Sunday, November 19, 2017

2015 Xiaguan Ripe Tuo










I was in Hong Kong last year and I wanted to brew a late night tea in my hotel room.  The Xiaguan sales manager recommended me to buy this ripe tuo, telling me that this 2015 pu erh tea was actually much older and that Xiaguan had produced this tea 2 years earlier and had stored the tea away before releasing this tea in 2015.

I had noticed that the bigger pu erh tea factories like Xiaguan, Taetea and even Haiwan are actually 'storing away' pu erh tea (the finished product) and releasing this tea after a few years of storage.  This applies to both raw and ripe pu erh tea.  This makes a lot of sense.  As a pu erh tea drinker, you will attest that newly produced pu erh tea is a bit rough and astringent especially for raw pu erh.  You can also detect a fermentation smell in newly made ripe pu erh tea as well.  If you had stored away these new pu erh tea away for 3-5 years, you will discover that the tea is much easier to drink.  The aroma and taste is more smooth and mellow.  

I think in this age, people demand 'instant gratification' when they buy and consume goods and services. It will be tough to sell/buy a product  knowing the product is better 3-5 years down the road.  I suppose these pu erh tea factories are making their new pu erh products a ready to brew/drink tea.  In a way it is like buying older pu erh tea.  

Back to this 2015 Xiaguan tea.  I actually did not brew this tea when I had returned to my Hong Kong hotel room.  I had went for late supper instead.  I only opened this tea last week.  This tea, to me, is still young, but I enjoyed the strong aroma and taste of this ripe tea.   This tea would be a good candidate for aging for another 8-10 years.     





Sunday, November 5, 2017

Qi Pottery

















These tea ware in the pictures are made in Singapore. They are not only made in Singapore but the clay also comes from Singapore.   The potter is Kim Whye Kee.


Kim was involved in bad company during his younger days and was incarcerated when he was 18 years old.  He picked up pottery making while in prison and his passion for this craft intensified when he was released.  He took up a full time course in pottery, graduated with a degree in fine arts in 2013, and now is a proprietor of Qi Pottery.  He owns a small electric klin in his apartment to create his own works and hold small classes for the public to learn pottery.

The local newspaper, The Straits Times, on 10 Jan 2016 published an article about him. Written by Ng Hui Wen, I attached an excerpt from the article:


"One collaborative work on display was a mixed-media installation titled Family Dinner.

It was created by the exhibition's artist-in-residence and potter Kim Whye Kee and 10 inmates from the Visual Arts Hub at the Changi Prison Complex.

The piece was inspired by an inmate's experience behind bars, and depicts his longing for a simple family dinner.

"Every inmate hopes to go home to his family. It was usually the first thought I would have when the handcuffs were around my hands," said the 36-year-old Kim, who went in and out of jail for about a decade after getting involved in gangs and drugs from the age of 18.

"I dreamt of going home for a simple meal with my father. But six months before I was released, he passed away from cancer. It was too late," he said.

After his father's death in 2007, Mr Kim picked up pottery in prison, which gave him the peace and motivation he needed following his father's death.

In the installation, which he has dedicated to his parents and sister, he placed a lone chair facing three cracked rice bowls on a dining table. Each bowl was carved with messages that could be seen only through their reflections on the table.

"It's like a person sitting there, thinking about what to say to his family during dinner," he said.

"Sometimes, we feel pai seh (Hokkien for embarrassed) and the words just don't come out."

Also featured were 14 other ceramic bowls which were smashed and mended back together.

"I put the pieces back together using clay and gold paint. I wanted to show the inmates that even though they've made mistakes, their family and the community will always offer them a second chance," he said.

Three years ago, Mr Kim, who was released in 2008, graduated with a degree in fine arts from Lasalle College of the Arts with the support of his mother, who worked as a cleaner, as well as his sister and the Yellow Ribbon Project. Mr Kim now runs pottery workshops in his own studio."




