Monday, September 23, 2013

Learning is two-way

Mid autumn is a time of gathering with friends and families. This year, I shared my mooncake stash with tea newbies over some lively exchanges about each tea and their effects on our five senses. There was also some serious note-taking from my very enthusiastic friends.

Starting off with a fragrant Mingjian Four Seasons light oolong tea from Taiwan, the fruity scents from under the gaiwan's lid quickly gained popularity and it was delicious. Fresh, fruity and easy drinking.
Red tea and cheesecake bites

Next comes a Wacuo roasted oolong and white lotus paste mooncake pairing. We primed our mouth by taking one sip of this tea first, then bit off some of white lotus paste together with its pastry skin. Take one more sip of the same tea and this lotus paste slips down our throats like silk.

My rather gifted guest remarked that when drunk on its own, this roasted oolong tea smells like moist wood with a hint of bitterness that transforms quickly into a lingering sweet taste. Hearing this in itself came as a surprise for me because crossing paths with the right people who did not know they could like tea so much and in the process share about their personal experiences so openly with one another adds a rewarding dimension to the quality of our discussions.

 DH - Pekoe (or white fur) up-close.
Moving on to a red tea that is most familiar to me  an my readers by now, my Yunnan Dian Hong Cha. Out of fairness (as I have brewed all my teas in a porcelain vessel so far), I decided to also use the same gaiwan for this red tea (usually it's a Zhuni pot that I use). In a porcelain gaiwan, the tea tasted much lighter, but still rounded because porcelain does not distribute heat as well as clay. Nevertheless, the scents from this tea quickly reached our noses and comments like wild honey and dried fruit scents were scribbled down.
Cha Qi from a Lapsang Souchong tea

Conversations flowed from tea to all and sundry and back to tea again. This time I felt an obvious warmth on my cheeks despite an opened window with the chilli autumn rain outside. The Cha Qi of this Dian Hong Cha and all good teas is most felt in colder months because such teas boost our blood circulation so our bodies feel a steady buildup of warmth that counters the cold in our external environment.

If you haven't experienced Cha Qi or are unsure if it is indeed Cha Qi after drinking some teas, a few parallels can be drawn here to the sensation of warmth felt at your fingertips (at its lightest), or whole hand (at its strongest) not long after sipping good wine and/or tea, or that of gushed cheeks when you met the love of your life ;-)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The puzzling language of Pu'er

Pu'er gift from 2009
The Internet and google translate have transformed how we overcome language barriers and amass a huge 'wealth' of information about teas over time. Sifting through data and distilling knowledge from the right sources can prove to be a challenge. Finally with first hand experience accumulated over time, handling tea samples, brewing and tasting, we translate knowledge into tea wisdom, worth its weight in gold ;-)

Working my way through this cake since 2010

Based on Stephane's latest entry in French here, the language of pu'er is expressed in numbers XXXX. From the little bit I read the first two numbers represent the year of recipe creation, followed by leaf grade and finally manufacturer's code number. To add to the complexity of this pu'er conundrum at hand, no where on my packaging can I locate such a code, save for the year of manufacture being 2002 and expiry date that falls on March next year. The expiration date is of course just a food safety and health requirement which I believe is created to indemnify the distributor. 

From the little bit that I gathered, this is a cooked pu'er cake. The leaves seem to have undergone mould fermentation and have an orange appearance overall. Also, I believe the character for tea 茶 found on the paper packaging is coloured red in the case of cooked pu'er. The packaging said nothing about this cake being raw or cooked pu'er (not very helpful). All that is mentioned are health benefits, differences in astringency levels between a green (raw) and a dark (cooked) cake. There is also a standard piece of text advising consumers to store this piece of cake in a cool and dry place, away from humidity which makes no sense at all if the whole concept of aging pu'er thrives on humidity! How can one help for feeling disgruntled?

Peeling off whole leaves is effortless with this cake
Now moving on to taste, this is one of two pieces of cooked pu'er pieces I own. Both were gifted in elaborate packaging, something quite popular in this part of the world. My preference is for this one because of its initial complexity that is followed by a smooth and soothing texture that extends all the way into my stomach. Certainly this is not the best and be forewarned that the search for an excellent piece of cake, especially that of a cooked pu'er, can be expected to be the most expensive and arduous journey that a tea connoisseur embarks on.

Editorial note:  Before 2006 China National Native Produce (CNNP) cakes bear no such informative code. To be entirely sure of what you own is of the right origin and year, one must rely on a trusting relationship with the tea seller and have actual same year/batch samples at hand to verify the authenticity of newly bought cakes. Such is the dedication in the ultimate pursuit of pu'er knowledge.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mid Autumn

Full moon festivities
Every year, tea club members (armed with their full gear: silky traditional tops, tea tables, kettles, gong fu teaware) will be headed to various community centres across the island to perform a traditional Chinese tea ceremony in the company of quality lotus paste pastry known as mooncakes.

A quick survey reveals a popular preference for roasted Tie Guan Yin tea because the strong roast balances the richness of the sweet lotus paste and the decadent duck egg yolks occasionally found in luxurious versions of moon cakes.

If you are enjoying a standard sized mooncake, it is recommended that you portion this into sixteen bite-sized pieces for the best mouth feel and maximum enjoyment with a (medium-) roasted tea while basking in full moonlight.

This year, midautumn festival falls on 19 September.