Monday, May 31, 2010

Pu'erh Production / Ancient Tea Tree Toucha

Pu'erh is complex. I do not claim to be an expert, but here is a quick run down of ripe (cooked) pu'erh production.
It is adapted from the manual of the Specialty Tea Institute's (STI) pu'erh tea course.

"All types of pu'erh tea start with maocha, meaning 'rough tea'. The preparation of maocha is as follows;
-The tea leaves are plucked and then taken to a central factory.
-Leaves are screened for stems and leaves of bad quality, which are thrown out.
-The leaves are then withered to reduce the moisture content and make them pliable.
-Leaves are then rolled to break the cell walls.
-The leaves are then set out to dry until the moisture remaining is about 10%.
-Leaves are then rolled again, and then a final sorting takes place.

The finished product is then sold, usually by auction, to factories and small production facilities. The maocha can either be used to make sheng cha (uncooked, raw), or shu cha (ripe, cooked).
We will focus on shu cha.
In 1972, the Yunnan Kunming Tea Company implemented a process they dubbed 'Wo Dui.'
The process was developed after an increase in the popularity of aged pu'erh teas. Usually sheng cha would take about 10 years to reach what was known as maturity. The flavors were said to be well rounded and mellowed out.
The Wo Dui process is meant to replicate 10 years of aging in a matter of months.
The process is explained;
Maocha is moistened with water and then piled up in an environment where heat and moisture levels are meticulously monitored and controlled. The pile of leaves begins to heat up through a process much like that of a compost pile. The leaves are turned as needed to ensure that the oxygen, moisture and microbial levels (microbes are essential for breaking down the leaves and help for decomposing them) are consistently maintained to even out the process throughout the pile. The process is a sped up fermentation of the leaves that gives them its dark, rich color. The entire process is a closely guarded secret, so the aforementioned description is very general."

The description of the pu'erh is a mix of my comments as well as some from the STI manual. It would take too long to distinguish between the two, so I put all of it in quotes. I hope you learned something.

Now onto the tea.
This tea is from the Still Mountain tea shop in Nevada City, CA.
It is labeled as an Ancient Tea Tree production.
By my observation I would say that it is definitely a shu cha, but I cannot say for sure how old it is.
The tea itself is very tippy (the gold color sprinkled throughout the tou).
It smells strongly of mushroom with a pumpkin spice / sweetness.

The aroma of the liquor is reminiscent of damp soil and coffee beans.
A caramel sweetness is the first note detected, probably due to the amount of tips.
The mouth feel is lighter than expected.
As the liquor cools, mahogany tones present themselves along side a salty note.

In the following infusions, heavy wood notes are revealed, along with leather and a bit of a charcoal taste (maybe due to an over firing..?). But the charcoal taste was very faint so maybe it is just my taste buds.
In the last infusions, a very nice sweetness emerges and is a good finish for the tea session.

The leaves are quite chopped, as you can see, which made me keep my infusion times very short. This tea would have been easy to over steep.
I enjoyed it though. I find that shu pu'erh is sort of like comfort food. There is not too much variety, but it is a familiar taste that is sometimes a craving.
A thank you to my Aunt for hunting down these teas for me.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Yerba Mate

I love tea.
But we cannot forget the other beverages made from brewing leaves in water. They have special meaning in the cultures of other countries and have their own practices, tastes and customs.
One such brew is Yerba Mate.

Yerba Mate is an infusion made from the leaves of the Yerba Mate plant, native to Argentina.
There; Mate is to Argentina, as Coffee is to America.

It is the drink of hospitality and friendship. Connections are made over Mate, which is prepared in a hollowed out vegetable gourd. A straw (bombilla) with a strainer in it is then used to drink the infusion.
Usually it is made with water about as hot as you would make for a light green tea (170 f).

Mate is my morning drink of choice.
The caffeine is enough to get me going, but not enough to crash later.
This is because the specific caffeine found in Mate affects the muscles instead of the nervous system.

I make my Mate in a drip coffee brewer, which is easier and faster. When I am feeling traditional I will use the gourd.

I will be doing write ups of different Mates once in a while to spice up the blog, because Mate is just like another tea in my view.

Does anyone else drink Mate?


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Nilgiri Frost STGFOP

Finally a review. It feels like it has been a while since one of these.
I got this sample from the black tea class I attended in April.

Nilgiri teas, as it seems, are not so well known in the tea world.
Just about the only thing that they are known for is not clouding when one makes iced tea.
In big industry brewing, nilgiri teas are mostly blended for this purpose.

I see it as somewhat of a waste.