I had visited Kim at his workshop/studio and I could tell that he was passionate about his craft.  He took time to me to explain the various clays he had used and tested for his works.  He had even bought clays from Australia and UK to experiment making tea ware with these clay.  He had, a couple of months ago, wanted to used local clay to make tea ware and I had requested him to sell me one of these "Singapore teapots" when it was ready.  Kim completed making the Singapore teapots in September.  As you can see from the 2nd/3rd pix, Kim had created a series of gaiwans and kyusu-styled teapots.  Kim explained that this clay was dug up in Tampines (an area in Singapore) 30 years ago and was stored away by his local pottery teacher.  Kim managed to get a few clay packets.  In Kim's own words:

"This clay is quite rough to work and instead of burnishing it, I decided to keep the characteristics of this clay, staying true to its look and feel.  No glaze for this ware but if you look carefully, the body is slightly flushed and each pot will be unique"

I purchased one of the kyusu teapot and the 4th pix showed the teapot photographed under yellow lighting while the other 2 pix below were taken under natural lighting.  

If any reader is interested to know more about Kim and and his works, you may visit his website (link) to get more details.  

I wish Mr Kim the very best in his pottery business.






Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Bizen Mizusashi







My readers would know my fascination with Bizen tea ware. I had purchased a few Bizen pieces that included a tea set and a teapot (link).    Bizen tea ware are made in Japan. The uniqueness are that some of these bizen potters, when they are firing, or baking the clay, allowed the ashes and burning cinders to fly within the kiln and the results were that these pieces may have scorched or burnt marks on the surface of the clay. To the purist of ceramic clay, this may seem like a defect or imperfection, but I simply adore these pieces. They seem to give a character to the pieces. I feel happy handling the bizen pieces in my collection.

I recently purchased a Bizen mizusashi. It is actually a container to store water for a tea ceremony. When there is little water left in a kettle, it is refilled from the mizusashi. I guessed it is convenient, that you need not leave the tea table with your kettle to refill water in the kitchen. One of my friends claimed that water stored overnight in a bizen container makes the water sweeter. I shall test his claim and report back to my readers. I had initially wanted to used this piece as an improvised tea caddy.  
This bizen piece stands at 6.1 inches and 5.3 inches in diameter. 


I will be In Tokyo/Kyoto for about 10 days during the Christmas period.  If any Japanese readers want to have tea with me, I would be happy to meet you. I will bring some old tea for our tea sessions.






Sunday, October 8, 2017

2014 Xiaguan Yuan Ye Raw Pu erh








I had been following this tea when I came across this tea 3 years ago in the tea markets.  This is the 2014 Xiaguan special edition of the Yuan Ye.  Based on the description slip enclosed with the cake, Xiaguan tea factory had harvested the tea from old gushu tea trees in high altitudes of above 2200 ft in Yunnan.  In addition,  Xiaguan had stored away this tea for 7 years and only releasing this tea for sale in 2014.  

The tea leaves are unique.  The leaves, when I broke up the tea cake, looked glossy and shiny.  I thought the leaves were damp.  It was not.  The leaves felt oily and closer examination of the leaves showed that they are quite big and (believe it or not) furry.....like little shiny hairs on the leaves. '

When I brewed the tea, the tea was clean and clear.  Nothing oily in the tea and taste.  Some smokiness but the tea was smooth with hints of smoky pine wood. There were some nice fruity aroma like plums and dried berries.  A tea session of this tea can get me 10 strong,   slightly intoxicating infusions.   

An interesting and strong tea.  I think this tea will even be more impressive after a few more years of storage in Singapore.  I will try to add more of this tea to my collection.  









Sunday, October 1, 2017

Tea With An Englishman











I had tea with an Englishman last Friday.

Russell Alderton, had through the Steepster forum, asked about Chinese tea in Singapore. He was in Singapore for a week and had wanted to visit the Chinese tea scene in Singapore. He contacted me and I arranged to meet Russell last Friday.

I guessed that he wanted to sample Chinese tea in Singapore. I met Russell in Chinatown and brought him to the famous Maxwell Food Market for a large plate of Hainanese chicken rice. You will noticed In the pix that I bought him a coconut drink as well. I wanted to make sure he had a good meal as the tea sampling session later that afternoon was going to be wild and intense.

Russell initially looked pretty stern but after sampling 3 old pu erh (5 infusions each), I got him tea drunk and you can see him grinning in the following pix. He appreciates his tea and took his time to describe the taste and aroma of each tea to me. He reminded me of Andrew Zimmern, the famed TV food host of Bizarre Food series. Let me explain.....when Andrew tried a food he liked, he would close his eyes and go into a 'bliss-like' state for a few seconds. Russell did that 'bliss-like' action (exactly) when he sampled the Feng Huang Danchong (we tried 2 old Danchong as well). He really liked that tea.

