Sunday, 25 March 2012

2011 Yixing hongcha

The last Sunday was a bit unusual. Unlike the most of the weekends I woke up early for a sport event called stramilano. We subscribed for a 10km running with two colleagues with whom we go run 2-3 times per week. Physical activity is good! Is good for both the body and mind and I am convinced that humans are meant to do physical work at first place. No wonder that siting all days in an office or in a lab can bring health problems if it is not compensated with some sport (at least in my case). 

But this is a blog dedicated to tea, so lets focus on that.
A free sample of a red tea coming from the birth place of zisha pots, Yixing, was the one which introduced me into the world of hongcha. Since that, I have tried a couple of them and here comes the one which I am drinking recently.

I bought this package in DTH a couple of months ago. The leaves are small and curly. As I open the bag the fragrance is silent but tasty, however, as soon as it hits the hot pot the smell became strong; chocolate, cocoa and cereals, my zisha pot nicely brings out these lower notes. 

This tea requires high load of tea but the result is good. Every time I drink it I am amazed by the sweet (dark) chocolate notes which dominates on every level; it is present in the fragrance of the dry and wet leaves as well in the scent of the liquor and in its taste.
The character is smooth overall, I miss a bit the wildness which I happened to find in some Yixing red teas. There is not too much of that acidic finish which is also characteristic for these kind of teas, but since I am not a big fan of that it doesn't bother me. 

After the first steeps the body loses some thickness and the infusions can become mono dimensional (or one could call it boring) if the steeping times are not kept sufficiently long.
The qi is energetic, if I drink this tea too fast the caffeine rush can be overpowering (especially with the high amount of tea) but it's probably just me. 

My zisha pot (zini clay, 150ml) likes this tea quite a bit, it seams to enhance its smooth an creamy character. 

In overall, it is not the best tea I've drunk but is highly enjoyable once upon the time, especially for the price, and it may work well as a nice introduction into hongcha.

Ps: despite the slow beginning caused by the "traffic jam" we did the 10km in 54minutes.

Friday, 23 March 2012

2010 Douji - Ban Zhang

This is another high end Douji product and it was the last sample I tried from the 2010 production. Shengs from the the Ban Zhang area are highly demanded and this fact is reflected in its price which is growing from season to season and god knows when will it stop. However the price for the sample was reasonable at 5.70 USD for nearly 30g. There was some travelling during this week so not to much time left for tea drinking, but it is finally weekend so I can sit back and enjoy something good. 

 5.4g in a 90 ml gaiwan
10s rinse, 10s, 3s, 3s, 3s, 10s, 15s, 30s, 30s, 50s, 1:30, 3min 

The dry leaves are very pretty as you can see, big and healthy. I used the loose leaves from the sample so I can not tell to much about the compression of the cake but I guess its not too tight. The smell of the wet leaves is intense and penetrating being on the sweet-low side without any significant floral aroma (maybe a bit of dry fruits).

The first infusion at 10s gives an unusually strong soup. The kuwei is intense giving the hint that there is energy in the leaves. I kept the next infusion as short as possible and the result was really delicious. There is plenty of sweetness which nicely balance the bitter character. The aroma of the liquor has medicinal notes and the taste is broad and full bodied, on the low side similarly as the aroma of the wet leaves. (It is on the low side but not at the dark-tobacco-menghai-like-low end, just a couple of levels above). The mouth feel is dense and throat tickling. The huigan is potent keeping my breaks between the infusion long.

The colour of the liquor seems to be right for a two year old sheng. The character of the tea doesn't really change during the session, the steeps are equally tasty without loosing thickness or becoming rough. 5 and a half gram of leaves gave 11 strong infusions, what is impressive and I was enjoying this tea practically during the whole Saturday.
The wet leaves are equally chunky and attractive  as the dry ones.

For me, a good tea is mostly about the balances between the sweet and bitter mouthfeel, low and high notes, uplifting and calming qi and this tea has it right.

I tried just a couple of samples coming from the famous villages  (Ban Zhang, Gua Feng Zhai, Xi Kong...) so I cant really compare but as you probably found out I enjoyed this tea and is among the best ones I tried so far.

And the price? 80 USD for a 357g bing. Do I want it? YES! Do I buy it? unfortunately no! Taking in account the origin of the leaves the price seems to be right, however, it is simply too much for me. Unlike Hobbes who is running out of space I am still in the shelf-filling period, so I prefer to buy cheaper but decent cakes in higher quantity. Moreover, one could find a good semi-aged sheng in this price category. 

