Sunday, May 30, 2010

Clay Tea Caddy

A tea caddy is a container or receptacle for storing tea leaves.  If you do a search on the internet, you will discover that tea caddies have been around for some time.  There are elaborate and exotic tea caddies and some of them fetch exorbitant prices during a major auction.

Tea caddies can be made from wood, metal, porcelain and in this case (see pix) from red clay.  This red clay tea caddy can be easily purchased from local chinese tea shops and comes in varying sizes.  The one I had bought can hold a 500g pu erh cake (broken up of course) easily.  This tea caddy costs me us$10.  I cleaned this caddy by brushing it under a running tap.  I then proceeded to immerse the caddy in a pot of water and boiling it for an hour.  I had to dry the caddy for a few days before use.  

I found that breaking up pu erh tea cakes and letting them air in a container for about 2 weeks make the tea taste better.  Maybe its psychological but I did find a difference in taste when I brew a tea from a newly broken up cake than a brew from the same tea 2 weeks later. I think, the pu erh cake 'breathes easily' after being separated into 20-30 pieces.

It is important to know that the tea, stored in such a clay tea caddy, is not in an airtight environment.  You must ensure that the tea caddy is kept away from strong odours and moisture.  On the other hand, those airtight tea containers are good for green teas and are also suitable to be kept in refrigerators.  I was advised by a teamaster that for teas kept in metal containers, to place a  paper lining the inside of the metal caddy before storing the tea.  A used pu erh cake wrapper can be used in this case.

I had came across a collector who keeps his pu erh tea cakes individually in brown envelopes.  Every time he wants a drink from a particular cake, he will take out the envelope, open the puerh wrapper and them used a small pick to break out enough tea for a brew.  His pu erh collection looked like a shelf of books.  

There is no right or wrong on how you store your long you keep to the fundamental principles that tea is to be kept from light, moisture and strong smells.  Nuff said.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

My pu erh purchase in Guangzhou

This is the Pu erh tea that I bought from Guangzhou while I was there last month.  This purchase is made up of 7 tongs of pu erh (6 tongs ripe).  You can imagine the sight, not mentioning the challenge as I lugged the tea from Guangzhou to Hong Kong before heading back to Singapore.  I find that commuting between Guangzhou and Hong Kong is best through the express rail which takes about 2 hours.  Its an extremely comfortable ride with both rail stations in the heart of the cities.

I had not planned to buy this amount of pu erh as I just wanted to explore the Fangchun tea centre and planned to visit the tea centre again next year.  I found the Haiwan wholesaler in Fangchun and was given an extensive tea tasting session.   I was given a wide range of Haiwan's 2009 range of pu erh to drink and I was surprised by the quality  offered by the dealer there.  The 2009 pu erh which I was impressed were labeled 'No.1 ripe - 老同志一号熟饼'  and 'our home's pu erh- 我家的普洱茶' .  The tea did not taste like new ripe pu erh and was, in my own opinion, very good.  The dealer had only 2 tongs of the No.1 ripe and offered them to me together with a carton of our home's pu (4 tongs ). 

But I digress - I would like to highlight the excellent research of Nicolas Tang's tea website 

where he gave an expert study of fake Menghai tea.  He compared the fake and real Menghai with pictures and advised buying Menghai only from authorized distributors even if it costs more.  It was interesting that fake Menghai was also sold in Guangzhou.  

I had also stopped by an authorised Menghai distributor and got myself a tong of 2009's 7542  that completed my pu erh purchase in Guangzhou. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Tea Expo News

This article is from the China Daily (5 May 2010) by Ye Chun and Li Yingqing entitled "Rich Pickings from Pu'er"

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.

he 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.

"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.

Pix is a 2003 ripe pu erh.

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 (S$12-S$14) 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."

My opinion towards 2010 pu erh tea harvest is that the prices of this year's pu erh tea will be high, and the tea quality may be affected by the drought.  The asking prices on ebay for this year's 7542 is about us$20 (I just checked this morning).   I am of the view that chinese tea prices will generally be more expensive due to a more affluent China and greater demand from overseas but the significant price increase of this year's harvest  was primarily caused by the poorer tea harvest. Caveat emptor.

