• llouie

The awkward stage of Pu-erh

I recently read an article in the Art of Tea magazine, in which the writer wrote that he likes either the very young raw Pu-erh or the very old Pu-erh. He finds the ones in between "awkward." I find this a very interesting point and I happen to agree with his assessment. I am partial to raw Pu-erh, particularly the newly made ones from the old arbor trees. I love the fragrance, the freshness, the sweetness (hui tien) and the feeling of being in the tea forest. I also enjoy the very old Pu-erh. The Pu-erh that is in between can best be described as "awkward," like an adolescent who is still trying to find his or her own identity. It loses its initial fragrance, and yet has not "matured" to develop the complex flavor and aftertaste as the aged Pu-erh. No wonder people say Pu-erh is a living tea.

2010 Macau and Hong Kong Tea Expo

The 2010 Macau Tea Expo will be held next week at the Venetian Macao Resort Hotel. Admission is free.

The 2010 Hong Kong International Tea Fair will be held on 12-14 August 2010 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Pre-registrationis recommended. Admission is free.

All the major tea manufacturers and their representatives will be there and you can try their teas in one location at no cost, make direct comparisons and learn about tea efficiently.


The Tangerine Debacle, Revisited

So a while ago I tried one of those pu'erh-stuffed tangerines, and it was awful. A few days later, and I failed to mention this, I tried some of my normal everyday CNNP shou with exactly the same water from my workplace, and got much the same terrible experience. Eventually I found out that the springs we use at work are unfortunately prone to infiltration under certain weather conditions, and thus not entirely reliable.

Since I am a cheapskate, I never actually bothered to throw away the tangerine from before. Earlier this afternoon I decided to give it a shot again with my not-spectacular-but-certainly-consistent tap water, which is fine for my everyday shou. It wasn't at all unpleasant, this time. The tangerine, while present, was very elusive, and I could tell that the base tea wasn't spectacular in the first place; but this time it was recognisably pu.

In a little bit I'm going to break out the basket of liu an that's been sitting in my cabinet for upwards of, cripes, five years or so. I had no idea what the heck to do with it when I got it, but now I can practically make gongfu cha in my sleep...

Sample Compression

I've been ordering samples from a number of vendors for the past year, trying to build up my experience and palate before jumping into whole cakes (who wants 357 grams of something around that they're not interested in drinking).

Many of these samples seem insanely compressed and composed of very small leaves, when compared with the first two cakes I ordered (Xiaguan FT Imperial Tribute and Yong Pin Hao Stone-pressed Yi Wu Wild Arbor). Often, with a 25 gram sample, half of it turns to dust and the other half produces "well-chopped" steeped leaves. I've also noticed that a number of the samples I've order from one particular vendor are almost always from the core or dimpled part of the cake.

Is this typical when ordering samples online? I'm using fairly reputable sources according to other tea bloggers, but I feel like the quality of my samples doesn't hold up to the appearance of the samples that others are enjoying.

Or am I just too heavy handed? I've watched some of Cloud's videos and what I'm doing doesn't seem much different that what he does to break a cake apart, except for the fact that I'm working with this near iron-fisted chunk of minute leaves.
  • Current Mood
    relaxed relaxed
Zhong Cha

Camellia taliensis (大理茶)

Yunnan Sourcing has a new silver bud pu'er listed from Jinggu. Of note is that it is not made from the usual pu'er varietal, Camellia sinensis var. assamica (arguably the same as var. daye), or even from the hairy white tea species, Camellia ptilophylla. Instead, it's made with another local big leaf species called Camellia taliensis (presumably meaning "tea plant of Dali" based on its Chinese name, 大理茶).

I did some searching around, and taliensis belongs in the camellia group thea, which includes those that are used for tea production, although one of them, irrawadensis, does not produce caffeine. It is considered a wild tea plant that, at least in 2002, was threatened by habitat destruction.

Drinking a mengsa tea whose leaves look very similar to those pictured above, dark purpley green with thin yellow stalks, I believed that Yunnan Sourcing's new product had indirectly lead to my finding what all these strange looking pu'er cakes had been using as material: not our usual friend Camellia sinensis var. assamica, but a different species altogether, Camellia taliensis.

However, reading further along in the summary of the article by Long, Li, Ouyang, et al., I found this table of Yunannese wild tea plants, all of whose leaves are supposedly suitable for tea making:

C. crassicolumna

var. crassicolumna China: SE Yunnan 1300–2300, evergreen broadleaf forest

var. multiplex China: SE Yunnan 1900–2210, evergreen broadleaf forest

var. shangbaensis China: S Yunnan 2450, evergreen broadleaf forest

C. grandibracteata China: W Yunnan 1750–1850, evergreen broadleaf forest

C. gymnogyma

var. gymnogyma China: SE Yunnan, SW Guangxi, S Guizhou 1000–1600, broadleaf forest or scrub

var. remotiserrata China: NE Yunnan, N Guizhou, S Sichuan 920–1350, china fir forest or broadleaf forest

C. kwangsiensis

var. kwangnanensis China: SE Yunnan 1550–1850, broadleaf forest

var. kwangsiensis China: SE Yunnan, W Guangxi 1500–1900, broadleaf forest

C. purpurea China: SE Yunnan 1500–2200, evergreen broadleaf forest

C. sinensis

var. assamica China: Yunnan, Guizhou, Gaungxi, Hainan; Vietnam; 100–1500, evergreen broadleaf forest

var. dehungensis China: S Yunnan, SW Yunnan 1000–1600, under forest or scrub

var. pubilimba China: SE Yunnan, Guangxi, W Guangdong, Hainan 240–1450, broadleaf forest

var. sinensis China: S China, SE Tibet; S Japan; N Myanmar 130–200, sparse forest or scrub

C. tachangensis China: E Yunnan, SW Guizhou, W Guangxi 1500–2250, evergreen broadleaf forest

C. taliensis China: W Yunnan 1300–2700, sparse forest / scrub

Think of this next time you look at a "wild treepu'er tea that looks uncanny; it could be one of 16 different wild tea camellias!
puerh love

2008, 2009

Despite my love of pu, I haven't tasted all that much from last year and the year before. I bought so much in China, I hadn't the desire. Now that a couple years have passed, I'm curious: name your top three pu'ers from last year and the year before.