Anyways, If I do some math, the price for a session (leaves coming from the sample) is about 1euro, and it is difficult to find anything for this price what gives that much joy like this tea.  

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Too much tea?

Some of you may know the situation when too much strong tea mess up the stomach. Unfortunately, this happens to me often lately since i like to push the limits and my digestion is delicate anyways. The cure which I use in these cases is a warm meal and a good beer.

 This combination helps to reset my stomach. The food soak up the caffeine, and beer is good digestive in general promoting gastric fluid secretion and bile flow. Moreover if the qi is overwhelming it can work like a kind of an antidote :).

 Of course, too much of this "cure" can have the opposite effect.


Friday, 16 March 2012

90's Raw puerh brick

Huh, it has been quite some time since this tea arrived, maybe a year or so. There was this thing called OTTI9 which was about aged shengs from the 90s and I was lucky enough to participate. In this period I had tried only raw puerh form the last 10 years, so I was quite curious what can a nearly 20year old tea offer. The samples were provided by Nada (EoT,1997 Bulang) and Brandon who shared a wet stored example of the 8582 Menghai receipt and a dry stored sheng brick. The event was organized by the moderator of teachat, Chip.
The package arrived and after the first sniffs I was sure that this will be something special. And it was.

As it was mentioned I had no experience with aged sheng at that time so I was handling these samples quite preciously. As Jakub mentioned in one of his recent posts it is better to get to the good stuffs slowly, step by step. Since I share the same attitude I kept this sample until I will be over at least a couple of aged teas.  

It is Sunday evening, and I am searching for something good in the sample box. And look, the dry stored shengpu from the 90s.
 The whole sample, 5 grams, goes into my zisha pot which has around 100ml. This is a low tea/water ratio for an aged sheng, but since this pot does nice thing with them, I go for it.
The dry leaves from the hot pot give a sweet aged smell, with some tobacco and smoke; there is also some spice at the end. After the rinse the tea wakes up from its long sleep releasing a strong sweet fragrance, the smoky-like character remains but doesn’t disturb, on the contrary. As it cools the fragrance become creamier.
cause the last drops are the best
The first couple of infusions were light but the taste got stronger steep after steep. At the 4th infusion the liquor became orange-red, thick and sweet with mainly aged character, though there were hints of fruits from the youth. I could pick up (ripe) plum notes which mixed very nicely with the tobacco base. This tea reminded me at some points the 2002 Hai lang hao Wild arbour sheng, which is of course younger, but nevertheless. There is some bitterness when the tea reaches its peak and a bit of astringency at the later infusions.  

The overall impression is specific. I used to read that good shengs develop their own character during the ageing and I think, this could be a nice example. 

And the qi? Calming and suits nicely for a Sunday evening. The combination of the meditative tea brewing procedure and cha qi of aged shengs often helps me to look at the things from a different perspective, from more “above”.

Despite the low tea/water ratio and light initial infusions the durability of this tea was decent. I had 6 steeps at the evening, another 3 at the morning and a couple of overnight infusions.

I am grateful to Brandon as well as to the others who put this OTTI together. Sacrifice such valuable shengs just to introduce them to us, newcomers, has to mean a real passion for teas. Thanks again.   

tea 'n' skype

Sunday, 11 March 2012

2010 Douji - Jin Dou

This was among the first sample which I tried from the "Douji package" I took it out randomly and the only criteria was that it had to be a 2010 production.

It is categorised as top blend and the description tells that old arbour tree leaves were used from Ban Zhang, Yiwu, and Jing Mai. All of these areas usually provide good shengs  (though the place of origin is not necessarily a guarantee) so I am curious how they perform together.

Like usually, 5-6 g of leaves goes to the preheated gaiwan. After the first rinse the room is filled with sweet and strong shengpu smell.


The first infusion already delivers a delicious soup. The sweetness is complex and rich and after the swallowing the aroma is lingering in the back of the mouth up to the nose. The prominent cooling effect may be attributed to the old tree origin and I usually take it as a sign of good quality. The subsequent infusions were more intense with nice kuwei which turns to a sweet-orange long lasting aftertaste. 

cooling the mouth warming the soul

The liquor is thick, one could chew it. There is just enough nice bitterness turning to huigan already in the first infusion and builds up with each steep. The durability is good and the tea remains rich in the later infusions without becoming thin or rough. I did even a couple of very long steeps after the session resulting in sweet soups.