I learnt, during our conversation at the teashop, that Russell kept his tea in a refrigerator. The refrigerator was not turned on at all. He used his fridge somewhat like a pumidor or a mini cave to store his tea. He even used water pillows to maintain the humidity in the fridge.

It was an enjoyable tea session. I believed he was impressed with the puerh storage while sampling the tea cakes in Singapore.

I would like to thank Miss Chong of D'art Station for spending considerable time and patience for hosting us to a wonderful sampling session of old Pu erh and oolongs. Thank you.






Sunday, September 24, 2017

Mooncakes and Tea Caddies








This is the time of the year where mooncakes are available for sale In Chinese confectionary and grocery shops.  These cakes are made and eaten to celebrate the Chinese mid autumn festival (next week).  If you had not tried mooncakes, they are actually baked pastries filled with sweetened lotus or bean paste.  Some of these cakes may include a salted duck yolk inside.  Somehow, this unusual combination makes eating a mooncake a pleasure to eat.  I love mooncakes.  My daughter managed to snagged a box for me at the Hong Kong Airport while she was there last week.  Yummy.

Mooncakes and Chinese tea makes a great pairing.  The sweetness of the mooncake and sipping Chinese tea makes for an addictive exercise.  I can gobble half a mooncake in one sitting.  I feel pu erh tea and high roasted oolong are good with mooncakes.  

I had received a couple of questions on how I would store my pu erh when I had broken up a cake or tuo.  I would break up the tea cake into small pieces and store them in one of the tea caddies you see the in pix.  The rice porcelain piece is actually a double-boil soup vessel where traditional Chinese soups were prepared in the container and the whole container is half immersed in a large pot of boiling water and cooked for a few hours.  You will notice that this rice porcelain container is double lidded and I am using it as a pu erh tea caddy.  These porcelain containers are easily available in Chinatown in your neighbourhood.  They were inexpensive when I saw them in San Francisco and Toronto Chinese shops during my last visit.    

I would placed the broken pu erh pieces inside and fold the erh wrapper on top of the tea (so I can identify the tea if I had forgotten about the contents).   I will put this tea caddy inside my tea cupboard and only taking it out when I want to brew the tea.  Yes, this container is not airtight, which  allows to tea pieces inside to breathe (Chinese call this Xin Cha).  This allows the pu erh to 'awake' and I personally find that the tea tasted better if  allowed to breathe for at least 2 weeks after breaking up your pu erh.  

In addition, the paper boxed tea caddy and the used oolong tin, in the above pix, are also equally good, in my opinion to store your pu erh tea.  I am using 8 tea caddies for my pu erh (5 raw and 3 ripe).   

How do you store your pu erh tea for daily drinking? 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Plates And Dishes











Give your old plates and dishes a new lease of life by using them in your tea sessions.

I am sure there are small plates and dishes in  your kitchen cupboard (or even at your mom's place).  These porcelain pieces could be the remnants of a complete set of dinnerware that got accidentally broken over time leaving you with the odd surviving piece.  You could had bought such pieces at a garage sale or from a flea market.  

Some of these porcelain can be used in a tea session.  You would have noticed from the pictures I had used them as teacup or teapot plate stands.  I had collected these plates during my tea travels.  A few of these plates were inexpensive as they were found in flea markets or in the odd and ends shelf of a shop.  The last pix shows an old plate, which I believed was made about 40-50 years ago. There were Chinese villagers that may own similar designed porcelain and the families would carve their surname on the porcelain pieces for easy identification in the event that there was a village gathering or party where villagers 'lend' their plates for the occasion.  You can make out the surname 'Lu' on the plate.  

I feel using such plates and dishes makes a tea session more interesting.  It does add a little whimsical nostalgia when you sipped your tea.  Wouldn't it be nice if you later discover that you owned a rare porcelain piece that can sell for a million dollars.  Dream on.  





