mouth watering display of deserts and must be popular as we had to be shoe horned the schedule as we had not previously booked. We were given twenty or so minutes to drink our tea.

I chose a 'tuo cha' pu erh from 'Yunnan' and selected an Ali Shan oolong for Michelle. Both teas came pre steeped in pots. It was a generous pot of tea but as it was pre prepped each cup was all rather the same, only cooler.

Michelle chose a pretty desert from the selection to quell her sweet tooth. Sounds ok so far? Actually no. The service was rather impersonal, the seats uncomfortable and almost under the noses of the table adjacent. It just seemed to be another 'trendy' Soho eatery for suit types looking to do whatever it is Soho people do. We felt out of place, uneasy, clostrophobic, rushed and we left as soon as we could. The energy of the place was just awful and quite the opposite from what I was expecting.

Huge disappointment.

Next stop, Teasmith in London's E1 district... read on..

I was a west London boy and crossing the City over to the east just makes me feel queasy. But amidst the slightly run down vibe of the wild east is a true tea oasis, Teasmith.

Inside the charm of Teasmith's is apparent, it's a product of a couples love and hard work. Instead of a single pot pre steeped for you, we had a nice chat about what tea I wanted, had a peak at the bings provided by Nada (who else!) and it was expertly poured by the owner again and again and again.

Several infusions later I started to feel a little sorry as Nada's Yiwu was just getting nicer and nicer and poor old Teasmith were only being paid the once. Michelle's Bi Luo Chun was also just superb, I could barely pry the pot away from her as she was enchanted with the smell. What a great place for tea...  I just can't say enough about Teasmiths, I am just so impressed.

We left Teasmith after an hour or two, I have no idea exactly how long we spent there, fully refreshed and becalmed by the tea and the experience. I can't wait to return for some tea tasting or any reason really..

The short story is.. if you are a yuppy and want to look cool, go to Yauatcha.

..if you have a soul and want to enjoy great tea amongst tea lovers, head to Teasmith.

You decide.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

2009 Nada Nannuo Old Plantation

Small and unassuming in aroma and leaf, this was a tea I had written off first time around. I was enjoying the unsubtle flavours of my other teas and thought this tea was rather... inert.

My frame of mind this time was a negative one.

"Which tea should I have today?" I pondered, looking at my jumbled collection. I eyed over my favourite samples that are now thread bare in size. "Perhaps I will just have this one, it's from Nada whom I am fond".

There is a bitterness that numbs the tip of my tongue and tries to creep backwards. Instead it rises to the roof of the mouth and is absorbed in the skin there. The subtle liquorice turns to sweetness which hovers just above the tongue, a gentle coating.

It's not an invading tea. It doesn't come to the party with reckless abandon. It's a tea that suits being in a darkened, quiet room that if you are to relish you must shut your senses down to appreciate.

I am at peace.

Friday, 2 October 2009

2007 Yunnan Bulang Spring Tips (Pu Erh Shop)

Oh the folly of beginners.

After trying the knock out bitterness of Nada's Bulang I thought I'd pick up a low cost Bulang cake from Pu Erh shop for fun. After all, it was only $12 $17, so if was it was rubbish I wasn't losing too much. If I am honest with myself I was expecting something like Nada's tea as the tea was from the same area, oops.

Oh the folly.

Hmmm, the leaves are certainly full of silvery tips and contrasted with dark leaves, not much in between. Pu Erh Shop's website states that it's an orangey brew and has a refreshing taste. Well, it's certainly orangey but I'm not sure 'refreshing' is the correct term for the taste. I know I'm a simpleton in describing taste and I will keep it simple here.

Tobacco and treacle with a very slight apple twinge.

The soup is thick, dark and brown sugary sweet with a very powerful tobacco taste. Energetically weak with a slight returning sweetness to it.

And that's about it!

After four infusions I'm bored with it already and miss the powerful sensations of yesterday's session. I was advised that I should not buy full cakes for now and I think I will struggle to ever finish this cake. I'm not sure it will age well either but it seems I will find out. Still I suppose it's an interesting exercise to see just how this sort of tea ages be it good or bad.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Bringing herbs to Classical 5 Element acupuncture

Part of my journey in Five Element acupuncture is how to combine the acupuncture theory with herbalism. One of the biggest obstacles to combining Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) to Classical Five Element (CFE) is the underlying notion of energetic transfer in needle treatment.