This tea is wonderful on its own. The dry leaf smells slightly of muscatel, while the fruity hints stay in the background.

The liquor is very clear. There is a fresh aroma to it, and an orange acidity is noted.
There is something about a fresh smell that makes a tea so inviting.

The tea has a very light body.
The first taste observed is a floral character, blended with honey. The honey sweetness is just enough to accentuate the flavor, not drown it out.
Orange and sugar cane come forth when the liquor cools.
I tend to make nilgiri teas with a cooler water temperature (90c) to bring out the sweetness, not the astringency.

It was a refreshing session.
If anyone out there knows of a good supplier for nilgiri, please let me know.
I enjoy them very much and have a personal mission to seek out the best of the best of nilgiri.


Sunday, May 23, 2010


Well I am graduated.
No longer the property of the public school system.
Four years of work for a piece of paper in recognition of my achievements.


I am pleased to say that I now have a new toy.
A Canon EOS 7D
Thank you to my wonderful parents and grandparents who I love dearly.

I plan to major in video production, so this will be a useful instrument to aid me.
Tea reviews are on the way, but for now, enjoy my first shots with the Canon.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Usually I would not ever post something like this, because I hate to feel snobby...
but this was too good to pass up.
I have to keep the tea world informed of my current status in the real world!

I am currently one out of about 50 people in the United States who is a Certified Tea Specialist.
And the youngest at that!

It was a long road to get there, but it was worth it.
The STI (specialty tea institute) is really doing amazing things with the tea industry!
Bravo to them!

Making Alishan to celebrate the event!


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Side by Side - Sencha & Kukicha

This is an experiment I did quite a long time ago when I was only starting to really enjoy and learn about tea.
I wanted to train my palate as much as I could for recognizing different tastes.
Side by sides are probably the best way to do this.
If you are just learning about tea, this is a perfect way to start!
I revisited this method today.

My setup includes:
-Two cupping sets
-Sterling silver spoon

The two teas are both (obviously) Japanese.
The sencha is a deeper green, although I think this is a more Chinese style sencha. The leaves are not so needle like. More coarse.
The sencha (on the left) smells very heavily vegetal, and slightly nutty.

The kukicha is much more needle like, displaying light greens to dark greens. The leaves also have a waxy feel and look to them.
It smells sweetly woodsy and rich. I would describe it as aromatic umami.

-2.5g tea
-165 degrees
-2:30 steep time

The infusion (wet leaves) of the sencha smell of freshly cut grass, and have marine notes that blend nicely in the aroma. They are an evergreen color, and pretty broken up.

The kukicha infusion's aroma stays true to the dry leaf, but slightly intensified.
They are rather pretty leaves! I love the color.

The liquor of the sencha (left) has marine, salty notes above a grassy undertone. There is a nice astringency to this tea. The aroma is mostly floral, but has some nutty characteristics to it as well.

The kukicha (right) is very creamy and grassy. The umami is presented in the cup as well and rounds out the rich, lingering taste. The aroma is woodsy.

This is a good way to compare tastes from different countries, regions, estates, and climates. It is an invaluable skill.
Anyone else have some interesting cupping experiences?


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bamboo Sheng Pu'erh

Label: Unknown
Factory: Unknown
Year: Unknown

This is a mystery tea.
While taking the Pu'erh class offered by STI, they had a drawing to give away samples of teas that had been tasted in the class for evaluation.

I happened to win one of the teas.
It is a sheng pu'erh that was formed in bamboo.
It has almost a year of aging in my cupboard.

Tasting begins.

The dry leaf smells of light honey and camphor.
A bamboo scent is present as well, but that was expected.

The first infusion has aromas of tobacco with a slight honey kick.
It is sweet and quite mellow. Camphor shows itself alongside white pepper.
it gives the tea a nice edge.

The second infusion;
White pepper is powerful in the scent.
The liquor tastes slightly bitter, with a bit of tobacco spliced into the mix.

Bitterness is decreasing and gives way for the white pepper once again.
Fruity notes are displayed in the fading taste of the tea. Apples / Pears.

Honey is dominant.
A chalky astringency comes out.

In gathering information on pu'erh, I would say that this was not made of high quality maocha.
The bitterness in the mix shows that trait.
Not by any means bad, but not the best quality.
Even in my limited pu'erh knowledge, I know good quality when I taste it.

The chalky astringency was a new sensation for me as well.
It is almost like the whole of one's mouth is coated in powder.
I actually enjoyed it, being so new.