Sunday, September 3, 2017

2006 Fu Hai 7536 Menghai Pu erh Cake









This is a 7536 recipe produced by Fu Hai Tea Factory.  This 2006 raw pu erh, is already 11 years old and this tea had been stored in Singapore for about 10 years.  The information slip in the tea stated that the pu erh is harvested from the Menghai region.  Pu erh tea drinkers would be familiar with the Menghai region as many vintage and classical old cakes were traditionally made from this region.  

This tea had aged well over the 10 years in Singapore.  The tea when brewed is mellow and sweet.  Notice the pleasant dark gold color of the tea.  Surprisingly, I found the tea paired nicely with fresh fruits (apples, pear and peaches).  I felt, that sipping the tea after having these fruits, the tea tasted sweeter.   Overall the tea has a nice pleasant sweet aftertaste and a nice floral-herbal  complexity In the tea.  I recommend that this tea should be brewed on the stronger side....by adding an extra gram of tea to your standard brew.

But I digress.  Making your tea on the stronger side......adding more tea leaves or a longer infusion?  Don't you get a strong tea from both methods?  Yes, but there are 2 main differences.  
a) using more leaves can get you more infusions in your tea session.  If you let your tea infuse for a longer time after every pour, you would get lesser rounds of tea.
b) there is a difference in taste and aroma.  The chi or energy from the tea is more pronounced with adding more leaves.  

I would try to get an ideal brew when I opened a pu er tea cake.  Yes, its a personal preference in terms of strength.  It would normally take a few brews for me to determine whether I should use more/less leaves and the infusion times for the brew.  It may take 3-4 tea sessions before I settle down and conclude the brewing parameters for the tea.  How do you, my reader, determine your brewing parameters for your tea, please share with me your methods.  Thank you.




Saturday, August 26, 2017

Tsen Chi Cha






Tsen Chi Cha is a oolong tea produced in Amoy China.  This version is the Sea Dyke brand.  This tea is packed in a metal foil bag and packaged in a paper box.  This tea had been produced for many years by Sea Dyke and is available in many South East Asian countries.  They are commonly found in Chinese tea shops or Chinese emporiums.  I remembered I saw this tea at a Chinese tea shop in San Francisco and Toronto as well. 

I was in at Yue Hwa Emporium, Hong Kong last  year browsing at the Sea Dyke tea section when an elderly man came to the same aisle and picked up 2 boxes of this tea.  I asked him why he had chosen this tea.  He replied that he drank lots of tea (oolong, puerh, longqing), but because he lived in a very small apartment, he only had a small shelf for his tea.  When he had finished his stash, say oolong, he would replace them.  He mentioned he does not buy to store his tea long term but buy to drink.  He smiled and went off to pay, not before telling me that this tea was good.  I bought a box of this tea.

This tea brews up 5 good infusions.  It is high roasted and has a taste and aroma like a hybrid shui hsien and a tie kuan yin.  Nothing sophisticated or extraordinary but the traditional roast and comforting aroma made this tea a value for money purchase.   I can understand, when I sipped this tea at home, why the Hong Kong gentleman liked this oolong.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Japanese Tea Ware










I bought some Japanese tea ware last month.  

The teapot you see in the 1st pix is a teapot with a side handle.  Teapots, known as Kyusu in Japanese, are used in brewing tea and are traditionally brewed on floor mats or on very low tables.  The teapot shown is made with Tokoname ceramic and employs the Nerikomi style of kneading patterns with coloured clay.  You can understand my fascination with this teapot; the colours are very hypnotic and I could stare at the teapot for a good few seconds.  The height is about 2.8 inches and I am guessing its capacity at about 150ml.

I had also purchased an old copper kettle.  Kettles or Yakan in Japanese, often used for brewing Japanese tea, are usually made from iron or copper.  Iron kettles or tetsubins from Japan are much appreciated by tea drinkers all over the world for its artistic styles and the 'smooth' water when used with such tetsubins.  Japanese copper kettles are less famous but I was intrigued by the design of this copper kettle.  This design is known as tanuki or racoon style.  A story tells of a racoon, who made itself looked like a kettle to avoid capture by a hunter, found itself  'smoking' when the hunter placed this 'kettle' over a fire.  

This kettle can easily hold 1.5 litres of water.  I had already tried using this kettle but found the water less tasty than a tetsubin.  Maybe I should had washed the kettle thoroughly.   