Pix is a 2003 ripe cake,  purchased last month for under us$20.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Gaiwan is Chinese for covered bowl. Gai - is cover while Wan is bowl. Interestingly, the Japanese tea bowl is known as Chawan. Chinese tea cups or bowls do not have the characteristic of a western teacup where there is a handle for you to hold and lift the teacup when drinking. The chinese tea bowl is more multi purpose in its use and the tea bowl can be as large as 10 inch diameter across. I believed such large tea bowls are also used for drinking chinese herbal brews.

The 1st pix shows 3 different covered tea bowls. The white one on the right is the traditional gaiwan used in chinese tea. This versatile gaiwan is also used for brewing chinese tea. You will observed, from my earlier blogs with videos (27 april 2009 & 24 april 2010) demonstrates the brewing of pu erh using gaiwans. A plain white gaiwan is inexpensive and is a good way to start a tea hobby. In fact many expert tea users I know use a simple plain white gaiwan to brew their teas. Gaiwan have the advantage over clay teapots, in that the tea will not be affected by the clay teapot. A seasoned teapot may influence the taste of a tea. Many tea experts will attest to the theory that a well seasoned teapot may enhanced the flavor of a tea brew. Using a porcelain gaiwan to taste test a tea, is the preferred method of brewing a tea prior to a tea purchase. Moreover, the tea leaves used may be examined with ease than peering into a clay teapot. It is a practice to use a white gaiwan of approximately 150-200 ml when tea testing a brew. You can normally buy a nicely decorated gaiwan for under us$10.

Gaiwan's principle purpose was to keep the bowl covered. This is to keep the contents from dust or other contaminants. A covered tea bowl will also keep the tea warm and not cool too fast. The Japanese gaiwan (the middle on in the 1st pix) has a larger cover than the bowl that the cover 'drapes' over the cup. I had purchased this antique cup in Tokyo some years ago. You would not be able to brew tea as easily than the chinese gaiwan.

The third 'gaiwan' in the 1st pix (the one on the left), to me does not qualify as a gaiwan. This is an improvisation where a spout is created for easy pouring of tea into teacups. Scott of Yunnan Sourcing labelled this gaiwan as 'easy gaiwan'. This tea brewing gaiwan is much easier on the hand. Let me explain..... When you pour out tea using the traditional gaiwan, the hot steam or heat coming out from the tea, while pouring and holding the cover over the bowl with one hand(see video), may be unbearable and accidents may occur. This 'easy gaiwan' will eliminate this problem and makes brewing of tea much easier. This gaiwan has a scallop shaped rim and the cover has a stylized plant handle. The gaiwan came with a removable filter. The last pix shows another 'easy gaiwan', this time with illustrations and a poem about drinking 7 cups of tea on the exterior of the gaiwan.

Monday, May 3, 2010

2007 Fu Hai Yiwu Ripe Cake

I would recommend a 'must buy' on this ripe pu erh cake.

This is a 2007 ripe tea from Fu Hai Tea Company.  This ripe tea uses large Yiwu leaves in the ripe cake.  You will notice that the leaves are not rolled but compressed in layers in the ripe cake.  The overall color of the cake looks darker than most ripe cakes. The aroma from the cake is woody and pleasant. This 357 g pu erh cake is compressed quite tightly and you need tools to pry open the cake.  Go slow and be careful not to break tea leaves.  

The 'wow' of this cake is when you make a brew from this tea.  The aromatic scent of this cake is really unique.  The aroma seem to be delicate floral-like with a red wine scent.  This aroma enhances the taste, making me think the tea is sweet.  A very nice tea.   This is one of the few ripe (called shou in mandarin) that has a fairly strong chi.  I felt very relaxed (after drinking 4 quick infusions) as if I had too many glasses of wine.  This sensation passed in less than a minute.
The taste of the tea is very pleasant and smooth which reminded me of aged pu erh.  A brew can make you 8-10 good infusions.

The last 'wow' factor is that this ripe cake is very inexpensive.  Scott from Yunnan Sourcing is retailing them for about $13 per cake in his new website (  He describes this tea as "A newer ripe cake from the Fu Hai tea factory in Menghai.  I decided to carry this cake after several recommendations from both customers and Fu Hai sellers.  The average size of fermented leaves used is rather large, but with Fu Hai's expert fermentation process this tea has taken on a special character unique and aromatic."  

My recent order with Yunnan Sourcing have included  a few of these cakes.