Bonus points if you link to any reviews or commentary you've made.

Rich pickings from Pu'er

Rich pickings from Pu'er
By Ye Jun and Li Yingqing (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-05-05 08:17

He Ruolan from Dali Nanjian Black Dragon Pond Tea Factory brews this year's Pu'er tea for visitors at the Yunnan Tea Expo. Her factory did not have enough tea to sell at the expo due to the drought. Photos by Ye Jun/ China Daily

The verdict from this year's Tea Expo is that quality and prices are both on the up. Ye Jun and Li Yingqing report

The mission of Gao Yuan, a licensed tea brewer, at the 5th China Yunnan International Pu'er Tea Expo, was to find good teas. The 32-year-old opened her own tea store in Kunming, capital city of the province, in 2003, and she now provides tailor-made teas to big companies in Yunnan and Hong Kong.

Gao only deals with Pu'er tea, not least because she finds it the most interesting.

"There is always so much to talk about Pu'er. The quality varies depending on the altitude the mountain where the tea grows, the year of production, and the way it is processed," she says.

This year's Pu'er Expo, an annual event organized by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Yunnan provincial government, ran from April 12-15, amid concerns about the severe drought. According to the government, production is down by 50 percent and the purchase price of the fresh leaves has doubled.

And both the price and quality of tea were Gao's main concerns.

Rich pickings from Pu'er

"What I'm look for are good-quality, reasonably priced teas, instead of the already famous teas that are soaring in price," she says.

According to Zhu Yongchang, owner of Purple Jade Tea Factory, while the drought has made the leaves thinner, weaker and less attractive, it has also made the quality better, as the picking was delayed, and therefore the spring tea had time to gather more strength.

The teas of Yunnan are characteristically big-leaf teas produced on tall tea trees - as compared to tea shrubs in other parts of China - and 95 percent of the province's teas are planted on mountainous areas.

While terrace teas are heavily influenced by the drought, ancient tea trees on high-altitude mountains, which vary in age from 100- to 2,000-years-old, are less affected.

The whole chain of the tea industry is represented at the tea expo: tea farmers, tea factories, small and big tea companies, teapot makers, even packaging, and tea utilities.

At the display station of the Purple Jade Tea Factory from Lincang's Yongde county, roughly processed teas cost from 60-70 yuan ($8.8-$10) per kilo, with the best quality tea 120 yuan ($18) per kilo. Owner Zhu Yongchang said they would cost another 20 per cent more after they are pressed into cakes.

Zhu's company was established in 1986, and provides middle to high quality teas from five tea mountains with ancient tea trees.

Many China tea companies complain that European quality checks are too strict, but Zhu exported 250 tons of black tea to the European Union last year.

"People here need to be practical, and not always expect high profits from exports," he says.

This year, he had to turn down a request for 50 tons from the EU for spring tea, because of the demand from the domestic market.

"The market is becoming relatively stable, and the bubbles are gone," says Zhu. "Pu'er tea was once mythicized, publicized as herbal medicine, promoted as antique, and speculated like stock shares. But tea is just tea."

Gao Yuan says there are still faulty business practices in the market, as some dealers mix poor teas with good ones. To ensure the quality of her teas she spends two to three months every year visiting tea farms to see for herself how the teas are produced.

"The only thing I can do is to get there, look closely, and try as many teas as possible," she says.

However, Gao says that after 2007, most buyers are clear-minded, and will be very cautious about attempts to hype up Pu'er.

"I'm in no rush buying, and will be selling from storage for now," she says. "I believe consumers will not be affected a lot in the near future."

Still, she bought up all 30 kilos of roughly processed Plum Green Pu'er tea from Zhu Yongchang.

Sales were also strong for a newly promoted instant Pu'er tea with the brand name Deepure from Tianjin's Tasly Group. The powdery matured Pu'er in 0.5 gram sachets can easily be prepared in just three seconds. The group used high-tech methods and equipment to make the Pu'er swiftly soluble. According to Luo Chunlei, Southwest China sales manager, the product has sold out, and the group expects annual sales this year to be around 800 million yuan ($117 million).

According to Yang Shanxi, director of Yunnan government's Tea Office, 227 enterprises participated at this year's Pu'er Expo, including business people from Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

There were about 20 Vietnamese dealers, the most in the Expo's history, selling wooden tea tables, decorative items, bracelets made from sandalwood, and incense from gharu wood.

The Yunnan Dianhong Black Tea Group's station at the Expo had a bartender mixing black tea with ice and strawberry, lemon, and Teh Tarik, which many young people liked. General Manager Lou Zitian says the group's high-end Yunnan black tea has been sold out for several months.

Yunnan produced 180,800 tons of tea last year. Spring tea takes up 25-30 percent of annual production. But Yang believes the price of Pu'er tea will not be influenced much by the drought. "Pu'er, unlike other teas, gets better with storage," he says. "Many big companies have big stores of Pu'er from previous years, and are not short of supply."

"However, high-end Yunnan green tea and black tea will be short of supply," Yang says. "Consumers will definitely face higher prices."