But I digress.  I would be in Guangzhou in the last week of Sept.  I would welcome any readers to join me for a week of tea adventures in the tea markets of Guangzhou.  Breakfast not included.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

2006 De He Xin Raw Pu erh







My Malaysian friend and I had bought this tea 5 years ago at a Malaysian teashop.  We had sampled  this and found the tea to be very strong but new in 2012.  My friend and I decided to buy a carton each for slightly better price.  

I met this friend early this year and he was quite excited over this tea.  He had been sampling this tea every 6 months since our purchase and he found that this tea had 'turned' this year.  The term 'turned' is just a name used among my Malaysian friends that described a pu erh tea that seem to mature/age significantly or suddenly.  Let me explain.  There are some pu erh tea that, when you had bought them and stored them away, the taste and aroma do not seem to change for a few years since the purchase.  I had noticed that, there are some pu erh tea, when they turned about 8-10 years old, will taste and smell slightly different.  The mellowness and smoothness of the tea seem to be more pronounced.  There is a mature taste in the tea as well.   

I have a old Chinese tea collector in Guangzhou, that had explained to me his thoughts; that pu erh tea will change in both taste and aroma in phases, about 10 years per phase.  He claimed that the 2nd phase would see the pu erh tea take on a more medicinal character in the brew.  I had tried a few of his much older cakes as well as 20 year tea cakes at teashops and I can attest to some medicinal aroma in these tea.  

This 'turning' phase is something that many pu erh tea drinkers and collectors look forward to when they store and age their pu erh tea.  The pu erh tea may become more floral or more herbal or even may developed a camphor aroma in the tea after some time in storage.  These changes in both aroma and taste, in my opinion are due to the tea leaves and the storage conditions of the tea.  When you and I buy older pu erh tea, we are also indirectly  buying the time as well as buying the storage of the tea.  

De He Xin is a well known teamster in China.  He had produced a raw (this tea) and a ripe pu erh tea cake in 2006.  This tea, as described in the note enclosed with the cake, are composed from Bulang region.  De He Xin had also had this tea certified that it  met the organic label requirements.  I do admit that the tea had 'turned'.   The tea is now more vivid in both taste and aroma.  

What do I advise a few of my readers that had posed me a question about whether to store away tea for 10 years or buy a 10 year old pu erh tea outright.  My answer, do both if possible.  I find that pu erh tea stored in various countries like Malaysia, Hong Kong and China will have their unique storage characteristics that cannot be easily replicated in a home if you stay in a temperate country( your tea will have its own unique storage result).  For me, that is the fun in trying all these pu erh tea and having an adventure in every cup.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

2007 Changtai Ripe Pu erh Brick









I was pleasantly surprised when I sampled this 2007 Changtai ripe brick.  This is a 2007 production and this tea had been stored in Malaysia for almost 10 years.  The 250g brick is individually wrapped and packed 4 bricks in a larger wrapper.  

My readers would know that I had been encouraging readers in 2 aspects when it comes to pu erh tea:
a) breaking up a brick or cake into pieces and storing in a tea caddy for 2 weeks before drinking
b) use boiling water when brewing the tea

These 2 simple steps, in my own opinion, does make the pu erh tea (raw and ripe) more amplified in both taste and aroma.  I have tea drinker friends that only leave a cake or brick unbroken and only peeling off a small chunk whenever they want to brew their tea.  I can understand tea caddies does need space.  I would like to suggest using smaller tea caddies or tea boxes, with about 50-100g capacity, might helped address the space issue.  As for my readers using electric or stove kettles, I recommend a quick reboil prior to every infusion.  As the water is already hot, such reboiling should take less than 30 seconds.  These 2 steps would make your pu erh tea session more yummy.

Back to the Changtai tea.  I could get about 8 strong infusions from a tea session.  The tea is mellow and smooth with nice earthy herbal notes with a faintly sweet aftertaste.  Happy days.    





Sunday, July 16, 2017

My New Boiling Water Setup









I had plans to have a new 'boiling water' setup and had purchased these items many months ago.  Procrastination crept in.  The kettle in the top pix, which I had bought in Hong Kong about 18 months ago, is a Lin Ceramics model.  This is a 1.4 litre kettle.  A similar kettle was also used at Lau Yu Fat teashop in Hong Kong. The shop had been using these kettles for a few years and I had been impressed with the performance, durability and the 'smoother' boiled water from the kettle.