Unlike regular TCM diagnosis with it's emphasis on patterns and pathogens, CFE theory is more simplistic and needling generally revolves around removing energetic blocks and making transfers on the sheng and ke cycles.

It seems that herbal theory quickly moved away from five phase theory and fitting herbal remedies within a five phase paradigm might be tricky. Hang on, why even attempt to do this?

Here in the UK there are a great many CFE practitioners that don't offer herbs. We also have a reasonable orthodox medicine service that will cater for a lot of illness that herbs are good at treating. I still believe there is a gap though for CFE practitioners to be able to offer herbs to benefit their patients without making things too complicated and having to restudy a great deal in TCM diagnosis.

CFE leans itself towards chronic disorders that need tonification. I will be exploring basic herbal formulas that deal with tonification over the next few months.

Nada Naka

Ok, I'm doing this one blind, I haven't checked any of the other reviews on this tea beforehand. I know it's gonna be a good one, I have a lot of faith in Nada to bring the quality.

I'm just writing this as I'm going, drinking my tea infusion by infusion. My usual brewing method by warming the yixing pot in boiling tap water, rinsing with tap water then preparing the first infusion with spring water.

The aroma is beanie but I want to skip right by the aroma to get to the huigan, it's just great. Sometimes with tea it takes a while for it to kick in, sometimes it never arrives. This tea is all over my mouth after the first infusion, wave after wave of sweet sensations that just don't stop coming. My tongue just feels like it's sweating spicy sugar. I am holding back on making the second infusion because I'm enjoying this first one so much and I must of stopped sipping the tea ages ago!

My tongue is still buzzing as the second brew pours over it and just increases the qi. I have to remind myself to slow down and savour the moment. The energetics of the experience is taking precedence over finding words to describe the flavours. Needless to say, I'm enjoying it. This is a session I don't want to end.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

2006 Old Tree Banzhang (Pu Erh Shop)

Another sample of mine from Pu Erh shop. This time it's a Banzhang from 2006, well.. 40% of it is, the other 60% is Bulang. It's supposed to be a close match to the 2003 Spring Banzhang cake I sampled yesterday so I thought it would be an ideal time to try it.

First up, what do you do when the remaining size of your sample is too much for one brew but only just? I seem to always be left with an amount too small for another session, most frustrating! I left the 'chunk' in the bag (pictured above) as it's compression was too tight to separate with my cha dao 茶刀.

First impressions, it was a lot darker than I expected, had I used too much tea this time? The pictures on Pu Erh Shop's website confirmed the colour though. The soup was thick and it's main characteristic was the taste of burnt dark sugar. 2nd infusion less so but it didn't have a second flavour to replace the sweetness.

3rd infusion, this is more like it. A little bitterness at last with a slight numbing of the tongue. I've rushed though this infusion so I can get to my fourth, I'm starting to become intrigued.

4th infusion, it has lost its sugar and is now tasting more like the 2003. The effect on the tongue is more pronounced and far more energetic in general across the mouth. It's at this point I'm going to stop 'trying' to analyze the tea. It's time to clear my mind and get on with the days doings.

Is it a close match to the 2003 at one 1/3 of the price? I preferred the 2003 as it was tasted more refined and didn't go through an awkward first stage of being nothing but caramel. It does, however, become a lot closer after a while. It's a $25 cake compared to $99, that's a big difference in price! Again, I ask myself, is the better cake worth almost four times the cost? No, but it is better.

Side note for today, I've stumbled across another place in London to drink tea for myself to investigate. Prices for decent teas start at £10 with the first few infusions being performed by a member of staff in a gaiwan. I must take a closer look.... watch this space.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Autumn is upon us

Dried leaves are on the ground and the air is crisp, Autumn is coming and it's not hanging about. My local park is starting to become endowed with a veneer of yellow and brown. The season of the Summer is in it's final throws and most of the berries have gone.

Classically the colour of Autumn is white. The casual observer may associate this season with the amber and browns of the leaves with white being that of snow, a Winter affair. To me, the colour appears in the sky and the hue that casts on the earth beneath. The skies are like a sheet of white and there is clarity and definition. Precision is manifest.

The air clears your lungs but don't breath too deeply for the dryness of the atmosphere may be too harsh.