The qi starts as calming like with the most of the shengpu and stays calm during the whole session and long after it: doesn't become too energetic or overwhelming.

My impression is very good, though it may seem a bit expensive with 57USD at china cha dao, but there are not too much cakes with similar quality in this price range. Fortunately, this tea is available also as a 75g brick for 10 USD and most probably I will take 2 of them, one for ageing and the other will be tested once upon the time in order to follow how does it change.  

a family picture

Friday, 9 March 2012


I made an order of Douji samples approximately a month ago. I was running out of shengs here so I was waiting impatiently for this packages. It took some time probably due to the Chinese new year but it`s finally here.
Based what I have read the Douji products are quite decent and popular among the bloggers (Hobbes reviews are mostly very positive). These 13 samples from 2010 and 2011 should gave me an idea about the recent production of this brand. 
I already tried a couple of them and it looks quite promising. 

Sunday, 4 March 2012

2011 YS - Cha Qi

After the positive impression of the 2011 Shang chun I decided to try the other blends from the YS production. Cha Qi is a blend of maocha coming from the Bulang mountains. Shengs from this region are known for strong bitterness, but as Scott mentions in the description, in this case, the resulting blend is less bitter then the starting materials.      
The session was done at the morning before going to work and there were no pictures taken, so I dare to use some from the YS site

To make this review short, this tea is delicious being thick, with strong mouth-coating effect and good durability. The bitterness was well balanced giving enough space for the sweetness. The qi is powerful and its energy lasted until the lunch. 


Probably the bitter character of each maocha of this blend had opposite charge and once they met the annihilation exploded into a unique matter having the best characteristics of each starting component.

This is another nice example which proves that blending is a beautiful art. I have done only one session and as experimental scientist says "one result is no result" or "an experiment is valid only if it is reproducible" I will need to re-try it soon and possibly update this post. But so far 1 or 2 cakes  are already on my whislist. 

Ps: I recommend to drink young strong teas at the early morning before going to work, it gives a nice boost which may last until the afternoon. 

Friday, 2 March 2012

(My) puerh storage

Ageing sheng puerh is not that straight forward as I though. I remember when my first order of full cakes arrived and the scent of young shengs filled the room. The cakes were then stored on a shelf and the fragrance started to fade. Within a couple of months I had to stick my nose very close to smell anything. So, I started to search around the sites and found information about the types of storage and the importance of humidity and temperature. Based on what I read the humidity should be in the range between 60-90 % and the temperature from 20 to 30°C depending on the type of storage and quality of leaves. I prefer to not go into detail since my knowledge is quite limited, instead I would like to share the way I store my cakes. 

The first thing was a purchase of a simple device which measures the temperature and relative humidity. I found that the humidity in my room is around 50% during the summer and the first 2-3 months of the "central heating on" season. Then, at the end of the winter, the humidity slowly drop to 40-45%. This is simply not enough. 

To increase the humidity I used the classical approach of bowls with water in the cupboard. This helped to increase the humidity to 60 % but the temperature was still low, around 18-19%. So, I decided to improve this setup, and here are the ingredients: 

- An old unused bookcase
- One of the shelves is slightly modified (see the pictures below)
- 2-3 bigger plastic flower pots, in one of them an aquarium water heater

 Water containers with the heater (25W) adjusted to 25°C on the bottom shelf.

 I use tap water which is (unfortunately) heavily chlorinated what prevent the grow of microorganisms in the container. The upper shelf has holes for air circulation. 

The majority of cakes is placed on the upper shelf (in paper bags) but it can be also on the bottom one.

The front side is covered with a rug which let the tea "breath".

Half year ago when I started with this setup the humidity was around 70-75%. Now, when the air is quite dry in the room due to the months of heating, the humidity in the cupboard is between 65-70 % and the temperature 21-22°C. I think this may be ok for the cakes. Once per week the container with the heater has to be refilled (with cca 1L of water). The room is now filled with a healthy scent of young shengs, what is encouraging.

Ageing is tricky. If the humidity/temperature is too low the cakes will not age and they become flat. On the other hand too much moisture can cause a disaster called mold, therefore I try to avoid too humid conditions.  

How this setup works, will show the time.