I had also purchased an infrared cooker.  Made by Kamjove, China, this brand is preferred by the tea drinking communities in China.  Their induction cookers were reliably used by many teashops in China and reviews on Kamjove products were good.  The model I had purchased is a radiant (infrared) cooker.  The 'shell' of this cooker is made from clay.  I had observed this cooker being used at a teashop in Guangzhou.  The cooker was used throughout the day and I like its ability to have controls to boil a full kettle of water but also keep the water at a very small boil as well.  It has a auto-off function after 5-10 minutes.  I personally believe that for brewing pu erh and high roasted oolongs, water temperature should be as high as possible (close to boiling) so that the aroma and taste could be fully brought out during brewing.  Information on the cooker box indicated that kettles/pots made from iron, silver, copper and glass can be used on this cooker.  This gave me more flexibility in using different kettles made from different materials.  I realised I have a small kettle collection as well (about 10 in all). 

Now all I need is to season my ceramic kettle.  I was told to boil/cook a mild rice porridge in the kettle to season it.  I had been procrastinating on this procedure but hope to do it during this weekend.  Last pix show a trial run I had with this cooker.  I felt the tea 'stayed' warmer using this setup....maybe its my imagination. 

I had mentioned many times in my blog that all you need is a gaiwan/teapot and 2 cups to have a good tea session.  So why did I spend moolah on this boiling water setup?  Visually, it looked good.  And....the water tasted better but ever so slightly.   The improvement is very tiny.  To me....brewing tea using a seasoned teapot or purion tea ware will also give me a tiny improvement in the taste and aroma of my tea.  All these tiny enhancements, which I perceived, are some of the 'fun things' to have in a tea session.  Yes, these add-ons are not necessary but on long weekends...... using these 'extras' does make a tea session a more interesting exercise. 





Tuesday, July 4, 2017

2017 Maosheng Liu Bao Tea










At the Malaysian Tea Expo in early June 2017, I came across a booth that promoted Maosheng Liu Bao tea.  The distributors promoted this tea by packing this tea in 250g paper boxes made specially for this tea expo and selling them at special prices to visitors of the tea expo.

There was even a manager from Maosheng tea factory at the booth and he invited me to sample their Liu Bao tea (see last pix).  He informed me that their tea factory was located in Wuxi, China and their processing of their Liu Bao tea used modern technology in the fermentation of the tea.  He explained that Liu Bao tea was traditionally fermented on factory floors and the tea was covered with blankets during the fermentation process.  The tea was also 'hand stirred' every few days to ensure a consistent fermentation of the tea.  Maosheng tea factory does the tea fermentation 'off ground'. Their Liu Bao tea are placed in large steel vats where humidity and temperature are controlled to provide 'optimal' formation of the tea.  Temperature and humidity are calibrated throughout the entire fermentation process. This would enable the tea to be fermented to exacting conditions/ specifications of the tea factory.

How did this tea compared to my current stash of Malaysian Liu Bao tea? I  am unable to make a proper comparison.  This Maosheng Liu Bao tea was only produced this year while my current Liu Bao tea is more than 10-15 years old.  If you like traditional Chinese herbal tea (those brewed in South East Asian Chinese medicinal halls), you will like this Maosheng.  The aroma is medicinally herbal.  There were some fermentation scent in the tea but overall the tea is easy to drink.  I bought about 2 kg of this tea and intend to store the tea in a large jar.  I will revisit this tea after some time in storage.

To my American readers, Happy Independence Day.

And to James, of Teadb(link), congratulations on your marriage.  On the tea blog, James and his tea partner, Denny usually drink and review their tea on their site.  They even 'video' their tea sessions with both of them sitting side by side and having a good time with their tea.  I have a friend that is a 'fan' of these guys and she will tune in weekly for their latest episode.  James is a real hardcore tea drinker.  I believed, based on his latest post, he had a honeymoon in Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong.  It was incredible he incorporated tea drinking sessions/meetups and tea shopping in all these 3 countries during his honeymoon. Wow.