There are a few other sheng's and shu's that I will be reviewing in the near future.
Hope you follow along.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

WuYi - Da Hong Pao

This is a yancha from Jing tea shop. I waited a while to try this one because I wanted the flavors to even out.
I figured this would be a good plan.

The dry leaf smells as I expected it to.
Roasted cocoa notes dominate. A dash of cardamom urges for my attention as well.

The first infusion smelled of nutty caramel.
A faint astringency is paired with toasted caramel notes.
Not so complex. Straight forward.

The second infusion;
exactly the same.

The third infusion showed some variation;
grainy notes came to mind; barley.
It was sweeter than the previous infusions.

Fourth infusion;
Sweet notes have turned into strawberry flavors.
The astringency remains present on the palate.

Fifth infusion;
Toasty tones linger along side a light mineral aspect.
This is an end to the tea.

Sometimes it is nice to relax with a simple tea.
This was an experience like so.

I enjoyed the session very much, as I was dabbling with my aunt about the tastes and how we perceived them.
It is an interesting thing that one can taste so different from another.

I also managed to chip my pot in the cleaning process.
I figure it adds some character.

I also decided to keep this tea for a while and see what age does to it.
I may roast it once in a while as well.
Future posts most likely are to come.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Tangerine Toucha

I received this wonderful gift from my Aunt, who purchased it from Still Mountain Teas in Nevada City, CA.
I will be visiting California in mid June so I do hope to stop by this shop when I am there.

Moving onto the tea.

The toucha smells like a typical shu pu'erh.
Leather is the dominant aroma.
The fruity citrus notes stay subtle.

I crumble the tea and the tangerine shell into my gaiwan.
Hot water.

First infusion;
The aroma of the brew is slightly malty, almost like a black tea (yunnan) with a small herbal note.
The liquid has a bold mushroom taste with a lingering tangy/tart aftertaste.

Second infusion;
It is quite zesty, with a velvet smooth texture.
The richness of this tea is enjoyable.
A puckering aftertaste sets in at the last moments.

Third infusion;
Zest stays. Leather is brought out.
I like more of a leathery taste in shu pu'erh, as opposed to a damp soil shu.

Fourth infusion;
This infusion is much sweeter than the previous.
Zest stays. The variant in this brew is a taste that reminds me of tree bark.

Fifth infusion;
The earthy qualities vanish.
Lemon grass and chamomile are detected.
Strange for a pu'erh.
The zest is still present.

Sixth infusion;
The tea is coming to a close.
The final movement is simple.
Zesty sweet water.

I quite enjoyed this tea.
Shared with family, it was even better.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Kuding Infusion

A good friend brought this "tea" over for me to investigate. We were not quite sure what it was at first.

The dry leaves smelled wonderful actually.
Little smokey.
A hint of apricot.

The brew itself....
Bitter. Very bitter. Spicy bitter. Made me a little sick.

I kept trying to give it a chance, but I could not do it.
It was awful.
We found out later, after the internet investigation, that it was Kuding tea.

I recall hearing some horror stories about this vile drink.

I would not recommend this tea to anyone except for health reasons.
It is not tea either, it is from a different plant.
So, hence, Kuding Infusion.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Mystery Compressed Black Tea

This was an interesting tea to come across.
A woman who I befriended at the tea classes (STI) was handing out samples to everyone.
I wasn't going to miss out on an opportunity.

I am not quite positive, but I do believe this tea to be a Sichuan Fu tea brick.
But due to my lack of knowledge, I will still consider it a mystery.
If someone has any thoughts on what it could possibly be, please let me know.

On the right; the tea still in its brick form. On the left; the tea after I broke it up a bit (only half of the chunk).

The brick smells very faintly of seaweed atop a pile of damp leaves. It has quite an earthy quality to it.

1st infusion;
On the nose are the damp leaves, with a side of mushrooms, or some form of earthen fungi.
On the palate is a slightly charcoal taste. It is very savory, almost salty.

2nd infusion;
The profile is consistent with the former, except at the end, an extremely sour taste puckers the entirety of my mouth. Interesting sensation.

3rd infusion;
A wonderful malt is brought about that pairs well with the salty aspect of this tea.
This is to be my favored infusion.

4th infusion;
This one surprised me.
I taste a strong copper quality. It is a penny in liquid form.
This is when I decide to stop this tea.

It is not a bad tea by any means.
Maybe it just does not do well with gong fu brewing sessions, or it could be that this tea is usually (traditionally) brewed to a concentrate and mixed with salt and yak butter.

It has qualities of both a black tea and a pu'erh tea.
So I do not know what category to place it in.
If anyone has any insight to this tea I would love to know!